Friday, May 22, 2015

The Name Game

It is nice when things live up to their reputation, and even nicer when they live up to the label they place on themselves. Take for example SPECTRE. These are the bad guys in James Bond movies, and if you weren't up on your acronyms prior to this, you should know that it stands for "Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion." It gets a little verbose, but the initials paint a nice, scary picture. You probably wouldn't call these guys up for a donation to UNICEF, however. These guys were just a little more accessible than SMERSH, or Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov, translated roughly: Special Methods of Spy Detection. James knew what to expect from these guys, in part because they really existed. The same cannot be said of the foes of the Men from UNCLE, THRUSH. The United Network Command for Law Enforcement regularly locked horns with the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesireables and the Subjugation of Humanity. When you're making up teams for world domination, it's nice to know for which side you're being issued a lanyard
That's the nice thing about Hollywood. They will do us the favor of calling bad guys what they are. I don't expect that when Adolf Hitler was scribbling on the back of his binder back in high school,coming up with cool names for his Third Reich, I don't expect that he figured that the world would hear "Nazi" and immediately connect them with all the evil that they would eventually embody. The National Socialist Party sounds pretty benign, after all. Maybe it was the flag. Or the uniforms. All of which brings me to the Bandidos. You might recognize that name as the affiliation of bikers who got into a pretty ugly shootout in Texas where nine people were killed, eighteen injured and one hundred seventy were arrested. Pretty rough weekend, even for Waco. But maybe it should have been expected. Not unlike the reaction Hells Angels used to get, back in the day. All the brawls. All the way out parties. Lock 'em up and throw away the key. When Cassocks, Scimitars, and Bandidos show up in the same place, you should probably expect trouble. 
Satan's Sidekicks? Grim Reapers? Coffin Cheaters? I'm guessing that showing up with your colors flying would pretty much put the local constabulary on high alert. Or at least put in a call to the folks at SHIELD, whatever that means. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Out Of Print

My father wasn't in the ad game in the sixties. He sold printing. I spent my early years imagining that he was some kind of executive paper boy, wandering from office to office with newspapers he carried in a briefcase and made deals with his subscribers to buy even more newspapers. This was because I had seen a black and white photo of my father in his youth, carrying his big canvas sack with "Daily Camera" printed across the front, and I assumed from the way he lovingly discussed his ascent into the printing business that he had worked his way into a better dressed, upscale version of the job he had when he was a teenager.
It wasn't that simple, but then again, maybe it was. He used to look wistfully off into the distance and talk about the ink that ran in his veins, having moved from his first paper route on what was then the outskirts of Boulder to the press room of the local paper and eventually to the offices of a publishing company where he would regularly return to the press room and kick it around with the boys in the back. It was from these press rooms that my father dragged home reams and reams of paper, some of it in sample pads, other times he would bring home end rolls that were far too short to be used for a full press run but unimaginably long for any kid who wanted to roll it out in the living room. I drew on all of it. All that I could, that is. All that blank paper was an invitation, not unlike the blank pages that eventually lured me to writing on them. It was my avocation to fill them all.
Meanwhile, back at the office, my father's career had a nice, hometown Don Draper feeling. There were business lunches and cocktail parties. There really was a briefcase, and most mornings that I can recall, he put on a suit and tie to go out into the world to sell printing. More to the point, he went out into the world to sell the printing services of the publishing company for which he worked to those who might need them. This is how I learned about Celestial Seasonings. My father worked with this hippie kid, Mo Siegel, to print up boxes and advertising posters for his herbal tea company. This was about the time that Don Draper's story came to a rest, but the seventies were a very heady time for my father's printing business. If it were left to me, I believe I would set the fictionalized TV version of my publishing company drama in the 1970's. That's when he moved on up to the Ford Granada for the company car, Fine Corinthian vinyl.
And eventually, there was an office affair, one that sent my father spiraling off into career trouble as well as divorce. When my father went to meet his maker, he was still working on his third act. He was trying to find his way back home. That never happened, but he left behind a lot of memories. And reams and reams of paper filled with the drawings of my youth. It was an interesting ride. Maybe not Don Draper interesting, but pretty good for a paperboy from Boulder, Colorado.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


