Friday, September 30, 2022

Working Stiff

 I was giving my son advice about his job recently. He was struggling in the way working folks have since long before he or I accepted a job. A job that would make sense only part of the time. A job that would periodically seem like just keeping busy while the the people in offices make arbitrary decisions that affect hundreds if not thousands of employees. A job where the employees feel that distance between where they are and those in the offices making arbitrary decisions. 

Why aren't they down here on the floor with us? The worker's lament. 

Then I started compiling a list of jobs I have left. I quit Learning Tree Films, where I eventually tired of reboxing filmstrips and cassette tapes that were returned from school districts around the country. My burgeoning social life began to assert itself in ways that a high school senior can understand. My career at Arby's was terminated by yours truly after returning from a week's vacation and discovering that the new management had removed all of my cartoons from the back room and eliminated the clever name tags that were once a part of the reason slinging roast beef was tolerable. And they left me off the schedule. I got out the door just before it caught me on the backside. 

I stuck with Target long enough to see my friend go out in a blaze of glory. I unloaded trucks with an everchanging night crew that looked to me for some sort of supervision. When I was offered a job at a video store by that same friend whose blaze of glory was commemorated by a hole in the wall that was bored by high pressure water from a broken sprinkler pipe, I jumped. I jumped and stayed put for a good long while. Long enough that visions of "career" danced in my head. 

I didn't leave the video store. The video store left me. New management arrived and ran the business into the ground. I rode it to the end, boxing up all those tapes and preparing the dissolution of that particular empire. When I woke up, I was looking for a transition to something much easier in which to lose myself. After three years of installing steel office furniture, I was offered a transfer to the west coast. Not by the company, but by the woman who would become my wife. I quit installing steel furniture and moved to Oakland where I found a job schlepping books for a book wholesaler. I rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a warehouse manager and was elected to the Board of Directors. I was in management. It was at an employee-owned business, but I was now "the man."

And so I quit. Not because I was unhappy being "the man," but rather because I was offered an opportunity to become a teacher. This was a career. Not a job. That was twenty-six years ago, and even though there are still rumblings about my school quitting me, I am clinging to the notion of retirement. The big quit. 

So as it turns out, I have no right to tell my son not to quit his job. It's all I've ever done. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Of Course

 The difference between two and a half hours and twenty hours cannot be overstated. One was a plane trip. One was a drive across the western United States. Colorado, Wyoming. Utah, Nevada, and California. In between there was a twenty-four hour period of family and collapsing my mother's house into manageable bits and reconnecting with the aforementioned family. It could be that those hours spent connecting and collapsing put the right amount of perspective on the enterprise of flying and driving. 

It could be. It might also have to do with the fact that I rarely spend a seventy-two hour period for which every moment is accounted. 


In motion.

The question that came up early in the planning of this voyage was this: Will you and your younger brother have twenty hours of things to talk about? What might not have been factored in at that time was the twenty-four hour period spent in our hometown doing the work of constructing the new normal for my mom. We knew before we left California that our time in Colorado would be a drop in the bucket compared to the actual chore of moving my mother out of the house in which she had lived for more than twenty-five years, a timeframe much larger than the twenty-four hours we had to give. 

Which was a topic that periodically dominated our discussion on the trip back across the badlands. We drove through the day and into the night, stopping long enough to get a night's sleep and a shower. We listened to a podcast or two, and a lot of music. We made a wrong turn just once around Salt Lake City, but we forgave ourselves for that while we continued to talk.

And talk. 

Because the overriding time that became apparent was not the day spent in Colorado or the chunks of two days spent driving west. It was the lifetime spent being brothers. We reminisced, selecting the greatest hits of our shared childhood. And then there was all those years in between. And the years ahead. What woudl they hold?

So, if the question was simply, "Will you and your brother have anything to talk about during that long trip?" The answer would be, "Of Course."

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Giving Up Should Be An Option

 I had the misfortune to pick up shot put and discus the same year that Kevin Call did. There really isn't any reason for you to know who this person is. You might remember the name if you were a fan of the Colorado State football team back in the eighties. Or an Indianapolis Colts fan a few years after that. When I was in junior high, I can remember showing up for track meets and seeing this tree of a young man who appeared to have been genetically engineered to hurl objects into space. I was not. I joined the track team because I imagined a path through athletic pursuits that would lead me to a higher social echelon. This avenue was a continuation of my stint on the middleweight football team where I played center. And on the wrestling team where I was a solid B mat contender at one hundred twenty-six pounds. 

I had never seen Mister Call before that track meet. I had heard stories. He played offensive line, just like me. But he was on the heavyweight team. He was also a wrestler. But not only was he way out of my weight class, he wrestled A mat. Finally, the egalitarian nature of track and field allowed us to meet on a level playing field. The other guys on the team whispered as we approached the cement slab from which we would be launching our projectiles. In my memory, he was at least two feet taller than any of the rest of us, and his sweat suit actually fit him. 

In my mind, I began to generate fantasies in which I would have some sort of David and Goliath scenario. I had my name going for me in that regard. And all that training. Staying after school for all those weeks, getting my footwork and technique just so. All I needed was one truly amazing toss. I had a couple of chances, too. The shot put came first. I would like to tell you that I experienced a personal best at this moment, even if I didn't manage to best Kevin. 

I did not. I scratched on my first throw and the second was less than stellar. People "ooo'ed" and "ahhh'ed" at Kevin Call's toss. I tried to convince myself that the discus would be a much easier win for me, since it relied so much more on touch. Shot put was all brute force. I was going to be throwing a lead frisbee. I was good at frisbee. 

Not as good as Kevin Call. Not by a long shot, if you'll pardon the pun. There was no trophy for me that day. No participant ribbon. I took a shower in the locker room and went home. That was the end of my student-athlete phase. Kevin call played high school football across town for our arch rival Fairview Knights. He played college football up the road at Colorado State in Fort Collins. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1984 NFL draft. 

I was not. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Hood

 When I dream at night, I still find myself returning to my old neighborhood. That cul de sac where I grew up is the geography that is most readily fixed in my mind. I have a pretty solid memory for all the families who lived on our street. At one time or another, I was in most every one of those homes. Sometimes it was just a brief stay, just long enough to have our picture taken in our Halloween costumes. Mostly it was because I had been invited inside for some sort of play. One of the unique features of Garland Lane was not just the fact that most all the homes had basements, but that all but a few of them had a passel of kids looking for the next game. 

Inside, outside, it didn't really matter. We were going to play, and generally speaking, the more the merrier. Nobody came to our neighborhood just passing through. It was a dead end. If you were there, it was because you had business there. Street football games that lasted until you could no longer make out the ball in the protective glow of the streetlight. Capture the Flag contests that went on long past dark. And the ever-popular riding in packs on our bikes up and down the street until it was time to come inside. 

Inside was where the play became more refined. Some houses were board game destinations. Some, like my own, had the earliest video games. Hours could be spent playing Combat! or Breakout on our Atari 2600. Tournaments were set up. Brackets and consolation rounds. But there were never enough controllers for everyone who wanted to play. Some houses didn't have Hungry Hungry Hippos. Some of them had Easy Bake Ovens. Some of them didn't have GI Joes. They had Barbies. And this is how I learned that playing with dolls was very different from playing with action figures. A guy could take a lot of abuse for spending an afternoon mixing the life-like hair and kung fu grips of their toys with the dream house of Barbie and her pals. 

