Friday, June 29, 2007

It's All the Same

Mr. Althouse has been a very busy beaver! What with summer-time household chores, social activities, kids - and the work at this time of year always keeps me hopping - it’s a wonder there is time left for anything else. Ok, it’s not as bad as all that and despite a hectic and irregular schedule, there remains plenty of time for my personal pursuit of happiness. And a very good thing that is, for happiness is exactly what I am currently pursuing.

Although my posts of late have been decidedly upbeat, I must confess that the external part of what drives my attitude is nothing different than it was a week ago, a month ago or even almost seven years ago when I was in a near fatal accident. True, there are major changes in my physical condition today, my physical surroundings and my place in society have improved, but none of that really has much to do with the harmony I now enjoy. Indeed, much of that good fortune is resultant, not causal. The change came from the inside - external realities remain largely unchanged, despite the obvious and vast superficial improvements.

It is my nature to question things. I am quite sure I inherited that quality from my father. My mom had a part in it as well, I am sure. When things weren’t going all that well in my life, I tried to analyze what could possibly be going wrong. Oh sure, there were some poor choices, and definitely some shortsightedness on my part, but that didn’t explain the terrible luck that cursed me so. It seemed to me that no matter how hard I tried, how much I thought I had it coming or that it surely would be my turn this time, it never went my way. I couldn’t explain it and my only response was to build a wall. The best offense is a good defense, or so they say.

It should come as no surprise that, now that my life seems to be experiencing the harmony I truly believed would never come, I would try to figure that out too. Why leave well enough alone? I have this insane urge to deconstruct everything, even serenity. Fortunately, I have come a long way in just the past few years and one thing I have recently begun to conclude is as simple as it is profound: Nothing has changed. Nothing external anyway. The change in my world stemmed from a slow but gradual progression towards the positive. I didn’t know it at first, but every little setback and all that bad luck didn’t have to effect me negatively - and today it doesn’t.

I have come to the realization that it has always been this way. Not just for me, but for everyone and forever. There have always been some who are more upbeat than others. Why? Circumstance? There’s a wealth of evidence to refute that claim. Luck? That doesn’t stand up either. It has to be something more. It has to be a choice one can make because in the final analysis, anyone can be happy. It is a lifestyle that can be learned and taught and perhaps my drive to document my experience in coming to this paradigm of life is an attempt to pass along what I’ve discovered.

The really crazy thing is that the more positive my attitude becomes, the happier I am - and that is the reward - nothing more. It’s not a house or a car or money or prestige, it’s the ability to walk on the bright side of life. And then, “things” start to happen. Things that do not necessarily add any greater happiness - but they add greater comfort. I didn’t do the things I did to get here for this stuff - I did it because I was dying inside and if nothing changed - I was going to die on the outside. Today, it’s all brand new and along with the happiness I coveted so much came the things that I thought would bring it. Little did I know it was the other way around. And just when I thought I had it all, recently more has been revealed… And it all fits so neatly and harmoniously together. That’s what it’s all about.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Perpetual Tentativeness

My job is not the typical nine to five gig. I’ve had those jobs, I’ve enjoyed some of them and I’ve done quite well financially in the past, but one of the best parts of my job today is its unpredictability. Reporting the news requires a degree of flexibility and the willingness to make sacrifices. My hours are, in large part, dictated by events that I have nothing to do with. It helps that I am at a point in my life where I can go where the story takes me, but I really don’t view my perpetual tentativeness as a negative - I like it.

On the down side, the pay could be better. I am not starving, however, and the upward mobility at my level is huge. I am just starting this, my fifth or sixth career - I must be patient. It is a virtue I have become more adept at in my middle age and finding and living a dream job in every other respect goes a long way toward mitigating any financial stress. Furthermore, the qualities that make my job so exciting are also poised to expand and will, in time, make the experience that much richer - whether or not is does the same to my bank account.

