I’ve written about this before, but it’s time to do it again. With the exponential rush of technology, especially as it relates to acquiring information from above, I see the demise of all hard copy magazines and newspapers within a year, two at the most. We’re right on the cusp of being able to tap into those beams from earth to satellites to us without any hard lines. Already, there is something called Slingbox that allows us to watch our own television, both live as well as dvr-saved, on a cell phone, i-Phone, i-Pod, i-Pad, notebook, laptop, computer, and probably soon even on e-readers. If we’re that close to wireless communication, then why not newspapers and magazines sent via the same means? And the next generation of e-readers will probably be able to download any books, new or old, directly to us, which will then lead to the end of hard copy books. As for how we’ll pay for all this, I don’t know. But I’m sure something will be worked out. A little scary, but still interesting.
Tuesday, August 30
I’ve just seen two totally unpretentious movies, both delightful, both not trying to do more than the stories called for: Win Win with Paul Giamatti and Our Idiot Brother, with Paul Rudd. Both films were quietly funny in telling quiet stories about semi-loser males who quietly win in the end.
Paul Giamatti plays a not so successful lawyer who also serves as an assistant coach of the local high school wrestling team, a team that, like him, can’t seem to do anything right. Then a young man shows up on one of his client’s doorstep. Leo, the client, is an aging man in the first stages of dementia. All Leo wants to do is go home, but when Mike (Giamatti) finds out that he could get $1500 a month for taking charge of Leo, instead of letting him go home, he puts him in assisted living. The young man, Kyle, is Leo’s grandson, and has run away from a mother who doesn’t want him. Mike takes the boy to his house, where he lets him stay until they can find his mother to take him back. But the boy refuses to return. The mother, played by Margo Martindale (Rose, from Two-and-a-Half Men, one of my all time favorite characters) wants only Leo’s $1500 a month, but not Leo. Mike enrolls Kyle in the high school and soon discovers that the boy had taken second in his weight class in California wrestling. He gets him on the team and the team responds to his leadership and begins to win a few matches. The story unfolds with no surprises but with a stellar performance by Giamatti.
Paul Rudd, in Our Idiot Brother, is about as idiotic as a fox. He’s a man completely without guile, one who, as one of the sisters says, loves unconditionally. And the object of his love is Willie Nelson, a dog who is kept by his ex-live-in who owns an organic vegetable farm. Stumbling from one inadvertent mess to another, Ned (Rudd) manages to fix most of the problems his sisters have, and in the end seems to have fixed his own, making and selling homemade candles. He says to his co-candler Bert (the new boyfriend of Ned’s ex), “There’s no such thing as an ugly homemade candle.” There are a good many laughable lines, exemplified by what Ned says to his parole officer as he explains how his life is going: “I even smoked a joint with my buddy.” Omar, the parole officer says, throwing up his hands, “I didn’t hear what you just said.” So Ned says it again. Zooey Deschanel, one of the sisters, was the female lead in (500) Days of Summer, a film with an ending that echoes the ending to Our Idiot Brother, when Ned meets a woman and her dog, a dog felicitously named Dolly Parton.
I think these two movies are exactly what the title of the Giamatti film suggests, a win and a win.
Saturday, August 27
Now I know why they call them "the dog days of August." Even a dog couldn't exist in this heat. I wonder how the coyotes do it. We've set a new record for average highs in August, and I and everyone else are sick of it. I even had to extra water my fruit trees, which were all looking a bit droopy eared.
We went to see The Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thought it was accurately reviewed, about a B. I remember a few things about the original made in 1968, Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, and Kim Hunter. I remember the space ship crashing inro a lake and the three survivors escaping to trudge across a desert landscape to an oasis city run by a species of apes, with humans serving as mute slaves. Then, the last scene, when Heston has made it to the edge of an ocean, only to curse mankind when he sees what tells him of the near destruction of the planet, a half submerged Statue of Liberty, nearly ruined.
The viewer then realizes along with Heston, that the planet they'd crashed onto was really earth after an apocalyptic nuclear war. The Rise is a prequel to that original film, explaining how the apes came to rule the planet. Most of the movie was well done, but some of the destruction scenes involving the apes and chimps swinging all over the place on the Golden Gate Bridge was a bit silly. I only wish the original stars were alive and had taken bit parts in this 2011 film. That would have made a nice bookend to the series.
Arggh! Now there's a kiss to build a dream on.
Thursday, August 25
Still thinking about growing up in the 30's and 40's in a dusty, prairie village in South Dakota. I thought about the luncheon meals my mother used to feed me. She was no gourmet cook but I enjoyed a few of the things she fed me. She would melt American cheese and then pour it over saltine crackers. Sounds like an odd lunch, but I remember enjoying it. Another of her and my favorites was creamed tuna over Chinese noodles. Amazing how many meals can be constructed by starting with a cream sauce--tuna, chicken, hard boiled eggs, minced ham, diced bologna. Another was a plate of white rice with butter, sugar, and cinnamon sprinkled on top. I remember the required meal whenever any of us got sick, milk toast, heated milk with butter poured over a couple slices of toast. My father even ate it when he was healthy, also chunks of bread in a glass of milk. Rosalie remembered eating sugar sandwiches and mayonnaise sandwiches. I think I've had sugar sandwiches but not the mayonnaise. And while I'm reminiscing about being sick, I remember the swabbing of the chest with Vicks Vaporub, the sleeping in a sheet tent with a vaporizer going all night, the doses of Castoria, the occasional doses of castor oil (yuck!). Ah, yes, those were the days. I'm sure no matter what our ages, we can all still recall that unique smell of Vicks.
Wednesday, August 24
South Dakota Magazine has finally reviewed Prairie View in their coming September/October issue. I first asked them to do it seven years ago with no response from them. And then I asked again in July of 2010, and again in November of 2010, each time sending them a copy of my book. Never a response from them, and now it’s there. I’m happy that it finally happened, but I still can’t understand the nearly total disregard of my request. It just doesn’t seem like a good way to run a magazine. Then again, maybe they are inundated with such requests. Anyway, I made a copy of it and here it is.
