My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Friday, February 16

News Bits

Only a few things in the news, the Winter Games and the killing spree in Florida. All the Trump news is becoming so predictable it’s not worth even a comment. These Games in South Korea are showing the world what can be accomplished in only six decades, to take a war-torn country from very primitive living conditions to a position as one of the world’s leading economic giants. Everything we see on television looks so pristine and modern. Maybe these games can help us avoid the dangers of hatred among nations and peoples. We can only hope so. And then we have that tragic shooting rampage in Florida. Again, we have a neon sign telling us we need to do something about controlling gun purchases. Why does an 18-year-old need an AR15? Why should he be allowed to buy one? For that matter, why should anyone need an AR15 designed for killing people? “I need to make this shooting/bombing ... infamous,” Nikolas Cruz wrote, according to the court documents. “I need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can. I need to make this count. ... I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes, so I don't make the same ones."  "I'm preparing myself for the school shooting. I can't wait. My aim has gotten much more accurate. ... I can't wait to walk into that class and blow all those (expletive) away.” What would drive this young man to want to randomly kill as many school students as possible? Sounds to me like winning some kind of notoriety, making a name for himself even if it has to be for such a horrendous act. Come on, Republicans and Democrats, you must now get together to put some sensible limitations on the Second Amendment.

         “Countdown”  I have to clarify what I mean by a countdown. First, I don’t have any idea what such a count would require. I could die tomorrow or live for another ten years. What makes me think I should start a countdown? I’ve noticed a perceptible dip in my energy levels. It takes me longer and longer after any activity to recover to acceptable pulse rates and oxygen levels. Now, just getting ready for bed exhausts me and I take ten minutes after getting in bed to come back to 80 pulse and 90% oxygen. My normal pulse at rest has always been around 60 and acceptable oxygen percentages should be minimally 90%, and 93% to 95 % for normal. However, I now realize I’m anything but normal. Another indicator is my equilibrium or lack thereof. My -librium isn’t even close to being equi-. I can no longer get out of a chair without some danger of falling before I can stand upright. I guess that means the next step down in the count will be to have a walker always in front of me when I want to stand up or go anywhere. How restrictive will that be? Very. And now when I go to the grocery store I can just barely make it to that of so welcome chair just outside of the pharmacy. Then I sit until my oximeter tells me it’s okay to move again. What will be the next step in this grocery count down? Shopping from one of the riding carts. I’m not being morbid just to listen to my whines. I don’t fear death and I probably would rather, contrary to Dylan Thomas’s advice, “go gentle into that good night.” In a recent obituary (yes, I’ve taken to glancing at them to see what the average ages seem to be) a woman in Phoenix “died peacefully in her sleep.” I find that a comforting thought. What a way to go, just go to bed, go to sleep, and then just keep on sleeping. No ranting or raging for that lady. She simply decided it was time to go. I hope when my times comes that it will be peacefully in my sleep.

Monday, February 12

Competitive Eating & Winter Games

News Item: Molly Schuyler, a competitive eater, recently won a contest by consuming 501 chicken wings in thirty minutes. Wow! That would be almost seventeen wings per minute, or three and a half seconds for each wing. That must have been a lovely sight, to see this woman shoving wing after wing into her mouth for half an hour. I wonder if she was growling or simply sighing with pleasure. Only in America. In places with extreme poverty, children starving to death, I wonder how many wings per day would sustain each child’s life. Five? Six? If as few as five, then Molly’s thirty minute total would save a hundred children from starvation for a day. Or keep one child alive for a hundred days. And what does a competitive eater do at the end of a contest? I’m pretty sure it would involve a finger in the throat to disgorge the wings, hotdogs, pies, burritos, steak, or whatever. Only in America. I then found on the internet that she had also taken up the Big Texan Steak Ranch challenge and had eaten three 72-ounce steaks in twenty minutes. Wow! And I thought that even one Big Texan steak meal would be impossible to consume in their time limit of an hour (the meal includes a shrimp cocktail, a baked potato, salad, and a buttered roll). Molly could probably go through everything in the kitchen in an hour, even the pots and pans. Wow! You go, girl! Only in America. Also on the net I found that there's an organization called MLE (yupp, that's Major League Eating and yupp, those are cannolis you see in the picture above) that oversees eating contests and set the rules for such competition. I also found that there are world records for consuming any kind of food you can think of (amount and time involved). Also, that nearly every nation has its own contests. So, America isn't alone in its gluttony.
          Winter Olympics: In a dictionary, you might find a photo of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony right next to the word “spectacular.” It was a hitchless spectacle. I’ve watched every opening ceremony of every summer and winter games for the last sixty years and this one was by far and away the best. I hope the entire games can live up to the opening.
          Countdown Mode: Every day I feel a little less alive, a little more fatigued. The increments of these changes is tiny but relentless. Therefore, I’m going to describe briefly how each day is a movement down or up (it all depends on which direction death will take me). I know that sounds super self-indulgent, too much like an examination of my navel, as though anyone cares what my navel looks like. So, whatever readers I still have, please feel free to skip all paragraphs in future blogs marked as “Countdown.”

Monday, February 5

Face book, Super Bowl LII, & Trump Joke

          Facebook seems to be more and more simply a place to expose oneself to friends and foes alike. Anything one says there can be seen by virtually anyone in the world. Be careful what you say because it may come back to bite you. It reminds me of a Dickinson poem, “I’m Nobody,” especially the last stanza: “How dreary - to be - Somebody! / How public - like a Frog / To tell one’s name - the livelong June - / To an admiring Bog!” I guess I might say the same thing about blogs and bloggers. And I’m one of them. But my admiring bog isn’t nearly as big as the Facebook Bog.
          Thank heavens, football is over for another year. The game between the Patriots and Eagles was one of the best, best-played Super Bowl games ever. And what a nice outcome, with the Eagles spanking the Pats’ backsides. At the end of the first half, the touchdown the Eagles made on fourth-and-goal, the trick play in which Foles caught a soft pass in the right flat for a touchdown to put them ahead 22-12, has to be the best, best-executed play I’ve ever seen. That was the play that won it for the Eagles. I hope that next season the officials will clarify the ridiculous rule about what is and what isn’t a catch. They spent ten minutes trying to decide if that last Eagles touchdown was legitimate, all depending on whether Zach Ertz was or wasn’t a runner when he broke the plane with the football. But I was disappointed by the commercials, which are supposed to be clever and funny. Most of them were neither. Then there’s Justin Timberlake’s halftime hoopla (which may have needed another Janet Jackson nipple to make it memorable).  Way too much dancing and too little singing. That seems to be the case with nearly all current songs and singers—too much emphasis on lightshows and choreography and too little on lyrics. One last thing about NFL football: the stats need to be redefined. Why should the quarterback get passing yardage when he throws a one-yard screen pass and then the receiver takes it another ninety-nine? I think the passing stats should include only number of completed passes and how many yards there were at the point of the reception. Receivers should get credit for the number of their receptions and the yardage when they caught it. All yards after the catch should count for his yardage as a runner. Also, deliberate passes thrown away or spiked shouldn’t be included in the passing stats. Also, the plays in which the quarterback takes a knee to stop the clock shouldn’t be included in number of plays or passing or rushing yardage. There. Are you listening, all you statisticians and rules-makers?
          Okay, just time enough for a Trump joke, cute and not vicious for a change:
 Just as Donald Trump is getting out of his limo at Mar-a-Lago, a man steps from a nearby doorway and aims a gun at him. One of his secret service agents screams, “Mickey Mouse!” The assailant is so shook up by the scream that he’s tackled and disarmed. A second agent asks the screamer, “Why on earth did you shout Mickey Mouse?” The screamer says, “I didn’t mean to. I just got flustered. I really meant to warn him, “Donald, duck!”

