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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 is 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, you can find an archive list at the bottom of this page.

Thursday, December 31

New Year's Eve


The mouse might have represented me in years past, but not anymore. We haven't seen the ball drop anywhere but in New York for several decades. Ten o'clock, ball drops, we say a quiet "Happy New Year" to each other, and then we go to bed. The next day we begin a new year, in this case, a new decade as well as year.

And what will I be doing in this coming year? Probably seeing even more doctors. I'm scheduled to see someone at the Boswell Wound Care Center in ten days. I have a hole in my left calf that just doesn't want to heal. My left leg, my "sinister" leg, is still so ugly I'd like to have them cut it off below the knee and fit me for a stainless steel prosthetic. That would take care of the ugliness. My dermatologist has prescribed various topical creams to apply, the latest 60 gram tube costing $77. Not quite as expensive as the Efudex I used about six months ago, but still pretty pricey. That leads me to the topic of pharmaceutical companies, but I'd better not go into my usual tirade about that. Where was I? Oh, yes, my medical plans for 2010. In two weeks I see my primary physician, who will probably refer me to an orthopedist about my shoulders. I seem to have acquired an inflammation in the tendons attaching to my shoulders that won't let me raise my arms more than shoulder high without screaming. So, to avoid startled looks from folks in the grocery store, I try not to raise them above my shoulders. I've become just a marvel of medical conditions. I'm hoping, therefore, that this new year, on whose doorstep we now find ourselves, will be one of medical solutions for me. That's not too much to ask.

And may any readers I may have find the new year equally profitable and healthy.

Tuesday, December 29

Dusty and Squeakie


Okay, here we go again, with the two cats that dominate our lives, Dusty and Squeakie, the little lovebirds in their favorite chair. And whenever I catch them snuggling I always have to tiptoe to get my camera and get a shot of them. I think I now have about a dozen that are essentially the same. But one can never have enough pics of their kids.

Quick sports commentary: the Valley of the Sun now has three pro sports contenders, the hockey Coyotes, the football Cardinals, and the basketball Suns. I joyously watched the Suns last night put it to the hated Lakers. Oh, the joy, oh the fun. But that was only one game of the 82 they play to get to the playoffs. And the Celtics are up next this coming Wednesday. Go, Suns. And the Cardinals are playing Green Bay next Sunday in what will probably be a preview of their first playoff game against these same Packers. Go, Cardinals. And the Coyotes are finally showing that they can win games. But I could care less about hockey, a game I just don't understand and thus, don't appreciate. Anyway, go, Coyotes.

Only a few days before we enter another year, another decade. Let's hope both are better than the last year, the last decade.

Monday, December 28

Starlings




Whenever we sit out on our back patio at dusk, we see a starling perched on the tv antenna next door, sometimes alone, often with one or two lady friends sitting politely behind him. He sits facing the east, cooing and gurgling and chirping and whistling as only starlings can do. He isn’t as musical as a mockingbird, but his song is as varied. As soon as daylight dies, he flies away, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by one or more of his adoring company.

Such peculiar little birds. Some consider them ugly and a nuisance, but we know better. Years ago, when we lived in Lakewood, New York, we had a pair that lived in an old squirrel hole in the roofline of our garage. They returned every spring from wherever starlings went for the winter months, every spring doing battle with whatever squirrel had had the audacity of temporarily taking over the hole, every spring winning the battle, then busy cleaning out the old stuff in their hole and bringing in new nesting material. Then the female would sit in one of our pine trees near the garage and sing her heart out through most of the daylight hours, cooing and clucking and gurgling and whistling until it was time to lay her eggs and then tend them. Four or five baby starlings would be born and both parents would spend the day foraging for food to bring back to the four or five hungry beaks sticking out of the hole. One spring, three starlings returned. We assumed the third one must have been a retarded son who couldn’t leave mom and dad. What familial devotion. What nice little birds.

Their flying skill is another matter. In areas where there are large populations of starlings, the birds engage in fascinating aerial maneuvers, flying in clouds that reel and flow like smoke against the early evening sky. One can go to You Tube and watch several segments that show this flight, but the best one is “Starlings on Otmoor.” Go there for five minutes that will knock your socks off. Do a search for Starlings on Otmoor, then click on the You Tube version.

* * * * * * * * *

The shortest short story possible--one with romance and suspense, a hero and a villain, even a climax and a dénouement--is only four words long: "I do," she said.

Saturday, December 26

Cow Pie Days


You know, some days you should just stay in bed. Some days you land in poop and there's no way out of it. It seems like most of my golf rounds this past year have been pretty poopy. Maybe I should just hang the clubs up and simply stay in bed. Nah, I just know it's going to get better.

We had a nice Christmas dinner with the kids, lots of conversation, lots of food, and now I'm glad it's over. Not that I don't enjoy seeing my kids. I do. But the big dinner and the preparation and the cleanup I could skip. We had Mike, Staci, and William, then Jeri and Chris and his new girlfriend Paige, sister-in-law Mac, and Rosalie and me. Nine of us for ham, cheesy broccoli macaroni, Jeri's broccoli salad, Mike's sweet potatoes, Rosalie's Jello salad, Basha's rolls. And CostCo's apple/cherry pie (which wasn't very good, no matter how much Koolwhip you dumped on it). But between the ever increasing volume level of the conversation and the beeping of William’s new electronic game, my head started pounding along with the beeps. They all left around 8:00 and the blessed silence thereafter was balm to my brain. We didn't even try to straighten the house before climbing into bed at 8:30. Oh, how good the bed felt. We keep going to bed earlier and earlier. One of these early evenings we'll tumble into bed and just sleep till 8:30 the next evening. And we'll already be there. No need even to make the bed.

We're now in that bridge time between Christmas and New Year's Day, sort of waiting for the new year, hoping that it will be a better year than the last. Wouldn't take much for that to be true. And, of course, there's the annual vow to lose that ugly extra twenty pounds. I just know this will be the year, good old 2010. It has such a neat symmetrical sound, the year just has to be neat and symmetrical. Renewed health, twenty lost pounds to a neat and symmetrical 200, several neat and symmetrical rounds of golf, you know, like 72 instead of the really ugly and crooked ones like 85 and 87. Dream on, Travis, dream on.




Wednesday, December 23

Christmas Dogs


My Christmas dogs and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our weather today was clear with a breeze of 5 to 10 mph, but the temps were only in the forties when I teed off. Back in New York I used to think those conditions were just fine and dandy. Not anymore. But then, those folks back in the East would find it delightful. So, move, I tell them. On the other hand, the Valley is getting crowded, so on second thought, don't move to Arizona. Go to Florida.

A couple of zingers for the holidays: 1. Don't join dangerous cults: practice safe sects. 2. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

Tuesday, December 22

Christmas Carols and Invictus

I've been away for nearly a week, and I still have almost nothing to say. I've run headfirst into that wall again--the old writer's block. The days come and go and nothing seems to happen, or nothing occurs to me to write about. There's always Christmas, but that's been overdone, and I'd just be saying the same old thing. You know, "can't wait to get it over with; can't stand the social obligations; can't wait to stop hearing really dumb Christmas songs everywhere you go.” The old uglies, like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," "Gramma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," and now a new ugly, "Dominique, the Christmas Donkey." Can't wait for this month to be over.

One thing does come to mind to write about, a quick movie review. We saw Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon yesterday. We were both hoping it would be a good one--inspirational, uplifting, well-acted. It wasn't. There has been some talk about Morgan Freeman giving an Oscar-worthy performance as Nelson Mandela. Ain't gonna happen. He looked amazingly like Mandela, he spoke in a halting Mandela way, he smiled and he smiled, supposedly as Mandela did to win over the white population of South Africa. But as for acting, certainly not worth an Oscar bid. Then there was a beefed-up Matt Damon playing the captain of the S.A. rugby team. A bunch of grunts and long introspective looks to show that he was thinking about the thirty years Mandela had spent in prison. And lots of shots of him leading his teammates on training runs. And finally, the series of rugby matches leading to the title game in the World Cup. It might have been better if American audiences knew more about rugby. Soccer was described as a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen, and rugby as a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans. So we had any number of scrums with all the lardass players shoving each other around, and way more than we needed to see of Matt with his cheek pressed against the ass of one of his competitors as he joined in the shoving. It was worthy of laughter instead of tears. I think maybe Clint Eastwood is past his prime as a director, allowing such heavy-handed scenes where blacks and whites joined together in their joy over the World Cup victory, with the ugliness of apartheid almost instantaneously laid to rest. I can't imagine it happened as quickly as Clint would have us believe. We wanted the movie to be better, but it wasn't worth even the three stars our local reviewer gave it. How about two stars?

Oh, hell, a grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart. And, a hole has been found in a nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

Happy Christmas Eve Eve Eve.

Tuesday, December 15

Cardinals and Ugly Tats

Last night I suffered through what can only be described as a double debacle--the Cardinals looking like they'd never seen a football. Okay, so they will still probably win at least two of their last three games. But this one against the 49ers was a national embarrassment, and the color commentators will once again get to say what they always seem to say, that the Cardinals are a laugh and won't win a single playoff game. I can only say . . . again, we'll see.

