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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, November 30

John D. MacDonald

I just finished reading an essay by John D. MacDonald called Reading for Survival, written in 1985, just before he died. He wrote it as a conversation between his fictional characters Travis McGee and his brainy economist friend Meyer. Meyer is explaining to Travis why it is essential today for all people to be able to read, that man’s stored knowledge in books is a necessary ingredient for the survival of mankind, that all men must be able to tap into that stored knowledge. Among other things he uses to make his point, the following passage about the Bible and Creationism is interesting in light of Texas governor Rick Perry’s attempts to win the Republican nomination for president. Here’s what Meyer had to say:

The Bible is a powerful piece of ecclesiastical literature, a poetic and historical document. But to believe it is literal truth is nonsense, acceptable only to the gullible. To believe that every word is true demeans the Bible. It insults it. It turns the Bible into some sort of magic talisman with meanings accessible only to the chief wizard. To believe every word is true deprives the reading of the Bible of any meaning and turns it into a magic ceremony, as empty as the spinning of the prayer wheels in the village streets of the Himalayas.

It is in the interest of unscrupulous men who presume to teach the Word of God to insist that their flock accept the Bible as literal truth. This gives those men the option of translating those parts which seem obscure, translating them into terms which always favor the translator.

Creationism is a case in point. They want it taught in the schools. What is there to teach? That God created the earth six thousand years ago? They say that it is as respectable a point of view as the Theory of Evolution. Out of their abysmal ignorance comes the idea that theory in this context means some kind of assumption open to dispute, not yet proven, whereas the word is used in the same way it is used in the theory of diminishing returns, or the theory of relativity. Those theories are not open to dispute because the proof of their correctness is available to anyone who can read. As to the age of the earth, measure how long it takes the tiny creatures which make up the coral reefs which have become the Florida Keys to build one inch of structure from the sea floor. Divide that time period into the height of the keys and you get a minimum figure of ten million years. The Himalayas are still rising, still being pushed upward at a measurable inch at a time by the pressure of a vast tectonic plate against the Asiatic land mass. How long did it take to push flat land up into six-mile-high mountains?

I’ve long been an admirer of the writings of John D. MacDonald. This essay only increases that admiration.

Tuesday, November 29

The West End Tavern

My memories of Carmen McRae send me back to other times, other places in my misbegotten youth. All my early sexual encounters involved prostitutes. Remember, I was a naïve lad growing up with mid-twentieth century mores. I lost my virginity to a West End Tavern whore named Candy when I was eighteen. The West End Tavern, located across the tracks southwest of town, was a famous, or more likely infamous, house of ill repute (what a quaint way to sidestep “whore house”) in my hometown of Mobridge, South Dakota. It had opened in the early days of the town, around the turn of the century, when the railroad was an important shipper of cattle to the east. And it survived all efforts to close it down by righteous Mobridge citizens. Survived, that is, until those efforts were finally successful in about 1960 and it closed forever. But while it was open, it served salesman and other travelers and the youth and adult lechers of the town. It was a square building, the front door opening into a large central room with tables, chairs, and sofas, and a bar at the end of the room. There were four rooms on each side of the main room, each the bedroom and service area for the prostitutes who worked there. If they weren’t engaged in those services, they would sit in the main room, chatting up and flirting with any drinking customers. The fees were straightforward, $5 for the usual, $10 for the more exotic services, like “half and half” or “around the world.” I needn’t explain those terms for my purposes here. Since most of us had little or no schooling about sex, parents too embarrassed to talk about it except for the standard “Birds and Bees” lecture and no sex education classes in the public schools, the West End Tavern provided a safe place to learn about those birds and bees firsthand. There were still the few teenage pregnancies but not nearly as many as there might have been without the WET (now there’s an appropriate acronym for the place). Once one overcame the embarrassment of going there, the rest was easy. After I got out of the army I spent too much time and money there, seeing one of the girls more than any other. Her name was Robin, about 25, slender and very attractive, and I thought I was in love with her. There it is again, my naiveté. She gave me presents and I gave her money. She gave me a leather-sleaved jacket, she gave me a huge bottle of Russian Leather cologne, she gave me Sinatra’s “Songs for Young Lovers.” She even invited me to meet her in Selby, a small town east of Mobridge, when she took the train home to see her parents. She would get off in Selby and I would meet her there to spend three or four nights in a motel. I begged out, fearing that someone somehow would see us there and report back to my parents. I don’t remember what happened after that. I guess I must have gone to New York for that other strange chapter in my life. I know I never again saw Robin. I don’t remember saying goodbye to her. Just another gray area in my memory. More on this tomorrow.

Sunday, November 27

Carmen McRae


How about a little musical nostalgia? I’m listening to Carmen McRae, an old love of mine. What a sensational voice she had. In her early years it was clear as a bell, singing all the old American jazz and pop standards. It was a young, innocent voice. And then she grew older and her voice grew older, tinged with the smoke and booze of countless club dates, kind of like what Sinatra’s voice did, getting stylistically better with experience and the awareness of life’s sadness. My first encounter with Carmen was in 1955 when I was in New York trying to find my way in life. I bought a 45 of hers, with probably six or eight tracks. Cost me about $1.99 back then. It had a white cover with nine luscious red singing mouths and lips. I went to the Carmen McRae website and there it was, the cover I remembered after fifty-six years.

Oh, how I wish I still had that record. I guess what I’m really wishing for is that time for me when life was still on fast-forward. I was in New York right after I got out of the army, working for the Washington Detective Agency, making what was then a lot of money, about a hundred a week. And I spent it as fast as I made it. But I digress. Back to Carmen. Sit quietly and listen to her rendition of an old Blossom Dearie song, “Inside a Silent Tear.” Listen as she sings and follow the slide show, a portfolio of empty benches. What a great song sung by a great singer. Then, if you’re impressed, I recommend you listen to “He Was Too Good to Me” and “Blame It on My Youth.” If you don’t come away a Carmen fan like I am, you must be tone deaf.

Saturday, November 26

Games from the Past

I remember a long time ago reading a book called Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, by Robert Paul Smith. It was his recollections of his youth, about the silly things he did as a child growing up in a small Midwestern town in the Twenties. It struck me then and even more so now how like my own childhood his was.