Saturday, January 27

More on Money & Commas

I’m back to beating this old dead horse—money and what the future might hold for us here as well as for everyone else in the world. In an article by Porter Stansbury, a noted economist, (The Crux, 12-26-2017), Stansbury warns readers about something he calls a Jubilee, the term for a legislative canceling all indebtedness, sort of a declaration of bankruptcy for everyone who has any kind of debt. He says that such a move would result in the markets crashing in a heap, the closing of banks and corporations, the devaluation of the dollar, and an insane increase in the value of gold and silver. What could cause such a move?
Stansbury says, “Do you ever feel—despite the supposed economic ‘recovery’ of recent years—that something in America is still not quite right? If so, you are not alone. After all, how can things be ‘OK’ when nearly half the men ages 18-34 now live with their parents—the highest level since the Great Depression? How can it be ‘normal’ when in one of America's richest cities (Seattle) there are now 400 unauthorized homeless camps under bridges and along freeway medians? How can it be a ‘recovery’ when 78% of the U.S. population now lives paycheck to paycheck, with essentially zero savings? . . . Why are so many Americans so angry? We've hit a serious tipping point in America. Our nation, as I'm sure you've noticed, has become a financial, cultural, and demographic pressure cooker. . . . While the rich are getting richer, everyone else is losing ground. The middle class—the most politically and economically stable part of our society—is disappearing. The foundation of the middle class in America was a long history of consistently rising wages. For millions of Americans, life got a little better, year after year, as the value of their wages increased and our economy grew into the world's largest. But this is no longer happening. Low income earners now make LESS in real terms than they did in 1980!” He goes on to say, “Get ready America, The Jubilee is coming. Very soon, millions of Americans will be calling for the government to ‘do something.’ Specifically, they'll be calling for a clean slate . . . to wipe out their debts and ‘reset’ the financial system. The crowds will cheer and march like never before. The violence will escalate. Our politicians will promise this reset of the financial system as a way to a ‘new and better prosperity.’ And while it might sound like good news to those who have gotten in over their head—what will really happen is a national nightmare. You see, this idea of erasing debts to reset the financial system is not new. In fact, in the Bible, it's referred to as a Jubilee.” Thanks for the warning, Mr. Stansbury. I’ll put it on my calendar.
            More on money, this time from me. One of the most unfair aspects of huge fortunes is the ability of the hyper wealthy to evade taxes with a horde of tax lawyers finding secret and to pass on their fortunes to heirs. Let’s say Jeff Bezos dies with $100 billion. He can’t take it with him and his heirs have no need for that much since they did nothing to earn it. Why should his old money live on and on when it could be used to pay off our national debt, rebuild our entire ailing infrastructure, and eliminate poverty? Why not have an inheritance tax that disallows such extravagance? Why not tax everyone with more than a billion dollars at a rate of 99%? Jeff Bezos’ heirs would still get one billion and the government would get the rest. The percentage scale could go down by one percent for each billion dollars to one billion, which wouldn’t be taxed at all. I think most of us could live quite well on a billion bucks. My numbers may be fuzzy but you get the drift. Does that sound too much like socialism? Okay, then call me a socialist and I’ll be able to live quite well with that also.
* * *
            Has anyone else noticed that on Facebook, almost no one ever uses commas to set off names of those they’re speaking to? It used to be called using commas for Direct Address. The same is too true in editorials and newspaper articles written by people who should know better. In one of my blogs, I ranted about this same thing but it bears repeating. Some commas really do matter and can save lives. Just look at “Let’s eat, Gramma” and “Let’s eat Gramma.” Poor Gramma, gone to a consumptive grave by her grandchildren, and all for the lack of a comma.

Friday, January 26

Show Boat

  “Another opening, another show . . .” And again I’m effusive about this treasure in the Valley—the Arizona Broadway Theatre. Last Tuesday we saw what they did with Show Boat, the Jerome Kern/Leonard Hammerstein chestnut from 1927. I remember seeing the film version in 1951, with Howard Keel, Catherine Grayson, and Ava Gardner. I decided to listen on YouTube to those versions of “Ol’ Man River” to see which was better. In 1927, Paul Robeson sang it; in the film, William Warfield sang it; and at ABT, Earl Hazell sang it. Mr. Hazell was much better than Robeson and about as good as, maybe even better than, Warfield. Talk about a voice like milk chocolate. He may not have been as low as a basso profondo but he was certainly deep, more a basso cantante with an upper register that was rich and effortless. When I saw the film version, it didn’t hit me then what a musical statement this show made about race relations, male dominance, and alcoholism. I learned that the various productions, depending on the times and audiences, have wrestled with a suitable way to refer to Blacks. In the opening lyrics to “Ol’ Man River,” it went from, “Niggers all work” to “Colored folk work,” to “Here we all work.” How curious. Today, we still find “nigger” offensive enough that it’s referred to as the “n-word.” How silly. I would think most Black males would be more offended by “Hey, boy” than by “nigger.”  Show Boat also addressed the miscegenation laws back in the day. Julie, who is trying to pass as white, is about to be arrested because she’s married to a white man. Before the sheriff gets there, her husband cuts her finger and then sucks some blood so that he could truthfully say he was a black man, having one or two drops of Negro blood in him. How strange that not that long ago, we had such a racist attitude toward Negros. The story may have been shallow and outdated, but the sets, costumes, choreography, and voices were all excellent, especially that of Earl Hazell as Joe, Brittany Santos as Magnolia, Lacy Sauter as Julie, and Jamie Parnell as Gaylord Ravenal. ABT just keeps getting better and better.