And now I’m happy enough that I want to share a story I wrote over a decade ago, a fictional account of a story about my Uncle Ray Travis, who spent some of his youth in Montana early in the Twentieth Century working as a cowboy. I researched life there and then, and am happy with what I came up with. What do you think?
Cold. God, he couldn’t remember ever before being this cold, never ever in his life. Only one day and he was already beginning to regret his decision. His jaw was numb from the cold and his shoulders ached from hunching against it. The wind was blowing out of the northwest, sweeping snow under the brim of his hat, the beautiful new Montana peak he’d bought just two days before. It swept in, no matter how he tucked his chin or turned away from the blast, blinding him and taking his breath away.
Hell, it was April. It wasn’t supposed to be doing this in April.
His name was Ray Turner, seventeen on his last birthday, and he was bone weary from his first day working the line, his first day of fence duty. No one had told him what a pain in the butt working the fence would be. Where was the glamour? The lariat on the straying calf, the long gallop over the plain to turn the errant steer, the fact-to-face encounter (oh god yes, the encounter) with some angry Sioux warrior come to plague the herd? Where the hell was the romance?
He and Curly were walking their horses back through the snow toward the line shack where they’d stowed their gear after riding out from the main ranch. That morning the Montana sunrise had been beautiful, the prairie grass glistening with dew in the slanting sunlight, nearly blinding him as it glanced off the ground. April in Montana, the huge sky above, the buttes in dark silhouette against the western horizon, the rounded hills leading down to the Yellowstone. What more could a young man ask for?
Well, how about some glamour? A little romance? He knew they were there somewhere.
But first the reality of a long day riding the fence, re-stapling sagging wire, straightening posts, re-attaching supports to the “deadmen.” Curly had thus identified for him the glacial boulders to which the tension wires were strung. By noon his fingers were numb from too many misdirected blows, his hands bloody from handling, mishandling, the barbed wire. By three his back was screaming from all the bending, lifting, pulling—using muscles he hadn’t used before, at least not in the way he was using them then.
And now the reality of a late spring blizzard as only Montana could know it, the Canadian low sweeping out of the north to turn the blush of April back to January scowl.
So much for glamour and romance.
With visibility near zero, they were following the fence back to the line shack. Finally, topping one last rise, there it was, barely visible below them. The slope leading down to the Yellowstone was irregular, with low hills and hollows north and south along the river, and the line shack was built into the side of one such hollow.
It was a sorry affair the color of Montana mud, almost indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape. The back wall and half the two side walls were earthen with cottonwood poles for the front, sides, and roof, the roof then covered with cowhides and sod. But it looked like a palace to the boy. They dismounted at the shed on the north side, unsaddled their horses and turned them into the fenced enclosure. Then they hauled their gear into the shack.
The line shack was primitive in construction, but it had everything they would need while they were there on fence patrol. One room facing east, fifteen feet square with a plank floor, a window in each side wall, and a door that opened outward and was covered with cowhide to keep out the drafts. There was a pot-belly stove in the middle of the room with a wooden table and four chairs in the south half, then two sets of bunk beds along the north wall with the window in between. Near the door, hanging from a nail, was a water bag, and hanging from nails in the south wall were the sacks of provisions they’d brought with them.
Curly lit the lamps and turned to Ray. “Chips outside,” he said pointing north. Curly was not one to waste words.
Ray came back with an armload of cow chips, deposited them, the put some in the stove. On the chips Curly poured oil from one of the lamps and then dropped in a match. Soon the room was warmer as well as smokier, most of the smoke going up the stovepipe, but not all. And the air was pungent with the mixed aromas of coal oil, steaming saddle blankets, and burning cow chips. Ray didn’t care. He could hear the wind outside but he no longer felt its cutting edge, and the odors were a small price to pay for being warm again.
Curly took off his coat and hat and placed them on one of the upper bunks along the north wall. His head, shining dully in the lamplight, gave the lie to his name. Ray assumed he’d acquired it years before, in the days of his youth and curly locks. Or maybe it was the same mentality that called circus elephants Tiny. Using that logic, the boy thought, Curly should be Gabby. Curly McCoy, Ray guessed, was somewhere in this late forties or early fifties, one of the old-timers in Montana cattle ranching, and a man from whom Ray could learn much. And even though Curly seemed a bit slow with anything other than cows, horses, and fences. Ray could learn by example rather than word. Could learn from him, that is, if Ray was going to continue to pursue his career as a cowboy. After today, he wasn’t as sure of that as he’d been the day before.
He followed Curly’s move, putting his coat on the other bunk, then carefully placing the new hat on top. He’d paid too much for it, he knew, about half a month’s wages he hadn’t yet earned. But it was worth it. He loved the way he looked in it when he stood before the bureau mirror in his hotel room in Miles City where he’d bought it just after signing with the Bow and Arrow. It had taken too much of his meager savings but he didn’t care. No self-respecting cowpoke would be without a proper hat. And that raggedy old cap he’d worn there from home just wouldn’t do.
“You scrounge up some grub ‘n I’ll go tend the horses, Curly instructed, putting his coat and hat on again.
In the gunnysacks they had provisions for a week: four loaves of bread, coffee, a half-gallon of baked beans, potatoes, carrots, onions, a slab of bacon, a ham, and two chickens. Though Ray had never before done any kind of cooking, he’d watched his mother do it often enough at the Ismay Hotel to believe he could pull it off. After all, a stew’s a stew. How tough could it be? He’d show Curly he was no greenhorn. At least not when it came to cooking.
He found a kettle big enough for more stew than the two of them would need, rinsed out the dust, filled it halfway with water from the water bag, and set it on top of the stove.
That morning, at Curly’s instructions—Curly wordlessly handed him the bag and pointed—Ray had gone down to the river, filled the bag, brought it back and hung it on the wall to be ready for them when they returned that evening.
He got out three potatoes, a half dozen carrots, and an onion. With his jackknife he peeled the potatoes and carrots, then cut them in chunks and dropped them in the water, which was by this time beginning to steam. Next the onion, in generous slabs. He took out one of the chickens from the other sack. It was already plucked and gutted so all he had to do was cut it up and put it in with the vegetables. Legs, thighs, wings, then the carcass in four chunks.
