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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.

Thursday, May 31

TV Update

We have to say goodbye to some shows, hello to a few others.

Harry’s Law got the boot after two seasons. I’m going to miss Kathy Bates and her crew. Some weeks were better than others, and I can understand just another lawyer show going under with viewers. We’ve had almost too many in the past forty years. And Harry was just another. The ratings were good, at least with the older set, but not good enough with the 18-49 crowd for NBC to continue it Harry defended a few that were intriguing and timely—the animal rights case where she tried to win “personhood” for the gorilla; the civil suit against the school to ban football because of the danger of concussion; the right to buy body parts instead of waiting on a list; spousal abuse; parental rights in the case of the Chinese couple who had lost their child to adoption. But on the negative side, there was far too much unrealistic banter between Harry and the district attorney, Roseanna Remmick (Jean Smart). No judge in the country would have allowed all the back and forth dissing between the two antagonists.

Most of the other cancelled shows I don’t really care about. I’m not going to miss Ashley Judd’s Missing. I don’t know how she thought that one-trick pony plot could survive more than one season. Awake put me to sleep because I didn’t want to work that hard figuring out the dual existence bit. Bye bye, Alcatraz. You should never have begun. Bye bye, River, and good riddance. Terra Nova is gone probably because of the production costs. Not even Spielberg’s money and influence could save it, and oh, those hokey dinosaurs. We sort of liked Unforgettable, but it too will soon be forgotten. I read somewhere that TNT might pick it up for renewal. I hope so. I enjoy watching Poppy Montgomery rushing around in those tight T’s.

Then there’s Brenda Leigh Johnson. She and The Closer will conclude after six more episodes. I’ll really miss her. The Closer may just be my all-time favorite show. Kyra Sedgwick is more Brenda Leigh than Kyra. I wonder how much of the character was written and how much was simply Kyra. I guess I won’t know until I see Kyra Sedgwick in some other role. She’s in the same boat as Ray Romano, who will always be remembered as the Ray we all loved. But then, he became a different Romano for his role on Men of a Certain Age.

Hooray for the return of So You Think You Can Dance. They’re still auditioning, but even their auditions are far better and classier than what we get from its fellow talent show, American Idol. The permanent judges, Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy, are so much more knowledgeable about dance than the Idol judges are about music. And they don’t showcase stupid audition performances like we see too often on Idol. The background stories about auditioners are interesting, the dance is often unusual even though many don’t make the cut to Las Vegas, and the selection process allows talented dancers to show what they can do in the choreography session. Last night, two twin brothers had their fifteen minutes of fame but were let go because they were over the age limit. But that fifteen minutes will win them dance jobs somewhere. And the circus performer who danced with the huge aluminum hoop was fabulous but had to be let go because he didn’t demonstrate enough dance technique. The brother and sister who had only six weeks earlier suffered a near-fatal auto accident both made it to Vegas. Amazing. The brother was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital. But he survived, and only six weeks later he won a ticket to the big show. Amazing. And who would I rather watch and listen to—Ryan Seacrest or Cat Deeley? No contest.

Wednesday, May 30

What to Expect

What to Expect When You’re Expecting, second half funny, first half not so. I don’t know what I expected when we went to see this movie, probably another bodily-function comedy, this time centered on breast feeding and pregnancy instead of the usual anal/penile wit. Well, it was that in a lot of ways related to pregnancy and childbearing/rearing—hurling, farting, water-breaking, hemorrhoids, boob aches, wetting oneself, circumcision pros and cons. But it wound up being more than just that, genuinely funny here and there. And we weren’t subjected to any of the headboard banging and butt pumping of so many recent flicks. There were six loosely connected storylines, five couples and the group of baby-walking men led by Chris Rock with his four little ones which included the funniest little stumbler named Shannon. Jennifer Lopez and her husband couldn’t conceive, so they adopted a boy from Ethiopia. Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison), she a weight-loss tv guru and he a dance show partner of Jules, get pregnant but argue about circumcision, she yes, he no. Cooper senior (Dennis Quaid), a famous ex-race car driver, and his perfect young wife (Brooklyn Decker) are having twins, once again one-upping Cooper junior and his wife Wendy (Elizabeth Banks). Wendy owns a shop promoting breast feeding and Gary (Ben Falcone) starred in Jules’ Biggest Loser show. The fifth plot strand has Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), competing food truck operators, accidentally conceiving after a one-time bang on the hood of her Beetle. They stay together until she has a miscarriage, then go their separate ways until the inevitable reunion at show’s end. All in all, a rather forgettable flick, cliché-filled and totally unrealistic, but with enough chuckles and outright laughs to fill out an otherwise empty afternoon.

Monday, May 28

Memorial Day


Memorial Day, 2012. This is the day to honor our war dead as well as all those people we knew and loved who went before us. we should really honor our war dead on more than one day a year. Three hundred and sixty-five would be better. When I was growing up, I think it was much more a day to remember the dead, any dead regardless of whether it was from military service or natural causes. Back then, our little town had only two wars on which to look back, WWI and II, and we must not have had many who died in either war, at least none that I remember. And what will we be doing this Memorial Day? Seeing a movie and a D-Backs baseball game. I don’t much believe in visiting cemeteries and examining granite headstones. Not that that’s a bad thing. I just don’t believe any of the dead hang around their gravesites. They’re simply not there. I believe the dead live on in their closest living relatives. Not exactly reincarnation, but something like that. If there’s a psychic connection between the living and the dead, then it would have to be with a relative, a son or daughter, most likely, but any other relative if no son or daughter is around. Whitman echoed Emerson’s belief in the Over-soul and envisioned a vast spiritual sea from which we are taken at birth for our brief stay here, then returned to that Over-soul when we die. All of life is connected. Sort of a spiritual Facebook.