Wednesday, January 24

Wealth and Responsibility

           I never have understood how money works. I took a class in economics in college but I don’t remember any of what I may have learned. I know only that if I work, I earn money and then use it to trade for goods. That’s always seemed like a better system than the old barter bit of trading goods for goods. What I don’t understand is how the U.S. can borrow money to run the government and then have to pay interest on what was borrowed. Who loaned it to us and who’s getting the interest? What would happen if we just declared bankruptcy? What would be the consequences? I simple-mindedly shrug my shoulders at these monetary considerations. And, just what the hell is a bit coin?
          Another thing I’ve never understood: How does the stock market work? If we have extra cash, we can buy stock in various companies. Then, if those companies do well, our investment goes up, just like the way that individuals like Trump and the other Forbes 400 accumulate money, accumulate it to such an extent that it becomes ridiculous. Money makes money without ever having to work for it, and the more money that piles up, the more and more and more it makes. What about all of us who don’t have any extra cash to invest?
I just read an article that included some frightening statistics about accumulated wealth. According to Oxfam, the international organization focused on the alleviation of poverty, billionaires around the world last year increased their wealth by $762 billion, enough to end extreme world poverty seven times over. Also, 82% of the money generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population. The poorest 50% got nothing. Only 42 people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the world. “Oxfam is calling on governments and international institutions to recognize the detrimental impact our current economic system is having on the world’s poor and work to develop more human economies that prioritize greater equality. Policies such as ensuring all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage, eliminating the gender pay gap, protecting the rights of women workers, and ensuring that the wealthy pay their fair share of tax would go far in achieving this goal. Oxfam estimates a global tax of 1.5 percent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child to go to school.
This from the L.A. Times (Nov. 11, 2017): “To really comprehend just how insane the wealth concentration has become, consider Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon. Worth about $90 billion (that amount since this was written has gone up another $15 billion), he recently was declared the richest man in the world. In October alone, his wealth jumped by $10 billion—or more than $13 million per hour.” This from The Guardian (Nov. 8, 2017): “In a report, the Billionaire Bonanza, the thinktank said Donald Trump’s tax change proposals would exacerbate existing wealth disparities as 80% of tax benefits would end up going to the wealthiest 1% of households.” Also, “The study found that the billionaires included in Forbes Magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in the U.S. were worth a combined $2.68 trillion, more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of the UK.” The entire United Kingdom! Yikes! And John Hoxie, another co-author of the thinktank report, said: “So much money concentrating in so few hands while so many people struggle is not just bad economics, it’s a moral crisis.”
          A moral crisis. Why does anyone need so much wealth? Is it simply a sign of power? Is it simply so that we can now own that mansion and that yacht and all those really expensive cars? And why does anyone need that much power or need that many toys? How much money does anyone need to lead a satisfying, fulfilled life? If your answer is $100 million, or even $1 billion, then why can’t Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos donate the rest of their fortunes to eradicating poverty not only in the U.S. but in the entire world? Why can’t those oil-wealthy potentates in the Middle East do the same?
            I don’t know. I’m just a money moron.

Saturday, January 20

Information Age

I’m continually amazed by the information that’s available on-line. How did all of it get put there? How did Wikipedia manage to transfer all this past knowledge from all the books we used to have to dig around in? And how does it keep up with the deluge of new information that stacks up every day? If growth in technology and medicine is exponential, how can humans manage it all? I guess that’s where artificial intelligence comes in.
Back to my opening statement. During another night in which I only half slept and half wandered around in my mental palace, I heard an old song from my past, “At Last.” And I tried to pull up the lyrics but I could only hear, “At last, this never happened at last.” I could hear the music but only fragments of the lyrics. “What’s more, this never happened before, this is a once in a lifetime, this is the moment when suddenly . . .” and as it went into the bridge, “Mine to hold as I’m holding you now . . .” Something just didn’t make sense. When I got up this morning it was still there, like an unscratchable brain itch. So I searched on-line for what I thought was the title, “At Last,” which took me to YouTube, which seems to have versions of every song ever written. I found Etta James singing, “At last, my love has come along, my lonely days are over . . .” Yes, I knew that song. Only it wasn’t to the music I kept hearing. So I searched for: “What’s more, this never happened before,” and lo and behold, it took me to the old Nat King Cole song, “Again.” And it all came together. It wasn’t “At Last,” it was “Again.” Again, this couldn't happen again, This is that once in a lifetime . . .”  Amazing.
I also half heard in my nighttime wanderings “Something Old, Something New.” But all I could hear was the first verse: “There's something old and something new, And something borrowed, something blue, Packed in her suitcase. I never thought that she would be a blushing bride, but golly gee! Just look in her suitcase!” Does that “golly gee” tell you how old and out of date this song is? It’s almost too old even for ancient me. Anyway, I searched for those opening lines and was rewarded with a Sinatra version on YouTube. The song was first recorded by him in 1946. Seventy-two years ago. Golly gee that’s a long time ago. I wonder who last used that expression. Those were much simpler times than the times today. Today we would more likely hear someone shout, “Holy Shit!” or “Whudda Fuck!”
I wonder when someone last said “Aw shucks.” I go on-line and find: Bashful said it in Disney’s Snow White in 1938; Thumper said it in Disney’s Bambi in 1942; and SpongBob SquarePants said it sometime after this show was introduced in 1999. That was probably the last time it was said.
Amazing what one can find on the Net. This is especially important for old fogies like me who can’t remember much of anything. If I see an actor on tv but I can’t think of his name but I remember a movie he made, I can go to IMDB, look up the film which lists the cast. Wham! There he is. Or maybe “Goldern! There he is!”

 The All Powerful Net will tell you anything you want or need to know. And a few things you don’t want to know or shouldn’t know, like how to counterfeit hundred dollar bills or how to build a homemade bomb.

Friday, January 19

Birthdays & Cats

Today is my wife’s 80th birthday and Edgar Allen Poe’s 209th. I wasn’t able to put eighty candles on a cake for her, but she forgave me, nor would I be able to put over two hundred candles on Poe’s cake, but I’m sure he doesn’t care. A hundred and sixty-nine years in the grave will take most of your cares away.

          Even though she didn’t want any cake or presents, I went to PetSmart and bought two more pieces of cat furniture and put them in her name, an S-shaped piece that sits on the living room floor and a triple-tiered piece that goes on the back patio with all the other pieces out there. She says it’s the best two presents she’s ever gotten. Our two cats are pretty much our lives now. They own the house and allow us to live with them as long as we feed them regularly and buy them toys and furniture. We lost our third cat Tuffy in a tragic accident four months ago. Tuffy, always the inquisitive one, climbed into the clothes washing machine when we weren’t looking, the door got shut, and we didn’t look for him nor could we hear him until it was too late. His air ran out and he suffocated. We assume it wasn’t a painful death, just a slow sleep when the oxygen ran out, but horribly tragic nonetheless. Tuffy and Charlie were always the best of friends with Tuffy’s brother Tiger the outsider. But now that Tuffy is gone, Charlie and Tiger are bonding. They actually seem to like each other. The two of them now have six different cat furnitures on the back patio, so many they can’t decide which to sit in or on.  But all have views of the backyard and they love to sit and watch the birds and bunnies that come along. They don’t so much care for the coyotes that occasionally amble through our yard. The coyotes will look at them and think, “Ummm, what a scrumptious meal you two would make!” And the boys look back and say “Yah! Yah! Yah! You can’t get us, so just go on your way and leave us alone!” And the coyotes do just that, continue on their way to find easier meals than Tiger and Charlie.

