Friday, June 24, 2022

Tune Out, Drop In

 Okay. I get it. Donald Trump knew that he lost the election and went about trying to keep himself in the seat of power regardless of the outcome. 

I got that back on or before January 5, 2021. What has happened since then has been an exercise in just how far from reality money can keep one from the aforementioned reality. Witnesses, Videotape. More witnesses. Videotape of witnesses. Still more witnesses. People who saw the former "president" and game show host cling desperately to the notion that anything is possible if you wish hard enough. And threaten your underlings. 

You've got to have underlings in this kind of endeavor. The trouble with underlings is that eventually they tire of bearing the weight of the ridiculous expectations presented by the moron in charge. And the really creepy part is just how much abuse these underlings are willing to take in order to cling to their own sliver of the power pie. 

Then there are the crowds. Not just the ones that stormed the Capitol a year and a half ago, but the ones that continue to flock to auditoriums and barns across this great land of ours to hear the bloated sack of protoplasm yammer on about how unfairly he has been treated by the system he tried to subvert. These are the tiny brains that refused to peek at the news back when it was news. These are the pointy heads that would not even sniff around the edges of the evidence presented by the January 6 Committee. Which, I suppose, makes sense. Once the loosely knit threads of fabrication start to unravel, not only will their emperor be standing there in all his naked orange glory, but they will be forced to reckon with the fact that they have been lied to ever since he came gliding down that escalator way back in 2015. Like waking up from a seven year bender and finding that you really did trade everything you owned for a red baseball cap and some magic beans. 

The tough thing to reconcile here is the way that our system has delivered this gigantic tangerine from any actual consequence time and time again. Twice impeached, he was never removed from office. Days before the inauguration of the properly elected and certified successor, he rallied all those dark forces in a failed attempt to make it all go away. It's all there, but there are those who continue to ignore it. These people are loud and full of fear. Afraid that the way of life that they were sold by this charlatan has no basis in (wait for it) reality. 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Fraternization

It's always a magic time. When my little brother comes over for a visit, we finish doing all the things that we set out to do according to the invitation or the occasion. Then we talk.

We talk for hours, sometimes, depending on whether or not it's a school night for one of us. We talk about news and movies and politics and the past and the future. We talk about ourselves and each other. We talk about family. We talk about friends. We talk about art. We talk about writing. 

After all these years, we have not run out of things to talk about. This is the happy gift. This is the guy with whom I grew up. We shared breakfast time. We shared dinner time. We argued about whose turn it was to feed the dog. We conspired with one another to keep our lack of piano practice a secret from my mother. Late at night, in the loft of the cabin where we spent the summers waiting in our sleeping bags for slumber to come. Sometimes talking to each other. Sometimes reading comic books. Sometimes listening to AM radio on our proto-earbuds. 

What we have in common is everything. What we continue to discuss is everything. All these years later, you might imagine that we could just agree that we've got a pretty good understanding of one another and move on to something new. 

But no: There is still a fascination that seems to grip us both. A fascination with familiarity. A comfort that I do not share with anyone else on the planet. The friction that occurs in so many other interactions over the course of a day, week, year does not come up in my conversations with my little brother. Maybe that's because of the way I oppressed him for all those years, keeping him down as only older brothers can do. I don't imagine this is true, unless he is more forgiving than I could ever imagine. Instead, I think we have rediscovered our kinship as adults in ways that we may have missed all those years ago. 

It's a treat for me, and I assume it is for him as well. I gauge this mutual satisfaction by the amount of laughter that accompanies our back and forth. Having access to that much of a person's history is a rare and wonderful thing, and as we round the turn into our sixties, we aren't taking it for granted. We were clever enough not to go into business together, and the trip across the bridge is enough distance to keep from getting into each other's kitchens too often. 

When my little brother and I get together, I feel seen. I hope he feels the same way. I'm pretty sure he does too. But that's something we can talk about then next time. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Looking Ahead

 I was just reflecting on how Pained with a capital P conservatives must be that Walt Disney and its corporate tentacles are now solidly in the "woke" camp. For so long, the House of Mouse was a bastion of so-called Family Values, and now that's all being turned on its head. Announcements are no longer made at the confluence of the Rivers of America that begin, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls." Now they ask for attention from "Dreamers of all ages." If that's not a threat to our society as we know it, I would like to know what is. 

How about holding on to things that are passed and didn't embrace the world as we know it in the first place? That would be a threat. The Disney closet is full of skeletons like Song of the South, the crows in Dumbo, and the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. How they chose to deal with situations like this initially was to simply ignore them. But in order to make timeless stories and art, you have to be willing to reframe. Or edit. 

I give Disney credit for attempting to reconcile what will be, in 2023, a one hundred year run as an entertainment company. That kind of longevity is rare, and at times makes them a target. It wasn't too awfully long ago that liberals winced wen confronted with the Disney vision of Pocahontas and other less-than-woke properties. Fast forward a few years and you've got Turning Red, the story of a Chinese-Canadian honors student who must deal with her own self image as she enters puberty. Oh, and how she deals with her first period. 

Well, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. How about that?

Then there's the bigger picture. The one in which Disney owns most of what we watch on screens big and little. There was a kerfuffle recently when it was announced that Chris Evans would voice Buzz Lightyear in the this summer's Pixar release. Why not Tim Allen, who had been the voice of Buzz for the past twenty-seven years? Was it because of his politics? I guess you can't be a conservative and be the voice of a cartoon character in Disney's world anymore. 

Or maybe they had a young guy who would be voicing the person, not the toy. That young guy who just happens to have been Captain America for more than ten years. And while we're at it, how many people have played Batman in the past few decades? And Star Wars? When did they start letting African American women into that galaxy far, far away? It was my son who suggested to me that the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion was an allegory to the Viet Nam war. And in this particular model the part of the Rebels are not played by Americans. 

