Wednesday, June 30, 2021


 Somebody on Twitter suggested that every time someone says, "This thing writes itself," a writer's pencil breaks. Which he insisted was no big deal, but I immediately felt his (minor) pain. He went on to suggest that in addition to the point of his pencil, the affected writer would also lose the use of his wings. Which they don't tend to use that much anyway. 

So, writers are like angels with limited flight capability. But it was a writer who first came up with that bit about every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. It was spoken by George Bailey's daughter Zuzu, but it had to come from somewhere. Little girls in moving pictures don't just make up clever things like that to say, magically delivering on the premise of the angel that kept dad from committing suicide on Christmas Eve. If you need to know the name of that little girl who played the role of Zuza, she was Karolyn Grimes, but those were not her words. Originating as a twenty-four page pamphlet in 1943 entitled "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren, the screenplay for the Wonderful Life that George Bailey ends up being happy to have lived in spite of all rough spots went through many hands and plenty of revisions.

Exactly where did the idea that angels had to earn their wings show up? It might have been that Frank Capra, who directed the film and had plenty of input on the screenplay might have been responsible. Or maybe it was wedged into one of the early drafts from Dalton TrumboClifford Odets, or Marc Connelly. Perhaps it was one of the next group that included Frances Goodrich and Albert HackettJo Swerling,  and Michael Wilson who figures there should be some sort of merit based system by which departed spirits might become more avian. Or perhaps that's just the kind of thing that would have originated from the pithy pen of Dorothy Parker, who was brought in to do some polish work on several versions of the script. 

Eventually, all of these folks were forced through the unseemly process of Screenwriter's Guild arbitration. What came out of the back end of that sausage grinder was a screenplay credited to Goodrich, Hackett, and Capra, with "additional scenes" by Jo Swerling. 

So who got their wings? Who got theirs clipped? There's little doubt that many pencils were broken in the process. Many of these were most likely brought on by some smart aleck insisting that such a lovely little story probably just wrote itself. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

If A Funny Guy Falls In The Forest, Does Anyone Laugh?

 Good night, Conan. I can remember when you were just a punchline. I can remember when you were just a barbarian. What I cannot remember was a time when I watched your program. Which is a shame, really. The bits and pieces that I caught by merely by happenstance or via clip on one of those newfangled video clip machines hosted by Al Gore on is "Internet" were uniformly amusing.

And that makes sense, because Conan O'Brien is my generation's funny guy. If things like that matter, he is a year younger than I am. But he's packed a lot of comedy into those years. He was president of The Harvard Lampoon while attending that august institution, and started writing for the HBO show Not Necessarily The News about the time I was working on my Bachelor of Arts degree. He supplemented this experience as a performer in the legendary comic training ground of The Groundlings. He was considered funny enough to be hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1988. During his three year tenure there, he wrote "Mister Short Term Memory" and "Girl Watchers," which puts him in a pantheon of memorable SNL skits not starring John Belushi or Eddie Murphy. He left the show, telling his boss Lorne Michaels that he was burned out and needed to do something else. 

That something else was becoming a writer for The Simpsons. He wrote Marge Versus The Monorail, for heavens sake. This should have been sufficient to make him a comedy legend. But that wasn't enough. He was still aiming for the stars. In 1993, he grabbed the brass ring that was the vacancy left by David Letterman leaving NBC's Late Night. Now he was in front of the camera.

Which is where he stayed, more or less, for another twenty-eight years. First, he slipped quietly into the vacant spot on The Tonight Show, a gig which lasted a tumultuous seven months when Jay Leno decided to "retire." Jay and NBC didn't really want that to happen, so they finessed Conan out of the host's chair in a move that would have made Machiavelli laugh. After a contractually negotiated hiatus, he was back again on late night television, this time on WTBS.

And there he stayed, for eleven more years. The realities of a new world of cable and streaming TV chopped his show into an half-hour format a couple years back, which may have been enough to let the rest of the air out of his comedy tire. On June 25, 2021, he pulled the plug on himself and his WTBS show. 

He's still out there, doing a podcast, being funny in different but distinctly Conan ways. And it's probably only a matter of time before his star rises once again. Because Conan O'Brien is a funny guy I just never watched. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Case Closed

 Derek Chauvin was sentenced to serve twenty-two and a half years in prison. He was given "credit" for the one hundred ninety-nine days he has already served while awaiting trial and then his sentence. Judge Peter Cahill had this to say as he delivered the news: “What the sentence is not based on is emotion or sympathy. But at the same time, I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family. I’m not going to attempt to be profound or clever because it’s not the appropriate time. I’m not basing my sentence on public opinion. I’m not basing it on any attempt to send any messages.”

Nothing profound or clever. Just the numbers. No message. Just the months. Two hundred seventy months for charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. For the crime of killing George Floyd. Prosecutors had asked for thirty years. George Floyd's family had asked that he be given the maximum, which would have pushed that number into the sixty-five year range. This contrasts mightily with the probation suggested by Chauvin's attorneys. Or the new trial that had been requested by the now convicted and sentenced killer. 

The life sentences are the ones that George Floyd's family were handed way back in May of 2020. The son, the father the brother, the uncle, the cousin they lost will not be coming back. Derek Chauvin will be in jail until he is sixty-seven years old. George Floyd's daughter will be thirty. 

But here's the thing about being a survivor: There is no probation. No time off for good behavior. The prison George Floyd's family has no escape. They can only take comfort from the verdict and the sentence handed down by the court. 

Without being clever. Without being profound. With liberty and justice for all. 

Or something like it. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021


 The piano just over my right shoulder mocks me. I know that if I sat down and worked at it, that I could pluck out a tune. Once a year, I push my sense memory to its limits by playing the very simple version of Little Drummer Boy that is the remnant of all the Christmas music I used to hammer at when I was a kid. There is also a shred of a Mozart concertina that pops into my brain if I stand in front of the keys long enough. 

But it takes work. Playing anything would require practice, which is something that still raises a hackle or two for me. The actual playing for enjoyment was not something that came to me readily all those years ago. I grew up in a house with a piano, and even though my brothers, my mother and I all played the piano it was only my mother who seemed to rise above that stigma. My brothers and I would lie for one another about the practicing that we had done when questioned by our far-too-trusting mother. My adult perspective suggests that the only ones we were cheating back then were ourselves. I confess that there was relief associated with the time we spent in the summer away from the piano. I understood that I was trading the responsibility for hauling water and chopping wood for the chore of practicing. I was fine with that. Because we hauled our other instruments up into the mountains with us, where we sat on the front porch of our cabin, distressing the wildlife with our clarinet, and our trombone and our sousaphone. There was some novelty in all that honking and squawking. 

All those years of practicing and playing piano instilled an even greater appreciation for music around me. I could read music, and understand if, even if my own performance was limited to those tidbits I squirreled away after all those years of study. Which is probably why I didn't put up much of a fuss when my wife decided that getting a piano for our son to learn how to play. I watched and listened as he navigated so many of the same challenges I encountered in my studies. I attended his recitals and flashed back on my own. I understood that once he reached high school that piano lessons would be set aside so that he could experience all those high school activities that did not require practice. 

That was six years ago. The piano sits right where he left it. The books and sheet music are still there, just in case somebody had the urge to take them on. During the COVID lockdown, my wife bought some stickers that she carefully placed on all the keys, with the intent of reminding herself of the skill she too once aspired to. I could leave this keyboard with letters on it and walk right over there and reacquaint myself right now if I was so inspired. 

But not right now. 

It's summer, after all. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021


 Okay, let's start with some good news: Property crimes, such as burglaries and larcenies, fell significantly in 2020. Good for you, America!

