Monday, October 31, 2022

Over? Did You Say Over?

 "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

This skewed bit of historical recollection rang in my head when our principal sat us down to give us the scoop: Our school continues to be on the list for closure. Nothing has changed. Not yet, anyway. She figured it was the best course of action to bring the staff together to look at the timeline as it currently stands. 

The one that ends with us closing up shop in May. 

As is her way, she included a number of spots over the next seven months for reflection and celebration. It was her calm assurance that no one would get out of here without appreciation. The underlying terror of being forced out into the cold, cruel world without all of our familiar faces was mitigated a tiny bit by the matter of fact way that things were laid out. When would the "Talent Division," formerly know as "human resources," drop by to give us a window on the world of opportunity that waits for us outside the walls of Horace Mann. When would buildings and grounds bring by the moving boxes. When the roll is called up yonder. 

I paused for a moment on that bit about moving. I recalled the first year I was a teacher. My first year at Horace Mann. I remember being told by my principal at the time along with the rest of our fresh-faced staff that we should be prepared for moving boxes to be delivered to us in anticipation of relocating to portable classrooms. We weren't leaving the site. We were making room for the "modernization" that was going to take place while we huddled in temporary shelter as the work was being done. 

We waited. No boxes were delivered. Four years passed. Suddenly we were on the schedule that was essentially arbitrary until the moment that buildings and grounds were ready to move. Then we all moved out. For a year and a half while they painted the place and put the wires and cables inside the walls and finished off with an elevator and an atrium with plenty of windows to let the light in. 

Those windows that would be regularly replaced when frustrated students would take out their youthful angst on all that glass. It became part of our background as we moved forward, and the year-round school became a regular school and the faces came and left and the steady presence was yours truly as we all tried to hold things together. 

Until the call came from on high that we should close our doors due to declining enrollment. Horace Mann along with ten other schools were slated to be removed from the roster as a cost-cutting measure. A crisis! Protests! Marches! Disruption at the School Board meetings! But the district in their glacial way moved forward with their plans. 

And now we wait for the sliver of a chance that the coming election brings us a revamped school board, one that will take us to a place where we won't have to use those boxes. A place where neighborhood schools are valued and supported, and not viewed with bottom-line concerns. 

I could beg for anyone in the reach of this epistle to vote for an Oakland School Board that will bring a vision of public education that works for the public. But I know that it's late in the game. I guess what I'm saying is: Don't let the Germans bomb Pearl Harbor. Again.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Mom Climbed Up On The Roof

 You might think after all these years of writing obituaries for heads of state, royalty, movie stars, songwriters, cartoonists and the like that I would be naturally suited for the task of writing one for my mother. 

In many ways, you would be right. I certainly have the ability to string more than a few words together, and the subject of this particular exercise is not unknown to me. The trouble came when I started to think about what my mother would want me to say. What my brothers would want me to say. There is no end of amusing anecdotes in my mind when it comes to my dear departed mom. Finding the appropriate words and sentiment was the challenge. She would not have wanted a fuss made over her.

Initially there was a thought of avoiding the experience completely. I have this outlet here to spin tales of my mother and all the ways she impacted the world in which I live. She never once told me that life is like a box of chocolates, but she was right there when things got tough to let me know that this was all part of a learning experience. She was fond of letting me know that I was "rounding a corner" when thing were hard. 

Turns out she was right. My world has been a never-ending series of corners to round. 

And now I'll be doing it without my mom to remind me. 

The other challenge of writing an obituary is the notion that somehow these would be the final words on the subject. This will not be the case for me. Nor will it be for the legions of fans who followed her without the aid of social media. They called. They dropped by. They went to lunch. They kept in touch. There is not a full page in any daily newspaper that would hold all the sentiment involved in this moment. 

So I went straight to the point. I followed the simplest template I could find and filled in the blanks. What will appear in the Boulder Daily Camera today, October 30, is the mere mention of Barbara Caven's passing.  I chose to have it run on Sunday in the hopes that more readers might catch the news who have not already received notice from someone somewhere already. And the comics might act as a nice sorbet for the soul afterward. 

What I did not mention in the published version was that my mother stomped on the Terra. Fiercely but with more compassion that I can describe. She will be missed. 

Every day. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

New Math

 Ah, the school shootings. Seems like I need to take up a separate space somewhere on Los Internet to track them all. This time it was St. Louis, Missouri. A gunman entered the school at, perhaps ironically or maybe prophetically, 9:11 AM. Carrying an AR-15 and six hundred rounds of ammunition, he was not there for picture day. He was there to kill. Before police responded, he took the lives of sixty-one-year-old Jean Kuczka, a mother of five who taught health and physical education, and sophomore Alexzandria Bell, fifteen, who loved art and dance. The rest of the staff and students were able to barricade themselves inside classrooms, waited for authorities to arrive. When they did, they found the murderer barricaded himself in a classroom. When he shot at police, they returned fire and killed him. This all took approximately twelve minutes. “The drills worked,” DeAndre Davis, director of safety and security for St. Louis Public Schools, said Tuesday. “The kids worked. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. They barricaded those doors. They got away from those windows, and when it was time to evacuate, they did the best they could. They got out of that building.”

This is what we are considering a "success." Three dead, including the shooter, and "only" four others injured, two by gunfire. 

Meanwhile in Florida, an elementary school teacher was arrested on charges of possession of a firearm on school grounds and child endangerment. Two fourth-grade students at Chiefland Elementary School discovered a gun in the teacher's car during school hours after she had sent them to get her medication for her.

Another success? Nobody died in this one. Children were in danger, sure, but maybe as much from the medication as the gun. But considering it was in Florida, I think we know the bar may be a little low. This is the state where just a few years ago the governor signed into law a measure that would allow more armed teachers in that state's schools. Wasn't "good guys with guns" part of the plan? Maybe first year teacher Miss Ehlers was just a little too prepared. “While it is extremely disheartening to ever arrest a teacher, this type of violation that endangers the safety of our students cannot be tolerated,” said Sheriff Bobby McCallum. “Thankfully these fourth-grade students had parents that taught them about gun safety and but for that reason, we may have avoided a dangerous and sad situation today.”

Guns and schools=Dangerous and sad. I guess I don't have the will to argue that equation. All a part of the New Math. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

In My Shoes

 When I was in junior high, I had an orange T-shirt with a blue Adidas logo across the chest. An aunt once asked me who "Ahdeedahs" was. This took some of the air out of the cool that I was hoping to gain by having this shirt in my wardrobe. True enough, I wasn't wearing it to impress my aunt, but I was already struggling against the tides of peer pressure and I didn't need this woman harshing on what I assumed was my "buzz." 

Backing up a couple steps, I feel the need to explain that at this point in popular adolescent behavior, Adidas was a force. Nike? Reebok? Never mind. If you wanted to show just how very with it you were, you had Adidas on your feet. Specifically, you wanted the Superstar, and if you were really with it, you had the green stripes. Three of them. I cannot stress enough how important that number was. Those three stripes distinguished Adidas from the rest of the shoe world. It had to be three. 

It was my sainted mother who brought my new shoes home. Green stripes. Four of them. I tried to maintain a modicum of composure. "Mom," I asked as the tension began to rise in my voice, "Where did you get these?"

"At Pennys," she replied as she emptied the rest of the shopping excursion on my bed.

I could not comprehend the rest of the socks, underwear and jeans. I saw only those four green stripes. The mark of the uncool. "Pennys?" I stammered.

"I looked at the Adidas, but they were twice as expensive as these." 

I looked for the words to describe the difference in the price of my self esteem, but I knew the next phase of the argument would raise the potential of having me buy my own shoes, "if it's so important."

