Sunday, January 31, 2021

Funny Lady

 I got in trouble last week for not telling my wife that Larry King had died. She had to learn that sad news from reading my blog. That is why I made a specific point of going directly to her just after I heard that Cloris Leachman had passed away at the age of ninety-four. If you are only finding out about this now, I apologize and will put you on the urgent obit line of communique that I must now maintain with my bride. 

Which is to say that this past week, one of the funniest people on the planet left the planet. Cloris Leachman, Oscar and multiple Emmy award winning actress died. And I would like to tell you that I am sad, but it's very difficult considering her body of work to carry that off. Ms. Leachman brought a seemingly effortless combination of charm and snark to even her scariest and most embittered characters. If you cannot utter the words "Frau Bl├╝cher" without the accompanying whinny of horses, then you understand what I mean. I was twelve the first time I saw Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, There were plenty of things that sailed over my pre-teen head, but not Cloris. The moment she confesses her love for Frooderick - pardon me - Frederick's grandfather is both heartbreaking and hysterical. 

And if that was the only thing Cloris Leachman had ever given the world, that would be enough. But with nearly three hundred credits listed on a career that spanned more than seventy years, there was a laugh, and a few tears, for everyone. I know this because when I announced to my wife that she had died, I asked my son if he was familiar with Cloris Leachman, expecting him to land on Young Frankenstein, which I had showed him in his formative years. But instead, he said, "Oh, she was in Malcolm in The Middle." For a moment, I wanted to correct him, but I knew that he was correct. 

She was on Ironside. And Wagon Train. And everyone's landlord Phyllis Lindstrom on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was able to appreciate her star turn in The Last Picture Show. Many of the same qualities she brought to her comedy are visible in her performance. Slow burn, truth inside and out, fully embodying the woman she is portraying. The same can be said for Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety. It was this performance that gave me a pop culture nugget that I carry with me to this day: "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup." 

As I mentioned at the beginning, it would be correct to say that I am mourning Cloris Leachman's passing. If only I could stop laughing. She stomped on the Terra in such a way as to make my sides hurt. She will be missed. 

Aloha, Cloris. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Muzzled

 Okay. I admit I did the happy dance when I heard that a certain ex-game show host had been kicked off Twitter. And contrastingly I flinched a bit when I stopped to consider the free speech issues that banning anyone from social media presented. Would it rise up and ring the First Amendment bell? I am pretty sure that our founding fathers did not have Facebook in mind when they starting drafting the rules for talking smack about each other. Unless you count The Reynolds Pamphlet, in which case I leave it to Lin-Manuel Miranda to decide. 

But now we have a herd of angry right-wing types insisting that they are being "cancelled" or "muzzled." Which seems fair and appropriate, since voicing their grievances is that part of the free speech ideal that rings most true. Of course, the fact that we are fully aware of the pain and suffering felt by these individuals suggests that their lack of a platform may be just a tad overstated. For example, I did not intend to purchase a copy of Josh Hawley's book when it was going to be published by Simon and Schuster, and now that they have dropped it and another publisher has swooped in to grab the rights to the nonsensical ravings of a "patriot" like him, I feel that I know at least two more facts about his book than I am completely comfortable. Simply put, if there is no sound in a vacuum, this must not be a very good vacuum. 

Speaking of that vacuum, something else that sucks is Fox News. Business reporter Maria Bartiroma was complaining to media martyr and sedition cheerleader Josh Hawley about how she has lost Twitter followers since that ugly scene at the Capitol. Josh was on her nationally televised show to complain about his voice being silenced, after having his op-ed piece about his muzzling published by the New York Post. The proudly self-announced most read Sunday tabloid New York Post. And how is it that I learned about this? Well, I confess that I had to look on Al Gore's Internet to find it. I had to look for about twelve seconds, because it was a "headline" on my newsfeed. The same Internet that shoves ideas for floor lamps in the margins of the pages I am trying to read because I once thought about purchasing a floor lamp. The same Internet that reminds me about the Kardashians because I once watched David Letterman interview one. Somehow that same Internet, in the midst of a purge of conservative voices, managed to deliver me the sad news about Maria and Josh being unable to be heard. Except by the seven hundred million people who stop by Yahoo each month. Or the billions of people who happen to click on the story on their way to purchase a floor lamp. 

This isn't censorship, folks. This is discretion on the part of the listeners and viewers of America. We can hear you just fine. We are ignoring you. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Weight

 Rock. Me. Hard place.

That's a quick diagram describing my situation when it comes to the playground here at my school. You may remember a couple weeks back when I wrote about the crew of men and trucks that came out to work on the retaining wall outside our school. If you don't recall that lament, you probably remember a time when I pined for the day when the asphalt at my school could be replaced, at the very least, by new asphalt that isn't cracked and burdened by the ravages of more than a quarter century of sitting out in the rain and wind and sun. Not to mention the pitter patter of all those little feet. 

But there I went and did it. I mentioned it. Again. It's that part of keeping still for all these years. If I had moved around the district, I might have had a different perspective. I wouldn't be the institutional memory for this one spot in East Oakland. I would not have witnessed the several vain attempts to patch or give the appearance of repair. Way back when our school was "modernized," they painted the place and put in an elevator and some lovely architectural flourishes inside like wood trim and a seemingly endless run of bulletin board space. And the cables for Al Gore's Internet were finally put inside the walls instead of being stapled and zip-tied to door frames just barely out of the reach of all but the tallest of fifth graders. But during that project, our classrooms were all moved into portable trailers set up on that tired old playground and for a year or two, kids were corralled into an even tinier space of uneven, crumbling pavement. When the big rigs showed up to haul away those trailers, they left new scars. Scars that have yet to be repaired. 

Covered up? Yes. Until the next hard rain. That's how erosion works. And each winter we get a little more. And you might think that some parent group would look out on this landscape and feel the same way I do. Except they are looking at things from a different perspective. The sidewalks and streets where they live are in a near constant state of disrepair as well. The parents in the neighborhood where I work are interested in the quality of education their children are receiving. The quality of the playground is something that, when it does show up for them, is peripheral. It is not the focus of the caregivers. They want to be sure that reading, writing and math are taking place. Recess and PE don't always make that list. After six short years here, they move on and a new crop of short people appear, and I hope none of them get swallowed up by the ever-widening chasms. There is no PTA fundraiser to rescue us here. 

Which is why I started, last weekend, to create an online fundraiser for that project. I have been surprised and eternally grateful for the response I have received for the donations our expanded virtual community. Friends, family and strangers have contributed to all manner of requests, from books to a refrigerator in our staff room. What would it take to get a new playground? You can't find out without asking.

Except the GoFundMe never got finished. This Monday I received the news that that crew that is currently busy with the retaining wall would be turning their attention to our playground once they had finished all that masonry. This put a kink in my plans to hotwire one of their tractors and commence the work myself, but in good faith I chose to wait and see. 

What will happen next? The Cubs won the World Series. Maybe it's finally time to get our playground resurfaced. 

I can wait. 

Sigh. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

With The Band

 I used to play trombone. That's part of the reason I was staring so intently at the Marine Band on the night of Joe Biden's Inauguration. I am used to watching movies and TV shows that show people pretending to play instruments, and I am always relieved to see when they get things right. Fundamentally, it's pretty easy to tell when someone is faking the trombone. Low notes are created by making the tube longer, and this is accomplished by extending the slide further down the slide. Random movements of this slide are a pretty clear indicator that you've got an actor on the other end of that instrument. 

That's not what was happening with this fellow. He was focused, intent on his job. Which happened to be making music. It occurred to me then that he had it just a tad easier because he was standing still. He was not marching. I am sure that there have been plenty of opportunities for this man to sync up his left and right feet with the beat of a drum, while continuing to perform job number one: blowing in carefully controlled ways into a tube of various lengths. Coordination in these matters is key. 

