Sunday, March 07, 2021

Timestreams

 Hey! Look at that! Way down at the bottom of this page. It tells you the number of days until Soylent Green becomes available to the public. Lest you believe that Blogger is somehow involved, this is a little widget that I installed a few years back. To be funny. Because I find it amusing that our possible futures keep rushing up on us faster than we can generate them, but somehow we keep finding ourselves living in the present that looks nothing like what we were promised back in 1970. Except for the big TVs and cell phones. And the crystals embedded in our palms that count down to our ritual suicide. 

Originally, that spot was going to be a countdown to the moment that Skynet became self-aware, but that was way back on August 29, 1997. The events of the Terminator saga may have been playing out behind a veil of media blackout and misdirection, but if they truly are currently set in motion, here is the good news: We only have to wait eight more years until the resistance, led by Sarah Connor's son John, destroys Skynet and we can all go back to imagining a future where we eat people crackers instead.

I apologize for the previous paragraphs in which my nerd expectations forced you to wade through the scrap heap of my mind. But it is a messy business, this future thing. Like the announcement made recently by the Gateway Foundation, where they told us that we are just six years away from the opening of the first hotel in space. I was alerted to this news via a tweet in which someone was opining "Hotel in space? We just want healthcare." Which immediately set my memory banks reeling to the not so distant past in which Neill Blomkamp's 2013 film gave us a peek inside what's coming, and it turns out they are completely connected. In Elysium, a great big wheel of a space station, the privileged live in a world without war or poverty or sickness. 

Sound familiar?

Well it turns out that all the sickness and poverty is stuck down on Earth, with the rest of us. The rabble. A resistance, led by Sarah Connor's other son Matt Damon, travels to the eponymous space station in the hopes of bringing down the upper class and opening the door for universal health care. That movie is set in 2154, so we've got a while before we have to start worrying.

Except that the first hotel in space really happened in or around 2001, when Hilton and Howard Johnsons worked together to make outer space your home away from home. In your Earth years, that was 1968 with a future envisioned by Stanley Kubrick. It is not clear if reservations made for that Hilton in the intervening fifty years or so will be honored at the Gateway resort. Or if Matt Damon will be allowed to travel there. Because he has a history of getting stuck off planet. 

Maybe he can keep himself from getting hungry by dipping into those nice green crackers.

I'm so confused. 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

What Goes Up

 Remember when Rudy Giuliani was "America's Mayor?" He rode that wave of popularity straight into a gig as the "president's" personal attorney. Well, not exactly straight, but things seemed to be on an upward tick after a career of getting tough on crime. Which may be how he became so familiar with it. Crime, that is. He cleaned up Times Square and made it family friendly. Unless your family was a group of pickpockets or panhandlers. Removal of these folks paved the way for the opening of a Disney Store. And it was the brave face that he showed after the September 11 terrorist attacks on his city that brought him Time's Man of the Year award, and an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. 

Which is a long way from holding a press conference at The Four Seasons Landscaping firm, or inciting a riot days, then weeks after an election lost by his client. My mind turns to the image of Kong falling from the Empire State Building in the original 1933 version, bouncing and careening as he plummeted to his eventual final resting place. 

It wasn't the airplanes that got him. It was the gravity. Which is what all that  "the mighty have fallen" talk is about. What goes up must come down. 

Which brings us to Andrew Cuomo. The governor of the Empire State is currently facing a lot of scrutiny for his actions over the past several months. Those past several months have seen Governor Andrew rise to the height of COVID-19 popularity, with his press conferences evoking memories of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reading comics to his city's kids way back when. Way back when New York City's newspaper delivery folks were on strike. In hindsight, it's a little difficult to separate the politics from the person. But the optics were great. And so were Cuomo's daily news conferences. A bit of fresh air in a world stifled by masks and shelter in place. 

But it turns out that all the news that came out during those sessions wasn't really all the news. Apparently, there are plenty of questions about how nursing homes were handled during the initial surge of the virus, and that deaths may have been under-reported or simply covered up. This was after his call for elderly patients to be sent initially to nursing homes rather than hospitals. Not exactly the Sunday funnies. 

Then go ahead and drop the allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Cuomo and you have the perfect scandal salad. Now damage control is focused not on the crisis at hand as much as how the person in charge handles himself. Initial impressions aside, it appears that this once mighty hero of New York politics is on his way down. I suppose the good news is that scandals don't appear to be a partisan issue. As the Police once sang, "The truth hits everybody." Especially once gravity takes hold. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Cancel This Blog

 A short time ago, I wrote in this space about how I was embarrassed about having used Britney Spears as a punchline. A great many times. Enough that I found myself looking back with shame. I have had this same experience reflecting on my history as a "funny guy." I definitely went through a period where I told jokes that did not reflect who I was as a person, but rather who I was as a "comedian." Big wide racist, misogynistic bits of hate which were reflective of one thing: How unhappy I was with myself. 

The whole notion of "Can't you take a joke?" is built around fragile psyches that do not allow much room for questioning. They are, for the most part, looking outward. They question others, not themselves. In an attempt to connect with others, a sharp stick is taken up to poke at others. Usually the bigger the better. And I suppose it would be a nice thing to say here that I had an awakening where I finally looked in the mirror and found myself in the reflection looking back, "Hey man, do you really like yourself?" Well, that's the challenge here. I have had a number of these revelations, the most recent being my awakening of my mistreatment of Ms. Spears. 

But I haven't apologized to Ted Cruz. Or Donald Trump. Or the National Rifle Association. I still feel pretty comfortable with my eight year assessment of George W. Bush as a "pinhead," but his friendship with Michelle Obama has made it difficult to continue to grind that particular axe. 

Why? Because all of a sudden he didn't do all those dumb things I said he did? Because it turns out that he was always acting in my best interests and those of our nation all that time? No. It was more like a new threat had reared its head that was far worse and it turns out that W is just a public-spirited individual who likes painting dogs. Never mind the war crimes, have you seen the bit with him and passing Michelle a candy during John McCain's funeral. 

Am I just going to stop making fun of the man who led us into two meaningless wars in the Middle East because he's friends with Barack Obama's wife? Will this trend eventually put me in the position of relaxing my stance on the former game show host and twice impeached "president" who remains such a thorn in my side that I rarely mention him by name, let alone remove the quotes around his former title? 

Hate is a learned thing. I learned this from a real comedian named Denis Leary. "Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates. Naps! End of list." An interesting point made by a man who tends to be fueled by rage most of the time. But maybe that was a moment where that fire hydrant of anger was turned on the very thing that gives us pause. Misogyny, homophobia, Islmaophobia, and just about every ophobia you could  care to rustle up stems from a fear. A fear of being replaced. A fear of being on the wrong end of the joke. 

All of which makes the whole idea of a "cancel culture" so very confounding. Once you take the "just a joke" excuse away, you're left with the question: Was it funny in the first place? 

By the way, I reserve the right to be wrong. Feel free to tell me about it when I am. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Watching MTV

 "Too much is never enough." These were the words I heard Billy Idol say back in the mid eighties. A life of excess was pretty easy to imagine back then. Especially if you were watching MTV. It was during this period of my life that I began to wonder just how much really was enough. A place for my Battlezone game. Gas for my used car. Pizza money. Beer. Comfortable. In my twenties, it seemed like having enough cash to get by was a lifestyle. When I looked at adults scratching their way to the top of middle class, I sometimes wondered what I was missing. It did not occur to me that I was missing out.

It was only after I turned thirty, married and settled down that perhaps I could be more concerned about my monthly paycheck. The notion of saving for the future became a reality for the first time. Mostly because I started to imagine one. A future, that is. So I started to listen and take the advice of those who wanted to help me manage my money. I knew that being an elementary school teacher was not going to put me on the fast track to wealth and fame. There was no MTV contest to generate a responsible and stable financial base upon which I might one day retire. 

It was around this time that I remember walking back from a movie with my wife and some friends of ours. The husband of one of our best high school pals suggested a "personal salary cap." At the time, it was his notion that no one needed more than one hundred thousand dollars a year. Anything more than this just clogged up the works and made excess the thing that people strived for. Why couldn't we all be happy with a hundred grand? At the time, I chose to play the devil's advocate and ask what he might do with more than one hundred thousand dollars. Couldn't you, for example, use the extra money to donate to the charity of your choice? Take care of others less fortunate? The easy answer was that everyone would be afforded that same opportunity to make their salary cap, so there wouldn't be such a need to stretch. Plenty for all. No surprise that this fellow found his way to Bernie Sanders over the past couple of elections. 