Am I going to insist that there is nothing political about any of these choices? Not on your life. There is far too much money at stake for this to be an exclusively artistic group of choices. If those choices are made while looking forward, in attempts to include more voices, then I will go ahead and have my mouse-eared cake and eat it too.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Episode IV: A New Hope

 I had finished living in Boulder. Not because I had been asked to leave, though I am sure there were those who might have made the request had they been polled at any given time. Not out of any particular malice toward me, but because I am sure that I seemed stuck. I had been there, at the foot of the Rockies, for thirty years. With the minor exception of the two semesters I spent weekdays living in Colorado Springs, I was a hometown boy and fiercely proud of it. 
As many of these stories go, what happened was I fell in love. Hard. Upon reflection I must say that I do not apparently do this any other way. But it just so happened that in order to pursue a relationship of any real sort, without resorting to the ever-popular "long distance" type, I was going to have to reckon with my location. That is why I chose to leave that well-worn rut of a life I had made for myself smack in the middle of the continent and move to the edge. I wasn't chasing a dream so much as I was chasing a reality. I needed to move in order to keep from getting psychological bed sores. Along with the newfound love of my life, I was becoming frustrated with all the love that had bound me to the only home I had known for all those thirty years. For my thirtieth birthday, I gave myself a new life. 
I came to California as a stranger in a strange land. All the maps that I had in my head were useless in my new urban setting. I had to learn everything. Where were the movie theaters? Where was my job? What the heck is cilantro and why do they want to put it in everything I eat out here? It took me a long time to reckon on this new place, this city by the bay that wasn't the one about which Journey sang. It was the place where I, perish the thought, grew up and settled down. 
And now it's been thirty years. I have led half of my life as a Californian. I have bought a house, raised a son, and voted in far more elections here than I ever did back in Colorado. I became a teacher, a job that became a career. By most definitions, I have lived my adult life out here on the edge of the continent, never fully committed to the idea of earthquakes. 
I am sixty now. At this point I feel as though there might be another episode ahead of me. While I cannot imagine leaving this house that I have painted and repaired and cleaned and grown up in, I can imagine that there are forces out there that might affect that feeling of stasis. To quote the poet, "What lies ahead I have no way of knowing."
I am old and wise enough now to know that I shouldn't be scared of that feeling. It's part of life. My life. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Coronation

 I can see it all so clearly now through the magic of videotape. Actually, I'm pretty sure they don't use tape anymore. It's probably some sort of high end digital recording, but that's where I will look to witness all the excitement and glory of the Golden State Warriors' championship run. 

Oh, it's not like I'm a bandwagon jumper. That is, unless you believe that I selected this particular blue and gold bandwagon way back when I moved to the Bay Area, and suffered through several anemic seasons before landing at this particular point in franchise history where the word "dynasty" gets tossed around as if it really meant something. 

Because it does. Winning four championships over the course of just eight years is Tom Brady kind of stuff. That kind of success is pretty unheard of in the world of sports, especially now when players flirt with free agency and following the money seems to be the rule rather than the exception. No, this group is exceptional. Just two years removed from having the worst record in the National Basketball Association to celebrating with champagne and trophies. Winning that last game when everyone else is sitting at home watching is special, and I feel privileged to have been able to take it all in.

I didn't, exactly. 

A few years back during their last championship run, I stopped watching their playoff games. Initially it was precautionary since I wasn't sure that my nerves could handle all the back and forth and multiple lead changes that are inevitable in playoff basketball. When I stopped watching, they kept winning, and knowing that one of the foremost rules in all of sports is that you never mess with a streak, I kept stopping. This did not mean that I never saw any of their performances. I kept track of them vigilantly through the magic of ESPN and other cable sports networks that were happy to replay even entire games for me to witness their dominance after the fact. 

And, if they did happen to let one get away from them, I allowed myself to be excused from having to pore over the loss. This system worked exceedingly well, and my blind faith was rewarded. I was even happily surprised to find out that my principal practiced the same behavior, and it was during the last two minutes of the deciding game six when she texted me to let me know it was "safe to watch." 

For that last one hundred twenty seconds, I soaked up all the emotion and excitement that had been keeping me from relaxing fully for the past two months. Part of me wishes that I would have allowed myself to watch more of the action live. What good is all that superstition anyway? 

How about four championships in eight years? That'll work for me. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Hole

 There is a hole in my life. It's a dad-sized hole. After all these years, I can pretty much ignore it because quite frankly there have been other holes that have opened up in the meantime. The thing is, they don't close, and something the size of my father can't be ignored forever, all the time. 

I absorb that loss by regurgitating things he said. Songs he used to sing. Stories he used to tell. Oh, and the jokes. Most of them have become inextricably mixed with my own schtick. I have absorbed so much of what he was that I don't have to worry about missing him.

Except when I do. 

I don't have to worry about putting him on a pedestal. Though sometimes I do. He was, after all, the best father I ever had. And I was lucky, since I was able to hold onto him for more than half his life. I got to hug him goodbye before he took off on that last flight. The one that would lead us all back home. 

God, he could hug.

But he wasn't without fault. The past twenty-five years have taught me about the challenges of being a grownup. Of being a dad. Of being married and having a job and coming home to a family. Even when I didn't always want to. I know that my father was probably a better dad than he was a husband. That gives me room to improve on the basic model. Much in the same way he was able to get a leg up on his old man by being there for his kids even though his dad faded into the backdrop of Salina, Kansas. 

My dad won't fade into any backdrop. I won't let him. 

When my son recently announced that he was proud and happy to have my example of more than twenty years at one job, but he didn't think that was the path he wanted to take, I understood. He already has some of my best bits. And a lot of my dad's. He doesn't have to be a teacher. He doesn't have to go for a run every day after he comes home from work. 

He writes. I love that. I write too. He confided to me somewhat recently that he does not make a point of reading all these blog posts. He told me that was because he was saving them up. For when I'm gone. He wants to have something to fill up that dad-sized hole. 

