Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The scariest Hallowe'en of all

The wrathful calls stacked up immediately, their toxins crackling nonstop (save for commercial breaks) over the air.

Frenetic frothy voices on KNBR's overnight call-in show, one after another, creating an infinite loop (if only they could!) of variations on the theme, "I told you so!"

The San Francisco Giants had just lost the first game of the postseason, 5-2 to the Cincinnati Reds Oct 6. It was game over, season over, dreams over for these distraught callers, as each one pointed out the Giants had not heeded their repeated warnings, delivered via call-in shows, had the gall to ignore their simple but vital corrections for the Giants' flaws and feeble leadership.

The Giants had gotten by on luck and loopy hot streaks and a hot-knife-through-butter journey around a weak division, the callers cried — some almost literally — and now better teams would lay open their weaknesses for the world to see and ridicule. So many callers! So angry at the overnight talk-show host, Marty Lurie, for not delivering their lifesaving advice to Giants' management.

The Giants did, in fact, get worse, pummeled by the Reds 9-0 the next night. If they had any chance of going farther, the Giants had to win every remaining game in the five-game series against the Reds.

Which, somehow, they did.

Stumbling again through the start of the next series, for the National League championship, the Giants had to force a seventh game, and win all of the last three, to advance. Somehow again the Giants did, beating the St. Louis Cardinals by huge margins.

Though I expected the same do-or-die struggle in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, the American League champions never came to play. The Giants beat the best pitcher in baseball, Detroit's Justin Verlander, and the Giants' pitchers never let the Tigers' heavy hitters flash their muscle.

Somehow the Giants beat the Tigers in four straight, hitting 'em where they weren't while Detroit's hits seemed always to find a Giant glove, topping one impossible acrobatic play with the next, covering all the bases literally and figuratively, and taking advantage of balls that hit bases and squibbed off for doubles, and a bunt that refused to roll foul despite several desperate offers.


Though that first postseason loss seems so long ago, my favorite call remains vivid. Seething with rage at the Giants' ineptitude, apoplectic that the Giants didn't make changes and immediately, the caller screamed, "THIS ISN'T ROCKET SURGERY!!"

Now it's over. All that zeal to see if the Giants could really sweep the Tigers was misplaced, because the game goes back in mothballs for five more months.

We should have been willing it to keep going, even to a seventh game — Halloween! — the Giants coming to the party in orange and black, their standard attire, all of us in orange and black at home, and black and blue from self-flagellation because a Game 7 would have meant a giant Giants collapse, and every pitch and every swing of the bat would have portended death or shocking rebirth.

By "we," I don't mean that many. The World Series got the lowest ever TV ratings. A big deal to Giants and Tigers fans wasn't so big for others, who were probably watching the really big deal, Superstorm Sandy, wind up to clout the East Coast.

In our household, almost every day since April has been adjusted and folded and pushed just so to make time to follow the Giants on radio or TV. The warming air was woven with layered narrative by wonderful storytellers (Jon Miller, Dave Flemming, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper), of new players and the rehabilitated wounded and the newly wounded and the jolly clowns and soon-to-be has-beens. Promising newcomers broke promises, a hanger-on and a new has-been arose from ashes, a horse brought us a perfect game, a superstar brought big hits until bitter betrayal, and a minor trade brought to the No. 2 slot in the lineup card the most amazing hitter I've ever seen, there to knock in the winning run in the final game of the World Series. The least surprising feat in all of baseball this season.

Their stories are no different than for other championship teams, comprising stories of heartache and redemption and surprise, but the Giants are unique: Likable players who really seem to mean it when they said they wanted to win for each other.

They brought me everything and nothing: Entertainment.

Wednesday will bring a ticker-tape parade in San Francisco and, given the day, new horrors. Angry, anxious talk has rekindled anew: The Giants' longtime bench coach, Ron Wotus, may become the Colorado Rockies manager. Agonizing-ace-turned-amazing-reliever Tim Lincecum may go to the Boston Red Sox. Centerfielder Angel Pagan, who I couldn't tell from angel food cake before the season, may command too much money for the Giants to match.

I wanna call in to scream, "CAN'T WE ALL GET ALONG?!" Can't umpteen million satisfy you? Why megamillions? Don't change! I like you just the way you are!

Oh well, I didn't like change before the Giants this season got Pagan, greatest-hitter-of-all-time Marco Scutaro, and the human strobelight Hunter Pence, who used to be a giant Giant killer, and they helped bring the second World Series title in three seasons.

The Giants won too well, ended it all too soon. The winter already hangs heavy and cold.

Someone I know has already trotted out the old joke: Pitchers and catchers report in February.

Not funny.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What doesn't kill you

A flow chart chronicling good times …
For the record, I didn't go to junior high with Kelly Mills. But really I did.

Because you did too. You went to junior high with me and I with you. We all went to the same junior high, the same special hell, the same goddamned gaping ulcerated hole that marks the major flaw in the U.S. public education system.

Why, in the name of holiness, would adults remove kids from elementary school and put them on a separate campus for two years, there to stew in their own pubescent juices, their id hanging out for all to see,  barely living hair triggers of rage and uncertainty and painful bone growth and sex and cruelty?

And I count myself one of the lucky survivors. I remember some wonderful people who just came apart during that time. Not that junior high caused it, but junior high didn't help.

(Turns out someone took credit for the junior high system. His name was William Alexander, an educator who thought middle graders' needs were being neglected, so the "father of American middle school" ushered in the separate campuses. Penal colonies, more like.)

