Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Opposite Of Understanding

 Continuing in his special purpose to all mankind as the perfect reverse barometer, Young Tucker Carlson declared that it was Antifa that we should be worried about in the coming days after the release of the Memphis Police video that showed the beating death of Tyre Nichols. "Unleash the wackos. Somebody has unleashed the wackos. There's always a pretext for this. There's always a story. They tell you to pretend it's spontaneous. 'It just happened. They just got so mad that they flew in from all over the country to stage a riot.'" 

First of all, let's keep in mind that changing the footwear of an anthropomorphic candy is enough to get Young Tuck's knickers in a twist. Secondly, maybe we should remember that Tyre Nichols took place on January 7. The public has been aware of this killing for nearly three weeks. The outrage generated by this traffic stop-turned murder has been brewing all that time. Each fresh report brought more individuals who, having seen the evidence, could find only savagery on display. The beating death of a young man pulled over for reckless driving (speeding) initially brought out the question: what must Tyre Nichols have been doing to warrant such a response?"

Pepper sprayed, tasered and beaten well past any kind of submission. Near the end he was calling for his mother. "All he needed to do was comply." Trying to wipe the pepper spray from his eyes, ward off blows, and try to imagine how this could be happening to him, he was supposed to offer up his hands to his assailants. 

 His assailants were Memphis Police officers. These men have been charged with Tyre Nichols' murder. Those who have been sworn to protect and serve the public beat an unarmed citizen to death. There are wags who would like to make a point out of these five men being black, and Tyre Nichols being black, so how could it be racist? 

The simple answer is that this kind of "policing" is inherently racist. As the weeks and months roll steadily by and the trials for these former officers begins, attempts will be made to understand their motivations. Their anger. Their fear. Their training. Their collective decision, though unspoken, to rend and torture a suspect and then make him wait more than twenty minutes for EMTs to show up to offer any sort of first aid. 

Meanwhile, Young Tucker Carlson would like us all to be frightened of the "Antifa" that are causing the outbreaks of violence in response to What Happened. "It's always the same script," he whines. Not for a moment does he consider that the script for people of color in the United States continues to be the same. Not after Rodney King. Not after George Floyd. Now it's Tyre Nichols. How is this still happening in our country. Why is this still happening after "police reform" like body cams and bystander video? How can this continue to happen when they know everyone is watching? 

Not questions that Young Tucker will ask. Or answer. Now back to those M&Ms. 

Monday, January 30, 2023


So, if we were to take the defense arguments from all the mass shootings in America and ball them up into an easily digestible pill, it would taste just like toxic masculinity. 

"I was being bullied constantly." 

"She wouldn't go out with me."

"It was the voices in my head." 

Let's start with that first one: I was myself bullied for quite a long time. Physically and emotionally beaten down by kids in my neighborhood and at school. Round kids with glasses and a penchant for sensitivity opens the door for such experiences. I found myself, at times, filled with rage and no place to take it. In high school, I watched as my friends began to pair off with girlfriends and social lives that took them beyond the Atari parties in my parents' basement. 

I was very fortunate that one of the voices in my head was my mother. She helped me understand that all of these experiences were bringing me closer to the person I was destined to be. In spite of many outbursts, she kept her faith in me. This allowed me to have some hope. I loved my mother, and I knew she loved me. 

There were no guns in my house. I do not know if that part of the equation would have changed anything in my case, but I shudder to think what might have transpired in those darkest of moments had I had access to a machine that would help me "solve" my problems. Instead, I was given tools, and patience and time to sort things out. As odd as I ever though I was, it turns out that on a spectrum I was quite normal and all those bullies and voices in my head were challenges that I cold overcome. 

With help. 

Where is that help for the kid without a mother at home to help keep him out of the ruts? When your mother sits down and listens to the music you're playing and finds something interesting in it to share, it's hard to maintain that isolation. When you have a real friend or two that will tell you that they are worried about you and throw you a line. When you have a light at the end of the dark road that we all travel sometimes, taking another step in the right direction becomes easier. Forgive. Forget. Move on. 

Buying into the macho notion that anyone deserves to die is too easy. Pulling the trigger isn't brave. It's surrender. The line between murder and self-defense has become blurred to an impossible degree. We need more emotional self-defense. Psychic jujitsu. In a life full of tomorrows, don't sacrifice the chance of a better one. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ad Game

 Don Draper is alive and well, and he's working for A&W

If neither of those names ring a bell for you, Don was a fictional ad executive. He once pitched a campaign to Hershey's Chocolate based on his experiences growing up in a whorehouse. They bought it. At the end of the last season, a worn and weary Don Draper had retreated to a hilltop in northern California to meditate and find his moral center, missing all those years. In the midst of his quiet reverie, he arrived at what would become the "Buy The World A Coke" ad. No matter how deep the despair, Don could sell. 

As for A&W, you may not remember their frosty mugs of root beer or carhop service, but you may be familiar with the odd hybrid fast food experiments seen on America's urban landscape, the ones that are crammed into one side of a Kentucky Fried Chicken stand. That frosty mug of root beer would be great for washing down one of those mix in bowls of chicken bits and potato and who knows what else. 

What I am suggesting here is that Don and A&W need each other. It has been more than fifty years since that Coke ad and I'll take a quick show of hands to see how many of you have darkened the door of an A&W in the past decade. 

But now I'm interested. In the wake of the announcement that M&Ms were melting their spokescandies, not in our hearts, but in their hands. The hubbub created by this bit of marketing and the questions it raised did nothing but increase the buzz about those little bits of candy-covered chocolate. This is where Don Draper steps in. He tells A&W he has a surefire way to bring a laser focus back to their root beer stands: Mirror the ad from Mars Candy Company, but focus on their spokesbear, who it seems has been going without pants for the entire time he has worked promoting their business. Rather than going to the drastic measures of Mars, A&W decided they would have their bear start wearing something besides a jaunty cap and a nice orange sweater. 

Had anyone else noticed that the bear was bare down there? Not even Young Tucker Carlson had noticed this wardrobe omission. And now, the world will see this wrong righted. Children will continue to go hungry. The debt ceiling will continue to be argued. The war in Ukraine rages on. But the mascot to a fast food restaurant you hadn't thought of maybe in forever will now be fully clothed. 

Thank you, Don Draper, wherever you are. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

 Way back in 1971, the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit with their songs. If you know it, then you know the story of a long-haired freaky person fed up with all the directions and restrictions for the free-loving life he wants to lead. And if you don't know it, then I'll let you have four minutes to take it all in from the link above.

Good. Now, where was I? Oh, right: signs. In the fifty-two years since the song was released, the number of placards, billboards, posters and advertisements has done nothing but increase. Blocking out the scenery, indeed. And it seems to me that our human reaction to this sensory overload has not been to rail against them, but to simply ignore them. 

My younger brother refers to this syndrome as "victory through apathy." I have had discussions with a number of folks and we share a common belief that this attitude is best witnessed at Stop signs. A fellow educator and I have stood by as we supervise children waiting for their parents to pick them up after school has been dismissed, watching car after car roll or roar right through the four-way stop on the corner. We have a crossing guard there whose orange vest and hand held sign seems to carry enough authority to get drivers to apply their brakes, but without anyone in the intersection, the directive given by those bright red octagons seem to be merely a suggestion. They don't apply to everyone. 

In this way, the hippie from 1971 seems to have won. That's right, stick it to the man! We're not sheep. Nobody can tell us where to come to a complete and full stop. We'll stop when we feel like it. Not before. 

Which works really well as a statement of your personal freedom, but not so much in the realm of community agreements. This is perhaps the most obvious form of obliviousness, but the one that jumps out in more passive ways is our cavalier attitudes toward parking restrictions. I have written here before about the insistence of ride-share drivers who insist on parking in the middle of the street, sometimes with their hazard lights on, sometimes not, waiting for their fares. Quite often they are feet away from an open parking spot, or at least a driveway into which they could tuck themselves out of traffic. The rider is the only one it seems who is not inconvenienced by this choice. Furthermore, it seems to have affected the way our parents stop in front of our school to pick up their kids. Rather than pull up to the curb to wait, they will stop in the lane of what might have been traffic to wait in the most impatient way possible. And then there are those who do this same thing, but upon deciding they have business with someone inside the school building, they leave their car in the middle of the street sometimes running and sometimes not, locked without any way to move it until they reappear with their personal agenda completed. 

