05 June 2017

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

As spring turns to summer, my father, dead now for a full year, continues to occupy my thoughts almost daily.

Not because I am sad that he is gone, though I am.
Not because I am unmoored without him, though I might be.
He is with me, in the center of my mind, because I cannot seek his wise counsel, his particularly prescient insights, in the midst of these trying times.

Our culture stands on the sharp precipice of history.  We have been here before, surely, though perhaps never before like this.  Yet my father, regardless of circumstance, always seemed to know what was going on.  Would that he could tell me of such things now.

I know he would say things like, "It's a coup, John.  Follow the money."

And, "Never listen to what they say. Watch what they do."

But I cannot know these things as a certainty, because he is, put succinctly, no longer here to tell them to me as he once was... when we sat together on awkward chairs in his makeshift back-bedroom office space smelling of old man's feet and cologne and spearmint gum, surrounded by cropped and tint-corrected family pictures, and a framed-lifetime of awards and achievements, three-dozen useless empty software boxes, and the latest iteration of his always dumb-but-faithful dog asleep on the well-worn rug at our feet.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And yet, even without him, still my life goes on.

 And it is good.


14 April 2017

Archival footage: old signature file

I dredged up one of my old signature files from the 1990s recently, while searching through archived alt.mountain-bike Usenet threads. Always liked this one, felt it was worth preservation:

Looking around this old online group, I was fascinated to find Mike Vandeman still posting daily vitriol to the forum about the dangers and destructiveness of mountain biking. After all these years, alt.mountain-bike looks to have become his solitary domain, a forgotten corner of the Internet that he's somehow become entrapped within, like the Phantom Zone, a bleak repository of hate going on for page after page, amounting to literally hundreds of posts bearing his now-infamous name and a simple note: 0 views.

A denizen of Usenet forums as I was back in the day, Vandeman was an aggressive and combative hater of all things mountain bike from the very beginning of our sport. And, once he found the Internet, he let his disgust be known, often in terribly pugnacious ways, all over mountain bike-related Usenet groups. Vandeman engaged vociferously and condescendingly with anyone who tried to debate him and commonly wrote long, contentious, purportedly factual posts about how much of an assault mountain bikers were on the environment and on the experience of other trail users, too. He prided himself on knowing far more about these issues than anyone else and commonly touted his Ph.D as evidence of his elevated intellect. To my knowledge, over the course of many, many years standing in opposition to mountain bikers, Vandeman never admitted defeat, never stood down, never failed to submit yet another long, curmudgeonly reply to a given argument. There was no winning in a debate against Mike Vandeman's bloviations. He never conceded, never relented, until his victims wandered away, exhausted and befuddled.

Vandeman was put on trial in 2011 for six counts of assault and battery against a group of mountain bikers who he encountered using restricted trails near his home in northern California. According to one website, "On 11 April [2011] in Oakland in California he was sentenced to thirty days on a Sheriff’s Work Party... Since he [had] already spent eight days in a cell on remand, he [served] 22 days."

I don't miss Mike Vandeman. But I do kinda miss Usenet, even though it's not a place I've visited in forever. I spent a lot of time there when I first got goin' on the info-superhighway, back in the late 1990s. These days, my compulsion to foist my opinion/opposition/advice onto the mostly nameless-and-faceless, is generally satisfied by my occasional participation in various forums at mtbr.com.

My sig-file there is a lot simpler and accompanied by a classy avatar:

Slower than you

"May your trails be winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." - Ed Abbey

30 March 2017


Fall was nice.  Winter was great.  Spring has been amazing.

Life is good. #BLE

17 March 2017


I walked to school as a child, it was the simple and sensible thing to do, a few blocks north from our house in Scottsdale's Arcadia neighborhood, to Kaibab Elementary School. Now razed to the ground, the school was shuttered long ago due to declining enrollment which naturally occurred when the children of the breeders in the neighborhood grew up and moved away, leaving their aging parents behind, well-rooted in their mid-century ranch-style homes, safely ensconced beneath a canopy of big old and forevermore unclimbed grapefruit trees.

The pool in our backyard
Like all public schools, despite the extent to which the neighborhoods that surround them might be more or less gentrified, Kaibab was a mixed bag of students.  Admittedly, in my case, all of us were white, all of us were by all appearances able-bodied, and all of us were the offspring of privileged parents to one degree or another. And yet some of us quite obviously were nevertheless battling the largely undiagnosed demons of OCD, ADD, ADHD, depression, suicidal ideation, and a host of other social, emotional and learning disorders, just like any other school.