Ultimately, my love for my mother was stronger than the caste system surrounding sneakers. I wore them to school the next day knowing that I was still sitting a notch above the kids wearing worn out Keds. But wincing in anticipation of the cries: "Hey, look! Caven's got shoes from Pennys!"

I did take some abuse for what was on my feet. But what was in my heart was pure. My mother was teaching me a lesson about status, and eventually I wore those shoes out. And my mom brought home another pair just like it. 

I wore those out too. 

I didn't need Adidas to be cool. My mom was ahead of her time

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Number One With A Bullet

 On the day that I read about how the new release of Call of Duty was "the best in recent memory," I had just finished reading about the Michigan teenager who had agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder a year after his attack on his high school. He killed four of his fellow students, then surrendered to officers responding to the scene. The day before the murders, the killer had been in trouble with a teacher at his school for searching for ammunition on his phone. At that time, his mother texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

These are the lessons you can only learn at home, I suppose. The killer's parents are facing involuntary manslaughter charges. They are accused of making a gun accessible to Ethan and ignoring his need for mental health treatment. Prosecutors suggested in a court filing, "Put simply, they created an environment in which their son’s violent tendencies flourished. They were aware their son was troubled, and then they bought him a gun.” The parents said they were unaware of their son's plan to commit a school shooting. They also dispute that the gun was easy to grab at home.

About Call of Duty: I am not traditionally one of those who makes direct links to violent video games and school shootings. Nor do I blame the music shooters listen to. Or their choice of outer wear. I do wonder what signs we might be willing to accept, since there are often such familiar connections as we walk back down the path to the moment the trigger was pulled. 

Full disclosure: My son players a number of different first-person shooter games. It was a line his parents drew in the sand many years ago, but not one we were able to maintain when he moved away to college. When he returned home, we found that online gaming had become a large portion of his lifestyle. During isolation for COVID, he had made connections with his friends by playing any number of games over Al Gore's Internet. Including Call of Duty. He has even spent some time reviewing these games for other players. I have yet to read his review for the new release. 

Before Columbine, I played Doom on my computer at home. Once the stories about how Dylan and Eric had modified their version by setting it in the halls of their high school, I didn't see it as a game. It was a training exercise. All these years later, I still have questions about how our society has drifted to a place where we have assigned a point value for killing. I understand the abstract and how playing a game is pretend and the toy guns of my youth have given way to the video games of the now. 

But there is still so much that I do not understand. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Never Surrender

 It might be hyperbole to say "Vote as if your life depended on it." Then again, it might not. 

So much of what is currently at stake across the country has to do with how we will react and move forward from the brink upon which we currently find ourselves. Do we jump into the abyss and allow the chaotic forces of oppression and fear to drive us into the past? Or should we grab the wheel and steer away from the cliff? 

Thry as I might, I continue to be unable to understand the idea that Making America Great Again has anything to do with racism, homophobia, ignorance and guns. Touting the Second Amendment and securing our border turn out to be code words for xenophobia. The xeno in this exercise are anyone and anything that does not fit into the rigid red box that a former game show host constructed to appeal to "his people." Sadly, the allegiance he has inspired does not speak well to the free will and thinking of our country as a whole. The crowds that gather in every state of the union to cheer on the hate-fueled campaigns of the hand-picked candidates of this new ultra-conservative brand of "Republicans" terrify me. 

I am suggesting that the should terrify you. 

That is why I hope that this most recent slate of ignorance doesn't turn us all off of politics but rather inspires us ot go out and make the difference that we can. If you've got a ballot in your hands, you have power. The insurrectionsists are still out there, waiting for an opening. Tiny brained minions dressed in tactical gear, carring weapons, were staking out ballot boxes in Maricopa County. Unfortunately, as Election Day draws closer, it is likely that this won't be an isolated incident. We want voting to be transparent, but we don't want to surrender to intimidation. Our history is full of it. 

Don't surrender to it. Vote. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Weekly

 Student of the week. There are a lot of kids at our school pining for that distinction. Every Friday we announce which kids have been selected by their classroom teacher to receive the cardstock certificate, suitable for hanging on most refrigerators. There are also a lot of kids who are not pining for this distinction.

Some of them are blissfully unaware that their behavior and classroom participation have anything to do with the awards we pass out each week. These are the ones who are genuinely surprised when their name is announced. As they make their way to the front of the assembled Horace Manners, they carry a look of shock and disbelief as their certificate is handed to them, and often need to be reminded to stick around long enough for all the winners to be announced before they return back to the fold.

And the picture is taken. 

Each week, a staff member comes over to get a photo of the group, smiling and sharing that warm glow of achievement. This inevitably takes a few tries, since the distractions are many and concentration is limited on a good day. Everyone looking in the same direction and holding their awards right-side-up is pretty much the standard. Then we release them back into the wild with the hope that they will take this honor and spend at least the next few hours showing off whatever traits their teacher sought fit to recognize. 

Then there are those who are awarded the prize for being Student of the week as a seed of encouragement. The might have struggled all week, all month, or all year, but something suggested a breakthrough. Maybe it was an act of kindness, or getting to school on time five days in a row: improved attendance. Or perhaps just keeping their collective hands to themselves: respectful. 

Ultimately, the hope is that every student earns the chance to stand up in front of the school to be acknowledged for whatever shining quality they may have exemplified. Much in the same way that putting dry erase marks on a white board for points is perhaps the lowest level of appreciation for scholarship, taking the time to scribble a name and a date on a pre-printed half-sheet of tagboard is still a chance to catch kids doing their best. 

Or reminding that their best is still to come. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Lesson Twenty-Six

 It's a pretty crowded field right now. People my age, or so, have moved on past the relative sweetness of the time when there are weddings and babies galore. We have rounded the corner into the Desolation Zone. Right alongside our own bodies failing we get to experience a wave of funerals and memorials for dear ones who have begun to shuffle off their mortal coils. 

Consequently, I have been feeling quite wary of the attention given to me as the son of a mother who has just moved on to the next plain. A teacher with whom I worked came up to me a few days ago to let me know that she was praying for me, "unless you would rather that I didn't. Some people are like that you know." 

I told her I wasn't like that, since I figured that all positive thoughts at this point concerning my mother will help pave the way for a smoother transition to whatever the next phase of her existence turns out to be. 

I don't know what that is. My mother was pretty sure. Many years ago, she had a massive asthma attack while on a trip out west, and while she was being rushed to the hospital, she went away. Only for a moment or two, but from time to time she would talk about that white light and how it turned out that it was far from the terrifying closure she had always feared. She was not resigned at this point, only more accepting. She didn't want anyone to put up a fuss when her time came around again. 

Way back in my youth, I lost a friend to a car accident. My twenties were not the window in my life when I was prepared to absorb such a loss. I spent a lot of time mourning, wearing my grief like a badge. Until it was time to grow up. Just a bit. Enough to make room for all the others who were missing their sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and friends. And fathers. When my father hopped dimensions, I was newly married and just starting to put my own family together. I was still in that phase of making plans and attending ceremonies celebrating beginnings. And wouldn't you know it? I was not yet prepared to take on the responsibility of grieving my father. I consoled myself that the conditions and timing were not conducive to my system accepting his sudden departure. 

As it turns out, some twenty-six years later, I still wasn't ready when my mother slipped away. I am currently of the opinion that there are some folks who are better equipped to handle grief. I feel as though I am doing a pretty fair job of rising above the tangle of feelings that have assailed me over the past week and change. I feel more graceful than those previous encounters with the grim reaper. My mother helped with that. She was the one who broke the news to me about my friend, all those years ago. She was there to support me as I learned how to live with loss. 

