21 October 2016

Epic Journey of the False Dichotomy

Take my hand, I'll take your hand baby

Together we might get away
This much madness is too much sorrow
It's impossible to make it today
- From Down by the River by Neil Young

And I was awake and outraged and wanted to go back and never ever not anytime no how way have to deal with another day. Full stop. Sleep now and maybe forever. This was too much s-h-i-t and I was not having it and there on the floor was the whole reason. Okay maybe not whole but an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Black scotch accompanied by an empty bottle of  pills of what kind I do not remember was more than enough stuff tough clue blue not new for me or you. And there was a roach clip two feet from face and I was on the floor and the record player had Hendrix on or no wait that was the inside of my head or both or neither. Maybe Hendrix was here with me but he’d just died and I’d cried and oh my’ed my way to the funereal circumstances and there had been a riot yesterday and tear gas and cops and billy clubs and Jimmy’d gotten busted and Ellen was where the hell and was someone in bed or any other bed in the house I at least knew that it was my house. Mouse. A copy of On The Road splayed on the floor and Nixon standing on my coffee table talking about bombing North Vietnam into submission. That asshole. End the war, bring the boys home stop killing babies.

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in was on somewhere. No that was definitely my head and what the fuck day or month or even year was it as if it mattered. Hubert HH can suck a tail pipe. Wanna hear Joplin go to the beach wanna teach. I’m not a student anymore maybe I’ll get up shower clean clothes the whole bit or maybe not maybe start all over again. Higher and higher and higher. Listen to the doors. Shit, Joplin and Morrison dead too. Bullshit to death which I suppose repose toes is waiting for me and my crumpled ass. Dash. ////////

*? Who am I again. Curtis Norton Perrimen, just please don’t call me Curt, nobody does. I’m a…well know, what the hell am I? Writer? Fighter? I had a wild night last night in the night outta sight. We were — my friends and I — at the protests against the war. That I remember. So I turn the TV on and sit in a chair and wait, wait for my brain to settle into the day. Get the hang of consciousness which I have had little experience with and lookie there on the TV it’s old Sam Ervin questioning a witness because its the televised Watergate hearings and and AND and that fucking means that the protest where I got tear gassed was not yesterday but three years ago. Oh my my my oh me. Did I time travel? Lesse I know of this Watergate and the election of ’72 so I guess I live now oh/// Shitsky whiskey.

So why — tell me why — am I in this cab? Going where? With a nice looking woman who is talking non stop and I look in the corner of my living room and was that my brain over there and is it melting? Not in the cab. At home. Nixon is doing this to me and there he is on TV assuring us all that he is not a crook. I have on a corduroy jacket and nothing else. Not a stitch. The dog is talking to me with a Canadian accent. Conclusion: must do less drugs.

At my desk full clothed and just waking up. Sober but hungover. Down from drugs but groggy. Awake. It is 19….70? 73? 78? I stand up and walk into the kitchen and check out the calendar that I got from the bank. Thank youuuuuuuuuuu bank.  If the calendar is right this is October 1973. Back to the desk. Sit down. Go through drawers and wallet. Apparently I’m a newspaper reporter and I live in Berkeley and I’m 26 years old and it looks like I have a girlfriend and there she is walking towards me. No she’s not. Yes, she is indeed walking toward me. She emerged from a room which I’m going to guess in the bedroom. Wait, I think I know her name…..Rachael Bradley. “God Curtis when the fuck are you going to get it together?” Ya know she doesn’t seem very friendly, maybe she’s just pissed at me.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Now I’m just staring at her. Oh fuck say something Curtis you bum, you idiot, you malcontent, you derelict, you ape fucker. “Rachael. Hi. I’m fine.”

“No, no you’re not fine, Curtis, you’re totally fucked up. You barely know who I am and what day it is.”

Jesus Christ, how did she know all that? Is she in my fucking brain? Woe. “Breakfast!” I pronounced. Rachael frowned. Stared at me disapprovingly and shook her head. “Yeah sure, I’ll scramble some goddamned eggs. Maybe a meal will get you set straight.”

I’m trying a smile but it feels like my face is twisted and I must look like a mentally retarded jack-o-lantern. Rachael lightly touches my shoulder as she walks by me and into the kitchen. “Toast and potatoes too?” She asks. “Yup,” I reply.

I stand. I stretch my arms. I yawn. I close my eyes. I open them and I’m seeing a tear gas canister flying over my head and I start to run like hell just as everyone around me is because the cops are charging us. My face is burning, I’m coughing and goddamned if it isn’t 1970 and who the hell is Rachael? I stop for a second to snap a picture. I think I’ve gotten a good shot of another canister in flight. I stumble across the creek that runs through the Cal campus and help someone who has fallen get back up and there’s a dog with a Canadian accent speaking this time in French and I’m back in a cab in midtown Manhattan and am convinced the military is doing mind experiments on me for some of the exposes I wrote on abuses…

Why am I falling out of tree? Why is it 1963? Why am home from school?  Because Kennedy was assassinated and gobbledygook the burned out fissures in the broken hearted Korean girl I love with the magic penny from Perlstein’s Jewelry Store on Kannis Street. But there are those eggs Rachael is making but I’ve got to pee first and in the bathroom I look in the mirror and damned if I don’t see my own reflection looking a little care worn but a handsome enough bugger if I do say so my ****asterisk*** and wait’ll dad gets home and takes off his belt and gives me what for for what for I don’t know. Crow. Go.
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.

Why was in a cab I Manhattan with mid woman town talking and the the the the the the noises off. Nope. That's not it. I sit.  Talking dogs indeed.

Dad came home and cried because the president had been killed so no belt to my ass today I guess and there was my mother looking perplexed and there was another tear gas canister and Sam Ervin and John Dean and Alexander Butterfield -- Erlichman/Haldeman -- liars liars pants on fire and Nixon on a telephone wire. Great theater. Napalm. Screw Kissinger and those drugs oh my oh my I gotta someday try to cry.

“Hey Rachael!” I holler but she’s not around just people running from the tear gas and cops in pursuit and the dog speaking Canadian — what-ever-that-means. Plus I’m in cab now I mean again in Manhattan and the driver is Pakistani.

Breakfast. Rachael sips her coffee and looks at me and I feel pretty good.

17 October 2016

My Time at Willard Middle School Recalled on the Occasion of its 100th Birthday

Willlard's 1917 Graduating Class.

Yesterday I attended the 100th anniversary celebration for Willard Middle School in Berkeley where I labored happily for over two decades. At the event I was interviewed for an oral history project and the last question was about what moment I’ll never forget from my time at the school. Moment. One. There are hundreds, maybe thousands. But most of them cannot be seen in isolation as a single event. I mentioned, for example, my long friendship with a co-worker, an extraordinary person who was technically a school safety officer but in reality was so much more to the students and staff of the school. He was born Richard Brown but was always known as Grizz and he officially became Saad Muhammad after becoming a Muslim. I have yet to recover from his premature death in 2002. I worked with many extraordinary people at Willard, Grizz just happens to top the list.

