Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Still

 I went to my first superspreader event. First, that is, unless you're counting the past three weeks during which I taught at an urban elementary school. So, if you're not counting those days, attending a great big rock show at a baseball stadium with forty thousand of my closest not-so-socially-distanced friends would be my own private Sturgis. Without motorcycles. With masks. And I suspect a good deal more vaccine flowing through the collective veins of the not-so-intimate gathering.

My family made the trip across the bay to see Green Day, a favorite of ours since way back when I first moved to the area near that bay. My son grew up with them, pantomiming with a group of his friends to "Holiday" at his elementary school talent show. A friend did us the solid of making a slight edit to one of the lyrics to make it appropriate to the grade school crowd. Mostly. We have seen them now in four different locations around what we and the band all call "home." This one held significance in that we had purchased tickets for a show that was to take place in the summer of 2020. That didn't happen. 

So we waited. We held on to our tickets and waited. We waited for the crisis to clear. We waited for the infection rates to slow. We waited for a vaccine. We waited. 

Then, after what seemed like forever, a new date was announced. I would like to tell you that there was some sort of family meeting to discuss the relative safety of such an enterprise, but that never really happened. We all understood the risks, at least the mounting potential for hypocrisy on our part. This was not a MAGA rally. Quite the opposite, in tone at least. It was a communal gathering of shared joy and relief. Joy for loud music. Relief from being cooped up indoors. But as I sang along at the top of my lungs as I have so many times before, I noticed the muffling effect of the cloth covering on my nose and mouth. 

Which is why there was a particularly moving moment that might have gone unnoticed by some, when the boys tore into one of their more recent hits, "Still Breathing." Because we were. Singing: 

'Cause I'm still breathing
'Cause I'm still breathing on my own
My head's above the rain and roses
Making my way away
My way to you

We were. We are. 

Together. 

It was worth the wait. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Deadline

 Back in the late seventies, marginally known ABC newsman Ted Koppel made a name for himself by hosting a show that came on after the late local news in which he described the day's events connected to the American hostages held in Iran. This broadcast became such a part of the late night landscape that even after those hostages had been released, the network chose to continue airing "America Held Hostage, Day (fill in the blank)" with a change of title: Nightline. This move not only made Ted a household name, but solidified his position at the American Broadcasting Company for another twenty-five years. And ABC didn't need to worry about how to counterprogram against Johnny Carson. They had Ted. 

I would argue that Nightline was the first shot fired in the twenty-four hour news cycle war. Did we really need that much more information at the end of the day? Or were we setting up for the day to come? What was on fire? Where was the next conflict brewing? What were the imminent threats to our way of life? Did you see Nightline? The world looks like it's going to end (checks watch) well, soon.

The world did not end on Ted Koppel's watch, confirming my suspicions that the bang that we had all anticipated will not be coming, but rather a prolonged whimper. That whimper will be punctuated by bangs of various sorts: mass shootings, explosions, hurricanes and the like. Not the big boom that we were all tensed for back in 1979.

Things are blowing up in certain corners of the globe, threatening to blow up in others. We watch the cable news networks as they play out the catastrophe du jour with a crawl at the bottom of the screen that tells us about the catastrophes for which they have yet to receive video. And if you happen to step away from the television that dominates your living room, there are multiple smaller screens which will keep you apprised of the crisis that erupted while you were on your way to the next big thing. Many of us will do the collective favor of documenting the part of the world that happens to be falling apart in front of them just in case you needed some vertical video of disaster happening. 

I honestly believe that if I could truly pry myself away from all this media, I could convince myself that things are not so bad. Sure, I'm wearing a mask, and the smoke in the air suggests that there might be a nasty bug floating around somewhere, but maybe I don't have to be attached to the happenings at the airport in Kabul on a minute by minute basis. 

I guess I'm saying that I miss Ted Koppel distilling the Apocalypse for me on a nightly basis.  

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Band Aids

 Someone asked the question: Are schools contributing to a spike in COVID cases among kids? Which, as a responsible educator and firm believer in science I can only reply, "Well duh."

You see, there's this rock, we'll call it the emotional health of our kids, and there's this hard place we'll call the physical health of our kids. Stuck right in between are all the machinations of various government agencies that insist that we put them in harm's way one way or the other. All of the talk about "learning loss" tends to obscure the way we are treating this most precious commodity like a commodity. 

Obviously, if we want everyone back at work we need kids to head back to their less-than-chosen profession: school. Mom and dad need to be out there, stimulating the economy so that we can afford the lifestyle heretofore known as "normal." Trouble is, things have yet to land anywhere near that expectation. The notion that somehow our seasonal expectations of how things turn, such as fall means kids go back to school, don't fit in very well with the mutating, surging virus that continues to kill us. 

Am I advocating for a return to distance learning? Please, no. I have become immured to the experience of children in the hallways and the playground. Banishing them back to those Zoom cells would be about the cruelest thing I could imagine. Unless I compare it to the thought of losing a single one of them or any of their family members to the plague. Meanwhile, we have a risky situation here. We try and make it less risky by doing what we can to enforce a "mask mandate" inside and out. Fourth graders don't have a lot of concern for a government issued recommendation for safety. So now I have added "pull your mask up" to the litany of phrases I repeat endlessly throughout the day: Please walk in the hall. Hands and feet to yourself.  Use respectful language. Please don't stand in the water fountain. 

That last one doesn't get used as often, but it has been used more than once since this school year began. To me, this points out the struggle we continue to experience. All of those things that we used to have to do to keep one another safe are now a layer deep, just beneath the precautions we take to avoid contracting or passing along a deadly disease. To return to that initial question, I respond with a question of my own: Have you met any fourth graders? 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Bang The Drum Slowly

 It took fifty years for the Grim Reaper to catch up to the Rolling Stones. The last Stone to die was Brian Jones, back in 1969. Just as the fame bus was pulling out of the station for the bad boys of the British Invasion, Mister Jones drowned in his swimming pool a month after being let go by the group he founded seven years earlier. He was a casualty of the era. Drinking, drugs and excess made him a poster boy for the live fast, die young generation. 

And then a half a century passed. In spite of legendary hedonism and nearly constant recording and touring, The core of the band remained intact. Back in 1990, bassist Bill Wyman bowed out, after nearly thirty years on the road. In 2009, he quit smoking. A healthy life choice for a man of seventy-three. Seven years later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he recovered. Lately, Bill has been savoring his golden years immersing himself in the comparatively mundane passions of cricket, photography, and being a recovering member of the Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger seems to defy aging, as he approaches eighty years of rocking and rolling. He and the boys are still regularly found somewhere on the globe, playing for crowds that are made up primarily of people who were not born when the band was formed. His movie career never fully took off, but the side gigs Mick has managed to fill in his spare time have supplemented his meager rock star earnings. His career with the Rolling Stones has easily outlasted any and all of his marriages. 

Ron Wood, Mick Taylor, well, they are guitarists who have been in and out of the band, but it's Keith Richards who everyone associated with rock and roll has assumed at some point most likely made some sort of pact with Satan. Keith's legendary abuse of his mortal frame is the litmus test for all other aspiring musicians to emulate. Live hard, die young, and leave a good looking corpse used to be the standard. Keith only seems to ascribe to that first one. And yet, he lives!

