Sunday, October 31, 2021

What Day Is It?

 Sammy showed up at school the other day in his pajamas. Sammy doesn't do this often, but he is in Kindergarten, after all. And we were in the midst Spirit Week our ersatz moderate tribute to the Halloween we probably should avoid due to COVID restrictions. Sammy had gotten up early to prepare for the day, and was all buttoned up in his Star Wars Jammies, full of spirit. 

Except he missed it by a day. He was a day early. He showed up in his pajamas on Super Hero Day. Which was the day after Disney Day and the day before Pajama Day. Which might have been easy enough to play off, since there are heroic strands of the super kind to be found in Star Wars. 

But that's when mom started in: "See? Why didn't you tell me it was Super Hero Day?"

At this moment, I restrained myself from saying this to mom: "We sent home a flyer last Friday with a list of all the days for families to read and prepare. We also sent two separate texts to every parent's phone to remind them of the schedule. Mom."

I would have gone on: "Sammy is five years old. He was excited about participating in this odd rite we call Sprit Week. Sammy is still working on remembering the letters to the alphabet and exactly where the boys room is. Please forgive him for losing this little organizational detail. Sammy is five. Mom."

I didn't say any of those things. I made sure to compliment Sammy on his pajamas, and told him we can tell everyone that this was his secret identity. He could be Captain Jammie, protector of the sleepy. I did not tell Mom that she could have taken a moment to help Sammy prepare for the week, posting the flyer on the refrigerator, laying out the next day's costume the night before. Mom could have been two notches more involved, With her five year old.

And I know that I was perhaps overly involved in my son's voyage through elementary school. Joining the Dad's Club. Showing up to fix things with other parents on the weekends. Running the Pumpkin Patch. Working at the Car Wash. Hosting the Variety Show. Six years in a row. 

There are limits to every parent's involvement. I get that. Single parents. Working mothers. Time and money are not easily dispensed in the families I see every day. I get that. I just didn't want Sammy to feel bad about showing up in his pajamas.  

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Making Sausage

 Well, let's see: The main defense for the two men charged in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is a citizen's arrest statute that dates back to the Civil War. Yes. "That" Civil War. The one that took place more than one hundred fifty years ago. The one that was fought between the slave-holding states in the South and the relatively free states of the North. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men. Ahmaud Arbery was black. 

Did I mention that the murder and its subsequent trial is taking place in Georgia? 

Okay, I understand that there are plenty of laws and statutes that have stood the test of time. One hundred fifty years hasn't done a lot to tarnish the efficacy of a rule against parking in front of a fire hydrant. Or killing an unarmed jogger. With a shotgun after chasing him down with your pickup truck. And everyone deserves the right to a fair and speedy trial, adjudicated by a jury of one's peers. And I suppose that a defense of some sort needs to be mounted on behalf of the "suspects" who can be seen on a video recorded at the moment of the killing. Murdering Ahmaud Arbery. 

So the lawyers, in this case, are just doing their job. No matter how heinous or uncomfortable it seems. It should also be noted that the law that made the "citizen's arrest" legal was struck down by Georgia state lawmakers back in May. May of 2021. Which means that this vestige of the Civil War lingered on just long enough to make a defense for the father and son pair of murderers. 

But you're probably able to shut out this bit of legal wrangling by shoving it into a pile that says, "Yeah, but that's down there."

How about something a little further north? Wisconsin is pretty far north. You might remember the riots that blew in after Jacob Blake was shot by a police officer. Jacob is black. The officer was white. During one of the protests, a youth chose to take up arms to "defend the businesses in the area." During this charged situation, the young man who is white shot and killed two protesters, and injured another. In the trial of "accused" killer of these two men, a judge has decreed that the dead men cannot be referred to during the trial as "victims." They can, by contrast, be referred to as "rioters" or "looters." Young gun enthusiast and killer Kyle Rittenhouse has a legal team that got their client this semantic gift after Kenosha's Judge Bruce E. Schroeder ruled that the word "victim" is a "loaded" term. As loaded as the assault rifle Kyle Rittenhouse used to kill  Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wound Gaige Grosskreutz?

I was going to say something about how the jury is still out on that one, but now I'm just tired of the whole mess. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Brain Trust

 Danny Ocean figured that he would need eleven of the sharpest knives in the heist drawer to pull off his caper. 

The tiny minds behind the January 6th Insurrection did not provide that kind of lineup. 

Starting with Paul Gosar, aka "The Goose," Representative from Arizona. He's the one who asserted in his questioning of FBI agent Peter Strzok in front of other adults, "You talk about bias. This morning I watched - and by the way, I am a dentist, OK, so I read body language very, very well. And I watched you comment on actions with Mister Gowdy. You got very angry in regards to the gold star father. That shows me that it is innately a part of you and a bias." Proving two things: Mister Gosar, "Goose" is probably just as good a dentist as he is a mind reader. Or planner of insurrection. 

Next up, Lauren Boebert, aka "The Bobo," Representative from Colorado. She's the one who called on Congress to "imeach" Joe Biden. Apparently she was so busy cleaning her guns that she never learned how to use spell-check.

Then there's Mo Brooks, aka "Mo the Lawn," Representative from Alabama. This person who actually serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Here's his take on rising sea levels: “What about erosion? Every time you have that soil or rock, whatever it is, that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.” He said "bottom." Heh. Heh.

How about Madison Cawthorn, aka "The Prepster," Representative from North Carolina. He's the historian of the crew. Over the span of ten months, he wrongly said in a speech that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence, wrongly said Congress voted to have Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and now in another speech attributed a famous John Adams line to Jefferson. And to think they named an avenue in New York after him.

Up next, we've got Andy Biggs, aka "Mister Andy," Representative from Arizona. Wait, how stupid can one state be? Andy's the guy who holds the distinction of being one of only two members of Congress to vote against the COVID funding bill because he objected that the bill regarded “couples” in households should include same sex ones. Oh, and he got his start in politics after he won the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. 

Which brings us to Louie Gohmert, aka "Gohmert Pyle," Representative from Texas. Not only is everything bigger in Texas, quite often it is dumber as well. Proof of this can be found in some of the treasure trove of stupidity offered up by this eight term congressdolt. Which gives him unique perspectives on, say, the Obama administration: "This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America." Or his concern that a key pipeline up north "So when [caribou] want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline. So my real concern now [is] if oil stops running through the pipeline. Do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?"

And so this is the crew that helped put together the attack on the Capitol back in January? I suppose this makes some ugly sense, doesn't it? 

Sleep tight, America. Or better yet, vote. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

For The Most Part

 What constitutes "happily ever after?" Five years? Twenty? Forever?

I am currently at that sweet spot in which I have been in this relationship for just about as long as I wasn't. Half of my life has been spent living with the same woman. Partner. Wife. Friend. Depending on how I tell the story, you could be given the impression that when I was reunited with this girl I knew in high school at a friend's wedding, we lived "happily ever after."

I bring this up because I am acutely aware of the stress my son feels when he looks at his approaching twenty-fifth birthday with shock and dismay, figuring that he would have all this coupling figured out by now. And I have to tell him that being happy is really the trick. The ever after will just have to take care of itself. 

More than half of my life ago, my therapist told me that people fall in love lots of times. She added, "you're lucky if you happen to fall in love with the same person over and over." On that score, I have been very lucky. The strains and groans of everyday life have definitely taken their toll at times, but the opportunity to find a little spark of magic in a place you might have imagined had gone dark years before is the type of thing about which sonnets are written. Driving down the highway we call life with the same person fussing about which radio station we should be listening to year after year has a comfort that should not be dismissed. The familiarity of knowing that eventually she won't turn down that song by Rush is sweetness that can only be savored after years of passing that same mile marker dozens of times. 

Still, I don't know if I have a way of communicating to my son that the same can be said for those moments when things go sideways. When voices get raised and tempers flare it is often a function of that same familiarity that brings on all the sweetness. Early on in the relationship that would grow up to be my marriage, I obsessed over every disagreement and the slightest friction. If we were really creating a fairy tale ending, how could this discord exist? 