Are you ready for the news that isn't quite so good? Also known in some pockets as "the bad news?" Homicides were up in 2020. A lot. Thirty percent. Kind of hard to imagine that in a year during which most of us were locked away inside that we still managed to kill one another one third more as often as when we were traipsing about without any restrictions. According to a report by the Council on Criminal Justice, this "precipitous rise in homicides coincided with the emergence of mass protests after George Floyd was killed in late May by a police officer in Minneapolis," and "no simple connection exists between police violence, protests against such violence, and community violence."

So, coincidence. Not causal. That's great. Now we've got two things to fix. President Joe is going to continue to issue Executive Orders in hopes of stemming this tide. This time, he's going after rogue firearms dealers in hopes of keeping guns from getting into the hands of idiots who would use them to kill one another. Like the nimrods who came over to Oakland this past weekend from San Francisco to have a shootout in the middle of a crowded street in broad daylight. Or the idjit who decided to shoot a police officer in Arvada, Colorado last Tuesday. At this point I would like to suggest that if you're a nimrod or an idjit with plans for shooting anyone you should stay away from Colorado. They've had more than their share of stupid gun violence this year. 

Yes. You read that right. I am appealing to stupid people who want to kill other people with guns to knock it off. In the spirit of "guns don't kill, people kill people," I am offering up a little reason into the equation. If you're a gun owner, aren't you tired of stupid people messing up your Second Amendment rights? Before you know it, President Joe is going to figure out a way to keep stupid people from doing stupid things, but first it's pretty likely that he's going to step on your arms-bearing toes. Before that happens and you feel compelled to show off that maximum capacity magazine and bump stock you got while no one was making you feel less than American, how about you guys get behind and push. On the idjits and the nimrods. The killers. If we can figure out how to bring that homicide number back down to, oh I dunno, around zero then maybe you can have your AR-15 and eat it too. 

But not until then. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Off Season Workout

 Let's get this clear out of the gate: I am not a Raiders fan. Not when they were in Oakland. Or in Los Angeles. Or in Las Vegas. For me, they are the football franchise approximation of green eggs and ham. Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not on a boat. Not with a goat. On any given Sunday, my favorite team is the one that is playing against the (Insert City Name Here) Raiders. The bitter rivalry that exists to this day between the team of my youth, the Denver Broncos, and the meandering Raiders has been the stuff that making arbitrary pronouncements is all about. For all their whining about "The Tuck Rule" and "The Immaculate Reception," this group of silver and black bad boys have made the most of their reputation for playing on the razor's edge of what is legal in the sport. Hence their exalted leader's exultation, "Just win, baby."

That being said, I figure I can carve out a little bit of respect for at least one member of their roster: Defensive End Carl Nassib. Carl chose the middle of Pride Month to post a video of himself on Instagram in which he announced, “I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.” And, if you happen to be keeping score at home, Carl is the very first active National Football League player to come out. Ever. 

David Kopay, a running back who played with the San Francisco Forty-Niners for eight seasons, was the first NFL player to come out publicly, but he did so only after his retirement. That was way back in 1975. In 2018, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer was married to Joshua Ross, thus becoming the first NFL player to have a same-sex marriage. 

So, if you're doing the math and thinking that this is a pretty tiny percentage of a sample that is quite large, you might understand why this is a big deal. The stigma of being "that guy" in the macho world of professional sports is a heady thing, even in the evolved world of 2021. To their credit, the Los Vegangeloland Raiders responded from their Twitter account, saying "We're proud of you, Carl," and then a big black heart emoji.  

For now, we'll just go ahead and call this a win, baby. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

When The Going Gets Weird, The Weird Turn Pro

 I don't always succumb to the clickbait. Sometimes I show some mild restraint, but I almost always end up wondering. Like the link that told me they were going to rank the "most disturbing Disney movies." And I wondered if I would have enough time to take that all in.

Let's start with the anthropomorphic rodent who owns a dog and has a best friend who is, we're fairly certain, a dog. 

Need more? How about the number of mothers that don't make it out of the first reel of so many of Disney's big screen adaptations? I mention this because it is important to remember that it was the rare exception that Walt brought an original story to his audience. He seemed to prefer tales of orphans, forgotten and unloved until they proved their mettle. Stories of how he and his brother Roy were beaten almost daily by their father probably paved the way to a wish for a parentless existence, and the idea that one might succeed in the absence of parental support seems like a pretty straight line. Fairy tales lend themselves to such tropes, and all those princesses managed in spite of step parents. 

You want disturbed? How about sitting your five year old down for a dramatic reading of Hamlet? That's what you're doing every time you pop The Lion King into the DVD player. How about picking the story of a woman who wants to turn an entire puppy farm into a fur coat for a holiday release not once but twice? I could go on and on: the ritual humiliation of the ample-eared baby elephant, or the triumph of a knife-wielding juvenile delinquent over the authority of a ship's captain, or the prince of the forest whose mother was sacrificed to set a precedent for the impermanence of life in the thicket, and the psychotropic properties of tea cakes on young British girls.  It just goes on and on.

Not to be diminished, or slowed in any way, the Disney machine gobbled up the saga of the very troubled Skywalker family and all its dysfunction. Then they grabbed a whole bunch of stories of misfits who seem to be as emotionally unstable as their genetics with a propensity for running around in their underwear. 

Disturbing? Comforting for some. Disney stockholders, at least. And if indications from the last few months are any indication, business in this particular oeuvre continues to be good. And don't tell me that the title Parent Trap doesn't make you just a little worried going in. At least in the hands of the disturbed folks at Disney.   

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


 Try as we might, people keep dying. Not quietly at home like Champ Biden, but in horrible ways that were both unexpected and unnecessary. Which makes me wonder about us as a species. It makes me think of Cornelius reading from the Sacred Scrolls at the end of Planet of the Apes"Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death." This scene comes just prior to Taylor discovering that he hadn't left Earth at all. He had just looped forward in time to discover that "they" had blown it up, leaving intelligent apes to take over. 

Then we are left to wonder if we are truly on a course of mutually assured destruction, whether by nuclear war or simple attrition. Back in 1968, Rod Serling wrote that ending from a dark place, but I would suggest that it came with the seed of hope that we still had time to correct our own trip through time, learning to care for our fellow man and making the world a better place where humans and apes could live in peace.

We are currently shooting at one another with such reckless abandon that nuclear weapons may not be necessary. Road rage incidents like the the human who jumped from his car and fired at the car whose driver had made a gesture after being cut off on the freeway. The human did not hit the offending owner of the finger that made the gesture, hitting the six year old child riding in his mother's car. By some very crooked reasoning, we can assume that this somehow solved the problem. The mother will probably never make another obscene gesture when cut off in traffic, and her son has been eliminated from even the possibility of following in his mother's footsteps.

And if you've hung around here long enough, you might be expecting me to make a plea for gun control that would keep guns out of the hands of humans like that. Or the ones that would shoot a cashier for reminding them about their mask policy. Or the ones that would pull a gun on a Starbucks barista for getting their order wrong. Those fit our definition of unexpected and unnecessary, but it seems as though guns are no longer truly necessary to this equation. 

Last week during a Pride Parade in Fort Lauderdale, a human drove a pickup truck into a crowd, killing one and injuring another. Authorities were quick to point out that the driver was associated with the Gay Men's Chorus whose float was attacked, so we don't have to think of this as a hate crime. 

