83% is Still Pretty Good

March 7th, 2019 3:21pm

As a boy, I participated in Boy Scouts, and I enjoyed it. Our Scoutmaster, Ken Salo, had served in the Air Force in Vietnam and ran our troop like a military organization. But, damn, I had fun and learned tons. Warm weather months always included a backpacking trip. I learned first aid, Morse Code, knots, and outdoor skills. When I was sixteen, my friend Mike Badley and I worked as summer counselors the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch near Kiowa, Colorado, and that was a blast. 

Scouts must memorize several things, including the Scout Law.   The Scout Law provides, "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

I've been required to memorize several writings in my life, but there are only two I can still recite verbatim -- the "We hold these truths" passage from the Declaration of Independence and the Scout Law.

But here's the thing. I question things. When I think about the Scout Law now, I'm not one hundred percent on board with it. 

I don't have a problem with trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, thrifty, brave, or clean. Sure, there might be a situation where loyalty must yield to other values. And it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to be cheerful when I think about what is happening to the country I once loved.  But in general, these are good traits to aspire to.

Obedient? Not so much. Sure, I sometimes obey. I obey traffic laws (mostly) because those exist for my safety. But I can't support blind obedience to any authority. Disobedient people founded America. In 1773, disobedient people illegally boarded a ship at Griffin's Wharf in Boston and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor. (And for you Libertarian types, they were not protesting taxation, which the Constitution they subsequently wrote specifically authorizes; they were protesting taxation without representation.  The colonists had no voice in Parliament.).

I like disobedient people. People that won't conform. Take Copernicus, for example. A man who in 1543 had the cojones to write, "You boneheads are all wrong; the sun does not revolve around the Earth, the Earth revolves around the sun." (I'm translating from his original Latin).  Disobedient people have often been at the leading edge of social change.  Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela. America can probably use more disobedient people these days, and the Republicans are well on their way to making it happen.

As for reverence, I never really believed there is an old white guy with a beard that sits on a throne up in the clouds and presides over everything. If that kind of God exists, why would he let Bill Buckner blow the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox? What kind of God lets a simple ground ball go right through the first baseman's legs? It makes no sense.

My problem with reverence is it sounds a lot like obedience -- both concepts require unquestioning deference to something else. As Saul Alinsky wrote, “Curiosity and irreverence go together. Curiosity cannot exist without the other. Curiosity asks, "Is this true?" "Just because this has always been the way, is the best or right way of life, the best or right religion, political or economic value, morality?" To the questioner, nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search of ideas no matter where they may lead. He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs unrest.” In an age where so many others are trying to influence and control us in so many ways with sound bites and meaningless phrases such as "Make America Great Again," irreverence is a sign of mental health.

Okay, if we're grading how I'm doing with the Scout Law, I got ten out of twelve.  That's eighty-three percent. That's still pretty good.

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The True Story of Dave Cleveland

January 19th, 2018 11:25pm - Posted By: Mark Cohen

 The facts giving rise to this column began 48 years ago.  I was in seventh grade at Cherry Creek West Junior High.  (This was before the political correctness Gods decided “junior high” might stigmatize the little ones and changed it “middle school”). 

Believe it or not, in 1970 I was not the 215-pound black belt specimen of masculinity that I am now.  In fact, I was kind of a wuss.  I got picked on a lot.  Especially in gym. 

One day we were all lined up in the gymnasium for jumping jacks or whatever.  The kid in front of me, whose name I don’t remember and who probably has a half-dozen domestic violence convictions now, started picking on me.  The kid behind me was a tall boy named Dave Cleveland.  I did not know Dave well.  We did not hang in the same circles.  Dave saw what was going on, walked up to the other kid, gave him a push, and emphatically told him to leave me alone.  And that was the end of my ordeal, at least on that day.    

Dave and I were not friends.  He didn’t really know me.  He could have minded his own business.  But he did the right thing and it stuck with me.

That would be a good story if it ended there, but it doesn’t.  About eight years later I worked one summer at a pizza place in Glendale called Figaro’s Pizza.  This was great job for a twenty-year-old because I got free pizza, all the 3.2% beer I could drink, and had control over the music.  

One Friday night Dave Cleveland walked in with some other people to drink beer and play pool.  I took his order at the counter.  I don’t think he recognized me.  (To be fair, I looked a lot different.  And it was a Friday night in 1978, so many twenty-year-old men would have been drunk, stoned, or both). 

I called Dave’s name about ten minutes later to tell him his pizza was ready.  He came up to the counter and began to remove his wallet from his jeans pocket.  “It’s on the house,” I said.  He gave me a quizzical look, shrugged, took his pizza and went off to enjoy the rest of his evening.