And now I will remember those lessons as I do it again. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Counting Down

 So, in Great Britain there is a new king. This was achieved by a line of succession that was set in motion by the death of Queen Elizabeth. Quite orderly, all things considered. Meanwhile, on the less regal side of things, the search is on for yet another Prime Minister. Yet another Liz, Truss in this case, has announced her resignation to be official in time for a new PM to be installed by October 28. Calls for a new national election swirl about as England looks back on the forty-five days of the Truss era. 

A new election a month and a half after the unmitigated failure by one of the least popular leaders in the country's history? Yes. It happens. 

Just not in this country. In our country, we continue to debate the winner of a general election as preparation for the next general election. Scores of candidates in the United States (I use the term mostly for nostalgia's sake) continue to insist that the 2020 election was stolen and there should be a do over of some sort because the majority of the voters in this great land of ours must be imaginary or illegal or improper in some way, shape or form. Just this past week, a federal judge ruled that the big sticky mess that was "president" after the 2016 election had lied under oath about voter fraud in the 2020 version. According to Judge David Carter wrote that Big Orange and his cronies  "launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history. Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory."

A coup in search of a clue. 

Which brings us back to the contrast between the way England runs their shop compared to their former colonies. To be sure, we tried to untie the strings that held #45 to the office at least twice, impeaching the worst president we've ever had. Oddly enough, at this same time, dozens of lawsuits were flying about the courts attempting to ensure the Fourth Reich would continue. 

By any means necessary

The continued advance of flawed arguments and logic, combined with a heaping helping of both fear and anger tuned to the frequency of racism, misogyny anti-Semitism and a general disregard for the truth continues to swirl about our nation as we circle ever closer to the drain. 

Still so much to learn from history. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Never Say Never Again

 Valentine's Day 2018. I was on jury duty. When I came out of the courtroom for a break, I checked the news. There had been a shooting at a high school in Florida. Seventeen people were dead. Many more were injured. Police were able to identify the murderer from eyewitness accounts and security camera footage. Yet somehow, he was able to escape the campus. He was taken into custody after he had fled the scene mixing in with the students fleeing the building, having dropped his AR-15 rifle. He had enough time to make a stop at a nearby McDonalds before he was arrested. 

What followed was an historic youth-based move for more common sense gun control, led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They formed a political action committee called Never Again MSD with the expressed intent of working against those political candidates who receive massive contributions from the National Rifle Association. 

It is at this point that I would be happy to share the news that their efforts have been rewarded at last with legislation that would make good on their promise of "never again." This was around the time that it became apparent that there was a mass shooting just about every day of the week. To that end, Florida's Senator, Marco Rubio, insisted at the time that he would do everything he could to keep this kind of senseless violence from occurring anymore. Thus far his efforts include blocking bills from other lawmakers and putting forth a resolution honoring the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. 

When confronted by a survivor of that shooting, Senator Rubio squirmed out of having to give up his NRA donations. He did pledge to support any legislation that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer.

That was four years ago. Since then Senator Marco has continued to be in the top ten beneficiaries of NRA money for being such a staunch defender of the Second Amendment. Which has essentially translated into his inability to follow through on that "deranged killer" promise he made back in 2018. 

Marco is currently running for re-election. In the course of a debate against his Democratic challenger, he backed way off his now forgotten pledge to support a ban on eighteen year olds owning assault style rifles. This caused his opponent, Val Demings to ask, “How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, a grocery store, a movie theater, a mall and a nightclub — and do nothing?” 

It was a rhetorical question, but since the much-delayed trial of the MDS killer has finally concluded, and the survivors of that most horrible Valentine's Day have graduated and moved on, maybe it's time for Mister Marco to take his empty promises and give someone else a chance to deliver. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Still Breathing

 "My mom died from Coronavirus." 

Not true at all, but it certainly would be a way for me to get into the minds and hearts of the five to eleven year olds who saunter about my schoolyard in various stages of masklessness. Over the past year, I have been told by medical experts from this demographic that "kids can't get COVID." I have also been told that "once you've had 'rona, you can't get it again."

These little reminders of the science gap continue to fuel my days. I just got my (feels lump on shoulder) fifth booster. Or something like that. I keep getting shots whenever someone recommends them. I got a flu shot too just to be sure and I'm in the market for a shingles shot in spite of the fact that everyone I know who has gotten one insists it is the toughest of the lot. 

But ultimately a whole lot better than getting shingles. 

Which is really the currency here. Wearing a mask is a great big pain, but the alternative is much, much worse. The tiny threads of knowledge that get passed around about the pandemic that continues to wind its way through our country and our planet make us all complacent. That's a dangerous thing to be during a global pandemic. Even if you "can't get" COVID-19, you can carry it around with you until you land near another willing recipient. And in spite of all our best efforts, kids continue to contract the disease. And some of them die from it. 

Because ultimately it's my job to keep school safe. I would feel nothing but sadness if one of our kids got sick. "I told you so" is a pretty indefensible position when you're a teacher. When you're a teacher, you keep telling them. And telling them. And reminding them. And insisting. 

This position is not always supported by a government that seems anxious to be done with all this disease junk. In one of his less thoughtful moments, President Joe told 60 Minutes that the pandemic is over. What further justification does an eight year old need? I'm just the computer teacher. The President says it's over. What do I know?

Which is the only reason I would even flinch in the direction of telling the story of my mother dying from Coronavirus. It would not be true, except for the dying part, but do they really need to know that? Or maybe I could be one notch more responsible and have them go to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital web site to do a little research on their own. 

And hope they don't end up on Joe Rogan's podcast instead. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Victim Of Circumstance

 I was headed up the hill that rises from underneath the overpass near our house, determined to keep things as normal as possible, given the circumstances. My mother was fading quickly and I flinched with each new email or text. I figured that I could get away with my Saturday morning run, and come back to finish the day by distracting myself with any number of mindless activities. 

That was not to happen. About half a mile from my house, the little bell that rings in my earbuds interrupted Bruce Springsteen singing about Cadillac Ranch. It was a text from my older brother. It wasn't a funny tweet from my son. It was a text from my brother. It wasn't a reminder to check the school Facebook page. It was a text from my brother. The text that told me my mother was gone. 

So I stopped my run and walked back down the hill to my house. Once there, I broke the news and my wife's heart by telling her the news. Then I set about making phone calls to all those I believed would want to be notified of the passing. Hours passed, and I kept remembering that I needed to call this person back, or maybe I had forgotten. In between, I took deep breaths and dealt with the way things felt out of time. 

And at some point, I remembered one of the distractions I had planned for the day: The University of Colorado was playing Cal Berkeley in football. I had lost track of my distractions. I turned on the television just in time to see the Buffaloes go ahead in overtime. I stuck around long enough to watch them defend their goal line, turning away the last chance attempt of the Bears to tie the game back up. Colorado won their first game of the season. At home. 

Suddenly I was struck with a flood of memories. All of them having to do with the season tickets my mother had in that same end zone I had been watching. All the glory. All the pain. All the mediocre seasons. All the times we walked out of that stadium, sometimes deflated, sometimes elated. Mostly we went to hang together, and to share the football experience we call "being a fan."

This season has been a deflated one for the CU Buffaloes. They had not won a game in five tries. They had fired their coach, and used their bye week to try and put things back together. And they had picked this particular moment, hours after one of their biggest fans had gone to that big grandstand in the sky to win their first game. 

In a day that was filled with a lot of tears, this brought a smile to my face. You can tell me it was just a coincidence. 