I mentioned coaching three championship soccer teams two of which went unbeaten (one was also untied) but I could have included every team I coached and all the softball teams I coached as well. They were all special.  "Play hard, have fun," was my motto. I still miss coaching and the opportunity to build a team with common goals that worked as a single unit.

I mentioned memorable students like Andy Samberg who I would never have forgotten even if he hadn’t go on to have his own TV show and to appear in films. I could have mentioned dozens, many dozens, of other students like Sofia who I always remember whenever I watch the Simpsons and see Lisa Simpson. Sofia as a young teen was just like Lisa: smarter than adults, more knowledgable, involved in everything and yet possessed of a seemingly innate understanding of everything in pop culture. There were other classroom stars, at least one who is now a lawyer, two doctors, a professor, two engineers and I'm just getting started with the ones I know of.

There were a lot of other students who were not shining stars in the classroom. A lot of them who struggled and came from difficult home lives. But they showed up at school and despite not being intellectually blessed, worked their asses off and got passing grades and did even better in high school and beyond. Teachers love the kids who struggle but persevere. There were also students who I remember for their problems with behavioral issues. These kids were often royal pains in the ass and some of them remained so and never changed and today are in prison, dead or heading toward one of these fates. But a lot of them were just being 13 year olds and couldn’t sit still or shut up or follow directions or they were constitutionally defiant, rude and mischievous. But many of those young men and women grew up fast in high school and it was (and still is) always a delight to see them as mature young people succeeding in life.

There were funny moments, scary moments, moments that pushed every possible button, countless frustrating moments and challenging moments and aha moments when someone or several people or even a whole class finally understood. It was the agony and ecstasy and thankfully there was a lot more of the latter.

There were moments of inspiration and desperation, calculation and stupefaction. There were insights and fist fights. There was never ever boredom (outside, of course, some of our staff or department meetings). There were colleagues. Many of whom were great educators who served as daily reminders to others such as myself to show up everyday and give the students the 100% effort they deserved. Colleagues shared and lent a helping hand and offered a shoulder to cry on and cajoled and argued and contradicted and laughed like hell. God we had a lot of laughs. They were needed. Teaching middle school kids -- pressures from parents and administrators notwithstanding -- could be, and usually was, mentally and emotionally taxing. Fortunately the staff at Willard knew how to party and they knew how to keep one another loose and they sure as hell knew how to have a good chuckle. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood. I can only guess how many fellow teachers I worked with (over 100) and there’s only one — thus less than one percent — who I think ill of (and brother, she deserves it).

The support staff was part of the family and was never looked on as anything other than our equals. Never mind their possible lack of education or the menial nature of their duties. They were fellow travelers. Administrators were another matter. They were vested with a lot of power and a few used it badly (one in particular) but no one ever doubted that their intentions were good.

I was always enormously proud to be part of the Willard staff. As today I’m proud to have served the school. I went through some rocky times for much of my tenure. I was coping with the ongoing and rare condition of acute panic disorder with consequent anxiety and occasional depression and worst of all with the side effects from various medications that were tried. The side effects of caused all manner of problems including some bad moments, a few of which make me wince to this day. I never used my condition as excuse. Nor in fact ever mentioned. It was a difficult enough situation for me to understand without sharing it with co-workers.  By my last two years the proper meds, sans side effects, were finally keeping me stable but that’s precisely when my beloved and seemingly indestructible father began to die followed immediately by my mother-in-law's passing.

I put everything I had into teaching because anything less would be a disservice to the students and my colleagues. But it came time for me to go in late Summer 2008. When I finally resigned it was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. The relief was one of the greatest feelings of my life and the eight years since have been the happiest of my life. As much as I loved working at Willard it had begin eating away at me. I needed to leave.  I have a new teaching career now in the relatively tame world of ESL where I get to teach students from all over the world. After 20 years of middle school, teaching intelligent, motivated and unfailingly polite young adults is a breeze and I like a good breeze.

I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like at Willard if…but it was like that and yet I contributed to making Willard the special school it was and am happy for my time there and the richness and meaning it has contributed to my life. Leaving there earlier than I'd planned was far outweighed by having been there in the first place.

Seeing colleagues from my days at Willard yesterday warmed my heart. It brought back many moments. More than that it brought back our shared experiences and the joy and dedication we gave to our school and its students. I was part of that. I was a public school teacher. I helped make a difference. I worked at an extraordinary school. That’s a goddamned good feeling, let me tell ya.

16 October 2016

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Photo by author.

For the past 15 months I’ve been taking a commuter bus from Berkeley into San Francisco. I walk the four minutes from my house and invariably see a sullen young African American woman with a coffee in her hand. I’ve discerned from overheard conversations that she is a teacher. One day last year an older white woman stopped and talked to her. It was evident that the two hadn’t seen one another in awhile and they had some sort of past relationship, perhaps as co-workers. Initially the younger woman seemed pleased to chat with this woman. But as she stopped there everyday on her way to where she caught a ride share van, it became increasingly obvious that the young woman had less and less to say and their “conversations” were becoming increasingly awkward. They’d often stand in silence. I got the impression that the older woman was lonely, lives alone and is a bit of an eccentric.

Sometimes there’s another young woman waiting for the bus. She’s short and blonde and looks like she could be Paul Dano’s sister. Usually a young lean man emerges from a nearby apartment just before the bus pulls up. Every now and again someone else gets on with us.

Almost without exception I pass the unabomber as I board the bus. There’s the gent in maybe his forties who, until recently, had a beard and who always has the hood of his sweatshirt pulled down. He’s hunched in his seat. Until shaving he looked like a mad genius who had sabotage on his mind. The beardless face, however, makes him look fairly tame.

The commuter bus has two rows of two seats stretching to the back where there are about seven seats. My stop is the second one so I always get a window seat. This is a mixed blessing. The question is always going to be who will sit next to me. Getting on a few stops later would allow one to shop around a bit. Of course if you get on later your choices are limited and you may even have to stand. By the rules of bus riding you don't sit next to a stranger if there's a window seat open.

Sometimes no one sits next to me, which is of course just dandy. I’ve noted before on this blog that men sit down differently than women. Most women veritably glide into the seat, cozying in as soft as you please. Men drop themselves as if from a great height and more than once I’ve been startled by the aftershocks of a man flying into the seat, often grazing me in the process. Most say excuse me or sorry. Needless to say I prefer a woman sitting next to me. If she is young and pretty, all the better. It’s not that I look at her, other than when she sits and when we leave, but the notion that an attractive female is sitting next to me is nice. I’ve had one young Asian-American woman sit next to me a few times and she always smiles and says good morning as she sits down. No one else ever does that. She’s always welcome. There’s one very large woman who gets on the bus and she always has a large  purse and a couple of bags. I always feel claustrophobic when her or any other rotund commuter sits next to me.