Last week I watched the Suns against the Nuggets. It was a game they should have won but didn't. Bad calls down the stretch. And in all his glory, Nuggets reserve center Kris Anderson, sporting a spike-top haircut and perhaps the ugliest set of tats in all the NBA (and there are a bunch of really ugly tats to be seen). They looked like they covered almost his entire body, in blues and reds and greens. If he was looking to win the ugliest player award, he won. Then there's Carmello Anthony. He had a set of open red lips just below his right ear. What's with that? And why would any sane individual want such a thing permanently affixed to his body? I don't know. I think all the NBA tats say something really negative about those who choose to have them. Just another form of foolish rebellion against the conventiions of old farts like me.

Saturday, December 12

The Sleaze Trough

I watched the NBC show last night that discussed and disected what's happened to Tiger Woods, and was so angered that I wrote the following letter to Entertainment Weekly:

"NBC's Prime Time (Dec. 11) on Tiger's dilemma managed to out-sleaze even The National Enquirer--innuendo, unsupported "evidence" cited by several of the bimbos interviewed, and suppositions about what may or may not have happened, what Tiger may or may not do about what happened. The National Enquirer is known for its unsupported exposes, but NBC didn't need to join it in the sleaze trough. Shame on you, NBC."

I would absolutely hate to see Tiger take more than three months off to put his life and house in order. I want him in this year's Masters, I want him to pursue his golf dream, I want to be able to see it all. All right, so he disappointed me and the rest of the world by his "transgressions," his "infidelity." The world has not yet heard just how extensively he transgressed. I don't care. I and the world need him doing what he does best. If I can no longer admire him as a human being, I can still admire him as possibly the best, most skilled athlete in the world. Please, Tiger, don't stay away too long.

Friday, December 11

Christmas Greetings

This is an old Christmas poem I wrote at least fifteen years ago, in that time when we still put up a live tree, when we still fought the lights and the dried out needles afterward, when we put off sending out cards until it was past the holidays. But it's cute, so here it is again, even though this time it's two weeks ahead of time.


I'd planned on going to a movie today, but the rats had opened all the good ones in exclusive showings way across the Valley. It seems that all the movies reviewed as four or five stars go there first. For example, Up in the Air received raves for Clooney and the movie. Where is it playing? Even farther away than the other exclusive Harkins, this one another twenty minutes down the road. The only thing new nearby was Invictus with Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, but that got only so-so reviews. Thus, I decided to spend the day reading and fiddling around on the computer, something I seem to spend hours and hours doing. What the hell, it beats wandering the streets.

Oh, yes, and a quick medical note: the six day packet of prednisolone worked like magic; after only four days I can raise both arms without screaming or even moaning a little. I may even take up golf again.

Thursday, December 10

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Not So Bright

Okay, time to address the Tiger incident. Up to now, all that’s come out has been National Enquirer-like innuendo, and most of it pretty vicious stuff. We can all agree that he and Elin had a marital fight about something, probably sexual “transgressions” (Tiger’s word). And yes, his public image up to now has been pristine, unnaturally so (except for his occasional spitting and mouthing profanities when he’s miked on the course), his private image hidden behind a billion dollar cloak of invisibility. But the bimbos who are appearing, proclaiming their tawdry relationships with Tiger, are probably just looking for the notoriety and a possible payoff. Or maybe they’re all telling the truth or partial truths, though I doubt it. Those are really big bucks in his treasure trove and the sharks are circling.

Then there are the many who, from the very start of Tiger’s career, have wanted him to fail, and if not fail, at least to fall on his face a few times, either on the golf course or in the public eye. And who are these many? Mostly the rednecks who resent his skin color. Yup, there are still too many of those around, the same ones who really really want Obama to screw up, just to prove that a black man or woman can’t possibly run this country as well as a white man can.

I’m going to wait it out and see what truth finally appears, as though it’s any of our business in the first place. But that’s the price famous people must pay, giving up all or part of their privacy. I’m hoping that it will only tarnish his reputation as a person I’ve long admired, not destroy it. I want him to continue his journey to the pinnacle of golf, the records that will stand for a very long time if he doesn’t let this take him down. I want to see him there, as the golfer I’ve put on a pedestal, even if he’s no longer the person I so admired.

Wednesday, December 9

Noise and DeNiro



            

I pulled this photo out of a desk calendar for next year and thought it was so clever a simile I had to show it off. I wonder why no one would claim to have said it first. Or maybe it's such a common thought it's universal. The "less noise" part is what strikes me the most. Today, we have entirely too many people making too much noise with their cell phones, babbling at people on the other end who don't want to listen to the drivel; the non-listener on the other end just wants his turn to turn on the drivel. I guess a case could be made that what I'm doing right now is adding to the drivel. Call it blog noise.

We went to see Everybody's Fine, with Robert DeNiro. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a light comedy. It wasn't. In fact the first 80 minutes were really a downer, centering on an aging DeNiro trying to connect with his children, who lie to him in order not to disappoint him. It was a role intended to pay homage to DeNiro the actor, with a lot of closeups to show emotional turmoil. And he was good, don't get me wrong, but the movie altogether was no better than the three stars our reviewer gave it. Next up will be The Road.

Monday, December 7

The Rusty Years

Monday morning and finally, finally, we're getting some rain. And not just one of those violent thunderstorms we get off and on. This one is a western New York gray dripper, a soaker, and the first such rain in well over a year. Now, if we only had a fireplace.

I finally said I'd had enough with the shoulder pain and went to the Same Day Care center to see what they could tell me about them. I kept thinking they'd get better if I didn't golf, but it's been two weeks since I swung a club and they're no better than when I quit. And I'm sick of the pain and awkwardness. I got in to see a doctor around 8:30, after a half hour wait. He asked me the usual doctor questions and then sent me to radiology for x-rays. Another forty minute wait and then I was taken in for three views of each shoulder. Back to Same Day for another twenty minute wait while the results were forwarded from radiology to Same Day. He told me they didn't show anything serious, that is, no bad-case arthritis. He said my pain could be a combination of things--arthritis, muscle inflammation, rotator cuff minor tearing. I said, but how could it be rotator cuff if both of the shoulders began aching at the same time and I'd done nothing to injure my rotator cuffs. He didn't know. So he gave me a prescription for a six-day round of prednisolone pills. You know, six the first day, then five, four, three, two, and one. Just what I need, to gain about twenty pounds in a week. The list of possible side effects other than weight gain was interesting: stomach upset, headache, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and menstrual period changes. I'm pretty sure I don't have to worry about that last one. The only thing missing was constipation. Oh, yes, and he also said occasional applications of ice might help.

I seem to be a walking list of odd afflictions, for which I take an ever-increasing number of pills in the morning and at night. The afflictions: high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, low thyroid production, gout, an abdominal aortic aneurysm (which must be checked every six months), a low-level leukemia called myelodisplasia (which requires that my blood be checked every six months), and finally, my six-year battle with the squamous lesions that attack both my lower legs. That's a disgusting list, isn't it? These years go way beyond just rusty, but I can't think of any description worse than rust.

The Cardinals looked really good in their win over the Vikings last night, and they have probably the softest schedule for the remainder of the season of anybody in the league: the 49ers, the Lions, the Rams, and the Packers. They actually have a good chance of winning out and getting to 12-4. Whoa! Is that a scary thought.

And another delightful play on words: Times flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Thursday, December 3

Chad and Dance

I watch tv commercials with one eye, but I usually pay attention to the good ones, if only for their cleverness, usually not for the product. For example, Target has had one of the best sets of commercials on the tube, never repeating an ad to a vomitous degree, always clever, always using red to signal what commercial you were watching. The Geico commercials are also some of the best, although I don’t know why they persist with the Cave Man album. I would think the Gecko would be a much better bet. And speaking of vomitous degree, my one eye has noticed a wonderful lack of Alltel commercials with that really irritating Chad and his four equally irritating nerdish pals. I wonder why. Did Alltel go under? Or did the five of them get better acting jobs? In either case, goodbye and good riddance.

Last night we watched the final ten on So You Think You Can Dance find out which of them would be voted out. The five ladies were all very good and neither Rosalie nor I could figure out which would get the axe. It came down to Noelle and Kathryn, both of whom were praised highly by the judges, and Kathryn was the one to go. With the men it was easier. Both of us were hoping that pouty-boy Nathan would be out and he was. Two other comments about this results show: Cat Deeley came out in a really ugly outfit, sort of a short short combination beige and black with puffy black sleeves. Looked as awful as Cat can look (and she still looks pretty good in almost any outfit); the first guest act was a dance troupe called The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, and they were extraordinary, doing two minutes of synchronized street-dance moves, using about thirty dancers. Whoa, were they ever good. But as good as they were, the second act, Snoop Dog with his dancing ensemble, were as bad. How in the world can someone like Snoop Dog win over enough devoted followers to make it in the music world? I don’t have a clue.

Wednesday, December 2

Lampreys

I just read an article in the Arizona Republic about a situation that reminded me of lampreys attaching themselves to sharks, sucking the shark's blood. Lovely creatures, right? The article describes lamprey-like lawyers and administrators that not only sucked the blood of an old woman, but unlike lampreys in the sea, which don't kill their hosts, don't suck them dry, just suck them a little bit, these lawyers and administrators got it all. Well, here's the article, written by Laurie Roberts. See what you think.