Mom and I know different. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Minus One

 The most difficult part of preparing for life without my mother around: reality. 

For as long as I can remember, the way that I have checked my reality is by talking about it with my mom. Good day or bad day, if I wanted to check my roll, I called my mom. This all started way back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in elementary school. Sitting down at the kitchen table after a long day in first grade over a glass of Kool-Aid and a couple of cookies, we talked about my day. 

Eventually, those check-ins became less frequent. Teenagers don't have quite as much to say to their parents, but I found it necessary to stay in touch with mine. All those things that seemed so confounding and torturous in my adolesence were made less painful by having my mother's ear. 

And it wasn't just the ups and downs of being a kid. All three of her sons felt compelled to share all the music, movies and books that we discovered. Pity my mother for having to sit through three separate recaps of the most recent Planet of the Apes movie that we had all attended together. We all felt compelled to share our latest album purchase with her as well. We did come by this honestly, as mom felt it was her job to coach us up when it came to pop culture, showing us all those MGM musicals and all that Beethoven, Brahms and Tschaikovsky. My mother read The War of the Worlds to us. She handed me a copy of Dracula, knowing my predilection for things monstrous. 

Then there was all that writing. Even when I was writing all that dark poetry and obtuse short stories, I knew who my audience was. When I started writing this blog, I was happy to know that my mom was my constant reader. Some days were diamonds. Some days were rocks. When things went sideways in my life, it was a chat with my mother that helped me straighten it out. 

My audience has shrunk ever-so-slightly. But it's huge. The fabric of my reality has been torn apart. Thank you for reading about it. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Since We're Neighbors, Let's Be Scared

 Once upon a time, I signed up for Next Door. Online. It was a suggestion made to my question about how I might go about ridding my family and myself of a futon frame that had been propped up in our basement since (checks watch) the Eisenhower Administration. This was in response to my fervent wish that I not become one of those who would simply cast his unwanted belongings out into the street, in hopes that the hand-lettered "FREE" sign would be a message to the universe that I needed its help. Or at least that portion of the universe that would a) be in close enough proximity to my home that the trip would be worth it, and b) that "it" in the form of a slightly used futon frame would fill a void in their life. 

I posted the pictures and gave a brief but informative description of the furniture, making clear that there would be no charge for eliminating this albatross from my life. My son and I carried said albatross to the curb, along with the aforementioned hand-lettered sign, just to accentuate the conditions under which one might acquire such a lovely piece. 

So I waited. I watched. I monitored. I had heard that it would only be a matter of minutes. Or hours. Or days before my unwanted refuse became someone else's treasure. 

After a few days without any contact from anyone on Next Door, I began to wonder if perhaps I had made an error in my posting. I checked. Nope, there it was, under a sea of additional free stuff from all around my neighborhood. Apparently there was some competition. Who would be the lucky one to haul off my debris? Eventually, someone did. Under the cover of night. I never received a notice from anyone on Next Door. 

I did start to receive a steady stream of frightened posts from members of my community who were enduring all manner of inconvenience and strife. I was made aware of all the threats to the quiet solitude of urban living. Not the least of which was the theft of catalytic converters. Nary a day went by without some mention of how bedbugs seem to have infested the neighborhood up the hill from me, or how someone keeps ringing the doorbell pretending to be from PG&E. If I read all their cares and woes, I might not ever leave the house. 

To put a futon frame out on the curb for someone to scoop up. With or without the app. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Crisis Actor

 Alex Jones was ordered by a court to pay the parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims nearly one billion dollars. Nine hundred fifty-six million dollars. In the words of one commenter, "That's a lot of supplements." 

If you haven't been following the case and perhaps believed that Mister Jones might somehow slip free of any penalty at all for his campaign of lies and shame, the judge made sure that Mister Jones would remember it. For years, Alex Jones took to whatever soapbox would support his bulk and insisted that the twenty first graders and six teachers who were murdered ten years ago were made up. They never existed. And even if they existed, they were part of some liberal scheme to rid the country of guns. Families that had already been torn apart by violence were constantly bombarded by the repetition of these conspiracy theories even as they tried to push through their grief. Jackie Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the shooting, testified about receiving letters from people claiming to have urinated on her son’s grave and threatening to dig up his body. I cannot imagine.

But Alex Jones could. He apparently thought nothing of using the deaths of children to promote his web site and his stream of right wing blather. His reaction to the verdict handed down? He live-streamed the event on his podcast, laughing off the damages. He assured his audience that he wouldn't have to pay off the monstrous debt. "Do these people actually think they're getting any of this money?" All the while in the background, he was promoting the super sale on all the items in his online store, thanking his tiny-brained followers for bottles of Anthroplex

Meanwhile, Jones is shoring up his defense by essentially tearing it down. He filed for bankruptcy back in July, and intends to appeal the judgements against him. This might keep him from debtors prison, but he will most likely spend the rest of his miserable life paying lawyers and, yes, the families of Sandy Hook. 

Because it was never really about a billion dollars. It was about sending a message to dolts like Alex Jones who would use their megaphones to cry wolf in a crowded movie theater. It should be apparent to anyone looking in that the only war Alex Jones is engaged in is the one against reality. The only "info" he has to offer is misinformation. He spent years insisting that the victims and families of Sandy Hook were "crisis actors." Now it would seem that term is best applied to Mister Jones himself. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Keep It Simple

 Staring at the cursor on the upper left corner of the screen, blinking away, I wonder how many times I have thought about sitting down to write This Blog. 

My mother died. After eighty-seven years of living on her own terms, she decided that enough was enough and she left the earth shy one Barbara Caven. 

I feel it currently in waves. In bits and pieces that don't exactly fit together. There is nothing linear about grief. There are these great arching swoops of memory and emotion. Now my mom exists in all times in all places. 

My mom. Everyone's mom. That was the amazing thing about the woman who raised me. Not content to raise her three boys and a dachshund, she took on the neighborhood. She fed the kids we brought home. She pulled their loose teeth. She listened to their stories. She gave them a place to be for a while. 

As the years passed and we all grew up, they kept coming back. For a kind word or a cookie. To share their lives with the lady who had cared. 

I stayed in touch. I don't have any doubts about what I might have left unsaid. I do wish that we could have had one more game of gin rummy, as I believe she was ahead from our last marathon. I will miss so many things, like the way she could fill in the blanks for any question I might have about what was playing on Turner Classic Movies. I will miss our post-game breakdown after every Broncos game. I will miss matter-of-fact wisdom that only a mother could share. 

I will miss my mother. 

I can say that I am relieved that she didn't suffer. But I know that she did. She had an upper lip so stiff that her laundry list of ailments were pushed to the background. She was not one for scenes. She kept chugging along as she could. Until she stopped. It would be ridiculous not to call her passing a tragedy. The void that she leaves cannot be reckoned. All the lives she touched. All the moments she held and shared. Those who knew her best were the better for it, and those who only knew her briefly wished for a little bit more. 

In some ways, now there will be enough of my mom to go around. She is everywhere. All at once. I will spend the rest of my life trying to love her as much as I know she loved us all. Her friends, her family, her sons, her birds, her home. I am so very lucky to have been part of the light of her life for all those years. 

That light will never go out. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Paid

 The headline read: One Way to Ease the Teacher Shortage: Pay More. I did not fall out of my chair laughing, but the image did occur to me. It seemed like the proper reaction to the suggestion made by the powers that be that the way to attract more employees to a certain vocation would be to compensate them in a way that made them feel rewarded for choosing a profession that has inherent challenges and an image problem. 

