Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teenage behavior: What could possibly go wrong?

This piece isn't solely intended to make my fellow parents of teenagers feel a little better.

But it may.

It also isn't meant to encourage society at large to feel a little more comfortable about our future.

But it might.

I'm currently experiencing a lot of "back to the future" moments, since I'm simultaneously being dad to a fifteen-year-old sophomore and working up a flyer for my class of 1981, thirty year high school reunion. That's us up there—the mighty Auburn High School senior class of thirty years previous.

Can you spot me? I'm the white kid with the feathered hair, parted in the center.

We looked so happy-go-lucky, so innocent and so...thin. Perish the thought that this wholesome crew would be perilously at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and alcohol-related death.

But we were, and apparently a lot more at risk than today's teenagers. In a feature entitled "The kids truly are all right," written for cnn.com by Laura Sessions Stepp, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist specializing in adolescent issues, she states that nearly every high-risk teen behavior has witnessed declines since 1990.

Smoking, drinking, pregnancies and suicides have all dropped substantially. So have fighting and firearm-related deaths. The only problem which has worsened is that more teens are getting fatter.

If forced to pick my teen risk poison, I'll take fat any day.

We parents complain about our teenager constantly clutching her cell phone, monitoring her texts with the vigor of a marine guarding the American embassy in Tripoli. That phone, however, is more of a parent's ally than our kids can imagine.

It's our property, and it's not their birthright, but a privilege which we parents administer.

Sure, our kid has instant access to which socks her BFF has decided to wear and how long it took to find them next to the cat box. But for every hundred messages which comprise the Ocean of Teen Text Minutiae, one buoy of alarm may prove a lifeline toward keeping our child and her friends safe. GPS devices can be activated on most cell phones, which implies an inherent mistrust. But I don't care.

I really love being the cool dad, but I can't be cool to a daughter who no longer exists.

Teen prefrontal lobes experience a perfect storm of rebelliousness and an inability to comprehend consequences. These aren't bad kids; they're just kids, so our job is to educate them, to prepare them and to give them a safety net, even if we're jackbooted Nazis in their eyes.

When we were teenagers, our parents either trusted our word or locked us down. They often sat on a Friday or Saturday night, wondering and hoping about our whereabouts and our condition. It no longer has to be that way, and technology offers the perfect excuse for our children to remove themselves from a dicey situation.

After having read the article, I'm encouraged, yet still apprehensive.

I'm so glad to hear that more of them will be around to change my diaper one day.

Now, if they'd just listen to some better music.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama has no chance in 2012. You heard me.

Like a bunch of third graders jutting their arms in the air and shouting for the teacher's favor and attention, the Republicans are already lining up. Even though many have no idea what the answer is to  the teacher's question, that's really not important; they merely want the bright lights to be turned toward their freshly pancaked pores.

Right now, there are so many of them, from also-rans to never-rans, from Tea Party to debutante party. These people are jockeying for position in a race which may not decide its winner for another seventeen months.

The great state of Iowa typically kicks off the electoral runoff, starting with a straw poll which can render some candidates prematurely irrelevant, like a basketball player who fouls out before even leaving the locker room. Many have invested time and personal fortunes toward securing a foothold in Iowa, but that's merely a thread of silk toward peeling the entire cob.

Ahead of them are exploratory committees and endless fundraisers, followed by town hall meetings, debates, caucuses, primaries and conventions. More palms will be pumped than a barracks during boot camp, week twenty.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if no more "I approved this" messages were allowed? What if America wasn't given the choice of electing her President based upon thirty-second television propaganda McNuggets?

What if each candidate, after having passed high-school-sophomore-level, multiple choice quizzes in math, science, current events and geography, were allowed a one-paragraph statement from an empty studio...and then America voted.

I'm not confident that one or any of the Republican front runners could pass the screening test, but for the sake of continuing this exercise, let's assume they do, and we'll begin with a statement by Candidate Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich: Look, America, I realize I simultaneously led the effort to impeach a President based on an affair while dipping the wicker myself, but come on, trust me. I'm a man of principles as of three weeks ago, when I personally petitioned the Lord for forgiveness. Plus, my wife works really close to me now.

I also realize that I criticized President Obama for not taking action against Libya and then flipped a one-eighty and criticized him for attacking Libya. So I won't do stuff like that anymore. I stopped yesterday.

Donald Trump: America, do you understand that I've got more loose change in this raccoon's nest on my head than you do in your entire 401K? Come on, what's it gonna cost me to secure your vote? How about I comp your room at one of my casinos and include a nice bottle of Asti Spumante, eh?