Sure we do. Of course we do. We don't need to ponder the nature of the hate very long. It doesn't have to be religious or political or related to lifestyle in any way to be hate. It's that flash of cognition in human brains that other species do not share. Driving vehicles into crowds has become vogue, eliminating that need for the background checks and permits that would usually slow down an assailant with a gun. 

Oh, yeah. That. Well, maybe when the super-intelligent apes take over, they'll have common sense gun laws. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Can't A Guy Get A Break?

 So here I sit. Three weeks into my summer vacation and I don't know exactly what to do with myself. A lot of this has to do with spending all of last summer in lockdown. A year ago my wife and I reveled in the quick trips we took down to San Luis Obispo to help our son move out of his house and into another one. We wore masks and ate takeout, but at least we weren't cowering in our living room. We did that when we got home. 

And then there was the ongoing discussion and work to prepare for what turned out to be an entire school year spent in distance learning. The idea that we have now come out on the other side and are equipped to handle any sort of educational emergency may be a tad premature, but after fifteen months of making up solutions as the problems presented themselves, we could all use a break. 

There was some wild talk about rushing down to Disneyland to take part in the angst bubble bursting in Anaheim. The crowds alone were not enough to keep us away. The crowds coupled with the expense and the vague sense of trepidation was. Fully vaccinated and government restrictions lifted, we still have a feeling that there is something lurking out there. A virus. A recession. A something.

How about a Mega Drought? Yes, just when we thought we might all be getting away with something, the state of California is telling us that while we were all locked indoors this past spring, there was no precipitation. Not enough to fill reservoirs or allow for rinsing off cars or water balloon fights. Running through the sprinkler on a hot June afternoon is contraindicated. 

And our son is living in our basement now, so we don't have moving his worldly possessions as a distraction. We have all become so accustomed to watching movies on the pretty big screen in front of our couch that the anxiety that comes with crowds at the local theater can be easily avoided. Restaurants are open, but that just means more time away from the couch, where we can continue to watch all that on-demand content while we shovel in takeout. 

So maybe we're just preparing to become some genetic mutants like the Morlocks in HG Wells' Time Machine. Unaccustomed to light, and able to exist on little to no water while staring at screens that intermittently flash entertainment at us while we wait for the next Zoom meeting to commence. It's so much easier than going outside and returning to our regularly scheduled existence. 

Monday, June 21, 2021


 Rounding the bend here, coming in for a nice soft landing. Looking forward to my sixtieth year with enthusiasm and relief. Fifty-nine isn't such a big deal, after all. Milestone birthdays have kind of passed me by in the past nine years. 

But this August will be the start of my twenty-fifth year at Horace Mann Elementary. The job that I took when my son was born, the career upon which I was embarking was just a lot of unanswered questions back then. Stick with something for a quarter century, and it starts to make sense. A couple things about that: First of all, I know that I tend to go on and on from time to time about my longevity at this one particular stop. Common sense suggests that I found an eddy in the stream that was mutually comfortable for myself and those around me. My willingness to stay put should not be ignored, but I am fully aware that I have generated patience and understanding that I might have previously thought was impossible. Secondly, all the badges trophies stickers and T-shirts in the world don't mean that I might have applied all of my capacities in some other venture that would have been every bit as rewarding. And there are plenty of things I could have been doing with my time that would not have been as fulfilling. All of which is to say that if I start going on and on again about how long I've been at this job, feel; free to raise a hand and tell me you've already seen this movie.

In another year, I will have lived in California as long as I lived in Colorado. This might have something to do with my reticence for moving cardboard boxes of my own belongings as anything else. If I had latched myself to a different career, I might have been asked to relocate as a matter of the ebb and flow of economics or the need for skills that only I possess. I am rarely struck with a feeling that makes me wonder where else I might like to live. The move to Oakland was pretty profound and has taken me nearly thirty years to fully comprehend. 

There I go again, measuring my life by my ability to stay put. Turns out that life isn't so very different now as it was then. When I turned forty, I traveled across the country to Florida. I visited Key West, and spent a few days in Disney World. And somewhere in the back of my head was this thought: "I'm really looking forward to being home." Which I have learned from telling this story a few times that I appear not to have enjoyed my time away. On the contrary. I loved every morsel and minute. But part of me loves having a home base even more. 

And that's been true for fifty-nine years. Maybe this is the year that I break out and go somewhere new and try a whole bunch of new things.

Don't count on it.  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Helping Hand

 So, I'm thinking about putting together a GoFundMe page for Ricky Schroder. If I can break it down for you here, and we can get enough people to contribute, we might be able to raise enough to buy this guy some shame. 

Let's start with this: Anyone who is introduced with the sobriquet "former child star" is already operating from a deficit. Or, to borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap, "currently residing in the Where Are They Now file." Which is perhaps doubly unfortunate for Ricky, since he has been working as an actor pretty steadily until just a few years ago. And yet, we have a very difficult time shaking the image of him sobbing over Jon Voight's corpse in The Champ

More on that Jon Voight connection in a moment.

Then there's the Ricky thing. That's just fine if you happen to be six years old, or married to Lucy Ricardo, but after that, you might have a hard time being taken seriously if you're going to toss around your thoughts and opinions. Like those about COVID 19, for example. 

Mister Schroder recently confronted a Costco employee about their mask policy, while the California state and Los Angeles city restrictions were still in place. The former child star made his scene and posted it on Al Gore's Internet, to prove his point. He did it, he insisted, not to embarrass the Costco employee Jason, but rather "to make a point to the corporate overlords." He apologized to Jason because he figured that he was just doing his job, earning a living. Which sort of flew in the face of Ricky asking everyone to cancel their membership to Costco. 

And then there was the Foo Fighters show. Dave Grohl and his band decided to play a small club date in Los Angeles as a warm up for their big show coming up at Madison Square Garden. The catch was that they were only allowing vaccinated fans in. The Silver Spoons star showed up to protest what he feels is "a new form of segregation." Ricky is not a big fan of vaccination. To that end, a couple days before the show and subsequent protest, he posted this on Facebook: "Dave Grohl is an ignorant punk who needs slapped for supporting Discrimination. Ignorance comes in all shapes & sizes. Kurt Cobain is laughing at you Dave along with Millions of Patriots....Fool." 

It is almost impossible for me to imagine Kurt Cobain aligning himself with "Millions of Patriots," but the complete and total lack of compassion shown by this former child star as he insinuates himself into the relationship between these grunge band members. 

And maybe now you're ready for that Jon Voight connection: As former Midnight Cowboy star Jon Voight's politics creeped ever more to the right, his career continued. His clear-eyed but confused support of the previous "president" didn't keep him from getting work. Which may have given former child star Ricky Schroder the impression that if The Champ could get away with it, so could he. Shame or no shame. Ricky even contributed to accused murderer Kyle Rittenhouse's bail fund. It's decisions like those that make me think that he probably can't afford to buy any shame for himself. 

Dig deep. Give until it hurts. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021


 Most Americans, more than half of them anyway, know little or nothing at all about Juneteenth. This news comes to us via a new Gallup poll about America's trendiest holiday. Discovering that only forty percent of those polled felt they knew "a lot" or "some" about the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States doesn't quite hit the surprising mark on my outrage scale. The fact that I encountered three jokes on Twitter within moments of the news that Congress had passed legislation making it a federal holiday about how they couldn't wait for the big Juneteenth Mattress Event, that stuck in my craw. Mostly because someone else beat me to it. 

So, besides great deals on box springs and mattresses, what should the average American expect from this new adoption? Hopefully an infusion of knowledge about the country in which they live. Like the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation, while being a very impressive document, did not come about during a time when there was a twenty-four hour news cycle or Al Gore's Internet. It took time for news, even joyous news like the abolition of slavery, to travel to all those dark corners of our wobbly new nation. It took three years for Union soldiers to get down to Galveston, Texas to inform black and white folks that slavery wasn't a thing anymore. 

