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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.

Friday, December 31

Last Minute Thoughts

Cold, cold, cold this morning. All the house roofs white and sparkling, the grass at Pebblebrook stiff with frost, all over town the flowers and shrubs covered with sheets and blankets and towels. I sat on my back patio in the chill, thinking about how lucky we are to be here instead of freezing and deep in the snow that covers most of the rest of the country. Then some five or six rabbits went screaming by in leaps and hops from right to left along the bushes on our back property line, the quail squawking up a storm. I knew that was the prelude to our friendly coyotes out looking for breakfast, a rabbit pie maybe. This is the same trio that passes through regularly, large, healthy, beautifully coated—tan, with black streaks along the neck and front legs, puffy tails tipped in black, a curious patch across the shoulders that looks like a tiny saddle. No rabbits this morning even though the lead animal sniffed at each bush along the way, hoping to flush one out for the trailing two to capture. No quail either. The quail aren’t afraid of coyotes and will usually surround one or more in a circle and angrily give them the business, loud quail invective, probably “Bastards! Sonzabitchs!” in quailese.

Then back indoors to wait for a bowl game or two, listen to a bit of music, read more of my latest reading venture. I don’t really care about any of the bowl teams but I’ll watch anyway, just because it’s football and it’s a guy thing. On my computer I have a playlist of vocal groups, 140 tracks by New York Voices, The Serendipity Singers, The Manhattan Transfer, The Singers Unlimited, The Hi-Los, and The Four Freshmen. Right now I’m listening to the freshmen singing “Graduation Day.” Wow, does that one take me back a few years. I have it on shuffle so that it’s not always the same group. If you’ve never heard The Singers Unlimited you’re missing a treat. There are only four of them often singing a cappella, their voices duped and trebled in the studio to make them sound like a much larger group. The reading venture is the Robert Crais series featuring the p.i. Elvis Cole. I’d read them all five or six years ago and decided to reread. It’s nice as a senior that I can reread novels and feel like it’s a first time thing. Elvis Cole is a west coast version of Parker’s Boston Spenser—same cockiness and quick tongue, same sort of literary allusions that dumber folks don’t pick up on, same stoic tough guy sidekick, same plodding investigative technique. Fourteen in the series and at the rate I’m reading lately I should finish in four weeks.

Oh, man, The Singers Unlimited are now doing their version of “Indian Summer.” Gorgeous. And soon, Miami and Notre Dame will be on in the Who Cares Bowl. It’s a guy thing.

Thursday, December 30

New Year's Eve Eve

One day left in 2010. What to do with it? Well, one thing we won’t do is go out somewhere for drink and fireworks. The only firework we’ll hear is the sound of our heads hitting the pillows around 10:00. It’s been years since we were awake at midnight to see the old one out and new one in. Now, we just try to remain awake to see the ball drop in New York. Sometimes we make it, sometimes not. I can’t say I’ll miss this old year. It’s been a really rotten one for me. Too many doctors, too many appointments. I feel like I’ve signed away my life into the care of one specialist after another. Next year will be better. I’m just sure of it. Next year the holes in my leg will heal. Next year I’ll get hack to the golf course. Next year Tiger will get back on his game and win two majors. Next year the Cardinals and Suns and Diamondbacks will have winning seasons. Wow! That’s a prediction that’s more in my heart than in my head. Next year I’ll finish that sixth novel I’ve been working on for nearly two years. Next year Rosalie will get back to swimming and I’ll get back somewhat into shape. Or not. We’ll see next year. I hope you’ll have a better year also.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 27

The Gray Swan

Thank heavens, Christmas is now Christmas Past, and New Year’s Eve will come and go as it usually does, both of us asleep about 10:00, maybe watching the ball drop in New York, maybe not. Come on, 2011! You gotta be better than this one we’re just concluding.

I decided, since the Cardinals had already won their game with the hated Cowboys, to go see a movie instead of watching football. True Grit looks good, but that’s one Rosalie would want to see. So I made the grievous error of choosing The Black Swan. Whew! Not my cup of tea, not my glass of Scotch, not even my DQ chocolate shake. Natalie Portman is being hyped as an Oscar contender for her role as the schizo swan girl, and I guess she did a really good job. I just hated the job she had to do—play a wannabe ballerina who wins the lead in a production of Swan Lake. But she keeps seeing herself in mirrors or other people. The movie was intended as a balletic psychological thriller, but all I came away with was a feeling of creepiness, ickiness, yuckiness. When I was leaving, a woman looked at me and shrugged, her mouth sort of sideways, her eyes wide. I shrugged and said, “I agree.” I guess she too thought it was sort of creepy. I felt that I’d just lost two hours of my life. Ah, well, tomorrow is another day and True Grit will save it.

Monday, December 20

Cardinals & Two Movies

Well, I was right, they stunk it up pretty bad, the Cardinals, that is. Lost 19-12 to the worst team in the NFL Now, if they can manage to lose the next two to the Cowboys and 49ers, they’ll be able to pick up a pretty good quarterback in next year’s draft. They should be able to lose those two without even trying, and that’s what they’ve looked like in most of the games they’ve played. Maybe then poor Larry Fitzgerald can get back to catching passes.

I’ve seen two movies in the last week, both excellent. James Franco in 127 Hours as the crazy who liked to climb by himself and paid the price by having to hack off his own arm may get a nomination for best actor, but he won’t win. Christian Bale, in The Fighter, should be a shoe-in for best supporting actor, although I’ve never figured out how they determine who’s an actor and who’s a supporting actor. In fact, he and Collen Firth should be duking it out for that distinction. I haven’t yet seen The King’s Speech so I can’t really say, but everyone else seems to think that he also is a shoe-in for best actor.

But back to the two movies. In 127 Hours the wind- and water-carved gorges in Utah may have been the best thing about the movie. They were eerie and beautiful. We sort of hang on through most of the plot, knowing what happened and would happen, gritting our teeth when it comes time to hack off the arm using a knife he had dulled by chipping away at the imprisoning boulder. A good movie, but not as good as The Fighter. Just watching Bale do his manic thing made it all worthwhile. Mark Wahlberg, as Micky Ward, was excellent as the wannabe welterweight fighter trying to make it up and out of his Lowell, Mass., background. But it’s Bale, as the older boxing brother, who makes the film. Now I have to wait for The King’s Speech to escape the bondage of Harkin’s theatre, where it’s being shown exclusively way to hell and gone over in the East Valley. I just don’t know why so many of the good films are shown exclusively at the Harkin’s Camelview Theatre. Some of them later make it into the other venues, but some don’t.

Sunday, December 19

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning. Rosalie just went to work and I’m here, debating what to do with the rest of my day. I can feast on football, but if I choose to watch the Cardinals/Panthers game, it will be more like a fast than a feast. Wow, do the Cardinals ever stink this year, nearly as bad as in the bad old days. The only thing they’ve got going for them this week is that the Carolina Panthers stink even more than the Cards. This one should be called the Odorous Bowl.

Or I can skip football and finish my latest Wiltse book, this one called Into the Fire. I can’t wait to finish it so I can start another. I’m somewhat obsessive-compulsive when it comes to reading: Once I find an author I like, I read him/her all at once, one after another as fast as I can read; once I find a series I like, I buy them all and then read them in their proper order as fast as I can. Yeah, some would say, that’s o.c. all right.

Or I can simply sit on my back patio and contemplate my backyard. I love my backyard. I mean, I really love my backyard. You will note in the accompanying photo, the height of the arbor vitae on the back property line. These trees were about fifteen feet high when we moved in; they’re now twice that size. They were what first attracted me to this house, that wonderful privacy hedge. Not that I don’t love neighbors; I just don’t want them too close to me.


I’ve written before about this (see photo below) grapefruit tree. Thirty-five years ago, we raised it from a seed, kept it indoors in a pot as a house plant, brought it with us from New York to Arizona, and planted it here, where it grew and grew, and now even has eight grapefruit. I also love the small rocks. Don’t have to water them, don’t have to mow them, don’t even have to rake any leaves that may fall on them. The rabbits take care of any leaves that fall.


Whoa! the Cardinals game is just about to start. Gotta run. Gotta see how bad they’ll stink today.

Thursday, December 16

Gray Drippers

I’ve been away, haven’t I? Not away physically, just psychically. But some would say I’ve been away psychically most of my life. Whatta they know.

It’s a chilly, rainy day in the Valley and it feels and sounds wonderful. I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever say that about a gray dripper of a day, but this one is most welcome. I remember all those five and six and seven day episodes of gray drippiness in western New York when we lived there, hating each of the five or six or seven days they lasted, getting more and more depressed as the gray drips lingered. Those of you in the upper tier states, hunkered down in your snow drifts, would really consider me balmy for now saying I’m enjoying this day. But we get so many calm, sunny days here that every now and then a day like this is nice. But please, don’t hate me for saying it, all you northern tierers.

I’ve been busy editing a first draft of daughter Jeri’s novel called Evolutiion: The Long Journey Home. It’s a most unusual plot, one that I couldn’t begin to describe, but it’s quite interesting, and she’s thrilled to have gotten it done. I told her she had gotten done a rough draft and that it still needed work. She was all right with that and will get to work on a finished copy. And then we’ll get it published.

