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

Wednesday, March 31

Tiger

One more week and we’ll see what kind of reception Tiger gets in Augusta. I think the whole world will tune in, many for the golf as we always do for this tournament, but many more just for the journalistic circus that will greet his entrance onto these hallowed grounds.

No one knows how Tiger will perform—perform in front of the media, perform on the golf course. Lots of speculation, lots of letters and articles written in support of him, lots written denigrating him as a thief, a liar, a sexual deviant. Even Vanity Fair got its view in, another of the sleazy articles concentrating on the bimbos in his life, all the details they portray as the absolute truth about his behavior in past years. I don’t know if there’s some truth to it, all truth to it, or all sensational lies about it. I don’t care. And I’d think that Vanity Fair would have had more class than to print the story. But then, NBC chose to run that other sleazy story on Dateline a month or so ago.

In one more week, I’ll be watching every Augusta moment. I’m still one of Tiger’s staunchest supporters of him as the greatest golfer ever to play the game, but also as a young man of integrity. I hope he wins another green jacket. I hope his resolve will let him win as many more majors as he has time to play over these next ten to fifteen years. I hope I live long enough to see it.

Sunday, March 28

Three Jokes

I know, I know, electronic jokes are way too plentiful these days, but these are old enough and good enough to do again. 1. (Thanks to Garrison Keillor) Ole and Lena, you know—they had twelve kids, because they lived near the train tracks, and when the midnight train came through and woke Ole up, he’d say, “Well, should we go back to sleep or what?” and Lena’d say, “What—?” Yeah, and then he run off with the waitress, but Lena, she had six more kids, because ever so often Ole would come back home to apologize. He never sent her money for the kids, though: he always wrote in the letter, “P.S. I meant to enclose money but I already sealed the envelope.”

2. Dan Quail, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton were in a car traveling cross-country. They were just crossing Kansas when a tornado formed, picked them up, whirled them up, up, up and away. The next thing they knew they were set back down again, but they all knew they were no longer in Kansas. Yes, it was Oz, because they could see the brilliant green of the Emerald City in the distance. They decided to go find the Wizard. Dan Quail said he was going to ask the Wizard for some brains. Newt Gingrich said he was going to ask the Wizard for a heart. Bill Clinton said, “Where’s Dorothy?”

3. Miss Smith, a new, enthusiastic, attractive young elementary teacher, was doing a lesson in math with her fourth graders. She told the class, “If there were five birds sitting on a fence and you threw a rock and knocked one of them off, how many would be left?” Precocious little Johnny shot his hand up and waved it around until she called on him. “There wouldn’t be any, teach.” Miss Smith shook her head and said, “Nooo, that’s not right. How did you come up with that answer, Johnny?” “If I threw a rock and knocked one bird off the fence, the other birds’d fly away.” Miss Smith nodded and said, “I guess I never thought of it that way. That may not have been the answer I was expecting, but, Johnny, I really like the way you think.” Then Johnny raised his hand again. “I got a problem for you, teach. There’s three ladies sittin’ on a park bench, all eatin’ ice cream cones. One’s lickin’ it, one’s suckin’ it, and one’s bitin’ it. Which one’s married?” “Well, I . . . I . . .” she stammered. “I guess the one that’s sucking it.” “Nahh,” Johnny said. “It’s the one with the weddin’ ring, but, teach, I really like the way you think.”

Saturday, March 27

Doves

We have a mother dove who built a stick nest in one of our small orange trees near the back patio. Doves are not the brightest fliers in the forest, and this one was no exception. The nest was only about five feet above the ground and easily seen from our patio, where we could watch her as she sat on the sticks, sort of blinking milky eyes at us, pretending she was invisible. Finally, two babies appeared, tiny fuzzy things that sat quietly whenever she would leave on a grocery run. Once when I was out there and came too close to her and her babies, she took off and gave me that injured bird bit, where she fluttered across the ground looking for all the world like really easy prey. And that led me to consider where and how that behavior got started. I know all about instinct and how it is knowledge passed on genetically, instinctively. But there would also have to be some kind of avian reasoning going on at one time or another. Sometime in the past, a dove must have seen another dove, actually injured, and doing an excellent although unwitting job of luring a predator away from her young. And the light went on over her head. “Ah ha! What a good idea. I could fake it and accomplish the same thing.” I say “her head” because daddy dove is never part of the parenting process, just a quick bang in the bushes and then off on his irresponsible male way. Back to the injury ploy, thus was born the acting job that became instinctive in the breed. But it first had to involve some reasoning. A little bird brain that could put one and one together. Granted, she wasn’t yet up to putting 1309 and 1246 together. But that could come generations and generations and a million years later. Just as it must have with humans.