I was writing a very dear friend just the other day about the wildfire in South Lake Tahoe. Although it does not fall within my newspaper’s coverage area, it is very close and our parent paper did have a reporter on the story. It reminded me of how exciting this job can be. Last year I had the opportunity to cover a fire at Rollins Lake, near Colfax, Calif. It was a much smaller fire than the one currently burning in Tahoe and fortunately no structures were lost. I told my friend that I would tell her the story of that experience soon. As promised, my dear…

I was on my way home from Colfax to Fair Oaks. I was listening to KFBK radio news when a story broke about a fire at the Peninsula Campground at Rollins Lake. Peninsula Campground is perhaps the most remote of all the campgrounds around the lake. I called my editor to find out if she knew about the fire. She didn’t, but she did call her boss at the Auburn Journal to see if they had anyone on it. They didn’t. My editor called me back and asked if I could cover it - we already had a photographer en route.

I had just arrived at my home when I turned around to go back up. The Auburn Journal wanted the story for the Sunday morning paper and it was already Saturday evening. At the time, all of my experience was at the Colfax Record, a weekly, with deadlines measured in days, not hours. It was about 5 p.m., by 6 p.m. I was on the scene interviewing evacuees before heading into the fire zone. I met with our photographer who was on his way out - he was done - and the public information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who took me on a tour of the fire area.

It was still on fire! Now, I am not so amazed today as I was then, but when they say a fire is contained or controlled, that does not mean it is out. We drove through a veritable inferno. I could smell it, sure, but I could taste it and feel it as well. Fortunately that day the weather was on the side of the firefighters and the fire was limited to just 30 acres (at last report, the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe stands at 3,000 acres scorched and more than 200 structures lost). It could have been worse.

I left the scene at about 7:30 or 8 p.m. By the time I got to Colfax, it was getting very close to my deadline - the presses were waiting and the photo was already placed - they just needed my story. The pressure was on like never before. I wrote like the wind… almost as though I was possessed, watching as my fingers flew across the keyboard. Shortly before my 10 p.m. deadline, my story was filed via email and I took a deep breath. In a matter of just five hours I accomplished so very much - and beat every other newspaper. The local TV news crews were there, but we were the only paper.

Fire season is upon us once again. It will be worse than last year and I hope that we get through it without any major fires. However, if one breaks out you can bet that I’ll be dropping everything to respond to the scene and write the story. It could be a story of triumph or tragedy, of heroism or arson, of tears and joy… no matter, I’ll be there to report it. I love my job!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Never Better

I am often asked how I am doing. Everyone is, it seems. It has become a greeting suffix. “Hello, how are you doing?” It is a question that carries with it a de facto response of, “Good (or for those who insist upon grammatical correctness, “Well”), how are you?” Even if things are not so good, we don’t say so, it’s not part of the ritual. There is nothing terribly wrong with this and I guess that among close friends the question is a true expression of concern. Strangers and acquaintances don’t really want to know how you are, just that you are “good” (or again… “well”).

I bring all this up not because I want people to stop this ritual, I really don’t care nor do I expect my pointing it out will change anything. It is hardly a revelation - it’s an observation that is made regularly. But just as a response in the negative is not expected, neither is a response in the extreme positive. My response of late has been something like, “Never better, on top of the world, glad to be alive, etc. - and you?” It opens the door to how we are really feeling and often I am asked why I feel so good.

Although I can point to some very specific things in my life that I am satisfied… more than satisfied with, it’s far more than that. It defies definition and is impossible to explain in passing conversation. It is not a phenomenon that occurred overnight, but rather took some work, some patience and being present in my life. It is a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual harmony - a convergence of sorts that I doubt I could orchestrate and never predict. I am in a good space and others notice - I am attracting those who place value on the positive.