Feel free at this point to conjecture about how many of those white folks might have known before that but were just pretending that they hadn't heard until somebody showed up in a uniform to make it official. 

Please also feel free to wonder why it took one hundred sixty more years to officially adopt this occasion as a federal holiday. The way we all carry on about Cinco De Mayo when it isn't even our own independence we're celebrating makes me curious why there hasn't been more of a marketing push before this. 

It wouldn't have anything to do with a thread of systematic racism that continues to run through the history of these United States, would it? Could it? 

For now, let's appreciate this step forward in the painstakingly awkward stumble toward doing the right thing. Take some time to learn a few things about Juneteenth and the events surrounding it. You might even consider learning the names of the fourteen Republican representatives who voted against the holiday. The ones who voted against celebrating freedom. And getting a really great deal on a mattress. 

Friday, June 18, 2021


 Dear John,

    If that is your real name. You didn't bother to put a last name on the outside of the envelope with your return address, or at the bottom of your nice letter. Just your telephone number. Which I suppose puts a little of the onus on me to figure out that little mystery. 

I could do that while I am calling you to discuss your very generous offer to buy my house. You must be serious about this, since you bothered to get my address as well as my first and last name. And while I am at it, you have assured me that if I would call you within forty-eight hours, you promise to personally tell me more about your company and who we can work together. First of all, I have a bit of a confession to make: After I brought in the mail, I did open your letter right away, as I do with most correspondence. Then I did something that I feel I must be honest about: I set the letter down and left it on the side of my desk. I did not return your call in the first twenty-four hours. And you know what else? I don't think I will get around to returning your phone call for at least another twenty-four. 

I might not ever call the number you were so clever to send me. Which you seem to have anticipated by including that last paragraph in which you insist that even if I am not interested in selling you my home at this time, I should still call so that you can keep determining the value of my property. How very kind of you. And then you remind me that I should keep the letter. You know, just in case.

Just in case I should want to leave the home in which I raised a son, buried a beloved family pet, and experienced all the joys and triumphs as well as the tragedies of my adult life. I am not sure if you have a way to calculate memories into your equation, but I sincerely hope that you take them into account when you start dealing with folks who do dial your number.

John, I know how enthusiastic you are by your use of bold, sixty point type at the top and bottom of your letter, subtly reminding, CALL ME NOW! But I have to say that currently I feel that the value of my home, not my house, is something that I can only put a value on by living here. I appreciate that you chose not to reach me by phone, because this interaction would have been much more abrupt, and might not have given me the time to reflect on all the treasures I have stored away in this old house. 

Thanks for thinking of me, and if you're ever in the neighborhood, stop by and I'll show you around. If you can spare the time.

Yours very truly,


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?

 Good news, house hunters! Elon Musk is unloading his "last remaining house." If you are "a large family," looking for a place in Northern California, this could be the spot for you. If you're concerned that one of the wealthiest beings in this galactic quadrant is currently living in a shoe box in the middle of the road, never fear: He is renting his current residence in Boca Chica, Texas from his company, Space X. 

Okay, I never claimed to be an expert in real estate, but if he's paying rent to the company he owns, isn't he paying himself? And if the "residence" for which he is paying rent is owned by his company, doesn't that mean he owns it? 

Maybe I shouldn't try too hard to worry this one out. The guy needs money. He's hoping to use all that cash to build a city on Mars. 

Of course he's serious. He named his son after the Universal Price Code on the bottom of a box of Cap'n Crunch. He throws millions of dollars at made up currency and then tells people to grow up and not try to buy any of his appliance/cars with it. And when it comes to being serious about going to Mars, this guy's legit. He's blown up more rockets than NASA and continues to insist that he's going to get a million of us to the Red Planet by 2050. 

So, if you could help a brother out here and just buy that last remaining house, you'd be doing him a solid. 

Meanwhile, his space buddy Jeff Bezos has quit his job to concentrate on astronaut training. His rocketship company, Blue Origin, is going to launch its founder into orbit along with his brother and a lucky adventurer who just happened to be the high bidder for the privilege. Twenty-eight million dollars for a ten minute trip. That would buy a lot of Amazon Fire Sticks. And it suddenly makes standing in line for the chance to get into The Avengers Campus at Disneyland seem like a really good deal. 

And somewhere out there, Richard Branson is yet another really rich guy who hopes to fly off into space on his Virgin Galactic rocket before Bezos leaves the ground, and before that large family in Northern California is out of escrow. Maybe Messrs.Branson and Bezos could rent the place out for a place to crash between launches. Not literally, of course.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Why Are So Many People Bad At Eating?

 "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?" This may have been the first serving suggestion I can recall. The answer, according to Mister Owl was three. He came by this knowledge experimentally, of course. By biting a Tootsie Pop. With his teeth. Owls don't have teeth. I looked it up. They swallow their prey whole and let their gizzards do the work. Then they yak up the bones and fur. Or rolled paper sticks, in the case of the aforementioned Tootsie Pop. What I did not know then was that I shouldn't trust owls when it comes to how I should be eating.

Then there was the ever-present "good breakfast," pitched by every sugary advertised on Saturday morning cereal. Toast, juice, and Trix. What they didn't fully explain is that you would need a couple of loaves of toast and a few gallons of juice to help serve as a countereffect to the poison in that bowl. For a while, I took up Raisin Bran, feeling that the health benefits would be obvious almost immediately. Except for the two heaping teaspoons of sugar that I felt compelled to add to help the fiber go down. 

At school, I was confronted by the Food Pyramid. I was instructed that It was vital for me to try and eat a balanced diet, sampling from each of the six sections each day, with that cap stone of fats, oils and sweets sitting up there, tantalizing, taunting. Forbidden. 

I'm  not going to let geometry define me or the food that I eat. I'm going to eat what 's good for me, mostly what's good to me. And I have a distinct memory of King Ding Dong of Hostess snack cake fame reminding me to eat correctly while flouting the importance of eating right. Or maybe that was a fever dream from a youth spent getting buzzed on sugar in all its tasty forms. 

And somewhere along the line, I grew up. And I started reading food labels, mostly to my wife's insistence. That's when I noticed that "serving suggestion" thing. I discovered that just because you opened a package, it wasn't necessary to consume all its contents. There was a lot of math involved. A lot of metric conversions, too. I found out that the pyramid is now a thing of the past, and the powers that be would now like for us to think of our daily intake in terms of healthy plates. Color coded for easy disambiguation. Which is fine, since it turns out that the death wish I may have harbored in my twenties has abated somewhat, and I will make a salad from time to time.

But in what universe ever was somebody under the horribly mistaken impression that those were "two-bite brownies?" 

Come on. If you're an owl. Maybe.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

First And Last

 Here's some history: Ahmed Muhammad is the first black valedictorian of Oakland Technical High School. That's one hundred six years of history. Ahmed was the first. And, for the time being, the only black valedictorian of Oakland Technical High School. It took a century and a surge of events that culminated in what maybe should have happened decades previous. In 2021, here we are. Glass ceiling broken at last. 

Now, it's possible that you might be harboring doubts about this timeline. Maybe you are wondering if there were always black students in attendance at Oakland Tech. Well, back in 1963 there were enough students of color to put together an Interracial Understanding Club. If you travel back in time to the 1930s, yearbook photos represent the history of Oakland's diversity. So, yes, black students have been in attendance just about as long as the school has been. 

