Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Glare

To say that I was walking home would be a misstatement, since what I was actually doing was heading back to the motel where my family and I were staying for a couple of nights. We had come here to take a break. We had come here to take a break from our family's most recent chore: selecting a college for our son. After driving across the greater Los Angeles area, visiting a number of different institutions, we had landed in Anaheim for a day of Disney before pressing on in what has become something of an obsession: finding the right school.
I chose to walk back, allowing my wife and son to find their own way via the parking lot tram that gave them a few minutes more vehicular transport. Having spent the bulk of the day in the back of the family car, I was happy to stretch my legs, even in the oppressive evening southern California heat. As I came over the rise, the fireworks began.
I have seen my share of fireworks shows, from far away and up close in the Magic Kingdom, but now I found myself walking past the launch area just behind Toontown. I was directly beneath the blast area. I could hear the mortars roar as each shell flew into the sky. There was no delay between the flash and the explosion that ricocheted across the street, rattling the steel beams of the parking structure. I didn't have time to flinch. It was happening right above me and as I continued to walk, it felt that I was going further into the blast zone, rather than away from it.
I remembered putting my hands over my son's ears when he was tiny. His fascination with "fireworkers" wouldn't allow him to look away from the flashes of color exploding across the sky, but he was terrified of the noise. That was a long time ago.
Now I was back at our motel, waiting for the rest of my family to meet me at our home away from home. I was consumed with the thought we had been sharing earlier that evening: We were looking for a new home for my son. It was possible that earlier that day we had been looking at dorms where my son could be setting up housekeeping in another year. Then I was aware of the concussion of each new blast in the sky above me. Now they were pounding back against the facade of the motel. I could feel each one like a blow to the head. They were taking my breath away. This was happening at the same time that I was reckoning with my son's pending departure. I felt it each time the night lit up and I was pushed back just the tiniest bit by what was happening up above me. I felt the physics. I felt the distance. I could not remember feeling sad at a fireworks show.
I was glad when the smoke started to clear. My wife and son returned and we shared our experiences of the trek from Disney under fire. It was good to have everyone together again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Smile, Though Your Heart Is Aching

If you're like me (and if you're not why are you reading this blog), you might think that an "Auschwitz Selfie" is an obscure act of sexual perversion. That would be the funny bit, where we weren't asking for a cultural judgement on Breanna Mitchell, who posted a picture of herself at the infamous Nazi death camp. Smiling. The outrage that has been stirred because of this one photograph is notable, since the story behind it was never fully known until long after the offending picture was cast upon the murky waters of Al Gore's Internet. From what I was able to gather, it seems that Breanna's expression was the biggest issue. Happy Face in Death Camp is not an equation that most of us are able to make sense of in our daily flip through our news clips.
The fact that she was making this trip to Europe a year after her father died, the man with whom she had studied the history of World War II, was not enough for most to excuse the big grin in conjunction with The Big Lie. She was honoring her late father, but was she respecting the millions who died in the Holocaust? If only she hadn't been smiling, would that have made a difference?
If I were asked (and in case you are new to this blog and you don't get the rhythm, no one really does), I would say that the problem was that she posted the picture at all. We are a generation, with another one coming fast behind us, that takes great pride in our ability to insinuate ourselves into history. We can photoshop, bomb, instagram and publish our faces happy or sad onto the World Wide Webs. The words you are reading now are being hung out there to compete with all those other voices that claim to know just what is right or wrong with any particular question. Israel? Health care? Public education? I've got an answer for them all. I have access to a keyboard and I'm not afraid to use it.
Of course, maybe I should be. I never know exactly when I will step on the metaphorical toes of someone who happens to stumble on this page while searching for the truth about Ms. Mitchell or the hidden meaning behind "Auschwitz Selfie." I don't know what the truth is, outside of these mild constraints. As it turns out, the truth is not as objective as we were lead to believe. I do believe, however, that I will keep my vacation snapshots on the downlow. Smiling or not.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Mouth That Roared - Again