And a shrimp platter, with cocktail sauce. Cocktail sauce, America!

Mitt Romney: Hello, my fellow Americans. It's me again, Mitt. Hey, guess what? I'm Lutheran now!

Michele Bachmann: Ladies and gentlemen, look closely at my face. See? I can droop my eyelids a little bit and not look as much like the bat shit crazy, desperate housewife of Minneapolis whom so many of you seem to believe I am.

Plus, I'm rather attractive, which should make up for that wrong answer on the sophomore test. I'm now fully aware that milk comes from cows, and then the store.

Mike Huckabee: My fellow Americans, I've got such a great sense of humor, you won't even notice that I'm not joking about putting a huge plexiglass bubble around our country and teaching creationism to every student except the brown ones who are squeegeeing the huge plexiglass bubble.

Sarah Palin: Hi, guys and gals, it's me again! Log on to Facebook to check out the new word I just made up about our little dust-up with Libya: "squirmish." Isn't it cute? Todd and I have squirmishes all the time and then I tie him up and we reconcile.

Anyway, you all know me already, so remember, by golly...a vote for Sarah is a vote for patrioticness!

I hope you agree, this is an effective, efficient solution to picking the G.O.P. presidential candidate and a technique to make us realize what a daunting roster it truly is.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'm a nerd! That felt good.

Are you a nerd?

Are you a geek, a dweeb or a dork?

Are you a sci-fi-watching, fantasy-novel-reading, comic-book-hoarding techie?

I am. I know that's hard to believe, that beneath this hardened veneer of macho coolness lies a twit wearing a pocket protector and clutching a Dark Knight graphic novel.

But it's true.

Saturday, one of my idols, Leonard Nimoy, turned eighty years old. I'm not sure how many Vulcan years that is, but the guy is still going strong. Logical.

I had to throw in a Spockism, there. His full name is S'Chn T'Gai Spock, which sounds like a sneeze and a cough. He was born to a human mother and Vulcan father, and he's an intergalactic Dirty Harry, with ice water coursing through his veins, and in S'Chn's case, the water is green.

I've referenced Star Trek a couple of times in my blog, most notably when we we played it during second grade recess. We chose characters like we would for a pickup soccer game, but the two captains were Spock and Kirk. Usually it went something like, "Since you've got Scotty and Chekov, and I've got McCoy and Sulu, I'll give you the rest of the first graders (who are still standing, waiting to be chosen), since they'll be killed off early like they are on the show."

Game on.

It was all about a show which only ran three seasons and was in syndication by the time we were old enough to emulate its stars. One of my favorite elementary school era jokes involved Star Trek, and is told as follows:

What do the Starship Enterprise and toilet paper have in common?
They each circle Uranus and wipe out Klingons (insert nasally laughter).

To this day, I love that joke, that show and all of the movies involving that original cast. The nerd in me has persevered and apparently, I'm not alone in the wilderness of Dork National Forest.

I'd like to thank my friend, Scott, for calling my attention to this piece in The Guardian about the unprecedented popularity of the rock group, Rush. This power trio from Toronto has been rocking since 1974, but never really achieved popular acclaim, due to their "nerdy" lyrical themes of fantasy and science fiction.

The band  is now experiencing a renaissance due to a massive, international group of fans, mostly male, between the ages of thirty and fifty, who've decided to proclaim loudly and proudly, "We love Rush, we're not ashamed to admit it and we'll shout it from here to Narnia." Arenas have been selling out worldwide for these guys, during an otherwise lean era for most other musical acts.

Rush has stayed true to its base, and after thirty-seven years, is finally reaping what it's sown. Sure, we dork dudes can always stoop to the shallow musings of Van Halen or KISS, but nothing yanks our chains like "invisible airwaves crackling with life" (as referenced in my favorite Rush tune, The Spirit of Radio).

So here's to Leonard Nimoy, Rush, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, D.C. Comics and their legions of loyal followers.

May we all live long and prosper.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bored? I'll give you something to be bored about!

What bores you?

What makes your eyes glaze over and slows time down to the velocity of finger nail growth? What drives you to such distraction that, when you're in a room filled with people, you visualize how each person looks naked? Of course, I don't do this, especially at family gatherings.

And definitely not at work.

