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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.

Wednesday, November 15

What's in a Name?

What’s in a name? Finding a first name for male babies is difficult, especially if you want to avoid all the old, white, traditional names, like John, Thomas, Joseph, or Peter. Thus, so many black parents choose names that echo Biblical and Muslim names but vary the spellings to make them original, often doubling up on vowels to make them singular, names like Rashaan,  Jabaal, Kawaan, Elijhan, Ifeanyl, Tyvon, Derwynn, Demaryius, Devontae, Kaelin, Daeshon, or Demetrious, to name only a few. In the past, Michael was often the most popular name but has since fallen way back, as have the other popular names like David, Jason, Jacob, and Tyler. And just look at what’s happened to the then popular Richard. It used to be shortened to “Dick,” but the slang term for penis got popular and anyone named Richard had little recourse except to go to Rick or Rich, but never Dick. Some first names can also be last names, often confusing people who don’t know to whom they’re speaking. For example, George, Michael, James, David, Anthony, Jackson, and Henry, and a slew of others can all be flipped to front or back. I was named after my father, Floyd Travis. “Floyd” back then was sort of a Depression first name. One can almost picture me as a young Floyd in the Thirties, wearing bib overalls and a hand-me-down Hooligan Snap Cap, maybe some earmuffs if it was winter. Until the last several decades, no male was given Travis as a first name, but now it’s all over the place. There aren’t many people with the last name of Floyd, but still a few. I remember when my wife and I would take golf vacations to Fayetteville, NC. One of the courses we played was owned by the father of well-known professional golfers Raymond and Marlene Floyd. We were signed in as Travis, Floyd and wife. Everyone working there thought we were Mr. and Mrs. Travis Floyd, and oh, did we get treated royally. The other oddity about my name is that my parents, to avoid confusion, called me by my middle name, Jerry, and for the rest of my life I have to explain why I’m Jerry but officially I’m Floyd. What’s in a name? Our given names are as important as anything else we name. So, think long and hard before assigning such an important label on your newborn boy or girl.

Monday, November 13

The Midnight Line, by Lee Child

       I just read Lee Child’s latest Reacher, The Midnight Line. It was typical Reacher in style and plot. That’s not a negative comment because most of us hooked on the series enjoy the style and plot similarities. The style always uses sentences that begin with the subject, almost never any introductory information. Most are short, primarily using Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, geometrically precise, just like Reacher himself. Child uses a shifting point of view, mostly Reacher in first-person, shifting briefly to third-person whenever he goes to other scenes not involving Reacher. Thus, the brevity of the Reacher sentences. When he’s in third-person, the sentences are more typically normal than when we’re hearing it from Reacher. Whenever he’s about to engage in a fight with one or more opponents, we get the arithmetic considerations of what he will do, in what order, and in how much time. All this goes click-click-click in his mind before the fight begins. The plots are often the same, involving Reacher heading for new country, wherever the wind takes him. Reacher is a loner by choice and he chooses to wander the county letting fate lead the way. He either takes a bus or he hitchhikes and fate often has him passing through strange little towns with strange little problems. And Reacher, being Reacher, just has to help. In The Midnight Line, he finds a West Point ring in a pawn shop in a tiny Wisconsin town. Why would a West Point graduate pawn this most prized possession? Reacher just has to scratch this itch. He buys the ring for $40, finds Jimmy the Rat, who sold it to the pawn dealer, learns who Jimmy got it from (after the typical geometrically precise fight with eight ugly bikers). That information takes him west to Rapid City and Arthur Scorpio, the unsavory fellow who got the ring from one of his unsavory employees. From there, the trail led him to Wyoming where he hoped to find the tiny woman who had given her ring away. The ring and the plot hinge on illegal drugs, primarily fentanyl and opioids. Typical Reacher, typically a good read.
          In light of all the current news about the rise in deaths from opioids, especially fentanyl, I was intrigued by what Child said about these drugs. He says that an opioid high is almost indescribable, so high and so pleasant that the one hooked will do anything, anything to continue that high, requiring ever higher doses as the body adjusts. Child tells us the history of drug use and abuse, beginning with opium and its derivatives used in many medicines sold routinely for minor aches and pains, for restless babies, for headaches and toothaches and belly aches. From the Civil War up to the present, morphine was used for wartime injuries without regard for dosages or frequency until those injured found themselves hooked. And now we have the same problem with fentanyl and the opioids, indiscriminate use for military injures, indiscriminate prescriptions written for any and all kinds of pain with millions addicted and hundreds of thousands dying from overdoses. Makes me wonder where it all will end, makes me curious about this high that’s higher than any other. Makes me think that pot-heads may not be so bad compared to opioid-heads.

Thursday, November 9

Man of La Mancha

I’m not sure I have enough enthusiastic adjectives in my vocabulary to say how much I enjoyed our recent trip to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see Man of La Mancha. “Fabulous” will have to do. My all-time favorite musical is Into the Woods, but La Mancha is certainly in a tie with several others for second. We first saw this show in L.A. about fifty years ago. It was at the recently opened Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and it had Richard Kiley in the lead role of Don Quixote. We were young, dirt-poor teachers living in Barstow, but we just had to see this show. Our poverty got us two seats in the upper balcony where we feared either nose bleeds or an accidental tumble from our steep cheap seats to the ground floor. I can’t remember who played Sancho Panza, but it was a funny fat fellow that might have been Buddy Hackett but was more likely James Coco, who played it in the film version in the next decade. Even with all the research help on the internet, I couldn’t find much about this West Coast version of the play. It was a fabulous performance fifty years ago and equally fabulous in 2017 at the ABT. The score is dominated by “The Impossible Dream” which concludes Act I and is reprised at the start of Act II and twice more before the final curtain. What a perfect lyric to define knighthood’s definition of chivalry and romantic love—to protect the weak and defeat evil, to hold woman in highest regard, to defend her honor against all who would diminish her. How fitting that this musical should include a scene depicting the brutalizing of Aldonza, or Quixote’s Dulcinea. Fitting in that we’re in the midst of all these prominent men now being accused of assaulting or harassing so many women. From 15th century Spain and its inquisition to 21st century USA, some of our attitudes toward women have gotten better but not nearly enough better. Six hundred years and we still have the inequality of the sexes, still have episodes of man’s brutality toward women.

The voices were all exceptional, especially that of James Rio who played Cervantes/Quixote. Jessica Medoff as Aldonza/Dulcinea was a bit screechy at times, causing her to sharp a few notes. But she fit the character perfectly—the tough, sharp-tongued whore Aldonza and the softer, sweeter Dulcinea when she finally accepts Quixote’s image of her. All of the action takes place on one set, the underground prison where the men and women were being held for the trials by the Inquisition. Again, I’m amazed at what his dinner theater can accomplish in such a small venue, with such a small stage. The set had six entrances, the most dramatic of which was the descending passage along the back to the wide ramp lowered and raised by chains, lowered for the soldiers of the Inquisition, raised to contain the prisoners. When Cervantes joins them, the others mistrust him and would put him on trial in their own kangaroo court with jurors (the prisoners) stacked against him. Cervantes defends himself by telling them the story he has written about the would-be knight Don Quixote. And thus, the story within a story. If you get a chance to see this musical at ABT or anywhere else, take it. You’ll laugh and weep a bit just as I did.

Friday, November 3

Harassment, Part II

A female friend of mine pointed out to me a few things I’d overlooked in my essay on harassment, and I find them so relevant I have to share them with you.  Harassment is all about power, she said—physical power as well as the power of handing out jobs or promotions or grades. First, and most basically, most men are bigger and stronger than most women, and they can use that power to force themselves physically on women, women they know or work with or complete strangers. The result is either assault or rape or both. No confusion there. That seems pretty cut and dried. It’s when you get to power other than physical that it gets confusing. We’re still living in a patriarchal society, and even though we’re getting closer to gender equality, we still have a long way to go. Right now, men hold more corporate, political, and educational authority than women, and with that authority comes the power of quid pro quo, “I’ll give you ____ (job, promotion, grade, raise, etc.) and you’ll give me a sexual favor.” The reverse is “If you don’t do it, I’ll _____ you (fire, demote, fail, ridicule).” “If you report me, I’ll _____ (deny it, laugh at you, belittle you, make your life a holy hell).” She mentioned a comic she’d heard make this useful observation about harassment:
“All right, guys, don’t do anything or assume anything about a woman that you wouldn’t do to or assume about Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. You probably wouldn’t tell Dwayne that shirt he’s wearing makes him look really sexy. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable stroking one of his tattoos for no good reason. If the Rock asked you to meet him privately to discuss a work issue, you probably wouldn’t assume he was coming on to you. In every case if you did those things, the Rock would probably hand you your head. So, guys, treat your female friends and colleagues as though they’re all Dwayne Johnson and you’ll never fall into the harassment trap.” Another tip she gave me: Men shouldn’t do anything to a woman that they’d feel uncomfortable with if a man did that to them in prison.  And you can imagine all the nastiness that thought brings to mind. Good advice. All right, I’m much less confused now.