Kelly Mills last week captured life in junior high perfectly in the San Francisco Chronicle blog "The Poop." I love the photo published with it, a still from the British movie version of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, itself the ideal metaphor for every poorly supervised school recess everywhere in America.

Mills wrote the blog because she was sending her daughter off to middle school (the penal colonies' accepted name now); though Mills thought her sociable kid would adjust, she couldn't help but tumble backward in memory of her own junior high days.

Hers was a time of vicious and mercurial cliques, best friends who inexplicably and instantaneously ostracized her, and merciless mocking. A fitness trainer, Mills said all but one of her staff (and that one went to school overseas) harbored the same bitter memories; men remembered being bullied and beat up. All recalled body issues that were only magnified by ridiculous PE uniforms.

Though her daughter reports students are more tolerant and less openly homophobic than in my generation, the mockery via social media is more insidious: an especially heartless kind of target marketing.

I remember tense bus rides similar to this toon, in which bullies pestered and poked and hit until they got me to react, then turned the tables as if I had threatened them, which escalated usually into hollow threats to beat me down once I got off the bus. The bus drivers usually did nothing except drive the bus. Like Mills said, I felt largely on my own.

My PE teacher made me clean up my vomit after my first mile run, and for most of the seventh grade and half of the eighth, I tried to will myself sick on the days we ran, and couldn't eat scrambled eggs again for another 10 years. I made my parents heartsick begging them to let me stay home.

(He was the same teacher who ridiculed me for pointing out his accounting error that incorrectly gave me a presidential fitness award.) 

By eighth grade I slimmed down and had enough strength to run and eventually run fast — fast enough to delude myself into believing I could make the 1976 Olympic team. Proof alone we were unstable individuals who should not have been shunned.

I undermine the good stuff: Mrs. Coffin's drama class, especially the improv sessions … Mrs. Burch's choir class, even though her style of inspiration was to scream louder (now I wish I had taken drama and choir in high school) … Mr. Lynch's leadership history where we studied the legislative process and even took a week trip to San Francisco and Sacramento to present bills we had written (though it came at the cost of the U.S. history we would have been studying at the time) … Mr. Beebe's hiking club. So many other teachers and adults I'm leaving out; most of them had guts and heart.

Mills found similar to like, but I agree with her on this point:
You still couldn’t pay me enough to go back and repeat that time in my life.
In fact, when I was a substitute teacher I strenuously avoided middle schools. Nothing has changed. Much is worse.

On one assignment, another substitute teacher volunteered to guide me to my classroom. He spent the entire walk explaining what animals these kids were (he had subbed in the same class before) and how I need to establish my dominance right away if I wanted to survive the day.

Along our walk, I could hear teachers screaming — yes, screaming! — at students. Out of the open doors I could hear teachers cutting down individual students for the amusement, terror and relief of others unpicked on.

The school was named after a state lawmaker. I think maybe he died from the heartache of knowing his name graces a glorified juvenile detention facility in his beloved city.

My class turned about to be a dozen students who didn't speak English very well. Not an animal in the bunch. One spoke Vietnamese, the rest Spanish. In what little Spanish I know, I told the majority I don't speak Spanish very well but I'm here to help. Help me, please, I said. We spent the day working together, no trouble, no screaming, no frustration … and I learned some more Spanish.

Vice principals would walk into my classroom at this school, talking through megaphones, with some odd idea they were calming the students for me at 80 decibels.

On another time, same school, attempting to teach math where students had only enough textbooks for every three to share (and they couldn't take the books home), one kid sat in the middle of the rows, a man-child king, letting his court attend to him. He ruled; I was a seventh grader again, a big pimply scared knot of intestines.

I had to work around this kid, picking off his court one by one to attend instead to their work.

Something about the man-child seemed familiar, and I placed him later in the day when he returned to retrieve something. He was a little fireplug of a four-year-old nine years before, when I was coaching Junior Giants baseball in our neighborhood and his mom begged me to sign up her son even though he wasn't old enough. We let him play; he was overjoyed.

When I reminded the man-child, a big goofy smile took over his dull menacing face. "Oh, yeah! How you doing, Coach Turner?"

He might be a high school senior now, might have mellowed a bit, might have stopped being a big jerk. High school was a better time for me (though not for many), a time for settling down and caring less about what others thought of you.

A time for going your own way.

Yeah, you couldn't pay me to go back.

(It just occurred to me that maybe that was old Bill Alexander's intent. He wanted us to face all that social and biological anarchy away from society so we'd learn the hardest way how to toughen up and mellow out. It's the most pervasive kind of conspiracy involving teachers and administrators and parents, to give us something to have to live through. Good ol' teachers and administrators and parents …)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You don't say!

Judging by my email, you'd think I'm a popular ne'er-do-well, accustomed to the finer things in life, or knockoffs thereof. I'm well connected if not endowed, but an inch or so more would rock the worlds of many and sundry Russian and Ukrainian women eager to meet me.

And that's before we even get to the spam.

Daily I receive email along general themes. Here are some verbatim:

• I need Viagra®©™ or Cialis™®© or both, or more, because my sex life suffers so:

Someone sent me this thoughtful how-d'you-do?:
Hi. Can't make love for hours?
You can't return you youth, but our capsules can return your carnal potential of youth! Best goods for boosting your bone-on in our www-store!

Mysterious centimetres, your girlfriend will not start missing.
Just this morning I told my wife how I miss the carnal potential of youth. That's how we talk. Though I suspect Yoda wrote the copy. They use the metric system on Dagobah, right?