The reason I ask is that this is the time of year when nearly everyone with clinical brain activity fills out a March Madness bracket. It's fun, even if we know nothing about the teams, and just want to pick based on mascot name or school colors. We join office pools, internet contests or just pick the winners for our own entertainment, and for three weeks in early Spring, everyone follows his and her brackets with rapt attention.

And the funny thing is, no one cares who you picked. No one. I listened this morning to sports radio, as three of talk jocks reviewed their results thus far, what they'd done right or wrong, whom they had going to the Elite Eight and the Final Four. They interrupted each other constantly, trying to wittily share their prowess at prognostication and creating a wall of unintelligible sports banter.

I stopped paying attention immediately, because, in my humble opinion, other people's NCAA tournament selections are the epitome of melancholy. How else can I say it? Meaningless, stupid, inconsequential...boring.

So, this is an open call. I'd love to know what you consider the capital city of Dullsville, what ritual or activity to you attend and request a table for "bored, party of one."

For my wife, it's reality television and anything to do with my illustrious athletic career thirty years ago.

For my ten-year-old daughter, it's shopping for socks and underwear and anything to do with my illustrious athletic career thirty years ago.

My teenage daughter tells me that most things are boring, especially if they're done indoors while sitting, and anything to do with my illustrious...you know.

Please reply in the comments section. I want to hear about what makes your head explode.

As long as it's, you know, not my blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You'll have to slip me a Benjamin to clean that up.

Please forgive me for being so headline-obsessed lately, but I've found another one that I couldn't ignore, from Tuesday's Seattle Post Intelligencer:

"State senator at odds with ferry workers over vomit pay"

My first question was...what the hell is vomit pay? Is it some form of compensation for getting seasick while performing ferry duties? Are these people required to show proof of regurgitation along with an initialed time sheet?

It turns out I wasn't too far off. Washington State ferry workers are paid double their hourly rate for swabbing up previously digested food from the floors of the ferries. Aha, so that's what "poop deck" means.

State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has taken issue with this policy, and is pushing to re-align ferry employee pay with that of other state government workers. Her contention is that other occupations, such as prison guards, aren't equally compensated for performing similarly unpleasant tasks.

I must agree. And naturally, many jobs exist, both paid and unpaid, where people are reminded on a daily basis that the human body is ninety percent water. Anyone in the health care profession knows this, as does any human being who has ever performed parental duties.

As a dad of young children, I often wasn't even aware that I wore hazardous waste until I looked in the mirror at work, or a fellow employee told me I was wearing pasty Cheerio bits on the left kidney region of my V-neck sweater.

But what about the other jobs, the lines of work where people are hardly compensated to encounter and deal with a lot of nastiness? The prison guard again comes to mind, not because he or she occasionally must clean up a nasty mess, but also because they're often expected to break up "temporary marriages" as they're being consummated. Sound fun?

How about school teachers? My mom, a former first grade teacher, was thrown up on by a kid who'd eaten hot dogs for breakfast...on her head! That was always good for a chuckle or two around the dinner table.

Or what about bus drivers? Are they entitled to "Sociopath Pacification Pay", "Spicy Cheeto Dust in the Eye Pay" or "Ten Drug Deals Witnessed Before Ten AM Pay"? I don't think so.

Maybe actors also deserve remuneration for putting themselves in harm's way. How many times has Tom Cruise risked the inhalation of previously embedded bodily particulates expelled into his immediate atmosphere as the result of spontaneous couch bouncing? He gets nothing for it.

Listen, ferry workers. I'm not saying your jobs are easy. I've seen you people place yourself directly in the path of large trucks, waving them closer to you for that precious additional space. You station yourselves on the bows of your vessels, Puget Sound's worst tempests pounding at your mustaches and ponytails.

You are entitled to be paid decently and fairly by us, the Washington state taxpayers.

But until I see my mom's hot-dog-barf-to-the-face settlement check, put on an extra pair of  latex gloves and stop complaining.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When God Divorced.

Did God have a wife?

How irresistible a headline is that? That question reeled me in faster than Scarlett Johansson wrapped in nothing but the sports section, and that question was posed on MSNBC.com the other day.

According to Oxford scholar, Francesca Stavrakopoulous (she'd have to be a scholar to pronounce that), an early version of the Book of Kings mentions a deity named Asherah—God's wife. Asherah and her husband, Yahweh, were worshipped alongside each other in the ancient temples of the great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Over hundreds of years, as these texts were edited by greater numbers of males, Asherah was gradually phased out, effectively divorcing the couple and transforming God into Yahweh, single dad with custody of child, large and in charge.