I never marched when I played trombone. When I was marching, I carried a Sousaphone. While some may have experienced this as a more daunting proposition, given the additional weight of even the mostly fiberglass version of that instrument, compared with the relatively compact trombone. With the bell sticking above your head, it's important for Sousaphone players to remember your overhead clearance, but this isn't much of a concern when you're outside in a parade or halftime show. But that trombone slide and its variable length poses a constant threat to those walking or marching nearby. What a relief to be playing in place.

Then I went just a little further down this path: If you're a member of the Marine Band, you're a Marine. Which means you've been trained as a Marine. Which means you are a trained killer. In the most positive freedom-enhancing way for sure, but while you're trying to remember all those slide positions and notes, you've got to keep all that other Marine training in mind: like all the ways you can kill a person with your bare hands. This does not tend to come up as often as you might think, but it's still a variable comfort for those moments in time when violence breaks out in the middle of a band concert. 

And last week, that may have been on that trombone player's mind. 

So I thought I would share it. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

So Big

 How tall is King Kong? 

If your'e not sure, I'll give you some choices: eight feet, a mile, twenty-five feet, fifty feet. It is completely acceptable not to care, but I do. The correct answer is fifty feet. Approximately. This is based on the specifications put forth by Willis O'Brien, who confessed that Kong's actual dimensions bent and stretched a bit for dramatic purposes. The suggestion was made, way back in 1933, that an eight foot tall gorilla is a scary thing, and anything bigger than that would be even scarier. But there is that sense of scale that comes into play when you think about holding a full grown Fay Wray in your paw, or climbing the side of the Empire State Building. You'd want to see Fay's legs wiggling, and she shouldn't get lost like a speck in his palm. Just like you shouldn't need a microscope or binoculars to pick out the King on the side of a skyscraper. 

Or maybe we should draw back the curtain and admit that the monarch of Skull Island was actually only eighteen inches tall. The stop-motion models used to create the illusion of Kong measured only a foot and a half, and were placed on sets and photographed to appear twenty to fifty feet tall. Drama and weather permitting. Giant apes, as it turns out, are imaginary creations. The idea that giant apes of the imagination would conform to any sort of convention is pretty absurd. Or fantastical. 

Which is why the actual height of King Kong is subject to debate. Film versions subsequent to the 1933 origin story have had Kongs of ever-increasing size. Toho studios pumped up everyone's favorite simian to go head to head with their lizard king, Godzilla. That ape was three times the size of the one that was knocked off his throne not by airplanes, but by beauty. That was a guy in a rubber suit, not unlike the guy in a rubber suit that showed up in the one where Jessica Lange took over for Fay Wray. It was a pretty cool rubber suit, but still a guy in a rubber suit standing around on miniature sets. 

We no longer need rubber suits or eighteen inch models to make giant apes. We have computer graphics. King Kong is scheduled to go head to head with Godzilla once again this March. He now stands pretty much nose to nose with his Japanese counterpart coming in around three hundred ninety-three feet. Kong is now about as tall as a skyscraper. A short skyscraper, but still.

When I was ten years old, my friends and I would sometimes wage battle against monsters, the bigger they were, the harder they fell. In our imaginations, anyway. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was pretty scary, but a Creature that was forty feet tall? Terrifying. Especially if you're ten. 

Which may explain the marketing strategy involved here. Bigger may not be better, but scary? How about spiders? They aren't very big. But one hundred feet tall? You'd need a pretty big gorilla to squash that bug. Not that I'm trying to give them any ideas. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hello, Larry

First time caller, longtime listener, well, I never did call. I never reached out to share my opinions or questions I might have had about the topic or guest whom you were presenting. But I have to say that the lasting impression I have is this: the suspenders.

Sure, the rolled up sleeves were a nice touch, but the suspenders let us all know that you were a broadcaster from another time. A time of braces and thoughtful consideration. Larry King got his first job in broadcasting as a disc jockey for Miami's WAHR in 1957 when he was twenty-four years old.  He would be a fixture on radio and then television for seven decades. He was the host of the Cable News Network's longest running show, eponymously titled, of course. Last Saturday, Larry King signed off for the last time.

Heart disease couldn't get him. A stroke didn't stop him. COVID-19 finally did what even bad ratings couldn't do: cancel Larry King. Over a career that long, Larry sat across from the famous and nearly famous, giving us all a glimpse inside the people that drove our zeitgeist. He was as impressed by the celebrities who sat across from him as we were. He wasn't out to get anyone. He just seemed genuinely interested. Like when he asked former president Nixon, “When you drive by the Watergate, do you feel weird?” Or when he asked a New York real estate mogul prior to his job as a game show host, “Does it have to be buildings?” He sometimes bragged that he never prepared for interviews. Which was part of his charm. Each subject was a revelation to him. Including the time he was chatting with Jerry Seinfeld and was surprised to hear that Jerry's show hadn't been cancelled, he went out on top. 

Which left the door open for us, the public, to participate right alongside him. He would take calls from out there in radio and TV land, letting the audience get a chance of getting up close and personal with the famous and infamous. And if was a little clueless at times, it might have been because he was so busy talking to somebody different every night. 

And now he can rest that big voice of his. He can read some of the books that he didn't have a chance to read before his next guest came on to plug them. He can celebrate a life on the air. He stomped on those airwaves, and the Terra. He will be missed. 

Next caller...Hello you're on the air.


Monday, January 25, 2021

44

 By all accounts, George Herman Ruth was a drunk. A womanizer. Not a particularly good teammate. But Babe Ruth hit home runs, and so they named a candy bar after him. Except they didn't. The candy bar was named for Grover Cleveland's daughter Ruth. An easy mistake to make, though in the late twenties and early thirties as Babe Ruth was hitting the ball out of ballparks across the country it probably didn't hurt sales much. 

Henry Louis Aaron, by all accounts, was a pretty quiet fellow. Married twice, but with no great drama. He was an exceptional teammate. He hit home runs. A lot of them. Enough that they named a candy bar after him. Except they didn't. Oh Henry! was another chocolate caramel nut confection that was named back in the twenties for some other guy named Henry. And sales only went up in the mid nineteen seventies. 

Babe Ruth was a star, and though his departure from the Boston Red Sox brought on a curse that kept that team from winning a World Series for nearly one hundred years. The New York Yankees, by contrast, won four with Mister Ruth, and then a whole bunch more afterward.

Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron was on one World Series winning team. That was in 1954. It was twenty years later that he hit the home run that broke Babe Ruth's record. A stunning achievement, given all the voices that insisted that could never happen. It did. But not before Mister Aaron received an award from the United States Postal Service for receiving more mail than any single person in a year. Sadly, mixed in with all that fan mail were death threats and intimidation intended to sow fear into this black man who dared to challenge the legacy of Babe (white) Ruth. There were times, by some accounts, that Hank Aaron feared that he might not live long enough to break the home run record for Major League Baseball. 

He did. On April 8, 1974, he hit number seven hundred fifteen for the Atlanta Braves in front of a capacity crowd and a national television audience. Muhamad Ali said that Hank Aaron was, “The only man I idolize more than myself." 

Hammerin' Hank retired with seven hundred fifty-five career dingers, and was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He lived long enough to see his record broken, by Barry Bonds and steroids. Not that he would ever have made a fuss about that. Because that's the kind of man he was. 

Hank Aaron went to the Field of Dreams this past week. He stomped on the base paths of Terra, and he will be missed. And remembered. Candy bars not withstanding. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Good Enough

 I want to be a good person. I want to be a responsible person. I want to be a good employee and citizen. But sometimes my mind wanders.

I was required to take an online training on sexual harassment. The first bad thing my brain did was ask the question: "So, you want to train me in the subtle art of sexual harassment?" There was no one to say this to, and I was reminded by my conscience that this would be a bad thing to say, so I avoided it. Of course, now that I am writing it down here, I may be complicit in my own undoing. 