And other time was spent on getting out all my Christmas cards and cd’s. Now I can settle back and catch up on some reading I’ve been neglecting, and a day like this is perfect for reading and thinking. All it lacks is a fireplace in front of which to sit as I read and think. In the Valley of the Sun, one needs a fireplace only once or twice a year. I’m now reading all of a series of books by David Wiltse, whose main character is a retired FBI agent named John Becker, a man who specialized in tracking down really nasty serial killers, tracking them down and then usually killing them. His character quirk is that he fears he’s too much like those he hunts, that he can too easily identify with the awful needs that drive their psychoses. He wants to stop doing this job, but the FBI keeps hauling him back in. Becker is a most unusual character. I remember several years ago reading a novel called Darkly Dreaming Dexter, about a character similar to Becker, driven by his needs to kill people. So his father, seeing this in his adopted son at an early age, channeled him into police work where he could satisfy his psychotic needs by killing killers. And now Showtime has a very successful tv series about this very character. Odd that we can twist our expectations about right and wrong and accept Dexter as a positive character, much like Becker. Then there’s Lawrence Block’s odd character, a professional hitman named Keller. Keller takes assignments from Dot, who gets the assignments from her sources that know about Keller and need him to hit someone. The oddness of the situation is that we, the reader, can accept Keller for what he does because of what he is—a quite attractive, caring, likeable person. Odd.

I’ll try not to be away quite so long from now on, Amy and the few others I have who read my drivel. And even if I’m my only reader, that’s all right. I’m as driven to write as John Becker and Dexter and Keller are to pursue their dark needs.

Wednesday, December 8

Duffy

We’re fairly regular Ellen Degeneres watchers. She’s funny, she does good interviews, she showcases lots of young, fairly unknown singers and bands. Yesterday, the featured singer was Duffy, singing “Well, Well, Well.” The title words were the only words we could decipher, once again the singer cloaked in a musical cacophony of pounding guitars, drums, and an acrobatic, gyrating young woman on keyboard. I just don’t understand most musical taste these days. To compare Duffy to someone like Barbra Streisand or Lea Michelle from “Glee” is like comparing a Big Mac to a filet mignon, or a Sun City West backyard pool to an Olympic swimming venue, or a copper penny to a $20 gold piece, or a chunk of quartz to the Hope diamond, or a novel by Nicole Richie to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. But I fear I’ve stretched the comparison too far. And speaking of Nicole Richie, another of Ellen’s guests. She was there touting her second novel. It may be sour grapes on my part, but that really pisses me off, the fact that anyone with a connection, like her father Lionel Richie, can get a book published. It’s just not fair. I’ve spent thirty years pursuing the nearly impossible dream of getting a novel legitimately published, thirty years of non-success. And then this dingbat comes along and gets two novels published. The next thing you know, her ditzy buddy, Paris Hilton, will come out with a book titled The Blahned Bommer.

Tuesday, December 7

War Years

And while I’m at it, what about those war years? Let’s see, I was eight when it began this December day, and twelve when it ended. Those are years in a boy’s life not easy to remember. I remember my brother Dick going into the navy in 1942 but very little else. No school memories, no sports memories, no memories of what our little town of Mobridge was like back then. It must have been post-Dust-Bowl-days dusty with all streets just gravel avenues except for Main and the highway through town. A few images come to mind: digging an underground room in the vacant lot just north of Coleman’s house on Fourth Avenue West, clambering around in the wooden supports of the highway billboard near that same sunken room, digging snow caverns in our back yard after one of the many snow storms, building rubber guns for playing war in the city park, playing endless summer afternoon and evening games—Run Sheep Run, Kick the Can, Captain May I, Red Light Green Light, hop scotch, migs. I must have gotten my dog Rusty in 1941, a red-coated cocker spaniel puppy that howled and howled when my parents insisted he be put in the basement for the night, a move that didn’t last very many nights. I remember lying on my stomach in our living room, listening to after-school programs on the radio—The Shadow (“Who know what evil lurks in the hearts of man”); Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy; the Green Hornet; Inner Sanctum (that awful creaking door that opened every show); The Lone Ranger (“Hi ho, Silver, away!”); Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In the evenings listening to and laughing over Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. I think I must have driven my parents crazy as I lay on the floor, hoisting dining room chairs overhead as I laughed at the radio comics. I and my classmates must have been equally enchanted by the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, probably accounting for my getting hooked on the Oz books about this time, devouring them in the cheap war-time editions I got for birthdays and Christmases. And other movies of the day I remember: Gunga Din, Lassie Come Home and National Velvet (both causing me to fall madly in love with Elizabeth Taylor), all the Saturday afternoons at the Mascot Theatre riding along with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, reveling in the terror caused by The Black Panther, King Kong, The Mummy and Return of the Mummy. howling at the antics of Abbot and Costello and the Three Stooges. Ah, the good old days. And then the war ended and I grew up . . . sort of.

Monday, December 6

Pear Harbor Day

Pearl Harbor Day tomorrow, December 7, 1941. Sixty-nine years ago. My, how the time does fly. I was eight back then and don’t remember much of anything about that day, infamy or famy. In fact, the only things I remember about the war are the savings stamps we used to buy at school, the government oranges and apples we would get at school, having to use the orange wrappers for toilet paper, the black silhouettes of enemy airplanes we had to be able to recognize in case there was an air-raid warning, the gas stamps when gas was rationed, the News of the Day stuff about the progress of the war at the local theatre before the movie came on, and finally, the sound of the sirens marking the end of the war in 1945. I remember at first wondering why all the sirens in town were screaming and then I realized what it meant, the end of the war. I was then twelve and still relatively stupid about the state of affairs in the world. I guess I still am.

Thursday, December 2

An Early Christmas Present

I have a Christmas present for you, Amy, and for anyone else out there who might be reading this blog, one of Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories. Enjoy.

Christmas Dinner, by Garrison Keillor

It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. Christmas. The exiles were home. It was pretty quiet, though you could hear the gritting of teeth, and there was a moment of poisoned silence at the Clarence Bunsen home that rang like a fire bell. Before the blessing, as they sat around the table and admired the work in front of them, a still-life Christmas Dinner by Arlene, before they ate the art, their daughter, Donna, in town from San Diego, said, “What a wonderful Christmas!” and her husband Rick, said, “Well, if Democrats had their way, it’d be the last one.” Silence.

Arlene said that if Rick had his way, the turkeys would be having us. Clarence bowed his head. “Dear Lord, the giver of all good things, we thank Thee.” He prayed a long prayer, as a ceasefire. Arlene smiled at Rick: “Have some mashed potatoes.” “Thank you, Mom.” She winced. He is her son-in-law and she doesn’t know why. He is not raising her grandchildren right, he comes to Minnesota and talks too much about the advantages of southern California, he wears silly clothes, he makes fun of Norwegians, he makes fun of women including his own wife, and he says “agenda” in place of “plan” or “idea”—“Did you have a different agenda?” he says. “Let’s get our agenda straight.” “I sense a hidden agenda here.”

He piled his plate with Christmas agenda and chomped a big bite of it. He said, “Mom, this is the best dinner I ever ate. I really mean that.” She smiled her brightest smile, the smile she has used all ther life on people she’d like to slap silly. She’d like to give him a piece of her mind, but she can’t because he has hostages, her grandchildren. So she kills him with kindness. She stuffs him like a turkey. Fresh caramel rolls for breakfast, a pound of bacon and smoked sausage and scrambled eggs, and two hours later pot roast for lunch and big slabs of banana cream pie. He has gained four pounds since Tuesday. Her goal is twelve. All day he sits dazed by food. “Fudge bars, Rick? I made them just for you. Here, I’ll put the plate right beside you, where you can reach them.” “Oh Mom . . .” She’s found the crack in his armor, and it’s his mouth. His Achilles mouth. Her agenda is stuffing him so he becomes weak and pliable and goes into a calorie coma, and she takes the little boy and the girl for walks and tells them about our great presidents, our great Democratic presidents. And did you know they were all Norwegian? Yes, they were, a little bit, on their mother’s side, and that little bit was enough to make them great.

* * *

At the Tolleruds’, Daryl and Marilyn and their six kids went up the hill to the folks’ house. His brothers, Gunnar and Fred, and their families were home for Christmas, and Daryl’s family barely has room for themselves around their little table.

When Daryl went into farming in partnership with his dad in 1968, he was under the impression that someday soon he and Marilyn would move into the big house and the folks would take the little one, the one that Grandpa Tollerud built when he came from Norway. But nothing has been said about this for a long time. The little house would be fine for an older couple, who tend to sit quietly and not tear around chasing each other. But the old folks sit quietly in the big house, with four empty bedrooms upstairs. “We really need a larger house,” Daryl says. “Well,” his dad says, “Soon as we get the pig barn build, we’ll see about adding on to it.”

Up at the folks’ house, Christmas is the exact same as it’s been forever. You close your eyes and it could be any time. You might open them and you’d be six years old, not forty-two. The dialogue is the same. His mother complains about leaving the turkey in the oven too long and it being too dry, and every year it is perfect. The men sit in the living room, gently clearing their throats, and when it’s time, his dad stands up and says, “Well, I’m going to go see to the horse.”

They haven’t kept a horse for years. “You boys going to come help me see to the horse?” he says, and they troop out to the barn and he reaches down behind a horse collar and pulls out the bottle of Jim Beam. They pass it around and have a pull, and stand and say some things, and pass it around again, and the old man takes a nail and marks the new level and puts it back, and they troop indoors. Daryl wishes the could just have a drink in the living room, but to his old man there’s a difference. He is not the sort of man who keeps booze in his house. The barn doesn’t count.

Gunnar was on the wagon again, the third or fourth time. He is the oldest boy and the smartest, he should’ve gone on and become somebody but drink has cursed him since he was young. He’d go in the Sidetrack and have a bump with his buddies but then he got belligerent and tried to pick fights, which nobody wanted because he was so strong and quick, so they took care of him by giving him more to drink. He’d say, “I’m not going to take that from you. You son of a bitch, you sat down in my chair.” They’d say, “Gunnar, I bet you can’t drink a whole glass of whiskey. Two dollars says you can’t.”

“Put it down where I can see it,” said Gunnar, and Wally filled up the glass. A beer glass. And Gunnar drank it, and as he drank he forgot about the chair, the two dollars, where he was or why or who. He finished the glass, and they carried him out the back so he could be sick there, and they scraped him up and drove him home. This happened over and over. The Gunnar skipped the part in the middle, the argument and the challenge, and went straight from the first drink to the last on his own steam.

