Translate

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

Wednesday, December 31

New Year's Eve 2014

The last day of 2014, and it’s cold and rainy, which seems to be an appropriate way to end this strange year. We’ve had more cold and rainy news stories this year than bright and sunny ones. Passenger jets going down in the ocean, drought continuing its hold on California and the south central states, too many shooting deaths on both sides of the law, an Ebola epidemic, domestic violence, too many terrorist threats here and seemingly everywhere, too many wars still being fought in the Middle East, too much Taliban, too much Isis. It seems that most of the news we see in the newspapers and on television is negative—death and destruction, mayhem and cruelty to humans and animals. We assume goodness and kindness in the world, and sometimes the media tells us about such acts. Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News always concludes with a sunshiny story that makes us feel good. And if we search diligently in the newspapers, we can find snippets of happy tales—the boy who donates all his Christmas money to a homeless shelter, the man who risks his life to save a drowning dog, the smiles of joy on the faces of recipients in the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Still lots of examples of good in the world, just not as newsworthy as the bad in the world.
According to a recent AP poll, more than half of those polled believe that 2015 will be a better year than 2014. Good. That’s a start. I hope that those who may be reading this will feel the same. In any case, let’s all promise to do many acts of kindness in the coming year, even if we have to go out and find someone to be kind to. Let’s start a club called “Do a Friend a Favor—Pass It On.” For every favor we do for someone, hand that person a card that obligates them to do the same and then to pass the card on to the next person. Lord knows, we can stand to have a lot more unrewarded favors done for us as well as by us.

Last night we had the pleasure of watching the Kennedy Center Honors special, with honorees Al Green, Patricia McBride, Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, and Sting. What a classy show. If you somehow missed it, maybe your dvr automatically saved it. If so, be sure to watch it. You’ll be as moved as my wife and I were. It began with a bunch of R&B musicians reprising the best-known of Al Green’s soulful songs. We even got a brief replay of our president when he did a two-bar bit from “Let’s Stay Together” at a New York fundraiser. And did it very well, I might add. The music was great, especially that of Jennifer Hudson beautifully singing “Simply Beautiful.” Then Usher did his impression of Al Green when he sang “Let’s Stay Together.” The two-hour show was filled with gorgeous people from all the arts, paying tribute to the honorees: Stephen Colbert as mc, Lady Gaga with silver glitter all over the place doing a most impressive version of Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” Bruce Springsteen doing “I Hung My Head,” our nation’s best dancers paying tribute to Patricia McBride, a filmography of Hanks’ many movies and roles (how easily we forget just how many films he’s been in), a filmed sketch of the many faces and voices of Lily Tomlin. There’s been some talk that the Kennedy Honors show will be canceled after its long-time creator and producer of the show, George Stevens, leaves. Nah, ain’t gonna happen. There are still too many people out there who will scream to get it back.

Tuesday, December 30

Birthdays & Frost Delays

In the Arizona Republic, I always check the prominent birthdays each day, and yesterday there were three I recognized—Mary Tyler Moore, 78; Jon Voight 76; and Ted Danson, 67. I keep seeing them all as much younger than that—Mary tossing her hat in the air, Jon as the reluctant Midnight Cowboy, and Ted behind the bar at Cheers driving Diane crazy. And what really bugs me? I’m older than all of them.

Today here in the Valley of the Sun, all the golf courses in our retirement community had a two hour frost delay. That’s most unusual. But we’re having overnight lows near or below freezing and any traffic on frosty fairways and greens leaves blackened grass. I know I’m not eliciting any sympathy from folks up north. “Poor babies,” they sarcastically cluck, “couldn’t play for two whole hours. And here we are ass-deep in snow with shovels in hand instead of golf clubs.” Well, all you Northernites, it could be worse. You could be neck-deep in snow, or you could be having overnight lows of minus twenty or thirty. Here’s a story from my first years of teaching in South Dakota. My wife and I were living in a mobile home. The forecast was for a low of minus thirty-five. We knew our waterline would freeze so I filled the bathtub with water for our use in the next few days. Naturally, I didn’t get the plug in the tub drain seated quite right, so water leaked out all night long, slowly, slowly freezing our sewer line. No water in, no water in the tub, and a frozen sewer line. And it was too cold for our car to start, so for three days we had to make a frigid jog to the school (about as mile) for shaves and face splashes and potty needs. That’s one of the reasons we retired to Arizona. Another reason is the twenty-five years we lived in Upstate New York, sixty miles south of Buffalo.
We learned all about lake-effect snow. Lake-effect snow: Whenever Lake Erie wasn’t yet frozen over (and most winters it never froze over), any old low front that moved in from the west would suck up Lake Erie moisture and then dump it as soon as it hit land—big, heavy, wet snow that would fall and fall and fall. And I would shovel and shovel and shovel. Oh yeah, that was another reason we retired to Arizona. “Why not Florida?” you ask. Let’s see: bugs, humidity, hurricanes, giant sink holes, and occasional tornadoes. That’s why. Besides, my wife said she was going to Arizona and I could come along . . . or not. That pretty much sealed the deal.

Sunday, December 28

Unbroken

“Heavy-handed” might be the best way to describe Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s take on Louis Zamperini’s story about his ordeals during WWII. Granted, his story deserves to be told in film as well as print. But I came away from seeing this movie with a bad taste in my mouth. Too much about it was heavy-handed, sort of forcing his pain during his stay in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp down our throats, thus the bad taste in my mouth. Some of what was inflicted on Zamperini seemed to be too much, just not plausibly possible. When his Japanese tormenter, “The Bird,” forced every prisoner to stand in line and then strike Zamperini in the face—what looked like at least a hundred men, in the face, at least a hundred times. And at the end of the striking, Zamperini had only a few facial cuts and a black eye. Nah! Just not plausible. Near the end of the war (and the end of the movie), “The Bird” forced Zamperini to pick up what looked like a 4 x 8 x 8-foot plank (probably weighing fifty or sixty pounds) and hold it, telling the guards to shoot him if he dropped it. And after hours and hours of holding the plank across his shoulders, in final defiance, he hoists it above his head and holds it and holds it. Nah! Maybe really dramatic, but just not plausibly possible. All the prisoners were on a starvation diet, yet after two years of imprisonment, they didn’t look all that emaciated. And nowhere does it suggest that they had regular haircuts and regular shaves, yet their hair was cut throughout and no one had beards.
The same can be said about their 47-day stay on the tiny lifeboat, no long hair, no beards, no apparent loss of weight. And granted, these prisoners and others like them were required to work shoveling and carting coal for shipping, something that was against the provisions of the Geneva Convention. But did they all have to look like they’d been dumping coal dust over their heads? Like I said, too heavy-handed, Ms. Jolie. I admire Louis Zamperini’s bravery and his stamina against all odds, I admire his story, but I don’t admire what you did with it.

