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

Saturday, March 31

Potpourri of Stuff

For lack of anything better to say, how about some clever stuff from others?





You should see some of the drivers in Sun City West.



You should see some of the butts in Sun City West.








You should see some of the non-well preserved bodies in Sun City West.




You should see some of the swimmers in Sun City West.




I guess that's what I'm suffering from, Blogger's Block.

Friday, March 30

The Girl Who Played with Fire

I finally, finally, finally finished reading the second in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. If you’re an ardent Stieg Larsson fan, you won’t want to hear what I’m about to say. This one rated “finally” three times because this one was even longer than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 724 densely packed pages, a length that was totally unnecessary. I can’t figure out why so many people rave about this series when it’s in such serious need of a qualified editor, someone to cull out all the unnecessary bullshit, all the needless details, all the confusion of names and places. For example, at the beginning of Fire, Lisbeth is taking an extended tour of the world, finding herself in Grenada, loving it there in that peaceful spot in the Caribbean. There she meets George Bland, a young man who lives on the beach, and discovers that they share a love of higher mathematics, which leads to a sharing of his bed. She’s staying in a hotel room next to a Dr. Forbes and his wife. She hears almost nightly beatings of the wife. Then hurricane Matilda comes roaring in, nearly destroying Grenada. We never hear what happens to George; we hear that Dr. Forbes was swept out to sea in the storm. End of episode. She returns to Sweden. What in the world was that about? A minor plot thread that’s never part of the main plot fabric. It had no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the story. Another example. When Lisbeth buys an expensive apartment as a hidey hole where no one could ever find her, she goes to a store for provisions, and the reader is given an item by item description of everything she buys. Why? Another example. Inspector Holmberg inspects the apartment of Dag and Mia, two journalists who were killed because they were working on an exposé of the sex trade in Sweden. It takes Larsson seven pages to catalogue each and every thing Holmberg examined, each and every place he looked. The only relevant detail that came out of this search: that Dag’s computer was missing. Seven pages. I remember that when Mark Twain died, hundreds of pages of autobiography were found, a veritable mountain of material that editors finally cut down to a manageable size. The same should have been done with Larsson’s trilogy. I agree with those who think Lisbeth is one of the most unique fictional characters ever created, I agree that the ending of Girl was exciting, although a bit absurd in Lisbeth's actions in that final scene. But the damn thing is too long by about 50%. My other complaint has to do with his point of view, an omniscience that jumps all over the place, often in tiny little segments involving one character or another, even a fox near the end of the novel, a bit of unintended comic relief when the fox lifts a leg and pisses on a fresh mound of earth that just happens to be covering Lisbeth. The plot details and the characters are good, but the writing style could be duplicated by a computer. There’s just nothing about it that I’d consider great writing. He includes almost no physical description, almost no interior musing by the characters. And sometimes he (or the translator) says something that feels so wrong. For example, “Zalachenko should not have left the door unlocked. It was giving her goose bumps on the back of her neck.” Goose bumps? On the back of her neck? Okay, okay, so I’m nitpicking again. I just don’t think Larsson’s writing is very good. Just look at this bit from James Lee Burke’s latest, Feast Day of Fools: "Hackberry loved the place he lived, and he loved walking inside its soft radiance in the morning, and he loved following his grandfather's admonition to feed his animals before he fed himself. He loved the smell of his roses inside the coolness of the dawn and the smell of well water bursting into the horse tank when he released the chain on the windmill. He loved the warm odor of grass on the breath of his horses and the vinegary smell of their coats, and the powdery green cloud of hay particles that rose around him when he pulled a bale apart and scattered it on the concrete pad in the barn." There. That’s good writing.

Thursday, March 29

Traveling without a Spare

Memories again, this time about something that happened over sixty years ago, the dreaded polio epidemic of 1949. I remember how all the parents warned us about overexerting ourselves, about swimming in the public pool, about coming in too close proximity to people. I guess that meant we shouldn’t have sex with anyone for fear we’d contract polio. Our parents would tell us anything to keep us from having sex. Back then, very little was known about polio, what caused it, how to prevent it, how medically to treat someone who had contracted it. I remember that awful summer when fourteen kids in a town of only about four thousand came down with polio of one degree or another. Fourteen. That’s like being in a negative lottery where you have a one in 285 chance of winning . . . or in this case, losing. Hateful odds. Of the fourteen, two died, and the rest survived but with varying degrees of infirmity. One of my classmates, Wenzel Leff, survived and went on to a successful career in medicine. However, starting in 1980, signs of post polio trauma began showing up, and from that time to the present, this trauma increased, mainly affecting his legs, an increase in pain, weakness, and fatigue. Last year, Dr. Leff decided to write a book, Traveling without a Spare, aimed at other post-polio people, a book in which he described his life with polio and all that he’d learned about the disease, about what other post-polio victims could do to combat the return of their evil demon, polio. It’s a very interesting read and I recommend it to any polio survivors or anyone else simply interested in this awful disease from the past. You could get a copy through Amazon or by going to www.travelingwithoutaspare.com. Do it. It’s a good read.