A long time ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was managing a warehouse, my wife suggested that I give teaching a try. At that point in my life, it seemed like a lateral move, with the potential for advancement. I had already risen about as high as I was going to at the employee-owned company that had promoted me to management and elected me (twice) to its board of directors. I was paying rent and keeping frozen pizzas in the refrigerator, but when it came to putting much in the bank, it seemed like it might be a tough place from which to consider retiring. So when the Intern Credential train pulled up the station, I hopped on. The Oakland Unified School District had just weathered a strike by its teachers that brought more salary and benefits to them. I could slide right into this teaching gig and still get my teeth cleaned and fluids checked on a regular basis, and these folks had a salary schedule. 

Salary schedule? You mean I could actually plot my path of advancement? I wouldn't have to wait for my co-workers to approve my raise, if I got one? That sounded like the place for me. An opportunity to learn and grow and maybe even put some money away. 

And eventually that was what happened. Not enough to keep us from stretching a few dollars and pinching a few pennies. Our economic reality was such that we kept our heads above water and managed to pay our mortgage and keep those frozen pizzas coming. And going. The kid we were able to raise on the salary I made as a teacher was a gift, of sorts. One that started with the very impressive medical benefits given to me by the book warehouse, and continued with those afforded me by the contract I had with the school district. 

And yet, I have been made aware over and over again throughout the years that the common denominator in almost all discussion of the teaching profession is the way we are compensated: poorly. Sure, there are those wags who will go on and on about how "it must be nice to get paid for those three months you're not working," without ever understanding that the only way I get a check during the summer is if I schedule deferred pay from the other nine months. The vacation homes and the second car are things we joke about. Frozen pizzas are still regularly found in our freezer. 

And teachers aren't getting paid enough. Helping form young minds should pay more than the guy signing up folks for a Visa card and a free T-shirt at the baseball game. But maybe that's a story for another time.

Friday, October 14, 2022

No Surrender

"Did you ever get the feeling that we are just talking to ourselves? All our venting and outrage and facts about how sick the Republican Party have become, and the peril our country is in, is preaching to the converted? We’re not converting anyone. We are talking to each other."

This was the rhetorical question raised by Steven Van Zandt. He was asking on behalf of a great cross section of the country. A great section of this country that is cross. Cross with the wall of indifference or outright denial of facts and evidence. Upset by having to share space with people who blindly follow the "leadership" of their party into the political and moral abyss. Whether it is the pleas to ignore past behavior and sins of their candidates or the exhortation to commit armed insurrection, it would seem that half the country seems content to watch as expectations for our elected officials continues to slip further away from the high standards set by the very founding fathers they pretend to admire.

So, first of all, let's get that "what does Bruce Springsteen's guitar player know about politics?" out of the way. In 1985, "Little Steven" left the E Street Band to put together a coalition of artists who would speak out against Apartheid in South Africa. The light shone by Steven and those Artists Against Apartheid helped bring necessary attention to the system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race that had held sway by the white nationalist rule for decades. And if that weren't enough, there is also Teach Rock, a free set of curriculum and activities for teachers to use popular music and culture to help engage students. Did I mention this is free? And that this foundation was the brainchild of (checks notes) Steven Van Zandt? 

So back in 1985, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was experiencing the highest level of superstardom, Steven walked away. He went off to be, as he describes it, "the political guy." Far from languishing, he was able to use his knowledge and understanding to promote causes and point out injustice wherever he found it. Even when he rejoined the E Street Band in 1995. 

Which begs the question he asked, posed at the beginning of this piece: How do we affect a world that has become insulated to the absurd grotesqueries of what we refer to as "The Republican Party?" Like the words of Tommy Tuberville, former football coach and first term senator from Alabama: "They're not soft on crime. They're pro-crime. They want crime," Tuberville said of Democrats. "They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bulls**t. They are not owed that." Did any of his fellow Republicans stand up to face this kind of racist rhetoric? Nope. 

That was left to us who are not under the spell of whatever sickness that currently fuels that big red machine. Try not to give up. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The No-Fun Zone

 Neil deGrasse Tyson, noted astronomer, space scientist and movie kibbitzer took to social media this past weekend to point out yet another physics issue in popular entertainment. Specifically, the issue had was with Top Gun: Maverick. Neil wanted everyone to know that if the titular character had  from ejected from a hypersonic plane at Mach 10.5, before it crashed, his body would splatter like a chainmail glove swatting a worm. Which may not have been the most questionable thing about this particular film, but this was a physics discussion, after all.

My mind raced back to all the times my older brother pointed out to me the sound of engines roaring to life in outer space. In a vacuum. In which sound cannot travel. When the Death Star exploded, it would have made quite a flash, but no noise. This was the same guy who inserted the question of carbon based life on other planets. Why should we assume that whatever life exists outside of our own planet would be a similar composition to ours? And why in this world or any other would they insist on speaking English? Why?

Maybe because these are entertainments created for other carbon-based, English-speaking life forms. We don't want to spend our time wondering what would happen to the internal organs of the Six Million Dollar Man as he runs close to sixty miles an hour. We are living in a world of imagination. Or at least we are trying to. That's the second half of "science fiction."

If, instead of hearing that cataclysmic eruption after dropping his torpedoes into the Empire's Space Station, Luke and his rebel pals had sped away from a flash of light with no sound, would we the viewers have felt the same exhilaration? There was a genre expectation that Maverick would walk away from his supersonic ejection. The story would be over and the credits would roll, and nothing heroic would have been achieved. Again, I would like to point out that this misinterpretation of the laws of physics was not going to keep this movie from being made. Quite the opposite, in fact.

That doesn't mean that I don't keep score myself of all the ways that Newton and his pals have been countermanded over the years by movies and TV. The illusion of invincibility is not limited to Superman and his Super Friends. Indiana Jones and his rescue refrigerator comes to mind. Or the city bus jump in Speed. It is truly amazing that the decision made by a cop under stress telling a woman who is not even a trained bus driver to accelerate is dubious at best, but makes for great cinema.

And in the end, a shredded Tom Cruise does not make for great cinema. Right?

That's a rhetorical question, Neil.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Crushed

 When I was in high school, my dad took me to see a professional football game. A Denver Broncos game. At Mile High Stadium. The year was 1977. For those of you who have a sense of sports history, this would be the first year that the Broncos finally made it to the playoffs. The game my father and I attended wasagainst the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like so many others in the Mountain Time Zone, our attention was finally focused on our National Football League franchise. 

Ours. I have never owned a piece of any sports team. Unless you count the endless array of T-shirts, caps and jerseys that I have collected over the years. 

Nonetheless, I took it upon myself on the occasion of getting to bear witness to what would be one of twelve regular season victories that year to make a sign to hold up. Not just to spur the orange and blue to victory, but to try and get my little self on television where my mom might see me. 

My mom is the football fan in my family. When my parents split up, she was the one who got custody of the University of Colorado football season tickets. But that time was still to come when my father and I took our seats on that November day in 1977. 

Beneath the overhand of the upper deck on our partially obscured view of the field. There was no way anyone except those sitting next to me was ever going to see my clever picture and slogan: "The Orange Crush Will Melt The Steel Curtain!" My father suggested that I ask an usher if I could tape the poster up on the wall at the top of our section. Where anyone on their way to the bathroom might have a chance to take a peek. 

I would love to tell you that I remember any of the actual game. The score is a part of history, as is the rest of that storied Super Bowl run that ended up in quiet humiliation at the hands of the vaunted Dallas Cowboys. But it set the bar much higher for those in the Mile High City and the surrounding area. It wasn't too long after that when John Elway came to town and making the playoffs was a certainty, if only to be dismantled by someone else's favorite team in the Super Bowl. 