When I was about eight or nine or ten (one of those magical years) spring was always heralded in by a certain smell in the air, the smell of recently thawed earth. One day it was there, and little boys’ noses turned up simultaneously, led as by a piper to an open field. It called us eight- or nine- or ten-year-olds to migs, marbles to the uninitiated (“immies” to Smith, although I know I never called them that). After school or on weekends we would find a vacant lot (not hard to find in the early Forties) and mark out mig pits or mig squares to use for the winning or losing of our stashes of marbles. As I recall, the pits, shallow holes dug out with heel or toe of a shoe, were used for lagging. Each player would put one or more marbles into the small hollowed out place in the ground and then each of us would take turns from a distance of about ten feet trying to lag our shooter into the pit. Whoever managed it won all the migs in the pit. This game didn’t require much talent, just a feel for lagging. The game with the square was more difficult because it required an ability to shoot a marble with thumb at a target, one of the marbles we’d put at the corners of the square or another’s shooter. Whatever marble the shooter hit was his to keep. The players would never put one of their really good marbles on the corners of the square, and they’d never use any of their true favorites as a shooter for fear of losing it. The difference in skill levels was considerable. There were boys (never girls) who could hold a marble between tip of index finger and thumb and rifle that marble very accurately at another marble, some at distances of five or six feet. The shooter marble would travel through the air like a bullet at its target, often smacking into the target with enough velocity to send the target marble awesome distances (awesome to eight- or nine- or ten-year-olds). I was always wary of these experts and seldom played migs with them. I was one of those who held the marble in the crook between the first and second joints of the index finger with thumb under it. And I almost never held the marble very far off the ground, preferring to roll it on the ground at my intended target. This was the sissy method and loudly scoffed by the experts. But for the majority of us, rollers rather than shooters, we never referred to it as sissy. To each his own. We let the experts play against each other. We had our own game. The shooter kept his turn as long as he kept hitting marbles, pocketing each won mig as a comfortable trophy. And when the one whose turn it was missed he left his shooter marble as a potential target for those who followed in turn. When all the migs in the square were gone, that round was over. Marbles came in all sizes and colors. Some were called “steelies” because they were like large ball bearings, shiny silver and metallic. Some were called “cat’s eyes,” for obvious reasons. Cat’s eyes were rare and coveted by us all. Some were called “aggies” (short for agates) and were swirling browns and tans and grays. Most marbles were standard size, about half an inch in diameter. Some were larger, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and called “boulders.” Marbles smaller than the standard were called “peewees” or “pebbles.” In the early days of migs, marbles were not mass-produced as they were after WWII. The early ones were lovingly crafted by glass artisans who made each one individually different—creamy solids with swirls of various colors, transparent glass of varying colors and also streaked with contrasting colors. The later migs came out like thousands of clones. If the machine made clear with orange streaks, it made hundreds of thousands of exact duplicates. How boring. How uninviting. The season for migs seemed to us to go on and on, but it usually petered out as spring passed into summer. And the number of seasons seemed greater in memory than in actuality. I’m sure that I quit playing migs around ten.

Other games that came and went seasonally and lasted for only those magic years between eight and ten were jacks, hopscotch, and jumping rope. Jacks was mostly for girls, although my wife and I enjoyed playing jacks for a short while soon after we got married. We played on the kitchen floor of our first apartment, and she beat me with regularity. Hopscotch was also mainly a girls’ game, but some of us boys, unafraid of being called sissies, also played, although this too, like migs, had to be abandoned after age ten. Otherwise, the sissy brand would be simply too appalling and too permanent. I remember how we all searched for special glass pieces for the game. It was vitally important that the glass be a special shape and color, thus giving us with the most unusual piece a decided magical advantage over the other players.

Kids these days wouldn’t know what I was talking about, nor would they care. They’re all too busy with video games, expensive video games. I think it’s their loss, not knowing about the games of my youth.

Thursday, November 24

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. A day to give thanks for all we have, all we’ve been given. I give thanks for three kids, all of whom were born normal and grew up straight and tall. I give thanks for five grandchildren who are all on their way to successful and fulfilling lives. And I give thanks for a life that seems incredibly short but also incredibly full. I give thanks for a wife who has stood by me for fifty-one years through all kinds of tough times and for being there still. I give thanks for living in Sun City West, as great a place as I could have ever imagined. I give thanks for all the friends and relatives whose arms I’ve twisted to get them to read the words I’ve written and continue to write. Thanks for everything. And everyone, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23

North Wind & Modern Music

We woke up to high north winds this morning. All night, the sound of our bathroom vents rattling. It sounded too much like those blizzardy nights from my South Dakota childhood, or those blizzardy days in western New York in my adulthood. The sound of a dying year. How in the world did we get to November so quickly? Just last week it was July. Now we have Halloween behind us and immediately in front of us is Thanksgiving and Christmas and another new year. My old cry of anguish, tempus fugit. And even my carpe diem now disallows my hands to seize the day as one day after another blows by in this high north wind.

I may sound like a broken record, but I have to comment once again on the state of popular music these days. Do you even know or remember what a broken record sounds like? If an old vinyl 78 or 45 or 33.3 developed a crack or scratch, the needle would jump and the musical passage would repeat and repeat and repeat until one ran to either take the needle off or put it ahead of the crack or scratch. Well, here I go again, repeating and repeating until someone either stops me or puts my needle ahead. Too much modern singing, too many modern songs, are not really singing or songs. They’re performance. How can someone like Rhiana, whose last cd has already sold thirty-one million copies, enamor an audience to the extent of such huge sales? Sexuality, beauty, performance. But not singing ability. Too often, she and the other successful recording artists today sing songs the words of which I can’t understand or aren’t worth understanding. So much depends on the visual aspect of their performances--the outlandish outfits they wear, the pelvis thrusts and dance segments backed by other dancers and the ever-present ear shattering guitars and percussion. The volume not only distracts from the lyrics, it almost completely overwhelms them. I want songs that I can hear and understand. I want singers who can actually sing. I don’t want rappers and hip-hoppers. I don’t need bells and whistles and light shows. So, Rhiana and Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga and Beyonce and all other performers like them, first learn how to sing, then sing songs that make sense, use words that actually rhyme, patterns that are interestingly diverse. Let me hear Barbra and others like her make songs moving and beautiful. Appeal to my ears, not just my eyes. Okay, now you can throw away this old broken record.

Monday, November 21

REM Sleep

There’s such an odd window in between sleep and dream, between dream and awakening, such a mental clarity that brings memories back to us in vivid detail. For the past eight months I’ve been getting up about every two hours a night to feed our dying cat Dusty. Each interval he comes to the foot of our bed and yowls until I get up. Thus, for these eight months I’m REM sleeping almost the entire night, dreaming in great detail. You might wonder why I don't just leave enough food to last him through the night. But it's canned food, and what he doesn't eat turns hard and ugly and he won't touch it. So I, like a new father, get up for tiny nightly feedings. And sometimes after I return wearily to my bed and fall asleep again, I find myself in that middle state of clarity. Last night I heard Perry Como singing “Near You,” all the lyrics there in my ears. Then I slid left and heard the nonsense song, “Chickeree Chick.” All of it. When I got up it was gone, even the title. So I went to the information network on the computer, searching through Silly Songs + 40’s. I must have gone through a dozen sites before I gave it up. Then I searched Nonsense Lyrics + 40’s. Went through another dozen sites and stumbled onto a guest comment asking about “Chickeree Chick,” and then it was back to me. “Chickaree chick, chala chala, checkalromy in a bananica, bollica wollica, can't you see, chickaree chick, is me.” Now I just have to get it out of my mind again. I thoroughly enjoy those moments of clarity, but I do miss my deep sleep. As long as he holds onto life, I’ll continue the nightly feedings.

Thursday, November 17

Tutored

Gary Larson with his Far Side black humor has always been one of the funniest cartoonists in the business, and possibly the single funniest cartoon of all is this one:

I'm constantly amazed at how much information is available on the internet. I had thought about this Larson cartoon for years, remembering it from a book of his we used to have. So I went looking for it on the internet. I couldn't remember the cartoonist's name, so I simply searched for cartoonists. I was given a list and there saw and remembered Gary Larson. So I did a search for Gary Larson + tutored. Bingo! There it was, just as I had remembered it. And now I'm sharing it with you. Is it really funny or is it just my twisted sense of humor?

A quick comment on television commercials. We watched an episode of NCIS and noticed that the last three segments of the story were really short. We had it saved on dvr, so I went back and timed each story segment and each set of commercials. Sure enough, there were five story segments interspersed with five commercial breaks, the story itself comprising 41 minutes, the commercials 19 minutes. Granted, some of the commercial time was devoted to presentations for other CBS shows, but it still reprsented a ratio of two to one for story and non-story. That's just too much. I then wondered what effect the dvr would have on the value of commercials. I mean, assuming that almost half the viewers in this country have dvr's, that number increasing daily, and those viewers, like us, save shows to the dvr and then fast-forward through the commercials, what does that do to the value of the commercial hype? Makes it considerably less worthwhile. When advertisers realize they're no longer getting much value from their air time and decide to cancel, what will happen to networks relying on advertising revenues? I don't have a clue.