Gunnar drives a semi and when he’s drinking he takes a bottle in the cab to help keep him awake. He quit drinking this time after his last crash, driving a tank truck that jackknifed in broad daylight in the middle of Kansas and overturned in the ditch. The tank had a hole knocked in it and when Gunnar climbed out of the cab he was up to his hips in scrambled-egg mix, a thick yellowish froth. He slipped and went under and thought he was going to drown in egg but struggled to shore and hasn’t had a drink for three months.

Daryl has had some close calls himself the past couple of months. He doesn’t drink except in his dad’s barn, seeing to the horse, but several times he’d been in his old Ford about to pull onto a highway and looked left and turned right and suddenly, HONK, a car swerves and jams on its brakes. Or he looks in the side mirror, turns into the left lane, HONK, a car right there! Once he ran a red light. What’s the matter with him? Is he losing his peripheral vision? Monday he was out teaching Eric to drive and he heard brakes screech, he’d gone through a stop sign. Tuesday he went to ask Dr. DeHaven about it, who talked about changes to the brain that come with aging, a loss of reflex, a diminution of one’s facultles. “This is normal.” He said. “Ordinarily we don’t see it so much in a person of forty-two, but it isn’t anything to worry about. Just relax and slow down and take things at your own speed.”

Daryl was depressed for two days. Tuesday night he left a door open in the pig barn, and twelve got out. Recess for pigs. It took him and Eric two hours to get them back in class, but Daryl felt fast on his feet and felt the reflexes working, bang, bang, bang. Wednesday afternoon, not thinking, he walked in the kitchen and opened the fridge and got out a bowl that was full of glop and dumped it in the garbage, and just as the force of gravity was pulling it down he thought, “That’s mincemeat pie filling.”

How could he do such a dumb thing? Just wasn’t thinking. Marilyn was gone to the farm wives’ luncheon. It was two o’clock. He had never made mincemeat filling before, but how hard could it be to follow a recipe? Fairly hard, he discovered. Mincing the meat. Beef and venison. Mincing the apples. And then the recipe called for brandy. No brandy anywhere that he could find—where did she keep the stuff? Did she have a secret stash in the laundry room? Finally he took an empty mustard jar in his pocket and snuck up the hill to the barn. He crawled around back through the corn, dashed for the door, got the bottle, filled the jar, made a careful mark with the nail. Heard a door slam. Tore out back. Crawled through the corn to the end of the field, stood up, walked down to the house, whistling. Into the kitchen. Tossed in the whiskey. Mixed it, cooked it up, popped it in the fridge as the car rolled up the driveway.

Thursday, as they came to dessert, Daryl’s heart was pounding. He chose pumpkin. Everyone else chose mincemeat, except Gunnar, who chose pumpkin too. The pie was sliced and served and the first forkfuls of mincemeat came to their mouths, “Mmmmmmm,” said his mother. “Oh, Marilyn.” His dad said, “Oh my, now that’s mincemeat.” “It sure is,” said Fred. “How do you make it, Marilyn?” “Oh, it’s just from a recipe,” she said. “Do you use brandy in it?” “Oh no,” she said. “You don’t really need brandy. I just leave the brandy out.” “Well, it’s the best I ever ate,” said Fred’s wife. “You ought to have some of this, Daryl.” “No,” Daryl said. “I got my pumpkin here. I don’t care for mincemeat. Keeps me awake at night. I can’t take so much rich food anymore. I’m getting old, I guess.”

Wednesday, December 1

Holiday Greetings

All right, since it's now December and only moments away from Christmas, here's a cute picture I found in a 2011 calendar. I guess old English teachers might appreciate it more than most others.

And while I'm at it, I'm going to drag out an old Christmas poem I wrote a long time ago.

Ho! Ho! Ho! And a merry Christmas to you all in only three and a half weeks.

The Best Medicine

Not everyone has a sense of humor. Some people just don’t know how to laugh or see anything funny in any aspect of life. I have a good sense of humor. Some writers make me laugh so hard I weep big tears. Twain could do that sometimes. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a very funny book and any number of his stories, such as “His Grandfather’s Old Ram” or “The Stolen White Elephant.” Of modern writers, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a very funny book in a black-humorish sort of way. The scene in which Major Major Major sneaks out of his office every day to hide from his military obligations is hilarious. And Dave Barry, the Florida columnist, often has me howling at his absurdities. A few years ago he came out with an essay about colonoscopies that helped me get through one of my own, if not laughing all the way into surgery, at least making me smile while under anesthesia. But of all writers currently with pen to paper—the one who can make me laugh so much I have to put book down and stop reading until I wipe my eyes enough to see the words again—Garrison Keillor and his tales of the odd denizens of Lake Wobegon is the winner. I’m not sure if one has to be a present or past upper-plains state resident to see his humor, but it certainly helps. In “Pontoon Boat” Pastor David Ingqvist took twenty-four visiting clergymen out for a ride on Lake Wobegon in Wally’s new twenty-six foot pontoon boat. And as everyone knows, in the Midwest, folks need at least twenty-eight inches of private space. What happened to the clergymen and the boat and the lighted barbeque grill had me nearly rolling on the floor. I tried to read passages aloud to Rosalie and could barely get the words out. Florian Krebsback tells jokes to his flock of ducks, one of which: So this couple went to get a divorce, she was eighty-nine and he was ninety-two—the judge said, “Why? You’ve been married seventy years and now you want a divorce?” “We hate each other,” she said. “We haven’t been able to stand each other since 1932.” “Why did you wait so long?” he said. “We wanted to wait until the children were dead. This woulda killed them.”

If you’ve never read any of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories or heard him delivering any of these stories on his radio broadcast called A Prairie Home Companion, you don’t know what you’re missing. If your life is a little barren and humorless, turn to Garrison Keillor and he’ll fix it right up.

Friday, November 26

Gaiety & Stephen Sondheim

I think I should come out of the closet. If being gay means one loves the singing of Barbra Streisand and a love of musical theatre, then I must be gay. I listen to today’s hip-hoppers, rockers, and rappers, and I can’t understand a word from any of them, the lyrics and music smothered by three or four electric guitars and heavy percussion. And even if I could make out what’s being sung, I wouldn’t hear lyrics worth hearing. I make my case with one of the songs ranked near the top as best of the Twentieth Century, The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”:

I can't get no satisfaction, Cause I tried and I tried, And I tried and I tried. I can't get no, I can't get no — When I'm driving in my car And a man comes on the radio, he's telling me more and more About some useless information supposed to fire my imagination, I can't get no, No, no, no . Hey, hey, hey, That's what I say — When I'm watching my TV And a man comes on that tells me how white my shirts can be But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me. I can't get no satisfaction , I can't get no girl reaction. When I'm riding around the world And I'm doing this and I'm signing that and I'm trying to make some girl Who tells me "Baby, better come back maybe next week 'cause you see I'm on a losing streak." No satisfaction.

I rest my case.

How can I tell if the singer (singer?) is any good or if what he/she is singing has any meaning?

When I was in high school and shortly thereafter, my parents and I would visit my sister Helen and her husband Paul in Wisconsin. Helen took me to Chicago to see current musicals and I never got over it. I saw the touring company doing South Pacific with Janet Blair as Nellie, Forrest Tucker as Harold Hill in The Music Man, and Carol Channing in My Sister Eileen. Yikes! I was enthralled with the singing and dancing, the staging, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Wednesday evening, PBS gave us a Broadway musical cornucopia with the 80th birthday celebration for Stephen Sondheim. It was wonderful, and full of wonder as Broadway stars, both current as well as not-so-current singers, reprised songs from his many shows: Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Elaine Stritch, Nathan Gunn, to name only a few. It was one of the best two hours I’ve ever spent in front of the tube, hearing clear as a bell Sondheim’s witty, sophisticated lyrics, watching the many beautiful men and women singing those lyrics. I could hardly contain myself or my tears.

If that makes me gay (it certainly made me happy), then let the closet door swing wide, because I “can’t get no satisfaction” from Justin Bieber and his ilk, or Beyonce and her ilk, or Fitty Cents and his ilk, or Mick Jagger and his big-lipped yucky ilk.

Monday, November 22

Sting Love

Years ago I bought a Sting album and I never really listened to it until one of the songs got popular enough to be played with some regularity on the radio—“Fields of Gold”—and I fell in love with it. So today I listened to the whole album looking at the lyrics. Oh, my, was it ever good. It’s called Ten Summoner’s Tales and all the songs seem to be related in that they tell stories of people set in some kind of magical Middle Ages. Great music and vocals, but excellent lyrics. I not only want to be able to sing them like he does, I wish I’d written them. For example, here are the lyrics to “Fields of Gold”:

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves, Upon the fields of barley. You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky, As we walk in fields of gold.

So she took her love, for to gaze awhile, Upon the fields of barley. In his arms she fell as her hair came down, Among the fields of gold.

Will you stay with me, will you be my love. Among the fields of barley? We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky, As we lie in fields of gold.

See the west wind move like a lover so, Upon the fields of barley. Feel her body rise, when you kiss her mouth, Among the fields of gold.

I never made promises lightly, And there have been some that I’ve broken, But I swear in the days still left, We’ll walk in fields of gold, We’ll walk in fields of gold.

Many years have passed since those summer days, Among the fields of barley. See the children run as the sun goes down, Among the fields of gold.

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves Upon the fields of barley. You can tell the sun in his jealous sky, When we walked in fields of gold, When we walked in fields of gold, When we walked in fields of gold.

