Saturday, October 30, 2010

A proud moment in Jack-O-Lanternry:

Wait till I scrounge up a candle for it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I found out I lost another friend to drugs today. This one was an angel from a previous lifetime.

She had the most high-maintenance boyfriend in the world at the time (the guy who called me this morning, who’s been sober for years now), and she persevered through years of life-as-performance-art with a Zen-like calm.

Her memorial service is today, in a city hundreds of miles away.

Ten years ago, she was dancing with my friend near the end of the video below, like it was the Nelson Riddle Orchestra serenading them instead of Hell’s House Band.

My friend expressed regret today that he hadn’t “made amends” with her yet, right after telling me how they had kept in touch over the years, sending texts on each others’ birthdays and being there to catch her when she fell.

I told him he may not have said the words, but every act of kindness over the years was its own amends. There was obviously no rift between he and Michelle at the time of her passing, so nothing needed to be amended.

Then I told him about Steve, and what a shitty week it’s been and how drugs were not picky. They took all comers and he and I were lucky to get out with our asses intact.

Watch the last couple minutes of the clip. We lost an angel this week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Boy’s first drawing of the family:

He’s the one in the middle, with the big smile.


A Cautionary FAIL

Had a brush with mortality today. Fortunately not my own, but it still gives one pause.

I’m talking about a guy I used to work with; I never could pronounce or spell his name correctly so I always just called him Steve Bitchin’, because it was close enough, and it amused me.

Thanks to my work-from-home status, I never reported directly to him or had to share office space with him. By all accounts, this was a blessing for both of us, not to mention the rest of the office.

Because one of my core weaknesses is, I do not suffer fools gladly. And I don’t know if the Lord ever put a more oblivious, self-righteous fool on this earth than Steve Bitchin’. If He did, I don’t reckon I’ve met the number one fool yet, and I’ve met a lot of fools.

Not that Steve was all bad. He could do shtick. Whenever I’d call up, he’d answer the phone with the name of the company and I’d ask, “Who is this?” He’d say, “Steve,” and I’d reply “Bitchin’!” I’d laugh to myself at the Cheech and Chong reference that just sailed over his head—again—then he’d get all excited and tell me about the latest long-ass car drive he undertook to see some eminently forgettable, forgotten 90s MOR band; Collective Soul and Soul Asylum being the examples that come immediately to mind, and I’d feel sorry for him in spite of myself, the same way I always do for people with pedestrian taste in music.

Additionally, I understand some considered him quite easy on the eyes. But those are the only laudable qualities that come to mind off the top of my head.

See, Steve was angry and short-tempered, and he didn’t have a lot of facts in hand to back up his ill-humor. He was just pissed at the world and being pissed was plenty good enough for him. The few actual conversations I had with him were intense, loopy things—imagine the smoke monster from LOST chasing, and eating, its own tail. That’s what talking to Steve was like—that left me alternately bemused and frustrated.

He was also one of My Guys, with a monkey on his back the size of the Empire State Building. I tried to use that as a door into liking the guy, but he was one of those obnoxious 12-steppers who went to meetings (then didn’t, to catastrophic results) and liked to prosthelytize about the program he adhered to at best occasionally. But that’s okay. He’s the kind of guy The Program was built for; there’s always a failure rate built into expectations and he never failed to fill that requirement.

More importantly for me though—because in the end, a person’s sobriety status is their own damn business if it doesn’t affect their ability to do their job—he was ethically indifferent. And that’s being polite, respectful of the circumstances.

Here’s the worst thing he did, category: journalism, and it’s why I’m co conflicted today. While he was editor of the weekly newspaper I still work for from afar, our mainstay columnist died of old age. It was very sad. He’d written his travel column for us for years and before that, he was a local celebrity for decades with the town’s big daily paper. He was a Name Around Town and we had his last ten years’ worth of columns. I thought we’d do something special for the guy; instead Steve copied and pasted his obit from the daily paper’s website and then ran it as our obit. With a fraudulent in-house byline. Complete with the same misquote from one of our current columnists. It was a textbook example of indisputable plagiarism.