A month or so later we were out on the patio with our coffee and I noticed mother dove was up and sort of giving the two little (now rather large) children a tidying up. I thought maybe this would be the day they’d take off and I wanted to see it. We went in the house for just a moment, and when I returned they were already gone. I missed it. I wanted to see how Mom acted when she shoved the babies out of her stick nest. Would she stay with them, sort of watch over them for a while? Would they be able to fly right off the bat? I know baby quail can fly immediately out of the egg but I wasn’t sure about doves. Did she give them dovey pecks on the cheeks and say goodbye? Some birds have babies that are recognizably babies trailing along after the parent—quail, robins, blackbirds, to name only a few. But some seem to be as big as adults when they leave home. Have you ever seen a baby sparrow? I think not. And the doves seem to be the same. I’ve never seen a dove that looked like a baby or adolescent having to be fed by a mother or father. One of life’s mysteries.

Saturday, March 20

Terrorists & Night Thoughts

On my way home from seeing a movie a week or so ago, a young Hispanic boy in a small green sports car kept weaving dangerously in and out of lanes, cutting in very closely and riding my bumper when he was behind me. I flipped him the bird and he gave one back and then proceeded to ride alongside me, staring at me. I stared back at a stop sign and then looked away. I should have mouthed a “fuck you” at him, but I didn’t. I should have played staredown with him, but I didn’t. I was afraid if I did he’d pull a gun and shoot me dead. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time, especially in the Phoenix area where stupid killings take place daily. He finally sped ahead of me somewhere near my turnoff and I drove home without him. But he was still in my mind. He reminded me of the kind of terror inspired by Osama bin Laden and his ilk. The violence is so random and senseless. Like being held hostage by nameless, faceless people. Like being in a room with a mad dog, knowing the damn thing is going to attack, not because you’ve done anything wrong or harmful to him, but just because it’s his nature. I really wish I’d confronted the young man and backed him down. I mean, what did I have to lose? My life, that’s what. But oh would it have felt good.

The other night I had a hard time getting to sleep. Somewhere in my mental meandering I thought about the terms mister and missus and came up with the more accurate terms mister and mystery, or possibly misses, followed by masculine and femi-none or femi-nun and male and fee-male. Another thought I had, after working on jigsaw puzzles, was that a painter could paint a landscape, have it affixed to a magnetic sheet that could be cut into jigsaw pieces, have part of the pieces magnetically attached to a framed metal plate with the other pieces on a table beneath the hanging picture. People at the gallery could try their hands at finding pieces that fit. The painting could be called “Work in Progress.” But then I realized that too many people would steal one piece so they could come back as it was being completed and go "Ah ha! I have the last piece!"

Saturday, March 13

The Hurt Locker

Now I know why The Hurt Locker was voted best film—it WAS the best film. This year seemed to have more than the normal number of really good movies. At least four of them were better than the winners in recent years: Up in the Air, Avatar, Crazy Heart, and The Hurt Locker. And though I loved Up in the Air and kept hoping it would win, I now understand why the Academy voters went for Hurt Locker.

We read about combat in Iraq, we see footage of troop movement and firefights, but none of what we read or see in the snippets of news coverage can convey the horror of this kind of war. Nearly all the wars we’ve engaged in, horrific though they may have been, were fought by troops facing the enemy, recognizing the enemy. Not so in Iraq where skirmishes take place in city streets with Iraqi citizens all around, observing, no way of knowing which are friendly, which are deadly. And the omnipresent IED’s have to be found and defused, for the safety of American troops as well as the citizens of Baghdad. The dangers are palpable as the bomb crew goes to work. And the tension in the theater as viewers watch and share in this danger is silently palpable.

Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) is a thrill-seeking member of his bomb squad, the one who dons the heavy, protective suit and goes to defuse the bombs. He is proud to tell a Colonel visiting their unit that he’s defused nearly 900 bombs. At the beginning of the movie, we’re told that war can be addictive, and Will is obviously an addict. When he rotates back to his home and wife and son, he can’t stand the normality of civilian life, and he signs up for another 365 days in Iraq, doing the only things that allow him to stare down death in the bomb suit and feel that he’s truly alive.

For anyone who wants to really know what it’s like in combat in Iraq, take a look at The Hurt Locker. You’ll be able to see it, and feel it, and taste and smell it in all its ugliness.