Saturday, October 28

Harassment

A long time ago, when harassing first gained national attention, we were all told it was pronounced “HAIR-uh-sing,” but now everyone goes with “hair-ASS-ing.” What’s in a word? Well, it seems there’s a whole lot in this word. Today’s times are confusing times and one of those times that I find most confusing is this latest flurry of men being accused of or charged with (or maybe just painted with) sexual harassment. Granted, we have the unsavory Bill Cosby and the unsavory trial and mistrial and retrial for his supposed date-rape-drug accusations. And now the unsavory stories about the unsavory Harvey Weinstein groping and propositioning quite a few women in show business with whom he came in contact (no pun intended). Both cases against these men seem to be irrefutable because of the testimony of so many of their accusers. But then, consider the ripple effect of the Weinstein allegations. Now there are all kinds of men from low level film producers to ex-presidents like George H. W. Bush (and even sitting presidents) who are being tagged as sexual abusers. I can’t even keep track of all the terms used to describe bad sexual behavior: predators, rapists, abusers, stalkers, assaulters, harassers. There must be more but I can’t think of them. My confusion is about the degree of harassment, not in the case of Cosby or Weinstein or the many Catholic priests who abused boys and girls in their care. Let’s consider a linear scale from zero to ten, zero being absolutely no sexual harassment or misconduct and ten being the charge of rape. A one on the scale might be a pat on a woman’s back or asking for a date several times after being turned down the first time. Both examples of a one are pretty innocuous yet both might be considered harassment. A two on the scale might be the telling of an off-color joke to a mixed group of fellow workers or students. How off-color must it be to move it to a three? You see where I’m going with this? The degree of harassment, the degree of illegality, is quite subjective. At what point on the scale do we go from a reprimand to a day in court? What sort of physical touching is allowable and what is not? For example, we have a man and a woman at her front door. It’s their first date. She kisses him on the cheek. He turns her head and kisses her on the mouth. She pushes him away. He pulls her to him and kisses her again. Her “no” is implicit in her push, so he’s guilty of harassment, right? Same two people in bed, naked, kissing and touching and moaning. He rolls to the top of her and is about to enter without knocking. She moans, “Nuh, nuh, nooo!” He enters anyway. He’s guilty of rape, right? You see why I’m confused? The scale is so very subjective and there are so many possibilities for false accusations and resulting grievous harm. Too much testimony involving “he said/she said.” How many accusers are looking for justice and how many for a payoff? If there are payoffs, does that mean the payer is guilty as charged or is he just trying to get rid of the accusation? And why are ninety-nine out of a hundred aimed at men and only one in a hundred at women? Aren’t women just as capable of telling an off-color joke to a male colleague or patting him on the ass? I’m not defending Cosby or Weinstein or Bill O’Reilly or any of the others now in the predator limelight. I’m just trying to disconfuse myself.

Thursday, October 19

Memory and the Loss Thereof

Loss of memory is the least serious stage of senility, the simple loss of the names of friends, acquaintances, even relatives, the loss of names for people in the news or in history books or in current entertainment, names that we once knew and can now not quite get off the tips of our minds. Also the loss of vocabulary words we once knew and used. This is senility in its simplest form. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are more about the physical decay of our brains than of our memories. I think that when we reach what we consider very old age, we simply no longer need these names and words, so we dump them alongside the roadside like empty Coke cans. Once upon a time we needed these names and words to show the world we weren’t losing our marbles, so we memorized them, committed them to memory with a mnemonic trick or two: “Never assume because it makes an ass of you and me,” “Thirty days hath September . . .,” “HOMES equals the Great Lakes,” and so on. But finally there comes a time when we’re no longer ever going to get on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or have a reunion with friends, acquaintances, or relatives. They’re all dead. We no longer need the words because we’re no long communicating with anyone. They’re all dead. Old memories from our past we hang onto for the times we talk to ourselves, but the short-term stuff we let go because we no longer have anyone to share them with. They’re all dead. All the stuff we accumulated during our lives is no longer important to us, all the books we thought we wanted to keep forever, now superfluous, all the little knickknacks we purchased to put in shadow boxes or on shelves, now superfluous, all the papers and forms for our birth dates or home ownership, college transcripts and medical records, now superfluous. As we age, we wither like untended flowers in a garden we once cared for but no longer need. The flowers are all dead. Now that’s an image I’ll probably remember forever. But my forever is now more like fornever and isn’t nearly as long as it used to be.

Tuesday, October 17

The Handmaid's Tale

I’ve been bingeing on episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. What a strange yet intriguing story. A long time ago we had 1984, George Orwell’s tale of a Big Brother dystopia. We called such a view an Orwellian society. Now we have Margaret Atwood’s version. I’d want to call it an Atwoodian society but that doesn’t sound right, so I’m revising both words—Orwellen and Atwooden. In 1984, Winston Smith lives in Oceania, watched night and day by the Party’s telescreens to guard against all thought crime, or any expressions of individuality. The Party is led by a mysterious figure known as Big Brother. The Party not only keeps all its citizens under an omnipresent eye, it also controls their thoughts with a kind of brainwashing doubletalk called Newspeak. For example, “2 + 2 = 5,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Goodsex is chastity,” this last example meaning that intercourse, especially for women, shouldn’t be pleasurable but only for procreation. They even employed a system in which the past could be changed by simply changing it in all books and papers. Their belief: the past doesn’t exist except as we create it. Sort of like Donald Trump’s concept of fake news. Today, we seem to be embarking on our own brand of euphemistic doublespeak—IED (bomb), downsize (fire, as in disemploy), person of interest (suspect), pre-owned (used), terminate (kill or disemploy), to name only a few. But you get the drift.

Atwood must surely have been influenced by 1984 when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. The society that parallels Orwell's Oceania is known as Gilead. According to the leaders of this new society, God has chosen to punish mankind for our mistreatment of Earth by making all but a very few women sterile, with the likelihood that nearly all of mankind will soon be gone except for the few children born to the handmaids, those few women still able to become pregnant. Sharon, or Offred as she is now called in Gilead, is one of the few fertile women. She and the other handmaids are kept like prisoners, punished severely for any improprieties. One of them had her eye “plucked out” for not being religiously pious during one of the training periods. One of the Aunts (an older woman incapable of giving birth but an avowed follower of Gilead and its new society) regularly used a cattle prod to burn any misbehaving handmaids.

The female categories are all marked by the color of their apparel—green for the wives of party leaders, brown for the Aunts, gray for the Marthas (those who performed the housekeeping for party leaders), and red for the handmaids. Offred has been assigned to the household of commander Waterford and Mrs. Waterford, where she does menial household chores like shopping and once months engages in “The Ceremony,” Gilead’s solution for dispassionate intercourse. On the night of The Ceremony, the handmaid lies on a bed between the legs of the wife, who holds the handmaid’s arms while the husband performs the oh so very dispassionate insemination. All is for the welfare of the society, the procreation of children, and none for the pleasure of intercourse.

Much of the filming is done in shades of white and black, with most of the scenes dominated by red, gray, green, and brown. The story is told in the present with flashbacks to the time before the uprising of Gilead, back to Sharon and Luke’s marriage and their life with a daughter, back to the pre-Gilead lives of all the characters. It seems like they could never run out of plot strands with that many potential flashbacks, very similar to what we had with that other successful series, Lost. The most relevant thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is Elisabeth Moss as Offred, I remember her when she was the president’s daughter Zoe on The West Wing. Now she’s all grown up and one of the best actresses in the business. She recently won the Emmy for best female actress in a television drama, and The Handmaid’s Tale winning for best television dramatic series. And what I find most curious of all, she’s not particularly attractive, willing to show herself to the audience in full-facial close-ups without cosmetic magic, with all warts and blemishes showing. She did this same superior acting in Mad Men and both Sundance originals of Top of the Lake.

After I finish my binge, I’m going to read the novel to see what changes were made for the television version.