A Faithful Reader pointed it out to me and I lost my shit. I wanted him fired. I’d had his predecessor sacked for plagiarism and had no qualms about doing the same to him. To steal your own columnist’s obit and call it your own? Well, there were no words.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed. For all his shortcomings, Steve ran a quiet, relaxed office and his co-workers promised to keep a closer eye on him and I chose to keep my mouth shut. I used to work in that office and respected the value they attached to maintaining a harmonious work environment. I forget whether or not the corporate office was made aware of his unforgivable ethical lapse, but if they were, it wasn’t by me.

Why am I talking about Steve Bitchin’ in the past tense? I got an email last week, titled “Steve Update” from a friend who still works at the office. I expected the usual hilarity of his latest misadventures, instead I got this:

Thought I’d let you know that Steve is in a coma and on life support -- apparently he wrecked his car on Saturday. His mom just called and it’s not looking good at all. I guess he checked himself out of the hospital after the wreck against doctor’s advice. His dad and daughter found him at his place on Sunday morning and called 911. They didn’t even  know he’d been in a car accident. Not sure if this has to do with drug overdose, head trauma or both.

I immediately felt like a dick. I’ve always treated this guy like shit. If you told me W dropped dead tomorrow, I’d feel like an asshole for all the awful things I’ve said about him over the years. It’s just the Catholic Way: Sin, repent, repeat.

I called up and spoke to the office manager, who said the story he’d been told was that Steve got quite wasted on something and went for a drive. He hit a tree and rolled his car, gravely injuring himself. Somehow he ended up at the hospital but checked himself out, then (somehow) got home and was found ten hours later, by his poor father and daughter, unresponsive.

The fella I spoke to said Steve’s family was obviously devastated, but he got the sense from talking to the parents that they’d been girding for this day for a long time. As I alluded to earlier, this wasn’t Steve’s first trip to the rodeo.

Later in the day, another guy I work with, from another paper, called up to tell me he wouldn’t be coming into work that day; he was sick as shit, he had to pick his girlfriend up at the airport but the car battery died along the way and he had to remove the battery and lug it in his formerly-nice backpack, sick, six blocks in the rain to buy a replacement that was four times what he expected it would cost. That was the point that I got ahold of him. And he told me his story and being the dick that I am, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Well, that means an awesome day for me today but a nightmare of a day tomorrow,” when our paper is due on the presses.

As he began to run out of steam, I jumped in and started to tell him the story of Steve Bitchin’ (we all work for the same parent company). See, the guy who’s sick and having a bad day? He’s another one of Us. Over time I’ve kind of become his unofficial sponsor. Or at least I was near the top of his drunk-dial list when he used to do that. Anyway, I can tell when a case for falling off the wagon is being built and, since I was handed the opportunity, I decided to try to nip it in the bud.

So I told my friend the whole sad Steve Bitchin’ story, including speculation and details which I have chosen to leave out of this accounting. It remains to be seen whether or not it had the sobering effect I was going for, at least for my friend. But it sure has for me. I didn’t even like Steve very much and only met him maybe a dozen times and I’ve been under a cloud since I got the news.

I mean, he was an otherwise healthy guy; he just turned 45 but I had him pegged for his mid-30s. He’s got an ex-wife who maybe hates his guts, but two young daughters who almost certainly don’t. Parents to grieve for him—no parent should ever have to bury their child. And the mood around the office, I’m told, could be best described as funereal.

And then I get mad at the guy. This is a long post, representing a good chunk of time I could have spent doing something considerably more productive than writing up the depressing, unnecessary loss of a colleague to substance abuse. His family doesn’t have to be gathered at the hospital, making end-of-life decisions for their troubled, grown-up son. His little girls shouldn’t have to learn about the inevitable finality of mortality at this young an age, at the expense of their daddy.