Most of the rest of the day, inside that school, we are teaching kids how to read: Stop. No parking. Yield. And we hope that when they go outside in that flurry of words and signs, we hope they have the means to choose wisely which ones to follow. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

What's Goin' On

 Two items clogged the news cycle this past Monday. First was the announcement by the Mars Candy Company that they were eliminating their anthropomorphic spokescandies in favor of a new human celebrity, Maya Rudolph. The prevailing notion was that Mars was bowing to conservative pressure, stoked furiously by Little Tucker Carlson. Young Tuck's rage against the candy was enough to get Mars to feel the need to make this change in their marketing strategy. “In the last year, we’ve made some changes to our spokescandies. We weren’t sure if anyone would even notice. And we definitely didn’t think it would break the internet. But now we get it – even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing.” 

Keeping in mind that this is a world of buying and selling, and it was the original Clown Show Meister PT Barnum who insisted that there was no such thing as bad publicity, this will most certainly lead to some magical spikes in sales for M&Ms and ratings for the Slugworths at Faux News. I myself have found the topic worthy of my attention for far too many minutes on any given day. It's all a part of the Culture War that we keep hearing about. The war that is being fought over our candy and our gas stoves and Christmas and wearing masks during a pandemic. These are the things that we choose to pay attention to while generations of Americans are being slaughtered in real life.

California's Governor Gavin Newsom had to be pulled away from meeting with the survivors of one senseless tragedy to get a briefing on the most recent multiple homicide in his state. This one was in Half Moon Bay. Seven dead. One more critically injured. The smoke had barely cleared from Monterey City near Los Angeles before gunfire tore through the farming community in Northern California. A sixty-six year old with a work-related chip on his shoulder chose to solve his problems by killing people. In Des Moines, Iowa that same day, two students were killed and the founder of the educational mentorship program Starts Right Here was wounded by an eighteen year old with gang affiliations. This murder didn't get the press that the ones in California got because there were only two dead and one wounded. It was also moderately convenient for the media to simply drive up Interstate Five to Half Moon Bay and check out even more carnage in the Golden State. 

The problem is not M&Ms. It's not gas stoves. It's not saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. It's the horrific way in which we as a country have normalized death. Perhaps we should be grateful to Young Tuck and his minstrels, squawking about Jewish Space Lasers. They provide us a distraction from the bloody reality that is currently American Life. 

Or maybe we should care more about the American lives we lose every day. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023


 Cathy is a third grader. She is very smart, or at least gives every impression of being smart. Her attendance has made it difficult to accurately track her progress as she moves from primary to upper grades. This is a trait she shares with a number of our students. Transiency, or the flitting in and out of enrollment, has become an even stickier wicket since COVID. For example: One of a pair of divorced parents may have moved away during the past few years, leaving a primary care giver. Which is not terrifically unusual except when the primary care giver turns out to be the less reliable of the two. 

So we work with what we have. In Cathy's situation, her dad has just recently moved back into the picture, and now we have an additional number we can call if there is a problem at school. Unfortunately, there have been a few of those, not the least of which has been her spotty attendance. Most recently, her classmates ratted her out for bringing a vape pen to school. They did this after being told by Cathy that she had "something cool" to show them. Rather than make a big scene, we quietly cut Cathy out of the line to PE so that she could have a quick chat with our Restorative Justice coordinator. 

That conversation yielded a number of different versions of "the truth." Happily, she was initially forthcoming with the vape pen. She handed it over abruptly. Then there were a variety of reasons that she brought the prohibited item to school. At first she swore that her older sister made her bring it. After a couple tests of this theory, she shifted the blame to her younger sister. She seemed to be as shocked and appalled at the appearance of this device as we were. Except that all her classmates insisted that she wanted them all to see what she had brought from her house, which didn't jive well with the naivete. In order to get to the source of the confusion, we called home. 

Mom seemed aghast, but tossed this curve ball over to dad, whose new number she was happy to hand over. That call resulted in setting up a meeting the following afternoon with our principal. Since the vape pen was no longer in Cathy's possession, there was no rush to get to the bottom of the situation. Not on dad's part, anyway. 

At the meeting, dad's first concern was that someone had put the vape pen in Cathy's backpack. Our principal waited him out on this one, while the reality of absent parents sank in for everyone. The vape pen came most certainly from the older sister, who was still too young to possess such an item. The hope that Cathy's native intelligence might carry her through elementary school with such a spotty attendance record loomed in the background. Suspending her was never on the table, since that would mean sending her home to a lack of supervision and who knows when she might be seen again. 

And what she might be missing.

And what she might be concealing. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Rabbit Season

 Ten people were killed in what might be described as the fifth mass shooting this year. If you were using the lunar calendar, it would have been the first of the Year of the Rabbit. On Saturday night, at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, California, a gunman opened fire. Ten died, ten more were injured. The suspect got away and was thought to have popped up in another dance hall twenty minutes later where onlookers were able to wrestle away his gun before he fled. 

So it continues. What many had hoped were fireworks connected with the festivities turned out to be gunfire. Again. Ten more dead while America's love affair with guns and ammo goes on. And on.

Law enforcement officials were not forthcoming with a suspected motive. As if this were easily acquired or understood, making sense of this tragedy would still be nearly impossible. Was it a hate crime? I am willing to go out on a limb here once again and suggest that shooting anyone with a gun would constitute a hate crime. Witnesses at the Star Ballroom said that the gunman was an Asian man. This description was echoed by those at the second dance hall. 

This same description was used by law enforcement to describe the driver found in a white van Sunday morning. Dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. All the speculation that will now swarm and fester around this community that finds itself on a list along with Uvalde, Colorado Springs, and so on and so on. This quiet community just east of downtown Los Angeles will be the focal point for media, the debate about gun control, and all the associated furor and sadness. 

A twelve hour span of time that brought the celebration of a new year right back to memories of all the years before. By now, things should be different. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Home Ownership 101


That's how I felt when my wife greeted me with the news that the toilet in the back bathroom was leaking. It was Saturday morning and I knew where my day was heading. 

At first, I went about my day with the notion that I might finish up my morning's chores and then find my way back there to take a look once the regularly scheduled business was taken care of. A few drips in addition to the drips that had already dripped weren't going to harm anything in the meantime. 

So I did a load of laundry. Went for a run. Took a shower. Had lunch. Then I went back to take a look at what needed to be done. 

A very long time ago, we tag-teamed on the installation of a bathroom at the back of our house where once there was a washing machine. It was an early attempt at lifestyle contouring, creating a second bathroom out of what had been half a laundry room. 

It was nice to have a second place to take care of one's business, especially because there were three of us competing for those moments of relative solitude. The family of seven that lived in this house before us must have had unique patience and control to have lived here with only the one commode. Even now, with the empty nest in which my wife and I find ourselves, there are numerous occasions when having options when it comes to toilets is more than a convenience. 

So I put my meager plumbing skills to the task and made a flurry of attempts to make things better. Instead they became wetter. This necessitated a trip with the wife to the hardware store to acquire what I discovered on YouTube: a basin wrench. While we were there, we picked up a couple of replacement hoses to make the toilet work and the hot water in the back sink which we had been avoiding fixing because who really needs hot water in the extra bathroom? 

The local Ace Hardware supplied us with that basin wrench. And two new supply hoses that we bought on the speculation that they looked like they might fit. They didn't. And the basin wrench proved to be less than helpful in getting the job that I had hoped to do. Instead it was only useful for making more of a mess that required us to call a plumber. A magical thing, that, since it was late Saturday afternoon when we made the call, and he was able to show up to help put our mess back together. Before sundown. 