Isn’t that something? It’s all about romantic love and the passage of time, and how that love gets lost, or just grows old, whatever. I’m such a sucker for romantic love. I’m not at all sure that that isn’t the one thing that makes life worthwhile—romantic love, and even the nostalgic feeling of lost or unrequited love. It’s better than sex, sex is so short-term, but romantic love makes life worthwhile while most of life isn’t worth all that much, not nearly as much as the gold in those fields as the sun goes down.

Thursday, November 18

Dusty Garfield



Unless you have a cat or two, you won’t really understand this Garfield strip. I am owned lock stock and barrel by one of our cats, Dusty. Quite a few years ago I made the grievous error of feeding him soft cat food, and ever since, that’s about all he wants to eat. But the feedings require that he get only a little bit at a time, just enough for him to finish it all in one feeding. Otherwise, whatever is left over is left forever. I mean, he wouldn’t bring himself to eat food that’s become unfresh, would he? Absolutely not. Which brings me to my current problem. Before we go to bed, I give him food and he eats it. But two hours later he wants more, demands more. If we go to bed at 10:00, I know that he’ll bug me at midnight to get up and feed him. Which I do. Then again at 2:00, and 4:00, and 6:00. And if I try to ignore him, he will sit near my head, his face about two inches from my ear, and whine in a really obnoxious Garfield way until I finally relent and get up to feed him. Yes, just like the times when we had a new born who required nightly feedings, Dusty is now our new born. But new borns grow up and out of this nocturnal need. Dusty doesn’t. I am truly owned by him, and though I love him dearly, I wish I’d never started him on soft food. Too late now.

Wednesday, November 17

Unstoppable & Oddities

We went to Harkins to see Unstoppable today, and even though we already knew that nasty runaway train really was stoppable, the tension was palpable as we watched Denzel and Chris Pine interact and finally bring the behemoth to a halt. The story was pretty thin, but the action shots Tony Scott filmed—the increasing speed of the missile, Denzel and Chris’s dancing around on and under the 70+ mph train, and the audience’s realization of what exactly might have happened if the train had not been stopped—were enough to make this a most enjoyable thrill ride. And besides, I’d gladly watch Denzel just sitting somewhere, discussing life and times. He wouldn’t even need to move, just sit there.

Two oddities in the mail today. I got a check from Xlibris, the company that published my books, for $.57. That’s right, fifty-seven cents. The letter informed me that it had to do with Google whenever someone clicked on one of my books. Not to buy one, just to show a “click’s worth of interest.” Fifty-seven cents. I’ve decided to keep it as a souvenir and not cash it. The other strange thing in the mail: a few days ago I went online to find out where to order some litmus strips to check our pH levels, see how acidic (bad) or alkaline (good) we were. There was a company in Scottsdale that made a product called pHIon Balance. So I ordered a bottle of ninety strips. It arrived today and when I looked at the bill, it said it had been shipped from, of all places, Mobridge, South Dakota. How coincidental is that? Mobridge is a tiny town in the middle of the country, the birthplace of both Rosalie and me, and of all the tiny towns in the U.S. our hometown was the shipping origin of the test strips. It truly is a small world.

Tuesday, November 16

Technology

In this year’s Christmas letter I wrote about all the technological possibilities in the next ten years. It never occurred to me to mention flight like you see in the photo below. I’d never heard of such a thing as jet wings until I saw this in a recent National Geographic. Man has always desired to fly like a bird, trying all kinds of crazy methods, right from Icarus and his wax wings that melted on him to the Wright boys at Kitty Hawk to the present-day tiny ultra-lights. But plane flight isn’t quite the same dream as flying like a bird with only wing-like arms to sustain one. I remember not long ago seeing on a Sixty Minutes segment the crazies who jumped from mountain tops to sail down cliff walls frighteningly fast, like para-gliders, nylon wings from arms to hips. But as you can see in the photo, this is truly Iron-Man technology.



And in the same magazine, they spoke of the fastest automobile, capable of going over a thousand miles an hour. Whoa! How could a car going that fast even keep tires on the surface? I’d think it would just go airborne for a thousand yards at a time, sort of bouncing along like a grasshopper.



 

We’ll see such wonders in the near future as we can’t even dream them.


Thursday, November 11

Taylor Swift

I told my wife last week after seeing Taylor Swift on the Ellen Degeneris Show that Taylor Swift would in the next ten years become as big a star as Barbra became way back at her beginning. And I don't mean as a singer, as a movie star. It was refreshing to see someone whom this instant fame at an early age has affected so little. You just watch, the next ten years. Huge star. And right now you might as well watch her and listen to her sing "White Horse," a really nifty song which, unlike way too many current songs, allows the listener to hear and understand the lyrics. (If you right click on the video, you can watch it "full screen," and when you're done, just right click again to "exit full screen.")

Wednesday, November 10

42nd Street

Last night we went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see 42nd Street, what was undoubtedly the best production of the six seasons so far. We were all astounded that we could find in a local area such as ours nearly twenty dancers who could tap the way these twenty did. And sing. And produce such a lavish set design and so many costume changes it was hard to count. I’ve said it before but let me say again, how lucky we are to have such a wonderful venue for dinner theatre in the West Valley. If you haven’t already gone to one of the shows at the ABT, this is one you just can’t afford to miss.

Saturday, November 6

Dusty, Medical News, Spooky Plant

Our cat Dusty is sixteen years old and is beginning to show all sixteen years. He’s way too skinny, he doesn’t seem very interested in anything I give him to eat, his coat is scruffy, and he sort of wobbles when he walks. We’re just afraid he’s not going to make it much longer. And oh, will we ever be sad when he goes. We’ve talked about what we’ll do when that time comes and decided we’ll just have to get another cat to keep Squeakie company. Today I went to PetSmart to get some vitamins and cartons of cat milk. I gave him some of the milk and he gobbled it up. Maybe we can hang onto him for a while. I sure hope so. He’s my best pal in the whole world.

Health news. I went to see my nephrologist yesterday, Dr. Anup Rai. I told Rosalie that she’s maybe the most voluptuously beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, sort of a Halle Berry beauty. She’s the one who treated me when I was in the hospital a few months ago and found that I had a blockage in blood flow to my left kidney, which probably contributed to my high blood pressure. Now I’m on a new prescription, which has stabilized my bp, but it seems that I have a 90% blockage to my kidney and I’ll have to have a stent implant. Man, if it isn’t one thing it’s another. She asked me if I had a cardiologist and I told her I had a bunch of -ologists but not a cardio-. Let’s see, I have a nephrologist, a dermatologist, a hematologist, a radiologist, a podiatrist, and soon a cardiologist, who will set up a date for the surgery. That’s just too many obligations to one doctor or another. I’m beginning to feel just like Dusty.

What to make of this odd plant someone gave us. It's the healthiest beast I've ever seen, and it worries me that some night it may creep indoors and into our bedroom to do us harm. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 2

Election Day, Foreskin, and Taylor Swift

Thank heavens today has finally arrived. That means that last night was the last night we’ll have to look at all those attack ads by one pharmaceutical company or another. Oh, wait, those aren’t attack ads, they’re those annoying ads telling us about side effects, especially if something lasts longer than four hours. I guess we may have to suffer through those forever. I really mean all those annoying political ads telling us about negative side effects if we make the wrong choice at the polls. But then, this will be only a temporary reprieve since one year down the road they’ll begin again. My only hope for this election is that none of the Sarah Palin pals win any seats anywhere except in an Alaskan outhouse.

Quick note about my unhealable wounds. In two weeks we’re going to try one last, very expensive treatment--putting live foreskin tissue in the wounds to encourage skin cells to get busy filling them in. I hope it works, but I do wonder if I were later to take Viagra or Cialis if my left leg would stiffen up on me. For over four hours.

Prediction: The rise to superstardom for Taylor Swift will be nearly as swift as the rise of Barbra forty-four years ago. This is a young woman who’s got it all together at twenty—looks, talent, sense of humor, and a quiet confidence in her abilities that doesn’t require her to shout it to the world. She may not be as good a singer as Barbra, but she’ll become a better actor and command as much attention and money as Barbra. Let’s just hope she doesn’t become as obnoxious as Barbra is reported to be on a set.

Rose is back. Maybe Two-and-a-Half Men can be saved after all.

Friday, October 29

Texting, Politics, & a Pun

Dear Amy,

I spotted a short news article the other day, about a man and his 4-year-old son ramming into a train stopped at a crossing. Right through the barrier arms, lights flashing, warning bells clanging, into the side of the train. Rescuers had to cut them out of the car. How could the man have driven into a parked train, you ask? Right, he was too busy texting to notice. I wonder what he’ll tell his son one day, maybe on the day he gets released from prison: “Oh, yeah, well, see, son, it was really important.” I hope they throw the book at him.

I must be politically naïve . . . or maybe just stupid. Why can’t we regulate the amount of money spent on any campaign on both a national as well as a state level, make the amount small enough that no candidate would want to waste money on the sort of attack ads we now see . . . over and over again. Why should elections now be decided by the amount of money candidates can raise instead of on their stand on issues? A billionaire doofus can now buy a seat in congress if he’s willing to spend most of his fortune. I’m certainly glad Ben Quayle isn’t a billionaire. Oh, yeah, he’s a doofus, but not a rich doofus.

Pun time: A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of his office and asked them to disperse. “But why?” one of them asked as they moved off. “Because,” he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.

Whoa! Sorry about that, Amy.

Love, Jerry

Tuesday, October 26

Amy and Hereafter

Dear Amy,

Since it appears that you're my only reader, I may as well simply address these blogs to you. Thank you, by the way, for being so loyal to my ramblings. I can't tell you how much it means to me.

We went to see Hereafter today and I have to say it's a must-see. It wasn't the best film I've ever seen but it made me feel better than any film has made me feel for such a long time. For the life of me, I can't understand how filmmakers can create such scenes as the opening tsunami episode. It's like all the sleight-of-hand and magicians' illusions that also confound me. The movie may depend too much on the coincidental joining of the three plot strands, but who cares. I love Matt Damon, I loved all the other people in this film. I loved this film. I hope you do too.