Tuesday, January 16

Religious Beliefs

I was born in and raised in Mobridge, a small prairie town in South Dakota. I’ve already extensively examined my memories of that town—the trees, birds, childhood games, carnivals, the Missouri River that flowed a few miles west and south of the town, the sports I was involved in, and the golf course on which I spent so many hours of my youth.
But what about religion. My memories of my religious background are hazy at best. I know my mother (not my father, who was never a church-goer) insisted on my going to the little Mobridge Episcopal Church with her. It was a small brown church just north of our house on Main and 7th St. Rosalie’s father and grandfather built it around 1910, with a basement where I remember having to go for catechism lessons, or Bible school as we always called it. Oh, how I hated those required lessons in religion. Maybe it was my natural rebellion against such thought, or maybe it was simply my laziness.
I vaguely remember singing in the church choir, something my mother must have suggested, but I doubt that I did that for very long. I remember the sermons Father Clark would give in that pretentious voice he used to demonstrate his holiness, his sanctimoniousness, how boring they were. I also remember the communions when Father Clark would give kneelers a sip of grape juice posing as the blood of Christ and a fish food wafer posing as the flesh of Christ. Then he would sanctimoniously wipe the lip of the flagon and move on to the next kneeler. Back then we didn’t over-worry about passing germs. Or maybe everyone assumed that God wouldn’t allow any such passing of dangerous germs. I knelt when Father Clark indicated it was time for a shared prayer, but I did so only because it would have been too apparent to the other parishioners that I was a dissenter. I never looked down or closed my eyes when he led us in prayer. I never felt that I needed an intermediary between me and some higher being, some universal creator. 
I also remember when I was in my early teens that brief time when I was an altar boy. It had to be something my mother had forced on me. I certainly wouldn’t have done it on my own. Me, an altar boy. God must have looked down in some alarm seeing me there, lighting the candles, snuffing the candles, performing my other little altar boy duties.
The Episcopal congregation was tiny, with as few as only fifteen or twenty people on any given Sunday. I remember some of the regular families: the Travises (minus my father), the Morrises, the Todds, the Leshers, maybe the Nichols and Shermans. There must have been others but I don’t remember who.
I remember the distinct odors of that church, the scent of lilacs from the cupboard in which the choir robes were hung, the holiday aroma of pine needles. Did we ever have a nativity play for Christmas Eve? I simply don’t remember, but if we did I’m sure my mother would have insisted that I be one of the Wise Men.
I also remember when I had to go to Father Clark’s house for my confirmation lessons. I remember arguing loud and long with him about one or all of what he was trying to teach me. Despite my protests and denials, I was confirmed when I was fourteen, and God, again, was probably looking down in amazement.
After I left Mobridge for good (leaving Mobridge was never bad, always good), I never attended any church, never went to any services except for one or two funerals and one or two marriages, but those don’t really count. I never entered any church except for one or two times with Rosalie to the Methodist Church in Lakewood, N.Y. Both times, I was surprised that the walls didn’t come crashing down on me, the interloper. One or two times was more than enough. Why take a chance on crashing walls.
I’m not an atheist, one who denies the existence of God, but I’m certainly an agnostic, one who just doesn’t know. Agnostics are people who hedge their bets, just in case there really is a God. Playing it safe. That’s me.

Friday, January 12

Molly's Game, Harkins Theaters, & Joe Arpaio

We finally got back to our favorite Harkins Theater near the Arrowhead Mall to see Molly’s Game, the story of Molly Bloom and the really high-stakes poker games she ran in New York and Los Angeles. It was interesting to see how these high rollers played Texas Holdem, but it was really about seeing Jessica Chastain create the character of Molly Bloom. Molly sort of backs into her ownership of these poker games, but she’s so bright she makes them bigger and better than the other games in town, getting a selection of wealthy movie stars, sports figures, and businessmen, and, without realizing it, a few Russian mobsters. Her world comes tumbling down when she’s arrested by the FBI for her connection to the mob. She persuades Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to defend her and the two (actually three if you count Jaffey’s oh so cute young daughter, who considers Molly as her role model) bond as they plan her defense. The story itself was fairly forgettable but Chastain as Molly Bloom was very memorable. She pretty much made the movie, and though she probably won’t win the Oscar for best actress, she’ll be close.
We also got to see what Dan Harkins has done to the Arrowhead theater and what he apparently is doing to all of his theaters in Arizona—going the same way the AMC theaters have gone, to the reclining leather seats, the reserved seating, and the wine and beer bar in the lobby. I wasn’t very happy about how long it now takes to get a ticket (those in front of you who have to pick the seats they want). I guess one should simply buy the tickets on-line and not have to wait in line. I think I’ll do that next time. As for the reclining seats, they may not be quite as comfortable as they’re made out to be. I found my legs going numb after an hour or so. I’ll see how it goes next time. Meanwhile, I may just go to the bar and get a big glass of wine to take into the show. Then I could really nap during boring stretches.

Now there are two birds of a feather who flock together.
Here’s a news item that makes my stomach churn. Joe Arpaio, Arizona’s bad-ass ex-sheriff, has decided he’ll run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate to replace Jeff Flake. And what makes me really nauseous is that he might actually win. He’d be 86 years old, a Trump pardonee, a Trump chum, and just like we discovered with Donald Trump, there may just be enough really stupid people who would vote for him. Please, please, please, let there be a Democrat who could keep him out of the Senate. Gabby Giffords, even with your health issues, would you consider coming back as U.S. senator instead of representative? Much much better you than Nasty Joe.

Thursday, January 11

Time's Up & Warren Buffet

From last Sunday, the Golden Globes were interesting, especially the way the attendees chose to show their support for the recent women’s movements against gender inequality and sexual harassment, “Time’s Up” and “Me Too.” Black was the protest color with most men in black tuxes and most women in black gowns. Most of the gowns were very elegant and classy, unlike too many of the gowns from past Globes and Oscars. Most noteworthy was the speech Oprah Winfrey gave when she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement. She was slim again, she was beautiful, and she was eloquent when she spoke of the women’s movements. And there was speculation about her possibly running for president in 2020. I hope she does. I would certainly vote for her. I think most of the women and a lot of the men in the country would vote for her. She may be a billionaire like Trump, but she she’s a whole lot smarter than Trump. Anything to get that boob out of the White House. So, yes, Oprah, run, please run. The other thing that struck me about those in attendance: so many looked so much older than I want them to look. Kirk Douglas looked like a seriously deformed mummy and Barbra Streisand looked like she could be his daughter. How did so many of these actors and actresses get so much older than I remember them? Time flies, time flies. I wonder how the Oscars will go and how all these people will look.