It’s horrible and it’s fucked up. It seems incomprehensible. Putting the substance abuse and the car crash aside, by checking himself out of the hospital—going home when the hospital staff should have been performing life-saving procedures on him—he took a dangerous situation and made it a deadly one. And I don’t even know if that was the drugs doing the deciding or Steve; I have no idea how sober he was or wasn’t the few times I met him to form a baseline by which to measure his state of mind. I always just thought he came off as crazy and uninformed. A fellow best kept at a cordial, courteous arms’ length. The phrase “Let the Wookie win” always crossed my mind when I was visiting him in his office.

But every account puts his decision-making at the epicenter of the cascading series of misfortunes that left him comatose and on life support.

It’s been a week now since I heard the news. He’s had no brain activity since he was brought in and his organs are shutting down; his family took him off life support yesterday.

He died this morning.

What can you say? What lesson is there to be learned? Some people are just hard-wired for self-destruction. It seems like every close call just emboldens them to try something crazier the next time. Eventually, their luck plain runs out. Maybe their guardian angel was caught looking the other way. It’s hard to say, at 45, that his number was up though. This was operator error, plain and simple. It was completely avoidable at any number of steps along the way. I sincerely urge all the friends and loved ones who tried to help him screw his head on straight over the years to not blame themselves tonight. Guys like Steve—and me, and my buddy with the dead car battery in the rain for that matter—are time-bombs waiting to go off. Every day we don’t is a mitzvah.

And Steve’s untimely passing reminds us that some of us make it out alive and some don’t. There’s no getting by on good looks, no grading curve—it’s strictly a pass/fail proposition.

Instead of the snide riposte I had planned to end this sad report with (back when I was more angry with Steve than sad about him), instead I’ll close with lyrics from “Perfect Day,” by his much-loved Collective Soul:

There he stumbles
Falling to his knees
I think he tripped on reality

I have witnessed
Tragic comedies
That’s the world in which he leads

May whatever world Steve’s journey takes him to next be kind to him, and grade him on a generous curve.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using History To Predict The Future Is Hard: Election Edition

Specifically, which historical models apply under what circumstances? It’s not always black and white… or is it?

Everybody agrees on one thing; the Democrats will lose Congressional seats in next week’s election. Using history to predict that one is a pretty safe bet. Even the talking knuckleheads on the cable news nets have that piece of the puzzle all figured out.

What I can’t determine ahead of time—and what I think the interesting question is—is, will the Tea Party be absorbed into the Republican machine once it gets to DC, or will the GOP find itself being taken over from the inside once these political neophytes make it into the seats of power? Because there is historical precedent for both scenarios.

Naturally, the 10-gallon ass-hats who run the Republican party are convinced that once the Tea Partiers hit the big time, they’ll be as easily seduced as their predecessors have always been by all the bells, whistles and page-boys accompanying their bump up to the Elite class they used to rail against only months before.

It’s a lovely plan. History suggests it will work.

History also suggests it could be a huge miscalculation. Hindenburg thought he was solving his Hitler problem by absorbing him into a functionary position in the existing government; we all know how that worked out.

And really, does anyone believe that the guy from the Rent Is Too Damn High party is gonna play ball if given the opportunity? Or the dope from my own newly-adopted home state who legally changed his name to Pro Life? I think a lot of these Tea Party candidates are genuine zealots who will stick to their guns once elected, no matter how poorly informed or briefly considered their guns happen to be. I mean, most of them are running on variations of a platform of coming to Washington to tear it down. In their world, firefighters don’t put out fires, they start them.

If you think Congress is deadlocked now, wait till the newly-empowered tea-partying lawmakers begin issuing subpoenas and introducing bills.

My personal guess is that most of them are not going to be so easily corralled and will cause the GOP almost as many headaches as they will the Dems.

The other most likely scenario is even more discouraging for the future of our cute little experiment in Democracy. This one has the Tea Partiers engulfing and devouring the establishment GOP. Unlikely, you say? Other than my Hitler allegory, above, what do I have to buttress this excursion into reckless speculation?

For reasons that are nobody’s beeswax but my own, I’m reading up on Reconstruction (approximately the decade following the Civil War) lately, and it’s impossible to educate oneself on that period without covering the birth of the GOP, too.