When Marie Long wanted to go out to eat, her caregiver called a fellow employee to get directions to a restaurant.

That phone call cost Marie $19.50.

When a caregiver needed directions to Marie's doctor's office, that call also cost Marie: $8.50.

Four years ago, Marie Long was worth more than a million dollars, but that money is gone now, most of it gobbled up by lawyers and a guardian that decided what she needed and then hired itself to provide it.

A hearing into the fees that helped put this 88-year-old widow into the poorhouse wrapped up on Tuesday. Now, it's up to Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Lindsay Ellis to decide whether the charges were fair.

I wrote about Marie's plight in October. How just four years ago she had $1.3 million in assets, held in trust for her final years. How her court-appointed atorney, Jon Kitchel, practically begged Ellis to do something a year ago when he discovered that hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and guardian's fees wee going out the door. How Ellis didn't do a thing and how the drain actually accelerated after that as the various parties--the trustee, the guardian and their attorneys--used what was left of Marie's money to defend their use of Marie's money.

In all, court records indicate that Brenda Church, the lawyer for the trustee who oversaw Marie's finances, had collected nearly $345,000 of Marie's money since 2005.

Meanwhile, Sun Valley Group has collected nearly $178,000 for acting as her guardian and directing her non-medical care, and another $235,000 for supplying that care over a 20-month period while she was still in her own home. Sun Valley's attorneys got another $57,000.

On Tuesday, Heather Frenette, who with her husband, Peter, owns Sun Valley, testified that their bills are legitimate. Things like charging Marie $75 an hour for services provided by an employee who now is Sun Valley's receptionist.

Things like charging Marie $13 when Sun Valley's care manager had to call to remind Sun Valley caregivers of a doctor's appointment. And charging Marie $62 to discuss among themselves a grease fire caused by one of their own employees.

Things like Charging Marie $88--plus $18.69 for mileage--to pick up hearing-aid batteries, and $19 to reply to Marie's attorney about her request for new shoes.

Things like charging Marie $17 when a caregiver didn't show up, requiring a call to the care manager. And $25.50, in part to discuss a caregiver who locked herself out of Marie's house, and $32.50 to go to the bank to get Marie cash.

Things like charging Marie $19.50 to look up directions to restaurants. Frenette testified Tuesday that Marie and the caregiver were already in the car and headed to a different restaurant when Marie changed her mind about where she wanted to eat, necessitating the call for directions--and the $19.50 charge.

"Everything we do for the benefit of the client is charged to the client," Frenette said.

Plenty of questions remain about this case, chief among them how Sun Valley can serve as the guardian that determines the care needed and then profit by providing that care.

Frenette testified that Sun Valley never sought court approval to do both but that everyone knew that Sun Valley was also supplying caregivers under the name Arizona Care Management.

Ellis ruled Tuesday that it's not a conflict.

Presiding Probate Judge Karen O'Connor didn't return a call to explain how that squares with a Supreme Court rule that bars fiduciaries from "self dealing or the appearance of a conflict of interest." If such services aren't available elsewhere, the rule allows a guardian to provide them but only after getting court approval.

O'Connor's spokeswoman, Jessica Funkhouser, said in an e-mail that O'Connor couldn't comment on a pending case but that the Supreme Court employs auditors to check compliance with the rules governing fiduciaries.

Also up in the air is who can investigate whether there has been a breach of fiduciary duty and thus money should be returned to Marie. Marie's attorney filed such a suit, but Ellis tossed it, ruling he lacks the aurthority to do so. Marie's guardian ad litem, Brian Theut, has the authority to do so but hasn't done so. Instead, he has asked Ellis to instead appoint the county's public fiduciary to look into it.

Meanwhile, Marie's trustee has resigned and Sun Valley has served notice that it wants out. And the widow once worth a million dollars?

Well, she's broke now, and for the rest of her life, her care will be paid for by . . .

You.

End of article. Isn't that a scary situation? Reminds me too much of the way taxpayer money can be misused by bureaus and bureaucrats and their ilk.

Sunday, November 29

Our Arbor Vitae

A strange day. I'm here at my computer desk (where else?) waiting for the Cardinals/Titans game to come on. I just watched the Suns whomp the Raptors to go to 14-3, and now the Colts are coming back to beat the Texans. I look out my window at the back yard. The sun is shining but the air is chilly, and the arbor vitae are dancing back and forth in a cold breeze, like bears waltzing. Since we had our arbor vitae trimmed up almost five feet from the ground, most of our critters no longer hang out in our yard. The doves and quail still use them for roosting, but the rabbits and lizards have abandoned us for more favorable haunts in nearby oleander bushes. Even the quail that used to parade through our yard during the day no longer come around. They and the doves still flutter into the upper branches at dusk, settling into the thick branches for the night. "Good night, Mary Ellen." "Good night, John Boy," we hear them cooing. And then the dark flows in and they go silent. Our arbor vitae, eight of them along our back property line, were about twelve feet high when we moved in, hiding us from all but the roofs of the houses behind us. They were one of the main reasons I fell in love with this house when we moved to Sun City West. Now they're twice that high and I love them twice as much.

Good, the Cardinals game is on. Bad, Kurt Warner won't be starting at qb and poor Matt Leinart gets the dubious honor.

Saturday, November 28

Happy Birthday

It’s a cool, gloomy day in Sun City West, looking like it might rain, but this is the Valley of the Sun and we just don’t get much rain here. I like to think of the rare occasions when we get about twenty drops on our back patio roof as Arizona thunder storms. So, it’s a cool, gloomy day in Sun City West. And it’s my birthday. I won’t say how many years this makes, but it’s a bunch. I went to work this morning and could hardly wait to get out of there. Not that it was busy, just that I didn’t want to be there for any length of time. Not that I had anything important to do.

I’m working my way through a novel, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, and don’t quite know what to make of it. I think it must be great, at least the style. The jury is still out about the plot. The narrator, an ex-resident of Windy Gap, Missouri, has reluctantly returned to her home town to cover a story for her Chicago paper, a story about the killing of two young girls, both found at separate times, strangled, all their teeth removed. The narrator is revealed slowly. She’s in her early thirties, beautiful but very flawed from her strange relationship with Adora, her mother. Camille, the narrator, is a cutter and a borderline alcoholic. In her late teens, after the tragic death of a younger sister, she becomes obsessed with cutting strange words into her flesh. Not into her face or hands or feet, just everywhere else, hiding the scarring with high-necked blouses and full skirts and jeans. It’s a classic example of Southern Gothic, with all the typical gothic characters. Stephen King has this to say about it: “To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take. Sharp Objects isn’t one of those scare-and-retreat books; its effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights.” I read an article about the author in which she said she never met a simile she didn’t like. And she can cut a simile with the best of them: “When we got home, she’d (Adora) trail off to her room like an unfinished sentence.” “I have one memory that catches in me like a nasty clump of blood.” “I drank more vodka. There was nothing I wanted to do more than be unconscious again, wrapped in black, gone away. I was raw. I felt swollen with potential tears, like a water balloon filled to burst. Begging for a pin prick. Wind Gap was unhealthy for me. This home was unhealthy for me.” I can’t wait to get to those last thirty grim pages.

I got this card from sister-in-law Kaye. She said she couldn't find the source of this quote, so I looked it up on-line. Lots of references but no one claiming authorship. But it's too cute to pass up.


And while I'm in a comic mood, here's a couple of literary one-liners: "A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion." "A backward poet writes inverse."

Monday, November 23

Law Shows on the Tube

Over the years I’ve watched a bunch of lawyer shows, way back to The Defenders in the Sixties, with E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed, a very good show as I remember it. And after that, L. A. Law with Corbin Bernsen, Susan Dey, Jill Eikenberry, Jimmy Smits, and Blair Underwood. Another good show that put the law and lawyers in a good light. Not that all lawyers aren’t good and honest people, just that so many of them aren’t, acquiring the public image of sleaze balls who’d do about anything to earn a buck, ambulance chasers looking for liability claims.


 

The Non Sequiter is painfully funny, painful because it summarizes the opinion many people have of lawyers. The Practice tried to change that view., with Dylan McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle , and Camryn Manheim heading a law firm that defended down-and-outers. Last season, TNT brought us Raising the Bar, with a cast of lawyers working for the prosecution and others as public defenders. Great acting from a group no one would recognize from previous appearances, great scripts, moving conflicts between the prosecutors and the defenders. And this season, Julianna Marguiles stars in The Good Wife, with Chris Noth as the bad philandering husband, an Illinois state’s attorney convicted of using state funds for his philandering with a hooker. This show is one of this season’s best, mainly for Marguiles’ role as the betrayed wife who goes back to her earlier career as a lawyer. Her investigator, played by Archie Panjabi, is a wonderful addition to the cast. She’s tough, cynical, and capable. The two of them unite in winning decisions for their clients, most of whom can’t afford a capable lawyer and would get lost in the legal system without the help of Marguiles and Panjabi. This is a show well worth watching.