Another concerned citizen got right to the point:   
he sexual amplifier, take, to apply, and f*@# on f*@#
I'm not sure what this citizen means, exactly, but I'm starting to sweat. (Editor's note: I replaced actual letters with typographic substitutes so as not to offend those who've yet to their carnal potential.)

Someone named Carol Sanchez sent me an email titled, "Boob job gone way wrong … to your bed." Cleverly naughty twist of phrase, you saucy Carol.

• Amply endowed, I'll have binders full of women at my disposal:
Every person dreams about meeting a soul mate. 
We can-t know when it will happen, but if we hold out for it, we can have quite a success. 
International marriage site is one of the modern means of romantic communication for the men who wish to meet Russian or the Ukrainian mates.
Everything is comfortable and there is always a chance to meet|to find lifelong love Hundreds of Russian women are waiting for their out-and-outers and and maybe it-s you!
Though I-d have thought people from Ukraine don-t like outsiders to say they-re from "The Ukraine" (which means the adjective form wouldn't be "the Ukrainian"), the International marriage site has set me straight. I-m an out-and-outer (everybody says so) so I-m definitely holding out to have quite a success. Unless the International marriage site is the one holding out for it, which would be OK too.

But my health is in question:
Already bought a Christmas tree? And how about immunity? Don't forget about
your health, go to our drugstore here!
Immunity — for the Christmas tree? Is it here from Oregon without proper paperwork? (I got this email in mid-September, I know not where, but I admire the sender's assumption that I am Christmas' most zealous fan). It's good to know there's a Rite Aid®©™ in "the cloud" anytime I need it, where I can grab a Doug fir and vitamin supplement in one click of a link, but I'll pass for now, thanks.

• I am a man of distinction, watch-wise. Can't have too many fake-label watches, is what my dad always told me:
Stunning product: you get a quality watch! Awesome communication: I've must have asked the customer support staff millions of detailed questions and all questions were answered courteously and quickly! I will certainly be recommending all my friends.
Had rather not I
Here, possibly having tired from all that question asking and friend recommending, the sender died before finishing the last cryptic sentence. It smacks of counterpoint, as if this quality watch customer wasn't completely sold. I'll never know.

This watch seller has no doubts:
The watch of your vision has become reasonable today. Then visit our shop where we present a wide variety of watches with the full 100% unique pictures and description.
The best mixture of price and value for a person with an standard income.
The seller knows me so well: I would not put up with 93 percent unique pictures of 100 percent fake watches, not on an standard income. Watch and learn, all you other fake watch sellers. Get it? Watch and learn?

That seller's got a viable competitor, though, one who speaks the unctuous language of laminated luxury that sets me on fire:
Luxury costs money but brings a lot good impressions for years – Prestige offer you the best quality goods on the lowest price you can only find.
Don't buy cheap-looking replicas even if you will be offered very a low price as they will not last long. We have also a live support on phone line available for customers to contact us and provided money refund or reshipping in case you are not satisfied or have receive a damaged watch.
Buy nice-looking replicas, that's key. Also key is bracing for the alarming likelihood I'll  receive a damaged watch. But you know what they say: You can only find.

• Still, maybe I'm a woman. My email minions can't tell for sure, what with my unisex name. Enlargement may not be what I seek. So senders cover all their bases:
Just change your style depending on your mood: the past you were a commerce lady, now you just want to wear jeans and a top and tomorrow you require to dress up for an vital banquet.
Because there is no dissimilarity between them and the real ones except for the cost.
It's true. I was a commerce lady — target marketing has come of age! — but that's over now. I crave an vital banquet. This email may have been about watches; I'm not sure. Doesn't matter — the copywriter wields magic: I had to read that last sentence over and over, fascinated. I think it means the people I'm trying to fool won't know they're being fooled. Is that what you deciphered?

The same copywriter put the sparkle into this captivating pitch (I know, because he/she embedded the same "dissimilarity" gem). Still not sure what I was being pitched, though:
You can even choose a pair of them to match all your suits.
Because there is no dissimilarity between them and the real ones except for the cost.
Buy it for gifts to your girlfriends and friends. At us the good bargain! Such assortment of the goods is not present at anybody.
See? Why merely say, "Nobody can beat our assortment!" when you can assert the assortment is not present at anybody? Poetry! You had me at the good bargain.

• UPS®© keeps trying to deliver me some package. Nevermind it comes from a different person each time; just click here so we can all get this thing to you! For example:
Guter Tag, shawn.

Dear Client , We were not able to delivery the postal package
With Respect To You , Your UPS TEAM.
If I had a personal manager, he/she would make sure UPS© had the right address, because of course that's UPS'™© biggest problem, finding places. This package appears to be coming from Germany, which is good because I'm running mighty low on streuselkuchen.

• FedEx tells me the same story:
We apologize, but it seem so, that we not can deliver your package. One of our trucks is burned tonight. In attachment you can find a form for insurance. Please fill it out and send it us urgent, because we must told amount of damage to the Insurance company.
Dunno much about the express shipment industry (or I might be working in it), but I'm guessing FedEx might already have the information they seek. Maybe it has a tough insurance processing union, featherbedding the shop with a lot of needless pencil pushers.

It seem so.