Tuesday, March 27

The Hunger Games

Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdeen. What do these two have in common? They’re both characters in what looks like two very successful film series; they’re both strong characters; and they’re both unique enough that people will want to see them again. I know I do. We just saw The Hunger Games at a time when most young people wouldn’t be there, 10:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. For me, it lived up to all the pre-release hoopla, depicting a self-indulgent America gone a little crazy. I remember when I first read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and I and nearly everyone else were shocked by the story’s ending, a lottery picking someone not to win anything, but to lose something, life itself. That’s the basic premise of Hunger Games: two young people from each of the twelve districts in Panem are chosen by lottery to engage in a fight to the death until only one remains, one winner and twenty-three losers. And the public, just like those in the Roman Coliseum, watch their every move, a real-life drama playing out before their eyes. Katniss and Peeta are the two chosen from District 12, the poorest of the districts, a mining area looking much like the Appalachia in Jennifer Lawrence’s Winter’s Bone. Katniss volunteered to take the place of her younger sister Primrose. The first half of the movie depicts life in the Capitol, a decadent place that prepares the twenty-four contestants for their coming trial. Katniss and Peeta are mentored by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) who advise them on what they must do to survive the opening of the Games. The second half is entirely about the games, about the deaths of contestants, each announced by the sounding of a cannon. The violence of the action, the killing and bloodshed, is mitigated by the use of handheld cameras, giving the scenes a sense of confusion and speed instead of graphic bloodletting. Until I read the novels, I can’t say how faithful the film was to the books. But I know the movie was strong enough that I will certainly read the novels. “Happy Hunger Games," President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says, "and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Monday, March 26

Tiger & Bully

Tiger managed to look like the old Tiger in his win at Bay Hill yesterday--no mistakes, no nerves showing, no gimping along on bad wheels. And he'll probably be one of two favorites at the Masters, the other being Rory. Hey, look out the window! Here comes the wagon, and the band's on the back. Climb aboard. There's room for all.

Some recent controversy about two films, The Hunger Games and Bully, Hunger Games with a PG13 rating and Bully with an R. The Hunger people were very careful not to get the R because of their target audience for the film, toning down some of the violence in the book to insure that all the young fans of the novel series would be able to see the movie. The Bully people shot themselves in the foot by retaining some of the F-bombs, thus gaining the R rating, thereby losing the very audience at which the film is directed. Why not simply bleep the expletives and get back to a PG13? The young kids are certainly familiar with all the F-bombs you can lob at them, and they'd be able to read the bleeps just as adults would. Any school district that silently condones bullying by tch tching that "boys will be boys" ought to have its doors closed.

Sunday, March 25

Happy Valley

I'm not so sure this is a good idea, putting in pieces of my novel as I write it. I can't imagine many people being interested in it. On the other hand, with the exception of a few of my friends and relatives, I don't really know who my readers are. Quite a few from Russia and the UK, a fact that still amazes me, and a smattering of readers from other parts of the world. How do they find me and why would they want to read my personal drivel? I don't know. For the time being, I'll put in some of what I write, but not every day.

Chapter 1 –

“If it looks like trouble, count me in!”

That was the message on a birthday card his daughter had recently sent him—said by a tough-looking male tabby, one ear sort of ragged from a fight he’d had, eyes golden around midnight irises, half closed in a belligerent stare at the reader, a kitchen match stuck jauntily in the right side of his jaw, pool cue in right paw, pool table in the background. He thought it was perfectly appropriate for his seventy-seventh birthday. He always knew he could count her in for any battle he might have.

He had just sat down at his usual table in his usual breakfast haunt, “The Dirty Spoon.” His usual table was a two-seater located in the far northeast corner of the dining room. One would think that a place calling itself a dirty spoon would be short of customers, but most of the inhabitants of Happy Valley had taken it as their rallying cry and supported it wholeheartedly. In fact, he usually arrived as soon after 6:00 a.m., their opening time, as he was able, the place filling uncomfortably around 8:00. He did everything he could to avoid crowds; thus, his early arrival.

He always tried to beat Marcie to the punch, turning over a cup, opening a creamer and dumping it in, then one packet of sweetener, always the pink kind, never the blue or yellow. And she always tried to get there before he could accomplish the feat. This morning he won.

“Morning, Tom,” she said to him, pouring his usual cup of regular. “I see you were just too damn quick for me this morning, the quick and the dead,” she deadpanned. “Some mornings quick, some mornings dead. What’s that, first time this week? Well, I’ll getcha tomorrow.” She stood waiting as he took a sip of coffee, then set the cup down.
“What’s it gonna be? You gonna surprise me and ask for something different? Like a bowl of oatmeal and two poached eggs?” She stood there, one hand holding the coffee pot, the other resting on a hip, upper body angling to the right. Marcie was a tired forty-something, and had been working the morning shift for as long as Tom could remember. This morning she was dressed in black slacks and black top with a streak of catsup like fresh blood on one of the sleeves, dirty white sneakers on her feet. Well, where else would they be, he thought. For ten years now they went through the same motions, the same words, the phrases varying by tiny increments from one morning to the next.

“No, Marcie, I’ll have my usual.”

Marcie shook her head, scratched his order on her pad, and left to place it at the kitchen. When Tom had first met her, she pulled the old “Sweetie” line on him. He told her right off that he wasn’t a “sweetie” and he never wanted to hear it from her. She smiled at him and tapped her pencil on her teeth. “That’s true. You sure as hell aren’t a sweetie. Maybe more like an old grouch. You’ll never get a sweetie or honey or darlin’ from me. So, do I call you OG or OF? Which?”

“Let’s just call me Tom and I’ll call you . . .,” he looked at her name tag, “Marci. Okay? I don’t think either ‘old grouch’ or ‘old fart’ is accurate.” She agreed and it had been Tom and Marcie ever since.