When he left, he promised to be back on Sunday morning, ready to fix the broken things that started my Saturday. The water was turned off, so we weren't going to have to bail all night long. We were "roughing it," to use my wife's term. And I looked forward to feeling just a little less doomed. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Not Buddy

 Thirty percent. There was a time when that math would have left me scratching my head. Fifty percent I could grasp, even at a relatively early age. When confronted with a fifteen percent tip, I would sometimes flinch. Once I understood that ten percent was a matter of moving a decimal point, and then taking half of that again, I could get comfortable with that. 

And somewhere in my head, I knew that thirty-three percent was one third of a quantity. Roughly. Fractions helped me, but when the suggestion made by Georgia Representative Earl “Buddy” Carter for a thirty percent sales tax gained traction in this new House Majority, the scales fell from my eyes. Under Congressman Buddy's plan, Americans would pay a thirty percent sales tax. The trade-off would be that income tax would be eliminated, and the Internal Revenue Service would be abolished. 

What could be more simple? My first response would be Turbo Tax. The obvious second answer would be "have everyone pay their fair share." This new sorcery, The Fair Tax Act by name, One of the "features" of Buddy's plan would be "prebate" checks mailed out to low-income families to soften the blow. “Nobody likes to pay taxes, or at least, I don't know anybody who does,” Buddy said in a recent office interview. “But if they are going to pay a tax, I think they would much rather pay a consumption tax as opposed to an income tax. If you don't want to pay a tax, don’t buy it. It's as simple as that,”

Simple. The argument being made here is that people will be rewarded for thrift, and those who make more money won't be punished. 

Whoops. Back up there, Buddy. "Those who make more money won't be punished?" Where is this happening? Take the hypothetical example of Elon Mush, a very clever man who has managed to buy and sell things to the point where he has been featured as "one of the world's richest humans." Mister Mush has managed to make and lose billions of dollars over the course of the past several years without paying what might best be described as "his share." Financial experts of a certain stripe will trot out the statistics that suggest that the top one percent of the US wage earners pay forty percent of the taxes. Please try and make sense of this math when you consider just over eleven percent of Americans are living below the poverty line. That one percent of big-tax payers are balanced out one the other end by one percent of Americans who are making minimum wage. These are the ones making less than sixteen thousand dollars a year. 

That thirty percent tax? That means that thirty cents of every dollar they spend on things like food and clothing would go to the federal government. Just like the thirty cents of every dollar spent by a millionaire to buy another yacht. Except that the millionaire can also afford to pay an accountant to find a clever way to buy the yacht to avoid having to pay taxes at all. 

Sorry, Buddy. No sale. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Most Of Us

 I got a start on the list of people with whom I have worked at my school the other day. That first group, the one that I came in with, so full of hope and promise. More than half of us were brand new, not just to the school, but to the teaching profession. 

Some of us ended up sticking around. 

Some of us did not. 

From time to time, I find myself in our book room, searching for curriculum that has drifted into the vortex that is our storage and history bin. While looking for that one copy of a math workbook for the new student who came to us out of the blue, I sometimes pass by the shelf with all the photos. Albums full of class pictures, staff portraits and memories of days gone by. There was a time when this was the timeline by which I could measure my tenure. 

Not anymore. Now I remember those who have passed through these halls anecdotally. "Remember that guy who wanted to teach Moby Dick to fourth graders?" Or "What about that second grade teacher who wanted to adopt one of her students, taking him to boxing matches on the weekends?" 

And so on. 

There were those who came and stayed. For a while. The first grade teacher who, over the summer, morphed into an elementary fascist and completed his tour here by telling a kid to stand in a trash can because that's what he was. Trash. And the small group of folks who left for the weekend and never came back. 

Those of us who have stayed continue to do the job for which we signed up. And more. We pull together when we are short-staffed. We do the extra things that make it a school, not just a place to go for eight to ten hours a day, waiting for that settlement to come in. 

A year ago at Christmas, another old-timer gave me a water bottle in our gift grab. It had a picture of me from 1997. Full of confidence. And hope. With hair. So many of my fellow teachers have gone the way of my hair. I have not kept track of all of them. Hair or people. 

I know I have written about this before. I know that I probably will again. It continues to amaze me the way that we all come back. Most of us, anyway. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

What Does It Look Like?

 A short while ago on this very spot, I opined about the crisis in our country. I know, that doesn't sound like me, but this was the one in which a six year old brought a gun to school and shot his teacher. There were two points that should be passed along in the wake of this tragedy. Most importantly, twenty-five year old Abigail Zwerner is expected to recover. Secondly, the gun used belonged to the child's mother. 

Don't you feel a wave of relief? The gun was legally purchased, and nobody died. A six year old remains in custody and the scars that were generated by those moments of terror are not going away anytime soon. Not for anyone who witnessed them. Or read about them. Or has to think about their children living in a world where such a thing can happen. The world that doesn't just include a Virginia school in which backpacks are searched on a daily basis. The search did not find the gun the six year old was carrying. Twenty-three years ago, a six year old in Michigan brought a gun to school and killed a classmate. Another six year old. 

A lot of children have died since then by gun violence. Some of it was by the hand of another child. Most of it should have been avoided. Important note: The United States is not currently at war. The idea that any child should be caught in any sort of crossfire is ridiculous in the extreme. 

From this precipice, it's hard to imagine that we could fall still farther. How about a toddler in diapers waddling around outside the apartment in which he should have been carrying a loaded semi-automatic handgun. A neighbor called 911 stating that the child was alone and pointing the gun at them. When officers arrived on the scene, the father who was in the apartment insisted that he did not have a gun. Then switched his story a little saying that if there was a gun then it must have been his cousin's because he never brought a gun into his house. 

Again: there is good news. No one was shot, wounded, or killed. It is entirely possible that the toddler in question will go on to forget that this ever happened. Anyone who has seen the footage, or even imagined it, they may never be the same. 

I am not. It was terrible enough to have to insert images of teenagers taking up weapons against their classmates. Incorporating first grade and younger into that vision of what killers look like. 



Friday, January 20, 2023

In Another Man's Shoes

 I sat at the edge of my bed, not for the first time, ruminating on a scene from All In The Family. If you are familiar at all with the saga of the Archie Bunker and his clan in 1970's Queens, you know that there is a certain amount of vitriol that comes with most of those episodes. Later in the series, attempts were made to humanize the outsized bigot played by Carroll O'Connor. The moment I am recalling is from one of those attempts.

Archie and his "meathead" son-in-law get locked in the back room of what would become Archie's Place overnight, and the expected challenges of mixing oil and water play out over the course of the evening. Much of the friction is played out in the familiar conservative-liberal dynamic that took place anytime Mike, played by Rob Reiner, and Archie were together. Then there was a point when Archie is watching Mike put on his shoes. Archie insists that no one puts on one sock, then one shoe, then the other sock, finishing with the other sock.

"Oh? How do you do it?" Asks a flabbergasted Mike. 

Archie explains that in the event of a snowstorm, if he were interrupted, Mike's way would have him stuck with just two socks, hopping around in the slush. If you did it the proper way, Archie's Way, you would put on one sock, then one shoe, and if you were rushed outside at this point you could hop around on one foot and stay dry. 

It is here that the interaction turns. Archie describes the process by which he came by his method. When he was young, his family was poor, and he had one shoe and one boot. This made the distinction even more clear. He doesn't stop there. He goes on to briefly describe how the kids used to tease him, calling him "Shoebooty." This brief reverie is broken when Archie catches himself being wistful, and goes back to haranguing Mike. He takes another swig from the bottle the two of them had been sharing and stomps off to find a place to lie down to wait for morning. 

A moment or two later, Archie has passed out. Mike walks over to his sleeping father-in-law and pulls a tarp over him to keep him warm. "Goodnight, Shoebooty," he says, then looks for his own place to collapse. 

And the reason I am haunted by this scene is that I imagine that every one of the closed minds of those bigots and hard right conservatives must have their own Shoebooty moment. They just never had to spend the night with Rob Reiner in the back room of a bar to let it out. 

