Easy for Me to Judge

This is interesting. Here I am hanging out in a coffee shop for the wi fi access during my lunch break, and here’s a lovely young woman hitting on a dude with a Mac. He was sitting there with his ear buds in, watching a video or two. She approached after sitting across the room for a few minutes, and now they’re still talking politics even after he botched her name.
Geez dude, ask her to sit down already.
I can make these kinds of observations because I’m 51 years old, happily married for 22 years, and thankful that I don’t have to do the flirty-dance anymore.
Holy crap dude! She’s leaving! She just wanted to sit down. Man, do I want to knock some sense into him.

My Greatest Goal in Life

I love teaching in college classrooms. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach communication, news writing and broadcast journalism for a handful of universities over the years in Oklahoma and here in North Carolina.

During the first few days of class, I have always given my students early access to a bonus question they will see on their final exam. (Not that big a deal, I suppose, but it’s worth enough points to save them if they manage to blow an entire essay response on the test.) That question is: “What is the greatest goal in my life?” Not their lives. My life. I spell it out bit by bit early in the course, and eventually just blurt it out after a few days.

This isn’t an ego trip so much as it’s an incentive to show up to class. During the course of our classes, I will offer clues to the answer. Needless to say, I’ve not yet attained this goal, nor do I pursue it with much vigor. I’ve always assumed it as an acquired state of being, this goal. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. The fact that I’m not there yet and obvious reason why make up its pure entertainment value.

No, I’m not telling. A, I don’t have a teaching gig lined up right now, and B, that would be cheating. Go to class.

The Three Dart Rule

First off, let me be up front. This isn’t my idea and I can’t really take credit for it. It comes from a forgotten (to me, anyway) stand up comedian I heard years ago. Despite my lousy memory, I still think it’s a stroke of genius, albeit a completely unworkable idea. It came to mind a day or so ago when the holiday shopping season got started in ernest.

Picture this: What if your state department of motor vehicles issued you a suction cup-dart gun and a dozen darts every year when you renew your tags? You’d keep the dart gun loaded and in your car at all times and use it when you see someone make an egregious traffic violation that could kill you or at least really make you mad. So, if some greaseball cuts you off and makes you swerve off the road, you zap him with a dart. Maybe a vapid, oblivious valley-girl drifts into your lane while she’s texting her BFF. It’s dart time.

The police, meantime, would be on the lookout for cars with a minimum of three darts stuck to them. If somebody’s earned three darts, the police would pull them over, and write them up for being a jerk.

You’d only get 12 darts per year, so you can’t go around darting people willy-nilly, but at least the maniacs out there would have to watch their P’s and Q’s regardless whether there’s a cop around or not.

I love this, but I did admit it’s completely unrealistic. Me, I’d be out of darts in about 15 minutes. I’d also have six or seven dozen darts stuck on my car from my son even if I was sitting still in a parking lot.

Stan Kenton and the Internet

I love instrumental music. Not that I don’t like vocals, I just spent most all of my music-making experience (high school and college) in instrumental groups so it feels closer to me. I’ve been living vicariously through my children lately while their high school marching band has laid waste to most of its competition. They have come through the band program I wish I was in all those years ago. The genre has come a long, long way. These days, a band on a high school football field doesn’t do a bunch of geometric designs to a few pop 40 radio tunes, they put on 10-minute symphonic Broadway-style shows. Check out a high school game sometime and you might see what I mean.

Anyway, I digress. While browsing YouTube just out of curiosity for a few world champion DCI performances (Drum Corp International; they call themselves the “Marching Music’s Major League”), I stumbled on a couple of my favorite big band titles that had been chosen by the DCI groups for their competitions. That, in turn led me to something I had never considered. Live recordings of some of my jazz idols from decades gone by. I of course figured that I’d find videos of contemporary bands playing not so contemporary music online, but not the originals. Duh! Why wouldn’t they be there?

There he was, my favorite big band leader, Stan Kenton and his orchestra (complete with the mellophone section!) playing for a live audience in London. In fact, some of that music was from the very performances that haave been in my collection for years. It was incredible. I burned two hours listening to music that I thought I knew inside and out. But now I had discovered a thousand fresh nuances. I could see who was playing what, how they moved, and how the music moved them. It was awesome.

Kenton and his bands were always special to me. He showed a clear dedication to music education in his later years. During the 70’s his bands would appear at high school and college jazz band competitions around the country offering performance clinics to student musicians during the day and then a concert for the competing schools the end the night. I learned so much from the Kenton trumpet section as we rehearsed our charts the afternoon before the competition. I don’t even remember how well we did in our division. I just remember listening to a professional musician telling us about how he felt the music, felt the drumstick hitting the cymbal from across the stage, and felt the lead sax player taking his next breath. My dad said he was probably stoned.

I also learned that I needed a lot more practice.

Thanks YouTube, and thanks Stan.

A Simple Breakfast

We have a beagle/Labrador mix with a great nose and growing red zone. Ella is about a year and a half old. She’s a sweetie. Very loving and loyal, but with an ornery streak. Not long after realizing that she’s tall enough to reach the top of the kitchen counter with her snout, she’s begun to expand her exploration area. Namely, food left in the six to eight inches nearest the edge of the counter. That’s the red zone.

We’ve gotten a lot better about keeping goodies out of reach, but there are those moments.

This morning, all I wanted for breakfast was a bagel and strawberry cream cheese. My youngest daughter had made herself just that before school. I dropped off everyone at school (my wife teaches), drove home, warmed up my coffee, and popped a fresh bagel in the toaster. I turned to the fridge. No cream cheese. That was irritating. I just bought that stuff a day or so ago, and I watched my daughter use it no more than half an hour ago.

I looked behind all the clutter on the counter, in the pantry, went back to the fridge and looked behind all the leftovers in those little disposable Tupperware-wannabe containers. Nothing.

Ella meantime, was especially bouncy. She wanted to play chase through the house. She grabbed a couple of toys and dropped them at my feet. This isn’t her usual style. She usually climbs on the sofa and curls up on a pillow until about noon. Why would she be so amped up now?

I walked around the kitchen table to pick up an old candy wrapper from the floor, and happened to glance out the patio door to the back porch. There is was. Just inches away from the doggy door was a partially chewed, but completely empty red and white plastic tub that read: “Strawberry Cream Cheese Spread 16 oz”. Clearly, the red zone has been expanded.

I ate some stupid cereal.


Amateur Astronomy Outreach

I grew up in an era of fantastic change and wonder. As a child of the ‘60s I remember Werner Von Braun (the quintessential rocket scientist) and Walt Disney on my black and white TV screen telling me that I might grow up to have a career in space. Captain Kirk was making the galaxy safe for democracy (even though he came on the air after my bedtime) and my grandmother was a civilian working for the Air Force ordering liquid oxygen tanks destined for Cape Kennedy and NASA.

Sure enough, before I was 10 years old, guys my dad’s age were walking around on the moon! There was nothing we couldn’t do. We were figuring out how the universe worked, how big it is and how tiny we are. Not just figuring it out, but going there. That sense of wonder never left me.

My parents helped me buy my first telescope when I was in middle school. I bought my first “real” scope not long after I got my first “real” job. There is nothing better after a rotten day than to sit outside for a few hours under a clear, silent sky and look. Just look. It puts absolutely everything into perspective, and I love sharing it.