Thursday, October 12

Hazing in Fraternities

On the last episode of Bull, Jason Bull signs on to help a young black prosecutor trying fifteen college students, pledges at one of the fraternities who either willfully or accidentally allowed one of their brothers to die during their “Hell Night” hazing. It draws an immediate parallel to what happened not long ago on the Penn State campus and again more recently on the LSU campus. I would have thought such barbaric practices were no longer allowed by national fraternities. But sadistic boys will be sadistic boys, so apparently they continue.

It took me back sixty-six years to the time when I was a 17-year-old who had pledged to one of the fraternities at my alma mater. I don’t need to say what my alma mater was or what fraternity I joined. But I would like to describe what my initiation was like, what was then called “Hell Week” even though it lasted only an agonizing 72 hours. The only element in the hazing on Bull that wasn’t a part of mine was the forced consumption of alcohol. Thank God for that. On the Bull episode, the sixteen pledges were all forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol and then swim in a nearby river. One of them didn’t make it back. The alcohol level of the Phi Delta Theta pledge who died in Louisiana recently was a lethal .495.

In the fall of 1951, I was a pledge at one of the fraternities on our campus. Sometime before the end of the year we were subjected to a senseless, brutal, sadistic, dangerous series of actions to “prove” to the brotherhood our worthiness to join them. First, each of us (twelve in my pledge class) had to make a wooden paddle for our pledge father, the paddle to be used on our posteriors whenever the father said “bend over.” The pain level of such paddling depended entirely on the degree of sadism in the paddler. Hell Week probably began on a Friday so that not too many classes would be missed, and then went on to midnight on Sunday.

I don’t remember in what order most of these indignities happened, but I do remember what happened on Sunday night. Along the way through Friday and Saturday, we were not allowed to sleep, were made to eat double or triple doses of Xlax, were made to take a pill that turned our urine blue, were paddled whenever anyone felt like we needed a swat or two, were required to memorize the Greek alphabet and be able to say it in less than ten seconds. Any stumbles or taking more than ten seconds resulted in more paddling. Sleep deprivation, like waterboarding, is a mainstay in torture techniques. I’m surprised our tormenters didn’t waterboard any of us, but maybe waterboarding didn’t come along until years later. By Sunday we were all so groggy we weren’t sure what we were doing or why. Sunday evening we were led to the basement dining hall, made to strip, made to apply peanut butter liberally to the insides of our buttocks, made to get on hands and knees and form a circle, each of us to put our noses into the butt crack of the one in front of us, then made to crawl in a circle, each of us a unit of that circle, each unit connected by nose to butt. I don’t remember how long that ignominy lasted. Not long, I’m sure, for even the most sadistic of our tormenters would grow bored after ten or fifteen minutes. Then we were forced to swallow two or three spoonfuls of a disgusting concoction our “brothers” mixed for us—eggs (shells and all), water, cereal of some kind, curry powder in huge amounts, and, probably, a bit of one or more of our brothers’ urine. If we gagged or vomited, we were made to keep eating until we managed to keep it down. To this day, any smell or taste of curry takes me back to that time in 1951. We were then allowed to put our underwear back on and then led outside where we were blindfolded and taken by cars on a long, circuitous trip to a riverbank (or so they had us believe). We got out of the cars, still blindfolded, and told to leap feet first into the river. I made the sorry mistake of diving headfirst. I landed on my stomach and face on the watered grass behind our fraternity house. I didn’t kill or injure myself, but I could have. The brotherhood, who had all gathered in a circle around the place where we were to dive, all had such a good laugh at this last indignity. And finally, Hell Week was over. I often wondered if all of them thought this hazing was all right or if some of them, like me, hated it but were too intimidated to say so. I should have quit the fraternity right then and there, but I was only seventeen and still too stupid, too spineless and without convictions. I remained in that fraternity throughout my college years but I never ever engaged in any of the “fun” activities of Hell Week for other pledge classes. I stayed as far away from that three days as I could.

Sunday, October 8

The Black Card

In the midst of all the current unrest about race relations, mainly black and white relations, especially the brouhaha over blacks in the NFL choosing not to stand for the national anthem, I must point out that some blacks do more to hurt race relations than to help it. I’m talking about those in television who keep playing the black card because they want to show other blacks that they’re cool, they’re still in the street rappin’ “gangsta” black club. In one of my blogs, I’ve already mentioned Steve Harvey on Family Feud and his deliberate caricature of black speech patterns and physical mannerisms when he has a black family as one of the contestant groups. He falls into a broad black vernacular, rolls his eyes like Steppin Fetchit, and glad hands the young black males in intricate high-low-in-between fives. Young impressionable blacks will watch him do it and take it as acceptable, and he’s doing them a grave disservice by perpetuating those very stereotypes that most whites as well as most blacks object to. And now I see Jennifer Hudson on The Voice doing the same thing. One minute she’s this refined woman who sings like an angel and acts like an Oscar winner (which she is). And then she resorts to a stereotypical woman doing the Steve Harvey moves. Too many of the black NFL color commentators on television do the same. Too many in the music industry do the same, especially black rappers. They seem to want to continue a black fraternal order that bans whites but they also want to protest what they consider racial discrimination. Just look at the blacks who wouldn’t be caught dead playing the black card—Michael Strayhan, Mike Tiriko, Larry Fitzgerald, Michelle and Barack Obama, and the list could go on and on. I do believe that we should all cherish our racial and ethnic identities but that we shouldn’t display them when the outcome might be detrimental.

Wiley, I love you. This Sunday you did it again, humorously take a swipe at Trump and his adoring fan club. "Knowledge just ruins everything."

Saturday, October 7

Mini Television Reviews

In the old days, when television was limited to only three channels (CBS, NBC, ABC), the various series almost all had a main season of about 28 episodes shown from early fall to late spring. Then we had the re-run season through the summer, during which the networks could also introduce a few new shows to see how they’d fare. All shows were pretty easy to keep track of. I mean, three networks with a limited number of shows that didn’t require half our waking hours for viewing? We actually had a life outside of television. Not so today.

There are now hundreds of channels all vying for our attention, and there are no longer any discernable seasons. A season for some may involve only ten or twelve episodes, and some, called mini-series, might have as few as three and as many as six episodes. Now, quite a few shows actually adhere to a schedule that begins in late fall and goes for a varying number of episodes before calling it quits for a while. And that’s sort of where we are now.

Although I don’t watch everything on the tube (Who could? You’d need to have a hundred pairs of eyes to come even close to seeing everything.), I watch what tickles my fancy and skip what doesn’t, even though many go on to successful runs without me. I think of The Last Ship, How to Get Away with Murder, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Black List, Empire, and This Is Us, to name only a few. I regret not watching This Is Us because most of the reviewers thought it was the best show of the year, but I missed the first half of Season One and decided I didn’t want to play catch up.

Now I’d like to write some mini-reviews of the new shows I like, the new shows I’ve rejected, and the new shows about which I haven’t yet decided.

The Good Doctor is an interesting examination of an autistic savant, in this case the young Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore. He’s been admitted to the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital as a surgical resident, supported by his mentor Dr. Aaron Glassman and opposed by nearly everyone else on the staff. The first two episodes show him at his savanty genius best, saving several lives when others have misdiagnosed them. The only problem I have with this show and Freddie Highmore is that I can’t help but remember Highmore as the strange boy Norman Bates in The Bates Motel. So, part of me sees him as Norman, making me cringe at what a Norman Bates might do in a large hospital. But I hope soon to get over that disconcerting reminder. I’d rate this show four out of five stars.

The Orville, Seth McFarland’s send-up of the many Star Trek shows and all the Trekkie fans, is surprisingly good. It’s supposed to be a parody of Star Trek, laughing at all the technology and alien oddballs we first saw on the original series. But the laughs aren’t as slapstick as in normal parody, and the science fictional technology is more interesting than laughable (Warp Drives, teleportation, limb regeneration, black holes and worm holes). Four stars.

The Brave and Seal Team could pass as twins as both tackle the problems we face in our battles with ISIS, both shows almost exactly like what we saw in Zero Dark Thirty. Both were exciting, interesting, action-packed and worth watching. Both four stars.

Then there are the ones I’m not going to watch: Me, Myself, and I, Will and Grace, 9JKL, Young Sheldon, Better Things, and Law and Order: True Crime. Will and Grace isn’t nearly as funny as the original, relying pretty much on the same shtick as what we saw then, not so funny now. Young Sheldon is okay, but I think I get enough of Sheldon on Big Bang and don’t need a junior version.

