Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Songs We Know By Heart

 As I was mowing the lawn the other day, listening to a mix of streaming music of my mild selection, a song came on that I realized fit in a unique niche: it was a song by one of my younger brother's favorite groups about a singer that was one of my older brother's favorites. "Allison" by the Pixies sounds by the title like it might be a cover of an Elvis Costello hit, but instead is a tribute to the last jazz pianist Mose Allison. This gave me pause because there used to be so much music that brought us together. Back when we three boys were in the back seat of the station wagon on those cross country road trips, we learned to campaign for those few songs and artists that lived in that sweet spot of rock, roll and music my parents would tolerate. Harry Nilsson, Neil Diamond, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. With roughly three years between each of us, there was a spot in the seventies when we could all agree. 

But as the eighties dawned, and my older brother found himself in college, and I worked toward high school graduation, shadowed closely by my younger brother, our music tastes fragmented and became our own. Friends and acquaintances outside our nuclear family began to influence our tastes. The sounds that emanated from our rooms and eventually our cars were distinct. 

Except for Jimmy Buffett. It was during the 1980's that all three of us found ourselves ensconced in that group known Parrotheads. It was my older brother who brought Mister Buffett to the party, but it was the three of us who made him feel a part of our home. We listened to the records. We learned all the words. We went to the concerts. We bought the T-shirts. And somewhere along the line, the King Kong Trio was born.

Or re-born. Initially, the King Kong Trio was a group of three backing musicians who accompanied Jimmy on a stripped down tour. This tour coincided with the high water mark or our collective Parrotheadness. This period in history will also be remembered as a place in time when all three of us had found our way to the mythical island of Margaritaville, meaning that we were all capable of holding our liquor. And remembering all the words. The most infamous performance of our brotherhood trio was on the advent of my twenty-first birthday, after consumption of a few celebratory cocktails, put on a record and sang a long. At the top of our lungs. Migration. Fins. Cheeseburger in Paradise. And more. We sang until we were hoarse. Then we kept going. 

Until we were through. 

When I look back at those times, it reminds me of the joy of having brothers. It reminds me of the music that was always playing, somewhere in our house. It reminds me that we were happy. 

Like I am right now, just thinking about it. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Complacency

 Since January, this blog has taken on a tilt that is decidedly less political. Not because I am any less concerned or opinionated, but rather because there is less on which I feel the need to harp. The new President, a guy named Joe, seems to stir less vitriol in me. Which isn't really a surprise, since the last guy to sit behind the Resolute Desk was much like Jabba The Hut in his awfulness. 

To me.

And this is significant. Because there are folks who, I am told, feel the same way about the new guy as I ever felt about the old guy. Let's take this guy, we'll call him "Mitch," who says that he is one hundred percent focused on stopping this new administration. His words:  "We're confronted with severe challenges from a new administration, and a narrow majority of Democrats in the House and a fifty-fifty Senate to turn America into a socialist country, and that's one hundred percent of my focus." This guy "Mitch" had similar feelings way back in 2010. Coincidentally, there was a Democrat in the White House in 2010. "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," he said back then, noting that Republicans were open to some compromise and adding, "I don't want the president to fail. I want him to change."

Which brought me back to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite films, Inherit The Wind. Cantankerous liberal lawyer Henry Drummond is confronting his cantankerous conservative opposing counsel and friend Matthew Harrison Brady regarding the parting of their ways. “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away-by standing still”

Which in turn may have something to do with that whole notion of making America great again. As if our greatness can only be found in the past. Back when segregation was the law of the land, and we didn't speak of things like sexual preference, or sexual anything. Our founding fathers were writing words that were to be taken literally and any question about their support of slavery as a means to generate wealth should be ignored. And the fact that our great nation was founded on the genocide of an entire race? Hush your mouth. 

"Mitch" and his like-minded folks are grabbing at the wheel of the ship of state, looking for icebergs. One hundred percent. They may or may not want the current President to fail, but they don't seem interested in change at all. Unless that change can be created by standing still. 

So I'm not going to just sit quietly while idjits like "Mitch" take out their partisan frustrations on the attempts to push our country forward. There is far too much at stake. I am, to paraphrase the Amazing Criswell, interested in the future because that is where I am going to spend most of the rest of my life. 

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Standby

 The mornings when we wake up. She's there. Waiting. Getting ready to get you ready. To send you out into the world.