It's a percentage of the time spent building that castle in the sky. There are days that I wish we could have back, but far more that I wish that I could revisit for their wonderment. 

The other day, a young couple dropped by our house to take a look at the piano we are giving away to make room for the baby grand my mother is giving us. Amanda and JD were enthused by the opportunity to own a great big piece of wood because it would match all those pieces of wood in the house they had just bought together. They called each other "babe," and seemed thrilled by every interaction they had with one another. When they left, I asked my wife, "Were we ever that young?"

Of course we were. And I imagine that Amanda and JD will eventually have to have a discussion about their joint checking account that will not be as sparkling an interchange. Or maybe it will be. I hope they live happily ever after. I have. 

For the most part. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Shootin' Irony

 If the question was asked, "How can you make a western without guns?" I would have to answer, "Use your imagination."

Maybe that kind of exercise could have saved a life. If you're not up on the news from out west, the cinematographer of a film in which Alec Baldwin was acting was shot and killed. By Alec Baldwin. If you are familiar with the periodically troubled life of Mister Baldwin, you might expect that this tragedy somehow fits into some drunken rage that shadows this movie star. Not so. Instead, the shooting was accidental, a product of poor planning and execution with a prop gun. 

And if this is news to you, you are probably asking the question on everyone's lips: "Don't they use blanks?" And if you asked this question, you might expect a simple answer. None was immediately forthcoming. Instead there was a lengthy series of discussions about all the different ways that things go bang bang on a movie set. And with all the talk about "hot and cold" weapons, and the projectiles that even blank cartridges shoot, there was still no full understanding about why a real bullet was in a gun on any movie set. 

Which will be unraveled over time, but the horrible irony of someone dying through gun violence as a part of anything connected with Hollywood remains. A short time ago I opined about the body count in the most recent James Bond film. I am beginning to wonder how many more stories I need to see with rifles and pistols a-blazin'. The carnage I have witnessed as an avid cinephile is almost unfathomable. 

And I have made a point, over the years, of defending the movie industry when it comes to the question of violence in film. My argument has always centered on how movies are a reflection of society. So here we are with an accidental death. A death by gun violence in the United States? Just another day. To go along with the other ninety-nine or so Americans who die the same way every day. This one involves a movie star? Probably shouldn't be a surprise. Could it have been avoided?

What if they made a western without any guns? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

How Old?

 I had a moment last week that put a knot in my stomach. While combing the hillside adjacent to my school's playground, looking for balls that had been kicked with errant enthusiasm into juniper bushes, I came across a group of girls playing Red Light, Green Light. I watched for a moment, taking in the joy of youth and at the same instant cringing because of what I hoped would not happen next. My cringe was confirmed the next moment when the little girl who was acting as the stop light spun around and caught her little friends trying to advance. At which point she ran toward each one of them, pointed a finger at their head, and made gun noises as each of them dropped to the ground. Dead. 

Just like that show. The Squid Game. It's on Netflix. It's rated TV-MA. Not R or PG-13. Because it's a Korean TV show. And the kids at my school seem to be allowed to watch most everything, regardless of the rating anyway. Which is how these girls got it into their little heads to "kill" one another as a penalty for playing this beloved children's game. The joy I felt at seeing a part of my own childhood echoed in the children I teach was turned abruptly on its head as I stood and wondered. 

I wondered who was in charge of the remote control at these kids' homes. Mine is not the only school feeling the pain of grade school children mimicking this Korean import. The relief I feel comes from the fact that we have already decided that our school would forego the traditional Halloween Parade because of COVID concerns, allowing us to skip what would most certainly be a spate of Squid Game-inspired costumes. The Friday before Halloween will be Picture Day. 

And what a picture I have etched in my mind. Still.

But I also remind myself of all the things that were running through my head and in front of my eyes when I was a kid. I was nine years old when A Clockwork Orange came out. My family did not have Netflix back then. It hadn't been invented. But Mad Magazine had been. My parents did not keep me from reading their parody, "A Clockwork Lemon." Did this have the same kind of impact that seeing it in a theater, or on the TV in my living room? Probably not. What about watching Young Frankenstein with my family at the local movie house, then buying the soundtrack album and committing large chunks of dialogue to memory after repeated listenings? 

And what about all those hours spent chasing my friends around the neighborhood with a toy gun, playing a game we creatively named "Gunner" in which the object was for me to shoot all of them before they could be revived by the survivors? Toy guns stuffed into a trash can in my friend's garage, not to be thrown away, but stored like an armory. In case there was an invasion of fifty foot tall lizard creatures or Nazis or whatever scourge we could imagine firing endless machine gun rounds into on weekend afternoons. 

That was my childhood, and maybe it was only a tiny lack of imagination that kept us from shooting at each other when we played tag. 

I must be getting old to summon this kind of outrage without remembering my own past. 

Monday, October 25, 2021


 If you have read more than a few of these bits of what was on my mind, you know that very little gets under my skin like mass shootings. And things that happen at school. Mass shootings that happen at school? Wellll....

Which is why I read with interest the accounts of the killer of seventeen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. If this particular event has found its way into your memory banks without a red flag to quickly access it, then I will remind you that it took place more than three years ago. On Valentines Day. I have a very visceral memory of sitting outside a courtroom in Oakland, California waiting for one of our lengthy breaks during jury selection. Taking this time and the free wi-fi provided by Alameda County, I opened up my laptop to check the news. A continent away, terror was being unleashed on the students in that Parkland, Florida high school. The question of my capacity to serve as a jury member slipped into the background as I watched the accounts pour in, real-time for me three hours to the east. When it was all over, three staff members and fourteen students were dead, and a community was torn apart. Authorities apprehended the suspect

I was not selected for jury service that day.

Moving forward to the present: The assailant in that act of terror has pleaded guilty to seventeen counts of first degree murder and seventeen counts of attempted first degree murder. After three years of legal and psychiatric wrangling, Nikolas Cruz confessed to the murders that everyone knew he committed. 

Then, he apologized. 

As I mentioned earlier, my work at an elementary school brings me into contact with varying degrees of empathy. The grumbled shrug of the word, "Sorry," is never enough to pass muster with Mister Caven. I require a sentence. "I'm sorry for pushing you in line." For good measure, I tend to insist an inquiry into the well-being of those who have been hurt/offended. Here is what Nikolas Cruz had to say for himself in the courtroom this week: "I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day. I love you and I know you don't believe me, but I have to live with this every day and it brings me nightmares and I can't live with myself sometimes. But I try to push through because I know that's what you guys would want me to do. I just want you to know I am really sorry and I hope you give me a chance to try to help others. I hate drugs and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana and doing all these drugs and causing racism and violence out in the streets. I'm sorry and I can't even watch TV anymore. And I am trying my best to maintain my composure."

So there it is. What will be described by some as "closure." Because Mister Cruz is not the only one who has to live with what he did every day. 

I was summoned to jury duty two more times since then. I was not selected either time. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Over? Did You Say Over?

 At this point, I have lived most of my life without him, and yet Darren continues to be a force in my life. The realization that I have a son who is older than Darren was when he took that last drive in the mountains all those years ago reminds me to appreciate there but for the grace of god go I. Darren was the sacrificial lamb of my childhood, and even though it took decades for me to reckon with it, his passing was the mile marker that put me on the path to where I am now. Suggesting that Darren is the reason I am sober now makes sense to those looking in, but at the time it was not the way it was playing out.

I made three friends in college. Two of them when I was a freshman, and one a year later when I moved back to Boulder to pursue a life that teetered between academia and bacchanalia. It was, to paraphrase my patient, sainted mother "a learning experience." I could have learned so much more than I did, but the things that I was learning outside of classrooms were the things that stuck with me the most. Eventually I graduated from college, but not before learning the biggest lesson any twenty-something can: mortality. 