Our homes were all built on large well-shaded lots, carved out of what had once been a massive citrus orchard. Each had ample square footage to house nuclear-sized families of five or six members and, without exception, each had a swimming pool.  Moms rarely worked.  Dads were gone long hours doing whatever they were called to do: lawyering, engineering, doctoring, professional things like that.  And we had lots of friends, for blocks and blocks in every direction, most of whom were pretty normal.  And yet I never had an outdoor birthday party, of which I had many, that didn't end in a brawl or fight, or an overt theft of candy or party favors, or with one of the guests dropping trou and pissing into the oleander hedges, or worse, dropping a big stinky brown turd to the ground while perched, ass hanging out into space, from high above on one of the upper levels of my treefort.

I'm pretty sure I was known amongst my teachers as one of the good kids, and that I had earned this reputation because I actually was.  I've never been good at lying, have mostly been inclined to keep my hands to myself, and generally have wanted to please both my parents and my teachers, so that they would be proud of me, and hopefully perhaps even say so once in a while.  When my kindergarten teacher observed, during my very first days of elementary school, that I already recognized by name and could sound-out the letter A, and subsequently then moved me into the small group of children who possessed the same ability, I, in-that-moment, determined to always work to get placed in this group whenever possible.  I did not always accomplish this goal as a student, but I often aspired to it, and, throughout my entire school career, possessed a deep and abiding envy of those who were placed in this group in my stead.

As a first-grader, I was selected by our teacher to be the kid-who-sits-with-the-new kid when Rusty, truly the archetypical 1970s seven-year-old boy, entered our classroom mid-year.  He turned out to be way smarter, far more popular, and a great deal more athletic than I, but I like to think that the insightful and advantageous start I provided to him successfully set him on this path.

Once, in second grade, I was accused by my teacher of sharpening crayons in the pencil sharpener. I'm not certain what caused her to suspect me or to draw the conclusion that I'd put my crayons where they shouldn't have been.  But I hadn't.  And when I told her so, she said she believed me.  Still, I can remember that she took a moment to turn my desk so that my back was to the sharpener mounted to the wall, and to point out that my personal crayon box also contained a built-in sharpener that was "just for crayons."

In fourth grade, a bunch of my buddies were called to the office unexpectedly.  And, a short time later, I was too.  When I arrived, I noted that several of my friends had red eyes, swollen from crying.  The principal brought me into his office and explained that my friends had implicated me as complicit in their offense: throwing rocks from the playground at cars on Exeter Street.  I insisted that I hadn't participated in this particular violation of decorum. Which was true.  And Mr. Cartwright, who had once-upon-a-time been my mother's principal when she had been employed as a teacher at Scottsdale's Tonalea Elementary School, said he believed me.  I was later told that he gave each of the other boys a swat with the large fraternity paddle he kept on display in his office.  But I did not witness this act of corporal punishment, as he sent me back to class before it transpired with the admonition, "Choose your friends wisely, Mr. Coe."  Which I have.  Mostly.

Aside from these narrow brushes with trouble, and dozens more like them (culminating with my in-school suspension for maliciously and intentionally kicking over dozens of trashcans with a few friends on our last day of eighth grade, which caused me to miss our graduation party, which was being held at my own house. Or perhaps the time in high school when I was suspended for a day for a dress code violation: wearing socks with my Vans that were too short (and thus too gay, "only girls wear socks like that") to meet with the uber-macho Dean of Boys slash Football Coach's approval), school came pretty easy for me. Except in those moments when I wanted to get into an accelerated group or class, I never really had to work very hard at it.  Not bragging.  That's just the way it was.

Except in third grade.

My third grade teacher didn't like me.  Of that I am convinced.  As to why, I'm not entirely sure.  But I suspect that her dislike for me grew over time and likely derived from many different sources.

First of all, I didn't like the SRA self-guided independent read-and-respond activities that were a central component of her daily language arts program.  At the time I thought (and still think) that they were pretty stupid, although vapid and asinine are words that I would prefer to use to describe the program nowadays.  I can remember her vocal praise before the entire class for the students who quickly ascended the hierarchy of low-level-comprehension "tests" to the gold level, while a few of us languished, either due to laziness or deficiency, in the program's initial level: aqua.  After my first read-through of the very basic aqua reading selection card, I simply refused to engage with her SRA program and the vaunted expectations she upheld for her best readers.  So I didn't.  And thus I didn't progress.  Not only did I never make it to gold (Rusty's level, natch), I never made it out of aqua.  For the entire year.  My teacher persistently reminded me of this fact, almost daily.