When the snows came, it would have been easy enough to surrender to the elements and stay indoors. Not our crew. We built forts. We threw endless salvos of snowballs at one another. And when we asked just right, my father would hitch half a dozen sleds to the back of our station wagon and drag us all up and down the street until we had worn a path down and the runners were scraping asphalt. Our house had the best candy. My mom raised three boys, so she knew how to shop. She also made enough cookies and cakes to keep all the kids coming back for more. 

In the decades since I left that street behind, all the families I knew back then have moved on. New kids have taken our place, though they don't seem to have the same clannish nature that we all shared way back when. I wonder if they will still dream about their neighborhood when they are all grown up and gone away. 

Monday, September 26, 2022


 There was solace in those comic books. Piles of them. They came from my mother's youth and they were stowed away under the stairs. For years and years, my brothers and I would make the trip to the basement and open the creaky door to peer inside. Stored in old fruit crates were the memories of another generation. They became our own. 

Little Lulu. Donald Duck. Classics Illustrated. The collector in my mind reels at the way we treated those treasures. Of course back then they were not viewed as anything particularly special. What was impressive was the way they held together for all those years. More often than not, we would step inside that cramped space under the stairs with a flashlight, preferring to sit on one of the crates and rid by that dim beam than to take an issue or two out into the glare. Reading them beneath the stairs reinforced the intimate nature of our experience. 

As years passed, our own comics began to be filed away alongside our mother's. Donald Duck was joined by Captain America, and Archie, and a monthly addition of Mad Magazines. This continued until the path between the fruit crates had all but been eliminated by the avalanche of paper. 

Now the trips under the stairs became more excavations than simple stops for reading. Pawing through all those piles of adventure, danger and humor in hopes of discovering something that hadn't been read at least a dozen times held a certain amount of anticipation. There was no more sitting on the crates. That became impossible as the stacks overwhelmed the containers. They strained and groaned, and several of them simply snapped due to the volume of what they were expected to hold. It got so bad that eventually the creaky door was prone to popping open as the glacial drift of magazines pressed against it. 

At different points, each of us three boys took on the chore of taming the comic accumulation. Making stacks, and attempting to return the overwhelming drift of paper and staples, we each attempted to make order from chaos. Ultimately, it became clear that some of the most mangled issues would need to be removed in order to save those with covers and were not tattered beyond all recognition. 

It was during this process that we began to realize how much of my mother's youth was being sacrificed. And we felt a little ashamed. 

Now all those comics are gone. Hers. Ours. The legacy. They never became anyone's car down payment or trip to Europe. But they live on. In my memories. The dim light. The smell of aged paper. The inner sanctum. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Wanna Get Away?

 There are those who refer to the lottery as "the idiot tax." I may or may not have tossed this sobriquet around periodically in an attempt to feel superior. That is not how I am currently feeling. 

Instead, I am feeling like I just donated a substantial chunk of money to the ether. It would be easy enough to start with a diatribe against airlines and how they nickel and dime us all into submission, leaving us to stand like cattle in airports where we have to be hours earlier than our flights will last. For the convenience of air travel. 

I needed a low fare to get me to Denver so I could help drive back items from my mother's house with my younger brother. Like a dutiful son, he had already booked his flight and gotten quite a deal. In a flurry, I rushed to get in on this deal, and played the web site game to acquire the same great price he had. Once I had purchased the ticket, I was reminded that I would also need to pay an additional fee if I wanted to take anything resembling luggage on the flight with me. Not only was this not a free checked bag, this was a charge for having a carry-on item. Even this briefest of trips required a change of underwear, so I ponied up the extra cash to avoid the experience of spending three days in the same clothes as my little brother and I drove back from Colorado to the Bay Area. I did not choose to pay yet another fee for the privilege of picking my seat ahead of time. 

I could do that at check in. When that day finally arrived, I logged in to the airline's site, we'll call them Schmrontier, and attempted to assure myself of a spot on the flight. After three dull tries, I noticed that in my haste weeks earlier, I had purchased a ticket leaving at the correct time, but on the wrong day. In the intervening weeks, I made a point to remind myself to check in on time. When that time came, I was mortified to discover my mistake. I tried to cancel the reservation, and that ended up costing me not just the price of the ticket, but the extra fee I had paid for the carry on bag I would not be carrying on. I worked feverishly on the web page to try and get a seat on the correct flight, but kept being sent in a loop that left me without a ride on an airplane. I called the customer service line, that chirpily reminded me that I could save money by booking my travel through the Schmrontier web site. The web site that was spinning me in circles. When at last a human being came on the line, she let me know that I could save money by booking travel through the Schmrontier web site. When I explained that I was unable to make this happen, she asked when and where I wanted to fly. After being on hold for forty-five minutes, I was told that there were no seats left. 

Suddenly, I was without a way to connect with my brother, the one who had so readily been able to make his reservation on the correct day so many days before. Schromontier was not going to save me. I chose instead to swerve into the Schmouthwest lane and got a similar flight for a similar time. No longer flying with my brother, but at least we would land in approximately the same place around the same time. 

And all this cost me was about three times the original price of the ticket I was going to fly out on. The expense was on me because I couldn't read a calendar. Or make a faulty web page work. 

When I'm in Colorado, I think I'll buy a lottery ticket to see if I can recoup my losses. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Up With Putting

 Watching yet another episode of Cobra Kai, the Netflix spinoff of the Karate Kid franchise, I started to feel uneasy. It didn't take me long to get at the root of what was bothering me. I was looking at a bunch of young people whose method of problem-solving involves puffing up their chests and looking hatefully at one another shortly before they start kicking and chopping at one another. It's part of the world in which they live. A fictional place. 

I live in a world where this kind of thing happens all too often. In real life. Boys and girls whose lives and upbringings have brought them to a place where negotiating and making peace are skills that have thus far eluded them find themselves having the same kind of confrontations that their elder TV counterparts have. Only not as nearly well choreographed. And the injuries are more along the bumped heads and bloody nose variety, rather than the trickle of blood from the corner of the mouth. Captain Kirk style. 

In Cobra Kai-land, these continued escalations tend to show up once an episode, without any adult intervention. This is probably because the adults involved are having their own challenges negotiating their relationships without violence. The same could be said of the conflicts that take place on the playground and in the hallways of my school. Except the adults here at school are expected to intervene and make sense of the uproar. The parents who send their kids to school ready to "defend themselves" rarely consider that this kind of support is what contributes to the problem.  When you are nine years old, you can't always discern the finer points of "defending yourself." On an all too frequent basis, I have asked a student why they hit, kicked, pinched, shoved a classmate. Their response: "He was looking at me." There is no record of anyone being harmed by heat vision at our school. 

All it would really take is one parent to step up and say that they didn't want their child to fight. At all. 

Sadly, there are not very many good examples in our culture and our media of this kind of wisdom. Lots of folks tend to fast forward past that Jesus suggestion of turning the other cheek. It's not a sign of weakness, but rather it is inner strength that we all need to have in order to love if not at least tolerate our neighbor. 