All of this is what lives on in my memory, and in my T-shirt drawer. Which is why the exhibition of futility that took place last Thursday night on "prime" left such a sour taste in my mouth. The Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts battled to a nine to nine tie at the end of regulation. The Colts got the ball first in overtime and struggled downfield to get their fourth field goal of the night. The Broncos took the ensuing kickoff and drove downfield, choosing to go for a touchdown rather than try to extend the game with yet another field goal. I could say it was a gutsy move, except it turned out to be ultimately the humane thing to do to put those who had bothered to tune in out of their collective misery. 

And suddenly I found myself questioning my youthful allegiance to a sports franchise. 

It made me long for 1977. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Free

 My wife was offered a new couch. New to us, anyway. A friend of hers had a very pretty Victorian-inspired couch with a matching chair and she was giving it away. "For free." 

That was how it was presented to me. "Free." It was from this point that my questioning began. "And where is it that this 'free' couch will land?" 

"Where the old couch is," she replied, having already worked this out in advance. 

"And what about the old couch?" There was an audible silence, if there is such a thing. If my life was a sitcom, this is where the studio audience would be encouraged to snicker and guffaw. Without the laugh track, I waited in that quiet. The answer was not immediately forthcoming. 

"We could," she wanted to make the new couch and this slight hitch would not get in the way, "put it," another long pause, "downstairs?"

This was as much a question as an answer. It showed up as the challenge point, since the old couch was as much a part of our family as any of our pets and more than just about any of our furniture. It had been purchased for a song at a Sears warehouse and moved into our living room with much sweat and strain by burly men who cursed our front stairs and were glad to be done. That was a long time and a dog ago, and when it finally came time to surrender to our empty nest need for "grownup furniture," we bought a matching sofa and loveseat, again for a song. 

The old couch was wrestled into what used to be our son's bedroom, and it quickly became apparent that the way I had once manipulated its mass to construct forts for our New Years Eve celebrations came in handy. Nonetheless I understood the curses of the delivery men so many years before. There it became a periodic guest bed, though folding it out into its convertible form only confirmed its best and most comfortable shape: that of a couch. A great place for a cat nap, especially for the cat who could often be found napping there. 

But now it was time for progress and fashion. Sentiment was out the window. "How about we see if there's a place that will haul it away?" She made the arrangements, and after much grumbling and huffing and puffing, the old couch was moved once again. Out of the house and down the stairs. Eventually it came to rest out in front of the house, where we had been told the couch removal team would come and extract it in just a couple days. Meanwhile, my wife and her cousin made the trip to San Francisco to collect the new used furniture. The chair and couch were much easier to carry and required few if any curses. 

When the day came for the couch extraction, the crew looked at it and saw all the miles that old fold out had on it and they fled. Without the couch. My wife had been waxing nostalgic about our old friend, and was now recommitted to finding a place for it. 

Downstairs.

So once again, we hefted the beast up the driveway. A big turn into the barn doors and onto the somewhat finished floors installed by our son. We are now a three couch household. One for me. One for her. One for the cat. 

And best of all, it was "free." 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Won't Back Down? Why Not?

 My son was walking home from middle school, a long time ago, when he was approached by a kid whose neighborhood he happened to be passing through. The kid confronted my son, then stepped forward and slapped him. My son rushed home from this experience to share it with his mother. He was in tears. Did I mention that the slapper was much younger and smaller than my son? 

Recent events at my school brought up this memory and my potential failures as a parent. Should I have prepared my son for instances like this differently? Why didn't he defend himself? Because his mother and father had never indoctrinated him into the "hit back" culture. I don't know if this year is very different from all the years that have preceded it. Urban Oakland is where I teach. It is where I live. The message from so many parents for all these years has been "hit back." When called upon to discuss this matter with kids and parents at my school, I remind them that they are in a safe place where they don't need to defend themselves in that same way. There are adults scattered across the campus who are waiting for a chance to deescalate a situation. We are there to help. Chances are if a kid hits back, he is hitting a kid whose parents have instilled the same message and there will be no resolution until someone is battered or bruised.

And in tears. 

For the record, my son was nowhere near an adult who might have deescalated the confrontation in which he found himself. He was alone, confused, and suddenly confounded by his predicament. He ran home to his mom. Crying. 

In middle school.

Looking back, I couldn't be more proud of his reaction. It was not terribly different from that of his father, all those years ago. I had my share of tormentors. In junior high in particular. I had two brothers who kept the potential for physical confrontation alive for me, but never in the way that running away crying wouldn't work just as well. All that being said, there was a part of me that was enraged by the idea of my son being hit, struck for no apparent reason. By the time I made my way home from dealing with the elementary schoolers in my charge, I lacked sufficient outrage to march up the hill with my son to find and confront his assailant. I worried that the "crybaby" label might get stuck in his head somewhere and alter all the good programming that was inside of him. 

As it turns out I needn't have worried. My son has a sense of right and wrong that is more evolved than my own. Maybe I could get him to drop by my school for some interventions. 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

PED-estrian

 What is the difference between sixty-two and seventy-three? If you answered eleven, you are a mathematician. If you paused and gave this problem more thought, then you are probably a baseball fan. In the most recent case of how real life can impact mathematics, Aaron Judge hit sixty-two home runs in a season. That is one more than sixty-one, the number of home runs hit by the late Roger Maris way back in 1961. Seventy-three is the number of home runs hit by Barry Bonds hit in the 2001 season. That was the most anyone had ever hit in major league baseball.

Some might argue that seventy-three is actually less than sixty-two, and as it turns out, it really does depend on the year. Barry Bonds' accomplishment was made at a time when the number of home runs was rapidly climbing, with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire topping the sixty home run mark along with Mister Bonds back before the turn of the century. This was an era referred to by many as "the steroids era," when major league baseball was just catching on to the whole notion of the ugly little secret called "performance enhancing drugs." There are those who would say that MLB politely turned the other way while baseballs went screaming out of ballparks in record numbers and television viewers tuned in by the millions to watch the race. 

In 2000, the New York Times broke a story that alleged that steroid use had become "widespread" in baseball. Two years later, Sports Illustrated took up the case. In 2005, Jose Canseco published his memoir entitled Juiced, and the questions that remained were taken up not by Major League Baseball but by the United States Congress. A shamed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa showed up for questioning, denying steroid use, but the stories were already told. In 2010, McGwire confessed to what everyone already knew and baseball began to clean itself up. 

Twenty-one years after Barry Bonds hit his seventy-third home run in a season, Aaron Judge hit his sixty-second. The celebration was felt most profoundly in Yankee Stadium, where Roger Maris once played, and Aaron Judge came sixty years later to break the franchise record, if not that of Major League Baseball. Now the arguments can commence. For his part, Barry Bonds has managed to steer clear of confessing to steroid use, only admitting to using "clear stuff and some cream" given to him by trainers. How could he be guilty if he never knew what he was putting into and onto himself? 

Meanwhile, on October 5, 2022, Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics had his last at bat in a ten year career. It was a home run. After going oh for thirty-two with the Tampa Bay Rays, Vogt's first hit in the major leagues came with the A's. It was a home run. Sometimes the magic of baseball gets lost in the numbers. 

Saturday, October 08, 2022

A Great Value

 Family values.

My first impression upon seeing those words is to ask, "Whose family?"

The close relationships found in the Corleone Family might be held up as one example. Or maybe the Duggar Family. There are plenty of images and appearances in media that would have us lift up ideals of how we connect to those closest to us, and many of them don't always hold up to close inspection. 