Because the Republican party itself came into being rapidly between 1856 and 1860 by supplanting their host party, the Whigs. In the 1858 mid-terms, the Republicans were a self-styled “radical” splinter-group of the long-established Whig party. Two years later, their candidate was on his way to the White House and the Whig Party was on its way to the ashbin of history.

Could this be the scenario set to repeat itself? I tell ya, if the Tea Party offered up an Abe Lincoln in 2012, I’d give him or her a pretty close look, myself. I think that’s unlikely, however, as their candidates generally go out of their way to position themselves as proud Know-Nothings. I think they’re too pleased with themselves for being non-Elites to promote a deep-thinker like Lincoln to the top of their ticket. (You know who I feel sorry for? Mitt Romney. He’s gotta be going, “No, dang it, 2012 was supposed to be my year!”)

It’s funny to read in the history books about “Radical Republicans” as far back as 150 years ago. Yes, that’s the way they referred to themselves. Back then being a radical wasn’t considered a bad thing, probably because their radical ideas centered mostly around opposition to the buying and selling of human livestock.

But—in a nutshell—what happened right after the Civil War was, Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Jackson, very quickly returned the planter aristocracy of the Old South to power, and we ended up with 100 years of lynchings, the KKK, ‘Black Code’ laws, Jim Crow and preachers getting shot on motel room balconies.

One of the documentary DVDs I’ve screened has a line that I think sums up the Civil War and its consequences in a nutshell. The historian on camera said, “The north won the war, but the south won the peace.” Big time.

Which led me to reflect upon the allegations of racism that continue to dog the virtually all-Caucasion Tea Party. Can it really be pure coincidence that their movement coalesced and took flight between the time the nation’s first Black president was sworn in and now? Can it be any clearer what “founding principles” these crackers really want to get back to?

Friends, race has been an issue in America since long before its founding. By the time slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1863, it had been an institution for hundreds of years, and a profitable one at that. To put it into context, it would be like the president shuttering all the nation’s gas station’s today. Commerce would, and did, grind to a halt.

Especially in the south, where the defeated citizenry were inclined to neither forgive nor forget. Or even live and let live. The cumulative result being, between the introduction of slavery on our shores and the release of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” in 1967, hundreds of years of institutionalized oppression had elapsed. How much time has passed between the Civil Rights movement and now? Forty years.

We’ve been culturally bred for centuries to hold people of color as second-class citizens, at best. Forty years of relative enlightenment is a drop in the bucket compared to that.

More importantly, we still have a couple of generations of original haters left alive and kicking. Aging, overweight, undereducated white people… you know, like you see waving Obama-as-Hitler signs at Tea Party events.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think that race in America is a closed book, and there’s got to be some kind of irony at work when the people who understand this the best are the people most disposed to upset that delicately evolving harmony, and best positioned to do further damage to a wound that is only beginning to heal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Fall TV Season-to-date Report

I know it’s late, but I’ve been busy.

I was finally motivated to write when the Cartoon Network’s “Super Hero Squad” started its new season the same week as the new animated “Avengers” super-hero saga debuted on Disney XD. And this was in addition to new episodes of “Batman, The Brave and the Bold,” “Ben 10,” Generator Rex” and another new show that quickly won over our hearts, “Symbiotic Titan,” after a seemingly interminable summer of reruns. All we need now is for the ultra-cool “Iron Man” animated series to return with new episodes and we will be in cartoon superhero nirvana! (“Star Wars The Clone Wars” also returned, but we don’t watch that.)

Anyhow, I still don’t have a lot of time. “Super Hero Squad” and “Brave and the Bold” are the best of the bunch. The Boy thinks they’re hilarious and exciting and stoned adults can enjoy throw-away gags like one villain referring to another as an asteroid-hat. And if one happens to be an adult fan of the silver age of comics, these shows just keep giving and giving. They actually reward the requisite repeat viewings.

What’s going on in adult TV… Well, I’ve chucked “Chuck” under the bus. The blonde is still insanely hot, but there is a stupidity about the show that has irritated me from Day One. The main characters, all CIA field operatives, constantly and exclusively refer to themselves, their colleagues and their foes as “spies.” It’s just so fucking unnecessarily dumb—and as I’ve mentioned, the demands on my time so many and great—I’ve just decided this is an hour of TV a week I can live without.

