Monday, November 30, 2015

What A Deal

The post I saw on my friend's Twitter feed read, #blackfridaysdon'tmatter. It struck a chord with me because I still can't make myself jump out of bed the day after Thanksgiving and participate in the capitalist circus that has become endemic in our American way of life. There are so many more people and things that take precedence for me over shopping. I understand that saving money is the point, and that having a choice is what makes this so quintessentially Estados Unidos. I understand that not buying anything on Black Friday will not make any sort of dent in the projected bottom line of Target, or any other retailer. It's my personal decision not to play along.
And there are a lot of things that matter. Black lives, for example. Lives, for another in a more inclusive sort of way. That is why I paused when I wandered into my son's room, occupied for the moment by our son who was back for a few days. He looked at me with a pained expression: "Active shooter," were the words that he spoke. Suddenly, lives were in danger. On Black Friday. Not because of a riot that commenced over doors opening late or a fight over that last fifty-nine dollar HDTV. Because of Planned Parenthood.
In Colorado Springs, just before noon, a gunman entered the clinic firing a high-powered rifle as he went. Law enforcement responded, and four officers were wounded in an exchange of gunfire along with bystanders who can only be described as innocent. Innocent from the standpoint of rational folks who choose to voice their opinions in ways that don't involve high powered rifles. The irony of shooting at people to show your aversion to killing those who may or may not be born is one of the things that seems to have been missed by this gunman. Add to that the savings he ignored by picking this particular day for his rampage.
Coincidence? Sure, it could have been that this guy was planning on carrying out his ugly little plan last week, on a Wednesday. He forgot that he had a dentist appointment. Had to reschedule. He had to reschedule in order to make his own horribly misguided point on a day only slightly more galling than Thanksgiving. Had to kill a cop and some innocent bystanders to illustrate my feelings on the sanctity of all life. Radical Muslims are terrorists. What do we call Radical Christians? Black Friday, indeed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Gays

Back when I was in sixth grade, I didn't know how you caught the gays. My mother, who was a great mother and very handy with a sewing machine, made me a new backpack for my entry into junior high school. It was made of sturdy green canvas, which I thought was especially thoughtful because the colors of my new school were green and white. She put two felt appliques, one a happy face and the other a snarky frown. It said that there would be good days and  there would be bad days. Little did I know it also gave me the gays.
It did not happen immediately. It took a week or two, but they caught up to me. Mostly eighth and ninth graders at first, but soon after the rest of the seventh grade were anxious to get in on the message: That backpack is gay. I didn't know at that time that sexual preference was determined by the backpack I wore. I didn't know what sexual preference was, which may have had something to do with it. Which is also why I had to surrender to the insistence that most everything I did or said was just bringing on the gays. I was made to understand just how awful the gays were by just how much every other boy and most of the girls would do anything they could to avoid them. Whatever it was that they were, I knew that they could get me tormented in gym class or beat up in the hallway. How I dressed, how I sat and even the way I looked at my nails were outward signs of contracting the gays.
There were some who had it worse than me, and I was assured by my friends that if I just got rid of the backpack, I might be able to find my way back to the straight and narrow. That, and I had to stop listening to Elton John. The thing is, I didn't want to. I loved that backpack. Maybe that was what "sexual preference" was all about. Love and respect for my mother and the backpack she made with her own hands gave me a case of the gays that I could not shake. Would not shake. I really liked "Rock of the Westies" too. I wasn't giving them up without a fight.
It wasn't ever really a fight, per se. It was primarily abuse. Most of it was mental. Some of it was physical. It all hurt. Not bad enough to stop carrying the backpack. Or the lunch box inside of it. I wore it out. Eventually it was replaced by a more traditional nylon rucksack from a sporting goods store. My mom and I never talked about making a replacement. We didn't need to. And it turned out that I wasn't gay after all. Just a little odd. And stubborn.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The List Keeps Getting Longer

