Monday, February 28, 2022

Grand Mother

 The house is at the top of the hill. It's pink. It's hard to miss. It serves as one of the landmarks on my trips to and from school. The top of the last hill on my to school. The top of the first on my way home. A very long time ago, I would stop and inquire about one of my fourth grade students' well being when I taught fourth grade. 

It's been a while. 

This was Granny's house. The children of two sisters sent their children down that hill to school. Our school. Granny's house was a way station for a number of kids who became Horace Mann Jaguars. And this is where I should mention that this was Great Granny. The kids I taught here were her great grandchildren.

And now I should also mention that Granny volunteered in our cafeteria right up until the onset of COVID. She helped serve, sort out the salad bar, open those tiny milk cartons, and kept kids fed and in their seats until it was time to race out to the playground. For more than a decade, she was a fixture, a person who made their presence felt in the kindest of ways. Which is not to say that she tolerated any mischief. She shut it down. She could do it with a look.

I became familiar with that look when I used to stop by her house at the top of the hill on my way home from a particularly challenging day teaching fourth grade. Challenging in part because of the drama and traumas incited by Granny's great-granddaughter. It was around this time that I became friendly with all the inhabitants of the house, visitors and relations. Even when I didn't need to drop by for a home visit, I would still smile and wave. Granny kept it real. 

When I switched back to being the computer teacher, I could always count on the mild intimidation of Granny's presence. Not just her great-grandchildren. All those who didn't want to have to get that look of disapproval from her, they didn't want me to invoke Granny as a threat. Best to steer clear of that one. 

She lived a full life of ninety-two years. Her granddaughter, the mother of my challenging fourth grader who grew up to become a nurse, gave me the sad news. I will remember her every time I pass that pale pink house. Granny didn't stomp on the Terra as much as she maintained a steady presence on it. She will be missed. 

Aloha, Granny. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

What Is It Good For?

 Absolutely nothing.

Which doesn't stop us all from participating in this war thing. But just like "mass shootings," it is important to define our terms. Wikipedia has a list of "ongoing armed conflicts" which uses the number of casualties to describe the difference between a skirmish or a clash and a Major War.  With everyone watching the scoreboard, it is not likely for Russia's invasion of Ukraine to become a mass casualty event. And yet we continue to refer to it as "waging war."

Probably because we have cheapened the term over the past few decades. The War On Drugs. The War On Terror. The War On Christmas. Not like the good old days when wars came in such big packages that we felt invigorated by using Roman Numerals to keep them distinct and clear. Once upon a time the Russians found themselves in a shooting war in Afghanistan. This conflict made such an impression that it served as the backdrop of a Rambo movie, which used Roman numerals to define it as III. Sylvester Stallone has yet to send his musclebound mercenary back to Afghanistan to fight alongside the American Troops who slogged along to a tie themselves after twenty long years. It should be noted here that Rambo was fighting alongside many of the same "freedom fighters" whose next generation was shooting at Americans. So very hard to keep track of good guys and bad guys.

But we're pretty sure that Russia, especially under the iron hand rule of Vladimir "The Shirtless Wonder" Putin. His reaction to all this fuss is reminiscent to the one stirred up by another autocrat, Ted Turner who, when asked about his ham-handed colorization of classic movies, insisted, "Last time I checked, I owned 'em." Ever since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union disbanded, the politicheski have been working hard to return to the salad days of global domination. Like the puppet of a president in Belarus, which is now a model for what Russia hopes Ukraine will become. 

I'm not a big fan of the Domino Theory, unless it means that I'm getting five bucks off my next pizza. But where do we draw a line? Economic sanctions don't mean a lot when you're a megalomaniac. I'm looking at you, Kim Jong Un. No real surprise that the former game show host who pretended to be president of the United States for four years referred to Putin and Un as his besties. 

So I return to the initial question. War: what is it good for? Well, last time I checked, we had drugs, terror and Christmas. So I'm guessing my answer will remain "absolutely nothing."

Pick a side, Rambo. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

By Definition

 Kyle Rittenhouse wants to sue Whoopi Goldberg. She's not the only one. "Politicians, celebrities, athletes. Whoopi Goldberg's on the list. She called me a murderer after I was acquitted by a jury of my peers," Rittenhouse said. "I don't want to see anybody else have to deal with what I went through, so I want to hold them accountable for what they did to me."

Sometimes it's best for the tiniest of minds to speak for themselves. Kyle Rittenhouse, in case you may have forgotten in all the other business of daily survival in this less than hospitable planet, is the teenager who was acquitted of murder charges by a jury of what we can only assume were his peers. He was deemed to have acted in self-defense. He killed two men and wounded two more, having driven across state lines for the opportunity to do so. I understand by the strict legal definitions that Mister Rittenhouse is "innocent," and is not "guilty of murder." 

He killed two people with his very real gun, having traveled twenty miles for a chance to, as local law enforcement officers encouraged him to, "get some." Moments after Kyle killed, he attempted to surrender to some of those same officers. The officers initially walked right by him. 

Did I forget to mention that Kyle Rittenhouse is white? That the riots that he drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin to quell were in response to the shooting of a black man. Jacob Blake was shot four times, three times in the side. By Kenosha police officers. Those officers were never charged because (wait for it) they were acting in self defense. 

Since the killings, young Kyle has been on something of a victory tour, dropping by Fox News on a regular basis and becoming the darling of the Guns and Ammo Crowd. He used his appearance on Tucker Carlson's show as the chance to announce his "Media Accountability Project." 

Let that one sit for a moment: Tucker Carlson and Media Accountability Project.

Whoopi Goldberg is black. 

Tucker Carlson is white. 

In a world in which we are told that there is very little that is simply black and white, there seems to be an awful lot of that going on these days.  

Friday, February 25, 2022

Out Of The Box

 I asked support from my colleagues this past Monday, Presidents Day. I gave them permission to find me and slam the lid of my laptop down on my fingers if I was found to be consorting in any way on a Zoom meeting. Over the past six months, I have forgotten about Zoom fatigue. I have enjoyed encountering those with whom I consort in hallways and on the playground. It has been a relief to have human contact outside of those boxes. 

Then school closings appeared. Suddenly I was spending way too much time monitoring the chat and waiting for links. I was set up with two screens, one to monitor the meeting and another to conduct searches and confirm suspicions in real time. That was for the school board meetings. The rest of the week included plenty of opportunities to meet with union members, community organizers, and those same colleagues with whom I had been ever so briefly in direct contact. On Zoom. 

Which had the effect of numbing a little of the pain connected to the ongoing struggle we are all experiencing during this time. Not being able to be in the room with the school board as they continue to press forward with their agenda to balance their budget on the backs of black and brown students is something that I won't soon forget. Or forgive. Thousands of people attended their meetings and hundreds had raised an electronic hand to speak. A very small percentage of them had a chance to give a voice to their displeasure. Yes, there is still something to be said for the opportunity to participate in the democratic process without leaving the comfort and safety of your living room. But when the bell sounds at the end of what the people on high have determined is the end of public comment, there are still those raised hands.

