Friday, April 30, 2021

No Fault

 "Hey man, you gotta be careful making that turn, bro."

This was the cautionary message delivered to me by a motorist as we came to a stop light just a few yards from the spot of the aforementioned turn. I had made a right turn on my bicycle from the far right of the street directly into the bike lane on the far right. The clearly marked and designated bike lane on the right. This action still garnered me the attention of a motorist who, I believe, felt that my actions were reckless and somehow life threatening.

Maybe it was my life for which he was expressing concern. Or his own. Or a combination thereof. I could imagine that his shiny red SUV might sustain some mild damage as it made a mess of me on the asphalt. Dead guy on a bike would surely lead to higher insurance premiums at the very least. Operationally it was a nightmare for him, which may have been behind his choice of words. And tone. 

I appreciated the reminder, even though I have been making that right turn for twenty-four years with an abundance of awareness. I am expressly aware of the existence of the bike lane, as that particular street is one of the few stretches of my commute that affords me this comfort. It may be a little redundant to tell me to be careful since my general level of vigilance on my ride to and from work is high. Which doesn't mean that over the course of nearly a quarter century that I might miss something or swing wide when I should have held my line. Especially when bright red SUVs hover around me, just waiting for me to make a mistake. So they can pounce. 

Truly, the message was not the part that gave me pause. It was the means of delivery. The word choice. "Hey man," I can get that. I use that one myself when I feel the need to address other motorists. Which is relatively infrequent. More often than not, I mutter under my breath after the threat has passed having survived yet another brush with bodily harm while biking. The energy it takes to roll down the window and have the interaction must, in his mind, have given him the level of indignation that brought on the introduction, "Hey man."

The admonition about the turn? I can live with that. Even though I know that I made a conscious effort to stay within my legal lane and was aware of the bright red SUV, when we both came to a halt I graciously accepted his feedback. 

But "Bro?" That was, in my mind, unnecessary. It was the extra macho twist that made the whole experience insincere. That made it obvious that what he was really concerned about was having to hose the gore off his grill and the attendant delays associated with running over a bicyclist. Only after the light changed and he sped off did it occur to me to thank him. Or reply that I have been making that same careful trip from school to my home for longer than he has been alive. It was the struggle of keeping all the smart aleck comments to myself that churned my emotions.

That and the gratitude to my bro for reminding me to be careful. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021


 I do like me some schmaltz. I love me some showbiz. I enjoy being entertained. Which is why this year's Academy Awards presentation left me so very flat. I have often compared the experience of The Oscars At My House as the Super Bowl of Movies. This one had all the excitement of an exhibition game in front of a few dozen spectators handed free tickets along with their formal wear. 

It was held in a train station. 

There was no host.

But let me shine a light on what may have been the biggest gamble of the night, which turned into the night's biggest letdown. Producers chose to give out the award for Best Picture not at the end, but just before a commercial break and then handed out the awards for best actress and best actor. It is possible that they were trying to shake things up, keeping things lively by pulling this switcheroo. Messing with tradition is a great way to make people remember you, but this seemed a highly calculated move. No one is saying definitively whether this choice was made in order to present the late Chadwick Boseman his Oscar as the final tribute, but that's not how it worked out. Instead, Best Actor this year went to Sir Anthony Hopkins. A very worthy selection, but not the intended gauzy moment that would have given this show a signature moment. Then it turned out that Sir Anthony wasn't there to accept his award, leaving presenter Joaquin Phoenix to mumble the forever quotable line, "Mister Hopkins isn't here to accept his award, and I'm sure um he thanks the um academy."

And that was that. Time to catch the 8:15 out of Los Angeles. 

Yes, there will be those who point to the folksy demeanor of Frances McDormand. Or the way this year's selections skewed far from #OscarsSoWhite. Or the funny bit where Glenn Close saved a tired bit about Academy Award winning songs by exhibiting an encyclopedic knowledge of "Da Butt," the dance craze from Spike Lee's School Daze. If everything about it didn't seem so well-rehearsed and over the top, it might have been a delightful distraction. 

Maybe if Spike had been on hand for his reaction. 

But he wasn't. And neither were most of the glitterati who make a show like that so entertaining. For me anyway. No streakers. No Roberto Benigni climbing over seats and celebrities on the way to pick up his statue. They didn't even manage to accidentally give an Oscar to the wrong film

Nope. This one was well-rehearsed and sparsely attended. And it took place during a global pandemic. Oh. I bet that's how I'll remember it. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Update From Aisle Ten

 It was in the grocery store this past weekend that I found myself having an out of body experience. It wasn't any sort of spiritual epiphany, just your garden variety realization that I was standing in a grocery store with dozens of other humans all in pursuit of meals for and supplies for the coming days. And we were all wearing masks. I was aware of the rather packed nature of the shopping experience, and how the six foot separation between shoppers ebbed and flowed. Pushing a loaded cart down the aisles gave me the impression that I had at least that much room, but was also keenly aware of those passing by me on the side. Never close enough to brush shoulders or bump into one another, but I flinched just a bit each time it happened. 

Everyone in my family is now thoroughly vaccinated, but we continue to operate on the assumption that everyone else is not. Our social bubbles have expanded to include a few more individuals as we track those who have received injections and those who have not. Discussions of reactions, especially to that dreaded "second shot" are now as much a part of the daily discourse as the dinner menu. There is very little about this virus that could be considered "novel" anymore. 

I led a private cheer for California when the news came down that we had slipped below Hawaii in case rates for the disease. All this attention to conducting daily life in careful and predictable ways seems to have paid off. California spent some time on the opposite end of that spectrum, so this will be good news. Kids are returning to school. A limited number of fans are being allowed in to cheer the Oakland A's and the Golden State Warriors. Restaurants are opening up. 

Disneyland is opening up.

And yet, there I was, standing in the middle of the grocery store hyperaware of my surroundings. Ever vigilant to the space between myself and others, with an eye out for a bare nose or open mouth. Not for the first time, I had an urge to pull my own mask off and take a deep breath. Probably not the last either. I didn't do it. Because I want everyone to be better, and even though in the back of my mind I imagine that I can now make my maskless way through throngs of people, the conditioning has been done. I have developed a new nervous habit of tugging my mask up to my glasses any time I feel a breeze below the bridge of my nose. 

It is what we do. 

And while across the globe different countries and communities deal with the global pandemic in the way they see fit, I am proud of the way we have conducted ourselves. This past year has meant sacrifices both ridiculous and severe. We have avoided the respirators and the intensive care wards. Someone asked if I thought that I might be wearing a mask a year from now. Upon reflection, and noting that this is the first year I can recall going without a bout of the flu or some respiratory infection, I figure this might become a habit. One I can live with.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Turn Off Your Mind, Relax And Float Downstream

 The most difficult thing about waking from a dream is the part where you try and piece together the bits that seemed so important while they were taking place inside your head. Moments before, while your eyes were closed, all of those events and connections seemed so revelatory. Upon waking, and attempting to unravel the details of a night's adventure seems so tedious and unnecessary when just a short time ago you had it all figured out.

Many is the time that I have congratulated myself, while asleep, for arriving at a solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable in the wide awake world. Then, as the morning sun comes creeping in the window and into my eyes, those ideas shrivel and blow away. I am left with just a sinking feeling that I must have left out one of the finer points that would have made all that time working with robot monkeys worthwhile. 

Or perhaps the stakes of life are very different behind the wall of sleep. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in firm in my belief that I have solved the problem of human-powered flight when I am still a-snooze. It's simple enough, usually just a matter of concentration and being careful with your arm position. A lot of people seem to think that it involves a lot of flapping, but all the research I have done suggests that relaxation is the key. Or at least that's what seems to work best for me. When I am asleep. I have also discovered that if you pedal a bicycle just so, eventually it will rise into the air and carry you to all manner of times and places. In both cases, the landing is the part that goes unchecked. I suppose that if what got me up there in the first place was relaxing and taking it slowly, it makes sense to project that being uptight and flapping or pedaling furiously would bring you back to earth rather abruptly. 