Which brings us to the passing of the drummer, Charlie Watts. Just prior to stepping out on tour one more time, a health concern gave Charlie pause. He decided not to go out on the next iteration of the traveling show that has been playing stadiums and arenas for longer than most of us can remember. As the backbone of the rhythm section of one of the greatest bands to ever play through six decades, his tastes ran more toward jazz, personally. As a graphic designer, he was also responsible for creating many of iconic stages and record jackets for the band. Until he couldn't anymore. At the age of eighty, the rocking stopped. Suggesting that any of the members of the Rolling Stones stomped on the Terra would be a vast understatement. Charlie did. He rocked until he dropped. Watch for the Aloha Charlie Tour coming to your town soon.  

Friday, August 27, 2021

Misery Loves Three's Company

 Pity poor, homeless Jack Tripper. Underemployed, he is taken in by a pair of women whose roommate has just left. The catch here is that Jack must live a lie as the only way to remain in the apartment with these newfound friends is to pretend that he is gay, which oddly enough is the only way their dim and mostly intolerant landlord will allow this cohabitation.

When we're talking intolerant, there is no better example of that than Archie Bunker. His wife is on the receiving end of much of his daily abuse, but his new son in law who lives upstairs with his daughter is also a focal point for Archie's rage. Along with anyone who does not conform to his very narrow view of the world. The suffering in this household is epic.

Those wacky surgeons of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital have to endure wave after wave of casualties brought to them by helicopter and packed ambulance as they try to eke out some sort of normal life in the middle of a war zone. The camp's clerk is stunted in his development and continues to sleep with a teddy bear. One of the corporals clings desperately to the idea that pretending to be a drag queen will allow him to be sent home on a psychiatric discharge. Everyone drinks to excess, and the war rages on around them. Comrades are ridiculed and ostracized while others are sent home or killed before they can arrive safely. 

This is the comedy. 

My wife and I watched the trials and tribulations of a Chicago Emergency Room staff for years, hoping for some sort of happy ending. When Nurse Hathaway finally left the Windy City to be reunited with her pediatrician/movie star love, that could have been the end of things. Happily ever after. But not back in the ER. That place kept serving up trauma and defeat on an hourly basis, while the lives of those who work there were subject to as much personal drama as that that crashed through the sliding doors on a gurney. 

We watched every episode. 

Now we are trying to get off the ride that brings wave after wave of rotting corpses back to rip at the flesh of the folks who survived the initial plague. Eleven years later, some of the same crew continues to forge ahead amid the most hopeless imaginable future, searching for a place that won't be overrun by more death and more dead. No matter who leaves to pursue a movie career, the mill keeps grinding. And yet, my wife and I feel compelled to sit on our couch and stare at all that suffering. 

Because somewhere in there, it makes us feel better. My life is considerably better than that of someone being harbored as a closeted gay zombie who is forced to operate on the miserable racists carted into our makeshift tent in the ruins of what used to be Chicago. Over and over again. 

That's entertainment. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Stain

 August 17 will be a holiday for Native Americans, especially for those living in the state of Colorado. They will be celebrating the day that the proclamation issued by the Centennial State that called for its citizens to kill the original inhabitants of the territory and take their property was rescinded. The proclamation was made way back in 1864, before Colorado was even a state. The cancellation of that proclamation came in 2021.

It took one hundred fifty-seven years to make that change. Why?

Well, it could be that things got so busy, what with the turn of the century coming on, and then the next one, nobody noticed this little piece of legislation just hanging out there on the books. Like the one in Wyoming that says, "no person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person's ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any illicit controlled substance or other drug." Or how, in the state of Washington, "slaying of Bigfoot to be a felony and punishable by five years in prison." What about the one in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado that prohibits the use of indoor furniture outside? Interestingly, up until oh so very recently, it would have been okay to snatch up that indoor/outdoor lawn furniture and kill its owners if they had been Native Americans.

So maybe this one doesn't fit so neatly in those "weird laws" stories that get tossed around every so often. Maybe this is yet another moment at which we continue to reckon with our racist past. Yes, I understand that there are plenty of people who will jeer at this idea of being "woke." I also understand that there is a reason for this jeering. It comes directly from that place that makes us so uncomfortable with what we have done to those who did not match our conception of "American." Which is such an odd patchwork or rationalization, I do not know where to begin. Wealthy slave owners who wanted to be free from taxation? Angry mobs who destroyed a Tulsa neighborhood, killing hundreds in the name of "justice?" The list goes on and on, and it is an embarrassment to all of us who call ourselves Americans. 

That 1864 Colorado proclamation eventually led to the Sandy Creek Massacre, where two hundred Arapahoe and Cheyenne people were killed. Most of them women and children. This ugly stain is part of our history. And now, thankfully, so is this moment of reckoning. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Slogans

 "My country, right or wrong."

"America: Love it or leave it."

These two sentiments pose a somewhat problematic noise in my head. Does that first one mean that I have unconditional love for my country? No matter what direction the leaders and those who follow those leaders take, I should be fine with that. The left or right, red or blue shouldn't be a consideration here. It is my country, and I take pride in being a part of it. I liken this a little bit to the life of a sports fan, whose favorite team has fallen on hard times, but you go on rooting for them because they are "your team." 

Does the second one mean that if you start to feel the slightest discontent with your situation here in the good ol' U S of A, you should take it on your heels and get gone? The irony here is obvious, since this country is made up of malcontents and grumblers from across the globe. We didn't like it in Europe, so we sailed away. We didn't like it to the north, east, west or south, so we hightailed it over here where things would be so much better than wherever it was that we came from. This is the land of dissidents and troublemakers. Complainers made this nation what it is today. 

The trouble comes from trying to live both of these ideals at the same time. I love my country, and I would rather not leave it, even though I have harbored fantasies at various times of skipping off to some happier place where partisan politics wouldn't be background music for everything that takes place on a daily basis. The first reason why this is always a fleeting notion is the inconvenience. I hate moving. Even down the block. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up and relocate in some other country? I can't. The boxes and strapping tape involved makes me break out in a sweat. Then there's the other quandary: Where else would I rather be? Really. The circumstances I described in which partisan politics play no part in daily life sound a little like I would be happy living in a dictatorship. We'll take care of you in the best way we see fit. Don't you worry your subservient little head about it. 

So instead, I think I'll just go ahead and stick this out. I want to see how this one ends. Or how it continues to roll along in spite of all the barriers and obstacles in its way. Meanwhile, it is my hope that we can avoid a few more of those obstructions as we move ahead. Running our ship of state into every iceberg it encounters doesn't seem to be the best possible navigational choice. 

America: You got any better ideas? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Jobs Report

 A week before school started (yes, the new school year has begun in these parts), I was part of a group of folks who interviewed a new director for our site's afterschool program. Apologies for so much "school" in the last few lines. There happens to be a lot of that (school) around my life currently. And for the past quarter century. And now back to our story: There were a pair of interviews scheduled, with the afterschool directors having done the initial screening, hoping to make our job easier by picking the best of the best from which we were to select.

But only one could get the job. To paraphrase Glengary Glen Ross, "second prize is you don't get a job." We would all like to believe in a win-win world, but that wasn't really the case here. We knew going in that we would hire one person. The other one was going back to log into Monster.com. I did not think about this at the time. I was far too concerned with getting just the right person to watch over the kids at our school who stick around after that last bell. 