Rather than a roundhouse kick and a punch to the throat. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

It Continues

 I have sat in rooms with adults who are not wearing masks. I had no way of knowing if they are vaccinated, boosted, or infected. There was no protocol for making these distinctions. I went in wearing my mask, but as it was a social occasion I felt odd sitting there with my wife and I being the only one with our faces covered. 

This is the moment that I made what might have been a poor choice. I took off my mask. Rather than feel awkward, my wife and I took a chance of catching a virus that has killed millions. Feeling awkward apparently outweighs feeling dead. 

Or very sick. We continue to navigate a world in which COVID-19 infects and kills hundreds every day. But we have all grown tired and just a little too clever for our own good. My son and I spent two days in Disneyland having our insistence on mask wearing systematically worn down. In an amusement park packed full of strangers, however, we were able to stick to our plan: Not to get sick. This plan worked quite well until we all gathered together at home and my wife brought me a special gift from her trip to Italy. I was very sick for two weeks. Was it worth not having to quarantine and continue living separately for the time it would have taken for my wife's infection to pass? Eventually time will tell. Lingering health issues are still being discovered among those who have contracted the virus and now that I am over sixty, I fall into that high risk category. 

So I continue to walk that line between being safe and being so very over living in a pandemic. At school, I remain masked and continue to bore students with our labored reminders to keep theirs over their noses and mouths. If it's a tough sell for a sixty year old, then nine year olds have fallen off the interest scale when it comes to wearing a mask. 

And yet I stand out there by the gate each morning, welcoming kids to school and encouraging them to get their masks before they head inside for the day. Our school district, which had made a good-faith effort to keep everyone tested weekly a year ago, has shifted their focus to maintaining centers where anyone interested in being tested for COVID-19 can drop in for a swab poked into their nostril. 

If they're interested. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

What's Right

 So the twice-impeached "president" and former game show host is unhappy. He is upset because he believes that it was his idea to send migrants to liberal cities north of our border. And now Ron DeSanitzer is getting all the credit for it. 

This would be another instance in which I confess that I do not understand the MAGAt mind at all. Kidnapping innocent victims and shipping them off to strange places under false pretenses sounds like a crime, not a way to grab the spotlight. If I were the person who happened to live in the White House for a few years and was facing indictment on espionage, I rather imagine I would be keeping my head down. 

But that's not what happens around Donald "Jerkwater" Trump, is it? 

This comes at a moment in which the Florida "governor" is creeping ahead of the evicted resident of the White House. Emphasis on the "creep." To be a part of the New Wave of Republican "leadership," it would appear that the emphasis is on outlandish. Come up with something that stirs the tiny minds of your followers, no matter how despicable, and make a show of it. Try, if you can, to work in an appearance on Tucker or Hannity to cement your idiotic ideals in the loose earth of conservative policy. As it becomes more and more obvious that the only thing that will suffice is a violent overthrow of our democratic republic, points will be awarded for the most ridiculous ideals. How else might one explain the way Joe Rogan and Elon Musk have gotten in line behind Governor Ron? 

It is the currency of the lizard brains: Fear and incitement to riot. All those foot soldiers out there in their red baseball caps and "Let's Go Brandon" T-shirts are waiting for the next direction from on high. No matter what damage is caused to the country they claim to love. They are blinded to the reality of the cruel and vindictive schemes of the turtles on top of the pile. As midterm elections grow near, the already hushed voices of reason left in the Republican Party are being drowned out by the cries of chaos. 

When the earth is nothing but a scarred hellscape, I expect that these will be the cockroaches left. Left to show anyone left what's "right." 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

TV Time Out

 Sitting on the couch. Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of people are hard at work. I am not. I am watching other people work. I am watching all the coaches, players, physicians, announcers, camera operators, hot dog vendors and of course the referees of the National Football League. More to the point: I am watching the NFL Network's RedZone. 

All touchdowns. All scoring plays. No commercials. Starting just after ten in the morning and wrappinng up when all the late games have concluded. Did I mention there are no commercials? Just touchdowns. If you happen to be a football fan, which I am, this is pretty hard to ignore. It hardly seems fair.

Fair would be sitting through eleven ads for pickup trucks and four more for Doritos. Fair would be timeouts for instant replay. Fair would be enduring the chatter between the color and play by play guy. Fair would be feigning interest in whatever sideline reporter had to add in the name of human interest. Fair would be staying tuned for halftime shows filled with all the highlights from other games. 

But with NFL Redzone I will be watching none of that. Just the touchdowns that will be highlights on those halftime shows that I am not watching. This is not a commercial for this cable network. I am paying for this relative convenience. It's not free. Unless you mean free of commercials. I'm not flipping channels to try and avoid beer ads. I'm not flipping at all. 

The thing that I marvel at, much more than the skill and physical feats, is the endurance of Scott Hanson. Mister Hanson is the guy who brings all the action all day long straight to me. And anybody else glued to their couches. He's the one who isn't getting a break. He's the one who has to make sense of the fusillade of football action. I can get up and go to the bathroom if I want to. But why would I want to do that? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride

 It's probably a good thing to go to a wedding every year or so. Especially if you're married. It helps ground you in the conventions that are part of your own life, even if you have been ignoring them for months at a time. 

Starting from those promises about sickness and health, till death do you part. Turns out that it's not something to be entered into lightly. Connecting up two lives is a whole lot more complicated than they make it look on TV. 

I have often spoken about how weddings and funerals aren't really for the people in the box. They are for the people standing outside, or sitting in those uncomfortable chairs. They are the ones taking it all in. Once upon a time, I was an uninterested bystander. I attended a fair number of nuptials and looked on them as the pregame before the big party afterward. The ceremony didn't seem like that big a deal, since it was mostly a dress-up gig that required sitting or standing still while someone else delivered all the best lines. 

I can remember in my twenties making a snap judgement about a friend of mine who got married when she was nineteen. To say she "had to" get married would paint a picture outside the real lines. She was anxious to be somewhere else and as it turned out, she got just that. She ended up having four kids and living in various places across the globe with her Army husband. They remained married to this day. By contrast, the friend who got married after he had launched his career as an electrical engineer settled down with his college sweetheart and had their own brood. They are no longer married. 

While I watched the two twenty-somethings professing their love for one another in front of a chapel of onlookers, "witnesses" we were called, I considered my responsibility to the vows that they were making. Part of me reflected on that wedding so many years ago that worked out just fine. At the time, it had even occurred to me to be the guy who stood up and objected to the proceedings. I'm glad I didn't. By contrast, it seemed like my engineer friend would have clear sailing until death parted him and his lovely wife. As I took in this most recent ceremony, I thought about their relative youth. How could they have any idea what they were getting themselves into? 

Nobody ever does. There are so many ways that life can bend and twist your path, no matter how certain you are that you have found your soulmate. It takes a lot of patience and determination beyond the aforementioned love and devotion. Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks. Every time the sun comes up, I look at my wife and tell her that I love her. It's a reminder for us both. It's a very long road, and I like to think I'll be on it for a good long time. 