Here are my undecideds: Wisdom of the Crowd, Ten Days in the Valley, The Gifted, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Liar, and The Deuce.

With the newbies and all the oldies I enjoy, I think I have enough to watch without spending half my waking hours viewing them (maybe only a quarter).

Thursday, October 5

Gun Control

After what happened in Las Vegas last Monday, anything I say with even a hint of humor would be totally inappropriate. There’s enough negative news these days that I can easily find one to write about. Yeah, gun control.
We’re back to the battle of the guns and how to control them. The Second Amendment was first adopted at a time in our nation when we needed an armed citizenry to protect our borders. And now, 226 years later, we have a powerful military to shield us from invaders. Our Founding Fathers wrote this amendment so that our citizenry would have guns to protect themselves and our nation from invaders. Gun ownership now should depend on our legitimate uses of them and not on our need for national defense—hunting, target shooting, and the unlikely need for self-protection. Let’s face it, the odds are greater that we’ll be struck by lightning or crushed in an avalanche than by bumping into someone who wants to do us bodily harm. Does anyone need an AK47 for hunting or target shooting? What kind of game would we be hunting with a “nearly” full-automatic rifle? A herd of dinosaurs? A flight of pterodactyls? And what sort of target would we fire at to prove our marksmanship? A thousand beer bottles strewn over the ground a thousand yards ahead? A target with a diameter of a hundred feet for us to shred? As a precaution against personal danger, an AK47 would be too large to carry in one’s pocket. A hand gun would be more practical. And why would we need an inexpensive bump stock ($100 to $300) to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a killing machine capable of spraying out bullets at a rate of 9 per second? In the time Usain Bolt runs the hundred meter dash, a psychotic gunman could get off 90 shots. Slide Fire, one of the companies that make and sell bump stocks, says in its promotional literature, “The command and control behind the Slide Fire stock will create an exhilarating experience that keeps you smiling for days.” Whoa! Is that ever a scary image. Some whack job goes to the range and gets an “exhilarating experience” that has him “smiling for days.” Is that how Stephen Paddock felt up in that room high above the concert crowd, exhilarated and happy? He owned at least 47 guns and had more than twenty with him on Monday night. NRA members all over the country must be applauding that his rights of gun ownership weren’t infringed upon. I think the first step toward slowing and then halting mass murder would be to outlaw the weapons used in mass murders like what we saw in Las Vegas three days ago.

Tuesday, September 26

Stand or Kneel?

I’m not sure where I stand or don’t stand on the stand-or-kneel question now in the news. It’s a little like the eyes-down-and-closed or the eyes-up-and-open, the kneel or stand, when we’re asked to pray or recite the Lord’s Prayer in a church. Personally, I think it’s a matter of personal choice. If I choose to keep my eyes open or choose not to kneel, should it be sinful enough that God would say, “Kick the son-of-a-bitch out!” No. God is too dignified to do that. And if NFL players and coaches choose to kneel or stand with locked arms during the playing of the national anthem, is it so disrespectful of our country and flag that our president shouts to an assembly in Alabama, referring to Colin Kaepernick, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!” It seems to me that Donald Trump is being disrespectful of his role as president of the United States when he uses such unpresidential and divisive language and, in turn, disrespectful of our nation’s First Amendment rights of free speech. Granted, he has the same right to say what he said, but not when he’s the leader of our country, not when we and the rest of the world need a leader who can bring the world together with his dignity and leadership. “Dignity,” now there’s a word that simply doesn’t apply to Donald Trump. The people of this country need to get together to fire him, get him off the field before he brings down the flag, the national anthem, the country, and the world. There. I guess I really do know where I stand on the question. I guess I’ll kneel.

Sunday, September 24

Facebook & Some Not Nice News

Facebook is a useful place for finding and reconnecting with old friends, but it can also be a place where you reveal to anyone and everyone more about yourself than you should. And your words are there forever, uneraseably stored in one of those mysterious clouds above. Emily Dickinson, over a century and a half ago, wrote about the dangers of being too public—too many deplorables in the bog, pretending admiration. Remember, all you Facebookers, the whole world is watching. Emily, in 1861, wrote, “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody—Too? / Then there’s a pair of us. / Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know! / How dreary—to be—Somebody! / How public—like a Frog-- / To tell one’s name—the livelong June— / To an admiring Bog!”

Not Nice News:

Puerto Rico looks like an island ravaged by war, where bombs and artillery leveled cities and countrysides. But the war was a mean lady called Maria. And the same amount of rebuilding will be required as that of the bombed-out European cities in WWII or the Iraqi cities Mosul and Fallujah. The news reports that power on the island won’t be restored for three to six months. In this day and age, how do nearly three million residents exist for that long without power?

In the next century (maybe even sooner), the oceans will rise by six to nine meters as polar ice caps melt faster and faster. What will happen to coastal cities and low-elevation islands when the seas rise that much? The world’s heaviest populations are located in coastal cities. Millions and millions of people will have to relocate inland and upward. Low-level islands will disappear. What happens to Japan, Ireland, England, Polynesia, the Philippines, Guam, the Caribbean islands? And what can we do to slow or reverse this trend? Stop all industries from using carbon-fossil fuels for power, acknowledge that we’re to blame for this dramatic climate change.

Last Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was struck in the head by a foul ball liner going 105 mph. Yankee third baseman Todd Frazier hit it and when he saw what had happened, he bowed his head hoping it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. And the girl is recovering. But this incident once again shows us the dangers of close stands along the foul lines, especially if one isn’t paying attention, especially if one is too young to get out of the way. There will probably be more plans by all stadiums to extend the netting farther down both lines. Breakable bats is another danger for the fan. A bat can act like a spear when it flies like a helicopter into the stands. Solution? That’s easy. Require unbreakable bats, aluminum or something equally light, just like they use in colleges. Batters would complain that the feel isn’t the same. But that’s tough, boys. Just do it, commissioner.

Another comment in my feud with the NRA and gun owners: According to Wikipedia, the U.S. leads all nations in the number of guns legally owned 101 guns 100 people, or one per person. It goes on to point out that only one in three households have guns, which means that those household have an average of three guns. Wow, that’s a lot of guns. Is there a true need for that many? The next closest to us is Serbia with 58.21. Tunisia has the fewest at 0.1 guns per 100 residents, or about one gun per thousand people. Also according to Wikipedia, over thirty thousand deaths happen by firearms in the U.S.—about 20,000 suicides, 11,000 homicides, and 500 accidents. Okay, the suicides would probably find another way if they couldn’t find a gun; the homicides could be reduced by stricter laws about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun; and the accidental deaths would go down to zero. I think the numbers make a resounding case for stricter laws.

Friday, September 22

Whistling

I wonder what ever happened to the art of whistling. I don’t mean whistling for your dog or calling for a taxi or the two-finger version to applaud or get someone’s attention. I mean whistling a song, whistling as with an invisible musical instrument, played with the lips like an absent harmonica. In the old old days we didn’t have IPads and IPods and Smart phones to provide us with music as we worked or walked, so we had to provide it for ourselves. I guess humming and singing softly to oneself are also activities of the past. When I was a young man of ten or twelve, I whistled all the time. Or so my older sister would have me believe. She always called me Elmo when she heard me tootling away. I only learned what she meant when I was in high school and one of the top-ten songs was “Heartaches,” whistled by Elmo Tanner, a member of the Ted Weems band. I’m not sure if girls whistled back then or if it was forbidden because it was too un-feminine. Back then, boys and girls weren’t allowed to swear or mention bodily functions or talk back to parents or skip school or stay out after the ten o’clock curfew whistle sounded on the village siren—just one up-and-down alarm for the curfew. It was a continuous alarm for fires and a single whistle for blizzardy mornings to tell us we didn’t have school that day. Oh, the joy of hearing that whistle. It almost made me want to whistle when I heard it, but usually I just went back to sleep. We did lots of things back then, and had lots of things forbidden to do. Back then we all remained in our strictly delineated boy and girl roles, even though we may have wanted to escape. Just as those barriers have now dissolved (the lines between boy and girl, man and woman), so too has the art of whistling disappeared. In the arts, the three most memorable mentions of whistling are Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio telling us, “When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong, give a little whistle, give a little whistle! Not just a little squeak, just pucker up and blow”; Anna when in Siam singing, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid”; and that most famous of all, Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not telling Humphrey Bogart, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Everyone in the theater knew she was talking about something other than whistling, but back then we weren’t allowed to mention it. Now, in a world that keeps getting more and more confusing led by a man who keeps getting more and more confusing, I think we should all take up the lost art of whistling. Just pucker up and blow.