Sometimes I put on one sock, then one shoe just to remind myself of other perspectives. No matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023


 I like it when my phone rings. Just like I like it when there is mail in my mailbox. I find it mildly exhilarating to discover that there are others out there in the world looking to contact me. I am pleased and happy to take a chance on having one more link in my human chain, or reestablishing a link that was already there. 

This being said, I suppose you can now understand why I pick up calls that my phone service labels "Scam Likely." First of all, the chance that it could possibly be some guy whose name happens to be Scam Likely makes it totally worth answering the phone because I think it would be fascinating to have a chat with a guy who spends so much of his life being ignored. Then, if it turns out to be more of a description than a label, it's still not an absolute. It says "likely." The only way to be absolutely certain would be to take the call and find out. 

Which is what I do. 

You never know when you're going to find someone out there on the other end of the line who truly has your best interest in mind. This hasn't happened yet, but I continue to believe in the endless potential of the human spirit. When Amber called me this morning as a duly deputized care specialist because her records show that I might be eligible for additional coverage. She just wanted to ask a few questions, like if I was enrolled in Medicare, parts A and B. She also wanted to know how old I was. When I told her that I was sixty years old, then qualified it by saying that I was actually more like sixty and a half, she persisted with the Medicare line. I told her that I wasn't really sure, since I don't know how one goes about signing up for the program. Is it something like Social Security that I've been paying into for all these years? Have I been making contributions to it via deductions from my paycheck? 

Amber hung up on me. 

The relative frequency of the calls I get making many of these same queries would suggest that maybe, someday, Amber will call back. If she does, I suppose I would be interested in finding out how she feels about being labeled as a Scam from the outset. Does she feel that what she is doing is a scam? Is she part of some mid-to-large-scale flimflam that is trying to fool me into handing over numbers that will lead me to surrendering all my wealth to them? Or is she truly interested in my welfare? 

Amber, if you're out there reading this, I hope you understand: I was only being obtuse with you in hopes of finding out more about you. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Money For Nothing

 Somebody just won more than a billion dollars in a MegaMillions lottery sweepstakes. The tiny sliver of a chance that anyone has to win such a contest turned into a great big payday for one lucky resident of Maine. It is precisely at this moment that my mind begins to churn out questions about such a windfall: How much of that wad of cash will the winner actually see? What sort of tax does one have to pay on a prize like that? If I won that kind of money, would I show up for work the next morning? 

And so on. The way this kind of money gets doled out speaks loudly to the question of the American Dream. Sure we want to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but if someone drops a big crate of cash on our front doorstep, we don't tend to worry too much about that whole work ethic thing. Currently we have a few big "winners" like Elon "Gate" Musk and Donald "MAGAT" Trump whom we tend to hold up as role models in the Sweepstakes of Life. Both of them benefitted greatly from the leg up they were given by their daddies. Fred Trump helped his son win the lottery by bringing him on as a part of the family business, even bringing him along for their violations of the Fair Housing Act in 1973. Elon's dad Errol bought an emerald mine in 1969, and he made "so much money we couldn't even close our safe." Then he dropped a sack of money in his little boy's lap so that he could be whatever he wanted to be: an engineer, an inventor, and eventual holder of the record for the most money lost by an individual in one year. 

These men did not play the lottery, but whoever won that jackpot up in Maine could turn around and buy a baseball team, or a weekend at the International Space Station. Or a run for president. Or a cable news network. Or comfort from the concerns of ever having to play the lottery again. You'd be worth twice as much as Stephen King, and you never had to spend any time behind a typewriter. Or be sued by the government for abuses of the Fair Housing Act. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Left, Right, Up, Down

 So, upon reflection, I have decided that none of what we now refer to as "politics" matters. 

To wit: President Joe Biden misplaced a bunch of classified documents. In what amounts to a sideways instant replay of the Mar A Lago Affair, when FBI agents raided a golf club to retrieve hundreds of classified documents taken away by the guy who previously stayed at the White House. And now the discussion is all about how wrong Joe Biden is because he did something similar to the former game show host. The guy who was impeached twice. At least he didn't promise to take away everybody's gas stove. 

There is a lot of talk about The Cult of Personality. The kind of thing that gets people to post things on social media like "The Left hates President Trump because his masculinity intimidates people." I find myself aligned more often than not on the Left side of things, and I can truthfully say that there is a grain of truth in that suggestion. The kind of masculinity that shoots first and asks questions later. The kind of masculinity that can best be described as toxic. Men who feel their best qualities are shown off stomping around breaking things and oppressing others without conscience or apology. 

And I know that they aren't all Republicans. Unfortunately we have come to a point in our history when those labels we place on others have reduced political discourse to a cheesy series of sound bites and tweets where the tiniest dangling thread can become a feeding frenzy for both sides to pick up, chew, and regurgitate. 

For example: This past week, as the Republican majority settled into its new digs in the House of Representatives, lawmakers of a certain stripe rolled back the prohibition on smoking on Capitol Hill. The city of Washington DC maintains their ban on smoking, but the Capitol is under federal jurisdiction, so the powers that be took it upon themselves to endanger everyone's lives on their turf. 

Sorry. My bleeding heart was showing there, wasn't it? It's that same part of me that winces when I see the embodiment of that toxic masculinity I mentioned previously, Tucker Carlson, wondering loudly from his pulpit "Why is tobacco so dangerous?" He devoted an entire segment of his oddly popular chatterfest to the discussion of this point, insisting that Joe Biden's administration is encouraging drug use by legalizing weed (that's hip lingo for marijuana, kids) and "sending crack pipes to addicts." 

But we all know that drugs are bad, right? Yet, somehow we find ourselves so far down the rabbit hole that "smoking the occasional cigar" is now a badge of personal freedom. Just like misplacing boxes full of confidential documents. Use the burners of your gas stoves to light your cigars or cook your meth. O It's all the same. 

Isn't it? 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Weather Report

 I have a friend who roots for the weather. When she sees sinkholes open up, she applauds. In the fight between man and nature, she is not shy about her rooting interest. Earthquakes, tsunamis, all manner of devastation has her on the edge of her seat. 

That's because she has looked at the scales and figured out who is eventually going to win this game. She's a fan of the home team: Planet Earth. Extinction? Don't bet on it. Unless you're talking the long game. The cockroaches will be here. Llamas, bears and elephants are likely to endure through climate change. The species to which we all belong? Not as much. Human beings are pretty fragile, having evolved into creatures dependent on Google to take them to the nearest coffee shop. A lot of good those opposable thumbs are going to be when the earth's surface temperature rises by ten degrees. That's why Elon Musk, noted for his attempts to save the planet, is also hedging his bets by planning to flee the planet for another nearby ball of rock, one that is currently only sullied by a few dozen wandering robots and assorted other space junk. 

The past eight years have been the warmest since we bothered to start writing things like that down. So go ahead and drop another ten degrees on top of that and pretty soon the mess we are currently in is not discussed in terms of "warm" and "cool." It will be hot. Ridiculous hot. Extinction level hot. Not for the aforementioned Llamas and elephants and bears. For people. Soylent Green won't save us. Well, maybe it will, until we run out of the main ingredient. I am guessing that Elon Musk already has a side hustle warming up in the wings to bring us all the Soylent we can keep down. 

There is something to be said for lining up behind Nature on this one. Once mankind has been eliminated, then it seems likely that the earth will heal itself, after all the ravages our short time has laid upon it. The elephants are just waiting us out. It would be completely wrong if we somehow managed to drive them into extinction before they had a chance to herd across the savannah without fear of being eliminated for their tusks. 

Still, I can't help but take a little softer approach from my friend. Even she acknowledges that having offspring makes simply giving up on humans a tough sell. I have a vested interest in keeping the planet habitable long enough for my son to inherit the bits and places we can spare from the onslaught. A week ago, he experienced a power outage brought about by two trees that gave up their roots in the midst of a pouring rain. No Internet. No video games. No phone chargers. 