I have an arch enemy who’s often on the bus although I’ve been spared his presence this past week. He’s a large effeminate man who is always the first to board at his stop. He invariably has a New York Times in one hand and a large plastic Starbucks cup in the other. He’s only a danger if a certain short squat woman of his acquaintance sits next to him. Because if she does he talks, and talks and then talks some more. Fair enough there’s no rule about keeping mum on the bus, others chat too Indeed this fellow has a rather pleasant voice, rich and sonorous. The irritation stems from his speaking so loudly and so incessantly. I recall once when he and his listening board sat directly behind me. He asked the woman about her recent trip. She muttered for a few seconds and that was the last of it from her. He quickly cut her off and didn’t stop talking until we arrived at the bus terminal. I almost never need to plug in the ear phones on the morning bus, unless the mouth that roars is in my vicinity, in which I get the iPod out immediately.

Of course the second I take my sit I reach into my backpack and pull out a book and commence reading. I don’t stop until the bus arrives at the station. I do however pause at times because in going over the Bay Bridge one is afforded a number of striking views. Just the bay itself can be mesmerizing, but as one gets to the SF side of the bridge there is the skyline of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and sometimes several boats or even a ship to gaze upon.

There are at least a dozen people who I recognize as regulars on the bus ride. Most are about as nondescript to me as I must be to the them. The ones I notice I tend to do so either because they regularly sit near me, are attractive, or board when I do. There’s a young gay man who has sat next to me several times. He’s small so I never mind his presence. After getting off the bus we walk in the same direction and he usually is in front of me which is odd because I am a notoriously fast walker, this guy has a motor in his engine. And it shows. I have never seen a man’s ass sway back and forth like his does (not that I do a lot of looking). It is a fact of nature that many a woman has a rear end that bounces as they walk. Men tend to like this. I’ve speculated that it is a natural occurrence in nature which is meant to attract men to women. Anyway this chap’s rear end swaying is far more pronounced than any I’ve seen in a female. Ever. It’s damned unnatural is what. I would imagine that other gay men might find it attractive. Then again they might also find it a little too much.

There’s a young African American man who rides the bus who also walks a short way in my direction. He’s a handsome man, always wearing a nice suit. Except. The pant legs are far too long. Indeed the pants are too big. They don’t fit snugly. Worse, the cuffs of his pants are frayed surely from constant contact with the heels of his shoes. He must be single because a significant other would have pointed out the problem by now. You’d think someone at work would have a word with him.

From my bus ride in I used to walk to Market street and catch the F trolley. I finally figured out a better bet was a nine minute walk to catch the 30 at Howard a few blocks below Market. Unlike the F with the 30 you never risk an unreasonable wait and where I board there’s always a seat. Plus it drops me a half block from work. Of course nothing is perfect. The 30 can be damned crowded usually with a combination of elderly Chinese people (we pass through Chinatown) and high school students going to Galileo High, most of them are of Chinese extraction to. Even when you’ve got a seat a crowded bus is a bit uncomfortable and sometimes getting off the bus can only be accomplished with a machete.

I love my work. The people I teach and the people I work with are a delight. The commute though, that can be a trip (pun fully intended).

12 October 2016

Kyra Talks to God

When one door closes God opens a window. That’s what at least three people told Kyra when she lost her waitressing job at McGurdy's. Lost, hell, I was fucking fired, she thought. It had been a good job too at a high end restaurant that catered to big spenders. Thus the tips were generous and Kyra was making enough money — along with her student loans — to carry a full load at NYU. Now what?

She was 23 and solely dependent on herself. Mom had died when she was 13 and her father was in prison for money laundering, his career in accounting replaced by a stretch in Attica. Yeah he’d graduated to the big time when he smacked a guard with a pipe. Kyra’s dad had always been a gentle, if large and imposing, man. But after cooking the books for mobsters and getting heavily into cocaine — crack no less — it had all gone down hill. He was nothing to Kyra anymore.

One door was closed because she had supposedly gotten “mouthy” with a customer, a regular at that, Mrs. Clovis. It was some old bat who’d had too many cocktails before even arriving at the restaurant and had gone from insulting her dinner companions to making wise cracks about Kyra’s body. “You look like  a regular slut, dear, with boobs like that and a come-fuck-me figure. And that face, no you don’t have trouble drawing the boys, cute ones I bet too.” Everyone else at the table was in their cups so let the old battle-axe have at Kyra. She stood it as long as she could in stoic silence, but when Mrs. Clovis grabbed Kyra’s breast and said “lemme just see if these headlights are real,” Kyra’d had enough.

“You awful bitch, keep your disgusting hands off me,” she’d said. Not even very loud. But the old witch had heard it and that was enough. Mrs. Clovis had pull and she used with the head waiter  kicking up a fuss about how she’d take her business elsewhere if “this little tootsie” wasn’t fired. Kyra was shocked when management took the old boozehound’s side.

Now what?

Could anyone guarantee a window would open? Money was tight as it was what with having her own studio apartment in Manhattan. If Kyra couldn’t find a job quickly she’d likely be looking for a new apartment soon, one she’d likely have to share. The prospects were dim. Just a few weeks before Kyra thought that she wouldn’t need her apartment because she’d be moving in with her boyfriend, Lance. That fucker. “My old girl friend has moved back to New York and we’ve started seeing each other and long story short we’re getting back together.” He said it all so matter of factly too like it was no big deal just one of those things. Like the past six months were no biggie. What an a-hole. “Better to find out before you’d gotten too involved,” friends said. Well guess what, they'd been pretty goddamned involved.

This is not the shit I should be worried about right now, Kyra thought as she rode the subway home. Forgetting men for awhile was a must, she'd  have to concentrate on finding another job. Though she couldn’t imagine it would pay as well as McGurdy’s. That job had been a lucky break because her friend Greta had worked there and had clued Kyra in just before she left. She had also sold the owner on Kyra.

Friends like Greta she had. Money was gonna start running out and soon. It had been over two weeks since she got canned and the only types of jobs she’d had a chance at were shit minimum wage jobs at fast food places. Kyra had no skills to speak of. The only work she’d done besides waitressing was as a Summer camp counselor. She’d hardly even done any babysitting. Her current studies at NYU in Interdisciplinary Theater Arts were not going to be of much help until she graduated. If then.

Emerging from the subway station Kyra did her usual subtle look around. It was after dark and she’d been in New York long enough to know that you had to always be aware of your surroundings but that you should never appear to be lost, scared or confused. The nights were getting colder, Kyra thought, it would sure help to get a fucking job before it got really cold.

Kyra’s apartment was very small — cozy is the way she thought of it — but it had everything she needed, all the fixtures were modern and it never got too hot or too cold. She sat at the edge of her bed and removed her shoes. Kyra'd just gotten them off when a loud voice boomed: “Kyra!” In response a frightened Kyra sprang to her feet and tried to figure out where the voice came from. She'd never heard her neighbors before (another plus for the apartment) and anyway the voice soured like it was in the room. The voice repeated her name but in a much softer voice.

“Who is this? Where are you?” Kyra was far more scared than curious.

“It’s God, Kyra. Do you want to talk?”

What the hell is going on, she wondered. Kyra looked in her bathroom, the kitchen and then back into her small living room/bedroom. She checked her closet. She opened the front door. Nothing.