Wednesday, December 24

Wild & Reese Witherspoon

Wild, the movie, is a wild trek along with Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), wild as in the wilderness through which she hiked along the thousand-plus miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, wild as in Strayed’s reckless behavior before she takes that redemptive journey. This was nearly a one-woman show, with all of the plot movement beginning with her hike from the southern California border to the end of her journey just short of Canada. Director Jean-Marc Vallee chose to tell the backstory in short, staccato flashbacks as Cheryl thinks about her past and past mistakes. It’s a stream-of-consciousness parade of thoughts as she plods along, averaging about fifteen miles a day. She lost her marriage to Paul because she “fooled around on him . . . a lot,” as she confessed to one of the men she picked up in a bar. She was briefly in therapy but walked out on that when the therapist reminded her of her heroin addiction and promiscuity. Most of the flashbacks involved her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and the relationship with Cheryl and her younger brother, of their having to rush away from an abusive husband/father and of her dying of cancer at forty-five. We watch Cheryl as she prepares for the hike, loading her backpack with everything but the kitchen sink (and she may have even taken that if she’d found a mini-sink). The audience laughs quietly as we see her struggle to get to her feet with what looked like about eighty pounds on her back. Some of her fellow hikers laughingly called her backpack “Monster” when she approached them from the trail. About three weeks into the journey, one of the men helping out at a PCT way-station advised her to get rid of many items that she wasn’t using. Lighten your load, he says. Thoreau might have said to her, “Simplify, simplify,” advice we might all take to heart without having to walk a thousand miles. Along the way she meets many people willing to help her: a man plowing a field takes her home for a hot meal and a shower; a young boy sings “Red River Valley” for her; her fellow hikers offer her advice and comradeship when they meet at various way-stations. Two hunters that she encounters seem at first to be threatening to her, a lone woman out on the trail, but they go on their way. The movie is all about a woman’s attempt to find herself, even if it takes a thousand mile hike through desert and mountains and snow and rain, even though most of that journey would be back-breaking and agonizingly lonely, even though it was a journey through beautiful terrain. Cheryl Strayed apparently found herself, and Reese Witherspoon may have found another Oscar nomination for best female actor.

Sunday, December 21

Cat Jokes

Wow! I have almost nothing to say today. You see, I'm watching Sunday NFL football, sort of with one eye only since I'm not really interested in any of the games being televised. I'm really waiting for the Sunday night game, the Cardinals versus the Seahawks. While searching through some of my numerous files on jokes, I found this one from nearly a decade ago and thought it was funny enough to include here, especially since we have three really smart cats.
THE FOUR CATS

Four men were bragging about how smart their cats are. The first man was an Engineer, the second was an Accountant, the third was a Chemist, the fourth was a Government Employee. To show off, the Engineer called to his cat, "Tsquare, do your stuff." Tsquare pranced over to a desk, took out some paper and a pen and promptly drew a circle, a square, and a triangle. Everyone agreed that was pretty smart. But the Accountant said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Spreadsheet, do your stuff." Spreadsheet went out into the kitchen and returned with a dozen cookies. He divided them into 4 equal piles of 3 cookies each. Everyone agreed that was good. But the Chemist said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Measure, do your stuff." Measure got up, walked over to the fridge, took out a quart of milk, got a glass from the cupboard and poured exactly 8 ounces without spilling a drop. Everyone agreed that was good. Then the three men turned to the Government Employee and said, "What can your cat do?" .The Government Employee called to his cat and said, "Coffeebreak, do your stuff." Coffeebreak jumped to his feet, ate the cookies, drank the milk, crapped on the paper, screwed the other three cats, claimed he injured his back while doing so, filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions, put in for Workers Compensation and went home for the rest of the day on sick leave.

Thursday, December 18

The Homesman

A long time ago, just after I’d started teaching, I read Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. I read it mainly because it was set in the eastern portion of my home state of South Dakota and because it was about that period in our history when settlers from Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Germany emigrated to the New World to claim homestead land. It’s the story of the harsh reality of life for those settlers, in this case, a family from Norway, Per Hansa and his wife. The opening describes a covered wagon moving slowly through a hip-deep sea of prairie grass, barren, treeless prairie, toward a future of living in a sod house with dirt floor and neighbors more than three miles away. It would prove to be so lonely for Per’s wife that she goes mad.

And now I’ve seen The Homesman, which also shows the harshness of life for settlers in the Nebraska Territory in 1855. Mary Bee Cudder (Hillary Swank), because none of the men in the settlement want the task, agrees to transport three women who have all gone crazy back to Iowa where they can find care and possible treatment. The women have gone mad from the territory’s harshness, from the loss of children, from the insensitivity of husbands. She’s given a specially built wagon for the trip, an enclosed box with barred windows and an entrance that can be bolted from the outside, more like a prison-transport than a wagon. The women will be tied to ring bolts inside the wagon, to prevent them from escaping or injuring each other. Before she picks up any of the women, she finds George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a claim jumper who is sitting on his horse with hands tied behind him, a noose around his neck. He sees her and begs her to cut him down before the horse decides to walk away and leave him hanging. Before she cuts the rope, she makes him promise to help her take the women back. Thus begins their journey—through barren, treeless countryside, through wintry skies and frozen ground, past a party of Pawnee Indians who may or may not kill them for their horses and mules, past an Indian burial site where Briggs takes from one of the bodies a buffalo hide for warmth at night, past an open grave where a young girl has been buried, a grave that Mary Bee feels obligated to fix for the sake of the girl. Briggs goes on ahead with the wagon and the women, leaving Mary Bee with a horse for her to catch up with them. But she gets lost in the night and can’t find them, nearly starving or freezing to death before she stumbles onto their campfire. The story continues, with the audience left to wonder if the reprobate Briggs will change his spots and become a better person through his connection with Mary Bee Cudder. The first ninety minutes is as good as or even better than any Western I’ve ever seen, right up there with Lonesome Dove and The Unforgiven. The last thirty minutes are strangely anti-climactic and slightly silly, almost as though Tommy Lee Jones, the director, didn’t know when to quit while he was ahead. The first ninety minutes has great camera shots and amazing attention to details about frontier life a century and a half ago. The last thirty minutes shows us a romanticized village on the eastern side of the Missouri River, everything much too pretty to be real. Two things about this movie that will stay with me for a long time: Hillary Swank as the steel-strong woman she portrays, and Tommy Lee Jones’ craggy, weather-beaten face, with bags beneath his eyes as big as gunny sacks.