I have lived long enough to see them come and go: quarterbacks. Norris Weese and Craig Penrose stand out as names from a past that might be forgotten by bandwagon types. The same might be said for Brian Griese or even Frank Tripucka. More will remember Craig Morton, since he was the field general for both the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos when he was the starter, years apart, for those two teams. In my memories, Craig isn't wearing the silver helmet with star on it. He's the old guy rolling out in one of the world's worst attempts at a bootleg. When he showed up in Denver in 1977, he was thirty-four years old. Five years later, he hung up his cleats and retired without wining the Lombardi trophy.
It was his successor, John Elway, who brought that prize back to Denver. It took him several tries, but he managed it. Twice. Along the way, he engineered a barrel full of last minute comeback wins and became part of the argument that people have about who is the best quarterback of all time.  That shadow lingered over the Mile High City for years. Plenty of other men, old and young, took their shot at being the one to make everyone forget about Elway. For ten games, some people thought that guy was Tim Tebow. It wasn't.
Then came the big deal. The real deal. Peyton Manning picked the Broncos to be the team that he would use to ride off into the sunset. It was a great story, as "The Sheriff" blazed through that first year with his new team, breaking records and Colts fans' hearts, and then Denver fans' hearts again. His second year in Denver, he took his new team to the Super Bowl. And still the record books fill up with Peyton Manning's name. He broke those records with a picture of a horse on the side of his helmet.  And all the while, the clock was ticking. The clock that said, "There aren't a lot of thirty-nine year old Super Bowl quarterbacks."
This past week, Brock Osweiler added his name to that list of names. Peyton Manning got a cast for his foot. The last person I would bet against in this world when it comes to winning a football game is Peyton Manning. He has won more games than just about any other quarterback in professional football history. He might never win another. He might be done. He might become a part of the legacy of Denver Bronco quarterbacks who have not won a Super Bowl during their time in orange and blue. And while it seems like a tragedy, it is really a triumph. When I think about my own ever-expanding list of old-guy-ailments, I imagine just how much longer it would be if I had a three hundred pound man throwing me on the ground on a regular basis. I've got fourteen years on Mister Manning, that's the same difference between the ages of Brock and Peyton. I can't imagine playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos. I'm glad that Peyton did.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Opinions: Everyone has them and they all stink, or so goes part of the old saw about opinions. Now that we find ourselves within  the calendar year of our next presidential election, the opinions will be flying around like opinions do in election years. After eight years of Obama and his administration, we will now be treated with contrasting views from both sides. Hilary and Bernie need to make themselves distinct from the policies and accomplishments of the current crew in the White House. Nobody wants to be part of the same old song and dance. That's why Democrats have chosen to align themselves with the words of George W. Bush, who reminded us that "Islam is Peace."
Of course, this leaves the Republicans' door wide open to start pushing back against all this talk of understanding and forgiveness. Forrest Trump and Doctor Ben Carson have recently taken  to the airwaves to remind us that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were cheering after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Doctor Ben Carson has since backed off these claims, but that hasn't kept him from insisting that mosques, schools, supermarkets, car repair shops and "any place where radicalization is going on" should be monitored in light of terrorist threats. "I would say we use our intelligence and we monitor anything: our mosques, a church, a museum, a supermarket," he said, later adding that monitoring would come after multiple reports or indications of radical activity. "We live in a very different time right now."
It's a different time, alright. But it's one we've seen before. The times they are a'changin', but not necessarily in the clean, linear way we like to think that they do. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, and those who repeat it are most often politicians. Doctor Ben Carson, who used to be a brain surgeon before he became a politician, seems to be enamored of a time in our past when personal liberties lost out to concerns about national securities. Or is that national insecurities? Once upon a time, the United States government locked up a bunch of Japanese Americans because they shared ancestry with a country with whom we were at war. Decades later, our government felt bad about locking men, women and children up without any sort of due process, and paid each of the survivors twenty thousand dollars. That little proposition cost us more than one and a half billion dollars in reparations. That's not an opinion, by the way. That's a fact.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Full Of It

I am thankful that Glenn is alive. Like a portion of America, millions of us, but still a portion were caught up in the weeks-long uncertainty of the fate of a television character. Over these past few weeks, bombs have exploded and people have been shot. Elections have been held. All of this in real life. And yet somehow, I remained fixated on the outcome of a TV show. I am thankful for that.
How could this be? Shouldn't I be embarrassed by the way my attention was diverted from current events by popular culture. A basic cable television show somehow managed to become my focus for November. My son is finishing up his first quarter in college. He bought and installed his own brake rotors. It is an exciting time to be a parent, and yet I got sidetracked by TV. I'm thankful for that.
Why? Because my life is good. I can allow Glenn to become my focus for days at a time because I am not currently consumed by any other grief or anxiety. Not that I don't have them. I worry about plenty of things, but I don't let it get in the way of my weekly show. For example, I am not currently afraid of going out on the street and being chased by zombies. Nor am I waiting anxiously at home for my loved ones to return home from wherever they have been chased by zombies. My life, in actuality, is pretty solidly zombie free. I am thankful  for that.
The world may be zombie-less, but there are still plenty of reasons to be filled with terror. Chief among them would be terrorists. I am not immune from the fear of all things affecting our planet, but my neighborhood is currently as free from terrorists as it is from the walking dead. I am thankful for that. My wife and son are nearby in this zone of safety, as is my extended family in the far off land of Colorado. Also currently a zombie free zone. I am very thankful for that.
Up the road from me here in Oakland are signs that remind me that Berkeley is a Nuclear Free Zone. I am thankful for that, even if they didn't bother to put up a sign about zombies. Most of the bay area is pretty solidly against harboring terrorists and the like, so my thanks-cup  is running over. And Glenn is still  alive. For  now. I am thankful that I will get to hang around another few weeks to see if this trend continues. I will be eating turkey and pie today. Not brains. Thankful, thankful, thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Texas Means Friendship - Really