There is a synergistic effect that produces more positive energy. It’s palpable - you can almost taste it. The best part? There is no limit - it is unlimited. I can respond to life in a way that fosters growth or languish in a static tailspin - the choice is mine. It’s easier today to take the positive highroad; positive energy begets positive energy and after slowly working it up, the level is good and getting better everyday. The evidence in my life is overwhelming and just when I think it couldn’t be better, opportunity comes calling again out of the clear blue.

Perhaps I’m just a lucky S.O.B. Maybe it’s just my turn for fortune to smile upon me. I guess I could believe that and it might even be true - a great cosmic coincidence that I had nothing to do with. I grant that is possible, but I don’t buy it. I believe that through slowly and steadily placing one foot ahead of the other, I have crossed that great divide that separates those who merely survive from those who thrive. It’s not about stuff, it’s not about money (trust me) and it’s not about popularity; it’s about knowing who I am and liking that person. It’s about right here right now. It’s good to be alive.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

There are times when I feel I am regressing in my knowledge of certain things. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that due to my own inability or unwillingness to keep up, some technologies have passed me by. This is not a new revelation, nor is it particularly distressing - I am quite content with my newfound ignorance. However, when I decided to take off my “network administrator’s” hat, it was short order before I was choking on the dust of the younger, faster and tech-savvy whiz kids of the World Wide Web.

About four or five years ago and after about ten or more years removed from actively working in the world of computer networking, I finally accepted my role as an end-user. No longer building the fastest machines around, not able to afford the never-ending cost of keeping up with the cutting edge, I threw in the towel. In 2004 I committed the final act of heresy - I became the owner of Mac. I didn’t intend to jump ship, but since my penchant for running my machines with their cases constantly opened had waned, one by one my PCs fell into disrepair - and like the proverbial Timex watch, the Mac kept ticking.

Although my end-user status does allow me to keep up to date on the new and ever improving gizmos, gadgets and now widgets that keep coming onto the scene, I have been slow to take advantage of them. I have been “online” in one form or another since the early 80s. From telephone coupler modems connecting to the Stanford University VAX mainframe in high school all the way to the broadband access I enjoy today, I have been connected. But of late, I have only availed myself of the pre-packaged, mostly free interfaces from which others can access my work. For the past 18 months, that interface has been Blogger from Google.

I like Blogger. I like how easy it is to set up and maintain and I like that it is one of only a few “mainstream” weblog packages. It has served its purpose and for the immediate future it will continue to. The biggest drawback has been that the URL is entirely too long. Although I am happy to have the first part - 25yearplan - the second part - - gets a little difficult to explain and even more so for others to remember. It’s all just a bit too cumbersome. That’s why I registered as my domain. I now own it - it’s mine. The old .blogspot URL and links to it still work and until I take the next step of having my blog (and future web site) hosted elsewhere, it will, but today typing “” into the URL field on any browser will take you there (here) as well.

I feel as though I have taken a small, but important step to establish my unique identity on the web. As the weeks and months come and go, there will be more to announce and exciting new directions to take as my world literally expands. I am leaving the roadside rest-stop and merging back into the ever-increasing traffic of the information super-highway. I’m well rested and ready to go. I wonder what the speed limit is these days?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Than a Job

Another Tuesday down. It is my most exhausting day of the week. Monday comes in a close second. For the newspapers I do most of my writing for, Tuesday night is the drop-dead deadline. The “official” deadline is Monday, but there is still time to make adjustments and get in breaking news all the way up to Tuesday night - about right now, as a matter of fact. This week was a full one with one rather lengthy feature story and another rather involved news story mixed in with the run-of-the-mill stuff.

Wednesday is my day to decompress and my editors’ day to scramble. They have to assemble their respective papers as both go to print Wednesday night for delivery Thursday morning… very early Thursday morning. Twice a month, I have to go well beyond deadline because the Colfax City Council meeting is held on the second and forth Tuesday nights and often doesn’t finish until close to midnight. Then I write, filing my story in the wee hours before my editor comes in on Wednesday morning. Thankfully, that was last week - and next week.