I’m embarrassed to report I actually watch “Law & Order, SVU,” but they pack more plot twists into 44 minutes than your average big-screen thriller does in two hours. Oh, and they don’t lovingly dwell on the mutilated remains of corpses the way “Bones” and the “CSI” shows do.

“Bluebloods.” Tried it. Another cop show, so what?

“Detroit 187.” Like it. Another cop show. Who knew? The kid from “The Sopranos” (“Christophah!!”) has toned his act down considerably and both he and show are extremely watchable.

Oh God, that horrible show on ABC about the family who gets super-powers? Like somebody watched every episode of “Heroes,” drew all the wrong conclusions from its demise and sat down and wrote this show. What the hell is it called? (Googling it would be cheating!) “No Ordinary Family,” I believe. No ordinary show, either. Sub-sub-sub-ordinary. They took a potentially very cool premise and dumbed it down into oblivion. The super-hero genre is going to die aborning on TV and this show will be one reason why.

“The Event” has kept me hanging on by a thread. Do I really care, or even know what’s going on from week to week? No, I do not. I think the eponymous event was the President’s airplane being teleported to safety just before it crashed, but the whole show is a lot more “X-Files” than “Lost,” which isn’t, I think, what they were probably going for. It’s kind of caught up in its own cleverness, but at least it doesn’t talk down to me.

“The Defenders” was a tough call to make, but one episode proved that Jerry O’Connell’s odiousness easily overwhelmed Jim Belushi’s considerable likeability.

I tried the new “Hawaii Five-Oh” but found it to be just another cop show, too. Whoever they have playing Jack Lord is really no Jack Lord. He’s like a charisma vacuum. Pass.

“Law & Order, L.A.?” Just another cop show. Yawn.

Still watching “House” but only while I work. House and Cuddy? Ew. Bring back 13!! And focus more on characters who aren’t Cuddy. She’s shrewish and old and working the former sex kitten thing way too hard.

The Britney episode of “Glee” made me so sick to my stomach I haven’t gone back yet. And if they do the Bruce Springsteen episode I’ve read about, I think it’ll be even worse. I really don’t want to see a road-show version of “West Side Story” meets “Thunder Road.” It’s welcome to exist, I just don’t want to see it.

On the comedy front, I’m liking both “Modern Family” and “30 Rock.” I tried “Shit My Dad Says,” but the sitcom formula doesn’t work for me any more. The ‘sweetened’ studio laughter especially grates. I can take between three and five minutes of laugh-track comedies. The M*A*S*H DVD sets are great, because they give you the option of laugh-track on or off. It’s a much smarter show with the laugh-track off.

“Dexter” is too early in its season to tell how it’s gonna go, but it’s got a pretty solid track record. Ditto “Weeds.”

“Boardwalk Empire” is another new HBO period spectacle—this time Prohibition in Atlantic City—that’s just good enough to keep me from deleting it before watching it. Looks gorgeous and is plenty smart, but for one, I’m overly familiar with the material already and so far, this show hasn’t offered any new insights. But it’s a class production, and in case it’s headed somewhere, I might as well come along for the ride as long as it’s convenient. Fortunately, it’s not exactly a water-cooler kind of show; I’m not worried about stumbling across spoilers in the geek chat rooms I troll if I don’t watch Sunday’s episode till Thursday.

“Fringe” is having a great season. Can’t wait for it to come back in November. It went from being meh last year to really involving this year, mostly as a result of a serialized plotline involving one of the government operatives (not a ‘spy,’ “Chuck!”) trapped in a world she never made, and her doppelganger secretly taking her place in the ‘real’ world of the show. I would vote this show Most Improved.

Then there’s “Medium.” Its format—psychic mom of three consults with the Phoenix D.A. on murder cases dead people give her insight into—is so flexible, and so outlandish, that almost any deviation or variation on it works. I’ve always liked this show and I’m glad CBS rescued it after NBC dumped it to accommodate Jay Leno’s 10 o’clock fiasco a while back.