Which is where I tend to find myself all too quickly. Usually in my bed, face in my pillow, cursing myself for not having the necessary cleverness to bring those skills with me to the other side. I suppose I should be grateful for the soft landing. Which is also true of those dream confrontations with people who are older, smarter or just plain better in your dreams. Somehow the right words magically appear on the tip of my tongue, and the timing could not be better, and the audience more appreciative of my wit and elocution. Make a mental note to remember that speech the next time I speak to -

- who was that again?

And even if I remember who it was I needed to say all those wise and meaningful things to, they have become mixed up in the stream of consciousness that will take me to the bathroom and then the kitchen and the start of my day without a place to reclaim my scattered wits. Wandering through the balance of the day, until it is time to crawl back in bed, close my eyes and take flight. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Year Ago

 It was a year ago that, with a sense of duty and conviction, that the country watched as a former game-show host with a very pointed distaste for science suggested some possible cures for the coronavirus.  "I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."

Apparently some duty-bound Americans decided to take him up on that. "Accidental" poisonings from disinfectants like bleach and hand sanitizer saw a spike of one hundred twenty-two percent after the twice-impeached former president stood at a podium with cameras and microphones pointing at him. He was surrounded by doctors and scientists, but this not Doctor Anthony Fauci. It was on another occasion a month before that they shared a stage when Fauci did a facepalm as he listened to the leader of the free world spout off about whatever was on his mind. It wasn't science. 

Which is probably why Doctor Fauci wasn't around when the failed real estate developer chose to prattle on about his ideas for cures. He had some ideas about how to harness the power of the sun, which was thought at the time to be a good way to kill off the virus. "So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light, and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing, And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too." 

His suggestions were met with stunned silence, which might be the only rational response to a man who insisted that the sound of wind turbines causes cancer. 

All of these bright ideas came after his obsession with hydroxychloroquine, a treatment most often prescribed for mosquito bites and malaria. The man who managed to bankrupt three casinos, not by running some Ocean's Eleven caper but merely by mismanagement, was prescribing medicine that he picked as "a real game changer."

You know what turned out to be a real game changer? 

Science. Instead of flopping about and playing doctor, there were actual physicians and researchers who worked tirelessly to deliver a vaccine.

A day after the rest of the planet turned mostly as a group to point a finger and laugh, the nitwit who made these pronouncements made another. He said he was "being sarcastic." Which, as it turns out is yet another science that he does not understand. 

"Good job, Mister President." That's sarcasm. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021


 Imagine, if you will, that you are a kindergartner who has not set foot in the school that he attends. Not ever, because of COVID-19 restrictions and distance learning. Then, suddenly those restrictions are partially lifted and you are allowed/encouraged to come for a half-day of in-person instruction. Continue to imagine what that experience would be like if, when you showed up, the rest of your class for one reason or another has decided to ignore the invitation and stay home. You were the only child in this brand new world of classroom learning. 

Now imagine that you are a substitute teacher. Online learning has offered a pretty steady gig for new substitutes this year and allowed them to show up for fewer hours and you get to work from home. That is, until those lifted COVID-19 restrictions made the job a little more complex. And the job you picked up just happens to be the one that takes place starting on the first day of in-person learning and the job you took is for kindergarten which is a far cry away from the graduate student teaching you were doing at a college level before the pandemic hit. 

Now imagine that these two people meet in the same room on that first day of "real school." 

Now stop imagining because this really happened at my school this past week. Lionel was the five year old who came to school with his mother on the first day to take his place among a small group of the classmates he had met only on Zoom. Mister George, as he chose to be called, was a former Marine and took a dedication reminiscent of his service to his country to the job he was about to do: teaching a group of five year olds how to be in school. "Real school." When it turned out that it would be just Mister George and Lionel for the two and a half hours that afternoon, neither of them balked. They got straight to work. 

They counted. They read. They drew. They went outside to get a snack and play on the play structure. Just the two of them because even though some of those COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted, we were not allowed to mix classrooms or cohorts. When recess was over, they hustled back to the classroom for another story and some coloring. Toward the end of the day, the sub plans ran a little thin for just one student. That's when Lionel asked if he could play with the Lincoln Logs that were sitting on a shelf not far from his desk. Mister George was relieved that he couldn't find a thing wrong with this idea, and the two of them worked for the last half hour on towering structures that tumbled initially, but grew stronger on the second attempt. 

Then it was three o'clock. Lincoln Logs returned to the bin and the shelf, backpack retrieved and chair pushed in, Lionel said goodbye to Mister George as he walked out the gate to his anxious mother. She didn't need to be anxious. Lionel would be coming back the next day. And so would Mister George, who explained to me that continuity is important for kids. 

I could not disagree with that. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Wake

 I was thinking about this phrase: "In the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict." It made me think of the meanings of "wake." The initial implied version is the one most likely intended, referring to the waves created by a disturbance in the otherwise smooth surface of a body of water. There have been a lot of voices weighing in on our country's reaction to the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murder, murder and manslaughter. Degrees have been applied to those convictions, but the fact that they are convictions and not acquittals are significant. Enough that the President and Vice President of the United States both felt compelled to speak to the nation about this moment in history. Referring to George Floyd, the victim of Derek Chauvin's crimes, Joe Biden said, "Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back, but this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America." Vice President Kamal Harris, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the office, reminded us "Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice." 

Meanwhile, over on Fox News, someone put a microphone in front of Greg Gutfeld. The host of that network's "Really Racist Rants" had this to say: “I am glad that he is guilty of all charges because I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames." To their credit, the rest of the bobbleheads in attendance moaned as he went on: “What do you mean? I’m at least being honest. My neighborhood was looted. I don’t ever want to go through that again.”

Yes Greg. No one should suffer as you have.

Which brings me to the next definition of "wake." As in "woke." There are still plenty of Americans who are sound asleep and intend to stay that way when it comes to race in our country. The idea that the conviction of one police officer for his treatment of a black suspect fixes everything is an insult to all the families who continue to suffer as loved ones are needlessly detained, abused and killed by law enforcement. The very fact that there was relief associated with the conviction of a man caught on numerous video sources killing George Floyd speaks to our current expectations. The National Guard who stood on alert for what many simply assumed would be a night of protest are emblematic of our surrender to our broken judicial system. It should be noted that this decision did not bring Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks back to life. Or any of the seemingly never-ending list of victims of police brutality.

So we end this sermon with the final meaning of wake: The vigil held for those who have died. For those who have been beaten, battered, and abused. For those who have been singled out for the color of their skin. The waking continues.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Red Flag

 His mother went to the police, explaining that her son became angry, struck her in the arm with a closed fist and told her to "shut up" when she had asked what he was going to do with the shotgun he had just purchased. She went on, telling authorities that her son was planning on pointing his unloaded weapon at police who would shoot him. "This is not the life I want to live, I'll end it my way," he was reported as saying at the time. Hearing this, officers went to the home and placed the young man in handcuffs, at which point he became anxious and asked them "Please just turn the power strip off on my computer. I don't want anyone to see what's on it." What was on the computer was a number of white supremacist web sites, according to one of the officers on the scene.

This information comes to us from an incident report dated March 20, 2020. More than a year a go. The young man who was the focus on this investigation was Brandon Hole. You may be more familiar with the incident report from last week that included eight dead and several more injured when he arrived at his former place of employment, FedEx, with a rifle that was loaded. It was not the gun that officers had been told about a year ago. That one had been confiscated and young Brandon had been placed on immediate psychiatric hold and taken to a hospital for further evaluation. 

When Mister Hole arrived at the FedEx facility, he was carrying two rifles. And a good deal of ammunition. These were purchased in July and September of 2020. Only a few months after his first, unloaded weapon had been seized by police. The rifles he used to shoot and kill eight were taken from the scene by responding officers.