The challenge here is that this is a top-down solution from the top. It was not generated by discussion with community. It came from a spreadsheet delivered by outside consultants who gave the school board the answers they had already anticipated. So we all got a front row seat to the execution. Nothing we could do would stop the hacking and slashing. We took our Zoom lumps and left the meeting. It was over.

Until we figured out that we could take it to the streets. This turns out to be too big for Zoom. Too big for those little boxes. Too big for that little screen. We will be heard. 

Out there. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Part Of My Education

 Three years ago this week, I was on strike. At the time, I walked off to join the picket line in front of my school to fight for a living wage for my fellow teachers. After a couple decades of keeping my eyes on the relative prize of being an educator, I wanted to assure those who followed me into the shared pursuit of knowledge would be able to own their own home, raise a family, and not have to spend nights wondering if there wasn't a better future for them somewhere else. I was up to my career's neck, but others were just beginning to wade in. I wanted them to get as wet as I was, or at least have a better metaphor by the time all was said and done. 

The good news: We won the day. The school district upped our compensation package and made us all feel a little more valued. All that marching about and shouting earned us a raise and, we believed at the time, some respect. 

Three years later one of the reasons we are being given for the proposed closure of schools, most of which are located in black and brown neighborhoods, is one of hiring and retaining teachers. Somewhere in there, we just priced ourselves out of a job. Or maybe the powers that be would like us to view those who are taking up those valuable salaries in schools that are under enrolled as the reason for us all not getting rich. As one of those salaries, I have to say that if sacrificing my paycheck is going to somehow magically balance a budget that has been historically mismanaged, then we are in a bigger world of hurt than I had previously imagined. Or if the idea that smaller community schools are no longer in the plans for a district that seems anxious to turn over buildings and staff to charters. Charter schools, which are smaller community institutions, with a history of limited success in Oakland. 

Three years ago, I walked out of my school and took to the streets in the hope of making a stand. I wanted to put my stamp on a moment in time. I wanted to breathe new life into my little corner of public education. Now there is a cry for more strikes. More protests. More stands. And I wonder if our community can withstand more struggle. More strife. These past few years have contained more than our recommended daily allowance of strife. It would seem that the struggle is not over. I look around me and see faces I remember from three years ago, and faces from strikes in the past. Three years from now, will we still be fighting this good fight?

I don't know. It's part of my education. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Take A Souvenir

 Every so often I get updates from photo sites that are sharing their space for my memories. The messages tend to come with dates like "Fifteen years ago..." or "Do You Remember?"

And I do. Because at that particular time in history, I chose to pause and take a picture. I paused with the intent of preserving a moment. I am happy that there are vast cyber storehouses keeping all those moments on ice for me until just the right moment to remind me that I wanted to remember. 

That was when my son was ten.

That was when the eucalyptus tree came down on our back fence.

That was when I took one too many pictures of my wife and she gave me that face.

I don't tend to take pictures of every instant of every day just for the sake of documentation. There have been plenty of instances in which I have found myself wondering, "Why didn't we take any pictures of that?" The answer is pretty easy: We were all too busy with whatever was going on to stop and pose. There was no pause button on that day. 

On a bookshelf in our living room, there is one shelf that is entirely devoted to photo albums. Old school. The ones that were carefully arranged and pasted together in very strict chronological order so there would be no confusion as to the order of events. Second birthday before Christmas before third birthday and so on. Each era, event and escapade meticulously filed away. Right up to a certain point. The moment when we went digital. Or nearly. There was a lingering bit there when we were still having our digital pix printed and sent to us by this Internet venture called Snapfish. I got the snap part, but was always a little mystified by the fish. 

But soon we were a fully-web-based family. When something of note occurred, it wasn't official until we uploaded our memory card to the void, or the cloud. Or the fish. For a little while there, I took a lot more pictures of the mundane. They weren't going to charge us for processing or an extra set of prints. They were just bits and bytes. Somewhere inside the cloud/void/fish. It's those moments when I get a reminder from the photo droids that I took this picture of a broken desk. Twelve years ago today. 

Thanks for the memories. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Here To There

 A year or so ago, it was difficult for me not to write about all the insane shenanigans taking place in the throes of a presidential administration headed up by a failed real estate magnate and game show host. So much of what took place during those four years seemed to cry out for comment. Even now, a year into the next guy's term, it is hard not to feel drawn into the vortex of stupidity created by such a galactically absurd time. 

Then, before we could be free of the gravitational pull of that monstrous idiocy, we were gifted with COVID-19, the virus that keeps on giving. And taking. And taking. Millions of infections and deaths, and no cure in sight. Which seems to have had the effect of stripping away much of what used to be common decency among our fellow human beings. That or the conditions for the opening of the Seventh Seal have been achieved or maybe the chimps who used to be lashed to keyboards trying to generate Shakespeare's works have all been given podcasts. The lunatics may have yet to take over the asylum, but they seem to have a visible presence on the board of trustees. 

Which may begin to explain how, after three weeks of emotional public comment and frustration has been poured out on the Oakland School Board, and at least three "special meetings" inviting citizens to respond to the idea of closing schools and receiving none that could possibly be construed as positive, the majority of the board members when ahead with their plan. It should be noted that none of these special meetings were held in person. The cries for more thorough community involvement and communication had to be squeezed through Zoom. And even that was limited, with dozens if not hundreds of commenters left dangling on the line when the board figured they had heard enough. 

Teachers, students, and parents are stirring things up in Oakland. They are threatening hunger strikes, work actions, sit-ins, teach-ins, and a diverse menu of potential civil disobedience. This is Oakland, after all. We don't need to win a Super Bowl to take to the streets. 

And one of the most galling parts of this experience is the name of my employer: The Oakland Unified School District. Last time I checked, there wasn't a lot of unifying going on, not from the top down, anyway. I have found myself connecting with all kinds of friends, colleagues and family as a result. The center is not holding. It will not surprise me if this is just the first round of struggle against what will almost certainly be a protracted fight to find a way back to the way they used to be. Or the way we want them to be. 

My school's staff was recognized as Local Heroes by our city council member this past weekend. That felt good, but it also seemed to have a political weight to it that felt a little like we might be pieces in a bigger game. Our city council member would like to be mayor. 

I would like to know less than I do about local politics. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Spreader

 I currently live in a world where knowledge has never been more available, and yet most of it sits by the curb waiting for Waste Management. 

I joined the teaching profession with the notion that I would be bringing all of my wisdom in chunks to a new generation, anxious to lap it up and ask for more. "Wow, Mister Caven, you mean there were dudes doing math way back before you were born, and they figured this stuff out?"

"Well, yes Steve. Math wasn't around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And did you know that people weren't around then either?"

"What about the Flintstones?"

"The Flintstones? They were a calculated move by Hanna-Barbera Studios to follow a sit-com format, essentially following a template laid down by one of the most popular shows of the time, The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason."

"Was Jackie Gleason a dinosaur?"