It was all bubbling nicely by the time Curly came back. He sniffed once and nodded. Ray took that to mean it smelled good. Curly brushed snow from his shoulders and beat his hat on an arm. “Nasty un,” he said. “Probly no work tomorrow.” He put coat and hat on the bunk, then sat in a chair with a long sigh. Then, “Thet’s probly okay with you, huh, Ray?” he said, smiling, already knowing Ray’s answer.
Ray assured him it would be better than okay—would Curly believe great, wonderful, heavenly? Even being cooped up for a day or two with Curly, no great conversationalist, beat having to go out to work the fence again. They sat with legs outstretched toward the stove and waited for the chicken to get done.
When Ray awakened, at first he didn’t know where he was, thinking he was back in Ismay still dreaming of being a cowboy. Then he remembered, and looked to see if Curly was laughing at him for falling asleep, like some kid exhausted from men’s work. He was relieved to see Curly slumped in his chair, hands folded over his belly, chin tucked in his chest, snoring vigorously. He looked older now in the lamplight, his features sleep-loose with deep creases in chin and cheeks, lines raying out from eyes that had squinted for too many years into too many Montana suns, his forehead and scalp a smooth white contrast to the heavily weathered face. Then Ray noticed the jagged flesh bunched and puckered from just above the left eye and running across the temple to a point above his ear. When Curly was a young man just learning the trade, he’d been bucked off a frisky mustang and then kicked into a three-day coma. Some of the Bow and Arrow cowboys unkindly suggested that was the reason Curly said so little: the kick had addled his brain and he just didn’t know what to say. But Ray hadn’t been around long enough to have heard the story of the mustang and the kick. Sometime, he promised himself, when he knew Curly better, he would ask him about the scar.
He got up to check the stew. He spooned out a potato chunk, blew on it, and popped it in his mouth. Oh yes, just like his mother’s—no, he decided, better than his mother’s.
He gently shook Curly awake, and they scooped out stew in their cups and ate together in silence. The vegetables were delicious, the chicken the best Ray had ever tasted. They ate it all, sopping up even the last drops with chunks of bread.
“Oooooeee,” Curly cooed contentedly, “mighty fine, boy. I cain’t remember any better.” For Curly, that was a speech, and Ray glowed with the praise.
Curly took out a sack of tobacco and a paper and rolled a smoke, licking the edge, twisting the ends and lighting it, then blowing out a stream of smoke. He extended the bag to Ray, who declined, not so much because he wouldn’t have liked to try it, but because he was certain he’d never be able to get the tobacco in the paper without scattering it all over the shack. While Curly smoked, Ray cleaned the pot out with some water and then hung it on a nail by the vegetable sack.
Just then, even over the moaning wind, they heard the sound of an approaching rider, then a horse’s snort and an answering whinny from one of the horses in the corral. Curly got up and went to the north window. He shrugged and sat down again.
“What is it, Curly? Who’s out there?” Ray asked.
“Too dark,” Curly answered.
Moments later the door opened and a man entered in a swirl of snow and wind, saddle in one hand, bridle and blanket over his arm. He pulled the door shut, threw his gear down in the corner, took off his hat and slapped it against a leg.
“Howdy do, boys,” he said. “We got us a good un out there.” He took off his coat and put it and his hat on a bunk. Then he pulled a chair up to the stove, holding his hands out and rubbing them together. “Nice to hear yer sweet voice again, Curly. Who’s this young feller? Don’t believe we met before. Name’s Bob Atkins, Texas Bob to my friends. So what’ll it be, young feller—Bob Atkins or Texas Bob?” Curly snorted his amusement.
Ray wasn’t sure who the man was or why he was there or how he should respond to him. “I’m Ray, Ray Turner,” he said, extending his hand. “I signed on just a couple days ago.” The man took his hand and they shook. “You work for the Bow and Arrow, Bob?” Ray asked. “Texas Bob,” he corrected himself.
“Me ‘n Curly been workin’ fer the Bow fer more years’n I’d keer to say. How many now, Curly? Gotta be . . . damn near thirty. Right, Curly? Just nod, Curly. I know how it pains ya to open yer mouth.”
“I was out checkin’ fence to the north, ‘n when the damn storm blew up. I figgered to come here ‘n spend the night with you boys. This un looks like that blue norther we had in, what, ’92, right, Curly? You ‘member that un, Curl?”
Curly was in the middle of rolling a cigarette, but he nodded as he licked the paper shut. He remembered. He wasn’t simple, after all. He knew what the others said about him, but he chose to ignore them.
“So, Ray, how’s ol’ Curly been treatin’ ya? He talkin’ yer ears raggedy?” He laughed. Then he frowned, having thought of something else. “Ya like ridin’ fence?”
Before Ray could respond, he went on. “Gol dern bob wire anyways. Curly ‘n me remember the days when this country was open—no fences, just God ‘n buffla grass ‘n cows ‘n open range.” He produced a corncob pipe and a pouch of tobacco and proceeded to fill it, tamp the tobacco in, and light it, puffing mightily with blue smoke billowing around him. He sighed when he got it going to his satisfaction, and slumped in his chair remembering the old days, the good days.
Ray considered him in the yellow light from the oil lamps. He was about the same age as Curly, medium height, but lean and tough as old cowhide. His hair was black streaked with gray, and his cheeks and chin were black with a day’s growth of beard. Another one he could learn from, he decided. And this one loved to talk.
“You boys already et, I spose. Yeah, I was afeared I’d get here too late. Well, I kin always rustle up somethin’ in a bit.” He punched down the tobacco with a blunt thumb, then struck a match and sucked the flame down into the pipe bowl.
“How old er ya, Ray? Look a little green to me.”
Before Ray could tell him he was twenty-one and no greenhorn, Bob went on.
“But then I ‘member Luke Sweetman, outta Texas, back in ’86. He’s only eighteen on the big spring roundup that year ‘n he’s headin’ up one of the big outfits in District Eight, Circle Dot, it was. Or mebbe N-Bar-N. I dunno. Which was it, Curly? You ‘member?”
“Yeah, well anyways, don’t much matter how old ya are, long’s ya know what yer doin’.”
The fire in the stove was down, so Ray added several more chips. He was happy to be sitting there, listening to the talk, even though only one of them was doing any talking.