In a Time Magazine interview (January 15, 2018), Warren Buffet spoke of the cryptocurrency craze and warned against investing in any of it. He also mentioned that in the last 25 years, the  total wealth of those on the Forbes 400 saw an increase in their fortunes go up 29 times, from $93 billion to $2.7 trillion—“while many millions of hardworking citizens remained stuck on an economic treadmill. During this period, the tsunami of wealth didn’t trickle down. It surged upward.” Twenty-nine times! That means that if I had a million bucks in the stock market in 1982, I would have twenty-nine million bucks today. That makes the recent tax bill a huge mistake, with most of the tax cuts going to the rich, while for most of us, those of us who are not on the Forbes 400 or are unable to have savings in the rising and rising stock market, losers. There will be, as Buffet suggests, no trickledown. Just a huge increase in the fortunes of the already wealthy. In that old song, “Ain’t We Got Fun,” we hear again, “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun.” No, Donald and all your billionaire buddies, we ain’t got fun.

Saturday, January 6

Lost Love

In yesterday’s mail, I got my semi-annual South Dakotan magazine, the alumni news magazine put out by my alma mater, SUSD, State University of South Dakota. They’ve upped the ante from past publications, with heavy slick paper and vivid color. A lovely issue. I looked at some of the articles, but it’s been almost sixty years since I graduated and almost nothing about the campus or the staff is familiar to me anymore. The school I knew in the fifties is now considerably different. But, as I always do, I turned to the section with news about graduates from past decades. Nobody there I recognized from the 1950 to 1960 section. Then I went through the In Memoriam list of those who had died in the past year. And a name from my past popped up. Patricia (Prostrollo) Schultz, ’57 B.S.Ed. Sioux Falls, SD, Alphi Phi. I was stunned. I felt more sorrow than I should have. Her death shouldn’t have surprised me so much or made me so sad. She had to be, after all, in her eighties. But the sight of that name filled me with such sorrow and regret. Patricia Prostrollo was a woman whom I had loved enough that I had wanted to marry her. “But that was in a different country, and besides, the wench is dead.” (Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta) The wench is dead, the wench is dead, and my sorrow was as much for my loss as for her passing.
          My sorrow was all about the life I have that will probably soon end. Sorrow for all the things I wanted to do and never did. Sorrow for what might have been. Sorrow for the passing of a woman I had thought about off and on for my entire life.
          I met her in 1955, after I’d gone back to college, gone back to my affiliation with Phi Delta Theta. The Phi Delts had agreed to team up with the Alph Phi sorority for our entry in the annual Strollers’ show, a musical competition among eight or nine combinations of fraternities and sororities. Patty and I were named directors, I because of my time in New York writing songs, her because she could wrap almost anyone around a finger to get what she wanted and she apparently wanted to be the director. I remember the first night we met to discuss what we might do for our act. One of my frat brothers was a huge Harry Belafonte fan and convinced us to do a calypso-themed story about building a house. And that’s what we agreed on. But at the end of that first evening, beers in hands, I sat in a chair in the Phi Delt livingroom and Patty sat on my lap, her face so close to mine I could hardly breathe. Here she was, this tiny, raven-haired girl/woman who knew exactly how to play me like a salmon. And I was hooked from that moment and for all the time we spent together getting our musical show ready and for several months after that. We performed the calypso act and won second place. We were all excited and I was in love.
          We were together quite often for those next several months. But I was a freshman and she was a junior. I remember in the spring asking her to go to a college dance with me. She told me an old boyfriend from her hometown was going to be there and that she was obligated to go with him. But she had really wanted to be with me, she insisted. And kept insisting. The hook was still set and she was still able to reel me in whenever she wanted. But when the college year ended and she went back to Watertown, our relationship also ended. She graduated the following year and I never saw her again. But I always felt the sting of that loss.
          In the years I taught American Literature, whenever we had a unit on Fitzgerald, I had my classes read his short story, “Winter Dreams.” The main character, Judy Jones, was a seductress who could lead on several male suitors at the same time, always bringing any who strayed back into the fold of her charms. I always told my classes that I had known a Judy Jones back when I was in college and knew exactly what the young men felt when she would switch from one suitor to another. Patricia Prostrollo was my Judy Jones. And now the wench is dead and I feel such sorrow.
          I wrote a song about her right after I lost her in 1955. It’s a slightly get-even song, youthfully romantic and a bit too sentimental, but it still sums up what I felt those sixty-two years ago. 

Saturday, December 30

Top Ten Movies

Hello and Goodbye. Here comes 2018, ready or not. What will Donald Trump do or say that’s outlandish? What will happen at the Winter Olympics? What will the FBI probes decide? What will Artificial Intelligence give us that we’ll love or fear? How will Tiger fare in his latest comeback? Lots of things that need to be answered. 
Happy New Year, everybody!.
I’m in countdown mode with only one day left in this year, and since film plays such an important part of my life, I need to talk about films in 2017.
First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a year in which there was almost no consensus about what was good, what was bad. I checked out a variety of critics and magazines and their picks for best ten. I’m not sure I have enough room here to demonstrate all their differing opinions.
Let me start with some of the curiosities. Mother, with Jennifer Lawrence, made it as high as #10 on one list and down near the bottom of most lists. The Lost City of Z was in the top ten in several lists, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. I thought it pretty much stunk. I, Tonya sneaks into the top ten of several lists, and, again, even though I haven’t yet seen it, I can’t understand how a movie about Tonya Harding and her curious assault on Nancy Kerrigan could be anything but average, maybe even lower than average.
The most noticeable curiosity in these lists is their choice of films that have made almost no ripples in film news. I realize I don’t see all the movies that come out in any one year but I certainly see more than most people do. Here are some that were listed in top-tens that are almost invisible: Colossal [USA Today], Faces Places, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Dawson City: Frozen Time [CBS], Wormwood, Lady Macbeth, Columbus, Marjorie Prime, I Don’t Feel at Home in the World Anymore, I Called Him Morgan [Esquire], Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Novitiate, Their Finest [Rex Reed].
Okay, here we go, the lists I looked at:
Rolling Stone – Dunkirk, Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Detroit, Phantom Thread
Esquire – Wormwood, Lady Macbeth, Dunkirk, Marjorie Prime, Columbus, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Okja, Phantom Thread, The Lost City of Z, I Called Him Morgan
NY Times critic, Manhola Dargis – Dunkirk, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Faces Places, The Florida Project, Get Out, Lady Bird, Okja, Phantom Thread, A Quiet Passon, Wonder Woman
USA Today – Get Out, Logan, The Lego Batman Movie, The Big Sick, A Dark Song, Guardians of the Galaxy, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Baby Driver, Split, Colossal
Rotten Tomatoes – Get Out, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, Lady Bird, Logan, Baby Driver, Star Wars, the Last Jedi, Coco, Thor: Ragnarok
Most Critics – Get Out, Lady Bird, Call me By Your Name, The Florida Project, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Phantom Thread, Blade Runner: 2049, A Ghost Story
Bill Goodykoontz, AZ Republic – Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, Call Me by Your First Name, Get Out, The Florida Project, The Shape of Water, The Post, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Phantom Thread
Rex Reed – The Post, Call Me by Your First Name, Lady Bird, Their Finest, Brad’s Status, I, Tonya, Mudbound, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Novitiate, Stronger
Ranker – Logan, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, Get Out, John Wick 2, War for the Planet of the Apes, Split, Despicable Me 3, Blade Runner 2049, It, The Lego Movie
The Guardian – Call me by Your First Name, The Florida Project, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Lady Bird, The Post, The Shape of Water, Blade Runner 2049, A Ghost Story, Lady Macbeth
Entertainment Weekly – Dunkirk, Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water, Get Out, Foxtrot, Hostiles, Lady Bird, Molly’s Game, Faces Places, Wonder Woman
Now, what about me? I’m going to list the best of what I’ve seen and some of what I haven’t yet seen but plan on seeing based on the bests of those above. And I’m eliminating all the Marvels and animated children’s films; let the children and teens make their own lists. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, The Big Sick, Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, The Shape of Water, The Post, Lady Bird, Call Me by Your First Name, The Florida Project, Dunkirk.
Now I can’t wait to see which movies are nominated for Academy Awards. I have a feeling they too will be without a consensus. I hope my ten come close.

