Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Here's the Catch

So I get this phone call and a chipper young man asks me if I am a fly fisher.  Uh huh, I say and he proceeds to tell me that I'm being contacted because I signed up to be an extra for the TV series Portlandia a few years ago and in the questionnaire I mentioned I fly fish.  I'm not calling about Portlandia, but rather a commercial that's casting and needs a fly fisher. I agree to an audition in a couple of days and then get an email that tells me where to report and to come dressed and "with gear."  A feeble attempt at humor, it goes on to say that they can't promise any fish.
Three days later I'm sitting in a basement office with a dozen other folks waiting to be auditioned for the same commercial.  Most are 20 something women for the roles as bridesmaids.  A few 30-40 something men dressed casually but some no doubt with a change of clothes for the business traveler parts.  And then this older dude dressed in waders, carrying a fly rod and looking like he made a wrong turn and ended up on a sound stage instead of a river.

     Everyone in the room, save the chipper young man who called and is acting the role of secretary, photographer, greeter, organizer...everyone else in the room  is consumed by their smart phones.  Nobody speaks.  I finally get another guy in the room to smile at me because he sees the ridiculousness of my predicament and realizes that I must be warm and there is nobody else in the room for the fly fisher role but me.  But he soon gets comfortable with his head buried into his small screen.  So on the click and slide, and push with their fingers, never looking up, never realizing who is with them and seemingly consumed by their devices.
I've heard about this.  How social media is really anit-social media.  How people actually believe that we are living in a much more connected time but in reality we are alone while together.
Now this commercial is for a large hotel chain and it obviously will center on all the types of people that depend on said organization to make their events, pastimes, lifetimes function smoothly.
Funny thing is that older fly fishers are being featured a good deal these days in advertisements.   Especially medical ads.  I sit at home and laugh when one of these commercials graces my TV screen.


 They usually get it all wrong.  Only rarely does the older gent look realistic, know what he's dong,, and knows how to hold or otherwise manipulate the equipment.  A recent ad for Oregon health care actually featured an excellent fly caster.  No pressure here.  I doubt I'll get the call back.  But if I do, it'll be a chance to bring some more authenticity to the production values.  I hate that it's non-union, but the pay is good.
I'm sure this little flirtation with the image factory is all but done.  Time for the real fishing to begin.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

No Waiting

That summer of 1964 was a typically warm one in the San Fernando Valley.  Just a few weeks away from my senior year in high school, I remember walking up to a local pharmacy to peruse the rack of paperbacks for sale.  My interests had recently migrated from the budding space program to the budding civil rights movement.  One of my classmates in U.S. History had shared a book called The Movement, full of photos about lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and the glaring poverty of the rural south. After reading a Newsweek article on literacy tests that included the question, "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?"  I wanted to read more.  That pharmacy book rack was the closest thing to a bookstore I could find.  But find something I did. I discovered the new paperback version of Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King.  Aside from the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," which would become a literary classic, the little paperback contained a centerfold of pictures.  It cost 60 cents, but I somehow felt that it was worth much more than candy, baseball cards, comic books, or even a new pocket comb.  Dr. King was beginning to rival Willie Mays as my new idol.
The previous summer I had witnessed a remarkable scene on live television.  TV, I remind you, in 1963 was black and white and about 5 channels.  On an equally hot afternoon the previous August, I watched, spellbound, the live coverage of the March on Washington D.C.  I recall my mother was ironing in the little pantry room off our small kitchen while my sister and a couple of her 17 year old girlfriends hung out talking about social clubs at school, boys, reading entertainment or teen magazines and occasionally emitting giggles and squeals.
As the coverage continued, I would occasionally walk back to chat with my mom and then my sister.
By the time the famous speech was in progress, I knew I was watching history in the making.  I'd never experienced that before.  My forays to other parts of the house became more frequent.
     "Come on, you guys, you gotta come see this.  Martin Luther King is speaking now.  There are thousands of people in the Capital.  This is really something."  Nobody joined me.  I'm probably the only one who was in that house that remembers that afternoon.  My mom would only live three more years and my sister and her friends would part company a couple of years later.  It's not that it was just another warm Southern California summer day to them; they just didn't have the sense of history in the making.  Exasperating as it was, I don't fault them.  My sense of what was unfolding before me has been validated many times.  Most of the history books that followed saw to that.
That sense of history in the making would return a number of times over the 50 years that followed.  In fact, in just a few short months, John Kennedy would be assassinated, some of my friends would live only a couple of years beyond high school and meet an untimely death in a place called Vietnam.
But I knew something began that day for me.  Something that would follow me throughout college and the first ethnic studies classes offered at UCLA.  Something that would take me to some of the meanest streets of Houston, Texas, as a VISTA volunteer, and then ultimately to a teaching career in Northern California's East Bay.
When I watch the 50th anniversary of this watershed event, I'll recall that warm summer afternoon and Dr. King's magnificent voice rising and falling.  But, I'll still see my mom, ironing away, with her 7-up bottle sprinkler close at hand.  The events and words of that afternoon became forever emblazoned on this culture.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Tao of Flip Flop