“Them were the days, all right,” Texas Bob went on. “I ‘member when the XIT drove herds all the way from Texas to Montana range. Now we got ‘steaders all over the dern place. Everthin’s fenced now. Short-horn Herefords now ‘steada them mean-eyed, stringy, pisshead longhorns. Probly short-peckered men ‘n boys now too.” He looked at Ray and smiled. Curly was nodding off by the fire, Bob’s patter like an old, often-heard serenade. Texas Bob got up and stretched. “I’m gonna find me some grub ‘fore I hit the sack. What’s left over here?’
He went to the south wall to the provisions. When he saw the pot hanging nearby, he turned to the others and said with hands on hips, “Gol dernit, Curly! What in sam hill’s the pisspot doin’ hangin’ over here?”
Ray never cooked chicken after that. Ray never ate chicken after that.
Tuesday, August 23
Last night, after one of my nightly feedings of Dusty, I lay in bed thinking about my early years in grade school, thinking about the war and what was required of us in those awful four years. I remember the U. S. savings stamps we all bought, one stamp at a time. One dime got us a stamp that we dutifully pasted into a little book, which, when filled with $18.75 worth of stamps, could be saved for a number of years till it matured and was worth $25. I wonder how many $25 savings bonds people in Mobridge had. And the silhouettes of enemy planes we had to look at and memorize in case we ever saw one. Here we were in the American hinterland and someone higher up thought we should all be able to recognize German Luftwaffe bombers or Japanese kamikazes. And the entire town regularly had to go into a blackout mode at night, not a single light showing anywhere, nothing to draw those enemy planes to our little village. Then there was the rationing. I remember that gasoline, coffee, sugar, meat, and tires were rationed, but I had to look up what those limits were. For example, an A automobile, nearly all cars then, was designated as nonessential to the war effort and was allowed four gallons a week; a B, deemed to be essential to the war effort(doctors, for example), was allowed eight gallons. Toilet paper wasn’t rationed but was in short supply. My family was luckier than most because to my father’s grocery store, oranges were delivered in crates, each orange wrapped in a small, flimsy sheet of orange paper which we used for toilet paper. I remember a federal food program that gave each grade school student either an orange or an apple at regular intervals, probably once a week. There was then the propaganda, theirs against us, ours against the hated triumvirate—Germany, Japan, and Italy; the “News of the Day” segments before each movie, informing us of the war’s progress; the sayings we all knew about proper wartime behavior, “Don’t talk about the war; even the walls have ears.” Those are my only memories of what it was like as a child to live from 1941 to 1945.
Sunday, August 21
Dreams. So strange lately. I was walking to an honorarium for my buddy, who was going to read from his soon-to-be published volume of poetry. He and I were in a college program in the fine arts, and I was writing a novel. But I was in the depths of a writer’s block and felt really guilty about it. With me was a tall young lady, quite pregnant. Pregnant not by me but by some absent dream character. She asked me what I thought of my buddy’s poetry and I told her I thought some of it was too lightweight. Then I quoted a tiny one I remembered, called “Golf with Hemingway” : Me . . . You . . . Away. I told her I was still not sure how I felt about free verse, and I quoted Frost’s statement, aimed at Sandberg, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.” We enter the room and sit at a table, interrupting an Asian group of four people who were presenting a dramatic bit. They were angry and asked us why we were late. We said it wasn’t supposed to begin until 9:30, not 9:00. Then there was one of those dream shifts in time. I was standing in front of four women, the one on the right my buddy’s girlfriend, the two in the middle older women but beautiful, and the one on the left the pregnant girl, no longer pregnant. I said to them, “You ladies look mah-velous” and gave the two older women kisses. Then I bent to the non-pregnant girl and asked her if she was all right. She smiled and swept both hands down her body to show how slim she was. And I felt the oddest sense of love for her. She kept protesting that she was a mess after the baby, sagging boobs and stretch marks, but I didn’t care. End of dream. Lately, such strange dreams.
Saturday, August 20
I went to Borders yesterday to see what was left of their books and cd’s, and was saddened to see nearly empty shelves. I’m sad because I love bookstores and hate to see another one bite the dust. There’s still Barnes and Noble, I know, but just the thought that we’re on an economic brink that sends one business after another crashing on the shores of a receding sea scares me. I didn’t find much of anything I wanted, just one Dick Francis from the list of those I’m missing. So, I went to the used bookstore in Sun City and found a bunch at half price.
I’ve been moving around the country on Google Earth and am fascinated with the way I can go to friends’ and relatives’ addresses and view their homes and streets from ground level. If you’ve never tried Google Earth, you should download a free copy and go exploring. Once you’ve inserted an address and swooped down to about a thousand feet, you can drag the little orange man over to one of the blue-outlined roads near the address and, voila, there’s the house and street. Then you can use the e-w-n-s arrows to circle the location and then walk down the street as far as you want. From the views it appears that the pictures were taken a few years ago, but I’m sure with technological advances, soon we’ll be able to see it all live, right from one of the satellites above, cars and people moving about the areas in real time. Portents of Big Brother. Orwell foresaw such things sixty-three years ago, and here we are, twenty-seven years after his dystopian novel 1984.
Friday, August 19
Jesse Eisenberg, you should have been social networking and instead chose to do this bit of rubbish called 30 Minutes or Less. Shame on you, shame on your co-stars, shame on the writer, shame on the director and producer. It might better have been called 30 Seconds or Sooner and Then We All Walk Out. I’m not a prude, and four-letter words and sex scenes don’t bother me as long as they’re necessary to the plot or the characters, but when they’re just sprinkled in for a youthful audience’s titillation I get angry. This plot needed far more than bang-crash auto wrecks and titillation to make it excusable as a film. I can’t even comment on the plot because it made no sense, created no believable characters, but will probably make a bunch of cash. Just another indication of the stupidity of the nation’s audiences. Trust me. Don’t go see this movie.