Strike one.

I dutifully loaded up the presentation, and flinched just a bit when I saw that the running time was "approximately one hour." Which I don't think makes me a bad person, but reacting like that made me wonder if I was as committed to this topic as I should be. Admonishing myself, I pressed the start button and was underway. The introduction was enough to let me know that this was in fact very serious stuff that had state and federal laws connected to it and I should, by law, be paying strict attention. 

So I did. I made mental notes about the statutes involved and as the second section began, I watched and listened intently to the definitions and descriptions to behavior that could get me or the people with whom I work in trouble. I could see, and knew from previous experience, that there would be a quiz at the end which pushed my studious nature to the fore. I wanted to do well on that quiz. I wanted to do well because I am a good person who would not do any of these annoying, degrading and ultimately despicable things. 

It was somewhere about the halfway point in the presentation where I started wondering about the photo shoots that helped generate the scenes I was watching. These were obviously not stock images, since the individuals were often used in sequences in different locations or circumstances. I wondered how much direction these folks were given about the scenarios depicted. Were they trained professionals? Actors? Then there were videos in which a variety of different circumstances were shown and a variety of dramatic scenes were played out.

And suddenly I was reminded of my son's first few months of college, during which he was required to take a number of similar online courses dealing with a range of topics including sexual harassment. And at the end of one of them, he noticed that there were credits given for the portrayals of the individuals involved in the harassment or the binge drinking or even the untimely death of a classmate from substance use. He discovered that it was his department, theater arts, that were providing the casts for these videos, and that some of them were upperclassmen who were still finishing up their degrees. He mused briefly on the introduction to one of these thespians: "Nice to meet you. Sorry you died in that drunk driving accident." 

Snapping back, I remembered that I was somebody's dad. Somebody's teacher. A husband and pillar of the community. I couldn't ignore what was playing out in front of me. There was still that quiz to take. 

Which is when I started musing about the font choice made by the creators of the course I was watching. And the popping noises made by the colorful bubble transitions between slides. I was curious about the meetings that took place before those choices were made. What sort of font would be entertaining but serious enough for the content? Did we want to have a simple dissolve, or should be go to the random circle shift between sections? 

I was running out of time. My hour was almost up, and I found myself wondering if any of the people involved in the making of this presentation had been sexually harassed or had experienced it while it was being made. 

Then my mandated hour was up. I was confronted by the quiz. I hoped that I had absorbed all the necessary knowledge to do my best, to reflect what a good and responsible person I truly am. Even with all those random thoughts and associations might suggest otherwise. 

I got a hundred percent on the quiz. 

I am a good person, after all. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

First Day

 The first day of school is always a strange amalgam of excitement and fear. Will I like my new teacher? Will my new teacher like me? What will third grade be like? Will it be harder than last year? And usually by lunchtime, most of the fear has gone, but the excitement lingers. Kids meet out on the playground to discuss with their friends and siblings how things are going. Then the reality sets in as the bell rings and everyone realizes that there is still an afternoon to get through.

But the celebration doesn't really end. That first day still has so much getting to know one another in it that a party atmosphere continues even as workbooks are handed out and desks assigned. This is all new. Those pencils and erasers are gifts at this point, not tools. The classroom rules feel fresh and new, boundaries presented for future opportunities and exploration. 

Families reunite when that first day is over, brothers and sisters connecting once again, carrying new backpacks and hugging parents they have not seen for more than six hours. Sure, there are a few kids in tears, mostly from relief after the shock of all that new. But mostly a lot of smiles and eager anticipation for what is to come.

The next one hundred seventy-nine days. When the actual work begins and those workbooks that seemed like prizes gifted pencils become tools. The day to day business of education sets in. Moods shift and tempers flare. There will be moments of sadness and regret mixed in with all the discovery and challenge that encompass a school year. 

Which is what I was thinking as I watched the inauguration of our forty-sixth president. All that pageantry and performance. Even the weather cooperated. That first day, so full of promise, hope, anticipation. And then the work of education, defense, commerce, public health and all the rest begins. There will be plenty of tears and a good share of frustration ahead. Long division is hard, and so is bringing a country back from the brink of Constitutional Disaster. 

Because it's not really the first day with all the songs and sharing of materials. We're really going to get to know each other now. Buckle up America, it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Distance

 Six feet, it turns out, can be a difficult space to maintain. It's pretty tiny compared to the one hundred feet required by California to keep flammable vegetation and debris away from your home to keep your home safe and protect the firefighters who may have to come between your house and the grass, trees and shrubs in order to save it. And yet I have on several occasions had to point out the dots on the ground, carefully placed in advance of parents coming to school for the purpose of picking up books, supplies and advice for their children who are waiting in the car. Which happens to be a very safe distance. 

Crowds tend not to be a good place to take this social experiment. Which makes the events of the past year all the more curious. For my family and I, the closing of our local movie palace was the first place that we felt it. That communal sense of popcorn and big screen entertainment is a memory that keeps popping up in connection with our living room, and the comparison suffers. Tickets we purchase long in advance for shows that were postponed remain valid for some future date, but have become largely forgotten. The cut made by closing Disneyland went even deeper as my son surrendered dreams of being among the first to experience the Rise of the Resistance disappeared like so much pixie dust. 

Resistance. That was the other piece, wasn't it? Just as the emperor of doubt and fear rallied his followers into maskless super-spreader events to feed his fragile ego, the rest of us tried to stick to that defensible space. Then events taunted and dared us not to take the streets. George Floyd's death became all the more real to a nation locked inside with a television, watching those eight minutes and forty-six seconds over and over. Until protest was the only way to exorcise some of those demons. The pictures of clashing ideals could often be easily defined by the masks or their defiant lack thereof. We were told that singing in church was a surefire way to spread the virus, but there we were screaming at one another across barricades wanting to have our voices heard.

Meanwhile, back at home, my wife and I were flinching anytime we saw a crowd of people gathered in movies made thirty years ago or more. It crushed the spirit of my gala-prone mate not to have gatherings to attend and parties to plan. Still we watched the throngs pressing in on the Capitol and started the countdown in the same way we did way back when all those motorcycle enthusiasts descended on Sturgis back in August. We avoided travel during the holidays, only to watch cases spike as a result of others priorities: patience and planning versus gratification and that taste of mom's pumpkin pie. Which for some may have been the last thing they tasted. For a while, anyway. 

The pandemic is not over, even if our patience for it has long since evaporated. My wife often opines about the term "social distance," feeling that six feet is much to far to do any actual socializing. It may not be my place, but perhaps I should point out that six feet is also one of the dimensions of your standard grave. 

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And give everyone defensible space. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Shot In The Dark

 Well, okay then. So much for the "kids aren't affected by COVID-19." 

We could start with this simple concept: Everyone is someone else's kid. By this reckoning, all the victims of this virus have been children. Somebody's children.

But today I want to speak of one in particular: Nine year old Pierce O'Loughlin. Little Pierce did not die in an intensive care ward, surrounded by machines and doctors and nurses in masks. He was found dead in his home in San Francisco last Wednesday. His mother alerted authorities when it was reported that he did not attend school that day. When police responded, they found Pierce's body along with the body of his father, Stephen.

Stephen shot and killed his little boy, then turned the gun on himself.

And how is this a COVID-related death? Apparently the ugly ongoing custody battle between Pierce's mother and father centered on an angry disagreement about vaccination. Mom was for it. Dad was against it. Except, it would seem, in the case of lead pellets to relieve the pain of living. 

Once again, we are faced with what may be the most unforgivable crime: Murder-suicide. If you don't want to be vaccinated, and can't imagine living in a world that would do just that to your son, there's the door. Don't take your son with you. Unless you're not really making a statement about being an anti-vaxxer and you're doing the most despicable thing imaginable to punish your ex-wife. 