Upon learning this, I felt compelled to acknowledge the elephant in the sanctuary, the question whose answer would have altered the history of world events like no other:

What if Mr. and Mrs. God had stayed married?

First of all, she would have told her husband to stop changing the outcomes of sporting events when players pointed up to him after touchdowns and dunks. On Sundays, he would have spent less time in front of the television and devoted more time to telling people they're welcome.

She would have prohibited him from speaking directly to George W. Bush and Pat Robertson, unless he agreed to let her correspond with Oprah and Barbara Walters.

She would have insisted that he tone down the Book of Revelation, since he was a little obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons at the time.

Asherah would have told Yahweh to march down the street to Satan's house (he used to call him Stan) with a six-pack under his arm, knock on the door and apologize for breaking his weed eater, because that's how the whole thing started. Then invite Jezebel and the kids over for a little potluck and Sangria.

Finally, she would've mandated that next time he creates a human and he's holding that crescent wrench, he reads the manual more carefully, so he can avoid that issue he had with Rush Limbaugh where his nuts broke off, tragic victim of too much wrist torque.

"Me Damnit!" God barked. "I already broke off Nugent's nuts and released him into the wild."

"Remember, Hon—you can't twist so hard. Lefty loosey, righty tighty."

"You know what? I married way over my head. I don't deserve you." Kisses her forehead.

"You aren't so bad yourself. Remember when we met? You seemed so full of yourself with the whole 'I'm God' thing. And when I said "no way are you King of Kings.' You, always the Mr. Witty Guy, said, 'Yaweh.'

"Oh, I need to turn on the game. I think today, the teams that point up here the least will be the winners. I like to keep these guys on their toes."

She rested her head on his chest, his downy grizzle tickling the spot where her hair came out. "You're terrible," she said, drinking in the familiar aromas of wood smoke and Speedstick.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trying on schools: One size doesn't fit all.

Every so often, we all get firmly spanked with the splintered paddle of mortality. And from my steadily graying perspective, the Grim Reaper's croquet mallet seems to whack me with ever greater frequency.

As I discussed in this post, my ten-year-old daughter and I have been visiting local middle schools recently. It's not like it used to be back in the day, when your elementary, junior high and high schools lay before you with greater certainty than the roof of your mouth being scraped to shreds from that second bowl of Cap'n Crunch.

We now have choices, which, I suppose, is good. My daughter already has a spot reserved in our neighborhood middle school, but we decided to perform this exercise as a backup plan, kind of like bringing two lighters with you on your way to the woods with a pack of smokes stolen from your mom's purse.

She and I had already checked out a small, private school, which we both liked a lot, but naturally would entail a sizable financial outlay.

We also had paid a visit to an alternative educational facility. Teachers and administrators were addressed on a first-name basis, the classes were quite informal and we were told that students embark on scores of camping trips and other excursions into nature. I can think of tons of kids who would love this type of program, but my little urban diva would not be one of them.

After watching a class discussion, with questions answered by children whose names were "Karma" and "Justice," we concluded that, although the building was great and the staff friendly and dedicated, it just wasn't our cup of herbal tea.

Our last school visit occurred on Wednesday, at the place she's slated to attend in the fall. After perusing the sixth grade section of the building, with stops at band, language arts and science classes, parents and students gathered in the cafeteria for a final pitch from our tour guide.

The counselor stood, surrounded by a semi-circle of visitors and listed the plethora of after-school clubs and activities available to students, including bus service afterward.

This is where the sale was closed.

"We've got so many great things for kids to do after school." He scanned the crowd to maintain eye contact. "There's steel drum band, chess club, math club, hip hop dance, hair styling..."

I felt a sharp poke to the side of my rib cage. My head reflexively jerked to the right to address the source of the irritation. She hoisted herself onto her tip toes and leaned into my ear. "Dad, I'm going to this school. I am so doing hair club," she whispered forcefully.

This wasn't a question, a suggestion or a request. "Okay," I mumbled back.

I visualized her, sometime in October, returning home around 4:30 and sporting Bo Derek corn rows or possibly a Ziggy Stardust orange mullet. Neither of us listened very intently from that point forward, since destiny had been acknowledged. We bid farewell to our host and walked silently to the minivan.

I had a moment.

Ten years ago, this girl I was walking alongside was a cackling toddler, able to insert a fistful of Cheerios, including fist, into her mouth. She was so dependent and fragile.

