Saturday, July 31, 2021

Get On Your Bikes And Ride

 Then, one morning, I woke up and it was school again. Not the full day in the classroom with kids and meetings, but the wake up and be ready. Ready to read, respond and connect. This is the way we slide into the new year: professional development. A quarter of a century into this teaching gig, I'm still leaning how to help kids learn how to read. And write. And respond. 

It came with a dream about a flat tire on my bike. Trying to get to school by pushing my bike over hill and dale immediately puts me behind what I know will be a hectic day. This year I didn't have to jump on my bike and go anywhere beyond my laptop where the new curriculum was bein unveiled for us to see. Hundreds of us on the call, watching and listening as the reading revolution continues. 

And somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I feel that creeping anxiety that I might accidentally teach kids wrong. This feeling goes away somewhat abruptly once the scholastic ship has sailed, but it is during this leadup time that I fret about giving students the wrong path to take them on the lifelong love of reading. What if what I do to these kids kills that sense of wonder?

That would be worse than a flat tire. 

How can I deliver the joy I experienced sitting in the corner of Miss Stuart's fourth grade classroom, curled up with Charlotte's Web? Or the way I plowed through the entire World War II section of the Columbine Elementary library all those years ago? I'm still reading. Not just for learning. For fun. 

Which brings me back to my bike. There was a time when riding my bike was for amusement. Now it's for exercise. And commuting. The joy doesn't always find its way into those trips to and from school. With or without a flat tire. It sometimes makes my family sad that we don't have bike rides together as adventures. I would hate to think that kids would start to feel this way about reading. Books as chores. Sadly, there is something wickedly connected to leaving the comfort of your nice warm bed, prying your eyes open and staggering to that place where books await. Full of expectations and people with expectations. 

Teachers, mostly. The ones who want to teach you how to read. How could that dynamic possibly go wrong? 

Summer's over. Back to work. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Quick Pitch

 Generic Baseball Team: Players and abilities may vary but should be suitable for everyday use. 

Cleveland finally got around to picking a new mascot for their Major League baseball team. The owners and management landed on Guardians for their new nickname. The Indians and Chief Wahoo are now officially a part of the past. This comes as a bit of a relief for those who were concerned that the team might endure the same fate as the Washington Football Team which has decided to be just that. For the time being. The selection of a three syllable name does present its own set of concerns, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have made it work for them for the past fifty years. Happily, the city's name itself works in a pinch for those two syllable cheers. "Here we go Cleve-land, here we go!" and "Let's Go Cleve-Land!" Seem quite serviceable. 

Meanwhile, I am certain that the marketing division is working overtime to try and figure out how best to present art deco statues in a format to be worn by a hyper-kinetic clown as a suit to amuse the kids. Just as everyone wants to be the first on their block to own a Cleveland Guardians T-shirt, there was a knock on the door: It was the local Roller Derby team. As it turns out, the stroke of genius that brought this new mascot to Major League Baseball had already visited the folks who run C-Town's Mens' Roller Derby Association franchise. And they've been around since (checks notes) 2016, so there's quite a lot of history there. 

Expect a lawsuit. 

But you won't have to worry a lot about that, since there will be plenty of additional fuss raised by those who wish that things would never change, even if it means egregious racial stereotypes and continuing the cultural appropriation continues in the most uncomfortable way. Why should we care? We're white male sports fans, and we wouldn't know appropriate if it landed right in front of us and began giving us high fives to the forehead. Worse still are those non-sports fans who just need something else to be terrified by as "cancel culture" seeks to cancel all the culture that had originally been appropriated by slow-witted white folks. "How am I supposed to find that rice I like now that they've taken the 'Uncle' off the front of it?"

And so on. 

Across town, the Cleveland Browns are wondering if they can't get themselves a little bit more exciting mascot than their old coach's last name. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021


 Literal translation: bad joy. Dictionary definition: pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune.

I am guilty of this emotion more often than I tend to relate to you all, but in this case I must reflect on what I believe is a frightening trend. The stories that have been emerging over the past several months about those people who have refused the COVID vaccine and then become very sick with the virus. And some of them die. And this is the moment where we might shrug our collective shoulders and say, "Well, it serves them right." 

I am here to say, "No. It doesn't." As big a fan as I am of things breaking to the fair side, I can't see that this is something about which we should be rejoicing. Instead, it should give us all pause. Like the case of Joshua Garza, who passed up his opportunity to get a shot that  might have kept him from catching the disease that has killed more than four million people. This man from Texas caught COVID in late January, he had to be rushed to the hospital in early February because his lungs were failing. He ended up needing a double lung transplant. Mister Garza would like to tell everyone who will listen that it's a lot easier to get the shot.

Those who see this as leveling karma on individuals who make bad choices are probably missing the big picture. The strain on our health care system currently is almost impossible to describe. True, we are no longer hearing stories of morgues that are spilling over into hallways and refrigerated trailers. The battles we are currently fighting are more like wildfires. As variants pop up, our response needs to be quick and decisive before another surge occurs. This will allow the most and best medical care to be given to those who need it most. Anti-vaxxers dropping dead isn't a win for anyone except for the trolls who live a couple notches below where I hang out. 

I am suddenly reminded of the public service announcement Yul Brynner filmed shortly before his death. "Now that I'm gone I tell you," Yul says to the camera, "don't smoke." Hindsight is twenty-twenty and voices from the grave are probably worth listening to, but we all know someone who is still smoking. That big label that adorns every package of cigarettes is there to read as you light up. Nobody takes a puff imagining the double lung transplant in their future. 

And so it can be said of those who refuse to be vaccinated. It would be so much easier if they would, but you can lead a horse to water but you can't cry over the milk that they spill. The vaccines are here when they are ready. Now we need to figure out a way to tear down the wall that makes it so hard to imagine that this could be a good thing. For everyone. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Reefer Madness

 The police chief of Washington D.C. has declared that, “I can tell you that marijuana undoubtedly is connected to violent crimes that we are seeing in our communities.” Chief Robert Contee made these and other remarks last week during a press briefing following a series of recent shootings in his city. One of them occurred right outside Nationals Park as the home team was preparing to take on the San Diego Padres. The game was cancelled amid the fear and excitement. 

Odd that Chief Contee didn't choose to blame baseball. He blamed weed. "When you have something where people get high reward — they can make a lot of money by selling illegal marijuana — and the risk is low, the risk for accountability is very low, that creates a very, very, very bad situation, because those individuals get robbed,” he added. “Those individuals get shot at. Those individuals get involved in disputes all across our city.” 

So here's the deal: Recreational use of pot (marijuana) is legal in the District of Columbia. Selling pot (marijuana) for recreational use is not. Makes perfect sense. So does the solution: decriminalize pot (marijuana). 

The idea that violent crime is being carried out by pot (marijuana) smokers is basically flawed. If the crimes involved large amounts of Pringles, that would make more sense. Instead, the Chief seems to be onto something when he suggests that it's the money that's the problem. People have been shot over tiny amounts of money throughout history. I have it on good authority that our first Secretary of the Treasury was shot and killed by Aaron Burr over a fifteen dollar bar tab. Or maybe it had something to do with those fields of hemp that George Washington was managing. 

Or something like that. Unfortunately, Chief Contee is pointing his finger at the prosecutors who choose not to go after those caught with more than two ounces of grass (marijuana), the legal limit in his city. He says he's "not talking about mass incarceration," he just wants to hold people accountable. Fair enough. How about making it legal and taxing it. Like alcohol. Like cigarettes. Like Washington, you know the state. 

Before somebody ends up getting shot. Again. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

 "Thanks for bringing home the death chips, dad."

I knew my son was addressing me, but I had no idea about what he was referring. So I asked him. "Son, what are you talking about? Death chips?"