“Smallville.” Oh, “Smallville.” Another show that began with boundless promise that was pissed away for its middle eight seasons. This tenth season, its last, the show-runners are finally getting down to some serious myth-building. Young Clark, now a sprightly 40-year-old in real life, is putting his reservations aside and looks like he may seriously be considering taking his first flight. Seriously. Ten years in and Superboy hasn’t flown once yet. That’s a perfect microcosm of what’s been wrong with this show. But it looks like they’re going to try to scratch all the fanboy itches and bitches this season, so I reckon I might as well stick it out for another twenty-or-so episodes.

I’m glad it’s been a lackluster season, new shows-wise. I have a lot of shit to get done and watching just-passable TV doesn’t have the appeal it used to. This seems like an incongruous lot of typing to come to the conclusion that the new TV season has been a disappointment, but a lot of the time I don’t have involves not writing about shows I don’t watch anymore.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tae Kwon Don’t

I’m having my first legitimate parenting crisis since The Boy started sleeping through the night; a parenting crisis by definition being the realization that, “Oh shit, I’m about to make the same mistakes with my kid that my parents made with me!”

Specifically, shoving them into extracurricular activities they will inevitably grow to loathe and resent. (I’m looking at you, Webelos and Kid Wrestling and especially Little League, which seemed to go on forever, summer after interminable summer. No wonder I spent the rest of my off-time pursuing a dedicated course of juvenile delinquency.)

Now I’m on the Evil, Interfering Dad side of the same ugly equation and it sucks, too. And I definitely don’t want to drive my kid to a life of petty crime, either; these days, nobody gets away with anything. You can’t be as bad a kid as I was and expect to get away with it, or as bad a parent as mine were allowed to be, either.

It just isn’t done.

The Boy wants to bail on Taekwondo because he feels foolish being the only kid on the floor who doesn’t have every move and every line of every oath (with accompanying hand gestures) committed to memory. I should have known this was coming when I watched him out there the last couple times and thought, “Man, I’m glad that’s not me out there.” It’s the same way I felt in Tai Chi class a few years ago. “Why is everybody else getting this and not me?” I felt like a dolt and couldn’t wait for the run of classes to be over, but I’m pretty sure I stuck it out on principle.

Which is what I tried to get him to do, but I failed. Daddy gets an “F” and that stands for FAIL.

I honestly don’t mind him bailing so much as I mind him not sticking with it long enough to give it a fighting chance (no pun intended). We paid for a six-class course and he still has a couple to go. Now we’ll never know, and I can’t get him to fully grasp how frustrating not-knowing gets to be down the road. I similarly have failed to convince him that none of the other kids were born knowing kung-fu moves either; they all had to stick with the program until they got good enough to intimidate him into not wanting to come back. But he grows more intractable daily on the matter and I’m at the point where I either have to force him bodily, or throw up my arms and walk away from the thing.

Which I suppose is what I’ll do. Maybe if he gets his bottom handed to him by schoolyard bullies a couple of times, he’ll show some renewed interest in self-defense if I don’t make such an issue out it now that he decides he’d rather take ass-kickings at school than admit the Old Man was right.

We can be stubborn that way.

Which is how I came to find myself hopelessly stuck between my conscience and his will. Check and mate, sir! This round goes to Fang, Jr.

I wonder if the Salvation Army takes very slightly used children’s taekwondo uniforms?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

People are crazy everywhere

In my new state, we have a candidate for governor who legally changed his name to Pro-Life a while back.

That’s pretty fucking crazy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This Candyland Is Our Land

I made a mad dash out to Christmas Island last weekend, to tie up some health care-related loose ends. The trip itself was a horrible nightmare that I kept trying for weeks beforehand to find ways to talk myself out of. The risk versus benefit analysis was nowhere near the kind of ratio I’m comfortable with.