Friday, November 20

Frank Sinatra

I’ve been a Sinatra fan for almost sixty years, first finding him shortly after he won an Academy Award for his supporting role in From Here to Eternity in the early Fifties. He had been the darling of the bobbysoxers in the Forties, but I never much cared for that part of his career. But I bought all the albums he put out from about 1954 to 1964, after which we could hardly afford to buy extras like albums. That is until I finally retired and we moved to Arizona, after which I could hardly contain myself, buying everything I could find that Old Blue Eyes put out. The total is mind-boggling. I thought at one time I had nearly all of them. Not even close. I now have 63 albums, eight of which are multiple disc albums, one of which is a 20-disc compilation of all the songs he recorded for his company, Reprise Records. I think I may have about three-quarters of all the albums he’s done, many of which are no longer available. I own very few of the pre-Capitol records, mainly because I don’t think his voice was very good in those early days. It was just too thin and reedy, sort of the way he was built back then. In the Fifties (the Capitol era) his voice took on that depth of maturity—vocal abuse, cigarettes, and booze—that gave him that distinctive Sinatra style. Of course, he always had a unique talent for vocal timing. But it’s the voice I find so interesting. Then in the Sixties and Seventies when he was really aging and getting fat and still abusing his voice, the quality gets even richer. Even into the Eighties he was still the King as far as I’m concerned. His audience diminished because he wasn’t able to win over many of the younger generations, and the public appearances went down and the recording slowed down. Then in the Nineties, lo and behold, he comes out with Duets I and Duets II, and they sold like hotcakes. Too bad, because they’re more curiosity pieces than quality productions, curiosity over the aging Sinatra and a voice that now sounded very much like a seventy-five-year-old man, one who’d spent the majority of his life smoking and boozing and living dissolutely. Some of the old numbers he tries to do on the two Duets are downright embarrassing. But when he’s good, like on the vast majority of songs he’s done in a lifetime, he’s so good it makes me want to cry for the loss of Frank’s life and talent.

Wednesday, November 18

Get Even Songs

I've been thinking about that old chestnut of popular music, unrequited love. More than half of all songs must be devoted to this category. But there's a sub-category given over to the idea of "getting even." The first that comes to mind is that sixty-year-old standard by Gloria DeHaven (Remember her? Remember that sexy little beauty mark she had on the right side of her upper lip?) called "Who's Sorry Now?"

"Who's sorry now?/Who's sorry now?/Whose heart is aching for breaking each vow?/Who's sad and blue?/Who's crying too,/Just like I cried over you?/Right to the end/Just like a friend,/I tried to warn you somehow./You had your way./Now you must pay./I'm glad that you're sorry now."

Another one is the oldy but goody, "Goody, Goody."

"So you met someone who set you back on your heels./Goody, goody./So you met someone and now you know how it feels./Goody, goody./So you gave him your heart too,/Just as I gave mine to you./And he broke it in little pieces./Now, how do you do?/So you lie awake just singing the blues all night./Goody, goody./So you think that love's a barrel of dynamite./Hooray and hallelujah,/You had it comin' to ya./Goody, goody for him./Goody, goody for you./I hope you're satisfied, you rascal you."

But the bitterest of the bitter, the epitome of this sub-category, has to be Tony Bennett's "I Wanna Be Around."

"I wanna be around/To pick up the pieces/When somebody breaks your heart,/Some somebody twice as smart as I./A somebody who/Will swear to be true/As you used to do with me./Who'll leave you to learn that mis'ry loves company,/Wait and see./I wanna be around/To see how he does it/When he breaks your heart to bits./Let's see if the puzzle fits/So fine./And that's when I'll discover/That revenge is sweet/As I sit here applauding/From a front-row seat/When somebody breaks your heart/Like you broke mine."

Ah the pain of sweet revenge. If anyone can think of others like this, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 17

Good and Bad Writing

Vocabulary exercise: Misogyny almost always obviates progeny.

I know good writing when I see it, but I don't always want to read it. You have to work so hard at it, and I've gotten too lazy in my old age. Faulkner could just drive me crazy he was so hard to read, yet I could see it was great stuff. Hemingway was easier but still no walk in th park. I recognized how carefully Hemingway chose his words, little words, to be sure, but still within sentences built like a Frostian stone wall, each stone handled and pondered over until just the right shape was found to fit just the right hole. Faulkner's sentences were like strings of Christmas lights taken from storage before treeing, all tangled and with some bulbs burned out or missing, two or three strings plugged together in a frustrating maze. Who needs to work that hard at reading? Every now and then, I do, but not often. I hate careless writing, stuff that comes too easily, to the writer as well as the reader. Some writers become so satisfied with commercial success, they give up the labor. I can spot it in a minute. James Patterson wrote very well in his first three or four years, then he discovered the joy of commercial success and built himself a prose machine, cranking out book after book, sometimes as many as four a year, many of the recent ones written with a variety of other writers. And it's all like bland pudding with little nutritional value or taste. To mix my metaphor, it's like Milk Dud prose--soft and sticky and finger-messy, and it gives me a belly ache after just one box.

Sunday, November 15

Stray Thoughts

I think I now know why I drank so much in my youth, especially at social events: I was always so uncomfortable with small talk that I had to keep my hands occupied . . . and it was nearly always with more and more drinks. It might have been easy for a naive young South Dakota lad to become an alcoholic, but I don't think it was ever in my makeup. I didn't want to give it that much time. Booze is a full-time occupation.

* * * * * *

I love a good joke but I think I may have had my fill of them now. Every day I have a menu full of e-mails from well-intentioned people who believe I need the latest ream of jokes they received somewhere on-line. I don't. Please, if you're one of the senders, stop sending. Thanks, but no longer thanks. It might be different if a friend or acquaintance spotted a joke they thought was so good and so perfect for my personality they just had to send it on. But not twenty or thirty jokes sent not only to me but to several hundred other people they're just sure will really enjoy them. That's a little like getting a Christmas present that required no thought or personal attention. Sort of a universal gift. No thanks.

* * * * * *

The nature of hate is that it does absolutely no one any good. The object of one's hatred isn't any worse off for it, but the hater often finds his own soul poisoned, life gray and grainy, nights sleepless, tension in the belly that just won't go away, a whirling in the brain as he gets so caught up in the hate he forgets about all the good things in life.

* * * * * *

Proper response to the babbling female: "You should give that nasty cut under your nose a chance to heal."

* * * * * *

Description of a bore: It's hard to find many men of his caliber--about a .22 small bore, firing shorts instead of longs, or maybe even dum-dums.

Night Thoughts

The English language is a slippery beast. Non-native speakers (and even quite a few native speakers) have a terrible time deciphering some of our words and their slippery meanings. For example, the old linguistic conundrum “Time flies” shows us how many of our words can be used in different function classes, from noun to verb and back again. To explain further, “time” can be either a noun or a verb. In the first case, the phrase, using “time” as a noun, means that time (or life) flies (goes quickly). In the second case, “time” is a verb in the imperative voice, commanding the listener to time (or measure out in seconds or minutes) how fast “flies” (the pesky little winged creatures) travel.

Another example is one I thought of in the depths of night, one of those half-waking, half-sleeping moments when the mind takes on a remarkable clarity that is almost always lost with morning’s light, like the dreams we have that we try to hold onto after waking but that almost always slip away before we can write them down or even tell them to someone. Here it is: “I lie on my bed sheets” and “I lie on my tax sheets.” The meanings of the two have a way of slipping around, like trying to run in glass shoes on a frozen lake, or writing with quicksilver on wax paper. My night thoughts were more complete than this, but whatever else I thought of is now consigned to that cabinet in the sky where all our lost dreams and thoughts reside.

It's a frigid Sunday morning in the Valley, at least frigid by Arizona standards, not so much so by South Dakota or Upstate New York standards. I see out the window near my computer the wind blowing through our arbor vitae trees, making then sway left and right like overweight dancers doing a slow foxtrot, sun-drenched under a cloudless sky. But I've been outdoors this morning and that wind and the forty-five degrees on my back patio told me it was way too cold for golf. Who needs to work at golf on a day such as this? Not I.

So, I'll sit here at my computer until the NFL games come on to take me away to a place where huge gladiators do battle on their chosen fields, the Cardinals fighting the Seahawks. I just hope the smaller birds can hold off the larger ones.

Saturday, November 14

Pedagoguery

Thought for the day: Isn't it sad that some people can turn on tv and not find a single program that insults their intelligence?

I wrote this little essay a long time ago, for a Halloween in my past. And even though we're now two weeks past that time (my least favorite), I thought I'd include it here for any reader's amusement.

PEDAGOGUERY

As an English teacher, now retired, I’ve long admired the word “pedagogue,” even though I’d rather not be called one. It originally meant a teacher, a leader (agogos) of children (paidos or ped), but has now come to mean a bad teacher. The joy in the etymology remains, though, and the possibilities for creating new words are nearly limitless.