The last two weeks have made this a summer to remember.  Life turns on a quarter.  A dime is no longer sufficient in this economy.  A heartbeat will do as well.  At this moment a fortnight ago I was on my back in a tattoo emporium having a rainbow trout engraved into my right forearm for life.  Mikki, the talented artist whom I chose, and I were having a good chin wag.  I handled the pain just fine and felt  fairly proud of myself until the next morning when we learned that our landlords, a delightful couple would be a couple no more.  The phrase 30 days notice" landed in the pit of my stomach and remained there day and night until three days later when found myself fishing in central Oregon at a favorite lake and thinking of nothing else but the osprey overhead and the beautiful brook trout I'd just released.  House hunting could wait.
Back at home I had a good laugh fantasizing that my landlords, or at least one of them, would call and say they'd changed their minds.  Denial comes in all forms and I was working my way up the list of predictable reactions.  Heading for anger and realizing that the foolishness of my response was only making me more depressed.  Then it happened.  The house might be sold to one of the pair.  If so we might actually be able to move downstairs (the bigger unit) and remain while one of the partners moves upstairs into our place.  A real flip flop.  One that would gradually take place.


Dreaming?  Shared visualization?  Divine intervention? Blind luck?  I really don't care...I don't have to move...well, not in the traditional sense that is, but in one very atypical way.
This is going to be a once in a lifetime experience.  Some things will flip and flop quite easily, but others present a real logistical challenge...like mail, utilities, changes of address...  We will go slow and easy on all these things.  In fact, I still can't quite be convinced that this is all going to work out. I'd love to be all wrong, but I just don't know, truth be told.  In any event, it'll be an adventure and at this point, I'll all for that.  I'm working on finding the Zen of all this change.  That and hoping that all the trips up and down stairs will strengthen my legs even more.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Swift Current

A couple of nights ago, from a cabin on the Metolius River, I watched a little scene unfold.  It probably happens millions of times, on thousands of rivers and lakes, but on this night it was my entertainment for the evening.  A mother duck, with six ducklings, swam upstream until they all reached a tree that had landed in the middle of the river.  Draped across the rushing water, a few branches permanently came to rest about two feet above  the surface of the stream.  Mama duck settled them all in a row on a lower branch while she stood vigil a few inches above them.  Her ducklings were not small.  They all would be on their own in a few months, but for now, on this night, they "made camp."
The metaphor came at the right time for me.

A week earlier, I got the news that my landlords were separating and I'd have 30 days to find a new place.  Right out of the blue.  After the initial shock, something kicks in and we realize the impermanence, we compare with others less fortunate, and slowly begin to empower ourselves to do the work of finding a safe place to stay.  Like mama duck, it's instinctive.
Lately it seems I've endured an invasion of metaphors.  Or maybe it's just that I've become more aware of them given the current state of affairs.
And then there is this stunningly beautiful river, the Metolius.  It springs from the side of a mountain and runs for miles and does it all through beautiful forests and mountains.  Day and night, all year long, year after year, century after century.
I never knew that ducks could swim against a swift current so easily.
More to follow...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