Meanwhile, we all continue to chase that dream of financial independence. Somewhere between the arguments for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage and the demonization of Jeff Beezos, we attempt to find our comfort zone. As I round the corner that has regular and continued conversations about retirement, I wonder how it is that as hard as Bill and Melinda Gates try, they cannot give away all their money. Elon Musk makes a big show about giving away his money. The afore mentioned Mister Beezos lives a life of perpetual comfort while his employees struggle to put food on their tables. It's easy enough to make Mister Amazon the bad guy here. But how far down the ladder does one have to climb before we no longer resent them?

My cynical notion is this: one step below wherever you find yourself. I own my own house. Well, I will once the mortgage is paid. In a few more years. Right now I've got what we call "equity." Which is ironic, because this word either means "the value of the shares issued by a company" or "the quality of being fair and impartial." 

Too much? 

Never enough. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Hillary Was Right

 Many years ago we were warned. Hillary Clinton used the term "deplorables" when she was speaking about followers of Donald Trump. To say that there was backlash for this remark would be akin to saying that Noah encountered a few sprinkles just before completing his boat. I confess there was a moment of regret on my part when I heard her, allowing for a world in which there were many and varied opinions and we should leave room for all points of view. Back in September 2016, the Democratic presidential nominee said, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” At the time, I felt like I needed to make excuses for Hillary. And she didn't say "all" she said "half." I was still embarrassed. 

Turns out, I needn't have been. The past five years have been nothing but a wake up call for those of us who weren't watching and listening. The show this past week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the complete lack of shame and the strained connection with reality was on full display. Featuring such acts as fist-raising Josh Hawley and Ted "Luxury" Cruz, the show was a blur of a reminder. Ted Cruz made a joke about being in Orlando, and how it was not quite as nice as Cancun. Get it? Because he fled his home state for a luxury resort while people were freezing to death. Everybody's favorite fist-pumping inciter, Josh "Hollerin'" Hawley actually said this in his speech: "We're proud to live in a country that liberated slaves."

Ladies and gentlemen, these were not the rabble outside the auditorium handing out pamphlets printed on their home computer. These were the featured speakers, elected officials who still have jobs in our government. Both of these men were busy on their phones during opening testimony about the Capitol riots, or dragged in their homework to keep them occupied during the impeachment trial. Thirteen members of Congress chose to vote by proxy on the COVID relief bill, not out of concerns about safety, but so they could speak at CPAC. Those were the Republicans. The four Democrats who voted by proxy were meeting with President Biden in Texas, they state they represent, to inspect the damage brought on by the recent winter storm. The same storm that sent Ted Cruz packing off to Cancun. 

All of this with an eye toward the first appearance of the former game show host and former "president" since he fled Washington DC just after the riot he helped incite. With his lies and bile, he brought together thousands who attempted to halt the peaceful transition of power in our country. Something that has not happened before in history. Not during wars or depressions or threats of terrorism or snowstorms. 

Deplorable? That may be a little kind. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

What Would You Do?

 The question I have for myself is this: Would I have the courage of my convictions to not call in the Army, Navy, National Guard and those pesky airplanes if King Kong were to actually show up in my city and begin to stomp about in that way he has?

Big question. Lots of words. Plenty to consider. That's why I am taking you all with me. At this point in my life, knowing what I know, would I still be afraid of a twenty-five foot tall gorilla rampaging through the downtown area? Or would I take a more laissez faire attitude, telling my fellow suburbanites that the buildings in downtown have been in a state of disrepair for years and a certain amount of wear and tear has to be expected in a major metropolitan area. Gentrification, urban renewal or giant robots. Time takes its toll. King Kong showing up might be just the thing that local businesses could benefit from: There would almost certainly be increased foot traffic through the area afterward. It may not be exactly the kind of tourist attraction that we all wanted or expected, but that big hole in the ground made by the impact of a giant ape's foot might be just the thing to draw in those out-of-towners. 

I would also imagine that there is money to be had from our federal government. If you can get a loan for repairs after a hurricane, I am guessing most states have something in place for acts of enormous beasts. Or the aforementioned robots. Why not take the opportunity to build it back better?

Then there's the humanitarian angle. Kong is, after all, an animal. A really big animal with a laser focus on what he wants, but don't we owe him the same latitude for his behavior that we would give any creature, great or small? If we hadn't taunted him with that blonde girl in the first place, Kong would almost certainly still be King of his own jungle, instead of a gargantuan delinquent tearing up the city looking for his dream girl. I myself am married to a pretty blonde girl, and I wonder if I could let such behavior go unchecked. I should note here that at no point during my pursuit of this pretty blonde girl did I pull a subway train from its tracks or climb up the side of a skyscraper. 

Not that the thought didn't occur to me. But I am more evolved, and I am also not twenty-five feet tall.

So what would I do if King Kong showed up in my neighborhood? Would I try to reason with him, make a deal or attempt to lure him back across land and sea to his ancestral home, where all would be forgotten and forgiven? I do believe that Kong's heart is in the right place, after all. Right in the middle of that great big chest of his. And while he may not mean any or all of the harm he caused, I believe that it wasn't the airplanes or beauty that killed the beast. It was that knucklehead Carl Denham. I think the last scene of the film should be a police officer handing the master showman and captor of King Kong a broom. You clean it up, mister showbiz. 

Monday, March 01, 2021

For The Long Run

I ran across Scotland recently. 

Virtually.

Well, I did the running, but it wasn't in Scotland. I ran those ninety-some miles in Oakland. It was a way for me to experience the world outside my neighborhood without actually leaving my neighborhood. If this seems a little counterintuitive, that would be correct. It is the part of not making sense of these altered times in which we find ourselves living that does make sense. 

For my birthday last June, my family gave me the gift of a fitness tracker. It was a way for me to return to those days of yesteryear when I used to keep a running journal. When I first moved to California, I dutifully documented each of the runs I took, including the time, distance and route. The last one I completed was done the year my father died. My father was the one who coaxed me into running in the first place. After he was gone, some of the joy I had was leeched out of that avocation. So I stopped writing it down.

But I didn't stop running. Though I did slow down a bit. And I had some guests to bring along on my trail. I pushed my baby son in a jogging stroller. And not long after that, I leashed up our dog when she joined the family. I was the consistent part of the equation, as were the streets and sidewalks around our house. Like so many other elements of my life, I fell into a rut that felt comfortable. A routine that gave me solace in the face of enormous change. Many years later, after our dog had run her last mile with me and my son had long since grown out of his stroller, I received the gift of accountability. Technology that allowed me to keep a digital journal of all the steps and miles I was going to be doing anyway. Which turned the whole thing into a bit of a video game. 

Once again I was thrust into a position of competing with myself. I felt challenged to push myself beyond the rut. I started to find myself further from my home, staying away for longer periods of time. I recognized the conditioning I was getting from my digital coach, but I was still a sucker for those gold stars. 

Oh, and I felt better too. I realized that I was on the verge of being the same age as my father when we took our last run together. I was holding back time. "Running" is a kind description for the plodding I do these days, but it keeps me off the couch, with legs and arms and lungs all working. And when my wife offered up this virtual trek across Scotland, complete with souvenir T shirt and medal, I leapt at the chance. 

When I looked out at the Irish Sea, with the island of whole of Scotland behind me, I felt satisfied. And oddly enough, right at home. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Attention

 There is a little girl who now frequents our desolate playground. She stops by and climbs and sways on the play structure. She runs in circles or straight lines around and under it. She doesn't come alone. She is accompanied by her mother, or sister, or her aunt or her baby sitter who doesn't tend to move around as much. Mostly she sits and looks at her phone while she waits for her young charge to run down her batteries. I witness this from a polite distance as I take my regular constitutionals around the yard. And each time I pass by, the little girl who is not more than three, she shouts out "Hi!" 