Sunday, May 27

Blogging, Rat Tail, and Charlie

I’ve been tinkering with this blog, and it just keeps getting more and more complicated. I wanted to change my profile photo to something closer to my present self. The one I’d been using was me from nearly twenty-five years ago. The one I switched to is only five years ago—me a little fatter, a lot grayer, and much older. I don’t have anything more recent that I’d care to share with my viewers. That would be scary old. I finally figured out how to update the photo, but it took forever. And I’ve switched the blog template to this darker background with white text. I like it a lot better than the one I started with. Since my medical problems have kept me from golfing, I now have way too many hours to kill. I now realize how much of my life was spent on golf courses. If I didn’t have this blog to play with, I’d go crazy. Rosalie thinks I’m crazy because I spend so much time playing with it, the blog, that is. I’m too old to play with anything else.

Here’s an updated picture of the Rat Tail cactus that’s taken over our back patio. This has to be the oddest plant I’ve ever seen. It looks like Medusa’s head hanging down over the edges of the pot. It’s also known as a valladia squamulosa.

Yesterday, I went to 4-Paws to see if Charlie’s sibling was still there. He was. And on closer inspection he looked like an absolute twin of Charlie, same long body, small head, exact same coloring. I think if I’d had a pet carrier with me I might have brought him home with me. But the lady there told me someone was picking him up later in the day. Ah well, another male might have been more than Charlie could take, even if he was his twin.

Saturday, May 26

Valley Delight

Today in Sun City West was truly wonderful, 87° with a light breeze. That’s twelve degrees below normal, and we compared nicely ro those summer havens up north—in the nineties across most of the northern tier, 91° in Minneapolis, 96° in Chicago. I hope they’re all cooking. All those snow birds who are compelled to fly “home” to plant their gardens don’t know what they’re missing. But it’s nice to have them gone. Our streets are relatively safe now and we can actually get seated at Red Lobster or Outback without a thirty minute delay.

This morning I saw my first quail family in our backyard, mom and dad and about a dozen little walnuts scurrying along behind. This is really late for my first sighting. In the past, the families started trouping through in mid-April. I wonder what’s going on. Maybe they’re practicing birth control, or maybe all the males, like their human counterparts, are suffering from ED. Or maybe I just haven’t been as observant as I once was. Ever since we had our arbor vitae trees trimmed up we’ve had less wildlife. Much fewer quail and rabbits, no lizards to be found, and I haven’t seen a coyote for more than a month. But the doves are still plentiful, cooing and screwing like crazy.

I just finished reading C.J. Box’s latest Joe Pickett novel, Force of Nature. This one was more about his old falconer friend, Nate Romanowski, than Joe, and it was more violent than any of the previous in the series. Nate is being pursued by an old colleague, a truly vicious man who’s killing off any of his Special Forces team who might know a terrible secret from 1999. And Nate is hunting him down to keep him from killing Joe and his family. And it was much too brutal for my taste. I hope the author decides to go back to Joe Pickett and his battles with one crooked sheriff or another.

Friday, May 25

Medical Update

My medical woes continue, but I’m still on the right side of the grass. It’s like I’m trying to set some sort of record for the most and most diverse medical conditions. Three weeks ago I woke up with a backache on my left side, a little painful but livable. After two days it had migrated upward to my left shoulder, then to the center of my back and up to my neck. Migrating. What’s that all about? Then last Sunday it had moved to the left side of my neck right where neck and shoulder connect. It was painful enough that I had to get up in the middle of the night and sit upright till morning. Pain. So I went to the Same Day Care clinic to see what they could do. I was told after a brief examination that it was probably tense muscles. Well, yeah, tense because I couldn’t move my head in any direction, right or left, up or down. The doctor gave me a prescription for a muscle relaxant. I took a pill that night, woke up like a drunk and stumbled into the bathroom dizzy as a tornado. The next day I took another and went with Rosalie to a movie. She almost had to carry me from the car I was so dizzy and unsteady. That was the last muscle relaxant I took. I tried Icy Hot stuff, I tried a heating pad. Neither had any effect. The neck pain decided to slide to the right and occupy the right side of my neck, even more painful than before. Two hydrocodons later, the pain was manageable until morning. At which time, I remembered my episode with fibromyalgia in both shoulders a year or two ago. So I did a web search and found that the muscle pain of fibromyalgia tends to come and go and can move to ever more exciting locations in the body. Ah ha. And I found that there’s no explanation for fibromyalgia and no cure, just treat it with pain pills and wait for it to exit, sort of like an episode of gout, another pain I’ve had in my catalogue of ills. All right. Back to my record-breaking list. In the last nine years, I’ve had approximately thirty surgical excisions of squamous-cell cancer on my two calves, from knees to ankles. An abdominal aortic aneurism was discovered when we went to an annual health checkup, a condition I have checked twice a year. Sometime about six years ago, my blood showed an abnormality in the red corpuscles. So I went to a hematologist to see what the problem was. She took a bone marrow sample from my hip and told me I had a condition called myelodisplasia, a kind of mini-leukemia. Okay. So now I have my blood drawn and examined twice a year to see that it’s not getting worse. Now for the skin conditions. About four years ago, I was visited by psoriasis on my calves, from just below the knees to the ankles. And my dermatologist also told me I had seborrheic dermatitis on scalp, forehead, ears, and nose. Wonderful. And rosacia on my left cheek. Wonderful. All right, now, the list: squamous cancer, gout, abdominal aortic aneurism, myelodisplasia, Valley fever, blocked renal artery requiring a stent, a radiation wound which is still not healed after two and a half years of visits to the wound center, fibromyalgia, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and rosacia. That’s my list. Do I win? I guess I should ask, do I lose?