Life & Cats

If you have no hooks on which to hang your memories, life can seem terribly short. By hooks, I mean those memorable moments in our lives that stand out bright and shiny. Then we string them together, with gray gaps in between. Without the hooks, it would all seem like a gray wasteland that lasted only seconds. J. Alfred Prufrock, in his ironic love song, said he has “measured out my life with coffee spoons.” I do the same thing but with haircuts, golf rounds, and pets that have come and gone. Andy Rooney says, “Just looking at the coffee cans I’ve saved makes life look like practically forever.” He goes on to say if he measured it in food he’s eaten, not in pounds but in tons, life would seem unmanageably long. “I must have eaten ten tons of ice cream alone in my lifetime. It makes life seem long and lovely just thinking about every bite of it.” Ah, yes, ice cream, Andy. An ice cream lifespan would be good, every mouthful lovely. Too bad for most of us that there are also the broccoli bites.

We took our car in for a service check yesterday. We had time for breakfast at a wonderful little restaurant called Brenda's, after which we stopped at a nearby thrift shop and pet store called “4 Paws,” where thirteen years ago we got our two cats, Dusty and Squeakie. Just had to look. There were at least twenty full grown cats all waiting hopefully for adoption, beautiful multi-colored cats, all willing to have a chin scratched, all begging us with big cat eyes to take them to our bosoms. I’d have been willing, but better sense prevailed (Rosalie, that is). Soon, we know, Dusty will be gone and we’ll want to replace him with one or two kittens. Knowing how marshmallow soft we both are, it will probably be two. On this day, all the kittens were elsewhere so we didn’t get to see any, but we’ll be back, and two will very likely come home with us.

Wednesday, November 16

The Black Widow

I began my fifth novel as a project in which I would write the final installment in John D. MacDonald's series about Travis McGee, the one in which he used different colors as the theme for each book. After MacDonald's death, I thought I could write the final novel, the one MacDonald never got around to writing. I tried to copy the MacDonald style, use some of the characters from others in the series, and bring the whole thing to a conclusion. I pored over all the books in the series, some 21 in all, learning everything I could about McGee, about the way he thought and acted. I assumed that once I got it done, I'd be able to convince MacDonald's publisher and the MacDonald family that I had written a worthy tribute to the author and his character. Wrong. It seems that a number of people had offered to do the same, including Stephen King, who was similarly turned down. I learned all this after I was finished. Then I went back and switched the point of view from first person to third, created a new character with a new background, and came up with a stand-alone novel called The Black Widow. I think it stands well alone. Here's a plot synopsis:

Colt Frazier, a Phoenix ex-cop, now a private investigator, is hired by Sarah Wilson, a black woman, to find the person who killed her husband. She and her husband were being extorted for a million dollars from someone who called them, threatening that if they didn’t wire the money to a Swiss account within twenty-four hours, someone dear to them would die. They didn’t take the threat seriously and the husband was shot from long range and killed.

Frazier and the woman track leads around the country, from Chicago to Louisville and finally to Las Vegas, where they find the killer and are nearly killed themselves. The plot ends in Omaha, Nebraska, in a final confrontation with the psychopathic extortionist involving Frazier and Sarah Wilson, Frazier’s daughter and her husband, and a charming dog named Big Red

This too is available free as an e-book from Lulu.com, or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble in paper.

Life in the Arbor

I wrote my fourth novel as a lark, having been fascinated by all the animal life in our backyard. And our back property line was dominated by huge arbor vitae trees that served as a home for that wild life. It came out as a children's story, specifically for fourth and fifth grade students, illustrated by my daughter Jeri.

Life in the Arbor centers on Rollie Rabbit and his fellow animals that live in the back yard of a house in Sun City West, Arizona. Rollie is a smart, ingenious rabbit who tries to make his and his family’s life better. Their home is a stand of tall arborvitae trees that line the back boundary of the yard.

Rollie decides that there must be a better place somewhere out in the Great Out There, and he and his friends—Fred Lizard, Millie Monarch, and Buzz Hummingbird—embark on a journey to find such a place. They encounter a number of friends and foes along the way—Olliver Owl, Cecil Snake, Fara Cat, Black Jack, and Kitty Rabbit, to name just a few. Their journey takes them out and then back to their home in the Arbor, culminating in a fight for the hand of Kitty Rabbit, and the realization that there really is no better place than their home in the Arbor.

Prologue

The view from above, let’s say from the side window of a commercial jet flying at 35,000 feet, would show a tiny walled enclosure. A nearly circular enclosed city sitting more or less by itself, although surrounded by increasingly spreading areas of new housing developments and commercial enterprises. It is the West Valley, west of Phoenix, Arizona, and the city holds about 30,000 inhabitants. Human inhabitants, that is. Senior inhabitants, that is. If one counted all the other folks living within its walls, the number would increase to nearly a million. And who is to say which of the inhabitants is more important?

A closer view, let’s say from one of the F-16 jets flying out of the nearby Luke Air Force Base, would show a city with charmingly confusing configurations—circular roads, S-shaped roads, U-shaped roads, cul de sacs—modest condominiums, moderate single dwellings, spacious homes, a dozen or so churches, nine green oases holding nine golf courses for the city’s retired inhabitants, a commercial area in the middle of the circle, and five openings in the wall for entrance and exit from within its boundaries.

This story is about the other group of creatures living in the city. And a diverse group it is. Narrowing it even further, this story is about a small family of creatures living in the back of one of the homes, a home with a towering privacy hedge of arbor vitae on the rear of the property. The Arbor, as they think of it, is their home. And the hero of this story is a young rabbit named Rollie. Rollie is unusually smart, unusually curious, and unusually dissatisfied with his life in the Arbor.





Prairie View

I finally threw up my hands and decided to write a novel called Prairie View, about my home town, Mobridge, South Dakota. I didn't care if I got it published. I just wanted to write what I wanted to write. This is also available free from Lulu.com or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble in papeer. Here's a summary:

When Joby Shelton returns after a ten-year self-exile to Prairie View, South Dakota, he witnesses a murder while fishing on the nearby Sioux Reservoir. He has returned to Prairie View to make peace with his father, that is, to attend his funeral. During a Fourth of July celebration, he reunites with friends of his youth (remembered fondly as the Fearsome Foursome), meets and falls in love with a young local teacher, and becomes entangled in a scam involving the Mafia and the nearby Sioux Indian reservation. The plot elements culminate in a dramatic showdown atop Rattlesnake Butte.

Chapter 1

The water was cold on his feet and very dark, and he had the uneasy feeling that something large and sharp-toothed would mistake his toes for bait. He was in the middle of a deserted cove about a hundred feet from shore, working the spoon from the shallows back out to deep water, and his feet and toes felt vulnerable dangling below the inner tube.

He cast out to his right, just short of a drowned cottonwood lying in the water near the shore. Its limbs were barkless and white and stuck out from the trunk like skeleton arms grasping at the sky. He let the spoon sink until he felt the line go slack as it settled on the bottom. Then he reeled it toward him—jerk rod, reel in line, jerk, reel in line—but slowly, lazily. He’d learned that trick from his father. The northern would usually strike just after one of the spurts of motion, take the lure as it began to drift downward. Sometimes one might follow it all the way in and not strike until the lure was almost out of the water. He pulled back on the line and then he could see the spoon, orange and white moving up through greenish depths toward him. No northern following. It cleared the water and he reeled it up to the metal leader and cast again, this time to the right of the cottonwood.