Tom opened his book, knife across the top to hold the pages down. He was in the middle of a Spenser by Parker, one he could speed through like downhill skiing, machine gun dialogue and Spenserian witticisms. He never went anywhere without a book. One never knew when one would have open space, open time, and without a book one might be obligated to listen to inane conversation from inane people, people wanting passionately to relate their medical histories. In fact, he seldom looked around the dining room for fear of seeing someone he knew, someone who might spot him and want to sit with him. No thanks. All he wanted was a quiet breakfast and a little Spenser.
He was just finishing chapter 23, with Spenser gazing out his office window, admiring the lovely ladies of Boston, when Marcie brought his order and filled his cup. “Here it is, Sport—over easy, sausage, hash browns, sour dough. You just gotta try something else one of these days. This stuff’ll give you arteries set in concrete.” She gave him a pat on the head and filled his cup. “I worry about you, Tommie boy. Who’d I have to fight with every morning if you weren’t around?” He waved her away, head down. She clucked and shook her head and went back to her other customers.

Tom sighed, closed his book, then put another creamer and sweetener in his cup, stirred, took a sip, then prepared his breakfast—salt and pepper on eggs and hash browns. He knew he shouldn’t be using so much salt, but he no longer cared. Eggs and potatoes without salt weren’t worth eating. He opened a half-ounce container of strawberry jam and carefully carved out two-thirds for one of the toast halves. He always used exactly two-thirds for each of the first three pieces, then an entire one for the fourth. There was great satisfaction in the ritual. He took one bite of the toast, then put it carefully on the left edge of the plate. One sip of coffee. Fork into one egg yolk, allowing the orange yolk to seep toward the edge of the hash browns. Then one careful quarter of the opened egg. One sip of coffee. Next came a bite of the potatoes with just the right amount of egg yolk. Another bite of toast. One third of one of the sausage links. The ritual was all. It went like that until all was gone except for the last piece of toast, the one with a full packet of jam. Marcie had been around with coffee, his third cup, and he finished the toast, drank the last of the coffee. Before he left, he put all his breakfast débris—the three creamer cups, the three artificial sweetener packets, the three empty jam containers along with his utensils and paper napkin—onto his toast plate, which he then put on his breakfast plate. He returned the salt and pepper shakers to their official positions near the jam and sweetener holder, positioned them exactly as they had been when he arrived. He took two dollar bills from his wallet and put them on the table, stood with book in hand, and went to the cashier.

“Bye, Tom,” Marcie said from near the serving window. “ See you tomorrow.” She pointed a finger at him and winked. “Think about it, Sport, oatmeal. You, oatmeal, think about it.”

He waved to her, more dismissive than farewell, and left.

Now, he thought, what to do with the rest of the day?

Saturday, March 24

Bullying & Fairy Dust

Julia Roberts was on the Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday, and Ellen took special delight in scaring her when she came into her bathroom before the show. As Julia said, she peed her pants she was so frightened. Then later in the interview, a large man dressed as Snow White sneaked up behind Julia and gave her a loud BOO, which made her jump almost out of her chair. And Ellen thought it was simply hilarious. I’ve written about this before, but here I go again. Ellen, you’re a bully. You who have been so outspoken about bullying are a bully. It’s all about the degree of bullying. For example, is it bullying to constantly come up behind a person who is goosey and touch him on the buttocks? Granted, it makes him jump like he’s been electrocuted and that might be hilarious to those watching, but is it funny or is it bullying? When an older and stronger person takes down a younger and weaker person, sits on him and tickles him until he can hardly breathe, is that funny or is it bullying? When that same strong person takes down that same weak person and applies lipstick, smearing it all over his face, is that funny or is it bullying? When the class bully comes up behind the class nerd and gives him a wedgie, is that funny or is it bullying? When the class bully forces the class nerd into a locker and then locks him in, is that funny or is it bullying? One can see what the next level of bullying will be: rape and physical abuse. Scaring someone is just a lesser form of bullying, but it’s still bullying. Ellen, you’re a bully.

I said a few days ago that I was out of things to write about, yet I keep finding stuff in the news or on the tube. I said I was going to keep this blog updated on Happy Valley, my next novel. HV is about a widower living in a retirement community in Arizona, a retired English teacher who is in the process of writing a children's story. I know, I know, that sounds a lot like autobiography, but it isn't, it won't be. And I don't know if the tone should be humorous or serious. But since it's bound to be about a man facing his mortality, I guess it should be serious for the most part. On the other hand, life is pretty absurd, so maybe my story should reflect that absurdity. I don't know. But here I can at least show some of what he's written about Joshua and Saffron, the two characters in his children's story.

No land of milk and honey, this land. Sun and sand and open sky in all directions. And the young elf named Joshua and his female companion named Saffron were alone in this wilderness. Alone with the sun and sand and open sky. They had become lost in a violent sand storm that had swept the country several days before. Their people, the desert elves called The Tribe of Tempest, had been making a pilgrimage to the oasis at the foot of the mountain they called Mount Melancholy. The sun had dimmed from fire orange to dull lemon to tan ghost as the wind grew and grew and the sand swirled upward in sinister coils and sheets until the horizon and all earthly objects became lost in the shroud. And Joshua and Saffron lay huddled beneath their capes. The storm lasted for what seemed like hours but was only twenty-three minutes.

Then they heard the wind diminish from screams—eeeeeee!— to moans—ooooo, ohhhh, ahhhh!— to silence. When they peeked from beneath their capes, they saw a world that seemed different. And much lonelier. They were alone in the vastness of sun and sand and open sky. The tribe was nowhere to be seen. They climbed to the top of a rocky outcrop and looked in all directions. No sign of the tribe, no sign of anything alive except for the fingers of saguaro to the west, a stand of Joshua trees to the north, and patches of prickly pear sprinkled all around them. And to the east, the tall dark presence of Mount Melancholy.