“Who is this? Where are you?”

“God and I’m everywhere.”

I must be dreaming, she thought.

“No, you’re not dreaming,” the voice said.

Kyra fainted.

Five minutes later she came to and slumped in a chair wondering if it had all been a dream or if she was going insane.

“You’re fine, Kyra. Now let’s talk.”

“Okay, seriously now, who are you and what do you want?”

“I told you, this is God talking, I’d like to see if I can help. I do this from time to time.”

Gradually Kyra was accepting the fact that God really was talking to her. “Why me? I’m an atheist.”

“I don’t suspect you will be anymore,” the voice said with a soft chuckle.

“Why…me?” Kyra asked meekly.

“Why not you!” the voice boomed.

“Is there something so special about me?”

“There is something special about all my creations.”

“I’ve gotta be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this.” Later Kyra would be struck by how quickly and unquestioningly she'd accepted that she was talking to the almighty.

“Well I should you think you’d be glad to talk to your creator.”

“I still don’t get why you’re not talking to a pious person, a believer.”

“Oh those people I tend to talk to through mental telepathy. For someone such as yourself I kind of need to show up.”

“Uh cool, I guess. I was like picked at random?”

“There is no random, Kyra, except in the sense that all is random.”

“Oh don’t get all metaphysical on me. And hey, why can’t I see you?”

“See me? See God? Sorry but that’s for the after life only. I can take a form if it’s really important to you.”

“Yeah cause talking to a disembodied voice is a little weird.”

Instantaneously there was a rabbit on Kyra’s floor.

“Seriously? A rabbit?”

The voice coming from the rabbit said, “what’s wrong with a rabbit?”

“Come on, to symbolize the all mighty? A rabbit?”

“Would a dog or a lion or whale really be any better? Is this worth quibbling over?”

“Point taken. Okay so what are we supposed to talk about”

“Well isn’t it rather obvious? You’re in a bit of a jam what with losing your job, through no fault of your own, I might add.”

“Hey first I gotta ask you, is all that stuff in the bible true?”

“The bible? That’s about 90% fiction. I can’t believe people take that seriously. And in my name, no less. Really chaps my hide.”

“Not even the Jesus stuff?”

“That’s about all that has any fact in it, but even there there’s a lot of exaggeration. Water into wine, as if. But let’s get back to the matter at hand.”

“Which is?

“Why your current situation, of course.”

“Okay so can you just hook me up with another job?”

“I don’t really do that sort of thing.”

“Wait, what? You don’t get people jobs, or heal sick people or….”

“No, and I don’t help one team beat another in sports.”

“Then what exactly do you do?”

“First of all I created this, the whole shebang.”

“And now you just sit back and watch the shit storm you’ve created?”

“I’ve had a lot more success with what I’ve done in other universes. But humans have done some pretty good things. I’ve been particularly impressed with your medical and technological advances. Some of the arts are really magnificent. Then again a lot of what passes for entertainment is pretty pathetic.”

“So you don’t have any effect on what happens here?”

“In a sense no.”

“Is that because you already know what’s going to happen?”

“No, there’s no such thing as predestination. You determine your own fates.”

“All right if you’re not going to do anything for me, why are you here?”

“To listen. Maybe give a little feedback.”

“Let me see if I understand correctly. I’m supposed to tell you what’s going on with me even though you already know and then you might give me some feedback. Excuse me if I’m not overwhelmed.”

“Maybe if I wasn’t in the form of a rabbit.”

“Can you take a human form?”

“No problem.”

And with that God as a rabbit transformed instantly into God the human. Specifically a professionally dressed woman who looked to be in her mid 30s. She had classic figure, high cheek bones and beautiful brown eyes. God as a woman was about 5’6” and wore only a hint of make up.

“You’re a woman!”

“I thought this would make you more comfortable,” God replied in a voice that befitted “her” appearance.

“Generally speaking what gender are you?”

“All of them. And trust me there are a lot, much more than the two main ones you mostly ascribe to on this planet.”

“All right, well this is weird. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“Just talk about your situation. Lay out what’s happened, what your options are and how you’re feeling.”

“And you’ll….”

“I’ll see if I can help you come to some understanding maybe even some decisions about how you can better respond to your circumstance.”

"And why exactly are you doing this? Not that I'm ungrateful."

"Kyra, dear, I've gotten nothing but time on my hands, very now and again I like to interact with one of my creations."

So Kyra talked and talked and talked. She didn’t just relate the past few weeks but much of her life, particularly regarding her parents and her now defunct relationship with Lance. At times she cried, but quickly composed herself and continued. God listened intently occasionally offering observations and asking questions to illicit more information or help steer Kyra in certain directions.

After five hours Kyra stopped talking. She felt there was nothing more to say and she was emotionally spent. God pressed the young woman with one last question. “So Kyra, what are you going to do? Have you decided anything?”

“I’m going into therapy, I’ve got a lot to work out. And I’m not going to get discouraged by this job search. I’ll get something good soon and if — God forbid, I mean, you forbid — I don’t,  I’ll just suck it up and find a cheaper place. Mostly I’m going to stop worrying and just do it.”

“Good,” said God with a smile. “I should leave you to get ready for bed, it’s late.”

“Am I forbidden from telling anyone about your visit?”

“No, no, feel free just remember how people are going to regard you if you say you talked to God who took the form of a rabbit and then a woman.”

“I see your point.”

“Some people talk about my visits. But the kind of folks I tend to like to talk to aren't believed because they're not in a religious crowd.”

“I really got a lot out of this. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” God said. And vanished.

Four days later Kyra got a call from the restaurant that had fired her. It seems that Mrs. Clovis had gone into AA and as one of its steps she had been making amends including going to the restaurant and telling the owner about how rude she’d been to the young waitress and asking if she could be given her job back. Kyra went back to work the next day. She couldn't decide if God had played a role in either Mrs. Clovis' getting sober or a position being open at McGurdy's,

Kyra went into therapy and found it was pretty much like talking to God, only for shorter periods of time. Life suddenly felt manageable and even fun. Kyra neither began praying or going to church but she did get in the habit of sometimes looking up at the sky and mouthing the words, “thank you.”

As for the future Kyra hoped that she could someday live out in the country so that she could have a rabbit.

04 October 2016

I Offer Still More Advice to Teachers Here in Part 3

This is the third part of  my "advice for teachers" series. I hadn't planned a second let alone a third so who knows, there may yet be a fourth. Here is a link to part one. And here is a link to part two. I hope they help.

Keep them in the room. Some teachers I’ve worked with will not let tardy students or ones who’ve not done their homework enter the classroom until they have written sentences or completed the assignment. This is antithetical to what classroom teaching is all about. Classroom time is precious. If a student has missed ten minutes of instruction, the last thing you want to do is make them miss more. If a student has failed to do an out of class assignment they can make it up outside of class and if they don’t their punishment is twofold: one, they get a lower grade; two, they forfeited a learning opportunity. But in keeping students out of your classroom you are diminishing the importance of your lesson. What you are offering in the classroom is irreplaceable. A student should only be removed from their room if they are disruptive to the learning environment or physically ill (especially if they’re contagious).