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but I have made it my mission to continue to bring as much real-world relevance to reading, writing and 'rithmatic, which for some reason get labeled as the Three R's, even though only one of them starts with an R. We note this while children continue to find their own world worth discovering, one in which everything Mister Caven says is subject to verification by Google. Which turns out to be okay. I don't mind being fact-checked, though it can get a little dicey when that half century between myself and the fact-checker comes into play. 

Which opens the potential for me to learn. I have had to become familiar with all manner of social media, even the ones that have drifted out of favor of something better. I could say that I wasted time learning about Snapchat only to find out that nobody cool uses that anymore. But for a few moments there, I appeared relevant. Like the time I mentioned Fortnite to a group of fourth graders. "You play Fortnite Mister Caven?"

"No, but I am aware of its existence."

Which turns out to be a little like a fourth grader's connection to fractions. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Wild Life Observer

 I should have sensed trouble when my father-in-law asked me if I had read the most recent column from P.J. O'Rourke. This was several years ago, before the Dark Days of the Game Show Host. I had been made aware, over the transom, that Mister O'Rourke had given in and joined the Red Side. A conservative commentator who skewed toward libertarianism, he was a clever foil for those less incisive Blues who might have been run in front of him on a panel or radio show. All of this making mincemeat of less-prepared liberals came after the time that I welcomed him into my life.

Those were the seventies, the time of "me," a decade perfectly suited for the trajectory of P.J. I looked forward to my next issue of National Lampoon appearing in the mailbox. This was where I first encountered the raucous and ribald style that fueled my adolescence. Aside from being Editor In Chief of "NatLamp" as I liked to call it, P.J. O'Rourke's credits back then included the Broadway production Lemmings, which helped launch the careers of John Belushi, Christopher Guest and Chevy Chase, he was also co-conspirator on the magazine's High School Yearbook Parody

To say that there was an anti-authority streak in P.J. O'Rourke's work would be doing a disservice to the word "streak." Instead, it would be more appropriate to say that there was a streak of respectability in the anarchic middle finger he was happily waving at the powers-that-be. In 1981, after my subscription lapsed, he moved on to freelance work, ultimately landing at the National Affairs desk at Rolling Stone. He stayed there for twenty years, poking holes in well-intentioned promises and policies. He wrote books with titles like Parliament of Whores and Give War A Chance. He referred to the Obama Presidency as "the Carter administration in better sweaters."

It was about this time that I had to leap off the O'Rourke express. My bleeding heart couldn't take it anymore. While I was living in my twenties, trying to live up to the wild lifestyle inspired by the writings of a thirty-something who had moved up the food chain, P.J. was taking on bigger targets. Not the ones I felt comfortable ridiculing myself. We parted ways when he became too far removed from our youthful adventures, inspired and otherwise. 

P.J. O'Rourke died of lung cancer this past week. There is not doubt that he stomped on the Terra in ways that only oversized personalities like his and Hunter Thompson could. The fact that he wore a tie, around his neck and not as a headband, made him a hero for the button-down types who were still tied to that group of country club fussbudgets lampooned in Caddyshack. But that's another story for another time. Aloha, P.J. Thanks for the fires you set. Most of them, anyway. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

What Price?

 Hey, sorry to be the one telling you this, but in the midst of all this school closing and Entertainment Weekly ceasing to publish, people have continued to shoot guns. At one another. 

It's that last bit that that is the problem. When folks kill other folks with guns, it ruins more than one day. It has a ripple effect. So much so that it can take years of lengthy litigation to arrive at some sort of settlement. The families of the victims of Sandy Hook were just awarded such a deal this past week. Seventy-three million dollars. Seven years after twenty children and six adults were murdered at an elementary school in Newtown, Remington has been ordered to pay what amounts to just under three million dollars a life for its part in manufacturing the weapon used by the killer. Remington has been in and out of Chapter Eleven bankruptcy since the massacre in Connecticut, and while they have been shielded from most of the storm by insurers and lawyers, this one will leave a mark. 

A mark for all twenty-six first graders and the staff that tried to protect them. The children would be teenagers if not for the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle brought to you by the financially and morally bankrupt folks at Remington. 

And now it should be noted that it was just a few months ago that the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting won their lawsuit against the Department of Justice. The suit alleged that the FBI failed to act on tips that might have stopped the killer from taking his guns to school and killing seventeen fellow students and faculty. The amount of this award was one hundred twenty-seven and a half million dollars. Which is a slightly better return on souls lost than their first grade counterparts in Connecticut. That works out to be seven and a half million dollars a body. Of course, this has to be amortized over the course of the four years since Valentine's Day was forever ruined for the survivors of this mass shooting.  

Meanwhile, it should be noted that in spite of these judgements, gun manufacturers continue to do banner business. People in the United States bought more than twenty million guns last year. It would seem that we can afford it. 

Not the victims, mind you. Just the ones pulling the trigger. And the ones making the money from the ones pulling the trigger. 

Sleep tight, America.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Shrieking From Responsibility

I remember arguing with my mother. I do not remember what we were arguing about. Unless it was about me being seventeen. Not much of a position from which I could launch a coherent discussion, but I don't think that was ever the point. 

The real point was that I had done nothing to try and negotiate all the emotional struggles I had accrued in my life up until that point and focused them all one that one moment in time. The sadness. The frustration. The darkness. After years of living in a home filled with love and understanding, I felt that I needed to break down barriers that didn't really exist. 

My poor mother. All that adolescent rage being dumped at her feet after years of sitting down at the kitchen table after school and discussing my day over a glass of Kool-Aid. All the room to grow that I was given, all the freedoms I enjoyed, and I still found something about which to complain.

Loudly. 

I'm a parent now, and I can say with certainty that if I was angling to get at some hidden agenda or unfairness that existed in the way we carried out our business I was coming up empty. Which, upon reflection, may have only added fuel to the nonsensical fire that burned inside of me back then. 

Only it didn't feel like nonsense. Voice raised. Doors slammed. Reason diminished. I was loved and cared for by somehow I had found a switch in my brain that would not allow me to feel it. Except that I knew somewhere in the midst of all this shouting that I was arguing with my own shadow. My mom was standing in for the self that I was loathing. 

Which was unfair to a degree I can only fully appreciate now, after having raised one son, not three, without any of that nonsense. I will confess that I was ready, during his teenage years, for the onslaught. Imagine my chagrin when it never materialized. This left me with the sinking feeling and realization that maybe I had overstepped my youthful bounds. I brought unnecessary levels of tension to our otherwise happy home. 

And maybe this made me a better parent, a better person down the road. Maybe. But I know that my mother was the one who put up with all of that spittle, and I have her to thank for putting up with me. 

Thanks, mom. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Where Were They?

 They are currently holding the Winter Olympics. In (checks notes) China. This is coincidental to the airing of the American Football World Championship which was won by (checks notes again) a Doctor Dre. All of this spectacle took place on our televisions over the past weekend, and many of us sat starstruck on our couches while a parade of celebrity passed through our living rooms. What we didn't see was a lot of masks. 