Beneath my mask, I smile and wave or say a muffled "Hi" back. And if I pass by twice, she will do the same thing. If she is still there after I have made six circuits past the monkey bars, she will still greet me the same way. Sometimes she embellishes just a tiny bit by updating me on the activity she is currently pursuing. "I'm running." Or "I'm climbing." Just in case I hadn't noticed. Because these are strangers and because the nominal adults might not look on with favor if a gentleman of a certain age would stop and chat up their youngster for a whole bunch of different reasons.

But that doesn't stop the spark in the little girl. She will not be stopped from telling me "Hi."

Maybe it's my vague indifference that keeps her interest. I nod or wave or make a brief reply, but I keep going on my way. Maybe she imagines that I am a new person with each pass. But it made me think of the cat.

The cat named Fluffy who has been staying with us for the past few months. Fluffy is a reclamation project for our neighborhood. After living a nomadic life on the streets for several years, it became apparent to those who encountered him that something was wrong with Fluffy, and only an expensive surgery involving the removal of all his teeth would save him. A collection was taken up. Fluffy was defanged. He began his convalescence in the home of the local Cat Lady. When circumstances that may have included having one too many kitties to care for made it possible for us to foster Fluffy, my wife eagerly campaigned for the opportunity. I begrudgingly relented on my "not a cat guy" stance, and we welcomed Fluffy in. 

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Fluffy was, for the most part, just a rumor of a cat. He stayed in his carrier, huddled in a corner, or under the bed in our back room. When I did encounter him, I was rewarded with a hiss and an arched back. Confirming my belief system about the inherent evil of felines. Which did not hinder my wife's enthusiasm for Fluffy's rehabilitation. She cleaned and coaxed and prepared mush for him to consume, and after weeks of this consideration, she was rewarded with a brief cuddle and a purr. 

This was a sign of what was to come. Since then, Fluffy has only become more and more interactive. Purely on his terms, of course. Sometimes he would hop up on top of the bed under which he had once hidden for days. He would allow me close enough for a scratch behind the ears. Me scratching him, to be clear. Mostly he seemed content but certainly not overjoyed. But as the weeks passed, he became more accustomed to us, and us to him. We started leaving the door to the back room open, no longer worried that he might end up under something without our notice. 

And just the other night, just after three in the morning, he jumped up on our bed. I woke with the faintest start, but quickly understood whose feet were padding their way toward my head. Fluffy stopped once to curl up between my wife and I, so I reached out to give him that now customary scratch behind the ears. Which he seemed to appreciate. So much so that he meandered up a little closer to the top of the bed where he put his paws on my arm, sending the message that it was okay to continue. 

Which I did for a few more minutes. Then it was time for me to return to sleep. After I paused, I got the faintest reminder that Fluffy was calling the shots and though his teeth had been removed, his claws had not. I did not get scratched, but he exerted just enough pressure with his dew claw to give me the notion that he could be more persuasive. If necessary. 

Later, as my wife began to stir, she took over the need for Fluffy's petting. Through the haze of sleep, she mumbled, "It's a miracle." 

I didn't say this. I just thought it: "It's inevitable." I thought about the terms necessary to this interaction, and became convinced that the little girl and Fluffy were spiritually linked. 

Then I went back to sleep.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Airborne

 A couple things happened this week that knocked me off my feed. Normally I am a very good soldier. Teacher, actually, but with a sense of duty that borders on the compulsive. Okay. Not so much "borders" as "defined by." I am very well suited for this job in public education which runs on a schedule. A great many of them, in fact. A bell schedule. A weekly schedule. A monthly schedule. 

A testing schedule.

The past year has presented all kinds of challenges to those schedules, perhaps none as much as the way we coordinate assessments. As we meander through the early part of the twenty-first century, the onus of this portion of education has fallen squarely on the shoulders of technology. Last spring, as we struggled to connect with students and families in this new-fangled enterprise called "distance learning," the focus on assessment drifted away. Creating this virtual schoolhouse was a big enough test for all of us. A third grade colleague suggested that we were "trying to fly an airplane while we were still building it." 

And to our satisfied surprise, it flew. Not high. Not strong. But it flew. Our kids were attending class online and learning. Our teachers struggled and raced around trying to find ways to keep their students in attendance, and on a path of learning. There was great relief when the district announced that it was not imposing the ritual standardized tests that usually close out a school year. This was survival mode. We were just trying to keep our metaphorical plane off the ground. It was our hope to avoid any sudden deceleration trauma.

Well, now it's another year. The district and state have higher expectations of us all this year, especially for those kids who have been sitting in front of screens for months on end. Some of them have made heroic strides. Showing up on time ready to learn is still a challenge for many. And so will the proposed return to "normal." Even as we attempt to imagine herding kids from the playground to the classroom to the bathroom and to lunch and back again while observing strict COVID protocols, there is a move afoot to reinstall that battery of standardized tests. 

For a moment here, I will say that as a veteran teacher, I have struggled with the idea of high-stakes testing of eight to twelve year olds for decades. No one likes to be tested. Some are better at it than others. It was the saving grace of my son's high school experience, for example. The high school experience that was not marked by the interruption of a global pandemic. 

What exactly do we hope to discover with this barrage of assessments? That our kids have fallen behind due to the extraordinary challenges into which they were dropped over the past year? Maybe that the gap that was supposed to be closed by providing all those Chromebooks and hotspots have not, in a year, been closed? Or perhaps we will discover that on this sliding scale the kids who have had computers in their homes all this time are still the ones who have an advantage when it comes to measuring their learning? And those that have been hardest hit by the disease and the economic and social devastation are going to show up as "below grade level?" 

I could fill in the charts and graphs ahead of time and save everyone the implementation ulcer. Meanwhile, I know how hard our kids have worked to stay in school, completing assignments and participating in seemingly endless Zoom meetings. I know what they have achieved.

They are flying.  

Friday, February 26, 2021

Terrible Math

 A moment of silence. We tap the breaks on our lives that have continued while half a million Americans have have no lives to continue. Because they died. They died from a disease that continues to mock our attempts to understand and cure it. Sorry cancer and common cold, you're going to have to take a back seat to COVID-19. 

I should start, since the paragraph break up there counts as my moment of silence, by saying that this five hundred thousand number is not any kind of mechanical ticker that updates thanks to some Audio-Telly-o-Tally-o-Count Chap variant that counts dead bodies rather than the ones that fall asleep in Dr. Seuss. These are the numbers reported by the Center for Disease Control, and the suggestion that they may be off by a few thousand here or there starts to fall into that margin of error that large numbers so often do. The fact that reading each one of those roughly half a million names, just their first names, would take more than sixty hours gives you some idea of the enormity of what we are dealing with. 

I should also like to mention that we, as Americans, tend to focus on the number of red white and blue coffins. There are nearly two and a half million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide, and while this number has an even bigger valley of potential error, it is worth noting that it is the United States that continues to lead the pack when it comes to having the most. 

Or maybe it's China. Or Russia. You can't trust them. They're probably hiding their numbers in hopes of appearing more masterful in the face of a crisis that is killing thousands of humans every single day, and has not relented for a year. 

I'll say it again: Half a million. The problem with saying it over and over doesn't change the reality of every individual father, daughter, cousin, friend, co-worker or lady from down the street who has died from this virus. And millions more who contracted the disease and though they have recovered will likely suffer after-effects for the rest of their lives. The ones they get to keep living. 

A quick experiment: Try and picture in your mind the faces of all the people you know. They can be movie stars or people you never really met. How long before they become a muddy smear of noses and mouths and eyes and indistinguishable features that simply overwhelm your tired brain? Half a million is a number best suited for describing budgets, or distances to the moon and back. It is a number so big that it does not allow for much distinction. Tragic, because each one deserves their own story, their own headline. But we don't have room. Or time. We lower the flags and light candles. And we write blogs. 

And the number keeps growing.

Wear a mask. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

What Does He Know - Really

 I am a teacher. I am a bad guy.

Not to the parents and kids with whom I work, mind you. I have received nothing but love from them over the past eleven months. I am the guy who has been making it possible for them to see their classmates, friends and yes - their teachers. When I show up on someone's Zoom meeting to check in on a tech issue, I am greeted by a chorus of welcome, never mind the mute convention. When parents come to me with their compromised Chromebooks or hotspots, they tell me how much they want their kids to be back in "real school," and their kids agree. They miss the way things used to be. But they also are acutely aware of how things are. Those stickers reminding us all to stay six feet apart, and the masks that obscure the smiles are there to keep us all in line. 