Tech has a list of notable alumnae, including a great many athletes, music and film stars, and one of the Tuskegee Airmen. Some of these were folks were black, like Lieutenant Roger Romine, and some of them were other colors. Like Clint Eastwood. But it wasn't until 2021 that circumstances allowed a black student to become valedictorian. 

How can this be? No one would blame systematic racism, not here in Oakland. That would be the glass half empty view. For Ahmed's view, he was quick to point out that he expected that while he was the first, he certainly won't be the last. 

Meanwhile, down the road apiece in Mississippi, West Point High had selected two students to be valedictorian and salutatorian. They happened to be black. The announcement received pushback from a few parents who insisted that the qualifications for these two young ladies had been miscalculated and the honors should be going instead to two white students. According to the student handbook. So at commencement ceremonies, all four students gave their speeches. 

And lawsuits are pending. 

It won't be the first time, but wouldn't it be nice if it could be the last. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Critical Thinking

 It has been said by many, myself included, that education is a political act. Any time you get grownups in a room talking into the brains of young people, you're liable to upset or confuse some of the status quo. That is what Critical Race Theory is all about. Long before I ever went in front of a classroom full of black and brown faces turned up to me to gather wisdom, I was getting signals that my own beliefs were in need of some rustling. That whole Pilgrim thing, and the way those nice Indians gave up their land for us to achieve Manifest Destiny. And maybe this continent was just fine without Christopher Columbus accidentally discovering it, bringing Europeans to settle it and then discover that in order to make it work for them they needed to capture and enslave human beings from another continent. And then when we advertise our shores as a welcoming place for others to come and seek their fortune we have to find ways to oppress them because of course we didn't really mean it. 

Something like that. So Critical Race Theory suggests, in somewhat less ridiculous terms, how we might approach our nation's history. That one that, upon closer inspection, has quite a few contradictions to that whole all men are created equal ideal. Though the idea of Critical Race Theory has been around for at least thirty years, it is the howling vortex of the past year into which it has become a screeching point of contention. There are those (white) voices who would like us to go back to referring to the U.S.A. as the land of the free and home of the brave and stop asking questions about the Tulsa Massacre, okay? These (white) voices would very much prefer it if we could just teach the script as written by those (white) voices from long ago. So much so that there are a great many state and local authorities looking to ban the CRT curriculum in their schools. 

Here is where you can feel free to wonder about how banning ideas is any sort of American ideal. 

The Nevada Family Alliance would like teachers to wear body cameras to ensure that CRT is not being taught in their children's classrooms. Spokesperson for the NFA Karen England insisted, "We expect that the teachers' unions will reject this proposal immediately. But we should ask, what they have to hide? If police do a better job interacting with the public when they are wearing body cameras, how much more important is it for teachers to do the same?" Ms. England is on the lookout for  "concerted efforts to indoctrinate students in the leftist narrative." Which makes me wonder how a teacher is supposed to deal with the eight year old who raises their hand during a rushed lesson about America's Civil War: "Why did they have slaves in the first place?" What sort of standard issue traditional teaching answer can be found in the safe for our children to hear text should be played out on the digital recording of this youthful inquiry? 

I've got another question, while we're figuring that out: If she's so gung ho for her country, why isn't her name Karen America? 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

 This is a government by the consent of the governed. In other words, we get the government we deserve. I'm looking at you, east Texas. You elected a guy who recently asked, in a congressional hearing about climate change, the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management "is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate." 

Okay, so maybe he was following the advice of the Great One Wayne Gretzky who said, "You miss one hundred percent of the shots that you don't take." Asking the Forest Service to alter the orbit of celestial bodies seems like that kind of thing. You never know unless you ask. In this case, Jennifer Eberlien, an associate deputy chief of the Forest Service smiled ever so slightly and demurred, "I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mister Gohmert."

And that's the reaction that one might expect. Because Louis "That's My Real Name" Gohmert has a history of babbling with the tiniest bit of coherence. Like his concerns for the caribou near oil pipelines: "So when [caribou] want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline.So my real concern now [is] if oil stops running through the pipeline, do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?" Or his reaction to the massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater: "You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place. We've threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God's name, they're going to be jailed. I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present." Smiling politely and backing away. And then there's this: ”I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty…thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.” 

Still smiling? 

Then I ask you to remember that Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't even live in the district she represents in Georgia. During an interview with everyone's favorite Conservative Puppetmaster Steve Bannon, MTG got all wound up about firing Doctor Anthony Fauci, ultimately insisting that she does not believe in evolution. But apparently she does believe that scientists can create viruses in the lab that can be weaponized. One wonders how this all fits into God's Plan, but that would imply logic was applied at any point during this discussion. 

And yes, sports fans, even Donald J. Trump was elected once. The man who suggested we inject bleach or figure out a way to introduce ultraviolet or very powerful light inside the human body. And the noise from wind turbines causes cancer. One election. 

Now just smile and back away slowly. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

War Of Words

 Southern man, better keep your head  - Don't forget what your good book said

Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don't need him around anyhow

That first line is what gave rise to the second couplet. Neil Young sang a song about a Southern Man. Then a group of Southern Men named Lynyrd Skynryd wrote their response. I should point out here that Neil is a Great White Northern Man, a Canadian who became an American citizen last year so that he could vote in the presidential election. The surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd continue to sing their anthem, while Neil has gone on record for taking a condescending swipe at a generality. 

But then there's this: Now Watergate does not bother me - Does your conscience bother you? Ronnie Van Zant wrote those words just a little more than a year before Richard Nixon resigned from office. Ronnie didn't live long enough to witness the events of the past four years. Neil did. I believe that Neil's conscience doesn't bother him, because he had the peace of mind to mend fences. The lyrics of Sweet Home Alabama have not aged as well. Or maybe they live on as reminders of a past we would do best not to forget. Way back when George Wallace, a Democrat, was governor and worked to keep his state segregated, the folks in Birmingham loved him. Most of them. The ones who could vote, anyway. Fifty some years later, Alabama has another Democrat in the governor's mansion. Kay Ivey recently signed a bil into law that would ban curbside voting. While not as severe as those put in place by their neighbors to the east, the arc of time will need some extra torque to bend it back toward justice. Voter suppression continues in the south, and it doesn't take a Neil Young song to stir people up about it. 

Growing up in Colorado, I was always a little put off by the way John Denver and his music was used as a pop cultural blanket reference to my home state. Mister Denver was born in New Mexico, and as an Air Force brat, he was dragged around the country via his father's career. He dropped his father's name Henry Deutschendorf opting for his middle name and the capital of the state he liked best. And while there was nothing tremendously offensive about his "far-out" sensibilities, I always felt a little chip on my shoulder when it came to his adoption of the place I actually grew up. My good friend from Muskogee, Oklahoma felt similarly about Merle Haggard, who never visited his hometown before writing about how proud he was to be an Okie from Muskogee. 

Which I suppose brings us back to Bruce Springsteen who once wrote about how Baby this town rips the bones from your back -It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap - We gotta get out while we're young and New Jersey state legislators thought it would be great if that was their state song. East, west, north, south. I'm not sure I get it.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Move Along

 I blame Obi Won Kenobi. 

Okay, to be more precise, I blame George Lucas. It was his brilliant idea to throw out into the middle of the pop culture lake the concept of Jedi Mind Trick. You know the one, where he's sitting in Luke's landspeeder, and stormtroopers approach looking to question him. With a wave of his hand, he says, "These aren't the droids you're looking for," and the nimrods in white helmets repeat "These aren't the droids we're looking for," and tell them to move along. 