I can respect that. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

A Test

 A recent poll, which just so happen to be my favorite kind of poll, suggested that a majority of Americans believe that they believe it is likely that America will cease to be a democracy in the future. Fifty-three percent of Republicans, fifty-five percent of Democrats. For those without a particular political affiliation the number was forty-nine percent. 

A few things: This poll was taken just after the first January 6 Committee hearing was aired on most networks. Nineteen million Americans tuned in to watch the holes in their country's government on display. Of course, this is pretty pitiful compared to the hundred plus glued to their sets for your standard Super Bowl or anything where disguised bachelors have to sing while preparing a dish for Gordon Ramsay, but since there were no new Pepsi or Ford commercials to be found during those two hours, that's a lot of eyes on the train wreck. It should also be noted that a similar poll was not taken in the days and hours after January 6, 2020. My guess is that those numbers might have crept up a bit. 

And no one was asked to say how far in the future they saw democracy going extinct. It's pretty hard to imagine that our robot overlords would allow such a feeble construct as a representative democracy to exist in their rule. And my imaginings of voting rights for the Eloi would be highly restricted if they exist at all when the Morlocks come to power. 

Apologies for the rampant nerd flurry there, but it pains me to think that we seem to be already teetering on the brink of surrender before we have a real test of this thing. Try throwing Donald Trump in jail for the crimes he and his minions committed. See if democracy can actually stand up to seeing a charlatan former game show host get the treatment he deserves. Vote for people who believe in democracy. Elect people who are looking to shore it up. 

"that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Friday, June 17, 2022

Apparently

 "Apparently inebriated." 

Those were the words that Representative Liz Cheney used to describe Rudy Giuliani on election night 2020. So, what's wrong with having a little drinky-winky on the biggest night of your professional life? Nothing, I suppose, as long as you don't make a World Trade Center size fool of yourself in addition to the apparent inebriation. For example: In the midst of a hotly contested count of ballots from all corners of this great land of ours, it was the apparently inebriated one who advised the then once impeached "president" to just go ahead and declare victory. Other senior advisors in the room that night encouraged the former game show host not to make any statement on the race until more votes were counted. It could be argued that it was the apparently inebriated advice that caused the once impeached "president" to become a twice impeached "president." 

Interestingly, it was the apparently inebriated one's choice to declare to anyone who would listen that he wasn't apparently inebriated. Well, it wasn't actually the former mayor who did the denying. It was his attorney, Robert Costello, who did that. "Mayor Giuliani denies the allegation. Talk to other people that were there that night and they will corroborate the Mayor," he said in an email. "You might be interested to know that the Select Committee staff counsel never inquired about this subject. I wonder why?" Costello added: "They never asked whether he had a single drink. No discussion whatsoever."

A couple things here: The House Committee is investigating the events of January 6. They are not specifically interested in the former mayor's drinking problem. If he has one. And speaking of "having one," it should also be noted that Rudy Giuliani needs a lawyer because he has been barred from practicing law in the state of New York because of his continued insistence on the Big Lie. The Big Lie that he helped set in motion on Election Night 2020. Drunk? Stupid? Evil? Corrupt? If I were the counsel for the apparently inebriated one, I think I would go with drunk. 

This might go a long way in explaining other less-than-flattering behavior by the disbarred former federal prosecutor. Like passing gas during a hearing on election fraud in Michigan. Or the hair dye incident during a press conference. And most certainly an apparently inebriated individual might have made the mistake of booking a spot in front of a landscaping business instead of a posh hotel for the purposes of taking yet another run at propping up the Big Lie. 

Was Rudy Giuliani drunk on election night, 2020? It would be a good excuse. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Episode

 The power went out on Sunday afternoon. It's something that happens in Oakland. Hot summer days play havoc with the orderly transmission of electrons through those little wires. Or maybe it was another version of the time when a disgruntled customer shot up a substation providing power and Internet connectivity to half the city. I assume it was a customer. Maybe it was an employee who was looking into more job security and creating some work for himself. 

No matter the reason, I waited on the couch for a few minutes for a quick reset of the situation, gunfire or not. My wife went on a babysitting errand of mercy, and my son was busy with a life that takes him out of the house on Sunday afternoons. It was me, the cat, and no electricity. 

I noticed how still everything was. There were no hums or vibrations from appliances waiting anxiously to spring into service. No wi-fi zipping through the air. Nothing charging on the end of a cord. Just the house settling. It felt as if the air had been left out of the place. Music, or the sound of the TV, were gone. The furry pats of cat feet were the soundtrack. 

I spent some time fiddling with my smart phone, which was clever enough to give me a vague window of the potential resumption of service. After the initial check, I felt compelled to double check because it seemed like the hopelessly proactive thing to do. A third inquiry left me to understand that I was simply using up the bit of electricity stored inside my phone and that I was having no impact whatsoever on the outcome of these events. 

I played a game of solitaire on my phone. I lost. A second game found me playing all the way out, and I was rewarded with a flurry of animated cards not much larger than the eraser at the end of a pencil, but gratifying nonetheless. It was the fourth game that I won when I realized that I was not following my own edict to save battery life, and consciously set the phone down. 

The cat looked at me as if to say, "Can't you just sit still?" Or maybe it was "Why don't you go ahead and feed me as long as you're stuck here without your big screen?" I wandered into the kitchen and took a moment to acknowledge the lack of light inside the refrigerator where the cat food was waiting. Something was happening for the cat, anyway. 

I wandered back to the front of the house, looking out on the street, and pondering yet another game of solitaire or status check. I heard feet much larger than the cat's coming up the front stairs, and at the moment my son reached for the doorknob, I heard bells. The doorbell, specifically. Power had been restored. Our long national nightmare had come to an end. My son and I went back to the kitchen where we used the restored light inside the refrigerator to find ourselves some dinner. 