On Thursday the routine starts anew: What stories I will get; what’s going on in the upcoming week; and always being prepared to pounce on anything that might break are all within my purview. Usually it slowly gets more and more frenetic as the next Monday approaches… and this week’s city council meeting guarantees yet another late Tuesday night. And I’m loving every minute of it. The cool part is the excitement of this career is only beginning to touch my life. Compared to where it could (and probably will) go, I have only scratched the surface.

At this level, the money is not an issue. I mean that literally - it’s barely enough to survive on. I am not, however, complaining. First, I know this is a temporary situation. The money will get better and although I don’t necessarily expect to strike it rich, I haven’t ruled it out either. I do know that I will get by with everything I need and then some. The bigger payoff is already happening. I love my job. It’s all the things I hate… pressure, deadlines, expectations, consistency, perseverance, dedication and most of all… it’s work. And yet I love it.

It could be because, despite all the external forces pushing on me, it still has a large degree of independence and perhaps even more importantly, it allows me to produce a product that is uniquely mine. Many other people can do my job and even write my stories, but they won’t be my stories. Same message, true, but the uniquely individual delivery - my style - is mine and mine alone, good bad or otherwise. Of course, writing freelance I am decidedly self-employed, but even when I was on the payroll, the individualistic nature of the job gives it the flavor of self-employment. It is the sort independence that can’t be replicated by big money or a corner office.

I thrive on the excitement of not knowing what’s around the next corner. I enjoy the late hours. I thrills me to no end that I rarely have to get out of bed before 9 a.m. A dream job to be sure. Even if a story dictated much earlier hours (more than a few have), I’m up for it and don’t have any problem snapping to attention at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. or… perish the thought… earlier! And when breaking news calls me away from dinner or a date - I’m there without a second thought. It’s more than a job, it’s my life.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Father's Son

Father’s Day has come and gone 44 times in my life. For the past 21 years, I have been both father and son. I haven’t always been the best in either role, but I have always meant well. Good intentions, however, are never enough. It takes so much more and for me, that took a long time. It took my experiencing life from the other side of the father/son paradigm; it took maturity; it took patience and understanding; it took work. Today I have a very good relationship with my father and all three of my sons, but it wasn’t always that way…

In my pre-teen years, I remember doing all the things families do. We went camping and hiking, took vacations to Disneyland; summer evening bicycle rides downtown to the ice cream shop and Sunday morning rides to the donut shop were just a few of our family activities. There was an informal Fourth of July block party every year and a spontaneous game of stickball in the cul-de-sac wasn’t uncommon. Almost all of the kids went to the school just two blocks away. Every July the moms would harvest the fruit from the apricot trees left behind from the orchard that used to be our street and prepare it for drying. It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting - suburbia in the late sixties. It was only a short drive, but a million miles away from the upheaval surrounding us in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.

By the time I started junior high school, the dust had begun to settle. Nixon was out, the war in Vietnam was finally over - the summer of love was but a distant memory. We were the generation without a cause, but still rebellious. In the tumult that came with my teenage years, it seemed that my father and I had less and less in common. In time and in order to justify my rebellion, I built a case that we just couldn’t get along - that he just didn’t understand me and moreover, didn’t care to. If he would just see things my way all would be well - my obstinacy never figured into the equation.

Throughout high school and beyond, we had a tenuous relationship that would at times be tolerable bordering on pleasant and at others be entirely antagonistic. He would do things to help me that he thought appropriate while I would counter with my own ideas of what I thought were right. His idea of supportiveness and mine were often diametrically opposed to one another. I had certain expectations that I believed were not being fulfilled and I extrapolated that to a deluded belief of malicious intent on his part. I was not seeing anything close to the whole picture; my self-centeredness completely clouded reality.