To see the curve of my life from this distance, way out in space, I can now easily reckon on the way things turned. What I lost back then helped me gain what I cherish most in this world now. That twenty-something son I brought up with all the stories of Darren, "god rest his soul," is better off having a solid understanding of the physics of youth. No one, not even the funniest person you ever knew, is safe from really bad decisions. 

Which is the point where Darren's life sets off an echo in mine. What if I had been less careful? What if I had been more assertive? Would I have been able to alter the events of that long ago autumn afternoon? It is the stuff of comic books. It is the stuff of dreams that feature my good friend from Oklahoma who never did earn his diploma. 

I did. 

My son did. 

All those brushes with death later, I can still look back to the tragedy of that day and recognize it as my first. Part of me hates to think that, had Darren lived, graduated, and moved away to some future I can only imagine, that we might have lost touch. By dying that day he cemented his place in my life forever. A pretty good trick and one that I am sure he still takes great satisfaction in wherever he may roam. I learned to cling a little more tenaciously to those I love. My friend Doctor Jones. My Best Man. And all those who have swirled into my life since. 

I feel a tad of chagrin when I think about how I continue to mourn the passing of those near and far from me, and how I often remind myself that I should be more mindful of their presence while they are here. But that's the trick, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell. You don't always know what you've got til it's gone. 

I knew. I know now. And I miss him every day, but especially when the leaves begin to turn and I remember when I got the call. Something bad has happened to Darren. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Fact Checking

 “Well, it’s finally happened. The late, great Thomas Jefferson, one of our most important Founding Fathers, and a principal writer of the Constitution of the United States, is being 'evicted' from the magnificent New York City Council Chamber.” 

The need for quotation marks around "evicted" might be due to the fact that it's a statue and among other things, statues are not allowed under our laws to own or rent property. It could also be that in the mind of the writer, this was a good word to punch with some unnecessary punctuation. The mind of this writer is, after all, a dark and scary place. 

A place where facts go to die. 

Like the fact that Thomas Jefferson was across the Atlantic in France while the Constitution of the United States was being debated and written. 

And speaking of debate, it took years of discussion for the The New York City Public Design Commission to decide to move the one hundred eighty-eight year old statue. This came after a unanimous vote by the commission after a lengthy examination of the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, founding father and slave owner. The new location of "Mister Jefferson" has yet to be determined. The use of quotation marks here is to connote that this is a piece of stone carved into a likeness of the third President of the United States, and not the actual person.

A person whose legacy continues to baffle and intrigue thinking people everywhere. This is the man who once wrote, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Italics are mine, because they set off the very important words that are not mine. Also to point out that there are no quotation marks in that bit. No irony. It's irony free. There are no quotation marks around the word men. And yet, when he died, Thomas Jefferson was the conflicted owner of one hundred thirty human beings. Who were not allowed to pursue happiness. Their life and liberty were determined by their master. 

So, yeah, I guess there may be some unintended irony there. Meanwhile, I will happily suggest that the forty minutes it took me to hammer out this treatise was roughly thirty-nine more than it took Donald Trump to speak into his Dictaphone to have his ridiculous rant made available for the public to read. 

Mine includes facts. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Over The Shoulder

 There are a few kids at my school who are now fifth graders whom I don't really recognize. Part of it has to do with the fact that I only saw them last year as faces in a Zoom box, interacting almost exclusively via Al Gore's Internet. At that time, the were nascent fourth graders who never really had a chance to socialize at that grade, leaving them in the ether between third and fourth grade. I have often waxed rhapsodic about how much I enjoy teaching third graders. They have many more skills than their younger counterparts, but still have a healthy respect (fear) for authority. Thus I had a crew of third graders for an extra year. 

And that was nice. 

Now they have returned, and I don't really recognize them. In person they have fallen head over heels into fifth grade behaviors that I don't miss or enjoy. The gravity accelerating them into puberty can no longer be ignored. A year without being able to put hands on one another has made this fascinating. All of that sweetness upon return to in-person instruction was a honeymoon that we could have all predicted, but here we are in October wondering where all the love has gone. 

I am completely familiar with the need for all kids to try on a persona, just to see how it feels. Like in eighth grade when I chose to walk into my social studies class with an extra button on my shirt left unbuttoned. My teacher took one look at me and left me with this bon mot: "I know. Grass doesn't grow on steel." And that was enough of that extra button being open for me. 

I don't tend to use withering sarcasm as a tool with elementary schoolers. Their egos are only a few years old, and the need for experimentation is a valid one. I just wish that I didn't have to stand around and watch as ten year olds bump and stumble toward their teenage years. The focus and attention that used to be used for reading and multiplication has been diverted into systems for socialization. Which is vital, I understand, but first time I get a sneer and a "huh?" from a previously pleasant little face marks the beginning of the end of childhood. I know that I should be glad for every moment leading up to that. I also know that there will be plenty of them who return in a few years, wondering aloud about how Mister Caven put up with them "way back when." 

Because I remember when they were young. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Chain Of Command

 This is what we in the business of writing celebrity obituaries call "a mixed bag." 

Colin Powell died over the weekend from complications connected to COVID-19. The first impulse might be to assume that the man who served as national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush and secretary of state under President George W. Bush might have had issues about vaccination and masks. According to the General's family, he was fully vaccinated. He was eighty-four. 

It wasn't politics that caught up to him. In spite of all that service to Republicans, General Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President in 2008, and in 2012 he aligned himself with Hilary Clinton. He referred to Senator Clinton's opponent at the time as a "national disgrace and an international pariah."

So there's that.

But there's also that whole WMD thing. I carry with me those images of Colin Powell sitting in a presentation to The United Nations, insisting to anyone that would listen that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that we needed to move post-haste to invade this desert nation not because of its rich oil reserves or because it would fix that problem with his boss's daddy issue, but because we were all in imminent danger of being killed by the vial of anthrax that he made a point of waving around. And those aluminum tubes that could only be used for making missiles to carry nuclear warheads that were most surely being created in some bunker somewhere. 

And we needed to go after them. 

Because even if it was the Saudis who supported and financed the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was that conniving Saddam Hussein who was most certainly behind it all. The intelligence failure that brought all of this "news" to the forefront was the inciting fear that launched an eight year war/occupation of a country that now has a forever kind of grudge against the United States that makes it all but impossible to put behind us. 

So Colin Powell passed away this past weekend. It wasn't the anthrax or the WMD. It was the virus that kept him from stomping on the Terra. I wonder how he'll sleep. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Let's Make A Deal

 I went up to Safeway to get my flu shot last Friday. Not the place I am used to getting my flu shot. Last year I got it on the sidewalk out in front of Kaiser Permanente. They gave me a mask for my trouble. The folks at Safeway gave me a coupon for ten percent off a grocery purchase. For the past several years before that, I was getting my flu shot at school. I made a point of getting stuck in front of kids to prove that I was being just as brave as they were. And I got a sticker. Over the years I got several stickers. And I got the piece of mind that comes with being vaccinated. 

Against the flu. Nothing controversial here. I've been getting flu shots for decades now. Because I am an elementary school teacher. I spend great portions of each day wading through crowds of short people with runny noses and questionable hygiene habits. I have described this as "working in a Petri dish." Last year I still went ahead and got myself a flu shot even though I spent most of it sitting alone at a table with only the occasional visit from a parent or a student needing assistance with a computer. Otherwise, I was in my own private germ-free bubble. If ever I was going to miss an inoculation, it should have been last year. 

But I went ahead and got it anyway. I have a healthy respect for germs, and nothing in the past two years has shaken that belief. Especially since the way COVID doubters had been woofing about how many people die every year from the flu. If somebody tells me that I will be healthier if I take their medicine, I'll go ahead and roll up my sleeve. If that somebody happens to be a scientist. Or a doctor. Not somebody with a podcast. 