Not the theatrical kind. Not the bank-robbing kind, that might have been appropriate on a ski slope near Beijing, but since we live in a world that trades heavily on the visages of those with higher Q ratings than our own, we are left to gaze longingly on those chins and lips that are exceptions to the rule. The mask mandates, that for convenience sake really ought to be called "maskdates." 

This is not a diatribe about these orders from on high. I have no real issue with the powers that be suggesting ways that I might stay safe and avoid contracting a potentially deadly disease. I am down with that. What puzzles me is how very little of what I saw this past weekend applied to my daily life. Those multimillion dollar commercials that played out during the Super Bowl, the ones that tend to be seen just once in all their glory, featured the countenances of famous or soon-to-be famous humans going about their business: driving electric trucks, driving electric cars, driving electric vehicles to purchase Doritos. Without masks. Which did not have the net effect of making me more likely to purchase an electric Dorito, but rather it made me nervous. Nervous in the same way I tend to get these days anytime I watch a TV show or movie with crowds of people. Why aren't they maintaining some sort of safe distance? Nobody has a mask on? Unsettling is perhaps an understatement. It certainly rocks something to my core. 

When they made the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy on that cramped little podium they rolled out on the field, I looked for a mask among the great big men embracing and celebrating. Who cares? We're all going to Disneyland!

I'm not. I am sitting in my home, waiting for the scientists to free me from this sentence that has dragged on for nearly two years. What approximates "normal life" continues to play out in front of me while I continue to amend my social calendar and make sure I have extra K95s in a basket by the door. I get tested twice a week, to make sure I haven't picked anything up through the double layer of protection over my sweaty mouth and chin. 

And I wait anxiously for the weekly drama on NBC that features an everyday family struggling to play by the rules. The rules we need to keep following. Even during the commercials. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Albatross

 I'm having trouble escaping the feeling that I have not done enough. I could have done more. I should have done something different. If I had said more or spoken up to the powers that have voted to close the school where I have worked since the late twentieth century. 

Suggesting that Horace Mann Elementary is my second home is not hyperbole. We moved into our house just a few months before I was offered a job to teach there. I ran with my new baby strapped into a jogging stroller to the place where I would spent the next quarter century, five days a week, nine months a year. Some evenings. Some weekends. My waking hours and then some. When things break at my house, I fix them. When things break at my school, I fix them. 

At my house, the thing that I have worked on most often, since we moved in, is the fence out front. I have referred to it as my Magnificent Obsession. At school, the fence is in pretty good shape. That's not my worry. The playground that the fence surrounds, however, is another matter completely. Over the course of my tenure, the asphalt surface has been patched and painted and patched again. While I have been able to purchase and apply hardware and lumber solutions to the fence in front of my house, the equipment and materials necessary to revitalize the blacktop at my school are beyond my scope and capacity. 

But that doesn't mean I have stopped making noise about it. Submitting work orders, pointing out the cracks and holes to any and all visitors who might show up asking "is there anything we can do for your school?" Over the decades there have been plenty of plans and suggestions floated out there about how and when Horace Mann's playground might become less of a threat to the children who play on it. For an entire school year, the yard sat empty and could have been repaved half a dozen times, but maybe there was already something in the air. Maybe there was no need to fix something that wouldn't be around that much longer. 

And now, the weight of all this talk about closing the school lands squarely on that great expanse of asphalt. I am burdened by the reality of there being no reason to repair or replace anything at a school that will be shut down. Even though we are not slated to close our doors for a year, I cannot imagine that a spade of dirt will be turned to make recess more pleasurable experience for a group of kids who will soon be turned out on new playgrounds, somewhere else. 

Away from home. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Circulation

 I know what you've been wondering. All you regular readers are on pins and needles waiting for my reaction to the latest news. I can say that, at this point in time, I have grown a bit disaffected. I don't have the fervent passion to strain and fuss like I may have once upon a time. It has become clear, over time, that there are certain things that are out of my control.

One of them is my subscription to Entertainment Weekly. Over the past couple of decades, I had made a practice out of the convenience of having a new issue of a compendium of pop culture tidbits arriving every seven days or so in my mailbox. It was part of my morning ritual to sit down over a bowl of granola and a glass of orange juice and flip through chunks of this periodical before I jumped up and got ready to face my day. Reading an article or two each weekday allowed me the weekend to catch up on anything that may have escaped my initial perusal. This was especially true of those Double Issues, the ones that packed all the news about the upcoming Fall TV season, or the Summer Movie Preview. Mostly all this Entertainment digest had the impact of making it loads of fun for me to announce to friends and co-workers about what surprises were coming down the pike, and tasty morsels of "did you know?"

Well, that's all coming to an end. You may remember my tired rant about how ridiculous it was that the publishers of Entertainment Weekly had decided to make their magazine appear just once a month. At the time, we subscribers were offered the convenience of unfettered access to exclusive content on their website. Which had the effect of turning me to a screen first thing in the morning. I could hear my father, the printer, crying somewhere in the past. I let the notion of sparing trees from becoming a weekly sacrifice to the recycling bin buoy me as I left my kitchen table for the office where my day would now begin. Not turning pages but clicking links. 

Of course, once loosed upon Al Gore's Internet it became clear that my morning's information inoculation no longer had to be limited to whatever stories and features the editors of Entertainment Weekly saw fit to put in front of me. I lost track of the format. I lost track of the taste of an Owen Gleiberman review,  and the blur of the last page's Bullseye. What may have been the last issue that will ever be delivered to my home sits on a stack of other magazines, the cover has not been opened. Entertainment Weekly will now only exist in the Phantom Zone of cyberspace. 

Eventually, I will try and navigate the twisting tunnel of the circulation department of the magazine's new owners, trying to salvage whatever money I may have once invested in a subscription, but for now I am content to let it slip into the past. Like those bowls of granola. And the kitchen table. I'll be the guy searching the length and breadth of the virtual world for new things to gripe about here on this blog. Entertainment Weekly is no longer on the list. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Who Needs A Heart When A Heart Can Be Broken?

 Giving or receiving any hearts without the aid of any sort of anesthesia seems ill-advised. And yet, here we are again, faced with the vast and incomprehensible void of uncertainty, the one we call Valentine's Day. Having now spent half my life in a committed relationship, the real terror has waned. The notion that I would not have a date on Valentine's Day has eased off. A bit. It has been replaced by the fear of trying to remain romantically engaged while the daily thrumming of life continues unabated. 

Why is this day special? Apparently there was a saint, or maybe two, that defied the decree of Roman Emperor Claudius II who felt that single, unattached men made better soldiers and outlawed marriage. Valentine, legend suggests, kept on marrying young lovers in spite of this executive order. He was put to death for his trouble. Or maybe it was the other guy named Valentine who was trying to help Christians escape the brutal Roman prisons, and was locked up himself. He fell in love with the jailer's daughter, and before he was executed, he sent a letter to her inscribed "from your Valentine." 