Thursday, May 24

American Idol

Another Idol has come and gone. Good. In the past I’ve complained about AI, about the waving hands in the front row, the inane and repetitive comments from the judges, the audience screams during a performance, Ryan Seacrest’s phony bologna smile, the tasteless outfits worn by the judges (especially Randy’s), and Randy’s constant “Yo, dog” and “He/she could sing the phone book.” Let’s see, that just about covers it. Last night, the Season 11 winner was announced, PROCLAIMED! (in caps): Phillip Phillips, he of the Sting vocalizing. And Jessica Sanchez was runner-up. Either would have been a deserving winner; both are extremely talented, probably more so than nearly all other contestants from eleven seasons except for Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, or Jennifer Hudson. Jessica took on Whitney Houston again last night with her rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” and she did herself proud. Hard to believe she’s only sixteen. What’s different about Idol now compared to Idol then: the sets and costumes. The production details for performances has evolved from simple to mind-boggling light shows; the wardrobes for performers have gone from torn jeans and T-shirts to Pierre Cardin and Georgio Armani gowns and suits. Seacrest informed us that 132 millions votes were cast to decide this year’s winner. Amazing. Can’t you just imagine about a million little girls out there in tv land, dialing and dialing and dialing up to a hundred times apiece? Amazing. But I’m certainly glad it’s over for another year.

Wednesday, May 23

Best Exotic Hotel

We just saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and are happy we did. The humor was charming and genuine. We joined the audience in laughing at silly jokes and situations, but it was refreshing compared to the frozen-smile humor of too many current comedies like Bridesmaids, The 5-Year Engagement and The Sitter, movies that rely too much on bodily functions. I’m not suggesting that these movies are bad. Just too raunchy for my taste. It’s the same with tv’s Two-and-a-Half Men, the humor of which is based almost entirely on masturbation, orgasms, flatulence, and defecation. In other words, toilet humor. I’m no prude, but surely there must be other things about the human condition that are funny. Graham tells a really interested Madge that he’s gay. She looks at him, pauses, then, “You don’t mean . . . happy?” Madge asks Norman, “Aren’t you afraid of having sex at your age?” He thinks about it, then replies, “If she dies, she dies.” Norman fears he’ll be unable to perform for his date with Judith. He buys some Viagra at a local apothecary. Judith later tells Madge after a very successful tryst, “I switched his pills to aspirin without him knowing it.” Norman is later seen dancing happily in the shower. Dev Patel (yes, the same as the Dev Patel who starred in Slumdog Millionaire) owns a run-down, dying hotel in Jaipur, India. He builds a website to lure retirees to his hotel, collecting seven disparate men and women from England looking for an economical retirement location. What they find is something less than what was promised. Graham tells his fellows that what he most likes about India is the assault on the senses—the smells, colors, tastes, sounds. And we get all that except for the smells. This is a Disney Land India, more beautiful, friendly, happy, and progressive than it really is. Its poverty and despair are never seen here. But who cares? As Sonny says, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.” And who could ever pass up a film with Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Willkinson, and Bill Nighy? The story is simple and predictable, but that doesn’t prevent the audience from feeling good at the closing credits.

Monday, May 21

Benefit of the Doubt

The eighth Jesse Stone movie, Benefit of the Doubt, was on the tube last night. I loved the first seven in the series but was disappointed in this one. Tom Selleck and Michael Brandman co-wrote it, with Brandman probably supplying the plot and Selleck the character. Just as Robert Urich became Spenser, Selleck has become Jesse Stone, the laconic, dark drinker of black coffee and Johnny Walker Red. This time, though, I got the feeling they were stretching for the Parker style and not quite reaching it. For example, after the new chief and one of his deputies are killed in an auto explosion, everyone keeps saying, “You didn’t like him, did you, Jesse?” to which Jesse replies, “I don’t believe I ever said that.” Four times he’s asked and four times he replies with the same words. Parker might have gone for two times, but never four. In fact, almost all the dialog is short and repetitive, but not quite up to Parker’s standards. What can I say about the plot? Well, there wasn’t much plot and much of what there was didn’t make any sense. After the double killing, Jesse is temporarily made chief again. He goes to the police station but has to break in because they’ve changed the locks and the security code. He discovers a day-calendar sheet for April 24 with a cryptic series of letters and numbers. Why did he assume it was a clue into the death of the chief? Neither the viewer nor anyone else in Paradise knows. Rose and Suit have resigned from the force and both make only brief appearances. And Jesse seems to be the only one on the force. Paradise is a large enough city that there would be at least fifteen officers serving, but not a single one is ever seen after Jesse takes over as chief. Someone has been following Jesse for several days, following in a car almost riding Jesse’s bumper. Jesse pulls him over and tells him not to follow him anymore. In the final scene, it’s revealed that the man was a hit man with a contract on Jesse. Hasty Hathaway, the obnoxious auto dealer who had originally hired Jesse, is really the boss of Gino Fish, one of the biggest fish in the Boston racketeering pool. When Jesse seems to be getting close to the truth, Hasty takes his ill-gotten gains, what looks like nearly a million, and flees by speedboat. Jesse kills the hit man and is about to take Hasty, but Hasty gets away. End of movie. It felt too much like a series cliff-hanger looking forward to the next episode. I don’t think there’ll be another episode, and if there is, it had better be better than this one.

The good news about Benefit of the Doubt is that ex-wife Jen is nowhere around and that Reggie, the sad-eyed retriever, is still trying to win Jesse’s love.

Friday, May 18

Mockingjay

My Stories (Anyone interested in reading any of my stories, click here.)

I just finished Mockingjay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this trilogy, especially Mockingjay. I'm an old science fiction fan, and I've read nearly every dystopian novel out there. But not even Orwell's 1984 is as dark as this Panem world Collins has created. She portrays the citizens of the Capitol as pampered, self-centered, and thoughtless; the leaders, especially President Snow, as cruel and power-hungry and insensitive. And all the action scenes during the games and the battles in Mockingjay are so very bloody and awful. I don't know why so many young adult readers have been so captivated by these books, but they certainly have been. I guess they admire the few who are admirable--Katniss and Peeta and Gale--and in them they find hope for the future of the United States as well as the future of the fictional Panem. If you haven't yet read this trilogy, you should. It's a remarkable story.

Thursday, May 17

Obesity

My Stories (Anyone interested in reading any of my stories, click here.)