When my wife returned from her mission of mercy, she found me back on the couch. There were no words to convey the struggle I had endured. Until now, of course. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Baby Step

 Saturday, June 11. Hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to March For Our Lives. From Washington D.C. to San Francisco, people gathered to let  their elected representatives know that they are tired of "thoughts and prayers." They wanted action. Action in the form of common sense legislation that would curb gun violence. 

They wanted to save lives. 

And who could have expected that the very next day a bipartisan group of senators announced that they had agreed, in principle, on gun safety legislation. In their statement, they assured us all that their bill would include "needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can't purchase weapons." This came fast on the heels of a bill pushed through the House of Representatives that would allow families, police and others to ask federal courts to order the removal of firearms from people at extreme risk of harming themselves or others. If those sound similar, that's no coincidence. This is the time to put up or shut up when it comes to gun control. And it makes sense that the House would be a little more direct about their attempts to create a "red-flag" law. The House is where you find more Democrats, less concerned with the support from the NRA. 

What's missing? A ban on assault weapons. Raising the age limit to be able to purchase those weapons. Banning the sale of high capacity magazines. Closing gun show loopholes. Universal background checks. Mandatory waiting periods. 

Why so timid? Well, maybe it's because those who oppose such measures are the ones with all the guns. Even though no one outside of Beto O'Rourke is saying out loud what so many of us are thinking. Yes, we would like to take the guns away. We would like to try and get through a month, a week, a day without dozens of people being killed. We would like to think that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is fundamentally more important than insuring unfettered access to killing machines. 

But it's a start, right? We can imagine this as the journey of a thousand miles, and this is a first step. A tiny, almost insignificant movement toward a goal, but movement nonetheless. If this announcement of possible legislation saves a life, it will be worthwhile. 

We're going to need a whole lot more of these baby steps to get to where we need to be. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Hoist It

 I have a friend who claims that today is his very favorite holiday. Here in the United States, we celebrate Flag Day on June 14th. Have no fear. Mail will still be delivered and most government offices will remain open, but there will be flags. A preponderance of them. 

The reason for all this minor hullabaloo is the anniversary of the date way back in 1777 when the design for our nation's flag was introduced and a resolution from the Second Continental Congress was issued:   "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

It wasn't until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday. That's when all the parades started. Across America, cities and towns take turns announcing that they have the longest running streak of Flag Day parades in the country To be fair, the limits of what constitutes a parade on Flag Day are pretty slim. A few people and a flag would just about cover it. Probably close off traffic for a little while, but not enough to keep anyone away from the big Flag Day sales down at the mall. 

The challenge for Flag Day comes from inside. The summer months are bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day, both carrying with them the three day weekend them along with the encouragement from the powers that be to fly our flag. And smack in the middle is the granddaddy of them all: Independence Day. Couple this with my neighbors' insistence that fireworks should be set off at all times of the day and night starting sometime in late May and lasting until somewhere around the first day of school and you get the picture: Flag Day sometimes gets lost in the patriotic wash. 

Which is probably why my friend holds it so dear. There's an underdog element that cannot go ignored. So I'll be hanging my flags out today. The "stars and bars" along with the peace flag that my family has adopted as its standard. We will celebrate in the only way we know how. Short of the parade, that is, because we are Americans. And obtusely proud of it. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Pew

 Jerry was a good churchgoer. He was a part of the church community. If the church was open, he would be there, whether it was to help set up for the annual rummage sale, or to stand out front at the curb selling turnovers. Jerry was there. He was familiar with his scripture too. Rarely was there a time when the pastor would mention a chapter or verse with which he was unfamiliar. This didn't keep him from being fully present when it came time to listen to the sermon. Part of the reason Jerry became a member of the choir was so he could have as many opportunities to listen to the word from on high as possible. He and the pastor had a little joke about this "captive audience" he held no matter what the service. They called this experience "preaching to the choir."

Jerry is a person I just made up for the sake of the following metaphor. This past Thursday night, I tuned in to watch coverage of the January 6 Committee hearings. I have been keeping tabs on the insurrectionist attempt to disrupt the normal transfer of power after the 2020 election. I have viewed each new statement and watched multiple versions of any and all footage taken of the events of that day. I have made myself familiar with organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. I have read accounts of many of the perpetrators of the attempted subversion of our democracy as well as the victims and heroes of that day who kept a horrible situation from becoming any worse. Those who died. Those who were injured. Those who were arrested. Those who were put in jail. 

Last Thursday night, the January 6 Committee was preaching to the choir. The Big Lie never landed in my living room. I watched the election unfold and nervously anticipated challenges to the tallies as they came in. Because they had been announced in advance. The former game show host and two-time loser of the popular vote for President of the United States lost the electoral vote in 2020. A majority of American voters picked Joe Biden in hopes of moving on from the empty promises and hateful rhetoric of the past four years. Every legal attempt to persuade the courts to review the election results failed. Ultimately resulting in the attack by right wing extremists on the Capitol two months after all the ballots had been cast. It is a matter of record. It is a matter of fact. 

And yet, I felt compelled to sit there and watch all that chaos run in front of me one more time. There were no doubts raised for me as I listened to the testimony of those who were there, and those who have spent the intervening year and a half compiling evidence against the perpetrators of that Big Lie. When that first hearing concluded, I asked my wife to switch the channel to Fox News, the only network that chose not to air the hearing live. They were there afterward to put their own spin on the proceedings. Rather than discussing the evidence offered up by the committee, their talking heads chose to highlight the things that were missing. No mention of all the ways that the former twice impeached president had been implicated in the events. 

This was a different church. A different choir. With millions of followers who are every bit as dedicated as Jerry. Or myself. Now we wait to see if anyone's faith can be shaken. 