The time has come to talk about the elephant in the room. Actually, the elephant isn't in the room right now, but that's kind of the point. The elephant will soon be leaving the room. That's really the issue. And it's not really an elephant we're talking about here. The subject in question doesn't have tusks or communicate in infrasonic tones too low for our hearing to detect, though that might explain some of the challenges that occur when teenagers get ready to leave home.
Oops. I gave up my metaphor there, didn't I? Yes, I'm writing about my son again. I'm going to keep writing about him because he is the most important work I have done on this planet. I am proud of the way I have cobbled together a life for myself and managed to find my own way to adulthood, but I had some pretty good help on the front end of that. I took the shove my parents gave me way back when along with all the wisdom and expert advice they had to spare and applied it to my own life journey. Here I am, getting ready to shove my own little birdie out of the nest, and I can only hope that I managed to impart a fraction of that knowledge to my own offspring. Sometimes I feel like a filter rather than a font of wisdom, straining to find meaningful lessons to impart to a young man who seems to have learned more than I will ever know.
How did that happen? I was going to be the one who carried him to the car at the end of a long day. I was the one who still listens to the story of every day's adventure, waiting to cap it off with some fatherly words that would bring it all into sharp focus. I held his hand when we crossed the street not just to keep him safe, but to remind each other that we were there for one another.
Now we need to find new ways to do that. Long distance, the phone company when there was just one phone company, assured us is the next best thing to being there. I have tried to soothe my wife's worries and calm myself with this idea. Our son is not moving away. He is expanding the home in which the three of us live. His room won't be down the hall anymore. It will be down the road a few miles. It will make those good night hugs and kisses a little harder to negotiate, but I expect that we will manage. There is a lot of love invested here already.
The love is not a doubt, but the rhythm of that love is going to be hard to replace. Waking him up at noon on a Saturday or six on a Monday will no longer be in my purvey. I won't be shouting at the back of the house to turn that racket off and go to bed, unless it is my wife's racket which may be the thing that makes this whole thing work. It will be quieter by a third, and I will miss that. I have already in the past few years, as his high school life full of activities and social events took him to new places and different schedules, over which I had little or no control.
I couldn't hold his hand as he crossed all those streets. Now I have to know that he knows to look both ways. I have to believe that he knows how to hear those low rumblings that only he can sense. It is his father calling. Be careful. Be kind. Be smart. Be clever. Be safe. Be where you need to be. Be gone for a while. Be missed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Main Event

Things Mitt Romney couldn't win: The 2012 Presidential Election, Dog Owner of the Year, and the Heavyweight Championship of the World. I suppose you have to admire his vision. He aims high. He tends to miss wildly, but that doesn't mean he won't keep trying. In this latest escapade, he fought former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in Salt Lake City last week. After two rounds of showcasing more footwork than fisticuffs, Mitt threw in the towel before anything really awful could happen. Or maybe the awful thing is that it was allowed to happen in the first place. The good news is that a million dollars was raised for CharityVision, a group that aims to restore vision to those with curable vision loss.The fight was held in Salt Lake City, partly because that is the location of the charity, run in part by one of Mitt's many sons and partly because of that whole Mormon thing in which the Romneys also participate. It made the $150,000 tickets a little easier to move for the black tie (eye?) gala.
I think this is great, by the way. When someone can take their celebrity status and turn it into something that benefits others, I'm a fan. Take the Justin Bieber Roast, for example. While I was disappointed that this event did not end with the sacrificial flaying and incinerating of Justin, to raise bail money for teenaged drag racers, I was glad to know that he was putting his stardom to practical use. At a certain point, once you've bought and sold your own personal island in the tropics, you start to look for places for your excess cash to flow along with that of your friends and associates. And whenever possible, ask your fanbase to contribute as well. 

Sometimes it takes a little extra push, but this is where I think Mitt missed the fundraising boat. If it were left to me to organize a charity boxing match for Mister Romney, I would have asked for some of the forty-seven percent of Americans he claimed never paid taxes to pony up a few bucks to spend a few minutes in the ring with the once and future chief executive. Instead of buying a Lotto ticket for the next few weeks, why not step into the squared circle with the guy who insisted that these were the Americans "who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." This might take more than a couple rounds to get through all the folks who would like to take a shot at Mitt, but for a hundred dollars a shot, you could probably raise a matching million dollars pretty quick. Especially if they took the show on the road. Places like Baltimore, for example. Detroit? I imagine there are a few of that percentage hanging out here in the Bay Area who wouldn't mind paying to take a swing at Willard Mittsimmons Romney. For charity. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Eye In The Sky

I am glad that there is a conscious effort currently being made across the globe to seek out the bad guys and make sure that they are brought to justice. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of getting surveillance cameras mounted on our school after I had an early morning contact with a police officer who was looking for a bad guy on the run in the neighborhood. "Do you guys have cameras outside?" asked the patrolman. I sighed and confessed that I wished that we did. Maybe that would keep people from hopping the fence on long weekends to break windows and add their own flavor to the walls and doors of our building with spray paint.
It wasn't until several hours later that the ACLU portion of my brain woke up and shouted, "Waitaminnit!" Do we really need Big Brother peering into our lives twenty-four-seven? How do we keep our private lives private? The rest of my brain answered back, "If you're not doing anything bad, why would you have to worry about what those cameras catch and record for posterity?" I was grateful at this point that I was not standing in front of a police officer and I could maintain this relative fugue state for a few more conversational volleys.
The answer I came up with for my own rhetorical question: Editing. Who decides when to start and stop the tape? As a teacher, I am keenly aware of the volume of video being shot on cell phones of disruptions in class and the number of these incidents that seem to start up just a tick before the grownup blows their stack. This isn't an apology for any educator who loses their composure when dealing with kids, but it is a reminder about The Whole Story. We don't see it very often. The twenty-four hour news cycle, as expansive as it may seem, only captures and promotes the tiniest snippets of evidence to support their editorial point of view. Can thirty seconds of video really cover years that led up to the riots in Baltimore? Would a vest mounted camera on ever officer's chest keep them from making bad choices in the heat of the moment? No, and no. Video will not save us. It can only confirm those bad choices and momentary lapses of reason.
Upon further reflection, I suppose I would welcome the addition of video cameras on my school's facade, but only to be used for historical record. Until someone climbs up on the roof and steals them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Too Two