A dream I had last night involved an apocalyptic episode in which we had all been informed that the world would end the next day and I and everyone else were so dismayed by the news. Then the next day I discovered that the world hadn’t ended (not yet anyway) but that all vegetation had died. Now I’m lying there dreaming/thinking about all the consequences of the death of all vegetation. All herbivorous animals will die of starvation; all carnivorous animals will die of starvation once they’ve eaten all the dying herbivores; all animals of any kind will eventually die of suffocation once the air has been totally depleted of oxygen because there is no more vegetation to turn the carbon dioxide back into oxygen. So, in order for me to live at least a while longer, I need foodstuffs that won’t spoil—like canned and jarred goods. Society had broken down and we were all scavenging for foodstuffs. I was in an abandoned grocery store filling a cart with as much stuff as I could—canned vegetables and fruits, coffee, canned meats. The last things I put in the cart before I had to rush away were some packages of flat bread and several large pies. When I left the store, a number of other people were in the process of flying away in old planes. One guy stayed behind and was shooting a thing that propelled a balsa wood plane into the air where it spiraled and swooped and dove before coming back down. Another dumb dream, but one that was vivid and complex. I wonder what tonight will bring.
Thursday, August 18
From Lawrence Block’s Small Town (p. 196): The main character, a novelist, is talking about the writer’s craft, how a writer manages to construct a story idea and how it sort of miraculously appears at his finger tips.
“Oh, there was pleasure in the work itself. That was where the real satisfaction lay. You imagined something and put words together, and you opened a door in the imagination and walked down an untrodden path, and it led to another door. And you opened that, and went off to see where it led, and day by day and page by page an entire alternate universe manifested itself before you.
Sometimes you struggled, and stared for hours at the empty page that reflected the barren imagination. Sometimes, like Flaubert, you spent the morning inserting a comma and the afternoon taking it out.
Sometimes you were able to write, but the words tasted like ashes in the mouth. You tapped at the keys like a field hand chopping cotton, like a factory worker on the assembly line. Somehow the words got on the page, and afterward they turned out as often as not to be as good as words that sang as you typed them, but they weren’t much fun to write.
And sometimes, sometimes, the book came utterly to life and wrote itself. The words came too quickly for the fingers to keep pace with them. Characters spoke their own perfect dialogue spontaneously, and you were the court stenographer, dutifully recording everything they said. Plots, hopelessly tangled, worked themselves out before your eyes, like the Gordian knot magically untying itself. It was you doing it, of course, or otherwise you wouldn’t walk away from the keyboard exhausted, drained, empty. But it was a part of your consciousness that consciousness knew nothing of, and it was sheer joy when it took over and ran the show for you.”
Isn’t that nice? I experienced all of that when I wrote my five novels, how the characters seemed to take over, how the plot line mysteriously worked itself out, how some days were easier than others.
Wednesday, August 17
Ever since I made the awful mistake of feeding Dusty canned cat food, I am his food slave at night. His schedule is to awaken me almost exactly three hours after we’ve gone to bed. He either makes that terrible “caw” of his (he’s deaf, so he doesn’t realize how loud or cacophonous it is) or he just sits with his head near mine, touching my cheek with his whiskers. I give in, stumble out of bed, go to the kitchen, put a partial can of “Fancy Feast” on a plate, heat it for exactly ten seconds in the microwave, then stumble back to bed. Then we do it all over again two hours later, and again two hours after that. Three trips in all, each coinciding with a needed trip to the john. I do this every night, without fail. And it’s done odd things to my sleep patterns. I dream all night long. My eyeballs must be spinning in continuous REM sleep. And I’m dreaming these lengthy, complicated things. None of them are even close to being nightmares, just surprisingly complex.
I often dream about having two or three cars, never very good cars, and I always seem to have misparked them and when I look for them they’re gone, stolen. Just a few nights ago I lost a red Mercedes that I’d parked no more than a hundred feet away from where I was helping shove a car that had been stuck in some snow. I turned around and although there were cars where I’d parked mine, mine wasn’t among them. Damn! And a Mercedes at that.
My most frequent dreams involve golf. Most of them are negative in that I’m always losing my ball, or finding a bunch of balls none of which are mine and most of which are lopsided or squishy soft. Often I find my ball in a place that makes it nearly impossible to hit it, like up against a tree or nestled between two large rocks. And often it’s either late in the evening or even at night, and I go out in the dark. And the fairways are dark and heavily treed and crossed by deep gullies. See, not pleasant golf associations. Rarely, I dream that I’m swinging really well and the ball is going straight and true. Much more often I’m hitting into trouble. Golf dreams, or at least dreams with golf mixed in, make up at least a fourth of my nightlife.
Another dream thread involves my college attendance. I dream that I never quite got around to getting a degree, that I had skipped classes too often and never consulted with my major advisor, and I always feel so guilty about it.
I frequently dream about New York City Almost always there’s a section I really like, with bookstores and large department stores where I can buy things I enjoy, mainly books. But there’s also a dark side that I either have to drive through or walk through and its denizens are really bad people. Always, the way home or back to where I’m staying is to the west, either by car or bus or rail, sometimes on foot. Sometimes I dream that I’m in a large store with many rooms and sections I have to make my way through, sometimes a series of apartments or hotel rooms that go on and on.
Then there are all the teaching dreams. I have one of these every two or three weeks. Some of them are pleasant, involving teaching in a classroom of attentive students. But mostly they involve facing a roomful, and I mean a room “full,” of inattentive students who want only for the bell to ring so they can get out of there. Nothing ever violent, just that awful feeling of futility I used to get when I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me or pay any attention to my shouted instructions for quiet. In some of them I was in my last year before retirement and I couldn’t wait to get out. Or sometimes I’ve been rehired for a year or so after my initial retirement and again I couldn’t wait to get out of there. All of them have a feeling of Southwestern High School, where I spent my last twenty-three years in the classroom, of my never feeling quite accepted there.
And sometimes I dream of a girl/woman whom I’ve engaged somehow (by dates or by proposals of marriage) and I’ve neglected to call her or see her and I always feel so guilty about it. That sounds too much loke my real life, leaving friends and acquaintances and girlfriends behind, neglecting to hang on to them.
And I can thank my pal Dusty for that.
