Monday, March 23, 2009

My friend Tom

On Friday March 13th, my friend Tom died.

Born in April of 1946, Tom ended an intense 10-week medical struggle in the company of his extended family. He was a beloved son to his mom, Norma, and his partner of 24 years, Bruce.

I don't recall the first time I met him, but since he and my mother grew up across the street from one another, I always felt he was part of the family. Tom claimed that he was there at my conception, giving my bio-dad pointers, cheering him on, if you will, hoping for the best. Or as he put it, "..comforting your mother after the carnal sprint". Which is funny because if you ever saw my bio-dad run, it wasn't pretty. It's usually a vision of well-coifed hair, arms flailing and chicken-legs stomping up a storm. And oddly enough my mother, many years later, and after a few drinks confirmed that "her time" with my bio-dad was EXACTLY like that.

But back to Tom.

One of my earliest conversation with Tom went something like this:

Tom: Umm...I think you should be aware, or know, that I'm gay.
Sean: Okay.
Tom: You understand what that means, right?
Sean: I do.
Tom: Okay.
Sean: You...know that I'm not, right.
Tom: I do.
Sean: Okay.
Tom: Alright. Would you like some cake?

I bring up this conversation because with Tom everything was out in the open. Nothing was taboo, and of course nothing was off-limits. There wasn't a topic he didn't have an opinion about. And if he wasn't fully familiarized with the subject at hand, you could bet that he was the next time you met up.

He had an education in art education. He was an artist, and a collector. His true obsessions were Haviland china, bisque figurines, and books.  A special bookcase had to be built for all of his books, and still some had to be stacked on the floor. Organized, and visually pleasing, of course.

He was a classic movie buff, loved sitcoms, and the theater. This was one of many commonalities we had. And of course, we had differing opinions. But regardless, we both appreciated the vast intricacies of the mediums. 

Tom was the consummate customer service person. He worked for the City of Tualatin as a dispatcher, several commercial book companies, the Court of Tualatin, and his passion, working in antique malls. He retired from Powell's Books in late 2008. His interest in, and support of, McLoughlin House in Oregon City were lifelong.

Tom's sense of humor, always ready with a joke, was legendary. His wit was sharp and often insightful. I would like to retell some of his more humorous jokes, but I'm blushing, and it's probably best not repeated in mixed company.

When I was working in sales while living in the Portland area, a very stressful time in my life, there was more than a time or two that I'd visit Tom as he was working at one particular antique mall in Multnomah, and we'd discuss the immense minutiae of life. We solved a lot of the world's problems, but mostly he was there for me. Always supportive, always attentive, and always brutally honest.

Tom's life was well-lived...and he was well-loved. 

I will miss my friend Tom.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Needless to say, my wife and I were stunned..

Tonight, at my son's school they had their annual open house. My wife and I got to see our son's projects, writings, and see his progress amongst his classmates. We also found out that his teacher was handed a pink-slip last Friday. Sixty-four teachers within the district received the very same pink-slip as my son's first grade teacher.

Needless to say, my wife and I were stunned.

Now, I've been quite vocal over the years about how i felt that the teachers union here in Southern California is one of the most despicable. How it strong arms local and federal legislature, districts, cradles the inept, and turns a blind-eye to the feeble minded educators who pontificate their importance as they continue to teach from the same syllabus year after year after year after year after year.

I agree with President Obama that we should reward excellence in teaching with extra pay and quickly remove those who have failed our children, our schools, and our future. The teachers union should use this as their battle cry but instead they're lobbying heavily against it.

I live in Southern California. Hollywood is just over the hill and Silicon Valley is just up the road. Billions of dollars are spent, invested, developed in these two locations alone, on a yearly basis. My son's teacher has been teaching full time for less than five years. She got her education, her California certification, and moved her way up through the system. Before my son entered her class on that first day of school, other teachers and parents expressed to my wife and I in such reverence regarding my son's teacher that I thought that perhaps my son was in for a very challenging year. Now, more than half way through the school year, my son is doing well and very eager to go to school, and my wife and I think his teacher is just fantastic.

My son's teacher is from India. India, I understand is a very poor country. According to the CIA World Factbook, India is ranked 12th in their gross domestic product index. The United States is number one at 14,330,000 (millions of USD) while India is at 1,237,000(millions of USD) with theirs. I mention this because India, a comparatively poor country, spends twenty times more on education than the United States. How can this be? 

Someone needs to explain to me why we give a shit about what Brittney Spears is flashing on stage, who Kanye West insulted today, or the convoluted story-line to the television show LOST when our politicians are squandering, pilfering, or losing our educational tax dollars, all the while telling us that education is at the top of their political platform.

Someone needs to explain to me why we have allowed the teachers union to bully and lie while allowing the bad teachers to take refuge in tenure as the good ones get routinely oppressed and forced to toe the line.

As I've stated before, I support our president when he states that teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests, and he'll improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure their readiness for college. Or his comprehensive "zero to Five" plan that'll provide critical support to young kids and their parents. And the one I'm looking forward to hearing more about is the creation of the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth four-thousand in exchange for community service.

Now, I'm not writing this to propagandize our presidents agenda. It just happens to be one that I look forward to its fruition.

But back to my main topic, my son attends a public school here in California, and I think all Californians need to speak out against Governor Schwarzenegger's budget cuts and pressure him and the Legislature to come up with solutions to the revenue problem that do not harm our kids.