For a number of reasons, not the least of which are my own experiences with fatherhood, I have made a complete about-face in my perception of how things were. I know today (and have for sometime now) that my dad only had the best of intentions. I know today that he did what he thought was best and no matter how much I felt otherwise, he has been in my corner all along. I can’t even begin to list the great many instances that illustrate his devotion, his commitment and his love. No matter how far I went astray, he was always there to help me up and dust me off.

In this respect and many others, I am absolutely my father’s son. I have stood by my own children even when they wanted nothing to do with me. I have tried to help and had it blow up in my face. I have had to say no when I really wanted to say yes. I have tried to defend myself with logic when dealing with entirely illogical behavior. Throughout it all, I remain undaunted. I am still in the game and I’m committed to be there until the end of my days. It’s part of the job I willingly accepted so many years ago. It’s how fatherhood was modeled for me and although I can’t say I am the perfect father, I have been perfectly devoted to my children.

With Father’s Day now only a little more than an hour away, I find myself reflecting on my relationship with my dad over the years. I think he would agree that the last two or three years have been the best in a very long time… maybe ever. Curiously, that poor, misunderstood, maligned son that was the picture I had framed for myself is now shattered. I led a charmed childhood; I was given every opportunity and had the love and support of my mother and my father right up until this very moment. The past in not what it once was. Who says you can’t go back in time?

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You did a good job. I love you.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two-Wheeled Memories

My very first bicycle was a Sears Free Spirit single speed kid's bike. It was red and had a coaster brake - pedal backwards and the rear brake engaged. The frame resembled the Schwinn Stingray, with the curved seat stays that extended beyond the seat tube in an arc all the way to either side of the serpentine down tube. It was a classic design. Mine was not, however, a Stingray. It was a practical and respectable Free Spirit. Therefore, there were no high-rise handlebars, no banana seat and no sissy bar. It did come complete with a set of training wheels and was given to me by my parents on my fifth birthday - December 6, 1967.

I learned how to ride a bike that winter. It had shiny chrome fenders, white accents and a chain guard. After it rained, water would remain puddled up in one special spot across the street. There were no sidewalks or curbs on my street; the puddle was formed by a high spot on the street side and another on the house side. My training wheels would rest there while my rear wheel would hang just low enough to hit the water. I could then pedal furiously sending a rooster-tail of water skyward. The other kids on my street took turns in a game of ducking under the arc, side to side. I was on top of the world.

Soon enough, the time came to wean me away from the training wheels. My dad removed them and in short order I was precariously perched on my now two-wheeled machine. With my dad holding the bike steady behind the seat, he ran with me holding the bike up. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until he yelled, “You’re doing it!” that I realized I was riding all by myself. In an instant of shock, exhilaration and panic, I attempted my first turn, sans training wheels. It was slow and unsteady, but I managed to get the machine turned around and headed back towards my father.

When it came to stopping, well - that was a different matter altogether. At first I would ride to my dad and slow to the point of losing my balance when he would catch me and hold me up so I could dismount. However, he wasn’t always around to help me off my bike. I devised a method of slowing to a near stop and then simply falling over - except I would do it on our front lawn. Eventually I learned how to dismount anywhere and my horizons gradually expanded. The next year I entered first grade and along with my other two-wheeled friends, I rode my bike to school virtually everyday.

As time wore on, that first bicycle went through a number of metamorphoses. Ultimately, it no longer served my purpose as my rides to school and elsewhere became longer. I finally outgrew that first bike. Although it was followed by others, a five-speed “muscle-bike,” with a stick shift, a racing slick rear tire and a tiny front wheel and a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed, my last utilitarian bike was a Motobecane Mirage. Then I got my drivers license… and a car.

It would be many years before a bicycle would become a significant part of my life again. Due to a series of events, my driving privilege was temporarily suspended in 1987. I had too many tickets in a short period of time and the California DMV, in their infinite wisdom, removed my driver’s license for 90 days. I had two jobs and my future ex-wife was expected to give birth to our son during that time. I had to work and I could not risk getting caught driving without a license. Enter the bicycle.