I'm thinking about it now. As it turned out, after the second interview, our choice was obvious. One of the candidates spoke fluent Spanish. That more than any other particular answer to our probing questions dropped the job in her lap. Our enrollment is more than fifty percent Latino, and communicating with our kids and especially their parents required a skill that probably wasn't on the application. Suddenly, I was back in the conference room at the book warehouse where I used to work, tag-teaming with the other manager. We would interrogate prospective employees for hours at a time, usually around the holidays, looking to bring on some new hands for the big push to the Christmas rush. If things worked out, they would be asked to stick around beyond that. We had a phrase back then, when we were unsure about which applicants we might end up hiring: "It's just a temp." This is how we reassured ourselves that, if we made a bad choice, we could always cut them loose. Sometimes, when pickings were slim, we would rationalize our decision by telling each other that we were "just looking for a warm body." 

Again, it is only now that I think about what must have been said about me when I wandered out of that same conference room after my initial interview with the company. Yet another warm body. And then I think about my son, and his current struggle to find a job after he graduated from college a year ago and was shot out into a world that wasn't aching to have theater arts majors, and his former employer Best Buy had furloughed him because, well, pandemic. 

I know, because I read the news, that there are "millions of jobs being created." Which is good news to read. I know that I didn't have one to give one of our applicants at our school. And though my son has been called back by a couple of the companies to which he has applied, he is still waiting to be hired. Second place. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Every Breath You Take

 I was reading an article that suggested that every hot dog you eat shortens your life by thirty-six minutes. This same piece stated that, by contrast, a portion of nuts could extend your life by as much as twenty-six minutes. I say that it depends a great deal on the hot dog. Or the nuts. Perhaps instead of garnishing your dog with relish and mustard and sauerkraut as we have for all these years, you could sprinkle some cashews over it. You still end up losing a net ten minutes, but hey - nutty hot dog. 

Because we are all born dying. Each choice we make contributes to our eventual demise. For a very long time, I used to say that I didn't want anyone to have to guess what it was that finally took me down. I used to hope that my loved ones would all gather around my corpse, nodding in unison, saying "Must've been the cheeseburgers." These were the thoughts of a younger man. I could scoff and laugh and write checks with my time on earth that I didn't have to worry about being cashed. But for every checkbook there is a balance that comes due. Do I really want fries with that?

Which will always take me to that place where I remember how healthy my father was. For his age. Which are the words we use when we want to mitigate someone's existence. My father played racquetball and ran and lived a somewhat spartan existence, living in a mountain cabin without running water or electricity when he wasn't camping out at the odd housesitting gig. It wasn't the cheeseburgers or hot dogs that got him. The portions of nuts he gobbled did not save him. It was the airplane that got him. Your diet doesn't have a lot to do with your survival rate when the small plane crashes and burns with you inside of it. I don't mean to be morbid here. Or maybe I do, but I can remember being told in the burn ward that my father's overall constitution kept him alive for several days, but the extent of his injuries were taking their toll on his internal organs. They were more than sixty years old and his kidneys didn't have the capacity to deal with all the trauma they were being asked to mediate. He fought on and surprised many for a man his age.

Which is now just about my age. Sometimes I wonder if my kidneys would be up to the task of helping me endure a stay in the burn ward. Just like I wonder where my hot dog to nut ratio currently stands. The clock is ticking. For everyone. So I suppose I can take solace in the advice of the late Warren Zevon who said, "Enjoy every sandwich." Or hot dog. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

My Word

 It has the ring of what we, in America, call "genius." A guy puts a bunch of stuffing in a bag, and markets it as "My Pillow." Before we go very much father, let me insist that this might sound as if I am promoting Mike Lindell's brainchild. Not in the least. Rather I would like very much to point out just how inane it is that our country has come so far down its twisted path that a pillowmaker can become a political force. The first thing to reckon with is how a guy like Mike could stumble into a fortune simply by selling sacks of polyurethane foam. What makes them so special? I suppose it's that clever bit of putting "My" in front. What could be more quintessentially American?

Mine.

Mike still feels that way about Presidents. He continues to cling desperately to the Orange Blob of Defiance as his leader, with multiple promotions and insistences that we have not seen the last of the OBD. And he has the cash to put up to support such beliefs. Or he appears to. He offered five million dollars to anyone who could disprove his claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election if they showed up at his "cyber-symposium." You have to pay in the neighborhood of fifty dollars for the privilege of calling one of those polyurethane foam bags "My Pillow," so he'd have to make that exchange happen a whole lot of times before he could truly afford to pay someone to disprove his claims of voter fraud. Because all the other evidence that could disprove his claims of voter fraud were not enough. We are rounding the corner into a full calendar year since the "contested" election, and all those folks recounting and blaming equipment that has been shown to work perfectly fine continue to make noises that sound like a whole mess of foxes mewling over sour grapes. The chief technology officer for Texas-based Security Institute, Bill Alderson who claims to be an OBD supporter, took Mike Pillow up on his offer. When it turned out that there was no new evidence to refute presented at the cyber-symposium, Alderson went ahead and asserted that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election fair and square. The super-secret packets of information that would have made the certified results a lie turned out to be bunk. 

This announcement only fueled the rage of Mister Pillow, and so as we look forward to another Autumn, there are still those rabid, glassy-eyed zealots who insist that two and two is in fact three. The rest of us are just looking at it wrong. Meanwhile, Sean Hannity continues to fight the good fight by working impromptu ads for My Lindell into his nightly broadcast. The pillow I use is holding up just fine, by the way. And it's mine. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Blowing Smoke

 The sun was a red ball on the horizon. I have seen that before. A couple years back when wildfires raged to the north and smoke filtered everything we saw. 

And breathed.

Back then, we struggled with the air, and eventually surrendered to the oddly twenty-first century notion of a "smoke day" for schools to close. We stayed home. We stayed inside. We sheltered in place. We worried about those with preexisting conditions like asthma or allergies or compromised immune systems. All of this history jumped into my head as I looked off onto that sunrise. To the north of us, a wildfire rages. By all accounts, the Dixie Fire has the distinction of being one of the largest to burn in California. It has already consumed two small towns, and is threatening more. The blaze is so enormous that the plumes of smoke are capable of drifting over the Rocky Mountains and endangering the health of my dear mother. 

In Colorado.

So, a few years back when those wildfires were closing schools, we had yet to confront COVID-19. There were those, a few years back, who wore masks to keep them from succumbing to smoke-related issues. A few years back, people were actively seeking out protection from the potential poisons in the air. They were easy to see. You just had to look out on the sunrise.

Now we have masks by the boatload, and we have a germ that we can't see. And smoke that we can. The air that we breathe could kill us. Which makes me think of movies like Soylent Green, where Chuck Heston was running around a dystopian future, moving through crowds of poorly masked folk who don't have the good fortune to live in the purified air of the elite. That film's prediction of the future was made for the year 2022. It would seem that I may need to update my zombie apocalypse plan to include incineration. Or being made into crackers. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Victory Through Apathy

 We worked for twenty years, and we finally achieved something in Afghanistan: This generation's Vietnam. When I say "we worked," I mean that it took a tremendous amount of apathy to generate such a horrible outcome. Replacing the images of refugees climbing the gates of the United States Embassy in Saigon are those of Afghans clinging to the side of a United States transport plane as it moves down the runway. And the bodies falling from that plane as it leaves the ground. 