While I was at Safeway, I noticed that they were also offering shingles vaccine. I thought about having them go ahead and jab my other shoulder while I was there. Maybe I could get another ten percent off coupon. Did I mention that I got the flu shot for free? 

Such a deal.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

I Didn't Know It Was A Contest

 Ah, the quiet reserve and genteel spirit of the British. 

“I’m not sure I should say it, but they’re a blues cover band, that’s sort of what the Stones are.” These were the words Sir Paul McCartney chose to toss out in in a recent interview with the New Yorker. He concluded, “I think our net was cast a bit wider than theirs.”

So, Sir Paul, you couldn't just leave that alone some sixty years after the fact? Or in the midst of the grieving for the Rolling Stones' drummer, Charlie Watts? While it is true that the Rolling Stones began their career with a number of covers, including a number by that Liverpool duo Lennon and Sir Paul, in the past several decades they have managed to cobble together a fair number of hits of their own. The competition pretty much ended back in 1970 when the Beatles ceased to be. While Sir Paul continues to make statements like "There’s a lot of differences, and I love the Stones, but I’m with you. The Beatles were better,” on the Howard Stern Show, Sir Mick Jagger is content to laugh it off. "That’s so funny,” he said. “He’s a sweetheart. There’s obviously no competition.” Adding in another interview, “That’s the real big difference between these two bands. One band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums, and then the other band doesn’t exist.”

Sir Snap. 

If you were to ask me, whose opinion you obviously can't live without, I would say that it is simply a matter of apples and oranges. Way back in the olden days, you listened to the Beatles if you wanted to frighten your parents. You listened to the Stones if you wanted to give them a heart attack. I have seen Sir Paul perform live. It was quite a retrospective. I was once supposed to see the Rolling Stones play. Let's just say that one didn't turn out precisely the way I had hoped it might. Is the empirical data to be found in the recordings or in the live shows? Or is there something objective that might give us all a handle on who to stick on the top of the temple? Maybe the Who. Maybe Chuck Berry?

Or perhaps we should keep our frame of reference in mind: There was a time when this sort of debate raged on. The one in my house was waged not between the Beatles and the Stones, but the Beatles and the Monkees. My older brother was happy to listen to any argument I might have regarding the musicianship or Billboard chart appearances by the pre-fab four. It would still be another six years before I bought my first Rolling Stones album. By the late seventies, there wasn't a lot left to say. John was a stay-at-home dad. Paul was making records with Michael Jackson. Ringo was making Caveman. And George was seeking bliss. The Stones played on Saturday Night Live. The Beatles, infamously, did not. 

Interestingly, DEVO played showed up on Saturday Night live a week after Mick and the boys. They did their cover of Satisfaction. So DEVO is better than the Beatles and the Stones. 

Problem solved. You're welcome. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Too Easy

 I am writing today about the monstrous lie perpetrated on the American public way back around the time I was ten years old. I am talking about, of course, Richie Rich. 

I would not be the first person to point out that young Master Rich was just the back story for the sappy child-ghost Casper. Those stumpy legs. That encephalitic cranium. Those wide eyes. "Casper" was simply an adopted name once Richie joined the spirit realm. 

But that is not the thrust of my gist today. I spent a few summers reading Harvey comics before I landed on my obsession with the super heroes of Marvel. It was during those years that I gobbled up the adventures of Richie Rich, along with a certain number of side trips down the Harvey aisle. When I say "adventures," I use this term quite loosely because the most significant element in these stories was the almost complete lack of conflict. This may have been by design, sparing young readers like myself from unnecessary burdens like worrying about how things might turn out for our big-headed hero. 

Money would save him. It always did. He was called "The Poor Little Rich Boy," but for the life of me, I could never fully understand his suffering. With his faithful manservant Cadbury and his dog Dollar, he would initially find himself in some predicament that needed solving, but would be rescued always by the almighty dollar. Not the dog. Great big fistfuls of cash. There was no problem so big or so complicated that the Rich fortune could not by itself out of. 

And all the while, young master Rich maintained his wide-eyed innocence. Gloria, his little red-headed girl who maintained a similar innocent fascination with Richie could not help but raise questions about gold-digging. If she wasn't hanging around with this kind of all-consuming wealth, she might have had a taste of what it was like to have a normal childhood. Which is where the sympathy angle was supposed to come in for Richie. We, the readers, were asked to understand how he must be struggling against the constraints of all those solid gold fixtures and houses that required helicopters to get from one room to the next. 

This was all a great big setup for Donald Trump. Somehow, all that exposure to big-head Rich was normalizing this lifestyle of the rich and famous for all of us to venerate. Along the way we were treated to stops hosted by Dudley Moore as Arthur, the lovable alcoholic multimillionaire and the non-stop heavy breathing of Robin Leach as he lauded the lifestyles of those who had far too much money. 

Now we have billionaires giving ninety year old Canadian actors rides into space. Individuals who have more money than some nations. And no doubt a dog whose name truly stretched their imaginations. Dollar? 

Come on.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Crazy Train

 Next stop on the Crazy Train: Norway. Everybody out. 

You may have read about the bow and arrow attack in Norway last Wednesday. If you haven't, I will catch you up: Five people were killed and two more injured in a bow and arrow attack in the town of Konigsberg. Authorities arrested a lone suspect, a Danish man they believe acted alone. These same authorities are looking into the possibility that it was "an act of terror." 

Well, of course it was. People strolling down the avenues of Konigsberg don't expect to be pierced by flying projectiles as they go about their daily business. Arrows? What year is this? Not just terrifying, but positively medieval. Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, said, "The perpetrator has carried out horrific acts against several people. It is a very dramatic situation that has hit Kongsberg society hard, and the events shake us all."

It should be noted that Ms. Solberg is in the last few days of her term, and is being replaced by a new Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store. One can only hope that Mr. Store will has a plan to get tough on bow and arrow control. 

At least that's what idjits waiting at the Crazy Train stops here in America are wondering. And worrying. Colorado's nutjob congressperson Lauren Boebert tweeted: "A man in Norway just killed a bunch of people with a bow and arrow. Norway has some of the strictest gun laws around, yet mass killings still occur. Liberals need to understand it is not the gun - it is the criminal who commits the act!"

Quick take here: When bows and arrows are outlawed, only outlaws will have bows and arrows. We're looking at you, Hawkeye.

Of course, what's missing here is the sense of proportion. Five people were killed in Norway. Tragic no matter how you look at it. A hundred people a day die from gun violence every day in the United States. Every day. The most shocking part of this story is that it was a bow and arrow attack. News of the hundred souls lost to gun violence every day in the United States don't get this kind of attention because there is just too much of it. Every day. To crib from a Monty Python skit, Ms. Boebert seems to suggest that we stop being so sentimental, since people are killed in large groups every day.

The absurd protraction of this line of thought would be to wonder if a hundred Americans were killed every day by bow and arrow if we would take a hard look at their availability. Currently, statistics for bow and arrow related deaths are difficult to find, but while you're waiting for the train to come and pick you up, why not look into that.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Looking For Approval

 The headline asked, "Why Are Biden's Approval Ratings So Low?"

I didn't read the article. The answer was far too simple: Joe Biden is President of the United States. The true challenge being on that last modifier, "United." It has been at least five years since we had anything that felt truly united here in the states. Whoever was left in charge after January 6th would have a pretty difficult job bringing everyone to the table. Getting them all to sit down together would be a chore of unbelievable proportions. With all those forces pulling on the left and the right to get the country to sail off in their direction, somebody has to stand at the wheel and try to maintain a course.

To be clear from the outset: I have not agreed with every decision to come out of the White House since Biden took up residence there. Near the top of my disagreements is the way we are choosing to continue to mishandle the refugees and immigrants seeking a new life within these allegedly united states. Why isn't this different? Why hasn't that changed? Why doesn't someone fix that? 