The day was bright and sunny with just a light breeze, and the water of the bay was calm, almost glassy. But he could see waves beyond the arm of land west of him. Must be wind around the corner, he thought. Harder casting. No luck here, but easy casting. Anyway, he wasn’t really fishing. More like giving something back. Fishing was secondary to the chore that had brought him there. It was simply easier than thinking, a way to fill up the time before he could escape again from the hooks and claws of Prairie View.

The day before, he had found his old fish-‘n’-float rig hanging on a nail in the garage and decided to take it out on the lake the next day, soak up some sun. Do what he had to do . . . and not have to think.

The inner tube had looked all right, so he tucked it in the can-vas sleeve, zipped it up, and filled it at Jim’s Mobile station on the western edge of town. And he’d been in the water since eight that morning, ashes to ashes, dust to water, the container sinking slowly in the green depths, wobbling as it sank, finally disappearing. Then two hours of casting out, reeling in—losing himself in the mechanics of rod and reel.

He paused between casts, opened the zippered pocket at the front of the canvas sleeve, and took out a cigarette and lighter. Filthy habit, he thought as he lit it and inhaled deeply. Haven’t smoked for five years, and now I’m back to suckin’ ‘em up just like I never quit. The past two days had been awful, and a cigarette or two just to relieve the nerves couldn’t hurt. He’d told himself that lie just after the service, knowing that one cigarette led to another, and another, knowing full well that he was using his confusion, his grief, as an excuse to begin again a habit he’d had such a hard time kicking five years before.

He inhaled again and looked around, the rod resting in front of him across the inner tube. God, what wild country. He’d forgotten just how desolate and lonely it was. To the right about a mile away he could see the silver span of the bridge across the mouth of the old Snake River where it had once emptied into the Missouri. Or at least what used to be the Snake. Now it was just another long arm of water connected to the Sioux Reservoir. Fourteen years later, and the trunks of cottonwoods still rise from the surface like dark, accusatory fingers, reminders of the lost bottomland now covered by millions of acres of water. To the left and slightly behind him he could see the open expanse of water that led down over a hundred miles to the earthen dam at Pierre, the state capital. Miles and miles of shoreline nearly all as wild and barren as here. Low hills and buttes and bays inhabited mostly by range cattle, badger, muskrat, beaver, and rattlesnakes. The good land along the Missouri Basin, the land that was rich and arable, was now under water. And the land along the present western shore, Sioux land for the most part, was mainly clay, good for growing the long prairie grass for grazing cattle but not good for much else. But the reservation Sioux were supposed to grub out a living on that land. Screwed again, he thought. The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Corps of Engineers stuck it to ‘em, and then for the land lost to water, the government paid them less per acre than what even an ugly hooker on a slow night could make. And what was left, the reservation land west of the Missouri, was among the loneliest and harshest in the world.

He’d deliberately come out nearly five miles to avoid even a chance encounter with people. People were not what he wanted just now. He wanted silence and solitude.

He finished the cigarette and flipped it away. More fish food, he thought. It hissed as it hit the water and then bobbed on the quiet surface. He took up the rod, tightened the line, and cast, the lure splashing ten or fifteen feet from shore and just left of the cottonwood. On the third pause he felt the familiar thud of northern strike, and his pulse quickened to the angry tug on the other end. He set the hook with a short jerk of rod tip and let the fish run. The line moved right, toward the cottonwood, and he pulled back as much as the ten-pound line allowed. “Oh no you don’t, you sly devil,” he murmured as the fish continued to rip line out, the rod bowed nearly to the water. Then the line went limp.

“Damn!” He reeled in rapidly in case the fish was still there.

It was. It had apparently turned to deep water and made its run toward him. The reel was nearly full when he felt the weight of the fish again. And then he saw it in front of him in the water, a northern like a log, unbelievably thick across the body, and long, four or five feet. He could see the spoon, orange and white against the mottled green of the jaw, the barb hooking him where the cruel mouth hinged just below the eye. Then the fish must have noticed him, or at least his bare legs dangling uncomfortably close to the bony snout and razor teeth. A swish of tail that broke the surface and the fish disappeared, the line chattering out against the drag as the fish went right. The force of the pull surprised him and although the drag was set just below breaking, the fish was taking line easily and he could feel himself being tugged along to the west. He’d taken fish from this floating rig before—northerns, walleyes, crappies—but he’d never before been towed along behind.

A regular northern Clydesdale, he thought. Oh, Pop! If you could see me now!

He was very near the western edge of the bay by then and the line was angling right again, parallel to the shore, heading for open lake beyond the tip of the peninsula. The reel was nearly empty when the run ended and the line went dead. He reeled in trying to catch up with the fish before it could shake the hook loose. Just as the line tightened again, he noticed he could now see across the arm of land to the open water and shoreline west of the bay he’d been in, and he was surprised at the distance the fish had dragged him.

There were two men on the shore several hundred yards away, face to face in what looked even from that distance like an argument, legs apart, shoulders hunched belligerently. He watched them, no longer paying attention to the fish. He was too far away to recognize them, too far away even to see clearly what they looked like or how they were dressed. Suddenly one of them, the one with his back to the lake, shoved the other one to the ground and took something from his pocket and pointed it at the first man. He knew from the way the man held it, the stance he took, that it had to be a gun. The other man leaped to his feet and grabbed the second, pinning his arms, and they struggled toward the water. He watched this long-distance drama with frozen detachment, unable to believe what he was seeing. The two men went down with a splash in the shallows along the shore. The man with the weapon was on his back in the water, and the other held him down with one arm and struck him repeatedly with his free hand. Then he held him with both hands, forcing him under the water. A dramatic tableau, the one on his knees in the shallows, leaning forward on his arms, the other hidden beneath the water.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! What . . . ?” He heard himself and knew somehow he shouldn’t have called out. Time and motion stood still.

Then the survivor pushed himself to his feet. And looked around. And saw him.

Even from that distance it seemed as though their eyes locked. Then the man reached down into the water and came up hastily with something in his hand and began running down the shoreline toward him.

He kicked forward with his feet and began to move slowly backward toward the safety of open water. The fish was forgotten. He knew instinctively he had to get out into the lake, away from the danger of the man with the gun, if that was what it was. He kicked as hard as he could and by the time the man had reached the end of the peninsula he was out in the lake some fifty or sixty yards. He heard the man shouting something, but he didn’t understand. Then the man pointed the gun at him. From this range it was now definitely a gun. He heard the report across the water and the squish as the bullet plowed through the lake surface just to the right of him. He ducked his head and his legs kept up their automatic thrashing away from the shore, away from the man with the gun. Another report, another squish ten feet in front of him. Again, and he heard the bullet whiz by uncomfortably close to his head. Then there were three shots in rapid succession and the bullets squished water near him, the last squarely in the swirl of his wake right in the spot he’d just vacated. He continued to kick as he leaned back against the inner tube, staying as low as he could. There were no more shots and he knew without knowing that he was now out of range of the gun. Still he kept kicking and leaning away from the danger in front of him.

He was now well over a hundred yards from the tip of the peninsula, and the figure had receded to an unrecognizable distance. He stopped kicking and he felt his breath tearing in and out of his mouth, his heart beating at an impossible rate. Incredibly, he still held the rod in his right hand. I wonder if old Clyde is still there, he thought. He began pumping his legs again, moving away from the shore, less furiously now, moving out into the lake as far as he could to get away from the man who had just tried to kill him. He was trying to kill me! He shook his head in wonder as he realized what had just happened, nearly happened.