Stay tuned. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Captive Audience

 I had to hold very still. I was advised by medical professionals to do just that. I took them at their word, and I tried as hard as I could to relax. The machinery around and behind kept me from drifting off. The light pinch I felt in both arms from needles that had been inserted for this procedure faded into the background and my attention turned to the screen in front of me. 

I had been putting off watching the last few episodes of the Netflix series Ozark for several months. After blazing through the first three seasons, I felt hesitant about letting go. I was fairly certain that things would end badly for a number of the main characters, many of whom for which I had generated some mild affection. The story of money laundering and drug cartels captured my attention for its odd balance between family and crime dramas. Part of me wanted to see what was going to happen to Jason Bateman and his brood.

And now, stuck in this recliner built for comfort as well as the function it served, I was going to try and finish off that last little bit of story. I was there to donate platelets, so I might as well pack in a little of what I had been missing for all those months. 

My left hand kept its rhythmic squeezing, while my right laid there limp. My blood was pouring out one side, and after those all important white blood cells had been scraped off, siphoning back into the other. This was no fifteen minute whole blood donation. This was a medical procedure, and I tried not to focus on the tubes and wires, and the intermittent pinging sound as each new sample was separated. 

Instead, I stared intently into the woods surrounding The Lake of the Ozarks, trying to imagine how anything good could come from all this lying and deceit. Over the course of two hours things went from bad to worse which, knowing the Byrde family saga, was the expected trajectory. 

And then the final bell rang. With forty-five minutes of life and death consequences ahead, I had completed my donation. The phlebotomist who was taking out the needles and placing bandages over the new holes created in my arms was sympathetic. She even offered up the bed for another hour if I really needed to see what happened next. 

I told her that those two hours had put me close enough to the finish line that I could probably find a few extra moments to put the final nail in that coffin, if you'll pardon the expression. She did. 

I went home to nurse my wounds and to find out how the story ends. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Shocking

 Up the street from me, the Shell station is getting a bit of a facelift. The pumps out front are being joined by a new series gadgets that look a lot like gas pumps, but the nozzles are not for liquid. They're for electricity. My neighborhood is getting a charging station.

Initially, my bleeding heart liberal sensibilities were jolted into life. This is such a brand new day for my urban Oakland neighborhood. Travelers from across the city could drop by our neck of the woods whenever they needed to top off their Tesla. Or Volt. Or Kona. Or Mustang Mach E. All of which have a retail price of over forty thousand dollars. Which means that all that potentially disposable income will be finding its way into our little corner of the world. Redistributing the wealth. 

And that is the moment where my thought process turned. I started to wonder if these charging stations weren't the advance soldiers for more gentrification. While it is certain that driving electric vehicles will have all sorts of benefits for our community, it makes me wonder how many of my neighbors will be able to take advantage of these resources. Most of the cars on my street are gasoline powered, relics of a less enlightened age. The Prius in my own driveway is part of that evolutionary chain, There has been a lot of wild talk in my household about moving into the future and purchasing an electric car. We have solar panels on our roof, which we are currently paying off as part of our not inconsiderable mortgage. The discussions include what a wonderful world we would be living in if we were able to hop off the grid completely, including trips to the local charging station to top off the car's battery. In which case the Shell station up the street would be a non-issue. 

The reality is that electricity costs money when you buy it from somebody else. How much will you spend per kilowatt hour? Turns out that it can fluctuate. Just like the price of gasoline. So if a certain station decides that they're not making enough on the electrical end of the operation, they can just go out to the curb and swap out a few of those plastic numbers on the sign. Of course nothing's stopping these charging stations from erecting great solar arrays to bring that power down to earth for "free." 

But don't count on it. 

On second thought, I think I'll go back to thinking happy thoughts about people driving electric cars. Because they can afford to. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Feel The Burn

 There is this phrase, "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention," and it's something that I confess to have rolling around in my head on any given day. I do believe that finding a way to ignore the goings-on outside my window would help me relax. So much of what I see and read and hear piles up on my outrage button. 

For example: There has been a large influx of reportage about mass shootings. This alone would be enough to get my personal dander up, but into that mix someone just has to make the following observation: "Yeah, but now they're defining 'mass shooting' as anytime three or more people are killed." So now it's not just my dander but my entire skeletal system becoming arched and curved as the ignominy of this statement lands with a thud on the pile of unnecessary observations made by the dimmest of wits. As if it were some sort of Olympic event. "In my day, you had to shoot at least half a dozen adults to get your mass shooter badge. I don't even know why they bother counting kids. They're such easy prey." 

That sound you may have just herd was that of the brakes of my patience locking up. Or maybe it was my reaction to six dollar gasoline. Here in Northern California, just a few miles from a vast refinery, we are paying more than a dollar and a half more than most of the rest of the country. Please don't ask me why. I'm certain that my answer would probably not correspond with the party line held by the executives of Shelveronbil. Blame the Russians. That makes the most sense, since they have conveniently positioned themselves as the focal point of evil on the current world stage. 

It almost makes you want to ignore the January 6 hearings. The ones that will once and for all point a finger in the direction of the guy who was impeached twice, allowed all manner of malfeasance and corruption on his watch and was (get ready for it) nearly elected to a second term. As if that weren't enough, he's gearing up to run for that same office again in 2024. With an opportunity to put even more evil nimrods on the Supreme Court and to finally cement the United States as a competitor for a spot in the new and improved Axis of Evil. 

The real test of the notion that ignorance is bliss is the part where you might eventually want to wake up from your self-imposed stupor. "Hey, wait a minute. I don't remember making Mar-A-Logo the nation's capitol. And what's this about firstborn sons?" I suppose it's worth being a little unsettled to be ready in case I need to do something drastic. 

Like vote. 

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Pencils? Check. Books? Check. Dirty Looks?