• I'm bad at business:
According to the violation of the paragraph  ?§9.6.6 of our contract, we're obliged to inform you that we're breaking the contract with you. You can find the original letter with signatures and stamps attached as well as the legal basis for this step after you follow this link. 
This is a bummer. I missed the paragraph referred to from that subsection, having missed the contract entirely, which was probably the problem. Maybe it was sent via that German UPS™®© team. Just my bad luck it was for a six-figure job, probably. I wonder what I'd be doing. Or selling. Or whatever.

Apparently customers are also breathing down my neck:
Dear business owner, we have received a complaint about your company possible involvement in check cashing and Money Order Scam.
You are asked to provide response to this complaint within 7 days.
Failure to provide the necessary information will result in downgrading your Better Business Bureau rating and possible cancellation of your BBB accreditation status.

It wasn't my non-existent Better Business Bureau accreditation status that made me think this is not an authentic threat, nor my paucity of checks to cash or money orders to scam. It was the sender's inability to use the possessive when referring to my company's possible involvement in this crime.

Got a string of these, though. Somebody who doesn't exist is really, really pissed.

• Despite my shady business reputation, someone out there likes me:
What's up?
You asked my advice as to how to succeed in your job.
You are a skilled worker, but you need a diploma.
Here are the contacts:
Please call to us in USA:I6-035O-92O01 and Outside USA: +16-O35o-920o11
Call and leave your name and tel. number (with your country code) and wait
for them to call back.

I hope this information will help you
Helpful?! Are you kidding me?? I know this'll work because even the people who would normally answer the phone are busy handing out the diplomas. I just need to be careful when to dial zero or a capital "O" when I call, or who knows whom I'll reach? I'll be right here by the phone, waiting for their call.
In completely different news:

The San Francisco Giants, down three games to one in the National League Pennant race, came back to crush the St. Louis Cardinals 9-0 in the seventh and final game Monday night to advance to the World Series. Their toughest enemy that night turned out to be a ninth-inning deluge that threatened to cause a rain delay. 

The Giants had never won any Game 7 ever (neither the New York nor San Francisco iteration) before Monday night. Only 11 other Major League teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series. The Giants had to win all of the last three games to advance to the World Series, just as they had to win all of the last three games in the five-game series against the Cincinnati Reds to get to the league championship.

The Giants did so by putting on a hitting clinic, and by having three of their starters (Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain) make fools of the Cards from the mound and at the plate. Each starter drove in key runs with sneaky and improbable hits.

Now the Giants face the Detroit Tigers Wednesday in World Series Game 1. Of course, I fear the worst.

But you know what I always say: Boost your bone-on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Death by a thousand hangnails

Someday next spring I'll bicycle rather than drive to my beloved Lake Natoma for a swim, to give the Earth a tiny break from my carbon gluttony.

Only when I try to lock my bike will I remember: Oh yeah, thieves stole my keys that Saturday last October! And my wallet! And phone! And swim gear! 

I'll go home, unswum and cursing.

Damn! Or a word like it.

That's the thing with thieves. Sure, their first blows hurt — forcing us to fix what they broke and replace what they took, at vexing expense and wasted time … and clean up what they shattered.

What they take in a moment takes days and weeks to right — order this, make that appointment, stand in line, complete this form before making that appointment, wait 10 business days, buy that replacement ("But it was stolen!" "Sorry. Five bucks, please."), stand in line, change those locks, buy a new whatever or two, stand in line, wait. The thieves quickly rang up a few purchases before we could lock down our cards.

Worse, though, are the little timebombs thieves leave, bitty pustules of indignation left scattered among the sparkling safety glass. They rupture long, long after the theft, casting spew at the worst times, causing infection, making raw. When you need something that you just realized is gone for good. When you're down and troubled.


Thieves broke into three of four cars parked at the north end of Lake Natoma last weekend — mine, another swimmer's, and the car of a woman from out of town enjoying the quiet of the park. She suffered the worst of it, losing her valuables, her identification, keys to the car waiting for her at an airport two timezones away. Without her ID cards, she would have difficulty reaching that airport. We wanted to give her our condolences, but she was busy rebuilding her life remotely by cell phone before driving away. Damn!

A third swimmer's car was spared, we think, because it has a car alarm.

The thieves lay in wait or us or — more likely — we became their Plan B as we drove in, just a group of stupids looking forward to our Saturday morning ritual. We saw the thieves, we now realize, seeming to stir awake in their car as we drove up. They watched us get into our suits and caps, which is thief-speak for "We'll be gone awhile. Have your way with our stuff!"

We took them for wayward travelers, the kind who show up that early in the park every so often to sleep it off or breathe deeply the sycamore quiet. We didn't take them for criminals.

What makes our swim area precious also makes it perilous. The parking lot terminates a twisty little road through the park, so it's out of the way.

It rims a low bluff overlooking the lake, where it's easy to see the middle stretch of the lake disappear smooth and blue for a couple of miles into the dark forest of oak and pine. And where it's just as easy to see swimmers enter the water and recede to the far shore, thinking about nothing but swimming a serene lake.

In far less time than it took for us to finish our 1.7-mile route, the thieves had smashed the passenger windows in all three cars, grabbed whatever looked worth grabbing, and disappeared.

A park ranger and maintenance crew greeted us at the top of the bluff. The crew was sweeping up the glass around our cars; the ranger tallied our losses at length, gave us the incident report number for our records, said he was sorry, meant it.

One of our swimmers is in law enforcement. Bullets that cascaded from the glove compartment didn't deter the thieves; maybe it made them work faster. They took the officer's wallet, keys and wetsuit.