Ironically enough, it was a gift from my dad. I don’t remember it being for any particular occasion, just an offer to help. Much had changed in bicycling technology since 1979. Greg LeMond was setting the cycling world ablaze with his 1986 victory in the Tour de France. Although perhaps not with the fanfare (or controversy) of the second American ever to win the tour, LeMond was doing it on equipment available to the masses - what I was riding was strikingly similar to what he was. Composites and space-age technology were just beginning to penetrate the sport. Thanks to the DMV, I rode seriously for a few more years.

Today I have a full-suspension Specialized mountain bike. It has a million speeds, hydraulic disc brakes and a wireless speedometer. It is beyond what anyone dreamed back in the day - either of them. It spends most of its days in the rafters in my garage. I mean to ride it far more often than I actually do. And that’s a shame. I can really only remember good times on my bike, and perhaps that’s because no matter what else is going on, riding a bike seems to take one away. It is similar to the feeling I get when I ride my Harley, but it’s still not quite the same.

I really should dust that bike off - it’s summer time.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Thought Process

It isn’t uncommon that ideas come to me unexpectedly from out of the clear blue. Not unexpected in terms of being taken aback - as though some kind of new and wholly profound experience has fallen upon me, but rather in terms of the unpredictability of such epiphanies. Although I still can’t easily pull them out of nowhere, these inspired moments of enlightenment occur frequently, albeit irregularly. And there does not seem to be any set of common factors surrounding these special moments - they apparently appear at will and sometimes just as spontaneously disappear.

One such thought re-occurred to me while driving home from work today. Often these themes will expire when not acted upon and this particular one has done so more than once. In fact, that it has revisited me is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, the inspiration nearly slipped away again today - it took a great deal of effort to conjure it back up again as I did not take note when it originally hit me. Ironically, it has to do with the way thought is processed.

Until just a few months ago, I had the opportunity to receive some of the wisdom acquired by someone who had walked a path I would soon be traveling. He was something of a mentor… a guide to help navigate what would be a journey of the body, mind and spirit. When communicating in such abstract terms, often the means of communication is more critical than what is actually said. To help me to understand, my mentor explained to me how he assembled ideas in his head. He explained how he thought.

“When I think, I think in pictures,” he said. “It’s like a series of snapshots and sometimes moving pictures in my head.” He went on to explain how relaying what he was thinking in his head was an exercise in describing what he “saw.” It helped me to understand what he was trying to teach me; it helped that I knew how he thought. It helped even though I don’t think that way. And that might be why it helped, and I think he knew that.

I think in words and concepts. I think in English. I think in numbers. Even memories I have are primarily stored in words and recalled that way. The image attached to a thought or memory is usually only a secondary frame of reference; a “see also” addendum that would not necessarily be independently visualized, but rather a reference to a linguistic stimulus. I learn more and faster by reading, listening and writing than by seeing. And that is perhaps why knowing under what thought process my guide operated made it possible to understand better what he was trying to say.

By working back from what he said and knowing from where it came, I was able to assemble a working model of the concept he was relaying to me. Although I didn’t appreciate it at first, I was dealing with a profoundly wise man. He must have known how to get me on the same page; he couldn’t have been that lucky. He knew I would use the analytical thought process I was bound to and use it to complete the idea he was describing from his pictures. And it worked like a charm.

It occurred to me that this idea of thought processes is not a binary phenomenon. It isn’t either words or pictures. It is likely a combination - no one is exclusively one way or the other. Furthermore, like abstract dimensions beyond the three physical spatial dimensions (four if time is included), there are quite likely other mechanisms in which thoughts are assimilated and expressed that are not within my ability to understand - yet I accept that they exist. Furthermore, I believe it is within my power to not only understand others, but to be able to explain myself as well. Just like my mentor did for me.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Simple Things

It has been a little while since I last cleaned my office. It never ceases to amaze me how the stacks of paper grow. They seem to take on a life of their own - and they were slowly evicting me from my own office. Nothing a couple of hours of round filing can’t fix. I find myself chuckling (to myself - there’s no one else around) because it would go much faster if I were able to part with more of my “important” papers. In my cleaning furry, I found some papers that I had set aside from the last time I cleaned. I set them aside because they needed immediate attention.