The afternoons when we wander back home. She's there. Waiting. Anxious to hear all about the adventures we've had.

The nights when we couldn't sleep.

The days that didn't turn out like we'd planned.

She's there. Waiting. 

And somewhere in there, it started to make you anxious. Maybe because you worried that she would always be there. Or because you thought she might not.

She's still there. 

Telling stories. Listening to yours. Because she cares.

She cares about you. She cares for you. She cares.

While you go out and live your life, she continues to wait. Just in case. 

You might need a band-aid or a kiss on the forehead. Or a smile. 

She taught you things you only remember as part of your regularly scheduled life. 

She wrote you notes to take to your teacher. She stood in line with you.

And waited.

Because she wanted to.

And you wanted her to be there with you.

Waiting. 

She's there now. 

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Much Appreciated

 This past week was filled with little reminders, mostly from our principal, of just how much we teachers are appreciated. There were bagels and fresh fruit on Monday, treated to Taco Tuesday, a very special video of thanks on Wednesday, yogurt and ice cream sundaes on Thursday, and Goldfish snacks on Friday. Combined with daily and weekly shout-outs for a job well done by our administrator, we felt honored and recognized. Appreciated. 

The President of the United States tweeted his appreciation for us all, including his First Lady, Doctor Jill. She's a doctor of education. You get that right? She's not going to open you up or prescribe you a pill. She's going to educate you to make you well. 

As are we all. It is what we do. And yet, once again teachers are simultaneously being held up for their efforts and torn down for their organizing. I don't tend to think a lot about this kind of push and pull much over the course of any day. I'm there to do a job. I'm there to keep kids safe. To keep them learning. Showing them the difference between area and perimeter. Asking probing questions about Charlotte's Web. Bringing four square balls to the playground and ensuring that there are no cherry bombs or chicken feet. Reminders to be safe, responsible and respectful. Waiting on the front steps of the school when mom is running a little late at the end of the day. 

And all those things in between. Meanwhile, I am reminded that "a good teacher is hard to find, but even harder to forget," and "behind every great person is a teacher who inspired them." Whether these messages come from the side of coffee mugs or posters sent to us by the school district, they exist to remind us grownups of the job we are here to do. Over the past twenty-four years, I have not met anyone who went into teaching for the money. Or the illusory paid summer vacation. The only reason I get a check in June and July is because I have the accountants downtown set aside a chunk of my salary and defer it to those hazy lazy crazy days when I am doing trainings, attending meetings and catching my breath in anticipation of yet another autumn filled with school. Anyone who has volunteered to stop by my job to help out for a day is always gratified to know that once that bell rings at the end of the day that they are done. Because I and my fellow teachers are not. We are cleaning up and preparing for the next day. Collecting papers, finding a new pencil sharpener to replace the one that was broken during an experiment to see how it performed on the wrong end of a pencil, and oh those meetings. 

I am not a teacher for the appreciation, but it helps. It helps when you look at test scores or attendance numbers that aren't trending the way you might have hoped. It helps when you are trying to figure out how to get kids out of their warm beds to sit in front of a screen, or someday soon find their way to a classroom nearby. Eyes open, ears too. The appreciation makes the other weeks of the year feel like they are part of this great challenge to get kids from one August to the next, able to distinguish area from perimeter. 

Totally worth it. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Marriage Story

 I hope I won't get into trouble, seeing as how I am writing this with the aid of many of the software and hardware bits and pieces developed over the past forty-five years by Microsoft. I feat that if I type the name Bill Gates that I might be struck down by some bolt out of the blue from my keyboard or a virus less virulent than COVID-19 but would nonetheless keep me from getting my point across. 

So far so good.

My point is this: Bill and Melinda Gates are getting divorced: big deal. Oh yes, I understand why for many this stacks up as a very big deal seeing as how it will cause a shift in the thinking of just who is the wealthiest person in America. The settlement involved here will likely divide up the billions of dollars that Bill and his wife Melinda have shared into smaller piles of billions. Splitting that fortune down the middle will leave them each with approximately sixty-five billion dollars each. And since the two of them have been doing their level best over the past twenty years to give all that money away, this redistribution of wealth may be the key to making that happen. 

Or not.