Monday, September 19, 2022

Lost In Translation

 Part of me, the part that enjoys a good prank, was initially amused by the notion of dropping a planeload of migrants in Martha's Vineyard. That would be much funnier if it were a sketch from a comedy show, that would be pointing out just how ridiculous the gulf between our immigration process and our realities are as a nation. In actual practice, this was a move by Governor Ron "The Merry Prankster" DeSantis to "troll" Vice President Kamala Harris. Never mind that this funny gesture was lost on the dozens of migrants who were herded into a chartered plane and told they would be sent to Boston to find work. While the approximate geography is similar, the difference between Boston and Martha's Vineyard is vast. These folks were dropped into a resort community that had no idea that they were coming. 

Ha. Ha. Very funny, Governor Ron. However, the effect of using human beings to make a political point is cruel at its base. "See how you like it," doesn't apply to the fifty people who were thrown into an unfamiliar setting. It is aimed squarely at embarrassing government officials by creating a media event with innocent victims at the center. No matter that these displaced persons will need to be dealt with during and after this media event. 

There are those in the legal community that would say this was a case of kidnapping. Taking people from someplace against their will and lied to about where they were being taken. What is the ransom? Some sort of political capital, we assume. And the fact that TV crews are there to get some boffo video allows for everyone to put their collective spin on the experience. Fox News might have one angle. MSNBC might have another. 

Governor Greg "Giggles" Abbott from Texas pulled his own trick on a couple of busloads of migrants that he sent to Maryland to drop them off in front of Vice President Harris' home. A whole lot funnier than a pizza that nobody ordered. When a Faux News reporter made a lame attempt to speak to some of those innocent victims in Spanish, but cut the interview short saying, “I’m not going to be able to translate all of that I wouldn’t even try because it wouldn’t look good on live TV." Those who understood Spanish heard the man say that they all fled the “difficult” country, and endured the arduous journey, because they hoped to “triumph” in the United States.

Difficult country? Welcome to Estados Unidos. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Love And War

 All is fair in love and war. At least that's what they say. Of course whoever "they" are, they probably haven't spent a lot of time in either situation. That is why we have things like the Geneva Convention, that requires humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands, without discrimination. It specifically prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, the taking of hostages, unfair trial, and cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It requires that the wounded, sick and shipwrecked be collected and cared for. These are just a few of the Rules of War that exist to keep armed conflict from spilling out into our busy workaday world where we are all trying to conduct our personal business. Making money. Walking the dog. Falling in love. 

Which makes it all the more curious why Russia would suddenly announce that the United States would be "crossing a line" if they supplied Ukraine with long-range missiles. According to Russia's Foreign Ministry, this would put the US over a "red line" that would make them a "party in the conflict." Okay, first a few semantic points: The "red line" is a little too on the nose for the former Soviet Socialist Republic, don't you think? And then there's the matter of becoming a "party" in a war. I don't know a lot about war, but I am pretty sure that it's no party. 

That being said, I do wonder why Russia seems intent on calling its own foul on this one. Saying that long-range missiles aren't allowed is grotesquely hypocritical, since they have been pounding Ukraine with these same weapons for months. Currently, the United States has been supplying rockets with a range of approximately fifty miles. The next step up, the one that has Russia's Foreign Ministry worried, can travel nearly two hundred miles. Recently, targets in Russia have been bombarded from points too far away from Ukrainian held territory. Unless they were long range weapons. If suddenly the war was being fought on some sort of equal footing. 

So let's just go ahead and add this to the list of truly bad sportsmanship on the part of Russia and its invading forces. The ones that insist that somehow Ukraine is "theirs." Which brings us back to the rules of love: If you love something, let it go. If it doesn't come back, it was never yours in the first place. 

Do not, under any circumstance, track it down and kill it. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Yuks Aplenty

 Moments before the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, I marveled aloud to my wife that it was quite the thing that Saturday Night Live was still capable of winning Emmys. That's when they announced that Lorne Michaels et al would be taking home the trophy. Again. For the eighth time. Keeping in mind that after 1976, its inaugural season, there was a considerable dry spell. Seventeen years, to be exact. By 1993, the "Saturday Night Dead" jokes had been piling up for some time, with wags insisting that this once proud creative force was becoming a parody of itself. 

During all this time a parade of comic talent walked in and out of 30 Rock. A few, like John Belushi and Chris Farley were carted out on a gurney, but there was never a time when there wasn't a spark of something going on inside that studio. Sparks like Eddie Murphy and Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell continued to perform and attempt to tickle our collective funny bones even when they were not stretching the comedy envelope. Al Franken left Saturday Night Live and grew up to be a US senator. For a while. Conan O'Brien grew up to be a late night host. In a few different places. For a while. Before he became a lawyer defending meth dealers, Bod Odenkirk wrote for Saturday Night Live. 

The show has spit out more good comedians than most shows see in a lifetime. Forty-seven years for a late night TV sketch show is more than a lifetime. It is, for better or worse, an institution. It's a little like Rolling Stone magazine: a defining voice for a generation that has grown up and moved on, but still feels the need to invigorate things in the way they used to. Even if the way they currently invigorate things is to keep doing the things that they have for half a century. 

For full transparency I will confess that it has been years since I watched anything on Saturday Night after my bedtime. I am pleased and happy when YouTube will bring me this cold opening or that commercial parody. The Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump sketches were something I kept track of on Sunday mornings. My need to show up to junior high with the entire show committed to memory has faded. 

Which is my perspective. I know that there is an audience out there who watch on Saturday Night. Live. I am reasonably certain that there are middle and high schoolers who are recording bits on their DVRs and committing them to memory for replay on Monday morning for the entertainment of their friends. Uber producer Lorne Michaels continues to churn out what appears to be anti-authority comedy even though at seventy-seven years and millions of dollars later, he is hardly the tough young Canadian whiz kid who burst on the scene forty-seven years ago. He's the old guy with a trophy case that needs room for one more statue. 

Isn't that funny? 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Charging Station

 I am glad that when crisis hit, I was able to make a few decisions on my own. The words of a flight attendant rang in my ear: "We know you have a lot of choices when you fly..." And those words will be burned into my memory for another little while as I creep toward the reality of my trip to Colorado. 

My mother will soon be moving out of her home. More to the point, my mother will be moved out of her home soon. My younger brother and I will be traveling east of the Rockies to try and help out. Not a lot, but enough that we can tag off on the process and feel like we got last tag on the homestead. 

This is the place where my mother lived for twenty-five years, after the death of my father and the subsequent rejiggering of finances. This is not the place where I grew up, but it is the place where my mother grew old. Old enough that keeping track of that two-floor townhouse even with a lot of help is no longer a possibility. Now, all those memories that had been pared down and moved from my childhood home are being consolidated once again to be moved to somewhere new. 

All of this action came to pass in a bit of a blur, after a fall threw all the cards that had been carefully laid were tossed into the air. Now the "what if" talks have become "how do we" plans. They became real in such a rush that when my younger brother made plans to fly to Colorado and drive back with the artifacts we claim in the name of the middle and youngest sons. My older brother, god bless him, will be left with unraveling the rest. 