Tell them why. Teachers often fashion innovative lessons that challenge and inform students. These lessons employ various modalities reaching a variety of learners. They’re great lessons. But. Often students don’t understand the point of the lesson. They will wonder at the purpose of a particular lesson but are reticent to ask. Go ahead and tell them. In fact, sell them on the idea. If you can’t explain the value of an assignment it’s likely because it has none. But if it is “good for them” tell students how. They will more eagerly plunge into it. Also, students who are mystified as to the importance of a lesson are more likely to complain directly to your supervisor. Justify the assignment to yourself, then to them. Nothing should be done just because it’s fun.

Easy on the handouts. Don’t drown students in paper. For one thing its bad for the environment and for another it can be a lazy way to teach. It’s easy to pile on the worksheets and the reading to give yourself a break. It shouldn’t be a break, or at least not too much of one. Circulate while they’re working to see how students are doing and make yourself available for questions. My teaching philosophy is — whenever possible — offer a variety of teaching methods within one class. I like to — again, when possible — give students a mix of interactive, writing, listening, reading etc. Students don’t mind an occasional handout, many even like them, but most students get bored with a torrent of them. Also it helps to explain the benefits of a particular handout.

Video is okay — in moderation. I have heard too many aging educators (usually ones who are no longer teaching) complain about the use of videos. Several say that “students can watch TV at home.” Yes, well for that matter they can read and write at home too. However if you are showing them part of a movie or TV show or any other type of video presumably it is something that they would not choose to watch at home and even if they did they would be doing so without the benefit of your introducing the relevance of it and clarifying and explaining and giving assignments around it. But by not using video at all you are eliminating an important instructional tool. Of course many teachers have overused video. It’s like some parents do with their children, they plunk them down in front of the boob tube so that they don’t have to deal with them for awhile. Don’t do this as a teacher. There’s has got to be a demonstrable value to whatever you are showing. Use video as needed and be sure that they understand the educational purpose of it (also you can have assignments attached to the showing thus making it self evident).

Rewards & Punishment should be used sparingly if at all. What rewards should students get? Isn’t learning something reward enough? If not isn’t a good grade a nice reward? If they need any thing beyond that I have to assume you’re teaching 2-8 year olds. No one any older should require a reward to do something that benefits them. That being said, rewards are proven to be better in motivating students than punishments, at least among those under 18. Punishments are a necessary evil among the younger set. You have to maintain class discipline and rules need to be followed strictly. Punishments should be sparing and, as has also been established, not draconian. As with the criminal justice system (admittedly a flawed model) first time offenders should be treated lightly and repeat offenders should suffer the full extent of the law, so to speak. Also in most cases punishment can be accompanied by something even more important, counseling. Explain why their being late is bad and explore how they can avoid future instances of tardiness. Explain why their talking out of turn is disruptive and explore ways to avoid it. Be strict but show a human side. And for crying out loud don’t get impressed with how “tough” you are. If you want to feel good about yourself, let that self satisfaction derive from your ability to instruct and inspire, not because of you lay down the law.

Check for understanding. Students don’t always tell you when they don’t understand it, especially if they think “everyone else” does. It may only be two or three students who are confused but that’s two or three too many. Circulate, ask questions, check in and do so especially with students who have had trouble in the past. It’s not enough to just ask for questions, you’ve got to be proactive in making sure students are “getting it.”

Better to over explain than under explain. The biggest problems I’ve had with lessons has resulted from a failure to adequately explain them. Students are confused and often so confused that they don’t even know what questions to ask. To avoid this, make sure that your assignment can be fairly easily explained. If not, it may be too complex. Then prepare your explanation. You know what you want them to do but don’t assume they’ll understand. In many cases you can provide both verbal and written instructions and the latter can be projected via an overhead to save paper.  I’ve had students complain that they already get it and I needn’t go on. That’s a good sign. Way better to give too much than to little.

Show your school some respect. But feel free to complain about higher ups. Don’t undermine your school by bitching to students about it, especially not about staff or other teachers. Students want to feel good about their school and they won’t if you kvetch about it. On the other hand if you want to vent about higher ups, those faceless, nameless people, governments, corporations, bureaucrats who never set foot on campus but are forever making ridiculous decisions to the detriment of the school, have at it. Don’t make it a regular thing because that would get tedious. You’re not directly referencing the school or its employees and instead are directing your ire towards people or institutions that are off site. That’s cool. Students can get an “we’re all in this together" feeling if you assail injustices.

Test results sometimes reflect you. If I give a test and a few students fail while most do well, I have to assume those few students did not study or did not understand. I’ll work with them. But if a lot of students have trouble with a test, it’s on me. Clearly I either made it too difficult or did not prepare them well enough. I’ve heard teachers rail about how dim their students are. That kind of attitude will get you nowhere as a teacher and is a disservice to students. Also if there’s a particular part of the test that a lot of students struggled with be sure to review that and keep it in mind the next time you give that test.

Routine is good but so is the new and unexpected. Students are comforted by having certain routines in class. You start every class with a a particularly warm up or activity, you always do something at the end of class or every Wednesday you do this or every Friday you do that. I have a number of routines that I practice in every single class and students come to expect and enjoy them. It feels good, it feels stable. But you’ve also got to occasionally do something radically different. Students get bored with the same old thing every class ,so shake it up. Within all that routine having a surprise is welcomed. Balance in everything is key.

Don’t just dismiss class. Wish them a great rest of the day or a fun weekend or a nice night. Make it sound sincere because it should be sincere. Start and end classes with positive energy. You want students to feel good when they enter class and when they leave it. In between is nice too.

27 September 2016

Chester Angleworm's Inspiring Stories Series Coming to an End

Chester Angleworm today
Chester Angleworm’s popular series of children’s books is finally coming to an end. The beloved author announced his retirement last week at the ripe old age of 98. Angleworm was born in 1918 in Billings, Montana. After a successful career as a door-to-door salesmen he landed a job on the Flathead Lake News & Review as a reporter. Eventually Mr. Angleworm got his own column which delighted readers with stories both real and imagined about Northern Montana. However World War II intervened as Chester enlisted the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Much to his dismay Chester served the entire war issuing supplies in Fort Dix. Mr. Angleworm has explained that his total ineptitude with a gun is probably what led to this assignment.

After the war Angleworm emptied his savings and traveled throughout Europe and later South America. It was these experiences that Chester credits for expanding his world view and becoming a champion of the underdog. In 1950 he married his childhood sweetheart, Eunice Biloxi with whom he ultimately had six children and later 20 grandchildren. Throughout the 1950s The Angleworms lived in Long Island. Chester worked dutifully as a shipping clerk but with his spare time he looked for inspiring stories of people who defied the odds, persevered and succeeded. He also submitted short fiction and a fishing column to local newspapers and magazines and was hired in 1961 to be a full time columnist for the Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York. This job, which he held until retirement in 1998, afforded Chester with the time to further research and write his series of "Inspiring Stories of People Who Overcame Great Hardships." The first, "Tina the Morbidly Obese Acrobat" was published in December 1964 in the Buffalo News to wide acclaim. The story was picked up by the Saturday Evening Post which ran all subsequent stories in the Inspiring Stories series.

