I had an idea driving home from the mall yesterday. It involved all the people who choose to run red lights and how to prevent them. My plan would require a little more technology than we probably now have, maybe a little too much money. But hey, if we caught just a portion of those who run lights it would pay for itself. Depending on the posted speed limits at each light, the time for the yellow should be long enough for anyone driving at the top of the limit to come comfortably and safely to a stop once a yellow light comes on, thus preventing the legal argument that it would have been unsafe to brake to a stop when the yellow is spotted. If they have to go through the yellow because they were too close to stop, they should have plenty of time to make it through on all yellow. But if any part of their car is still in the “zone” when the red light comes on, they would be required to pay a fine. The zone would be marked by a laser beam set to go on with the red light. A video camera would also automatically go on at the same time to record the licenses of any who were still in the red zone. The first infraction within a one year period would cost $100, without recourse to the legal system. The second infraction would double to $200, the third to $400, the fourth to $800, the fifth to $800 and a month in jail, the sixth to a year in jail. After a year, the penalties would revert to step one. I’ll bet it wouldn’t take very long before NO one was going through any red lights.
Sunday, February 27
I looked through my journals and found this bit in 2002. And the oddity is that it was several years before I began reading the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. "I was writing in my sleep again last night. There was more to it than this, but this was so vivid I thought I should get it down: I created a transient of some kind who kept his toiletries in a glass jar, about a 12-ouncer, and in it he kept a small comb, a foldup toothbrush, a sliver of soap, and a washcloth. Now why would I dream such a thing and why would it be in writing? I mean, as I was dreaming I was putting those words down somewhere. I think lately I haven’t been sleeping very deeply and sometimes I think in a semi-sleep state and the thoughts seem to be dreams but aren’t really. I think that floating state between sleep and wakefulness is probably very creative, with the thought process even clearer than it is in an awake state. Or maybe I’m just full of crap." Back to the oddity: Jack Reacher is a transient, and he travels with very few personal possessions, one of which is a foldup toothbrush.
Tuesday, February 22
To continue the story of the mother dove, I was out on the patio and I noticed that she, the one in her little stick nest in the nearby orange tree, 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. I went in the house to get the paper and went back out on the patio. I’d only been gone a few minutes, and the babies were already gone. I missed it. I wanted to see how Mom acted when she shoved the babies out of the 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 right out of the egg but I wasn’t sure about doves. Did she give them 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.
Several weeks later, I noticed a dove sitting in the stick nest. And a male also flew up there next to her. Was it the same female going to give it another go? Or was it a new couple out looking for a place to rent? I could almost hear her saying to him, “I dunno, Harry, it just doesn’t feel right. And I just hate the drapes. I think we should keep looking.” So they did, both flying off to look at other properties.
Monday, February 21
On my way home on Bell Road some time ago, a young male Hispanic 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 an F-bomb 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 around El Mirage 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 been 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.
Sunday, February 20
Truisms to Live By: 1. Going to a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. 2. My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance. 3. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. 4. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program. 5. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks. 6. A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand. 7. Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places. 8. Opportunities always look bigger going than coming. 9. By the time you can make the ends meet, they move the ends.
I scanned a bunch of pictures into the computer, my favorite being the one of Rosalie I'd used for the cover of Match Play, the one where she's sitting on the grass at the sixth tee at Jackson Valley, waiting for the green to open up. She’s in her blue terry cloth outfit and she looks beautiful as she looks pensively to the left. I wonder where that girl went. I wonder where her husband went. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing. This scanning business is like taking a time machine back to places that no longer exist, but when I see them they seem so vividly present. I look at pictures of our old house in New York and I can almost smell the grass as I mow it. Or feel the cold of the newly fallen snow, especially as I shovel it from the back driveway. I miss it, I don’t miss it. I guess I still feel cheated that life is so brief.
Saturday, February 19
Dreams are so peculiar. I don’t know if it goes with my advancing age or it’s just typical of Arizona climate, but I dream much more here than ever before. None of the dreams are nightmarish, none spooky or anxious. Just so very vivid and detailed.
Often I have basketball dreams in which I can jump higher than I ever could in real life. The court holds some fifteen to twenty players in a hodge podge pickup game. And I get lots of rebounds and put them back in. I don’t dream about playing any better than I did when I was actually playing, like making fantastic shots from everywhere. But I can jump. I still can’t dribble, but I can jump.