Ten years from now, this girl whose shoulders I placed my arm around, will be a young woman, possessing all of the rights and privileges of the full adulthood opening up before her. She'll be setting sail, and I'll be on the shore waving.

Sure, we've got some adventures ahead of us, but she'll never be a baby again.

She'll always be my baby, though.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now I know what’s behind the green door.

I'm not a runner.

In fact, I hate running with a searing passion.

My wife's a runner, my sister runs and my dad has completed thirteen marathons. A lot of my friends like to dart around on the pavement as well. I know it's a great form of exercise, since all you need are forty-five minutes, some decent shoes and the earth's surface.

Yada yada yada.

I've definitely participated in other activities while running, like yelling at buses to stop or fleeing from a college girlfriend I'd just broken up with, but I'd rather do just about anything than pound the asphalt with my size nine-and-a-halfs.

Sometimes, however, there's not a choice.

My wife and I have been encouraging our ten-year-old daughter to be more physically active, whether it's playing soccer, the Wii Fit or sucker punching me in the kidneys and wrestling me to the ground. So, when she agreed to participate in an annual Seattle event, the five-kilometer St. Patrick's Day Dash, I felt compelled to acquiesce, even though I'd rather guzzle a beaker of laboratory waste than plant myself in the middle of fifteen thousand fun runners.

My other daughter, the fifteen-year-old, is half shark, so her state of perpetual motion assures that she can finish a 5K without ceasing a text message, and my wife runs that far every single freaking day.

In other words, mouth, I'd like to introduce you to my money.
 
The four of us awoke early on a rainy Sunday morning, like early-church-service early, only this time, my mom wasn't around to spray my hair with Aquanet and help me clip on my tie. We parked a few blocks from the starting line, and didn't leave the extreme luxury of the heated minivan until the last possible minute. After all, why subject yourself to a torrential downpour when you can listen to two kids arguing about personal space in the back seat?
 
We decided that, prior to embarking on the nearly four-mile odyssey, we should hit the massive row of portable relief stations. I realized immediately that I had won the day's dirty parts lottery. Upon noticing the green "open" signal on the Honey Pot door, I advanced quickly and threw it open.
 
The butt was female. Two questions flooded my consciousness:
1) Why hadn't she locked the door?
2) Why is her naked bottom facing me?
 
She looked like a half naked football center, ready to snap me some sort of ball, but I wasn't sure about from where the ball would originate. I jerked backward faster than Tom Brady shifting into the shotgun formation, and sidestepped to a vacant box.
 
I needed a couple of minutes to relax after that. I rationalized that perhaps that lady practiced some sort of new age body syphoning, but I was a little shell shocked by the Eight a.m. moon rising I'd just witnessed.
 
Seattle people are funny.
 
The run began, and my fifteen-year-old disappeared into the distance with the runners, while my wife and I walked/ran with our younger daughter. The mood was festive, but the weather was cold and wet. I found myself encouraging our ten-year-old by pointing out that guy over there carrying an open keg over his shoulder. See how dedicated he is? He's also sharing, which is an admirable quality.
 
Maybe not the best example.
 
We walked and people-watched all the way down Aurora Avenue and back, and before long, we'd polished that course off. As we made our way through Seattle Center to rendezvous with our shark daughter, men in nothing but leprechaun hats and green underwear shivered as they lined up for the beer garden, but our experience was wrapping up.

Together at last, we dragged our soggy bodies in the direction of the minivan, but first I had to make one last stop.

This time I knocked first.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12: A Profile in Courage.

The words "bravery," "courage" and "sacrifice" tend to get thrown around a little too loosely in our society.

But not in this man's case.

Today marks the eighty-first anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi's 241-mile march to the sea in protest of Britain's salt monopoly in India. Back then, before the Brits had introduced the world to John, Paul, George, Ringo, William and Harry, they made a nice name for themselves exploiting those who didn't live in towns ending in "-rshire" or "-ngton" or "-tford."

Not only did the English control the salt trade, a staple in the Indian economy, but they also imposed oppressive salt taxes on the population.

Enter Mohandas, that bald ball of fury. Beginning his journey with seventy-eight followers, he paused to address large crowds along the way to Dandi, a sea town where his end  game was to defy the British prohibition against extracting salt from sea water. By the time Gandhi had wrapped up his trek, he'd accumulated a few more friends than even Dorothy on her weekend getaway to Oz.

Tens of thousands of people trailed behind him.

Civil disobedience takes more courage then just about anything I can imagine. These people have not only stood up to authority and intentionally broken laws, but they've risked, and often lost, their lives.