In which case, this isn't so much a COVID-related death as an excuse to be brutal. As if there wasn't enough death floating around, and suffering was in short supply. Did this clown really need a reason to inflict any more pain? 

Meanwhile, the debate over vaccination will rage, not unlike that about climate change, as our country continues to flirt with the nineteenth century. My parents had a very good friend who, in spite of growing up with polio, became a pediatrician and a professor at the UCLA school of Medicine. My guess is that if she heard of anyone turning down a vaccine for anything, she would have beat them severely with her cane. I wish Dr. Jo would have had a shot at Stephen O'Loughlin before he went. 

Literally and figuratively. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Less Is Not More

 It will be such a relief to have science and math back.

Maybe we should have paid a lot more attention to the "count" of the crowd back at the 2017 inauguration of the former game show host, now twice-impeached "president." He and his minions seemed to struggle with the concept of "more than" and "less than." It could be that those symbols, "Which way is the alligator pointing?" They were saying that there were more people at their guy's inauguration, but it was pretty obvious they meant less. A couple things here: It could be that these people really were bad at math. Or it could be that they figured that if they just kept talking about it, everyone would start to believe it. Like so many things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. But there were not more people at his inauguration. The truth was not in the middle on that one. 

It could be that they got stuck on the somewhat obscure factoid that Donald Trump received more votes than any incumbent president before him. Latching on to this piece of information stoked the fires of ignorance however, and ignored the other little piece that came right next to it: Joe Biden received more votes than any candidate in American history. Listening to full sentences has never been a strong point for that crowd, so maybe they couldn't stick around for the truth. 

Maybe they were just late. Telling time and calendars is another strand of math that may have escaped the grasp of the fans of the former game-show host. They all showed up about a year too late. Then they proceeded to storm the Capitol. Two weeks before the inauguration of the next president. 

Perhaps it's not a math thing at all. Maybe it's just terrorism. Like the way that terrorist tried to light a fuse on his sneakers to blow up a plane back in December 2001 and we are all still taking our shoes off before we get on board our flights. Since those idjits showed up a couple weeks ago, the National Guard and assorted and asserted law enforcement have cordoned off the Mall in Washington D.C. ensuring that the crowds attending Joe Biden's will not only be smaller than four years ago but virtually non-existent. Now that crowds have become mobs, bracing for violence and screening our elected representatives for weapons, the celebration is muted. Diminished by the idjits who showed up late. Late for the inauguration. Late for the election of their leader's successor. 

Late. 

Less. 

Lost. 

And now the work to restore what has been torn apart for the past four years begins. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Partly Cloudy

 The news that Georgia has gone blue should not be overshadowed by the ugly mess that has been the past few weeks. This is the good news for bleeding hearts such as myself that has been in such short supply during the four years of Trumplestiltskin. What should be remembered, however, is that this kind of thing has been happening intermittently not just as a distraction from the current administration, but as a response to the forces that brought us our first African American president. These have been the steps forward when as a country we are so very prone to taking two steps back.

The past four years have, at times, felt like we were sprinting in the wrong direction. For us bleeding hearts, anyway. Trying to keep our eyes on that proverbial prize was difficult if not impossible. There were times during which the almost absurd evil stacked up in such a way that it almost blocked out the sun. 

The sun came out a little bit this past week: The National Rifle Association declared bankruptcy. While the Trump family was putting things in boxes and patching the holes and hoping to get their deposit back, the NRA was announcing to their move to Texas to be free of the “toxic political environment of New York.” Oh, and they are hemorrhaging money and filing Chapter 11 will allow them to consolidate their debts and assets. And a major donor is challenging that filing, suggesting that the powers that used to be in the NRA have defrauded contributors by using their donations to pad their excessive lifestyles. Suggesting that all is not well in our country's most prominent gun lobby comes as happy news to those of us who root against the evil empire. Or at least what we perceive to be the evil empire. 

Because i know that January 20 will show up as a dark day for those who live on the other side of this equation. Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen? And I suppose there will be those who will see this parting of the clouds in my world as a storm front in theirs. It's like that weather forecast that aims to please everyone: Partly cloudy. This too, as they say, shall pass. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Get Back

 Let's get things back to normal.

That's what I hear people say. Good people. People with wisdom and experience. They want things to stop being the way they are: abnormal. Late last week, the global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed two million. 

Two million human beings have died in less than a year from a virus that we can only pretend to understand. Vaccines are in short supply and their distribution is proving to be every bit as mismanaged as everything else associated with this disease. Cynics among us will shout, "That sounds pretty normal to me."

But it shouldn't be. Humans have a pretty good history of coming together in times of crisis. Droughts and famine, for example, have created mass humanitarian events that have narrowed the divide between left and right, east and west. That was normal. Extraordinary but expected. 

Not so much anymore. Resources are scarce and cooperation seems limited. How we choose to deal with the pandemic defines us politically. This doesn't just seem abnormal, it seems ridiculous. During the siege on the Capitol, as members of congress were being ushered to safety, certain individuals refused masks being handed out due to the confined space in which they found themselves. Would it be "normal" for these folks to be so easily distinguished along party lines? Should their reactions to the chaos outside be linked to antisocial behavior inside?

It's not normal. Disneyland is opening, at last, not as an amusement park but as a vaccination center. That's not normal. Ninety-three percent of school-age children in the U.S. are using some form of distance learning, meaning that they are not in classrooms with their peers, socializing and connecting with teachers and friends. That's not normal. I haven't had to break up a fistfight on the playground for ten months. A relief, yes, but not normal. 

And like that fistfight thing, I'm not sure I'm anxious to go back to whatever it was that got us here. When we begin to build it back, we want to build it back better. Normal gave us climate change. Normal gave us corporations are people. Normal gave us Qanon. Normal gave us 2020. 

I'm not sure about normal, but I'm sure I don't want to go back to 2020. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Suffer The Little Children

 A week after the riots in our nation's capitol that helped make everything about 2021 look like an extended dance remix of 2020, my son entered the room and announced, "I've been alive for three quarters of our country's impeachments." A quick check of dates allowed that he has, in fact, been on this planet for the impeachments of Bill Clinton (once) and Donald Trump (twice). None of us in the room had any personal recollection of Andrew Johnson's back in 1868.

But I remembered Watergate. And Richard Nixon. And Haldeman and Erlichman and all the President's Men. The events of the summer of 1974 live in my memory and profoundly shaped my political outlook moving forward. From the age of twelve. Nixon was not impeached. He left the White House on Marine One in one of the most stellar examples of "You can't fire me, I quit!" that could ever be imagined. 

That was nearly fifty years ago. At that time, the war in Vietnam was ending, and that was the reference I had for national suffering prior to the upheaval that brought us Gerald Ford. President Ford will probably be best remembered for giving Chevy Chase a career, and for pardoning former president Richard Nixon. It was that four to six year period that made me the cynic that I am today. 

Not that I don't still look for silver linings, or make excuses for those who I admire. But when I think of what it must be like to be a young person at this point in history, I shudder. Not just a little. The past four years have been nothing but a betrayal of all those ideals put forth in the eight before that. The face of American politics is now one of shame and disgrace. American casualties from our involvement in Vietnam capped out at just under sixty thousand. American casualties from COVID-19 stand just below four hundred thousand, while that number continues to rise with thousands more dying each day. Anyone celebrating their first birthday this year will have lived through half the impeachments of an American president, and the greatest loss of American life - compared to all our wars combined - in our history. 

I suppose it makes sense that my own reaction to the events of the past few weeks has fueled my already somewhat jaundiced view of our political landscape. But it has also given me hope. The victories in Georgia and the ceiling shattering election of our first woman of any color to the second highest office in our land should mean something. They are an example of resiliency, one of our nation's super powers. Convincing a twelve year old of that, or my twenty-three year old son?