I have read the reviews. The newest installment in the Marvel Comics universe, "Age Of Ultron" has been called out for being too big, too loud, too long,with too many characters. Too too. Of course, my fanboy reaction is to point out that we should expect this kind of spectacle from a team of super heroes who routinely have to band together to save the planet from annihilation from this evil plot or that global threat. Once you've saved the world, you get a certain reputation, and then you have to live to face it down. It is a saga, after all, and sagas don't tend to be crisp, character-driven think pieces of independent film. It was what eventually killed the Sam Raimi Spider Man films, the third of which even I had a hard time digesting. Too many bad guys, too many life or death threats, too many epic battles.
Wait a minute. Too much Spider Man? This coming from a guy who sat in the third row of "Spider Man 2" and waited for them to rewind and start the next show? Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Well, I would suggest, that if that good thing isn't so good anymore then the answer is "no," since it's not too much of a good thing. It's too much of a mediocre shadow of what was once a good thing. I should also point out that many critics turned up their noses at Peter Jackson's "King Kong," pointing out that it took his movie as long to reach Skull Island as it took the original to do that, capture the big ape, and drop him from the Empire State Building. And I wouldn't have skipped a frame. Not a pixel.
This is why I wonder if people who write movie reviews have spent much time reading comic books. Like the kind of time I put in, back in the day. These stories start out big: a planet blows up and the only known survivor is sent to earth as a baby in a rocket ship. A kid is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gains the powers of the arachnid what bit him. A ninety-eight pound weakling is injected with a serum that turns him into a super soldier. These are the origin stories. How do these super types get along with the rest of us over time? That question is still being answered on a monthly basis in comic book stores across this great land of ours. The fact that special effects technology has caught up to the point where we really do believe a man can fly, in an iron suit no less, says "it's about time" to me.
To me. I also really love those movies Richard Linklater makes. The kind where real people deal with real life and all its confounding simplicity. Which makes me wonder why no one has put him on the short list to direct Avengers 3. Of course, maybe Monty Python already did that with their "Bicycle Repairman" sketch. In a world full of Super Men and Women, it's the guy who can fix a flat that turns out to be the real hero.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Bitter End

If we were actual helicopter parents, would we allow something like "Senior Ditch Day" to even be considered in our household? First of all, let me point out that the potential for both of these occurrences are very real. We have this one kid, a son, who has been the focus of much if not all of our attentions and intentions since he came into the world some eighteen years ago. Since then, we have participated in ways both large and small, hoping to keep his nose clean and his future bright, which is infinitely preferable to the obverse.  Dark futures and runny noses are no way to go through life.
That's why we have been standing by with Kleenex and a flashlight, ready for any and all circumstances that would erupt to disturb any of the peace in our little kingdom. I will build playgrounds, make pancakes, attend meetings and even let my wife serve not one but two years as PTSA president in order to make sure that at no time does our little boy have to run afoul of any of the mundane disruptions to the flow of his orderly matriculation through childhood. And now, that's over. For official purposes, my son became legal in all kinds of ways. He announced the other night that now that is eligible to vote, he has no interest in any of the candidates who are currently running. That sounds pretty adult to me. He also, according to California Ed. Code, has the right to sign for and verify his own absences. Suddenly that hum of rotors becomes more distant. Mom and Dad, what do you think? Oh, that's right, you're not responsible for me anymore.
Dad, an elementary school teacher with a keen eye for Average Daily Attendance and its connection to funding for our academic institutions, and Mom who spends more time at my son's school than he does these days, talking often with the principal, have very mixed feelings about Senior Ditch Day. On the one hand, he is a kid who has never spent a day after school unless he was volunteering for something. He has been accepted into the college of his choice and it would be hard for us to argue that he held up his end of the bargain as far as getting through high school. It would also be somewhat hypocritical of me to insist that he attend every moment of every class until the end of his final semester, since I spent a good deal of time at the end of my senior year going out to lunch and hanging out on the front lawn playing football with my friends instead of showing up for those last most important instructional minutes in Ceramics and Pop Lit. I really don't have a leg on which to stand. Other than, "because I said so."
That's why we let it happen. Senior Ditch Day, Rite of Passage? For which I pull out my favorite family response: "Why not?"