Most of us aren't willing to gamble to those extremes, but many aren't afraid to spend a few sleepless nights on the cold marble floors of the Wisconsin capitol building. Some may not possess the fortitude to subject their bodies to the fire hoses of 1960s Alabama, but they're game to solicit some signatures on a rainy Sunday afternoon in front of Safeway.

More than anyone, I can learn from my own advice. In 2003, when George W. Bush stood in the Iraq War's on-deck circle, I dragged my eight-year-old daughter to a massive protest march through downtown Seattle. I really wanted her to experience our democracy at work, and felt pretty self-satisfied, even though it's hardly dangerous to join thousands of like-minded citizens of liberal Seattle for a nice afternoon walk with some signs.

That's why it's so hard to imaging really laying it out there. Don't get me wrong; I've been a protester.

When Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, decided to kill professional basketball in Seattle by selling the SuperSonics to an ownership group from Oklahoma City, I rebelled by boycotting Starbucks delicious molasses cookies and any drink larger than a grande.

I've sent back subs for being a meatball short.

I've yelled at more referees on television than you can imagine, and I've even booed a few umpires right there at the park...you know, if I'm sitting really far away.

When my "No Iraq War" sign was stolen out of our yard, I promptly headed back to the Unitarian Church for a new one, and re-planted it defiantly, this time in the back yard.

Seriously, my heart holds a special compartment for the Gandhis, the Martin Luther Kings, the Egyptian citizens, the Libyan rebels and everyone else who lays it all on the line.

I can only hope to attain a fraction of their courage.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This weeks's Cheating Bastard Award goes to...

So much bad behavior from responsible adults this week.

First, Ohio State University head football coach, Jim Tressel, a man renowned for his integrity and paternal attributes, was caught lying. Allegedly, Tressel was informed by a trusted source, during April of 2010, that a few of his star players had been selling football paraphernalia (rings, jerseys, jackets.) to a tattoo shop operator, in exchange for cash and tattoos.

I wonder if that's like when you return something to Costco, and, rather than giving you the choice between cash and store credit, they say, "Okay, sir, we can refund your purchase in cash or you can step over to the right and Turk can etch a scorpion on your saggy right pectoral."

Even though the merchandise was considered property of the players, NCAA bylaws clearly state that gifts given by the institution to the student athlete may not be sold for profit, since this benefit is not available to other students at the school.

Coach Tressel waited until the fall, 2010 football season had concluded before reporting his players' transgressions to the university's compliance office, claiming that he had just learned about them. When confronted with evidence that he'd actually been informed back in April, the sweater-vest-wearing father figure stated that he would have said something, but he just didn't know whom to tell.

Hmmm...didn't know whom to tell.

Maybe that'll be my defense next time I get yelled at for not refilling the toilet paper. Didn't know whom to tell.

Let's face it. Jim Tressel didn't want to risk a few games without his star players...so he cheated.

We've all cheated, once, twice or fifty times. We cheated as kids, and we've cheated as adults.

Have you ever been with a large group of people, and someone says something really funny, but for whatever reason, you're the only one who hears? Then, when things quiet down, you repeat the joke and everyone laughs? You stole the joke. You cheated.

Or how about that time you found out you were getting the expanded cable package, but were only paying for the basic service? Sweet! Screw those guys! Cheating, nonetheless.

Little kids cheat all the time, but that's because they don't really understand the rules in the first place. In fact, every time I was forced to play Candyland with my young daughters, I not only let them cheat, I encouraged it: "You know what? Actually, your piece should be over here, on Queen Frostine. You don't really have to go back twenty-seven spaces."

The only adults who enjoy Candyland are serving time in Super Max solitary.

Our parents, and society at large, tolerates diminishing doses of cheating as we age, which is why the grown-ups who do it are the most despicable. Think about those such as  Enron and A-Rod, Milli Vanilli and Rosie Ruiz, who won the New York City Marathon thanks to a relaxing ride on a subway train.

They are not liked.

And that brings me to my other recipients of this week's Undistinguished Cheater Award: the Republican members of the Wisconsin Assembly, who circumvented rules on quorum and crammed through the passage of a bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees. Since the Democratic contingent of the Assembly has boycotted these proceedings, not enough members were in attendance to stage a vote on the bill.

However, since a quorum is only necessary for voting on bills which pertain to spending, all spending language was removed, thereby making their tactic possible.

Possible, but unethical. Possible, but highly unpopular and divisive.