"We're not supposed to be buying Frito Lay." My look did not reflect understanding. "Another guy died on their assembly line. We're supposed to be boycotting them."

This was the first I had heard of such a thing. Not the boycott. Or the idea of a boycott. I was unaware that working conditions at the Frito Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas were so horrible and a strike had been called after an employee had collapsed and died. Management had them move the body out of the way and shifted another person in to keep the line rolling. 

Death chips. 

So I can completely respect the reasoning. I'm a union guy who has been on strike, and I asked people to respect our picket line. Nobody died while teaching in our district and asked us to shove the corpse out of the way. I felt bad.

Death chips.

The tough part was, I had purchased that bag of Wavy fried potatoes because my son, like his father before him, was a brand name guy. I could have bought some locally sourced fried potato product but went to the big cardboard display with the expressed intent of getting us some brand name Wavy chips.

Death chips. 

I have got to start reading more of Al Gore's Internet. 

Monday, July 26, 2021


 Just thought I'd pop in here and remind y'all that there is a global pandemic. Yes, that's right. It did not just go away as so many "experts" had predicted. People across the globe are still dying. By the thousands. From the disease. 

Not from the vaccinations. In case there was a question about that. Turns out they're pretty effective. Like in the ninety-five percent range. So, if you're on the fence about this vaccination thing, remember that the government is giving them away for free. Free medicine. Think about that for a moment, and consider how much you paid for that last prescription. I wonder how many people who have chosen not to get their shot chose not to cash their stimulus check. 

I'm also wondering how much furor we will have to endure once school begins again about masks. Currently California has issued a mask mandate, maskdate, for the coming school year. Already there are parent groups and concerned "patriots" up in arms about what goes over their children's faces. A group in San Diego called "Let Them Breathe" is suing the state saying that it should be a choice for families and not an order from the government. I wonder how many of these folks are all about choice when it comes to the government's oversight on women's reproductive rights. And how many of them cashed their stimulus check. 

What would Horace Mann do? Horace Mann was the father of public education in this country, and it seems as though he might have some wisdom to clear up this confusion. How about this one: "Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge." This provides a nice complement, I think, to the lesson of Maslow's hierarchy of needs which teaches us that learning takes place only once a student feels they are in a safe environment. Wearing a mask seems like a pretty easy path to get that. And if you can avoid having crowds of sign-carrying, shouting parents outside insisting that they know best what is safe and what is not, that would probably help a lot too.

The pandemic is not over. The virus did not go away. But we are clever monkeys and we will figure out what we need to do in order to stay alive. 

The clever ones, anyway. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Follow The Bouncing Ball

 The Raiders left. 

The Warriors left. 

Now it looks likely that the Athletics will be leaving. 

Sports. Who really needs them, after all?

Ask the families of the folks who work at any of the venues at which these teams play their games. The security. The parking attendants. The lady who sells those foam fingers that every kid has to have once. Revenue that used to come pouring through the pipeline into Oakland-based coffers has now ceased. A couple of preseason and eight regular season games for the Raiders. Forty-one regular season NBA games are now being played across the bay in San Francisco. The Oakland A's are the holdouts. But for how much longer?

Not every city with a major league sports team has a relaxed and supportive relationship with one another. Tax breaks and zoning and all that fiscal stuff has to be discussed and agreed upon in order for a show as big as major league anything to take place on a regular basis. Anywhere. There are plenty of cities that are anxious to see an established team move from its home and take up residence in their back yard, even if means a little inconvenience like constructing a new stadium near public transportation and existing revenue streams that won't get choked with all that sports money when it starts flowing through. 

I was never a fan of the Oakland Raiders, but I did find my way to a few games over the years. I was a lot more interested in the Golden State Warriors. I confess that they did "The Town" proud by bringing a few championships home, and they generally seemed interested in their place within the community. The Oakland A's were the first major league sports team that I made a habit of attending their games. It became a bit of a tradition that my son and I would catch at least one game a season, around Father's Day, at which point we would drag home a couple souvenir plastic tumblers to add to our collection. Maybe even a bobblehead. 

Now the city and the Athletics' ownership can't seem to figure out a way to stay together. It's not like this was a forever thing in the first place. The team was established in Philadelphia back in 1901, where they played until 1955 when they made the jump halfway across the country and landed in Kansas City. It wasn't until 1968 that they became the Oakland Athletics. Fifty years and a few World Series later, it would appear that it may be time to pack up the bats, balls, and gloves and head to more favorable climes. Somewhere like Portland, or Nashville, or Montreal. Or maybe just down the highway to a new baseball only stadium on the Oakland waterfront. How hard could that be? If you could figure out the infield fly rule, why couldn't you figure out a way to stay put? 

To paraphrase Robert Frost, "nothing green and gold can stay." 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

From The Heights

 Jeff Bezos came back to Earth last Tuesday, much to the disappointment of a certain segment of the population. More than two hundred thousand humans signed a petition at Change.Org insisting that he not be allowed to return. But, just like Richard Branson before him, this intrepid adventurer went where so very many have gone before: to the edge of space and back again. Like Mister Branson, Mister Bezos was along for the ride, putting me in mind of the old story about Ted Turner's response to the outrage generated by the colorization of the MGM film catalog: "Last time I checked, I owned 'em." 

Which is why, even with this tone-deaf precedent, it is so very alarming that when Captain Jeff (rank assumed) sat in front of reporters he said this: "I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart very much." The first question this raises for me is whether a more challenging endeavor might have been to go in search of Jeff Bezos' heart in the first place, let alone the bottom of it. The next one would be this: "Why don't you spend an equal amount of your vast fortune on the employees who you have treated so carelessly over these past twenty years or so?" To that end, I have some suggestions for some light reading, generated by the folks at Amazon, a reading list of best selling titles about income disparity. Maybe you could pore over a few of those while you're waiting for your rocket to be refueled.

Yes, I hear you saying, but what about that kid he took to space with him? Wasn't that pretty swell of him to do? If you're talking about the Danish teenager who got a seat because the kerjillionaire who spent twenty-eight million dollars to win it cancelled at the last minute. So why not go grab some underprivileged kid off the street and give him the opportunity of a lifetime? You could probably find some lucky eighteen year old in one of those cavernous warehouses with Amazon stamped on the side. No? You would rather take the son of the CEO of an investment firm in the Netherlands. That seems pretty on brand. For a guy who started his empire from a garage in 1994, it seems like it didn't take long for him to forget "the little people." Not that they are in fact any smaller of stature than your average human, they just have smaller bank accounts, allowing them to be overlooked. From the edge of space we all look just like little ants to Jeff Bezos. 

Which is just about the same way we look to Jeff Bezos when he's down here among us. 

We never should have let him come back. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Author, Author

 Upon further reflection, it seems that I may have made a some sort of tactical mistake when it came to making up my summer reading list. 

I read Promised Land by Barack Obama before I started reading Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. I picked up the President's book after waiting for my wife to get to it in her stack of books to be consumed. I bought it for her, keeping with the notion that I should give gifts that I would enjoy receiving myself. Obama's detailed account of his first term in office was the ultimate salve for the previous four years. Being reminded of a White House that was competent and working toward a more perfect union made me believe that good things can come out of Washington. The struggles, the triumphs, the missed opportunities, all there laid out by a thinking, feeling author. The ultimate account from someone who was in the room where it happened. Somewhere along the line, I commiserated with my mother who was also reading Barack's book that we didn't want it to end. Suddenly we would be thrown back into the world as it is, where The Mouth That Roared had taken over the White House for four years and tried to undo everything that been done by Obama's team. My team. When I finished that last page, I closed the book and I felt good. 

Out of the box, I should tell you all that I am a fan of Matthew McConaughey. I have enjoyed a great many of his performances, and believe that he was completely deserving of his McConaissance and the Academy Award he received for Dallas Buyers Club. I feel that his turn in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is a revelation, and captures that moment in time better than any one person possibly could. 