What thieves took from me:

• Hand-me-ups from my daughter: Her high school swim bag which held a couple of old goggles, the swim caps I had collected from races and as gifts, a bag of nutrition gels, sunscreen. (Oh yeah, just realized I had some special blinking lights for future night swims … damn!) Nothing valuable — nothing a thief would want — but everything of value because my daughter gave it to me.

• An old hooded sweatshirt my daughter gave me, and a new University of Oregon beach towel she gifted me. They were apart from the other stuff, but thieves took them just the same. Maybe they're Ducks fans; maybe they know someone who'd give them money for the towel.

• New pants holding my wallet, cell phone and keys (except for my car key, tucked in my cap). I tucked the pants beneath the steering wheel so they'd be out of the way. Except the thieves saw where I put the pants, saw everything I did.

• The operating manual for my car. Padded, zippered, fake-leather puffy plastic booklet looking thingie. Might have been valuable. Wasn't. Except I was getting ready to change a turn signal light, so I have to figure out another resource.

What thieves left:

• My state park pass. An aging naif, I worried about it most, the thing I held dearest in value. The ranger wondered why it was left behind; if thieves wanted to roam the state parks' parking lots unbeknownst, he said, this was their ticket.

• My penny whistles, valuable only to me, I guess.

What I learned about thieves who steal from cars:

• They'll sometimes try to wedge a screwdriver or pry bar against the edge of the window. The pressure will collapse the window into a fairly quiet cascade of safety glass.

•  If they have to smash the window, thieves prefer throwing spark plugs: The glass can't withstand a plug's dense ceramic casing.

• Thieves seem to like Del Taco™® fast-food restaurants, where they can buy a meal with your card and get cash with easy pleasure. Ditto McDonalds™®©, I'm told.

• Safety glass isn't safe. My fingers look like they underwent quack acupuncture.

Days pass, already dimming memory of the break-ins. We rebuild the little Frankenstein monsters of our official lives, and even when we're done they're still not right. They're a little off. They're just a little … less.

Several years ago when someone broke into my car, he/she/it stole my stereo and two zippered booklets holding most of my CD collection. I guarantee my taste in music has absolutely no street value. By process of the thief's elimination, I can guess roughly what CD's went missing, but I'm still not sure what I lost; I got a new stereo, but the car around it soon fell apart, so we donated it, stereo and all.

I got another of my daughter's hand-me-ups — a beater of a car I had foolishly believed thieves would avoid — which doesn't play CDs.

So I stopped listening to CDs. Screw it.

The replacement passenger window whistles when I drive, because thieves bent the door frame getting in. Sentimental bits are gone with my wallet, but I'm not sure quite what. A begrudging cell phone user who only this year got around to texting, I'll have to deal with programming a new phone whenever I get around to one. I'm untethered again in case of emergency. Screw it.

I hear what you're thinking: Shut up, already. In the grand panoply of human misfortune, this is nothing. Join the club. Get over it.

My thoughts exactly, as I swept up chips of safety glass in my car and pretended they were diamonds, so many I could just throw them away.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday trifle: Prehistory edition

My swim buddy Doug Bogle celebrated with his fellow Coast Guard aviators, old and new, over the weekend in an annual convention of the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyl ("Flying Since the World was Flat").
A detail of the shirt. Big, beefy half-tone dots!

The Ptero Roost, as it's called, landed in Sacramento this time around, so Doug as one of the organizers (and a retired Coast Guard helicopter pilot) asked me to help with the graphics for the T-shirt and glasses. I was only too happy. Here's the result.

Doug wanted a menacing pterodactyl dragging aloft an unperturbed Yosemite Sam character, a kind of "Coastie" everyman. He wanted the wings to stretch across the T-shirt wearers' chests, and got a vendor who would accommodate him.

I had to knock out some of the original colors to keep the project within budget (making the shirt stand in for the yellows), but kept in a lot of color blends, trying to capture the translucence of the pterodactyl's wings. The illustration shows the ink color swatches for the original work.

Budget constrictions turned this from
coffee mug art to a bug for the
Ancient Order's website …
To some extent, I was able to work with the screen printer to save some of the blends. The screen printer solved the challenge with some beefy half-tone screens, and since this is comic-book inspired, the result makes the shirt look better, nice and pulpy and raw.

Yosemite Sam defies my earlier misgiving about using copyrighted characters (like the time Lucasfilm said I couldn't use Yoda as the symbol of our Boy Scout Troop's adult patrol). I'm not going to begrudge the Coasties' longtime use of a cherished symbol, though, especially since they see in him a kindred spirit, not an object of scorn that would put the character in a bad light.

Ol' Sam was doing what ol' Sam would be expected to do.

Doug reports the shirts sold out and returned a little to the kitty for the next Ptero Roost. And that's not bad by half.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Oh me of little faith!

The Giants' first two losses in the National League Division series put me in such a funk that I'm ashamed to say I made an illustration encapsulating their quick and hard downfall (which you'll find far below).

I shoulda been working on this illustration instead:
My first drawing was their Kryptonite, I'm sure, which was enervated only by the inspiring speech of Giants' rightfielder Hunter Pence, who exhorted his new team (he came over from the Phillies in August) to play up to their capabilities:

Before Game 3, with the Giants down to a must-win scenario in the five-game series, Pence gathered the team and reportedly said this:
"Get in here, everyone get in here … look into each other eyes … now! Look into each others eyes. I want one more day with you. It's the most fun, the best team I have ever been on, said the Reverend Hunter Pence.