The llamas, bears and elephants remained unfazed. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Still Standing

 It took a special meeting, but the new school board here in Oakland rescinded the work of the previous iteration of the school board here in Oakland. Those schools that were on the list to be closed, the "chopping block" as we referred to them, are no longer part of a plan to save money by shutting down schools the prior group of directors felt were drains on their budget. 

What does this mean to me? Well my Cal Ripken-esque streak at this one particular institution will perhaps remain intact. The fever dream that comes to me from time to time where I am carried out of the school after becoming useless remains. If I move on at this point, it will be entirely my own decision. There might be a few more years of former students passing by after school, pausing just long enough to look me over and ask, "Are you still here?"

Unraveling all these feelings, and there are more than a few, will take some time. Relief being the first, having removed the Sword of Damocles that was hanging over all our heads. The next one is a little tricky, since it mixes in the appreciation for the current school board's resolution and vote along with the very real possibility that we have now passed through a portal which leads to more inspection and evaluation and ultimately more stress compounded on top of that felt by your standard urban educator. 

And we still want our playground back. That particular axe which I had been grinding for decades came ever-so-close to being removed from the equation a year and a half ago, when a number of fresh voices came to the fore here and pushed a plan through to get some trees and some grass and some level playing surfaces on which our kids could play. Plans were drawn up and run through the cycle that would eventually be approved by a school board that was also harboring a need to shut us down. Once that decision was made, the playground was handed off to a school elsewhere, leaving the poorly patched barren asphalt plane which apparently our kids deserved. 

Add that to the outdoor water fountain that has been broken for two years, the cracked windows, the overlooked infrastructure bits that were overlooked because of the closed tag that was being processed in the background since COVID struck. Maybe the wish on high was that some or all of these troublesome schools and kids might just disappear. Out of sight, out of mind. And budget. 

Because eventually it's a manipulation that transforms a certain amount of money into a certain amount of education. That includes paying for buildings and maintenance and food and band-aids and chairs and pencils and books and oh by the way people to make it all work. It's not free. I get that. It takes a village to run a school, and a much larger village to come together and make this plan work. 

I want to believe that is what is happening. I will wait and see. Just like I have been for the past twenty-six years. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Back To Sleep

 I read with mild amusement the tweet of one Ronny Jackson from Texas. Little Ronny wrote this: I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!" I would like to ensure you that the upper case and extra exclamation point are those of the author and not my own. Also, I feel compelled to tell you that Ronny is fifty-five years old and according to his resume he is a doctor. And a member of the United States Congress. From Texas. He was once nominated to become the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs by a previous administration, but Ronny backed out of that one when allegations of misconduct and mismanagement during his service in the White House were reported. So instead he got himself a job that was newly created for him by the twice-impeached former game show host: Assistant to the President and Chief Medical Advisor. 

In 2019, Ronny took his credentials to the thirteenth congressional district in the Lone Star State where he got himself elected to the House of Representatives, even as his former boss found himself out of a job. There are those who say that his close relationship with a former (twice-impeached) "president" helped him find his way to the halls of Congress. It is likely that his association with that former "president" informed his use of capital letters and extra punctuation. Which brings us back to this gas stove thing. 

Last week, there were reports circulating that The US Consumer Product Safety Commission was considering a ban on gas stoves. Considering. They cited concerns about these appliances. They have been found to "emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other health conditions." 

One might imagine that a "doctor" who has spent some time around government agencies might consider the health benefits of such a ban before popping off on Twitter. It might also be a little bit of projection or perhaps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder causing him to reference the "maniacs in the White House," or maybe it is simply a matter of Ronny hopping on what he may have mistaken for a bandwagon. If, as it seems likely to turn out, that medical science has more to say about the potential risks involved, then Ronny might get his wish regarding his cold dead hands. Of course this is the man who said of his former patient, he had “incredibly good genes” and, if he had a slightly better diet, could “live to be 200 years old.” 

Or maybe if Ronny had just couched his argument in terms of his favorite recipes: "Electric stoves fail to deliver the crispy edges I like on my toasted cheese sandwiches." For example. And with a slightly better diet, we might all live to be two hundred years old. 


Friday, January 13, 2023

Lying Still

 Lying is bad. 

This is something that I have tried, with some success to impress on those people I encounter on a daily basis. Most of these people are shorter than I am, and younger by a fair amount. It is very likely that the amount of time they have spent considering the consequences of not telling the truth is still quite small. The average fourth grader, for example, has only a few years of fabricating to come up with what might be considered believable untruths. 

This was part of the reason, way back when, that I decided to become a teacher based on my experiencing managing twenty-somethings at a book warehouse. One young man didn't come in for a week, and when he finally returned to work I asked him why he didn't call in. He told me "Because my phone didn't have any sevens on it." That's when I thought that maybe moving down half a generation or so might give me access to the thought process of these folks and maybe I could impact, at the very least, the quality of their fabrications.

In elementary school, the low end of the lying spectrum is the shrug of the shoulders. "Who did this?" Shrug of the shoulders. "Does anyone know how the crayons ended up on the floor?" Shrug of the shoulders. "Can I get a helper to put them back in the box?" Shrug of the shoulders. And so on. They aren't really lying at this point. They're taking the fifth. 

The next step in this evolution is the "accidental." It can be used as a form of confession, but it is specifically engineered to avoid blame. "Mister Caven, I accidentally kicked the ball on the roof." Or "I was playing tag with her and I accidentally punched her in the head." My inclination in these cases is to try to peel back that very thin veil of deceit and have them admit that they were, at the very least, being careless. More care would be needed from now on. Not a tough nut to crack. 


The really hard cases are the ones where the evidence is overwhelming but the insistence on innocence precludes everything else, including common sense. Watching a kid throw a rock at something. The something breaks. And then, when confronted by this eyewitness account, they will insist that I must have imagined all of that and with wide eyes protest their innocence. These reactions are most often found among those whose records and reputations precede them. 

And so it goes. My hope, as an educator, is that I can instill the lesson in them that telling the truth from the onset is the best course of action. Lying only makes things more difficult as reality shows up and starts to unravel the distortions. 

And maybe someday, when one of these kids decides to run for Congress, they won't have to remember all the lies they told just to keep their pretend career from crashing to the ground. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Simple Solution

So, the only thing that can stop a six year old with a gun is a good six year old with a gun?

Just trying to keep my rhetoric straight as the United States tries to come together once again to explain a senseless tragedy. By definition, by the way, a senseless tragedy has no sense in it. But that shouldn't keep us from attempting the chore.

Police in Newport News, Virginia say that a teacher had an "altercation" with a student before that student fired one shot, critically injuring the teacher. That teacher was sent to the hospital where, by the weekend, she was in "stable condition making positive progress." 

If only the same could be said of the country as a whole. Explanations for how a first grader ended up with a handgun range from the obvious, "no six year old should have a gun" to the ridiculous, "if the teacher had been armed..."

And everything in between. The articles I have read about the incident all mention that the "focus of the investigation" is on where the child got the gun. 


Back in 2017, there were 393,347,000 guns in America. That was the number that could be surveyed. The actual number is nearly impossible to ascertain. The number of people in the United States back in 2017 was 325,100,000. The actual number is difficult to ascertain. But if you notice that the first number there was bigger than the second, then we have some very valuable information. There are more guns in America than people. In 2019 there were seven million guns manufactured in our country. We have been producing about four million new Americans each year. We are making more guns than people. If you haven't already come to the conclusion to which I am driving you, there are more guns than people. That's how a six year old in Virginia can come by a pistol to shoot a teacher. 

The cynic in me wonders how it took this long. You want some more numbers? One in three families with children have at least one gun in the house. It is estimated that there are more than twenty-two million children living in homes with guns. Or maybe that's not being cynical at all. Maybe that's just the facts. The horrible awful no-good facts. 

You want common sense gun regulations? How about no guns for six year olds? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What I Don't Know

 One of the challenges I run into when I am teaching is getting beyond my preconceived notions about what kids show up knowing. Nowhere is this felt more profoundly by me than when I am confronted by a sea of Kindergarten faces. Sometimes I make the mistake of assuming that they know more than I imagine. Sometimes less. Which is why I do a quick check for understanding.