And there they were, a month or more later, right where I left them - except now engulfed by one of those super-animated aforementioned piles. These tasks were not, apparently, as critical as I once presumed. The world did not come apart at the seams and the sky did not fall. The whole Iraq catastrophe predates these piles, so I can safely say that wasn’t due to inattention on my part.

I am the worst file keeper in the world. I have a few critical papers that I usually know where they are, but when it comes to the everyday filing… well, I think perhaps it’s supposed to be done everyday. Fortunately when it comes to my work I don’t need to worry too much about my own records except for contact information - and for that I have my BlackBerry and Mac. Actually, my Mac does a dandy job of cataloging my past work as well.

The clutter does not trouble me per se; I usually get the itch to organize when it becomes more and more difficult to find what I need. Simple things, like a pen, or my stapler… once in a while it’s more important things - like my wallet. This time I didn’t hit one of those moments of pure frenzy when I need something not now, but right now - and I can’t find it. That’s usually what it takes and sometimes more than once. This time, I didn’t let it get that bad and I’m not sure why.

Now if I could only find my keys…

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Boy's Hero

When I was in third or fourth grade, I remember one day coming in from recess and talking with my friends as I walked down the corridor to my classroom. I remember it was probably a good day; it wasn’t raining or cold and although I don’t remember what my activities were specifically during recess that day, it was probably like most every other day. I would have been playing on the playground with my friends and winding down on the way back to class.

All of a sudden I felt something yank on my shoulder from the back and a loud voice boomed through the corridor. It was the sixth grade teacher, Mr. Elliot. Apparently we were too loud for his liking on that day and I was closest - or perhaps loudest. His class was taking a test in the room I was walking by and I guess somehow we were supposed to know this. I don’t remember seeing a sign or otherwise being informed - there was nothing unusual about this particular day.

It had to have been around 1973 or 1974. It was the “post hippy” era and anyone who was anyone wore blue denim. A blue Levi denim shirt with the big collar and two breast pockets was the epitome of fashion. To have one that was embroidered with butterflies, ladybugs, mushrooms, dragonflies and the like in brightly colored, shiny embroidery thread just kicked the fashion statement up a notch. I don’t remember if they were available so customized at the retail level (if memory serves, they were but they were very expensive), but I have a mother who could do a far superior job and at a fraction of the cost.

I remember how hard she worked on it. I think there were several small designs and a large one on the back. My mom was always doing something crafty and when it comes to sewing (or knitting or crocheting or anything that has to do with the manipulation of string), she is the best there is. It’s still true today. She loved to make things for my siblings and me. When I felt my shoulder yank back that day, and I heard Mr. Elliot’s voice descend from over my head, one other sensation coursed through me.

Rip! I heard it and felt it. He ripped my shirt - my prized shirt - when he grabbed my shoulder. It was the first day I had worn it, my mom had worked on it for what seemed like (and it might have been) weeks. I couldn’t wait to show off my new duds and before the day was half way over, it was ruined. I think Mr. Elliot heard it too. I know my two best friends closest to me did. He let go immediately and said in a much quieter, although still intimidating voice to be quiet… his class was taking a test. I continued on to my classroom quite shaken and not knowing what to do.

They didn’t call my mom or dad to inform them of the incident. Policies regarding such matters might have been different then, but it hardly mattered. My mom is not the type of person to let something like this go. She was mad. Mad that a teacher had dared lay a hand on her son. Mad that a teacher had ruined something she put so much time and love into and furious that I was so profoundly affected by the whole incident. She went to school with me the next day - I went to class and she went to the office.