There was a guy who was in real estate, and became enamored of the glitzy life offered by the social and entertainment spotlight. As it turns out, he has been married just a little more often than he has been impeached. He has had multiple affairs and along the way racked up multiple accusations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. A steady stream of lawyers and non-disclosure agreements have kept much of the ugliness from becoming widely known. Not until he took his quirky brood on the campaign trail and eventually to the White House. Suddenly the whole tawdry clan was on display for the whole world to endure. This train wreck of codependency and dysfunction continues to pop up all over as they continue to promote their way of life as the wholesome version of the American Dream. 

Maybe this is the perspective that has brought us MAGAts like Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose marriage was described by her husband as "irretrievably broken." Or Lauren Boebert's husband who did time in jail for lewd exposure at a bowling alley. In his defense, I suppose a bowling alley is as good a place as any for lewd exposure. 

As yet, no one has come forward to accuse Herschel Walker of lewd exposure. However, there has been a great deal of discussion about how the Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia has conducted himself in a less than Christian manner. I say "Christian" as in the given name of the son who has recently uncorked in response to allegations that the advertised "pro-life" daddy Herschel once paid a girlfriend of his to have an abortion. And now he is lying about it. This is on top of the number of children the elder Walker sired over the course of his journey to the U.S. Senate. 

Will all these revelations put a hitch in Herschel Walker's plans? Marjorie Taylor Greene got elected. Lauren Boebert got elected. We know about the real estate guy. It doesn't seem to matter, ultimately, what sort of freak show your "family" turns out to be. Nor does it seem to matter how thick the protective layer of hypocrisy gets. They keep on talking the talk. Just don't expect them to walk the walk. 

Friday, October 07, 2022

Donate A Car

 It wasn't a smash and grab. They took their time. Twenty minutes or so, if you can believe the clock on the security camera. During that time, a number of folks passed by, including a substitute teacher and two guys who were at our school to do surveying for solar panels that might eventually be installed on our campus. 

None of them stopped the car from being stolen. 

Our fifth grade teacher often takes lunch in his car, for the privacy and the opportunity to catch up on sports talk. He didn't do that on one day. On the day his car was stolen. During lunch. In broad daylight. 

As it turns out, the security cameras are more useful if they are being monitored by someone on a constant or at least regular basis. Instead, they have been mostly useful for winding back the tape to see what happened while we weren't watching. This has been the case for the weekend break-ins, and the early morning collision of the trash truck with the corner of the building. They are evidence, but solidly after the fact. 

When our fifth grade teacher came to the office, looking a little confused and angry, he let us know that his car was gone. Because he always parks in the same place, it was easy to figure out at which camera we should look. We watched a car pull up, back up to the car that would be stolen. We watched people go by. There was no sound, but we can assume that someone must have heard the breaking glass that would be the only remaining sign of the theft. Fifty yards away, kids were playing on the playground. Teachers were in the staff room making copies and choking down their lunches in anticipation of the rest of the day. No one stopped the thieves as they did their business. 

They stole a teacher's car. The one he uses every day to take him to school for yet another day of educating. In this case, the discreet irony being that this is the school that he once attended as a boy. He returned to share his gifts and wisdom with his community. He didn't expect to have to share his car as well. 

For a while we stood around the office, exchanging stories of cars we had lost to a tiny sliver of the city that would do such a thing. We commiserated, but ultimately our fifth grade teacher was left with the chore of dealing with insurance and police reports and all the attendant stress of what had happened during lunch. 

Riding my bike home that evening, I thought about how quickly my thoughts drifted to retribution when our car was stolen so many years ago. The stages of grief that were run through on the way to acceptance. I thought about the bicycle I "donated" to the community. And the various bits of wealth that has been redistributed through me and my family over the years. 

I wished for justice, but adjusted my sights on the eventual settlement. 

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Go Ahead And Bite Me

 We have a neighbor who takes her little dog out each morning. Usually this is early enough that my wife and I are still in bed. We are awakened by the same basic interaction every day: 

DOG: Arf, arf, arf!

NEIGHBOR: Quiet!

DOG: Arf, arf, arf!

NEIGHBOR: Stop barking!

This is the way they roll. Yelling at one another like an old married couple who yell at each other. My wife and I make an attempt to empathize. We had a dog. She barked at the mailman. Without fail. That was when she saw him. Most of the time she was napping and missed the chance to fulfill a stereotype. This was also somewhere between the hours of ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. Not at dawn. 

It was early in the morning when my younger brother and I made our way out of the hotel where we had spent the night in beautiful Broomfield, Colorado. We were gearing up for our eleven hour trek to Elko, Nevada. That was the halfway point we had chosen as a stopping point on our way back to California. Coming down the stairs to the lobby, we spied a woman coming through the door with a pair of healthy Black Labradors. The dogs were seemingly unclear about just how to get through the door without piling into one another and straining on their leashes. My brother and I paused on the stairway to let her and her puppy pals make it inside. Then we descended. 

On my way out, I paused and looked back at the dogs. I addressed the one who seemed to be most challenged, "Good dog."

I was met with a quick flurry of warning barks. First from the dog, then from the woman at the end of the leash.

"Can't you see they're in training?"

I apologized, not having meant anything but a connection with a fellow resident on the planet. 

This was not enough for the woman whose attention was now fully on correcting me. "You don't do that! It's not cute!"

I apologized again.

"You're not sorry!" And then she called my a name. It wasn't "dog lover." I kept moving and my younger brother and I let the door close with her still yelling after me. 

"Have a good day," I said to no one in particular.

And I felt immediately bad for the dogs who were most likely to be on the receiving end of the invective that I was now missing. 

Suddenly those early morning family interactions with my neighbor seemed much more relaxed. My younger brother and I got into our rental car and headed west. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Ummm, No

 It should not come as a surprise that the humiliated, twice-impeached former game show host would harbor resentment for those who still have jobs in the U.S. government. Mitch McConnell, for example. Here's what the bloated sack of orange protoplasm had to say about the Senator from Kentucky: 

“Is McConnell approving all of these Trillions of Dollars worth of Democrat sponsored Bills, without even the slightest bit of negotiation, because he hates Donald J. Trump, and he knows I am strongly opposed to them, or is he doing it because he believes in the Fake and Highly Destructive Green New Deal, and is willing to take the Country down with him? In any event, either reason is unacceptable. He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”

I know. A lot to unpack there. First of all, if it seems that he may have shot on past the two hundred eighty character count for Twitter, that's okay because this post appeared on the terribly ironically named corner of the Internet called "Truth Social." And aside from making extra room for disgraced ex-"presidents," this site doesn't seem to be that concerned about death threats and racism. Over at Truth Social, they just sort of let it all hang out. At least when it comes to disparaging the members of the party most likely to be using their brand. And when it comes to the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind. 

Mitch McConnnell's wife, Elaine Chao was Transportation Secretary during the Trump Regime. Appointed by the guy who wrote the post. Is it possible that under the severe mental stress of typing with his thumbs that the man who lost the popular vote in two consecutive elections forgot that human beings out of his small circle of fiends might be reading his rants? Has he ever shown any indication that he cares? 

Well. No. A Sociopath with racist tendencies or a Racist with sociopathic qualities? Does it really matter? Should someone like this ever be allowed to run for dogcatcher for Palm Beach? These are all essentially rhetorical questions, but Mitch - with friends like these, who needs a figurehead? 

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Words

 I started listening to Elton John when my older brother gifted me with the double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road back in 1973. I listened to all four sides over and over again, partly because it was one of the few albums I owned but mostly because it was fascinating to me. It came to me as an eleven year old nerd who was still taking piano lessons and was looking for anything that might make me feel like anything but an outcast. Suddenly I was up to my navel in the zeitgeist. I had adopted my very first rock star. 