Twice Random House has published a set of the stories in book form and a third publication is due out next Spring. They are timeless classics beloved by children and adults alike of all tastes, backgrounds and religions. Now that he is retiring from the series, Chester hopes to devote more time to fishing, playing with his grandchildren and working on his bottle cap collection. Asked about his decision to retire from the series he said, "it's time for new blood, I'm hoping one of my children or grandchildren will take over the series. If not I'm sure someone else will." Mr. Angleworm's stories have won praise around the world for the heart-warming and inspirational messages. They have been translated in 52 languages. The greatest pleasure for Chester has been, in his own words, "the opportunity to meet these extraordinary people and share their stories with the world. I'm so gratified that so many people were willing to talk to me and that so many others found inspiration from their successful struggles." Below are the titles of some of the most popular of Chester's stories.

Tina the morbidly obese acrobat
Clara the syphilitic nun
Liam the narcoleptic security guard
Clyde the illiterate English teacher
Wesley the lactose intolerant dairy farmer
Gordon the schizophrenic psychiatrist
Wayne the blind air traffic controller
Candace the claustrophobic elevator operator
Troy the incontinent tour guide
Edwina the catatonic kindergarten teacher
Logan the hemophiliac blood donor
Lonnie the misanthropic career counselor
Chase the impotent male escort
Stuart the clinically depressed motivational speaker
Sandra the deaf mute singing instructor
Osgood the triple amputee juggler
Lisa the passive aggressive marriage counselor
Greg the sociopathic youth minister
Tanya the obsessive compulsive yoga instructor
Glenda the hypochondriac pathologist
Ollie the paraplegic tap dancer
Rachel the humpbacked fashion model
Kota the anorexic sumo wrestler
Percival the xenophobic immigration lawyer
Donald the morally bankrupt presidential candidate

22 September 2016

A Person Can Get Used to Most Anything, A Ghost Story

I saw Vern Applebee last night. My wife seen him two days ago at the store. Our neighbor, Phil, had seen him sometime last week at the park and the Jokelson’s at the end of the block spotted him on their camping trip. There were others too.

This is perplexing because Vern’s been dead for a month. I haven’t believed in ghosts since I was a kid, and even then I was skeptical. I don’t even believe in no after life. But I sure as shit saw Vern last night walking down Chestnut Street as happy as you please. I started to wave and say hello before I remembered I was looking at the dearly departed. Didn’t spook me as it has some people. Mrs. Jokelson confessed that she damn near had a heart attack when she saw him walking a trail opposite them out in there gall darn forest.

Actually the first person to see Vern was his wife, Lydia. It was a few weeks after his funeral. Lydia said she saw Vern walking past the library. Lydia didn’t say anything because she figured people would think she was off her nut. Her account of seeing Vern only came out when someone — I think it was Mabel Perkins but I can’t be sure — told her that other people had been seeing Vern.

None of us know what to make of it. We all know for a fact that it was Vern who was buried. The coffin had been open at the funeral service and there was no mistaking Vern’s pudgy face and the mole on his right cheek. Doctor Larsen was at the funeral and he was the one who pronounced Vern dead of pneumonia. Yup Vern was as dead as dead can be. End of story. Only it seems the story is just beginning what with all of us seeing him.

A few of got together this evening to talk about the Vern sightings and what we could do. All of us who saw Vern reported that he looked happy as a lark. He was wearing kind of a Hawaiian shirt like he’d sometimes have on at neighborhood barbecues. He also had on dark slacks and slightly scuffed Rockport shoes. When I saw Vern last night it had just turned cold for the first time this Autumn and there was a bit of a wind but Vern didn’t seem to mind. Anyway we also all saw Vern walking, not stopping for a second, and all of us saw him until he’d walked out of sight. I think it was Lake Bennett who said that when she saw Vern over by the lumberyard he was whistling. Lake often gets things wrong though. Apparently in her younger days Lake used a lot of drugs and it’s permanently effected her. That’s what I hear anyway.

Most everyone is confused by the Vern sightings and can’t make heads nor tails about what it means. Oh a few theories were tossed out like that he was trying to find the spirit world or that he was trying to tell us something, but theories is all they are and no one is certain of nothing. Everyone who’s seen Vern was well acquainted with him but then again for all we know folks who never knew Vern might be seeing ambling along and don’t realize he is no longer a living being.

Me I got to know Vern at the lake where we’d both go fishing sometimes on the weekend. We had a few common interests and he lived in the neighborhood so we were always seeing one another, especially when someone was having a barbecue or there was a block party. I liked Vern well enough, seems everyone did, but I never felt what you’d call close to him. Come to think of it no one else did, even his wife Lydia had said she never felt like she got to know Vern.


Okay so its two months since I wrote that part you just read and well things have gotten a bit stranger. Example: one night about five weeks ago, Martha (that’s my wife) and I were watching the TV. The kids were in their rooms asleep or studying or what have you when all of sudden we see Vern sitting in a chair in our living room. We was both on the sofa and there’s an easy chair next to the sofa and that’s where we saw Vern. He had on the same clothes everyone has seen him in and had this contented expression on his face and was just looking straight ahead. Seemed he was both staring at something and not looking at anything, if you get my meaning. This spooked as considerable because all we’d seen of Vern was him walking. Martha gasped and starting shaking and grabbed ahold of my arm. Me I didn’t know what to do. Finally I said, “Vern?” like I was getting his attention and trying to figure what he wanted. Well darned if ole Vern didn’t turn his head and look at me for a second, same expression on his face. Then he turned his head back and looked straight ahead for a second before standing up and walking down our hallway. I was worried Vern was gonna scare the bejesus out one of the kids. I got up and looked down the hall but he was nowhere to be seen. He'd vanished is what.

Right about then the phone rang, Martha answered it and said to me it was Mrs. Jokelson. The next thing I hear Martha say is: “we did too! Yes it was exactly the same. I’ll call Phil and you call Lydia.” Martha hung up and started to dial Phil and as she was doing that she looked up and told me that Vern had been over to the Jokelsons the same time he was with us and had done the same thing, just appeared in a chair. My wife then talked to Phil and sure enough Vern had been there too and it had caused his wife Betty to scream and scream and he was having a deuce of a time settling her so he hung up. Long story short ole Vern had been in at least seven houses at the same time doing the same dang thing.

The next night a few of us got together at Bob Custer’s house — he’d been seeing Vern too — to talk it over. We’d all had just about enough. It was one thing to see a dead man walking down the street and an all together different thing to see him right smack dab in your house. We couldn’t help but think where he might show up next. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and seeing a ghost (if ghost he was) sitting on the edge of you bed. Or maybe you’d step out of the shower and there he’d be on your toilet. The possibilities were endless and most were unsettling as hell.