Not exactly the equitable vision that we all might have hoped for, but the reality of geography is what we live with. Which is why, when offered a seemingly unbeatable air fare from the Bay Area to Denver, my younger brother and I jumped. And fell directly into the absurdity of Frontier Airlines. In a world that includes Southwest, searching out those low prices can be a dangerous game. Once we had acquired our seats, my brother and I discovered that if we had hoped to carry anything other than our laptops with us, that we were going to be offered the "carry on upgrade." For a fee nearly the price of the ticket, we would be allowed to bring an additional bag. Not a checked bag, but one we could stow in the overhead bins. It''s going to be a short trip, but I still wanted a change of clothes. Sorry, says Frontier, that will cost you extra. 

It's a good thing that we will be driving back, since I have no idea what Frontier Airlines would charge for bringing along mom's china. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Business Is Booming

 So here's the headline that stopped me in my tracks: "Ukraine's top general just warned that a 'limited' nuclear war can't be ruled out — here's Warren Buffett's investment advice while facing the 'greatest danger' in the world."

I didn't read the article. Warren's vision of the world and mine seem to differ in a few ways. First of all, my investments are pretty much limited to the funds I can be cajoled into being a part of when it's time to inspect my retirement accounts. Since most of them are pretty limited in terms of their exposure and daring, I don't imagine I'll be playing in Buffett's league anytime soon. And then there's the matter of profiteering. You know, making money off of someone else's misfortune. 

In this case it would be the annihilation of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of innocent men, women and children. The quotes around "limited" was kind of the giveaway. The very idea of some sort of containment once Pandora's box has been opened wide leaves me with very little hope, and even less interest in the finances. It reminds me that regardless of the horrors of war that we encounter, it is the horror of those who sit back and watch it happen that are even worse. What is our first response, as a nation, when innocents are threatened abroad? Economic sanctions. We want to get them in their portfolios, where it hurts. 

Understanding that this is a way to steer clear of sending American troops into the fray, I continue to struggle with the notion that we are willing to send our guns and missiles to do battle, but we don't want to pull the trigger ourselves. In this way, we continue to our non-combatant presence while still blowing things up. Lockheed has been making a ton of money on the sale of its weapons to Ukraine. Its stock is through the roof, and there are at least twenty members of Congress who own some of that stock while they push for an additional forty billion dollars in military aid to our friends there. That's not a conflict of interest, it's synergy, right?

I went ahead and looked at the article. Back in 2006, Warren Buffet the eternally optimistic American investor said, “We have developed over these 72 years, since August of 1945, the ability around the world to almost destroy civilization. It's the only real cloud on the horizon.” But even a mushroom cloud has a silver lining, right? What's Warren's hedge against any war, nuclear or not? Real estate. People have to live somewhere. 

If they live. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Adjusted Gross

So, Harrison Ford has made it official: "I'm not falling down for you again." This was his announcement after the initial trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie was screened for an audience at the D23 Expo this past weekend. 
I know. You're probably trying to untangle this whole "new Indiana Jones movie" phrase. Really? The last time Mister Ford pulled no the leather jacket and fedora was in 2008. Fourteen years ago. Twenty-seven years after the initial entry into the swashbuckling archaeologist saga. 
And the math that matters is this: Harrison Ford is eighty years old. Back in 2008 when everyone's favorite snake-hater went in search of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there were those who suggested that Harrison might have been a little long in the tooth to be chasing all over the globe for antiquities. 
I would have been one of those suggesting that. 
I was also of the opinion that the creative team behind all these adventures may have been just a little desperate for assistance themselves. I point directly to the sequence in which Indy escaped being blown up by an atom bomb by hiding innside a refrigerator. If you are among those who stayed away from screenings of this episode, let me assure you that it really happened and it may not have been the most ridiculous thing that happened over the course of the film. Maybe if Doctor Jones had woken up at the end of this mess only to discover that it hall been some sort of crazy dream. 
Tongue in cheek? Ironic? Too clever? Perhaps. But it made seven hundred ninety million dollars at the box office. That was almost twice what the third installment, the one with Sean Connery, made. That one was made when Harrison Ford was forty-six years old. So, if you're trying to calculate the amount each movie made compared to the relative age of its star, this may not be encouraging. At least not if you are no longer interesting falling down for us anymore. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


The guy at the bike shop asked me, "So, how many tubes have you replaced?"

For a moment, I wasn't sure how to respond.

He continued: "One to ten? Ten to twenty? A hundred?"

For a moment, I tried to make an actual accounting of how many times I have fixed a flat tire in more than twenty-five years of commuting by bike. "I dunno. Probably in the hundred plus range." I based this on the thought that I probably have about four flats over the course of any year. And when I have one, it often turns into two or three for some statistically ridiculous reason. But once I had let the guy at the bike shop know that I wasn't some weekend newbie, but a warrior like himself, out there riding to live, he let me off the hook. 

"Well, ya know sometimes people who aren't used to putting a tube on -" and he trailed off because he was suddenly picking up that it was Friday afternoon and I had pushed my bike home for the second time in just over a week and was not in the mood to be quizzed about something that shouldn't be happening. Not three flat tires over the course of two weeks. I was "testy" as my mother would sometimes refer to me when I had run out of patience for the limitations of others. I was not of the opinion that I had somehow done something wrong, but rather there was something I needed the guy at the bike store to make right for me. 

Which is about the time that he started to methodically run his fingers inside the tire that had gone flat. Something I do on a regular basis when presented with a flat tire. Looking for some sort of foreign puncturing object that had become lodged on the inside of the tire that was keeping the air from staying inside the tube I keep changing. After a few trips around, the guy from the bike store looked up and said, "Ya know, there are a lot of sideshows around these neighborhoods," I nodded in agreement, "and when they spin their tires, sometimes they leave behind steel microfibers that can get lodged in your tires." Not the kind you can find, apparently, but it made some sense. 

So together we decided that this was one of those freak occasions and that the tire was the cursed object and that it should be replaced. I watched him put a new tube on with a replacement tire. It was holding air. He told me that the installation would be on the house, but I would have the privilege of paying for the new tire and tube. Given the number of times I have changed a tube, I looked at this as a gift. 

And the end of a frustrating Friday night. Hoping it will be a few more months before I have the opportunity to start on that second hundred. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Queen Slate

 What can you say about a ninety-six year old monarch who died?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. When QEII passed away this past week the outpouring of sentiment was impressive to say the least. The overwhelming response was thoughtful and contemplative. As monarchs go, Queen Elizabeth came in a close second to Louis XIV of France in terms of the long haul. Louis reigned for seventy-two years. The Queen racked up seventy years on the throne. 

A couple things before we go on: I confess that my own feelings about the British Royal Family are at best ambivalent. The fact that we have, for seventy years, referred to King George IV's little girl as "The Queen" gives me pause. It reminds me of a time when I first moved to Oakland and one evening my wife told me that we were going into "The City." I was under the impression that Oakland was a city. She meant San Francisco, which somehow assumed a higher echelon. There have been, historically, a great many queens. There are forty-two other monarchies scattered around the world aside from the one found in Buckingham Palace. Maybe the trick is having a good publicist. 

Or having Helen Mirren play you on screen. Or have a Netflix series that documents the ages of your reign. Or have Canada put your face on one side of a coin, with the other given to a beaver. 