Later that same day, Mr. Elliot came into my classroom and apologized for ripping my shirt. Of course he made it clear that although the ripping of my shirt was unintentional, his action was justified because we were too loud when his students were testing. In other words it was an accident, as if to say, “Sorry about that,” and that would be that. I remember tears welling up in my eyes and choking out that my mom had just made that shirt. He said the rip wasn’t too bad and it could be fixed… or he would buy a new shirt… or something like that. Regardless, whatever my mom had said kept Mr. Elliot off my back for the next two years. He was a big, imposing figure and my mom is not, but she cut him off at the knees.

It was not the first time my mom had intervened with her considerable power when I had none. It was not the last. I don’t know what ever happened to Mr. Elliot. I know shortly after I left the school for seventh grade, he left the school too. He might be teaching still, although I don’t think he had the temperament for it. I can, however, say with confidence that he learned more from my mom in one day than I ever did from him.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Margaret Mead & Linda Ellerbee Quotes

*"Never think that a handful of committed people cannot change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Mead

"If somebody stretches out a helping hand, don't look and see if it's green, just take the hand."

~ Linda Ellerbee

Friday, June 01, 2007

Real to Reel

I came of age in the late 70s and early 80s. The music I identify with most closely came from this era. It was the time of “stadium” rock; we had defeated Disco and didn’t really have anything left to fight for. The age of excess was upon us. Nevertheless, a great many classic ballads were produced in the “big hair” origins. Led Zeppelin, Mot the Hoople, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Robin Trower, Bachman-Turner Overdrive… these were the groups that filled out my early record collection. Later in the 80s, bands like Metallica and Tesla captured that same essence of hard-driving, yet elegant rock.

I spent many of my hard-earned teenage dollars pursuing my favorite artists as new albums hit the scene and the subsequent tours that followed. They played very large venues with stacks and stacks of amplifiers and light shows that almost rivaled the marvel of the music. These guys (and some gals) were like gods to me. They were doing something that we could only dream of. For many, the success proved too much and the lucky ones only faded into obscurity… those less so are no longer with us.

As much as the music and the scene surrounding it meant to me… as much a part of my life as it was, it was a passing phase. Times, like the music that accompanied them, changed and so did I. Although the music still lives on in technological devices not even invented when the music was born, the performances are mostly only memories. There are some, however, who refuse to die. Indeed, the music in some cases lives on with renewed vigor - live.

Such was the case in Cesar Chavez Park, downtown Sacramento last night. Tesla, a band that grew out of the Sacramento Rock scene, performed in a free concert to kick off their new album, “Real to Reel.” Tesla, like Metallica and a few others came on the scene at what appeared to be the waning days of what is now referred to as “classic rock” (few terms make me feel older). Tesla made it big in their own right and they are still kicking around today. But their new album isn’t so much about Tesla as much as it is.

Opening the show with a cover of UFO’s “Rock Bottom,” the next 90 minutes were a blast from the past. When they played Traffic’s, “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” there was no mistaking Tesla’s positive influence on this perennial classic. When the clean, crisp opening chords of Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’” rumbled like lightning through the thousands gathered, I was rocketed back to 1972. I almost forgot I was working.

That’s right - working. Well, sort of. No longer a star-struck 17 year-old, I was backstage with my camera bag on my shoulder. As a member of the press, I now have access to the places only the gods and their minions once dwelt. It was difficult to keep it all in balance, but the 500 plus shots show that I was not so awestruck as I was in my youth. I was there to do my job as much as the band was there to do theirs. I wonder who was having more fun? After playing a number of covers, they finished off with some of the band’s own hits, songs that permanently planted Tesla in the history of rock and roll. And they’re not done yet.

***For more concert pictures, go to my photoblog, OVERFLOW.***