And that's it. I completely understand that stormtroopers are not a true test of intellectual agility, but the precedent was set in this moment for what was yet to come. In real life. Remember how we were told that "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period?" That moment should have tipped us off to a trend that was going to consume our lives for the next four years. And beyond. Somebody counted the votes back then and noted that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. By nearly three million. Undeterred, the loser insisted that he would have won "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." No numbers or facts to back that up. Just a Jedi Mind Trick. A really bad Jedi Mind Trick.

But guess what? You don't have to be a really good Jedi to fool really weak minds. Like when video was released of George Floyd being murdered and we were told not to believe what we were seeing. These weren't the droids we were looking for. You can move along. 

Thankfully, some of us started to catch on. Seeing is believing, after all. Which didn't keep all those weak minds from believing in child porn death cults made up by faceless Sith Lords on Al Gore's Internet. So when the Big Orange Wolf urged those weak minds to "fight like hell" to undo the reality which laid out in front of them, they did. Five people died in that fight. Really. Not pretend. They've got those bodies and hours of video, some of which was shot by the stormtroopers themselves. "That was no insurrection. That was just a group of interested citizens taking a tour of the Capitol." 

Move along. 

The voting machines were rigged.

The ballots were printed on bamboo.

The virus will just go away when the weather changes.

These aren't the droids you're looking for.

I'll be reinstated in August. 

Just you wait. 

Move along. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Know Your Audience

 I am not making this up: When I was a freshman in college, the name of my dorm was Slocum Hall. I understand that at this point, making a fuss about the double entendre that is just sitting there waiting for eighteen year old boys to pounce upon would be a futile gesture. And completely redundant, considering the number of hours my friends and I devoted to that happy coincidence once upon a time. Like the planet Uranus, there was little if anything that could be done to avoid the giggles and snorts from the assembled youths whenever a grownup was tasked with speaking to us about our residence. 

And don't think for a moment that I was willing to let something like this escape notice whenever I begin to spin tales of my one and only year of dorm living. The late night donut fights. The late night fire extinguisher fights. The late night leave-a-trashcan-leaned-on-the-door fights. The late afternoon viewings of Star Trek reruns that would inevitably cause someone in the room to mumble, halfway through the episode, "Hey. I've seen this before."

These and many other adventures took place in the concrete bunker known as Slocum Hall. 

Pardon me. I had to stifle a snicker there as I try to get my inner adolescent under control. I have been sharing tales of my misspent youth with my son for several years now, and he shows a great deal of maturity while his father unspools tales from the Hall named Slocum. Not that he was immune to the amusement factor, but he is probably hoping that I can just get through a story without laughing myself silly. 

Fast forward to this summer, when my family will trek back to Colorado Springs for a wedding. I figured my son would be interested in seeing the scene of all those crimes against common sense. So I went online to see if the building was still there, or if they had razed the place after I left out of decency. As it turns out, the building is still there, with a few architectural modifications to make it just a little nicer than the cinderblock construction that gave it that overpowering institutional feel. It's just not called Slocum Hall anymore. 

My  first thought was that someone in administration must have figured that naming a residence hall anywhere near teenaged boys could use something a little less easy to yuk about. They are calling it South Hall now. Not because of all the naughty suggestions had been used up, but rather because it turns out the honorable William F. Slocum wasn't actually so honorable. Serving as Colorado College's third president beginning in 1888, he was asked to resign in 1917 due to documented accounts of his groping, "bestial looks," rubbing his body against women, unwanted kissing and lascivious words. A century later, his name was stripped from the one building on campus that seemed to be a logical extension of that legacy. One hundred years seems like a fair amount of time to figure that out. 

But the memories linger on. Pardon my far too easily entertained soul. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Color Me Orange

I just did a little research to see how many mass killings over the course of the past few years have been committed using a Swiss Army knife. You'd be surprised to know that the number is closer to zero than you might imagine. Like so close that you couldn't possibly imagine it being any closer. Exactly none of the mass killings here, or in Switzerland have been committed with the use of a Swiss Army knife. Whether that Swiss Army knife was obtained by legal or illegal means, that number remains right at or on nothing, zilch, nada, empty set, nil, null, not. 

So why would I bother going on and on about this lack of association between Swiss Army knives and mass killings? Well, to get the answer to that, you would probably want to ask U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez. He's the one who made this comparison in his decision to rescind California's ban on assault weapons. In his decision to strike down the state's thirty-four year prohibition on guns like the AR-15, he lauded it as the "perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment." To be clear, it does not slice, nor does it dice, and it will not make hundreds of julienne fries in seconds. Instead, it fits neatly into the category defined by the California legislature way back when as that which "has such a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings."

And now it should also be noted that more than a quarter of all mass shootings, those that according to Congress is "murder of three or more people," involved an AR-15. Which may not seem like a lot, at first. But compared to those carried out by Swiss Army knives, it's pretty overwhelming. 

Then there's this: This past Friday, Americans were asked to be aware of Gun Violence. We were told we could wear orange to remind anyone who didn't know that every day more than one hundred Americans die from gun violence. Not exactly COVID numbers, but the idiots with guns had a pretty solid head start. Also, there seems to be no vaccination available for this disease. And Judge Benitez picked last Friday to issue his decision. "This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection. The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes," Benitez wrote. "Instead, the firearms deemed 'assault weapons' are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes."

Average purposes like killing unarmed civilians. Constitutionally guaranteed average guns that can fire three rounds a second. Over the years there have been several incidents of people being murdered with a Swiss Army knife. Gun aficionados like to scoff at those who believe that the "AR" in AR-15 stands for "assault rifle." And you may be comforted to know that the Swiss Army actually uses those multi-functional folding bits of cutlery. But when was the last time you heard about a murderous rampage taking place in Switzerland? Because the Swiss Constitution does not have any amendments in it that guaranteed its citizens knives, I expect. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Worn Out

 As a point of departure: I have spent the last fifteen months assiduously avoiding wearing a shirt with a collar. To that end, I made a point of wearing each and every T-shirt I own. No repeats. That lasted for several months. I matched these with a pair of jeans, or a pair of shorts during the warmer months. This was essentially the same uniform I wore when I was teaching PE before the pandemic hit. And on the weekends. So it was a lot like having a fifteen month weekend, wardrobe-wise. The variants to this pattern used to be those days which took me into the classroom to teach, which brought out the collared shirts, and the khakis. There were also the periodic social events that my wife would insist required a sport jacket or (gasp) a tie. That seems like such a very long time ago. Partly because it was, and also because it was so very easy to simply fall into the routine of wearing the concert T-shirt of my choice and a pair of jeans that may or may not need a belt depending on which of three pairs I pulled from my closet. 

When it came time for fifth grade promotion this year, the only change I made to that template was I wore an orange safety vest over the aforementioned casual attire. I was the parking patrol. Not the fashion police. Then it was summer vacation. Returned to the place of comfort once again. 

Except for one thing: The looming wedding at the end of June. The one that actually came with a suggested dress code. My first inclination was to imagine how I might stretch my wool sport coat and khakis over one more event. Not long after that, my wife reminded me that our son was in dire need of something other than the jeans and T-shirts he had been wearing since he had been laid off from Best Buy. It was no sure thing that his bright blue polo shirt with name tag affixed would have been suitable for his cousin's nuptials, so the topic of purchasing new clothes not acquired at the merchandise table at an auto show or rock concert came to the fore. It was determined that we were at a place in our collective history where buying new suits for both of us made sense. 