"And no matter what happens, we must not give in, we owe it to each other, play for each other, I need one more day with you guys, I need to see what (reserve second baseman Ryan) Theriot will wear tomorrow, I want to play defense behind (pitcher Ryan) Vogelsong (who started Game 3) because he's never been to the playoffs. Play for each other, not yourself. Win each moment. Win each inning. It's all we have left!"
I'd have gone 3-for-4 after that speech, and I can't hit a lick! Not that the Giants stomped on the Reds that day, squeaking out a win 2-1 on Reds' miscues. But subsequent Pence speeches and big hitting and pitching (in other words, the fury of which the Giants are capable) helped them overcome the odds and win the series.

How unlikely was this win? John Fay, Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, but it this way:
"They (the Reds) became the first National League team to fail to advance to the NL Championship Series after winning the first two games of the Division Series.

"They are only the fifth team out of 43 overall that went up 2-0 not to advance.And they did it by losing at home in three straight games. They had not lost three in a row at home until Thursday."

I'm not doubting the Giants again; even if somehow the next round doesn't go the team's way, they have inspired me to remember what a committed group of people can accomplish together.

Yeah, schmaltzy.

After all, it's not just entertainment …

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The Giants, or a dim facsimile, stay alive in the National League Division Series.

They beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 in extra innings Tuesday, and will play Game 4 today, the Reds leading the series 2-1.

It was do or die, and the Giants did and didn't.

(Likewise for the Oakland A's, down two games, beating the Detroit Tigers Tuesday.)

I'm forming the theory that police are searching for the real Giants, tethered and drugged in some self-search storage closet in Teaneck, New Jersey (I watch too many iterations of Law & Order). It's the only explanation, because these are not the Giants we have watched all season.

Maybe Benson and Stabler (yeah, another Law & Order reference) will soon find the kidnappers' hellhole and release the Giants. We'll know tomorrow, if the Giants start hitting and pitching and playing scary rather than scared.

Even this was not so much a Giants win as a Reds loss. The Giants struck out 10 times to starter Homer Bailey, who had thrown a no-hitter in the late weeks of the regular season. That tells you how well the Giants, one of the best hitting teams during the season, did this game and this series.

The Reds hit a bit better, not much. They made mistakes, the most glaring of which came in the top of the 10th with a passed ball that moved the Giants' two slowest runners (catcher Buster Posey and a hobbled right fielder Hunter Pence) to second and third, and a bobbled infield grounder that allowed Posey to give the Giants the lead.

Whew! Another win. One more day to ask: Why do TBS and Fox baseball broadcasts ramp up the volume every time a pitch reaches home plate? Does anyone else find that excruciatingly annoying? It's some attempt to amplify the sound of the bat on the ball, to make the game more "exciting!" but it sounds like a jet flyover with each pitch.

I miss the Giants' broadcasters on TV … even when color commentator and former Giants pitcher Mike Krukow says, every time, that the catcher is in "the SQUAA-AAT, putting down the signs." Even when he does that.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tell it goodbye!?

With 10 games left in the season, the San Francisco Giants won the National League West Division and a chance to win the World Series.

Of course, I fear the worst.

The Giants won convincingly, and even though they lost six of the final 10 games (including the season-ending series with the Los Angeles Dodgers) their lone win against the Dodgers was enough to ensure their Southland rivals would not go to the playoffs. As broadcaster and former Giants pitcher Mike Krukow would say, Grab some pine, Meat!

Their catcher, Buster Posey, is electric, having won the batting title and in line to win the league most valuable player award — all a year after getting his lower leg shattered in a collision at home plate.

Their mid-season acquisition, Marco Scutaro, is simply amazing, but most confident hitter I've ever seen. He has swung and missed a pitch only 10 times since joining the Giants. Think of that. Unreal.

The pitchers are, if not on their best, enough to inspire hope. The relief pitchers are many and strong, having carried so many, many games.

Everything is ready as the Giants face the Cincinnati Reds Saturday in the first round of playoffs.

Of course, I'm worried.

This is not the same team as the one that won the World Series two years ago. By most accounts, this team is better.

But the 2010 team was an improbable interloper in post-season play, the one many in the national media dismissed as unworthy to  show up.

The Giants secured post-season play on the last day of the regular season then, needing to beat the San Diego Padres to get in.

Momentum carried them into the playoffs, and magic ensued. The factors that determine a baseball team's success — power from the unlikeliest hitters, crazy streaks from the easy-out batters, and unbelievably stupid mistakes by the opponent — all fell the Giants' way.

The season in capsule form …
The same thing must happen for the Giants, or whoever wins it all this year.

This year's team worked through its own adversities, steadily, patiently, and won just when they wanted to. So I worry they'll go into the playoffs a bit soft, a tad entitled … kinda like President Obama in the last debate. I'm afraid the Giants might be measuring for World Series rings already, and that would be the end of it.

I hope the Giants show up hungry.

The hungriest team is across the Bay, the Oakland A's, who did the 2010 Giants one better in their playoff quest. The A's finished the season with six straight wins, sweeping their division rivals The Texas Rangers, and spraying their locker room and each other with champagne twice in three days — once when they secured at least a wild-card place in the playoffs (wild-card teams play each other for one game to decide who continues to the division series) and the second time when they took first place from the Rangers and consigned Texas to the wild card.

They did it with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball, despite injuries that should have put the team down, and with a bunch of rookie pitchers who didn't know they weren't supposed to win the West.