Thursday, March 11

Travelogue

A brief travelogue of a trip from Sun City West, Arizona, to Mobridge, South Dakota.

(June 26, 2001) Up and out by 6:00 a.m., and, oh, did the kids ever know something fishy was going on. The front drapes were open and Dusty, who hasn’t been in that window for months, was sitting there staring at us as we pulled out of the driveway. “Oh,” he seemed to be saying, “don’t abandon us. We’ll be good, we’ll be good, I promise!” But we just drove away, leaving the two of them there for the cat sitter to tend.

I took it to Flagstaff where we found a Denny’s for breakfast. Then Rosalie took over and drove just past Albuquerque. The roads were good, the car was behaving, it was just the song of the open road.

Neither of us can yet get over the beauty and diversity of Arizona. The drive up the hill to Flagstaff is a mini-tour of what the state has to offer—heat and desert of the Valley floor, then up and up to the summit before Verde Valley and then the lush vista of the valley as you sweep back down, then up again and around and around until you crest at the upper plateau with that huge view from the overlook, and miles of plateau farm and ranch land before entering the pine forests before Flagstaff with Whitney’s Peak towering over you, then east on Hwy 40 over toward the meteor strike with the Painted Desert to the north, and then the black lava beds just before leaving the state. Awesome.

Western New Mexico has a bleakness about it that I find depressing. Maybe it’s the evidence of the extreme poverty of Indian reservations, or maybe it’s simply the absence of much animal or human existence. The one bit of beauty is the multicolored layers of cliff faces and the wind-hollowed sandstone hills along the highway. Albuquerque spreads greenly before you as you cross the last slope before going down into the valley. Northern New Mexico, ah, there’s the real beauty of the state. You start climbing as you head north out of Albuquerque to Santa Fe and then east to Las Vegas, about 6500 feet above sea level. The air is delightfully cool after the temperatures near 110ยบ in the Valley of the Sun.

The high country from Las Vegas to Raton is simply beautiful—lush green pastureland with the Rockies in the western distance. You climb again into Raton and then climb some more until you hit the Colorado border where the land levels out into sweeping fields of grass to the right and the ever-encroaching Rockies to the left. We spotted Pike’s Peak about twenty miles from Colorado Springs. Only specks of snow on it, unlike several years ago when we returned by way of Wyoming and the Peak was entirely snow-capped.

North out of North Platte, Nebraska, and through the Sand Hills. The road was as empty this time as on previous trips, just sand hills, increasing yucca plants, and lots of sky. Then Valentine and a short hop to South Dakota. About two miles from the state line, we passed the Rosebud Casino. How depressing. Reservation Indians milking the occasional traveler into testing their slots.

Then into South Dakota. And along the ditches were the state fatality signs. I’d forgotten about them. The state, ever since I can remember, would put up staked signs with a red X on a white background bordered in black with a large THINK! under the X. One sign for each fatality, some accidents forever marked with a cluster of five or six signs, sort of a metal bouquet for the dead. But the South Dakota countryside looked really good, verdant green with cows everywhere. Neither Rosalie nor I had ever seen so many cows. Later, someone told us that ranchers had been buying up Montana cattle at cut rates because of a drought in that state, then bringing them to South Dakota to fatten them up before selling them at large profit. Cows and cows everywhere. But we didn’t see a single pheasant. Nary a one. An indication of either a devastating winter or a carryover from the days of DDT overuse.

Tuesday, March 9

Time and Robert B. Parker

I worked today, a really long five-hour shift. Long because it was rainy and ugly and everybody on our sheet cancelled. So no golfers and me there like the Maytag repairman. Usually, in my waning years, time seems to go by much too fast, but this day seemed endless. And there's the six-year-old Calvin, watching the clock that never seems to move. Just like me this morning.

I’m just finishing the last Robert B. Parker book . . . ever. It’s called Split Image, and it’s the last Jesse Stone that he had in his computer when he died. Parker, that is, not Jesse Stone. Oh, am I going to miss them—Parker and Jesse and Spenser and Hawk and Sunny Randall and Susan Silverman and a whole bunch of minor characters in the three series.

I’ve read the entire Spenser series twice. And now I think I have to read all the Paradise series and the Sunny Randall series again. I was never able to read any of the Spensers without envisioning Robert Urich, from that too-brief television show called Spenser, and now I’m equally stuck with Tom Sellick when I read the Jesse Stones. Tom Sellick is Jesse Stone. I hope that Tom Sellick continues to produce and star in more of the stories about Paradise and Jesse. Helen Hunt talked Parker into starting a series about a female equivalent of Spenser because she wanted to star in any movie versions. I don’t know what happened to the films that were supposed to star her as Sunny Randall. Maybe now that he’s dead, something will happen.