I know that I am riding in the back seat and hollering at the driver to stop at the next Stuckey's. It makes sense to me that Stuckey's would be a logical next place to stop. Have you tried their pecan log? Some of the people with whom I am travelling have a nut allergy. They can wait in the car. Or they can hop out and hitch a ride from somebody else. This nation/car is going to Stuckey's!

But that's not how this works. Especially when there are elements, large crowds, of folks with opinions about where the next stop will be. Someplace without mask mandates. Someplace without vaccines. Someplace just south of reality. 

And Joe Biden gets to be President for those people too. 

Why are Joe Biden's approval ratings so low? He's making decisions. He withdrew our troops from Afghanistan. Yay. He didn't do it right. Boo. He created a ton of jobs. Yay. But not enough. Boo. He wants to stop COVID-19 from spreading. Yay. He wants you to get vaccinated. Boo. He thinks the Beatles are the best group ever. Yay. What about the Stones? Boo. 

And the list goes on. And on. And on. 

One of the best human beings to ever hold the office of President of the United States was Jimmy Carter. He was run out of Washington D.C. after one term because he tried to bring the country back from the brink of the abyss generated by Richard Nixon and his faithful golden retriever Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter's approval rating when he left office was just ten points higher than Richard Nixon's when he resigned in disgrace. 

It's not the President. It's the people filling out the form. We will never be satisfied. 

Maybe that's a good thing? 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Keeping Up Appearances

 Not too long ago, I was stepping out of my comfort zone and lauding the Las Vegas Raiders for doing the right thing. Carl Nassib, a defensive end for the team, chose to come out in the middle of Pride Month. This was quite a stretch for the Silver and Black, a stronghold of all that is manly in the manly world of professional football. It let some air into the corners of the locker room that don't often feel so fresh. It was good news. 

So I'm going to go ahead and say that the dismissal of Raiders head coach this past Monday was good news as well. The official announcement had Jon Gruden resigning, but make no mistake: he did not jump, he was pushed. Coach Gruden was let go when a series of homophobic, racist and misogynistic emails were brought to light. I am sure that there will be those who argue that back in 2011, when most of these emails were written, Gruden was not even in the employ of the National Football League. He was knee-deep in his career as a broadcaster. Of the National Football League. 

The National Football League is a business. A great big business. A great big business in the middle of coming to terms with its treatment of women, race, and hate. They have been painting slogans like "end racism," and "it takes all of us." The NFL knows it has an image problem, and they are working to subvert it. Just how hard they are working on it while Colin Kaepernick sits out yet another season, waiting for some team to "take a chance on him." Letting go of a dinosaur like Jon Gruden sends a message that the NFL is not going to be embarrassed by its employees. Even if that means cutting loose a guy with a ten year contract. Even if it costs the Las Vegas Raiders a hundred million dollars. 

Annoyance fee to a business that is projected by its commissioner, Roger Goodell, to rake in twenty-seven billion dollars annually by 2027. If that means the boys who are used to being in charge have to evolve, so be it. Not that this would have anything to do with the fact that one of the emails in question targeted the commissioner with some unflattering expletives. Let's just say it fit in neatly with all the other offensive rants he was making. 

None of this will necessarily bring me to the belief that this was done for anything more than money. It was a financial decision, with a little spin of conscience. The Raiders' competing mottos, "commitment to excellence" and "just win, baby" are still on display for everyone to see. You can buy t-shirts and hats to reinforce that Raider Image

Whatever that is. As the door was closing solidly behind him, Jon Gruden offered up this weak sauce at the end of his resignation: "I never meant to hurt anyone." 

Just leave, baby. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

License To Print Money

 When I first started formulating this entry, it was a review of the film No Time To Die. My family and I went out to the moving picture show and that was the title we chose from among several. All three of us had been anticipating this event movie for several months. Delays in release caused by a global pandemic and its complications heightened the thrill of seeing James Bond on the big screen. This wait compounded the fever surrounding what had been announced as Daniel Craig's last turn as 007. 

I will expect that if you were born, as I was, during the Cold War and grew up with the regular installment of Ian Fleming's superspy adventures, then you won't care a lot about what I might have to say about this final installment. Final installment featuring the only blonde Bond. And here is where I encourage those of you who are prone to fits of rage when bits of pop culture are discussed without your prior consent. There will be discussion of the beginning, middle and end of the film. So spoil it at your own risk, because in the next few lines you will hear how James Bond dies.

Dies. Yes, it was somehow important to the producers of this big budget blockbuster to kill off their cash cow. Shortly after they revealed that James Bond was a daddy. Not that the potential for many children scattered across the globe wouldn't be possible given decades of sleeping around with fortune tellers and other spies and everyone except Miss Moneypenny. Which wasn't really the part that disappointed me about this episode. It went on for more than two and a half hours, and just barely had time to explain itself as it moved from one set piece to another, and somewhere in there we were asked to believe that Mister License To Kill had finally decided to settle down. 

But first, of course, he would have to save the world. From that guy who played Freddie Mercury with a case of varicose face. Not gold, or nuclear missiles, this time. A super virus that can be targeted to kill via DNA. Or something like that. Which may have been another element in the delay of the film's release. Deadly viruses? What's so thrilling about that? We've got one just like it in the living room. 

Along the way, there were plenty of car chases and explosions. And gunfire. It wasn't until the next morning that I woke up and realized that I may have had my fill of gunplay. There was a time when it was thrilling to watch the good guy dodge bullets before putting a piece of lead between the eyes of the bad guy. Now I can't look at those moments when crowds of henchmen are mowed down without wondering what sort of death and dismemberment clause their evil employer must have for them. Does their insurance pay off double when they are shot up by 007? What about if they get a quip tossed in on top for good measure? How about the guy whose family is waiting at home for daddy, who got his job because a friend recommended him after he lost his spot at the local hardware store? Not to mention all those minions clad in color-coded coveralls who were just stirring the big vat of poison when the place started exploding? That's no kind of life. 

And neither is being a "double naught spy." At the moment that James Bond was ready to ride off into the sunset, he was infected with the disease that would make him unable to contact the love of his life and their toddler daughter. Which is just as well, since the scene in which James uncomfortably makes breakfast for his newly discovered little girl is not the reason people flock to the cinema to see Bond. James Bond. 

Then there's this: After M and Q and assorted other members of the alphabet have toasted our fallen hero, the credits roll. He's gone. Farewell. Adieu. Then we read "James Bond Will Return." My question at this point was not "How" but "Why?"  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


 On my way back to my room, Jerry stopped me. "I know who broke the window."

"Really?" This was intriguing to me because Jerry seemed just as likely a suspect as anyone. This third grade tough guy who had a history of mischief already after two months back in school. And I had set aside the mystery of the broken window after discovering it on Monday morning. Now on Friday there was a break in the case.

"Terry did it." 

"Terry?" Jerry and Terry were not best friends, so this revelation didn't hold the kind water that a confession might. And I had put the broken window in a pile of other concerns as the week progressed. We have had broken windows before and would again. "What makes you think it was Terry?"

"He showed me the video."

Well, how about that. Not a confession, but verifiable proof provided by the culprit himself. Sort of. There was still a matter of getting that video and the actual reckoning to coalesce. Terry had not shared the video with me. But it did allow me to share the news with our principal who has access to the multitude of security cameras on campus and with the brief description of what Jerry had seen, it was a simple matter of rolling back the tape to Sunday morning. 

There he was. Terry and someone who would later be identified as his cousin, a former student of ours. Not only did we now have institutional video of Terry's cousin taking private video of Terry hurling a chunk of pressure-treated four by four at the window until it began to shatter, but we were blessed to have a perp who was perhaps not a master criminal when it comes to covering his tracks. Before our principal made the call to have Terry come up to the office, she hit pause on her laptop, leaving Terry's curious face looking up at the security camera as if he had only begun to reckon on someone else watching him. This meant when he came in the principal's office door, he was greeted by his own goofy face staring back at him. 