Wednesday, September 20

The Browning of America, Part II

A long time ago (January 2013) I wrote a blog entitled "The Browning of America." It seems to be even more relevant today than back then, so I'm going to post it again. In 2017 we have more divisiveness about skin color and racial and ethnic identity than ever before. Under the Trump administration we are seeing more and more groups actively promoting racial separation, whites separate from blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, or any combination thereof. How fruitless. They should surrender to the inevitable--We really will become that melting pot envisioned so many years ago, the national race which is a combination of all those races who have immigrated to this country, all of us some shade of brown, all of us Americans. What I'm saying will offend a lot of people but soon enough we'll see their passing and a more liberal generation will replace them. Can't be soon enough as far as I'm concerned. Here is what I said four and a half years ago:

A bit of news last year that most people didn’t notice or didn’t acknowledge. As of May 19, 2012, in this country there were more babies (under 1 year) of color than white. The media called it “The Browning of America,” a label that says a lot about the future of our country. Demographers also predict that by 2042 we will have no ethnic majority, just a majority of brown-skinned folks of mixed ethnic backgrounds. I remember reading something by Phillip Wylie half a century ago in which he said he looked forward to the day when we’re all a little tan. Well, fifty years later he’d be happy to see his wish coming true. Since our very beginning, the U. S. has been known as the melting pot, meaning we were a nation of immigrants amalgamated into one new nationality. Well, now we’re seeing us as a melting pot of ethnic diversity, a mixture of races too diverse to be labeled. Amazing that as recently as 1967 there were still anti-miscegenation laws in most of our Southern states. What idiocy. One of my nieces, as pale as virgin snow, married a man as black as Columbian coffee. And they have a lovely daughter who is latte tan. She will grow up in a society that no longer looks askance at children of mixed ethnicity, may even marry someone also mixed and have children even more mixed. And who will care? I hope no one. Tiger Woods has described himself as Cablinasian, a mixture of Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian. But we don’t need to invent new labels to describe ourselves. I look forward to the time when we no longer need labels for anything—not our religious preference, not our political persuasion, not our ethnic makeup. Especially not our ethnic makeup.

Tuesday, September 19

Happy Valley & Bits of News

Classmates, friends, fellow Gamesters, Doggy Dog followers,

Just after my extended stay in the hospital and another extension being pretty much confined to my home, I finally finished a book I’d begun over ten years ago. It’s a story about a retiree living in a place very much like Sun City West. I’d love to have anyone who might be interested to buy it at Amazon, either as a Kindle e-book ($1.99) or a paperback ($10.00). If and when you read it, would you write a brief review of it for Amazon, giving it as many stars as you think it deserves? I’d be thankful even if you rated it only one star. What the hell, one star is better than a pitch black night with no stars. Here’s where you can go, Happy Valley on Amazon.

What’s newsworthy lately?

The Arizona Cardinals played what I consider the ugliest NFL game I’ve ever seen when they beat the Colts last Sunday. This might prove to be a very long and ugly season for the Cardinals. Or maybe it was just a temporary aberration and next week they’ll play great against the hated Cowboys. We’ll see. It’s really too early to leap off the Cardinal bandwagon.

Our president is still at it, trying to insult and bully as many people and nations as he can—the “Rocket Man” tweet about Kim Jong-un , the comment to the UN General Assembly about making the UN great but not great again, his continued denial that we are responsible for the climate changes now hitting the world with hurricane force, his fight with what he calls the “fake news” on MSNBC and the “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mike Brzezinski, the fake news on CNN and in the N.Y. Times and the Washington Post, his continual assault on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And it goes on. And it will go on for as long as he’s president.

The opioids epidemic, the thousands dying from overdoses. I guess I’m confused by all of it. How many of the thousands are accidental, how many purposeful? If it’s accidental, why do that many people feel a need for lethal doses of the drug? If it’s purposeful, why do we need to keep people from taking their own lives by whatever means they choose? In a world fast approaching seven billion population, we don’t need to keep people alive against their will. I’m confused. If, for whatever my reason, I want to take my own life, why should it be anyone else’s business? Allow me to define my own life and death.

That’s enough tough questions for the day. Maybe I’ll come up with a few others for tomorrow.


Thursday, September 14

9-11, Practical Jokes, & Telephone Peeves

I wrote this blog several days ago and never got a chance to post it because I had temporarily lost my internet connection. So I hope my mention of 9/11 doesn’t confuse you.

Time has a way of speeding up for me. What seems like something happening only a week or so ago is really almost a month. We get our cats nails clipped when they need it and keep track of the cutting dates. Tiger jumped up on my arm this morning and, naturally, drew blood. But it told me we were probably behind in our schedule. Sure enough, it had been seven weeks since they were last there. Seven weeks and it seemed to me to be only two or three weeks. Same thing is true about this day. Sixteen years ago today the Twin Towers in New York were brought down by terrorist cowards. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but there it is—sixteen years. Lest we forget. Lest we forget. I read in the paper this morning a letter suggesting that September 11 be designated a national day of mourning. I think that’s a splendid idea. We never ever want to forget what happened to us on that fatal day sixteen years ago. It would be nice to have a reminder on our calendars to prevent our ever forgetting.

I recently got a letter from the Arizona Dept. of Transportation about renewing our golf cart license. I wrote them a check, folded the return form along its length, and then discovered that the return envelope was about half an inch too short for the form. So I cut it down to make it fit. And when I moistened the return flap to seal the form and check, the glue didn’t work or was never there in the first place. I could imagine someone in charge of printing forms and envelopes laughing their butts off as they pictured all those recipients trying vainly to make the form fit the envelope, trying vainly to make the flap stick. Okay, so it wasn’t intended as a practical joke, but how much it epitomizes too many of our faceless agencies that can’t do much of anything without screwing things up. A long time ago, when I was in the army, we had a word for it—SNAFU—situation normal, all fucked up. It’s like the Catch-22 “put on hold” that fills our ears with noxious hold music and messages we patiently listen to for twenty or thirty minutes until we get a busy signal and a computer voice telling us, “Your call could not be completed. Please hang up and try again.” GRRR! We seem to have a growing number of snafus in our society today, of which the biggest of all is sitting in the White House. How appropriate for one who loves to blow his own horn that it be a trumpet. Too bad he never learned to play it with a mute.

Another joke of some kind, either practical or unintentional. We just switched out TV, internet, and land-line phone bundle from Dish Network to Direct TV. One of my obligations was to wait for the UPS delivery of a shipping container for returning all of the Dish hardware. The shipping stuff arrived, one small box for the modem and connecting lines, power line, and two phone filters; and one large box for DVR’s, remote controls, and the hardware attached to the outside dish. The directions for packing were extremely specific, showing me exactly where to put each piece in the bottom and top plastic shelves. The box was about 2’ x 3’ x 1’. Most of the equipment went easily into the designated places. But when I tried to pack the LNBF (whatever that is), there was no way for it to fit in the place they said it should go. No way. I fought it for longer than it deserved and then finally cut the hard plastic form to make room for the piece. I’m a reasonably intelligent man who can usually follow instructions for assembling desks and tables and dressers even though the instructions were probably written by someone in a furniture plant outside of Beijing. Someone in the Dish corporation had to be doing a number on customers who bail on them.

And while I’m at it on pet peeves, let’s go back to the phone. Many of us today often need help with one or the other of our digital devices. So we call for technical support. Let’s say you have a problem with your internet connection. The first number you dial gets you to a gigantic answering service located somewhere far far away. You wade through menu after menu of computerized voices telling you where to go. Finally, you hear a human voice. You then go through the ritual explanation of who you are, where you are, and why you’re calling. The live human tells you he/she must transfer you to the department that handles such problems. Hold. “Dum de dum de dum,” you hum for ten minutes until another human voice comes on the line. Again, the ritualized giving of information. Again the need to transfer you to another department. Again, the hold. Again, the new voice asking for the same identifying information. And then, finally, after several hours, you get an answer to your question. Nearly every human voice you’ve worked through speaks too fast or in too heavy a dialect for easy understanding. I’m always left wondering why so many of our technical support experts are from another country, mainly India. Are there no Americans who could do tech support or are we all too stupid?