"Show me a thumbs-up if you've ever played a game called Marco Polo."

At this point, a number of hands go up, a few voices are raised as well expressing a mixture of delight and confusion, and a few of the requested thumbs. And there are some blank stares. These are the kids who have yet to fully connect with where they are, what exactly is expected of them. Some of them are still working on their first few words of English. This survey has not made things any more clear than they were when they came out to the playground. So I'm going to break it down for them.

"This is a blindfold," I say as I produce a bandana from my pocket. "You use it to cover someone's eyes so they can't see." I hold the red cloth over my glasses, "Now I have to listen carefully to know where I am."

One of the kids offers up, "When you say 'Marco,' we have to say 'Polo.'"

I take this gift and run with it, still blindfolded. "Marco!" 

A few of the kids shout, "Polo!"


"Polo!" A few more voices have joined in.

I start to move forward, my free hand outstretched. "Marco!"

Nervous giggles accompany their "Polo!" 

"Marco!" This time I take two steps forward. Reaching out, I touch the sweatshirt of the loudest little girl. I pull the blindfold down and explain over the hoots and hollers, "Now it's your turn to wear the blindfold." Spinning her around, I tie the bandana loosely around her head. I lean down to explain to her that she should now say "Marco." Nice and loud. 

She gets it because she has played the game before. Now when she yells "Marco," I can see the rest of the class swarm around her. "Polo," they cry. But they don't seem to grasp the danger they are in of being tagged. Instead, they seem to be putting themselves directly in harm's way.

Or what seems like harm's way to me. What I haven't figured on was this: They want to be caught. They want to be wearing the blindfold. Being "it" does not carry a stigma for them. Instead, it seems as though they see the bandana as a badge of honor. It makes them special. They are getting themselves caught, one at a time, in order to have a chance to be "it." "It" is their chance to be the center of attention. 

I hadn't accounted for that. I learned something. These kids are so smart. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Civics Class

 Like a lot of people in this great land of ours, I spent a chunk of last week wallowing in the schadenfreude that was the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Watching Republicans scatter about, arguing and fussing with one another about the particulars of what should have been a done deal was the kind of reality TV that many of us felt compelled to take in. For days, the halls of Congress rang with the cries of frustration and confusion that might normally have been kept under wraps. This was the dirty laundry of entire political party being flung about in ways not seen since the Civil War. The first one. 

While Kevin McCarthy flopped about like a trout on a landing, trying to cajole just five more votes out of his own party and those smug members of the loony caucus who held the key to the office of the Speaker's door, Democrats sat on their hands as a solid block. And waited them out. Painting a very vivid picture of just how functional the one hundred eighteenth Congress will be.

"Not" is the word I would use to describe it. 

All the while this was taking place in Washington, D.C., trouble of a different sort was brewing here in Oakland. An administrative error connected to the city's rank-choice voting caused a little hiccup in the school board election. Not fraud in this case but a mix-up that put one of the sitting members of the board into a position of winning another district's seat and leaving the previously announced winner officially out of luck. And out of an office. 

Which, in another time, might not be such a big deal. However this year the clock is ticking on a resolution that is pending for the first board meeting of the year. A resolution designed to rescind the list of school closures pushed through by the previous board before most of them either resigned or chose not to run for reelection. 

If you've been hanging around in this corner of Al Gore's Internet for the past year or so, you know that one of the schools on that list of closures is the one where yours truly has been employed since 1997. Besides the obvious impact on yours truly, the hundreds of families of students and staff are waiting on pins and needles to see how this will all turn out. All this new age avant garde liberally intended fix of ranked choice voting does not seem to have delivered us a solution so very different from the arcane circus that took place in the House of Representatives this past week. 

So here we are, waiting for our government and its elected officials to lurch into action. Or inaction as the case may be. Business as usual. 

Monday, January 09, 2023

Through A Filter

 Ah, the ways of spam. I am not what I would normally consider to be the first audience for a newsletter about "breaking firearm news, tactical deals, gun control & more!" Such is the nature of the send button. If you throw a hundred pounds of manure at a wall, ten of it will stick. In this case, the missive from NationalGunBroker.com stuck in my inbox. Like the manure mentioned previously. 

Not because I have suddenly changed my views or politics. Not because I respect everyone's views and wanted to give their line of reasoning a test drive. No. Instead, I was interested in just exactly what was going through the pointy heads on the other side. 

The banner headline in the email let me know that "Half Of All United States Will Have Constitutional Carry To Start 2023." The percentage was frightening enough, but the phrase "Constitutional Carry" is what stuck with me. Their concern for having their guns taken away continued unabated. States that assured their citizens of the right to pack heat was the best way to ensure safety in the Wild West. North. East. South. The "good guy with a gun" refrain rang out just as meaningfully as it ever has. For some, the idea that having more guns readily available to curb those impulses to solve a problem by shooting someone continues to be sound logic. Go ahead and couple that with ads and reviews of the latest thing in arms to bear, and you've got a dumpster full of trouble waiting to burn. 

"No fewer than 25 states will recognize that a responsibly-armed citizen doesn’t need government arbitration to carry a concealed handgun," reads the article below the headline. The author is eagerly awaiting Florida's upcoming decision whether or not to put their gun permitting process "on the chopping block." The excitement for being able to use the phrase "more than half the United States" is palpable. The repetition of "Constitutional Carry" echoes in some intended majestic swell as the author winds up by reminding his readers of the long road ahead: "Let’s be real, here. We’ve got a president who doesn’t like guns. We’ve got a senate unlikely to do us any favors, either."

Yes. Please let us be "real" here. Gun violence was at its highest level in more than thirty years in 2022. The continued assertion that the answer to this problem is more guns is eventually numbing once it is connected to the insistence on having no permits. In the first week of 2023 there were already more than six hundred dead Americans, killed by guns. Suggesting that increasing the number of states that allows "Constitutional Carry" has already brought more death to these Untied States. Carrying guns without a permit doesn't seem to have had the effect of slowing down gun violence. 

Maybe I should click the Spam button on this one and get back to something really important like the Nigerian Prince who wants to make me a millionaire. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Update: Nothing New

 About three years ago, some people started showing up wearing masks. Some of them were just bandanas, some of them were more like the ones we have all become far too accustomed to seeing since 2020. I confess that my initial response to most of these individuals, since they were kids at my school, was to tell them that there was no need for all that fuss. I was pretty sure that if there was a threat the CDC or some other science-related group would let us know. Besides, the connotations of kids wearing masks in urban Oakland were not the happiest. 

Then, for a year, we closed the school and sent everyone home because of the horribly infectious disease that was tearing through our school, our city, our state, our nation, our planet. For a period of time there we were afraid to go outside. Every person, surface, object was a potential hazard. No hugs. No handshakes. 

And lots of masks. The fashion-forward designer versions gave way to the KN-95, without vents please. It was right about this time that wearing a mask somehow got stirred into the ugly political mess that continues to roil on and on. Depending on who you asked, wearing a mask over your nose and mouth was a political statement. You were a sheep or a patriot depending on how much of your face you were showing. 

COVID-19 is still out there. Plenty of people are still getting sick. This is, in part, because of the lifting of mask restrictions. At least that's what people with some science in their heads believe. Some choose to ignore it. I believe that if I had maintained proper quarantine restrictions I might not have contracted the gift of COVID from my wife upon her return from Italy. Happily, being as full as we both are of injections to ward off the plague, we only experienced COVID-Lite. Which turned out to be plenty, thank you very much.

Now, three years after we fled, we are back from Winter Break. Cases are spiking in our area, so we are doing everything we can do to encourage everyone to keep their germs to themselves. Kids, parents, and staff who have spent the past two weeks with the lower half of their faces exposed are being reminded that besides the ongoing pandemic, this is cold and flu season, and there are a couple particularly virulent strains out there doing their work. Why not give yourself a fighting chance by wearing a mask? We've got plenty of them. 

