Friday, August 29, 2014

The Golden Ticket

I should be so lucky. Of course, it would help if we defined "luck" first. I think that winning almost always has a certain element of luck. This is why I stop to pick pennies up off the sidewalk even though at some point this particular habit will probably be the thing that snaps my spine or hit by a car. I have also learned not to mess with a streak. If something is successful, leave it alone. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sometimes I will even go so far as to wish for something by being so indiscreet as to close my eyes and say it out loud. This is often in conjunction with field goal attempts made by professional football kickers, but I do take it very seriously.
Then there's the matter of winning a prize. Last week, my son was convinced that he had won thirty-five thousand dollars. All he had to do was to head down to a nearby car dealership and pick up his prize. The fact that the certification for this award showed up with my name on it. Not his. That did not mean that he wasn't feeling lucky. A very brief and extremely casual perusal of the fine print had him convinced that he had won "at least" a three hundred and fifty dollar Wal-Mart gift card. Dreams really do come true. Even if that dream does include using your old man's name and login to access your prize package.
After several minutes of rational discussion, however, he was dissuaded from this bonanza, and he let it go with the tiniest whimper. It seemed like such a great deal. That's why I will be happy to let him know about Taco Bell's latest promotion: Food for Life. Sorry, since we're talking about Taco Bell here, I think it's important to refer to it as "Food" for Life, or what's left of it after clogged arteries and multiple heart procedures. All one has to do is find one of eleven dollar bills floating about the United States, the ones with special serial numbers that identify them as winners. And you could win quesaritos, gorditas, chalupas and any other permutation of ground beef, melted cheese and tortillas you might care to imagine for the rest of your life. Oh, to be so lucky.
Or perhaps it's best to keep this to myself. I'm only speculating here, but I would put the cash value of such a prize at about half a million dollars. Three meals a day for seventy-five years at about five bucks a meal? That's a lot of nachos. Of course, maybe if they scaled it back a bit and made it special pennies, I might have a chance. Just one really long week. With sour cream. Lucky me.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Miss The Myths

I have learned all kinds of things from watching "Mythbusters." You can't really shoot bad guys underwater, since the water will stop a bullet. Cell phones arranged in a circle won't pop popcorn. And perhaps most important of all: "When in doubt, C4." For those of you uninitiated, this is a reference to the plastic explosive, which has been used on countless episodes to explode any trace of myth that might linger.
Which makes me wonder why the guys didn't accidentally subject the "away team" to some sort of cataclysmic detonation, one from which no shards or tissue samples could be recovered. Instead of plastic explosive, the producers resorted to Twitter. "It's not only the end of this episode, it's not only the end of this season — it is also the end of an era," host Adam Savage announced. Co-host Jamie Hyneman added, "This season we're going back to our origins with just Adam and me." For their part, the "build team" was very gracious about their departure. Kari Byron tweeted, "The show is taking a new direction. It was an amazing run. I learned so much about myself and the world. I love you all." Grant and Tori were just as effusive in their sentiments for their decade of service on the show.
But the myth remains: Why did the folks at the Discovery Channel decide to let them go? Nobody was tuning in to see the youngsters anymore? Production costs had forced the hand of management to cut the cast to save money for liquid nitrogen? Or perhaps it was simple jealousy, where the spotlight for A-Type Nerds wasn't quite big enough for all five to peacefully coexist. Whatever the reason, I suspect that we will see Tori, Grant and Kari back on TV soon enough. Maybe even on the Discovery Channel. But it really won't be the same. How do I know? Well, I don't. That's why it will take a team of specially trained professionals to look into this new urban myth and eventually I will get my answers from the TV. The way God intended.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shake, Rattle and Roll

At just past three in the morning, all those things that you have learned and know by heart about earthquakes don't mean a lot. Being shaken awake by your parents is one thing, but being shaken awake by your house is quite another. My son, who has been putting together a career year in sleep this past year, was sitting straight up in bed when my wife and I made it to the back room to check on him.
But first we endured an endless twenty seconds of tectonic shifting. The walls and floors of our one hundred twenty year old house moved, along with the rest of the neighborhood, on the wave that was sent down the coast to us from Napa. Thanks for sharing, Napa. When my brain cells had aligned effectively enough to reckon with what was happening around me, I considered my options: holding very still and waiting for the unpleasantness to simply pass, leap from the bed and stand in a doorway, or cling to my wife and hope that the ceiling would hold. I would like to tell you that I made some sort of rational decision about what I ended up doing, which was essentially a combination of those three alternatives, but I was in full-on react mode. Objects that I considered solid turned out to be negotiable on that fact.
We have a smoke detector. We have a CO2 sensor. We have lights on the side and back of our house that detect motion. None of these devices enhanced our safety a whit. On the way to the back room to check on my son, whom I expected to wake and explain this natural phenomenon to, I thought about all we had done to prepare for this eventuality. We have supplies and first aid kits and extra clothes and even a tent to camp out in the back yard if the homestead collapsed completely. And yet this caught us unawares. I was gratified not just by the sight of my son and his eyes bleary but open, but also with the news that he had actually made it off his bed and to the doorway to ride out the earth's wobbly moment.
We were joined a few moments later by his mother, and the three of us took stock, describing the event that took less than thirty seconds but would keep all of us awake for another half hour. We had the luxury of going back to sleep. Even as emergency crews scrambled to aid those in need north of us, we were able to put another geological event in our past. We could go back to sleep. We didn't have to put out any fires. We didn't have to rebuild. We could only wait for the next one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Victory Lap