 Back To School Edition! Nothing used to chafe my son more than the creeping nature of that autumnal ritual of advertising for backpacks, lunchboxes, spiral notebooks and all things that cried, "Summer's over!" I tried to explain to him that in his earliest years his father worked for a year-round school. This system had students rotating through the calendar with three months on and one month off. In my initial tenure at Horace Mann, I was working steadily throughout the year, taking a couple of weeks in the summer around my birthday and the Fourth of July. The rest of the year I was getting up five days a week and going to school. 

Even this somewhat arduous schedule was still a relief from that of running a book warehouse. I was getting a week off for spring break, and another two at Christmastime. It still felt like I was getting away with something, and I never fully understood how my colleagues could just go away for a month, returning just in time to pick up where they had left off. 

The reason for all this shifting of students and teachers was that the neighborhood we served was full and overflowing with kids. In order to meet all their needs, it was necessary to move them about like a hundred canaries in a cage with only fifty perches. As the years passed and the number of canaries dropped to a more manageable level, year-round school became a relic of the past, not unlike the Palmer Method. I have lived through several of these epochs, and as I meander into my summer "vacation," I feel wary of the way that time around me is stretching and compressing. As with every break, every weekend, every day off, there are not enough hours to feel fully recharged, completely rested, prepared to go back to school. 

Which makes me wonder about retirement. Which makes me worry about what happens when school really is out forever. All that anarchic spirit Alice Cooper sang about will only lead to boredom. Or a postgraduate degree. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Taking A Very Small Bite Out Of Crime

 When my phone rang on Saturday morning, I checked the number. It was not one of the four or five numbers identified with a name that I recognized. This one said "Florida," which gave me pause. It was also not a call identified by my phone as "Scam Likely," which is a connection that I probably receive more often than any other. If this was a scam, it was coming from Florida and given my predilection for attempting to mess with those who might mess with others, I decided by the third ring to go ahead and answer. 

It was the fraud division of my credit card company. The woman on the other end of the line was checking to see if I had just made a five hundred plus dollar purchase at a Wal-Mart. I tried to remember the last time I was in a Wal-Mart, and coming up with nothing, I chose to tell the nice lady that I had not made any such purchase, and since our local Wal-Mart hasn't been open for six years it seemed out of the realm of possibility for me to have simply forgotten such a shopping adventure. 

Because it wasn't me, of course. Someone had acquired both my credit card and debit card numbers and added themselves onto my account. Pretty cheeky, considering the only people I let use my card are my wife and son and that's for the express purpose of bringing me cheeseburgers. This was way too much information to the helpful drone on my phone. She was just trying to verify the illicit behavior and turn off access to my money. This meant turning off the credit hose connected to me and eventually reconnecting me to another hose once the machine could spit out another couple of cards with my name and different numbers on them. 

As I waited patiently on hold, keys were pressed and mice were clicked in order to reconnect me to my fortune. I thought about what a lazy crime this hacking thing was. Figuring out a way to get someone's information, or just enough of it, to buy an inflatable kayak or some other five hundred dollar gift for themselves seemed like a pretty low level of larceny. That's not to say that I wasn't interested in seeing them brought to justice. When I asked the nice lady if she knew who this bad person was who was trying to buy stuff at Wal-Mart without my permission, she told me the name she had was Roberta Shaw. This set my wife to a flurry of Internet searching that netted her a half dozen Roberta of the Shaw variety, any of them capable of committing such dastardly crime. Unless of course that was just a nom de la criminalité. Which in turn gave my mind both a rest and more to process, since I would most likely never have a moment where I was able to confront this villain. 

The next morning, upon reflecting on this experience as a whole, my wife and CFO of our household went to examine our books to discover that we had been relieved of five thousand dollars overnight. Turns out the "helpful lady" at the credit card company was navigating me into a position to give her leverage on our money. We were reminded by the real credit card folks that giving them any information over the phone was a bad idea, and after half an hour additional troubleshooting, we were assured that new cards would be sent to us posthaste, and the money we had donated to these mystery felons would be replaced just as quickly. I don't think any of these people were really named Roberta. Or perhaps I could change my name to Roberta to get my money back. That would show 'em. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Summer Breeze

 I told my wife this morning that I felt that I needed to take a step back from all this murder and mayhem. This is, after all, my summer vacation. I should be going to movies and concerts. I should be going to the grocery store. Or a parking lot in front of a church. 

But all these places could get me killed in America. The indiscriminate spraying of high caliber ammunition is a threat to daily life, and going back to work at an elementary school doesn't seem to offer much in the way of safety. Ugly reminders are everywhere. The folks who handled my Entertainment Weekly subscription took it upon themselves to round out the rest of my run with issues of People Magazine. The first issue I pulled out of my mailbox last week featured the smiling faces of the fourth graders and their teachers who were killed at Robb Elementary. I was immediately thrust back in time to the day after the massacre when I was standing in front of the fourth grade table at my school. I did a cursory count of the students. Coincidence put the total at nineteen: the same number that were gunned down in Uvalde, Texas. 

I shuddered. 

It wasn't long after that I was reading about the man in Oklahoma who drove to Tulsa from Muskogee with the rifle he had purchased just hours before to kill the surgeon who he blamed for his pain. And the receptionist. And another doctor. And two people in the waiting room. 

Doctor's office visits now off the "safe list."

And the beat goes on. While there are breaks in the clouds, the suggestion made by so many that this is just what we have become lingers. It is easy enough to imagine that all this talk about gun law reform will spur a surge in the purchase of weapons created to shred human beings. Start stockpiling now in case those bleeding hearts decide to stop us from being able to buy them on the way to a school, church or doctor's office. Looking for ideas for how to carry out your mass murder? Keep an eye on the news. We are hungry for it. 

People Magazine. Dead People Magazine. 

No thank you. 

If you need me, I'll be huddled under the couch cushions. 

Monday, June 06, 2022

Look Sharp!