The man was a tiny figure now, and he watched him stand there motionless looking out over the water at him. Then the man moved quickly along the shore back toward the scene of the previous violence and disappeared over the hill.

He stayed out on the lake for another hour gathering his courage to go in, thinking about what he’d just seen. Sometime during that hour he’d reeled in his empty line, the line now unresponsive and light. No fish, no spoon, no leader. Well, he thought, at least the damn northern had enough sense to get the hell out of here while he had the chance.

Dust of Autumn

My second novel, Dust of Autumn, is a kind of Halloweenish suspense about a young girl with a split personality. I made it as bloody as I could, trying to find something the publishers would agree was worth buying. Again, no luck. So I self-published it. This one is also free as an e-book through Lulu.com, or through Amazon or Barnes and Noble in paper.

Prologue

It was a bright, early spring afternoon. She stood at the edge of a narrow stream looking across to a clearing in the woods. Something was there, drawing her to that place, and was now pulling her toward the clearing.

The day was both warm and cold, like a sunny day in April when the earth is undecided whether to burst into bud and blossom or to pull back into winter’s icy shell. She shivered . . . from the chill or whatever had drawn her there . . . or both.

She was wearing a light cotton dress and her feet were bare.

She stepped into the stream expecting to feel fri-gid water around her ankles but was not surprised when she didn’t break the surface. She could see the water flowing beneath her feet, the colors of stone and twig and grass distinct in the shallow water, but the water was solid as ice. She stepped across quickly and climbed the low bank to the grassy opening beyond.

The area was circular, ringed with tall black and leafless trees forming a nearly solid wall. The heavy branches hung low to the ground and seemed to be reaching for her, waiting to grab her if she strayed too close. They reminded her of the forest scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy was moving through that enchanted forest on her way to Oz and the winged monkeys were about to swoop down on her. Or may-be it was the forest in Snow White. She couldn’t re-member. It didn’t matter. She moved along as though in a dream. Of course it was a dream. She knew she would awaken soon.

Near the center of the circle was a low mound of freshly dark earth. She moved slowly toward it. The grass around her was brown and wet and still partly matted down from recent winter snow. She could feel the crush of grass under her feet and toes. She walked straight toward the low hill in the center of the clear-ing.

Suddenly, all around her, stiff green stalks shot up from the grass, thick and sinewy, weaving slightly as they grew, like cobras rising from a snake charmer’s basket. When they were waist-high, a huge bud formed on top of each stalk and then opened, each a bloody head surrounded by a leafy green collar. The heads stared at her as she moved through them, their bloody mouths opening, softly whining her name.

She ignored them, her eyes never leaving the mound.

Just as she reached the base of the mound, where the grass stopped, it exploded in a shower of black earth that went up and then fell back on her, covering her, smothering her, and her mouth was filled with the black soil that tasted like death. She screamed silently, and all was black and silent except for the screams she heard in her head.

Tuesday, November 15

Match Play

This might be a good time to describe my books. This first one, Match Play, I wrote thirty years ago, a golf/suspense novel I thought would be successful with the growing number of golfers all over the world. But I couldn't find a publisher willing to take a chance on it. I guess they all thought golfers were too stupid to want to read a suspense novel set on a crazy golf course. And it does have a lot of golf in it, something non-golfers might find boring. I still believe the conflict between the narrator and the bad guy, both on and off the course, is entertaining enough even for non-golfers. If anyone wants to try it, the book is available on Lulu.com as an e-book for practically nothing . . . in fact, nothing. It's free. For those without an e-reader, it's available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but not free. I think the cost is around $15.

Prologue
One Wednesday in May as Pat and Stan and I were coming up the sixteenth fairway, we saw it—a pure white martin. Martins, barn swallows, you’ve seen them if you’ve ever been on a golf course in late afternoon when the shadows are long and the air is still and the bugs are sunlit low along the ground. They’re dark blue on top and yellow-brown or gray on the belly, and they have double-pronged tails. Sort of daytime bats, and like their nighttime counterparts, they’re magical fliers. They glide, then flap and swerve just inches from the grass, then sweep up and around again for another pass, skimming bugs in unpredictable patterns. You watch, fascinated with their skill. The eye grows so accustomed to the flight and color that when you see something white flash past, in martin flight—same swoops and glides, but jarringly out of synch with the blue of the others—the thrill is doubled.

“Oh, wow,” Pat breathed when she first noticed it. I’d seen it about the same time, and we both watched it rise and swing past the trees along the right side of the fairway, then back again, white against the dark green of the pines and the lighter green of the fairway.

“I’ll be damned!” Stan murmured. “You ever see anything like that before?”

We watched it in silence for a few minutes until it decided to find fatter bugs on some other fairway, to show off for and delight some other golfers. It was beautiful.

And in July, Roger Burdis caught it, killed it, and had it stuffed.

Childhood's End

I heard on ESPN radio that the Dodgers offered Matt Kemp, a free agent this year, an eight-year contract worth $160 million. Whoa! That’s a lot of money. The Florida Marlins’ entire payroll last season was $50 million. And now the Dodgers are willing to pay out to one player $20 million for one year, and then seven years thereafter. These numbers just don’t make any sense. The NBA players and owners are squabbling over $5 billion television revenues, each wanting more than half the pie, neither willing to give in to the other. I taught for thirty-three years for a total of about $800,000, and a professional basketball player sitting waaay down at the end of the bench on an NBA team, playing an average of two minutes a game, makes over a million a year. Something is out of balance. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’ve had a very good life, better than 99.9% of the people on earth. No complaints here. I just can’t understand why some people need to make hundreds of times more than they need. Why does Matt Kemp need $160 million? Why do CEO's need hundreds of millions a year just for heading large corporations? No wonder we’re having demonstrations all over the country asking the same questions. I still look forward to a time as seen in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End when money is a forgotten concept, when all needs through advanced technology are provided for, when no one has to work to sustain life, when work is a privilege and not a necessity, when each of us can use our time to pursue creative and intellectual goals. I hope we get to that point before we destroy ourselves.

Monday, November 14

EW & Upcoming Movies

I've been reading this week's Entertainment Weekly, which previews movies due out over the holidays and prior to the Oscars in January, and It strikes me that we are now and have been for the past year in the midst of a film flood. It must have something to do with these dire economic times that so many of us need to escape our own lives to enter into the lives of those characters we see on the big screen. There seem to be so many movies coming out that I want to see, starting with The Descendents, then on to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the one is which Michelle Williams does her Marilyn whisper and walk, The Artist (getting much buzz for best picture despite its black and white and silent treatment), John le Carre revisited in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the latest Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise cruising again, Glenn Close disguised as a man in Albert Nobbs, Meryl Streep disguised as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And that's just some of them. I don't know if I'll be able to stand all that popcorn. But I'll give it a shot. As for EW's predictions about the Oscars, I agree with some, disagree with some. Brad Pitt's role in Moneyball for best actor. Nah, he just wasn't that good. Viola Davis in The Help for best actress. Yeah, she was that good. But I'll still bet Glenn Close will finally get a win for Albert Nobbs. Octavia Spencer for best supporting actress in The Help. Nah, she just wasn't that good, nor was Melissa McCarthy for her schtick in Bridesmaids. Even though I haven't yet seen it, I'm betting on The Descendents for best picture and Clooney for best actor. But first, I have to see a bunch of flicks between now and Oscar night. Lots of pop, lots of popcorn. I can hardly wait.