Possible, because they cheated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bullies to the left of me, outcasts to the right.

Have you ever been bullied?

Have you ever been a bully?

Have you ever felt so ostracized that you wanted to devolve into an amoeba and squirm back into the earth's primordial bisque?

Have you ever humiliated someone so badly that you felt as if someone else were actually inhabiting your body, manipulating the controls like an evil, goatee-wearing anti-you?

This morning, my ten-year-old daughter and I embarked on the first leg of Middle School Rush, 2011, where we visit a few schools and then make a choice. Upon entering the cafeteria at one of these sixth, seventh and eighth grade facilities, we were assaulted by the biggest non-freeway sign upon which I've ever focused my retinas.

The banner read, "I will report any bullying to an adult at school and at home. Our school does not tolerate bullying of any kind." The letters were hand drawn, but had they been digitally rendered, we're talking 4512 point, Helvetica Nueue Extra Bold Extended.

I stared at that sign. I focused on it while I should have been listening to the presentation. I thought about all the times I've been the victim of intimidation or have dealt it out myself.

There was that eighth grader who, every time his saw my chubby, seventh grade body walking down the junior high hallway toward him, conjured up a different creative way to terrorize me. Whether it was hawking a mouthful of his DNA into my face, slugging me in the stomach or sticking his foot out as I rounded a corner, in my dreams and conscious thought, his image personified dread.

I can't remember singling out my own victims back in those days, but I certainly never came to the defense of the exploited, nor did I avoid pointing out an individual's physical or intellectual anomalies to them... face to face, for all the minions in my mob to appreciate.

I, and so many others, wore both faces of bullying. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, half of all school age children have or will be victims of bullying, and ten percent will suffer repeatedly. Most bullies have also been subject to physical abuse or bullying themselves.

Even if we don't recall being overtly bullied, who doesn't remember moments feeling ostracized, whether it was lining up to choose teams at recess and being picked last, or being the only kid not invited to a slumber party.

So many degrees.

Nothing beats a good Hollywood outcast story, where the social pariah defies the odds, defeats his oppressors and pumps his fist in slow motion to end the movie. I'm not sure real life follows suit so closely.

Both Karate Kids—Jaden Smith and the forty-two-year-old-who-played-a-fourteen-year-old-Ralph Macchio—portrayed outcasts who emerged successfully, but had to learn to kill flies with chopsticks first. The same held true for David Carradine in Kung Fu. He had to kick ass to get respect. I always thought he was the epitome of cool...right up until that last part.

Some movie outcasts emerge victorious with no talent or skill, just grit, determination or luck. Examples of this category are The Bad News Bears, Rocky and any role awarded to Keanu Reeves.

Others gained acceptance, but only due to a freakish attribute, such as Rudolph, Rain Man and John Holmes.

And finally, scores of cinematic misfits have typified the dark side of rejection, where insecurity morphed into angst, which exploded into psychosis. Cases in point: Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, Sissy Spacek in Carrie and Charlie Sheen in Winning.

As I sat in that middle school cafeteria, I finally commanded my brain to hail a mental taxi and return to the present moment;  I needed to cease with the ruminating about bullying. After all, I never spoke with my parents about it, and look how I turned out.

I think it's time to have a talk with my kid.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Freeze! Morality Police! Now Spread ’Em!

These guys are killing me.

I remember thinking, during the darkest hours of the W. Bush administration, "There's no way things can get any worse. There's not a chance that we'll ever again experience such a perfect storm of hubris, ignorance and stupidity.

And while we are no longer subject to a president who purportedly received his marching orders from JC, we definitely haven't emerged from the wilderness of Bonehead National Park.

I enjoy writing my Saturday posts because they usually pertain to lighter subjects, like anniversaries of historical events, birthdays or general public interest stories. But this morning as I perused my local paper, I was summarily bludgeoned across the face with a double whammy from the idiot sausage.

In back-to-back headlines, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee lambasted Natlie Portman for glamorizing the idea of out-of-wedlock children. Not to be outdone, the burnt-ember faced Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, has threatened to defend a federal ban on gay marriage in court, after Attorney General Eric Holder declared the ban unconstitutional.

Above is a nice photo of the Huckabee family, taken while Mr. Mike was still governor. Such a handsome assembly could only have been conceived under the auspices of wedded bliss. Oh, by the way, Huckabee boys, Bed, Bath and Beyond called and they want their bunk bed sheets back.