He Speaks Yet Says Nothing

Try as we might, it's hard not to embarrass ourselves every now and again.  I find it usually comes with simply trying to be honest.  The catch is that sometimes honesty flys in the face of hurting someone.  Case in point: I know someone who is rather loud.  OK, I lied, very, very loud.  It stems from a traumatic childhood, no doubt.  What little I know seems to center on the fact that, as a child, this person needed to be heard.  After a disruptive stint with a famously dysfunctional family, a dysfunctional, extremely person emerged only to flutter and sputter as an adult.  And yet, best friends don't always tell you what everyone mutters behind their backs.  "It'd be too hurtful," they say, or, "surely he must know..."   Surely, he doesn't.
I know I have what it takes to drop a large hint, but the collateral damage it would do might not be worth the effort.  In fact, I was once that damage, myself, for about 30 seconds anyway.  Here's what happened.  I wrote a brief review of the business this loud-talker runs.  Cleverly, I praised the shop, it's ambiance, contents, and convenient location.  Then, I clicked the link that would post it to one of the more well known web sites that publish consumer reviews.  Careful not to sign my real name, I watched as my review, along with a picture connected to my email (forgot about that!)  appeared on the screen.  Paralysis...collateral damage at once..overwhelming feeling of stupidity that quickly turns into sinking feeling.  Fortunately for me, and I'm sure thousands of others who have done the same thing, I was able to delete the post in a matter of seconds.
I decided to leave the situation alone and learn from the experience.  Still, the problem persists.  Nobody will tell this poor person that a slight adjustment in volume is necessary.  Just too risky, I guess.   What they will do is passively move away.  Not patronize the business, not have anything to do with person in question unless it's absolutely necessary.

I'd hate to be a person that others would fear or shun.  Taking a risk outside of your comfort zone just to interact with someone must be horrible for our friends.  The term these days is "high maintenance."
It's one thing to associate that type of demanding personality pseudo celebrities (I use the term pseudo because I don't celebrate them) but quite another to stick the label on people we deal with daily.
It's no laughing matter, but I try to look for the humor in such people and situations.

Reminds me of the time I was covering a big international jockey competition and the great British riding legend, Lester Piggott, came to the Bay Area to compete against a West coast contingent of riders. I did a little research and discovered that Piggot, among other things, was deaf in one ear.  If you tried to talk to him, or ask him a question and were on the wrong side, he'd ignore you completely.  Now Piggott had a face like a prune and always looked like he was "weaned on a pickle" as my mother-in-law would say.  I found myself positioned right next to Lester as the jocks walked out to the saddling paddock at the old Bay Meadows.  I can't seem to recall the question I wanted to ask, only that I took the risk hoping that I was on the right side of this living legend.  Embarrassment would have to wait for another day, Lester was a gentleman. The conversation went smoothly and Lester obviously heard every word. At 5'8" he was reputed to dine on a lettuce leaf and a glass of champagne.  Piggott was as formidable a person  as I've ever met.  He spoke silently.  Unlike someone I know.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Call

When I first went into teaching I had no trouble figuring out what I would teach or how I would teach it.  Granted, I didn't know everything, but I certainly had an idea why I wanted to teach and what my subject would be.  In fact, I prided myself in knowing a good deal about history, but soon realized after college that any real knowledge would require lifelong learning.
You could say I had the call.  It came about half way through high school after I realized that learning could be enjoyable and how much there was to learn.  My college experience only strengthened that knowledge.
A little thing like the Vietnam War got in the way for a bit, but when that dust up settled, and I could go about the business of getting certified, I couldn't wait to have my own classroom and get on with teaching the history that I was certain was rarely getting taught.  I was focused.  I found a great Department at a wonderfully diverse high school in an equally diverse community.  I stayed for 35 years.


Today, I read daily about more and more attempts by non-teachers to determine who will teach, what it will be, and how it will be taught.  To say these ill-informed reformers have taken much of the skill and joy out of the process would be an understatement.  So just what is going on?
My guess is that many in the teaching profession today have the call.  I've seen them wherever I go.  The one's that don't seldom stay more than a year or two and rarely make it a career.  Why would they?  Given the hours, the pay and the overall trituration mentally and physically, they'd have to be masochists.  
But why all this talk about what to teach?  Certainly the teachers we want could figure this out.  Unless...unless...unless...someone else has an agenda.  Unless some other interest group or industry or philosophical point of view has a stake in what is taught.  Because whomever determines what is taught also determines what is not taught.  There's the rub.