Decisions made in Sacramento in the coming months will impact our schools. California has a centralized system for funding public education. The Governor and the Legislature, not local school boards, determine the amount of property taxes and state aid each school district receives. This is why even when property taxes increase, our schools do not necessarily benefit.

California ranks 47th in the nation in spending per student  when accounting for regional cost differences, spending almost two-thousand dollars less per student than the national average. Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia all out rank California. And yet, none of those states have Hollywood, Disneyland, Sea World, or Silicon Valley.

What does all this mean? The millions of kids in California publics schools attend some of the most crowded classrooms, have the fewest counselors, and librarians in the nation. And last August Governor Schwarzenegger signed a budget he called responsible, claiming that state expenditures are excessive, cutting billions from K-12 education to balance the budget. So, according to our governor, increasing class size is responsible.

When Schwarzenegger took office, he reduced the vehicle license fee. That created an annual four-billion dollar hole in the budget...about the same he seeks to cut from education.

Governor Schwarzenegger once promised voters he would protect California's commitment to education funding. California public schools are the only state-funded agency that depends upon car washes, bake sales, and magazine subscription drives to function. Yet, Schwarzenegger's call in 2008 to be the Year of Education became a cruel joke.

The Schwarzenegger household will be unaffected by the budget cuts. His kids attend private schools that charge over twenty-five thousand dollars a year in tuition. In my school district, spending per student in 2007 was $5,916.

Our society will not flourish if only the children of the rich attend schools that offer quality teaching in small classrooms, music and art, foreign languages, sports, the access to technology, and well stocked libraries. California's future depends on our public schools receiving the resources necessary to succeed.

Our kids, and our teachers should be any states governments first priority, not their last. 

Also, kids should not be impacted by the mistakes brought on by irresponsible spending. 

Again, needless to say, my wife and I are stunned.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

President Barack Obama, he's my president too.

This past week has been crazy.  CNN with it's 6000 hours of coverage falling over it's self, mumbling, bumbling, and just plain filling the void with absurdity when in fact if they, and many other media outlets (I just pick on CNN because I neglected my family, friends, postings on Facebook, to watch the 6000 hours of coverage), could've just shut up long enough to take in the fact, not the insistent, constant reminder of history being made, that we were all witnessing something pretty incredible.

As my seven year old son and I watched the inauguration..

Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: Yes.
Teagan: Is Barack Obama president now?
Sean: He will be after he's sworn in.
Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: Yes.
Teagan: I like Barack Obama.
Sean: Me too.
Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: Still here.
Teagan: How come it takes so long?
Sean: What do you mean? To be sworn in, to actually get him into office..
Teagan: They keep saying he's the first black African American.
Sean: Because we have never had a black president before.
Teagan: Why'd it take so long?
Sean: Honestly, I don't know.
Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: Yes.
Teagan: Can I become president?
Sean: If that's what you want to do, sure.
Teagan: Not today.
Sean: Not today, huh?
Teagan: No, I have to go to school.
Sean: Yes you do.
Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: You know you're drivin' me crazy, here.
Teagan: Daddy.
Sean: Yes.
Teagan: I like Barack Obama
Sean: Me too.

Growing up my parents would every so often remind me that we are all given equal opportunity, not equal outcome and it did not matter to them what I did in life so long as I always did my best. I do not know what exactly my parents intentions were, nor do I recall the circumstances surrounding them telling me this, but those words stuck with me all my life. I write this because it has come to my attention that I live in a bubble. In my world there are four seasons, there is no discrimination, unless you're stupid, and as the song goes "All You Need Is Love". I say this because as I watched all the coverage this past week with interview after interview with countless black entertainers, black professional athletes, and the honorable Jesse Jackson, I began to get kind'a pissed. Now, I understand what President Obama represents to the black community, that he may embody all that is possible in black America, but he's my president too, because I wasn't thinkin' about history when I voted back in November. I was thinkin' about the man, himself. His words,  his force of energy, and the inspiration he invoked. I voted for Senator Obama because I felt he was the right choice. I did not do it because I wanted to be part of history by putting a black man in office. Now I'm not stupid (for if I were I'd be discriminated against in my world) I understand what it all means. But the media seems to focus on other things as if the color of a man's skin was more important than the man himself. It appears that as we, as a nation, try to bridge the gap between races, the media seems lost in the 60's. I say this because where were the interviews with the Asian communities, the Hispanic communities, the White communities, and so on, what did it mean to them. Because President Obama embodies more than just the black communities. He embodies my world, my America. Now, I do not view him as a Messiah, I view him as a leader who inspires us to be courageous, to be more than ourselves. And at the end of the day if we find that we did not roar so boldly, but in a quiet voice say, "I will try again tomorrow", because sometimes a leader must take a back seat and allow his followers to find the answers, to reaffirm their own beliefs, and to bring new hope to those they love.

I feel the weight of prejudices against the USA are beginning to lift. I feel that the cloud of the past eight years White House administration begin to clear. I feel that people who would normally hide behind various means of technology are now reaching out, shaking hands, and looking one another in the eye to those around them. I do have new hope, I'm beginning to be reaffirmed in the faith of my fellow man, and I do feel like this is a brand new day. If you think that one president and his administration cannot possibly bring our nation out of all this chaos and turmoil...let me remind you, it took one president and his administration to put us here. So my answer to all those nay-sayers, all those Rush Limbaugh's, Bill O'Reilly's, all those Ann Coulter's of the world, I say," Yes, We Can!"