At this point, it would make a tragic ironic point if one of those officers was the one who filed that first report. That was not the case. When police arrived, they were not initially aware of the identity of the gunman. No, it was only after the smoke had cleared and the bodies carted away that hindsight began to kick in. One of those bodes was the now horrifyingly appropriately named Mister Hole, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Apparently he achieved his stated goal from a year ago of ending it his way. The terms had changed a bit over the course of a year, having negotiated the purchase of two new killing sticks. Indiana, the state where Brandon added to the long list of statistics, has a "red flag" law, limiting the purchase of firearms by individuals who display a threat to themselves or others. And wouldn't you know that his particular brand of threat failed to raise that red flag. The rifles were purchased "legally." 

Would it make a better story if one of those responding officers chose to leave the force and become a gun control zealot, campaigning for more common sense limits on the instruments of death that have become a fixture of our American culture? Well, that would be a nice story, wouldn't it? 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Rocket Science

 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration flew a helicopter on Mars the other day. Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, the trip to the Red Planet took several months and lasted several months. The helicopter flight lasted thirty-nine seconds and didn't go much of anywhere. Except it took place on another planet. 

Hello? Another planet.

Okay, not impressed? Let's try this one: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Americans are receiving vaccinations at a rate of more than three million doses a day. That means that more than half of the adults in the United States has had at least one of two shots to protect them from COVID-19. That's a pretty Herculean effort considering that just a few months ago those numbers were much smaller. Like way more smaller. Tiny, even. 

Yes, there are more than five hundred million Americans who died before this push for protection became a thing to vaccinate. And the question of wearing a mask can still start an argument. But half the adults in the country have been given at least one shot? 

Be impressed. I am. 

So with all this scientific progress going "Boink" here in these United States, why do you suppose we can't figure out a way to keep its citizens from shooting one another with guns? Why isn't there a force field available to take away the innocent victim factor? Why is it when there is so much energy expended every day trying to preserve life that some angry idjit can end it with a squeeze of a trigger? We can fly a helicopter on a distant planet, but we as a nation seem to be completely flummoxed by what to do with the guns we continue to insist on carrying around "just in case." 

The really sad news here is that since our Founding Fathers first made it part of the Constitution that we needed to bear arms, the technology that accompanied those arms has done nothing but become more sophisticated. And deadly. Not the muzzle-loading musket of the eighteenth century. While we have been working so very hard at figuring out how to fly to other planets and synthesizing antibodies to fight disease we have also discovered new and better ways to kill one another. 

We just haven't applied our big monkey brains to figuring out how to stop killing one another. It cant' be that hard.

It's not rocket science. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

It's An Exhibition, Not A Competition - Please No Wagering

 Okay, so Godzilla versus Kong. Why can't they just get along? Well, if you bother to listen to any of the inane dialogue that hangs on the edges of the next computer generated outburst from the giant ape or the giant lizard, there is some sort of ancient rivalry between the two. They're both titans, after all, and you can't expect titans to go for very long without wanting to clash with one another. 

It's the way of the world. Or the world described by the room full of screenwriters who toiled over the story of this film. Eight of them hammering away for a year in hopes of generating a story that would captivate the audiences who have shown a predilection toward watching giant monsters wreaking havoc in various metropolitan locales. And yet I expect that the guy who did the motion capture for the big ape was still at times stuck on the green screen set, wondering aloud, "What's my motivation?" 

It used to be that all it took to get Kong into the mood to tear up a city was to take his blonde girlfriend away. Now, decades later, we are burdened with some legendary feud that continues on between monsters of a certain size. We know this because of the scientists of various stripes who seem to have made a study of such things. One has gone so far as to make the conjecture that the earth is really hollow and that's where giant lizards and apes came from. And where they should eventually return. 

And if this starts to remind you of some of the nonsense spouted by the scientists in the Pacific Rim films, then you get points for caring that much. But not much else. It's just a way to lavish more money on computer generated backgrounds in which computer generated monsters can romp about. Until it's time to crush a few dozen skyscrapers, at which point it will become necessary for the titular beasts to resurface and destroy (checks notes) Hong Kong. Considering the geopolitical instability of that area currently, having this battle royale in the city limits constitutes overkill, but I'm sure the folks in Tokyo and New York City were just as glad to get a breather on this one. 

I do believe that there is sufficient titan-ish action in this film, judging by the completely extemporaneous appearances of human beings around the edges. The little girl who can speak sign language to Kong. The group of conspiracy chasers who find their way into the lair of the evil genius who has some half-baked plan about controlling Godzilla, and the guy I mentioned earlier who just wants the world to support his belief in a hollow earth. It's all that chatter that ends up getting lost in the roars and spittle of lizard and ape. 

Which is exactly what got my son and I to sit down on the couch on that sunny Saturday afternoon: Godzilla versus Kong. If I told you how it turns out, you'd still want to see it for yourself. If you wanted to see it at all. Just do yourself a favor. Don't bother listening to it. It makes about as much sense as a giant gorilla engaged in some ancient blood feud with a giant radioactive lizard. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

License To Kill

 I have this idea: You can own as many guns as you like, but if you own a gun you have to give up your driver's license. This is my suggestion in the wake of the most recent in a series of mass shootings that have left dozens dead. One of the things that these events have in common was that the shooters all got it into their heads that they needed to drive somewhere to kill others. Some were strangers. Some were co-workers. All of them were perceived as victims. Eight in Atlanta. Ten in Boulder. Eight more in Indianapolis. These were the most high profile cases. Certainly having access to a gun made all of the shooters capable of carrying out their crimes, but without a car their access to target rich environments would have been severely limited. 

Or eliminated. 

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold drove to Columbine High School to carry out their ugly plan. If they had been stuck at home, waiting on a ride, that mess never would have happened. Imagine how different things would be if all these idiots with AR-15s had to take public transportation. Or walk. At the very least, the folks on the receiving end of their murderous impulses would have been much more likely to see them coming. And I'm pretty sure that no self-respecting or self-preserving Uber driver would feel comfortable picking up some loony with his tactical vest and extra ammo strapped to him. Sorry, gun nuts, you're just going to have to pick your targets a little closer to home. And since these guys tend to be "quiet and kept to themselves," maybe it's best that we keep it like that. 

My suggestion is clever in this way: It doesn't ask us to change the Constitution. That can never happen. Instead, we just ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to step in and be the bad cop. Which is fine, since the DMV has never really been known for bringing good news to those they serve. So, instead of having restrictions on your license like corrective lenses, you just get a big red "G" on the middle of your identification, telling the world that you prefer firearms to motor vehicles. I understand that for many this will be a difficult choice, seeing as how the open road and capping off a few rounds go together like a cheeseburger and a large order of fries. 

Sacrifices have to be made. 

And don't you think it's about time that those sacrifices didn't have to be innocent victims?

And yes, I know that this is a very silly suggestion. But in lieu of what we have come to refer to as "common sense" gun laws, I guess I felt like this couldn't hurt. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Thoughts And Prayers

 Hey kids! Remember God's little elf, Pat Robertson? He kind of slipped into the cracks a little while back, which might have something to do with his age, which is ninety-one years young. You may remember him from such hits as threatening Walt Disney World for holding "Gay Days" - “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you … It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.”

Or maybe you remember, “If enough people were praying, (God) would’ve intervened. You could pray. Jesus stilled the storm. You can still storms.” This was in response to the swarm of tornadoes that pummeled the Midwest in 2012.

How about the advice he gave to a woman whose husband cheated on her?  "Like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander."

Yes, these quotes are all a little old, and it could be that time has changed the views of the leader of the 700 Club. Well, just last week, he opened his show by speaking on Minnesota police officer Kim Potter's shooting of Daunte Wright. "If you can't tell the difference in the feel of those things, it's crazy," and Potter "deserves" the consequences of her actions. He was holding both a handgun and a Taser. "You know, I am pro-police, folks. I think we need the police, we need their service, and they do a good job, but if they don't stop this onslaught, they cannot do this." 

"This" would be the killing of innocent civilians. Civilians of color. This spokesperson for the righteous went on: "And the thing that's going on in Minnesota about that Derek Chauvin. I mean, they ought to put him under the jail, he has caused so much trouble by kneeling on the death of George Floyd, I mean on his neck. it's just terrible what's happening."

Okay. This is clear enough for Pat Robertson to see it clearly. 

Pat Robertson. The guy who, ten years ago asked, "What is this "mac and cheese"? Is that a black thing?"