I watched exactly one inning of A's baseball this year — the last inning of the regular season, when the A's battered the Rangers 12-5. I hate the A's, and have since I began following the Giants at the same time the A's and their gaudy green and yellow uniforms and handlebar mustaches won three straight World Series, 1972-74.

Were it not for my wife pointing out the A's improbable progress (with the loss of three key players to injury — one pitcher took a line drive to his head, fracturing his skull — one pitcher to substance abuse, and crushing failures), I wouldn't have watched even that one inning.

Tuning in was like peeking in on an alternate universe. A roaring, standing capacity crowd seemed to bend the decks to bursting, wearing their neon yellow and green (instead of Giants black and orange). Fans waved their posters boasting inside jokes (Giants fans point out they're Gamer Babes, or exhort Posey for president, or wear fuzzy halos for Angel Pagan or giraffe caps for Brandon Belt or panda caps for Pablo Sandoval).

The A's do the Bernie Lean, after a rap song (after the cult comedy "Weekend at Bernies," in which friend must make a dead guy appear to be alive) which is played when Coco Crisp (great name!) steps to the plate. It was teammate Brandon Inge's song, but Crisp took up the mantle when Inge was injured, and the fans went nuts.

The A's closer is an Aussie named Grant Balfour. Fans go into a wild "rage fest" dance as he comes in for the last inning. He throws hard, stares down batters and occasionally yells at them during an at-bat. He's the equivalent of the Giants' Brian Wilson, but with an extra edge, a real rage.

The Giants have a tough battle to the World Series, not having done well against the National League Central leader Reds (won three, lost four) and worse against the National League East winner Washington Nationals (won one, lost five).

The least of the Giants hitters have to get hot. Opponents have to screw up at the right time. It's always the way.

Even if the Giants win the National League, I most fear the A's, who carry that rage into the American League playoffs.

Eh. It's only entertainment. It's only entertainment … it's only entertainment …

(Which reminds me suddenly, the annoying downside of having your favorite team in the post season is not being able to watch the game with your favorite broadcasters. Now we get a steady, stultifying diet of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, and it's disorienting to listen to the radio broadcast because it's as many as 10 seconds ahead of the TV coverage. It's only entertainment …)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reading between the lines

Detail from a 'toon in which Gov. Schwarzenegger
broke free of the mess he made … only to step in more …
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a virus that won't go away, can't be shaken.

Now he has a memoir, Total Recall (hey, great title!), in which he tries to reclaim and refurbish an image tainted lately and most egregiously by having fathered a child by a woman employed in his household staff.

Schwarzenegger laid low, so to speak, preferring not to talk about his indiscretion, he said, in order to protect is family.

Until he could profit by it, apparently.

Harnessing a publicity juggernaut breathtaking in its chutzpah, Schwarzenegger ground down the eager media. Even National Public Radio swooned, letting him prattle on about his oiled biceps and signature Mr. Universe pose.

I give the man his ambition and drive; they teach a lesson in tenacity. I guess.

But the dude has screwed with people's lives, often literally, for his own advancement. And now he wants more.

But what more? He's already back in movies, chewing scenery with all the other aging action hero actors. And what's better than that? It's like watching the senior pro golf tour. What more could he want?

That's scary. And the worst of it is, we'll give it to him. We already gave him the governor's office, based solely on the idea that he's famous. Governor Kardashian.

He'll be back. Oh, Lord …

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Close to the bone

Our daughter: Mercurial, second on the scene,
instantaneously disenchanted with the status quo;
wanted at least an equal share in everything,
but wouldn't turn down getting more …
Peter Hartlaub socked me in the gut last week — quite a trick considering he was more than two hours away.

Dropped me to the floor, just the same.

As pop culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Hartlaub blogged about what he might have done differently as a parent (read it here if you must pull yourself away, but just for a wee moment …)

Peter's children are quite young; so is Peter, for that matter, but he often writes about events that cross my life path, and tells me things this outsider has always wondered about the Bay Area, where he grew up.
Our son: First born, adopting a
wait-and-see approach to life;
he'd grow out of it …

In his blog "The Poop," about all things parenting, Hartlaub mused about his few regrets as a dad, and invited readers to lay bare their own shortcomings, in a cheery, casual, public manner.

Finding the usual difficulty trying to add comments to Hartlaub's blog via the Chronicle's website, I'll respond here instead.

(Distracting digression: Critiquing pop culture must be exhausting. One would have to live it, first of all, and I'd find that tiring enough. I couldn't do it. I was sports editor for my college newspaper once and could barely get through that, suffering the ironic affliction of not being a sports fan; even my sports column was called "I Don't Wanna.")

Hartlaub's topic touched off a tsunami of emotions in me, and I returned hard to the moments, intense in themselves, when we first sent each of our kids off to college.

All in a rush at those moments, I wondered if I had done what I/we could to have prepared them. I wandered frantically about in my head, searching for the wrong turns and hinky paths I took as a dad, searching where I might have gone better instead.

Our kids are all right, in many senses, more despite me than because of me; they're blessed beyond me with ideas and ambitions and their own voices and minds; I'd been more like a bumper car rink in their lives.

Like Hartlaub, I've had parenting regrets; here are his, and I'll add a bit to the list.

Hartlaub wrote, "If I could do it again I would …"

• Teach my sons more of the fundamentals … Gifted at couch forts and kite flying, Hartlaub said he wishes he had been better at teaching bike riding, baseball catching, shoe tying and the like.