To say that he folded like a tent in a stiff breeze would be a waste of a good simile. There were lots of tears, as one might expect from a nine year old, especially one who was asked to call his mother to explain his part in the crime of the early part of the third decade of the century. Things at Terry's house would be unpleasant for Terry for the foreseeable future. 

And Jerry? Well, he was just glad that he was the one skating free on this one. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


 I was aware of my fashion sense when I was quite young. Old enough to notice when my younger brother and I were dressed alike. I was quick to speak out to my mother about this "twinsies" thing. I was, after all, my own man. I said this with the full ironic knowledge that my mother still bought all my clothes. The correct response would have been to thank my mother for putting clothes on my back. Color-coordinated clothes that were new and clean and purchased on a budget that was stretched to clothe three growing boys. 

It did not occur to me then to appreciate all of those factors. Much in the same way I was pained when, after pleading with my mother for a Fonzie T-shirt for my birthday, I got one. But it was not the style that I had seen all the other kids wearing. This one was a drawing of The Fonz, with "Aaaaay!" scrawled beneath it. It was not the photo version with the Happy Days logo that made it official. But I wore it, much to the dismay of the cool kids who knew better. The same cool kids who insisted that Adidas Superstars were the shoe of the moment. The same kids who sneered at my JC Penny knockoffs with four stripes instead of three. The same kids who knew just exactly how wide the flares on your jeans should be. The same kids who turned up their noses at my bell bottoms. And for the most part, I held this shame inside, knowing that my mother was doing the best she could. I was also very clear on the understanding that going along with every fad that came down the pike was a fool's errand. Keeping up with the appearances of the Joneses would lead to nothing but heartache. I convinced my mom to buy me a rayon disco shirt to wear to the big end of year ninth grade dance. I wore this under the black shell of my older brother's leather jacket. It was, as they say, "a look." I didn't have any real idea about how to put together an ensemble. 

Which didn't keep me, once I started buying my own clothes, from picking up a white linen blazer. It was my hope to hang on to that last bit of Don Johnson-Miami Vice style that briefly permeated the middle of the 1980s. It was casual, which suited me. It was an article of clothing that placed me within the zeitgeist. It was a jacket with sleeves that were meant to be rolled up. How could it miss?

How about the fact that I have never been capable of being anything but completely conscious of what I was wearing. How about knowing inside that I was not Sonny Crockett, nor was I Don Johnson. I was wearing a costume, at best. I was cosplaying a show I never really watched. 

But I did want to fit in so very much.

Until I simply surrendered to what has become my official uniform: Concert T-shirt and jeans. It was only recently that I was awakened to the concept of "skinny jeans," which left me nothing but cold. And searching for something in which I could feel comfortable. And that's my style.  

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Final Frontier

 On Tuesday, Jeff Bezos will attempt to do what a universe full of Romulans, Klingons and over-cooked pizza could not do: Kill Captain James T. Kirk. I truly appreciate the fact that the BBC account of this escapade feels honor-bound to introduce this galactic folly with this slug: "The actor who played Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series is set to embark on a real-life journey into space." Yes, after years of traipsing about on various TV and movie sets created to simulate the appearance of space, The ninety year old Canadian actor will live out every fan-boy's dream by strapping himself into the questionably shaped rocket and taking a ride into what will be something short of a five year mission to explore the very rim of Earth's atmosphere. To boldly go where a whole bunch of men and women and chimps have already gone before. 

Part of me would like this to be a big deal. I can remember the excitement I felt when NASA rolled the Space Shuttle Enterprise off the assembly line into the light of what we all hoped would be a new day. That was back in 1976. The BBC would probably want me to mention that it was a great portion of the cast of the television show that featured a pretend space ship with the same name assembled to celebrate the launch of this practice version of what would turn out to be a very versatile space truck. I looked forward to a future in which the ideals of generations of star trekkers held dear would be spread into the galaxy. Or at least earth orbit. 

It should be noted that William Shatner, Canadian actor, did not attend the festivities of that long-ago unveiling. It could be that he was busy filming Kingdom of the Spiders. Or it might have been that he was working with his horses. Or perhaps he was not willing to share the spotlight with his science officer, ship's doctor, and all those helmsmen. He is a Starfleet officer, after all, and not subject to all the rules and regulations that might bind those under his command. 

Except that James T. Kirk is a fictional character. He did not command a starship any more than Mel Gibson freed Scotland. Which somehow still qualifies him for a seat on the next Amazon-funded joyride into the upper atmosphere. If this trend holds true, we can expect invitations from Mister Bezos to be extended to Tom Hanks, Mark Hammill and we can only assume Patrick Stewart. 

Meanwhile, you can pick up a new Sonicare toothbrush for a song on Amazon, and help the next celebrity space imposter find his or her way to the stars. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Get A Handle On It

 I was recently asked about my Twitter handle. It includes the phrase "Black Lives Matter." The suggestion was made that we, as a nation, are kind of over that and we might pick a new way to cajole folks to think in other productive ways: Stop Climate Change, Tax The Rich, Eat The Rich. All worthy suggestions and thoughts I have had at different times. But I keep coming back to Black Lives Matter.

Because Black Lives Matter.

I was reading an article about a one hundred year old SS camp guard who is currently on trial in Neuruppin, Germany for the deaths of three thousand five hundred eighteen prisoners during World War II. The man, whose name is reported as only Josef S. due to Germany's trial reporting rules, stands accused of being at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by regularly standing guard in the watchtower between 1942 and 1945. "Stands" is a legal term here, since his age and condition only allows him to be in court for two and a half hours a day. Which does not stop prosecutors there from seeking justice for crimes against humanity. 

Black Lives Matter. 

I raise the case of Josef S. because there has been a number of high-profile arrests and trials of Nazis in Germany. Recently, a ninety-six year old suspect fled from those who might bring him to justice for those crimes against humanity. The obvious subtext here is that these murderers should be caught and found guilty before they have a chance to disappear into history that suggests that they were "just following orders."

Black Lives Matter.

Here in America, we have a very efficient system of justice. For some. Not for everyone. Having enough money to smooth the path helps. Being white helps. Black men and women have been harassed, assaulted, and murdered by the police here in America. By uniformed men and women who will claim that they were "just following procedure." Orders. I do not believe that they should have to wait eighty years to be wheeled into a courtroom to be held accountable for their crimes. Against humanity.

So, if you're wondering when I'll be changing my Twitter handle, I'm guessing it might be about eighty years. 

Black Lives Matter. 

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Roll On

 It's a pretty fine line, actually. 

As I was standing out front of my elementary school in Oakland, California celebrating all the different ways students walked and rolled to school, in Arlington, Texas there was a very different happening. 

At my school, there were prizes.

In Arlington, there were shots fired.

At my school, we cheered.

In Arlington, there were screams.

At my school, we tallied up the number of kids who walked to school.

In Arlington, they tallied up the number of kids who will never walk again.

At my school, we greeted each student by name.

In Arlington, names of the dead and injured were not immediately released.

At my school, it felt like a party to start the day.

In Arlington, it felt like the end of the world.

At my school, we were celebrating life.

In Arlington...

International Walk and Roll to School Day was celebrated very differently, depending on your location. Some took the bus. Some carpooled. Some came to school on their skateboard. Some are leaving by ambulance. 

Friday, October 08, 2021

Duty Now For The Future

 A very good friend and constant reader sent me a gift way back when COVID first began to assert itself and we found ourselves searching for ways to combat it. He sent me a pair of cloth masks, emblazoned with the DEVO logo that reads "Duty Now For The Future." Thoughtful, practical and they continue to be in my regular mask rotation each week as I attempt to keep the lower half of my face obscured, not unlike the anti-Batman. 

Now I find myself behind that mask once again, reflecting not just on the long strange trip this has been, but also looking to the future that the mask describes. One that requires duty. Way back when the Spudboys first issued the album that bore that somewhat foreboding title, it was meant as a tongue in cheek warning, as most of their performances were. Forty years later, I find myself overwhelmed by just how prescient this new-wave band from Ohio was. 