That's the level of sensitivity we're talking about here, and he still gets this one. Pray for the rest of us, Pat. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Over And Over

 How about this: Do-over.

I'm an elementary school teacher. The do-over is an integral part of any day that needs less confrontation. Rather than stand in the middle of a playground, hands on hips and chests thrust out arguing the finer points of four square and your mama. How about we have a do-over, and just move on? 

Easy. Unless there are those who are prone to getting mired in the do-over process so there never is any resolution, just endless do-overs because the solution is never satisfactory to both parties. 

But what if there was a way to go back in time and have a do-over on this whole COVID-19 thing? Last March if there had been a shutdown of the entire country and masks had been worn by everyone for three months, a hundred days, a time period prescribed by science, maybe there wouldn't have been a year of heartache and embarrassment. States were left to fend for themselves and make their own regulations which caused neighbors to look across the border and wonder why they had to wear masks when their friends in Montucky were going without. 

And what if the geniuses who made loud proclamations about the hoax of a pandemic were not amplified by other geniuses who only served as a hollow tube through which sound could be made louder? How many thousands of lives could have been saved? Should have been saved? Instead, we did everything we could to cling to the notion of "normal" even as things turned to abnormal in just a matter of days. If every government official who scoffed at the idea of an extinction type event was required to sit with the families of the victims of this disease, maybe there wouldn't be a need to argue about it. 


Go back to the beginning. Assigning blame was first on the tiny minds of those in charge back then. If that energy had been channeled into protection and cures, we might not be staring at a second, third, or fourth wave. The greedheads who insisted on keeping the economy moving in spite of the human cost could go somewhere and count their money for a few months while the rest of the planet got themselves out of the way of the virus. 

What if schools remained closed until they could be used as something other than experimental daycare stations so that "essential business" could take place? What if nobody had to go out until it was safe? This includes motorcycle rallies and holiday trips to grandma's house. 

It could have been different. 

It should have been different.

I want a do-over. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Look Out 'Cause Here It Comes

Even as we watch the trial of George Floyd's murderer, we are reminded that the problem that made this fodder for twenty-four hour news networks continues. Seemingly unabated. The pepper spraying of a uniformed Army medic by Virginia police hardly had a chance to gain traction before the shooting of Daunte Wright by officers in Minnesota. 

Meanwhile, little time was wasted on finding the irony of connecting schools reopening and school shootings. A student opened fire in a Knoxville high school, wounding a police officer responding to the scene. That young man was subsequently shot and killed. Earlier in the day, Knoxville police responded to a domestic dispute that ended with the shooter killing his estranged wife and her mother before returning to his home and shooting himself. With all that tragedy going on, a local TV station got its footage of  helicopters responding mixed up. The news anchor's response: "I forgot about the other shooting." 

Not really surprising, since every bit of this takes place in front of the mural in which we have been living called COVID-19. Once we passed half a million dead, the next milestone felt like it would be one million. And isn't that just how the math of these things go?

When one person dies, it is a tragedy. When dozens die? When hundreds? Half a million? Eventually you become desensitized to the carnage. In my lifetime, I can remember casualty counts being part of an evening newscast. David Brinkley bringing  you the latest from the war in Vietnam. Maybe that was the origin of the "if it bleeds, it leads" tactic employed by news organizations. Fifty years later, we sit transfixed as the numbers swell. The guy in Kentucky wounded one and was shot himself? How does this count as a mass shooting? As if we were rooting for a body count.

It would be cynical to suggest that a story in which it turned out that everyone got away safe would bring a wave of disappointment across a newsroom. Worse yet if that wave crested in your living room. Every life saved is a win. Every day that goes by without a murderous rampage is a good day. Seldom do we hear about the man or woman who died happily in their sleep, surrounded by family. 

It happens all the time. You might not know it when you live in twenty-first century America. Which I suppose is why we have cat videos. When the world is pushing its daily dose of decimation at you, it's nice to know that you can click on a few minutes of cats trying to squeeze themselves in to spaces far too small for them. It doesn't make the murder go away. But it does offer a pause.

Take it. 

Friday, April 16, 2021


 I stood there on the edge of responsibility, waiting to be told what to do next. I was holding a rack of fuel injectors. I knew this because I had been told. While I stood there waiting for my next instruction, I asked what a Fuelie Head was. It seemed like a good time and place for it, looming over the engine of a car and all. I was already pretty sure that a Hurst on the floor was a type of gear shifter, but Fuely Head was just some words in a Bruce Springsteen song. I had the context, but not the specifics. 

"What's a Fuelie Header?" I asked, breaking the thoughtful silence. 

There was a sigh as he put his ratchet down. "You mean a Feulie Head?"

"Sure. I guess so." 

"Cylinder heads. Used on the early sixties Corvettes." Back to staring at the engine that was still in pieces, judging from the frame I was holding in my hands above the open space where the top of the motor used to be. 

I was there, by choice, as moral support. The things I knew about cars were primarily those found in the lyrics of pop songs, mostly penned by Bruce Springsteen. I was trying to make sense of the various chunks of metal and tubes that were being shifted around in front of me. I was asking questions to appear a notch more clever than a rack that could hold the fuel injectors without having to be sentient. I was hoping that suddenly after being ignorant of such things for fifty-eight years that suddenly the scales would fall from my eyes and the mechanics would become clear to me. 

I was not expecting that they would be as clear as they are to my son, who was moving around the engine bay like a surgeon. A greasy surgeon who tended to curse when nuts slipped off underneath the starter he had just installed. As his father, I felt an odd displacement as the mystified one in this scenario. I had changed my share of sparkplugs and added my share and a couple of others' to the engines I had owned myself back in the day, but what I was looking at seemed like a central nervous system repair compared to the maintenance I had performed in my youth. I drove my share of cars into the ground, using them up past their freshness date. It never occurred to me that I might work on my car to keep it running.

My son was once more into the breech to resuscitate the car he had owned since high school. Several others had owned it before that, but that didn't mean he was going to let a little thing like a broken starter slow him down. 

I asked him if he liked this work as much as he loved putting together Legos back in his youth. I knew the answer. It was the one thing I did know that afternoon. He knew his way around that engine. With or without the Fuelie Heads.  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

It's Not Over Until We Decide It Is

 There were a number of "White Lives Matter" rallies held across the U.S. last Sunday. Promoted on encrypted channels, these meetings were so poorly attended that in Raleigh, North Carolina counter protesters paraded around the park where the racist cabal attempted to assemble. The counter-protesters carried a banner that read, "We Accept Your Surrender." In Albuquerque, New Mexico the lone white supremacist was encircled by police to protect him from the crowd that gathered to point out the error in his ways. Perhaps the use of encrypted communications proved to be too much of a challenge for the simple minds of the average Nazi.

The image of cockroaches scurrying to the safety of dark corners when the lights come on springs to mind. 

Or maybe the lights aren't on so much as the sun has come out at last. The trial of George Floyd's killer goes on in the background as hate continues to swirl around these United States. Over the past couple of weeks, there have been numerous rallies that brought hundreds together to protesters together to unite against anti-Asian hate. White, it seems, is not the new black. Cell phone video continues to capture scared white folks making horrible scenes, then telling anyone who will listen that they are not racist. A pretty big clue there. 

A twenty year old black man was shot and killed during a traffic stop north of Minneapolis on Sunday. Police described the event this way: "At one point as officers were attempting to take the driver into custody, the driver re-entered the vehicle. One officer discharged their firearm, striking the driver." Which is the way that killing a young black man is described by a white Chief of Police. This comes somewhere before the discussion of the driver attempting to flee the scene, at which point I wonder how effective police radios compared to discharging firearms. 

Donald Trump is no longer president of anything. Black Lives Matter, but not to everyone. Last summer did not make the problem go away. The conditions that make it difficult to be a person of color in the United States have not somehow magically been reversed. Legislation is currently being pushed to suppress the right to vote. White men continue to run/ruin the planet while we make excuses for them. 