Time will tell. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Test Of My Patience

 Part of my daily routine when I arrive at school these days is to fill out a Daily Symptom Checklist. It's a Google Form, designed to track the health of the school district's employees who continue to serve on their campuses. The "essential ones." There are only nine questions, six of which are school, ID number, first and last name, cell phone, email. Then comes the $64,000 questions: Do you  or does any member of your household have a current confirmed COVID-19 infection? Followed by a more specific list of symptoms: fever, headache, diarrhea, shortness of breath and so on. The last one is a temperature check, doubling down on that whole fever question which is itself a doubling down on the symptom question. And each day that I sit down at my table in the hallway, I open my laptop and enter that same information. Dutifully. Without ever knowing with absolute certainty that I do not carry a steaming hot bowl of virus around with me everywhere I go.

Until now. 

After ten months of fear and oddly placed confidence, I have received my first official COVID-19 test. The old joke about staying up late the night before applies here, since I have spent more than my share of anxious moments since last March wondering if and when I would catch the virus. As the tech point person for our school, I have had the opportunity to meet and greet a great many individuals coming and going for this and that. Mostly to pick up or drop off Chromebooks in various states of repair. Most of this contact has been masked, and I have rushed to the office to grab a disposable one for parents and students who arrive without having read any of the memos sent out or signage displayed in and around the building. 

Last week, I went to the nearest district-provided location for my district-sanctioned test. I sat down at a small table outside a warehouse on the other side of a plexiglass divider and waited while the nurse checked for my appointment. Once I was confirmed as a district-approved employee, I was handed a swab that I was told to swish around my teeth, tongue and gums for thirty seconds. After that, I verified my district-issued email address and my cell phone number and was assured that I would be contacted within forty-eight hours.

When forty=eight hours came and went, I assumed like so many district-sponsored events, that there may have been an unforeseen event that kept the results from being made available to me. After four days, I imagined that I might assume that the results were negative with no reason to bother me. After six days I worried that they may have assumed that I had died from complications and not bothered to contact me. So I dug up the email address of the folks in charge.

Within a few minutes, I received a reply assuring me that I had indeed tested negative for COVID, and that I should look forward to getting another test next month. 

Better start studying now. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Evilution

 Nearly one hundred years ago, a trial was held in the state of Tennessee. The Volunteer State was prosecuting high school teacher John Thomas Scopes for violating their law about teaching evolution in his classroom. It was illegal to teach the blasphemous musings of Charles Darwin to children. Of any age. Scopes was found guilty and charged a one hundred dollar fine. Somewhat abruptly after that, the case was tossed on a technicality. Advantage Evolution.

Thirty years after that, a play was written about that trial, and subsequently, in 1960, turned into a film entitled Inherit The Wind.  It featured the powerhouse acting skills of Frederic March (as Matthew Brady for creationism) and Spencer Tracy (as Henry Drummond defending evolution). From the relative safety of mid-twentieth century, the failed bluster of the bible-thumping creationist was on full display as the very clever defense of evolution ran rings around them logically. 

Without going too far into the whole question of Darwinism, I am here to suggest that this story remains more true than many of us care to examine. Not about evolution necessarily, though sadly that argument seems to gain traction even now here in the nominally United States of America. Instead, I would love to see a dramatic rendition of the trial that will never take place: The People versus Donald Trump. Bringing Gene Kelly back to play the voice of the alternately disenfranchised and empowered press, and there shouldn't be any need to add the sympathetic epilogue mourning the once great orator. Instead, there would be a series of questions put to the nonsensical and pathological ravings of the former game show host. Under oath, it would be fascinating to watch the Sharpie squiggles of reasoning that have poured from that slit under his nose wither and blow away in the light of day. It would be cathartic for everyone to feel that they had a voice once again, and to watch the delusional rants shown up for the nonsense they are and always have been. 

And it would be nice to have closure that would allow us all to put this clown behind us once and for all. 

Systems and process don't allow much hope for this, but the theater of the mind allows me to imagine it. This new vision might allow me to sleep better than I have in four years. I don't need a guilty verdict as much as I need to see the man twist and squirm in the witness stand. And to let him know that he is not the smartest monkey. 

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

On The Surface

 I know things are on fire everywhere. I know people are dying. I know that there are plenty of places to place our concern and woe. 

But I'm asking for just a moment of your time.

When I arrived at school Monday morning, there was a pickup parked on our playground. Next to it was a porta-pottie, the kind you tend to see around construction sites. For a moment, my heart leapt: maybe this will finally be the moment that our playground gets resurfaced. Having spent my entire teaching career of twenty-four years here at Horace Mann Elementary, I know that it has been at least that long since the asphalt under our kids' feet has been cracking, eroding and peeling away. Which is not to say that there have not been some half-hearted attempts at patching or repairing the fissures and holed that have cropped up over that time. These gestures have not kept us from falling behind the disintegration of our yard. 

Earlier this fall, a group of five trucks and ten individuals showed up to attack the sinkhole that had opened up on one of our basketball courts. I wandered out and waited for an opening to ask if they might also be there to attend to the general crumbling of our surface. I was told, "No, we're just here to fix this one hole." They did that job in a timely fashion and left a large rectangle of fresh pavement to show off to anyone who might have stopped by. 

No one has. The school has been empty for all intents and purposes for the past ten months. A project as large and encompassing as resurfacing our playground might have been completed a few times by now. That's not what is happening. And when I approached the truck this past Monday, I asked the gentleman who was sitting behind the wheel, gazing at documents and plans what he had in store for us.

He told me that he and his crew would be spending the next few days tearing down and replacing the concrete wall and steps. Outside the fence around our playground. Not the yard where five to eleven year olds romp and play during the course of a regular school year. Not that big space left vacant by distance learning and COVID protocols. No small people to get underfoot or in the way of all that machinery. 

I mentioned this to the gentleman in the truck, a contractor for the district who goes where he is asked and builds what he is told to build. He looked at the sorry state of our playground and sympathized with me. For a moment or two. Then it was time for him to meet with an engineer who was going to help figure out just how to complete the project in front of them. 

The playground will have to wait.

Again. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

In The Rigging

 Lost in the wash of all the turmoil of last week was the amazing victory of one Stacy Abrams. You may be familiar with the name, the one who was nearly the first black woman to be elected governor of Georgia. That would have made her the first African American or alternately the first female governor of the Peach State. When that didn't happen, she turned her attention to what she felt was the root cause of her defeat: voter suppression. It was Ms. Abrams and her Fair Fight organization that was instrumental in turning what had been a Republican stronghold for decades blue. 

First the White House. Then the Senate. By getting out the vote in record numbers, Stacy Abrams helped change the electoral landscape not just for her own state, but for the entire United States. Patiently. Respectfully. Efficiently. 

Sadly, during all that sedition in our nation's capitol last Wednesday, Stacy Abrams was delivering a Senate Majority on top of a Democrat in the White House. And what was all that fuss about in Washington D.C.? A mob of tiny-brained minions of a former game show host were seeking to overturn what they feel was a rigged election.

I have some news: This election was rigged. It was rigged by Stacy Abrams and a group of like-minded individuals who were tired of being cowed by the overwhelming braggadocio of MAGAts. They rigged it by ensuring that every vote that could be counted was. People who had never voted before were registered and encouraged and in some cases ferried to the polls to make sure that what happened two years ago, four years ago, forever, wouldn't happen again. 

Stacy Abrams rigged that. To perfection. So when the anniversary of January 6 comes along, let's remember to keep our eyes on the prize. Not the numbskulls vandalizing public property and trampling one another, but the lady who was lifting others up. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I'm With The Banned

 As many folks have mentioned prior to this, I am pleased and happy to point out that I have more followers on Twitter than Donald Trump. I have more likes. I have more Twitter. By one hundred percent. This feels pretty satisfying, and I confess that I performed the Happy Dance in my living room when Mister Trump was relieved of his social media account. Accounts. 