How appropriate is this Non Sequitur?




I keep thinking about all the airline seats that won’t accommodate today’s fat butts.





Or the disabled licenses given out to people too fat to walk. Or this guy in his fat guy boat.
I remember that old bully taunt from my youth, “Fatty Fatty, two-by-four, couldn’t get through the kitchen door!” A variation was “bathroom door.” I guess “bathroom door” would be more appropriate than “kitchen door,” since a fat person who couldn’t get through the kitchen door would probably lose weight, whereas one who couldn’t get through the bathroom door would probably gain, maybe not fat but something I’d rather not even think about. I know it’s not fair, but every time I see a really obese person riding in a motorized shopping cart or sitting in a restaurant stuffing a fat face, I get angry. I’m mad that they let it happen because of laziness or gluttony. I know, I know, it’s not that simple. There are socio-economic factors involved. Poor people tend to consume cheaper, fattier foods. But then I see way too many people, both poor and rich, just salivating over Big Macs and their ilk, burgers that keep getting bigger and bigger, so big now that I don’t see how anyone can get a mouth around one. We’re becoming a nation of out-of-shape fatties, sedentarily slouched in front of the tube, munching on chips and dip, order-in pizza, burgers and fries and shakes, and anything else that strikes our salivating fancy. And if we don’t somehow stem this epidemic, we could someday be a fat fallen nation.

Wednesday, May 16

Johnny Carson

My Stories (Anyone interested in reading any of my stories, click here.)

PBS, on their American Masters series a few nights ago, gave us two uninterrupted hours of Johnny Carson. I thought they’d just be showing us highlights from his show, but it was more about his life than his show. He was a strangely complicated man—a womanizer married four times; a drinker who, by his own admission, turned into the classic “mean” drunk; a friend to many but never close to any of them; a troubled, solitary man who retreated from the world when he retired from The Tonight Show after thirty years. Most of the people interviewed were standup comics who essentially got their start by appearing on The Tonight Show: Ray Romano, Jay Leno, Don Rickels, David Letterman, Phyllis Diller, Ellen DeGeneris, Conan O'Brien, Dick Cavett, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, to name only the most prominent. All of them admired Johnny for his comic timing and delivery, all of them said how much they all owed to Johnny, all of them were in agreement that he was a man one could never get very close to. Jane Embry, the zoo person he had on the show a number of times, described two of the more memorable moments when he encountered her animals: the marmoset she put on his head which then marked his territory when she removed him, the odd look on Johnny’s face when he realized he’d just been peed upon; the lynx that jumped at him when he approached its cage, sending Johnny dashing back to his desk where he leaped into Ed’s arms. And of course, the segment with Ed Ames and the hatchet-throwing he’d learned for his tv role as Davy Crocket, with Ed throwing the hatchet directly into the crotch of the target person.

Here he is as Carnac the Magnificent, one of the characters he created. Thirty years. Lots of memories his many viewers share. It was revealed that when he died, Johnny gave over $150 million to various charities, a monetary payback for the thirty years the viewing public gave him.

Tuesday, May 15

Barber Bore

I got my monthly haircut yesterday, and I had the misfortune of getting seated with a new guy at my local shop. I say “misfortune” because he was a talker . . . about anything that popped into his empty head. All I want to do when I get my hair cut is sit there with eyes closed, waiting for the final snip and brush. This guy went on and on, snipping and snipping at the same areas he’d already snipped, talking and talking, firing conversational bullets at the back of my head. I think he went over the same spots again and again because he didn’t want to let me get away. Here I was, a captive audience for his inanities. He was the barbershop equivalent of the guy at a party who captures and holds you in a corner while he nails you there with his words, not conversing, which suggests two-way communication, just using you as a sounding board for whatever pops into his empty head. Saints preserve us all from bores like this barber. I know he’ll never again see me in his chair. I’ll wait for anyone else, or I’ll just walk out and allow my hair to grow to my waist.

Every day we get less and less hard-copy mail of any importance, more and more junk stuff that we immediately throw away. I can see a time in the very near future when the postal service will be a thing of the past. They’ll be like the harness makers after Henry Ford’s introduction of the automobile, victims of an advancing future. Another thing that will soon be gone, that nearly worthless copper coin, the penny. As I understand it, it costs more to produce a penny than what that penny is worth. Bye bye mail service, bye bye penny. Hello, future.

Monday, May 14

If Winter Comes

One early spring morning, probably in 1991 or ’92, as I drove to school, I was feeling really down about the seemingly interminable winters in western New York. Probably also feeling that my career in teaching seemed interminable also, sort of like spinning my wheels in the muck of an early spring snowstorm. And the closing line from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” came to mind: “O, Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

Maybe it’s because I’m a golfer. Maybe it’s because I’m a normal human being who values the gold of the sun more than the pewter-gray of rain-swollen clouds. I don’t know. In any case, I dislike that much too much too long time between winter and spring, between mid-February and mid-April . . . between the weariness of winter’s inactivity and the joy of spring’s springiness.

Late February, early March—western New York along Lake Erie (good name for a lake in this part of the world—Erie, eerie, weary, bleary). The sun shines rarely enough in western New York, even in the summer. But in that too loooong time between winter and spring, it seems like it never shows itself.

Day breaks (or does it only crack?) at 7:00 a.m. and the light climbs through dismal rain or damp snowflakes. I drive to work with headlights on and windshield wipers slapping to and fro. In the gray of morning, the roadsides reveal, dirty gray snow and in the ditches brown, red, gray weeds and bushes bowed down by winter. The maple and birch trees are black streaks against the rising eastern sky, still leafless, the branches still blank and lifeless. An occasional pine points greenly skyward. A crow flaps tiredly across the highway to land on leafless apple tree on the first hole of Sunset Valley, a short par-3 course just before I get to school. The bird must be as winter weary as I am, and he watches me go by almost as if to say, “Caawww! Caawww! Maybe next year I can talk the missus into heading down to Arizona!”