Thursday, March 22

American Idol

I swore I’d never again do it, but then I went ahead and did it anyway, watch American Idol, that is. They were down to the final ten last night, so we said to hell with it, let’s see what kind of singers they are. I wasn’t very impressed. They were doing the Billy Joel songbook, and only Colton Dixon thought enough of “Piano Man” to do it, and do it pretty well. And Phillip Phillips with “Moving out” was excellent, as was Erika Van Pelt with “New York State of Mind” and a brand new look with her now black, short hairdo that Tommy Hilfiger suggested. My third choice of the evening is Elise Testone and “Vienna.” The rest were only average at best. No one tried Joel’s “And So It Goes,” maybe his very best song. They all may have realized that with that song there’d be no hiding place, no loud background singers to cover up their deficiencies. I realize that Idol is as much about performance as singing, thus their emphasis on wardrobe and hairstyles. But I’m more interested in their singing than anything else. I think that when they get down to the final five, they should make each of them sing the same song, each singing it a cappella. That would give the viewer a perfect comparison of their singing abilities. We could separate the wheat from the chaff. But that will never happen. What did I find still there that drove me away from it after last season? They still had that irritating Ryan Seacrest as host with his irritating smile. And they still insist on using that front row of women who wave their arms like sea anemone during performances. And, of course, they still have that irritating Steven Tyler. Who do I think will be the one to go? The bottom three will be DeAndre Brackensick, Hollie Cavanagh, and Heeun Han, with Han getting the pink slip. I could be very wrong, though. The voters always seem to jump over the best singers to keep the average. In the past four seasons, the best never won, and the Scotty McCreerys prevailed.

Wednesday, March 21

T-Shirt Wisdom

I’ve been writing on this blog for more than two years, almost 500 posts. I’ve written about national news, pet peeves, television shows, movies, cat behavior, and sports (mostly golf and Tiger). And I think I’m running out of things to say. I began my sixth novel three years ago and then abandoned it because of writer’s block and this blog, but I think I should now get back to it. And I could keep track of my progress here, a summation of each day’s progress. Any blog readers might not be interested in such, but as I said, I’m running out of interesting ideas. The main character of Happy Valley is an aging retired English teacher (You know the old writer’s advice: write about what you know.) who is trying to write a children’s novel about two desert elves named Saffron and Joshua and their companions Smoke and Cree. I could concentrate on the progress of that effort. Meanwhile, how about some T-shirt wisdom.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

Hyperbole is the greatest thing ever! Onomatopoeia is a blast.

The most abundant elements on earth are oxygen and stupidity.

Quondo Omni Flunkus Mortati (When all else fails, play dead.)

I became a teacher for the money. The power and fame were just a bonus.

If it moves, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.

Always remember, you are unique, just like everyone else.

She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going . . . but she was on her way.

I cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from passing over my head, but I can keep them from building a nest in my hair.

Being a good writer is 5% talent and 95% not being distracted by the internet.

My train of thought just derailed. There are no survivors.

Copy from one, it’s plagiarism. Copy from many, it’s research.

If you long for your youth, remember the fun of calculus class.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life, music and cats.


Tuesday, March 20

Friends with Kids

Remember the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies of yesteryear? Well, Rock was gay and we can’t be sure about Doris. But love was never even close to what those old films tried to depict. Rosalie and I just saw a modern romantic comedy and neither of us is quite sure what to make of it. Friends with Kids, starring Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed), was all about the relationships of husbands and wives, of unwed friends and lovers, and what a confusing mess it was. Even the expressions “love affair” and “making love” are misleading since most affairs are more about lust than love and couples make lust more often than love. A trite T-shirt saying romantically suggests, “Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.” Well, Jason (Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) keep proclaiming that they’re only good friends, not attracted to each other sexually, the two of them more like really close brother and sister than lovers. Their married friends all have young children and their marriages show cracks in their marital foundations. So, Jason and Julie decide together to have a child without the confusion of marriage—equal financial and child-rearing responsibilities. Meanwhile, they both agree that it shouldn’t interfere with their search for the perfect mate, with all the sexual coupling that goes with such a search. They produce a boy, they raise him together, they find what they each think is the perfect one. We can all see what’s coming, but it was satisfying to see it happen, just as all the “hand in hand, walking into the sunset” happy endings starring Rock and Doris. This one certainly wasn’t any Sleepless in Seattle, but it was worth seeing.