And it strikes me now, as a participant in online exchanges such as the one you are currently reading, that I would feel a sense of loss if I were suddenly unable to participate in these shenanigans. For the record, I am not that invested in the metrics. On this I won't quibble. Much. I do pay attention to those occasions that I have direct connection to those who read my words. The comments section, or the occasional email I receive that tells me that I got something right or wrong, or jogged someone else's memory into a different gear. And there are also the periodic giggle I am able to elicit from my wife as she reads my words. 

I am also completely guilty of running across the room to show my son the funny thing that his dad has just typed into Twitter. This raises a certain level of chagrin from my son's native tech capacity. He's just as happy to give me a virtual heart when he gets around to reading my pithy comment or patented snark. 

But I'm not the duly elected of the free world, am I? The idea that for the past four years we have all been held captive by the late night/early morning ramblings of a spetuagenarian. "Did you see what Trump tweeted?" Or "Can you believe that he tweeted that?" As if this were some sort of political forum. It's not just for cat videos anymore. We elevated his rants to a level of policy. For all his disdain for traditional media, he made great hay out of the platform upon which most folks share their thoughts on breakfast cereal. Or funny things their pets did. Or complaints about kids these days. Or adults. 

But running a country from the two hundred eighty character limit found on Twitter? Professional journalists have had to satisfy themselves with scrolling through all the all capital, misspelled, erratic musings of a former game show host to try and divine the direction he was steering our ship of state. 

Right into the place we find ourselves now. With right-wing idjits climbing, crawling and crashing their way into our nation's Capitol. Most of whom took their time, as they stormed the limited barricades they encountered, to post pictures of themselves on - well, you know. 

Time to rethink our collective presence on social media. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Consequence

 In teacher school, they like to remind us over and over again that "consequences don't always have to be unpleasant." When we are setting up our classroom for the year, we are encouraged to have an equal number of good consequences as we have bad. Phone calls home, for example, should be made for successes just as often as they are made for days that are not so wonderful. A prize should be awarded as often as a time out. Or, heaven forbid, even more often. 

But I don't think the Trump administration deserves any prizes. And if there were parents to call that would do anything, I can't think of a single thing that I would want to acknowledge. 

Except maybe this: There used to be a lot of talk about Ronald Reagan being "The Teflon President." It was Colorado Representative Patricia Schroeder who first suggested that nothing sticks to then president-elect Reagan. Which can't exactly be said of Donald Trump. Quite the contrary. all of his lying, cheating, philandering, obfuscation, and general sliminess doesn't seem to come off in the spin cycle. It all sticks. Like glue. And yet, he manages to drag all that carnage and filth around with him, as if it were no worry at all. He has been wrong on so many things he could be used as a contra-encyclopedia. You can pretty much assume whatever he says is just the opposite of the reality in which the rest of us live. 

Donald Trump is not made of Teflon, but I do think that there is another bit of science that would explain his presence: He is a vortex. Everything that gets within a certain distance gets sucked up, never to be seen again. Energy, light, hope. Especially hope. Through it all, he has managed to avoid censure, jail, being removed from office. There was a time when some marveled at the fact that Ronald Reagan could be shot in the chest at point blank range and survive. That was the Teflon at work, probably. Donald Trump, by contrast, began his ascent to the presidency by announcing that he "...could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” As it was in the beginning, so it is in the end. 

Survivors are beginning to finally catch on. In order to stay alive, you have to distance yourself from this man. Which is why I make the following suggestion: the consequence that fits the situation here is to send this man into space. Far away. Among the stars, he can join black holes and Galactus, consumer of planets.

Because, as it turns out, Donald Trump sucks. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Fool Or The Fool Who Follows Him

There was a time when I held great disdain for the movie Idiocracy.  When I first watched it, way back in 2006, it seemed like a real reach, telling the story of a modern day Rip Van Winkle who wakes up from his experimental hibernation to find that five centuries in the future, he is the smartest man alive. This is not because he was a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, but because he was an average guy in 2006. Five hundred years into the future, he emerged from his cocoon with just a lick of common sense which allowed him to run the gauntlet of all the nefarious schemes and dull plots set out by the future's powers that be and lead the dullards to a new place in the sun.

I am here to tell you that the makers of that film overshot by about four hundred ninety-six years. The events of Tuesday, January 6 2021 surely bears me out. It could be that the mob that stormed the Capitol Building had visions of Olympus Has Fallen in their heads, with an eye toward liberation of a democracy held captive. Here I considered making an allusion to Les Miserables, but I am fairly certain that none of that crowd neither cares for musicals or speaks French. The other bit that makes this ugly scene all the more deplorable are the actions taken by the group once they got inside. They took selfies. They broke things. They stole things. They took selfies of themselves breaking and stealing things. As law enforcement seemed to be at odds with how to treat an angry white  mob, four people died and more than a dozen police officers were injured. 

Contrast this mightily with the armed presence met by Black Lives Matter protests back in June. Heavily armed. National Guard troops and police in riot gear kept protesters from getting anywhere near monuments or, heaven forbid, the steps of the Capitol where Congress might be conducting the business of running our country. And I suppose there are those who will say that back in June, the response was prepared because they had time to roll in all that force to turn away any trouble. But there were months ahead of Tuesday's mayhem to announce its coming. Starting with the leader of that cult of personality who told his minions before a vote was cast that if he lost it would only be because the whole affair was rigged. And as the days ticked by after ballots were collected, counted, contested, counted again, contested and counted yet again, the rhetoric surrounding the cult became more and more desperate. It culminated with their leader hopping up on a podium in front of all our nation's monuments to those who came before insisting that, "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength."

Except no one had taken their country. Their country was right where they left it, under their feet. Choosing to ignore the outcome of a free election is not fighting insurrection. It is a battle against reality. A battle most of these folks had been losing for some time, following the whims and lies of their dear leader. Which is why it didn't help that the guy we used to call "America's Mayor" got up and yelled that they should look forward to a "trial by combat." This particular idiot is a lawyer, by the way.

When the smoke and tear gas cleared, and the Capitol was cleared of the rabble taking selfie videos of themselves being rabble, the democratic process continued. That thing the mob hoped to stop happened just the same. They hadn't stopped Joe Biden from being president. It came just the same. And the Trump? Well down in Whoville they say that his small heart collapsed in on itself that day.

Now we just have to pick up the mess and get back to work.

Oh, and the reason I never really cared for Idiocracy? It was because they made fun of Fuddruckers. I used to love me some Fuddruckers. But not enough to start a riot about it. I'm not an idiot.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Shoot

 Officer Involved Shooting. This is the phrase that is used with the following definition: "the discharge of a firearm, which may include accidental and intentional discharges, by a police officer, whether on or off duty. In some cases OIS datasets only include instances in which an officer discharged a firearm at a person and may not include discharges directed into or at a vehicle, animal, etc." If you find yourself curious about the "etc." part, I suppose we can be satisfied by the notion that this could include floors, trees, street signs, or perhaps even the air. 

But if you're like me, you might get stuck on "person." When the "person" who discharges a firearm is a citizen and not a law enforcement official, especially when it is at another "person," we call this a lot of other things, depending on the effect of the firearm's discharge. There's manslaughter and murder, that's if the "person" on the receiving end dies. There's assault with a deadly weapon. Or attempted murder. And if the discharger has particularly bad aim, it might just be reckless endangerment. 

Oh, and we don't really call them "dischargers." We call them "shooters." Or "killers." Maybe "nutjobs" if the case allows. Convention doesn't tend to allow that kind of disrespect when it comes to Officer Involved Shootings. Rather than looking for all the possible reasons why an officer might become a shooter, we tend instead to look for all the reasons why shooting was necessary. 