For two decades, we threw more than two trillion dollars at the war in Afghanistan. We were there just after September 11, 2001 with the intent of rooting out those responsible for the attacks on American soil and making sure that Al Qaeda would and could not operate from their hideouts in the hills there. Then we figured out that many of those responsible for the terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC were from Saudi Arabia. And once we caught up with Osama bin Laden, he was not in a cave in Afghanistan, but in a nice neighborhood in Pakistan. 

Which did not keep us from pursuing objectives in the country we invaded. Thousands of American soldiers died in defense of whatever those operations were, and thousands more civilian contractors who made the trip to support the "war effort." Tens of thousands of Afghan police and military personnel died, and tens of thousands more Afghan civilians. Somewhere in the midst of all that carnage, there was a goal of returning Afghanistan back to "the good guys." Just exactly who those "good guys" were was what kept us in the fight for so very long. The Russians spent nine years fighting in Afghanistan before tucking their superpower tail between its legs and departing, leaving a mess that helped generate the conditions into which the United States fell at the beginning of this century. 

I was one of those who insisted that he "supported the troops, but not the war." This was a very popular sentiment back in 2001. It rationalized the space between the war and those on the ground suffering through it. Looking back, I wonder if we could have found ourselves out of the swamp more quickly or decisively if we had all been more committal. I'm all for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I don't know exactly where I stand on bread. Twenty year old, blood soaked bread. 

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. And to eat those awful sandwiches. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Mapp Of The World

 A light went out at our school last weekend. Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of light for which we can call Buildings and Grounds and have them come out in their sweet time to replace. There is no replacing this light. Our good friend and colleague Brenda Mapp passed on. 

Brenda was a teacher at Horace Mann for more years than I can remember. She was there with me long enough ago that we used to have a bit which went something like this: 

"How're you doing today Mapp?"

"Keep hope alive!" she would say if it had been a tough one.

"Oh," I would reply, "Please don't. Bob Hope is nearly a hundred years old and he's not getting any funnier."

And we would both laugh and go our separate ways. Until the day some eighteen years ago when Bob finally went to that big USO show in the sky. 

Now Brenda's gone to join him. Which is nothing short of a tragedy in my book because she was a great teacher and a good friend. She held down second grade for many years, and when it came time to fill in a vacancy in fifth grade, she made the move with grace and style. Her style. She didn't mind if she ruffled a feather or two, and sometimes kids in her class wondered if she was serious. Most of the time, she was, but no child had a fiercer advocate and support than Ms. Mapp. Long before it became the rhetoric of the day, she left no child behind. Hers was the room that kids would flock to, wanting to help sort papers or staple things or just to hang around long enough to get a little bit more. Her students left with knowledge not just of the second or fifth grade, but also the knowledge that they were loved and respected. 

It was only a few years ago that Brenda left to go live in Florida with her son and grandchildren. We were all certain that those kids were lucky to have such a devoted grandma and it was easy to imagine her watching them grow up and out of the house. Into the world. 

I know that she won't stop looking after those kids, and all the kids she ever taught. She'll just be doing so from a higher point of view. 

Aloha, Brenda. You stomped on the Terra, and you will be missed. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Dry Dock

 I could tell you that I spend nights worrying about climate change and food shortages and vaccination rates. Because that's kind of true. 

But I also worry about the Jungle Cruise. If you are unfamiliar, this attraction is one of the last remaining original rides in Disneyland. It has endured when the People Mover and other visions of the future have been replaced or removed. Those moments of pleasure taken on the river with my family and friends have consistently been some of my happiest in what is already the happiest place on earth. And I am terrified that it will all change.

Please understand that I completely understand and encourage the revamping of what were a series of egregious depictions of indigenous people and their cultures. Disney/Marvel/ESPN/ABC/George Lucas has assured us that Jungle Cruise Redux will "reflect and value the diversity of the world around us." And that sounds great. In theory. How it all plays out in practice will be a slightly different matter. 

My trips to Disneyland are what some people refer to as "a guilty pleasure," but since I tend to eschew guilt I tend to revel in the pleasure. Not that I don't take time to ponder the time and place in which I find myself as I pour my money into the coffers of the mother corporation. For so very long, Disney was the whitest place on earth. Depictions of other races and colors were primarily there for cheap laughs. Like so much of the culture that exploded out of the Baby Boom, there wasn't a lot of concern paid for everyone else. This was the dominant paradigm, and princesses were white and so were the princes, and the heroes were Kurt Russell and the bad guys were Cesar Romero. 

Excuse me. I seem to have strayed a bit from the point: I have reveled in the kitsch that is Disney for my entire life. I understood when it became necessary to have the wenches chasing the buccaneers through Pirates of the Caribbean. I also understood why animatronic Johnny Depps were inserted along the track. Politically correct and financially aware. Which may explain why there was never a move to put Eddie Murphy in the Haunted Mansion. Not because he is black, but rather because his movie didn't make any money. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are a blockbuster summer away from having their robot likenesses installed along the course of the Jungle Cruise. 

Which will be fine. As long as that wink to the crowd onboard remains. Those elephants aren't real. That tiger has been waiting to pounce for more than half a century. At the turn of this century, the river guides were told not to shoot their pistols at the animals. Only into the air to scare them. A wave of relief swept over the robotic hippo community. When piranhas were installed in 2005, their pinwheeling frothing about were every bit as tacky as the wobbly cobras. My favorite way to experience the ride is to go later in the evening. When it gets dark the skippers control what you see via spot lights at the front of the boat. Only the moments that have a painfully amusing comedy bit associated with them are featured. The best skippers weave their new bits into the tapestry of sarcasm that has been created since 1955. 

I know that I could fret about the environments of real animals along the waterways of Africa and Asia. That would make me more of a citizen of the world. But for the hours that I meander the happiest place on earth, I prefer not to fret. There will be time for fretting once we get back to shore. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

But He Could Play A Guitar Just Like Ringing A Bell

 "Clapton is God." That's what fans used to spray paint on walls back in the day. Eric Clapton describes his reaction at then as, "disgusted and pleased at the same time." I was not one of those fans. I always appreciated his talent, but his blues always seemed somewhat self-imposed. I found his hovering around the Beatles amusing, and his friendship with George Harrison bordering on the sycophantic. Clapton wrote Layla as a paean to his best friend's wife. Whom he later married after she initially turned him down. That rejection set young Eric on a four year heroin bender, from which he popped up long enough to catch the ex-Ms. Harrison on the rebound. 

By his own admission, Eric Clapton was self-medicated for the better part of twenty years, right up until the moment that his son Conor fell from the balcony of his fifty-third story apartment in New York City. Conor's mother was not the ex-Ms. Harrison but rather another woman with whom Eric had been having an affair with while married to the ex-Ms. Harrison. It was after this and a string of tragedy that has been fodder for rock journalists for decades that Mister Clapton decided to get sober. 

Happy ending?