Monday, March 19

Frozen Planet

Last night we watched one of the most fascinating shows on the Discovery channel—Frozen Planet, focusing on life and death events in the two polar regions, narrated by Alec Baldwin. Even the old Disney nature films didn’t capture the natural world as well as this one did. They spent six and a half years in the field and four years in production for this seven-part series. Many of the scenes used time-lapse photography to demonstrate the movement of the seasons, the melting of glaciers and the flow of rivers. In one segment, we watched a wooly bear caterpillar feed voraciously on spring plants and then go into a kind of hibernation when its world froze again. The caterpillar did more than hibernate; it literally died. But in the following spring thaw, it came to life to feed once more. And as it grew, it would molt to accommodate its greater size. On average, these caterpillars would do this for fourteen years, fourteen spring seasons of feeding and storing until it had enough that it could create a cocoon, from which would emerge a moth. The moth would mate and then lay eggs and die. End of life cycle. Fourteen years on average. I don’t think I’d want to be a wooly bear. Other segments involved polar bears seeking mates, having cubs; gray wolves hunting down bison; orcas teaming up to create waves to sweep seals off ice floes; beautiful sea creatures managing to survive in frigid conditions; a salt-water icicle, called a brinicle, that forms like a stalactite descending to the ocean floor, killing everything it touches; the movement of glaciers toward the sea, then breaking up and forming gigantic icebergs. This is a fascinating study of forces and creatures we can hardly imagine, a lesson in “kill or be killed,” “eat or be eaten.” Not necessarily a pleasant concept, but one that seems to prevail throughout our world. I wouldn't want to be a penguin, a seal, a bison, or any of the creatures that eke out a life in these frigid places, but it's sure fun to watch them. Be sure to see this show. Six more episodes on Discovery, Sunday evenings.

Sunday, March 18

John Carter & Touch

I’ve been an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan all my life. It was on his books that I first cut my teeth, and I’ve been cutting my teeth on books ever since. My sister introduced me to Burroughs when I was about twelve by pointing me to At the Earth’s Core and its sequel Pellucidar. Oh, the magic of that land at the center of the earth. That led me to the Venus series, the Mars series, and the Tarzan series. I read them all. I read them all again. Now Disney has made a film about John Carter and his transport to Barsoom, or Mars. And the movie is special fun for anyone, but especially fun for old Burroughs fans. John Carter, because of the lower gravity, is much stronger than any of the Barsoomian inhabitants, and is thus a ferocious warrior. There’s an opening segment just after he awakens and finds himself on an alien world in which he stumbles and leaps and falls on his face, trying to get used to his new ability. Soon after, he encounters the original Barsoomian race, the Tharks, green creatures with four arms and facial horns. They capture him and force him to exhibit his leaping ability. The plot is in many ways science fictionally silly, but it’s still good fun. For example, the two warring city states have technology to develop small and large flying machines, yet nearly all the fighting is done with swords and old-fashioned long rifles. An odd Martian creature named Woola takes a shine to Carter and follows him everywhere, panting and grinning like a dog. If the viewer doesn’t take the plot too seriously, he can have two hours of escapist fun.

Last Thursday, we watched the pilot of Touch on Fox, with Kiefer Sutherland as the father of an autistic 11-year-old boy who has the ability to see cosmic connections between people and events, even seeing into the future. He seems obsessed with the number 318, which turns out to be the number of a school bus as well as the date, March 18, the day on which the bus crashes. All the children are saved, however, by a man that the boy had seen earlier buying a lottery ticket with numbers ending in 318. An intriguing premise for a show that should be a winner in coming episodes.

Thursday, March 15

Charlie & Old Recipes

Another Charlie update. Here, he’s sleeping in his favorite cat bed on a rocking chair. But, unlike most cats who tend to curl up when sleeping in a cat bed, Charlie seems to just drip out of the bed, all arms and legs hanging as well as his head. He’s a clown and we love him dearly.

Rosalie and I were reminiscing about the kinds of things we cooked and ate when we were first married. Naturally, one of the things we remembered was the old Chef Boyardee pizza kit. Back in the early sixties, one couldn’t find pizza just anywhere, especially not in the Midwest. And we didn’t know about all the things available today in pizzas. Back then, we rolled out the dough, put on the tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, and I think we sprinkled on browned hamburger. And away we went. Homemade Midwestern pizza.

That memory led to others. We’d buy a whole chicken, cut it up, fry it, and then eat the whole damn thing, just the two of us. I guess chickens then must have been smaller than the ones I now see in the store. Or maybe we were just gluttonous pigs in our youth. Back then, you could still buy chicken gizzards in a small carton. I don’t know if modern chickens no longer have gizzards or if the markets are grinding them up for some other chicken delight. In any case, they don’t seem to be for sale anymore. Also, back then, we didn’t worry too much about calories or fat content. So a good many meals consisted of a cream sauce with all sorts of things added (one at a time, not all together): chipped beef, tuna, hard cooked eggs, browned hamburger (the old army SOS), cheese, chicken chunks, ham, Spam, bologna, assorted veggies. The sauced stuff could then go on toast or crackers or mashed potatoes or egg noodles. The list seems almost endless. Cream sauce, the wonder ingredient that led to hardened arteries. I even once tried my hand at a soufflé. I can’t remember how I did it or what else went into it besides the eggs. It must not have been very memorable since I tried it only once. Ah, the memories.

Wednesday, March 14

Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling, & Sunset Boulevard

Music again. This time a jazz singer almost no one has ever heard of, yet he’s really good, and almost idolized in Europe, where he performed throughout most of his career. He’s such an individual in his vocal style that he’d turn off anyone not a jazz fan. He does a lot of upbeat stuff, with crazy extemp scat, but I think he’s at his best with slow love ballads. Just listen to what he does with “The Dream.”

And then there’s Kurt Elling, who must have been a Mark Murphy fan in his youth. Listen to what he does with “Nature Boy.” And if you’re so inclined, you might go to YouTube and check out the duet with Al Jarreau on the old Dave Brubeck track, “Take Five.” I can’t understand how two voices can do so many musical tricks and still know where they’re going.