Forrest Gump's mama knew it: "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest is not a smart man, but he knows what love is. But does he know what "legitimate rape" is? Todd Akin does.
You remember Todd Akin. He's the former congressman from Missouri's second district. He's the guy who came up with the distinction, "legitimate rape." It's not a phrase that immediately makes sense, so I'll let Todd explain it: “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Former congressman Akin is not a doctor, but he said he understands these things from doctors. Understands. This is much in the same way he "understands" climate change. "This whole thing strikes me, if it weren’t so serious, as being a comedy, you know. I mean, we just went from winter to spring. In Missouri, when we go from winter to spring, that’s a good climate change. I don’t want to stop that climate change, you know. So, and who in the world would want to put politicians in charge of the weather anyway? What a dumb idea." Maybe that's how he got his spot on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Not that he's a doctor. Or a scientist. Or an astronaut. He's just a guy. 
Especially now that he's not a congressman anymore. He's an author. His book is called "Firing Back," which is what Mister Akin is doing. He wants to explain that whole "legitimate rape" thing once and for all. “Obviously no rape is legitimate,” Akin told Yahoo in an interview. “It's a serious, serious crime. But legitimate rape is a law enforcement term for legitimate case of rape. Rape is not legitimate, it’s the particular circumstances.” Apparently Todd is no longer considering a career in medicine. Now he's an expert in law enforcement.
Or maybe he's just interested in not being viewed as a chowderhead for the rest of recorded history. In that endeavor, he hopes that he can spin his comments into support for conservative candidates from his party who want to protect the sanctity of life. Or something like that. He points to the way the Democratic Party lauds Bill Clinton in spite of his sexual escapades, and just because he says a few ridiculously stupid things, he's branded as an outcast. What's up with that? Does that seem legitimate to you?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Can I Help?

Thank goodness Jerry called. Apparently, since the last time Microsoft Security called me, there have been quite a number of error messages being sent to their server. Jerry wanted me to know that if I would just cooperate with him, there would be a quick fix to this issue.
Of course, I had to believe Jerry. He knew that I was running a Microsoft computer in my home. Or did he ask that? I hate to sound culturally insensitive, but his rather impressive Middle Eastern accent made some of his questions difficult to understand. Once I was able to make some sense of what Jerry was asking me, I tried very hard to answer him. "What are you seeing on your screen?"
"It looks like Monument Valley. There's some snow on the mountains in the background."
"No, no, no," Jerry sighed. He changed his tack, "Do you see your keyboard?"
"Yes."
"Do you see on the left hand side a key that says C-T-R-L?"
"Yeah," I said helpfully, "What does that button do?"
Jerry pressed on, "Next to that key is one that has what looks like a little flag?"
"Yes. What does that one do?" Now I was very curious.
There was another sigh. I was testing Jerry's patience. "Do you see on the lower left hand corner of your screen a -"
"Hey!" I enthused, "It looks just like that button you had me find a second ago."
From there, it only got more complicated. I was having a hard time following Jerry's directions, and at one point he even had me open up my smart phone. I told him I didn't have a really smart phone, since it didn't connect to the Internet. That's about the time I thought that Jerry had hung up. When I heard something on the line, it didn't sound like English.
"Jerry?"
Another long pause. Another sigh. Jerry was back. "You understand these errors you are sending are making prostitution and human trafficking."
"Wow. That's some kind of error. How does my computer make prostitution and human trafficking?"
The line went dead again. This time, Jerry didn't come back. He had hung up. Now I'll never know how my Microsoft computer is helping to make human trafficking possible. I guess I'll just have to wait for him to call back.

Friday, July 25, 2014

No Reason To Panic

You may remember the Westboro Baptist Church. They are the ones who routinely show up to picket funerals for fallen soldiers, insisting that God killed them. They're a pretty radical group, in a rabble-rousing sort of way. They're also a pretty whacked-out nutjob kind of group in a crazy insane kind of way. Most recently, members of their congregation got together to let the world know that the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jet was also all a part of God's plan. Their reasoning being that there were more than one hundred AIDS researchers on board that flight, and if it wasn't a Russian rocket that knocked that jet out of the sky, it was most surely a bolt out of the blue.
My guess is that a truck running over a dozen of Westboro's faithful would also be spun into some sort of gift from the Big Guy. It's all a part of God's Will. It could be that flying so high in the sky could be disrespecting Him. Or it could be that the only way to keep getting their faces and signs in newspapers and TV and all over Al Gore's Internet is to keep saying the most vile and ridiculous junk imaginable. They are especially fond of picketing at funerals. Dead soldiers are good, but dead rock stars are even better.
Of course, they don't have to be dead, either. Panic At The Disco recently got the Westboro treatment, mostly on account of lead singer Brandon Urie's open discussion of his bisexual experiences. And maybe he once thought about joining the Marines. It's hard to say just what the "minds" behind the WBC had in mind, but Urie and his band decided to take matters into their own hands by declaring that they would contribute twenty dollars to the Human Rights Campaign for each pinhead who showed up with a sign. The more the merrier, after all. When only thirteen protesters showed up, two hundred and sixty dollars didn't seem sufficient, so they rolled it up to an even one thousand dollars. A good day's work, or like that old joke about the bus full of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, maybe it's just a good start.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Black Dog