Tuesday, August 16
Let’s spend a moment to think about kissing, about how it must have been an odd thing to do when kissing first began. I mean, it’s such an obviously sexual act. We take our two sets of labia, put them together, open our mouths, and start probing with tongues into the other’s oral cavity. It’s so obviously a substitute for the sex act—putting genitals together with the male entering the equivalent of a mouth, entering as far as possible, probing, probing, and finally ejaculating. In the history of the kiss, until just recently, anyway, the kiss would have been initiated by the male, and the lips would have remained closed until the male forced the female’s lips apart and inserted his tongue. The female would not have reciprocated with her tongue, only allowed the entry of the male’s tongue, but only after a fierce battle. But now, in our age of sexual enlightenment, of sexual equality, the female not only does her share of probing, she often is the initiator of the kiss, just as it is with coitus. Next time I see a long passionate kiss on screen, I will have to think about what it parallels—cunnilingus (from the Latin, cunnus, vulva, and lingere, to lick), where the male puts his lips to her other set of lips and probes with tongue; and fallatio (from the Latin, fellare, to suck), where the woman opens her mouth and allows the insertion of the male’s penis. All these acts, including the act of kissing, are attempts to break down the separation of two people, an attempt to unify two people physically as well as psychically. To enter another’s body. Wow, how similar that is to the act of stabbing someone with a knife or sword. Love/hate, sex/murder. Odd combinations.
There, that should prompt a comment or two, that is, if anyone is actually reading the drivel I write. Possible readers, see the little red "comment" at the bottom of this post? If you click on it, a box opens for you to let me know you're actually there, to tell me you enjoy my drivel, or to tell me how much you hate my drivel. I'd love to hear from you, whether it's love or hate.
Monday, August 15
I think I’m a bit disorderly in an OC way, a condition my wife and a good many of my friends would agree with. I’m especially obsessive about books. I’ve often told people that I need to own books, not borrow them. I need to have them ready when I need them. And when I get an author I enjoy, I tend to read his/her books all in a rapid and continuous swoop, from earliest to latest, as fast as I can go. This involves finding them and buying them, then reading them, then saving them to dole out to friends who are looking for a good read. And now that I’m aging, like fine wine, when I re-read a series, it’s like reading them as though I’ve never before read them. That’s not entirely true since the most recent of the series will stick with me, but the earliest are like brand-new acquaintances. I just finished a second reading of the Prey series by Sandford, and enjoyed it immensely.
Then I dug out some old Dick Francis novels that I’d had tucked away in the garage. Wow, was he ever good. I say “was” because he’s now really old and the writing has been taken up by his son, who can’t come close to the old man’s standards. Everyone who’s ever read any Dick Francis books will agree with me, that the main characters all seem to be the same person, with only their professions varying. All the books are written in the first person, thus assuring the reader that the main character does not get snuffed somewhere along the way. All the males, varying from mid-twenties to late thirties, are engaged in a profession somehow related to British horse racing, all are ethically good to an abnormal degree, all are stoic to an abnormal degree, all are uber efficient at what they do, all invariably get caught in situations that cause them great physical pain which they all endure admirably (stiff upper British lip, you know), all foil the bad guys by sheer determination and mental ingenuity. Because of all this sameness, are his novels boring and repetitious? Not on your bloody life. In every one, the reader gains detailed knowledge of the profession, from photography to winemaking to aviation to banking to architecture, etc. In every one, the reader can hardly wait to gallop to the feel-good ending. There, I hope I’ve encouraged any of you not yet acquainted with Dick Francis to find him and read him. You’ll bloody love him.
Saturday, August 13
We live in a place that has such grand diversity in geograpy, but also in its weather and skies. I took this in 1998, seeing for the first time in my life a double rainbow. And I think we found not one but two pots of gold. And thirteen years later we still consider outselves golden to be living here.
One of the negative weather conditions in the area is the occasional dust storm. This one happened in 1997, the first such phenomenon we'd ever seen. Although they're not common, this year we've had two so far, the first in mid-July, when the cloud was a mile high, over a hundred miles across as it swept over Phoenix from the south, leaving all outdoor pools filled with sandy muck. A mess, yes, but still a beautiful display of nature's beauty.
Friday, August 12
Well, I called the Dance results right. Now I can only hope I get to see Melanie again somewhere. I think I'm in love. I fall in love so easily.
I think I'm out of love with Tiger. Well, not really. But after these first two rounds at the PGA, he's demonstrated that his game is totally in the tank. And I know how much that pleases a bunch of my redneck Sun City Westers. And they aren't pleased because of his grievous mistake a year and a half ago; they're pleased because they detest his blackness, his apparent arrogance. Ah well, they're welcome to the poison in their souls.
We were looking forward to seeing The Help and we were both slightly disappointed in it. We both felt that the seriousness of the theme deserved a more serious presentation. There was just too much colorful (absolutely no pun intended) levity in the plot. The acting of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer was good, but I can't say the same for the others, especially Emma Stone. I loved her in Stupid Crazy Love, but just barely liked her in this one.
Thursday, August 11
This week, PBS had two shows from the past, an hour-long Sinatra concert when he was about 65, "Concert for the Americas" in the Dominican Republic, and a fairly recent Streisand concert in the Village, "One Night Only at the Village Vanguard." We have in these two performers the greatest stylist, Sinatra, and the greatest singer, Streisand. I'd never seen the Sinatra concert, but once again it showed me and the world what a showman he was. He gave us several of his standards, but each one was updated for this show. I was surprised to hear that "Strangers in the Night" was one of his least favorite songs and one of his least performed. And, of course, a new version of "Chicago." And most special of all, Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clows," accompanied by only Tony Mittola on guitar. I was struck again by his timing. No one has ever had the ability to be so meticulously in time and tune with the backup band as he strolled the stage, flipping the mike cord as he went, making appropriate hand gestures to emphasize the phrasing. Some singers sound so dated after decades pass, but not Sinatra. Just listen to any of the pop singers from the Forties, Fifties, even the Sixties, and they sound so out of tune with the present. But not Sinatra. Maybe someday his style will be passé, but not for at least another hundred years. Maybe never. Then there's Barbra Streisand. She was singing in a tiny club with people jammed in, the front row almost in her lap. The notables in the audience--Bill Clinton, Nicole Kidman, and James Brolin, her husband. Although she has visibly aged and chose to wear almost no makeup, her voice is even richer than it was back in the day when she was producing those wonderful musical specials for tv, or starring on Broadway, or making movie after movie, some in which she sang, most in which she didn't (her one error, that simply awful Fockers flick). The difference between a stylist and a singer, a stylist doesn't have to be a great singer, but a singer has to be a singer first and a performer second. I've said in the past, we should get Streisand to record every song ever written and then we'd have them preserved in their best possible form.