Tuesday, August 29

Hurricane Harvey, Whitney Houston, Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump

Houston and surrounding areas just received a near-knockout blow from Hurricane Harvey. I say “near-knockout” because these areas will be rebuilt just as they were when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans twelve years ago, at a cost of well over one hundred billion. Harvey will be even more expensive. But the size and intensity of Harvey should be a red flag to those who still deny our responsibility for climate change. Fifty inches of rain. My mind can’t grasp the enormity of that much rainfall in only two or three days. It would be like having lakes and lakes of water pour down on your head, not in drops, but in solid lakes of water. Yes. We’re now seeing and will continue to see ever more horrific evidence of nature and our environment gone awry—category 4 hurricanes like Harvey, drought conditions in the Southwest, flooding and mudslides in California, the increasing number of tornadoes, forest fires too large to contain, ice sheets at both poles shrinking as chunks the size of Vermont break off and drift away, the rising ocean levels as these icebergs melt, leaving coastal communities that must sometime in the future pull back and rebuild. And Trump wants to build a wall and have us go back to using coal as a power source.

And now an awkward segue from one Houston to another. Last week Showtime presented Whitney: Can I Be Me, a Whitney Houston retrospective that was heart-rending but wonderful as we watched the rise and fall of this beautiful woman with the voice of an angel. Her rise to fame was spectacular; her fall from grace by drugs and alcohol was tragic. I still can’t understand how the makers of this film were able to find so many bits and pieces of her life on film and then put them all together in a fair but understandable way. If you missed seeing it, too bad. You missed a good one.

Another awkward segue—this time from Houston to Trump. But then, any move in Trump’s direction would be awkward. Last weekend he was in Phoenix, when, sometime in the course of his eighty-minute pep rally, he hinted at his pardon of his good friend, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for the crimes Arpaio had committed in his dealings with the Arizona Latino community. Joe Arpaio had been unfairly treated, he told his audience. Everybody in Arizona loves Sheriff Joe. He doesn’t deserve to be convicted, Trump insisted, even though Arpaio had already been found guilty of disregarding a court order to stop racial profiling. A loose estimate of what Arpaio has already cost the state in legal fees and judgements against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office comes to about 83 million. Yes, that’s an 83 followed by six zeroes. And now, guess what, he is sending out appeals for donations to help him pay for his recent legal fees. Oh, the temerity, the hutzpah of the man. Why doesn’t he just go to his good old “birther” buddy Donald Trump and ask him to pay these legal fees? What do you suppose the Donald would say to him? “Sorry, Joe. We might be good buddies but I can’t start giving out my good money to every Tom, Dick, . . . and Joe who asks.”

Thursday, August 24

Trump in Arizona

The big eclipse is now in the rear-view mirror and I can get back to Trump-baiting. I’m surprised he didn’t lay claim to this solar phenomenon. You know, “The sun rises and sets on me and my accomplishments, so I must also be able to tell it when to shut itself off.” He was in Phoenix three nights ago and delivered an awkward, megalomaniacal eighty-minute speech during which he repeated many of his campaign promises without ever explaining where the money would come from to accomplish these grandiose plans. It was a speech filled with the typical adjectives and adverbs he loves—“splendid,” “great,” wonderful,” “very” to name only a few—filled with the thumb-index finger gestures he too often uses. He completely ignores the polls that show him with a 75% disapproval rating. Only the hardest of his hard-core backers are still with him. And, once again, he stirred the pot of divisiveness. I had originally intended this to be the opening section to a letter I was writing to a friend, and then it turned into another of my Trump tirades. So,I thought I might as well stick it in here, stick it to Trump, stick it somewhere. It's impossible for me to ignore what he's saying and doing and what others are saying about him. I guess that might qualify as one of my obsessions. The man is like a giant scab I can’t stop picking.

Monday, August 21

Solar Eclipse & the Solheim Cup

My wife and I must be cut from different cloth than most. We watched CNN this morning for coverage of the total eclipse and heard about all the people from around the world who had converged on the U.S. for a spot on that 7—mile–wide band from West Coast to East where the eclipse was total. Australia and Ireland were two such lands of travelers who came to experience that two-and-a-half minutes. That’s a lotta miles and a buncha bucks. Their buckets lists must be quite a bit different than ours. Neither of us would even consider traveling thousands of miles and spending a good chunk of our earnings for an experience lasting less than three minutes. A three-minute orgasm, maybe, but not a three-minute view of the darkened sun. Maybe if it helped save my life as it did for Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I vaguely remember reading this Twain novel about a modern man being transported back in time where he was about to be executed. But then—miracle of miracles—he remembered that on that very date and time, the earth would experience a total solar eclipse. So he did a little mumbo jumbo like he was an all-powerful Oz who could extinguish the sun and when the sun seemed to be disappearing his executioners fell down in awe at this magic. Twain was stretching the laws of probability about as far as they could go, but this was Twain and Twain could do no wrong. Connecticut Yankee isn’t even close to as good as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but this little science-fictiony experiment with time travel is sort of fun to read.

I spent most of my weekend watching—what else?—golf. It was time for the LPGA’s equivalent to the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup in which the American ladies are matched against the European ladies. Their format is exactly the same as that of the men—morning foursomes and afternoon four-balls on Friday and Saturday, then twelve singles matches on Sunday. Foursomes are when a team of two hit alternate shots until it’s holed; four-ball matches are when each twosome plays their own ball with the best score on each hole counting. So, on Friday and Saturday they’re playing for sixteen points, and on Sunday for twelve points. To win the cup a team needs at least fourteen and a half points. They were playing in Iowa at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club. Beautiful course, gorgeous weather, colorful outfits on lots of the spectators, really beautiful outfits for the American women to wear. And all who were watching were treated to some of the best golf in the history of the game. The Americans won 16½ to 11½ but that was almost incidental. The ladies on both sides kept hitting ever more sensational shots, sinking ever more putts in clutch situations. I’m a big fan of Lexi Thompson and she didn’t let me down. In her singles match against Anna Nordqvist, she pretty much stunk it up in the first nine holes, losing the first four holes and still down by four when they finished the front. Then—WHAM!—a switch turned on and she won the first four holes on the back, with the killer shot on one of the par-5s. Nordqvist was already on the green with a near kick-in putt for birdie. Then Lexi hit her third from wedge range . . . and knocked it in the cup to win the hole and completely switch the momentum over to her and the rest of the U.S. team. The whole weekend was exciting with both teams playing very good golf. Now I can’t wait to see what they do in 2019 when they play it in Europe.

Friday, August 18

Trump & America's Got Talent

Well, he’s no longer the buffoon that late-night hosts make fun of, no longer just the insensitive misogynist, no longer the leader who leads only himself. Now we see him as dangerous . . . and frightening. This is the man who refuses to take advice from his advisers. This is the man with his finger on the button that could start a war that might destroy the earth. Leaders around the world must find him as frightening as we now should. People of all countries must wonder how we could have chosen this man to be our president. What were we thinking? We now see him in light of his core supporters, the alt-right racists and white supremacists, the resurgent KKKers, the separatists who, if they can’t annihilate all non-whites, would like to have separate regions where they could get away from them. This is the Donald Trump whom we elected. And we should now find some way to get him out and get him out quickly. Let the impeachment proceedings begin.

This year’s America’s Got Talent has an unusual group of contestants. Last night, seven of the twelve made it to the semi-finals, and I’m satisfied with most of them, but not all. The best of the lot was Darci Lynne Farmer with her singing mouse Oscar. I remember Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. The bits were funny but the ventriloquism wasn’t very good. Bergen’s mouth was flapping all over the place. Then there was Sharri Lewis and Lambchops. Lewis was very good. Well, Darci Lynne Farmer is every bit as good and she’d only thirteen. Also going through are Angelica Hale, the tiny singer with the big voice; othe brother/sister skating daredevils, Billy and Emily England; the Air Force acapella singing group "In the Stairwell"; the standup comedian Preacher Lawson; the young singer Christian Guardino; and Yoli Mayor, the singer that Simon has sort of taken under his wing, praising her voice for more than is really there. I guess I’m saying that I don’t think she should be in the semis. And the skaters will go by the board next time. I mean, what can they do that’s anything different than what they’ve already done? And we will have seen the last of the Air Force group. They’ve flown as far as they can. It's a fun show that gets us us through to this falls new shows.

Tuesday, August 15

Kidnap & Spitting

Well, now I know at least one person I’d never want to piss off—Halle Berry, the mother whose son was abducted in Kidnap. She screams near the end of the movie, “You took the wrong woman’s son!” and oh my, did they ever find it out the hard way. There’s not much so say about this relatively forgettable movie: 1. Don’t screw with Halle. 2. Despite the near-record number of holes in the logic of the plot, it was a fun ride along with Halle as she pursues her son’s kidnappers. 3. Halle Berry, even covered in her own blood, is still one of the most beautiful women in the world. Was it worth seeing? Yes, even if only to watch Halle Berry in action for almost two hours. Would you need to feel bad if you missed it? No.