Another recurring element is flying without a plane. I guess I don’t really mean flying. More like levitating. I dream that I can keep my arms at my sides and then push down really hard with my palms and slowly rise in the air, never very far up, but quite obviously levitating from six inches to four or five feet up. And it’s such a pleasant, happy feeling. I’m always surprised than other people can’t do it.
Another element involves losing track of various used cars. I dream that I have two or three cars but that I’ve parked them in bad places and they always wind up getting stolen. The other night I even lost a golf cart when I went in to shop for groceries and came back out to find it gone.
Then there are my New York City dreams, and my driving dreams on nasty country roads, and my Missouri River dreams, and my secret passages and secret rooms dreams.
I used to have dreams about the Missouri River, where I’d be going there by car or running, going there to fish or just to see what was there. They almost always involved swampy stuff and weren’t pleasant dreams.
Another recurring motif is traveling to a big city, usually New York. I’d be staying somewhere west of the city and either driving in or taking a subway. They invariably involved my finding a department store to shop for books, and then stopping in a bar or lounge. Often I’d be driving back to where I was staying and would get lost in a bad section of the city. Never on foot, just driving around trying to find my way out. There are lots of variations on that theme.
The other main dream theme has to do with golf. Most of these dreams are frustrating because of the difficulty of the courses I seem to be on—tree-thick fairways, streams and gullies in the playing area, impossible chips or putts to cups behind concrete posts or deep trenches. Sometimes I have to hit a tee shot from inside a shed and I can never seem to get it teed where I have a free swing. Rarely, I have a golf dream where I shoot a really good round. I guess the majority of my golf dreams are negative, anxious, unsuccessful.
I know my secret passage dreams stem from my youth when we used to play at a friend’s house and crawl through a panel in his upstairs bathroom and out onto the rafters near the edges of his roof line. We could crawl along the house in perfect secrecy. And in another house where you could go into a closet in one bedroom and go through a small door into the closet of the bedroom next door. The thrill of it all.
Then, of course, there are the school dreams. I’ve been having them for forty years. Sometimes they’re good dreams about teaching various lessons in amazing detail, and the students are all involved. Then there are the bad ones in which the students don’t care a whit for what I’m teaching and they’re totally insubordinate. Oh, how I hate those dreams.
Several years ago, I had a long dream about taking a final in some college course I was enrolled in, something like a history course and there were very few students in it. The teacher handed out the tests and assigned us numbers and words to put at the top of the test. Most got numbers, but I got the word “who.” The test consisted of about five essays topics and we could take it anywhere we wanted to. I went to some room down the hall and began writing. Or trying to write. I suffered the same kind of paralysis I used to have when taking a timed test and I just couldn’t seem to get started. Time was just whipping by and I had only just begun my first essay. Oh, how painful the process. Trying to get thoughts down on paper but always aware of the clock. Finally, I just gave up and went back to turn in my unfinished test, knowing I would have failed the course. What a dumb dream. But how very accurate was the feeling of being paralyzed.
In another one, I was a student and not the teacher. In this one the teacher was really attractive and sexy and even though it was a test day she kept going around the room dancing and flirting with all the males. Finally, she got around to me. She told me to touch noses with her but that I should look only at her nose and not mine. We did that and then she very lightly put her lips against mine. And very slowly it turned into a full embrace and kiss that lasted a long time, during which I became aware that she was crying. I pulled away from her and tried to console her. I had the feeling she was crying because the kiss was so beautiful, so moving, and she’d intended it to be only silly. Now that’s a really silly dream.
As Hamlet soliloquized, “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil / Must give us pause.”
Wednesday, February 16
I seem to be in the process of putting my house in order. And I wonder why. I’m at an age when thoughts of death aren’t unusual, and my health has so deteriorated in the past several years that those thoughts of death are reinforced. I’m in the process of selling most of my cd’s and books. The cd’s can go because I have all the music on my computer, and of the books, I’ll save my favorite authors and get rid of the rest. I’m cleaning out my closets of clothes and shoes I’ll never wear again, I’m putting together and binding all the years of my journal since 1982, getting them all ready for my kids to one day read . . . or not read. I’m finally resigned to the fact that I’ll never have any of my books published by a publishing company that would actually sell them, resigned to the fact that I’ll never hear any of my songs sung by anyone.
Putting my house in order.