Thursday, December 28



          I’ve noticed lately that I need my days to be symmetrical, a place for everything and everything in its place. I don’t mean my days are rigidly repetitive or monotonously regimented, even though in many ways they are. I mean that each day should see a task completed or that my life and the things I own or things that own me should all be like little soldiers all lined up in a row. I keep my books together on their shelves by author, and I love to see them there, and whenever my wife misplaces one, they all look wrong until I put it in its proper place. I try to keep all my e-mails to-and-from in separate folders on my hard drive, all dated, all chronological. How handy it is to see what someone wrote to me one or more years ago. I get a haircut once a month; I shave daily; I take my blood pressure every morning as I drink my juice; every three weeks I take out all my prescription bottles and reload the appropriate pills into my weekly pillboxes; I keep track on the calendar of all the dates for having blood drawn for the many different medical specialists I now visit with too much regularity; I change my oxygen line and cannulas regularly (monthly for the line, weekly for the cannulas); and my wife and I go out for dinner every Tuesday and Thursday. I love to cook, but my favorite dishes are what can be prepared ahead of time, like tuna casserole, chili, beef stew, or oven chicken, and after I’ve prepared a meal I immediately have to clean up and put away any dishes I used in the preparation. I have little tasks I need to finish to put my house and life in order. I spent several weeks getting LED lights lined up along our driveway, not because we needed them to guide visitors to our home but because they’re part of the symmetry. We had a number of problems with our irrigation system, either minor leaks or too little water going to various trees and flower beds. One by one they got fixed and now they’re all symmetrical. These blogs I write get printed using my Clickbook software that prints them as a booklet, four pages to each sheet back to front. Right after every December 31, I print them, then cut the pages, punch six holes in the stack, print and punch a cover and back page, bind the pages with heavy upholstery thread, then duct tape the back to cover the binding, then line up the finished product with the others back to 2009, along with all the bound annual journals back to our arrival in Sun City west twenty-three years ago. My dotage is all neatly symmetrical. Pretty obsessive, pretty compulsive, right? Yeah. But it’s just my way of preparing for my departure. I’m not afraid of  shuffling "off this mortal coil.” I just want what was me to be in symmetrical order so that my wife and/or my children won’t have any heartache or problem putting me and my “stuff” away. This is not my Thanatopis. It’s my Symmetropsis. I like to think it’s a felicitous examination of what was a symmetrical perspective of my life. I don’t want my life to be like what Keats in his epitaph said about himself, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” But I also don’t want it “writ in stone.” That smacks too much of a lonely granite headstone somewhere out in the boonies.
          Today’s exercise in symmetry involves getting this blog finished and inserted into Doggy Dog World, going to CVS to pick up another prescription, then on to Fry’s for two ribeyes, two small potatoes, and eight jumbo shrimp for our New Year’s Eve dinner, after which we’ll watch the crowds freezing their asses off waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square. Then, just after 10:00 Arizona time, we’ll toddle off to bed, crossing off another symmetrical year.

Wednesday, December 27

Literary Oddities Part IV

          A few chronological oddities: Legal documents in Massachusetts in 1655 that require signatures of women (half of whom used only X) indicate a 50% illiteracy rate among the Puritan ladies. In 1675, Cotton Mather entered Harvard at age twelve. In 1770, a lawyer named Thomas Jefferson argued in a Virginia court for the freedom of a mulatto slave on the grounds that “under the law of nature all men are born free.” In 1775, Patrick Henry gives his “liberty or death” speech while his wife is chained, insane, in the basement of their house. In 1818 Thomas Jefferson cautioned against the reading of a relatively new form of fiction, the novel, saying “When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading.” In 1833 Edgar Allan Poe won a $50 prize in a contest for his story “MS Found in a Bottle,” called by some the first science fiction story. In 1842, Charles Dickens visited America for the first time and hated it. In 1863 Samuel Clemens, working in Virginia City, Nevada, heard of the death of Isaiah Sellers, a little-known writer who wrote under the pseudonym of Mark Twain. Clemens decided to take it for his own. In 1866 Horatio Alger was removed from his pulpit at the First Unitarian Parish of Brewster, Massachusetts, for the “abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys.” (Hello, Catholic priests, are you listening?) In 1889 Thomas Wentworth Higginson advised Mabel Loomis Todd not to publish the works of an obscure poet named Emily Dickinson, calling her poems “too crude in form.” In 1895 Mark Twain began a world-wide lecture tour to pay back a $100,000 debt, all of which he eventually repaid. In 1926 the world’s first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, was published by Hugo Gernsback, whose first name was taken for the annual award for best sf novel of the year, the “Hugo.” In 1933 Ernest Hemingway went on his first African safari. In 1938 on Halloween, Orson Welles aired his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds and scared the bejesus out of his listeners, many of whom assumed the Martian invasion was for real.
          Word games: Most of us know what an anagram is (using all the letters of a word or phrase to form another word or phrase, as in the wonderfully serendipitous Listen and Silence. But almost no one knows what an ananym is. It’s a sort of sub-category of an anagram, but one in which the new word or phrase is a reversal. For example, Seltaeb is the name of the Beatles’ merchandising company, an allerdnic is what you call a reverse Cinderella, someone who goes from riches to rags. I remember trying to find a name I could use based on my own name. Yrrej Sivart didn’t sound so good, so I went to Dyolf Sivart. And somewhere in the early fifties, a female singer named Yma Sumac put out a record in which she demonstrated a vocal range of four-and-a-half octaves. The bio information said she was Peruvian and her songs were examples of a genre called exotica, but a lot of people thought she was really an American woman ananymically named Amy Camus. Another word game is the palindrome—words, phrases, series of numbers that read the same backwards and forward, like madam or nurses run. If you’re ever looking for something longer and want to impress your friends, use “Rats live on no evil star,” which, by the way, is the title of a song by the reggae group called Ooklah the Moc. There are longer examples, but this science fictional one about rats is my favorite.