And one last time about "So You Think You Can Dance." The final four performed last night with the results to be made known tonight. I think I can predict almost with certainty what those results will be. The two females, Melanie and Sasha, are head and shoulders (and legs too) better than the two males, Marko and Tadd. Going from fourth to first, here are the probable results: Tadd, Marko, Sasha, and Melanie. Melanie gets my nod because not only is she a great dancer, she's also a great actress. She'll be able to go on to film if she wants to. Too bad they don't still make musicals like those in which Leslie Caron, Mitzi Gaynor, and Cyd Charisse starred. Melanie would be a shoo-in. For those of you who think the dancing on "Dancing with the Stars" is the ultimate, you ain't seen nothin' till you've seen the dancing on "SYTYCD."
Wednesday, August 10
We watched Jodi Foster’s The Beaver last night. Not in a theater, because Dan Harkins kept it exclusively at an east Valley site, and then it vanished. So I ordered it through DirectTV. An unusual film to say the least, but no matter how the public has turned against Mel Gibson, no matter how he’s nearly destroyed his image with the nasty things he’s said and done, Gibson is still a hell of an actor. And that truly awful little beaver he comes to wear on his left arm is really Gibson, acting in both capacities, the depressed toy store owner and the dictatorial beaver, who leads him by the arm (pun intended) back to some sort of sanity. Although Jodi Foster was in the film as Gibson’s wife, it’s really Gibson’s one-man/beaver show. I hope he gets nominated for best actor, but he probably won’t. He’s made just too many enemies in the film industry.
There’s nothing in the news worth commenting on. What could I say about the economy that hasn’t already been said? What could I say about the feuding between Steve Williams and Tiger Woods, both of whom have sort of had their feet in their mouths, Williams looking like an arrogant oaf in his comments about “his” win last weekend at the Bridgeport in Akron, Tiger displaying his usual “everything’s great” image in interviews? Let’s just get through the PGA this weekend and then let the year run its course until we can get back to business as usual in Augusta for the 2012 Masters. There, for someone with almost nothing to say about Tiger and Williams, I said quite a bit.
Tuesday, August 9
Gold keeps going up, up, up; the Dow keeps going down, down, down. I’m still a cockeyed optimist when it comes to our country and our economy. But then, I’m not one of the many who are out of work without much hope on the horizon. I’m still hoping that Obama and the present administration can pull us out of this mess, create enough jobs to get us under 9%, get government spending under control. He spoke about putting money into the infrastructure—building bridges, fixing highways. So, when’s he going to do it? Soon, I hope.
In rummaging around in my books, I came upon one by Parker called Wilderness. I thought I’d read it but soon discovered I hadn’t. And I’ve had it for probably twenty-five years. It’s a stand-alone novel about a man who witnessed a killing and is then frightened off by the killer from testifying. It was written in 1979, eight years after the first Spenser, and it reads like a typical paperback pot-boiler, you know--short, tough language, not much style. In fact, it reads like he may have written the whole thing in about a month. I’ve always enjoyed reading an author from start to finish to see how the style evolved. Some commercial writers never evolve, never improve. James Patterson comes to mind. But when one reads the Spensers from start to finish, you can see how his characters grow, how the style gets better and better. Until about the last four years of his life, that is, when he just began cranking them out. I love the Spenser series despite its falling off in the last three or four. I loved the old Spenser tv series with Robert Urich. After that, I was never able to read a Spenser without seeing Urich, without seeing Avery Brooks as Hawk. I just read somewhere that Michael Brandman has written a Jesse Stone novel called Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues, due out in September. And Ace Atkins will write more Spensers. I just don’t see how anyone is going to be able to convince me I’m still reading Parker, still reading about the old reliable Spenser or Jesse Stone. We’ll see.
Monday, August 8
I wanted to insert a hit counter on my blog, and in order to do so I had to change my template. I didn't really want to change it, but this one looks pretty good. So I guess I'll stick with it. I keep thinking that working on a blog should be relatively simple, but it isn't. Or maybe I'm just stupid. Amazing how much one has to learn these days to stay up with all the technological advances. The Net is fun, but oh so complicated . . . and getting more so every day.
The weekend gave me my first chance to see Tiger back on tour, and although he looked pretty rusty, especially with the putter, he looks all right. Just look at the people he was ahead of in the field at Akron. And the crowds were positive. I expected some hostility, judging by all the rednecks who live in my town, but he's been treated well by most people. We just don't have the same degree of admiration we once had. Or at least, I had. This week's PGA Championship will be his second test.
Time for another picture, not one of my cats, but one I wouldn't mind having.
Thursday, August 4
In the Prey series by John Sandford, two of the books concern a mob hit person named Clara Rinker, Certain Prey and Mortal Prey. Rinker is an unusual character because, although she has killed well over thirty people, most of them are bad asses, people the St. Louis Mafia wanted hit for various reasons. But some of the kills are innocents, whom she kills strictly for the money. Unlike most serial killers, Clara Rinker is not a psychopath; she’s a sociopath who from her early youth was raped and beaten by first her step father and then her older brother. She’s smart, attractive, efficient . . . deadly efficient. And the reader sort of sides with her, empathizes with her. In that regard, she’s a lot like the Lawrence Block character, Keller, another paid hit man. Keller also kills a lot of people, mostly bad asses, as well as quite a few innocents. But the reader sees him as a good man despite his profession. He’s smart, efficient, sensitive, a fanatic philatelist. It’s so odd that the reader can side with him, just as with Clara Rinker. Then there’s the character Dexter Morgan, from Jeff Lindsay’s novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, later the main character in tv’s hit series (no pun intended) Dexter. Dexter is a true psychopath whose foster father convinces him to turn his killer lust into a good thing by killing only other serial killers while he works as a forensics expert for the Miami police department. It’s not as easy to see him as a positive character as it is with Rinker and Keller, but the tv show has turned him into one of the good guys even though he still lusts for the kill. What an odd trio of characters, a mix of good and evil. I can’t think of any other fictional character quite like them although I’m sure there are others out there.