Last night we saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, and as with all of Webber’s scores, there weren’t many songs one would be humming afterwards. Only two were recognizable to me, “With One Look” in Act I, and the truly haunting “As If We Never Said Goodbye” in Act Two. Although this doesn’t come even close to being my favorite musical, it was impressive for the voices, the costuming, and the set design. First, the voices. Cassandra Klaphake, one of the founders of ABT, has a huge voice that she used in the lead role of Norma Desmond, the aging silent screen star who unsuccessfully attempted a movie comeback with her bad screenplay about Salome. The other lead, Joe Gillis, played by Peter Carrier, was excellent, as were the rest of the cast, nearly all of whom had solo bits and pieces of some of the numbers. And the costuming. I’m always amazed at the number of costumes they have to create for each show. The most impressive aspect of the sets was Norma Desmond’s plush living room, with sweeping staircase. We came away from the show once again impressed with the quality of this local dinner theatre only twenty minutes away.

Tuesday, March 13

What a Wonderful World

If you're feeling down, have a few minutes, you should listen to Stacey Kent's version of "Wonderful World." I guarantee you'll feel better afterwards.


There, now don't you feel better?

Cookies

A culinary mystery. Or, more specifically, a cookie mystery. The Oreo cookie is celebrating its 100th birthday, but I remember in my youth a cookie almost identical to an Oreo. Problem is that I can’t remember what it was called. I can see it, I can taste it, I can remember dunking it in milk just as people today do with an Oreo, but I can’t remember its name. It was two chocolate rounds filled with a white creme, just like an Oreo, but maybe just slightly larger. The color wasn’t quite as dark brown. It wasn’t quite as thick as an Oreo, maybe because it used less creme filling. And it was slightly crispier, crunchier. I can feel the crunch in my mouth right now, and it didn’t soak up milk nearly as rapidly as an Oreo does. Its name is on the tippy tip of my tongue, but I can’t get it off. What was it called? I unsuccessfully searched the internet for a cookie similar to an Oreo. I asked Rosalie if she remembered such a cookie and she said no. I described it to her as I did above, and she still said no. Thirty minutes later, while I was still fighting my tongue tip, she blurted out, “Hydrox,” and I shouted, “Yes!” She had no idea where that word came from, how it got in her head. Maybe I sent it there via my tongue tip. So I went back to the internet and found that the Sunshine Company (later known as the Sunshine Biscuit Company) began making Hydrox cookies in 1908, four years ahead of Oreo, which was inspired by the Hydrox. Yet Hydrox suffered from the impression of being a knockoff of the Oreo. Keebler took over from Sunshine Biscuit in 1996, and Kellog’s took over from Keebler in 2001. In 2003 Kellog’s had to give up its battle with Oreo. In 2008 Kellog’s decided to bring it back for a limited time, but in 2009 they stopped production. Phooie!

And while I’m at it, I also remember a cookie shaped like a skateboard, maybe three inches long, a vanilla skateboard covered in a hard pink frosting. What the hell was that one called? My mind keeps zooming in on Lorna Doone, but I don’t think that was it. I can also see and taste this cookie, but again I can’t come up with a name. Anybody out there want to go, “Shazam! I’ve got it!”? If so, let me know.

Monday, March 12

Tiger Demise

How sad to see Tiger leaving Doral yesterday, sad to see him withdraw from a tournament in which he’d never finished out of the top ten, sad to hear about another injury to his left leg. He says it’s only his Achilles, but one would suppose it may be his left knee again. If that’s true, then we may well have seen an end to his golfing career. No more chasing another five majors, no more magical moments when he pulls off an almost impossible shot in near darkness at Jack's Memorial, no more fist pumps when a chip onto the 16th at Augusta somehow makes that final slow turn to go in for birdie, no more impossibly long downhiller on the island green 17th at the TPC Sawgrass, no more miracle putts on only one good leg to beat Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open. I’ll miss him. Ten years ago I admired him as much for his character as his golf ability. Now, almost two years after that tragic auto accident and the breakup of his marriage to Elin, I can no longer admire him as a man. But I, along with millions of his fans, still love to watch him compete, all of us watching for another Tiger miracle. I’m very much afraid I’ll never see that happen. How sad.

Saturday, March 10

Cat Truisms

It is easy to understand why the cat has eclipsed the dog as modern America’s favorite pet. People like pets to possess the same qualities they do. Cats are irresponsible and recognize no authority, yet are completely dependent on others for their material needs. Cats cannot be made to do anything useful. Cats are mean for the fun of it. In fact, cats possess so many of the same qualities as people that it is often hard to tell the people and the cats apart. (P. J. O’Rourke)

Cats hate a closed door, you know, regardless of which side they’re on. If they’re out, they want to get in, and if they’re in, they want to get out. (Lilian Jackson Braun)

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can not get eight cats to pull a sled through the snow. (Jeff Valdez)

I do not know why cats are such habitual vomiters. They do not seem to enjoy it, judging by the sounds they make while doing it. It’s their nature. A dog is going to bark. A cat is going to vomit. (Ray Blount, Jr.)