Christmas & Tower Heist

“Christmas is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” Forgive me for stealing a bit of Middle English to make a point. Here we are, only a bit into November and already we’re besieged with Christmas songs on the radio and television, ads prompting us to shop early for all that stuff we invariably buy for friends and relatives to put in some dark cupboard with other stuff from other years, never to be seen or used. And WalMart and KMart and Sears are joyously telling us we can use their layaway plans, so that in these tough times we can pay for our purchases a little at a time. Kinda like shopping with a credit card. Lhude sing cuccu! Cookoo, indeed. Every year, it seems, we begin this Christmas rite earlier and earlier. What we need are some Thanksgiving carols. And legislation that no one can begin pushing the Christmas season until after Thanksgivng.

I went to see Tower Heist and wished I’d stayed home. What a forgettable flick. Everybody, including me, wanted to see the old Eddie Murphy, you know, the funny one, and we all, including me, were disappointed. He and Ben Stiller could have made this better, but both seemed to be happy just getting through it and on to some better film project. This Wednesday (only two days from now), The Descendents opens, with George Clooney. Can’t wait. George has never disappointed me.

And if Rick Perry had three feet, he'd find some way to get all three in his mouth at the same time. It must be a Texas thing.

Saturday, November 12

Some Jokes

For want of anything better to write about, how about a few really old jokes (maybe even old enough that you haven't heard them or don't remember them)?

One day a man of the cloth sneaked out the back door of his church on a very holy day, changed his clothing and went to a golf course and played one round all by himself. God focused his attention on the sinner, and a young ignorant angel watched over God’s shoulder. The ignorant angel watched and saw the sinner sink a three wood for an eagle two on the first hole, hit a long iron into the cup for an eagle three on the second hole, make a hole in one on the third. Following the same pattern, he finished the first nine holes in twenty strokes, and as he teed off on the tenth and hit his drive three hundred and seventy yards down the middle, the angel cried out, “God, he is a sinner! Why are you rewarding him?” “Rewarding him?” God rumbled. “Think about it. Who can he tell?”

When John complained of severe chest pains, his wife Mary insisted she take him to the doctor. The doctor examined John and afterward called Mary into his office. “Now, Mary,” he said in a low tone, “You must listen carefully to what I’m about to say. You must do four things and do them faithfully and conscientiously every day from now on. If you don’t, John will die. First, every morning you must prepare him a healthy breakfast and send him to work with a kiss and a smile and your encouragement. Second, every day when he comes home at noon, you must have the house spotless and a hot lunch prepared for him. Third, when he comes home from work, you must greet him at the door with a kiss, and listen to what he says of his day’s activities, and serve him a good dinner. And last, when you go to bed you must indulge his every wish, no matter how bizarre or strange.” Mary had listened carefully to the doctor’s instructions, and she left his office with a concerned expression. “Well,” John asked anxiously, “what did he say?” “Oh, John,” she said tearfully, “he said you were going to die.”

Joe and Ed were playing a late afternoon round of golf and it would be touch and go whether they’d finish before dark. Ahead was a pair of slow-playing women. On the fifteenth, in the deepening gloom, Joe drove the cart ahead to plead with the women to speed up. But before he spoke to them, he returned to Ed at high speed. “What’s the matter?” Ed asked. “That’s my wife and my mistress ahead of us. Lucky I noticed before they saw me.” Ed agreed that he’d drive up to tell them to speed up their game. But he also came hurrying back. “What happened?” Joe asked. “Small world, isn’t it?” Ed responded.

A 65-year-old Sun City West couple are in their back yard after a round of golf, steaks on the grill, cocktail in hand, late afternoon Arizona gorgeous. The wife, in a contemplative mood, asks, “Honey, if I should die, would you get married again?” The husband thinks a moment, then, “Well, I guess it all depends on when you mean? Like soon?” The wife responds, “You know we’re not getting any younger, so, yes, let’s suppose I died tomorrow. Would you marry someone else?” The husband says, “Yes, I suppose so.” The wife says, “And I suppose you’d teach her how to golf?” The husband says, “Well, I suppose so.” The wife says, “And you’d probably give her my clubs?” The husband says without thinking, “Oh no, she’s left-handed.”

What’s the difference between a golfer and a sky diver? A golfer makes these sounds: “Whack!” “Ah shit!” A sky diver makes these sounds: “Ah shit!” “Whack!”

A Few Things to Ponder:

What does a tornado, a hurricane, and your wife have in common?
Sooner or later one of them will get your house.

What do you call a blind rabbit sitting on your face? Unsightly facial hare

What does a gold fish and a mountain goat have in common?
The golf fish likes to muck around the fountain.

If a mute swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?

Is there another word for synonym?

Would a fly without wings be called a walk?

If a turtle doesn’t have a shell, is he homeless or naked?

If the police arrest a mime, is he told he has the right to remain silent?

Why do banks put Braille on the drive-through windows?

Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

Why is Santa so jolly? He knows where all the bad girls live.

Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman where the self-help
section was. She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

Friday, November 11

Mike's Bistro

Live and learn. You’d think at my age I’d be all done with learning, but I just keep making mistakes in judgment. Last night I talked Rosalie into dining out, at a place I knew from years ago when we went there for the annual Ace Christmas party, what I thought was Michael’s, a nice Italian restaurant. And I wanted a nice Italian piece of lasagna. Michael’s was newly located in a shopping area near Sprouts. We had to drive around a bit before we located it, Mike’s Bistro, no longer Michael's. A quiet alarm but I wasn't listening. We parked, we went in. But instead of a real restaurant, it looked like a small takeout joint—about ten tables covered in alternating green and red-checked plastic tablecloths, the lights bright above. My idea of anti-ambiance. There was Greek music pouring out of several speakers. That should have been my second clue that something was wrong. We sat at a green-topped table, three other couples sitting nearby. A fat, greasy, gray-haired man wearing a grease-stained apron over a tattered gray T-shirt and wrinkled jeans gave us menus, one sheet of light printer paper triple-folded. Fancy. There was only the fat man and one woman, in jeans and sweater, waiting on the tables. The beverages available were sodas from a nearby soda/ice dispenser or water. We chose water. We both decided we’d have the four-cheese chicken lasagna for $9.95. Fat man informed us there was only one piece left, this at 5:30. So Rosalie ordered the spaghetti and sausage and I the one piece left. We also asked for Caesar salads (extra at $2.99). We got our not so good salads with a basket of garlic bread. A couple came in, looked around briefly, then went right back out. They must have been a lot smarter than we were. Then we were served, the lasagna and the spaghetti, in deep dishes. My lasagna was unlike any I’d ever seen before, a pale square smothered in white/yellow cheese sauce, nary a hint of tomato sauce. I managed to eat about a third of it, never once discovering any chicken, before I said “enough.” Rosalie ate most of her spaghetti, declaring it not nearly as good as what she made at home. A bistro, according to Wikipedia, is a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. I think Mike took that definition to the extreme. Modest setting, indeed. Our bill was just over $25, not exactly what I'd call moderate for the meal we got. I only wish we’d had sense enough to make a quick exit like the couple we saw doing the U-turn. Live and learn.

Penn State, John Daly, & Tiger

Now it’s more than a fallout—a reignout, with more than just Joe Pa gone—also Penn State President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz. That seems like a clean sweep, one the Happy Valley school needed badly. What a sad commentary on one of the best programs in the country. What a sad commentary on Jerry Sanduski, the predator who put this whole mess in motion.