We are in the midst of a global pandemic.

I cannot believe that I am still typing those words. 

It is not safe out there. Which doesn't keep me from wishing there was a way to bring kids back to the empty hallways and vacant playground. And it doesn't keep the occasional parent or caregiver from cursing the snail's pace at which things are progressing.

Or idiots like Don Jr. from spouting off about how teachers “prevented schools from opening." He shares so much with his father, but he is still allowed on social media. Which is where he made his rant about how “(t)he teachers unions are out of control & are destroying our kid’s futures!” Apparently his beef was all about how educators are not "following the science" of COVID-19. “Teachers unions and those representing them have definitely failed our children in terms of education and everything else.. Certainly failed the science they are supposed to be teaching us. It is all political.”

This is quite rich coming from a guy who got himself a case of coronavirus by flaunting the conventions of social distancing and wearing a mask. Just like dear old dad. In terms of politics, it makes sense that if he were going to gnaw on a bone he would choose teachers and their unions, since they have ever been big fans of the family. That one particular family, anyway. But the argument that schools have opened with "only a a handful of cases" to report is what we are supposed to take to heart as "science." Exactly how much is a "handful?" What is the acceptable number of students, family members, and staff that can contract this deadly disease before it becomes unacceptable? How many have to die?

Which is the question that hangs in the air as you watch Don Jr. foam at the mouth. In front of a display of custom handguns that would make Dirty Harry blush. Is this a threat, or just a precursor to the pivot he's about to make about handing out pistols to public school kids to protect them from mass shootings? Or the germs around them? 

I have been there, all this time, on the front lines. I wasn't battling nuts and their custom made firearms, but keeping the connection to our community open. Yes, I understand that our test scores might improve if we were able to see our kids in the flesh. It would be a whole lot less creepy in this mostly empty building, but it wouldn't be safe. But since all of this is coming from a man who never attended public school and has spent the past five years or more railing against them, it's just habit now. Much like the varied and many spittle-laced ravings for which he is known. 

Not because he is an infectious disease specialist. Or the parent of a public school student. And for the record, I never left. I've been here. I don't need to go back to school. And my fellow teachers have been working to reinvent their jobs to adapt to these extreme conditions. We are here. Teaching kids. It's what we do. 

Without the guns. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Ding

 When the movie was over, and the credits rolled, I asked my wife what she thought. I already knew, since at least twice during the film she had said, "good movie" out loud. And since I could see her eyes brimming with tears, I knew that she had felt it too. 

I have been lugging around Bless The Beasts And The Children in my heart and mind for fifty years. Back in 1971 I was nine years old and saw this story of a bunch of misfit children who took on the adventure of rescuing a herd of captive buffalo from slaughter. It was easy for me to project myself into this story of "dings," useless creatures, nobody wants them, their camp counselor insists they have no excuse for being alive. Other groups of boys have cool Native American nicknames: Apache, Navajo. The "dings" are given their own signifier: Bedwetters. Not quite ten years old, I decided then and there while watching this movie that I would never go to summer camp, and if I did, I would want to end up in the Bedwetters cabin. 

In my mind, I concocted scenarios in which I could rise to the top of the geek heap. Still a weirdo, but still recognized as a leader among weirdos. Not content just being the comic relief, and far too interested in justice to live too close to the juvenile delinquent label, I imagined leading a rag-tag group of my contemporaries on some brave mission that could lead to everyone else having to reevaluate the way they had thought of me. Maybe I could be a hero.

Just for one day.

Which essentially set the trajectory for my teenage years. It is most certainly what kept me in band rather than picking the "safe" spot on the wrestling team. It's what nudged me to buy that DEVO record the same day I bought my first Elvis Costello album. I chose the path I was on, and I savored the Bedwetter martyrdom. By acknowledging and accepting my low rung on the social ladder, I took solace in knowing that I had put myself there. I had no illusions about someday being accepted by the strata above me. If I was to be a nerd, I would be the best possible nerd, and if there were nerds around me that needed support or attention, I would give it to them. 

Rather than burden you with the story of my life from that point on, I can tell you that my lovely wife, whom I met while a member of that high school band, insists that it is the weirdos and the outcasts that make the most interesting people. A life of conforming leads to more conforming, and while it may not cause many sleepless nights and an easier time spent at summer camp, it doesn't make for much of a story. I should also point out that I never get a chance to free a herd of buffalo, but (spoiler alert) this also did not require me to die in a young and tragic way. It gave me something to hold onto that is my very own and fifty years down the line, I wouldn't have traded it for anything. 

Good movie, indeed. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Can't Cun

 I offer no apologies for Ted "Pleasure" Cruz and his awesomely poor timing and judgement when it comes to taking the family on vacation. I'm sure you're tired of hearing about how the Senator from Texas packed up his troubles in his Samsonite Roller and whisked his wife and daughters off to Cancun, Mexico. Even as the state which he nominally represents was experiencing a disaster of somewhat epic proportions. 

A couple things here: If, like Ted, you are skeptical about the "science" behind climate change then you might be excused from paying attention to anything connected to the subject. Many who espouse their doubts about such things like to prattle on about how "if we're supposed to be having global warming, I guess we could use a little bit right now, heh heh heh." Or maybe we should applaud Ted for finally taking up for his wife and kids, after knuckling under to the "president" for the past four years. The guy who once responded to the suggestion that his wife was ugly from Trump, "It's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often, but if you mess with my wife, if you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone." Where do you suppose all that vitriol went? Once Trump became "president," it was almost as if all that bad blood just drained away.

So maybe he's forgetful. Or forgiving. Or it could be that all those things that people have been saying about Ted Cruz, not his wife, for all these years are true. He may not be the person best suited to support the best interests of the Lone Star State. It's possible, right? While the guy who lost the most recent senate election to Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke waded in and organized volunteers to make more than 784,000 wellness calls to senior citizens around the state. I don't know. That sounds like leadership to me. 

Upon his return, somewhat abruptly because of the media frenzy in which he found himself, Ted Cruz set about doing what comes natural: Making excuses. “With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.” We can forget the travel restrictions and the global pandemic for a moment here. Instead, let's focus on the "good dad" thing. If he's such a "good dad," why would he throw his daughters under the bus as the reason for his poor judgement? Perhaps the weather conditions froze some of the pipes in his moral compass. 

Or maybe we have finally had enough of watching our leaders toddle off to the golf course or fly down to Cancun while their constituents suffer and die. Maybe it's time to stop electing truly awful people to positions of authority. 

Yeesh. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Stuck

 Once I finally sat down in that chair, I felt I could relax. This was a bit odd since I was about to be stabbed with a needle and injected with a vaccine that was rushed through clinical trials and had, just recently, dropped my older brother like a stone after his second dose. Still, I couldn't help but feel that I had come to the end of a very long journey. A Hobbit-like trip there and back again. Not just the ten minute walk from my school to the high school where the vaccination station was set up. Or the three hours I stood in line, waiting. I was there in that line because all my attempts to get an appointment had been stymied by the web-gremlins and software demons. I was part of the walk-in rabble that had shown up in hopes of receiving one of the one hundred fifty doses set aside for educators like myself. The ones without an appointment. Now I am on the spot where so many have hoped to be, right on the precipice of being stabbed and given my return appointment for my second dose.

The one that would make me invulnerable. 

Hopefully. 

Because it's been almost a year now of waiting and watching and wanting there to be a cure. An end to this madness. I have a visceral memory of that last day of school, back in March when other school districts around us were closing and somehow Oakland was not making the same announcement. Then all of a sudden they did, and almost without waring, everything changed. There was an infectious disease, a plague, that was finding its way into the very fabric of American society and creating a state of emergency like none of us had experienced before. Suddenly, our world shrank. I was stuck at home, which felt like a gift at first, but then it became apparent that if we did ignore the strictures and the guidelines, we could die. It was that simple. Wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance and all those other behaviors were instilled in me as I watched hundreds of thousands around me die. 

As I was standing in line to get my injection, I received the news that the priest who married my wife and I died. From COVID-19. When I was finally rewarded with my shot and that incredibly valuable vaccination card, I felt like I could breathe out. Breathing out is something I have been doing for the past eleven months, but I may have been taking it for granted. This was a lengthy exhalation that probably had the air of a satisfied sigh. I had made it through to the other side.