All of this is a remnant of the last of the old-school empires. Colonialism never looked so posh as when the Royal Family showed up to put a photo op together. All that nasty business with Lady Di? Let's not keep turning over stones, shall we? 

Then there's this: Queen Elizabeth was pulling down twenty-six to fifty million dollars a year for her services, tax free, depending on which sources you might choose to believe. This is not chump change. This is monarchy money. Meanwhile, the realm continues to search for someone new to play the Prime Minister, whose salary comes in just below two hundred thousand dollars a year. A nice gig to be sure, but not quite princely. 

So now that the Queen is dead, her little boy Charles is going to get his shot at ruling. Knighting folks and christening ships and so forth. At seventy-three years old, he finally has a job. Long live The King. Unless you're talking about Elvis, because he's already dead.

Or is he

Sunday, September 11, 2022


 This week, noted blob of oven grease Steve Bannon surrendered to authorities. He was taken into custody for charges related to his role in "We Build the Wall," an online fundraising campaign for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He was arrested two years ago on charges of defrauding donors who gave millions of dollars to fund the construction of a wall along our southern border. That bump in the road to justice was eliminated when, in the waning moments of his former boss' administration he and a number of other felons were granted "presidential" pardons. The blob of oven grease slithered free.

Until now. 

Though the federal charges have been pardoned, the state of New York has taken it upon themselves to pick up where the pardon left off. "Presidential" pardons do not cover indictments brought by a state. And since the blob of oven grease's former boss is currently dealing with his own smelly kettle of fish, it would appear that rescue may not be forthcoming. 

Two of Bannon's border-wall-bilking bros have already plead guilty to their federal charges, since they didn't rate a "presidential" pardon. A third defendant's trial ended up deadlocked, with a new trial scheduled for October. Go ahead and toss in the guilty verdicts on the two charges of criminal contempt of Congress, and all of a sudden you've got yourself a legal hat trick. 

And somehow, Steve Bannon, that slippery blog of oven grease, remains free to blather on about how mistreated he is. Poor, poor Steve Bannon. Millionaire. In what may be a totally unrelated note beyond finances, Mister Bannon owns one percent of the syndication rights to the sitcom Seinfeld

Or maybe it's not that bizarre: In the finale of that series, Jerry and his friends are found guilty of "criminal indifference" and sentenced to a year in jail. A cursory look at the life and work of Steve Bannon would suggest that not only is he a blob of oven grease, he is a criminally indifferent blob of oven grease. Who needs to be put in jail for at least a year. Just make sure it's one of those maximum security deals where he can't slip between the bars. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Bottom Of The Ninth

 Baseball season. Now fully subsumed by professional and college football, and I hardly noticed. It has been a tough year in Oakland, home of the Athletics. So tough in fact that the question about how much longer Oakland will have its own major league team is up in the air. Having spent most of the 2022 season flirting with the worst record in baseball, the A's show absolutely none of the spark or grit that made them the subject of a book and film: Moneyball

The story of how this small-market team put together a group that somehow challenged every previous notion about how the game could be managed was a real feel-good Hollywood concoction. The reality of living through the 2002 win streak here in Oakland was truly magical. From the middle of August until the first week of September that year, the A's could not lose. And they were doing it with a payroll that was one third of the (hack, spit) New York Yankees. It was during this time that my son started to catch the fever. We were watching games on television. We were cheering. Even though his hometown team never made it to the World Series, he became a fan. So much so that for many years we began a tradition of trying to make it out to the ballpark for at least one game a year together. We liked to remind anyone who would listen that Oakland had never lost while we were in the stands. 

We weren't in the stand this season. Too many other th8ings conspired to keep us from buying out tickets and taking our seats. All the distractions were enabled by the complete failure by the team and its management to put up anything but the weakest effort. I understand that this reaction makes me nothing but a fair weather fan, but this feels more like climate change than a change in the weather. The rumors swirling around the relocation of the team to a city that would support them with a new stadium and all the attendant tax breaks that make owning a professional sports team worthwhile have become more realistic. Having just recently misplaced the Raiders and the Golden State Warriors, the city of Oakland seems to have different priorities. 

Which, I suppose, reflects my own world view. The attention that I have previously placed on Major League Baseball has drifted elsewhere. COVID-19. War in Ukraine. The aforementioned climate change. The relative fortunes of a baseball team have drifted down my importance ladder. I understand that I am in many ways playing right into the hands of the corporate manipulations behind moving a sports franchise. I saw Major League. Someday, I'll be pawing through my drawer and find that green and gold T-shirt, and I will smile. Remembering when baseball mattered. Not just to me, but to Oakland. 

Friday, September 09, 2022

On The Side Of The Side Show

 My son is, to use a somewhat pejorative term, a car nut. Many trips down city streets or interstate highways have been enlivened by the discussion of the car that we just passed. Or the car that just passed us. Or the car on the vacant lot on the other side of the road. He is not shy on the topic of automobiles. As referenced here on this corner of Al Gore's Internet, he has become quite proficient at the care and maintenance of motor vehicles. So much so that he will periodically diagnose engine trouble or brake issues from those same passing vehicles. 

He is a fan of motor sports, with the exception of NASCAR, primarily because of its over-reliance on left turns. He's more of a rally guy. Wave the flag and off they go, into the desert or down city streets. Hope the course is clear. He is a fan of speed, and the part where cars sometimes go sideways around a curve, drifting, is a skill he has made attempts at acquiring. Which may explain why his attitudes toward sideshows remain so hard to pin down. These urban demonstrations of acceleration and willingness to use up tires for the crowds that gather on street corners to watch get his attention, if not his love. 

This may be because of the connections that so often occur between sideshows and street crime. For the most part, these squealing exhibitions are primarily an annoyance. The sound and the smell of burning rubber sometimes seem interminable for the home and business owners in the neighborhood, but these disturbances are generally over before the police can come by and take down a few license plates. A big, loud, smelly storm that moves on quickly. Just ahead of the gendarmes. 

Then there's the case that occurred recently just over the hill from us. The street in front of the local market was the site of a sideshow that eventually turned into cover for a car to go crashing into the front of the store, at which point several young men attempted to remove the ATM from the newly created hole in the wall. The owner of the business came out to find out the nature of the ruckus and was confronted with additional youths carrying rifles. He retreated and waited for authorities to respond. 

Unfortunately, the ATM and the perps were gone by the time police appeared on the scene. The wreck of a car was left lodged in the newly created entrance. Unfortunately, my son was not on the scene to provide the make and model, but we're pretty sure that it was stolen. 

Which is why we can't have nice things that go fast. 

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Information Retrieval

 ME: Canada Stabbing

GOOGLE: Did you mean "Canada Shooting?"

ME: Thank you, no. I meant Canada Stabbing

GOOGLE: Sorry. Why would you be searching for Canada Stabbing?

ME: Because ten people were killed and fifteen more were hospitalized

GOOGLE: Stabbing?

ME: Yes

GOOGLE: Canada?

ME: Yes

GOOGLE: Ten people were killed?

ME: Yes

GOOGLE: In a stabbing?

ME: Yes. It happened in Saskatchawan, in at least thirteen different locations.

GOOGLE: Really?