I hear him, and I echo the sentiment.

Sunday, May 13

Pennsylvania Drivers

Pet peeves, the things that bug us the most. Everybody’s got at least one and I guess you could say I have more than my share. But there’s one that really red-flags me. You see, patience has never been one of my virtues. And Pennsylvania drivers make me want to rip my hair. I have this theory that the only Pennsylvanians who get drivers licenses are the ones who don’t pass the road test.

I used to live in New York, fairly close to Pennsylvania, but I golfed at a course just across the border, so I spent a lot of time on the two-lane roads from my home to the course. And almost every time going or coming home, I could count on one or more Pennsylvania caravans—little bunches of three to ten cars all tootling down the road at 43 mph, all bunched up behind the lead car, all doing 43. Not 42, not 44, but 43 right on the money—nobody ever passing anybody else because I swear Pennsylvanians think that’s illegal. So there I’d be, fuming at the back of the pack, and the Pennsylvanians ahead of me—oblivious to me and my anger, oblivious to just about everything—were just as pleased as punch.

I noticed, whenever stuck behind a Pennsylvania car, that the occupants really seemed to enjoy eyeballing the scenery and conversing with each other. I’d watch them there ahead of me, their heads bobbing back and forth, looking out the side windows at the countryside, then back to look at each other. Apparently they can’t talk without eye contact. But they would never look in their rearview mirrors. They hadn't the foggiest notion that there was a guy behind them about to have a seizure, a guy who at any moment might go berserk and smash into their backsides. They’d just go on tootling down the road, and in my mind I heard Mortimer Snerd going, “Dum de dum de dum, uh yupp, uh huh, yupp. Oh, hey, look, Ethyl, the Johnsons got a new yard ornament—a stuffed bear bendin’ over the garbage can. Uh, yupp, that sure is cute all right. Goes really good with the mallard wind gauge ‘n’ the butterfly on the garage door. Uh yupp, uh huh, ‘n’ I always hafta chuckle when I see that wooden cutout of the lady bendin’ over the flower garden ‘n’ that cute little wooden schnauzer sniffin’ her bottom. Oh yeah, that’s a good un. Dum de dum de dum. Whattay think, Ethel? Wanna drive on over ta the mall ‘n’ look around? Maybe go ta Ponderosa fer dinner? Let’s see, fifteen miles from here. Shouldn’t take us more’n half hour or so. You game, Ethyl?”

Any time I see a car making some strange maneuver, I can almost count on its having a Pennsylvania plate—you know, the old “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” plate. Whenever I see a car signaling a left turn from the right lane, I go out of my way to check it out. Sure enough, blue plate, and almost always a little old couple in front and another in back, both ladies with carefully coifed blue hair. Or if I get stuck behind a car doing 25 in a 40 mph zone, I just know who it must be. They feel obligated to go ten to fifteen slower than the posted limit. It’s the same principle that applies when they see a 30 mph curve sign. They follow those instructions to the letter—no, I mean ten letters less. And down hills no matter how steep or gentle the grade. Any time I see someone’s brake lights blinking on-off, on-off, on-off going down a hill, I just know it’s a Pennsylvania dingdong.

I remember a time when we still lived in New York, I noticed a car right-turning into Ponderosa. Pennsylvanians love Ponderosa and will drive hundreds of miles from remote Pennsylvania outposts just to come to the one in Lakewood. The car was tootling a nice safe 5 mph for the turn, making a big surprise loop out to the left before turning right.

“Heh, heh, heh, uh yupp. Gotta keep them nervous New Yorkers on their toes, Ethyl.”

Sure enough, true to form—they turned into the Exit, much to the consternation of a driver just leaving.

“Oh, hey, Ethyl, ya see that nice man wave ta us from his car? They sure wave funny in New York, though, with just that one finger. Uh yupp, uh huh, dum de dum de dum."

Saturday, May 12

Group Names

I was looking through Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage and came across his list of group names for animals and other things, and I remembered that old literary joke about such terms. So I thought I’d list some of the more unusual ones, one day to be used as a short presentation at a dinner or a banquet: a murder of crows, a chattering of starlings, a charm of hummingbirds or finches, a skulk of foxes, a skein of geese, a wedge of swans, a rascal of boys, a dampness of babies, a bogey of golfers (or sometimes a foozle), a surplus of lawyers, a trace of virgins. The joke goes something like this: There were three old college English professors walking down the street one evening. When they spotted a number of hookers on various street corners, one of them suggested they have a contest to see which one could come up with the most appropriate group name for such women of the night. They all thought deeply as they strolled, and then one said, “I believe they should be called a jam of tarts.” The others agreed that was a good one. Then, a few moments later, the second said, “Ah ha! I have it—a flourish of strumpets.” Again they agreed that was good, better than the first. Finally the third one smiled as a thought came to him, “No, I believe I have the winner. They should be called an anthology of pros.” Decidedly a winner.

A few years ago, in The Last Best Hope, Ed McBain mentioned a snatch of hookers, a group name of his own devising. So I wrote him a letter hoping The Last Best Hope wasn’t going to be the last in the Matthew Hope series. I also told him my literary joke and added my own group name on top of his: an Anthony of Trollopes. He wrote back and assured me that Matthew Hope was hanging up his law practice and retiring to lounge in the Florida sun. I miss Matthew Hope. I miss Ed McBain/Evan Hunter/Salvatore Lombino. I miss all the Hopes and the 87th Precincts.

Friday, May 11

Good and Bad Writing

I know good writing when I see it, but I don’t always want to read it. Good heavens, you have to work so hard at it. Faulkner could just drive me crazy he was so hard to read, yet I could see it was great stuff. Hemingway was easier but still no piece of cake. I recognized how carefully he chose his words, little words, to be sure, but still within sentences built like a New England stone wall, each stone handled and pondered over until just the right shape was found to fit just the right hole. Faulkner’s sentences were like strings of Christmas lights first taken from the box before treeing, all tangled and with some bulbs missing, two or three strings plugged together in a frustrating maze. Who needs to work that hard at reading? Every now and then, I do.

