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. 

Do-over.

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

Hands-On

 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. 

Brrrr. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Cute

 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

Wiring

 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

Renewal

 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. 

Patience. 

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

Opining

 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. 

Try.

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

Watch

 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.