Which is to say that I have enjoyed his appearances on film. So why not give his memoir a try? 

Because it is a mish-mosh of random observations and accounts of getting beat by his father, his brothers being beaten by his father, and his mother and father beating on one another. He spends more time recounting his arrest for playing bongos naked and stoned than he does describing his work with Steven Spielberg. Drizzled over the top of this empty confection of abuse is a series of poems written at different points in his life that are distractions from the hurly-burly hedonism pursued by this treasure of American Cinema. 

And honestly, I probably would have found Matthew's book much more charming had it not leaped into the vacuum created by the seven hundred pages of thoughtful prose from a world leader. The three hundred pages of Greenlights feels like an unnecessary burden by comparison. I am clever enough to know that these are apples and oranges I am examining, but since both are fruit and claim to be nutritious or at least worth chewing, I wish that I would have looked before I leaped. Rooked before I read? 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Boss Of Me

 I sent a note out to Mister Bruce Springsteen, thanking him for setting the record straight. Literally. His record. Not the whole drinking and driving thing from last November, but rather the lyrics to one of his best-loved songs, Thunder Road. It seems that a millennia ago, someone wrote down the wrong words that open the song. Instead of singing, "Screen door slams, Mary's dress waves," what we should have been singing was that "Mary's dress sways." 

Not a big deal until you consider how long I personally have been standing amid a throng of people "singing" at the top of our collective lungs about how Mary's dress was waving. Not swaying. For the past forty years or so, I had been under the assumption that the published lyrics were the ones upon which we could depend. You know, the ones that were included with the album Born To Run, on which the song first appeared? 

Jon Landau, chief Springsteen evangelist and the singer's manager, wrote back to the New Yorker magazine's inquiry about this mondegreen: “The word is ‘sways,’ ” Landau wrote. “That’s the way he wrote it in his original notebooks, that’s the way he sang it on ‘Born to Run,’ in 1975, that’s the way he has always sung it at thousands of shows, and that’s the way he sings it right now on Broadway. Any typos in official Bruce material will be corrected. And, by the way, ‘dresses’ do not know how to ‘wave.’ ” Which is all well and good except for the forty-some years of repetition and conditioning that has taken place over that time and excuse us for not being quite able to make out all the words from one of someone with a massive underbite who is prone to challenges in enunciation from time to time.

This comes at a time when I have just begun to understand that Elton John had been singing, regarding the life of a Rocket Man, "burning out his fuse up here alone." 

Decades. And yes, the Sir Elton thing probably should have been cleared up years ago either through Karaoke or a simple glance at the lyrics written by Bernie Taupin and available to the public everywhere for all that time.

Mister Springsteen and his handlers did not choose to make this distinction clear about Mary's dress until just this past week. As if to say, "Oh, I thought you knew." When all those words from his first two albums are taken into account, is it any wonder that we might expect a certain amount of poetic license when it comes to the manner in which he would describe the movement of Mary's dress? This is the man who once wrote, and I quote, "He says, dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funny bone, that's where they expect it least." Suddenly, a waving dress doesn't seem so quirky at all. 

So, you'll excuse me if there will be moments in the future where I stumble briefly when that line comes along. I might defer to the text as read for all those late nights and early mornings in which Mary was dancing across the porch as her radio plays. Roy Orbison, by the way was singing "Only the Lonely," not "For the Lonely," but I'm not going to get into that just now. Bruce Springsteen is the man who wrote it, and if he says he was singing "Cranberry Sauce" instead of "Paul is dead," then I'm going to have to believe him.

I'll just be embarrassed about it for forty years. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

But Who's Counting?

 So, let's start with the obvious: I am a man and I am writing this. I would like for you to read it and take what is being put forth here to heart. 

My wife and I watched a documentary last weekend called This Changes Everything. The title refers to a phrase that gets repeated a lot each time a film comes out with strong female leads, harkening back to Thelma And Louise. That movie is thirty years old, and every couple of years when a woman directs a major motion picture with lots of box office, someone will invariably insist "this changes everything." Changes the number of women allowed to write, direct, produce and yes even speak in Hollywood. 

I confess that very little of this came as a shock to me, having been taught way back in my undergraduate days that "women are lit like objects" in western cinema. What I saw in the documentary only put numbers to the shame. Let's just start with one of the most telling statistics: In the ninety-three year history of the Academy Awards, only two women have ever won the Oscar for Best Director. That's two percent, if your a fan of percentages. Seven have been nominated. That brings it all the way up to eight percent. 

Maybe now is the time where I point out that women comprise approximately fifty percent of the human beings on the planet. 

It was Geena Davis, Thelma from that movie that first started changing everything, who took up the question of why things still haven't changed. She created an institute to study Gender in Media. With those previously posited percentages in mind, it probably won't come as a revelation that women are underrepresented across film and television production. In 2019, of the two hundred fifty top grossing films, only thirteen percent were directed by women. This could be considered good news, as twenty years before that the number was only five percent. Or maybe we cold examine the case of Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams and the reshoots done for the film All the Money in the World. Marky Mark was paid one and a half million dollars while Ms. Williams was paid one thousand dollars. She has also been nominated five times by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for her acting. Marky Mark not so much. 

I could go on and on, but instead I feel that pointing you all in the direction of this documentary and outrage you can share with me is sufficient at this time. I happen to live with a very talented woman, who would very much like to have her voice heard and her stories shared. At the very least, I hope you will take a moment after your next film experience and see if it passes the Bechdel/Wallace Test. It's pretty quick and easy: Are there at least two named female characters? Do they speak to each other? Do they speak to each other about something other than a male "love" interest? In a database created in 2019, fifty-eight percent of the movies within it passed all three. And since that amounts to good news, I'll leave that there.

For now. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Thou Shalt Read This

 Convicted killer sentenced to death. It's a headline I happened to read twice in one day over the weekend. Two separate cases, the same net result. Killers being killed. Makes sense, right? Quid pro quo. Thou shalt not kill.

Wait a second. Does that mean everyone? All of us? How can this be? I get the part where killing is bad. Wrong even. So we need to discourage that, right. So the way we're going to do that is by putting it right there in the rules. If you kill someone, you could go to jail.

Could. Not always. There are plenty of circumstances in which killing is maybe not the worst thing you could do. Justification is important. There is a category of killing other human beings called "justifiable homicide." Which is why we have courts. And judges and juries. These jobs and the people who do them help us all figure out when it is okay to kill one another. Sometimes these folks decide that it is okay to kill someone if they had a really good reason. The flipside of that is when it is decided that after you have argued about your reasons for killing someone don't persuade the people making those judgements, they can decide that you should be killed. For killing. 

How can this be?

Well, the main thing is that this is supposed to be a deterrent. You had better not kill because you might end up being killed yourself. Which, we understand, won't be done necessarily by a human being. An electric chair. A gas chamber. A lethal injection. Nobody from that jury is going to stab you to death. The judge isn't going to shoot you in the head. Someone in another room will flip the switch or push the button. This is to emphasize the notion that people are not killing here. The State is doing the killing. If that sounds like a loophole, it probably looks a lot like a hangman's noose. 

Unless you sign up to be part of the state, in the form of an army. Or a police force. Suddenly your opportunities for killing go way up. Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to be a highly trained killer with orders to do just that. There have been plenty of horrible things done by humans to one another, and most of them don't end up having to pay for those acts with their lives. Sometimes they get promoted. 

Maybe it's time to stop pretending that the death penalty is useful. 

For anyone or anything. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

What Lies Beneath

 ...and when they opened the door, all they found was a stainless steel hook. 