As I ride my bike to and from school, pleased that the Bay Area teacher shortage has not fully impacted our campus. We still feel it each time we try and arrange for a substitute for a staff member who misses a day for jury duty, personal leave, or the looming specter of COVID. We continue to knock the tops of our wood laminate desks in hopes of staying safe and covered as we enter the third month of school. The long stares at the end of the week are not usually found on the faces of our teachers until just before Spring Break. We are all doing our jobs that were challenging and difficult before we had to do them in the din of air purifiers. next to the ever present hand sanitizer, and behind the masks that obscure the messages we hope to send and receive to and from our young charges. 

Meanwhile, people across this great land of ours are leaving the teaching profession, for all the reasons they used to, and now fear of being infected dropped on top of that. Replacing those who head for the door has never been an easy task, and fear is not helping fill those vacancies. So here we are, back in the classroom, hoping to bring knowledge and safety to the kids that need it most. Without a net.

Duty now for our future. 

Can I get an Amen? Or someone to cover a first grade class for the day?

Thursday, October 07, 2021

What Is Forever?

 The nature of all human interaction is subjective. Nobody knows what is really going on in someone elase's mind. This is even more true when it comes to being a parent. Or a pet owner. Not that there aren't differences, but trying to care for someone in a way that you feel best befits that person or animal without ever fully understanding their motivations is a truly silly game. It leads to posters found in dorm rooms that read, "If you love something set it free..."

So let me begin by saying that I have no idea how these stories are going to end. There is a kid living in our basement who loves us as much as we love him, but we all want him to leave. We don't say this out loud, but it is true in ways we cannot fully address. The adventure of adulthood waits just outside and it's only a matter of finding a safe place to land that keeps it from happening abruptly. We have spent days, weeks, months attempting to find the best next chapter, but keep getting lost in the weeds of a job search and a global pandemic and the comfort of having the family we know and love all together. 

But it's not always comfortable.

Which brings me to the animal portion of this dissertation. Our adopted cat has struggled with the constraints of being a house pet. He comes to us from the wilds of urban Oakland, with well-worn paths that we will never know. We rescued him from being turned back out into the streets after having been very sick. And having all his teeth removed. My wife threw herself into the challenge of Fluffy's rehabilitation, and after several months, we had a purring ball of gray fur that would on occasion play with the cat toys that we introduced to him. But Fluffy's nature caught up to him, and as he was weened from his medications, he began to assert his will. Being stuck inside a house, even a happy home like ours, was not where he longed to be. He is a denizen of those streets and standing in the way when he bolts for an open door may not be our best play. 

I don't know. 

And neither of these stories is over. One or both may be having dinner when the weather changes again, and the circumstances have them living under our roof. Until it's time to move on. Not because we don't care about them. 

We're just not sure what forever is. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Fixing A Hole

 "Make a hole!" This is what you might hear when you see emergency crews rushing through a crowd. They are far too busy with the rescue to make time for pleasantries. The hole is a parting of the looky-loos who tend to converge whenever someone falls, crashes, burns or becomes unstable in some way or another. That hole should part the gawker wave in order for the real work to begin. I encounter this wave on a regular basis on the playground, where the witnesses always outnumber the injured by at least a ten to one margin. Sometimes the relief I bring in the form of a band-aid and a hand up is completely obscured by the concern of their peers.

For what it's worth, that was not the case this past weekend as my family worked in concert to prepare for one of the largest relief efforts in our collective history. My mother's piano, a baby grand that has been with her for more than seventy years, will soon be making its way across the western United States, eventually coming to rest in the front room of my house. In this particular operation, there were not crowds of people to arrange, only mobs of furniture. 

For decades now, I have been using the phrase, "Hey, toss me that piano," as an example of non-sequitur. Now I find myself in the odd position of preparing to fair catch a musical mass of metal and wood, and tucking it seamlessly into a household that already contains one piano. Ideally, this prior piano would have been moved out ahead of the arrival of the one my mother is donating to me. As it turns out, moving pianos is not something that is done lightly. Not physically or emotionally. My mother grew up playing that baby grand, and it provided much of the background music of my youth as well as being the instrument upon which I hammered away half a dozen years of lessons myself. When my son was of an age that piano lessons seemed compulsory, we rounded up a relic that was moved, to hear my wife tell it, "by the two largest humans" she had ever seen. 

Somewhere out there is a piano with my name on it, wending its way toward me with frightening speed. Recognizing this as a call to arms, I set about rearranging the room in which I hope to house two pianos. At least for a little while. This required the removal of my wife's desk, which was replaced by a smaller version for the time being. The contents of that behemoth needed to be loaded into boxes for access during the time that everything is in pieces. The floor beneath had to be cleaned and polished,  and a hole the size of a baby grand piano needed to be left in the middle of the floor, where discussions already abound about which way the old girl will face once it arrives. 

Across the great divide, a similar action was taking place, as the heart and soul of my mother's house was removed. After all those years, my sister-in-law and niece decided that mom didn't need to be there to witness the excision. While they went for a drive in the mountains to take in the fall colors, my older brother supervised the hole that was being created in my mother's life. A couch was moved across the room to cover the space created. The band-aid, if you will. 

So another chapter begins, holes made and filled. Memories renewed and new ones recorded. If this had been an actual emergency you would have been instructed where in your area to tune for news and information. Nothing to see here. Just a piano being tossed

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

...And One

 America drifted past seven hundred thousand dead from COVID-19 last week. I have been lucky so far to have stayed safe from the disease and any direct personal contact with it. 

Until now. Not to worry, dear readers. Yours truly is still fully vaccinated and masked and testing negative whenever the question has arisen. But I am no longer free from knowing someone personally who has died from the plague. Late last week, the Grim Reaper descended on the house across the street. To be more accurate, for the former occupant of the house across the street. To mother of the expansive brood that supplied our neighborhood with peals of childish laughter and cries of teenaged angst passed on. Aside from the relative proximity of this news, this makes me nervous to think that this pillar of strength might be taken down by something as common as a virus. This was a woman who, after surviving her own urban Oakland childhood, married and settled down to churn out seven new lives and oversaw the upbringing of assorted relations and strays. 

And once they had all flown from the nest, or were pushed, she and her husband retired to a life of quiet reflection while enjoying the occasional visit from their kids and grandchildren. Or rather that would have been the happy ending, but instead once the tangled upbringing of those children was done, the marriage that was generated primarily out of the need for two parents disintegrated. They left the family home of so many years, the one across the street, and we kept track of them all through occasional encounters at the grocery store or on walks up the street. You see, when they scattered, they didn't go too far. They could be found just a few doors down, or around the block. 

We heard stories about how mom had slipped into a bad place, living with a daughter or two, getting a tattoo or two. Picking up (returning to?) a drug habit. And living a life that was in many ways contrary to the mother of the neighborhood persona she had crafted for all those years. 

But she survived. 

Until last week. I can imagine that her immune system had been taxed in ways that defy easy description by medical science, and probably had a healthy distrust of all things vaccine and mask related. Or maybe she just surrendered to the void. 

Which is a shame. Because we don't need to lose anyone else. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Take This Job And Fund It

 I was pretty sure that, before I looked it up to check, that members of Congress keep getting paid even when the government gets shut down. This was true the last time this happened between December 2018 and January 2019. For thirty-five days, federal employees were asked to work without pay or simply stay home. Parks were closed. A whole lot of things didn't get done. But senators and represented didn't miss a check. 

You may be curious, as I was, how this could come to pass. Turns out that it's written into our constitution. It's there to make sure that discussion and debate can continue about budgetary matters even though most of the rest of the machine has been turned off. You may have heard that President Biden signed a bill recently to keep the doors open. Until December third. 

No need to panic, right?

