Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Art vs. Artifice

Look its dancing!
Maybe its just blowing in the wind

Sprouting up this Summer all over Mac-Grove have been the oddest things. At first I thought someone had dinged a car into a stop sign pole . . . and then using a Leatherman peeled parts of the metal away from it . . .and then rusted it? No, that can't be. As I sat staring at what was a perfectly good pole, now turned into a rusty scrap heap, I thought two thing, 1) why would someone do that to a Stop sign pole? and 2) when are they going to fix it? I am still asking.

Lo and behold, I find out that these pieces of recyclable matter are actually art. Well, how about that. Of course, what you want people who are approaching a controlled traffic intersection, driving a couple of tons of vehicular heft to do is to see (be distracted by?) art. I am hoping for the Mona Lisa Yield sign. A stop light that changes froCoolidge's Dogs Playing Poker (green go) to Monet's Haystacks (yellow slow) to Edvard Munch's The Scream (red Stop!). 

And art I guess it is. Art in the same way my child brings some twisted piece of metal rope and birch bark home from Scout camp that sits on the mantle for a couple of years. Art in the school of Detroit-abandoned-industrial-failed city-Robocop chic. My wife suggests they may have found the metal near some of the canyon-sized potholes we saw this Spring in our fair city. Maybe.

Alas, it is the usual story. While the City Parks department is losing $800,000.00 to a coffee shop because they couldn't find anyone to read a contract and while the City is whining about a 10 million dollar deficit (that's $10,000,000.00 for those who are visual), the City is paying an artist to molest its stop sign poles. Or maybe it's the State, or the Federal government or the UN. The only thing that is certain is it's you. Why does this happen? Well, in a one-party City there is no opposition. No one to complain about the potholes, the plowing, the deficit, the nutshell attorneys or the vandalism in the name of art to stop signs. There is only one thing left to say.

Stop.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Things that matter

I went to a local high school graduation a couple of months ago. Its a high school I am familiar with. My father and father-in-law went to the high school, as did many of my cousins and friends. When I was in high school it was the rival to my high school, both of which were Catholic, all male, military schools. I had not been to the local high school's graduation ceremony since 1984. Since then, the rival has become optional military and merged with its sister school. My alma mater is still a Catholic, all male, military school. I have been to many graduation ceremonies of my alma mater over the last 30 year of brother-in-laws, cousins and last year, my eldest son.

There was something about this local high school's graduation that bugged me which I could not put my finger on. It has taken me over a month to figure it out and I think I have.

The entire graduation ceremony at this local high school was about things that don't matter. Things such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status. The entire thrust of ceremony, the entire message of what it means to go to this local high school told at its graduation, is that these things that don't matter do matter. And the job of the school is to help each student identify in themselves and others these things that don't matter, teach that these things are a "burden" to be carried by each individual for the rest of their lives and that the great accomplishment of the high school is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to overcome these "burdens" of things that don't matter.

Now I know you say wait a minute; race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status do matter, don't they? Well yes I guess they do on a society level or a family level or maybe even a personal level but they sure do not tell me about the individual. I am of mixed Irish, German and French decent, Catholic, male, straight and in economic straights right now. These things matter to me and my family but what do they tell you about me? Am I honest? Am I good to my children? Am I brave? What do these things that don't matter tell you about anyone? It is just a census bureau of facts. Arbitrary things which don't tell you anything about the person, their morals, their qualities. And in an individual setting, one-on-one, they do not matter. And more importantly, they have no place in an educational setting when you consider what does matter.

At my alma mater, the graduation narrative has a different theme. Its about things that do matter such as leadership, faith, courage, acceptance, knowledge, self-sacrifice, tolerance, persistence, collaboration, treating others with respect, etc. You get the point. The thrust of my alma mater's graduation and the message of what it means to go to my alma mater is that these are the things that do matter. The job of my alma mater is to identify the things that matter, teach that they are a good and desired goal for life, and the great accomplishment of my alma mater is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to achieved the good and desired goals of things that matter.

I know this local high school is teaching its students the required academics for college admission, the necessaries for the ACT/SAT. I know kids from this high school go on to good schools and good lives. But I wonder what damage is done by any institution which focuses on things that don't matter and ignores things that do.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Urban in the Suburban

I have been working the past few weeks in a Southwest suburb of the Twin Cities. I have had a chance to observe the driving behavior of the suburbanite in its natural habitat and I have to say, I have found it wanting.

What's with all the anger?

I hate love to stereotype, so, I will state the angriest species of driver is the 31-42 year old male, facial-haired, baseball-capped, driving a white pick-up truck. This particular animal likes to blow through a stop light, and not by a little, and then give you the finger. He zigs and zags from lane to lane on 494 or the Crosstown with an aggressiveness that is pathological. He acts like everyone in his way is an enemy and laws do not apply to him. Did I mention his truck is white.

Now I have long held that males between the age of 16 and 30 are mentally ill when it comes to driving. I suffered from the malady myself. But one does reach an age when driving becomes a sanctuary. It's not work, its not home. One looks forward to it. While driving you can listen to what you want, I prefer books on tape (more about that in a later post), you can listen to the radio or be alone with your own thoughts. I even know a guy who does the rosary every day on the way to work. God bless him, and I mean that, but that's too much bead work for me. The point is he is doing what he wants and I can do what I want before getting to the craziness of co-workers at work or being attacked by kids and wife at home. 

These suburban pips driving in there white symbols of generative power must have a better place to be then the truck, 494 or the Crosstown. Is it a man-cave (i.e. lower level of a split level hell). What do they do there? My guess: put on a baseball cap and play Call of World of Warcraft IX; the Legend of Duty (L.A. Pimp Edition). Or maybe its off to softball with the boys and a blooming onion at Chili's afterward. Or is it off to the Cineplex to see Marvel's Agents of DC Comics III, the Dark Pawn. Hard to say.