          By now, dear reader, you must be sick and tired of my sick and tired blogs about literature and language. I think I’m sick and tired of writing them. I’ll try to find something more interesting to conclude the year, after which I think I’ll go on vacation for a while.

Tuesday, December 26

Literary Oddities Part III

Christmas is now behind us and New Year’s Day lies just ahead. I hope everyone had a peaceful, happy, bountiful day on the 25th of December, 2017.
Now, back to literary oddities. We assume that all writers we now regard as great had an easy time of it, that their fame was built on the successful publication of their works. But quite a few knew early failure, and some failed throughout their entire lives. And some were suicides.
          What are some literary failures? Stephen Crane had to borrow $700 to print Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. He sold only 100 copies; the rest he burned in the winter to heat his Bowery apartment. Thoreau actually lost money by publishing A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. His royalties were $15, but he had to pay $290 for all the unsold copies. Emily Dickinson wrote more than 1700 poems but only seven were published in her lifetime. In Booth Tarkington’s first five years as a professional writer, he earned $22.50. Hart Crane’s White Buildings had a critical introduction by Allen Tate, a jacket blurb by Eugene O’Neill, and at least some chance for success. All told, his publishers managed to unload 499 copies, 121 free to reviewers, two hundred remaindered. By the time he committed suicide in 1932 (by jumping off a cruise ship), he owed his publishers $210.
          What are some of the most notable successes? Margaret Mitchell wrote only one novel, Gone with the Wind, but it earned oodles in royalties for book sales, $50,000 for the film rights, and in 1974, $5,000,000 from NBC for a tv version. L. Frank Baum and his Oz series had millions of followers and his books were best-sellers from the first in 1908 right up to the present. The same sort of success came to Edgar Rice Burroughs with his Tarzan series, the Mars and Venus series, the Earth’s Core series, and all the other science fictiony stuff he wrote.
          And here are a few bits of trivia to tide you over to the New Year. Stephen Crane was the fourteenth child of a Methodist minister and married the madam of an English whorehouse. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was a poem written by Phillips Books in 1865 and sung for the first time at Christmas in 1868. The highest short-term sales figure by an American novelist was the 6,800,000 copies of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls in 1967. Robert Frost is the only poet to win the Pulitzer Prize four times. Erskine Caldwell played professional football. He was also born in rural Georgia so far from a town, post office, or railroad crossing that his birthplace had no name. When he was a student at Bowdoin College, Nathaniel Hawthorne was fined twenty-five cents for “walking unnecessarily on the Sabbath.” In 1951, William Burroughs killed his wife while trying to shoot a glass off her head. James Thurber, also playing at William Tell, is blinded in one eye by an arrow shot by his brother. The very prolific Earl Stanley Gardner wrote under his own name but also under eleven different nom de plumes. I guess he didn’t want his readers to know exactly how many novels he wrote in any one year. Speaking of prolificacy, Eleanor Marie Robertson, under the pen name Nora Roberts, just came out with another best-seller called Year One. This was the 217th novel she’s written under four pen names. Nora Roberts, or Eleanor Marie Robertson, is 67 years old, which means that she would have to have written five novels a year for the last forty-three years, or ten novels a year for just over twenty-one years. How is either of those estimates even possible?

Monday, December 25

Literary Oddities Part II

         Many writers like to write about their own writing, like to go back endlessly to rewrite something they think needs improving. Henry James was the best example of that, never considering anything he'd written as finished, going back to tinker and tanker with what was there. Many writers also like to write about the writing of other writers, some of whom they admire, but many of whom they don't like.                                                  
          Here are some examples of what writers have said about other writers or the things they’ve written: The Boston Intelligencer called Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, “a heterogeneous mass of bombast, egotism, vulgarity, and nonsense.” The Chicago Times said of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” Wow, that sounds much more fitting for our present president. Clifton Fadiman on William Faulkner, “Mr. Faulkner, of course, is interested in making your mind rather than your flesh creep.” Nathaniel Hawthorne on women writers, “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women.” Whoops, Nathaniel, that wouldn’t go over so well today. James Russell Lowell satirizing Poe, “There comes Poe with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge, / Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths pure fudge.” Barnaby Rudge was a mystery that Poe admired enough to deduce the solution of the mystery without having read the story. Flannery O’Connor on Southern writers, “In the South there are more amateur authors than there are rivers and streams. . . . In almost every hamlet you’ll find at least one lady writing epics in Negro dialect and probably two or three old gentlemen who have impossible historical novels on the way.” Allen Tate on Emily Dickinson, “Her poetry is a magnificent personal confession, blasphemous and, in its self-revelation, its honesty, almost obscene. It comes out of an intellectual life towards which it feels no moral responsibility. Cotton Mather would have burnt her for a witch.” Twain on himself, “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.” John Dos Passos on writing as a profession, “If there is a special purgatory for writers, it would be the forced contemplation of their own works.” Robert Frost, “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.” And, of course, that time Frost told Sandburg, "Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net."
           The kitty above wants to purr you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Just listen to him:

"Deck the halls with boughs of catnip.
Here is what I want to say:
Donald, leave the oval office.
That would really make my day." 

Such a smart kitty.