For example, I often thought of my classes as “pedagroups” and their attempts to understand the intricacies of the English language as “pedagropes.” But then, they have their own kind of “pedagrammar.” Some female students too often engage in “pedagiggles,” and a group of them would be a “pedagaggle” indulging in “pedagab.” Oh, how often I wanted to be able to use “pedagags!” An especially childish student was a “pedagoogoo.” The quiet, unobtrusive student at the back of the room was a “pedagoodie” who usually wore “pedagoggles.” The class clown was a “pedagrin,” the class Scrooge was a “pedagrump,” and the class dummy was a “pedagoon” whose writing was often “pedagarble.” Those stomach noises just before lunch were “pedagurgles,” and at lunchtime the cafeteria abounded in “pedagobblers” and “pedagorgers.” An absent student was a “pedagone.” An absent teacher was a “pedagogueagone.” A retired teacher, such as I, is a “pedagogueago.” The bell dismissing class is a “pedagong.”

And, as befits October 31, the little creatures out trick-or-treating this year in their “pedagarb” are “pedaghosts” and “pedagoblins” and “pedaghouls.” And when we hear their “pedagroans,” we all pretend to be “pedaghast.”


Thursday, November 12

Book Sale

It’s that time again. You know, time for the holidays and Christmas gift-giving and all that good stuff. If you’re looking for something different to give to a friend or child or grandchild, why not consider one of my books. And the price is right--$10 for either paperback or hardbound. And the author (me) will even sign it. Now, where else could you get a signed copy of a book by the author? Who knows, maybe someday they’ll be collectors’ items (or not).

Let me know, either by e-mail (jertrav33@aol.com) or mail (12606 W. Flagstone Dr., Sun City West, AZ 85375) or face to face whenever you see me. I’ll get a book or books to you one way or the other.

Matchplay (a golf suspense novel) paperback only
Dust of Autumn (a murder/suspense novel) paperback or hard bound
Prairie View (a South Dakota suspense novel) paperback only
The Black Widow (an Arizona/Las Vegas murder/suspense novel) paperback only
Life in the Arbor (a children’s novel set in SCW—for about fifth-graders) paperback or hard bound
A Baker’s Dozen Plus Two (a collection of short stories and essays) paperback or hard bound

If you’d like to read more about any of the books, you can go to my website: www.jerrytravisnovels.com. If you’d like to sample any of my other ramblings, you can go to my blogspot: www.jerrytravis.blogspot.com.

Not much else to write about. I wonder what Sammy Sosa is doing with the new lighter skin. I guess, as the columns say, he just wants to take over for Michael Jackson.

And a pet peeve or two. I guess those folks who choose to blow their noses at a restaurant really disgust me. I mean, that's a rather personal thing to do and it doesn't need to be done in public, especially when I'm eating one or two tables away from the blower. How about shopping carts at the super market? It frosts me when people (old or otherwise) cart their groceries to the car and then shove the cart up onto a curb or just leave it beside their parking space. How old does one have to be not to simply take the damn thing back to the cart storage? It makes me want to smash my cart into the side of their car as they're pulling away. I never do it, but I want to.

Tuesday, November 10

DMV and Millionaire

Rosalie and I went to the DMV to renew our drivers’ licenses just after noon today, and were greeted by a roomful of people also there to do their DMV business. We filled out papers and after taking an eye exam were given a number for line waiting. But not just numbers in a numerical sequence, instead, numbers preceded by letters: A, B, I, J, L, M, N, and others I don’t remember. Then we sat and waited for our numbers to be called. But neither we nor anyone else could figure out how many were ahead of us, the lettered numbers called out bouncing all over the place across the alphabet. Why would they do that? At least, with a straight numerical sequence one could determine how far down in the line he/she was. Was this a plan deliberately created to keep us in that linear dark? I think so. I wonder what psychologist came up with that plan. An hour and a half later we both had our new licenses, with new and even uglier photos than our previous licenses held. And on the way out we had to dodge by an old gentleman who was soliciting signatures for a petition protesting animal mistreatment. Also soliciting contributions after a lengthy description of what the petition would accomplish and how the contributions would be used. We love our animals and don’t want any animals mistreated, but we already give $21 a month to the ASPCA. So we did our dodge.

We’re both avid Who Wants to Be a Millionaire watchers, watching both daily shows, the early one with reruns and the later one new and live. And we were both anxious to see how they would conduct the Millionaire tournament they’d been hawking for the last two or three months. This was to be a contest among the ten highest winners over that two or three month time, with one of them guaranteed to win the million. We both assumed they’d have each of them going through the fifteen questions to see who would win the most, and that one would win the million. Wrong. At the end of the Monday show, one of the ten got a chance to answer a million dollar question. But—and here’s a gigantic but--if they answered wrong, they’d forfeit what they’d won on their previous show. I was shocked, puzzled, and finally angry at the stupidity of their setup. The woman who had to go first chose not to lose her original $50,000. And I can well imagine that the other nine may give it a long look before they too decide not to risk their previous winnings. I love Meredith Vierra, but if it was her idea to do it this way, I love her a lot less.

Sunday, November 8

Sunday Sports

It was a good day for Arizona fans. The Cardinals won, whomping on the Chicago Bears (although they looked like they wanted to give it away in the fourth quarter) and the Suns won, over the Washington Wizards (and they won going away). My day would have been complete if Tiger hadn't played the front nine like a bumbling idiot, going four over from the sixth through the eighth. He got some back on the back nine, but the sixteenth hole, a short par-4, sort of epitomized how the day was going, for both Tiger and Phil. They both drove it nearly hole-high to the left, into a little greenside swale, Tiger in the short rough with a pot bunker between him and the pin, and Phil just into the long stuff about the same 15 yards from the pin. Phil hit first, a full swing, and the ball went nowhere. I mean, nowhere. He either topped it deeper into the rough or he went right under it. Either way, he had an even tougher shot next, which he sort of chunked onto the green about twenty feet away. Then came Tiger, who hit a high lob . . . halfway to the pin and into the bunker in front of him. Two extremely unlikely shots from the world's number one and two players. They both managed to save par, but the scene was memorable for how awful it was. Phi went on to win the tournament, the WGC in Shanghai, beating Ernie Els by one, and tiger placed out of it in fifth or sixth. Where oh where was the Tiger whom Phil couldn't beat? This one made two in a row for Phil over Tiger.


Saturday, November 7

Play Golf

Not long ago I wrote that I wasn't playing golf, I was working golf. And only three days ago I had given much thought to just hanging up the clubs, either forever or at least for three or four months. Well, anyone who knows me knows it wasn't going to be forever. But I had just shot a 90 with so many stupid mistakes I wanted to throw up. And then yesterday, on recently overseeded greens and fairways, I shot my age, a 75. Now I love golf again and I've decided not to put the clubs away. But that assumes that I'll be able to play well the next few times out. The golf gods are even now reading this, and the next time out they'll probably just kick my ass. I'll keep you posted on this site.

Wednesday, November 4

Anything Goes

Last night we and four friends went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre for a performance of Anything Goes, Cole Porter’s music from the 1934 production. Again, wonderful food, great cast, elaborate set design. The story is 1934ish dumb, about a strange set of characters aboard a ship sailing from New York to England: a gangster, a wealthy debutante and her mother, a nightclub singer, and a wealthy New York businessman and his stowaway assistant. Hope is the debutante, the stowaway Billy’s long-lost love. Unfortunately, she is now engaged to a wealthy Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. After a series of comedic happenings, Billy manages to win back Hope. Meanwhile, Billy’s friend, Reno, manages to seduce and win Lord Evelyn. All this happens while Moonface Martin attempts to escape the law and Hope’s mother strives to maintain her social status.

The set had to cost a fortune, which attests to the financial success of the ABT in its fifth season. We keep rooting for the theatre to succeed because we love to be able to drive only twenty minutes to a great evening out. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it. We’ve never had a bad meal there, and the shows just keep getting better and better, more and more professionally done. Two numbers stand out: the conclusion of Act One, with the cast doing a frenetic tap as they all sing “Anything Goes”; and another lengthy tap number along with “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” Both numbers featured Reno, the nightclub singer, blowing the audience away with her especially big voice, reminiscent of Ethyl Merman. In addition to the two songs mentioned above, you’ll also hear such oldies as “I Get a Kick out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “It’s De-lovely,” and “All Through the Night.” If you’ve never been to the ABT and want a night out, with a meal as fine as anywhere in the Valley and a show that’s almost as good as any Broadway performance, try the Arizona Broadway Theatre. You won’t regret it. Shows run about five weeks. The next four up this season are A Christmas Carol, Gypsy, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera.


Saturday, October 31

Happy Halloween

Tonight is my most dreaded night of the year. I know, I know, it's just Halloween, one of the favorite nights of the year for most of the kids in this country. But not for me. And even when I was a kid, my memories of this night didn't involve going from door to door begging for candy. And we didn't go to any expense for costumes. I can't remember if I ever went out in costume. I do remember one Halloween night when I went to a party and bobbed for apples. That's it, my only childhood memory of any Halloween.