Monday, December 15

Birdman

I went to Birdman to see if all the Oscar buzz about Michael Keaton’s performance was as valid as all the critics were saying. It was, I think. You’ll notice how I’m hedging my bet with the qualifying “I think.” It was such an odd show, sprinkling bits of unreality in with reality. But even the reality was odd. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is the aging and fading star of a series of movies about the comic superhero called Birdman. He’s attempting to resurrect his career by producing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play called “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” The viewer can’t really tell what’s real and what’s Riggan’s imagined reality. We hear the voice of his alter ego, Birdman, speaking to him, warning him that his theatrical ambitions are folly. We see Riggan telekinetically moving things around, smashing items in his dressing room like a crazed poltergeist. We leap with him from the theatre roof and fly up and down and around surrounding skyscrapers. We hear classical music as background to his trips through the warren of halls and stairways and backstage areas of the theatre. Some scenes included drum riffs and a drummer in places he shouldn’t or wouldn’t be. One scene is backed by a shouted rendering of Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” soliloquy, by a crazy street person who asks Riggan if he’d overdone it.
We see the Keaton face wrinkled as we’ve never before seen it, with that Keaton smile that comes with thrust chin and down-turned lips.
Then there’s his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who looked like Tolkein’s golem with scrawny arms and impossibly bulbous eyes, making her look like one of the painted children in the upcoming Big Eyes movie. When the other male lead is strangely struck in the head by a falling stage light (Was it accidental or one of Riggan’s telekinetic tricks to get rid of a bad actor?), Mike Shine (Edward Norton) is persuaded to take his place. The three preview rehearsals don’t go well, with the preview audience actually booing when Shine, half-drunk from slugging gin in a kitchen scene, leaps from a motel bed in which he tried to seduce the female lead (not a play seduction, an actual seduction), sporting an oh so apparent woodie in his tidy whities. But the show must go on, despite New York’s leading theatre critic threatening to write a review that would kill the show in its infancy. Two setpieces stand out, a lengthy tirade by Sam telling her father what she thinks of him, and Riggan’s rant at the critic as she sips a martini in a nearby bar. Both are laced with current spice, lots of F-bombs and M-F-bombs. I’m from an ancient era when such words were never used, never even thought. See, I can’t even say them now and instead have to call them F- and M-F-bombs. My ears these last three decades have grown accustomed to the blue language of today’s R-rated movies, but some part of me still cringes when I hear it used by boys and girls in everyday conversation. Let me illustrate my prudishly Victorian youth. I was raised in a most conservative upper mid-western state, South Dakota. I remember a time when grocery stores and drug stores wrapped Kotex boxes in brown paper and kept them below the counter to be handed out surreptitiously to ladies in need of such verboten items. I remember a time when I gave my older sister the finger and she slapped me silly. I knew it was a signal for something bad, but I had no idea what that raised middle finger really meant. I remember when I and other young boys would leaf through National Geographic magazines to feverishly ogle bare-breasted females from other countries. I remember when my mother secretly stole my Goya’s Naked Maja stamp from my stamp collection for fear such images would spoil her sweet boy’s innocence. I remember carrying a condom (what we called back then a “rubber”) in my billfold, not one I would ever use, but as a badge of honor in the fraternity of pubescent boys wishfully thinking. I remember right after I joined the army hearing for the first time the M-F-bomb, thinking how awful that image was, a son having intercourse with his mother. What I don’t remember is ever having that father/son discussion about sex. We learned by osmosis, petting and panting but never penetrating. And language back then still retained the power of surprise, the thrust engendered by the Anglo-Saxon four-letter arsenal. Soon after I started teaching English, I learned that one of the most moral depictions of modern youth, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, was forbidden in classrooms because of that one F-bomb that Holden tried to erase from a graffitied museum entry wall. He was trying to protect his sister Phoebe from seeing this linguistic evil, trying to catch her before she fell over a cliff at the edge of a field of rye. I found that Twain’s Huck Finn was considered offensive because of his depiction of Jim as “Nigger Jim,” the novel one of the earliest indictments of the evils of slavery and racial bigotry. And it was on the censored list. What the fuck is that? There I got that out of my system and I feel a lot better. I think (I think?) Birdman was one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and Michael Keaton will win the award for best actor.

Sunday, December 14

Sunday Musings

Another Sunday, but this day I won’t have any Cardinals football to agonize over. They played last Thursday and won in a defensive slugfest with the St. Louis Rams. So today I’ll just wander around in a few subjects I’ve been saving.

Like Brian Crane's always funny Pickles with some wisdom about women and cats, in this case, old forgetful women and cats who live for mischief.
Last week we went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre for a Christmas treat, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and were we ever treated. When we first signed up for this show, I thought it would be just a Christmas filler in their Season 10 lineup. It was so much more than a filler. The sets again were extravagantly complex for such a tiny theatre; the costuming continues to confound me with the number of costumes and props that have to be created for each show; the singing was very good, especially that of the two leads, Nathan Brian and Julia Mosby; the choreography was very good, especially in the extended tap number with the ensemble. I still can’t understand how a relatively small theatre group can find so many tappers that can do more than fake it; I thought tap was a dance that was outdated, not so, as the fifteen in the ensemble demonstrated. The story was a bit corny, but then, what can one expect of a plot that was first seen in the Crosby film sixty years ago. The one weak voice in the cast was that of Patrick Graver, whose singing was slightly sharp on almost every note. The show merits five stars from me and almost all of the audiences of the mainly full-houses for the show’s run.
We finally got to see the final episode of Gracepoint. Thank god. Neither of us could stand the show, but we just had to watch all ten episodes, gritting and grinding our teeth as we watched it. Just like a bad novel you’re halfway through but you’re too stubborn to do anything but finish it. Anna Gunn, the softly sexy lady from Breaking Bad, deserved better than to be in this mish-mash thriller about a dead boy. There were too many red herrings involved (but they should really be called “red sardines” for their tiny lack of necessity). And David Tennant, who plays the detective called in to Gracepoint to lead the investigation, was possibly the most irritating character ever on tv. He played the same character in the British series called Broadchurch, and I’m so glad I never got around to seeing that one if he was as irritating in that as in this American version. The only thing that would be worse than these ten episodes would be if they decided to do another ten episodes.
A word or two about our skies yesterday. We got up to heavy fog, something we couldn’t remember ever having seen before. And later, these hairy, scary skies. We’ve lived in the Valley of the Sun for just over twenty years now and neither of us has ever seen skies that looked as threatening as these. We were getting the tail end of the Pineapple Express that hit California so calamitously a few days ago—towering black and dark and gray thunderheads all around the Valley, with curtains of rain coming down almost everywhere one looked on the horizon. If I had to imagine what the day would look like on the morn of the Apocalypse, this would be it. The only things missing were the four horsemen, but I kept expecting to see them riding up and over the White Tank Mountains. I’m sure the folks in California also expected to see them as the mud and rocks came pouring down from the hillsides above their homes.

Monday, December 8

Jackie Brown

One of my favorite authors is Elmore “Dutch” Leonard. His stories are intricate and well-plotted, his characters are vivid, alive, and usually funny. The humor is often black, but still very funny. Thanks to Netflix we watched the 1997 Jackie Brown, adapted from Leonard’s Rum Punch. This was Quentin Tarantino at his usual iconoclastic best, maybe not up to his very best, but close. The story is simple: Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a down and out airline stewardess working for a down and out airline with flights to Mexico, making a few bucks by helping Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggle cash out of Mexico, money he’s made by selling illegal arms to a Mexican cartel. She’s arrested as she deplanes, DEA agents finding a small amount of heroin in her luggage, and is coerced into helping them get the goods on Robbie. Robbie arranges her bail with Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a bail bondsman. Jackie then, enlisting the help of Max Cherry, plans an intricate plot not only to get out of the charges but also to steal Robbie’s half million, the money he’s hoping will help him get out of the business and set him- up for a life of retirement. The language is deep blue, especially with all the m-f bombs from Robbie, but one gets numb to that after the two and a half hours of film run-time. Robert DeNiro plays Louis Gara, sidekick of Robbie’s. Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is Robbie’s young, blond stonehead who is an unwitting part of the plot, but DeNiro shoots her because she just wouldn’t shut up when they’re leaving the mall with what they think is the half million. Confusing, right? It all works out that Jackie’s scam is successful, with her leaving for Spain with the cash, asking Max if he wouldn’t like to join her. He declines, but takes his 10% of the money as his usual fee. Good movie version of Rum Punch, maybe longer than it needed to be, maybe with language that didn’t need to be quite that blue. Probably four stars out of five.

Saturday, December 6

Tiger Woods & Arizona Cardinals

All you Tiger haters out there must be in seventh heaven seeing him chunk chip after chip in the Hero World Challenge this weekend. How in the world, we all ask, can Tiger, a master of hand-eye coordination, look so very pedestrian? Here’s a man who gave us that commercial in which he bounces a ball off an iron face, around behind him and through his legs, then hits the ball mid-air after the final bounce. And here he is, not once, but five times chunking a pitch and having the ball roll back to his feet. And the true Tiger haters even called in after his last failed pitch, the one where he slams the club backward into the ground after the pitch. They thought he should be penalized for improving his lie, you know, with the angry back swing, with the ball possibly coming to rest in his divot from the previous shot. Let he who has never swung a club in anger after a bad shot cast the first stone. Let all you armchair referees out there, peering anxiously into your tv sets to find some kind of golf infraction to hang on Tiger, just give it a rest. Both the lovers and the haters are still wondering if Tiger will ever get back to his game, the one with which he hit all kinds of magical shots for all kinds of magical victories. The haters say no. The lovers say they hope so. Golf is better viewing when he’s in the hunt.