The road out of Boise, for a couple hundred miles, is all two-lane twisty, hilly highway. It occurred to me early on that no matter how carefully I might navigate the treacherous terrain, especially while passing slow-moving vehicles, I was only somebody else’s error in judgment away from going home to glory. It made cresting every hill and approaching every blind turn a special occasion.

For two hundred miles. Coming and going.

Then on the drive back, made on about 4.5 hours of sleep, I had to navigate 100+ miles of serious cliff-side mountain driving (which I hate) in the dark (which I hate) and through fog so dense a couple times I slowed down to about 20 mph and talked to the playlist of Johnny Cash gospel tunes I was listening to. My assumption was that, although I am not personally a believer, Cash was and I believe in him, so—in a worst-case scenario—I was hoping to ride into the next life on his coattails.

Happily it didn’t come to that, but all things considered, it’s not a drive I see myself making again any time soon.

The thing that saved the weekend was a kind invitation extended by The Last Boy Scout to crash at his place instead of the local HoJo’s, which had been my original plan. I figured the odds that my trip would coincide with a slow weekend for him were pretty slim because of his busy weekend wedding band schedule, but I lucked out. Nobody got married last weekend.

There wasn’t much catching up to do. Between Facebook and email, we hadn’t dropped out of touch, we’d just lost the ability to enjoy shared experiences like concerts, BBQs and birthday celebrations.

Yeah, okay, I’m still a little bitter. Fish gotta swim…

We played a little bit of guitar, he playing rings around me. Besides the fact that I was logy and exhausted from my trip, he just knows a hell of a lot more guitar than I do. But it was all right, we were just fucking about. He had a bunch of sheet music that would have been helpful if my fingers had been responding to my brain’s instructions, but that was not the case. Nor had I thought to bring any of my own sheet music, so when it came my turn to suggest something, I had to do so from memory. Which, if you know me, is a punchline all by itself.

Fortunately I know a couple. After giggling through “Achey-Breaky Heart” and taking a stab at a Civil War-era folk dirge and Warren Zevon’s “Hula Hula Boys,” we settled on the simple progression of “This Land Is Your Land.” The lyrics were easy enough to find, including the seldom-heard excised verse:

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Of course, during the “I see my people” line we each substituted each other’s name for “my.” Much fun was had by all.

His eldest daughter, 7, came out with her own guitar and we proceeded to teach her the chords. After a little bit of that she disappeared and came back out with a violin and successfully performed on command. It was all very impressive.

That was followed by a fabulous dinner prepared my Mrs. TLBS in which even, as God is my witness, the Brussels sprouts were good enough to go back for seconds. (Note to self: I must get that recipe from her!)

There was a short window between the end of dinner and the girls’ bedtime. At the home of Mr. and Mrs. TLBS, that means family game time.

For us, that means last night’s Jon Stewart and maybe a superhero cartoon for The Boy before we chase him off to bed.

I was really beginning to feel like a shitty parent. I sat around with my friend and his kids and played Candy Land and some other game I’d never heard of called “Blocko” or something for half an hour and loved every minute of it. I talked to him about it later, and he said that family board game time was something he had deliberately implemented early on. To my surprise, what he was saying made perfect sense to me.

So when I got back to the new home town, I went out to Target the next day and picked up a copy of Candy Land. Brought it home and The Boy took to it immediately. He plays it by himself when we’re too busy, or it isn’t time yet. (I’ve already decided game time is going to immediately precede bedtime for him for a while. Order. Structure. That kind of thing.)

Tonight he came up to us as bedtime approached and asked hopefully, “Hey, you want to play Candy Land, guys?” He’s never called us “guys” before. It was hilarious. I felt a great debt to TLBS and wondered how I would ever repay it.

I went to check my email and there was a new message from TLBS. He wrote that he’s taught his daughter a bunch of chords since Friday night and she’s kind of overwhelmed… I wrote him back and suggested he focus on just a couple of easy chords and teach her a simple song that she could easily conquer, which ought to motivate her to continue. Of course, I suggested “Achey-Breaky Heart.”

He wrote me back, “That's how we learned the three chords she has been working on -- This Land Is Your Land.  We even sing the relief-office verse together!”