I’ve even given a lot of thought to the way I’d like to die. Best would be the fatal heart attack or stroke, the immediate departure to avoid being a burden to Rosalie or any of our children. I fear cancer, especially if it’s a kind that allows me to linger in pain and financial distress. I especially fear dementia or Alzeimer’s because either would take away my remembering where I put the pills or why I was going to use them. When I know the time has come, if the quality of my life is no longer what I can accept or if I fear losing my mind and memory, then I have several ways to go. Pills would be the first way, but there’s always the danger of not knowing which pills or how many. The closed garage and combusting auto would be the second way, but that brings in the danger of killing someone else, like Rosalie, from the fumes seeping into the house. The third way, and probably the best way, is the drive into the desert on a hot summer day, then parking with windows closed and a.c. off. Yes, that would be the most rational and least messy way to do it. A gun to the head is out of the question because of the mess someone else, like Rosalie, would have to clean up. Or maybe if I could arrange it, I’d go like brother Dick went, drowning in a motel pool, a solitary, silent death by drowning. I’ve heard that drowning is a little like going to sleep.
Putting my house in order.
But enough morbidity for now. I still have much to do to finish putting this house in order.
Tuesday, February 15
The other night I had a hard time getting to sleep. Somewhere in my mental meandering I thought about the terms mister and misses and came up with the more accurate terms mister and mystery, followed by masculine and femi-none or femi-nun and male and fee-male. But then, even in my semi-asleep state, I was being a chauvinist pig, wasn't I?
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.”
I was thinking about a mother dove I'd once seen in our backyard. She had a nest in one of our orange trees with two babies and once when I was out there and too close 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’s knowledge passed on genetically. 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 his/her head. “Ah ha! What a good idea. I could fake it and accomplish the same thing.” And 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, he wasn’t yet up to putting 1309 and 1246 together. But that could come generations and generations later. Just as it must have with humans.
Sunday, February 13
In one of Lawrence Block's novels about Keller, the hit man, Keller was doing his usual thing, killing folks for money, but this time he revealed his off-work passion, stamp collecting. He talked quite a bit about how one becomes a collector, and then he remarked on a stamp I knew vividly from my youth: “And of course there was the Spanish set honoring Goya. One of the stamps showed his nude portrait of the Duchess of Alba. The painting had caused a stir when first displayed, and, years later, the stamp had proven every bit as stirring to a generation of young male philatelists. Keller remembered owning the stamp decades ago, and scrutinizing it through a pocket magnifier, wishing fervently that the stamp were larger and the glass stronger.”
When I was a mere lad of fourteen, and I was a budding philatelist, I purchased the stamp Keller remembered, "The Naked Maja," a painting by Goya, from one of my stamp dealers. It was a large stamp, maybe an inch and a half long and three quarters high. It was a clean stamp, never used for mailing, and the colors were vibrant. There she was, reclining on her left side on a love seat, left arm raised and resting on her head, legs demurely crossed at the ankles. And she was buck naked. Oh, how the young adrenaline pumped. She was large breasted, voluptuous, a mother earth figure to make a boy’s heart yearn. In Yiddish she would be described as zaftig (juicy, succulent, or in slang, a full-figured, shapely woman). And my mother found her in my collection and threw her away. She never said anything to me, and I was too ashamed to mention its absence, but I knew in my heart she’d tried to keep my virginal eyes clean and pure. Boy, do I wish I still had that stamp. It would probably be worth some money today. But it, along with my basketball medals, is in some never never land of throwaways.
Saturday, February 12
The golf swing is like dancing, rock back to the right leg and then rock to the left. Or maybe the old baseball image: the batter stands at the plate with his weight on his back leg; as the pitch approaches he lifts the left leg and steps into the ball, transferring almost all his weight onto that lead leg. Or maybe the bullwhip image: take the right hand back with the wrist lagging behind the arm, dragging the whip behind and then when the arm starts forward the wrist falls behind and then forward as fast as it can, and the tip of the whip simply explodes toward the target. Or the mechanical image: address the ball, then extend the club and arms straight out in front, then using only the wrists raise the club perpendicular to the ground, then, without changing the wrists in any way, raise the arms to a position behind the right ear. Voila! There it is, the position you want when you reach the peak of the backswing.