But our eyes are open. The sun is out. And if being anti-fascist makes me "antifa," sign me up. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Lyrical Love

 In this spot I have cast mild aspersions in the direction of John Lennon and Paul McCartney for crafting the song "I Saw Her Standing There." Living as we are in the age of woke, and surrounded by reminders of men's fiendishness on a regular basis, I am struck once again by the opening line: "She was just seventeen, and you know what I mean..."

Well, I guess if I were sixteen or eighteen even, maybe I would have an inkling. It should be noted here that in 1963 when the song was released, Paul McCartney was twenty-one years old. A relationship with a seventeen year old girl would have caused some kind of stir perhaps even back then. I'm looking at you, Jerry Lee Lewis. I am also willing to concede that the narrator who just happened to see her standing there could be anyone. The first person does make it easy to assume that John and Paul were discussing their own experiences. But it could be just a fiction, and a handy rhyme.

A few years later, on the album generally considered their masterpiece, Paul and his buddy John crafted a ditty called "Getting Better." A couple of verses in, the boys confess, "I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved." Well, that doesn't seem very nice, does it? It's a pretty big reach from the days when they just wanted to hold your hand. 

I mention this because a friend of mine and I were once entranced with the idea that all Beatles songs were love songs. This notion was easy enough to maintain while skimming across the surface of their oeuvre, but a mild dip into a song like "Norwegian Wood" finds the singer going home with a girl, who refuses to take him to bed, and in the end he burns down her house. I suppose it's easy enough to miss this point since this song did introduce the sitar to pop music. 

But really. 

It's just a few cuts later that we find the Rubber Soul's closer, "Run For Your Life." It opens with the lines, "Well, I'd rather see you dead, little girl/Than to be with another man." Which makes me wonder if once one of these Liverpool lads ever did get ahold of your hand if they would ever give it back. The whole song is an open threat to this "little girl": "You better run for your life if you can, little girl/Hide your head in the sand, little girl/Catch you with another man/That's the end, little girl." 

Kind of makes you want to reevaluate any fantasies you might be harboring about the free love of the 1960's. Sure they're love songs. From a very different point of view. 


Tuesday, April 13, 2021


 Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a rustling in the leaves. It gave me pause. What could it be? Now my whole attention was drawn to this big reveal, and to my great relief, it was just a squirrel. A wild animal, to be certain, but not a rat. A rat would have elicited a much different reaction. Something from the "ewww" category, I would expect. Both are rodents. Both of them are prone to scurrying. Both of them are, research tells me, rarely infected with rabies. And yet, there I was, making an intra-species judgement based almost entirely on widely held public conceptions. 

I brought this up to my wife, and it didn't take us long to decide that the chief difference was the tail. That bushy back end found on a squirrel was head and shoulders above the hairless pink appendage on a rat's posterior. I went on to suggest that a squirrel sitting on his or her haunches was most likely scanning the area for nuts, while a rat in a similar pose was obviously sending out a signal to his rat minions to attack. I was assigning motives to lower life forms, which I figured might be a sign of thinking way inside the box. 

We humans tend to revel and respect cute, while those that toil away in the shade of revulsion never receive the benefit of the doubt. As proof of concept, my wife mentioned the challenge facing a Corgi getting from place to place on those stubby little legs. It was her suggestion that the addition of ninety-six more legs would be quite a boon, causing me to question whether a centipede Corgi would still fall into the cute category. She held fast. It was her assertion that it might be even cuter, to which I had to agree, unless the stitches were visible. 

You've got a foot in the door if you're cute. Kittens, puppies, and all manner of baby animals get a pass because of their relative fluffiness and lack of perceived threat. This can change as age peels away that air of helplessness, and the true nature of the beast can be fully displayed. Pity the individual who has little else but cute to offer over the course of a lifetime. Squirrels have that going on, however, and they tend to own it. That is precisely what gets otherwise intelligent adults to stoop down and offer corn chips to an animal that is most likely carrying just as much disease as his little ratty cousin. We just feel a whole lot better about giving them food because "at least they're not rats." What is the nastiest thing we can say about pigeons? We call them "rats with wings." I've never heard anyone call a rat a "flightless pigeon." 

So what can we do? I am not sure I can promise not to flinch whenever I see a rat, but I can make an effort to make a similar scene when confronted by a squirrel. My wife and I are also looking into breeding a bushy-tailed rat. 

Wouldn't that be cute? 

Monday, April 12, 2021


 My college roommates had a nickname for me: The Thing That Would Not Heave. I was awarded this epithet for my capacity for drinking alcohol and remaining upright. Which on the one hand was a measure of respect, but it was also a reminder from those who had the occasion to live with me that I was not easily wrestled from the center of attention when I began getting belligerent. Which was all too often for the tastes of those with whom I shared quarters. Bottom line: there was a lot of stumbling and mumbling, but not very much passing out. That would have been a relief for most of those who encountered the Thing That Would Not Heave. One testimonial from that time went like this, "If he'd just throw up, maybe he would fall asleep." 

Nope. Didn't happen. Well, there was that one time that I seem to have lost consciousness somewhere between my parents' kitchen and the two stairs leading out to their garage. I woke up with my head neatly wedged beneath my mother's Chrysler New Yorker, and a spray of Cheetos and beer that I had evacuated, I assume, on impact. Those around me at the time, not my parents because the drunken brawl we were having at their house was testament to their being out of town, took this opportunity to drag my somewhat lifeless corpse to the foldout bed down the hall. Where I rested only briefly before awakening just in time to slur my way through a confrontation with my older brother who had arrived to find out just how awful a job I was doing with my friends taking care of our childhood home. That did not end well. 

I mention this because it was one of the very few times that I can not recall a gap of time. Events between point A and point B were neatly erased from my hard drive and I only have others' accounts to fill in that blank. Like the hours I missed while under general anesthesia for knee surgery. The knee surgery that was a direct result of not simply passing out but instead going to a nearby park and jumping out of a swing when I would have been much better off throwing up and passing out. So trained physicians dosed me up and I went away for the time it took to reconstruct the ligaments I had destroyed, waking up just in time for the tube that had been helping me breathe was being snaked out of my throat. 

I had that kind of rude awakening last week when I went back online after my colonoscopy. I remember the nice nurse saying something about "IV push," then I remember being handed the bag with my clothes in it, and being told they were calling my wife to come and pick me up. My nearest reckoning has that missing chunk of time at a little under an hour. It could have been six hours. Or two days. I only have those who witnessed the experience to tell me who I behaved. 

I have never been a sound sleeper. I wake up for car horns or earthquakes. My wife and son are not equipped with this talent. Or burdened by it. I go to sleep, but I am never far away. I don't want to wake up in a swing, or drunkenly poking my older brother in the chest. That doesn't end well. But I suppose in this case it's just as well that I was elsewhere. It's just not something for which I am wired. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Hungry Heart

 A very long time ago, when I was a small boy, I was sent to bed without supper. Well, that makes a better story than I was sent to bed without much supper because I was being a recalcitrant child who insisted that he have a hamburger for dinner and nothing else would do. Much later that night, I woke up in tears, and when my parents rushed in to see what the fuss was about, I told them that I had dreamed that my pillow was a hamburger. The punchline here would be that the pillow was missing, but it wasn't. It was just a pillow and not a giant hamburger which doubled down on my disappointment. 

This moment was reinforced by another memory of being a very young lad in Disneyland who fell asleep on his enormous hamburger after a day of the happiest place on earth. That warm bun so soft and inviting. I have heard that there are pictures of this event, but so far none of my searches through my family's photo albums have been able to uncover it. Which is fine for me, since I can close my eyes today and see it. 

All of which is to say: I have not missed that many meals in my life. Until recently. This fad of intermittent fasting has latched on to me as a way to help control my middle age spread. Making a conscious decision to go without something is a trick that I have learned to reproduce over and over again. The most recent one was swearing off Peanut M&Ms. And most breakfasts. I have become a healthier human as a result, but the challenge I still face is the moments leading up to my eventual meal. The anticipation of those has become a much larger event in my life. I catch myself some mornings playing over the night's dinner plan in absurd detail. A bit of a preoccupation, but an amusing way to wile away the hours until the next feeding.