That's the feeling I have been having while contractors of various types and abilities have been creeping over my house as we prepare to have the old girl painted. Each day brings a new revelation of just what a horror show in which we have been living. 

"Did you guys want to leave it like this?" That's the kind of question I get with only the mildest whiff of judgement attached. "I mean we could sand it down and make it work, but it would probably be better if we just replaced it." And this is where the homeowner shame kicks in. Have we really allowed ourselves to live, for years, with this dryrot/poorly constructed/missing piece/slapped together assemblage?

But wait: Back up. Our house was built in 1895. Most of what is still standing dates back to before the turn of the century. The twentieth century. Standing in our basement gives one the opportunity to stand amid what used to be a redwood forest. There was a fire back in the sixties that did a number on the interior, but we are the third family to live in this house, and the modifications we have made have been primarily cosmetic. 

There's a porthole in the front door. There is a second bathroom on what used to be the laundry porch. The fireplace and chimney have been removed, from the inside. We have cut a hole in the wall in the kitchen to let the light in, and another one in the floor of our bedroom closet to let the laundry out. My son has created a floor for the basement and a livable space for him and a place for my wife to dance. If she doesn't raise her arms very high. 

And yet, there are still frontiers of fixer-upping. The most recent victim was the front stairway. The one that was hastily assembled by termite inspection workers who were anxious to finish things off and get this property sold. In the winter, it acts like a waterfall, bringing all the rain from the front of the house out onto the lawn. For years, I have been patching and painting over the truth. Waiting for the inevitable screwdriver test that the contractor poked into the spongy spots. Those spongy spots are notoriously hard to paint. I should know. And while we are scraping and sanding and preparing everything else, why not get the front steps repaired? Replaced? 

Okay. The secret is out. The skeletons under my front porch have been revealed. Not quite as frightening as it is embarrassing, but it'll do. The up side? They let me replace some of the two by fours on the back deck. The clock's ticking on those. Sooner or later they're going to have to be painted too. The horror. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021


 I have made it a practice in my life not to walk out of a movie until the final credits roll. This has put me in good position to catch all of those post credit bits for which directors have become so very fond, dating all the way back for me to Animal House, which included a slide as the curtains were closing encouraging those left in the theater to visit Universal Studios when visiting Hollywood. And to ask for Babs. Then there was the additional scene where Ferris Beuller comes back and wonders why we're still sitting there after watching him take his Day Off. And these days, no one wants to be in the lobby when the next Marvel tease comes along just as the lights are starting to go up. 

That said, there have ben a number of challenges to this rule by which I live. One of the most memorable came while enduring A Pyromaniac's Love Story. If you missed this little bit of celluloid, it stars a Baldwin brother, but not the good one. And John Leguizamo. And a whole bunch of other folks who probably wish that they could remove any evidence of this ponderous romantic comedy from Al Gore's Internet. I went to see it with my wife, with whom I had also sat through So I Married An Ax Murderer and lived to tell the tale, and a friend of ours. A half an hour through the Pyromaniac's Love Story, there was fidgeting on the part of my companions, and by the midway point there were whispered pleas for us to flee. I insisted that I had paid for my seat, and I was going to use it. Even if it did irreparable harm to my taste and intelligence. 

I maintain this edict today, but I cannot say that it is equally enforced in my own living room. This past week, my wife and I stumbled upon Tim Burton's Dark Shadows.  "Hey," she said, "we haven't seen this." Which was true, primarily because of all the voices that had warned us against making such a sacrifice of our time and energy. And yet, there we sat, couchbound, waiting for something to catch our interest or attach us to our long-standing affection for Tim Burton. 

Finally, I succumbed. I got up from my seat and went to the kitchen. "Do you want me to pause it?" asked my dutiful wife. I answered "no," but I kept the part about how I couldn't imagine how it would help anyone by making it last any longer than it already had. Eventually returning to my spot on the couch, I tried again to engage in what was taking place on the screen. Surely there must be something.

Nope. Not for me. When it was over, I watched the credits roll. I was grateful that as soon as they were over that Mister Burton hadn't seen fit to attach one more ounce of whimsy onto this hour and fifty-three minute monsterpiece. I had seven minutes of that two hour block to attempt to cleanse my mind of the time spent waiting for something to happen. 

So, for the record, I walked out of Dark Shadows, but I came crawling back. My apologies for those of you who happen to hold any of these films in high regard. But I did make it all the way through. That's got to be worth something. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021


 Laura Angelo got kicked off a cruise ship. This little squib of information seems at first blush to be a win-win situation. Thank you for saving me from floating across the seven seas on a floating death trap. Thank you Caribbean Cruise line for not subjecting me to endless hours of shuffleboard on the Lido Deck coupled with the likelihood of contracting some variant of the deadly plague that has gripped the planet for more than a year and a half. 

Laura was removed from The Freedom of the Seas on July 7, two days after disembarking from Miami. Because she and a travel companion tested positive for COVID-19. At which point they were walked off the boat by Royal Caribbean employees in hazmat suits and flown home to New York. 

Which would be a pretty short story with a happy ending, as I have noted that it means limited exposure to the onboard antics that cruise ships have to offer and limited exposure to those who might be sailing to try to avoid catching the aforementioned deadly plague. 

Except Laura insists that the test she was given provided a false reading. Having contracted coronavirus back in March, she felt that her chances of reacquiring the disease should be minimal especially since subsequent tests before she left on the cruise and after she had been flown back to New York have come up negative. 

So, what else could she do? 

Thank Royal Caribbean, that's what else. The enforced togetherness that is the essential feature of every cruise experience? You are hereby relieved! The fifty dollar margaritas? You are excused! Wandering about a floating petri dish with a group of strangers? No longer your concern! 

Okay, maybe now is the time to come clean on this other tidbit: The cruise I went on with my wife for our honeymoon pretty much cemented my lack of interest in Love Boat shenanigans moving forward. It was memorable, but if we had simply flown to Key West and then driven up the coast of Florida to Disney World, I don't think I would have felt cheated. There might have been a moment when, if asked, I might have been willing to give up the rest of my fun boat ride for a plane trip to New York City. 

But no one asked me. A little like the potential for hugs and handshakes disappearing as a result of the pandemic, this might be too much to expect. Laura, I'm suggesting that you count your blessings.  

Friday, July 16, 2021

Grounded In Play

 I have very distinct memories of wandering onto the playground of my old elementary school when classes were not in session. This was long before I considered a career in education. It was during a time when those hours spent in classrooms felt interminable, and summer vacatios was a distan oasis on the horizon of ever day. To be out, to be free. If they would just let me go, I would never look back. 

Until I missed the merry-go-round. Or those swings. Then my friends and I would hop on our bikes and make the perilous half-mile journey to those open expanses that we had promised we would never see again. Til it was absolutely necessary. We did not walk, as was customary in those days. We did not expect to have to lock up our bikes, chaining them to the rack out front. They would always be nearby, in case we needed to make good our escape from whatever evil forces might conspire to keep us here. 

Against our will.

Because that was the difference. That great big expanse of mostly green grass. Jungle gyms and slides. And that merry-go-round. Some of the kids iin my neighborhood had swingsets that gave us moments of thrills reminiscent of those experienced out on the playground, but nothing compared to the long chains and rubber seats that could be found outside our school. 

It only occurs to me now that this was probably the thinking, at some level, of the planning involved in creating a playground: Make it interestig enough that kids will flock to it and make it a reason enough to come to school. Sure, there's a spelling test, but there's also that merry-go-round. Kind of a toss-up when you're nine years old. And for those lazy afternoons when we were uninterrupted by bells or that spelling test, it was a treat and a secret prize for us who dared to make the trek.

We would be back soon enough. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Empty Space

 It used to be cute when Richard Branson used to try and fly his very expensive balloon to new and different heights. And lengths. It should be noted that while he wasn't entirely successful with all his adventures aloft, there was a certain eccentric millionaire quality to his antics. It brings to mind Howard Hughes, without all that obsessive hand washing. 