Well, except for the part where it turns out that Eric Clapton is a vocal anti-vaxxer, going so far as to record a song with fellow rock dinosaur Van Morrison called Stand and Deliver, smearing the public health's response to COVID-19. In interviews, he has complained about his reaction to the vaccine which he claims he was coerced into. He says that he was afraid that he might never play again after a reaction to his second shot. His stated rant about the response to the virus was, “I’ve been a rebel all my life, against tyranny and arrogant authority, which is what we have now, but I also crave fellowship, compassion and love, and that I find here. I believe with these things we can prevail.”

Two things should be noted at this point: Eric Clapton recovered from the vaccine's side effects, and he has not contracted the virus. 

So, it turns out he's not God after all. He's a guitar player of note. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

For Real

I had to double back to take a look at the story of a fifth grade teacher in Virginia who resigned from her job at a school board meeting. First of all, she gets and A plus for theatrics. Making a show of her departure sends the message that she really wants us all to know why she left her position with the Loudon County Public Schools. "Within the last year, I was in one of my so-called equity trainings that White, Christian, able-bodied females currently have the power in our schools and ‘this has to change.'" The tip-off here is the "so-called" in front of equity. Laura Morris feels that her voice is being silenced and her opposition to the weird and elusive Critical Race Theory curriculum is being quashed by her superiors. "Clearly, you've made your point. You no longer value me or many other teachers you've employed in this county. So since my contract outlines the power that you have over my employment in Loudoun County Public Schools, I thought it necessary to resign in front of you," she went on, beginning to tear up. "I quit your policies, I quit your training, and I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly politicized agendas to our most vulnerable constituents – children."

Hey Laura, in all the time you spent in teacher school or even before that, did you ever run across the phrase, "History is written by the victors?" Many people attribute this quote to Winston Churchill, but that may be because he is a white male who happened to be on the winning side of a war. Time seems to have paved over the originator of that aphorism, but it has been the happy refrain of the parties in power for a very long time. So, instead of being terrified by the suggestion that we have to settle all accounts at once by indoctrinating our children with ideas like slavery was bad and entire cultures and races have been oppressed or wiped out by White Christians, maybe we can try another CRT: Culturally Responsive Teaching. The lens that we encourage our kids to peer through to see the world in which they live has been smeared with Vaseline for far too long. It's about time that we stopped painting Christopher Columbus as a brave explorer and start seeing him as the greedy merchant whose faulty navigational senses brought him to a country that was already in progress. Much in the same way that Puritans landed on a rock they decided to call Plymouth because they couldn't pronounce the Wampanoag word for it. And when things got tough out there on the new frontier, we brought people from other lands to do the dirty work of forging a new nation. The founding fathers had some great ideas, but they didn't do a lot of the heavy lifting. 

So, dry those tears and decide if you want to be a teacher. For real. Or is it more important to be a White Christian able-bodied female? 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Long Game

 It took three days, but it happened. It would have been nicer if we had made it through an entire week. Even nicer if it had taken a month. But we all knew in our minds that it was going to happen, even if in our hearts we held out hope.

There was a shoving match in one of our fifth grade classrooms this past Wednesday. It wasn't much, really. Just two boys searching for their macho. One took the other's water bottle, which led to some names being called, then chests got puffed up, and before you knew it there was a commotion. The nature of the commotion is well known to those who have taught for more than two years. But for those who have only participated in distance learning, this was a new experience: physical altercation. 

There was none of that last year. Even when we had some kids return for half days in the spring. We relaxed into the sea of love and acceptance in which we found ourselves once we finally saw each other in the flesh. But there are temptations of the flesh. And if you're a fifth grade boy who is less concerned with education that the avoidance of it, then having all those backs to shove and shoulders to punch is sometimes too great a challenge. 

I know how the problem started. I have been supporting and cleaning up after one of these young men since they were in Kindergarten. Each new year has presented us with the opportunity to find some magic that will drop into this kid's life that will make being at school less painful. That pain gets redistributed on a regular basis not through careful mediation and peer counseling, but through puffing out his chest and shoving someone he has determined will most likely shove back. It's a skill that he has honed in the absence of fully connecting to the curriculum we put in front of him. 

I know that as the weeks go by, coping mechanisms for all of us will kick in and we will figure out how to keep those moments from becoming anything that resembles familiar. We've come too far. 

And we still have so far to go.  

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Wasting Our Collective Breath

 With each passing day, I become more convinced that the infection is not COVID-19, it is us. 

With each passing day, I become more convinced that it is not the kids at school that we should be worrying about, it's the grown-ups out there trying to ignore what's going on.

With each passing day, I become more frightened by the phrase "extinction level event."

How can it be that after all these months, with millions dead and still more dying ever day, we continue to argue about a strip of cloth covering our mouths and noses? If your state has suddenly reached a new record level of cases, how could you not know that there were more ventilators heading your way from the Federal Government?

How can I be writing blogs about how to prepare/defend against a global pandemic a year and a half after the onset? After eighteen months of not being able to teach kids in a classroom? After weeks of preparation, we are still negotiating "what is safe?" There is no tastiness left in the irony of talk show hosts who denied the existence of a germ they could not see dying from infection. It is sad.

End of story.

And yet, here we are. New president, new year, and even more science later and we continue to argue the finer points of how to stay healthy. Maybe we should blame Web MD. The million or so self-diagnosed cases of bubonic plague might be a tip that being your own physician based on something you read on Al Gore's Internet may be faulty. Ben Franklin was not a medical doctor when he came up with the phrase, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." That was a few centuries ago. Now we'd just say that wearing a mask is worth keeping your lungs. 

Unless it turns out that we are the germs and COVID-19 turns out to be the cure. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Point Me To The High Road

 Well, gee. How the mighty are fallen. It was not so very long ago that everyone wished they had Andrew Cuomo for their governor. His early pandemic fireside chats and powerpoints presentations were the standard for many who felt that he was the sort of leader that we could all hold up as an example. 

Tuesday morning, Andrew Cuomo resigned from his office as Governor of New York. He was not asked to leave because of his handling of coronavirus in his state, even though there seemed to be a number of questions raised on that point, specifically about the underreporting of deaths from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes. Instead, calls for his resignation came at the end of a long road of allegations of sexual harassment. Enough allegations, in fact, that they have their own Wikipedia page

Anybody remember Al Franken? He was a writer for Saturday Night Live back in its inception. That translated into a few shots in front of the camera, and eventually a seat in the United States Senate. Very popular junior Senator from the state of Minnesota. He resigned three weeks after accusations of sexual harassment were levied against him. There wasn't a lot of denial. There wasn't a lot of justification. Just off the political map and into a studio where his voice can be heard on satellite radio. Contrasting mightily to the experience of one Harvey "Not A Giant Rabbit" Weinstein, whose harassment, abuse and rape allegations took  years and a divorce and a national reckoning to deal with all the fallout. 

And all the men whose alleged behavior was probably just the tip of an iceberg that dwelled in much darker waters, including a former "president" of the United States who distinguished themselves from caring sentient human beings. As with so many things we are discovering as we ramble on through history, many of the things that may have taken place because "that's the way things have always been" are not fair, safe, healthy, or in any way correct. Whether you are the Governor of a big state, a Senator from a slightly smaller one, or one of those sentient beings mentioned earlier. 