After we got married and had a family, either Rosalie or I accompanied our children out to make the rounds of nearby houses. I'm pretty sure it was Rosalie most of the time, if not all the time. And I was assigned to stay at home and answer the door to hand out the goodies. It always struck me as an orgy of sugar greed. A Halloween Scrooge, that was me. But what I most dreaded was what could happen to my house. I had seen the kind of innocent and not so innocent mischief some kids loved to indulge in, especially the ones from our little outlying farm community of Busti, New York. The first few years after we moved to Upstate New York, I would see the messes in the middle of Busti, toilet paper all over, hanging from overhead electric and phone lines, wound around parked cars, an upended outdoor toilet on the central green. And tales of houses egged. Oh, yes, the threat of egging. No more the simple soaped windows as the trick. These little buggers were much more expert tricksters. And they were the ones I always feared. "Let's get Mr. T's house," I always envisioned some of them saying, chuckling together as they said it. And it never happened any of the years I taught high school English in Lakewood, New York. Not once.

But even now, years later, living in a childless community, where no one ever knocks on the door looking for candy, I still hate to see this evening's approach. I hate all the hype on tv about costuming and decorating houses and warnings about nastiness hidden in the candy. "Bah! Humbug!" I say.


Why was Gertie the witch unable to get pregnant? Because her husband Igor had a hollow weenie.

Thursday, October 29

Cat Tale

     Thanks to Jo Hall, columnist for the Mobridge Tribune, for her tale about a sick cat. It’s just too good not to pass on:
     An elderly lady called the vet to advise him she had a sick cat. “His eyes are dull and he’s listless, just mopes and sulks all day and he won’t eat,” she said.
     “I see,” said the vet. “You’d better give it a cup of castor oil and I’ll be out about three this afternoon to have a look at it. You may have trouble giving that castor oil. With your left hand, force its mouth open and pour the castor oil with your right.”
     The old lady had quite a struggle with the cat but her efforts were highly successful.
     At three that afternoon the vet knocked on the door and asked, “How’s that sick calf of yours?”
     “Calf? Why, I have no calf. I called about my sick cat.”
     “Cat? Did you give it that cup of castor oil? We’ve got to do something about this mighty quick or you’re going to lose a good cat! Where is the animal now?”
     “I don’t know,” she responded. “Last time I saw him he was taking out across the cornfield with nine other cats.”
     “What in the world was he doing with nine other cats?” asked the vet.
     “I don’t know for sure,” she said, “but I think he has formed an organization. He had three of them digging holes, three of them covering up, and the other three were out looking for new locations.”



     Our weather took a dive last night, falling to 41 degrees when I got up, with a probable high today of only the low sixties. Brrr! This isn't the Valley of the Sun I know and love. I complain while people living in northern climes would kill to have a high in the sixties. I guess I've become a weather wimp in my old age.

Wednesday, October 28

This Is It

We just saw the Michael Jackson film This Is It, gleaned from the nearly 100 hours shot during rehearsals for his London tour. We arrived forty-five minutes ahead of show time, thinking that it would be a near sellout, but we shared the theatre with only about two dozen people. What might have been another teary-eyed replication of the overlong television coverage following his death was instead a moving tribute to what might have been. Michael showed every one of his fifty years, was obviously way underweight, wasn’t quite up to his non-stop dancing and singing from previous years and previous tours, but he still showed enough of the old magic to make this film a must-see for anyone with even half an ear for his music and his influence on a whole generation of singers and dancers. I never realized until I saw this film just how much of a perfectionist he was, how much he was in command of every choreographed move by him and his backup dancers, how every note had to be timed exactly as he heard it. I was never before much of a Michael Jackson fan, probably because of his eccentric lifestyle. But I’m now a fan of the singer/dancer/performer I saw on This Is It.

Tuesday, October 27

Dance Is Back.

So You Think You Can Dance is finally down to the final twenty dancers and last night they put on a special that highlighted the twenty’s particular dance skills without the competition. Wow, this twenty look way better than past years’ crops. Neither I nor the judges can figure out how anyone will get dropped. I’m guessing the tappers may be the first to go. As Nigel said, the tappers will have to conform to other dance styles rather than their partners trying to do tap. They have three tappers, three ballrooms, three hip-hoppers (one of whom is a crumper), four jazz contemporaries, and the rest sort of combinations of other dance styles, mostly just contemporaries or traditional with lots of background training. This opening show also showed us how their new stage would operate: lots of different lighting effects. The twenty did an opening number that was sensational. I kept thinking what a great place to showcase talents that would otherwise never be seen by anyone but the few who actually attend Broadway shows. And they’re all so attractive. Aren’t there any ugly or even average-looking young dancers? The rest of the show broke the twenty up into their specialties and let them do their things. Now I can hardly wait for the two-hour show where they compete with partners. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Cat Deeley looked long-leggedly gorgeous in a tiny sparkly black dress that came down to mid-thigh? Not that I really notice such things.


Here she is, not in the black outfit, but this one's about the same size. 

And another, just to show the dress, not the legs (because I never really notice such things).

Sunday, October 25

Work Golf

I used to go to the course to play golf. Now, I go there to work golf. I haven’t played for a long time, and the work I now do sometimes borders on the laborious. Five years ago, whenever I heard those folks older than me complain about all the yardage they’d lost over the years, I’d scoff and think, “I’ll never let that happen to me. I’m in good shape and just as strong as I ever was. Yeah, that’ll never happen to me.” Wow! Was I ever wrong.

I can still hit my drives and fairway metals pretty well, although not even close to where I used to hit them (just five years ago). And I’ve noticed a twenty-yard drop off in each and every iron. I used to hit an 8-iron 150 yards. Now I’m lucky if I can hit a 6-iron that far. It’s hard for my heart to listen to my head when I select a club. My heart keeps saying, “C’mon, you can hit it that far. You just have to try harder.” Yeah. And the harder I try, the shorter it goes. Another odd thing about my irons: I can hit a 6-iron straighter (though shorter than I want) than I can hit a wedge. The shorter the distance to the pin, the more off-line I hit it. Odd and really distressing. But it’s more than lost yardage or irons off line. I once was considered a good chipper and putter. Now, whenever I’m faced with a pitch or chip, it feels like I’m holding a snake, a wedge rattler or cottonmouth. And the more I think about all the chunked and bladed chips, the more likely one or the other is bound to happen. I think chunks are worse than blades. At least a bladed chip goes forward, but a chunked chip can sometimes go only a foot. Really embarrassing.

Then there’s putting. The hole has shrunk to about half the size it used to be. And there are some days when it’s as small as a silver dollar, or maybe even a fifty-cent piece. I’m now a man who is, no matter how long the putt, trying to two-putt, to avoid the dreaded three- or four-putt. I can’t seem to keep my eyes on the ball until it’s well on its way. I just have to see how bad I’ve missed it. Way too often it comes up way short and I hear one of my playing companions say, “You didn’t hit it,” and I want to say back, “God, I know I didn’t hit it! Do I look stupid?” But I never say it for fear he’ll come back, “Yes, you do look stupid.” Then the next time, my hands will simply explode into the ball and I hit it disastrously long. When that happens, usually there’s just stunned silence from those watching.

My friends all say I only have to give it some time and I’ll get over this slump. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a slump. It’s a view of the future. When the work gets too painful, I’ll give up this idiotic, frustrating, damnable game. Oh yeah, I’ll probably be dead before that happens.

Saturday, October 24

Homer

I'm just finishing a book called Homer's Odyssey about a tiny blind, black cat. Blind, you say? Right after birth and abandonment,his eyes became so infected the vet to whom the kitten was taken had to surgically remove them, then stitch his lids shut. And how does one find anyone willing to take a tiny blind kitten? Gwen Cooper, the author, saw him and was so soft-hearted she took him. And Homer, named for the blind Greek poet, turned out to be almost totally unaffected by his blindness. You'd have to be a cat lover to fully appreciate this story, the strange and wonderful things Homer does despite his blindness. We have two cats now, after a long series of cats during our lifetimes, and although neither of them is as brave or sensitive as Homer, we think they're pretty special.


Here's Dusty, looking guilty about my finding him sleeping on some towels on our washer. Well, not really guilty, since he can pretty much do whatever he wants.


Squeakie, whenever she sees an open suitcase, assumes she's going to be able to go along with us, even though she'd really hate a plane ride in a suitcase.

Thursday, October 22

Writer's Block

I’ve hit a wall. I just can’t think of anything I want to write about. I’m into my next novel, Happy Valley, about thirty pages deep, but I can’t seem to bring myself to get back at it. I'm also out of pet peeves or observations to write about for my Blogspot. Writer’s block or cramp or something preventing me from putting words on paper. I wander around the house, looking for something to do other than reading another novel. No sports on the tube, nothing in the afternoon I care to watch. I might begin the task of putting my books in order, especially the ones out in the garage, but that doesn’t sound very appealing. I could begin my project of going to all the elementary schools in the area and showing them Life in the Arbor, pitching it at them in hopes they may want to use it in their fifth grades. But that would just open the door to more disappointment about selling any of my books. Man, I’ve had a lifetime of disappointment about that endeavor. I guess I’ll take a shower and get a haircut.