Okay. But what about this nonsense about how the folks whose job it is to keep the lights on continue to fuss with each other and play chicken with partisan tractors loaded up with everyone else's possessions. Equipped with ejector seats and bubble wrap to keep the drivers safe from harm. The tractors themselves? Not so much. If everyone else and their lives end up in the ditch, the average salary of $174,000 a year is not on the table. This is not true of the average Joes and Joans who sweep up after them. 

Oh. And let's not forget the federal employees who are and have been working night and day to contain a global pandemic. This thankless job could also be one without a paycheck. 

Meanwhile, back in the Capitol, the lights are on and the arguing continues to be supported by the good graces and funding of a government and its people. I am sure I would not be the first to suggest that those salaries could be held up and used to pay for the Joes and Joans previously mentioned while they hammer out whatever agreement they can muster. I also understand that missing a check when you are making upwards of one hundred thousand dollars a year probably doesn't mean as much, but it would at least be sending a message to their accountants. And pool cleaners. And publicists. And so on. 

Or just go ahead and switch the C-SPAN feed to all streaming services and make it a betting proposition. Let folks bet on just how close our elected representatives will come to driving their tractors into the ditch. Or better yet, make them actual tractors and strap them into the seats. I would pay to watch that. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Phone Home

 Daryl, a second grader new to our school, introduced himself that first day by describing his prior educational experience: "I was at this other school, but it was far from my house. I'm not here because I got in any trouble there or anything." A very sincere opening, but activated my teacher-sense. Mostly because he chose not to speak to me about the things that he liked, or what questions he might have about how long the recesses were or when lunch would be served. His comments had the sound of a coached preamble to his tenure at would be his second school in this young academic year. 

It wasn't long before Daryl found himself some trouble. Nothing big. Nothing dangerous. More along the lines of a second grader staking out his turf in a new place. Impulse control and respect for adults were the dueling foci of his behavior. Nothing we hadn't seen in abundance before his entrance. But not the trouble-free existence he had suggested. The fact that he was being shuttled to and from school by his grandfather offered another clue. Mom was busy. Dad was absent. Grandpa was doing the best he could with what he had. And so was Daryl. 

This dovetailed neatly with the conversation I was having with a colleague about how the majority of our parents only appear as pleasant and convenient cogs in our machine. They support our efforts, and we support theirs. We deliver the kids back to them with a little bit of knowledge each day and the following morning most of them show up ready to learn. It's the ones that don't that take up all those crowded moments during the day. Inevitably, the parents we end up needing to call during the day are exasperated and upset by the interruption. Couldn't we mind their children for just a few hours while they got their own adult lives together? 

And it is usually at this precise moment that the kids who are struggling to get along with the program, Safe Responsible Respectful, that they find their panic. "Don't call my dad/mom/caregiver!" We are implored. There are plenty of examples in which we try to exhaust every other alternative before contacting dad/mom/caregiver because we know where that will lead. 

But sometimes that call home is the culmination of a day or a week or several weeks of deal making and breaking. There is a school full of kids who don't require that special attention who have other needs. Like being taught phonics or math facts or the difference between a city and a state. Nothing would please us more than if we could move through our day without having to stop for the discussions of why we don't hit each other in favor of the path to long division. 

We don't always have that chance. Sometimes we get bogged down in the drama for which many of our kids is every day. I wish I could say that once we have contacted parents that the matter is resolved. On occasion, this is true. Mostly it generates additional drama that swirls around the institution and the people in it. Why can't we be doing our jobs differently and make room for this special child and his or her behaviors? 

We try. 

And we try. 

And eventually we phone home. We're just looking for some help unraveling the knot that was tied before that child got here. 

Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't. We're talking with Daryl's grandpa after school. Casually. No calls home. Encouraging talks. 

Stay tuned. 

Saturday, October 02, 2021

To Create, You Must Destroy

 I'm pretty sure that the folks at my local Ace Hardware and Home Depot smile when they see me coming. Over the years, I have become quite the Do It Yourself guy, preferring whenever I can to repair, construct or tear down most of the things that get on my list/in my way. I tend to attack these projects with reckless abandon, which means that sometimes the supplies I need cannot be found on the premises, necessitating a trip to the DIY store. Whichever fits my mood and trip linking for the day. Then back to work, hammering, drilling, sawing, whacking, and so forth. 

And somewhere in all that hammering, drilling, sawing, whacking, and so forth there will come a pause. I have, inadvertently, snapped a blade, bent a tine, broken a shovel. My wife will attest to the fact that very few of these home improvement attempts are complete without at least one tool being sacrificed to the gods of home ownership. She has been in the unenviable position of being the one who has to stop whatever she was doing and rush off to the DIY store to purchase yet another hammer, saw, whacker and so forth. I usually stay home and limp along with the stub of whatever tool it is that I have made less than useful until the supply chain has filled my hands once again with that sadly ill-fated hammer, saw, whacker and so forth. They understand that their days are numbered once they start working with me. 

Recently, after a flurry of weekend yard work, I rolled an overstuffed compost bin to the curb. The next day when I went to pull it back up behind the garage, I saw a note, scrawled across the top in white grease pen. It read, "Lid must be able to close." Somewhere in my head I knew this, but I had taken that directive to be more of a suggestion than a commandment, and once I commence to stuffing the green bin, I work to put every last branch, leaf and twig in, imagining a cylinder that stretches infinitely into the sky. As long as my debris fits within this imaginary cylinder and I can still roll that bad boy out to the curb, it's fair game. This note was politely reminding me that there were limits to my efforts. I was subject to agreements made with other people's patience and endurance. I had overwhelmed Waste Management as a tool.

So I started minding the brim of my compost bin, and on the occasion of our beloved wisteria's massive trim when our house was being painted, I attempted to meet both criteria of getting all that detritus into the bin and getting the lid closed. 

No tools were harmed in this action. Unless, of course, you consider the rolling compost bin a tool. Or just the guy stomping on it to close it. 

We have to get a new green bin.  

Friday, October 01, 2021

Mowie Wowie

 What happens when you legalize pot? Well, some have suggested that marijuana use and abuse would skyrocket. The gates to perdition have been thrown open and all who find themselves on that road have no hope but eternal stonedness. 

Or maybe not. A libertarian think tank named the CATO institute recently released a report that says the net change in pot consumption is somewhere around zero. Proponents of legalization looked forward to all that lovely tax revenue that would come in the wake of legalization and lowering the cost of all those dime bag busts. Folks who were sure that legalizing pot would lead to rampant drug use by all segments of the population, especially our nation's youth waited for the crime wave to begin. 

And now, nearly ten years after Colorado and Washington made recreational pot legal, business is good and the anticipated terror and decline in IQ scores never happened. Here's a tasty bud from the report: "(A)s marijuana becomes more commonplace and less stigmatized, residents and legislators become less opposed to legalization. In essence, rising marijuana use may not be a consequence of legalization but a cause of it." 

Huh. How about that. They're suggesting that once the fear and outrage settles down, it turns out that people might smoke dope because of its effectiveness as a mood leveler and pain reliever. The sad news about the reality check is that the fear of the price dropping for an ounce of weed never really happened. Bummer. It turns out that people who sell dope legally still want to make a buck. A whole bunch of bucks, as a matter of fact. Almost as if they were taking their inspiration from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Which brings up that whole medicine aspect. It is notable that many states legalized medicinal use of marijuana prior to recreational use. Because it can be used to treat ailments as diverse as bipolar disorder and chronic pain. And it's much safer to use than alcohol. Which has been legal for a good long time. 

At this point, I should come clean and let you know that I have no actual experience with this legal pot thing, other than anecdotal. The pot I ingested was smoked, eaten and eventually absorbed a long time ago. But I'm relieved to discover that it turns out that all that goofiness could have been legal. Take away the paranoia, and all of a sudden you've got a miracle drug. Turns out the road to hell isn't paved with good intentions. It's just another winding road on the way to the 7-11 to buy Hostess Cupcakes.