Through the magic of Facebook, Dave and I were able to reconnect.  And because my agreement with the Mountain-Ear is that I can write anything I want so long as I don’t get the paper sued, I thought I would use this opportunity to publicly thank Dave 48 years after he stuck up for me.

I think the lesson here is stick up for others when you can.  It’s the right thing to do.  And you might get a free pizza.

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Thoughts on Being the Old Man

June 19th, 2015 10:13pm - Posted By: Mark Cohen

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

The above quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, though there is some doubt as to whether he actually said it.  Nevertheless, it’s a fun quote and worth sharing as we approach Father’s Day on Sunday.  I won’t presume to be able to improve on something Mark Twain may have said, but I will offer some memories of my dad and some thoughts on being a father.

Like any father, my dad had strengths and weaknesses.  One strength was his work ethic.  Throughout recorded history being a father has meant providing for your family.  Traditionally, the father’s primary job was to put food on the table.  That remains true today.  Although women may now have their own careers and may even be the breadwinners while the father stays at home, society does not expect women to play that role.  For women it is an option, but for men it is a duty.  (I’m ignoring the plight of single mothers receiving no support from the fathers of their children). 

A boy is always observing his father and through this process he learns how to be a father.  Sometimes the boy decides to emulate his father in certain ways, but sometimes the boy realizes his father had his faults and determines to do it differently.       

My dad taught me how to swim in the cold waters off Gloucester, Massachusetts.  He would have me stand in about two feet of water and position himself ten yards away.  “Put your head down and swim toward me,” he would say.  It was only ten yards.  What I did not realize was that as I was swimming he was backing up so that I was really swimming much further than ten yards.  That was a pretty good trick, I think, and I used it with my own kids.

My dad was a perfectionist and didn’t offer praise easily.  If I hit a double in little league baseball his response was that I could have hit a home run if I had put more power into it and used better technique.  I don’t remember him praising me until I went into the Air Force at the age of twenty-five.  I resolved to be more liberal in offering praise to my children. 

Sometimes my dad showed wisdom.  When I was eighteen I stayed out one night and drank a six-pack of Coors at a nearby park.  I came home around 1:00 a.m. and, as fate would have it, that was the one night in his entire life my dad had decided to work into the wee hours of the morning.  He surely smelled the beer on me and observed my strange demeanor, but he said nothing and I went to bed.  I’m sure he would have taken action if he thought I’d had an alcohol problem, but I think he just saw it as part of growing up and was glad I had made it home safely.

I don’t have any words of wisdom on being dad.  The best I can offer is that you should bear in mind your children are always watching you.  Oh, one other thing.  Shortly before he died at the age of eighty-four, my dad told me, “I wish I had changed more diapers.” 



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Close Encounters of the Orange Kind

April 12th, 2015 5:33am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

Growing up in Denver I had several encounters with a few great Denver Bronco players over the years.

My first face to face meeting with a Bronco was when I was in high school in the mid 1970's. We lived near I-25 and Yale in Denver, on a street that bordered the Highline Canal. It's hard to imagine now, but the area had an almost rural feel to it then. There was a frontage road along I-25 (then known as the Valley Highway), and one of our pastimes in winter was to throw snowballs at cars on the frontage road. If a driver stopped to chase us down, he was out of luck because we could run across the dry canal bed and the driver would be unable to get his vehicle across the canal. This worked well for many years until one day we ran across the canal bed and came met Bronco linebacker Joe Rizzo. It turns out Rizzo lived down the street from my family and we had sought refuge from an aggrieved driver in his back yard. Joe was none too happy with the snowball throwing and made his feelings on the subject clear. After that he was very nice to us and sometimes paid my brother and me to shovel snow from his driveway. He sold real estate in the off season and sometimes we would see him knocking on doors asking people if there were interested in selling their home. Joe may be the only NFL player ever to graduate from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point. He may also be the only man to ever play linebacker and punter in college. He had a 90 yard punt in one game while at King’s Point.

My next encounter with a Bronco came a few years later when I was in college. I worked in the kitchen at a pizza place in Glendale one summer. This was a great job because I could eat all the pizza I wanted and drink all the beer I wanted. (3.2% beer was legal for 18 year olds at the time). Sometimes I delivered pizzas and on those nights I could not drink beer.

One night in the summer of 1978 I delivered a pizza to an apartment off of Leetsdale Avenue. When I approached the apartment I detected what police officers usually describe as "a strong odor of suspected cannabis." My eyes almost popped out of my head when a famous Bronco great opened the door. There were a bunch of other guys seated around a large table and they were playing poker. I was bulked up at the time (It was the age of Arnold, Franco Columbu, and Lou Ferrigno) and I said something to the player along the lines of, "You're not as big as I thought you would be." He just got a big old smile on his face, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "I'm big enough, my man." He made me eat a slice of pizza and gave me a big tip. I still love that guy. (And he’s still famous).