Part of me wants to parade about without a mask, licking elevator buttons and seeking out crowds. Not a big part. The big part of me is far too conditioned to The New Way. But my shoulder is sore, and that's a good thing. 

It's been a very long, strange trip. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Vocem, Silentium Inposuisset

 I know that convention suggests that it is inappropriate to speak ill of the dead. Still, even with seventy years on the planet, there was not quite enough time to speak ill of Rush Limbaugh while he was alive. If you missed it, Rush died earlier this week after a battle with cancer and reality that lasted for years. It was this brave face that he hid behind a microphone long enough to redefine the qualifications for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The former game show host who chose to honor the former radio host with the highest civilian award described it this way: "It was an idea that we had that a lot of people suggested to me, frankly, a lot of great people of our country, largely Republican. It was an amazing night because the Republicans went wild and the Democrats sat there, but they all respected Rush."

Well, maybe not "all." Representative Bobby Rush a Democrat from Illinois tweeted at the time, “There is no 'both sides' to this issue. Rush Limbaugh is a racist who uses his platform to inspire other racists. Rewarding him with a #MedalOfFreedom is a slap in the face to every person who ACTUALLY deserved that honor.” People like Ralph Bunche, E.B. White, Helen Keller, Neil Armstrong, Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King Jr., Earl Warren, Clare Boothe Luce, Buckminster Fuller, Jacques Cousteau, Arthur Ashe, Colin Powell, Rosa Parks, Simon Wiesenthal, Harvey Milk, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, John Glenn, Bill Bradley, Sally Ride, Gloria Steinem, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and that's a pretty solidly cherry-picked list of a much longer one dating back to 1963 when John F. Kennedy first started passing them out. 

Actors, politicians, sports figures, activists. Not self-styled hate mongers working from the safety of their subterranean studio bunkers. A year ago, when the presentation was made to Mister Limbaugh, I marked the occasion with a selection of choice quotes from the mouth of the beast. I may have missed a few. Like, "The only way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them." Or perhaps, "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." Maybe, "Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud." 

I could go on. Rush Limbaugh's career was packed with such wit and wisdom. We didn't need the grotesque irony of handing a medal named Freedom to a man who sought to undermine it for so many. And maybe about now, if you're still hung up on that "but he's dead" thing, we can all make lists of people without whom the world would be a much nicer place. I might appear on one or two of those lists. 

But not nearly as many as Rush Limbaugh. Vaya con Dios, Rush. The world has a little less hate without you in it. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Baby, It's Cold Outside - And Inside

 I grew up in Colorado. One of my first driving experiences was crossing Wolf Creek Pass in the family station wagon with said family packed in around me. Did I mention that I did this on the tail end of winter? Ice and snow everywhere, jackknifed big rigs all around me, and a lot of support coming from the back seats: "You know, they let you drive a little closer to that yellow line in the middle..." If anyone could see the yellow line in the middle, they would have been one up on me, but I white-knuckled us over the back of the Rocky Mountains to eventual safety. Ever since, slick roads have been less of a problem for me. 

Many years later, on a trip to Miami to see the Colorado Buffaloes take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, a freak cold snap descended on the southeast United States. There were freezing temperatures. Not metaphorically freezing. Scientifically below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit freezing. Highway traffic came to a standstill, including the Sunshine State of Florida, where ice is generally something you find in your drink, not on the roads. People were freezing in their homes, built as they were without insulation from the cold outside. In Miami, the temperature on game day was a "frigid" fifty-eight degrees. Returning back to the house where my father and I were staying from a run, I went for a quick swim. Bracing, to be sure, but not scientifically freezing. 

It was scientifically freezing in Texas this past week. Driving became treacherous, primarily due to the lack of experience folks in the Lone Star State have with navigating highways with frozen anything on them. While the homes were built for slightly more inclement weather than their Florida counterparts, many suffered because of a loss of heat, electric and natural gas. Power outages continued for days as Texans suffered through an Arctic Blast that froze the midsection of the United States. A few states north of this havoc in Colorado, my mother was enjoying the comfort and safety of her newly installed windows. That and the dependable power grid the state in which she lives maintains. 

The Texas power utilities failed to properly prepare their generators and regulators since the last tough winter back in 2011. Or the fabled Super Bowl Blackout of 1989. As temperatures dipped into the teens, officials from those Texas utilities scrambled to find someone or something to blame. Other than themselves. They pointed fingers at wind turbines and solar panels. Perhaps not surprisingly, reports suggested that the biggest area of failure came from natural gas facilities, undercutting many politicians' insistence that gas and oil were the solution to the problem. Add to this the deregulation for which so many Republicans have been mad for, allowing a range in energy prices from a low of twenty-two dollars per megawatt hour when demand was less severe to nine thousand dollars. To no power at all. 

Everything's bigger in Texas. Even the failures. 

Yee Haw. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Free*

 There is this myth out there about Free Speech: that it is absolutely free. The whole "fire in a crowded movie theater" chop has been used so often lately, but one might have trouble recalling just what a movie theater is. The reckoning there, whether you can remember crowds of any sort outside the flag-waving mobs that attacked the Capitol, is that you have to consider what you say as a part of an equation. Simply announcing that a blaze has begun in the projection room so that everyone sitting in the dark watching the latest offering from Hollywood's sequel factory is irresponsible. It could lead to panic. It could lead to injury and even death. Or at least the incineration of Zach Snyder's Justice League

That might not be a tragedy in and of itself, but the responsibility factor should not be overlooked. If there truly was a fire in the projection room, the last thing you want to do is have whatever crowd assembled out front to injure one another on their way out of the theater. If they were to flee, it should be in an orderly disgusted manner as dictated by the ridiculousness of the film being shown. Not trampling one another in a race for the exits as smoke and poisonous gasses fill the room that had previously held only mediocre entertainment. 

There is a responsibility to tell the truth. Not just when it comes to movie theaters. This extends to speech we share at peak volume or in whispers. Oddly, both seem to carry effectively, with whispers holding a slight edge when it comes to moving bad information quickly. The veracity of those whispers should be checked, but because they tend to involve that unique invitation to become part of a secret society that knows "the truth," humans tend to savor these bits most. Then there's the amplification of those whispers that makes things even more dicey. Having television networks and dark corners of Al Gore's Internet where these "secrets" can be collected and traded makes that whole free-flowing speech dangerous. It would seem that millions of Americans have been hoodwinked into believing all manner of salacious and less than accurate drivel. Millions of Americans who lack the discernment to distinguish truth from Q. That thrill of being on the inside, in the know, is so very powerful that when those lies start getting repeated by folks you might expect should have their knowledge bases covered, you get some very dangerous momentum. 

Momentum that can lead to folks being trampled underfoot. Values and institutions, crushed under the weight of hate and fear that started as a whisper and turned into a scream. It is just a little sad to discover after all these years that there is a cost to Free Speech. The cost being an effort to speak truth, and to correct mistakes when they are made. Not to amplify them, or push even harder in hopes that somehow repeating a lie big or small to make them true. That's Joseph Goebbels' Territory, and there's nothing free or freeing about that. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Adventures In Perspective

 Would it shock you to know that I have mentioned Britney Spears by name eleven times in this blog over the years? It that doesn't surprise you, then it probably won't surprise you to hear that none of those mentions were particularly kind. Dating all the way back to 2006, Ms. Spears has been a stopping point on my pop culture snarkfest. Around here I suppose I don't really ascribe to the old adage about not saying anything at all when I don't have anything nice to say. 

You see, Britney Spears and I are not friends. We have never been introduced. What I know of her is what "the media" chooses to shovel my way. And, in turn, my relationship turns directly on my reaction to what I am told. I have not been complimentary or sympathetic in my assessment of her experiences. The slack I have cut Britney is next to none. She has been the poster child for excess and poor choices in my vision, and that was all that mattered in the big book of blog fodder.

Until now. This recent reconsideration of how we have all treated Britney Spears has caused me to look back with more than a twinge of regret for the way I tossed her around as if she were a caricature and not a flesh and blood human being. I made the somewhat late-twentieth century American assumption that anyone who found themselves living their lives in public were asking for me to lob my opinion on top of those others that were also privy to her every move. Who is she dating and who is watching her money and who is saying what about the person or persons who are dating her and taking care of her money and what car was she driving when she did that thing that ended up in all those magazines and splashed across Al Gore's Internet? 