Money tends to make more money, and though their generosity has become somewhat legendary, neither Bill or Melinda will be scouring the neighborhood dumpsters for their foie gras anytime soon. But if you're worried about the end of the truly inspiring love story embodied by these two, stop. Their coupling began way back in the heady days of the late eighties, culminating in a private ceremony in Hawaii in 1994. After more than a quarter century of what we might assume was wedded bliss, they decided to call it quits. 

It happens all the time. 

What do most couples fight about? Money. "How much did you spend on that Winslow Homer?" And if you live in an earth-sheltered compound named Xanadu 2.0 that comes with an inscription of a quote from The Great Gatsby on the ceiling that reads, "He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it." It is extremely likely that some of their most heated discussions about whatever vast amount of money that needed to be shoveled this way or that took place beneath these words. For what it's worth, and that phrase has rarely been held up to this kind of ironic strain, Bill and his soon-to-be ex-wife have pledged to continue working together on philanthropic causes. Like public health. Vaccinations. Stuff like that. 

Which is nice. But I might suggest a new Gatsby quote for the ceiling: “So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Family Values

 The words of my son: "I cried just a little bit during the movie, but first I let loose the MAN TEARS when I got to hear the big Movie Sound Dolby 7.1 demo reel that played after the previews." Those were the ones he chose to commemorate our family's return to the movie theater. Last Sunday, we made our way down to Alameda where they are currently seating for select showings of selected films. In our case, it was the five fifteen screening of Nomadland.

My wife, who secured our tickets, bought us popcorn and large sodas, cried a little too as the lights went down. It was our return to the place where we have come together so often: in the dark with our concessions in our lap and the projector shining above our heads. It was not the packed house that we had experienced for so many first day premieres. Every other row was blocked off with caution tape. When we bought our tickets, the two seats to our left and right were automatically blocked out. There would be plenty of elbow room.

We tried to remember the last time we were in a movie theater together. My wife and I were fairly certain that the last film we had seen anywhere other than our living room was Parasite, our last ditch effort more than a year ago to try and see all the best picture nominees. Leading up to this year's Oscars, we had seen a grand total of two of them, compared to our usual full slate. The two we had seen prior to the ceremony were streamed into the aforementioned living room.

When Frances McDormand, star and producer of this year's winner encouraged us all to go out and see this year's best pictures in a theater, we took it to heart. But we were also patiently waiting for our favorite movie house to announce their grand re-opening. That has yet to happen, but down in Alameda, they were ready for us.

So off we went.

The film itself was a pleasant enough ride, a little like a song from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. Certainly a lot to think about in this year of departure. But mostly, the three of us were caught up in the experience of sitting in a movie theater. The trailer for the coming attraction James Bond installment roaring through the sound system reminded us of the sensual extremes available in such a setting. Over the course of the feature, we were aware of the quiet moments as well, and when the lights came up again, we realized that the theater's cleanup crew may have outnumbered the paid attendance.

We felt taken care of. We felt like we had found our way back. We felt like we were home.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

What Would Betsy Ross Do?

I have not spent a great deal of time worrying about statehood for Washington, D.C. I hail from Colorado, a great big sate. I am currently a resident of one of the biggest states, California. The idea that these little corners of North America are considered to be on equal footing with these easily recognized shapes of geography with the big boys is a cute notion. 

Or it was, before it was pointed out to me that population and representation are huge deals when it comes time to decide things like taxation and national elections. I confess that my biggest concern prior to this concerning adding an additional star or two to our flag. Fifty-one is not a prime number, so the arrangement could still be made in a symmetrical fashion, or we could all just get an additional star and stick it anywhere on the field of blue that suits us. It's a free country, after all. Just not so much for those living in the District of Columbia. 

An argument that is getting quite a lot of play these days is that the state of Wyoming has a smaller population than Washington D.C. Wyoming gets two senators, and a representative in the House. The folks in Washington D.C. get nobody in the Senate and a lone representative with limited voting privileges. To be clear, there are plenty of ordinary citizens in the District of Columbia who live, work and pay taxes into a federal government that they live with in close quarters and yet have no voice on the national scene. Eleanor Norton, who has represented her home in Congress since 1991 as a "delegate" would like to see that change. The flag is the least of her concern.  

And neither is the Twenty-third Amendment. That's the one that provides for the appointment of elecotors who can then participate in the Electoral College and thereby help select the new President and Vice President. It seems as though some of the Republican persuasion have their conservative knickers in a twist about having to repeal an Amendment to the Constitution in order to admit the District into the Union. 