My third and final encounter with a Bronco was a year or two later. I was still in college, but that summer I worked as an armed guard at night at the Colorado State Bank Building in downtown Denver. I loved that job because I could read all night (and I liked to read) and go up on the roof and look out over the city.

One of my duties was to lock most of the doors at 6:00 p.m., and on the remaining unlocked door was a sign indicating that after hours visitors had to sign in at my desk.

One night I was reading at my desk when Bronco Defensive End Lyle Alzado walked briskly through the unlocked door, did not even look at me, and strode straight to the elevators like he meant business. He had veins popping out of his neck and a very determined look in his eyes. He was wearing a polyester shirt that showed off his massive chest and arms.

This is a dude that I knew bench pressed more than 500 pounds. This is a dude that had fought an 8-round exhibition bout against Muhammad Ali at Mile High Stadium just a few weeks ago. Humans are born with a survival instinct, and mine told me to not mess with Alzado that night, so I did the smart thing -- nothing. Alzado went on to play for the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders. He died of brain cancer at the age of 43 arising from his admitted use of anabolic steroids.

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The Treasure of Pirate Dad

April 10th, 2015 4:41am - Posted By: Mark Cohen

"C'mon boys," my father urged, "time to get up."  My brother and I slowly came to life.  "I've found a treasure map," he continued, "but we've got to start right now -- before the pirates come back for the treasure."  It was a sunny morning in the summer of 1964 and we were vacationing near Gloucester, Massachusetts.  I was six and Roy was three.

The thought of searching for buried treasure got us hopping; every child knows about buried treasure, but how many are fortunate enough to come into possession of a genuine treasure map?  We were ready in an instant, but after discussing it with my mother, my father decided we had time for breakfast before we set out on our journey.

"Show us the map, show us the map," we sang in unison.  Looking around to make sure no one was watching, my father carefully removed the map from his shirt pocket and revealed it to us.  It was old and wrinkled; dotted lines traversed it and a giant "X" marked the spot where the treasure was buried. 

"Where did you find it?" I asked.

"I bought it from an old sea captain," said my father.  My brother and I were in awe.

Dad paid for breakfast and we drove to the beach.  We exited the green Buick station wagon, eager to begin our quest.  "Aren't you boys forgetting something?" my father asked.  My brother and I looked at each other.  "We're going to need some shovels to dig up the treasure; you'd better take your shovels and pails."  We gathered our plastic shovels and beach pails.

"Alright," said my father as he examined the map, "the first thing we have to do is find the rock with the dragon painted on it."

"There it is," I said as I pointed.

"Over there," said Roy.  The three of us walked to the dragon.  My father examined the map closely. Dad was sure smart; he could even read old pirate maps.

"Now we have to walk twenty paces to the piece of driftwood," my father said.  We carefully walked twenty paces and, sure enough, we ran smack into a piece of driftwood.

"Now whadda we do?" I asked.  He studied the map.

"Now we must face the sun and walk fifteen paces in that direction."  He showed us the map; there was a drawing of the sun on it and a dotted line connecting it with the driftwood.  We began walking, counting our steps out loud.

"Giant crab!" my dad shouted.  My brother and I jumped sky high.

"Dad," I said, "don't do that.  Let's find the treasure."  My brother started crying and it took my dad a minute to get him calmed down.

"Well," he said, "it looks like now we have to go forty paces toward the tallest tree on the far side of the beach."  He showed us the map and we walked it off together.  When we completed our forty paces, a giant "X" appeared in the sand.  "Start digging," my father smiled.

In an instant my brother and I were hard at work with our orange plastic shovels.  We dug pretty deep, but found nothing.  "I don't think it's here," I said.  "Me neither," echoed Roy.

"Should we give up?" my father asked.  "The pirates probably buried it pretty deep to make sure nobody would find it."  We resumed digging and soon hit something hard.  We scraped at it with our hands and saw we had found a flat wooden surface.

As we dug more, we realized we had struck a wooden chest -- about one foot long and one foot deep.  With help from my father, we removed the heavy wooden box and set it down in the sand.  The only problem was there was a lock on it.

"The sea captain gave me this key," my father said.  He handed it to me, but I couldn't open the lock.  "Let me try," said my dad.  He jiggled the key and the lock popped open.  We opened the chest and saw more coins than we had ever seen -- pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars. 

That was years ago.  As I got older I began to question whether my father hadn't staged the whole episode.  After all, pirates probably stopped burying treasure long before the U.S. Mint started producing Kennedy half-dollars.  The ancient treasure map could have been aged by pouring coffee on it.  And why wouldn't the sea captain have gone after the treasure himself? 

Well, maybe my father pulled the wool over our eyes, but it was a great adventure for two little boys.  And I still have the chest.

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