Or maybe it was the newly minted Christians who chose to put their mark on the pagan festival of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. These boys were nurtured by a she-wolf, and while that kind of thing went over big in ancient Rome, it wasn't quite on brand with the slightly less bestial Christians. But since there was already a feast day set aside for the Ides of February, why not go ahead and move it back just a day and start selling boxes of chocolate and crepe paper hearts to cash in on what was already a going concern? 

Someone in the Middle Ages got it into their heads that February 14th was also the beginning of mating season for birds, so what better day to insist on young men and women to follow suit, if not just a little less avian and perhaps more discretely? 

So all these centuries later, we continue to subject ourselves to the outsized expectations of martyred saints and pagan rituals, fueled by the biological noticings of some Middle Aged bird fanciers. No pressure. Unless you view it from the perspective of the ten year old boys and girls who are told they must have a tiny SpongeBob card for every member of their class, even though there is really only one that they care about. Or the husband who looks around the house the weekend before the big day for anything that might resemble a thoughtful and romantic gesture.

Well. Here it is, sweetheart. Happy Valentine's Day. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Another Brick

 When I was in high school, it seemed as though every teenager in the country was issued their very own copy of Pink Floyd's album The Wall. The "hit single" if there was one from this four-sided epic included the lyrics, "We don't need no education, We don't need no thought control, No dark sarcasm in the classroom, Teacher, leave them kids alone." It was an anthem, of sorts, for the alienated youth of the time. The time was 1979. 

Those words have been in my head since then. And every so often, I hear them rattling around in the closet of my mind as I meander through my day. As a teacher. I think about how I was once a child who felt oppressed by institutional learning facilities. I remember how listening to this song made me feel seen, and heard. 

Now I work in one of those institutional learning facilities. For the time being, anyway. Part of my mission for the time I have been "Mister Caven" at Horace Mann Elementary School is to attempt to strip away that feeling of walls. We still stop and listen when the bell rings. We don't run in the halls. And yes, there are times when my rhetoric skews to the sarcastic, but I am not here for mind control. I am here for cultivation. Lifting up, not putting down.

Every day I have spent inside the walls of this school have been about building from the inside without having to tear anything down. I fix things. I climb the ladder to put the basketball nets back on the rims, right after I have been up on the roof getting the balls that have been kicked there. "By mistake." I walk students back to class when they have busted out, searching for an early exit. Not by force, but by reason. We talk about the options available. Do they really want to go home, and face the potential disappointment of their parents? Would it be better to give math another try, even though fractions can be completely confounding? In the lunchroom, I peel back the plastic wrap, start to peel an orange, ask for help keeping the floor clear of debris. Back outside on the playground, I am tying shoes and unraveling conflicts, encouraging kids to use their words when they feel hurt. And I encourage them to listen to one another. 

Oh, and somewhere in there, I teach. I provide a place to engage with Al Gore's Internet in ways that might provide them something beyond a high score. I give them a place to run and play, sometimes tricking them into moments of understanding and teamwork. My secret agenda is not mind control. It is education. 

I've been in this business long enough to know that if our school is closed, and all of us are scattered to the four winds that our mission will not change. What will change is the sense of community that I have carried with me all these years, having my place, my team, my family taken away. Because somewhere in this mix, the decision was made that what we were doing did not match up with the spreadsheets provided by financial consultants who never set foot inside our school. They are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for tearing down these walls. 

I would not have imagined this in 1979. I cannot believe it now. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Spoiled

 “The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.” 

This was the title card that appeared at the end of the version of Fight Club that had been streaming on mainland Chinese services. This little addition to David Fincher's 1999 film was placed there by China's cultural police obscured the intended finale placed there by the film's director. If you have yet to see this movie or read the book, or talk to co-workers about it and obsess mightily on all its contents, you are walking a thin line, since it has been twenty-three years since the film's release and the rules for Fight Club suggest that I may have already said too much. Far, far too much. 

But this sort of revisionist conspiracy brought me immediately to A Clockwork Orange. It was only after watching Kubrick's tale of a dystopian future a dozen times that someone clued me into the fact that there were several moments in which the film diverged from the novel upon which it was based. And if you guessed that one these was the ending, you may have read ahead. In the book, there is an epilogue that explains how juvenile delinquent Alex actually is cured. As he grows old, his desire for violence begins to wane, and he even suggests that he may start a family one day. It was "just a phase," and his moral compass is restored. Which, if you have seen the film is a very different message than the one you might take away from seeing it on the big screen. 

In this way, Stanley Kubrick is to A Clockwork Orange as the Chinese Government is to Fight Club. 

These may be notorious examples of how artistic vision can change from one moment to the next, from one tyrannical vision to another. Everyone's story can be aided by a good editor. Or at least it can be "punched up," if you'll forgive the pun. It was Fight Club's author, Chuck Palahniuk who wrote in the novel, On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” It's better, for the sake of storytelling, to burn out rather than fade away. Which may be why Mister Palahnuik found it ironic that suddenly there was a great fuss being made over the censorship of his work. “My books are heavily banned throughout the U.S.,” Palahniuk said. “The Texas prison system refuses to carry my books in their libraries. A lot of public schools and most private schools refuse to carry my books. But it’s only an issue once China changes the end of a movie? I’ve been putting up with book banning for a long time.”

Does anyone else want to see that movie? 

I do. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Uphill

 Sometimes, I wonder aloud why I do what I do. For a living. I grumble. I gripe. And then I go ahead and pack up my kit bag to make the trip back to school the next day.

It was on one of those trips, pedaling up the hill next to my house, that it occurred to me out of the blue: 

Or not.

I do not have to stay in the same job, same school, same profession. I don't have to stay in the place where I landed thirty years ago. This idea of neighborhood is every bit as discouraging at times as it is invigorating. Instead of complaining about "the district" or the ever-shifting sands of my job description, I could take it on the lam and seek out a new place. A better place. 

Different, at least. 

I caught myself staring at a link that read "Kansas has a teacher shortage." I hovered over it for quite some time before choosing to leave it unexplored. Instead, I sat down and tried to piece together the fragments that would be my day. The joke around my school is that it says that I am the computer and PE teacher, but my actual job description is "whatever anyone else isn't doing." There are several of us who wear this badge. With distinction. We are the ones that keep this little engine chugging down the track when there are holes on our roster. When something needs to be fixed, or a class needs to be covered. "Free time" is what I have at home.

I know that there are jobs out there that would not require this same amount of rigor and attention. I also know that there are very few jobs that would allow me the opportunity to get behind and push. All the rescuing and support that I have done over these years has been given back to me. Kenneth hugged me the other day for tying his shoe. Kenneth is a kindergartner, but over the course of my career, I have tied a lot of shoes. 

It was long about the time that I finished that last sentence that my principal appeared at the door. She asked if I would help her get the breakfast ready pass out since our cafeteria manager had called in sick. I got up and went back to work. Sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees, but since the forest is my neighborhood, those are my trees. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Fait Accompli

 It reminded me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln. When asked about losing an election, he said he felt “like the boy that stumped his toe,—‘it hurt too bad to laugh, and he was too big to cry.’” I may amend that by saying that I do feel like vomiting.