Another sad commentary, this time about John Daly, the bad news baby who just keeps screwing up his life and his career. In the first round of the Emirates Australia Open, he was three over through eight, then went five more over on nine and ten, (after a 2-stroke penalty on ten for hitting the wrong ball out of a bunker), and on the par-5 eleventh, he hit seven balls into water, shook hands with his fellow competitors, and withdrew from the tournament. Here’s a no-longer young man with enormous golfing talent who’s spent the last twenty years throwing it all away—temper tantrums, booze, failed marriages . . . and ridiculous behavior on various golf courses. Meanwhile, Tiger, who’s still trying to walk away from a train wreck of his public image and what looked like an idyllic marriage, played a bogey-free first round of 68. Then he followed it up with a second-round 67. Let’s all hope he can pull it together and show the world in the upcoming Presidents Cup that he really is back.

Thursday, November 10

Cold Snap

This morning was sunny and cold, cold, cold. We’ve been in an abnormal cold spell for a week now and I’m sick of it. This is supposed to be the Valley of the Sun. We have three visitors in our yard, three huge coyotes who have spent the last three hours lying in dappled shade beneath our arbor vitae trees. They must be siblings, ones who have frequently made their slow pace through our yard hoping to flush an inattentive rabbit, but never till now have they decided to sleep with us. Maybe they think that if they lie still long enough, that silly rabbit will come sit on a head, take refuge down an open maw. That would serve him right. The sun is bright, but the breeze says otherwise, rocking the arbor vitae branches back and forth, giving the lie to our present season, which is supposed to be in the low eighties. Instead, we wake up to low forties rising to upper fifties. Folks up north would say, what are you whining about. We used to live up there and know what cold is all about, but our bodies have adjusted to Arizona temps and now we freeze in weather I would have been happy with for playing a round of golf when I was younger and northern-stupid. Now I wouldn’t even consider golf on days such as this. But I’m old and southern-stupid, and the chill settles in my bones like a frozen blanket. I feel like lying with the coyotes, pulling them close for their wild heat. I’m sure they wouldn’t welcome me, though, and I’d be too big to swallow.


Wednesday, November 9

Nightwoods

I just finished reading Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods and was impressed more than with any book in recent memory. The style is almost indescribable, poetic perversity, dialogue that makes do without quotation marks, blending thought and phrase in patternless patterns, moving back and forth in layers of time, using the richness of Southern smells and tastes and backwoods foliage as background for the story. Southern writers all seem to pay homage to the father of all Southern writing, William Faulkner, in their layering of time and relationships, the intricate interweaving of gray and blue, of black and white. Poe might be considered the real father of gothic writing, but his wasn’t Southern gothic as in Faulkner, just wildly weird, a kind of psychological southland. And Twain predates Faulkner, but Huck and Tom aren’t as Southern eccentric as most of Faulkner’s characters. James Lee Burke’s Louisiana comes close, and James Dickey’s deep-mountain dueling banjos is also near, but only in Deliverance. Tennessee Williams is parallel on stage, and Erskine Caldwell in God’s Little Acre and Tobacco Road. But no one does it like Faulkner. And now we have Charles Frazier, who won fame with his first novel, Cold Mountain. We have, in Nightwoods, a tale of two strange children sent to live with an aunt in a lake lodge she caretakes, on a lake across from a North Carolina village. It’s set in the 1960’s, but it could be any time, as all times in the South seem to be the same. The villain is Bud, the man who married Luce’s sister and then murdered her. The romantic angle is Stubblefield, who has returned to oversee his grandfather’s holdings, part of which is the lodge Luce takes care of. But at the center of the story are the twins, strange Southern children who speak a secret language but only to each other, who love fire and its cleansing power, who are the only witnesses to the murder of their mother. And Bud wants to find them and the thousands of dollars their mother stole from him. Do I recommend this book? You bet I do. Will I find and read his other two novels, Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons? You bet I will.

Tuesday, November 8

Penn State & the NBA

What a mess in Pennsylvania. Sexual predation other than in the Catholic Church. And the same kind of cover-up as in the church. Joe Paterno, the sanctified coach at Penn State, won’t be able to escape the repercussions. Nor will most of the hierarchy at the college. The outcome is yet to be decided. But that leads me to the act itself. What causes otherwise good people to commit such heinous acts? What sort of sexual drive could cause people (not just men) to need such satisfaction that they cause lifelong harm to their young charges, could jeopardize their own lives and reputations? I don’t have a clue. Possibly some day, soon, I hope, we’ll have an answer and be able to spot potential aberrant behavior in time to stop it before it rears its ugly head.

This may seem like an odd departure from the topic above. The NBA looks more and more like there won’t be a 2011-12 season, not even part of a season. Who cares? The squabbling over money by players and owners seems perverse at a time when too many people can’t find jobs, when too many people are on welfare, when too many people are living below the poverty level. Who cares if they play basketball ever again? Not me. Nor most of the other fans and non-fans of professional basketball. I’ll miss Steve Nash this year, but I’ll learn to live without him.

Monday, November 7

Ole & 3 Mice

I have absolutely nothing to say today. So how about a lengthy Ole joke on the new math and three mice with attitudes..

A construction site boss was interviewing men for a job when along came Ole Olson. The boss thought, "I'm not hiring that dumb Norwegian!" So he decided to set a test for Ole, hoping he wouldn't be able to answer the questions, and he'd be able to refuse him the job without getting into an argument.

The first question was, "Without using numbers, represent the number 9."

So Ole says, "Dat's easy!" and proceeds to draw three trees.

The boss says, "What the heck's that?"

Ole says, "Tree, 'n tree, n' tree makes nine."

"Fair enough," says the boss." Second question, same rules, but represent 99.”

Ole stares into space for a while, then makes a smudge on each tree. "Der ya go sir," he says.

The boss scratches his head and says, "How on earth do you get that to represent 99?"

Ole says, "Each tree's dirty now! So it's dirty tree, n' dirty tree, n' dirty tree, dat’s 99."

The boss is getting worried he's going to have to hire him, so he says, "All right, question three. Same rules again, but represent the number 100."

Ole stares into space again, then he shouts, "Got It!" He makes a little mark at the base of each tree and says, "Der ya go sir, a hunderd."

"Go on Ole, you must be crazy if you think that represents a hundred," says the boss.

Ole leans forward and points to the marks at the tree bases and says, "A little dog comes along and poops by each tree, so now you've got, dirty tree an' a turd, dirty tree an' a turd, and dirty tree an' a turd, which makes one hunderd. When do I start da yob??"

* * * * * * * * *

Three mice are sitting at a bar in a rough neighborhood late at night trying to impress each other about how tough they are. The first mouse downs a shot of Wild Turkey, slams the glass onto the bar, turns to the second mouse and says, "When I see a mousetrap, I lie on my back and set it off with my foot. When the bar comes down, I catch it in my teeth, bench press it twenty times to work up an appetite, and then make off with the cheese."

The second mouse orders up two shots of tequila,downs them both, slams each glass into the bar, turns to the first mouse, and replies, "Yeah, well when I see rat poison, I collect as much as I can, take it home, grind it up to a powder, and add it to my coffee each morning so I can get a good buzz going for the rest of the day."

The first mouse and the second mouse then turn to the third mouse. The third mouse lets out a long sigh and says to the first two, "I don't have time for this bullshit. I gotta go home and screw the cat."

Sunday, November 6

Andy Rooney & TV Comedies

Another old gray head bites the dust. Andy Rooney, 92 years young with eyebrows like John L. Lewis’s, went to his maker as though he’d planned it all along. Less than a month since he said his goodbyes to the faithful of 60 Minutes, he died as he had lived, a curmudgeon giving his finger to the world. How fitting to be able to retire from one’s life’s work and then retire from life. He was always remarkably quotable. Here are just two of the things he had to say: “There are too many events, too many movies and too much television. There are too many books to read. The newspaper keeps coming. There's no time to sit down and stare out the window without feeling you ought to be doing something.” “Sometimes it's hard to decide what to think and write about. For instance, I might be able to make something out of the difference between the words some time and sometime and even sometimes.” So, goodbye, Andy, you old reprobate. We won’t see the likes of you for a while.