Patton Oswalt once suggested that sooner or later everyone we elect will do something to disappoint us. Witness the two hundred seventy-six million dollars being spent on the recall election of California's Governor, Gavin Newsom. A few years back, when he was the Lieutenant Governor, there were allegations made, but the current effort to oust Governor Gavin seems to be almost completely based along party lines. Political party lines, that is. It's pretty unlikely that he will resign to avoid the harsh realities of partisan bickering. 

But then again, a week ago, it looked like Andrew Cuomo was going to stay where he was. Things change. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

In Person

 It is a unique point in human history which we find ourselves currently traversing. The fact that we have to make a distinction about what sort of schooling we will be pursuing: online? hybrid? in person? It is a huge and significant deal that students are returning to our school to be educated this week. One teacher described the experience of guiding a kindergartner's hand as she wrote her numbers one through ten for the first time. That teacher got a little choked up as she described it to her colleagues at the end of the first day. 

Which makes sense. This is not just a physical return, but an emotional one as well. There was some crying, and not just from those helping kindergartners write their numbers. There was the typical and traditional half dozen little boys and girls who were not ready to leave their mommies and daddies. And the attendant mommies and daddies who wept a little as they dropped their children off for the first of what will hopefully be many more mornings just like this one. 

But not just like this one. For the past year and a half, we have all been looking forward to the day when we would once again be open for business. The day that we referred to as "normal." We're still not quite there. We are all wearing masks indoors, and the Delta variant hangs over the whole scene like rain clouds threatening to dump on our recess. Murmurs in the hallways have us guessing about what it might take to send us all back to our Zoom version of this game. Over the weekend before the first day, our staff got a proximal warning for someone on our staff. We all headed down to the school on Sunday afternoon to take our COVID tests together, and as we waited the fifteen minutes it takes for the results to come clear on the tab, we joked about what it might be like if we ended up having to call off the first day of school because of a positive result. 

There was none. We were all negative, but the experience gave us all a positive feeling of community and the sense that nothing was going to stop us this time. No more longing stares out onto an empty playground. No more empty halls. No more abridged lesson plans. This was the real deal. We were back and ready to get in an mix it up once again. 

There are families in our district who have chosen to stay in distance learning. A few of them have attended our school. We will miss them, and look forward to a time when the fear that is keeping them from joining us out on the playground and in those halls can be eliminated. The door is open, and we welcome everyone back. In person. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Something About A Pulled Plug?

 Here's the thing about show business:

The National Broadcasting Company announced they would not be moving forward with the production of their television series The Ultimate Slip 'N' Slide. The show, that had been offered the lucrative and somewhat prestigious spot on the Peacock's post-Olympic schedule, was to feature contestants competing in a series of challenges related to the toy that was found on so many lawns as far back as 1961. What could be more fun than running and taking a full speed dive onto a wet plastic sheet? 

How about if I introduced two words to that equation: Explosive Diarrhea 

Back in June, a crew member for the show tested positive for giardia, the parasite that causes the aforementioned explosive diarrhea. According to the Centers For Disease Control web site, "Giardia spreads easily and can spread from person to person or through contaminated water, food, surfaces, or objects. The most common way people get sick is by swallowing contaminated drinking water or recreational water (for example, lakes, rivers, or pools)." Different accounts of the incident suggested that it was more of an "outbreak" rather than an isolated case, which is probably why the CDC would be a good place to check, since they tend to understand outbreaks pretty well. 

So while production was halted, it seems that perhaps cooler heads prevailed and executive types had a chance to consider their options: Keep pumping network television money into a game show centered around a toy from Wham-O, or not. Those executives chose the latter. 

Please understand that I am a big fan of nostalgia. The idea seems to lend itself easily to celebrity versions, pitting contestants from Universal and NBC productions against one another in hopes of recapturing the glory of the gold standard of Battle of the Network Stars. And the systematic lowering of our national discourse could have continued its steady decline. 

If not for that little germ. The hosts of the show, Bobby Moynihan and Ron Funches, will have to wait for their careers to bounce back from this missed opportunity and hundreds of crew members were given their pink slips. Amazing how that tiny thing affected so many. 

There's a lesson in there, somewhere. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Cat People

 Sunday morning, I awoke to find Fluffy on my stomach. Fluffy is the cat that lives in our house. I hesitate to call him "our cat," since it has been my experience over time that no cat belongs to anyone, really. It also maintains the distance for which I have grown accustomed to the feline species. I am not, as the epithet goes, a "cat person." 

Nonetheless I found myself, as I often do these days, scratching him behind his ears and stroking his eponymous fur. It was a soothing experience for us both as my wife continued to slumber next to us, oblivious to the lovefest taking place beside her. Not that she would have been shocked or amazed. Over the past several months since Fluffy has come to live with us, there has been a gradual d├ętente brokered between the cat and me. What began as a mission of mercy, rescuing this toothless wreck of a feral beast and putting him back on all four paws to resume a life more in keeping with his peers has become a day to day co-existence that could best be described as house pet. Those initial encounters with a hissing, slinking thing that wanted no part of me has become more of a give and take relationship. I will not drone on here about who does most of the giving or taking, but having another soul in around has made a difference. For the better, I think. 

With one hand on the cat, my other hand was free to turn on the television, with the volume low so as not to disturb this sublime Sunday scene. The first image I saw on the screen was a tiger. On a boat. I was watching the last bit of Life of Pi. If you're unfamiliar, it tells the story of a man and a tiger stranded at sea, sharing a lifeboat. Which got me to thinking about the last several months of being cooped up indoors with this wild beast with whom I have come to an uneasy understanding. 

I don't worry about Fluffy trying to eat me. That was never really the concern. Instead I worried more about how we might feel about one another. As I have mentioned, I am not much of a cat person. Over the years I have made room for a few felines. My older brother had a pair of black and white cats named Harold and Maude. A friend from college had a roly poly ball of fur she called Cattywampus. When my mother heard that a cat would be moving into our house, she expressed her surprise. I am not much of a cat person. But today, for my wife's birthday, the woman who truly is a cat lady and a Leo as well, I can say that she finally got what she wanted: A cat for her birthday. And a husband who seems to be okay with the idea. 

Monday, August 09, 2021

That Sucking Sound

 I've told the story of Waldo's ignominious fall from trivia grace here before. The captain of our Trivia Bowl Team, Renegade Poodles From Hell, once felt enough of his accumulated knowledge that he took it to the small screen. Tic Tac Dough, hosted by Wink Martindale, to be precise. Someone with a working knowledge of every Star Trek episode ever shot and "all that hippie music" plus the attendant ingrained experience of most baby boomers, he felt comfortable with his chances. 

He hadn't counted on what effect the lights and cameras and all that Wink might have on his concentration. He lost in the first round. He brought back a compact vacuum cleaner as his lovely parting gift. It was not the glorious feat we had all imagined when he packed his bags for his trip to Hollywood. Quite the opposite. That vacuum sat in the back room of the Arby's at which we worked until it was consumed by the greasy polyester tunics worn by the minions of roast beef. 

Which is why, when a colleague of mine suggested that I should try out for Wheel of Fortune, I flinched. I understand that Wheel, of the two half hours of game show programming that seem to be inexorably linked, is the easier of the two. Jeopardy is hard. Wheel of Fortune is Hangman with a giant circle of possible wealth. It's easy. 