On Tuesday night, the Oakland School Board voted, along what were already pretty established lines, to close our school. Not just our school. A number of others made the list as well. In a last minute addition to the resolution put forth by those who hoped to close a budget shortfall by "consolidating schools," one of the members of the board suggested sparing a few off the top. It was a spectacular act of political theater, providing those left awake at that hour the impression that there was something called "largesse" left among those who saw fit to balance their mismanaged budget on the backs of black and brown students and their families. 

The families of students that attend my school. 

And I would like to say that I was shocked. Or surprised. I'm not. Disgusted. Depressed. Deflated. Demoralized. That's more like it.

A week earlier, I listened to six hours of public comment on the topic. Not one voice was raised in support of this action. Those comments continued well after I went to bed, lasting until three in the morning. This past Tuesday, we all sat in front of our zoom machines, waiting for a chance to have our voices heard, but a motion by some of the more capricious members moved to shut down any further discussion from outside. They wanted to get to the vote. The voices that were kept at a distance through technology were cut off, and only those left fighting what I can only describe as the good fight, the ones on the board who hoped to avoid consolidation, liquidation, amputation, tried to speak truth to power. 

The power had already spoken. 

So now we wait. We are told that we have a year to prepare for the impending sentence. I do not know what to say to families and kids. I would like to read this into the record. It is the work of a fifth grader who has spent six years with us and will be fortunate enough to be among the penultimate promotion held here at Horace Mann. "You should not close the school because we have a lot of friends here. I have been at this school since kindergarten. I have been at this school for six years. One reason you should not close this school is because there is Upward Roots. If you don’t know what Upward Roots is, Upward Roots is a community program. Also you should not close this school because we have memories here."

I have memories here too. That's one of them.


Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Familiar

 Fluffy came to live with us a little more than a year ago. He's here right now, crowding me of the keyboard in his semi-vigorous attempt to get me to pay more attention to him than what is on the screen in front of me. This is the way of cat, as I am becoming more familiar. It is a very different energy than dog. There is no frantic neediness to Fluffy's actions. He merely posits himself in my immediate vicinity when he feels that I have yet to notice him to the degree to which he believes that I should. And, sucker that I am, I often find myself drawn into the interaction which consists of my hand needing to be stroking or scratching him in a particular place or fashion. This results most often in the low rumbles from his throat, the one we call a purr. It is the siren song of cats that draws even hard cases like myself to their doom, or at least without the use of their hands for minutes at a time. 

We had a dog named Maddy. Or Maddie. We were never in full agreement of the spelling. When she came to us, here name was Missy. But we weren't having any of that. Once she was Maddy(ie), everything clicked. She was never overbearing, but she did get anxious when her pack was not around her. She preferred us all to be in the same room, and once we settled, she would hop up to be adjacent to a lap where she could hang her head. This was she could monitor our movements, in case we should start to drift apart. She was a dog, so she needed a job. Corralling us was hers. 

There was a dog up the street. His name was Scotty. Scotty was different than most of the dogs behind fences past whom I would run. He didn't feel the need to yell at me for passing in front of his yard. He was mostly interested in where I was going, and how I got to be there. Some days he would simply lay on the stairs in front of his house and give me tacit approval as I ran past. On others, he would trot down to the gate to greet me, to let me know that I was noticed and missed. Scotty was similar in size and shape to Maddy, and after she was gone, Scotty helped fill that dog-shaped void. 

Until a couple weeks ago. I had made several trips past Scotty's house without a glimpse of my puppy pal. Then my wife broke the news. Scotty had gone, as all dogs do, to heaven. And there was another big, dog-shaped hole in my life again. Returning home from my Scotty-less run, I sat at my desk and felt the loss. Not my dog, but a dog with whom I was familiar. 

About that time, Fluffy came and rubbed up against my shins. It was dinnertime, after all. And he might have sensed that I needed some sort of creature comfort. Pretty good dog, for a cat. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Dave Works Late Night

 I was sitting outside the school where I work after dismissal, supervising those students whose parents had not yet made it out to pick up their children from a hard day's learn. A colleague and I were commiserating about other jobs we have had, the ones that did not bring us the kind of awkward satisfaction that this teaching gig does. The jobs we used to hate before we learned to love the stories they provided us. 

I used to work late night at Arby's. The Roast Beef Place. This was before they had "the meats." This was back when diversifying your fast food menu was a potentially dangerous move. That was for other places, like Jack In The Box, with their hamburgers and tacos. My crew and I were responsible for slinging "roast beef" sandwiches of various sizes and condiment combinations at the public. We stayed open on Friday and Saturday nights until they were Saturday and Sunday mornings. We locked the doors at two. 

As it happened, this time just happened to coincide with the hour that most of the local bars shoved their customers back out into the world. And some of those inebriated souls would wash up in our parking lot. The more clever of these were the ones who took it upon themselves to make an early exit from their drinking holes to make sure they had plenty of time to fill their colons with meat before passing out until well after sunrise. The challenge for us, the closing crew, was that we were operating on a very scientific but sometimes flawed formula that told us how much "roast beef" we would need to get us through the night. The compressed loaves that would eventually be sliced thin and loaded onto a variety of buns took hours to cook. The last loaf would usually come out of the oven around nine PM. It was not the closing crew's primary concern to make the food. We would continue to slice and sling, but it was our job to hose the place down and get it sparkly clean for the next day's business. 

This led to a number of interactions like this: "I'd like three Super Roast Beef sandwiches."

"I'm sorry. We're out of roast beef. We can make you a Turkey Deluxe or a Hamchy."

"A Hamchy?"

"Ham and cheese."

"But this is Arby's. You're the roast beef place, right?"

"You're right. But we ran out of roast beef. See, we close in an hour and.."

"You're out of roast beef? This is Arby's!"

And so on. I suppose we could have locked the doors at that point, but we had been filled with stories of the franchise owners, Mike and Cowboy, who liked to make late-night drop-ins to their stores to make sure that things were humming along just like they expected them to be. It also took a certain number of hours to clean and sanitize the shake machine and the meat slicer and hose down the floors and counters and prep the next day's potato cakes. We were hostages. Fast food prisoners. 

On those occasions that the meat didn't run out, things were clean and ready to go for the next day, and the doors were locked, there would be a rapping at the door. Hungry drunk boys pleading for just a Beef 'n' Cheddar before they attempted to drive themselves home. Sometimes they offered us money above and beyond the market price. A few times, I relented, much to the dismay of the rest of the crew who were itching to be off and away on their own late night sojourns. Mostly I would throw up my hands and mouth "I'm sorry," even though I knew they could hear me just as well as I could hear their drunken whining on the other side. But mostly I tried to imagine how anything we had to offer was going to make their condition any more fortunate. 

Which is why getting paid to sit on the retaining wall in front of an elementary school at the end of the day feels like a pretty sweet deal.  