We swapped stories for a bit, which wasn’t all that useful because we were all having the same experience. Then Bob Custer says: “we don’t we contact the science department over to the university and see if they’ll look into it?” Well my neighbor Phil replied, “there ain’t just a ‘science department’ there’s all kinna different sciences.” Phil said it kind of smart ass, he can be that way sometime. “Okay Mr. Smart Guy,” says Bob, “let’s you tell us which one would handle ghosts and that’s who we’ll call.”

It was Ida Rolfe who said, “I honestly don’t think there’s any department that studies ghosts.” Well we went back and forth on the whole thing getting nowhere. Finally Lydia (remember now that’s Vern’s widow) said that she’d find out herself since it was her late husband who was causing all the ruckus. Lydia said she’d drive on over there, the university is a good 60 miles away, and find somebody in person rather than fool with a bunch of phone calls.

We never have heard back from Lydia and we ain’t seen her neither. That was three weeks ago. Lydia hasn’t answered her phone or her doorbell and her old Chevy is nowhere to be seen.

As for Vern, well his wife may be missing but he’s still around. Thankfully he’s not been in anyone’s house again. Nope. Instead we see him in the darndest places. First it was on rooftops, then in trees, then sitting on top of moving cars and most recent leaning against buildings. Ted Jokelson said he once went up to Vern and started asking him questions and that Vern just looked at him then went off.

Ida Rolfe, who’s Lydia’s best friend called the police about Lydia being missing and they poked around and sent out a description of her and the car and checked hospitals and morgues and what not. No sign of her. We all don’t know what to think, but a few folks, yours truly included, feel like we’re used to seein’ Vern and don’t much care anymore and our concern is Lydia and did she come to some harm and is it related to her late husband's ghost.


Okay this is the last of it, I swear. It’s three months since that last part I wrote. Lydia’s car was found at the bottom of a gully. It was way out in nowhere so no one could figure out how it got there. There were no tire tracks leading to it neither. Strangest damn thing Sherif Boykins says he's ever seen and he's been at sheriffing for 35 years. How does a car get out to where there are no roads and not leave no tire tracks? Anyway Lydia’s remains were found in the car. The coroner couldn’t find no cause of death that he was certain of. His best guess was a heart attack, although Doctor Larsen said Lydia had never had no problem with her ticker.

A few days after Lydia’s funeral wouldn’t you know it she’s starts turning up. First she was alone, just walking along like we first seen Vern, then she and Vern started appearing together. The thing is they look so darn happy, holding hands strolling down the street together. Most everyday someone reports seeing them. Or used to. We’re all kinna used to now. They're not bothering nobody so we don’t care. No one knows how to explain or cares to even try anymore. It’s just the way things are. A person can get used to most anything, I guess.

19 September 2016

Sports, A Drug To Be Used in Moderation

Fans and players celebrate Saturday's Cal victory.

Sports can be like a drug. Addictive with euphoric highs and depressing lows. Sports, like drugs, should be used in moderation, many people become obsessed. I am a recovering sports addict, although unlike with other addictions, I still get an occasional fix and be okay.

Sports are central to most cultures, certainly modern day ones. They feed into a natural desire for competition and to our tribal instincts. They are a healthy substitute for war and we would all be blessed if athletic competition replaced combat for good and all. Humans are pack animals and loyal to their packs which accounts for nationalism and devotion to a sports team.

Athletes are revered and lavished with money far beyond their worth to society. Multi million dollar contracts for people playing a sport, regardless of their skill level, are absurd (similarly the gigantic paychecks received by those in other forms of entertainment such as acting and singing are ridiculous and too the titanic bonuses and golden parachutes bestowed upon CEOs).

At its best sports promotes good health, provides family entertainment and  one can participate at virtually all ages and level of abilities. Sports can be good for K-12 schools and universities and professional sports allow fans to see the very best at their respective competitions. Televised sports are a comfort to many whether aged, infirm, depressed, sick, bored or lonely. There's no harm in plunking yourself in front of a televised sports event, provided you pursue other diversions.

At its worst sports can foster nationalism, violence, addictive behavior, divert funds from education and other social services. The construction of stadiums on the taxpayers’ dime is a veritable crime, and pubic funds by universities for stadiums and sundry perks for athletics is also shameful. Many people besides athletes get rich off sports and ticket prices have been soaring in the past 20 years. Sports have been corporatized and monopolized and enriched the already rich.

The exploitation of college athletics to enrich coaches, athletic officials, TV networks and others is one of the great crimes perpetrated in this country. The place that sports play in the life of major universities has been out of hand since at least the 1920s but it keeps getting worse and worse. At many schools the emphasis on athletics perverts the mission of institutes of higher education.

Meanwhile sports fans can, and all too often do, exhibit utterly ridiculous behavior. I do not refer to cheering and celebrations but to tantrums and angry insults directed at players — particularly unpaid collegians. The level of vitriol spat upon players, through jeering, booing, online comments and general kevetching is sad indeed. Imagine a student at a top university carrying a full course load while practicing their sport and playing games, many after long trips, imagine this 20 year old being yelled at for missing a free throw. It happens. I sat near someone who complained of a Cal women’s basketball player, one who was an All American, a record setter and is now a pro, all this clown could do was speculate about how much better she’d be with a good outside shot. In other words he could not appreciate her for who she was instead lamenting what she wasn’t. (He was a professor emirates, if you can believe it.)  Sports fans hurl abuse not only at players but at opposing fans. Light hearted needling is fine but coarse and profane shouts can ruin the spectacle.

I was inspired to write all this after the events of last Saturday evening. Mind you, I used to follow lots of sports and quite closely at that. Over the years, starting about when I reached middle age, I “dropped” a lot of sports like the NBA and the NFL and all college games that did not involve the University of California. Today I only pay close attention to: English soccer, particularly my favorite team, Arsenal as well as other international soccer competitions; Cal football and men’s and women’s basketball and occasionally the San Francisco Giants of baseball and the San Jose Sharks of ice hockey. Less is more.

I still check other sports online but only give them a cursory glance. I have freed up a lot of time for other activities such a reading, writing, films, running and bothering my wife. Also I’ve cleared a lot of clutter from my brain. There still exists, for example, the starting lineup of the ’62 Giants, the uniform numbers of many former 49ers, the colleges attended by many Warriors, championship winners, scores, record holders and enough trivia to fill a library. But I’m adding considerably less these days.

People sometimes point out what I’m missing by not watching such and so. I in turn do not point out  -- though I could -- what they are missing by not reading Thomas Wolfe, seeing the films of Antonioni or going to the theater to enjoy a play. We none of us can see and do everything.