Let me set the record straight right here at the beginning: I am a huge fan of space exploration. I applaud the efforts of those pioneers who have broken free from the surly bonds that have us all stuck here on Earth. I got chills when I saw video taken from the surface of Mars. I shudder to think what beings from another solar system are making out of the reruns of Three's Company. 

And now back to Richard Branson. This past weekend, the billionaire shot himself into space. For a few minutes, anyway. After two decades of research and trials, the imaginatively names SpaceShipTwo took its highly anticipated trip outside our atmosphere. And shortly after, it turned around and plummeted back from whence it came, touching down on a runway not unlike the Space Shuttles you might remember from your youth. The "record" Mister Branson set was being the first human to ride in a space plane that he paid for himself. He wasn't the pilot. He wasn't the scientist. He signed the checks. All the suspense had been taken out of the moment by years of testing and failure. The risk Richard Branson took was that the photo op with Elon Musk would have come off more awkwardly than it did. 

I know, I know. This is the first step toward putting private citizens in space. Blah, blah, blah. Those who can afford it, anyway. Originally, Virgin Galactic was offering seats on its spaceship for two hundred fifty thousand dollars. That was before test crashes in 2014. Seven years and a successful celebrity launch and return to Terra Firma should make that price go up considerably. Along with the stock for Mister Branson's company. Second place goes to Jeff Bezos, who extorted twenty-eight million dollars out of his passenger for his very expensive flight into roughly the same bit of space previously visited by the SpaceShipTwo crew. 

Now I hear those voices from the past, the ones who insisted back in 1969 that we should be spending our money solving the problems we have here on our own planet. Back then there were wars going on. Racial injustice gripped the country. Our nation's economy teetered on the brink of recession. And yet we looked to the heavens. We sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to name just a couple, to check it out. They made it safe for eccentric millionaires to make a big show out of taking an abbreviated version of that trip fifty years later. 

Pardon me while I try and come up with the appropriate rection.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Say Anything

 My wife encouraged me to stop reading the tweets of the former resident of the White House. The forty-fifth "president" offered me a seemingly endless stream of ridiculous straight lines and opportunities to raise my blood pressure. I attempted to respond to as many of these messages from the Dark Side as possible, in hopes that I might be heard. By someone. On a few occasions, I ended up snaring a red Kool-Aid drinker who wanted to engage me in a battle of wits. It was on these occasions that I realized that the problem was much bigger than I had first imagined. And I eventually followed my wife's advice. I stopped reading the vile bile spewing from the Mandarin and looked to other voices that needed amplification. 

Then that angry voice was shut down, causing all manner of fuss and fuming about Free Speech and how Big Tech was canceling his stream of dangerous misinformation. The pending lawsuits against Google and Facebook and probably Four Seasons Landscaping should be framed as more nonsense to get his noise out into the world. These are private companies who make decisions about what and whom get to use their cap lock button to air their views. 

Meanwhile, there are no shortage of cameras, microphones and keyboards out there to spread the thoughts of the tiniest of brains. It is the same impulse that gets us to slow down as we pass an accident. Or turn over a rock in the garden. There is a real fascination with aberrant personalities. It is only recently that the comment section at the bottom of Yahoo news has reappeared, and even though they ask us to be civil, there are still plenty of folks grinding their ax about whatever happens to be bouncing around in their pointed heads regardless of the topic. It only takes a vicious right swerve to connect the new season of The Bachelor into a rant about cancel culture. 

Yes, I know that I am once again afforded this little box upon which to stand and vent my own spleen, but I want to believe that I tend toward the more rational end of the spectrum when it comes to objective reality. And I know that I loop back all too often to read  the ravings of a lunatic. Or click on the link that claims to show how "the elite" are meeting in a secret location to undermine our personal freedoms. And take our guns. That's what all this vaccination business has been about, you know. 

The old adage suggests that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. I would like to suggest that if you don't have anything coherent to say, file a lawsuit. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Higher Order

 Going to a wedding, something I had not done for a few years, gave me time to reflect. It's been nearly twenty-eight years since I was in the center ring, or fourteen if you're counting that giddy little celebration with Elvis in Vegas. Saying those vows, and then reaffirming them in front of the King, was by far the most committed I have ever been to anything. Ever. Most of my life I have made the impression of someone with dogged determination and tenacity, devoted to people and causes. But I am careful about leaving myself a way out. I'm the guy who never leaves a five star review. I don't like to say always and never unless it supports hyperbole. My wife has had to suffer with my insistence that there is no such thing as unconditional love. 

Which, oddly enough, seems to be a condition of our love. 

And yet, there I stood on a hillside in Colorado and later an ersatz chapel just off the strip in Las Vegas, pledging my devotion to this on person. Committing to this one relationship. In front of witnesses. And the aforementioned Elvis. It is as close as I come to holy, or wholly for that matter. 

That's probably why I found myself, the night before yet another outdoor wedding in Colorado I found myself talking with the woman who would be officiating at the ceremony. I asked her if this was her calling or if this was one of the quickie deals she had done online. It was the latter. She went to great lengths to assure me that this did not in any way diminish her fidelity to the moment and the couple she was slated to join the following day. She felt the conviction to her calling, even if it came from the mother of the bride and not the Flying Spaghetti Monster or some other deity.

So I asked her how she did it. She explained the process as ridiculously simple as I had heard it might be from others in the past. And later the next day as my family sat at a table on top of Pikes Peak, I had access to Al Gore's Internet and I made the necessary clicks to become ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church. I don't need to be Elvis or a priest or a student of the ancient scrolls. I tend to be found poking fun at God more often than I am fearing him. Or them. Or pronouns too great to be imagined. But I am now officially open for business. 

I am available for weddings. I will bring people together in that way that I enjoyed so very much all those years ago. And I promise to try and keep a straight face while I do it. Sarcasm isn't the problem here. It's just not that easy to contain all the joy. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Alpha And Omega

Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV, recently tweeted: "I am not getting the covid vax. Who's with me?" George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek replied: "Actually, nearly every single person who died recently of Covid-19 is with you." 

And so here we are, nearly a year and a half after the pandemic began, watching television celebrities of various stripes haggle over the best way to handle our collective response to a virus that doesn't seem to care much about TV or our collective response to it. The virus continues to mutate, and new strains continue to appear, causing those of us who felt smug and free from worry after their masking and vaccination experience to wonder if maybe we rushed into something. 

A very great friend of mine who works in the business of health care wondered aloud why this all couldn't have been our "kumbaya moment." She was deflated by the way this disease had become politicized instead of being framed as a moment where we could all come together as humans to fight this invader. Instead, it has been picked up as a stick with which we can poke one another based on our relatively uninformed medical opinions. 

Recently, a Delta variant has been causing great concern as science rushes to catch up to its impacts and effects. If you're not up on your Greek alphabet, that's the fourth letter, and those same scientists have already assigned Lambda to another. There are only twenty-four letters in the Greek alphabet. We would, collectively, rather not use them all up. Meanwhile we can all continue to argue with one another about the best way to proceed in a world that doesn't seem to be as gung-ho about defeating a virus as we are about getting the neighborhood Chili's open or having the Olympics come off as rescheduled in Tokyo. 

The CDC recently announced that vaccinated students and teachers could go back to school without masks. Which I suppose would be great if all those students and teachers who heard this announcement were vaccinated. Or were willing to wear a mask in the event of a new strain or mandate from the powers that be. I recently returned from a trip where I went through a series of different expectations about vaccinations and masks. In the airport and on the airplane, masks were to be worn. Period. Elsewhere, new signs on business have begun to appear, allowing those who have been vaccinated to enter without a mask. No one was checking vaccination badges or records. We are anxious to be open and willing to trust one another while we go about our business. 