I don't run past this particular house every single day. With the vagaries of my schedule,  would imagine that I only pass by two or three times a week. That might explain the reaction of the dog in the front yard. This black dog has made it her personal mission to let me know when I am a few feet from approaching her line of sight and will keep barking at me until I am once again out of her view. Sometimes, when I am lost in a thought or enjoying whatever song has come up on the shuffle of my iPod, I forget that I am about to enter the doggie danger zone and I am surprised by the somewhat ferocious attention I receive. Just enough to knock me slightly off my normal stride, but mostly I just keep going. After years of making this same loop, I have become accustomed to this interaction. It has even spread down the block just a bit, as a new yard full of puppies now take up black dog's complaint as I run past their fence. They aren't nearly as concerned or vicious, but they seem to want some of the same attention as black dog. Or maybe it's part of the neighborhood alert system.
That's what I used to believe when our dog, Maddie, used to make a fuss about strangers walking past our house. She would get her back up and rush back and forth on her side of the wooden slats that kept her from being any more involved in the security of her home. "Hey," she would yelp, "the mailman is outside the gate for the three thousandth time and I want everyone within the sound of my voice to know it!" Like the ubiquitous car alarm, her alert became part of the sound tapestry of our lives. If one of us was nearby, we might admonish her and tell her that the mail carrier was our friend and we should treat him or her as a guest and not an interloper. Of course, living in our urban setting, having a dog that would let us know when there was a stranger in our midst or a fire in the barn was essentially a good thing. She was the Neighborhood Watch Dog.
Of course, I also knew her secret. I knew that once someone was inside the fence, she was everyone's friend. Not that the U.S. Post Office wanted to find out. We were once warned to keep our dog under control or we might stop getting home delivery. Our UPS guy got it. He and Maddie became close over the years, and there weren't many deliveries when he didn't stop and have a little fetch or tug of war with his puppy pal. This is what went through my mind as I rounded the corner a few days back. I heard the black dog bark before I saw her. She started to run along her side of the fence, making ferocious sounds. Until I stopped. She stopped in her tracks and blinked. This was not part of our rhythm. I waited. I hoped that she might even come back to the fence to take a sniff of this confounding new reality, but she kept her distance. "Okay then," I told her, "I'll see you again in a few days." No barking.
Not until I got down the block and the little watch dogs to be started in. I stopped at their pen, and waited for their leader to put his nose up to the back of my hand. No fear. Just a welcome. I looked back up the street to see if black dog was watching. She wasn't. She had, no doubt, retreated to her spot on the porch where she would wait for my return. Maybe next time I'll bring Snausages.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making It Look Easy

If I were to pick a guy to look into how and where Casey Kasem's body disappeared, I believe I would have picked Jim Rockford. Alas, Jim is busy with other matters of a more metaphysical nature currently, having just passed on himself. James Garner rang down the curtain this past weekend at the age of eighty-six. A good solid lifetime, but still not nearly enough for some of us who grew up with his assured demeanor and wizened smirk. If all Mister Garner had ever done was to help get one of the coolest TV theme songs on the air, that would have been sufficient.
For me, James Garner was an action star who acted like he had stumbled into the job after he had been turned away from romantic comedies. Which is about right. Of course, he got his start on the back of a horse, that's what his Oklahoma home gave him. I didn't discover Bret Maverick for some time, but it was the double feature of "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Support Your Local Gunfighter" that first captured my attention. This was a guy who defined "easy-going" for me. Staring down a bunch of desperadoes was simple enough when you appeared so unimpressed with them. Jim just waited around for one of them to do something dumb, and if he's the sheriff, he just walks them over to the jail. A jail without bars, I should hasten to add. It looked so easy.
Watching him with Doris Day took a little more patience. His job here was to be confounded by the zaniness that being involved with Doris Day entails. I was much happier to have James Garner roll his eyes and look impatient with the goings-on. Many years later, that's what he got to do in "Murphy's Romance." A leading man at fifty-seven, not that he made a big deal about it. Not a lot of guys got to woo both Doris Day and Sally Field. Not Burt Reynolds.
Mostly I recall how relaxed James Garner always seemed. Nowhere was this more evident than the commercials he did with Mariette Hartley for Polaroid. They were acting, but a whole lot of people believed these two were married in real life. It was just that natural. And that's what I'll miss the most about James Garner. Naturally relaxed easy-going movie star. Nice work, if you can get it. Aloha, James. You stomped on the Terra.