Which is where we find ourselves in Kenosha. That's where prosecutors decided not to file charges against Officer Rusten Shesky. Sheskey responded with two other officers to a domestic dispute. Jacob Blake ended up being shot in the back and paralyzed. Cell phone video of the incident have been used to justify the use of deadly force, but the question of whether or not Mister Blake was threatening or resisting remains. Prosecutors chose to see that Shesky was justified in his shooting of Blake. Several times. No charges will be filed. Not against Skesky. Not against Blake. The shooting version of offsetting personal fouls, if you're looking for a sports equivalent. 

But Jacob Blake is paralyzed.

Officer Shesky is not. 

Officer Shesky remains on administrative leave. Signs point to him getting his old job back. If he wants it. Officer Shesky has not been discharged. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Dark

 Just when things look their darkest,

They get a little bit darker.

Ambulance crews in Los Angeles County have been advised to cut back on their use of oxygen and to not bring  patients to hospitals who have virtually no chance of survival. Health officials there say they need to focus on patients with a greater chance of surviving. 

Dark. Like pitch.

Patients that would normally be kept for observation are being discharged in anticipation of what is expected to be yet another surge in COVID-19 cases after the holiday stirring of the virus pot.

And if you're not living in LA County, you might be thinking: "Well, that makes sense."

Until you start running it up against things like the Hippocratic Oath. Or what if it was your mother/father/aunt/uncle/friend/brother/sister/lover/neighbor laying there taking that last breath. "I'm sorry. There's nothing else we can do."

Darkness the likes we should never have encountered. 

Blame the folks at the top. Blame the folks who "had to" go home for the holidays. Blame the guy walking into Wal-Mart without a mask. Blame China. Blame yourself.  

Then get over it. Because this is where we are, currently. Changing the page on your calendar meant nothing to a virus that continues to mutate and infect without any appreciation for how hard we have all been wishing would go away. This has gone beyond the point of reason. 

Emergency room patients in Los Angeles are waiting in ambulances up to eight hours while waiting for a bed. Hospital staffs have erected tents to shelter those who cannot be directly admitted because they are so completely swamped. Ten months in"We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we’ve faced the entire pandemic, and that’s hard to imagine," L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Wear a mask. Not for a week, or a hundred days. Until it's over, and light returns once again. 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

We The People

 So, here's an interesting bit of legal maneuvering: Attorneys for Travis and Gregory McMichael are requesting that the man they shot and killed with a shotgun, Ahmaud Arbery, not be referred to in court as "the victim." If you are unfamiliar with the case, this is the father and son who were captured on video chasing down Ahmaud Arbery, the victim, in their trucks and murdering him. Additional video shows that no medical attention was give to the victim, Ahmaud Arbery, as he lay on the street bleeding to death. Attorneys for the McMichaels, the murderers, are asking that prosecutors be prevented from referring to Arbery as a victim in order to prevent the jury from reaching a conclusion before the matter is deliberated upon. William “Roddie” Bryan, the man who recorded the incident and was also subsequently charged with murder, said that Travis said, “f—ing n—–” after firing his shotgun. The use of those epithets will, no doubt be obscured from the jury's hearing as well. The victims in this case will be kept free of all that prejudicial evidence. Evidence of prejudice. Like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. 

Meanwhile, a million miles away in a kingdom created by a former game show host, the victim card is being played with reckless and shameless abandon. A great portion of the country, millions of Americans, are willing to swallow the pill that says that the loser of November's presidential election is the real victim here. Not the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from COVID-19. Not the millions who have waited for government relief or those who face eviction while the emperor dances around naked with his fiddle. The former game show host who bet it all on the limited attention span of his followers is the victim here. At leas that's what his attorneys would like us to believe. His attorneys would, while we're at it, like us to believe that they are the victims as well. Flouncing about from one super-spreader even to another, complaining loudly and clearly because their mouths are unobscured by masks, that when it comes to victims, they are at the top of the heap. 

Meanwhile, the true victims, including Ahmaud Arbery, continue to suffer just out of range of the cameras and microphones. Attorneys for these folks continue to wish that they had access to the same network coverage that the former game show host and his attorneys get. I looked it up. Here is the definition: "a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action." Add the American people for the past four years to the list, but let it start with Ahmaud Arbery. 


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Standard Operating Procedure

 Quid pro quo. 

"I want you to do us a favor though." 

Those were the words used by the former game show host to try and coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by suggesting that Ukraine might receive much needed military aid from the United States if they would dug up some dirt on Joe Biden. You may remember this as one of the reasons that the forty-fifth "president" was impeached. 

He has a history of lying, cheating, and stealing. And somehow, when it came down to a vote in the United States Senate, it was determined that he should stay in office. The United States Senate, dominated by Republicans, many of whom had spent 2016 referring to the former game show host as a liar and a cheat. 

So the former game show host was around to completely botch America's response to the global pandemic. By the time he packs up his desk and heads out the door, more than three hundred fifty thousand Americans will have died from COVID-19. Is it possible that the numbers would have been the same regardless who was in the White House, but given the maskless road show that has taken the place of actual governance in the past six months that seems doubtful. And once the election took place and the campaigning should have been over, the former game show host turned his attention not to saving lives but to making unfounded claims about election fraud. 

Lying, cheating and stealing. “The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” the former game show host in a phone call to the Attorney General of Georgia on Saturday. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.” 

Nothing wrong? Where can I begin? 

Better yet: When will it end? 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Stairway To Cleveland

 So this isn't a spoiler, per se, unless you don't want a single bit of the new Wonder Woman sequel to be divulged. If that is your stated position, then avoid the following paragraph. Steve Trevor comes back from the past, by means that could best be described as "magic." Steve is a pilot, and has witnessed all kinds of bizarre stuff hanging around with his Amazonian girlfriend. Like lassos of truth and exhibitions of superhuman strength and bouncing bullets off bracelets and so forth. Yet, when this pilot from World War I with all this otherworldly experience shows up in 1984 and is reintroduced to the love to the love of his life in our nation's capital, Captain Steve Trevor is shocked and amazed to find himself riding on an escalator. After all he's been through, all he's seen, a moving staircase in a Metro station elicits shock and awe. 

Cinematically speaking, this isn't the first time that escalators have been used to elicit giggles from audiences. A few years ago, Will Ferrell came down from the North Pole and found himself, hold on to your sides, on an escalator. Yes, Buddy the elf is every bit as mystified by a moving staircase as Steve Trevor. No matter that Buddy works in a workshop with a bunch of Santa's little helpers, knows all of Santa's flying reindeer, whose boss is Santa. An escalator is magic. 

Which is a test of that old saw about how any new technology cannot be distinguished from magic. Which goes a long way to explaining why there are still so many Trump supporters. Way back when the former game show host and soon to be former president announced his candidacy, he made his entrance on an escalator. This was, no doubt, a way to accede to his own limitations when it comes to stairs, but also to put the fear of god in those who are easily impressed. 

Very easily. In the cases of Captain Trevor and Buddy the elf, they were able to get past that initial wave of confusion. Trump supporters are still trying to figure out where those stairs go. Asking them to believe in invisible germs or climate change is just not going to happen. 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Scar

 I have a scar on my right hand. On the palm, just below my ring finger. I had to get stitches for a cut I got from a broken beer bottle. A beer bottle that I broke. I broke it by picking it up and mashing against the wall of my apartment. It should be noted that this was not a beer that I was drinking. It was a bottle of Heineken that had been sitting on top of our television set, next to the Cheeto and our nasal douche. The Cheeto and the mostly empty Heineken were a lingering tribute to the party house that my roommate and I were running. 

I was drunk at the time that I smashed the bottle. The fact that I did not get drunk at our party pad was notable. I had been drinking at someone else's house. Heavily. Then I drove my roommate and myself back home. I shouldn't have been driving because I was drunk, and very upset. I was drunk because I had a lot of beer to drink. I was upset because once I got drunk, the demons associated with my lack of girlfriend came roaring to the surface. 