My last trip to the doctor revealed that absolutely no progress has been made in the healing of my leg wounds. I'm about to tell him, despite the fact that he's a very nice man, that I won't be coming back to see him. He's tried every trick in his book of healing tricks and nothing has worked. So I think I'll just treat it on my own and let the wounds fall where they may. What do you think? Would that be too premature of me?

Today is a gorgeous Arizona day, low eighties, windless, clear skies. So nice that when we got home from the movie, I decided to walk to Pebblebrook, a nearby golf course, to putt a bit. I may not be able to hit a golf ball anymore, but I can still putt. The course is an easy fifteen minute walk from our house so I was hardly panting when I got there. Naturally, I ran into an old golfing buddy who just had to chat for a while. We chatted for a while. And then another old, and I do mean old, golfing buddy showed up and we three chatted for a while. By that time I was out of the mood for putting. I putt 15 times, made three rather long ones, didn't have any 3-putts, and decided to call it a day. On my way home, halfway there, with my legs really starting to yell at me, the second old buddy drove by and asked me if I'd like a ride home. I agreed hastily. And that's when I decided to write you this note.

I hope all is well with you and Rick and the kids. Greet them all for me. Love, Jerry

Saturday, October 23

Puns, Football, & Movies

Some puns are punnier than other puns. There was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh . . . no pun in ten did. And Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail, and with this odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis. Let me know if you think you can top that last one.

Saturday afternoon, nothing but college football on the tube. Iowa State did a nice number on Texas. ASU looks like they're going to lose again to California. And Wisconsin is trying to pull a minor upset over Iowa. And last Thursday night I watched maybe the craziest hurry-up offense I've ever seen--Oregon with a frantic offense that could run two or three hundred plays a game. I don't know how the offensive personnel could keep everything straight or not jump offsides. But I can appreciate how awful it would be to try to defend against that bunch of swift Ducks.

I saw two movies over the weekend, Red and The Social Network. Red was a simple, simply fun movie with four oldtimers acting like bad asses: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich. But Mary-Louise Parker out distanced her four seniors, pretty much stealing the show. Go see it. You'll have fun. The Social Network was good but not a whole lot of fun. I guess most of my problem is that I don't understand this world-wide attraction to the phenomenon called "Facebook." This world of cell phones and cell phone apps and Twitters and Tweets and facebook connections is just beyond me. Technological advances are advancing just too fast for me.

Thursday, October 21

Writer's Block

Wow, I'm stuck. I've run out of topics and much as I rack my brain I can't come up with anything worth writing about. Helluva note. The day is cold and grayish, nothing worth looking at on the tube (no football or baseball, no golf, that is), and I don't much feel like exercising. I went for a walk early this morning, once around our block from our house to Keystone, then up to Conquistador, back to Flagstone, and home again. Maybe a slow mile or less and I was exhausted. These past ten months of inactivity have taken their toll. I hoped as I walked that no one was peeking out a window, seeing this old person weaving and half-stumbling down the sidewalk. My legs felt like rubber and acted like boneless sushi. I decided to divide the rest of the day with some typing, music, Deaver's Burning Wire, and napping a bit. Oh, yeah, have I mentioned that I nap a lot lately? Not on purpose, not lying on bed or sofa, just nodding off as I sit at computer or read in a chair or watch television. I'll wake up thirty minutes later and realize I've just lost another half hour of my life. I think this exhaustion may still be related to the many hours I spent in the hyperbaric chamber. Or not. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old and creaky.

Monday, October 18

November Elections and TNT

Only two more weeks before the elections. Thank goodness. We’re being inundated with attack ads on the tube. I assume the same thing is happening all over the country, and that doesn’t say anything good about any of the candidates. Instead of telling us what the candidate stands for, what he or she intends to accomplish if elected, we get all these really vicious attacks on opponents, attacks that may or may not be true. I’d like to think that the voting public is smart enough to see through the technique, but, sadly, I also know that’s not true. So, whichever candidate has the most money to run the most attack ads will probably win. If candidates would devote the time and energy to tell me why I should vote for them instead of telling me why I shouldn’t vote for their opponents, I’d give them my vote, no matter what political party or persuasion they belong to.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: TNT now and in the recent past has more really good hour-long dramas than any of the other networks, with the possible exception of Fox. Look at this string of winners: The Closer, Saving Grace, Southland, Hawthorne, Leverage, Rizolli and Isles, Dark Blue, and last, but certainly not least, Men of a Certain Age. The men are Scott Bakula, Adnre Braugher, and Ray Romano, and the three of them together create characters and story lines that are rich and complex. The three are lifelong buddies, all three of that certain age when male menopause kicks in. Ray Romano fooled me completely. I thought he’d never be able to escape his character on Everybody Loves Raymond, but in Men he portrays a man who has lost his wife and marriage because of a gambling addiction, who runs a party favor store, who is searching for a new identity in his late forties. Scott Bakula plays an aging actor with a string of lovers about half his age. And Andre Braugher is stuck in a job he doesn’t particularly like, selling cars for his father. The plots aren’t really plots at all, just character studies of these three men interacting and searching for meaning in their “certain ages.” If you haven’t seen it, you really must tune in: 11:00 p.m Mondays.

Thursday, October 14

My Way

Last Tuesday we went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra called My Way. What a great place that is. What a great show it was. This was the opening of their sixth season, the last five of which we’ve had season passes, and we love the convenience of it, the quality of the shows and dinners. No more do we have to make that horrendous trek to Gammage to see a good musical. ABT is an easy twenty minute drive to the Arrowhead Mall area: east on Bell to Chili’s (one light past the Target entrance), turn right for two blocks, and there it is, sort of right behind the Peoria Sports Complex.. Or, on 83rd going toward the Arrowhead Harkins, you could hang a left at Red Robin and follow your nose, easy to get to, easy to park.

You enter a spacious lobby, with bar to the left and ticket office and restrooms to the right. The walls hold colorful posters of past shows. You are then ushered to your assigned table. I think the seating capacity is around 400, and not a bad seat in the house. This night the stage was already set up without a curtain: a semicircular wall at the rear with floor to ceiling openings, New York skyline behind. Three circular tiers on the left led to a bandstand for grand piano, percussion, and bass. On the floor level there were tables and chairs and a bar at the rear. The back wall as we entered was done in alternating cream and pale violet. And right in the middle of stage front, a standup mike with a pale blue fedora rakishly atop. We were all set for Frank.

We arrived about an hour and a quarter before curtain (or in this case, no curtain). Our servers Macy and Steve brought us hot breadsticks and cocktails, then later took our orders: seafood bisque for Don and Jean, mesclun greens for Rosalie and me, and entrées of bistro beef tenderloin for Don and Jean, stuffed breast of chicken for Rosalie, and veal osso bucco for me. This menu is as good, as classy, as you’d find anywhere in the Valley.

And at 7:30 the show began. A cast of two couples sang a total of 57 (57! Count ‘em!) numbers from the Sinatra library. According to one bit of patter from one of the singers, Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded over 1300 songs, many of which were recorded multiple times throughout his career. Most of us grayheads know most of the best known, but some were new to us. The couples didn’t try to do a Sinatra impersonation, just sang his songs in their own styles. Act I consisted of 36 songs grouped according to topic or theme: Favorites Medley, Broadway Medley, Cities Medley, Young Love Medley, Summer Medley, Love and Marriage Medley (Part 1), and Love and Marriage Medley (Part 2). The voices were very good, the songs sung as solos, duets, or four-part harmonies.

At intermission, the house lights came up and we had coffee and desserts, each couple sharing a chocolate brulée tart. Whew! Half an hour later the lights dimmed, and Act II began, 21 songs grouped again by theme: Loser’s Medley, Big Flirt Medley, Moon Medley, and Songs for Survivors. The last number was a rousing version of “My Way,” after which we all stood to give them a standing ovation. The spokesman informed us that Frank never gave encores, but they broke with that tradition by singing “I’ll Be Seeing You.” What a great night out.

What about price, you say. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but well worth it. On the seasonal package, our tickets for show and meal are $60 apiece, plus whatever we spend on cocktails and dessert and gratuity. The whole thing comes out to about $80 apiece. I count it as the best $80 I could spend. Anyone from Sun City West reading this, if you haven’t yet been to the Arizona Broadway Theatre, you should try it. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s money and time well spent.

Oh, yes, and My Way runs through October 24, followed by 42nd Street (Oct. 29-Nov. 21), My Fair Lady (Jan. 7-Jan. 30), The Drowsy Chaperone (Mar. 4-Mar. 27), The Full Monty (Apr. 22-May 15), All Shook Up (June 3-June 26), Baby, The Musical (July 22-Aug. 14), and Steel Magnolias (Sept. 2-Sept. 25).

Tuesday, October 12

New Visitors & Pop Music

I invited a bunch of people to visit me here. I hope some of them actually do because I need an audience for my maunderings. You know, that word sounds like a combination of "wandering" and "meandring." But actually, it's a little less flattering: 1. moving or acting in a dreamy, vague, aimless way 2. talking in an incoherent, rambling way; drivel. A lot of people would say either definition suits me to a tee, especially the last one, "drivel." Well, the older I get, the more likely I'll start driveling down my chin. Enough of the word stuff. If you're new to my site, welcome. I tend to be opinionated, so I hope some of my opinions don't offend anyone. If so, then tough beans. Live with it.

If you ever want to speak to me or say something about one of my opinions, the comment box at the bottom of each entry is there for you to use. I'd welcome any comments. Today was my last day at Stardust and I think I lost a few pieces of my heart when I said goodbye to all my Tuesday friends. Wow, will I ever miss you. Life moves on.