I am currently in the process of raising a high school senior. I understand that I share this distinction with millions of other parents, but has only dawned on me over the past week or so just how significant this experience is for me. My wife, by contrast, has been working feverishly on all matters related to this new phase for several months. She has been looking at college brochures and financial aid packages. She has attended meetings and engaged help and assistance in all manner of things that will help prepare our son for the future. His future.
It's not as if I was ignoring this particular growth spurt. Every day I struggle in from the mailbox with another dozen flyers from educational institutions that are clamoring to get their hands on the next four years of my son's life. And the next four years of our paid tuition for that privilege. Then there's the conversations I have with my son about girls and courses of study and insurance. These are not the conversations I had with him when he was in middle school. Or elementary school. They are even distinct from those we shared in his freshman year of high school. The future was something we acknowledged, but spoke of in the same manner that we might have chatted about unicorns or Big Foot. This is no longer a mythical or legendary beast. The future is now.
I suppose this lack of focus on the impending transition shouldn't surprise me. Before our son was born, I attended a great many birth classes and was instructed in great detail about what to fear when we were expecting. I have already apologized for not paying better attention at the time. That glazed-oversight was my way of dealing with the incipient life change that was headed my way like the freight train that I would spend the next six years staring at while my fresh-faced progeny looked on in awe. Inside I was the same person I was before, but the reality that surrounded me shifted dramatically. We went from a pair to a trio. I had to tie shoes other than my own. Food was spooned and just as often picked up off the floor.
These days I don't have to spend as much time looking for deals on tickets for Disney on Ice. I can delete episodes of "Transformers Prime" from our Tivo with impunity. I don't have to cut anyone's meat for them, but I do have to shame the enormous forkfuls that get shoveled in that ever-expanding mouth. He's a growing boy, and will be for some time to come, but I won't be watching it happen on a daily basis for very much longer. I'll still spend time in the aisles of Toys R Us, but the purpose has shifted once again.
When my son came out to my school last week to help me set up teachers' classroom computers, the first thing that I noticed was that he drove there. Then it was apparent that he had been paying attention all those years before, when he was able to go from room to room connecting this and that, without my constant supervision. When it was time for him to leave, he did just that. He drove away. It brought back the image of my year and a half old son who came to my second back to school night and tottered into the doorway of my computer lab and proceeded to do a face plant there on the unforgiving tile floor.
I know that eventually my son will be cutting up my meat for me and watching out for my periodic lapses of balance, but right now I'm focused on the moment: My son is a senior in high school.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy

America is certainly an entertaining and diverse place to live and learn. I was listening to the news on the radio, and heard a news report that began with a description of the calm that had finally begun to take hold in Ferguson, Missouri. This came as Governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard out of the little town that was once just a corner of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Now it is part of the continuing and troubled history of civil rights in the United States. Having experienced some of the same upheaval in my own town over the past few years, it was easy enough for me to connect with the tensions and fears that played out over the weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown. Rioting, arrests, looting, curfews, more rioting, and still no understanding of exactly what happened. So pervasive was this connection that Oakland was one of the many cities that staged protests in sympathy with their comrades halfway across the country. For many, these are dangerous times.
What was the second story? California's governor, Jerry Brown was signing a bill that would allow dogs at restaurants. With one swift stroke of a pen, Governor Brown made it possible for your favorite Poodle or Pomeranian to sit down next to you as you enjoy the sidewalk cafe of your choice. All of a sudden, the difference between California and the rest of the planet was drawn in stark relief. Missouri's governor was telling the armed force that had all but occupied one of his state's cities to stand down, while out in Sacramento, Governor Moonbeam was protecting the civil rights of man's best friend.
Okay, so maybe it's not that simple. It is a certainty that Governor Brown has had to deal with his share of civil unrest, and some news editor will probably feel a little sheepish when the story selection for the day gets played back in real time. "Did we really just air those two stories back to back?"
Of course we did. That's what makes America so darn amusing. There's always room for the lighter side. We demand it. Don't bring us down with all that beheading nonsense. Tell us about the Kardashians one more time so we don't have to go to sleep at night with the notion that a great chunk of the world's population would say the infidels of the USA deserve everything that comes their way. Even sloppy news editors.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How It All Went Down