Who cares? 

Well, sorry to say that at least eleven times I felt it was my job to care, and in doing so I asked you all to do just that because that is what we do, after all. Isn't it? We shove folks into the limelight for one reason or another and then after a while we delight in watching them crumble. It makes us feel good about all that fame and fortune we never experienced ourselves. 

Sadly, I confess that I might not have come to this point unless I had been beaten to the punch by one Justin Timberlake. This former Mousketeer/actor/pop star and now apologist for and to Britney Spears recently announced how sorry he was sorry: "I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I have failed." He failed to protect and defend both of them from a business and society that is inherently misogynistic and plays by different rules for boys and girls. Witness the slow and steady rise of Mister Timberlake and his brother in Mouse Ryan Gosling. Contrast their careers to the flash and dash of those endured by Ms. Spears and her Mouse-sister Christina Aguilera. 

Of course it is quite possible that none of this regret would be expressed without the release of the documentary Framing Britney Spears,  that asks the question, "Why are we treating this person this way?" 

The only answer I can offer is the one I suggested earlier: We are hungry to watch those in the public eye disintegrate. It makes us feel better.

I don't anymore. I feel worse. Britney, if you're out there, I'm sorry. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Aftermath

 “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.” 

That was how Senator Mitch McConnell chose to sum up his opinion about the evidence he saw during the weeklong impeachment trial of the former gameshow host. It is also a matter of public record that Senator Mitch did not choose to vote to convict the person whom he believes is practically and morally responsible for the siege of the Capitol. It is a certainty that if his vote had been added to the other seven Republicans that crossed party lines with their guilty votes, more would have followed and that would have changed the outcome dramatically. 

But, as the bard once put it, you can't always get what you want. It is significant that this is the only president to be impeached twice. And he managed to do that within the parameters of his first and we expect only term in office. The managers of the case against the twice-impeached "president" chose to focus on the hours of January 6 that showed a clear dereliction of duty as well as incitement to a mob to riot. And while these folks allowed the argument to get mired down in the semantics of the word "fight," there was no way that anyone watching the video evidence presented could ignore the very real threat presented by the aforementioned mob to representatives, senators and the Vice President himself. Unless you were one of those senators like Cruz or Hawley who chose to tweet or work on their overdue homework as the prosecution made its case. 

Ultimately, it was made clear to us that the former gameshow host maintains his death grip on the Republican party, who seem determined to go down in a blaze of glory even though the former majority leader believes there is "no question" that the gameshow host was responsible for the events that put him and his colleagues in danger. A majority of senators were willing to convict him for inciting the violence that lead to the deaths of a civilian and two Capitol Police officers. A majority of American citizens polled felt the same way. Which wasn't good enough. It give me pause to imagine under what circumstances would ten more senators been willing to vote their conscience instead of their party line. After four years of failed leadership that culminated in hundreds of thousands of Americans dying from a virus that should have been controlled instead of ignored, a crashed economy that was built on the backs of working people rewarding the rich, and a tumble into disrespect worldwide as our country became the laughingstock of the rest of the globe, they couldn't come together to say, "Yeah, actually encouraging the violent overthrow of the United States government is a bridge too far." 

However, that same bard once noted, "if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need." The cracks in the fa├žade of the Republican party are there for all to see. A light has been shone for all to see the hypocrisy and blunt arrogance that has been fomented over the past four years. Not just in the oval office, but in all our elected officials. The ones who are there cheering on the agenda of one man versus those who are there to serve the people who elected them. Organizations such as the "Proud Boys" are starting to splinter because they feel they have been left out to dry. As citizens are being charged and sentenced for their part in the siege of January 6, it will be more and more difficult to hide the truth. Donald Trump got away with murder. His minions won't. 

We cannot let that happen ever again.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Excitable Boy

 I was about eighteen when I chose to climb over a friend's Honda wagon, stepping on the back bumper then leaping on the roof, crawling to the front and rolling off the hood "like Starsky and Hutch." It was that last bit that made my cousin, our insurance agent, turn off the tape recorder as I described the incident. This resulted in my A) having to retell the story without background snickers, B) the loss of whatever friendship I might have had with Mister Honda in the first place, and C) an increase in my parents' insurance premiums. The late night phone call to my parents' house was their tip that their middle son was about to make their lives a little less comfortable for a little while. I did this a few times. A lot of these had to do with errors in judgement on my part, fueled by youthful indiscretion and the mistaken belief that I was indestructible. Which I may have been, but the objects and vehicles around me most certainly were not. This behavior reached its peak around the time I chose to leap from a swing at a playground while under the influence of a somewhat regrettable mixture of chemicals. The result was trashing of my left knee that might have looked better if it came at the end of a career-defining touchdown run. Instead, it was yet another late night phone call to my parents.

I feel that I would be remiss if I did not mention that this experience has come back to me, albeit in a blessedly less frequent form via my own son's teenage antics. Firs of all, the fact that he chose to phone his mother and I when he got pulled over for speeding or the time he was in his friend's pickup when it rolled down an embankment is a source of some mild satisfaction. We have no secrets. Huzzah. However, I could continue to live a happy and productive life without ever receiving another call that starts, "Well, the good new is that I'm still alive." Yes. That is good news, but it is a setup for what comes afterward. I know it all too well. 

Bruno Joseph Cua's parents are probably way too familiar with this syndrome too. Young Bruno was arrested for his part in the January 6 insurrection at our nation's capitol. The eighteen year old was recently charged with a number of counts including assault on a federal officer; civil disorder; obstruction of an official proceeding; restricted building or grounds; and entering or remaining on the floor or gallery of either House of Congress, violent entry or disorderly conduct, engage in physical violence, obstruct, or impede passage, and parade, demonstrate, or picket on Capitol Grounds. It was Bruno's dad who suggested that they make a family trip out of their pilgrimage from Georgia to Washington D.C. to see what their Dear Leader might urge them to do two weeks before the Inauguration. What Bruno's parents might not have known was how deep he was into the mentality of the siege. And while mom and dad hung on the periphery, young Bruno went ahead and pushed and shoved his way eventually into the Senate Chamber, taking picture and swinging a baton. It was only after the hours of video and self-posted admissions of participation that all these MAGAts were picked up and arrested. At his hearing in federal court, Bruno Joseph Cua was denied bond and was kept behind bars awaiting trial. 

Which is to say that I was fortunate. My older brother was in law enforcement way back when, and the family joke was that he couldn't necessarily keep me out of jail, but he could get me a good room. Never arrested. Never jailed. But I did absolutely no favors for my parents' insurance. 

I wonder what the Cua's premiums are like. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Don't Ask

 You don't need to. I'll spill.

I was going to write a blog a week ago about how Bruce Springsteen may or may not have sold out by appearing in a commercial for Jeep. I confess that I did the thing that so many of us do these days: I jumped at the chance to peek at the ad on YouTube. Why wait until some pre-ordained moment during the Super Bowl to see this bit of media that will require my focused attention? I could be in the kitchen scraping the nacho pan or watching replays of all those Kansas City touchdowns. Turns out there were no nachos, only chips and salsa. And those Kansas City touchdowns? Well, let's just say at least I had the chips. 

The ad was a stirring bit of poetic thunder one might have expected from the Boss. It was called "The Middle," and it was all about reuniting America. A noble thought from a man whom I tend to presume is noble himself. 

But it was used to sell Jeeps. Or Jeep the company. Not by name, of course. That would have been crass. Instead, there was a discussion about a church in the middle of the continental United States, and how we can all strive to get there. In our Jeeps. 

Or maybe it really was something more. I do not doubt that Mister Springsteen's heart was in the right place, and I would imagine that whatever he was paid was not the driving force behind his decision to make a commercial for anything after all these years of saying, "Thank you. No." Still, my mind couldn't help but recalling another time I felt my heart break just a little when it came to this semi-major demigod in the pantheon of my life: The time he made an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to sell a greatest hits package, which came fast on the heels of an appearance at Barack Obama's inauguration, and would you believe that was the year The E Street Band was the halftime show at (wait for it) The Super Bowl. 