Monday, February 07, 2022

Evilution

 Quick quiz: Who is responsible for presenting and approving amendments to the Constitution of the United States? If your guess was "The Congress of those same United States," then you might want to skip the next section. "The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution," reads the first sentence of Article V. It does go on to describe how state legislatures can put forth amendments as well and the majorities necessary to move them on from conventions to acceptance. 

Another question: How many amendments are there, currently, to the Constitution of the United States. Any guess higher than ten will get you credit, but the current tally stands at twenty-seven. That's more than one and a half times the original group that we have become fond of referring to lyrically as The Bill Of Rights. These are the ones that get the most attention, since they are the oldest and were written by men, many of them who were wearing wigs and stockings, more than two hundred years ago. We refer to these men as "The Founding Fathers," with that same lilt that we speak of The Bill Of Rights.

Which may be why Congressperson Lauren Boebert of Colorado issued forth this proclamation: “The Constitution is not evolving,” she wrote on Twitter. “To say that spits in the face of every single one of our founders.” Let's just start by saying that without a certain amount of evolution on the part of this document, it is highly unlikely that she would be serving in Congress, since it wasn't until we got to the nineteenth amendment, ratified in 1919, that women were allowed to vote in the United States. Her confusion may also lie in the inability to recognize how things have changed on our planet outside her dull little bubble over the course of two centuries. Those additional amendments have allowed us to evolve as a nation. The genius of our founding fathers lies in their understanding of the everchanging face of democracy and government, which is the reason they provided for these things we call "amendments," as they tend to amend the thinking of those original thoughts. Sometimes they're really good ideas, like the abolishment of slavery. That was number thirteen. Sometimes it's a good idea gone bad, like the prohibition of liquor. That was the eighteenth. After fourteen years, Congress (checks notes) repealed this amendment. 

Or perhaps the trouble lies, for folks like Ms. Boebert, in their confusion between Amendments and Commandments. They sound a bit alike. And if you're a god-fearing person who is also afraid of having her guns taken away or anybody else getting the right to vote, you might not be able to make this critical distinction. 

Or maybe she can't count past ten. 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

86

 We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 

This isn't in the Constitution, so don't bother trying to look it up. There is a Federal Asterisk to this, however: *unless the business is discriminating against a protected class. Ready for the list? Race or color, National origin or citizenship status, Religion or creed, Sex, Age, Disability, pregnancy, or genetic information, Veteran status. Which may lead to the obvious question: Who's left? That's a pretty comprehensive set of parameters. 

And yet, that sign still shows up in plenty of your finer establishments. Like Twitter and Facebook. Yes, even without a brick and mortar fa├žade upon which a proprietor could mount such a reminder, there are plenty of online entities that will let you know when it's time to hit the virtual bricks. Which is how you start to hear a lot of whining about the Constitution and Free Speech. Since these are not government agencies, but rather private businesses that make their own rules about things like "no shoes, no shoes, no moral compass, no service," you get these appeals to freedoms that cannot outweigh that which we most treasure: Free Enterprise. 

Far right columnist and white nationalist Michelle Malkin found this out recently when she and her husband were banned from Airbnb. Spokeshuman for the company stated, “Consistent with our policies, if we become aware of users who are members of or are actively affiliated with hate groups, we remove them from Airbnb.” This means that she and her husband are no longer able to book posh places to plotz while denying the Holocaust. A clue for this particular policy might stem from the fact that the founder of the company, Brian Chesky, is of mixed Polish and Italian descent whose parents were both social workers. And there is their legacy. 

Because, at the end of the day it would seem that hate is not a solid business plan. In the meantime, keep an eye out for "Boots&Beds," an online service I am imagining that will find rooms for those who skew to the far right, where they can billet with like-minded pinheads as they plot their next display of racist chicanery. Instead of ratings given with stars, they will get little swastikas. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Hall Of What?

 Let me begin with a long and detailed expression of appreciation for Dolly Parton. Her music, her self-esteem and her worldview are constant reminders of what we could be. Her million dollar donation to Vanderbilt University helped fund the development of the Moderna vaccine. She put her money where her arm is. Or was. Or continues to be. About a year later, she received her shot, and sang a reworked version of her hit Jolene“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.” In addition to that, she launched and founded the Imagination Library to boost literacy among children. The initiative has mailed more than one hundred thirty-three million free books to children. Her My People Fund gave $9 million to people who lost their homes in fires that took place in 2016 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Go ahead and stack this on or next to the pile of times she has shown her support for the LGBTQ community, including being a regular and vocal supporter of same-sex marriage. Her stance: “everyone should be with who they love.” This came along with her own special tweak, “I think gay couples should be allowed to marry. They should suffer just like us heterosexuals."

There are few folks in show business who are as self-aware of themselves as Dolly. She knows where she came from, and she knows where she's been. The winner of ten Grammys, ten Country Music Awards, and has been nominated twice for an Oscar for best song, and is still waiting for that call for a revival for the Broadway version of Nine To Five to get that Tony. She has been honored by by The Kennedy Center, and every possible country music certificate and achievement that can be doled out to her is well deserved. 

I am not ready, at this point, to explain her inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

I know that this stance is odd, coming as it does from a guy who had to explain to his wife why Carole King was "rock and roll royalty." While it is true that Ms. Parton did a fine cover of Stairway To Heaven on her album Horns & Halos, complete with banjo and fiddle accompaniment, I don't know if this qualifies her for Rock and Roll. Last time I checked, you weren't getting into the Country Music Hall of Fame without a Stetson. Johnny Cash? I can get that, he came up with Elvis. Glen Campbell hasn't made the jump, even though he played guitar for the Monkees and the Beach Boys. 

So maybe I should open my heart to the idea that Dolly is so great and powerful that she can transcend this particular barrier, and I will let the voters decide, but I figure her next prize should probably come from the Nobel Committee. 

Friday, February 04, 2022

Gated Community

 The morning after the Big Meeting, there was a line of kids outside the gate. They were waiting to get in. They were waiting to get into the school that had been their home away from home for most of their lives. I was on the inside, so I unlocked the gate and let them in to start another day. 

I was a tad bleary, having stayed up way past my bedtime to take in as much of the Big Meeting as I could. I sat through the commissioned fiscal study that came with a slideshow that presented the Oakland Unified School District's plan to close schools. I sat in front of my desk at home, staring at my computer as the Zoom event unfolded. My wife brought me dinner there as I waited for the axe to fall. All the while I mused on metaphors and analogies. The one I settled on initially was the one in which I went to a doctor to see about the pain I was having in my leg. To which the doctor replied, "Well, it looks like you've got another leg right there next to the one with pain. I think what we'll do is just take that painful leg off and leave you with the one good one. How about that?"

I would seek out another opinion. These closings of thirteen public schools were leaked to us all a week before the Big Meeting. We had just enough time to attempt to organize our community around this highly charged decision, and there was some concern that this outrageous choice would sail past our families without a chance for rebuttal. 