This is another football weekend. Lots of important college games to decide who gets in the final four and who gets the bowl invitations. On Friday night, the Arizona Wildcats got their asses handed to them by the Oregon Ducks, 51 to 13. Whew! The Wildcats were more like Tamepussies, an embarrassing loss on national tv. But that means Oregon will be one of the final four, along probably with Alabama, Florida State, and the fourth from these whose game today will tell the story: Ohio State, TCU, or Baylor.
And tomorrow, the Arizona Cardinals will try to stop the bleeding when they face the Kansas City Chiefs. Those who consider the glass to be half empty fear that our Cardinals will lose all four of their final games to drop out of the playoffs. Those with half-full glasses are hoping they can win two of their final four. I’m in that category.

Friday, December 5

The Theory of Everything

Each year, I always like to keep track of movie roles and who may be nominated for Oscars. And now I have one in Eddie Redmayne for his depiction of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. It was an oddly moving story about a man whom we all have seen often enough on television to know what he looks like, and we know how he sounds by The Big Bang Theory’s occasionally innocent mocking of the man. So, when Redmayne shows us the contorted man in the wheelchair, head awkwardly to the side, eyes peering up through unruly hair, mouth giving us that ironic smile, he becomes Stephen Hawking. What a remarkable depiction of a remarkable man. I referred to it as oddly moving, odd because it was almost too close to simple tear-jerking, a little too storybookish to seem real. The story of Hawking’s romance and marriage to Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) is standard fare. We see her strength in loving him enough to take care of him through really trying times, bearing three children by him; we see her finally running out of patience with him, with the inevitable yet understandable divorce as Hawking is accompanied to America by his caregiver Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). The scientific mumbojumbo involved with Hawking was downplayed, probably for the best since most of us wouldn’t understand a whit of his theories of time and black holes. Great acting, good movie, standard story.

Wednesday, December 3

Mockingjay & All Is Lost

What to say about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I? Well the title’s too long, for one thing. What else? It shamelessly ends on a really big cliffhanger, forcing its fans to sit anxiously waiting for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II (also too long a title). I say “shamelessly” because of the obvious attempt to milk this franchise for every dollar possible. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this one as I was with the first two in the series. Jennifer Lawrence is still the heart and soul of the series, but most of the others may as well have stayed home, offering next to nothing to the plot. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie could have just called it in, as neither character had much to do this time. Plot? Not much. Katniss wakens in the depths of District 13’s underground hideaway, with President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her deputy Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) trying to convince Katniss to be the figurehead in the districts’ war against the Capitol and the nefarious President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Sutherland can smile in a way that makes the viewer want to just slap him upside his head. They want to use Katniss in a series of propaganda films to enlist the aid of the other districts in their battle against Snow and his totalitarianism. She agrees and finds herself in opposition to her beloved Peeta, who has been brainwashed by Snow into making televised pleas to get Katniss to stop her campaign. And there you have it—the plotless plot. What should have been one movie, with an actual conclusion, is split into two, with a highly dysfunctional Part I.

Netflix gave us a chance to see a film that came and went from our theatres in a blur, Robert Redford’s one-man show aboard a floundering schooner in the vast Pacific, All Is Lost. I was reminded once again that of all the places I’d rather not be, first on that list is alone on an ocean on a sinking boat. Almost no dialogue, since he’s alone with no one with whom to converse, lots of sky and lots of water. His sailing ship has encountered the corner of a shipping container that is mysteriously afloat in the Pacific. He awakens to find seawater pouring into the cabin. He manages to disconnect his boat from the container and patch the hole, but not very securely. And he now finds himself without electricity and radio connection. And yes, sure enough, a storm happens and the sea once more comes pouring into the cabin. He transfers food and water to a blowup lifeboat along with a sextant and maps. And then watches as his ship bids farewell and sinks. Okay, he can navigate with the sextant and aims for the transportation corridor from Orient to the U. S. Surely a ship will spot him and pick him up. Naah. Who, on a boring voyage from China to the U. S. is looking for a tiny lifeboat? No one. Well, you get the drift. I was also reminded of a movie from way back in my memory (1944) called The Lifeboat, in which five men and three women are on a lifeboat after a German submarine has torpedoed their ship. Lots of anguish among the eight of them as they try to survive this ordeal on the Atlantic. Yupp, and that one too told me I never wanted to be aboard a tiny boat in the middle of an ocean.

Sunday, November 30

Coming Home & Wicked

We’re on the brink of December, and in only one more day we’ll tumble into the depths of the darkest month of the year, into too many carols and too much hoopla about Black Friday and frenzied shopping. I don’t mean to be mean as a Grinch about these holy days, but I’ll be glad when they’re over and we can begin a fresh 2015.

Here’s another Sunday in the Valley—clear, calm, mid-seventies. Sorry, folks up north, don’t mean to rub it in, but our days now are lovely and snow-free. So, what do I do on this lovely day? I sit home and watch too much football. But before that I went to Amazon and bought two albums, the original cast recording of Wicked and Kristen Chenoweth’s Coming Home. I just had to buy them because last night we watched the PBS special with Ms. Chenoweth’s return to her roots, to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to sing for her old friends and her family. Was it a show-stopping WOW of a show? It certainly was. This tiny package of dynamite (only 4’ 11” and weighing about ninety) had us weeping at the quality of her voice and her choice of songs. She dedicated one to her old music teacher, who had told her when she was in high school and wanted to sing “My Coloring Book” that she shouldn’t try that song until she really understood what it was all about. So she sang it, demonstrating to her teacher that she now understood the heartbreak of losing a loved one. For another song, “For Good” from Wicked, she brought on stage a young high school girl to sing with her. Will that girl’s life be forever changed because of this duet? You bet. As will the lives of the high school chorus she brought up to sing with her.
I bought Wicked because I wanted the song “For Good” and because Idina Menzel’s voice is equal to Kristen Chenoweth’s and the music from Wicked is so very good. Now I’m hoping that the Arizona Broadway Theatre will put this show on its schedule for next season.

All right, time for some football.

Wednesday, November 26

Ferguson Looting

Black looters and rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, you’ve pushed back much of the progress in race relations that was won in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Remember when those protesters used Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” as their tactic to make us all see the injustices of racial bigotry? Passive resistance won the day. And now you’ve taken this grand jury decision in favor of Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, as an excuse for killing police officers, burning police cars or any other cars that might belong to the hated white man, looting and destroying businesses whether owned by blacks or whites. Our legal system may not always be correct in its decisions, but as a nation of law we have to abide by those decisions even if they’re sometimes incorrect. There were other protest groups around the country who protested without resorting to looting and destroying. Black looters in Ferguson, you’ve given race relations a black eye that may take another forty years to heal. Let’s hope not.

Tuesday, November 25

Links to Other Places

I'm wondering how many of my readers might be interested is some of the other things I've written. I have a blog in which I write about my life, which may not be of any interest to anyone who doesn't know me, but I like to think it's pretty well written and might be interesting to anyone who does know me. If so, click here: Mobridge Memories. And if anyone might want to read any of my stories or essays or look at my posts on a blog I call The Caterwaul, click here: Doggy Dog Stories.
There are a number of links at the beginning of the stories link that will take you to all these other places. And if you think I'm being pushy trying to get you to read what I have to say, just ignore everything I've said so far. I'd hate for anyone to think I was pushy. Obnoxious, yes, but never pushy.