The trouble is that living with COVID-19 has all the sameness as bad carpet. It's just there. Ugly. Reminding us of how we really loved those hardwood floors before we got it. And it's not going away anytime soon. Until we find a way to rip COVID up by the pad and be rid of it once and for all, I'll keep reminding folks to wear a mask. Maybe one over your eyes just so you don't have to look at it either. 

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Another One?

 If you're old like me, you can remember Saturday Morning Cartoons. This was network programming that was shoveled into the hours when most parents would be asleep and children would be allowed unfettered access to the three or four stations available on their TV dial. One of those children was me. The dawn of the weekend meant that I was up in my jammies, tuning in whatever was being served up on my limited menu of choices. 

I came of age in a time of Scooby Doo. Not just the warbling Great Dane and his stoner pal Shaggy, but the whole crop of Hanna Barbera stable: Josie and the Pussycats, Johnny Quest, Wacky Races. I could go on and on, but the reality was that at some point it didn't really matter what they tossed into the mix, once I was on a channel and another cartoon appeared directly after the one I had just finished watching over my bowl of Cocoa Puffs, I was there for another half-hour ride. 

It was CBS that figured out how to break me down still further: The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour delivered on all three elements of its title. By providing a showcase for Warner Brothers cartoons from the forties, fifties and sixties, programmers had a wealth of already tried and true content to put in front of their shorter viewers. For an hour. It was here that I began to appreciate just how the quality of animation had devolved over the years. Those repetitive sequences of Scooby and the gang slipping across endless loops of the same backgrounds contrasted mightily with the meticulous details found in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. My untrained eye became trained as I watched classics from the geniuses at Termite Terrace: Friz Freling, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. Their  seven minute films were not originally intended for kids alone, but that's how I watched them. 

I consumed them. 

I became a cartoon snob. 

In college I made a pilgrimage to an art gallery in Denver to listen to my idol, Chuck Jones speak. I scraped together my meager savings to buy an autographed animation cel he had drawn. It was a reproduction, as I came to understand that sometime back in the late fifties Warner Brothers burned most of the original artwork to make room for a new publicity office. 

My son was lucky enough to watch Bugs and all his pals when he was young. Cartoon Network thought enough to give Chuck Jones a whole show. Every seven minutes, my son's face would light up as the title of the next cartoon flickered onto the screen, much to his delight. "Another one?" How could this be?

Well, as it turns out, it may not always be. The current license holder of most of these animated gems, HBO Max has chosen to let them drift away, holding onto the oldest of the bunch, but letting classics like Rabbit of Seville, What's Opera Doc?, and the all-time great Duck Amuck. This choice was made to "decrease content expenses." It makes me wonder if the Louvre might one day run out of wall space for the Mona Lisa. 

Happily, I own discs full of these cartoons. Scooby Doo? Not so much. Still, it chills me to think that there are generations who will grow up without appreciating the finer things. Like Cocoa Puffs. And Chuck Jones. 

Friday, January 06, 2023

Just A Game

 Recently I posted a blog about the relative nature of spectator sports. It was primarily focused on football, since that is the neighborhood in which I find myself more often than not when it comes to sitting on a couch and staring at others exerting themselves. I kid myself, a little, that I am connecting to the exertions and challenges that I once experienced as a player. 

No I'm not. I am staring awestruck at the talents and abilities of these young men who are putting their bodies to test after test, week in and week out. The cynic in me would like to announce that every single one of those professional football players are making more money per year than I have made in a decade of teaching. That noise is quickly drowned out by the reality of the average length of an NFL career: Three point three years. 

Is it worth it? 

Anyone who was watching Monday Night Football on January 2, 2023 will be wrestling with that question for some time to come. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after getting back to his feet once he had completed a tackle on what could best be described as a "routine" in the first quarter of the gwill ame. Anyone who was watching as the broadcast cut to a commercial, then back to the field where medical staff, trainers and paramedics worked to revive the twenty-four year old. Then they cut away again as the players, coaches, fans and a world waited for the thumbs up gesture that so often accompanies this kind of injury.

It never came. After nearly an hour the powers that be surrendered to the power that was and suspended the game. Damar Hamlin's teammates, family and friends were left in a news vacuum that left them on the outside with the rest of us, looking in. 


At the moment that things were at their most frightening and difficult, the voices from the screen reminded us of something that they don't often say: This is not entertainment. That stopped at the moment Damar Hamlin fell to the ground. It suddenly turned to a matter of life and death. Back in 1971, before professional football was the corporate phenomenon it has become, Chuck Hughes died on the field. The Detroit Lions wide receiver was returning to the huddle after a play when he clutched at this chest and collapsed. He was rushed to a hospital near the stadium where he was pronounced dead. The most likely explanation for his death was that a blood clot was knocked loose after a hit a few plays before and it found its way into into his heart to keep it from beating. After he was taken from the field in an ambulance, play continued. 

Perhaps the best news to come out of Monday Night's tragedy was that play was suspended. The young man's life was more important than the game. I cannot speak for any other fan of football or any other spectator sport, but it will be a long time before I forget the way things stopped being any kind of fun that night. All the praying for touchdowns and field goals, even referring to long passes as "Hail Marys" will now come with a question mark in my world. A game should not be a matter of life and death, no matter how many dollars are involved. Not now. Not fifty years ago.

Not ever. 

Thursday, January 05, 2023

On And On

 My wife gave me a book for Christmas: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. This was a clever gift on her part, since I have two competing obsessions. One is running. The other is writing. Reading another writer's thoughts about running has brought much contemplation to the past couple of weeks. The first level of which has centered around the injury that has plagued me since before winter began. Having a right knee that keeps me from chugging around in my very normal and conditioned way has cast a pall over an otherwise joyful season. After a few days of laying around and being disabused with thoughts of never running again, I got up off the couch and started taking brisk walks along some of the same paths I would normally be doing the aforementioned chugging. 

Mister Murakami writes about the time spent outside, the elements, the music in his ears, the wind on his face, his legs finding a rhythm. I relate to that. He relates the experience of training versus exercise. I can relate to that. He points to the various marathons he has run. This confounds me. The longest run I have recorded is a thirteen mile odyssey that seemed to go on forever and though I did not collapse at the end of it, I figured the following day could be something in the three to four mile range so that I would not be setting any new wild expectations. 

But more than anything, I understood the discipline that he wrote about. Haruki Murakami runs marathons and writes novels, but I could grasp his ethos. It is what a long ago writing teacher once said to me, "Keep the habit of a pen." At the time, I nodded at this wisdom that sounded much more important than any of the poems and stories I was scribbling. But I wanted a place to hang my writer's cap, and it seemed like a good bit of fundamental advice. 

Perhaps not coincidentally it was right about this time that I began to run. Not as a chore but as an avocation. I ran a 10K race with my father, and I was hooked. It was right about that time that I read The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. Like so many of Irving's novels, the central figure is a writer, and an athlete. John Berry is told by his grandfather, Iowa Bob to "get obsessed and stay obsessed" when it comes to physical training. I took this to heart must like John did, and what you are reading now is a direct result of that decision. Seventeen years of something to say, even if it felt a little thin. I still pushed that "publish" button in the upper right hand corner of the screen when I felt I was done. 

Just like I continue to lace up my running shoes every day to see how far they will take me. Sometimes around the block. Sometimes longer. But I keep the habit. Of the keyboard. Of the road under my feet. Some days are easier than others. But I keep going. 

On and on. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

What You See

 Water, we are told, is the beginning and the end. Maybe you thought it was dust, but you may not have been paying attention to director James Cameron. Mister Cameron recently unleashed his sequel to his futuristic fable Avatar on the moviegoing public. More than three hours of wet lushness. It zipped on past one billion dollars inu worldwide box office receipts just a couple weeks after it opened. A great big, wet blockbuster. Thirteen years after the original story of big tall blue space kitties fighting for their homeworld. 