I’ve already expressed my thoughts on the expectorating in modern sports (5/26/2011 & 2/20/2012), most obvious in baseball, a habit which seems to be an extension of the old days when nearly all ball players had a “chaw” in the cleek. “Expectorating” is the nice word for “spitting.” Some spitting is more acceptable or less disgusting than other spitting. Most of the major league baseball players who still spit aren’t as disgusting as someone who snorts vigorously and then spews a big green blob on the ground for all the world to see and shudder at. I rank it right up there with those who do the handkerchiefless nose blow with tilted head and finger holding one nostril closed while the other exudes the snot, then the reverse. It’s almost as bad as a public defecation. I went on to say that most sports don’t have any spitting—basketball (Where would one do it?), football (Well, maybe in the chaos of a gang tackle but the viewers don’t see it.), tennis (too genteel a sport for such behavior), hockey (You’d think a sport called “hockey” would allow hocking on the ice but the players are much too busy beating each other bloody to take time out To hock a big one), soccer (Maybe, but the players are all too far away for us to see any spit flying.), golf (Nah, it’s a gentleman’s sport and gentlemen don’t spit. Or do they?). After this this past weekend’s PGA Championship, I have to revise my views on golf. Quite a few of the young guns were seen on camera letting loose a streak of saliva, Justin Thomas, the winner, the most obvious. Why, why, why wouldn’t a friend or relative watching on tv tell him that the cameras follow the front runners in vivid close-ups? Why wouldn’t someone tell him it looks bad, so very inelegant? I’m sorry to say that Tiger may have opened this can of worms, and the young guys today think if Tiger can do it, then they can too. Anyway, Justin Thomas, congrats on your gutsy win. But please, in the future, keep the saliva inside.

Saturday, August 12

Science Fiction Reality & Memory

I seem to be living in a science fiction novel. Too many of the dystopian elements in science fiction are now happening. Our amateur president, Donald Trump, may have the world in a Doctor Strangelove or Fail Safe situation with his braggadocio and saber-rattling for the idiot in North Korea, Kim Jong-un. A disastrous war is one thing to make me shiver, but I also felt a Big Brother shiver when I read that some companies are considering implanting microchips in their employees’ hands, thus doing away with keys or identification protocols within the companies. That at first sounds like an innocent reason, but it also smacks of Orwellian possibilities. Would employees agree to this in fear of losing their jobs? And what would this lead to? Tiny GPS chips to show their locations 24/7? Chips that could hear and record their every conversation? Whoa! I just felt another shiver. I also read an article about Amazon’s Echo with Alexa to do our bidding and answer all our questions. The article went on to suggest that Alexa may also be listening to, recording, and evaluating our conversations. This business giant Amazon already keeps track of our on-line purchases and searches and automatically dangles similar items when we visit the Amazon site, hoping to tempt us into buying their wares. Many of the futuristic predictions that science fiction writers envisioned have already come true or will be true in the near future. Houses that take care of themselves was seen in Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Artificial intelligence, robots, and androids were seen in Asimov’s I Robot. The dangers of overpopulation were seen in Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!” which was later made into the movie Soylent Green. Our reliance on mood-altering drugs was seen in Huxley’s Brave New World. And all these scientific and technological advances (or maybe “regressions”) have happened in my lifetime. I can’t even imagine what other mind-blowing things might be here in the next five or six years. Yeah, we’re all living in a science fiction novel.

I’m now old enough to be worried about dementia and Alzheimer’s, probably the ugliest way to slide down that slope toward death, to remain alive but totally without memory or even physical abilities. So far, I haven’t experienced too many memory lapses, although I do every now and then lose a word or an old friend’s name or the title of one of my favorite movies. Usually, after a head shake or two, it comes back to me. And sometimes I have to search on-line for an answer. Thank you, Wikipedia and IMDb. One of my check points is to see how often I can remember the name of the classical composer of the music that was used for the Broadway musical Kismet. It was Alexander Borodin. I keep it in my memory for that time when it comes up on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, that bit of trivia that will astound my wife and any friends who may be around. Remembering the lyrics to the songs of my youth is another way to test my memory. One curious aspect of the way the mind and the memory works is that in a semi-asleep state, my memory is much clearer than during the light of day. I wonder if that means I’d be better off in a slight daze during the day. My wife might say that’s a usual state for me.

Wednesday, August 9

The Big Sick

I’ve been wrestling with my reactions to a movie I saw recently. Why am I wrestling, you ask. I’m reacting two ways, one extremely positive and the other just confused. I’ll give you my positive review first and then try to explain why I’m confused and conflicted.

What a delightful film. The Big Sick should have been called The Big Love because it was more about the inexact nature of love than the oddity of life-threatening bacteria. If what I just said makes no sense to you, you’ll just have to go see this movie to get my point. Love is like quick silver, so brilliantly attractive yet so hard to pin down. Kumail Nanjiani is a standup comedian who just happens to be Pakistiani. Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan) is in the audience at the Chicago comedy club where Kumail performs his five-minute routine at the mike. During his set she lets out an exuberant “Yahoo!” to which Kumail responds by telling her how rude it is to heckle a comedian. She tells him that she meant it as a positive reaction to his humor. He goes on to say that even a positive reaction during the piece is still heckling and rude. Later, he approaches her at the bar and they continue this good-natured banter, after which they end up in his bed. I guess I’m still not in tune with this generation’s sexual freedom. It seems like young people who meet in a bar just automatically end up in bed. No big deal. Just a bang that may or may not lead to a second or third bang. This one has multiple bangs with both Kumail and Emily suggesting that it probably won’t continue. But it does. The problem is that Kumail’s Pakistani parents are devout Islamists who would never approve of a non-Muslim, non-Pakistani girl for their son. At their dinners, they keep inviting drop-in visits from a variety of eligible young Pakistani women for Kumail to choose from. But Kumail keeps telling them he isn’t interested in any of them and deposits their pictures into a cigar box he calls his X-files. When Emily finally realizes that she will never be acceptable to Kumail’s parents, she breaks off their budding relationship. Okay, that’s the setup for an obvious conclusion. But it’s the way they get to that conclusion that’s so delightful. I fell in love with these two characters. The humor was subdued and clever and the audience’s reaction was unanimously good. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents who finally accept Kumail as the right man for their daughter. A really excellent film with the four lead roles all excellent. I give it six stars out of five. Go see it.

A day later, I read a few reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and discovered that Kumail Nanjiani was a real person playing the lead role, and that Emily really was his wife in both film and reality. The script was written by them, basing the story on their real romance. And that’s when I became conflicted. My delight at what I thought was a fictional romance lost some of its luster when I found that it was real. I guess I like romance in novels, plays, and film to be fictional, where the loving couple ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. However, I know that true, lasting love and affection in real life is a rarity. I want Kumail and Emily’s love to last forever, but the odds against that are about a hundred to one. I don’t want to read in a few years that they’re getting a divorce. A real life breakup of these two would break my heart. The couple in the film will never get a divorce because their story ends on that “happily ever after” curtain.

As I said earlier, love is such an elusive animal. All too often in real life it doesn’t last a lifetime. But just look at all the films where two people find their love by movie’s end and how good it made the audiences feel to see this romantic connection and not have to suffer through a later disconnection: An Affair to Remember, Gone with the Wind, Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Apartment, Pride and Prejudice. And the list goes on and on. Now you can add The Big Sick to that list.

Wednesday, August 2

Saturday Night Fever

I’m pleased to report that Saturday Night Fever was much better than I’d anticipated. The dancing was almost non-stop, the main vocalists were all excellent, the staging, as always, was surprisingly complex. The meal was, also as always, excellent. The young man who played Tony Manero was a hunk who looked so much like John Travolta he could do a creditable impression. The young woman who played Stephanie Mangano was a slender looker who could dance and sing as well as anyone on Broadway. The Bee Gees music was a nice reminder of the kind of music we listened to in the seventies. Before the curtain to Act I, we were entertained by disco music on the speakers. I’d forgotten how that disco beat can make a listener shoulder-dance to the music without even being aware of the movement. We were all doing the shoulder move as we conversed over cocktails. A young audience (and that would be anyone born after 1970) wouldn’t even know what disco was, would probably have never heard of the Bee Gees, wouldn’t have a clue who John Travolta was unless they were fans of Pulp Fiction. But my wife and I and the couple we were with were taken back those forty years to the days of the Disco with its addictive beat, the spinning disco ball overhead, and the music of Donna Summers, the Bee Gees, The Village People, and Michael Jackson.