We didn't know how to argue against this assertion, in spite of how foreign it seemed to my son and I. Resistance, we understood, was futile. So we went to Men's Wearhouse. That's a play on the word "warehouse" there, in case you missed it, but I shouldn't cast aspersions because the friendly gents there were more than happy to find us what we wanted, and complimented us on our good taste and sold us a couple of suits. And some shirts. And a tie. For my son. Oddly enough, I have a wide array of neckwear, but have not made a practice of wearing them. 

A footnote here: My son and I are holding out for the possibility that we might be able to get some fashion-forward Converse All-Stars to wear with our new duds. Like the ones that dad wore to his own wedding so many years ago. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Well Read

 I only bring this up because it gives me that warm smug feeling way down inside. This blog is now more than sixteen years old. In that time, it has been viewed almost half a million times. Not all at once, mind you. I average about sixty views a day. Some folks come here by Twitter. Others by Facebook. Still more because I send them a daily email reminding them that I may have written something clever for them to read. And, I would like to believe, there are those readers who drop by just because they needed that three to four minute diversion on their way to do something more important. 

Which is just fine with me, because no one has yet to insist that I stop. I've been carrying on this way for more than a decade and a half, pleased with the occasional thumbs up or "attaboy" and not stressing too awfully much about the intermittent disagreements I have sparked. It's my soapbox. This is not a discussion group. I have something that Donald "The J is for Jerrymandering" Trump does not: a home on Al Gore's Internet. 

After being kicked out of some of the best spots in cyberspace, he landed in this particular section of town called The Blogosphere. He quickly found that this form requires more than two hundred eighty characters. After a few months of living here in the multi-paragraph world of mildly extended commentary, he discovered that "no one" was listening. At its peak, his little corner of this sandbox attracted one hundred fifty thousand views. That would amount to the tiniest fraction of what he was able to pull in on Twitter and Facebook. 

Facebook just announced that the ban imposed on DonnyJay will stay in place for two years, and Twitter hasn't bothered to look back once they kicked him off back in January. For the record, nobody asked me how I felt about having to share my bandwidth with a guy who was impeached. Twice. Not that I'm guessing there is a lot of crossover in our demographics. I tend to pull in the four or five dozen folks who think a lot like me, and don't mind the occasional reference to Animal House. And though I refer to this blog as "short attention span theater," I do believe that followers of the ex-gameshow host/disgraced former "president" might be put off by the idea of having to read more than two hundred eighty characters. or reading at all, for that matter. 

Which is probably why I hear that the Big Orange Beast is headed back out on the road, taking his freak show to the masses who prefer their baseball caps like their politics: bright red. And yes, it will be hard not to comment on that ugly scene here, but I'll try to remember my place: Right here. Where I have been for one hundred seventy nine months longer than that other guy. 

Feeling smug. 

Sunday, June 06, 2021


 The previous resident of the White House sent me one letter. In it, he glorified his willingness to sign the checks that his administration finally acquiesced to sending us all checks to help defray the cost of huddling in our living rooms while the pandemic raged outside. The current resident sent me a similar letter, not long after he came to the office. The oval one. It was a little less self-aggrandizing, but also in direct reference to the payment he and his administration had wrangled out of the treasury. To keep me and my fellow Americans afloat. So I've had nice letters from the past two presidents.

Form letters. 

No surprise. I wouldn't expect the Chief Executive of the United States to have the time or interest in my ongoing struggles to reach out to me personally. Contrastingly, I did take the time to write directly to Joe Biden somewhat early in his reign. I wanted to let him know my feelings about education policy and direction. I hoped that he would find it in his heart and mind to turn around some of the ugly moves made by Betsy DeVos and her evil henchmen. Welcome to your new job, please don't mess us up. Teachers, specifically. Americans, generally.

Now it can be told: I spent a good chunk of three years replying to at least one tweet a day from the Great Orange Idiot. In this way, I had an ongoing back and forth with the Great Orange Idiot for that time. Or I imagined that I did. I had a secret wish that I might somehow get a response from the Great Orange Idiot. Or I might get blocked. That was the badge of honor I chased for a good long time. Never happened. Just a voice shouting in the social media wilderness. Other people saw it. Read it. Liked it. And some didn't. They argued with me. 

But I didn't engage. This was not the conversation I wanted to happen. I wanted to talk to the guy who was, nominally, in charge. Never happened. 

Which is why I rejoiced when I got a reply to the letter I sent to Joe Biden. I took some satisfaction in the first paragraph where he thanked me for my thoughts. He went on to encourage me to participate in his agenda and invited me to "remain an active participant in helping write the next great chapter of the American story." 

And I'm not foolish enough to imagine that Joe sat down at his keyboard to pound out those words. He had help, I'm sure. Which is fine. But I also know that his administration finally gave me the bump that I needed. I was engaged. I was connected. I have a pen pal in the White House, and until I hear from him/her/them again, I'll just call it "Joe." 

Saturday, June 05, 2021


 "Are you a professional eater?"

How would you answer that question? I know my answer: It's complicated. I have been compensated for eating. These instances have been primarily in the nickel to ten dollar range. Nothing that would have put my kid through school, or paid for my next meal. The stunt that brought me to the avocation way back in high school, was consuming an entire order of Red Barn chicken wings. Bones and all. I had some prior experience before I set out to make a show of this feat. I had been gnawing away at what I figured was the standard greasy fare from the fast food joint up the street from our high school, when I noticed that I had accidentally chewed straight on through a bone that had become so compromised by its immersion in the aforementioned grease that it was easily chewed and swallowed. It didn't really hurt the taste, and I probably boosted my calcium consumption for the day by doing that. So I made a bet with a friend of mine on our next visit. I bet him that I could eat an entire order of wings, bones and all. If he would pay for it. I did. 

And thus a legend was born. 

Over the years I ate Big Macs in one bite. I consumed an entire tube of decorator frosting at a friend's wedding. And the one that nearly finished me: a jar of jalapeno relish. That one netted me seven dollars. And a most unpleasant afternoon of digestion. There were other instances, but those were some of the highlights. Was I a professional eater? Live to eat, eat to live, I always say. 

Which is why I was amused to read the story oYouTube eating sensation Raina Huang. She visited SteveO's Pizza 'n' Ribs in Aurora, Colorado with the expressed intent of taking their twenty-eight inch pizza challenge. If one person could choke down the whole thing in under an hour, not only would you be well fed, but you would also win one hundred dollars in cash. The offer included having a partner along for the feast, but she was gung ho about taking it on herself. And she wanted to record herself doing it for her YouTube channel. That's what tipped the owner off that there might be a scam going on. Some girl was going to come in and record herself gorging on StevO's pizza, and she was hoping to get paid a hundred bucks to do it? Like the online menu said? She was told by the owner to take her social media and dubious credentials and get out. Not that there were any stated restrictions anywhere that should have precluded the event from taking place. The result? Dozens of other restaurants from all over invited Raina to come and sample their piles of food. StevO's? They just got a bunch of bad Yelp reviews. 

For the record, if anyone asked about Red Barn's chicken, I always said it was great. Even the bones. 

Friday, June 04, 2021

Rock Hard

 The kids, they love that rock and roll.

And me too. 

I say this because I'm sniffing up next to my fifty-ninth birthday, and I am still prone to be listening to pop rock, punk rock, soft rock, country rock, hard rock or some variant of rock that has heretofore gone unexplained when I have the opportunity. This includes those moments during which most, if not all, of these blog posts have been composed. 

It's not exactly background music. I tend to favor a comfortable volume, but loud enough that I still have to pause my music to hear my wife suggesting that I could turn it down. A little. 