I rushed home with every intent to be sitting in front of my computer with plenty of time to catch my breath and finalize my plans before the Fantasy Football draft began. "Plenty of time" turned out to be eight minutes. Just enough time to make sure that the first three picks were players whose names I recognized, and then I opened up this window to start blogging about the experience. With five minutes to go, I waited anxiously for the bell to ring. Well, it's not exactly a bell, it's the Monday Night Football sound bite, and it pops up every time somebody joins or leaves the page. It can be quite distracting, especially since I was listening to The Doors in the background.
By the eighth round, I had finished the plate of potato chips and Sloppy Joes that my wife had so lovingly and carefully placed in front of me. I enjoyed it, but there was still a bitter taste in my mouth from having Peyton Manning whisked out from under me just two picks before I could snap him up. I found myself wondering, ever so briefly, if I really wanted to continue with this charade. I understand that this is all pretend and I won't be asked to suit up and play a down this season, even though I have drawers stuffed and overflowing with football jerseys, most of them orange and or blue to show off my affiliation and enthusiasm for all things Bronco. And the head Bronco, for now, is Peyton Manning.
That funk lasted a good three minutes as I scrambled for an alternative. "How about that nice Drew Brees?" I consoled myself with the quarterback of many fans' dreams. Just not mine. I forced more potato chips in my mouth and soldiered on. This year our league expanded by two teams, making the wait between picks as well as the relative slimness of the pickings. It was much more difficult to field a team of straight up superstars. I personally ended up drafting at least a couple of gentlemen whom I will spend the next few months getting to know.
Of course, every year there is a player or two who leaps onto the sports pages from seemingly nowhere, and surprises us all with their breakout performance. These are, quite often, the one-hit wonders who tend to recede into the background after that initial shock wears off. Not like the franchise-type player who we tend to build out teams around. Like Peyton Manning. I looked in vain on my screen for a "reset" button. No such luck. In the end, once the virtual smoke cleared, I had two Denver Broncos on my team, and a group of very capable position players who anyone would be happy to be taking the field. Or the virtual gridiron.
Oh well, if it's all a fantasy anyway, I can pretend that Peyton is my quarterback. Omaha!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Take Me To The River

There is this ancient Greek dude who wants us to believe that you can't step in the same river twice. Heraclitus was a philosopher whose central tenant was that change is essential to life. All is in flux, nothing abides. Unless you happen to be the Dude. Not the Greek Dude, but the Dude who, you know. abides, man.
I may have strayed from my original point: There is wisdom out there that suggests that you can't step in the same river twice. I find this a little confounding, since I am about to step into that same river for the eighteenth time. I recently finished my seventeenth year of teaching at the same school here in Oakland. I don't tend to phrase it that way, however, since I find it more impressive to announce that I am "starting my eighteenth year." I don't believe this gets me any extra credit or puts me any closer to retirement, since that measure comes at the close of the school year. That wacky way that my calendar straddles a pair of years, and when I head back, it's still really the same year. Or it will be until December when everything starts to feel like it's sliding downhill.
At least that's the way it's been for the previous seventeen years. Standing in this same old river, I get the gist of what Heraclitus was saying, but it doesn't make my feet any less wet. The water around me is personified by the kids who fill the classrooms and playground. In the halls they have a distinctly river-like movement. Still, those third graders used to be second graders, and the fifth graders from way back in June have moved off down around the bend to middle school.
So maybe I'm not really standing there in the river so much as a metaphorical rock in the stream, altering the current as much as being washed over. Yes, there has been some erosion, and the banks feel just a little wider than they used to be, but it sure feels like the same old river. Change is everywhere, so change is a constant, and if I provide a long enough time line, I can see that my feet in this river don't amount to that much after all, only in comparison to those who have been there less than eighteen years. And since it just so happens that we house six years of elementary education under our roof, that means that I am finishing up my third full cycle of Kindergarten through fifth grade. The river of children that has flowed around me has moved downstream to a point where I probably wouldn't recognize most of them. In their place are a new crop, bubbling and frothing about, anxious to find their own way. Hold on while I commence to wade into that new river.