So here I am, reading this last one, feeling like I’m attending a funeral. It seems to be coming to some sort of completion. Sunny is back working a case in the area. She’s close to being over her ex-husband Richie, now that he’s a proud father. And Spenser swears he’s over his ex-wife Jenn. They both think they’re making progress with their shrinks—Dix for Jesse and Susan Silverman for Sunny. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll wind up in more than just Jesse’s bed, maybe in a more committed relationship. But that would only happen if Parker foresaw his death and decided to bring closure to the two series. Nah, probably not. Parker must have thought he was going to live forever, and would go on writing book after book after book.

I’m going to miss him, going to miss them all.

Sunday, March 7

Double-Dactyl, Rondelet, and Cinquain

One more little bit of poetic forms and then I’m done. These first two are called double dactyls because of the rhythm, dactylic, which goes accented and two unaccented in a three-syllable rhythm. The first line must say “higgledy-piggledy” and the second line must refer to a real person’s name. Englebert Humperdink always comes to mind when I’m searching for usable names. It must have two stanzas and lines 1, 2, and 3 consist of two feet of dactyls; line 4 gets truncated by eliminating the final two unaccented syllables. Simple, right? Okay, try your hand at one.
A Duo of Double-Dactyls

Higgledy-piggledy
Thomas A. Edison
Dreamed up the phono as
Well as the light.

Thanks to his genius e-
Lectromechanical,
We can read labels of
Records at night.
* * * * * * * * *
Higgledy-piggledy
Euclid Geometer
Pained by the asking of
“What is the use

Studying doctrines so
Axiomatical?”
Answered acutely, “Oh,
Don’t be obtuse!”

I’ll let this next one explain itself. Note the line length, the rhyme pattern, and the repeating of phrases. It’s called a Rondelet, because of the way it circles around an idea.

I never meant
For you to go. The thing you heard
I never meant
For you to hear. The night you went
Away I knew our whole absurd
Sweet world had fallen with a word
I never meant.

And finally, a Cinquain, by Clement Long.

She likes
To walk around
On Saturday afternoons
With absolutely nothing on
Her mind.

Saturday, March 6

Limericks

More on poetic forms. The limerick was always one of the forms my students could most easily identify with, nearly all of them familiar with that universal dirty limerick about the old man from Nantucket. The form is simple: five lines rhyming in an “A-A-B-B-A” pattern, lines one, two, and five having three feet of anapestic rhythm (like a galloping horse, as I used to tell my students), lines three and four only two feet. The first foot of all five lines often have only two syllables instead of three. The first line traditionally refers to some person, often starting with “There was a somebody from Blank,” or “There once was a fellow from Blank.” Limericks are characterized by humor, linguistic cleverness, and very often bawdiness. I give you some of the clean ones, leaving the dirty ones to your imagination.


A Laugh-Load of Limericks

The Limerick packs laughs anatomical,
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

I sat next the Duchess at Tea.
It was just as I feared it would be:
Her rumblings internal
Were simply infernal,
And everyone thought it was me.

There was a young lady of Lynn
Who was so uncommonly thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in.

A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”

There was a young maid who said, “Why
Can‘t I look in my ear with my eye?
If I put my mind to it,
I’m sure I can do it.
You never can tell till you try.”

There was a young woman named Bright,
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.

There was an old man from Peru
Who dreamt he was eating his shoe.
He awoke in the night
In a terrible fright,
And found it was perfectly true!

A decrepit old gas man named Peter,
While hunting around for the meter,
Touched a leak with his light.
He arose out of sight,
And, as anyone can see by reading this he also destroyed the meter.

There once was a man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
Asked why it was so
He replied, “I don’t know.
It’s just that I try to get as many syllables into the last line as ever I possibly can.”

It took me some time to agree
To appear in a film about me
And my various ex-wives
Detailing our sex lives,
But I did—and they rated it G. (John Ciardi)

An amorous M.A.
Said of Cupid, the C.D.
“From their prodigal use,
He is, I deduce,
The John Jacob A.H.”

A Lady from way down in Ga.
Became quite a notable fa.
But she faded from view
With a quaint I.O.U.
When she signed it, “Miss Lucrezia Ba.”

An amorous fellow named Sweeney
Accidentally spilled gin on his weenie.
Though it may sound uncouth,
He poured on some vermouth,
And then offered his date a martini.