Wednesday, August 3
Oh for a book and a shady nook, / Either in door or out; / With the green leaves whispering overhead, / Or the street cries all about. / Where I may read all at my ease, / Both of the new and old; / For a jolly good book whereon to look, / Is better to me than gold. (John Wilson)
I’m not so sure now that gold has gone up another forty bucks an ounce. I love books, but gold . . . well that’s another story. I’ve considered investing in gold these last two stinky economic years, but every time, I think it’s hit its high and don’t invest. Should have done it two years ago. But then, I also should have bought some desert land in the west Valley a decade ago. Whoa! Would that have been a good investment.
It’s another hot day here in Arizona and we have a coyote out in our back hedge, sleeping in the shade. The birds all hate his presence and keep chattering at him. But not getting too close. Even the stupid doves keep their distance.
Another writer I admire is Robert Crais, especially in his Elvis Cole series. Here’s a sample: “From the parking lot, you could look down on the beach and see young men and women in wetsuits carrying short, pointy boogie boards into the surf. They would run laughing into the surf, where they would bellyflop onto their boards and paddle out past the breakwater where other surfers sat with their legs hanging down, bobbing in the water, waiting for a wave. A little swell would come, and they would paddle furiously to catch its crest. They would stand and ride the little wave into the shallows where they would turn around and paddle out to wait some more. They did it again and again, and the waves were always small, but maybe each time they paddled out they were thinking that the next wave would be the big wave, the one that would make all the effort have meaning. Most people are like that, and, like most people, the surfers probably hadn’t yet realized that the process was the payoff, not the waves. When they were paddling, they looked very much like sea lions and, every couple of years or so, a passing great white shark would get confused and a board would come back but not the surfer.” (p. 10, Voodoo River, Robert Crais)
Yeah, it’s the process that’s the payoff, not the waves. I really must remember that.
Monday, August 1
I have to share with you some of the good stuff from McBain’s Matthew Hope series. All of what follows is from Jack and the Beanstalk. I hated to see McBain go, he was such a good writer. I hope you enjoy these snippets as much as I do.
Frank’s (Matthew’s lawyer partner) rules for treating a woman: 1.. Always treat a lady like a hooker. 2. Always treat a hooker like a lady. 3. Never send a lady anything perishable. 4. Never send a hooker anything durable. 5. Never try to buy a lady into bed. 6. Never try to talk a hooker into bed. 7. Always tell a lady you love her. 8. Never tell a hooker anything. 9. Never believe a lady who tells you she’s a lady. 10. Never believe anything a hooker tells you.
Frank believes that everyone’s name is either a “frère Jacque” or an “Eleanor Rigby.” For example, Jerry Travis is a frère Jacque, and Rosalie Travis is an Eleanor Rigby.
Matthew, commenting on a friend of Joanna’s named Daisy, after Daisy Buchannan from The Great Gatsby, which led him to remember, “I suddenly remember what we used to call The Great Gatsby back when I was an undergraduate at Northwestern. The Light on Daisy’s Dock. This was supposed to have sexual connotations. ‘Daisy’s dock’ referred to Daisy’s vagina. The possibility that it had a light on it was enough to send all of us pink-cheeked sophomores into gales of hysterical laughter. We also used to enjoy singing a song called ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,’ the ‘now’ being synonymous with the ‘dock’ Daisy had a light on. Oh my, we were such great wits back then."
A woman goes to see a gynecologist. The gynecologist says, “What seems to be the trouble?” The woman says, “My husband keeps complaining I have a very large vagina.” “Well, let’s take a look,” the gynecologist says. He puts her up on the table. He puts her feet in the stirrups. He takes a look. “My God, what a huge vagina!” he says. “My God, what a huge vagina!” “Well, you didn’t have to say it twice,” she says. “I didn’t!” he says.
I thought I should write down all the cooking knowledge I’ve acquired over the years, my advice to young cooks. When I think about it, it’s a pretty slim list considering how many years I’ve had to acquire it. First, hard-boiled eggs are really hard-cooked eggs. That is, it’s a misnomer to call them hard-boiled when you shouldn’t boil them at all. The trick is to put them in cold water, bring the water to a boil, and then cover them and turn them down to low for no longer than twelve minutes. Something else about eggs: scrambled eggs are much lighter and tastier if you scramble them with water instead of milk, about a teaspoon for each egg. Coring lettuce. You must buy a head of lettuce that has a nice firm light green stem end, one that sticks out from the head itself by a half inch or so. Then you slam the stem end onto the counter and pop out the stem and that which intrudes into the lettuce head. Then some water into the core, let the water drain, then stick it in a lettuce keeper for the refrigerator. Another good tip: any jars of pickles or olives or whatever that seems hard to get the lid off, just take an old-fashioned bottle opener with a sharp tip, insert it under the lid, and pry upwards until you hear the vacuum seal release. Then it opens right up. Any meal that can be prepared ahead of time and put in the oven is better than any meal that must be prepared right at the time with all dishes coordinated for the same time. In other words, all hot dishes and casseroles are the best of all. Once upon a time I would grill steaks to go with baked potatoes, salads, and some sort of veggie. Well, I always found that cooking the steaks, watching them dutifully, after all else is ready and served only made me late to the table. The steaks were almost always either undercooked because I wanted to get them done in time to go with the other stuff, or cooked just right but always way after everything else was eaten. A word about recipes: don't follow them except in a general way. You don't need something telling you exactly what ingredients you should use and how much of each. Just go by feel. Chili and beef stew is better by simply adding whatever strikes your fancy, then tasting a bit to see how it's going. What's the fun in following someone else's recipe? And it's amazing how many good things you can create beginning with a cream sauce, then putting it on baking powder biscuits--hard-cooked eggs, tuna, diced chicken or turkey or ham, ground beef or pork, even hot dogs. There, that’s it. The wit and wisdom of Chef Travis.
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