Today, I'd like to talk about modern music. I'm talking about the stuff that now leads cd sales, you know, hip hop by people I don't want to know or to listen to, or Lady Gaga, or all the young whippersnappers that young ladies or lads scream at when they appear. I'm an avid follower of Ellen Degeneres and her afternoon show, but nearly all the new singers and groups she features simply turn me off. Okay, the rhythm is great if that's all you want or need in music. Yesterday, she had on a group called "Broken Bells" (clever name), and I guess they sounded pretty good, four guitars, a drummer, and a keyboard. But I couldn't understand a single word they were singing. I'm from the old school when a song, if it was any good at all, told me a story about mostly requited or unrequited love. The better the songwriter, the more surprising the images and rhymes. There are exceptions today, I know, but for the most part, modern songs just don't say much of anything. And I'm offended when I hear hip hop artists describe the stuff they hip hop to as "songs." They're not. At best they're doggeral verse. I need stuff by the Gershwins, Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Last week I watched a PBS special, Michael Feinstein's examination of the Great American Songbook. Was it ever good. It was all about his searching out old sheet music and old vinyl records from the past, all about his quest to preserve as much of that past as possible. It was excellent. I think the whole thing is in four parts. If you get a chance, watch any of the segments. He and I share a love of the old standards, the old sets of words and music that make up the Great American Songbook. Today's songs just don't compare. Or maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy.

Thursday, October 7

Bad Blood

I just finished John Sandford’s latest, Bad Blood, featuring “that f___in’ Flowers. It centers on an odd church group in rural Minnesota calling itself the WOS, or the World of Spirit, as opposed to the World of Law (representing virtually everything outside their church group). They believe that it’s the group’s right, its duty, to home teach all the children in all the school subjects, but also to home teach them about sexuality, as in group sex, incestuous sex, oral and anal sex. It’s a fairly disgusting concept and one that Virgil Flowers and the sheriff, Lee Coakley, spend the whole novel trying to expose.

All the while I was reading it, I had this itch somewhere at the back of my brain that I had, within the last two or three years, read a novel based on the same concept, not a religious group but a familial group, and I’d have sworn that it was one of Sandford’s Prey books. But why would Sandford have used the same plot device in two separate books? He wouldn’t have. So, where else would I have read it? I guess it will remain one of those itches that never gets scratched.

Despite the rather unsavory plot, Virgil Flowers is once again in rare form and for those who are fans of John Sandford this is a must read. One of many bits worth sharing: Early in the novel, Virgil is having breakfast at a local coffee shop. He’s talking to the owner, Bill Jacobs, about evidence found at one of the murder sites. That led to Jacobs’ comment, “I’m so goddamn horny the crack of dawn ain’t safe.” Now, that’s funny.

Wednesday, October 6

Musical Backgrounds

An odd thing occurred to me last night watching television: that too many shows, mostly the action/drama hourlies, feel it necessary to keep a musical background overriding every scene. I hadn’t noticed it until we watched, tried to watch, this week’s episode of Hawaii 50. We couldn’t understand most of the dialogue, either because of excessive background noise (car motors, city sounds, wind) or because of that intrusive musical score overlying the scenes. It was annoying enough that we abandoned the show halfway through. I know we’re both getting up there in years and our hearing probably isn’t what it once was, but I don’t want to have to strain to understand what characters are saying. That got me to thinking about other shows on the tube: How many of them also use this musical device to heighten emotion? So we watched NCIS and sure enough, there it was. Then The Good Wife, yepp, but not as intrusively as with the action dramas. Okay, I guess a musical score has always played a part in most movies, forcing an emotional response in the viewer. Remember the shrieking violins in Psycho, or the thumping theme that introduced the great white every time he showed up in Jaws? Go back a little further (actually, a bunch further) to Alfred Newman’s score for Captain from Castile in 1948, with the main theme called “Conquest.” Oh, man, the entire audience felt like jumping to its collective feet and marching along with the conquistadors. All right, musical backgrounds to movies and television dramas have a long tradition, but when they interfere with my ability to follow the dialogue, I won’t stand for it. Or listen to it.

Tuesday, October 5

Teeny, Tiny Bottles

Wife Rosalie just had both eyes done, cataracts removed, lenses implanted, a really neat bit of surgery that will allow her to see better than she’s seen in a long time. Okay, but then she’s required to put eye drops in periodically until the surgery is healed. Her doctor gave her three samples of a drop called Xibrom, an anti-inflammatory manufactured by Bausch and Lomb, Inc., to use on the first eye,.. These are teeny tiny bottles of drops, 2.5 milliliters, maybe the smallest bottles I’ve ever seen. She used them up on the first eye. No free samples for the second eye. Got the prescription filled: $137.38. Right, one teeny tiny bottle of Xibrom for $137.38. I’m pretty sure that 2.5 ml of gold wouldn’t cost that much. I can’t think of anything in that quantity that should cost that much. Not even some exotic form of happy juice, one drop of which would get you high for a week, should cost that much. How in the world can these drug companies justify that sort of cost? How can the people watch dogging such things (and surely we must have at least one bureau that’s watch dogging) allow such unconscionable prices to be charged? Is no one paying attention? Or does everyone who might do something about it just go, “Humph, not my job,” and go wandering on their way?

Friday, October 1

Potpourri

Nothing much to write about today. I know there must be all kinds of stories in the Tea Party Cup but I don’t feel like sliming my hands.

I found out in reading the Mobridge Tribune (South Dakota) that Holly Hoffman, one of the contestants in this season’s Survivor, is from Eureka, S.D. Small world. And Eureka is about as small a world as one can find. Yet here we have an attractive swim instructor who managed to get on this reality show. Another Eureka celebrity is Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today. It’s just northeast of Mobridge, a tiny burg we used to play in football, and brother Dick and I on occasion would play in a weekend tournament at their little golf course. Holly is the one who put sand in Dan’s shoes and then submerged them in the lagoon. I have no idea what that was all about, but then, neither of us has a clue about anything that happens on this show. We’ve never been a fan of Survivor, but we watched the episode in which Jimmy Johnson was given the old boot, just to see what Holly was up to. Not much. She had almost no coverage in that week’s action. We may or may not watch next week’s show. Probably not.

The Ryder Cup commenceth. Wales. Rain in huge Welsh buckets. They managed to get in about nine holes in the opening foursomes matches, but then darkness descended. So tomorrow they’re going to play everyone in foursomes and four-ball matches and be able to come to the normal sixteen points with the final twelve points in the singles on Sunday. I just don’t know why they have to play in lousy weather so often when they’re “over there.” Then there’s the time difference. If one wants to watch live action, one has to get up really early. I guess that’s why we have TiVo.

After fourteen years of working as starter at Stardust Golf Course, I’ve decided to call it a day. Actually 4028 days. That’s a long time. I remember telling Carol Fritch in my interview with her that one of my main advantages for the job was my youth. Wow. I no longer feel like I represent youth. I’ll miss all the friends I’ve made there over the years, especially the Tuesday ladies, but I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I guess that weight could be called Rose Putz. In her four-year tenure as manager, she’s “managed” to make my life miserable. I’ve never met a more inflexible person in my life, nor one with as few “people” qualities. She’ll be glad to see the last of me, and I’ll certainly be glad to see the last of her.

And here’s something niece Amy sent me, and I couldn’t resist.

Monday, September 27

End of Diving

It’s been almost two weeks since I had my last session at the hyperbaric unit. I’ll miss my two friends who took care of me while I was there, Debbie and Freddie, two of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Forty times in the tube, eight weeks plus the one week I spent in the hospital. It’s been a long time since I began seeing Dr. Essary at the wound clinic, almost nine months. At the end of my last dive, he told me my wounds looked like they were on the brink of healing across the top now that they had healed up from the bottom. To my eye, they were still a long way from healing entirely. So now I’m using another different salve on the wounds, bandage changing every other day. It’s called Medihoney, a tube of honey from New Zealand that I squeeze into the wounds before binding them up. I hope this hastens the final step to healing. It’s been just too long. And more good news now that I’m done diving, my energy level is up a bit. I no longer fall asleep sitting at the computer or watching tv. Still tired more than I want to be, but that will change once I get back to walking. I even tried to golf nine holes last week, after which I was so tired I felt like just falling facedown on the turf. I say “tried” because it wasn’t a pretty sight and the score wasn’t what I’d want as a steady diet. But I didn’t roll any shots or make any really stupid mistakes. All I have to remember is to take two or three more clubs than I used to. I’ll get back to playing more regularly when the temperatures finally go down, maybe in two or three weeks.

Wednesday, September 22

A Stupid Day

Have you ever had one of those days when nearly everything that happens to you pisses you off? Well, my Tuesday was one of those days. I’m not really an irascible man, not an old grump as so many of my fellow Sun City Westers are. But from the moment I got up and went to work at Stardust to the moment when I could finally heave a sigh and get the hell out of there, everything irritated me. And early afternoon we decided to watch two shows I’d saved from Monday, the beginning of the new season.

The Event had gotten more hype than any other show of the upcoming pilots. It looked like something I’d really like. But then reality. Talk about writers trying to out-lose Lost. But at least Lost didn’t go to such lengths to confuse its audience, at least not right away. To illustrate, the opening of The Event begins in the present, with a young man (Jason Ritter) boarding a commercial airplane, but he is obviously nervous about something. And we see a black SUV racing to the airport, then somehow getting onto the runway to try to stop the plane from taking off. Flash back to eight days earlier, when the young man and his girlfriend are about to go on a cruise with her parents wishing them bon voyage. They cruise. Young man goes scuba diving without girlfriend, and when he returns to the ship he can’t find her. They have no listing for either of them on this cruise. Flash back to seven days earlier, when some unnamed killers shoot and apparently kill the girl’s parents and little sister. Flash thirteen months earlier to the president of the U.S. (Blair Underwood) speaking with his advisors, saying he must meet the 97 someones his advisors keep advising him not to see, the someones supposedly kept hidden away and incarcerated (aliens, political prisoners?). Flash forward to the plane where the young man has somehow gotten a gun aboard and is trying to get into the pilot’s cabin. Flash back thirteen months when the president is taken to a snowy Alaska where the strange 97 are being held. Flash forward to a setting on a tropical beach where the president is going to introduce the public to Sophia, the woman acting as leader of the strange 97. Suddenly the security guards get a call about an approaching airliner. They hurry the president and his guest away but stop to watch the plane from about four miles away as it seems to be heading directly at them. The wind mysteriously comes up and is rocking the trees and blowing everything around. The plane then turns into a bluish blob just before it was to crash into the beach scene. Sophia breathes to the president, “They saved us.” End of pilot. Stupid. Mondays from now on will remain uneventful for us.