This past week I had to fast before my procedure. This meant that I wasn't having any solid food for nearly forty-eight hours. This was a different game. My rhythms were impacted greatly, and since I was at home on vacation, I was intensely aware of the moments that I was not getting up from my computer to grab some peanuts. I watched intently as my wife ate an apple in front of me. I became acutely aware of the food I was not eating. Just a few feet away was the kitchen, where all those tasty bits sat waiting for me to come to my senses and give in.

There was even some hamburger and buns. 

Somewhere in there I had a Grich-type revelation. Here I was, pining for meals that I might be missing when there were thousands of people right here in my own city who were going without. They weren't testing themselves or prepping for a medical procedure. They are going hungry. They were falling asleep on the sidewalk, not on their toasted bun. I wanted to go back in time and teach my little self a lesson in privilege. It took me a good long while, but I learned it. 

I'm still hungry. Just a lot more realistic about it. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sing Along With Mitch

 I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say that "we need to get the money out of politics." 

Go ahead and laugh now, because it's not going to get a lot funnier than that. Last week, Mitch McConnel who is still very much in politics, grumbled about how Atlanta-based companies were "dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government." This was in response to the new Georgia law that, among other things, makes it illegal to bring food or water to those waiting in line to vote. That new legislation is part of a wave of new suggestions from the right wing of life that is looking for ways to keep people of color from voting. I imagine the meeting in Georgia Governor's office, where someone came up with the brilliant suggestion: "Hey, I know. Them people all drink water, don't they? If they can't get water they won't vote, I'll bet!" Airtight logic like that could only be found in the office of Georgia's Governor. And as ridiculous as that sounds, when you start adding all manner of other restrictions from closing polls earlier, limiting the number of drop off ballot boxes and reducing the amount of time for absentee voting, it seems like this new law is there to do just what everyone says it will do: limit access to voting for just about everyone. 

Which is why Major League Baseball chose to move their All-Star Game out of Atlanta, and companies such as Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola have made their displeasure with the new law known. Senator Mitch insisted that such action by businesses will "invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order." As a point of clarification, when the Constitution was being written, there were no airlines or soft drink companies around to meddle inside or outside the order they were establishing. The folks at Coca-Cola have this thing they call The Coca-Cola Foundation, and they put their money into things like empowering women, protecting the environment, and enhancing communities. They also give some of those soda pop dollars to a Political Action Committee called Center Forward. And we all know that the Center isn't where we make friends, right? Left? Middle? It's all so confusing. Then there's No Labels, a PAC co-chaired by that famous middle man Joe Lieberman. And somewhere in this mix of middle is The Ripon Society, which promotes many of the old-school Republican ideals of low taxes and smaller government. Nothing in there about restricting access to voting. Which is probably why Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey said,  "Our focus is now on supporting federal legislation that protects voting access and addresses voter suppression across the country. We all have a duty to protect everyone's right to vote, and we will continue to stand up for what is right in Georgia and across the U.S." 

And maybe why, just a few days after Senator Mitch got off his soapbox about corporations hijacking our country, he popped back up to let everyone know that he didn't mean that corporations should stop contributing to political campaigns. In an incredible show of his ability to speak from both sides of his mouth simultaneously, he issued forth with this whopper: “My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics. I’m not talking about political contributions.” Like the ones he received from UPS, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, and AT&T to name just a few. Some of the biggest contributors in the Senate run-off election in Georgia this past January were run by former McConnell aides. Give us your money. We'll figure out what to do with it. 

And for heaven's sake, don't bring them any water. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Telephone Line

 Do you remember waiting in line to use the phone?

I do. 

Not that this makes me "so old" or anything, but the thing that leaps to mind for me is that using a telephone is not the privilege it used to be. My high school girlfriend had a phone in her room and I can remember what an extraordinary sense of power that radiated. I should point out at this point that it was an extension of the main line and not a private line, which meant that anyone who had a notion and was sneaky enough to listen in from upstairs would get an earful of all the essentially meaningless banter that took place between her and me. This could be accomplished much more easily if the handset was old school and not a trimline, as hers was. On the old school handsets, one could unscrew the cover over the transmitter and pop out the microphone, then lift the receiver carefully off the hook and listen away. Unless the folks on the original call were aware of that faint click that announced someone else coming along for the ride. The same experience could be gained by cupping your hand over the lower end of the handset, ensuring that any stifled giggles would most likely be heard in spite of all attempts made to be sneaky.

Or, it could be that a parent would simply pick up the phone upstairs and announce that it was time to terminate the call because, "I need to use the phone." That need has diminished as the proliferation of personal communication devices has expanded to absurd proportions. You know the drill: Family of four sitting at the table, peering not at one another but at the slate in their hand that carries all the wisdom of the universe, as well as the capacity to communicate to virtually anyone else on the globe, but is transmitting cat videos instead. You are also familiar with the people for whom privacy is not a concern. The reason why phone booths disappeared. The ones who carry on their personal business at maximum volume as they walk down the street. Or the corollary in which those same individuals, imagining they are being more discrete, sit in their cars with their hands-free bluetooth connections blast their private conversations through the speakers of their deluxe car stereos. 

I remember the interim. That period of time during which people like Gordon Gekko carried a brick with an antennae so he could, as my father eventually did, carry on conversations that inevitably began with the phrase, "You'll never guess where I'm calling you from." Couple this with the tendency we have grown to carry on with those on the electronic line while ignoring those standing directly in front of us. 

Yes. I'm old. Turn off your phone at the table or I'll take it away and you'll have to use your personal computer to watch cat videos. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Will You Take This Call?

 I was on mile six of a run that felt like it might go on for a few more. I had crossed over from one side of my neighborhood route to the other. Red Barchetta war roaring through my headphones and was abruptly interrupted by the ringing of my phone. I pushed the button that allowed me to take the call. "Hello?"

I was on Spring Break. I was out for a run on a Monday morning, with cares and responsibilities set to the side for the moment. I could not imagine who would be calling me when I was at peace with the world and looking forward to a week of uncomplicated life. "Is this David Caven?"

I took a breath, that might have been connected to a sigh, "This is David Caven." And the call was dropped. At this moment, I kept running. If they really wanted to talk to me, whoever it was would call me back. Still, I couldn't keep myself from pulling the phone from my pocket, even as I kept chugging along, and checked the number. The phone rang again.

"Is this David Caven?"

I knew the answer to that one, so I answered quickly to keep the conversation lively. 

"This is Kaiser Permanente," and then I knew what I was going to be doing for my Spring Break. The results of a recent test suggested that I should get a colonoscopy. Was there a day or time that would work best for me?

I don't know how much you know about colonoscopies. Most of what I know is from the experiences of others. Most recently a friend from high school, and before that my wife. And men of my certain age are regularly corralled into this particular procedure. And I knew that there was never going to be a time that would be "best" for a colonoscopy aside from "never." 

But there I was, on the Monday morning of my week off, and I went ahead and took the plunge. While I was running what would eventually be eleven miles, I selected the earliest possible appointment so that I could get. In hindsight I suspect that had they offered me a spot any earlier, I would have just changed direction one more time and run right across town to get the sedation and getting the probe. Get it over with, please. 

Because at that moment I was feeling indestructible. I was fifty-eight years old, and I was still running. Not just across the street to avoid oncoming traffic. I was exercising, sweating, moving. You want to test me? Check out what's under my metaphorical hood? Bring it on. I made my appointment. I got it confirmed. I hung up. 

I kept running. 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


 At one point, I felt compelled to take my wife's phone from her. She was driving. Not fast, but she was driving. She was driving through the Habitrail maze of road cones in the parking lot of the Alameda County Coliseum. The Oakland A's were playing baseball inside the stadium, but that's not why we were there. The path we were on took us through what would have been prime spots for parking if we had been there to catch a game, or a concert. What made this trip to our local sports complex so worthy of documentation was not a spectator activity. This was an interactive event. 