 Do I need to tell you that things are nuts out there? (insert vague gesture toward open door or window here)

If you asked a hundred people if they wanted to live in a world with war, famine and disease, I would guess you'd get a pretty hefty slice of "No." And yet, here we are. The twenty-first century has brought us all kinds of new and varied ways to suffer through daily life. No personal jet packs, and no flying cars. This is in spite of the efforts of a very good friend of mine who insists on sending me each hopeful article suggesting that either one of those conveyances are just days away to being available commercially. 

But it won't be me that's buying them. I'm a school teacher. I don't qualify for those bits of existential whimsy that would make my life look more like something out of a Sharper Image catalog. It should be noted that even Sharper Image isn't what it used to be, having closed all its brick and mortar stores back in 2008. They live on in a semi-gaseous form on Al Gore's Internet. 

Meanwhile, down near the train station, people are living in cardboard boxes and digging through dumpsters for meals. Not a very sharp image. This takes place while the richest men on the planet race to be the first to leave it, spending billions of dollars on their Buck Rogers dreams and Flash Gordon wishes. The guy that makes those really cool and prohibitively expensive electric cars just ordered his workforce back to the office in a most Dickensian way. "Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers." He continued, adding that the office must be the employee's primary workplace where the other workers they regularly interact with are based — "not a remote branch office unrelated to the job duties."

And yes, he did say "duties." This is the same fellow who has decided to change his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, and recently announced that he had "a super bad feeling" about the economy. So bad, in fact, that he sent this email to his company: 

To: Everybody
Subject: Headcount Reduction
Date: Friday, June 3, 2022

Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10% as we have become overstaffed in many areas. Note this does not apply to anyone actually building cars, battery packs or installing solar. Hourly headcount will increase.

Elon

Sorry, I guess that last bit sort of gave away the identity of our mystery kerjillionaire. He may just feel upset because his plan to buy Twitter just became more of a dream as his stock price continues to circle the drain. Oh, and his cars don't fly, by the way. 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Keep The Fires Burning

 Having completed the three day math institute put on by the district, I am now fully prepared to face what will be a confounding summer. "Confounding" because there is this span of two months that could be filled with fun and activity, but there is also this uncertainty lingering over my future with the aforementioned school district. 

Across town, at Parker Elementary, parents and community organizers have begun to occupy that school. They were "on the list" for closure at the end of this school year. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has decided to take matters into their own hands. After the fifth grade promotion on that last Wednesday of May, a group of parents decided to stick around. They set up tents outside. The brought food and asked for donations. They plan to keep the school open through the summer, emerging phoenix-like in the fall as that dream of so many: The Community School. 

Which poses a challenge to the powers that be. This building that they insist should be empty is being used by those who live nearby as a center for education and support. If no one shows up, then the problem just goes away. If families send their kids to this new iteration of Parker, then what they have on their hands is a charter school. The very thing that the district has been angling for all these months. 

Except the folks at Parker probably won't offer to lease the building at some ridiculous amount per month. Will the district act to have the squatters removed? Will they hope that it simply dries up and withers on the vine? 

And what will happen next year when the district has this problem times ten, when the rest of "the list" is slated for closure? I may not head on over this month to pitch in and teach science or chess, but the folks at Parker definitely have my attention. And respect. And support. 

Saturday, June 04, 2022

For The Want Of A Nail

There's this investigation going on into what really happened in Uvalde, Texas. Lots of questions are being asked about how nineteen children and two adults were murdered at an elementary school. How could this have happened? We need answers. We need to know so that it never happens again.

And for some, we need to know so that we have someone to blame. To that end, there were two different places where criticism has poured. The response time by law enforcement has been a source of great concern. How could it be that a loon with a gun was allowed to shoot up a fourth grade classroom over the course of an hour while armed officers waited to storm the building. Parents were stopped from going inside to rescue their children. While children were being slaughtered. Some of these children were calling from their classrooms, pleading for help. 

At this moment, it should be pointed out that five hundred fifty students were safe and will only carry emotional scars with them as they continue life as a survivor of a mass shooting. This will be true of every resident of the town of Uvalde. 

Like the teacher who opened the door through which the shooter entered the school. Why was that door propped open in the first place? Most likely it was because it was a hot day in Texas and all those kids cooped up in a building on the last week of school needed some fresh air. This was without a thought about what evil might be waiting just outside that door. As it turns out, that teacher went back to the door and closed it. Before the maniac arrived. The tragedy came when that door did not lock. Suddenly it becomes an issue for Buildings and Grounds. Why wasn't that door listed for repair? Should we be pointing fingers at the folks who are in charge of latches?

Blame the cops. Blame the teacher. Blame the latch. There are plenty more ways for this to be stretched and bent. In Uvalde, they won't be feeling anything but grief. Not for a very long time. Out here in the world, we won't feel anything but grief for a long time. Until the next time. More questions than answers. More sorrow than reason. 

No question about that. 

Friday, June 03, 2022

Creep

 A short time ago, my son opined that this was not the city in which he grew up. The owner of a nearby restaurant was gunned down in front of his eleven year old son, just blocks from where we live. As of this writing, no arrests have been made. 

On Memorial Day, I was sitting in the front room of my house, preparing for the week's activity: a three day math training, one more stop on the teacher train before hopping off for summer break. From my vantage point, I saw a red car zip up the street past the stop sign which often seems to be more distraction than direction. I heard screams coming from the street. The drapes to the picture window were closed, to limit afternoon glare, but I pushed them aside in order to see what the fuss was about. 

A woman was standing near the curb in front of the apartment building next door to us, holding the back of her head. And screaming.

By the time I had rushed out the front door, down the steps and out to the street, two of our neighbors intersected with my line toward the screamer. One of them was already busily dialing her cell phone. 911. This was no little kerfuffle. This was a carjacking. In broad daylight. On a holiday afternoon. The other neighbor had thoughtfully brought an ice pack which was applied as we all tried to make sense of what had happened over the past three minutes.