Maybe the second show I’d saved would save the day. Wrong. Chase was another heavily hyped action hour starring Kelli Giddish as U.S. Marshal Annie Frost, or “Boots” to her fellow marshals. The opening scene has her giving chase to an obvious bad guy. They race through Houston, up town, down town, through a herd of bulls being driven down one of the streets (why?), through a rodeo ring as cowboys are riding broncos. She catches up with him after what seemed like ten minutes and ten miles . . . not even breaking a sweat or breathing hard. Just another day in the life of Boots. Okay, we gave The Event the whole hour to lose us; we gave Chase the opening ten minutes. Stupid. We won’t be chasing after Chase on Mondays.

Thank God, I thought, at least we have the opening of Glee. Understand, this show is one of my all-time favorites, a bit wacky, especially with Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) doing her nastiness to the Glee Club, but the music was sensational. The writers for the second season must have felt they needed to out-wacky the first season. So they introduced a huge, masculine woman as football coach, one of the Cheerios girls with a boob job, a tiny new girl from the Philippines who can sing up a storm but who threatens Rachel’s position in the Glee Club, a new male student who auditions for glee club but in a close-up scene of him and the other male members they all seem to be wearing cupiedoll lipstick (why?). Stupid. But Rachel (Lea Michel) saves the show by concluding with “What I’d Do for Love.” Oh, please, writers, don’t screw up this show.

Even the opener for NCIS was confusingly stupid. Apparently all the writers of shows either opening a new season or premiering a new show felt compelled to make them as action-filled and confusing as they could make them.

We went to bed at 9:00. I felt like I was leaving the Twilight Zone and couldn’t wait to close my eyes, hoping to get to a better day the next morning.

Monday, September 20

Two Movies

I’ve seen two movies this week, Easy A and The Town. Easy A got four and a half stars from our local reviewer and The Town got four. I think those number should have been reversed, with Easy A maybe dropping down to three and a half or even just three.

Most reviews compared Easy A to Juno, for the hip dialogue of these very cool teenagers. Not even close. Juno centered on really only one socially maladjusted teen who expressed her oh so modern views in oh so cool dialogue. It seemed like all the students in Easy A were about twenty-seven years old, physically and socially much older than students have a right to be. These were no Pretty in Pink angst-ridden kids. Not that it wasn’t a good flick, just not nearly as good as the reviews led me to expect.

Then there’s Ben Affleck’s film about Charlestown, Mass, the center of the universe for bank robbers. I didn’t think he was good enough to pull it off. I mean “written by,” “directed by,” and “starring” Ben Affleck. Well, he was. Good enough, that is. This was a very good film and will probably be one of the nominees for best picture, even though its early release will weigh against it. I just can’t remember being this impressed with a film for a long time now, the last one being The Hurt Locker, in which Jeremy Renner starred and now co-starred in this one. Go see The Town. And yeah, go see Easy A also if you were ever in love with Molly Ringwold.

Thursday, September 16

First Anniversary

I just realized that I began writing these blogs just over a year ago, September 2, 2009, to be exact. I can say that some of them are pretty good, some not so good, but all expressing some aspect of the way my mind works. One hundred and fifty-five blogs counting this one. And in all that time, all those blogs, I've gotten only a handful of comments from readers. I would like to think I have a fan base of more than four or five, but that may be the number. If I have only four or five readers, or possibly no readers, then it's a little like casting words into the wind and watching them blow away and scatter, then disappear. Or maybe like a metaphor I've used before, like speaking in a huge, empty auditorium, my words echoing faintly from that distant back wall. How depressing. So, if any of you out there would like to acknowledge your existence, you might send me a brief message on the comment form at the bottom of each blog. Just say hi if that's all you can muster. Just to let me know you're there. I'll be grateful forever.

Rosalie and I have been faithful fans of Meredith Vierra and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ever since she took over for Regis Philben some seven years ago. We've watched it go through changes in the format, some we liked, some we didn't. But we stuck with it because of Meredith, her fifty-something beauty and poise, her skill at comic banter with the contestants and the audience. And whenever she was gone and had to have a substitute for a week or so, we always felt disappointed. It was Meredith we wanted to see. This week she began her eighth season and introduced a number of changes in the format, none of which we like. She and the contestant now stand at a variously colored podium looking up to a giant screen with the questions and answers. There is no longer a clock to make the contestants answer quickly, which now means they can stretch their fifteen minutes of fame to any length they want. The biggest change, though, is the set of questions leading to that elusive million dollar payoff. Now, the questions with values up to $25,000 are shuffled, the values also shuffled. The contestant has three lifelines: ask the audience and two "skip the question." But if he chooses to skip a question, whatever money value for that question is lost. We've watched only two shows in this new format, but it seems to us that a lot less money will ever be won. And in order for a contestant to make it to the upper tier of questions, the ones begining at $100,000, he needs to answer all the preliminary questions correctly. And with only three lifelines, that seems most unlikely. If a contestant chooses to walk away with what he's accumulated, he gets half that amount. And if he misses any question, he drops to $1,000. We hate the new format, we hate that Meredith and the contestant are now standing, we hate that Meredith now looks like a clothes horse with much more makeup on, especially the maximum eye shadow she's wearing. So, after only two shows, we've decided never again to watch it. Goodbye, Millionaire, goodbye Meredith.

Wednesday, September 15

Where Do You Start?

In my last post, I wrote about a really stupid song from the past, “I Dunno Why,” as sung in my memory by Dean Martin. And now I have to talk about another song, one of the best by one of the best sets of lyricists who ever tinkled a piano. The song is “Where Do You Start?” with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. I’ve always thought their “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” is the best set of lyrics ever written, but these two have a track record for songs that few if any writers ever achieved, with the possible exception of George and Ira Gershwin, really Ira since he wrote the lyrics of all those great songs.

I first heard Michael Feinstein sing “Where Do You Start?” on one of the talk shows maybe ten years ago, and felt the sorrow of the words as he sang them. It’s the story of two people who have lived together, loved, and then for some unstated reason decided to end it. The listener gets the impression it was a decision made by the other partner and not the singer. And like all the Bergman songs, this one is near perfect in the choice of cadences and images and rhymes: “Where do you start? How do you separate the present from the past? How do you deal with all the things you thought would last, that didn’t last? With bits of memories scattered here and there, I look around and don’t know where to start. Which books are yours, which tapes and dreams belong to you and which are mine? Our lives are tangled like the branches of a vine that intertwine. So many habits that we’ll have to break and yesterdays we’ll have to take apart. One day there’ll be a song or something in the air again, to catch me by surprise and you’ll be there again, a moment in what might have been. Where do you start? Do you allow yourself a little time to cry? Or do you close your eyes and kiss it all goodbye. I guess you try. And though I don’t know where and don’t know when I’ll find myself in love again, I promise there will always be a little place no one will see, a tiny part deep in my heart that stays in love with you.”

Since my original Feinstein encounter, I’ve come to own seven more versions of the song—Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Maureen McGovern, Susannah McCorkle, Trish Hatley, Sophie Milman, and probably the best by Barbra Streisand—all of whom sound like their hearts are breaking as they sing the last word and the song subsides.

Anyone who might be interested in finding out more about Alan and Marilyn Bergman and the songs they wrote may go to www.alanandmarilynbergman.com.

Sunday, September 12

Dumb Song & Sunday Sports

Last night, in that half-sleep dream state we all know, I started singing in my head a truly dumb song, “I Dunno Why I Love Ya Like I Do.” I dunno why it popped into my head. Or maybe it was because last week we watched a half-hour infomercial about the old Dean Martin musical variety show, and it was one of the songs he sang. I call it a dumb song because it’s so simple it never should have found any success or have been sung by anyone, let alone Dean Martin. It’s written in a standard A-A-B-A form, but each part is only four bars instead of eight, making it a sixteen-bar song. With these really dumb, repetitive lyrics: “I dunno why I love ya like I do, I dunno why, I just do. I dunno why ya thrill me like ya do, I dunno why, ya just do. You never seem to want my romancin,’ the only time ya hold me is when we’re dancin’. I dunno why I love ya like I do. I dunno why, I just do.” Dumb.

It’s Sunday and a golf and football day. I’m presently watching the playoffs in Chicago with half an eye. Half because Tiger is just going through the motions, way out of making it into the finals next week. Oh well, maybe next year. And the other half an eye is on the two early football games, just biding my time till the Cardinals/Rams game comes on at 1:00. Nearly all of the prognosticators are saying the 49ers will win the western division of the NFC, assuming that the loss of Kurt Warner and Anquin Boldin will be devastating for the Cardinals. That’s just dumb. I’m predicting the Cardinals will go 10-6 this year and easily repeat as the western division champions. Write that down.

Monday, September 6

Scattered Thoughts

Anne Thompson, the woman I thought would go away, hasn’t gone away. It seems like every night we have to see her standing on the bow of that same boat in the water off New Orleans, talking about either the BP mess and the failed safety cap or another hurricane or how New Orleans is getting along five years after Katrina. Enough already.