I hate careless writing, stuff that comes too easily, to the writer as well as the reader. Some writers become too satisfied with commercial success and give up the labor. I can spot it in a minute. James Patterson wrote very well in his first three books; then he went stinky in Cat and Mouse and the many many after that. Patricia Cornwell, in her series about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, wrote well to begin with. Then, monumental book sales, and she went south. One writer who just kept getting better with each book, and there are plenty, was Ed McBain, aka Evan Hunter. McBain, in his series on the 87th Precinct, improved stylistically in every new novel. He was a fast writer, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to grind out so many. But unlike other prolific novelists, like Louis Lamour and Lawrence Sanders, or Nora Roberts, who just published her 200th novel, he wasn’t satisfied with just another book in a long string of books. He wanted his style to get better. And it did, book after book after book.

Thursday, May 10

Disney Ducks

I saw three families of mallards on a pond at one of our golf courses, eight or nine in each bunch, and the familial closeness of them was touching. In all three cases the father and mother were right there to shepherd the little ones around the ponds. One group was engaged in practice dives. These little walnut-sized bits of fluff would tip their heads down and pop under the surface for two or three seconds, then pop up again. So cute. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was they were diving for. Some subsurface food maybe. Or more likely, just for the fun of it.

But I was reminded of that brutal scene I witnessed at another of our courses a month or so ago. The state conservation people had taken most of the female mallards out of the pond, so the remaining males tend to get horny with no resources available. That makes for mallard male homosexuality. Any port in a storm, so to speak. I noticed a male attacking another male out near the middle of the pond. He was literally riding the other’s back and pecking him fiercely on the head, even holding his head underwater as he had his way with him. And right behind this duo were another three or four males. Whenever the attacked one managed to get away momentarily the others would fight over whose turn it was. I can’t imagine anything more brutal taking place in a prison shower room. He would somehow manage to free himself and fly to shore, but the others were right behind him and proceeded to nail him there as well. My point is that here I am, so enamored of this idyllic scene of mallard family life and just a month earlier I saw mallards behaving like cell block bullies. It didn’t matter to them if they killed the one they were attacking as long as they got their sexual way with him. No sweet, comic little Disney characters these guys. We tend to romanticize creatures in nature, and every now and then nature has to slap us in the face to remind us that it’s still a jungle out there, and that we’re not so far removed from that jungle that we can ignore the brutality inherent in nature as well as in human nature.

Wednesday, May 9

Charlie Update

Charlie continues to amaze us. He’s about nine months old now, and he looks like he’ll grow up to have a small head, very long, lean body, and a longer than normal tail. And he does things we’ve never seen any of our other cats do. Just for kicks, I went on line and did a search on “long-bodied cats,” and I found a website that had a picture of a cat that looked too much like Charlie to be a coincidence. A Cornish Rex cat. The information about this cat said that he’s a short-hair, a distant relative of a Siamese, more dog-like than other cats (a little like a whippet), very affectionate, very intelligent, very inquisitive, would follow you around like a dog, with acrobatic leaping ability. The only differences between Charlie and the pictures of the Cornish Rex: smaller ears and no rippling coat. But the rest: the white band between the eyes down to the nose, the black coat, white legs, smudges on the nose. That’s Charlie, our Cornish Rex baby. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 8

Punny Names

Years and years ago I read a book by John Cheever, The Wapshot Chronicle, I think it was called. The father of the main character had spent a lifetime collecting names based on puns and wordplay such as “Sally Forth,” the name of a comic strip character, or “Rick O’Shay”, a Saturday morning cartoon character. I knew from my misspent youth a number of such names, like the sister and brother duo “Eileen and Ben Dover,” even that unfortunate Chinaman with a hernia, “Wun Hung Lo.” But Cheever’s character was the first I’d encountered who made a hobby of such name collecting. Without consciously deciding to do so, I too became a “nymismatist.” Now, years later, the compulsion continues, but it’s beginning to drive me crazy.

Being a student of literature, I early encountered the young Englishwoman, “Judy Obscure”; the Spanish señora, “Barbara Savill”; the stout old English gentleman, “Toby R. Nottaby” (I could hardly overlook Shakespeare); the two friends of the Mad Hatter, “Allison VanDerLind” and “Trudy Lukenclass”; and finally the overweight Russian gentleman, “Warren Pees.”

But aside from literature, the more I looked, the more names appeared to me: “Gideon Payle,” “Emma Bea Leaver,” “Roger Oubernoudt,” “Phyllis Stations,” “Saul R. Eaklips,” the somewhat smelly “Anita Schauers,” the two Irishmen “Manny O’Tier” and “Upton O’Gude,” the Clark Gable lookalike “Frank Lee Muhdeer,” and the somewhat old-fashioned “Horace N. Bucky.” And relatives, especially aunts like “Auntie McKasser,” “Auntie Dote,” “Auntie Pasto,” and least but not last, “Auntie Klymax.”

It kept getting worse and worse. I started thinking about all the names that ask questions, like “Izzie Yewman,” “Izzie Dunne,” and “Izzie Dedd” (the last of which then led to “Esther Leif-Atterdett”), that interogatory family of “Kennie Duit,” “DeeDee Duit,” and “Willie Duit” (and their answering brother , “I. Darren Duit”), “Willie Maykett,” the nymphomaniacal “Wanda Ball,” and the romantic “William Aramy.” And finally, that cold-blooded pair of worriers, “Ophelia Draft” and “Isadora Jarr.” These last two made me think of all the pairs of people, such as the two Italian gourmands, “Patsy Fazool” and “Ricky Tony;” the skinny pair, “Bill Eamia” and “Annie Rexia.” And these pairs led to more and more—the two mind readers, “Claire Voyant” and “Luigi Bored”; the French couple, “Billy” and “Patty Dew”; the flowery couple, “Phil O.” and “Rhoda Dendrun.” Then “Stan Dupp” and “Bea Kownted,” “Howard Yew” and “Emma Fein,” “Les Tawk” and “Morey Akshun,” the killers “Pat” and “Matt Reside” and their cousin “Sue Side.” I kept finding it harder and harder to sleep.