Okay, that was a cheap shot. I'm obviously jealous that I never had the opportunity to pose for a family portrait with the Arkansas executive mansion in the background and a hearty Sunday buffet just around the corner.

Who is this man to judge Natalie Portman's decisions? He claims that she "glamorizes" out-of-wedlock child bearing, but I have yet to see any TV spots featuring Ms. Portman, where she proclaims, "Hi, girls. I'm Natalie Portman. I  now you're only sixteen, but kudos for hooking up with that hot senior guy. You're going to love being a single mom, and really, you aren't a single mom. Your mom will need to help out a lot, too! Out-of-wedlock births: for a night, for a lifetime."

For some reason, these conservative talking heads, like Huckabee and Boehner, believe that if it weren't for their steadfast defense of "traditional values," our entire culture would evolve into a huge, Caligula-style orgy.

I wish.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my male work friends married his longtime partner. It wasn't some bacchanalian festival of perversion, it was a wedding, with a reception and everything. Of course, they won't have the rights of heterosexual married couples, especially if Mr. Speaker has any say in the matter, and it's interesting how Boehner chooses to inject himself into all of this.

Maybe he subscribes to the opinions of Ken Hutcherson, pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, a massive full service operation here in the Seattle area, who has been at the forefront of gay discrimination legislation. During an interview a few years ago on one of Seattle's conservative talk radio stations,  I listened as Reverend Hutcherson shared his belief that if our society were to allow same sex marriage, it would instantly throw open a Pandora's box of deviant couplings, such as polygamy or bestiality. By the looks of the above photograph, such practices are already legal in Arkansas.

Okay, sorry. Not cool.

Can't these people attempt to focus  on the issues which actually threaten America, like jobs, infrastructure, a new energy policy and a long term plan for the two wars we're waging? The Republicans claimed to have received an electoral mandate with their sweeping victory during the fall of 2010, so it's time to put up or shut up.

For a group of people who ostensibly despise government excess and intrusion, they seem concerned exclusively with projecting their personal social values onto others, while ignoring everything else.

Like my mom used to say, "Go out and do something productive."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who can smoke more crack than two-and-a-half men?

Raise your mouse if you've had your fill of Charlie Sheen.

Yep. That's what I thought. Nothing voices the discontent of the masses like mice held aloft.

Most of us have seen at least a portion of his "Apocalypse Now" tour, and I've been as guilty as everyone else about slowing down and contributing to the traffic jam in order to get a good look at this human rollover accident.

He's so very delusional, claiming ownership of "tiger blood and an Adonis body." Chaz carries himself with the swagger of a world class party animal, physically and mentally superior to all. He claims an ability to ingest enough drugs to put Walgreen's out of business during one of their "all-you-can-pop" Sunday buffets.

I've been trying to decipher Sheen's motivation for conducting interviews ad nauseum to virtually anyone who'll give him air time. Maybe he's stating his case to carry the flag for Team USA in the next Drug Olympics in Bogata. He could compete in the crack smoking event, representing the seven-gram rock category, followed by the bong tokathon, where Willie Nelson competes as a seven-and-a-half hit favorite. A determined Nelson claimed he'd "be satisfied with nothing less than the Colombian Gold."

This past week, Charlie's no-regrets, party warrior manifestos collided with another scandal in the world of collegiate athletics. Brandon Davies, a starting forward for the third-ranked Brigham Young University basketball team, was dismissed for the remainder of the season for violating the Mormon school's honor code.

In a heartfelt apology to his teammates, Davies admitted to having had "premarital relations" with his girlfriend (I'm wondering how he was caught), and expressed extreme remorse for letting his teammates and school down.

Here is the BYU honor code as obtain from the university's website:

Be honest.
Live a chaste and virtuous life.
Obey the law and all campus policies.
Use clean language.
Respect others.
Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse.
Participate regularly in church services.
Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards.
Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code.

Okay, when I was in college, I broke at least eight of those rules on a typical Wednesday night.

I understand that Mr. Davies and every other student who enters BYU are made fully aware of the code prior to signing up.

But this is a little nutty.

What sort of outlets are left for these young folks to blow off a little steam? Play a heated game of Risk? Role play with naked Ken and Barbie dolls? Split an entire half rack of Sprite Zero with your roomie?

I'm not privy to the culture in Provo, Utah, but these kids have got to have some underground resources at their disposal, or bad things are bound to happen. Living in America, this land of extremes, can't we find a middle ground between complete abstinence and blowing our brains out a la Chuck Sheen?

Yes, we can. It's called Canada.