Several weeks ago I saw on CNN a story about the Saudi judge who sentenced a man who had paralyzed another man to have his spinal cord surgically severed. When exactly are those people in the Middle East going to come out of the 19th century and join the rest of the world in the 21st? And Brian Williams, on the NBC Nightly News, spoke of the Chilean miners who need to have no more than a 35 inch waist to make it up the rescue hole. And that the national average in the U.S. for men is 40 inches, women 37 inches. How is that possible?

Ben Quayle, Dan’s son, is now running for a congressional seat in Arizona with the campaign statement, “Barack Obama is the worst president in the history of the United States.” To paraphrase someone I read in Time a week ago, “That nut hasn’t fallen far from the tree.” Someone should ask him how he spells the plural of “potato.”

And finally, I must confess that I’m sick and tired of getting e-mails telling me that Barack Obama is a muslim, or that he wasn’t born a U.S. citizen. How stupid can 25% of our population be?

Friday, September 3

English Oddities

I love the English language. I love our words, their convolutions and quirkiness, their interesting edges, like jigsaw pieces. Foreigners must go crazy trying to sort out some of our really odd words. I love the way our language borrows from other languages, from all other languages, bringing words in and then shaping them to our needs. Sometimes, through ignorance, shaping them erroneously. The best example I can think of to show this is my old bugaboo about forte and forte. The first, pronounced “for-TAY,” is an adjective or adverb, from Italian, and is restricted to music, telling the musician to play it or sing it “loud.” The second, pronounced “fort,” is a noun from Old French to Middle English and basically means “strength” and by extension means something a person does particularly well. Curiously enough, it can also mean the strong point of a sword, from the hilt to the middle. And the counter word is foible, or weakness, specifically the weak point of a sword, from the middle to the tip. Note the similarity to “feeble” or weak. But to the point (not the foible), too many of our television sportscasters or news analysts now invariably speak of a person’s particular strength as his for-TAY. I just hate when that happens. We will soon lose the wonderful color and connotation of the two words, their histories coming from two different languages as we blend, even in error, these words into our language.

Two other similar words that cause confusion are discomfort and discomfit. We’re all fairly sure of our use of discomfort, usually as a noun meaning “unease” or “distress.” Discomfit causes us discomfort and we avoid it like the plague. Here it comes: it’s always a verb meaning to frustrate plans or outcomes, to thwart, to make uneasy or to confuse. And as you can see, if you discomfit someone, you’re going to cause them to feel discomfort.

Had enough? Nah. Let’s try torturous and tortuous. The more common one, torturous, is an adjective that means “full of pain or anguish.” And tortuous is an adjective that means “full of twists or turns, crooked, devious, deceitful, or tricky.”

Two sets of words that are often misused, mainly because one is real and one is false, not even a word. George W. is the most prominent guilty party, the one who most loved to talk about nucular weapons (no such word) instead of nuclear weapons (all too real). He should have known better, which must say something about either his ignorance or his stubbornness. Then there’s memento and momento. A memento is related to memory, a thing that serves as a reminder or warning, or, more commonly, a souvenir. But consider this Latin phrase: memento mori, any reminder of death. The common mistake is to think this word is momento (no such word). Misusers must first think of something that’s momentous (which is a word), or very important, and go on to a thing that must be important, or a momento (still, no such word).

On a different tack, look at see and watch. We all tend to "watch" television and go to "see" a movie. We don’t see television nor do we watch a movie, at least not in a theater. We might, though, watch a movie on television. Now notice the slipperiness of “We saw an approaching storm” and “We watched an approaching storm.” Which one is one single moment in time and which one implies time passing?

Those poor people trying to learn the vagaries of English. Let them consider our many different meanings of up and down. Let them try to get a handle on got.

Monday, August 30

Old Movies

Today was my 28th session at the hyperbaric unit, with nine to go. I can hardly wait. The sessions aren’t any hardship, just time-consuming. And I find that every time I get out of one, I’m exhausted to such an extent that all I want to do is close my eyes and go sleepyby. On weekends, when I have two days off, by Sunday evening I feel much better, more energized. I’m hoping that when I finally finish all the sessions, I’ll feel much better, much stronger, much less exhausted.

One of the positives of these two-hour sessions in the tube is the movies. The first session I didn’t watch anything and what a mistake that was. And three of them were taken up with the mini-series Lonesome Dove. That leaves twenty-four for movies, most of which I had seen before, a few for the first time. One of the not-seen was Wall Street, with Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the truly nasty manipulator of stocks and corporations and people. Douglas makes a much better villain than a hero. In looking back at his career, I remember his comedic roles when he was much younger: Romancing the Stone and War of the Roses, and his role with Karl Malden in the tv series The Streets of San Francisco, all positive portrayals. But now that he’s much older, that smile of his is frighteningly evil. And evil he was in Wall Street and will be again in the soon-to-be-released Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Some actors seem destined to play good guys, seldom bad guys. Denzel Washington and George Clooney, for example, are just better as heroes than villains. I understand that Clooney in The American is a bad guy. I bet I’ll still root for him.

And today I watched Dead Man Walking with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. I thought I’d seen it when it came out in 1995 but soon discovered I hadn’t. What a powerful movie. Sarandon won the best actress award for her role as Sister Helen Prejean and Sean Penn was nominated for best actor. The movie was almost a two-person tour de force with nearly all scenes close-ups of Sarandon and Penn interacting. I’ve admired Susan Sarandon from way back when she played Ailie Calhoun in a made-for-tv movie called F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Last of the Belles.” This movie was made in 1974 and done in black and white, the outer story about Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda after they’d returned from Europe in 1919. Fitzgerald was nearly broke from too much living the high life and had to write a story for the Saturday Evening Post. The inner story is what he wrote in one long night, “The Last of the Belles.” The movie didn’t get much critical acclaim, but I thought it was wonderful, and a wonderful tool for me to use in my classrooms when I taught a unit on Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. Richard Chamberlain played Fitzgerald and Blythe Danner played Zelda, the woman that Fitzgerald used over and over again in his stories and novels, the beautiful but self-centered women like Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby and Judy Jones in “Winter Dreams,” and Ailie Calhoun as the last of the belles. And Susan Sarandon played her to perfection.

Tomorrow I’m going to watch another movie I’ve long admired, An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant.

Friday, August 27

Texting

The national news informs me that texting is now so prevalent among our young people that it’s now believed to be as addictive as cigarettes. Whoa! That’s sounds too much like the end of well-written prose as we once knew it. What can possibly be the attraction to this two-thumbed communication? What will happen to face-to-face conversation? What will happen to writing, not just by professional journalists and novelists but by the general population? Then there’s the problem that schools must have to contend with. What to do about texting during class, during tests? I’m really glad I no longer have to deal with it. I went crazy enough when students chose to ignore my teaching by chatting or staring out a window. But if I were confronted by a classroom of people, heads down, arms and hands in motion, I’d have gone ballistic. My next question is obvious: What in the world do they have to say to each other in their texty shorthand? Are they trying to solve the world’s problems? Discussing the nature of the universe? No. Much more likely, social small talk. Hi, how ya doing? Where are you? What’re you doing? All in the text code they all use. It strikes me as somewhat similar to the time when I was a very young and dumb lad who flashlighted messages at night to my next door neighbor. But I outgrew that at an early age. Let’s hope that texting among our youth will also pass when they discover how truly simplistic it is.

Thursday, August 26

Crime in SCW

I don’t think I have a racist bone in my body, at least I hope I don’t. But here in Arizona we’re in the middle of a complicated mess regarding our Hispanic population—legal and illegal, first generation, second generation, or no generation. I know that many of the Hispanics who work in Sun City West are legal citizens of the U.S., or at least have work visas, but a good many do not.

When we first moved here in the west Valley, we felt that Sun City West was a safe haven from the rising crime around the country. That was when the population out here had not yet blossomed, when the distances between our city and the surrounding population felt like a moat of safety. We no longer feel that way. Two recent examples of the growing audacity of criminals in our midst: Two weeks ago at Ace Hardware, where Rosalie works, the woman in charge of depositing weekend receipts from the four Ace stores in the area left the store in Sun City West at noon on Monday, the deposit bag on a strap over her shoulder. As she approached her car parked near the rear of the store, a young Hispanic rushed from behind the dumpster, ripped the bag from her, and ran to a nearby car and sped away. Broad daylight. A frightening level of cojones. Three days ago, I went to The Hole-in-One restaurant for breakfast, in the center of the Sun City West business district, and noticed broken glass and a mess of coins, jelly containers, and other debris on the floor near the table where I normally sit, the space on the wall above it now absent the flat screen television set. I asked one of the waitresses what had happened and she quietly told me there’d been a breakin the night before, that both tvs had been taken as well as the cash drawer. Surely there couldn’t have been much money in the drawer and the most that could be realized from two tv sets would be minimal. Yet they’d been visited by someone who didn’t much give a damn about the brazenness of the act or the consequences of their apprehension. We have little or no police presence in our city, at best a quick communication with the sheriff via our volunteer posse. Therefore, these two acts serve as warning that more, and more violent crimes may be in our future.

Back to my opening statement about Hispanics in our community. Across from the Ace hardware store is a car wash, serviced by an almost entirely Hispanic work force. It strikes me as obvious that someone over there had noticed the Monday deliveries of money to the bank, had made note of the time and the person involved. How else to explain the robber waiting for her at noon? We also have any number of different landscapers who work on our yards, most of whom are Hispanic. How easy is it for some of them to case empty houses, to note houses that haven’t been weeded for a long time, houses with newspapers delivered but not taken in?

Once upon a time, we lived in communities where the citizens never bothered to lock their doors at night. Never in the town where I grew up, never in the village in New York where I taught. Believe me, we now have security doors both front and back that are locked at all times. Believe me, we now fear that the moat is dry and the danger is real. And the criminals’ brazenness is frightening.

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