We were there to get my wife vaccinated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had taken over the area where fans have been tailgating ahead of Raiders and Athletics games for decades and turned it into a vaccination destination. My wife had become eligible for her citizen over a certain age shot just a couple days before, and after getting a hot tip from a friend of hers, she was able to score an appointment. Actually, she bagged three, in various locations and at different times. Cleverly, she chose the most expeditious opportunity. It was also a place that was serving up the one-shot Johnsons and Johnson mix that meant she would be one and done. No return trips. No worries about scheduling that second appointment thirty days later.

I tried not to be jealous. I had been fully vaccinated for more than two weeks at that point, and probably should have simply been happy for my patient wife. She was being rewarded for that patience with an experience that, from door to done, lasted just under an hour. My experience had been quite different. After weeks of trying to catch an appointment from the online system, I chose to walk over to the nearby high school from my own school. Where I stood for three hours in the will-call line, hoping that the extra doses didn't run out before I was ushered inside. 

This was not the experience my wife had. When I was waiting in my line, I had a chance to get familiar with those in front and behind me. I made more than a couple witty remarks about standing in line for Space Mountain, appreciating the potential that all of this standing around might eventually allow me to get in a great many other lines. Not just Space Mountain, but the line to buy tickets at a movie theater, or to get a seat inside the Alameda County Coliseum to watch some baseball. 


When my wife pulled our car around the last cone-described curve and we were ushered into a line where she would shortly be given that same chance to become invulnerable, I offered to hold her phone while she documented the process. When it came time to get her shot, she rolled up her sleeve to show the tech the smiling sun she had drawn on her shoulder to mark the target. It was a nice moment. 

And just like that, it was over. We pulled forward and waited the required fifteen minutes without ever having to leave the comfort of our car. I watched and listened to the wave of relief wash over her. As we drove out of the parking lot, we were leaving her fear of COVID behind. She had survived and come out the other side. We drove over to Home Depot and brought plants for our garden. It was time for renewal. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021


 I filled out the opinion survey as I often do, feeling that it is my obligation as a bleeding hearted liberal to voice my opinions on behalf of the struggling masses and the planet we have ignored for so long. When asked to define my positions, I tend to paint them as very strongly held. Even when the survey wants to tempt me with other viewpoints, or considerations, I hold tightly to my convictions. I understand that this is a test for me as much as it is for them. What if cleaning up the rivers and lakes and beaches ended up costing nine billion dollars instead of six billion, and we asked you to pay for it? What about then? Huh? So here's my response: It has to be paid for, eventually. The good news is that we can still do it while there is a price tag on it, rather than sacrificing an entire generation. 

That last bit wasn't one of the check boxes. It was something that I thought, and since I have this place to sound off beyond clicking. Then it was time to finish up, and I was asked a final series of questions for "statistical purposes." Age, family income, and whether I consider myself to be a moderate, conservative or liberal, though the "bleeding heart" would probably only be discerned from my responses. Then I was asked if I was "a member of a labor union or a teacher's union." 

I stopped clicking. Now I really did want to have a discussion with the people who wanted my opinions. The first part of that discussion would probably be about how I came to be part of a union. How I had been teaching at the school where I had been hired for about a month when one of my mentor teachers stopped by my classrooms after the kids had gone for the day and handed me a binder. "What's this?" I asked.

"Your contract," she told me. "You should read it. Get familiar with it."

"Will there be a quiz?" I made a little teacher joke. But at the time I did not have the full understanding that I had become a member of a union by signing on as a teacher for the Oakland Unified School District. A week or so later, I asked my mentor teacher if I had to be a union member to be a teacher. To which she replied, "Pretty much." 

And so I have spent most of my twenty plus years with a mild ambivalence to this membership, sometimes finding myself at odds with decisions made by union leadership. Especially those that seemed to clash with what I understood my commitment to the community I was serving. I have held different positions when it came to work actions, trying hard to maintain that ideal in my heart and mind of being a public servant, while appreciating the protections that the union provided me. A couple years ago when there was a strike, I walked the picket line with the rest of my colleagues. Union members. We carried signs and chanted, and attended rallies and created food banks and strike funds to help defray the cost for those members who were struggling the most. 

And I kept an ear to the ground when it came to the noises made by the families to whom I was connected. 

It sure felt like being in a labor union. But I also understood that the rest of the world, including myself at times, had a hard time seeing the job I was doing on a continuum with ditch-digging or welding or coal mining. Was teaching really labor? 

Well, after a month of being on strike, and listening to all the rhetoric from both sides of the fence, I was glad to be able to settle back into my job once again. To get back to work. To heal those divisions. The ones in my own mind, especially. 

Am I a member of a labor union? Yes. And I am a teacher. Thanks for asking. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Sleep Sound

 I woke up with a start when I heard the first three shots. There are always a few moments when I try to rationalize the sound I have just heard as fireworks. Before I could check in with my wife who runs the same system check, there were three more shots. These sounded just a little further away. Up the street? Down the street? Then the screeching of tires. 

"I'm going to call it in," said my wife who sleeps next to her phone for just such an emergency. That and listening to podcasts when sleep is slow to come. She dialed 911 and described what we had just heard. What she did not hear was, "We'll send a car right out." 

We live in Oakland, after all, and all these late night noises were de rigueur. From downstairs, our son texted not only that he had heard those same noises, but he had tuned into police chatter and noted that several others had made the same report. He wanted to go outside and see if there was anything to see. Without hearing any broken glass or ricochets, I was content to roll over and try to get back to sleep. 


My mind tugged at threads. The story I had read the day before about the shooting in southern California. A nine year old boy was shot and killed in Orange County along with three others. Guy with a gun. From there I hopped to a story about a mother of six who was shot and killed by a man who felt her husband had cut him off on the highway. The road rage was not specifically directed at the mother of six. The gun was. Guy with a gun.

Later in the day I was listening to a report on the Biden administration's challenge to create executive orders on guns that cannot simply be repealed by whoever shows up in the office next. How to put some sort of control on a culture that seems to have given up on gun control. The promise to control always comes with the insistence that we will not come and take your guns. Not when there are so many god-fearing Constitutionally endowed gun owners who are not killing co-workers. Not shooting other drivers. Not popping caps around Oakland neighborhoods. It's those responsible gun owners that we feel the need to respond to and protect. 

One of the leftover threads from the murders in Boulder a couple of weeks ago was the story about two of the victims of that rampage who were supporters of gun rights. The youngest of the ten, and the officer who was killed in the line of duty. It suggested that the families of those men might have different feelings after their loved ones had been killed by a guy with a gun he had purchased just six days before. After having passed a background check, with a history of violence and a family who openly discussed his separation from reality. Guy with a gun. 

Like the guy down the street in the middle of the night. With a gun. It took me a while to get back to sleep, but I did. 

God help me, I went back to sleep. 

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Listening To The Boss

 So two of my favorite human beings decided to make a podcast. Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama host Renegades: Born In The USA, available wherever you find your podcasts. If you don't happen to be one of those "pod people," let me assure you that you get a heaping helping of conventional wisdom from these two gentlemen, who just happen to be very good friends. 

Okay, end of advertisement. The reason for the mention was that on a recent episode this unlikely pair met at another interesting crossroad: Fatherhood. They discussed their challenges finding their way in that strange void where no one had given them an easy to follow diagram. Both men had distant and challenging relationships with their own fathers, and the way was never clear. I benefitted greatly from a map supplied by my own father, with whom I shared a sometimes tricky but loving relationship. I feel as though I would still have appreciated a little more guidance, but the circumstances of my son's birth were such that my dad was gone before I became a dad. So I started off imagining that I would simply follow the path plowed by my father as I started on my own journey, a generation later. 

Unfortunately, I didn't spend a lot of time talking with my dad about how he wrangled that nearly instantaneous change from husband to father. Though I was sure that bringing another life into the world that I could help support and nurture was something for which I was on the cusp of being capable, I had no idea what skills I would actively need. Another neat coincidence in my life was that I had plunged into a new career and bought a house at virtually the same moment that my son arrived on the scene. The only good change is a sea change. 