ME: Authorities are seaching for two suspects. 

GOOGLE: A manhunt?

ME: Authorities say this is one of the worst mass killings in Canada's history.

GOOGLE: Not a shooting? 

ME: No. Not a shooting.

GOOGLE: You know that mass killings are not as common in Canada as they are in the United States. 

ME: Thanks, Google. Is there anything else you'd like to share. 

GOOGLE: I can get you the number of a great sushi place nearby. 

ME: Thanks, no. How about a few of those standard thoughts and prayers for our neighbors to the north. 

GOOGLE: Do you mean there was a shooting? 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Hanging From A Thread

 It's not just my school. Apparently there are a lot of schools across this great land of ours that are struggling with the ridiculously pervasive use of cell phones. 

As a point of departure, let me begin by saying that my own cell phone use at school has become much more of a conditional thing. There was a time when I first started carrying a cell phone at school that I rarely had it turned on. It was primarily used as a prop for those moments on the playground when I needed to threaten a student with a phone call home. It was only a matter of time before tech savvy little eyes noticed that I wasn't really doing anything but holding the phone next to my head and monologuing. Eventually, this awareness generated the necessity for my wife to take calls from me at odd moments throughout the day, with her playing the part of the shocked and disappointed parent of the moment. She will express just the right sentiments and follow my lead for a moment or two before I hang up and let the student know how mom was very upset, but hoped that another chance would help them get their act together. I can still get away with this one most of the time, unless the kid in question wants to talk to their caregiver. Or notice that the number on the screen doesn't match the one they have so dutifully memorized. 

Then there is the steady stream of texts that beg for my attention throughout the school day. Some of them are important, verging on urgent. Then there are the ones that show up because they don't want to take the time for something as formal as an email. Where do we keep the extra HEPA filters? Professional Development will be held in room seven this afternoon instead of room three. These texts also replace the intercom announcements that used to break up a quiet morning, asking for my location. Or that of our principal. Or those pesky HEPA filters. 

So, with all this smart phone interaction taking place with adults on campus, it sometimes feels a little hypocritical of us all to be so insistent on students keeping their devices powered down and put away. Except for this: The Pandora's Box that is your basic cell phone today is far and away more tempting and distracting than any paper airplane or Pokemon card. Much in the same way that my own teaching of technology has evolved from a time when I had to spend days or weeks at a time training students about how to point and click a mouse to generation of evolved end users I meet in my classroom these days, most kids have a relationship with a smart phone these days. It may not be their own, but their use and abuse is something they are not shy about sharing. By third grade, many of our students already carry their own device, usually with the limp reminder from home to only use it when they need it. Which for a ten year old could be as long as the battery hold out. There is a world of YouTube and Instagram and Roblox with which they can interact. And their own text threads that are far more interesting than anything in their Language Arts book. Like for discussions of HEPA filters, for instance. 

But the real force behind all this cell phone use is the one we don't talk about much. It's that moment when the gunfire erupts. When mom can't wait to hear from the school. When her kids are barricaded in their classrooms and they want to know they are safe. Alive. It is in these moments when the landlines, located in every room of the school, are completely inadequate. It is this fear that keeps excusing the persistent casual use of cellular devices for any use other than emergencies. Turns out it's not HEPA filters that were the most important thing after all. 

That's what we keep telling ourselves, though. It's easier. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Forever Young

 It's probably my own fault. At some point in the past ten years or so I mentioned that I wouldn't mind if Bob Dylan's song "Forever Young" was played at my memorial service. Not that I was making plans for anything specific. It just occurred to me as a particularly appropriate set of words to describe my hopes not necessarily for myself but for my son and future generations of us who come along. 

May you always be courageousStand upright and be strongAnd may you stay forever young

I would not have imagined that near the beginning of my sixtieth year that I would be attending a memorial service for the little girl who used to live across the street. The one who taught my son to walk. The one who grew up to have a passel of kids herself.  The one whose life got away from her. She died shorty after her thirty-fifth birthday. It pained me, not just because this was Labor Day Weekend and not Memorial Day Weekend. It pained me because the slideshow that preceded the service included that song. As I sat there in the pew next to my wife, wondering why there were cushions on the fold out kneeling benches but not underneath me, I looked around at the mourners in the room with me. The overwhelming majority of them were younger than me. By about three touchdowns or more. These were the kids from our neighborhood twenty-five years ago. 

And their children. 

The other "old man" in attendance was the father of that brood from across the street. The man who had lost his wife and now his daughter over the course of the past year. He looked as if youth had been forcibly drained from him. Along with the courage. And the strength. 

This is about the time that it occurred to me that the song was for the young lady in the box at the front of the room. The old saw about living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse flashed through my mind. The hubris of such a sentiment was painfully clear to me. After years of hustling and spinning that sentiment as if it were something real. 

Forever young. It's about the saddest thing I can imagine. 

Monday, September 05, 2022


 Joe Biden was more careful than I tend to be. I tend to swing a big stick around labeled "Republicans versus Democrats" and I don't really care which I hit. But here is exactly what I know: the shades of gray that exist between red and blue are vast. I know, for example, that there are plenty of Republicans who could not be moved to vote for Donald Trump in 2016 or 2020. There is a very large group who saw what happened during those first four years and after seeing what "Make America Great Again" meant to the guy in charge, switched their vote in the last election. I am also aware that there were plenty of Democrats who, when presented with candidates like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden chose to throw in with the red baseball caps to "stir things up." 

Well, things got stirred up. The storming of the capitol on January 6, 2021 put a fine point on that. It also made clear the distinction between those who cast their ballot and those who are no longer content to simply participate in a representative democracy. The people who broke windows, savaged law enforcement officers, threatened lawmakers and the Vice President of the United States numbered in the thousands, but do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. Sadly, it continues to be the loudly spoken party line that these were innocent victims of an election that was "stolen." Regardless of the number of times the numbers are reviewed and the reality is made plain, there is a frontline chorus that seems content to continue to "stir things up." Not out of any sense of making things work better as a whole, but to work out better for themselves. 

The threat of "riots in the streets" from Republican leadership if Donald Trump is indicted is clear and present danger. The picture being painted here is that somehow the miscarriages of justice over the past six years have all been on the Democratic side. While there are a few voices of reason within that group that have begun to distance themselves from the crimes of their standard bearer, but for the most part, those in positions near the top of the big red heap seem committed to the shell game being played in which Donald Trump is some sort of innocent victim. 

George Floyd was an innocent victim. Trayvon Martin was an innocent victim. These are facts that have been borne out of court decisions. The riots in the streets that occurred for these men and the dozens of other unjustly murdered individuals are the action. The reaction from those who would like to draw a correlation between them and Donald Trump are deficient in their reasoning. They are not "Republicans." They are members of a movement Joe Biden described as "MAGA Republicans." Even that may be too wide a brush. 

These are people who are living in the fear of having to share the power they have gained over the centuries at someone else's expense. It is time to right the ship. By leaning left. 