I needn't have worried. Thousands of people, young and old, queued up to speak their minds about the "consolidation" process. Once the floodgates were finally opened, there was a seemingly endless stream of parents, students and community members waiting to have their voices heard. It came as one, loud, continuous voice of dissent. To say that this voice was saying "Thank you, no," would be doing a disservice to the eloquence and periodic ferocity of those who were allowed in to speak their minds. Many of them focused on the vague frailty of the one choice offered by the district, backed up by numbers collected by an outside consulting firm. Headed by, I am not making this up, a man named Barry Dragon. 

So while I sat there, eventually hearing folks from my neighborhood and my school, I wondered how these elected officials might respond. In the face of all this outrage, would they simply pivot and allow for other directions, other possible solutions? Finally, after sitting in front of a computer for five hours, I knew that I had to pack it in. I was going to be needed the next morning.

I had to be there to open the gate. 

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Clean Out Your Locker

 There was no team from Oakland involved in the National Football League Playoffs this year. The newly minted Las Vegas Raiders, coming off a tumultuous season that saw them lose their coach over a bunch of emails that showed him to be racist, misogynistic and homophobic. One of their star receivers was driving one hundred fifty-six miles an hour before he crashed into an SUV which caught fire, killing the woman and her dog inside. The Raiders decided to let him go. Just like they decided to part ways with another player, a cornerback, who was driving at more than one hundred miles an hour when he was pulled over. No one died in that fracas, but to say that the team "limped" into the playoffs might be an understatement. Maybe they were going too fast for their own good.

And, after all those years of "Just Win Baby" being tossed in alongside their "Commitment To Excellence," this is a team that is only connected to Oakland through memories and merchandise sales. 

Which doesn't mean that there was no interest in my household about who would eventually find their way to the Super Bowl. "My team," the Denver Broncos had all but assured themselves of a front row seat in their own living rooms to watch the post season before half their games had been played. Theirs was another in a series of "rebuilding." Meaning they will be one of a couple dozen also-rans, the ones who will be spending late December and early January figuring out who they want to be their new head coach and who will be in the front office and who will come along to save the team next year. Oh, and they're selling the team, which might finally allow me the opportunity to take the quotation marks off the "my team." I understand that there is a three billion dollar tax write-off available to the new owner. So I've got that to consider.

That and the potential trade for big-time superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Mister Rodgers was not arrested for anything, so he probably won't get an offer from the Las Vegas Raiders, but the talk around the NFL is that a likely landing place for this free agent is the Mile High City. 

I don't live in Denver. I never have. I grew up in Colorado, which pretty much solidified my connection to the Broncos. There were some embarrassments, like the Super Bowls John Elway lost over the span of four years to make us all wonder if there would ever be any joy in Mudville. It wasn't until the twilight of his career that Elway brought home the metaphorical bacon. Two years in a row. So we forgave him and he ascended to car dealerships and the front office, as all legends do.

Thing is, I don't want Aaron Rodgers to bring anything to the Mile High City. His anti-vax, MAGA leaning face is more suited for, well, I don't actually know where someone who would lie about his vaccination status should land. 

But get this: I wouldn't even wish him on the Las Vegas Raiders. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Roll Bounce

 I admit that I am fully open to have my day or even week changed by the events that take place outside of my home. The course of my life can be altered quite simply by a blocked shot or a missed field goal. The other night was closing in on pretty much a wash of a day. Over my shoulder, there was a basketball game being played. Not in my house, but the televised contest was being sent into my living room via a series of electronic impulses that I cannot fully explain. But there it was. The Golden State Warriors, nominally "my team," trying to hold on to a one point lead with just a couple minutes left. I felt that urge to wince at the closeness of the score. I fought it back because, after all, I am subject to the odd bounce or roll of a ball for heaven's sake.

Steph Curry brought the ball downcourt. The defense swarmed to him, but he kept moving toward the basket. Suddenly, he stopped, not to shoot but to flick a pass back to his partner in crime, Klay Thompson. Klay caught the ball, dribbled just once and jumped into the air, pushing that ball I said I had not interest in through the suddenly quiet night and finally through the hoop. Nothing but net. Pushing the lead to four points, and allowing me to remove my shoulders from my earlobes. 

Everything was going to be okay. 

It just so happens that at this same time, just a flip of the dial away, the New York Knights were down two runs to none against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deciding game of the National League Championship. The National League Championship of 1939. Roy Hobbs came up to bat, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Roy struggled, with two men already on base, it was up to him to deliver. Because he had before. So many times. He ran the count to full, and there was blood visible seeping through his jersey. Down to his final strike, Roy Hobbs crushed a fastball high into the night sky, clanging off the lights high above the stadium, resulting in a shower of sparks as he rounded the bases. The Knights won three to two. As they have all the times I have watched that movie, but it felt good to me all over again. 

I went to bed happy. Like so many nights when the balls bounced the right way. For me. I thought about Tom Brady, and all the times I had lost sleep because he got the ball to go where I didn't want it to go. And I thought about how many times he sent others to bed with happy thoughts. I forgave him for that. I slept well that night. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

So It Goes

 Once upon a time, a very clever man wrote a book, and at the very beginning he explained to his readers what they were about to discover: "It is about what life feels like to me." The name of the book was Slapstick. It was not the first book by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that I read, but it was the first one I read with a hard cover. It was bought for me as a present. Brand new. 

I was fourteen at the time. My cerebral cortex was still growing at a stunning rate, as I was still in my prime brain years. I was soaking up words and ideas at a pace that I can only imagine now. Reading this book is what gave me the idea that I might, one day, be a writer. This is because I too was so desperate to explain how life felt to me. So much of my earliest writing was done as knockoffs of stories that I had seen or read as a child, but by the time that I was in junior high, I was ready for something more. The novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. were perhaps there to be enjoyed as humorous science fiction, but carried enormous life lessons with the tales of space travel and the bending of time. They were enormous for me, anyway. 

Which is where I began to lift bits and pieces of style. Refrains such as "So it goes," and the way he would periodically implore his readers to "Listen:." Mister Vonnegut would walk a tightrope of insisting that his stories were just stuff and nonsense, but they all turned out to be deadly serious at the same time. 

A few weeks ago, at our weekly family meeting, we arrived at the Big Question portion: "What job do you wish you had?" I struggled for a moment to decide, and fell back on my earliest childhood imaginings of being a makeup artist for Universal monster movies, or an animator for Disney. It never occurred to me that I probably should have gone for the obvious: I wish that I could have been Kurt Vonnegut. 

It is no coincidence that the next writer that I adopted was a student of Vonnegut's. John Irving was all about wrestling, Maine and sexual obsession, not Tralfamadore and Indiana. Overall, the movie adaptations of Mister Irving's novels have been easier to stomach than those of his mentor. Sadly, only George Roy Hill's Slaughterhouse Five can hold a candle to its source material. 

Currently, there are no plans to develop any of my writing into a major motion picture. Which, if you've seen the abomination that is the Jerry Lewis-starring film version of Slapstick, probably turns out to be good news. And that is how life feels like to me. 

Today.