Tuesday, August 1

TV Sports & Saturday Night Fever

I know, I know. It’s just too soon to be making football noises, but the Cardinals are playing the Cowboys this Thursday in the Hall of Fame game that always kicks off a new season. It will be a totally meaningless game as are most of the exhibition games, this one even more meaningless than the others. I and millions of other rabid fans, however, will be watching it as though the fate of the universe hangs on the outcome. Without televised sports, my life would be unbearably dull. Right now I have baseball and almost too much golf, and soon the start of NFL and college football. The golf coming up includes the PGA, the President's Cup, the Solheim Cup, and all the tournaments leading up to the FedEx Cup finale for the men. The LPGA has the women’s Open this weekend, the final major of the year with the Evian Championship in France, and their parallel to the FedEx for the men, the CME Group Tournament Championship. That’s a lotta golf. Will I be watching most of it? You bet. And if I run out of golf, baseball, or football, I can still catch U.S. Open tennis. I never played tennis but I find that it’s a very watchable sport. And now that I understand what’s going on, I’ll even watch the soccer matches leading to the World Cup. About the only things I won’t watch are auto racing and hockey. Hockey seems to move too fast for me to know what’s going on and auto racing still defies my understanding why so many people think this is a good spectator sport. And millions of auto racing fans would just love to slap me down with their reasons for watching it. Ah well, to each his own. They probably wouldn’t be golf fans either.

Tonight we’re going to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see Saturday Night Fever. We’ll be back to the Disco era and the Bee Gees with their “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” And no, Travolta won’t be starring but I’m betting the choreography will be great. This won’t be even close to one of my favorite musicals but the food will be good and their production of this show will be excellent. Every season seems to conclude with two or three shows that aren’t very good. It’s a matter of how much the booking cost is. Season thirteen opens with Man of La Mancha and South Pacific, two biggies that probably cost quite a bit to book.But Saturday Night Fever will hold me over until next season.

Saturday, July 29

Gray Skies, Dark Thoughts

In an earlier blog post, I said that I was running out of topics. So much can still be said about Donald Trump, but others are saying it better than I can. I’d just be repeating myself by calling him a misogynistic idiot. For me, that says it all. I then said that I would use the blog as a journal or diary, writing more for myself than any readers who stumble onto the site.

Now that I’ve resigned myself to 24/7 oxygen, my world has shrunk to the house except for the occasional journey out for dinner, movies, and the all-too-often doctor appointments. It’s as though the in-home concentrator is an ankle bracelet and I’m under house arrest. This physical restriction has brought on a lessening of interest in almost all the things that in the past always piqued my interest. I used to read two or three books a week. Now I can’t get back to reading often enough to keep the characters and plot straight. And I don’t care. I used to listen to the Great American Songbook stored on my computer. Now it’s been almost two months since I last put an MP3 into my Bose. And I don’t care. I used to maintain close ties to friends and relatives by e-mails and phone calls. Now I’d rather sit on razor blades than converse with anyone on the phone. Just too much one-sided tiny talk that goes on and on . . . and on. Besides, I don’t really have much worth talking about. Now that I’m no longer golfing, my golf pals have disappeared. Or maybe it’s me who’s disappeared. Yes, I’ve disappeared into the confines of my oxygenated home. Long distance friends, like classmates and fellow teachers, are becoming fewer and fewer as we all age and succumb to the grim one. I remember my mother, when she was in her nineties, saying that every one of her friends was now gone and she was the last one still standing. I’m the last of the Travises of my generation—all aunts and uncles, all siblings, all cousins now gone. The same is true for Rosalie except for her sister Kaye.

My disinterest leads to dark thoughts. If I no longer care much for all that I once thought were important, then why should I worry about dying? I don’t. I’d rather not rush to the grave but I’m not going to follow Dylan Thomas’s dictum that we should “not go gentle into that good night,” that we should “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I may not go kicking and screaming but I also won’t welcome death with open arms. Let him hug people like Kim Jong-un or Basha al-Assad. I’ll let him know when I’m ready. And who knows? Maybe my interest will find new flames to burn in my soul.

Saturday, July 15

Quotas or Abilities?

Last week on one of the sports networks, probably ESPN, there was a brief discussion about the few black baseball players in the major leagues, down from about 8% last year to about 7% this year. The discussion pondered the ways to grow that number to better reflect the current black population in America, about 25%. That sounds to me like the argument for quotas based on ethnicity in business management, college enrollment and scholarships, police and fire departments, actors in film, television, and on stage. Even the “too white” Oscars are now trying to “even up” the nominations. And now in MLB? I realize that for too long, minorities have suffered in all those areas, have earned less, received fewer promotions, gotten less recognition than whites. It was unfair in the past and we’re scrambling in the present to make it more equitable. But how much longer do we need to follow some artificial quota to rectify past inequities? When can all these areas be based on ability and not racial percentages of our population? If we’re going to address the inequities in sports, we should consider professional basketball and football. The NBA could easily be called the BBA since about 99% of players are black. The NFL could easily be called the BFL since about 75% of the players are black. Does that mean that three out of four black basketball players should be dropped and replaced by whites, or two out of four black football players dropped and replaced by whites? Obviously those blacks in the NBA and NFL are there because their abilities surpass that of most of the white players. So be it. That’s fine. But let’s also get to the point where all of life’s categories are based on ability and not on race.

Saturday, July 8

Night Thoughts

Since I’ve been using oxygen at night (at a setting of 3 liters a minute), my dreams are becoming longer and more realistically vivid than they used to be. I guess that must suggest I’m not sleeping very deeply anymore. My eyes must just be flying around all night long. And I seem to be able to control the directions these dreams take, like a film director instructing the players what to do and say. For example, my golf dreams (which are almost as frequent as classroom dreams) in the past were surrealistic, involving really odd golf courses and situations, maybe with heavy snow covering the course as I play it, or heavy stands of trees that would make a hole impossible to play, or my ball lying between two rocks as I try to figure out how to hit it, or a tee shot that has to go through a room sort of like what you might encounter at the clown’s head on a putt-putt course. These were almost always dreams of anxiety, as were most of the dreams involving classes of recalcitrant students. But now the golf courses are almost normal, the shots normal, and the scores normal. The schools where I’m dream-teaching are no longer places that make me nervous. Sometimes now, I find myself not quite dreaming, not quite awake—that in-between place that happens too often at 3:00 a.m. And here my thoughts can go wandering all over the place. Strange words pop into my head, words the meanings of which I’m uncertain. Or ideas for a story or novel. As with most people who find great ideas in the middle of the night but who never write them down, these ideas often drift away with morning’s light.

Last night I was thinking about sentence structure and the peculiarities of the English language. I came to that strange English construction “let’s” and the sentence “Let’s let him do it.” The word “let” is an oddball. If you don’t believe me, check a good dictionary and see what it says about the many possibilities for this word. A linguistic explanation for the structure of that sentence would go like this: The main verb is in the imperative voice, or command, and the apostrophe in the first word stands for “us.” The second word “let” is equal to “allow” and the rest of the sentence “him do it” is acting as the object of “allow,” the thing we want to allow. The phrase “him do it” is really an infinitive phrase with the signal for the infinitive, “to” having been left out. The sentence then is equivalent to “You (understood) allow us to allow him to do it.” And the pattern would look like this:
The apostrophe to indicate the “us” is on its way to extinction. And when that mark’s loss is accepted, we’ll be left with a most peculiar word whose meaning is nearly indefinable.

Just look at this sequence:
“He lets me do it.” “He allows me to do it.” “He commands me to do it.” “He demands I do it (or that I do it).” “He regrets my doing it, or he regrets me doing it.” These last two sentences mean slightly different things: In the first, the thing he regrets is the “doing” and in the second, the thing he regrets is the entire idea of “me doing it.” Tricky, yes?

Now look at this sequence: “(You, understood) Let me do it.” “Let’s do it.” “Lets do it.” “Lets let him do it.”

Almost all traces of the imperative voice have disappeared. Are you asking permission to let him do it, or are you suggesting the person addressed agree to let him do it? And it also suggests they do it now, not later. As I said, this is all very tricky, and also quite strange for a 3:00 a.m. visitation.


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