Friday, March 5

Poetic Forms

One of the books I was going to give to the English Department at Dysart High School is called Patterns of Poetry, An Encyclopedia of Forms. I say, “going to give” because the teachers all told the department chair they didn’t need any more books. Okay, their loss. This book says just about everything anyone could ever want to know about the forms of traditional poetry. How could any English teacher tell me he or she doesn’t need it? They must be a different breed of teacher than those in my day. Wow, doesn’t that sound exactly like something a frustrated old English teacher might say?

”An Aeronaut to His Love” is one of the poems I loved to use to teach the sonnet form as well as to show the propensity of modern poets to try to escape the bonds of traditional forms.
"I
Through
Blue
Sky
Fly
To
You.
Why?
Sweet
Love,
Feet
Move
So
Slow."

The poem follows the rhyme pattern of the Italian sonnet: a-b-b-a a-b-b-a c-d-c-d-e-e, with an octave and a sestet, the opening eight lines stating a situation and ending with a question, with the closing six lines answering the question. But the poet has blown away the other requirement of the traditional form, the length of the lines. Tradition requires them to be ten syllables of iambic rhythm. Here, each line consists of a one-syllable word. A neat example of a modern poet’s sticking with tradition in one way, breaking free in another way.

More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 2

Pet Peeves

This might be a good place to list a few of the things that really irritate me. And, as anyone who knows me could attest, it takes a lot to irritate me, being such an even-tempered guy. Okay, I've got three that stand out. 1. People, especially old people, who refuse to return shopping carts to the cart storage areas really tick me off. I’ve seen some perfectly healthy old man or woman shove a cart in between two nearby cars and leave it there, even when all they’d have to do is walk about ten steps to a storage area. 2. Local television stations that feel it’s imperative to interrupt regular scheduling to burst in with a news bulletin also irritate me. I mean, who but the people directly involved really cares about a house burning, or the state of affairs of various forest fires, or the results of a murder trial. That sort of news (if it’s even news) can wait until the regularly scheduled news. But no, it must be talked about, and talked about, and talked about right now. And then the traveling banner tells us what we’ve just seen, that “This has been a KOBS news bulletin. Stay tuned for further developments.” And the banner floats by not once but twice. 3. Drivers, especially young drivers, who go zip zip zip across lanes to pick up maybe one car length, risking their own lives and those of all the rest of us. I just want to smash into them from the rear and see how they react. They'd probably pull out a gun and shoot me. Where oh where are the police when they’re zip zip zipping, or when they’re rushing through a red light?

There, I feel much better now.

Monday, March 1

Dreams and James Lee Burke

I wrote this about a proposed character for a story or novel: "She had a keen ear for linguistic nuance. Spanish sounded to her like birds chirping, too fast and about an octave higher than her ear could accommodate. Italian was at least on a proper level, but it always sounded so sweaty, so sexually loaded. Then there was German and Russian and all those other Slavicky languages--like someone gargling or a smoker erupting phlegm. French was the most agreeable, though always sounding a little too much like people whispering dirty words in bed, but in a pleasant tone of voice. English was really the best, though, American English, that is. People from England sounded a little too faggoty for her taste."

One of my Arizona dreams: I was teaching a small high school class, all upper level students. I was giving a test in poetry and they were all busy doing it. One of the poems on the test was by Han Su, called “The Question”: “We declined the invitation of the day-- / Instead we spent / Three nights together, / Watching stars and moonshine, / Searching for an answer.” One boy finished his test early and handed it in. Then the bell rang and I told the students to each bring in one favorite poem for the next class. They left and then I noticed that none had handed in the test. End of dream. An odd dream, especially the exactness of the poem by Han Su. Now, as far as I know there is no such person, and the poem was written by my sleeping mind.

James Lee Burke is an eminently quotable author. Here his continuing character, Dave Robicheaux, talks about memory and time and the past: “I reflected upon the ambiguous importance of the past in our lives. In order to free ourselves from it, I thought, we treat it as a decaying memory. At the same time, it’s the only measure of identity we have. There is no mystery to the self; we are what we do and where we have been. So we have to resurrect the past constantly, erect monuments to it, and keep it alive in order to remember who we are.” Isn’t that nice?

More Burke: “I’ve often subscribed to the notion that perhaps history is not sequential; that all people, from all of history, live out their lives simultaneously, in different dimensions perhaps, occupying the same pieces of geography, unseen by one another, as if we are all part of one spiritual conception.”
Now, that's a really interesting concept.

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