Wednesday, October 21

I found in our Arizona Republic paper this morning an ad for Walmart’s food section, Supermercado de Walmart. Supermercado de Walmart. Just that, not even an English translation. Supermarket of Walmart. And it angered me again, just as it does whenever I go to vote and the ballots are in both English and Spanish, or when I see almost all official forms from the state in both languages. I even noticed not long ago a large sign outside one of our elementary schools in the area, one side announcing upcoming activities in English, the other side announcing them in Spanish. Granted, Arizona has a large Hispanic population, some second or third generation, many first generation, both legal and illegal. Since English is our official language, why must we cater to those who have come to live here (both legally and illegally) by allowing them not to have to learn our language? I can’t see Mexico doing the same for English-speaking transplants to their country. It was never done for those millions of people who emigrated to this country in the past. If people wish to live in this country, they should be expected to learn English and to speak it and to write it and to understand it, not the other way around.

Tuesday, October 20

For the first time in seven seasons, I watched Two-and-a-Half Men last night and couldn’t muster so much as a smile, let alone a laugh or two. It was more embarrassingly awkward than funny, with Alan and Charlie engaged in rapid-fire insults throughout. Even Jake finally called it quits and told them he didn’t want to see either of them anymore. “Tain’t funny, McGee.” And in this episode, we saw nothing or too little of the others that made this show so good—no Rose, no Evelyn, no Dr. Herb, one 20-second scene with Berta, one short acerbic scene with Judith. I realize that most sitcoms run out of gas after seven or eight seasons, but this one came to a jarring halt. It might be that when shows starring a child see that child grow up and out of what was originally cute and funny, the show dies. The jokes about Jake’s stupidity and eating habits are now more cruel than funny. And Two-and-a-Half, like too many other sitcoms these days, is now too much into masturbation, urination, defecation, passing gas, and rampant sex with everyone and anyone (and, I guess, I should include “anything”). “No longer funny, McGee.”

Sunday, October 18

Sunday again and I'm suffering through another Cardinals game. They're still leading, but who knows what the second half might hold. Well, they just scored again and now lead 24-3. That should be enough with only one more quarter to play. Oh, man, I just put a jinx on them. They lose now and it'll be my fault.

Nothing new to write about. Still no sign of sparrows.

Tuesday, October 13

Television Observations:

On last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” a small band of thrill seekers were seen jumping off cliffs, wearing what they called “wing suits.” These suits were designed to make the divers look like flying squirrels, with nylon material stretched from wrists to waist and between the legs from waist to ankles, allowing them to achieve lateral speeds up to 140 mph, the thrill being to see how close they could come to the cliff sides as they sped by. It was that lateral speed and the proximity to the cliffs that created the thrills. Oh, yeah, a vomitous (I know, I know, there is no such word, but you get what I mean.) thrill, I would think. Sort of like sky diving without the cliffs, and, like sky diving, concluding by opening a parachute to bring the diver to a safe and quiet landing. In their search for ever more dangerous thrills, I can see this band of merry men working on a landing without the parachutes, sort of braking their landing speed by a series of up movements before touching down. Wow! I’ll leave such things to younger, stronger, more daring folks than I.

Two weeks ago on “60 Minutes” Leslie Stahl did a piece on the dumping of coal ash by the power companies, revealing several disturbing facts. One hundred and thirty million tons of coal ash a year require disposal. What does one do with that much stuff that might or might not be a health issue for the folks near the dump sites? EPA studies indicate that the stuff is toxic. The power people assured Leslie that it was no more dangerous than dirt. The disposal opponents said that coal ash contains a variety of bad stuff, like arsenic, lead, boron, selenium, cadmium, thallium, asbestos, and mercury. Leslie visited a golf course that had been built using 1.5 million tons of coal ash, the builders vowing they’d followed instructions to build a barrier beneath the fill and another eighteen inches from the top. These barriers were to prevent any bad stuff from leaching into the ground water. But the lawyer representing folks living near the golf course showed Leslie that the ground immediately under the grass was gray, powdery coal ash. Some of it is used in carpeting and construction materials, even in the production of bowling balls. But most is dumped in unlined waste ponds. A dike protecting one such pond broke in Alabama last year, sending over a billion gallons of gray coal ash sludge to cover some 300 acres of countryside and homes below the pond. How would you like to clean up a mess like that? Another disturbing fact: that 60% of all our electricity in this nation is produced by coal. Sixty percent. That strikes me as needlessly careless. We’ve had decades to develop clean, safe ways to produce electricity: nuclear power, water power, solar power, wind power. Granted, nuclear power was always suspicious because of the potential for radiation leaks. But we could produce all the electricity we need with solar and wind power. In most of the mid-western states, the wind blows almost constantly. The sun shines most of the days in the southwestern states. Why have we been dragging our feet? Probably for the same reasons we still don’t have automobiles that get 100 miles to the gallon.

Monday, October 12

Well, the Cardinals finally won a game, but . . . they didn’t look so good in doing it. What should have been a runaway against the Houston Texans was very nearly a loss. Except for a last minute goal line stand, they would have lost it, after leading 21-0 at the end of the first half. It should be interesting to see how they respond against the Seahawks, who won big-time over the Jaguars. They absolutely must win next week in Seattle.

The U.S. team had an easy victory over the Internationals, especially Tiger, who sort of demolished his PGA competitor Y. E. Yang. I think Tiger had revenge in mind when they teed off, and after a bad chip on the first hole, losing to Y. E., he turned it on and won 6-5 for his fifth point of the event. Now that the Presidents Cup is over, what will I do for a golf fix? I guess, wait for it all to begin again in January. But I still have the NBA and NFL, two painful prospects for the Cardinals and Suns.

I’m just finishing the latest Alex Delaware by Jonathan Kellerman and I can’t wait to finish it. I’ve been a Kellerman fan for over twenty years, but I’m about ready to quit him. Just too much dialogue and too little action. Alex and Milo talk and talk and talk as they stumble around looking for the bad guy. I don’t remember it being that way in the past. Or maybe I my memory is slipping. It could be that I’m rapidly approaching that place where I could happily have only a ten-novel library, reading them over and over, never remembering much two or three novels in the past, each one a new literary experience..

Saturday, October 10

When I was growing up in South Dakota, we had country birds like blackbirds (regular and red-headed), crows, pheasants (lots of pheasants), meadowlarks, kingfishers, gold finch, and sandpipers. And I’m sure there were various hawks and owls, but we didn’t see much of them, or maybe I was just too young to notice. And in town there were a few redheaded woodpeckers, too many cooing and pooping mourning doves, some feisty blue jays, at least one house wren that lived in a tiny birdhouse outside my bedroom window, and robins all over the place doing their cockeyed worm search on our lawns. But by far the most numerous of the town birds were the house or English sparrows. Tiny gray birds whose tiny chirps were so omnipresent we overlooked them (underheard them?).


House sparrows were imported in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to rid us of inch worms that did monstrous damage to shade trees. After several failed importations of the bird, several final importations all over the U.S. and Canada were successful, to the ultimate dismay of most people ever since. The tiny birds bred like rabbits, ate seeds and buds and not insects, spread chicken lice and mites and livestock diseases, pooped everywhere. They earned the nickname “winged rat” by their detesters. I’ve always thought they were cute and friendly. We have some here that hang out at the golf courses and will come within a foot or so of golfers sitting on the patio, snatching up bits of dropped popcorn.

I just read an article about the sparrow, reporting that the birds are disappearing all over the country. And no one seems to know why. It reminded me of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring from the early Sixties. Her book wasn’t really so much about the death of all species of birds, but a protest against our use of DDT. Our use of insecticides has made our lives better and safer, but the reduction of insects may have had some affect on the numbers of our insect-eating bird species. But probably not much, and none on the sparrow, which is not an insect-eater. Since reading the article, I’ve made it a point to look for sparrows around our town. Almost none. Still a few on golf course patios, still the occasional one flying overhead at CostCo. But no flocks, no ubiquitous chirping. I invite any readers, wherever you live, to scout around for sparrow sightings. I hope this tiny bird doesn’t disappear entirely from our midst. I would miss the little winged rats.

Tuesday, October 6

The only things worth reporting on lately: 1. we paid off our mortgage last Saturday 2. we're in the process of having both bathrooms tiled. Doesn't sound like much, but to get the the mortgage monkey off our backs is wonderful. The folks at the bank weren't nearly as happy about it as we were. The last thing they want to see in this economic crunch is a paid-off loan. We also wanted to make the last improvements on the house, which included tearing out the old and awful carpeting in the two bathrooms. Only one last thing that Rosalie wants to do: put in new carpeting in both bedrooms. That will happen in a month or two.

Sports news. Diamondbacks baseball is over. Whoopie! The Cardinals didn't lose last weekend. Why? Because they had an off week and didn't play. NBA basketball is just around the corner. I don't yet know if that merits a "Whoopie!" or a "Who cares?" The Suns could be very good this year or they could go the way of the Diamondbacks and make me and other fans moan in despair. With their run-and-gun style they should be fun to watch even when they lose. And, finally, the President's Cup begins Thursday. That's always a good watch, maybe not quite as exciting as the Ryder Cup, but a close second. And I'll get to see Tiger on the tube.

Saturday, October 3

I just dashed off and sent a letter in response to a column by Selena Roberts called "Tiger, Tiger, Burning Out" in the October 5 issue of Sports Illustrated. Let me know if you disagree or agree with me.