With me in the aqua group was Lonnie.  A nice, blonde- and curly-haired girl from the neighborhood.  Even as an eight-year-old, I recognized that Lonnie and I had different reasons for being in the aqua reading group.  I was there because I hated it.  She was there because she couldn't read.

Lonnie was a nice but extremely quiet kid, having learned, I think, as some students do, that if she kept quiet and thus turned a certain shade of invisible to her teacher, she would be overlooked when it came to correction and intervention of her deficits.  Her desire to exist below-the-radar applied not only to her academic pursuits, but likewise to social ones as well.  No one hated to ask to go to the bathroom during class more than Lonnie.

And so she'd peed herself. A couple times. To this day, this is well-known to be unacceptable behavior for all third graders. Period.  And our teacher let Lonnie know this, in no uncertain terms, in front of the entire class, that it was "unacceptable" for a third grade girl to pee herself, regardless of the circumstance.  Un-acceptable.

There came a day when Lonnie, her face contorted, obviously in pain and needing to pee, was noticeably too afraid to ask to be allowed to go to the bathroom during class (a dispensation our teacher was, as it so happens, typically unwilling to grant), that I decided to ask for her.  Discretely, I went up to our teacher and whispered it to her, "Lonnie needs to go to the bathroom."  To which she replied, in a much louder voice, "If she needs to go to the bathroom, she needs to ask me herself."

And then, of course, a short time later, Lonnie peed herself. Again.  I think our teacher never forgave me for my attempt to advocate for Lonnie.  I know I never forgave her for not allowing me to.

But the great egregious wrong was done, not in an attempt to stand in for one of my peers, nor in my efforts to stave off boredom by avoiding some rote program of assessment that had no meaning to me.  No.  The great-unforgivable-wrong was done on the weekly Vocabulary Wall, wherein our teacher showered unreserved praise on her students who knew big words, and important words, and could use them in a context which she would write on sentence-strips and place proudly on display for the week to come.

Words like "responsible" and "cooperate" were reviewed with great excitement by our teacher when brought to our weekly vocabulary word wall group-time by my peers.  When recited in a context, "I was responsible for my homework last night," by a student, our teacher became nearly apoplectic in her adoration of the child's achievement and depth of knowledge.

And so, one day mid-March I raised my hand and brought the term "vernal equinox" to the fore, of my own volition, a phrase I'd no doubt encountered on any one of the many nerdy nature shows I was fond of watching on the weekends, and intended to coincide with the week of the year when the sun would transit across the Earth's equator to shine above the northern hemisphere once again.

"Your mother told you to say that, didn't she?" our teacher asked me scoldingly.

"No," I told her.  "I think it was on Jacques Cousteau. It's the day that's the start of spring."

"Well, you're right about that.  But I don't think it's a term you understand. I think your mother told you to bring it to class today.  She did, didn't she."

"No. She didn't. I know what it is," I replied. Defeated. And our teacher, a blank sentence strip still in her lap, moved on to the next hand.

Later in the school year, a handful of children were plucked from our midst, to be "tested," as our teacher told us "for the gifted class."  Though none of us knew what this meant, we all quickly understood its implications, as the SRA gold students were each given the opportunity to be scrutinized in this regard.

I was not.  Nor was Lonnie.

At year's end Lonnie was, however, granted safe passage into the "fun" teacher's fourth grade class and was known to enjoy, as did all her cohorts, the famous weekly Friday afternoon popcorn parties afforded to all those enrolled therein.

I, on the other hand, was assigned to the "hard" teacher's room.  The domain of Mrs. Bruce was known to be trialsome by all, a place of many red-pen corrections, stern glances, and even sterner words.

I found this classroom to be a welcoming place of high expectations, where it seemed, even to nine-year-old me, that everyone, the hard kids, the slow kids, the easily distracted kids, and the smart kids alike found the support and encouragement and earnest high quality instruction that they needed.  Mrs. Bruce was no less stern than we'd been told, nor was her red pen any less damaging to our prose.  Her reviewers had simply left out the part where she was also fair in her judgements, consistent in her expectations, and dutiful in her delivery of sound teaching.