And at that time, there was a shrug of the shoulders and some forgiveness for being let down by this paragon of human nature. The operative word there being "human." Which brings us to the DWI. Seventy-one year old Bruce Springsteen was arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. Back in November. And somehow this news became important enough to report just days after his debut as a pitchman for Jeep. Jeep decided to take down the ad upon which they spent ridiculous amounts of money as a zero tolerance response. 

The whole thing left me feeling, as a fan, a little disappointed. Not in terms of the level of scandal, but the existence of scandal at all. I immediately went about uncovering the details of the arrest, which seem to hinge more on a momentary lapse of judgement than a hidden past of drunken debauchery. 

Look at me making excuses for the man.

Because a large part of me needs my heroes to be above all that, and even though this most recent incident occurred in response to a request from a fan to have a shot with him, it still fuels that set of voices that clamor to bring down the mighty. Or at least those I find to be mighty. The ones that like to point out that Springsteen did by his own admission dodge the draft, never had a "real job" or cheated on his first wife. Or maybe I should remain awestruck that this blue collar hero managed to find himself in the position that so many of the characters in his songs have been. I will not be throwing away any of my albums, T-shirts, or ticket stubs. 

But I probably won't be buying a Jeep anytime soon. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Never Really Lost

 I left my heart

in San Francisco 

once.

I had to go back

to see about

retrieving 

it.

When I got there

I found that it was now

shared.

I was not going to take

it back as I had

planned. 

Instead I chose to say

with my heart to be

whole.

And though I don't 

make it to San Francisco

much,

I am able to keep 

my eyes on my

heart.

I know right where it is

morning, noon, and

night.

Turns out that trip

helped me find

love.

So after years of thoughtful

consideration I think I'll 

stay. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Them Too

 If you are having trouble remembering where we are in the swirl of a calendar we have experienced since last March, I advise you to take clues from those things around you. Not unlike remembering a truck stop on a desolate stretch of highway, you can use certain recurrences as signposts in this wilderness. Now that the election is over and the Christmas lights have come down and the inauguration with its pomp and the riots that preceded it have gone by, it might be a little hard to grab hold of exactly where we find ourselves. 

It's time to announce the finalists for this year's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And there is some good news: A whole bunch of women received nominations. Mary J. Blige, Dionne Warwick,  Tina Turner, Kate Bush, Chaka Khan, and Carole King all made the short list this year. I understand how some of those names might cause a bit of head scratching when it comes to the "rock and roll" part. Ms. Warwick's talent is undeniable, but I can't be sure of her rock cred, exactly. 

No matter. This year, we have seven nominees who happen to be women. In a year that has already seen the first woman elected Vice President of the United States, it seems like a relief. Not that this solves any equity issues by itself. Let me explain further by noting that the seventh name I carefully omitted from my initial roll call is The Go-Gos. Are the Go-Gos. That's the name of the group, not one person so conjugation gets a little messy. As do the justifications for keeping this band our of the Hall for so long. With all due respect, the Go-Gos rocked much harder than Carole King, and it has been forty years since their debut album was released. Beauty and the Beat became the first, and to date only album by an all-female band that wrote all their songs and played all their instruments to go to Number One on the Billboard 200. That's history. That's what a Hall of Fame is for, those who blazed trails and opened doors and made it possible for those who came afterward to ride a little smoother. 

On the testosterone-y front, we've got bands like Iron Maiden and Foo Fighters, both of whom can be found in my record collection, and whose efforts to expand their own section of rock's frontier is notable, but first? Only? Not really. I am not sure where to put the Beautiful Mutants of DEVO in this discussion, but I confess I will be pulling for them and the Go-Gos as the date gets closer to the actual induction, which happens in May. If you're curious, that's the month that comes after April. It's February now. Plenty of time time stir up some enthusiasm for those who kicked down the door to the boy's club. 

About time. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Our Bad

 Sorry.

This is not an apology. It is a word. It is, in fact, a sorry excuse for an apology. Depending on the tone of voice used to deliver it, this one word can sometimes exacerbate a situation rather than resolve it. I know this because I have spent a quarter century attempting to get apologies out of young people that are effective when it comes to their purpose: forgiveness. I have a pretty standard rap about how, if someone stepped on my toes, I would expect them to say that they were sorry. But if they kept stepping on my toes with the notion that simply repeating that one word each time, I would get the impression that it was there to ask permission to step on my toes repeatedly. For sorry to work its true magic, an apology should involve some sympathy and maybe a pinch of empathy. Apologies are not the place to spread blame. 

I am looking at you, Marjorie Taylor Greene. "Representative" Greene stood up in front of Congress and asked to be forgiven by explaining that it wasn't her fault. It wasn't her fault that she spouted conspiracy theories about school shootings, California wildfires, and the leadership of the Democratic Party. During a closed door session, she told Republican colleagues that it was just a phase she was going through, and House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy bought it. He listened to what she had to say and believed that she would stop embarrassing herself and the rest of the members of Congress with her wackadoodle ramblings. Kevin characterized her remarks as "an apology."

Well, let's take a look at what we know she said. Marjorie's initial remarks told us the story of someone who grew up, when to school, and started a successful business. She told us that she had never been arrested, but had a few speeding tickets. And that she was swept away by the first candidate that  she felt really spoke to her: Donald Trump. "I thought ‘finally, maybe this someone that will do something about the things that deeply bother me, like the fact that we’re so deeply in debt, that our country has murdered over sixty-two million people in the womb. The fact that our borders are open and some of my friends have had their children murdered by legally aliens, or perhaps that we can stop sending our sons and daughters to fight in foreign wars and be used as the world’s police, basically.'"

Still waiting for the apology.

She rambled on: “And so what I did was I started looking at things on the internet, asking questions, like most people do everyday, use Google, and I stumbled across something - and this was at the end of 2017 - called QAnon." And she went ahead and posted them and made videos and posted them and kept asking questions. "The problem with that is, though, is that I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them." And so here is her sorry: "And that is absolutely what I regret, because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn't be standing here today and you couldn't point a finger or accuse me of anything wrong because I’ve lived a very good that life that I’m proud of and my family’s proud of, my husband’s proud of, my children are proud of, and that’s what my district elected me for."

Okay. Maybe you missed it. She's sorry that she was allowed to believe the wackadoodle stuff and those Facebook posts, she wouldn't be in trouble at all. She was just doing what all the cool kids were doing, and she just happened to be the one who got in trouble. Insert Marjorie's huff and eye roll here. See, we are the ones who made the mistake here by misunderstanding her intentions. We are the ones who owe her an apology. And who exactly is in charge of allowing an adult woman to believe things? 

Sorry. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Playing Out The String

 Ah, the Super Bowl: culmination of a football season and a notice to families across the nation that dad will be back, muddling in your business and acting like he hasn't just been off for the past six months staring at his fantasy lineups and the injury reports and the Thursday Saturday Sunday Monday games. Games that were shifted at the last minute to accommodate COVID protocols that kept threatening to end up in the cancellation of a regular season game. Or a playoff game? Or the Super Bowl? 

A hush fell over the crowd.

Not that crowds were in evidence for most of the season, unless you mean the cardboard cutouts or the sprinkling of fans that were allowed in to witness this or that contest while the league worked to end systematic racism and make sure that all two hundred fifty-six games would be played and all the corporations that would not survive without the ad revenue generated by the express train to riches called the NFL. 

I won't lie. I watched a great many of those two hundred fifty-six games. I got caught up in the excitement. Partly out of habit, admittedly, but there was also a large element of "the only game in town." After I had tired of binge-watching whatever dramas my wife had uncovered on Netflix, there was a void that needed to be filled. And on February 7, the folks at CBS breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated themselves and everyone associated with the National Football League for bringing the ship in for a landing. Intact. All games played. TV contracts paid. Systemic racism? Well they did put up two hundred fifty million dollars to make it go away and they let players put Breonna Taylor's name on the back of their helmets. 

They did not find Colin Kaepernick a job. Colin Kaepernick who, like Tom Brady, has played quarterback in a Super Bowl and lost. 

As the Super Bowl failed to live up to its modifier, it became apparent that the goal seemed primarily to be completion. Making it to the finish line. The game was as lackluster as the halftime show as the commercials. Football season now complete. Check. Next year will be different. Next year will be better. Next year will be Coke and Pepsi and Budweiser and pickups galore! 

And football. 