I suppose it makes sense that the son of the Roman God Jupiter might be confused by all those Greek letters, and it would take somebody with experience with warp speeds to explain it to him. But I still don't understand how we got this lost. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

What Is And What Never Will Be Again

 It was a golden pleasure dome. Well, it was brass and a lot of dark wood. It was The Broker, and back in the day it was the place to be seen in Boulder, Colorado. At that time, it was one of the focal points to the story printed in Newsweek magazine describing my hometown as "where the hip meet to trip." In 1980, this was a too-cute way to make the observation that "cool" people were now flocking to this once and future hippie mecca to experience the next wave of hedonism. The Broker, located on one side of campus while the Harvest House sat on the other, comprised the way stations for these cultural pilgrims. I feel compelled at this point to mention that the drug use was rampant at that point for certain, but the chemical of choice was not hallucinogens, but rather cocaine. Lots of it. This created plenty of obnoxious behavior and the money requited to fuel the habits of all those young upwardly mobile typed needed an opulent surrounding. That's what the Broker was.

Back then.

 Recently, my family and I stayed in that hotel while on a visit from California. My wife and I had vivid memories of how things used to be. In those days, we never imagined that we would stay in the rooms adjacent to the restaurant and bar. That was for the cool kids who booked rooms there after the high school dance, where they could drink. And negotiate their virginities. And maybe do some of those drugs that everyone seemed to know about. When I was a little older, the bar became a part of a circuit that included The Dark Horse Saloon, just a short stumble across the parking lot. It was on the Broker's dance floor that I danced before I could walk just a month and a half after my reconstructive knee surgery. The drugs involved in that evolutionary tale were primarily those found in Miller Lite. It was a more profound mix of chemicals and a swing set six weeks prior that had put me in need of that reconstructive knee surgery. Not tripping so much as falling. 

All of this history is what brought me to booking a room all those years later, only to find that the hard times that had fallen on so many monuments to my misspent youth had paid a visit to the Broker Inn. The air conditioner sounded like it was made by Black and Decker when it started up, and the entry way smelled as if a chain-smoking cat had missed the litter box there for several days before we got there. There was no phone in the room to call down to the desk to ask for maid service or even an extra roll of toilet paper, which we solved by borrowing from a nearby room. I tried to imagine how impressed a date would be if I were to drag her up to this room in hopes of resolving the discussion of taking our relationship to the next level. Whatever that was. I'm guessing that the chain-smoking cat would have put an end to that interaction long before we ever discussed calling down for room service. Because there wasn't any. The restaurant had been closed years before, and now the "Continental Breakfast" that was offered came in paper bags: a plastic wrapped Danish, an apple and a can of apple juice. So much for the gilded age glory of my recollections. This forced the phrase, "you can't go home again" into my head. I answered back, "Well, you can go home again, just don't expect room service."

Which is reasonable. The guy at the front desk listened to our complaints with resigned interest, and told us a story about new ownership wanting to return the place to its former glory. And we listened with resigned interest. We had come home again, and it was kind of scary. But I suppose it would be worse if things had stayed the way they were back in 1980. We couldn't have gotten a reservation back then. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Chuck It

 I started reading Peanuts when I was quite young. At the time, it was quite easy to do because Peanuts were pervasive in the world in which I lived. T-shirts, stuffed toys, posters, bed sheets, lamps, and all those comic strips. By the time I got around to reading, the gang had already been around for twenty years. You could read the daily strip in the newspaper, then go directly to one of the dozens of collections available wherever paperbacks were sold. A great deal of my reading practice came through those books. I learned words like "security" and "psychiatric" in order to enjoy those cartoons. 

No one questioned the appropriateness of a seven year old entertaining himself for hours at a time reading about Linus and Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy, and Good Old Charlie Brown. God how I hate him. That's not an appraisal, by the way. I'm just quoting the very first strip Charles Schulz introduced us to that funny round-headed kid. "Here comes good ol' Charlie Brown. Good ol' Charlie Brown...Yes sir. Good ol' Charlie Brown. How I hate him." By the time I caught hold of him, the zeitgeist had a pretty firm grip on Chuck. A boy of some indeterminant age whose companions rarely shifted to much more than simple acceptance of his existence. A literal dark cloud seemed to hang over him on most days, and even his dog rarely seemed to give him the respect he deserved for taking care of him for all those years.  

Even the most insecure character by his own admission, Linus Van Pelt, saw fit to lecture Charlie Brown on self-esteem. I am reminded of Chuck Jones' assessment of two of his most famous characters. He said that Bugs Bunny is who we wish we were, and Daffy Duck is who we really are. That's how I felt about Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Snoopy was off flying his Sopwith Camel or traveling to the moon, while Charlie Brown was down here on earth experiencing the effects of gravity first hand. There was no escape for Chuck. 

I consumed all these images and tropes, but one that only recently resurfaced was that of the grease traps. Each summer, Charlie Brown would be packed off to summer camp, causing him no end of suffering. Not the least of which was the aforementioned grease traps. Through some twist of cruel fate, Charlie Brown seemed to be regularly assigned to the onerous kitchen detail of scrubbing out the grease traps. Why would a child of any age be subjected to such a cruel punishment? It's enough to set a kid off in search of psychiatric help, though why you would choose to receive therapy from one of your chief tormentors is perhaps only understood by good ol' Charlie Brown. 

How I pity him 

Friday, July 09, 2021

Message Received And Ignored

  I received an email from an outfit called RedMatcher. My initial thought upon opening the message was that the operative term in this exchange was "Red," since I was exhorted by the subject line "Your american (sic) right to concealed carry is now available online with our help." And red, as we all know, is the color that has been appropriated by the right for their nefarious purposes. Which is kind of a drag since Spider Man is red. And so are a lot of apples. And some grapes. Red has been largely appropriated by people who would like to see all "americans" carrying concealed. As is our right. 

Well, as it turns out, RedMatcher is more of a clearing house for online "deals" than an oracle of conservative thought. They provide the tube through which email can be dumped into unsuspecting accounts, with the hope that if you throw enough copies of the works of Shakespeare written by monkeys at the wall, some of them will stick. 

The real culprit, as it turns out, is This was a promotional email sent on behalf of this web site that cheerfully offers you to help you get certified so that you can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Just watch a video and answer a few short questions and you're on your way! Why would I want to do this? At the bottom of their web page, the Quick Permit folks give us three reasons: Reason 1, It's Your 2nd Amendment Right. Many of us forget about our rights until they are in jeopardy. Exercising your rights as an American citizen is a privilege, we all should not take for granted. Reason 2, Preparation for Protection. Timing is everything when it comes to unforeseen danger. Delaying preparation against threats leaves you exposed and open to attack. Preparation is always the best protection. And Reason 3, The Window is Open. There has never been an easier way to secure your concealed carry certification online. You may lose the right to secure your certification online at any time. Lock in your certification while it is still legal. 

I read my reasons with interest, and came away feeling no real urgency. Being left open to attack or missing out on my chance to have a permit while it's still legal didn't feel like compelling rationales for getting a permit to sneak up on somebody with a gun. That's the idea, right? Concealing the gun is the trick. "Hey mister bad guy, please don't attack me because I don't have a gun and could kill you for trying to do just that...Haha! I had a gun all the time, and now I'm going to shoot you and boy aren't you surprised and sad as you lay there dying! Haha!"

As big a fan as I am of practical jokes, I'm going to give this one a hard pass. Sorry, RedMatcher. Maybe you can hit me up again when you're having a sale on fake dog poop. 