It's nearly Thanksgiving and we're looking forward to a day of giving thanks for all we have and for the feasting with our daughter and her son and his girlfriend, especially since she said she'd do all the cooking and cleaning up afterwards. And, of course, the NFL games to keep me occupied while she's doing all that cooking and cleaning up. And soon thereafter comes Christmas and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and . . . whoosh . . ., another year down the drain. I hope anyone reading this will have an equally thankful and bounteous day.

I'll end with a Thanksgiving tribute to our three cats and all the cats of the world.

Monday, November 24

LPGA, Arizona Cardinals, & St. Vincent

I watched the year’s final LPGA tournament, the CME Group Tour Championship, with $500,000 to the tournament winner and $1,000,000 to the final points winner. Lydia Ko, the amazing 17-year-old New Zealander, won the whole bundle with a four-hole playoff win over Julieta Granada and Carlota Ciganda. Seventeen. And she made it look nervelessly simple. Maybe when she gets a little older she’ll realize how tough it is to do what she did and her nerves will start talking to her, the cup start to shrink on those critical four and five footers. Or not. Maybe she’ll dominate the ladies’ tour for the next twenty or thirty years. I really enjoy watching the ladies because of their golf skills and because I’m a dirty old man and so many of them are very attractive. Granted, not all of them have beautiful golf games and not all of them are beautiful. But the overall skill level is so much higher now than it was thirty years ago. And the ladies are, for the most part, so much more physically fit. And attractive. One of the things I noticed, though, that I’d rather not have noticed is the way too short skirts and shorts some of them were wearing. Morgan Pressel wore really ugly, really short shorts, designed for her by Lilly Pulitzer. I’d have to ask Ms. Pulitzer why on earth she thought those floral and too short shorts were going to be attractive on the bottom of Ms. Pressel. They weren’t. Morgan Pressel was one of the most attractive young ladies on tour when she first appeared in 2006 and she still is, but not in those Pulitzer shorts. I hope when she sees herself in the taped coverage she’ll come to her senses.

After the golf, I suffered through an agonizingly bad game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks, with the Seahawks winning 19-3. I was pretty sure Arizona would lose this game, but I hoped they wouldn’t look as bad in the loss as they did. They’ll have to right their ship in a hurry if they plan to do any good in the playoffs.

And finally, a few words about the movie St. Vincent. Bill Murray did his Bill Murray thing and Melissa McCarthy did her Melissa McCarthy thing, and together they put out a semi-successful comedy about a slovenly smoker, drinker, gambler who, strictly for the money, agreed to baby-sit his new neighbor’s young son. Manchester is the neighbor and Oliver is the eight-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher), who is probably the best actor in this movie and the one with the least experience. Murray teaches the boy all about the things most parents wouldn’t want their young son to learn—smoking, drinking, gambling on the horses, and ladies of the night. Predictably, the boy takes all the lessons to heart and then writes an essay about the one person who should be nominated for sainthood, Vincent de Van Nuys, Bill Murray, St. Vincent. Two and a half stars out of five. Good enough to see, easy enough to forget.

Thursday, November 20

News Observations

First, the snow. The whole country is being buried in the stuff, especially my old stomping grounds, Jamestown, NY, sixty snowy miles south of Buffalo. Lake effect snow was one of the reasons Rosalie and I came to the Southwest to retire, never feeling any great desire to return to that scene of all my back-breaking snow shoveling. But this November they’re experiencing snowfall unlike any we had during the twenty-five years we lived there. We’re talking all activity coming to a halt—schools, businesses, highways, everyone stuck in their homes until the snow stops coming down. I’m sure the ski resorts are happy with it, but they’d be the only ones. I saw on the news this morning that Buffalo will try to get the snow removed from their football stadium so that the Bill/Jets game can be played. Good luck with that.

Puzzling tv plot moves: Madam Secretary is suggesting that a president might be part of a murder plot; The Good Wife is showing us Alicia’s political campaign as ugly as campaigns in real life; and more Good Wife stuff—Kalinda can’t seem to decide which side of her bi-sexuality to take, and just sure as hell, Cary Agos is soon going to die.

Sad sad tv story: the voice of The Big Bang Theory’s Mrs. Wolowitz, Carol Ann Susi, has died after a long fight with cancer. Goodbye, Mrs. Wolowitz and Ms Susi, we’ll miss you big time.

Please say it isn’t true, Bill. One of our favorite tv dads is again being accused of rape and he remains silent. This isn’t the first time such allegations were made against Bill Cosby. In 2005, he settled claims out of court. And now, here we go again. Women are coming forward from all over the place to tell their stories about how Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. His comment in a 1969 comedy sketch has resurfaced, that he was looking for some Spanish Fly to put in a woman’s drink. Funny, huh? No, ‘tain’t funny, McGee. The sheer number of his accusers seems to lend weight to the truth of these accusations. And that brings me to the problem of defining rape and sexual assault. This is a very scary dilemma. At what point in a sexual episode does that act go beyond consensual sex and into non-consensual sex? This is a really gray area, in all fifty shades of grey. How is using a drug such as rohypnol that much different than using mind-numbing amounts of alcohol? Ogden Nash joked about it a long time ago when he wrote “Candy is dandy / But liquor is quicker.” That isn’t nearly as funny now as when he wrote it, and it shouldn’t have been funny even then. When does “no’ become “maybe” or “yes” go back to “maybe” and then to “no?”
All very confusing, and it’s all part of the problem with rape and sexual assault cases. What is consensual and what isn’t? It also includes that oh so grey area in the work place, sexual harassment, generally defined as uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (as an employee or student).
Most people think of sexual harassment as men harassing women, but it can also be women harassing men, or men other men, or women other women regardless of sexual orientation. Confusing, right? Well, just look at this list of behaviors considered to be harassment:
•Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
•Unwanted pressure for sexual favors.
•Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.
•Unwanted sexual looks or gestures.
•Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature.
•Unwanted pressure for dates.
•Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
•Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey.
•Whistling at someone.
•Cat calls.
•Sexual comments.
•Turning work discussions to sexual topics.
•Sexual innuendos or stories.
•Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history.
•Personal questions about social or sexual life.
•Sexual comments about a person's clothing, anatomy, or looks.
•Kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips.
•Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person's personal sex life.
•Neck massage.
•Touching an employee's clothing, hair, or body.
•Giving personal gifts.
•Hanging around a person.
•Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking.
•Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
•Standing close or brushing up against a person.
•Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes).
•Staring at someone.
•Sexually suggestive signals.
•Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips.
•Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements.
Now there’s a list to contend with. How can civilized nations finally put an end to sexual assault or harassment of any kind? When will we finally agree to protect each other’s personal rights in all areas, not just the sexual?