Sunday, December 24

Literary Oddities Part I

Christmas Eve, 2017. And not a creature is stirring, not a bunny or a quail or even one of our cats. Just Rosalie doing her weekly laundry and me watching the Cardinals trying to give another game away. I don’t have anything to say about Donald, so I’m going to write several blogs about American literary oddities to bring this year to an end.
We know a lot about our best-known writers, but there’s much that almost no one knows about them. For example, the question of what books should or should not be banned from the public eye, or maybe just the prurient eyes of our youth. We’ve come a long way from the prudish Puritanism of the last two centuries. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen, but I think our present openness about sex and bodily functions is a good thing. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was banned somewhere in the U.S. every year from 1955 to 1980. And all because Holden Caulfield tried to keep from his little sister’s eyes the F-bomb he saw on a graffitied wall. One F-bomb kept this funny, sensitive, moral novel from our children’s eyes all the way up to 1980. See, even now, I and others like me in the media still are uncomfortable saying “fuck.” In 1957 New York State was still disapproving for its schools any of Twain’s writing. Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre was banned in Mississippi in 1950. This was a few years after the revolution in affordable books we know as paperbacks. I can remember in my youth sneaking a copy of this book off the rack to see what was thought then to be so titillatingly risqué. And Mickey Spillane came out with paperbacks of I, the Jury and My Gun Is Quick in the late 40’s. Oh, how we young lads loved the double entendre of that gun that was quick. This was the age in which grocers and druggists still had to wrap boxes of Kotex in brown paper so no one would be offended by a product for a female’s menstrual cycle. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was banned just after it came out in 1939. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises wasn’t allowed in the San Jose, California, schools in 1960. There were many other books that were banned for sale in the U.S., like Ulysses by James Joyce and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. All of these books would now be considered as tame as kittens.
          Twain is one of America’s most frequently quoted because of his acerbic wit. Nearly everyone knows what he had to say about golf: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” He would never have said such a thing if he’d ever taken up the game. But he also said, “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Other notable quotes by other less notable people: Groucho Marx, “Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book—and does.” Dorothy Parker, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Twain on critics, “The critic’s symbol should be the tumble-bug; he deposits his egg in somebody else’s dung, otherwise he could not hatch it.” E.B. White on critics, “The critic leaves at curtain fall / To find, in starting to review it, / He scarcely saw the play at all / For watching his reaction to it.”
         William Cullen Bryant was only seventeen when he wrote what is considered to be his best poem, “Thanatopsis.” It seems odd that a boy would have such a morbid view of death, but he admired a group called “The Graveyard School of Poets” and was obviously trying to emulate them. He meant it as consolation for anyone who fears dying, saying that we’re all in an almost infinite line of people, kings and wise men as well as paupers and idiots, who move through life in single file toward that cliff in front of us, slow-footed, dim-witted as we throw ourselves like lemmings over the precipice. I don’t derive any comfort from such an image. He goes on to say that you can’t set foot anywhere on the planet without stepping on someone who’s gone before us. Ugh, that’s an unappealing thought. He concludes with this advice, “Approach thy grave / Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” Hmm, pleasant dreams? I’ll try to put that thought out of my mind when I go to bed tonight. You try also.

Tuesday, December 19

Puns & Shaggy Dogs

Another book I found hiding on one of my shelves is a little collection of puns and shaggy dog stories. The editor, James Charlton, asked writers to supply a story to play on the various expressions he gave them for the assignment. Stephen King was given “Read any good books lately?” He had no trouble coming up with a story about London’s shortage of rooks that were dying from pollution. King brought it to the end with, “Bred any good rooks lately?” Thus the title for this collection by Charlton. I thought I would summarize a few for my readers’ amusement but then realized that the stories were too long to use. That led me to the question of puns and shaggy dog stories, many of which are short enough for inclusion here.
But first, some definitions.
          A pun is a play on words, the humorous use of a word or phrase to emphasize or suggest its different meanings, the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but not meaning. For example (because I’m an old English teacher), “Santa’s helpers are known as subordinate Clauses.” “The grammarian was very logical. He had a lot of comma sense.” You get the idea. Puns are usually greeted by groans and hesitant laughter. Some are better than others. “She had a photographic memory but never developed it.” Groan!  “The two pianists had a good marriage. They were always in a chord.” Groan! Groucho Marx was fond of using them on his tv show and would always tap his cigar and twitch his eyebrows at the moaning audience. Then there’s one of my favorite plays on words, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” And a few more just to keep you groaning.
What’s the difference between deer nuts and beer nuts? Beer nuts are a $1.75, deer nuts are under a buck.
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
How do you know when Santa's in the room? You can sense his presents.
A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.
A friend of mine tried to annoy me with bird puns, but I soon realized that toucan play at that game.
Did you hear about the cat that swallowed a ball of yarn? She had a litter of mittens. 
* * * * * *
How does a shaggy dog story differ from a pun? Mainly by its length. I’ll include Donald Hall’s response to the Stephen King story about good books:
“Here where we live in New Hampshire, the little creeks roll down Ragged Mountain across our fields, squirt under Route 4, and piddle into our hayfields on the other side. My wife spends all fall and much of the spring working on borders to these little springs, planting bulbs, fertilizing, and then keeping the borders clear and clean, because if there’s anything she likes, it’s to weed a good brook.”
A spoonerism doesn’t really fit my topic for today, but they’re often so funny and so much like puns that I have to include a few examples. A spoonerism is an error in speech in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are unintentionally switched between two words in a phrase. Such errors are named after the Oxford don and ordained minister William Archibald Spooner, who was famous for doing this. Once, Dr. Spooner raised a toast to her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria, and proclaimed: “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” He also said as he was scolding one of his students about poor work habits: “You’ve tasted two worms.” And once when he wanted to speak to the dean: “Is the bean dizzy?”
I’ll supply only a few shaggy dog stories, the shorter not necessarily the better, but more fitting for the length of this blog.
(1) It seems there were two frogs sitting on a lily pad, when all of a sudden, a fly came along. One frog put out his tongue, ate the fly, and started laughing hysterically. Soon the other frog joined in the laughter.
Later in the day, the other frog ate a fly and the two frogs burst out in laughter. As time went on, the frogs enjoyed the flies so much that the sight of a fly would cause them to double up with pleasure (if it's possible for frogs to double up!). But of course, the most pleasure came when the fly was actually eaten.
A third frog hopped up to the first two and asked what was so funny. The first frog answered, “Time.”
“What?” said the third frog.
The second frog explained: “Time's fun when you’re having flies.”
(2) A butcher got along great with everyone in the neighborhood except a mysterious Swami. They hated each other. One evening, the Swami's pregnant wife had intense cravings for liver, and the Swami had to go into his enemy’s shop. “Give me a pound of liver,” he said to the butcher’s clerk. The butcher whispered to the clerk from the back of the shop, “Here's our chance to get that no-good bum.” Pointing to the clerk’s thumb, he said, "Weigh down upon the Swami’s liver!”
(3) When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, he had trouble selling it. People just didn’t trust this “new” way of making light. In order to promote his idea he decided to go around the country installing lights in different towns in order to drum up publicity. While in Oklahoma, Edison stopped by an Indian reservation and offered to put lights in any building they wanted. After much thought the Indian chief decided that he wanted lights in his outhouse, so he could see what he was doing at night. This made him the first man to wire a head for a reservation.
(4) A king carried environmentalism too far when he prohibited hunting of any kind. Soon the realm was overrun with lions and tigers and bears. “Oh My!” shouted the people. They revolted and threw the king out of the country. It was the first time the reign was called because of the game.

          Have you had enough? Well, in case you’d like just an old-fashioned joke without any play on words, here’s a good one:
On a passenger flight, the pilot comes over the public address system to greet the passengers. He tells them at what altitude they’ll be flying, the expected arrival time, and a bit about the weather, and advises them to relax and have a good flight. Then, forgetting to turn off the speaker, he says to his co-pilot, “What would relax me right now is a cup of coffee and a blowjob.” All the passengers hear it. As a stewardess immediately begins to run toward the cockpit to tell the pilot of his slip-up, one of the passengers stops her and says “Don’t forget the coffee!”

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