Thursday, July 08, 2021


 The Foo Fighters are set to release a disco album, a love letter to a bygone era. Not to be confused with trendsetters, the Fighters of Foo and their leader, Dave Grohl, are not shy about hiding their loves under a shade of unnecessary cool. Which might explain how they got the gig to induct Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

I always liked Rush. Even when I was told it wasn't cool to do just that. As for the Bee Gees? Well, let's just say that I was more easily swayed back then. I was plopped myself squarely on the Disco Sucks bandwagon and was not willing to be moved, even when no one continued to pull that wagon. At the time, it was clear to me that so-called "dance music" was the enemy, and loud guitars and real drums were the only chance for survival. 

I cheered the Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park back in 1979 when Chicago radio station WLUP (The Loop) promoted an event between the games of a double header between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Disc jockey Steve Dahl exhorted his fans to bring a disco record to add to the pile he planned to blow up, and you could get in for just ninety-eight cents. If you're wondering, even back then, the price of that record was roughly six times the price of admission. And once the stack of vinyl was blown up, those who were unable to get theirs on the pile sailed theirs from the upper decks, and then things got ugly. They rushed the field. They threw beer and firecrackers. They tore the place up. The White Sox ended up having to forfeit the second game because riot police had to be brought in to restore order to the chaos that ensued. 

At this point, I should mention that I owned a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I listened to it. I did not tell many of my friends about this, for fear of appearing as some kind of traitor. Some kind of traitor to exactly what, I cannot now explain. The truth was, there were plenty of catchy tunes on that record, and the disco era had its share of great musicians. I could cite Nile Rogers among them. You might not immediately recognize the name, but you can hear his influence in music by Duran Duran, INXS, David Bowie, and Daft Punk. 

Or I could just as soon say that maybe the Bee Gees were really good at what they did, and they were busy making good music before, during, and after Disco Demolition. 

And Rush? They were always cool. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Sign O' The Times

 There is a sign near my neighborhood that haunts me. It reads: No More Factory Farms. Stuck as it is to a chain link fence in the middle of some of the most urban landscape that Oakland has to offer, it seems a bit incongruous. Which isn't why it haunts me. Or maybe it's part of it. 

But the real echo in my head about factory farms is the one that reflects off my own experience with farms. The planter boxes I maintain and have maintained for the past few summers. I have grown a bushel of cucumbers, a great many cherry tomatoes, and we maintain a crop of potatoes from which we never seem to fully dig up and move on. There's nothing factory about that fraction of an acre, unless its the vegetables we buy from the supermarket up the street to supplement our rather meager production. This in turn reminds me of the way my father's green thumb seemed to extend primarily and specifically to growing zucchini that could not have been consumed by an army in a plot of our back yard that had always seemed better suited to hosting a swing set. 

Then there was the beet farm. The one in Wiggins, Colorado where we made our yearly Thanksgiving pilgrimage to come that much closer to the food for which we were so very thankful. There weren't a lot of beets on the table back then. Mostly because that was the business of the farm. Just like the pigs we met in the pens outside were only eventually destined to be part of our meal, going out to the farm meant visiting the corner of the sprawling acreage that was planted and harvested in rotation by those cousins, where they lived. The moment in time when Americans were raising their own food had passed by, and the idea of a family farm was under attack by the creepy reality of agribusiness. A life in which you would wake up in the morning and go out to milk the cow and get a few eggs from the chicken coop before breakfast has become the sort of thing we now imagine in the dystopian future after the human race has been forced out of the cities and made to fend for themselves in that old-timey way. 

Until someone figures out that you can get a lot more milking done with a machine and a whole herd of cows, and that chicken coop could be much larger and put together in such a way as to aid the collection of eggs as opposed to the comfort of the chickens. Currently, nearly twelve billion pounds of garden produce grown here in the United States becomes food waste. A situation not unlike my father's zucchini ranch, but on a much larger scale. Only in a factory could you imagine being paid not to produce what you were supposed to be making. That's what happens with many farm subsidies these days. 

Come to think of it, maybe we should have paid dad not to grow those zucchinis. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2021


 I spent a summer as a dishwasher for a Mexican restaurant. 

Okay. Not the whole summer. I had days off. And in between shifts I did things that newly minted teenaged boys should do. But that may have been as hot as I have ever been in my life. For periods of time, anyway. And it wasn't a dry heat, either. Two of us in our nominal uniform of white short sleeve shirt and white and black checked polyester pants would take turns pulling tubs of dishes brought to our window by busboys. Excess food would be tossed off into the frequently changed trash can. Then they were stacked and shoved down to the sprayer. Alternately the most fun and dangerous job, spraying the dishes to get off the cheese that had been baked onto the plates and hosing the guacamole and whatever else didn't make it into the trash can while attempting to keep your footing on the increasingly slippery rubber mat that never dried. The scraping and stacking position was a dual one, in that once screaming hot sterilized glasses, bowls, plates and cutlery on racks came out of the Hobart after having been shoved in there by sprayer it was that person's job to get the clean things back where they belonged. Mostly in the kitchen.

But, if you timed it right, you got to carry a rack or two of glasses to the bar. This meant you got to walk halfway across the restaurant, far away from the oppressive swamp temperatures of the dish room. This meant an occasional interaction with other human beings outside. Waiters. Waitresses. And the bartender. He might even fill up a tall water glass with Coke and let you choke it down before returning to the swamp. Back to the hole. 

That perk of the occasional Coke from the bartender? That was in lieu of the tips that busboys shared with the wait staff. That window where they shoved the dirty dishes at us was also where the money stopped. Which is probably why the bartender felt like keeping us cool and caffeinated. If we didn't bring him any glasses, he didn't serve any drinks. No drinks. No tips. It was in his best interest, and we would even wash the glass. 

After eight hours of this, when the bar and the restaurant were closed, we picked up that rubber mat and turned the hose on the floor where a night's worth of enchiladas had been congealing. The dishwashers were hosing down even as the cooks were tossing their aprons in the laundry and heading for the door. The same door we would be sloshing out shortly after peeling off the uniforms that now clung to us like a second skin. Into our street clothes. Out into the night air. I said goodnight to my fellow dishwasher and hopped on my bike and rode the three miles back to my parents' house. Where I collapsed in a protective cocoon of steamed in grease.

Until it was time to wake up and do it all over again. 

Monday, July 05, 2021

Coin Of The Realm

 I would ask for someone to explain Bitcoin to me, but I am honestly not sure that I want to know any more than I already do. Currently it is my understanding that it is an alternative to reality. The reality to which I am accustomed, anyway. 

As I write this, one is worth more than thirty thousand dollars. This value fluctuates greatly, depending on how much business is being conducted on any given digital day. Transactions take place through "computers" and we never really see any of this "money." 

Wait a second. That sounds an awful lot like the bank account I currently maintain that has regular old money in it. The potentially amusing portion of this experience is that while I tend not to carry cash anywhere at any time, I continue to stoop over and pick up the odd penny, nickel or dime I see when I am walking down the street or across a parking lot. These "coins" get collected in a jar on my wife's desk and are eventually rolled into counted denominations that make them easier to move about. 

The fluctuation in value of these "coins" is (checks notes) nothing. Fifty pennies is worth just about exactly fifty cents. A roll of fifty dimes is, well, ten times that so approximately five dollars. Sometimes if I'm in a rush and count the roll wrong, that value is decreased by the amount of the missing coin or coins. 

That makes sense. The Bank of Singapore has suggested that Bitcoin should replace gold as its store of value. That doesn't make as much sense to me. The gold standard hasn't been used very consistently since the Great Depression, and the idea that the United States has enough gold in vaults somewhere to cover the dollars and those nickels and dimes that I keep holding onto is kind of a foolish one. 

So is the idea that there are competing digital currencies. Bitcoin is just one of them. There are more than ten thousand publicly traded "cryptocurrencies." Folks who trade "cryptocurrencies" insist that they are the "future." I refer to this as "science fiction" or "hokum," mostly because I am old. 