A few weeks into our first term, Mrs. Bruce made arrangements to meet with my mother after school.  I waited in the classroom for my mom to arrive after everyone else went home at dismissal time, watching in silence as my teacher graded papers at her desk, her notorious red pen grasped firmly in-hand.

"Why was John not tested for the gifted program last year?" Mrs. Bruce asked my mother outright. "I think he would benefit from the challenge."

My mom explained that I had not been selected by my third grade teacher to sit for the evaluation, that my third grade teacher and I had had a few "problems hitting it off last year."

After meeting with my mom, Mrs. Bruce scheduled me for the test, which I passed, or got whatever I needed to get to get into the program.  But because I hadn't tested when everyone else had, the year before in third grade, I got started a little late in the semester, midstream so to speak.  So, by the time I got there, everyone else was already deeply engaged in their big first-semester research project. Nevertheless, the gifted-class teacher, a seasonal forester and part-time teacher named Mr. Montgomery, helped me get up to speed on my first day.  As he had with all his students, he let me choose to develop my report on any subject on any topic in the universe in which I had a sincere interest.

Naturally, I chose Jacques Cousteau.

25 December 2016

20 (part 2): Well, I am not going to sing

So we're okay
We're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart

Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two

Scheduled to begin at 2:00, our wedding ceremony nevertheless began at 1:53 in the afternoon on January 4, 1997. The church was pretty much at capacity at that point and there was no one else trying to get in, so we got started a little early.

Twenty-four minutes later, at 2:17 PM, we were done.

We had no attendants, no guest list, no decorations, and no formal reception; Jason played piano at the top of the service, Gerv played his guitar at the end.  A few random friends and relatives took pictures and sent them to us afterward.

Hundreds of our favorite folks showed up for our mid-winter wedding on a beautiful cold-blue Saturday afternoon, honoring us with their presence. Some brought gifts.  Some brought cookies.  Some didn't bring anything.  We didn't really care, we just wanted them to show up, and we were glad when they did.

I gave the pastor a check for $80.00 so that he would have the heat in the church turned on that morning.  Other than that, and the giant flat-sheet carrot cake that I surreptitiously purchased for $45.00 from Brandy's with Lisa and John written in frosting on its top, we spent nothing else on our nuptials (the ring I gave Lisa was a gift from my mom).

For our wedding ceremony, in lieu of candles and soloists and staid processions up and down the aisle, we wrote our own vows, kept them secret from one another until that day, and then said them aloud to one another for the very first time during the ceremony, in front of God and everyone.

My wife's vows were lovely.  Amazing, really.  And the crowd who had assembled to watch us wed that day laughed and cried along with her.  She's always been a natural on stage.  Our wedding day was no different.

As to my vows, well, all I can say is: I meant every word of them back then. And I still do today.  Wouldn't change a jot or tittle.

Without fail, we watch our vows once every year, on our anniversary, thanks to my mom's oldest friend, Valerie, who videotaped them for us that afternoon without being asked.  I transferred the tape to YouTube a year or two ago. If you like, you can watch it below.  Lisa's vows start at 10:45 and mine begin at 17:00.

I've included a transcript of my vows below the video, too.  Just for the record, I guess, filed here forevermore as one more piece of my life's archival footage.

This is my blog, after all, and that's what it's for.

"My vows have changed some.  I guess that's to be expected.  I tell my [students] frequently that nothing you write should ever be finished, and I guess, sometimes, I practice what I preach.

"I decided that the best way to relay all of this to you is to tell you a bit about how these vows finally came together.

"Initially, I thought I'd find a rather clever analogy to frame my vows in. As you know I like how a good analogy helps me feel like I'm a little closer to understanding something. So, of course, my first idea was to frame my vows to you around something that I know pretty well: bikes.

"I actually worked on this idea for a long time.  But in the end I decided that it was a little on the predictable side, for someone who knows me so well, so I decided to go in a different direction. But the main point of it was, that even as someone who doesn't know a tenth of all that there is to know about bikes,  I have developed, what some people might call a fondness for them. This is, in ways, similar, though by no means as intense as the way I feel about you.

"You see, I'll never know all that there is to know about you. You're far too intricate and wonderful for me to ever presume that. And, as you continue to grow and change, you will, of course, become somewhat different from the person that you are today. However, none of that will ever change the way that I feel about you. I will not stop loving you. The you that I know today, I love.  The you that I will know through many tomorrows, I will love just as well, if not moreso.  Nothing will change that.  Not a lack of cash.  Not a prolonged illness. Not an argument. Not senility. Nothing.