A house without a cat, and a well-fed well-petted, and a properly revered cat, may be a perfect house, perhaps, but how can it prove its title? (Mark Twain)

When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even. (Penny Ward Moser)

Those of us who love cats are typically a little off the wall, and so are the people (like Hitler, Napoleon, and Alexander the Great) who hated them. Let's face it, cats bring out the best in us and the worst. (Roger a. Caras)

For some people, the pet dog is just a bit too, well, predictable. Once you have come to know your dog and the one or two ways in which she differes from thousands or perhaps millions of other dogs, she's unlikely to astonish you; she's the same all the way through, like a banana. The cat is layered, like an artichoke. (Barbara Holland)



Dragon Tattoo & Charlie Update

I finally . . . finally finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It deserves two finalies because I didn’t think I’d ever get through the last hundred pages. I’ve read leisurely novels before, but this one was more like plodding through all seasons in Sweden, mostly sodden spring countryside. I liked the novel, but I think I may have liked it more if I hadn’t first seen the movie. The movie was able to cut through much of the detailed activities of Blomkvist and Salander. The book kept track of every single thought and motion Blomkvist made. Didn’t matter how little I needed to know some of the background information about the multitude of characters, mostly Vangers, I got it anyway. Didn’t matter if I didn’t need to know about everything Blomkvist ate or drank, I got it anyway. The style of the writer/translator was somewhat awkward because it often sounded like what a translator would say, someone not totally familiar with English idioms. One such example of many: “He could not look her in the eyes.” Just a little thing, but any native speaker of English would say, “look her in the eye.” But now I’m nitpicking. As I said, I liked the book, and I’ll find the next two and read them. But I’ll be hoping they’re not as long or as unnecessarily detailed as Dragon Tattoo. Oh, yes, and another thing about The Girl, several people have told me they thought the Swedish version of the movie was better than the American. I don't see how that's possible, but I'll go to Netflix and and check it out.

Charlie update. We’re both almost positive Charlie isn’t a cat. We think he’s half dog, half human. And he’s so very, very self-assured. He’s been with us for two and a half months now. In that time, he’s completely taken over the house and us. He owns us, not the other way around. As Garfield says, “Nobody owns a cat.” Have you ever seen greener eyes?

Friday, March 9

Dental Care & Reality TV

Yesterday, Rosalie and I went to the Midwestern University Dental Institute and were very impressed. We had heard from a few people who had gone there for their dental work that the facility was great and the prices for various procedures were even greater--less, that is. After my expensive experiences with Sun City West dentists, this place was a refreshing change. We were told they have 240 chairs with about 100 in-training students working on any given day, each with an instructor overseeing their work. I met the student assigned to me, Don Sunde, one of the sharpest young men I’ve ever encountered. He took me back to his station where we spent almost two hours going over my medical and dental records, all my medications, discussing what the institute was all about, what I could expect from them regarding my dental needs. I’m hoping they’ll be able to fix my bite, make my damned partial plate more efficient. Anything they can do will be an improvement over the $12,000 I paid out last year for unsatisfactory dental care. My next appointment is next Thursday, when they’ll take x-rays and do a cleaning, then maybe outline what my dental needs will be in the future.

Quick note on Ellen. A few days ago she mentioned some odd reality shows her staff had found. She showed a clip from something called “Toddlers in Tiaras,” mothers pushing tiny tots in beauty contests with one six-year-old spinning around and drinking her “special juice” as she told the camera how much she liked beauty pageants and making money. Six years old. Another show centered on people who collected Cabbage Patch dolls and treated them like their children. Another, called “Mob Wives,” was spookily weird. Another, about strange addictions, showed a woman addicted to the scent of Pine Sol, keeping bottles of Pine Sol with her at all times. She would turn on the hot water to steam her bathroom, then pour Pine Sol in the tub and sink, rapturously explaining how she breathes in the steam and scent. All really strange. I keep wondering who watches such shows, and why they’d want to watch them. I guess it would be an audience of voyeurs, secretly watching weird behaviors. I think I can bypass all such realities and hope I never run into any of the weirdoes who star in or watch such realities.

Tuesday, March 6

Rampart & Woody Harrelson

We just watched Woody Harrelson in a tour de force performance that would have won him an Oscar nomination in September or October, but not in March. He was Date Rape Dave Brown, maybe one of the most complicated characters I’ve ever seen. Rampart, set in LA in 1999, focuses on Officer Brown as he spirals out of control in violence, drugs, booze, many many cigarettes, and one-night-stand women. Dave lives with his two daughters and their mothers, sisters whom Dave had married one after the other. He feels compelled to keep them all together where he can take care of them, despite the harm he does to all of them with his possessiveness. The people in charge of the LA police department are after him, trying to prove that the man he killed a decade earlier was set up by Dave. Cop justice, delivered by Dave on a man Dave knew to be a serial date-rape rapist. Dave counters all their probing by quoting from memory a variety of legal decisions. It seems that Dave studied to be a lawyer and then decided, like his father, to be a cop instead. As I said, a very complicated character. He’s a rigidly moral man as long as people conform to his odd moral code. If they don’t, look out. He tells his daughters at one point that he’s killed a lot of people, bad people. But he’s never harmed anyone he considers good. The oldest daughter, Helen, obviously mixed up and headed in the wrong direction, asks, “What about us?” The movie ends with him considering suicide, facing what will be his release from the force, with his almost certain conviction for his crimes while on duty. This was a movie that despite the darkness of its message was well worth seeing. Who’d have thought that the Woody, the silly young man from Cheers, could pull this one off.

Sunday, March 4

Golf & Movie Rivalries

Love him or loathe him, Tiger made the PGA tour richer than it would have been if he hadn’t showed up. And all the players for the past decade are now playing for much larger purses than before he arrived. Even today, tv ratings shoot up when he’s in a tournament; attendance at the courses grows by about twenty percent when he’s there, even more when he’s in contention. But premier players like Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, and Ernie Els, to name only a few, might consider themselves unlucky to have had a career during the Tiger era. All those wins that might have gone to someone else—14 majors, 71 minors. The same was true during Nicklaus’s time for players like Weiskopf, Player, and Watson.