Tuesday, November 11

Interstellar

I’m a sci-fi fan from a long time ago, long before Star Trek or Star Wars or nearly all of the dystopian novels and movies that came out since 1960. I’ve read everything written science-fictionally about time travel and the relativity of time and worm holes and black holes and the search for habitable planets. And I’ve seen nearly all the sci-fi movies ever made. Well, it all came together in Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. Well, maybe not all coming together. There were still a bunch of worm-hole questions that never got answered. But the visuals were spectacular with the scenes aboard the docking station that took them to the worm hole and the smaller exploratory craft that took them down to the surface of the planets they visited
, and the gargantuan tsunami wave that overtook them on the first planet they visited to the frozen planet where they found the enigmatic Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). But first, the plot. Earth is dying in horrendous dust storms and failing crops, and mankind will probably not survive beyond the present generation. Coop (Matthew McConaughey) is an ex-spaceship pilot for NASA, now a farmer living with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his son and daughter. Through a rather unexplained discovery, he goes with daughter Murph to see what could be causing unexplained gravitational anomalies. And, lo and behold, they stumble onto a secret fenced compound housing a NASA complex, with scientists attempting to save the human race with a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A entails sending a spaceship up to a wormhole near Saturn, then going through to an alternate universe where other expeditions have gone to find a human-habitable planet, and then to return to possibly transport the remnants of the human race to that planet. Hmm. It was never explained very well just how the folks on earth were going to be saved and transported. Which leads to Plan B. On this expeditionary spaceship, the scientists were transporting thousands of fertilized human eggs cryogenically suspended for the trip, eggs which would ensure the survival of the human race, but not of the human race back on earth still surviving on corn and dust. Coop is given the assignment to fly the ship along with Dr. Brady (Ann Hathaway) and two others as well as the robot known as TARS.

The rest of the plot, as you can imagine, could go in endless possible directions. And it does. And it leaves most of us very confused by all this scientific talk about gravity and its influence on time, and worm holes and black holes. Despite all the inconsistences and incongruities and unanswered questions, this is a movie well worth seeing. It may have been unnecessarily long (167 minutes) and the musical score may have been too loud and intrusive (especially when they were going through the worm hole), and Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) may have leaned a bit too heavily on Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Still, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and Gravity, this film will endure as a stepping stone into the future.

Sunday, November 9

"Everything Happens to Me"

I think I may have already written about this song, but it must have been so long ago I can’t find it. Ah well, it’s worth writing about a second time. Or maybe even a third. In 1940, Matt Dennis wrote the music and Tom Adair wrote the lyrics to a clever, unrequited love song called “Everything Happens to Me.” Sinatra, in his big band days with Tommy Dorsey, sang it to a big band dance rhythm in his thin, reedy voice that was so appealing to the bobbysoxers of the day. It told of a guy who just couldn’t catch a break in life or love, and it was almost comical in its depiction of that loss: he’ll go through life “catchin’ colds and missin’ trains.” There was an alternate final verse but I’m not sure when it was written. And along the way, Old Blue Eyes released it again, both for Capitol Records in 1959 and his own Reprise Records in 1981. But Adair supplied a new set of lyrics for this last rendition (the bridge remained the same for both versions), much slower, much darker, and sung heart-rendingly by Sinatra in his smoky, boozy voice, a much better style than his old bobby-soxer voice. And that last line of the last verse says it all: “But, pal, you don’t find rainbows in the bottom of a glass.” It joins that list of booze songs: “Lush Life,” “Something Cool,” and Sinatra’s “One More for the Road,” “Drinking Again,” and “Empty Tables.” I wish this last version was available on YouTube but the only one there is the Tommy Dorsey version. If you get a chance to hear what Sinatra did with it in 1981, you’ll understand why I’m so fascinated with this song.

First Version:

Introduction:
Black cats creep across my path / Until I’m almost mad.
I must have ‘roused the devil’s wrath / ‘Cause all my luck is bad.
* * *
I make a date for golf / And you can bet your life it rains.
I try to give a party / But the guy upstairs complains.
I guess I'll go through life / Just catchin' colds and missin' trains,
Everything happens to me.

I never miss a thing / I've had the measles and the mumps.
And every time I play an ace / My partner always trumps.
I guess I'm just a fool / Who never looks before he jumps.
Everything happens to me.

At first my heart thought / You could break this jinx for me.
That love could turn the trick / To end despair.
But now, I just can't fool / This head that thinks for me.
I've mortgaged all my castles in the air.

I've telegraphed and phoned; / I sent an air mail special, too;
Your answer was goodbye / And there was even postage due.
I fell in love just once / And then it had to be with you.
Everything happens to me.

Alternate final verse:
I’ve never drawn a sweepstake / Or a bank night at a show.
I thought perhaps this time I’d win / But Lady Luck said no.
And though it breaks my heart / I’m not surprised to see you go.
Everything happens to me,
Everything happens to me.

1981 Reprise version:

I never found the rainbow, / Never saw a pot of gold.
I lost at dice in Vegas / Every single time I rolled.
I’ve stamped my daydreams cancelled, / And the winter’s getting’ cold.
Everything happens to me.

I’ve known a lot of ladies, / But there’s something that I lack.
Each time that there’s a breakup, / I’m the one who holds the sack.
And when I give my heart away, / I always get it back.
Everything happens to me.

At first my heart thought / You could break this jinx for me.
That love could turn the trick / To end despair.
But now, I just can't fool / This head that thinks for me.
I've mortgaged all my castles in the air.

Now in the school of life, / Well, I was lucky just to pass.
And now I’m chasing rainbows / With the losers in the class.
But, pal, you don’t find rainbows / In the bottom of a glass.
Everything happens to me.
Everything happens to me.

Thursday, November 6

Memory

We’re living in an age of increased awareness of memory and how it works and how it now doesn’t work with far too many seniors. In the old days, most people died before it ever got to that point. Now we all have a working knowledge of dementia and Alzheimer’s and all of us, young and old, shiver at the thought that we one day may have to confront this dread mental condition. Memory. What a fickle beast it is. Some of what we remember from our past is false. Not deliberately so, but just skewed unconsciously to something better than or more acceptable than what actually happened. Some of our past experiences are brilliantly illuminated in minute detail, whereas some are only blank spots, dark passages from one brilliant memory to a later one. “Mem’ries light the corners of my mind,” Streisand sings. But only the corners, not the entire box.

I’ve also found that the memory works more efficiently in that ominous 3;00 a.m. moment when we’re no longer asleep but not quite awake.. Last night, 3:00 a.m., I think about pro basketball and some of the great players of the past—Magic, Larry, Chamberlain, Jerry West. And that led me to an LSU player who was considered the greatest shooter, ball-handler, passer in the college game. But who was he? I could see him—white, slender, not tall. I could see him performing his magic shot-making. But who was he? In the 3:00 a.m. silence and darkness, the name kept teasing me, just an itch away. Who was he? Then the memory coalesced and there it was, Pistol Pete Maravich. This morning I tried to remember his name and it was gone, vanished into that mysterious realm where reside all names we should know but can no longer remember, all those singers and actors from the past that should be on the tip of our tongues but have slipped off the back burner. So, I went to the memory-rescuer, the Internet, plugged in LSU basketball great, and there it was. Pistol Pete Maravich.

What would it be like without our memories? Nicole Kidman, in her newest film, Before I Go to Sleep, plays a woman who awakens each day with no memory of what she did in the last twenty years of her life, even the day before, a kind of selective amnesia. How awful would that be to have to renew yourself each morning of your life? What part of memory is our knowledge of language, of social conventions, of current technology? With dementia, victims lose short-term memories and retain long-term. With Alzheimer’s, both short- and long-term slip away until even language and motor skills vanish like smoke on a summer evening. How cruel. Memories are what we are, and without them we’re nothing. Will we soon find a way to derail dementia, to slow or even halt the decline of Alzheimer’s? I hope so, God, I hope so. Life without memory is a living death. No thanks. Just remind me where the pills are. Or haul me off to Oregon.