Ah, Texas. There is so much about you to love: your fierce independence, your colorful characters, your chainsaws. You've got barbecue to spare, and don't forget the Alamo. You're so very big and loud, it's hard to ignore you. How could we? Why would we? With two Bushes and a Johnson, you guys have pretty much ruled the White House over the past fifty years. We've all learned our lesson: Don't mess with Texas.
Unless the Texans in question turn out to be real dullards. Take for example the Texas education officials who declined the help of university academics to fact check their students' textbooks. You might remember a recent dust-up with a Houston area mother who found the discussion of African "workers" in the nineteenth century south worthy of correction. That didn't keep the school board from turning down help from outside getting things right. "I know people are concerned about pointy-headed liberals in the ivory tower making our process different or worse," said board member Thomas Ratliff, who sponsored the bill, before the vote. "But I hold our institutions of higher education in fairly high regard." That didn't keep the measure from failing in an eight to seven vote. Don't mess with Textbooks, neither.
Which brings us to another thing that really matters in the Lone Star State: guns. Part of that whole independence thing, and probably some of that barbecue thing, has to do with that right to bear arms. They like to take their guns out to their local barbecue or taco stand to show that they can. Open carry doesn't mean they can walk around swigging from their longnecks, it means they want to show off their right to bear arms in the only way they know how: by wandering about their towns with all manner of firearms strapped to themselves, illustrating just how serious they are about bearing arms. It has made a number of different fast food chains have to put in writing their policies about weapons inside their franchises. Now it seems that the civic minded denizens or Irving, Texas are doing one better by taking their gun show to their local mosque. Aside from showing off their firepower, the assembled crowd let their Muslim neighbors know they would not stand for "The Islmization of America." Organizer David Wright, who cited the Paris attacks and rumors of Syrian refugees coming to Texas as reasons for the protest, said he had brought his twelve-gauge shotgun because "We do want to show force," according to the Dallas Morning News. "It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves," he said.
Ridiculous? Well, hey pardner, everything's bigger in Texas.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tyler Durden

I was listening to Alice Cooper's "Under My Wheels" the other day, and it got me thinking "What kind of guy is this?" At the very least, the song is alluding to a hookup somewhere just outside the bounds of monogamy. The narrator is trying to get away from his old lady to take this new paramour to "the show." Nothing truly awful there. It's the kind of thing that rock and roll, and its cousin country, has been about forever, but it's the positioning of the characters that makes it a little strange. Under my wheels? Is this suggesting that the solution to the dating dilemma proposed by Alice is that one or both of the women in his life be run over with the car that he is driving? Oh that Alice.
But those of us in the know understand that there really isn't an Alice at all. There was this guy, Vincent Furnier, who fronted one of the first shock-rock band. The name of the band was Alice Cooper. As the group gained in popularity, the focus fell, as it often does, on the lead singer. Months on the road and attempts to establish their brand with a frightened public eventually led to Vincent adopting the name of the band to avoid confusion. Or creating even more.
Vincent wasn't necessarily the kind of guy who would run down his nagging girlfriend. But Alice was. So much so that Vincent eventually disappeared, and Alice Cooper stopped being a band and became this scary persona haunting our nightmares and his own. Art and artifice became inexorably intertwined. Vincent Furnier didn't go to rehab. Alice did.
Many years later, comedian Stephen Colbert experienced a similar disjoint as the character he was portraying on his nightly report became confused with the guy doing the bit. So much so that the neo-con character got invited to speak at the annual Correspondent's Dinner during the second Bush regime. The shock and awe on the dais was palpable. Apparently, they thought they had one of their own up there, sharing the warmth. It was cold. Very cold.
Which left me thinking about myself. When I first started teaching, I thought of "Mister Caven" as a character I was playing. I wasn't the kind of guy who would take away a kid's Legos. But Mister Caven would. I couldn't imagine speaking harshly to a child. But Mister Caven does. There are plenty of things that I would never do that Mister Caven does all the time. The other day when I came home, I noticed I had Legos in my pocket. When did that happen?