Vi Milkint, a woman I knew from Stardust golf course, came in and said to me with a little smile, “Clare died this morning at 4:53, and I came in to get a merchandise slip that he won last week.” Now, at first it didn’t register on me who she was talking about, so I just handed the slip folder to her and she pulled it out. I craned my neck to see who it was and then it hit me, it was her husband Clarence who had died. I then properly sympathized with her. But it seemed so odd that only five hours after his death she was in to get his final golf winnings, and to tell me about it so coolly and unemotionally. I guess I just can’t get used to the idea that some people I see around town, friends, golfing acquaintances, just don’t show up one day. Finis! Poof! I guess maybe that’s the way I’d like to go. Just not show up one day. Poof!
Friday, February 11
I listen to the multitudinous tracks on my computer and realize I know almost all the words to all of them. And that leads me to wonder what would have happened to me those many years ago if I’d stayed in New York and pursued the Broadway dream. I might have kept at the vocal lessons, might have finally found someone who could do something about getting any of my songs recorded, stuck with the private detective bit and learned how to tail people on the streets of New York. Would I have made the rounds of theaters trying out for some bit part? I doubt it. I was still a South Dakota bumpkin who was so out of place in the big city that I never made it up the Empire State Building or took in the glories of the Metropolitan Museum or even walked through Central Park. Never took the Brooklyn Ferry like Whitman. Just had to hurry home to South Dakota to golf and go back to school. Life is peculiar in all the possibilities and avenues we might pursue. I often think about the music I love and how much I wish I’d stayed with it in New York. Or how I regret not having learned to play the piano in my youth. I may not have ever been a great piano player/singer in some bar or lounge, but I’d have been more than adequate. Maybe in my next life.
Wednesday, February 9
For anyone who has never been to Arizona or the Southwest, let me take you on one of our trips from the Valley of the Sun north to our home state of South Dakota. For those old enough to remember, it will be a sort of Travelogue like the ones that used to precede movies in the long ago days of the Forties and Fifties.
Neither Rosalie nor I 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 extreme reservation Indian poverty 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 to Santa Fe and then east to Las Vegas, about 6500 feet above sea level. The air is delightfully cool after the temperatures near 110º in The Valley.
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 beyond you 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.
Then east away from the Rockies and into the flatlands of Kansas and Nebraska where one can go for miles and miles without encountering more than an occasional car or rusty pickup. Then north on Hwy 83 to North Platte, Nebraska, where the North and South Platte Rivers converge, across Hwy 80 and into the Sand Hills of Nebraska. If I suggested that the highways through the nation’s belly were scarcely traveled, the stretch through the Sand Hills made them look ant-hill busy. The road was nearly empty of cars, just sand hills, increasing yucca plants, and lots of sky. Then Valentine, Nebraska, and into South Dakota. About two miles this side of the SD state line we passed the Rosebud Casino. How depressing. Reservation Indians milking the occasional traveler into testing their slots.
Finally into South Dakota, land of pheasants and meadowlarks, sand pipers and crows. 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. And acres and acres of cumulous-clouded skies. As we continued north toward our destination, Mobridge, we engaged in our usual home-again car activity, counting pheasants to estimate how this year’s crop would be. Ah, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.
Monday, February 7
Thank goodness it’s over for another year, the Super Bowl, that is. The game was exciting although not particularly well played, and I’m glad the Packers came through, although I didn’t really care who won. I was rooting against the Steelers simply because of the way they stole the game two years ago from the Cardinals.
Then there’s the problem with the singing of the National Anthem and the over-hyped half-time production featuring the Black Eyed Peas. Whoa, did I ever hate Christina Aguilera’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Not just the runs and rills she insisted on putting into each and every phrase, but she didn’t even get the words right, “what so proudly we watched by the twilight’s last reaming”? And then the screech at the end. Yowee, how I hated it. I’ll bet Lea Michele wouldn’t have hoked it up that way.
The Black Eyed Peas might better have been called The Pink Eyed Lemons. I know I’m an old fart and way out of it when it comes to modern groups and singers, but I don’t think the performance by the BEP’s did the Super Bowl and its millions of viewers any favors. The dancing both on stage by the Peas and on the field by the luminescent groups was good, sort of like something you’d see at the opening of an Olympics. But the songs the Peas screamed were indecipherable to me and all of my fellow old farts. Who needs it? I think I heard the title words to the first song, “I Gotta Feeling,” but that was about all I understood. And the second one, “Boom Boom Pow” was exactly that, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
We and, I’m sure, nearly all other viewers were much happier with the commercials than with the half-time show, especially the Budweisers, the Snickers, and the Godaddy.com.
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