Either way, what is clear is they have not shed the mental illness of youth, or much else of youth come to think of it. They have no need to be alone with their thoughts, work does not stress them and family is not yet a responsibility. I wonder if these "men" will every take up the mantel of adulthood. I look around and wonder. 

They seem to be part of a generation of boy/men who watch comic book movies, dress in sports jerseys, storm off-world planets in video games and speed through life in their truck, deadened to the concern of others. Three generations ago, real boys, 18 year-olds, stormed the beaches on D-Day, fought through the Battle of the Bulge, island hopped across the Pacific and raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Hard to imagine those who came back, those whose buddy's died next to them, those who fought for others, being anything less than men. Hard to imagine the white pickup driver could understand. 

To one, the rosary was comfort in the dark. To the other its, at best, a rear-view mirror decoration.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Father's day

Driving home from work today on Fairview I was winding around a biker (who should be locked up as a mental case for biking on Fairview during rush hour) and I saw a young mom and dad walking along. Mom had the 4 year old daughter in her hand and dad had the 10 month old baby on a sling on his front, facing out.  

Why does that make me cringe?

Now I have five kids and I read them books, teach them to swim, coach their teams, tuck them in at night and all other things a modern caring sensitive male is required to do. In fact, I enjoy doing such things. But a baby carrier? All I can think is, what a woman that guy is! Or maybe I should say, what a women use to be. 

Why have women so easily ceded and men so placidly accepted such a role as carrying the baby like a wet nurse? Before children we can all make pronouncements about how men and women are the same in all things yadda yadda yadda. But once your in that delivery room the cold hard facts of your uselessness as a male hits you. It lasts about 8 months, through breast feeding, crying, small diapers and spit up. And then it happens. One day you have the little nipper on the ground and are rolling a golf ball back and forth and he or she picks it up, beans you in the head and laughs. Now its daddy time. Dads are good for teaching kids to ride bikes and drive a car. Dads are good at killing bugs and going to Scout camp. Dads are good in emergencies and good at discipline. Moms are good at providing security, a safe place where all owies are cared for and every story is listened to. In a million more ways dads and moms are good at doing different (and some same) things.

So dads and moms are, generally different. But its seems in modern society we do everything we can to deny moms being moms and dads being dads. Moms take off six weeks after the birth of their child and then go back to work. Six week. They should be taking off six years but I'd take six months. Moms today come in late to their child's school concert, wearing their power suit and stand in the back with their nose in their device (my all purpose term for the evil that is the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, et al.). Moms today have nannies go on field trips and they have mannies take them to the park. Meanwhile dads today play video games, wear baseball caps and sports jerseys, are in a dodgeball league, are barely distinguishable from a teenage boy and become part of that game my wife likes to play "Dude or Dad?" How you play is go to SA sometime and see a child with one of these pseudo-adult males and ask yourself; Is that the cool uncle, drop-out older brother or an actual dad? And of course dads today wear their child.

I'm sure it me. I am out of touch and making hysterical generalizations. I knew the terra I stood on was not firma 25 years ago when a friend told me he had to go pick out china and crystal patterns with his fiancee. I stared at him. His lips were moving but I did not understand. I went on to find that many of my male friend's made the trip to Dayton's (Macy's for the young folk) to look through books with colors of towels for the second bath. Well the jokes on them. The modern corporate-fied woman/employer of nannies does not go in for crystal or china. Instead they hope for a baby sling to put on their husband-dudes and ride off into the sunset to their spinning class.

Monday, June 2, 2014

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

Part of the un-joy of living in the City is the following: speeding through the neighborhood last night a car slowed down and smashed the back window out of our Suburban. It may have been with a gun or a bat or a golf club. 

Who knows?

We got the license plate number and call the police who were less than enthusiastic about pursuing the perps. This is the second time in a month I have had contact with the City's finest and the second time their response has been to talk me out of pursuing any action. 

Odd that is.

The first incident involved a gentlemen who swerved twice in front of my minivan on St. Clair almost hitting us, and jump out of his car and punched my window (what is it with windows?) The officer who arrived on the scene, when he looked up from his iPhone, said there was really nothing he could do. I said to him, go talk to the puncher, scare him a little and maybe do a warrant check. Its called community policing.

I love cops. I use to represent the Union that represented them, I was a prosecutor and have worked with police officers for over 20 years. I have raised my children to respect police officers. What I don't understand is why there now appears to be an ethos in the City police force to not pursue "minor" violent acts. Why not look up the licence plate of the perps who smashed my window, go to the house and using a little creative questioning find out who was in the car that night. Search the car. Do a warrant check.

Community policing means enforcing the nuisance crimes to make the quality of life better for everyone in the City. How about enforcing the low level violent crimes?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Who speaks for the minivan?

"Start seeing minivans" is a bell ringing. 

My hometown, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for the past couple of decades has spent its time and my treasure making sure pedestrians, bikers, joggers, skateboarders and any mode of traveler, other than the motor vehicle drivers, have had every whim, restricted lane, traffic circle and rabbit hole of expenditure met while forgetting about the father or mother coming home from work, going to a hockey game, Scout meeting, choir concert or science fair. This got me thinking:

Who speaks for the minivan? Who speaks for the Suburban full of kids? Who speaks for the Urban family?

Well I hope to. And not just about Saint Paul removing 70 miles of street lanes over the past 20 years but about the Urban family. Married 20 years, five kids, active in my Church, the kids schools, sports, scouts and other activities I hope to provide this prospective.

I love living in this City and hope to provide some reasons why. 

Onward!