I’ve been thinking about tv comedies, which ones were then and are still now my favorites. I can think of seven that fill that bill: Mash, Seinfeld, Cheers, The Bill Cosby Show, Dick Van Dyke, Lucy, and All in the Family. Have I missed any? I don’t think so, although Frasier might be another. Or Friends. The order? Probably Seinfeld, then Mash, then All in the Family, Lucy, Cheers, Bill Cosby, Dick Van Dyke. Lots of people would put Lucy in first place, remembering her and Viv on the candy factory assembly line, or mashing grapes in the big vat, or making the vitamin elixir commercial. Many would pick the dysfunctional family and its affairs as Archie traded insults with Mike the “Meathead.” And many would choose Mash, from its years and years in syndication, the show winning new audiences of young people tuning in to see the shenanigans of the crazy mash unit during the Korean War. Many would pick The Bill Cosby Show, faithful viewers of Bill doing his father-knows-best bit each week. But of all of them, Seinfeld and his about-nothing scripts has to be the best of the best. There are so many episodes that I and millions of others remember, still universally funny: George and shrinkage, the soup Nazi, George and double-dipping, the Newman greeting, the big salad, Kramer’s entries to Jerry’s apartment, the puffy shirt. There are too many to mention, but I find myself laughing even as I remember them. Have I missed any other shows? Do you disagree with the order of my listing? If so, let me know in the comment box.



Saturday, November 5

Republican Nominees

I seem to be at the bottom of the barrel as far as interesting topics go. So, why not take a look at the Republicans throwing their hats in the ring for 2012? Can’t get much lower in the barrel than that. The original list was too long to consider individually, but now, only two months from the Iowa primary, many have been weeded out. Probably the most notable weed is Sarah Palin, who pulled out a month ago. And Donald Trump, who kept saying he could win the presidency in a breeze, finally saw the light and dropped out. Either of those two would have put the kiss of death on a Republican win over Obama. Jeb Bush looked promising for a while, but then, why would we want another Bush in the White House? Mike Huckabee went, Rudi Giuliani went. That left Newt Gingrich, probably too controversial to stick around much longer. And then there were four: Michele Bachman, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney. Bachman is too much a Palin clone to be taken seriously, looks too much like Palin, sounds too much like Palin, makes the same sort of semi-stupid remarks as Palin. Herman Cain has probably shot himself in the foot with the recent sexual harassment issues. But wouldn’t it have been interesting to see two blacks running for the presidency? What in the world would all the rednecks have done? Probably stay at home. Then there’s Rick Perry, another Texan who can’t pronounce “nuclear.” I thought George W. Bush was ignorant and stubborn for continuing to mispronounce it as “nucyuhlar,” but I just heard Perry do the same. I don’t think there are enough in the Bible Belt to get him elected. His insistence on denouncing evolution as a scientific truth and his statement that creationism should be taught in public schools will take him out of the race. And if that doesn’t do it, his speaking inability will. Who’s left standing? The only one with a chance to beat Obama next year? Mitt Romney. And his Mormonism won’t be a factor. If the unemployment rate drops below 9% before the election, even he won’t be able to beat Obama. Now we’ll just have to wait and see.


Friday, November 4

My Card, Sir

I went to breakfast this morning and had to listen to a true blowhard sitting nearby, going on and on about his war experiences in Korea many years ago. Just like too many ex-servicemen who sit around American Legions or VFW’s re-living their war stories over endless beers or cocktails. Actually, re-living experiences they never had except in their imaginations. This guy had a captive audience of two or three who were required to sit and listen to his bs. I carry a card in my billfold just for such an occasion. I took it out and was about to give it to him, when I decided against it. It would only have made a scene, and I don’t need any scenes just now. But oh, how I’d have loved to see his face when he read it. Maybe next time when I see him, or hear him, I’ll actually let him have it. Next time. Here’s the card.


Thursday, November 3

Euthanasia

My best pal Dusty, our tabby cat, is getting old. And he’s lost so much weight he looks like the greyhound in 50/50, called Skeletore because he looked like death warmed over. He sleeps almost all day and night, and he wobbles when he walks. There’s something wrong with Dusty other than his sixteen years, but he doesn’t seem to be in pain. We’re afraid we’ll soon have to take him to the vet to be put down (what an odd euphemism for “killed”). How does one decide when it’s time for the put down? “Euthanasia” is made up of “eu” (good) and “thanatos” (death), a good death, one that avoids the pain and suffering leading to death. When the time comes for me to take him there, I’ll probably weep like a baby, even though I know he’ll forgive me. Heroic measures for an aging cat are needlessly expensive and foolish, just as they would be for a dying spouse or child. My fear is that a stroke or dementia could allow me to live long after all quality of life is gone, a condition that could bankrupt my wife or children. The question of proper time leads me to the question of assisted suicide. How does one know when it’s time to pull the plug (another odd euphemism) on oneself or a loved one? Where does one find another Kavorkian? How does one avoid the legal ramifications? Maybe move to Oregon. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, just as I now wait on Dusty.

Wednesday, November 2

NCIS

We, along with most of the rest of the country, watch NCIS regularly, and I’ve noticed this season a disturbing practice of the show: the overloud background music that rides like a tsunami over every scene, no matter how insignificant or mundane. It’s so loud that often the viewer can’t follow the dialogue. I’ve begun to pay attention to other shows to see if the same applies. Most hour-long dramas use some music to overlay the scenes, but not at all to the same extent as with NCIS. We especially like Lifetime’s new series, Against the Wall, which uses a quiet, mostly violin background for some scenes, mostly the ones that end a segment for commercials. I don’t know why the producers of NCIS feel it necessary to hammer our emotions with this deluge of music. It’s a little like situation comedies that throw in a laugh track to make sure we understand when we should laugh. I don’t need it, I don’t want it. Now I’ll start looking for a series that uses no musical track. If there is one, I’ll be a faithful follower.

Tuesday, November 1

The Big Water

Our trip to South Dakota this past summer brought back memories of a long ago summer when I fished from the shore for northerns and caught enough of them that I was a hooked fisherman. Hooked enough that I bought a Fish-‘N’-Float outfit in Chicago that would allow me to fish out on the big water instead of just from shore. By “big water” I mean the Oahe Reservoir, one of the bodies of water on the old dammed Missouri River. And I don’t mean “damned,” although that muddy river that gave my hometown its name, Mobridge, was often damned whenever the winter ice would break up and then the river would flood the land along its banks. Or damned whenever one of our young citizens chose to swim in it and go down never to be seen again. I used to fish with throwlines when I was a boy, catching a wild assortment of fish, most of which were inedible—carp, sturgeon, catfish, bullheads, eel, golden-eyed herring, suckers, shiners. But the Fish-‘N’-Float let me go out to do hand-to-gill battle with deep water denizens like northerns and muskies. It was a truck inner tube inside a canvas sleeve, with a seat in the middle. I always wanted to hook a really big fish and have him tug me along. But it never happened, and the outfit went the way of all such toys from our past, and I never renewed my fishing there on the “big water.” Now, I’d like to go back and try again, before I’m too old to put my feet in the water and cast out a line, waiting for the strike that so seldom comes. Like Frost, that swinger of birches, such a journey for me would be good both going out and coming back again.

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