Two men and a woman had rushed up to our victim, grabbed her, and pushed her to the ground. That was when she hit her head of the pavement. The woman jumped into the car while the two men returned to their car and they all sped off. Which is where I came in. 

That's when we began to wait. Wait for the victim's frightened daughter to arrive. She had been on the phone with her mother when the violence erupted. Waiting for the authorities to arrive. They appeared in the form of a fire truck and an ambulance. Three calls had been made at this point to the police had been called three separate times. 

The victim, our neighbor, had her call and all its contents stolen from her as she was getting out to go inside. It only took that moment for her life to change. As the neighbors poured out onto the street, we realized our lives were changing too. A violent crime had been committed in our hood. 

We were, as a group, frightened and we were angry. It could have been any one of us. It was an attack on one us, which meant it was an attack on all of us. This mix of fear of anger ran through us as our neighbor was loaded into the ambulance. We continued to wait for a police car to show up. After the ambulance pulled away, we continued to wait. 

While we waited, we discussed the probable outcomes of the incident. The car was most likely driven to a secluded corner or cul de sac. The contents were quickly sorted for their their value. The car was relieved of its catalytic converters. The rest was left by the curb for someone else to deal with. 

The police car never came. 

It was another day in Oakland. 

Thursday, June 02, 2022

The Deal

 So let's get down to it: If we who are against the killing of innocents truly want to make the sacrifice that will make the difference we all want, should we arm ourselves as a trade for common sense gun reforms? Part of this question is hyperbole, and part of it is rhetorical, but there is a seed in here of actual negotiation. If arming teachers was the thing that would set Congress in motion to create real-life consistent pathways to responsible gun ownership, I might consider strapping a pistol to my hip in order to get that ball rolling. 

But here's the interesting thing: The same frothing mouths that make these suggestions after children are slaughtered are the same ones that insist that teachers as a group are a bunch of leftie groomers whose only interest is in converting students into mindless followers of a socialist agenda. Every student with whom I have had conversation about gun control has been adamant about the need for a safe place to learn. This is a generation that has been brought up with lockdown drills. They know what it can mean to have a "bad guy on campus." We have fire drills, and earthquake drills, and lockdown drills. The ones that seem to have the biggest problem with this is the teachers. Somehow it's the adults who can't wrap their heads around the idea of a gun showing up in their classroom. For the kids, a bad guy with a gun is every bit a real as a trembler on the Hayward fault or a fire set in the boys room. It is their reality. They have never been to an airport without having to take their shoes off before boarding. It is not fear. It is the world in which they live. 

I'm a grownup who can remember when the phrase "school shooting" would have given me pause. Someone was mad and was shooting at the building? Something awful happened and the police chase ended near the school? Twenty-three years ago, I had my naivete stripped away when two high schoolers in my home state of Colorado tore the lid off. With each passing day, another murderous assault takes hold of the nation, and we all stare in wonder. How could this happen? Admittedly, mass shootings are about as "predictable" as earthquakes, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be prepared for them. 

Which is why we have the kids, as young as five, gather together in a corner of their classroom while their teacher closes the blinds and turns off the light, waiting for the all clear signal. Nervous laughter fills the air as we go back about our business, and the grownups try not to think about the potential of this drill becoming the real thing. Would I have the presence of mind to return fire if I was confronted by a bad guy with a gun? Only if I were thoroughly trained and vetted for such a moment of crisis. And I could be convinced that there wasn't a better solution. If I could be assured that by volunteering to be that last line of defense that someone whose job it is to make laws could work just as effectively to make it less likely that I would ever be forced into that situation. 

Or maybe we should ask all those legislators to come down and run through a few active shooter drills themselves. From the looks of what happened on January 6, 2021, it doesn't appear that they are ready either.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Olden Days

 I think i's important to point out that people are still dying from COVID-19. Entire cities are being bombed out of existence in Ukraine. Heat continues to ravage the planet as drought plagues the west. 

Meanwhile, we can't seem to negotiate a ceasefire within our own borders. Most Republicans shudder at the thought of any kind of restrictions on what they feel is the unfettered access to guns. When asked if he would support any incremental change in the age limit for citizens to buy weapons, Alabama Representative Mo Brooks explained it all away thus: “I expect that the people who were polled by way of example were not properly explained what the purpose of the Second Amendment right to bear arms is, and I will use my own history as an example. There are many times when I went to school with a shotgun in my car. Why? Because I just got through duck hunting. There were other teenagers my age at that point in time that also brought their weapons to school and they had been hunters, too, for whatever it is the hunting season was about.” Representative Mo is sixty-eight years old. He went to high school in the seventies. Representative Mo does not seem to have any sense of recent history, but he does have a firm grasp on his own carefree adolescence. Representative Mo would also like to be Senator Mo, and it seems unlikely that any sort of panty-waisted waffling on the absolute and unrestricted right for every American to carry a gun around wherever they go might infringe on his right to stuff his pockets with money from the gun lobby. 

Instead of blaming the number of guns within easy access of All Americans, including those who would most likely fail the cursory background check, RepMo points to the "decline of American values" and single parent households. I've got a hot tip for Mister Mo: if indiscriminate killing of one another is "an American value," I don't want anything to do with it. And I'm wondering if he's considered that the number of single parent households is exacerbated by the number of parents being shot. 

Meanwhile, what most Americans see as "common sense" continues to evade those who could make necessary changes in a heartbeat. If they chose to. Which is why those of us, even fifty-three percent of Republicans, need to vote as if our lives depend on it. Why wait for some sort of Dickensian epiphany from one of these dull wits who can't seem to face a future with less carnage? These are the stone hearts that look at the faces of children who will never have a chance to grow up and continue to insist that the problem is us. Not them. 

Time to send them packing. We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union will vote RepMo and his gun club out of office. So we can get to the business of saving the planet.