Or maybe they're concerned about all those black and brown and blue votes that would suddenly be given a voting voice on Capitol Hill. That would be squarely on brand with the current Republican strategy of attempting to disenfranchise as many votes of color as possible across the entire United States. 

I had a little twinge there when I typed "United." 

Or maybe it's still that whole flag thing. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

What Lies Ahead

 I have been taking longer runs over the past six weeks. This is partly because it's spring, and there is more daylight in which to exercise. It also has to do with the school district's wellness competition. We were encouraged to make a team with members of our site's staff, and then track our physical activities each day over the course of a month and a half. The expressed intent from on high was that this was a way to encourage those of us who are more sedentary to get up form behind our screens and move about. In previous years, simply counting the steps that a teacher takes over the course of a normal school day would qualify them for substantial activity. Walking with your class in and out from recess, to and from lunch, wandering about the playground during yard duty, and all of the meandering about the classroom to peek over the shoulders of students working feverishly on their assignments. 

This year was different, and finding an excuse to move about was welcome. 

But why was it a competition? Because we are human beings, and we might not push ourselves unless we can hear the footsteps of those behind us, or those passing us by. Early on, I was pleased to find myself among the leaders not just at my own school, but citywide. I attributed this to my compulsive need to complete things like the daily form in a timely fashion. There were those who would let a day or two go by and then fill in out of memory. Not me. I needed that satisfaction of seeing my numbers go into the chart as I finished them. Running. Walking. Biking. I was gratified to discover that yard work, strenuous yard word, was a category. Mowing the lawn was now more than simple home maintenance, it was points for my team. 

And did I mention there was a trivia component as well? Each day brought a new question about our virtual trip around the globe. I started each day answering those, only missing a few over the course of the challenge. But those misses made me acutely aware that there were those who were getting every question right, putting me in danger of losing my spot at the top of the leader board. 

Somewhere in all of this came a voice I recognized. "It doesn't matter if you're first or last. If you're doing your best, that's all that matters." That voice was my own. It was my voice encouraging student who, like a much younger version of me, struggled when it came to physical education. There will always be someone ahead of you, and almost certainly someone behind you. That's what I thought about on the closing weekend of the wellness challenge, as I noticed a long-legged stride pass me on my left, and across the street on my right, someone else was chugging along uphill in the opposite direction. I couldn't help but compare my own gait to theirs and wonder if, perhaps, one of these folks were the names I saw clustered around me as I entered my totals at the end of the day. 

Then I reminded myself that next week I will still be running along at my same pace, and some people will be hanging up their sneakers until next year. Finishing last is better than not finishing at all. 

Monday, May 03, 2021

Faster, More Intense

 My son's observation was this: "It takes more than five hours to make a fifteen minute movie."

This may sound like an obvious viewpoint, but his comes from firsthand experience. A film crew descended on the elementary school at which I work last week, and since I was acting as the site liaison I was privy to all that would go on during the day. A very full day, when I glanced at the Call Sheet. My name appeared prominently, both for being the aforementioned point person as well as being part of "the talent." Seeing this as a form of leverage, I decided to press my luck and ask the director/producer if my freshly minted Theater Arts graduate might find some work experience as part of the crew. Ah, show business. It's not what you know, but who you know. And, as my son soon found out, what you're willing to carry. 

My time was split between rushing about finding objects, unlocking doors, and eventually having my head put in front of a camera where I spoke with great eloquence about the Fit Kids program, the group we were there to promote. As I sat there beneath the interrogation lights, I waxed poetic and spun great metaphors and eloquent connections. I was, after all, being asked to speak. 

Which may have been a mistake, considering the penchant I have for going on and on and on. Eventually, I was asked to see if I could boil down some of my long-winded answers to something that might have more of a sound-bite quality. Reigning in my rhetoric proved to be a challenge, but eventually I was able to whittle my words down to a useable bit. 

It was around this time that my son showed up. Being a volunteer and not a fully compensated member of the crew, he was able to slide into the filmmaking process by asking "is there anything I can do?" This, he discovered, was a most welcome response, as most everyone found tasks to keep him busy and making up for any tardiness. A trip back home to pick up a house plant to decorate the library that we were using as a set. A run to the sandwich shop to retrieve lunch for everyone. And lifting any and all equipment, sandbags, or miscellaneous debris that needed to be moved into our out of the shot. 