I was the opposite, more apt to coach and teach than to model childlike behavior. I was born a middle-aged man.

• Build a treehouse … Hartlaub recalls his dad having built him a loft when he was a small child. This is the splurgiest of splurges for kids, but I'm sorry I didn't do this. Not that I lacked plans. They're in a manila folder in my file cabinet, and if not they're still tattooed on my brain.

It would have been a treeless house, though, built on the ground with a deck/quarter deck/mountain cliff about five feet off the ground, accessible by stairs and/or rope. The house would change as the kids grew, becoming a homework nook as its childhood charms began to elude them. Finally, it would become my office, where I would have moved all my drawing tools and books from the back of the dining room and front of the laundry room of our first house.

A treehouse is the best bad idea (or the worst good idea): It's a monument to the flush of love parents feel, that they would invest in a structure that would probably not get much use even at the peak of treehouse-loving childhood, and would molder (which is why I planned the house I never built to change use over time).

As years pass, parents look at the treehouses and remember building them, remember the moments that may or may not have happened there; children see the old places and apply the same shining faulty memory. I have two cousins who had a tree fort — no more than a well-built but simple redwood floor with thick redwood planks that tilted out slightly to create low walls — in an oak tree on their property. I'll always remember it as a refuge for scarfing junk food, far from the intrusion of health-conscious parents.

• Yell less: "Not a lot less," wrote Hartlaub. "My kids needed to know who was in charge." But he said he could have cut it down by a third, and attributed much of his yelling to being too lazy to find a better solution.

This was the brunt of Hartlaub's stomach punch. Boy, how I overdid the yelling! Working from home, I had the school pickup duties and more of the day-to-day school volunteer work and general errands. For many, many reasons, our kids' school stressed me out, and I yearned for our kids to do their best and toe the line, when I really should have chilled out. Too many times I took my stress out on them. I'm sure other parents could see me driving away from school, red faced and shouting at the windshield as if in some shadow-play road rage, when instead I was mowing down one of our children with a spoken assault for a missed assignment or misbehavior. They'd get upset (surprise!) and feel horrible, and I would only turn up my volume and invective. What a rotten guy I was!

Were I to take back time, I'd erase those horrible moments. All of them.

No excuses, but parents need parenting class. Such a class carries the stigma of being for unfit or unprepared parents, but we are all unfit and unable. Some parents have innate notions about being good at it, but most of us, despite generations upon generations of precedent, rely on narrow advice or, worse, on our own advice. The worst of the worst advice: "I'm not going to do what my parents did!" Fine, but what are you going to do instead?

Did my parents yell at me? Sure. Did I reject that for myself? I'm certain. But there I was, filling a tiny car with hot air and hot words, withering my children, consenting them to yell at their children.

Better ways exist. Parents need to know and practice — before they become parents.

• Enter the Super-Crafty Halloween Costume Contest … Hartlaub laments not being more crafty with his kids. Ehh. Hard to side with him on this, since it's a floating target. I was far too crafty when the kids were younger, designing Halloween costumes that my wife had to create, creating birthday cake monstrosities that people had to eat. When our kids were old enough to have a say-so, homespun could not compete with Power Rangers, and I think we were all happy to accede to childlike wishes.

• Buy the Merritt Bakery hamburger cake … Hartlaub refers specifically to a signature Bay Area dessert, but means those grand luxuries parents sometimes shell out for on children, sparking lifelong memories.

I'm parting ways with Hartlaub here, too; I'm not knocking, just questioning its worth. My parents took my sister and me to Disneyland a couple of times (I remember being very sick both times, not their fault), and to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and camping. Though I remember moments from each, my default memories are of my mom volunteering in the snack bar at the Little League field (I just thought it was cool she would do that, and sell kids baseball cards) and my dad walking with me out to a space in the woods on the edge of a road my sister and I dubbed Turner's Corner, a three-foot shelf of compacted yellow sand that seemed like Ali Baba's Cave to us. My dad had recently stopped working the 3 p.m.-to-midnight shift out at the Air Force base, and was able after a long absence to spend afternoons with us.

I gave dad the grand tour of Turner's Corner (I doubt it resembled much to him) and then we followed a black wasp back home, watching it fly perfect right angles, wondering why it did so, its wings flashing electric blue over the low sage.

It cost nothing and meant everything.

To Hartlaub's list, I'd add one big, bold item:

• Less structure, more time … As with many families, ours was filled with school, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League Baseball, girls' softball, swim team, water polo team, rec soccer teams, drama, dance class — even at a glance, a dizzying and daunting array of commitments designed, I suppose, to enrich their lives. Too often they stunted our family life instead; I've written before about coaching and leading Scouting, and how instead of enjoying time together, I just rained another level of anxiety on all concerned.

Given another chance, I'd like to have cut out most of that, maybe even all of it (maybe our children would disagree). We didn't give our kids enough time to play and imagine and create and Not Do Anything, so fearful of what would happen if we left them to their own devices or let them out into the neighborhood (the terrible bane of a lot of parents nowdays; my generation has barely managed to keep the state parks open, and lost the neighborhoods completely).

I never showed our kids Glacier National Park, a place they must see, a place we all must see before we lose the glaciers too. I would have gone to more museums, or more random trips just to see what was around the corner; our son's third grade teacher marveled once at all the museums we had taken him too, but the truth is he held the few trips in vivid recall.

I can hope our kids find something instructive in this as they set out in life. 

The irony: Now my wife and I have a lot of time.