That was almost fifty years ago. The songs from that record and so very many other Elton John compositions have become the soundtrack of the past half century. Sir Elton was the first arena rock show I attended, and all that music was left literally ringing in my ears for days afterward. It was right about that time that I started becoming a fan in earnest. I picked up the older records, and kept an eye out for new releases. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy came out just before that first concert, and I was consumed by the autobiographical nature of the tracks. It was then that I began to familiarize myself with Bernie Taupin, Elton's lyricist and the man responsible for what has become decades of mondegreens. 

I feel the need to come clean here: I owned the albums. These were LPs with lyrics included in the packaging, and yet somehow I never bothered to take the time to examine them fully. Or perhaps I did. Somehow, the tales of gigolos and prostitutes and Roy Rogers never made complete sense to my incipient teenaged mind. "Back to the howling old owl in the woods/ Hunting the horny back toad?" By this point I had read the Mad Magazine parody of Midnight Cowboy (Midnight Wowboy). I just didn't understand it. Just like it never dawned on me that the words in Rocket Man were "burning up his fuse up here alone." 

And maybe I could place the blame on the accent and phrasing of Mister John's vocals. Some of that rock and roll inflection left me scratching my head a bit. Bennie, of Jets fame? She had electric boots. Just in case you were curious. Twelve years ago, my wife and I went with some friends to see Sir Elton play as part of a double bill with the Piano Man, Billy Joel. It was during this show that it became apparent just how many songs were one big vowel movement on my part. Singing along quickly became an embarrassment, so I loaded up my playlists with songs from my past. I wasn't going to be caught napping again. Or mumbling into my souvenir cup of Sprite. 

Elton John will be playing down the road apiece next weekend. I won't be attending. Not because I don't know the words. I will be staying home because I'm old and the cheapest tickets start at seventy dollars. To see him play in a football stadium. I'm sixty. He's seventy-five. If I need to sing along, I'll be doing so from the relative comfort and safety of my home. Where the lyric sheets are. 

Monday, October 03, 2022

Looking For Answers

 There is no such thing as a news vacuum when it comes to school shootings when you are a teacher. It doesn't matter where it happens. Moments after the first reports, teachers know. Whether it is news alerts shared in the staff room or whispers on the playground just before students are picked up on the playground. We know. 

This was experienced even more intensely on the day gunfire broke out in front of a school here in Oakland. Meeting for professional development less than an hour after the events of this past Wednesday left us all in a state of shock. Which did not keep us from discussing the fragments of information that had made their way to us. We shared what we had heard. What we knew. What connected us to it. 

And what we made up. 

There was a competition for who knew the most. Who had the latest. "Well, I heard..."

But ultimately we returned to the heart of the problem for all of us educators: how can we keep this from happening again. At our school. That was where the conversation stalled, after we had all laid out our fears. How could we stop a carload of teenagers from unloading their weapons in front of our school? The tragic reality is that we can't. We can prepare our response. We can imagine scenarios. We can practice drills that we hope will keep our kids safe. But way down deep inside, we don't talk about the part where we don't want to know any of the shooters or the victims. 

That's the problem with what is essentially random acts of violence. You don't anticipate them. As our country continues to load up on guns, it becomes more possible for those weapons to be used to settle what has become a life or death issue. The boys who shot at students outside Rusdale Newcomer high school were most likely seeking revenge for some perceived slight based on gang affiliation. Not the kind of thing that teachers spend much time thinking about as they attempt to prepare their kids for graduating. If they do, they don't understand it. Not like those boys do. 

Some will say that Oakland got rid of police in schools, but didn't bother to get rid of gangs. Not unfair, but certainly short-sighted in the long run. Meanwhile, in Washington, the House of Representatives passed a bill to address mental health concerns among students, families and educators aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were two hundred five votes against the bill. They were all Republicans. The same party that has insisted for a very long time that the plague of school shootings is not based on the availability of guns, but rather the lack of mental health services. 

Now it's time for us in Oakland to pick up the pieces and get back to work. Because that's what we do. And hope that it doesn't happen again. 

Sunday, October 02, 2022

How

 "How could it have been worse?" This was the question that a local news anchor was asking a field reporter after a shooting in front of an Oakland school this past Wednesday. Rather than simply announcing that the good news was that six people were wounded and all are expected to recover, it seemed that there was a tinge of disappointment with the tragedy.

She went on to mine the possibility of an "active shooter" scenario, as opposed to the somewhat random and haphazard way that the gunman opened fire just before one o'clock in the afternoon. What if the shooter had gotten inside one of the four schools situated on that block? What if there had been more than one shooter? What if, indeed.

Oakland is currently coping with a record number of homicides. Seven over the course of the previous eight days. Those were killings, and therefore didn't need to be examined through the "what if" lens. They were part of a running total that rings in at ninety-six so far this year, continuing an ugly trend that began on 2020 with the outbreak of the pandemic. How COVID-19 fits into this puzzle is anyone's guess, but even though there are vaccines for the virus, and boosters to continue to protect us from mutating germs, there has been no real progress on the lead poisoning front. 

Of course, there were questions about how Oakland has chosen to remove police presence from their schools and how this may have impacted the events of Wednesday afternoon. If the assigned officers had been outside on the spot at the moment that the blur of violence swept in, the outcome might have been different. 

Maybe. 

It is more likely that the shooting happened at a place at a time that no one would be around to shoot back. That its kind of the way this stuff works. The fact that none of the victims were children is something of a gift, if there is such a thing, since there were children as young as five were nearby at a nearby charter school. Ironically, the campus is also home to Oakland's center for distance learning that was opened in the wake of the pandemic. No students were on site there. 

How could it have been worse? Knock that off already. 

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Pinhead - Mark II

 “So, you hate to hype hurricanes, because it’s just a staple of TV and everyone’s kind of onto the scam.”

Thus spake the Pinhead, days before a category four hurricane was bearing down on central Florida. The Pinhead was following in the stumbling footsteps of another tiny brain and drug addict who insisted in 2016 that “It’s in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell." 

Yes, gentle reader, it's time to rip the curtain off this fa├žade. Destructive storms are just a way to "own the cons." It's bad weather that is good business for the libs. The tiny brained drug addict suggested back in 2017 that the left was pushing the bad weather agenda to sell batteries and bottled water. Liberals were trying to push the market for survival supplies. 

All of this was announced with great certainty without a shred of proof. How do we know? We just know. 

We also know that science has predicted a rise in category four and five hurricanes. The kind that crush entire cities and cause catastrophic damage. The folks who came up with these whimsical notions are from places like NASA, a notoriously untrustworthy group. All those fake moon landings, don'tcha know. Once again, just like the so-called "pandemic," we are being aske by Big Science to cower in fear. And buy batteries and water. 

From inside a television studio, this all sure looks like manipulation. Conspiracy of the ugliest kind. Everyone knows that if our reality is going to be manipulated it should be in the service of a twice-impeached former game show host. Still, the Pinhead was kind enough to acknowledge the existence of the "legitimately large hurricane barreling toward the Gulf Coast of Florida." It would seem that the existence of satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts are not currently on the chopping block. Instead, we are left to believe that the FBI was behind the January 6 Insurrection and Obama and Hillary are responsible for the hurricane business that aids them in their sales of batteries and bottled water. 

Severe weather is a leftist plot to get us all to believe that the climate is changing. Sleep tight, Gulf Coast, spake the Pinhead. There's nothing to worry about. Except maybe the continued presence of the Pinhead on your television set.