Wednesday, November 5

The Equalizer

I finally got around to seeing The Equalizer. It’s been in the theatres for almost a month now but I kept putting it off, mostly because I was sure it was pretty violent and Rosalie doesn’t care much for blood and gore. But, hey, it’s Denzel, right? I’d go to see Denzel just standing around shootin’ the shit with the boys or makin’ commercials for Cialis. He’s really that good. So I went alone with Rosalie’s permission. Most of the reviews were so-so in the middle, sort of backing off from the plot and what director Antoine Fuqua did with the bad-ass character of Robert McCall. But I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I leave the long-range, in-depth reviews to better reviewers than I am. I like to keep it simple and just say yes or no or maybe. In this case I’m saying yes. Okay, it may have been a little longer than it needed to be, but the first half, which set up the violence, was necessary. It showed us this good man living a good quiet life in Boston, working at a Home Depot-ish place, going home to his obsessively clean and well-ordered apartment, reading his great books to keep up with his now dead wife who’d been working her way through a list of the 100 greatest, being unable to sleep much, going out to a late-night diner with his teabag for his nightly cup of tea, compulsively lining up his utensils. It was there that he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is nightly waiting for her assignment to a john that her Russian pimp has set her up with. When he tells her his name, she says he looks more like a Robert than a Bob. “Robert reads books,” she says. “Bob watches tv.” You get the drift. All this is part of the set up for the violence that follows. Robert McCall is much more than he seems on the surface, an ex-CIA guy who somehow faked his death to get out of the organization that used him for all sorts of nastiness. All he wants now is a quiet life, a nice routine of work and helping his coworkers with whatever they need, his books, his tea. But when Teri (whose real name is Alina) is beaten bloody by her pimp because she’d punched a psychotic john, McCall decides to rectify her situation. And that leads him to doing battle with the Russian enforcer Teddy (Marton Csokas) sent to Boston to find and kill whoever had done such damage to the Russian mob’s enterprises. Sure, the violence is predictable, but who cares? It’s Denzel doing his Liam Neeson impression, and doing it even better than Neeson does it. And the ending certainly reserves the possibility of more Equalizers down the road. I’d have to give it four of five stars. Go see it if you like Denzel as much as I do, and uou can stand a bit of gore. Oh, yeah, a bit more than a bit.

Saturday, November 1

John Wick & Filler Humor

I tried to count the number of people that Keanu Reeves killed in the action thriller John Wick. I lost track after sixty or seventy. Let’s just say it was a bunch, mostly with pistol or AKA, but quite a few by hand or knife. Simple plot—John Wick is a retired hitman for a Russian mob boss, one of the most efficient and deadly killers in the hitman network. As Vigo, the Russian boss, says to his son, “Is he the bogeyman? No, he’s the one you send to kill the bogeyman.” Wick has retired because he fell in love with and married a woman with some incurable disease. She dies. He mourns. He receives an adorable beagle puppy that his dead wife had arranged for him, knowing he would need someone to love after she died. The Russian boss’s son sees Wick’s vintage ‘69 Charger and wants to buy it. Wick turns him down. The son and three or four cronies follow Wick to his home, break in, beat Wick, kill the puppy, take his car. Oh, my, what carnage the son has unwittingly unleashed. As I said, simple plot with simply buckets and buckets of blood.

David Letterman's Top 10 Reasons Why Golf Is Better Than Sex
10. A below par performance is considered damn good.
9. You can stop in the middle and have a cheeseburger and a couple of beers.
8. It's much easier to find the sweet spot.
7. Foursomes are encouraged.
6. You can still make money doing it as a senior.
5. Three times a day is possible.
4. Your partner doesn't hire a lawyer if you play with someone else.
3. If you live in Arizona, you can do it almost every day.
2. You don't have to cuddle with your partner when you're finished.
And the NUMBER ONE reason why golf is better than sex?
When your equipment gets old you can replace it!

I just took a leaflet out of my mailbox, informing me that I can have
sex at 73. I'm so happy, because I live at number 71. So it's not too far to walk home afterwards. And it's the same side of the street. I don't even have to cross the road!

Answering machine message: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."

My wife and I had words, but I didn't get to use mine.


Friday, October 31

The Good Wife & Madam Secretary

CBS has two shows we watch faithfully, one old standby, The Good Wife, and one newbie, Madam Secretary. The Good Wife keeps us as viewers because of its surprising plot twists and turns, and because Julianna Margolis is so very good as the good wife, Alicia Florrick. And Archie Panjabi is so very good as the bisexual investigator, Kalinda Sharma. All the characters are so richly drawn, some good, some bad, some really annoying, and some even hateful. Christine Baranski, as Diane Lockhart, is one of the good ones, as is Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos. Then we have the annoying ones: Alan Cumming as Ely Gold and Mary Beth Pell as Jackie Florrick. The hateful ones include Zach Grenier as Diane’s old law partner David Lee and Michael J. Fox as the irritatingly deceitful Louis Canning. And one lawyer hard to categorize, sometimes on the other side of the table and sometimes on the same side as Alicia, the deceptively ditsy yet interesting and much smarter than she acts, Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tiscioni. We can only sit and wait to see what direction The Good Wife will take if and when Alicia is elected as Ohio State’s Attorney.
Then there’s Téa Leoni as the Secretary of State in Madam Secretary. This show is reminiscent of The West Wing in that both give us what we can only hope our elected officials might be—people who are honest, capable, attractive, super smart, and uber-efficient at their jobs. I remember writing a letter a long time ago to the Arizona Republic, stating that if Martin Sheen ever decided to run for president, he’d have my vote, and probably a winning majority of the votes against whoever might be foolish enough to oppose him. I’d also support Téa Leoni as Secretary of State. I and a good many of her viewers, I’m sure, are reminded of Hillary Clinton’s recent role as Secretary of State. Although Ms. Clinton may not be as attractive as Ms. Leoni, she seemed to be just as efficient and capable. Maybe in another year we’ll be able to assess her as US President. I hope so. Then maybe she’ll appoint Téa Leoni as her Secretary of State.

Thursday, October 30

The Producers

“Another opening, another show,” as the Kiss Me Kate cast sang. And we were treated to another wonderful show at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, this time, Mel Brooks’ hilarious The Producers. This show kicked off the tenth season for ABT, and if The Producers is any indication of the quality of the rest of season Ten, we’re in for a great year. I’m continuously amazed at the constant improvement ABT has managed from season One to the present, becoming ever more professional in all elements of musical theatre—the singing and acting, of course, but especially the choreography, set design, and costuming. Kurtis Overby, the choreographer, has brought Broadway-quality dance to the Valley, and Nick Mozak, who does the set designs, keeps me in awe with what he does with the relatively tiny stage at ABT. For example, one of the sets for The Producers is the office of Max Bialystock, with desk, small safe, and small leather divan. When Max and Leo first meet the Swedish beauty Ulla, they hire her as secretary and general office cleaner. So Ulla takes it as one of her duties to paint the office white. The complete set is now white, right down to the safe and the leather sofa, which means that Nick Mozak had to build two identical sets with identical props, one pre-white and one white. This is in addition to the three or four other sets for different locations. All costumes and props are created by the ABT artisans. When Max and Leo’s musical Springtime for Hitler opens, five gorgeous ladies enter in outlandishly beautiful dresses and accessories, all created for just this show. Highlights of the show? Nicole Benoit as the tall, voluptuous Ulla sings “When You Got It, Flaunt It,” and does she ever have it and did she ever flaunt it. In what has to be a really tough role, Michael McAssey was outstanding as the old lecher Max Bialystock. One of the dance segments had a dozen of Max’s geriatric Little Old Lady financial backers doing a tap routine with the legs of their walkers. Hilarious. Probably the only weak spot in the show was Jared Mancuso as the OCD Leo Bloom. His voice wasn’t up to par with the rest of the cast. Overall, though, The Producers rates five stars out of five. Now I can’t wait to see what ABT will do with their fourth show, Les Miserables, scheduled for end of February through early April.