And then I think of Waldo. I think about that vacuum, and how I don't really need a vacuum and how much I would resent any vacuum that came my way as a byproduct of being less than stellar at Hollywood Hangman. 

Pat Sajak. He has won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host. Three times. Who wouldn't be intimidated by that? I might just crumble before I ever even got a chance to buy a vowel. It's not like Wheel of Fortune is beneath me. Quite the contrary. It's an institution. I would be eating solidly into my fifteen minutes of fame, and those grapes were probably sour anyway.

And I really don't know what I would do with another vacuum. 

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Standing Up

 "If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida? I'm standing in your way." This is how the Governor of the pendulous state chose to address the confrontation brewing between him and the President of the United States. Or, if you prefer, between Governor Ron DeSantis and reality. "If you're trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I'm gonna stand in your way and stand up for the kids in Florida. If you're trying to restrict people and impose mandates and ruin their jobs and livelihood, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way. I am standing for the people of Florida," Again, perhaps most importantly Governor Ron isn't so much standing up for the people he mentioned as standing up against Joe Biden. 

You'll pardon me for selecting this particularly low-hanging fruit, but when a Florida Man crawls way out on a limb over alligator-infested swamp insisting that the branch will hold him, I kind of want to be there when it breaks. Currently, the Sunshine State is also the Delta State. Children's hospitals in Florida are filling up with pediatric cases as variants of COVID-19 surge. Mask mandates? Not on Governor Ron's watch. Nobody is the boss of Governor Ron. 

Did you hear that branch start to creak? Those alligators below are not concerned with party affiliation. No alligators were involved in the insurrection on January 6. They are hungry. They want to eat. Red tastes pretty much exactly like blue. Just like chicken.

In this same way, a virus does not care about for whom you voted or whether or not you wear your flag pin on your left or right lapel. The virus kills humans. It's a whole lot easier for the virus to do its work when there are fewer impediments, like masks or vaccines. The President of the United States is trying to get everyone to make it harder for the virus to have its way. And oddly enough, so are schools in Florida. Some school districts are bucking the DeSantis trend of ignoring mandates. They are risking trouble from the state and Governor Ron who has threatened to cut funding for schools that insist that their teachers and students wear masks. South Broward County had given guidance to its educators that everyone on campus should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Then they got wind of Governor Ron's executive order. No mandate means mo' money. He has tied state funding to school districts' safety plans. If your school district mandates masks, don't expect your school district to get money from Governor Ron. 

So why do you suppose there are so many people getting sick in Florida? Maybe it has something to do with the governor "standing up" for the people. Maybe we should ask the alligators. That branch is looking mighty thin. 

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Answering The Bell

 There I sat, awaiting that first bell. Not the one that would bring all the children inside the building for the first time in eighteen months. The one in side my head. The one that was ringing to remind me to wake up. To throw off the covers and the sleep that was binding me fast to the horizontal. I needed to be moving because there was so very much to do.

There always is at this time of year. Even last year, we were meeting to figure out how we were going to bring two hundred kids to a spot on a Zoom meeting to shepherd them through a year of isolation. We were constructing, in one of my colleague's words, an airplane at the moment that we were taking it for a test flight. And maybe that airplane never quite got off the ground, but we did make it fly. After a fashion.

Now we are charged with inviting all those kids back into the hallways, playground and classrooms that we left behind so very long ago. How can we make everyone happy and comfortable? Custodians, teachers, parents, kids, neighbors? This great big old building that has been sitting so quietly in the middle of the block is suddenly alive again with the business of elementary education. This is where we work, and for many of us, this is where we live. 

This is the moment where everything is possible. This is the time when we see our path is clear. Soon enough will come a distraction or a meteor crashing down from the heavens. Kids will fall down and scrape their legs. Teachers will be absent without lesson plans for substitutes who may or may not show up. It will rain during recess time, forcing all those kids back inside. 

And there will be days that I will not feel so inspired. I won't have all these high-minded ideals and expectations. You have my permission at this moment to remind me, politely, that I was once this full of life affirming energy and idealism. Right now it's more than just a job. It really is a calling. That's the bell I hear ringing. It doesn't stop. I find it very hard to ignore. Sometimes I am not fully aware of the clanging. It's there. It's an alarm and it's a reminder. 

It's coming from inside my head. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Ugly Mess

Two more Capitol police officers who responded to the January 6 insurrectionist riot have committed suicide. These deaths are added to the first two officers who took their own lives in the wake of the ugly mess that occurred shortly before the inauguration of the forty-sixth President of the United States. The ugly mess that was encouraged by the embittered forty-fifth who expected to have his supporters disrupt the certification of the election results by both houses of Congress. People died that day.
They are dying still. 
And there are those who choose to deny the ugly mess ever happened. Case in point: Tucker Carlson. This should not come as a shock or surprise that Young Tuck mocked the tears of one of the officers who survived the ugly mess. Another Fox News "host" suggested one of the officers testifying at the hearings about the ugly mess receive an award for his acting.
Acting hurt, disillusioned, afraid? 
Suicidal?
So currently in that same building where the ugly mess occurred, we are putting on a show of concern. And here's the twist: There are apparently two sides to this discussion. Like the Congressman from Georgia who described the breaching of the chambers of Congress as being akin to "a normal tourist visit." If those tourists were masked and carrying zip ties, shouting threats and looting as they rolled through the halls. The representative, Andrew Clyde, was photographed as the ugly mess unfolded. He can be seen helping to barricade the doors. To keep the normal tourists out, apparently. 
But now there are those who want us to take a step back and compare what happened on January 6 of this year to the protests that erupted across the country in the name of Black Lives Matter. There are those who would like to suggest that nothing was done to halt the rioting and looting in the streets during the summer of 2020. 
Let me make this clear: Those scenes were ugly and unfortunate, but not once were they reframed as "a normal tourist visit." The anger expressed in the summer of 2020 was four hundred years in the making. It was in response to the deaths of countless men and women of color at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve. The ugly mess of January 6 was the result of a bunch of people who do not understand the electoral process or basic math, who were egged on by the forty-fifth former president. The one who does not understand the electoral process or basic math. And in the middle of this comparison of apples and oranges, the defenders of the ugly mess would like us to forget that they had only recently been defending law enforcement officers and holding them up as heroes. 
Somewhere along the line, that perspective was replaced by one of derision and mistrust. The men and women assigned to the job of protecting Congress and its inhabitants became the problem. 
They are dying. 
This ugly mess needs to stop. 
Before anyone else gets hurt. 

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Why Not?

 Why Clear Lake? 

To this, I feel the only correct response would be: Why not Clear Lake?

When I was thinking about places to go on an overnight adventure to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I considered several options. For several years, we had been making a late summer pilgrimage to the south, taking in the sights that could be seen in anticipation of seeing our son in San Luis Obispo. It was a way for us to all gather together. 

A hundred years or so ago, we headed north, with our newly minted baby in tow. We visited Willets, California and rode the Skunk Train to Fort Bragg. Please don't tell me I don't know how to show a girl a good time. We put a pin in our metaphorical map and only spoke lovingly of the experience, though careful reminiscence would bring back memories of the sleepless night we spent with that newly minted baby. 