Side note: Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif chose to take this season off and do his other job: doctor. He spent this football season working on the frontlines saving lives. He missed the whole football season. 

How about that?

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

It Could Work

 There is a struggle going on, and I can feel it. Most Americans can. It centers on schools, so anyone with school-age kids or is a school-age kid or has acquaintance of someone who is or has school-age kids has an opinion about opening schools. The prevailing notion seems to be much the same as it was with the previous regime: Open the schools and you open the economy. Moms and dads can go back to work if kids have a place to go. Keeping schools closed is creating more depression among young people and an economic depression among adults. Figuring out a way to make this work seems to be in the best interests of everyone involved. 

But those darn teachers keep digging in their heels and saying, "not yet." Those darn teachers are still not sold on the idea that going back to in-person instruction solves a problem for them. While there have been quantum reassurances that children are less likely to carry or pass on the COVID-19 virus, there are still so very many asterisks and variants in the data that suggest that there is still something of a crap shoot when it comes to just exactly who is at risk to exactly what. This strain, that strain, asymptomatic carriers and tests that still manage to miss some positive cases. 

"Do it for the good of the country." comes the suggestion from a loud group protected by masks and social distancing. Can I imagine a school full of five to twelve year olds walking in formation and respecting all the protocols required to keep everyone safe? Yes I can. I can also imagine a world where teachers are not viewed as slackers who only work a few hours a day and take three months off a year to visit their time shares in the Bahamas. I can imagine a lot of things. Like I can imagine a reality in which there wasn't a debate about to whom and when and where vaccinations would be doled out. Oregon's governor got quite the blowback for prioritizing teachers in her plan, the one that hoped to get Oregon's teachers and seniors inoculated by May 2. 

California's governor has a similar plan. It will be rolled out in mid-February. And if the goal is to get all those darn teachers vaccinated before the end of the school year, then the other end of this supply chain needs to be examined. Doses of available medicine to make all this magic work seem to be of limited supply, and even if they happen with startling efficiency, there is the matter of the month between shots. If, for example, yours truly were to get his first shot right around Valentine's Day (mid-February) it would not be until Saint Patrick's Day (mid-March) before I would be fully immunized. This leaves two and a half months to get yours truly back in a classroom surrounded by what we assume is a smaller than normal cohort of non-vaccinated kids, who will be returning at the end of each day to parents who are likely less-than-vaccinated. In the meantime, recess, trips to the bathroom, lunchtime and simple movement around the classroom will all have to be carefully monitored in order to limit contact and possible contagion. 

I can imagine that working. It should also be noted that I have, at times, imagined taking my flying car to work. That is to say that I am enthusiastic about returning to in-person learning because it is what we all know best. Distance learning has been a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. Kids don't learn as well on Zoom. They don't socialize or experience the world as they need to. 

However I will say this without any reservations: None of this is worth dying for. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Long Run

 Here's the thing about running thirteen miles. Well, thirteen miles and change: You have a lot of time to think. A great many of these blogs are at least partially composed as I am out exercising, and I find that three miles is a pretty good way to clear my mind enough to grab a topic for discussion and come up with a clever sentence or two to seed the process. After running seven miles, which I do from time to time on the weekends, I try to sit down as abruptly as possible so that all those clever bits don't get lost before I have a chance to use them. Doing that once again gave me a head full of threads that I struggled to manage. 

The fact that I am currently using this opportunity to discuss the process of writing gives you the feeling that I may have over shot the mark when it comes to finding something to say. Do I want to go with the question of whether or not I am a joke machine? How about the my evolution as a patient in the modern health care system? Maybe a simple recounting of what it's like to be fifty-eight years old and find yourself unwittingly participating in a half-marathon?

Because that's what happened. When I left the front gate, it was my plan to try and get in my standard Saturday workout, with a likelihood of getting all my steps for the day in at once. This little gadget my family gave me for my birthday has turned my life into a bit of a videogame. I get a little buzz on my wrist when I've been sitting too long. I get another buzz when I have met a goal. And I can earn badges for doing a lot of that kind of thing. All of which suggests that I'm an easy mark when it comes to achievables. Keeping in mind that these are not even real gold stars. These are virtual. And once you acquire one of these badges, I know that getting the next one will require more effort on my part. 

But what about that joke machine thing. Somewhere around mile six, I started to mine the image of the writer's room at the Alan Brady Show. For those of you not in the know, that's where Rob Petrie worked. Rob was played by Dick Van Dyke, and he was a big enough star that they decided to name the show after him. Alan Brady was the show within the show. Am I going too fast? It all seemed to make sense between miles six and seven. Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amdsterdam, was the one they called "The Human Joke Machine." No matter what the situation or occasion, Buddy had a line. I decided when I was still fairly young that I didn't want to be that way. I wanted to be the clever, whimsical kind of funny that Rob was. Buddy and his old-school counterpart Sally, played by Rose Marie, always seemed just a little at odds with Rob's "college boy" attitudes. Maybe they were also a little jealous that this "college boy" got the head writer's job. It was his job to take all those flying bits of funny and corral them into something that could be used on a television show that we never really got to see because we were so busy watching the show about making the television show. Buddy's life is show-biz, having married a former showgirl. Rob is more a product of suburbia, with a wife at least two steps less wacky than Buddy's. 

It was the beginning of mile nine when I started thinking about health care. I was giving myself credit for being fit enough to keep chugging along as I approach sixty years. I was composing a note to my doctor, whom I have not seen since before this whole pandemic thing began, and assuring her that I have been being safe and careful, and maybe even getting healthier during all this shutdown time. Which caused me to reflect on my son's health, and it occurred to me that his connection to our health insurance was close to timing out. He would eventually be in the position of finding his own personal physician, and that's when I realized that when I was his age, I was more often than not in touch with medical care through the auspices of the emergency room than scheduled office visits and checkups. 

Look at me now. Running half a marathon and not collapsing as I made it back to the front gate. Because as it turns out, that's really the mark of being at least marginally healthy: not collapsing. And being able to make it back to the keyboard to write about it. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Slept Like The Dead

 My dad snored. This was not a secret. He had a habit of falling asleep in front of the television in the living room just before the weather came on. You could safely assume that the weather forecast was being delivered because it could not be heard over the snorts and squonks coming from the chair where my father's head had lolled back slightly, allowing for the guttural clanking to spill from his open mouth. He once made the mistake of recreating this performance while staying as a guest at a friend's Central Park West apartment. Lying near the end of the bed, my mother watched as he began his early-sleep ritual, with their old high school chum looking on. As my dad lapsed into the quaking state and into window rattling, his dear friend lashed out with a foot to the middle of his back: "Don! Wake up! You're snoring like a pig!" 

Which is just one in a series of apocryphal tales about the sounds my father would make when he wasn't awake. One of the last times I saw my father alive was the night before he started his cross country trip via small plane. He fell asleep waiting for the weather. Once I was sure by the timbre of the rumblings that I could get away with it, I changed the channel to the news in Korean and went to bed myself. The last practical joke I played on my old man. 

But as much as everyone who knew him around bedtime would tease him, he seemed steadfast in his habit. His affliction. He blamed it on the deviated septum he got as part of the heroic act of blocking an extra point as the highlight of his junior high football career. With his face. A facemask might have saved him and the rest of us from years of being frightened of monsters in the night. 

Now, decades after he went to sleep for good, I am wearing my own facemask. The kind that forces air up my nose to keep me from snoring, just like dear old dad. I have suffered from insomnia for most of my life, but now that I don't have my own racket and that of my father to contend with, I sleep much more peacefully. Which is kind of a shame, since a few extra hours of sleep might have benefited us all back in the day when the very foundation of our house shook just before the weather came on. 

When we were cleaning out my fathers things from our mountain cabin after he passed, we found a mini cassette recorder. There were a fistful of sixty minute tapes, which my brothers and I anticipated might be songs or stories or some final words of wisdom. Nope. Instead we listened to hour after hour of that sound we all knew so well. It took just a day or two after that discovery to figure out that he had been documenting his log-sawing in hopes of presenting it to a doctor who might alleviate his septum from its deviation thereby freeing us all from the late night din. 

These days, I make a point of crawling into bed before I start to drift, but every so often, I feel my head tip back and my throat open just enough to release the call of the wild. And I miss my dad.