And then the final indignity: If a woman named “Billie Button” married a man named “Lent,” she’d become “Billie Button Lent.” AAAHHEEEEE E E E E E E E!!!!!

Monday, May 7

Memories & News Stories

“Mem’ries light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored mem’ries, of the way we were.” What an appropriate lyric. I’m fascinated with the way the mind establishes certain memories, freezes them with crystal clarity in the mind and yet totally discards whole segments of time. How much do we “water color” scenes we only imagine or wish had happened? Lawrence Block, in one of his Matt Scudder novels, wrote, “The memory is a cooperative animal, eager to please: what it cannot supply it occasionally invents, sketching carefully to fill in the blanks.” Our lives in retrospect are strings of pearls, polished and reshaped with handling. Looking back, we realize how short the strand really is. All the more reason to take them out of the mind and store them on paper, if only for our own satisfaction or the curious eyes of our children and their children.

I keep wondering why the local tv news programs so insist on reporting things I don’t consider news, like every damn house that catches on fire in the Valley. Why do we need to know about every one of them? We get this shot of a burned out shell of a house, usually the second floor especially blackened and an estimate of the damage. Or the gruesome fact that three small children were found dead upstairs, or an old man or woman, and often that the cause of the fire was children playing with matches, or the old man or woman smoking in bed or a sofa and falling asleep . . . never to wake up. And automobile accidents, and stabbing on X Street, and driveby shootings on Y Avenue. Surely there must be stories more newsworthy than just death and mayhem. Why not the man who just donated his 200th pint of blood? Why not the woman who works for the phone company and saved a family of starlings who had taken up residence in one of their transformers? I realize these are all human interest stories and not really timely (chronos, chronicle, time, thus news). Would yesterday’s news be olds? So why not have some olds on our news? And what restricts the news to bad news? Why not good news? Or at least news that isn’t gruesome?

Sunday, May 6

Ed McBain's Poison

I just re-read an old 87th Precinct by Ed McBain. I first read it at least fifteen years ago and have always been intrigued with the story because in it there was this really interesting character, a woman who’d been through hell and back and still retained her goodness. The book was Poison and the character was Marilyn Hollis, an ex-hooker who survived a terrible ordeal in a Mexican prison and then later in Buenos Aires. She and Hal Willis meet because she’s involved in a case Willis and Carella are working. They fall in love. They learn about each other’s most hidden selves. It really is a most remarkable mystery/love story. I think this one is so good I’d use it as a stepping off point for anyone first starting to read the series. If Poison couldn’t hook a person on McBain and his boys from the 87th, nothing could. I wish I’d had a chance to meet Evan Hunter/Ed McBain before he died. I think he and I would have really hit it off. His sense of humor, for one thing, is much like mine. He nearly always salts his books with a joke or two. For example, in Poison, Carella sees one of the police lab boys for some information about distilling nicotine. They greet as old friends who haven’t seen one another in a long time. The lab man starts with a joke he’s just heard: A man goes to see a urologist. The urologist says, “What seems to be the trouble?” The man says, “I can’t pee.” The urologist says, “How old are you?” The man says, “Ninety-two.” The urologist says, “So you peed enough already.” See, that’s humor I can relate to.

This is my 500th posting. How in the world did I get to that number? I'm just so full of words (some would say I'm full of something else) that I have to get them out of me before I burst. Now that wouldn't be a pretty sight--pieces of me flying all over the place, words like shrapnel.

And as if I didn't already have enough to do, I went on line to find a cheapie website. I found one and on it I'm putting all my stories, maybe the intros to my novels. In case any of my readers should want to read any of my stories, you can go to www.simplesite.com/jertrav33. The main page should list the stories on the left side. Just click on one and up it will come.

Saturday, May 5

Journaling

I’m in the process of re-reading my old journal entries, and I’m surprised at how readable most of them are. And the way they have of recreating for me the exact memories of past events. Any time Rosalie and I have a discussion about when something happened, I can go back and place an exact date on it. Amazing how well they can pull back scenes and people from my life, all the things I thought and did. Maybe too much golf detail, too much about what we ate, what we saw on television, too much weather information, too many dreams, both night and day. But it still reads pretty well. I began keeping a journal in the mid-eighties and have been fairly faithful ever since. I’m somewhat surprised at how often the “woulda-shoulda-coulda” refrain shows up. It seems that I keep shooting golf scores within a discomfort zone, and then say again and again how much better the round could have been. I wonder if anyone besides me will ever read this record of my days. I hope so. It would seem like such a waste if the words just disappeared into someone’s trash. That must be the same fear everyone has about the events of their lives, that the whole damn thing was just some cosmic practical joke, that their lives and the details thereof may get shitcanned after they’re gone.

I found some positive movie reviews, especially the one on Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven and another on The Crying Game. In fact, I think I’d like to see The Crying Game again, to see if it really was as good as I thought it was. I also now know for sure how gray and rainy nearly every summer was in western New York. In nearly every summer entry of 1993 I mention either the rain falling or the threat of rain to come.

On the last day of April, 1993, this is what I had to say about the weather: “I think I’ll be glad to get done with April. T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land said, ‘April is the cruelest month.’ I agree, although in western New York we get a whole lot of cruel months, months that just break your heart because you assume they’ll be nicer than they really are, just like a woman that promises with the eyes and then doesn’t deliver, sort of a climatic prick-tease.”

Friday, May 4

Random Thoughts & Cats

I went to the mall last week to see a movie. I decided not to have any popcorn but I wanted something to crunch on. So I went to the top floor of the mall to the little corner candy shop, found some peanut M-n-M’s, filled a small bag, took it to the register. She said, $6.95. I gulped, paid her, went to the flick, feeling like I’d just been candy-raped.