"So, once I'd thrown out my bike analogy, I began to search for some other device that I could use as a framework for my vows. And, of course, music came to mind. For a long time, I looked for a song that had some tugging set of emotional lyrics in it that I could sing to you during this ceremony... well, I am not going to sing.

"You see, through all my searching, I kept hearing just one song playing through my head, over and over again. A song that I've never heard anybody sing during a wedding ceremony, but a song that for me expresses deep sentiment.  My grandmother taught it to my mom, and my mom taught it to me.  It implies that you are the joy of my life.  That you heal me.  That the depth of my love for you cannot be plumbed. And please, stay with me for a lifetime.

"However, I decided it was a bit on the silly side, so I decided not to use it as the framework I was looking for. But the words to the song go like this:

You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy
when skies are gray.
You'll never know dear
how much I love you.
Please don't take
my sunshine away.

"One day, during church, Pastor Steve was talking about belief, and it got me to thinking about all the things that I believe in.  I started jotting down some things that I believe in and I began to think that this was the much sought-after framework for my vows that I was looking for.  I could talk about the things that I believe in, and eventually find some clever segue that would allow me to talk about you and me and all the things I believe about our future together.

"Well, after rereading some of my ideas several weeks later, I decided that some of the stuff that I'd written wasn't very meaningful for a wedding ceremony.  However, some of the other stuff I wrote about you and me was really nice. Stuff like:
  • I believe we will always be steadfast in our commitment to one another, in the same way we are in our commitment to Christ. 
  • I believe that patience, gentleness, and truthfulness will never fall out of fashion where we're concerned. 
  • I believe that you are now, and will continue to become, the most interesting, sincere, God-honoring, humorous, intelligent, and exciting friend that I will ever have, and I will strive to always be likewise to you. 
  • I believe that you possess genuine wisdom and that I will never be misguided by seeking out your loving counsel first and above all others. 
  • And finally, I believe that I was never loved in this way, nor did I ever love like this, until I met you.
"Regretfully, I never found the clever segue for this device, so I had to throw it out along with the others.

"I finally found the answer in God's word, the Bible.  Specifically on page 1337 of my Ryrie Study Bible, in a footnote. Actually, I'd found this answer years ago. However, in my effort to communicate my vows to you today, I came back to it not too long ago, and its message literally jumped off the page. In fact, I liked this concept so much that I had it indelibly etched on my finger, for the rest of my life, in lieu of a ring, and as a constant reminder to me, and the rest of the world at large, of my Christ-centered commitment to you.

"As you already know, these Hebrew letters spell out the word Hesed. The word means lovingkindness. Interestingly, this one rather unusual compound word occurs about 250 times in the Old Testament and it's used to imply all sorts of things about loyal, steadfast faithful love.  According to folks who understand Hebrew way better than I do, this word lovingkindness "stresses the idea of the way that those who are involved in a love relationship truly belong together." The word connotes all sorts of things that marriage partners should be able to provide for one another, things like deliverance, empowerment, enlightenment, guidance, forgiveness, communion, hope, praise, and preservation.

"That's some word.

"With all those wonderful things implied and understood, this then is, very simply, my final vow to you today. It's from Hosea, chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, where I first encountered the deeper sense of this word in a footnote. With only the slightest paraphrasing, it goes like this:

I marry you for all time.
I marry you in righteousness
and in fairness,
in lovingkindness
and in compassion.
I marry you in faithfulness.
And we will know the Lord."

We never had the money to arrange to take a honeymoon.

Instead, the day after we wed, we rather aimlessly drove to Painted Desert National Park, mostly because we felt like we should go somewhere and do something away from home that day.

It began to snow as we drew near the park and, by the time we'd paid our entry fee and driven to the first overlook, there was nothing to see. Everything was covered in snow.  I took one quick picture of my beautiful new wife, and then we turned around and drove home, stopping to eat an early dinner at Holbrook, Arizona's, finest (and only) Italian restaurant, Mesa Italiana, cloth napkins and all.

It snowed hard the whole drive back.  And it continued to snow for the next several days. By the time the storm was over, there was nearly 5 feet of snow on the ground.

School was closed for a whole week.  We claimed it as our honeymoon and spent it at home.

Snowed-in and alone.

Read 20 (part 1) And none the worse for the wear