We have found ourselves in Napa, and Santa Rosa and some of the other cities and towns just a day's ride north of here over the years, but not a lot because we consider ourselves to be residents of Northern California, so the need to show off any further in that regard seemed a little unnecessary. Oh, there was a trip to Calistoga that included a mud bath for her and introduced my son to what would become his favorite Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor: Phish Food. 

Somewhere along the line, our son stopped being a vital component of our anniversary celebrations. He certainly always wished us well and many happy returns of the day, but his presence as his parents recalled how we happened to take this long strange trip called marriage began. He was there when we renewed our vows in a little chapel off the Las Vegas strip with Elvis officiating. There are other places for him to be. His life stretches out in front of him like another hundred years of possible anniversaries of his own.

But his trips to Clear Lake with his buddies in high school got me thinking: We've never gone to Clear Lake. Our son has, but we haven't. So we packed a bag and headed out to discover what all the fuss was about. It wasn't about the four star dining. It wasn't about the deluxe accommodations. We had a solid three star experience at our motel, and our anniversary dinner will be memorable primarily for the speed with which it was delivered to our table. We had reservations for seven o'clock, and we were walking out the door by seven forty. There was no lingering. Which was fine, because it gave us time to absorb the real feature of the evening, which was our sunset tour of the winding route around the lake. 

Here's the thing: We have been married long enough that we don't need surprises, but it's really nice to have one, now and again. Like Tatonka Mini Golf, which we enjoyed/endured through hundred degree heat, and the adjacent thrift store. These memories will last longer than those of the blue green algae stench that we caught with the breeze every so often. 

Why Clear Lake? Because now we can answer that question. 

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

I Gotta Tell Ya

 First, I want to thank you for dropping by here to read what I have to say. Write. Can you still be saying when you're writing? 

Thank you was where I was going with that. Because I have what some might suggest is a compulsive need to tell stories. As I have grown older, I have caught myself chomping at the bit when someone else begins to spin a tale of their own. Story Time! I'm next! I'm next!

But I don't have to be. There are plenty of folks out there who can spin a yarn every bit as interesting and amusing as I can. It's not a competition. 

But it has been. In the past I have had a habit of barely listening to those around me once I have readied my own lengthy response to the amusing anecdote that seems to be just going on and on. Whatever, whatever, whatever, "Which reminds me of this time..." and I'm off to the races. 

A couple of horse analogies in there, but I'll spare you the story of how I used to ride a pony to school. For now. Because I have become worried, as I grow older, that I might be missing out on other's experiences. Not being fully present in a conversation is a nasty habit that I would rather not be accused of having. 

Another secret: I'm reasonably certain that not all of my stories are all that interesting. Sure, I get points for having tangential experience that I keep carefully catalogued for just such an emergency, but that doesn't mean that they make for captivating listening. I did study at the feet of a master: my father. He could talk with just about anyone about everything and make you feel good about it. He was a salesman who fully embraced the idea that the first thing he had to sell was himself. 

In a good way. 

And I am also assailed by the voice of Laurie Anderson, who once insisted that life would be much more interesting if we had better editors. There are far too many establishing shots, and fearful amounts of exposition. The love scenes could use a little trimming, and the action sequences really should build to something besides a visit to the emergency room. 

So I'm working that out here, if you don't mind. This has been my relatively infrequent meta-blog in which I ponder the reason for me to keep doing this thing. 

And now, back to our story...

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Stoned And Obsolete

 What's Fort Worth? A fair question, answered by most folks with the simple explanation of "a city in Texas." But what about a true cost/benefit analysis of the fifth largest city in Texas? Everything, we are told, is bigger in Texas, so we can assume that all the good things that exist within its city limits are just that much better than good things found in other municipalities outside the Lone Star State. And, one might conclude, things that skew a little odd would read all the more strange when viewed from a perch outside Longhorn Country.

Like the story of Miguel Chavez. Mister Chavez died a week ago. So far, nothing that peculiar. He was forty-two years old, which might seem a little young, but it was the manner in which he died that starts to twist the narrative. Last Monday, Miguel showed up at a party and shot at least one of the guests. As yet, this seems like a pretty awful way to spend a Monday night, but in the United States more than a hundred Americans die from gun related violence. 

Every day. So there's nothing confounding about that incident in and of itself. 

Here comes the interesting part: Outraged witnesses to the shooting took out after Miguel Chavez, and when they caught up to him, they stoned him with landscaping bricks found nearby. Stoned him. He kept shooting while he was being chased. Three more were injured, but the bricks did their work. When authorities arrived, Chavez was pronounced dead at the scene. 

So let's take a moment to examine the environment in which this took place. A little over a month ago, a  law was passed in Texas making it legal to carry a gun without a permit. Or training. Or a reason beyond the desire to kill someone. Or something. Going to a party unarmed seems like a pretty bad idea in this habitat. What are you going to do if you find yourself in a public setting without a gun?

Look for the nearest heavy object. Something you can bash the bad guy with. Under Texas law, you are allowed to use deadly force to defend yourself, so charges are unlikely to be filed against the stoners. Remember: when landscaping bricks are outlawed, only outlaws will have landscaping bricks. 

Texas. 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Games People Play

 In case you missed it, the Summer Olympics are taking place in Tokyo. I know this primarily because my news feed keeps nudging a "medal count" graphic in front of me to make me care more intensely about this worldwide event. Those elite athletes who are not currently suffering the effects of the global pandemic have been invited to come and compete for medals of gold, silver and bronze. Currently there are no plans to include a bitcoin medal for any of the scheduled events. 

I am reminding folks that this international celebration of sportsmanship is taking place because it seems to be getting a little lost in the wash of all the other things that can take place during a summer in which the earth is boiling and its inhabitants are still enduring a global pandemic. The stands for all the events are empty as Japan has declared a state of emergency due to a surge in the aforementioned COVID-19. Meanwhile, there are plenty of places to catch the bits and pieces of what is taking place, a year after they were originally scheduled. Online. Streaming. Half a dozen or more cable networks are replaying highlights as the mood strikes them. And it could be that all the confusion about what year it is may be keeping folks from tuning in. 

Or maybe the world's attention is currently diverted from the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Or maybe we're a little too focused on that defeat agony thing. There's been plenty of that over the past couple of years. Reading about Simone Biles, one of the most extraordinary humans on the planet had decided to withdraw from the overall all around gymnastics competition. For mental health reasons. Ms. Biles told the world, “It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process. It’s been a long year. Just a lot of different variables and I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out, but we should be out here having fun and sometimes that’s not the case.”

Should be fun. That reminds me of what I tell kids when we are playing games at recess or PE. If they're not having fun, they probably shouldn't be playing. But some of these folks have been waiting for years, training and preparing for this moment. The moment that came after a year's delay stirred into a pot of plague. 

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? 

Will it ever be fun again? I expect it will. I hope it will. I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully it won't be another four years. 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Must Be Love

Kale

Meatless Monday

Should

And yet I stick around

Must be love

Form over function

An awkward sense of time

Could you turn that down?

And yet I stick around

Must be love

All those mysteries

All those romantic cues

Used up and set aside

And yet I stick around

Must be love

We are building something here

We are creating something extraordinary

We are very seldom bored by it

Of course I stick around

Must be love.