In my mind, I felt I was setting up as the helpmate, the Late Night Guy. I could see the mother of my child struggling, so I chose to fill in whenever I could sense her powers lagging. I chose a support role, and that seemed to be right, even if at times I had no idea what I was doing. Hindsight suggests that I probably would have had more success if I hadn't been hanging around waiting for my wife to tell me how to help. I took such pride in being the person who changed my son's first diaper, it didn't occur to me that there would be thousands more in that first year. Assembling the Tomy tractor on his first birthday, I finally felt like I had arrived at my station: Put-together guy.

Looking back on that first year, I recall those late night strolls around the house with my son in my arms. Swaddled in a blanket, I held him close and played the home version of Goodnight Moon. I was anxious to impress upon him just how asleep the rest of the world was, and how it would be a really great idea for him to follow suit. Sometimes he would not be convinced. Sometimes his mother would come to the rescue for a late-night drive. Twenty-three years later, she and my son still enjoy the open road, together and apart. 

I stayed home and looked for things to put together. I have built my share of Hot Wheels garages and supervised many Lego assemblages. I pushed my son around the neighborhood in a jogging stroller until he was old enough to tell me to knock it off. Some of his first words. I rushed his first Lionel train set once I was convinced of his love for locomotives. I put that together too. I was looking for that bonding moment that would make me feel as though I had stuck the Fatherhood landing. 

Turns out I was looking in the wrong places. It wasn't the toys. It wasn't the torturous games of catch. It was in the laughter we shared. From the pull-off-the-blanket-peekaboo to the Looney Toons on Saturday morning. And the movies. All those movies. Walks in the park, up the street or in Anaheim. Carrying him until I couldn't anymore. We have yet to laugh until we couldn't anymore. Twenty-three years into the game, I'm starting to catch on. Being a father is being there. As much as you can. 

The mother of Bruce Springsteen's children gave him some advice. She said that their kids were at their most gorgeous in the morning, they were most alive. She suggested that he didn't want to miss it. I got a similar suggestion from my wife. She wasn't wrong. Thank goodness fathers have mothers to clue them in on the parenthood gig. 

Saturday, April 03, 2021


 My wife was marking the time we have spent in COVID isolation by referring to "when you changed your name to Black Lives Matter David Caven." This was the moment when I changed my social media tag to reflect my state of mind. My state of being. I felt that I could never do enough to raise this idea up to the degree it needed to be raised. So I put it out there as an introduction of sorts. "Hi, my name is David Caven, and I would like to talk to you about all manner of things serious and not so serious, but first: Black Lives Matter."

This was true six months ago, and it's true now. Moving forward and going back, Black Lives Matter. 

That being said, over and over, I would like to address the trial of Derek Chauvin. Ten months ago, this was the guy whose knee was on George Floyd's neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. On May 25, 2020, Black Lives Mattered. Mister Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd. Because after more than nine minutes of having his airway compressed by Chauvin's knee, George Floyd died. 

At this point, I would like to zoom out for a moment and address once again the word "alleged." Until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, most of the reports that you will read about this trial will include that word around Derek Chauvin's name or his crime. This convention will continue until conviction, even though there is video evidence, from several angles and sources, of the murder taking place. There will be a parade of witnesses brought to the stand to describe the scene that we have all been witness over the past year. Meanwhile, the crime that George Floyd allegedly committed which brought such swift and terrible retribution was trying to pass a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. This alleged crime is punishable, under Minnesota state law, of a one thousand dollar fine or one year in prison. The prosecution of this particular case will not be continued because the alleged perpetrator was killed. The twenty dollar bill is now just a curiosity piece. Discussion of the hows and whys of George Floyd's alleged crime fall into the category of pure speculation at this point. 

While we watch that video again. And again. And again.

The most serious charge facing Derek Chauvin a sentence of up to forty years in prison. He is currently enjoying his right to trial by jury. George Floyd is dead. It has taken nearly a year for the process that might put Mister Chauvin in jail. It took nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds for Chauvin to render his verdict on George Floyd. Recent history has told us not to be surprised by any verdict handed down in Chauvin's trial. While acquittal seems outrageous under the circumstances and the evidence that exists, we have all witnessed confusing and confounding decisions in similar cases. Each of these has served to rub an already inflamed sense of injustice raw. 

I know it's horrible to look at. But we all need to watch. 

Black Lives Matter. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Enough Is Enough

 "Did you know Amazon starts its full-time employees at $15 per hour?" This is an essentially rhetorical question asked by Amazon themselves. Itself. It's part of an ad campaign promoting the just and kind robot overlords, Minions of Bezos. It has become increasingly invested in letting us all know that they care about us and they or it or whatever Amazon is or might be that they are not evil. Amazon is not just a river in South America. Amazon is our savior.

So please don't make them allow unions in their shop. They're already paying the princely sum of fifteen dollars an hour to their full-time employees. Okay, so nobody's getting rich, but at least you can afford to live on what you make for dragging other people's value-paks of Crest and the like around their warehouses and loading them into cardboard boxes so they can get it the very next day.

Nobody except Jeff Bezos. Jeff is making more than thirteen million dollars an hour. More than two hundred thousand dollars a second. The folks at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama are voting on whether or not to unionize. However that vote turns out, there are likely to be protracted legal battles to determine just how, when or whether that group of workers will ever be allowed to unionize. Which means that there will be some large billable hours for some law firms operating on both sides of the courtroom. Meanwhile, full-time employees of Amazon will continue to earn fifteen dollars an hour. If you happen to be a software engineer who is fortunate enough to catch on with the world's largest retailer, you can expect to drop in around one hundred twenty thousand dollars a year. These are not the folks who want to unionize. If you made fifteen dollars an hour, your salary would be about a quarter of that.

Amazon has doubled its profits since the onset of COVID-19. If you needed toothpaste and didn't want to take a chance on visiting your local Rite-Aid, click on Amazon. And stream their movies while your local theater is closed. If you needed a job because yours had disappeared?

Amazon is paying their full-time employees fifteen dollars an hour.

Isn't that enough?

Thursday, April 01, 2021

What's The Good News?

 The title of the article is what caught me: Oakland Teachers Refuse To Return To School.

I let it sit there, staring back at me from my screen while I tried to avoid clicking on it. I tried not to let the second part of the title "Despite Getting COVID Vaccine Priority." The article, a short one, quoted a letter from an unnamed "school official" from Cleveland Elementary and Oakland School Board Director Shanthi Gonzales. Both described their disappointment and frustration over the situation. The piece mentions parents who are "frustrated with the district and union’s inability to force teachers to return for in-person teaching," finding the situation "laughable." 

Which is interesting for a couple of reasons: Number one, I have been at my school site nearly every single day since the initial shelter-in-place order was lifted a year ago. My principal and I have been there to coordinate material distribution, fix tech problems, and solve any issues that we can by being there in person. A few of our staff have made it their practice to teach their Zoom classes from their classrooms to connect kids with the place that they know. And they didn't want to stray to far from the work that they do: Teaching. That didn't stop a year ago, and nobody with whom I work has been refusing to do their job. On the contrary. The past year has been full of stories of colleagues going above and beyond the limitations put in place by COVID-19. Delivering books to students' homes, bringing kids one at a time to the campus to give a socially distanced tutorial, going that extra mile to make sure that families in our community were safe and sound during this extraordinary time. 

Number two: When our parents were surveyed, just over a third of them asked that their kids be returned to some form of in-person instruction. Another third replied that they would rather stick out the pandemic in distance learning. And more than a quarter of our parents did not respond to repeated attempts to ask them what they preferred. When the district and the teachers' union finally came to an understanding, there were still plenty of loose threads in this sweater. How do we...? What will it look like when...? What if...? There were "what ifs" by the tractor trailer full. I am grateful that we will be taking it slow to begin with, and we won't be endangering anyone with our best guesses. Our site has two committed and fully vaccinated volunteers to bring part of their classes back to the building we all left before Spring Break a year ago. 

And now might be a good time to point out that the byline for this particular news story was that of a Caitlin McFall, from Fox News. Which probably explains why no teachers were interviewed for this expose. That might have promoted a second side of the argument, because there really needs to be an argument about this, doesn't there? 

See you around the schoolyard.