Dear Selena Roberts,

You don’t seem to know Jack about professional golf or golfers, especially Tiger. You called his six wins this year “whistle stops?” Let’s see what those whistles were: the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, The Memorial, the AT & T National, the Buick Open, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, the BMW Championship. All of them against fields with most of the top forty golfers in the world. The U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee is a whistle stop, the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro is a whistle stop, the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open is a whistle stop. Tiger doesn’t play in them; Vijay Singh, the meat hunter, does.

Tiger is thirty-three, the age when most good golfers are only then beginning their strongest years. You said that Tiger is no longer “menacing.” Ask any of his fellow competitors, and they’ll all agree, he’s still menacing. You said he has “fragile knees.” You make him sound like he’s made of glass. He could probably crack walnuts between those fragile knees.

I’m predicting that by age forty, Tiger will have won three more green jackets, three more Opens, two more U.S. Opens, and two more PGA’s. And that’s a conservative estimate. If he decides to play beyond forty, he could wind up with a total of thirty majors. I hope I live long enough to see that happen. I hope I live long enough to hear you eat your words.

Thursday, October 1

I've been busy trying to finalize a family tree of Rosalie's mother's family, and I keep coming up with such odd Scandavian names. For example, her great grand parents were Ingeborg and Olof Olsdotter. And Olof as a name keeps reappearing as a female, whereas Olov is male. And then two generations later there's an Olof Edvin, who is obviously a male. Odd. Lots of Gustav's and Gustaf's and Erick's and Kristina's. It's interesting to catalog all these names, and to try to jar memories of those still living to recall all the relationships and dates and oddities of those folks in the past. These details can be interesting only to those of us still here, and it's necessary to get as many facts straight aa are still possible. I mean, if you don't know who you were, how could you possibly know who you are?

I just got in the mail the new Barbra Streisand cd, Love is the Answer. This is the one produced by Diana Krall. What a union of thirteen gorgeous songs sung by the best female ever, backed by one of the sexiest voices ever to sing a note, Diana Krall. "Here's to Life" is a track I first heard by Shirley Horn, and Barbra pays tribute to the late great Ms. Horn. Then there's the Alan and Marilyn Bergman "Where Do You Start?", music by Johnny Mandel, just about the saddest song about love's breakup ever written. I recommend anyone who loves great vocal music to get this album. Barbra may be getting old, but she's like fine wine, the older, the better.

Monday, September 28

The Cardinals were in the national spotlight last night, and just like last year when they had the public stage, they folded like cheap lawn chairs. Downright embarrassing. How can they look so good one week and so bad the next? I must point out that the playcalling sort of stunk, and that's on coach Whisenhunt. What do you do to slow down a pass rush? You call some draw plays and screens. Were any of those plays called last night by the Cardinals, who looked like they'd been hit by a runaway locomotive? No. And Dwight Freeney, the Colts' defensive end, was the locomotive. One little dink screen pass over his head to the left and he wouldn't have been thereafter so eager to rush like a mad bull (to switch the metaphor). Thank heavens they have next week off. Maybe they can lick their wounds and get back to the win column.

It was interesting to see Phil Mickelson finally get his act together and shoot the lights out of the final round in the Tour Championship. And Tiger held on to place second and secure his win of the overall FedEx Cup, with a ten million dollar payoff. As though he needs another ten million. I'm guessing that his net worth right now is somewhere near a billion and a half. Eventually, after his playing career is over, I'm sure Tiger will heed his father's advice and make a second career of overseeing his many charitable works. And while he's doing that, he may also get involved in politics or acting. He'd be excellent in either field.

Sunday, September 27


We watch commercials because there's little we can do except watch them. Or use them for potty breaks or drink breaks. And we can always record programs and then watch them later, fast forwarding through the numerous timeouts for sales pitches. And we do that quite often. But still, when we can't do any of the above, we suffer through commercial time. The very most obnoxious of them are the Altel commercials with the irritating Chad. They seem to run them five or six times an hour. Then there are the very best of them, like the Target spots that always seem to be fresh and new and cleverly done. And, of course, the Geico commercials. I never really understood the Caveman theme, but at least they're varied enough not to be boring. The same for the stack of money with eyeballs atop, clever and varied. Then there's the iconic figure of the Geiko Gecko. He ranks right up there for all-time honors with the EverReady Rabbit and the Aflac duck. Rosalie is so in love with the Gecko (Is he British or Australian?) that I went on-line to find one I could buy for her. And I found one. How does he look?

Saturday, September 26

I've been watching the FedEx Cup finale in rain-drenched Atlanta. Yesterday, Tiger did something no one expected, hell, no one had ever seen before. He missed two putts inside five feet on fifteen and sixteen, two strokes that would have given him a three-shot lead after two rounds. Unheard of. Here's a man who makes more putts inside ten feet than anyone else on the tour. He hit a gorgeous five-wood into the par-5 fifteenth that left him a shortie for eagle. Missed it. He hit a gorgeous iron into sixteen to within four feet. Missed it. The world, the commentators, even Tiger couldn't believe it. It should be interesting to see how he responds today.

I'm just finishing a frighteningly tense novel called The Siege, by Stephen White. It's tense because White is a very good suspense novelist whose previous novels centered on a Boulder psychologist named Alan Gregory. It's frightening because the bad guy is an unseen terrorist holding a number of Yale students inside a fortress-like building called Book and Snake, one of the tombs that house Yale's secret societies. The FBI and all its components are trying to figure out what the unsub hopes to gain by holding the students hostage, allowing some of them to leave, killing others in very public ways. It seems that what he wants is information he could use to kill as many as 30,000,000 Americans. Frightening in what it implies our enemies might do in their war of terrorism against our country. We've come a long way since 9/11. Let's hope nothing like what Stephen White is telling us in this novel ever comes true.

Friday, September 25

Time rushes onward and I simply can’t keep up with it. Before I know it I’ll look and act like a man I saw at the medical clinic yesterday when I went in for my physical. He was waiting near the lab as I was waiting to have an x-ray. I heard him tell someone his birth date—January 11, 1925. Eighty-four, and he looked and acted like he was an infirm hundred. Please, please don’t let me get to that point. I really need a poison capsule, maybe loaded with venom from a Golden Dart frog, inserted in one of my teeth to make my escape if need be. My luck, I’ll probably try to crush a popcorn old maid and I’ll make my exit, screaming, "I made a mistake! I didn’t mean it!" On the positive side, I know plenty of men here who are 84 or older and they don’t look or act like he did. I realize the numbers are only numbers, but sometimes we lose our physicality and nothing we do can help us keep it. I don’t fear death nearly as much as I did a few decades ago. I could let go quite easily if I had to. Lots of unfinished business I’d regret, though. So, just go on living as well as I can. But, oh how I wish the days wouldn’t go shooting by like heavenly debris showers during one of the Perseids.

Thursday, September 24

I own more music than I can ever listen to, yet I continue to buy more and more cds. Some strange compulsion, I guess, about needing to have at hand the things and sounds I love. The things are for the most part books. I also have more of those than I'll ever have time to read. But I need them. What would I do if WWIII fell upon us and I was still alive and living in a cave somewhere? I would need some device to play the music on and a large box of books to keep me sane for the remainder of my cave-dwelling days. Half a century ago I bought a 45 album by Carmen McRae, the cover a stark white with multiple luscious red lips. Can no longer remember the album title, but I do remember the lips. And the voice. Carmen in her early days had a crystal clear voice, young, perfect pitch, wonderful. And as her career progressed, her voice became richer, huskier, smokier, boozier. And it too was wonderful. Sort of parallel to Sinatra, who went from the clear-voiced bobbysoxer idol of the Forties to the more mature and much better voice of the Sixties and Seventies. So I listen to the old voices from my youth, the McRaes and Sinatras, the Vaughans and Bennetts and Damones. And I'm young again, if only for the duration of the songs. But I also keep discovering newer voices and then must have them also. I found Karrin Allyson about four years ago and was blown away by her vocal skills. She can out-scat Ella, and Ella was pretty good. But more than that, she can make any song, any style, any language sound delicious. I buy her whenever she comes out with a new album. I now have about 12,000 tracks on my computer, and that's not everything I own. Some cds are not included on my hard drive because I don't need them that accessible. But I have them in case I need them. Others I've found in recent years are a few older voices, mostly club voices and not widely known except to the inner circle of jazz: Shirley Horn on piano and intimate voice, Mark Murphy on just about anything. And some sort of in the middle of their careers like Diana Krall (vocal sex), Chris Botti (a trumpet to dream to), Ann Hampton Callaway (voice like milk chocolate), and Bobby Caldwell (indescribable). A Chicago club singer who dabbles in experimental jazz vocals is Jackie Allen, a close second to Karrin Allyson. And a few young voices just beginning careers that should last a lifetime: Madeleine Peyroux (a little Norah Jones and a little Billie Holiday), Lizz Wright (too different to explain), and Renee Olstead (still only a teen-ager but well known in jazz circles). As I age, my savage breast often needs soothing, and my musical friends sooth [sic] me every time.

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