The frist two entries in what has now been announced to be a five film cycle. Chances are that there won't be a thirteen year lapse between each installment, but this is a business, after all. The idea that there are still so many threads left hanging from the first two installments is secondary to the number of millions left to be made from the ticket buying public. 

I could go on and on here about my issues about the most recent story of Pandora and it's computer generated denizens. It was a very pretty movie that ultimately had more than three hours' worth of plot holes and contrivances. Which makes sense, given the real estate it's trying to cover. It was very pretty to watch. There are all kinds of technical advances on display. It is to Cameron's credit and all the people he gathered to help him achieve this vision that most of the time you don't worry about how they did things. The trouble comes when you try to make sense out of why they did them. 

Storytelling sometimes takes a back seat to special effects. In the half hour or so of coming attractions before The Way Of Water was projected before us, my wife and I witnessed a slew of comupter-generated images that were designed to astound and amaze us. Giant robot apes, magical worlds beyond our understanding, and a mustachioed plumber out to save his own magical world. The giant robot ape was part of a saga that began way back when a major motion picture studio decided to take a chance on a movie about transforming toys. The mystical worlds were part of an ongoing construction of a universe inspired by comic books. The plumber comes to us originally from a forty-two year old video game. New ideas? Not really. Just new machinery to get them onto the screen. 

These are the potential blockbusters coming to a theater near you in a few months. Will there be a character in any of these stories to care about? Does that matter? Should it? 

Before my wife and I went out into the wind and the rain to brave the trip to the multiplex with a screen bigger than the one in our living room, we had been contenting outselves with stories told on that somewhat somaller screen. The lure of the cinema has been diminished by the sheer number of stories being told with all those newfangled contraptions being used to make movies about giant space kittens and robot gorillas. 

I would be more impressed if there was a story that made sense no matter what part of the universe it was set in. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

A Tree

 If I were a tree, I would be the kind that openly wept upon hearing that Barbara Walters died.

If you were a tree, you might know who Barbara Walters was, depending on when you were planted. And depending on when you were planted, you might get that joke. Back in 1981 when the esteemed televisoin journalist was interviewing Katherine Hepburn, she asked Ms. Hepburn what kind of tree she thought she might be. For the record, the for time Oscar winner replied that she could be an oak or a disease struck Dutch Elm. 

This kind of question might have gotten a lesser interviewer laughed out of the business, but there was nothing lesser about Barbara Walters. She entered the male-dominated world of television news in 1961 as a writer for the Today show, She began to fill in as the "Today Girl," reporting on fashion and weather and other less-weighty affairs. She got her big break when she accompanied First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy to cover her trip to India for NBC. This lead to a quiet move into the co-anchor seat on the Today show with Hugh Downs, but it would be 1974 before she ever received the title. 

ABC came calling with a million dollar per year contract to co-host their evening news, much to the disdain of Harry Reasoner. This move did not create the ratings bonanza her new bosses had hoped for, but the prime-time specials that Ms. Walters began hosting, including gets like president-elect Jimmy Carter and later a joint interview with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin solidified her cred as a journalist and a media star in her own right. From there she moved to another co-hosting gig on the newly minted 20/20 with her old pal Hugh Downs. She was a staple there for twenty-five years. 

In 2014, she retired from broadcast news, having interviewed everyone from Fidel Castro to Monica Lewinsky. Along the way, she started up and executive produced the morning chat show, The View, opening the door for still more aspiring woman journalists and talk-show hosts. Oprah Winfrey has cited Barbara Walters as an inspiration for her own career in television. 

Difficult not to reflect back on Gilda Radner's "Babwa Wawa," or the coulntless parodies from a life lived in front of the camera, Barbara Walters stomped on the Terra fiercely enough to make a path for those women and men who came after her. A tree has fallen in the forest, and make no mistake, Barbara Walters made some noise. 

Monday, January 02, 2023


 Gary Hart lost his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1988 because he was lying about an extramarital affair. He dropped out in May, 1987 just a few weeks after the scandal broke wide open. Of course none of his behavior was any sort of secret. Stories of Hart's womanizing trailed after him for years before like toilet paper stuck on his shoe. That kind of stuff would float for a senator, but apparently not for a presidential candidate. 

Bill Clinton was impeached because he lied to Congress, and the rest of the planet, about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Sure, there was other stuff, but ultimately it came down to a guy who lied about having sex outside his marriage. It's the kind of thing that could get you impeached back in 1997. Richard Nixon, who was by all accounts a very faithful and dutiful husband, was never impeached. There are different standards for cheating on your wife and cheating in politics, apparently. 

Which brings us to the guy who lived his life a lot like a sleazy real estate version of Hugh Hefner. Donald "Juan" Trump didn't make much of an effort to scrub clean his philandering before he went ahead and took that escalator ride into infamy with his third wife. After spending a few decades making the legend of himself seem real, he wasn't about to bury that one. But when it came to things like his tax returns, that was none of our collective business. We were asked for six years to take him at his word that there was nothing to see there. It was all on the up and up. 

Not really. This past week, after years of wrangling, those documents that all previous presidents including Dick Nixon and Bill Clinton made public finally saw the light of day. In 2020, Donald and his third wife Melania paid no federal income tax. On seventy-eight million dollars of income. On top of that bit of creative accounting, he then claimed a five million dollar refund. 

I understand that math has never been this man's strong suit, but this seems to lie just a little outside the arithmetic mistake. Despite claiming ridiculous amounts of loss and expenses, the former game show host insists his tax returns "show how proudly successful I have been and how I have been able to use depreciation and various other tax deductions as an incentive for creating thousands of jobs and magnificent structures and enterprises.”

Which doesn't keep him from complaining bitterly about their release. He insists “the Democrats should have never done it, the Supreme Court should have never approved it, and it’s going to lead to horrible things for so many people." Those many people were not available for comment. 

Meanwhile, newly elected Representative George Santos, Republican for New York's third congressional district is no doubt busy now fabricating stories about the way he has remained faithful to his wife whom he divorced in 2019 while he remains "openly gay" and is "jew-ish" rather than Jewish, and all those properties he and his family were supposed to own turn out to be the room his sister lets him stay in at his house. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we've got ourselves a contender!

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Looking Back

 Okay, I know that I promised to push all that 2022 business in the attic and try to forget about it. But then a good friend and constant reader challenged me to shine a light on all the things that last year had to offer that were not incredibly bad. 

I would like to start with the trip that my younger brother and I took to Colorado together back in October. It was not an easy time. We were preparing to move my mother out of her house and into assisted care. My older brother had done most of the groundwork, and his two younger brothers were there to help sort out some of the personal effects and talk about what would happen next. Spoiler alert: my mom didn't stick around to see too much of the rest of that movie. But the two days I spent with my younger brother driving cross country with an SUV filled with memories will live forever alongside some of the great bonding moments of my life. The cookie jar and the coffee table made it to California in one piece, and the hours we spent on the road flew by because we never had to search for something about which we could talk. That happened. In 2022. 

And then there was the Red Wave that never happened. In spite of all the worry and the attendant traditions, the voters came out and chose candidates they felt would do the best job. Having a twice-impeached former game show host lurking in the shadows behind your campaign turned out to be a bad thing, bucking a trend that had been confounding rational humans for more than half a decade. Things do not have to go from bad to worse as a matter of principle. Sometimes they just need to be jostled a little into action, and watch the results reflect the country in which we all live. 

There are many more moments like this in 2022, and I hope to return to them now and again to remind myself of the opportunities that exist for salvation on this zany planet. Like the moment last week when kickboxer Andrew Tate took to social media to ask Greta Thunberg for her email address "so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions.” Greta's response was just a tad off color and sufficient to put career "success coach" and misogynist Tate in his place. Not to be outdone, Mister Tate took some time to compose a video in which he attempted to reclaim his machismo. And somewhere in the clip, a couple of pizzas were delivered. The address of the pizzeria was visible on the boxes, which allowed Romanian authorities to show up soon after and arrest him. Apparently Andrew Tate was hiding out in Romania attempting to avoid capture on sex-trafficking charges. 

Thanks, Greta. You made 2022 finish off with a smile.