And as much as I want to write a feel-good ending to this happy little story, I can’t escape the fact that, if I hadn’t been there with him and his family, to share actual, reality-based common experiences, I wouldn’t have discovered the great joy that can come with enduring otherwise mind-numbing board games with your kids—for one thing, it’ll make it much easier to introduce him to chess when the time comes.

And my right-winger pal’s daughter’s first song on the guitar wouldn’t have been Woody Guthrie’s left-wing protest anthem, controversial verse and everything.

In the end, you can get a hell of a lot done online, but it isn’t a substitute for being there yet. Not even close.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Heart With Two Kinds Of Teeth

On the one hand, I hate to to tedious, going back to the fawning-parent well again so soon. On the other hand, this latest pair I think actually stand on their own merits.

The one above looks eerily like a more intricate version of the cover of Steve Earl’s “Mi Corazón,” album artwork (at bottom, courtesy of the nice people over at amazon), which I’m pretty sure he’s never seen.

 And the one below I just call “Steadman.” Click on either to embiggen!


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Meet IZO:

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Embarrassed to death

Just watched the Ellen video (above) about those poor gay kids in the news recently who killed themselves after being bullied for being gay.

And as much as the story sickened me, as angry as it made me and as grateful as I am to Ellen’s YouTube clip for making the story go viral, I think she missed the point in her remarks.

The problem that can be addressed isn’t bullying. Kids will always bully, the same as adults will always make war. We, as a species, are hard-wired for that sort of ugly business. It can’t be changed. It would be like appointing someone Weather Czar, assigned with making sure it didn’t rain during the MLB play-offs.

Weather happens, just like shit and violence. If we waste time on trying to change behavior tied directly to our nature as human beings, we will fail. (See “Bristol Palin” and “Abstinence-only Education.”)

What we may be able to change, though, is what “offenses” kids are bullied for. History demonstrates clearly, over and over again, somebody is always going to be getting the short end of the stick, civil rights-wise. For some reason, human beings need someone to look down on and take advantage of to make themselves feel good. (It’s why I hope we never successfully make the leap into space—I think this planet should be quarantined.)

As Americans, our first socially-acceptable whipping-boys were, ironically, Native Americans. After we drove them to the brink of extinction, almost everybody else got a turn; in no particular order and frequently overlapping, every other race and/or group that emigrated to our shores in large enough numbers came in for some casual, organized, often institutionalized mistreatment. And let’s not even talk about what we did to African-Americans for 500 years. Somebody’s always at the bottom of the totem pole, being spat and shat upon by those at the top.

The whole of human history suggests strongly that we can’t do anything to make bullies and bullying go away. As long as people have been people, there have been and will be bullies among us. Welcome to the species, we hope you enjoy your time with us.

What we can mount an effective campaign to eliminate, however, is the stigma attached to being gay. When we do that (I speculate within a couple generations), we will decrease the bullying on two fronts. One, the thug-types will be forced to move on to a more socially disenfranchised group to terrorize (I’m guessing these days that would be Muslim and special-needs kids?); and two, how many of those bullies beating up their peers suspected of being gay are self-loathing gays themselves?

Think about it. All these on-the-DL GOP politicos who grew up to pass anti-gay legislation (before being publicly outed) probably didn’t start lashing out at their fellow gays only after reaching the Senate; I’d wager a fair number of them were among the bully clique in middle school, taking special delight in targeting their queer peers.

So let’s, to quote Sinead O’Connor, “fight the real enemy.” And the real enemy—the one we actually stand a chance against—is intolerance, not bullying.

Those of us who are parents have an added responsibility. The only thing we should be teaching our kids to be intolerant of is intolerance, whatever form it takes. I’m going one step further and letting my son take karate lessons; hoping that by the time he matriculates to Big Boy School next year, he will be inclined—and prepared—to be intolerant of bullies as well as of intolerance.

It’s time somebody else had their turn at the bottom of the shitpile; I nominate The Bullies.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Little Fang, happy at last!

Note that The Boy's faux white supremicist haircut was administered by the only Black-owned and operated barbershop in town...