Yes, yes, back to last Saturday night. I was at beautiful Memorial Stadium in Berkley home to Cal’s Golden Bears. I have missed a mere handful of games in the past 35 years. With Cal football I have experienced a lot of misery and heartache. The Bears' record of futility is unparalleled in sports. Thankfully I long ago learned not to let the outcome of a sports event ruin my day. My late great father set a terrible example for me (about the only negative one I saw out of him) by fussing and fuming over his team’s losses. I didn’t call him for days after a 49er loss to spare myself an angry recounting of the team's sins. For the last 25 or so years I’ve never dwelled on a team’s loss for more than 15 minutes, if that. It’s simply not worth time in this life to be upset over the outcome of an athletic competition. (Then there is the schadenfreude engaged in by many, almost exclusively men. I’ve never understood this. Simply, it is taking satisfaction in the suffering of another sports fan. Oh, its quite understandable if that suffering was inflicted by your own team, but when its not….well I find it bizarre. I had (note the past tense) a friend who reveled in Arsenal’s losses, never failing to bring them up to me while never mentioning them if they had just won. This is someone who otherwise had no interest in English soccer. Odd but all too common.)

Okay, again back to Saturday. My beloved Golden Bears were big underdogs against the 11th ranked University of Texas. Cal had the previous week lost a heartbreaker at San Diego State. The prospects weren’t good and were especially bad when my heroes fell behind 24-14 and the Texans had the ball. One of the delights of sports is the surprises it provides. The Bears came storming back and secured the upset victory in exciting fashion. What a feeling to dance and jump and hug strangers and romp on the field after the game. Joy unbound. I make no apology for my giddy behavior or for feeling especially good in the two days since (I needed it).

Here is sports at its best. If the Bears had gone on to lose I would have glumly headed home but by the time I was reunited with my wife would have all but forgotten the game. It would have been a nice outing and, despite the defeat, time well spent. But with victory came elation. So sports has become for me a case of low risk and high reward.

It took me too long in my life to really put sports into prospective and treat it like the occasional and welcome diversion that is, one that sometimes brings joy and on the other hand should never bring anything worse than a short pout.

One other thing about sports which relates specifically to me and Cal football is that can be a link to the past and to family. Cal football brings to mind my mother who took me to games, she sat in the rooting section while a student at Cal and never lost her love for the university. My father likewise took me to games (he also took me pro baseball, pro football, pro basketball, college basketball, ice hockey, boxing and track and field). My big brother went to games too. When the Cal band takes the field I always look up to the sky and see my parents and sibling smiling down on me. Indeed it is the traditions and pageantry of Cal football that keeps me coming back no matter the team's prospects. Loyalty is love practiced.

Some sports and teams are special because they are inherited and are part of family lore. For me that is especially true of Cal sports but also to a lesser degree of the Giants and 49ers. But also special for me is Arsenal because they are the one team I picked for myself.

I close by saying that my oldest daughter caught the sports bug from me. One of the greatest things in my life has been taking her to Giants’ games as I’ve done every since she was 8 years old. (It has also been a treat to take my nephews out to the ballpark. They are my brother's sons and the fruit did not fall far from the tree, these are fine young men.) Fortunately, my daughter has learned earlier than I did not to go into a funk if her team loses (I'm happy to report that she and her sister are infinitely more intelligent than their dad. I am a proud father) I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful that I can appreciate sports for what it gives and not for what it takes.

16 September 2016

The Author Rants and Raves on the Current State of Cinema

I’ve only myself to blame. I just wasted 2 hours and 45 minutes watching a movie that I’d skipped when it was in theaters because I was sure I wouldn’t like it. A couple of people encouraged me to rent the DVD and I’ll never listen to their opinions on films again.

The movie was Interstellar. It was not horrible or even bad but watching it was not a fulfilling experience. It was directed by Christopher Nolan who does high end schlock replete with dazzling special effects. He made a mess out of a film called Inception by littering it with unnecessary action sequences. Nolan and films like Inception and Interstellar are worshipped by males in the 15-24 year old demographic. Their idea of “deep” films, with so much “meaning.” Pleeeeze.

When I was a teenager we had 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Can you imagine what a hash Nolan would have made out of that? There would have been intergalactic monkeys fighting the astronauts. Thankfully 2001 was made well before Nolan’s time. It was directed by a true master, Stanley Kubrick. Interstellar throws a basketful of pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo at you and tells you in no uncertain terms what’s what. 2001 had the courage to ask the audience questions. It was an intellectual masterpiece because it provided so much for audiences to contemplate and discuss. They wouldn’t make it today.

Here’s a central difference between 2001 and films like Interstellar: “it’s the only chance we’ve got” claims one character. The other easy, “but it’s impossible,” and the first asserts, “it may be impossible but its necessary." Lo and behold the crazy idea works! It happens several times in Interstellar. Don’t trust a movie in which an unconventional idea is all that will save the day and the daring protagonist pulls off the miracle. It’s gotten very old. But hey, the kids love it!

Interstellar also imagines an Earth that is on its last legs. Astronauts are sent into the further reaches of space to find a new planet that we can all move to. (Real setae prices in space must be out of this world.) Will they find a suitable home? Or just a fixer upper?

What is with all these apocalyptic scenarios in films these days? The Earth is forever about to be overrun by alien marauders or zombies or super powered apes or is reeling from nuclear annihilation or an uncontrollable virus. (Idea to pitch: aliens bring virus to earth that makes apes super powerful and turns most people into zombies.) The obsession with cataclysms is bizarre and says something rather chilling about the way people are viewing the world these days (actually, given the possibility of a Trump presidency they may not be far wrong). Or maybe the end times just lends itself to the type of seismic special effects extravaganzas that so many movie goers seen to love.

You’d think there’d be enough stories to mine from life as it is and has been with regular old human beings dealing with a crisis or stress or emotions or life’s ups and downs. Yeah I know, where are the explosions and tidal waves and last second heroics in that? Last second heroics are a staple of films these days. Hurry! Hurry! The clock is ticking you’ve only got a few seconds! Will they make it? Of course they do with but one second to spare!(While our hero makes it, a supporting character may not.)

Of course Hollywood is also bombarding audiences with every imaginable super hero and combinations of super heroes and all in sequel after sequel after sequel with occasional prequels and spin offs and remakes and adaptations of TV shows. Has there been a hit TV show that hasn’t been made into a movie? Star Trek was, Starsky and Hutch, Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, Get Smart, Miami Vice and on and on and on. I can’t wait to see a cinematic version of The Price is Right or The Jack Benny Program or the Evening News with Huntley and Brinkley.

There are a few noble thespians who take acting seriously enough to avoid the superhero genre (hats off to Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix,  Sean Penn and a whole host of European actors).  On the flip side you have Robert Downey Jr. who is the world’s highest paid prostitute. He is currently working on his 12th high budget mindless action movie. It’s a particular shame because he is — or was — a terrific actor. As it is the whore has ripped into independent films which is definitely a case of punching down and also sniping at the very place some of our best films are made, some of our most original and where many directors and actors get their start. But he’s right that “sometimes they suck” which is different from the kind of film he makes which always suck.

Okay so I’ve gone off another tangent. I wont apologize for it and if this post finds its way to some fanboys I’ll be called every name in the book. That’s the level of intellect we’re dealing with.

Movies, can live with em, can’t live without em. Am I right, people?