That leads me to a similar situation in the movie industry—Glenn Close and Meryl Streep. Poor Glenn would be considered the greatest actress of the last thirty years if it weren’t for Meryl. I wonder what degree of animosity she holds for Meryl.

How about a really short story? Here’s one called “Trouble at the Altar.” “I do,” he said. “I don’t,” she said.

Saturday, March 3

Arpaio & Limbaugh, Two Pistachios in the Nut Bowl

A presidential election year. Time for every kook and krazy to come out to display his lunacy, and we have two such lunes in recent news:Joe Arpaio and Rush Limbaugh.

First, Joe Arpaio. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know who Joe Arpaio is, he’s the nutcase who's been elected sheriff of Maricopa County five times, and he seems to think he’s not only tough, but godlike tough. He’s taken up the Tea Party’s rant about Barack Obama’s citizenship, siding with the “birthers” who are convinced that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, a forgery, that Obama was born in Kenya, that he’s not really a U.S. citizen, that he never should have been elected and that he should be kicked out of office. Lunacy.

Second, Rush Limbaugh. In his recent diatribe against Sandra Fluke, he says, “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex—what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex." Now, take those words and reverse the focus: “What does it say about all those men who want free ED prescriptions? What does that make them? Gigolos? Male prostitutes? They want to be paid to have sex. They’re having so much sex they can’t afford to buy their own Viagra. They want you and me and the taxpayers to pay them to have sex.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, maybe we should say, take a gander at him while he gooses the goose. Lunacy.

Rush, you and Joe should retire from public life. Go sit on your front porches and rock the rest of your lives away, keeping your lunacies to yourselves.

Friday, March 2

Squeakie & Jungle Gym

We took Squeakie to the vet at noon, and was that ever fun. You have to understand, she’s been outside of our house only once before, way back when we took her in for shots when she was a kitten. She wasn’t about to get put into a cat carrier, not on her life or our lives. She a strong little lady also, and every time we got her close to the door to the carrier, all four legs would extend to make entry impossible, and all claws were out. I finally tipped the carrier onto one end and then we just sort of dropped her in. Not a happy camper or cat. We got her there, with her yowling all the way, then got her out and onto an examination table where a doctor’s aide weighed her and took her heart rate (about a thousand beats a minute) and rectal temperature (She didn’t much care for that either, and it was determined she was running a low fever.) The doctor came in and looked her over, then took her to another room to take a blood sample and give her a shot of some high-end antibiotic. The doctor also recommended they do a complete blood and urine exam to see if anything internal was causing the fever. We said, go ahead, anything for our little girl. Then we got the bill. Yowtch! More than we’d ever spent on any single trip to the doctor with one of our kids--$341.22. Double yowtch! But she’s our little girl and we paid it. Needless to say, we didn't bring her home in the cat carrier. She was purrfectly happy in a beach towel provided by the vets, all bundled up and in Rosalie's arms. So much for the cat carrier.

When we got home, FedEx had delivered a cat perch I’d ordered through EBay. How exciting. I opened the box, some fifteen separate pieces to put together with assorted bolts. And the directions were in a series of diagrams. But at least it wasn’t directions in Spanish or Chinese. I’ve never been very good at putting together furniture or children’s toys, and this time it was no different. I finally got it finished and Rosalie and I carried it out to the patio where it joined the other cat perch from a million years ago. Now, both cats have a veritable jungle gym of places to perch and scratch. Don't you wish you were that lucky?.

Thursday, March 1

Squeakie & Into the Woods

“Once upon a time…” Ever wonder what happens after happily-ever-after? A baker and his wife set off to remove a curse placed on them by a beguiling witch, and in the process find their lives interwoven with Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack (and his magic beans), Rapunzel, a wolf and a couple of princes as their paths cross in the woods. Bernadette Peters starred in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of this enchanted tale of growth and self-discovery. If you think you know the stories from the Brothers Grimm, think again!

We’re taking Squeakie in to the vet to see about her eye. Charlie apparently brought home with him a condition called “Kennel Cough,” a sneezing and throat congestion similar to whooping cough in humans, and quite contagious. He’s now his usual active self, but Squeakie seems to have contracted it. Normally, like all calicoes, she talks all the time, in her typical squeakie tone, but now she just makes little quiet squawks with nothing much coming out, and her right eye has swollen and is discharging fluid. Without treatment, kennel cough can lead to pneumonia and death. Time to see the vet. As for Charlie, he’s just as crazy and strange as before. He likes to sleep in a cat bed we have on a living room chair. Most cats would curl into a ball when sleeping in such a bed. Not Charlie. He stretches out with arms and legs hanging out over the edge. Sometimes, he even sort of drips out, head down, front legs hanging. One little extra move and he’d tumble out and onto the floor. What a delightfully odd little person.

We just got our lineup for next season’s Arizona Broadway Theatre shows. Looks good, especially one I’ve wanted to see for a long time, Sondheim’s Into the Woods. I used this show in my American lit classes to demonstrate the kinds of theatrical tricks a set designer could use to create interesting stage effects. But besides the staging, the story and music is some of the best ever. It should be interesting to see how ABT chooses to stage it—the opening triple locations of Cinderella, Jack and his mother, and the childless couple; the Rapunzel castle, the giant, Jack’s beloved cow; the flights of one group or another through the woods; the witch’s transformation from ugly to beautiful. In addition to Into the Woods, we also have Oklahoma, Hello Dolly, Annie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and 9 to 5. There are two more, Buddy (the Buddy Holly Story) and Trailer Park, but we’re going to skip those.

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