Sometimes that means I resort to headphones. This was a favorite escape in my youth, when I lived across the hall from my parents. It also helped that those speakers mashed right up against my ears were far better than my proto-stereo. The revolution may or may not have been televised, but it certainly came roaring through my head all those years ago. 

Just the other night my wife and I were wandering through a book store, and found a section of vinyl record albums. I picked one up and held it up for her to see. "You know what this is," I invited her to participate in my reverie. Her blank stare confounded me. It became a question. "You don't know what this is?" The stare continued. "It's Led Zeppelin IV." I said "four," but in my mind it would always be in Roman Numerals. I was holding a sacred object, in my mind. For my wife, I might as well have been lifting up a soiled Kleenex. 

I might have had better success with my son, whose music tastes I have enhanced/corrupted since he was old enough to bob his head up and down. I believe he has done a good job of keeping my ears open to what is rocking the house these days. We are happy to have held on to our tickets to see Green Day and Weezer after they were postponed a year ago. More rock. More roll. It keeps us young. 


Feeling young?

Okay. Reminds me of when I was young. 

Thursday, June 03, 2021



That's my big takeaway from forty-one years ago. I graduated from high school, and I got luggage. Not from my parents. This gift came to me via our "Uncle" Joe, who felt that this would be the best expression of the next act in my life. I had been accepted to the college of my choice, or at least the acceptance part made me feel like I had made a choice. I was preparing to jet off to Mexico with the marching band for one last big fling. Having a proper receptacle for my belongings seemed like the correct sendoff. 

It was a pistachio green duffle bag with a matching zippered bag for my personal hygiene items. It was made of the kind of ripstop nylon you might expect came from a surplus parachute. But the label, Le Sportsac, let you know that this was no ordinary duffle bag. It was a designer duffle bag. Later that week, I stuffed my new bag full of T-shirts and shorts, jammed the smaller bag full of shampoo (which used to be a concern of mine) a toothbrush (still a concern) and a travel size tube of Crest. Off I went on a summer tour of our neighbor to the south. 

Upon my return, I unpacked that bag, and made a note to get a smaller bottle of shampoo for the next trip. Which was a little ridiculous since the next trip was going to be the one that took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico to start my college career. For the weeks in between, that bag sat in a crumpled ball at the floor of my closet. Patiently. When it was finally time to pack up to leave home, the process was similar to the one that sent me off to a foreign land to have performances cancelled. How many T-shirts would fit inside that duffle? The toiletries became a separate issue, because I would need enough zit medicine to get me all the way to Thanksgiving. 

Or so I thought. 

In reality, I never fully unpacked. As ready as I had been to run off to Mexico with the marching band, I was not prepared to make the jump to hyperspace: to make a home for myself in a dorm room four hundred miles away. I was never fully enrolled in the College of Santa Fe. I didn't make it to orientation. I checked out and rode home in the back seat of my parents' station wagon. Le Sportsac still stuffed with all those T-shirts. When I moved back to my room in the basement, much to the disappointment of my younger brother who had been next in line for the dungeon, I tossed that bag back into the corner of my closet, where it sat. And waited. 

Over the next decade or so, that duffle went on a number of trips. Some of them were short hops across town to move into new apartments. Some were trips to visit friends. One such voyage was a flight to California to connect with this girl I used to know in high school. The one that would eventually become my wife. 

And when it came time to pack up my belongings and move to another state to live, that bag was a little worse for the wear, but still held a lot of T-shirts, and they came with me to live in California. Some time after that, I started travelling as a family from here to there, so my luggage needs changed. I didn't need the shampoo as much, but I did need a place for conditioner and face cream and all the attendant wifely beauty aids. And a bunch of my T-shirts. Au revoir, Le Sportsac. Hello, family life. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Staring Into The Abyss

"It shouldn't be your boss, the government, or anyone else forcing you to make those decisions."

You know who said that? Ted "Yes I Cancun" Cruz. Now, before you go start doing the happy dance around the kitchen table and singing the praises of the Senator from Texas, you should probably know that the decisions he was referencing were in fact health related. But he was not referring to a woman's right to choose when it comes to reproductive rights.

Nope. Texas Ted was addressing the right of every American to decide whether or not to be vaccinated. The Senator was concerned that people might be discriminated against based on their choice. Meanwhile, deep in the heart of Texas, state legislators are making laws to restrict access to early voting and limiting polling location hours. And they passed a law down there that allows everyone the opportunity to carry a gun without a background check or permit. Oh, and then there was the "heartbeat" law that bans abortion as early as six weeks, long before many women even know that they are pregnant.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Ted Cruz doesn't think your boss, the government or anyone else making decisions for you. Unless, of course, those decisions fit neatly within the ferocious parameters of the bright red conservative vision of life in these United States.

Not that it's just Crazy Cruz making these bizarre connections. Anti-vaxxers have been appropriating the Holocaust symbol of a yellow star pinned to their chests with faux Hebrew style letters that say "No Vax." Tiny-brained Congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene recently commented on mask restrictions "You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany." See, the people who don't want to wear masks or get vaccinated when more than half a million Americans have died are directly connected to Jews who were forced to wear stars and forced on trains and forced into concentration camps. That was fascism. 

Not to be confused with "fanaticism." Then again, it seems that these folks are easily confused and seem bent on confusing anyone willing to listen to them. It's probably best not to look directly at them when they are speaking. Like staring into a solar eclipse. It's just not safe. 

Or smart. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Sail Away

 Remember Hap from McHale's Navy? I can't be absolutely sure, but I believe watching that character in reruns would have been my first exposure to Gavin MacLeod. There was a certain manic energy to him, way back then. That intensity was on full display in a different theater of operations when he showed up in Kelly's Heroes. This turn was not to be confused with his appearances on Hogan's Heroes, because he played a Nazi. A few times. 

Say it ain't so, Hap!

So while I was busy taking in all this World War II Gavin, he was busy preparing for what would be, in my mind, his signature role. In the autumn of 1970, MTM brought us Murray Slaughter, news writer for WJM-TV in Minneapolis, MN. How's that for a bunch of letters all jammed together? Murray was Mary Richard's co-worker, and comic foil thanks to his seemingly never-ending abuse of news reader Ted Baxter. It seemed important back then to note that Mary Richards was played by Mary Tyler Moore, and Ted Baxter was played by Ted Knight. Murray Slaughter was played by Gavin MacLeod. Somehow, that seemed to indicate that he was doing a little more acting than the other two, since he had to remember to answer to a completely different name. For me, Gavin's talent had not better showcase than the episode n which Chuckles The Clown dies. Sure, it's still Mary's show, but this one shines a light on Murray in a very particular way. For someone who cracks wise to know when to stop making jokes at the expense of the recently departed clown, then opens the door for Mary to make a complete fool of herself. Watch it again, and see if you don't agree.

I don't make the same suggestion for reruns of The Love Boat. Gavin was back on the high seas, this time as Captain Merrill Stubing, welcoming aboard the nearly and previously famous to cavort and canoodle while he drove the boat. For my money, Captain Stubing was pretty solidly a stuffed shirt, whose sense of humor and fun seemed to have vacated on his switch from one network to another. Perhaps the writers were more concerned with finding plausible story lines that would bring Charo together with Milton Berle rather than give Gavin MacLeod anything of substance to do once they left the dock. 

This past weekend, the Love Boat made its last port of call. Gavin MacLeod went on that cruise to a higher place. Leaving behind a list of credits that spanned nearly fifty years, he didn't stomp on the Terra as often as he frothed about in the Maria. But no matter where he roamed, he leaves a void. He will be missed. So when we say aloha, Gavin, we really mean it.