And I pick loose change up off the sidewalk. Don't interrupt me with all this Bitcoin nonsense, I'm counting. 

Sunday, July 04, 2021

First Draft

 July 4, 2011 I was standing in front of the Declaration of Independence. Not a facsimile. The real deal. I noticed some scribbles in and around the margins. Apparently Thomas Jefferson had his "helpers" like we all do:  

When, in the course of human events,(Tommy, do you think it's necessary to mention "human" here? Feels a little much right at the beginning) it becomes necessary for one people (Whoa - aren't we all people? Come on, are you trying to start something?) to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth (What? No mention of heaven here?), the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them (Don't go mixing up nature with God), a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (Impel. Doesn't that seem a little severe? What if we want back in?).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal (All men? Come on. You don't mean that, do you?), that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights (But not like voting or anything like that, right?), that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (We still get to keep our slaves, right?). That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men (White landowning men), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (Or we'll be the consent out of them if necessary). That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it (Without permission? Come on Tom. People will start thinking they can change things after we've already decided), and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness (Mostly we just want to keep our slaves. And guns. Make sure you put something in there about slaves and guns).

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes (like say if somebody got it into their head that slavery was a bad thing, for example?); and, accordingly, all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. (Nice first pass, Tommy Boy. Don't you think it's a little wordy? Couldn't we just go with "Make America Great Again?)

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Group Perspective

 Did you ever wonder if the Beatles knew that they were the Beatles?

I mean, beyond their cool name. Not that being the Quarrymen or the Silver Beetles might have kept them from becoming the Beatles of our pop culture pantheon. The group that we tend to use as a measuring stick for all other groups before and since. Did they understand the legacy that they were creating, or were they simply trapped in a bubble that felt normal to them?

I submit the apocryphal tale about the night of April 24, 1976. After being broken up as a group for several years, having each struck out on their own solo careers, John invited his old friend and bandmate into his home at The Dakota. John was interested in watching Saturday Night Live, to see Raquel Welch and another old acquaintance, John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful. In addition to those two celebrities, the producer of the show made an appearance. Lorne Michaels showed up with an offer to the Fab Four to reunite on his program for the amusing price of three thousand dollars. He had no way of knowing that half of that group were watching. And he also had no way of knowing that they were considering hopping in a cab and popping by the live broadcast.

Because three thousand dollars is three thousand dollars, right?

It didn't happen. The Beatles never reunited. There was no Farewell Tour. There was no Farewell Tour Part 2. There was no We Really Mean It This Time Farewell Tour. They had done their thing and there it sat for historians and music fans and music fans who happen to be historians to ponder. Were the Beatles that which none greater can be imagined? They were a pop music group. They specialized in three minute songs about love and sheep dogs. 

And long before they were the quintessential rock band, they were musicians looking for a break and playing in the strip clubs of Berlin. And it took them firing their original drummer and auditioning for a couple record labels before they even had a chance to make it big. They were the quintessential working band. Gigging until the could get a record deal. 

But it makes me wonder when, or if, there was a moment when the four of them were alone in a room somewhere and realized that they were It. John got in trouble for comparing the Beatles to Jesus, and all those screaming teenagers seemed to be pretty firm in their convictions. They recorded Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, for heaven's sake. The Best Album Of All Time. Fans and critics alike seem to agree. 

What about John, Paul, George and Ringo? Did they know what they were doing? Or was it simply lightning in a seven year bottle, spanning their first and last albums together? If John and Paul had taken that cab and showed up, a little worse for wear and proceeded to diminish their legend? 

For three thousand dollars? That might have cemented it for me, anyway. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Too Smart For My Own Good

 I wish I knew now what I didn't know then. Way back when I figured that I was so clever because I could see how easy it would be for my father to simply show up and apologize for his bad decisions. I would say now that I had no right to be so judgmental. 

Which would have been a source of great amusement for my dad, who coined the phrase, "People can be so judgmental," without ever realizing the irony. I insisted that this was one of the most ridiculous moments of logical overreach that I could imagine. I was in my twenties at this point, so I figured that I had seen most of what I needed to see. 

And my friends? They were dumbstruck by the departure of my father from the home that he had created for all of us. For all those years. The strays. The misfits. The sons and daughters of divorce. The kids who came home with me to get a little of that Ward Cleaver vibe that they must have been missing at their own homes. 

I had no idea how different the jobs of being a dad and being a husband were. I had no idea what that statistic that fifty percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce was describing a real thing. I could not understand how this man who had appeared in my life as the man with all the answers had turned into this frightened and confused guy who was leaving my mother. 

He didn't get far. Because I'm fairly certain now that I still had plenty of lessons to learn from my dad. When we used to go out for dinner in those days, I used to quiz him. I figured that I was going to be the one who could bring him to his senses. I imagined, back then, that I understood the range of his fear and pain. I would do the thinking for both of us. And someday someone would write a song about what a wonderful son I turned out to be, because I could save a marriage. I could save our family.

I couldn't . I didn't. It is only now that I am beginning to reckon with the notion that sometimes when something gets broken, it stays broken. This is true of people too. Which doesn't keep me from trying, even now, to use all my cleverness to put Humpty Dumptys of the world back together again. 

I still have things left to learn from my father. 

I miss him today. 

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Alternative Anatomy

 On Star Trek, the Original Series, the one that looked fake even way back then but persevered because it had such a conscience, Bones was often heard complaining to Spock about his physiology. Not only was Spock's heart never in the right place, neither were the rest of his vital organs. Which sort of makes sense, seeing as how foreign he appeared, what with those pointy ears and eye shadow. Later, when the new crop of Trekking began, the creators went to great pains to show how radically different species could be. This was shown primarily via the wrinkles on their foreheads. In the meantime, no special accommodations had to be made for crew members who used their prehensile tongues to steer or had only three fingers or for heaven's sake didn't show up on the bridge speaking Federation English. No, this was a journey where no man had gone before, at least as far as your standard bipedal humanoid forms were concerned. Which explains why the ship's doctor was routinely confounded by special guest aliens whose skins were blue or green, or who forgot to bring their medical chart with them explaining that even though they were air-breathing and walking erect, they evolved from plants. 

I bring this up because I sometimes feel like Doctor McCoy when I am dealing with little kids. The ones who can run around the playground for forty-five minutes without a break but collapse in a heap when they are asked to participate in the fifth grade PE test. They are also the same species that can go for hours without wiping their nose, seemingly oblivious to the ever-widening swath of snot collecting on their upper lip, only occasionally disrupted by a tongue or a sleeve drawn across it. But if one of them insists that they have a stomach ache, look out.

I introduce this malady with a reckoning: there is a difference between a tummy ache and a stomach ache in most children. Tummies are much more easily disrupted and can rarely be easily cured with a known pharmaceutical. Instead, these tend to appear in clusters around lunchtime before some major event. The best known treatment for the tummy ache is a trip to the office, usually accompanied by a call home to let parents know that the child is stuck at school in quasi-discomfort and needing some attention/validation. The tummy ache should not be confused with the stomach ache, which may carry many of the same symptoms, but can often be more obvious and convincing because of the vomiting. It's always a good idea when someone says they have a stomach ache in an elementary school to have a trash can available. If the patient insists they don't need a trash can, it might be just a tummy ache. Or it could be that they are seven years old and they don't have a real sense of just how abruptly that second bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos can be expelled. 

After a year of being confused and terrified of a plague that kept us all apart, I confess that I am looking forward to another voyage with a crew of these small creatures. I'm hoping that the time we spent away may have sharpened their own diagnostic skills, or at least given them a new vague malady to keep them out of their afternoon math test. "I'm sorry Mister Caven, but I'm feeling a little pandemic."