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Space Truckin'

 I ride my bike to and from school. On somewhat rare occasions, an inner tube fails or the weather does not coincide with the gear I have brought with me. That's when I start fishing for a ride. Sure, I could walk. But that could take years and cost thousands of lives. Instead, I pick up my phone and start with my wife, the keeper of the family car. More often than not, this exchange takes place abruptly and we agree on a time that she can drive by as I leap inside to the relative luxury of our still-dependable Prius. At which point I begin planning my return to my standard mode of transport, whether that means changing an inner tube or finding my rain pants. Whatever it takes. 

Now, let's say for the sake of discussion that the route I have chosen isn't the two mile trek from school to home, but a longer one. Like a voyage to the moon, or a nearby space station. Even my fancy bike with all its gears is probably ill-suited for a trip of this magnitude. But even if it was, a mechanical failure or challenge of some other sort might make me have to change things up. If I were NASA, I would be stuck, since my fleet of space shuttles has been mothballed for some time now. Now if American astronauts want to hitch a ride to outer space, they are dependent on Russia. We were tagging along on Soviet-era Soyuz flights that were costing the United States nearly eighty million dollars a seat. I'm pretty sure Southwest can beat that price. 

So, beyond the expense, there was this little kerfuffle in Ukraine that made it seem like a pretty bad idea to sharing spaceships with the bad guys in that conflict. And maybe it was an even worse idea to be paying Russia eighty million a pop for the privilege of riding in their rockets. What's the alternative, when you absolutely positively have to get into space? 

How about Space X? Elon Musk, everyone's favorite extraterrestrial is offering five flights on his outer space Uber for the low, low price of just one point four billion dollars. With four seats on five flights, that works out to  just (checks math one more time) seventy million dollars. And NASA is going to pass the savings right on to you. Or something like that. The goal is to keep the International Space Station continuously crewed until the end of its useful life in 2030. Then what? I'm guessing Jeff Bezos has a pretty sweet deal on a new Space Station, and he can get it to you in just two days. 

Saturday, September 03, 2022


 Greg, a student from Yemen, was chased up the stairs after the last bell of the day by Darlene. Both are fifth graders. Darlene was angry because Greg had called her the N-word. Darlene is African-American. She was correct to be furious at this violation. Greg, who is still very much in the process of learning English, landed squarely in the tracks of the challenge of learning words and their weight without understanding their dimension. He has spent the last two years on a playground where he has regularly heard that word used as a taunt, as a greeting, in anger and in celebration. He made no note of who was saying it to whom. And when. This meant that, when he was sitting in the office nursing the scrapes and bruises inflicted by Darlene once she caught up to him, I had to explain the reason why he should do everyone a favor and just go ahead and delete this word from his vocabulary. 

As I was administering this lecture, it became apparent that there was another layer to these events. Darlene, having spent the afternoon building animosity toward Greg for his persistent and non-specific annoyances, told a friend that she should be ready to record what she had already determined would be a beat-down after school. The friend, Alice, was excited to be involved in such a "mature" level of conflict. Greg did not disappoint when the bell rang, and he tossed that one forbidden epithet in the direction of Darlene. The chase was on. Darlene stands a full head taller than Greg, and if she hadn't done the job it is likely that the swarm that followed the scene would have finished him off. 

All captured on the phone dutifully carried by Alice. 

Now a few more details: Alice is Latina. All three of these kids were in a fifth grade classroom that had a substitute that day. It is unlikely that any of this behavior would have taken place if their regular teacher had been with them that day. Most days, the melting pot that is Horace Mann Elementary provides infinite opportunities for racial and cultural understanding. It's part of education, after all. It's part of being in a community. 

Until suddenly all those agreements and understandings are forgotten. Alice went directly to the cafeteria to share the video she took with the students in the after school program. This had the effect of taking that lightly stirred melting pot and pitching it onto the floor. Now we had a much larger problem. 

Parents were called. Tough conversations were had. Promises were made to change the way we all do things. But the word was out. And the video. And it will take a long time to get the ketchup back in the bottle. 

Friday, September 02, 2022

Not Hopeless

 I confess to having a pretty blasé attitude when it comes to shootings in Oakland.  In the past I have maintained an attitude that the kinds of killing that gets done here in Oaktown is the spur of the moment, immediate settlement of grievances kind of situation that is resolved abruptly. This past Monday, a twelve year old at a middle school here shot a thirteen year old. The thirteen year old is in stable condition and expected to survive. My blasé attitude is not. 

The recent murder of a local restauranteur in our neighborhood had already punched a fair-sized hole in the myth that I was living in some sort of "safe zone." The gunshots we all hear periodically that we try to fool ourselves into believing are fireworks ring in my ears. 

The shooter and victim in the shooting at Madison Park Academy were just a little older than the kids I teach. The chances of a relative connection is very high. The connection I feel to the community is a real and stark one. I have experienced my share of lockdowns at my elementary school, but only via the threat of an outside idjitator with a gun. 

On Monday, I was called to intercede in a number of minor disagreements. Most of them centered around Pokemon cards. One particular second grader was mixed up in three of them, determined to "get his revenge." Do I know that the students involved in the Madison Park Academy were upset about something more important than Pokemon cards? The kids involved are kids. What in their brief existence could bring about a life or death choice? A girl? A perceived slight? Cutting in line? A "yo mama" joke gone horribly wrong? 

I would like to think that what makes the incidents at my school so different is the sense of innocence that hangs over elementary school. But what I know is the reality: The difference is access to a gun. I am terrified to think about what could happen if one of our kids, in a fit of pique, got his or her hand on a loaded weapon. 

Which is why I stay here. Opening doors and offering alternatives and ways to express frustration and fear and all those jangled emotions that burden our youngest citizens. 

DesperateBut not helplessThe clock strikes midnightIn the murder city -  Green Day "Murder City"

Thursday, September 01, 2022


When we don't talk about things, sometimes they get stuck in places we hadn't intended. For example, there is the matter of my mother's Multiple Sclerosis. She has been lucky in terms of just how debilitating the disease has been for her. I say this because because as a family this is my mother's life, and it is exactly how it is. Well into her eighties she was a walker of prodigious capacity. She got around pretty good for a woman with legs she described as feeling like they were "always asleep." Since I was a kid, my mom's lower half has felt like she has that pins and needles thing. All the time. 

Then go ahead and toss the allergies and the asthma on top of that. The prednisone used to help her lungs deal with the onslaught of periodic asthma attacks brought the treat of diabetes as yet another physical hurdle to deal with. And the hits just kept coming. 

Still, she persisted.

Not a lot keeps her down. But when she gets down, it's a toughie. The vast and sweeping irony is that her ex-husband, my father, was the "healthy one." Raquetball and running and biking and so on. He was doing all the things that would help him live forever. Twenty-six years ago, that theory took a hit when he suffered what we call "sudden deceleration trauma." Accidents happen. But my mom, with her litany of challenges kept on keeping on. 

That keeping on part has become more and more challenging as mom's original equipment has begun to fail. Those lungs that have been compromised for so many years have taken a beating. Getting around now requires assistance of some sort. Independence seems like it might, to quote the poets, vanish in the haze. She is the living proof that getting older is not for sissies. 

Gravity recently caught up to mom, causing more than just a few bumps and bruises. The hospital is a scary place, maybe more so for those who care for her than the patient herself. She's been there before, after all. And mom always bounces back. 

We just hope she bounces back without breaking anything.