In retrospect, I get how deep the hole I was digging became and how abruptly it got that way. Not only was I prone to fits of rage, those fits of rage did nothing to make me any more attractive to any potential girlfriends out there on the horizon. The ride home and the subsequent race up the stairs did nothing to calm my nerves, or those of my roommate whose attempts to do just that for us both were further thwarted by my intermediate step. Once I got into the parking lot of our apartment building, I left the car out of gear, went around to the front bumper and gave my VW bug a shove. A big enough shove that my roommate was left trying to figure out whether he should chase me or the car as it began to roll back toward the street.

By the time he re-parked the car and made it upstairs behind me, I had a few extra minutes to work myself up into a tumultuous frenzy. He found me with the moldy Heineken in my hand, babbling incoherently about something or other. Which was about the time that I broke the beer bottle. And cut my hand. And my roommate had to drive me, in my car, to the emergency room.

Where I received stitches to close the wound, which resulted in the scar I have on my hand. 

That might have been the moment that caused me t reevaluate my drinking. It wasn't. I still had a couple of rungs to go on the ladder to the bottom. I have the scar to remind me. I have a girlfriend. She's my wife. But I don't drink anymore. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

King Of The Name Tags

 A very long time ago, I wore a name tag. This was in spite of my specific aversion to such things. I remembered an encounter I witnessed between my father and a waitress on one of our family road trips, in which my father noticed that, "Hey, your name tag is upside down." 

To which she replied, "If you really wanted to know my name, you'd ask me."

In hindsight, this might sound a little flirtatious. Except the delivery was not the least bit flirty. It was flinty. This was a woman who had probably served a hundred fifty other clever folks that day, very few of whom had bothered to note the upside-down-ness of her name tag. And this would be a much better story if I could tell you what our waitress's name was. But it did send a message to me about the relative import of pinning a badge to your chest, and its functionality. What it does fundamentally is strip away your anonymity. It puts you in a position of vulnerability. Customers, as a practice, do not enter an establishment with their identities stapled to  their fronts. Name tags are the way you can be summoned. Remembered. Held accountable. 

So when I started my career at Arby's, and watched as my manager sat down at the desk in the back room with the Dymo Tape Labelmaker, he asked me "Dave or David?" I went with the former. The less formal. The four letter version. And on the polyester smock that I was issued, there were two small holes through which the pin for my newly created name tag would pass. When my shift was done, that name tag would be stuck in the cork board above the time clock, and the soiled smock would go into the laundry bag. 

As I took on more shifts, I was eventually issued a second name tag, for those days when the first one was covered with grease or spatters of shake mix. As I became a featured player, I was allowed access to the Dymo Tape. I did not go with Dave. Or David. Instead, I chose to meld my musical preference with my first name: DAVO. 

I didn't look back. Customers asked for me by name. When I made the big leap to management, I was awarded not only with a brown polyester vest, and keys to the register, but a fancy new management embossed name tag: DAVO Assistant Manager. 

So I was trapped. They had invested in me. And I was there for the long haul. But it never occurred to me to put my tag on upside down. I wanted people to ask for me by name. My fellow managers, RAT, B.C., BABS, and our supervisor WALDO welcomed me in, and suddenly I found myself with a label maker in my hand. For one brief shining moment, I was in charge of name tags. Most of them were made with respect and care, but I started making personalized tags for front line employees. Counter help. Not their actual names. 

They didn't need to be upside down. 

If you really wanted to know the name of the person serving you a Beef 'n' Cheddar, you would have to ask. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Humpty Dumpty

 If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and builds bombs in his spare time and then blows himself up in an RV full of explosives, he's not a duck. He's a suicide bomber.

Speculation about motive runs rampant whenever someone chooses to go out in a blaze of glory. Many, including myself, have chosen to eschew the suggestion that Anthony Quinn Warner "was blown up" in the explosion on Christmas Day in Nashville. This is reminiscent of the turn of phrase, "Alex Smith broke his leg in the game." Alex Smith did not sit down on the field at any point and wrench his tibia with his own hands until it snapped. It had a whole lot more to do with the three hundred pound linemen who dropped on top of him as he attempted to escape. 

To be clear: Anthony Quinn Warner is the opposite of Alex Smith. Mister Warner most definitely broke his leg and the rest of himself. On purpose. This does not make him a victim. It makes him a suicide bomber. Which is what he was. Not an enigma. And definitely not a victim. Choruses of "he was quiet, he kept to himself," ring out. Which doesn't make it a surprise as much as a confirmation. If you're building a bomb, over the course of a year, with you sights on detonating it inside a recreational vehicle it's not something that you tend to broadcast. 

However, when a girlfriend of this "lone wolf" reports to police that her quiet boyfriend is building a bomb "in the RV trailer at his residence," you might want to take a closer look. And maybe just a little closer than peeking over the fence, as Nashville authorities apparently did. Nothing to see here. Move along. Allowing Anthony to complete his science fair project and prepare for the eventual splattering of himself and the RV across a city block. 

I have nothing against people who take their own lives, fundamentally. The pain and suffering experienced by many individuals that does not allow them to continue living is something I can only imagine. It's the murder-suicides that get my dander up. Mister Warner chose to take his own life? Okay. That's unfortunate. Mister Warner wants to obliterate a city block along with his own existence? Not so much. Several other people were injured in the explosion. If his hope was to destroy the AT&T building in front of which he had parked, he managed that and damaged several other buildings nearby. And even though a pre-recorded warning told anyone nearby to evacuate, he might have saved everyone a lot of trouble by going out in a less catastrophic way. 

But that wasn't the point, was it? The point was to make a mark. Christmas Day. Exploding Winnebago. All the king's horses and all the king's men will spend weeks if not months or years trying to piece this whole mess back together again. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Through The Portal

 2021. Maybe a little reminiscent of 1920. With an eye toward 2122. Which takes a little edge off that whole "New Year" thing. My son has announced that his biggest concern moving forward is that, as Bono has been suggesting for since 1983, "Nothing changes on New Year's Day." Because after months of having absolutely nothing to look forward to, being told that there is still nothing to look forward to is not a future to which we want to reckon. Something has got to give.

It is that odd ritual that puts a significance on the changing of calendars. Last year there were scenes of nature, and by golly they'll be there again this year. Only different scenes of nature. Not only that, but last year we started on a Wednesday. And thanks to that leap year thing, we begin 2021 on a Friday. If that's not shaking things up, I don't know what is. Not only that, we are freed from those garish party glasses that people were wearing last year, peering through the two zeroes. Next stop for those bad boys looks like 2030.

Maybe you're looking for more substantive change. A new president, perhaps? Keeping in mind that every elected official will eventually leave those who voted for him or her disappointed. I have resigned myself to the potential failings of Joe Biden, but I am still hoping that he will provide a respite from the daily "didjahearwhathesaid" of his predecessor. 2021 can be dull. A few less riots. A few less scandals. A little more peace.

My mother has a refrain for times like these. After a particularly unsettling series of setbacks, she will often opine, "Well, it's a learning experience." A fair point, and one that I have chosen not to argue with as I have grown older and felt compelled to pass along this wisdom to my son. Got your hand caught in the car door? It's a learning experience. Got yourself caught in a global pandemic? It's a learning experience. Spent the last four years in a country ruled by a bag of Cheetos? It's a learning experience. 

So, what have I learned? Let time come to you, rather than chase after it. Take solace in the endless repetition of days that don't contain ugly surprises. Savor the moments that offer themselves up like a dog asking for his belly to be scratched. Those times will be in the rearview mirror soon enough, and new delights and disappointments await. You don't have to wait. They'll be by, and gone before you know it. But heaven help us if we ever refer to 2020 as "that good old days."