When the day was over, or at least mostly over, I asked him how he enjoyed his day on set. He was tired, but enthusiastic. It had not worn off the edge of excitement that being around all that creativity. It was, to use the hackneyed expression, "a good kind of tired." 

On the way home, I thought about all the times I had been in front of a camera. I thought about all the times I had been behind a camera. I wondered if my son might someday have the joys I experienced when I was a kid with my dad's Super 8 rig. None of the movies I made took five hours to make. I hope he has a chance to make his own five hour/fifteen minute movie. 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Paying For It

 My first thought was a federal program that would supply guns to every family in America, paid for with tax dollar. Your tax dollars. I was wondering if the allure of the Second Amendment might take some of the hurt out of that whole tax thing. I make the large assumption here that for those who cherish their right to bear arms are also the ones who bristle the most at taxation, representation or not. 

It's a trial balloon. You know, the kind you float up to see if anyone will shoot at it. 

Because I believe it is this same group of people who are incensed by the suggestion that we add a few years of public education to the system we already have in place. "And who's gonna pay for that?" asks the public. 

Well, the public, seeing as how it's public education and all. 

And the way we tend to fund public programs is to collect taxes, based on income, to pay for all that wonderful stuff like schools and sewers and streets. And highways. The ones that inevitably you see those fun folks driving on while they talk into their phones generating social media proclaiming their fierce loyalty to their one nation under god and the principles which our founding fathers put forth in what is essentially the vessel for the Second Amendment, our Constitution. 

What if we said that we wanted to put down some more highways for the purpose of recording video rants, but the only way we could do that was by collecting taxes from our citizenry. And what if we felt that the people who had great big buckets of money anyway might want to toss a few extra coins in the bucket to make sure that we had streets and highways to take us all the places we wanted to go.

The freedom to go to all the places we want to go. That's almost as important as guns, right? Well, what if I suggested that education would play a vital part in getting you where you want to go? More education would mean more places to go. Makes sense, right?

Unless you were really afraid of socialist programs like public education. The kind that was first put forth by a senator from Massachusetts by the name of Horace Mann. He suggested that teachers should be trained. Professional. And that everyone should be afforded the opportunity to go to school. In America. Land of the free and home of the taxes. 

A few days ago, another senator, this one from Delaware who happened to have climbed the ladder just a little higher to the White House, suggested that public education in the United States should include universal preschool and two years of community college. 

That won't be cheap. But probably a lot less expensive than outfitting the population of the United States with AR-15s. 

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Comparing And Contrasting

 Comedian Joe Rogan attended the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has said that he found it "pointless," so he dropped out. 

Doctor Anthony Fauci attended the College of the Holy Cross, graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in classics with a pre-med track. Fauci then attended medical school at Cornell University's Medical College where he graduated first in his class with a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1966. He then completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

Comedian Joe Rogan has appeared in numerous television shows, most notably NewsRadio from 1995 to 1999 and the game show Fear Factor from 2001 to 2006. He has also appeared on stage as a standup comic since 1988. 

Doctor Fauci joined the National Institute of Health and the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases in 1968, became head of the LCI's Clinical Physiology Section in 1974, and in 1980 was appointed chief of the NIAID's Laboratory of Immunoregulation. In the early 2000s he was involved in creating the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief  and in driving development of biodefense drugs and vaccines following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Comedian Joe Rogan has his own podcast, downloaded more than sixteen million times a month.

Doctor Anthony Fauci has served six presidents of the United States, starting with Ronald Reagan.

Comedian Joe Rogan was suggested by former president and gameshow host Donald Trump as a moderator for a debate between himself and Joe Biden. 

Comedian Joe Rogan recently said about COVID-19 vaccinations, “Are you healthy? Are you a healthy person? Like, look, don't do anything stupid, but you should take care of yourself. You should  if you're a healthy person, and you're exercising all the time, and you're young, and you’re eating well, like, I don't think you need to worry about this.” 

Doctor Anthony Facui replied, "You're talking about yourself in a vacuum. You're worried about yourself getting infected and the likelihood that you're not going to get any symptoms. But you can get infected, and will get infected, if you put yourself at risk.”

If you can't make up your mind about to whom you should be listening on matters of infectious diseases, take if from a guy who writes his own daily blog: Get vaccinated.