A thought I had about my writing and trying to sell what I’ve written: “It was like dropping stones in a pool of oil—not even a ripple as they sank into the depths, nothing to indicate they’d ever been dropped.”

Several years ago we saw on the news a 92-year-old lady who had walked across the country from California to D.C. to show her displeasure with what was going on in the Oval Office. She was interviewed about how she had withstood the rigors of her walk and she said, “The days go by and the miles go by, and before you know it you’re there.” Wow! There’s a statement that applies to just about everything.

The most abundant elements on earth are oxygen and stupidity.

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

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

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

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

A short poem a friend of mine sent me: “We rest here while we can, but hear the ocean calling in our dreams, / And we know by morning, the wind will fill our sails to test the seams, / The calm is on the water and part of us would linger by the shore, / For ships are safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.” Thanks, Anne.

Wednesday, May 2

ABT & Tarzan

I know I’ve already raved about our nearby theatrical venue, The Arizona Broadway Theatre, but I have to do it again. Last night we saw Tarzan, the Stage Musical with music by Phil Collins. Simply stunning. This is ABT’s seventh season, and they just keep getting better and better, more and more professional. I can’t begin to understand how a small dinner theater like ABT could present such complicated staging and costumes, such professional choreography, such great voices as we saw in this production. I wasn’t sure what to expect about a show based on one of my favorite fictional characters. As a boy, I cut my teeth on everything Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote. And now they’ve done a musical version? How can that be? Well, they’ve done it and it can be very well indeed. The set throughout was interesting and effective, with back-lit vines behind stone walls and cliffs depicting the jungle and the apes’ home territory. But to open the second act, the band of apes appeared at the rear of the theater, interacting with the audience as they moved down to the stage. They were followed by eleven costumed characters portraying all the jungle beauty that Jane had discovered—two huge butterflies that hovered above the action on the stage, four red plumed flowers, four multi-colored birds, and a giant spider, all dancing around Jane. And while that was taking place on stage, a female in a bodysuit entered from the rear, then climbed a white silk scarf that had been lowered from the ceiling above the dining area, giving us our own little version of a Cirque du Soleil acrobatic spin. Then there was also the difficulty of all the flying entrances and flights above the stage itself. The full-grown Tarzan enters from the back of the theater, riding a wire from the rear and over the heads of the diners to the stage. All of it was theatrically exciting and fun for both adults as well as the children in attendance. Take a look at the short video to see some of the highlights of the show.

Martin Sheen & The West Wing

Now that we’re in the final stages of this year’s presidential race, I’m reminded of one of the best television shows ever—West Wing with Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet.

I remember admiring Sheen, or at least the fictional character he portrayed. I don’t know enough about Sheen the man, especially with that odd duck son of his, Charlie, to admire him. I even went so far as a letter to the editor of one of the local newspapers:

Isn’t it a shame we can’t find someone to run our nation as qualified as the fictional president portrayed by Martin Sheen on tv’s West Wing? We have choices today—Bradley or Gore, McCain or Bush. I want Marty Sheen, or at least the man he portrays.

This is a time when we desperately need someone better than the one who presently sits in the highest office, the one whose moral indiscretions we’ve suffered along with for the past eight years. We need someone with ethical standards, kindness, understanding, wisdom, and a steel backbone for standing up to national and world bullies. Our choices are Bradley or Gore, McCain or Bush. I want Marty Sheen, or at least the man he portrays.

There’s nothing wrong with an actor for president. After all, Ronald Regan admirably paved that way. So, how about it, Marty? When your run on West Wing is finished, playing a good guy in a fictional Oval Office, how about trying your hand at playing the number one good guy in the real Oval Office?

I and a whole bunch of others would want Marty Sheen, or at least the man he portrays.

I especially remember the 2000 season finale, "Two Cathedrals." I think it was the best hour of television I’d ever seen. The story line centered on the funeral of President Bartlet’s secretary and the question of whether or not he’d run for reelection. During the funeral he kept having flashbacks to when he was a young student at the school where his father was headmaster and Mrs. Landingham was his secretary. After the funeral Jed asked that they secure the church doors and leave him for a moment. He then chews God out for all the evil He allows, chews Him out in English and Latin, then lights a cigarette and immediately crushes it out on the cathedral floor, an act of defiance against both his father and his Father. The episode ends just as Jed goes to a news conference, supposedly to tell the world he won’t run again. But it becomes apparent when he thrusts his hands into his pockets that he will go against the party preference and will run again. Mrs. Landingham had told him as a boy she always knew when he had his back up and was going to go against authority and do the right thing. He would put his hands in his pockets and grin boyishly. Great episode, great series. Daring idea to question so emphatically God’s plan.

And yes, we could certainly use a man like Jed Bartlet in the White House.

Tuesday, May 1

Ear Hair & Tempus Fugit

Yesterday, the sun was shining from my left as I drove the cart to the golf course, and there, shining in the sunlight, was a hair about an inch long growing out of my left ear. How is that possible? I pull ear hairs religiously and this one somehow escaped my view. Or is it that these hairs just grow like Jack’s beanstalk overnight? I wonder what would happen if I just let them grow. Would they get long enough to braid? Would I look like a werewolf? Or would they, as I see them on some men, just get darker and darker and thicker and thicker until their ear holes become vine-covered cave entrances. No wonder so many men here have to have hearing aids.

There’s a pond on the fourth hole at Pebblebrook, with all kinds of wild life on it, especially mallards that no longer fly north, having decided that Sun City West is a pretty nice place to live year-round. There, I was given a living reminder of the brevity of life, the swiftness of time passing. About three weeks ago I saw a family of ducks on the pond, mom and dad and thirteen tiny ducklings. Today, I saw the same family, same thirteen kids, but they were nearly full grown. Amazing. How could they grow that fast? Or did I miscalculate about the first time I saw them? In either case, tempus fugit.

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