Saturday, October 25

Colonoscopies

On Thursday, I took my wife to the hospital for a colonoscopy, for what she and I hoped would be the very last of such procedures for her. I had my last one a few years ago, and now that I’m over eighty, I won’t be having any more. I guess that once we oldsters hit the eighty mark, a little colorectal cancer doesn’t need to be detected since we’re about to bite the bullet from one thing or another anyway. The procedure itself isn’t awful; it’s the need to drink that ten or so gallons of stuff the night before that’s awful. I keep thinking that modern medicine should have by now found an easier way to clean out our intestines. But that’s like saying medicine should have found a better hospital gown than that old style first used about three hundred years ago.

We arrived at 9:00, thirty minutes ahead of her scheduled time. Got to be sure to be there on time because heaven forbid they should give her time to someone else. They sat us in a small waiting room with five or six other people, some of whom were other colonoscopy patients and others were their designated drivers. One very large fellow could hardly wait for his audience to pay attention to his repertoire of jokes, and he seemed to have an endless supply. He was almost bouncing and humming with joy as he told them. I simply shoved my ear buds in tighter and turned the music on my iPad up higher. Nothing worse than someone who finds a captive audience for his really tired jokes and then pins them all to his conversational wall. Finally, after half an hour, they came to get Rosalie and told me I could come sit with her until she was prepped. And then the really slow process of the prep. It seemed to take longer than I remembered from my previous colonoscopies. One of the prep nurses, Doogie Dugan, regaled us with a story about her hearing problems and how she found a really cheap item in the drug store she could hardly wait to try, only forty bucks instead of the several thousand for hearing aids. The story went on for way too many minutes. Then the countless questions about medication and allergies and surgeries and ailments. And then the anesthetist came in to ask the same questions. Then the surgical nurse to ask the same questions. A good example of bureaucratic redundancy. After all the questions and answers and the taking of blood pressure and temperature and insertion of iv needle, Doogie came in to tell us that they were backed up a little in the operating room and that Rosalie might not get in for another hour or so. Meanwhile, both of us are freezing in the frigid air. I guess the hospital didn't want anyone to feel feverish. Doogie, noticing our blue complexions, brought us each a warm blanket. Rosalie's procedural appointment was for 10:30 and they finally wheeled her in at noon. I found my way back to the waiting room and discovered that the large joke teller was no longer there. Good. I had the room essentially to myself. I thought about colonoscopies and the oddity of the procedure. A bunch of years ago I had a sigmoidoscopy during an office visit to my doctor. It was called a “rigid” sigmoidoscopy, and I shudder to remember the rigidity of the instrument. It required a laxative followed by an enema some time before the appointment. Then the left-side lying, then the inserting, an exam that took only about twenty minutes. I learned that this procedure was primarily for checking the rectum for signs of cancer or excessive hemorrhoidal bleeding and that it didn’t go in the rectum very far. A “flexible” sigmoidoscopy allows the instrument to go in further, then take a peek or two right and left in the alleyways just off the main drag. And a colonoscopy allows the doctor to look all the way up to your tonsils. Just before my last colonoscopy, someone sent me a funny item by Dave Barry, and I just had to share it with my nurses. And now I’d like to share it with my readers:

“I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through Minneapolis. Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, 'HE'S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!' I left Andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called 'MoviPrep,' which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven.
I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America's enemies. I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening , I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons). Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes—and here I am being kind—like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon. The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, ‘a loose, watery bowel movement may result.’ This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground. MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don't want to be too graphic, here, but: have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, 'What if I spurt on Andy?' How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough. At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the heck the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts; the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked. Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn't thought of this, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point. Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, 'Dancing Queen' had to be the least appropriate. 'You want me to turn it up?' said Andy, from somewhere behind me. 'Ha ha,' I said. And then it was time; the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea! Really! I slept through it! One moment, ABBA was yelling, 'Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,' and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that it was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. I have never been prouder of an internal organ.”

Dave Barry, one very funny fellow.

At 1:00 they called me back to the recovery cubicle where a drowsy Rosalie was just coming back from colonoscopy heaven. Dr. Gordon explained to us what he’d found, what he’d done, and what she needed to do for the next few days before resuming normal activity. And then finally, finally, we got out of there at 1:30, almost five hours after our arrival. Both of us are hoping that’s the last that either of us have to go through this procedure.

Thursday, October 23

Big Bang, Little Bang

One of the worst things about dying is possibly being in the middle of a good book when it happens. I think there’s a metaphor buried in there. I guess I must be considered to be in the last chapter or two, but even then, I’d still like to know how it ends. Not my life, dummy, how the book ends. Book ends. When the right one falls over, the books all tip that way. Messy. I hate tipped over books.

Last night, at that 3:00 a.m. time when the eyes pop open and stare at the clock for an hour or so, I thought again about my impending death, not that it’s pending any time soon, although it could, and probably will in the next few years. I thought about the Big Bang Theory. Not the tv comedy, but the theory itself, that the universe began with a bang, exploding outward from the center (and where, exactly, is the center?). The universe expanding, time and space stretching. And when it reaches the farthest point it can reach, out there touching the void, it will, like a giant balloon that’s reached its capacity, begin to deflate, start contracting, squeezing in on itself, time and space coalescing. Each of us is metaphorically just like that Big Bang, the bang happening at our birth, life then expanding outward as we grow into adulthood with all of life’s possibilities ahead of us. And then, sometime around forty, the air begins to go out of our balloon and our universe begins to contract. My mother, just before her death at 95, told me that all of her friends and acquaintances were gone, all her siblings and relatives, all the people she’d ever known and considered friends were gone. Gone. All the material things that were once so important to her were no longer important at all. All her paintings were passed on to one grandchild or another, all her furniture and jewelry were assigned to one child or grandchild or another until the only thing left to her was her death. She kept getting tinier and tinier until her death. I kept thinking that one day she’d just vanish in a tiny puff of smoke. She was lucky to hold onto her mind all the way. I can think of no worse way to go than to lose the mind as well as the body. My sister-in-law Phyllis exemplifies the latter. Her universe kept shrinking and shrinking, her voice going higher and higher getting squeakier and squeakier. And then that awful place to which one goes when the mind and body contract, that awful “old folks” home where the inhabitants sit around the halls in wheelchairs, waiting through endless days for the next meal or for someone to put them to bed, sleep being the only refuge from their daily horrors, sleep with garbled, meaningless dreams. We watched Phyllis go through this contraction until finally, blessedly, one morning she just didn’t wake up.

I can see my universe contracting. I’m the last of my tribe, all siblings now gone, all cousins on both sides now gone. And when I tally up my friends and classmates, the number keeps shrinking. I inventory my possessions, all the things I thought were so important, and know now that their value is slipping toward zero. I consider all the words I’ve written—the novels, essays, song lyrics, and the mountain of journal entries—and wonder if any of my children will even want them, ever read them. Probably not. But I find that I care less and less if that’s the case. Like I said above, I’m not in the middle of a good book, more nearly the conclusion, maybe the dénouement, but I’d still like to see how it ends.

Blog Archive

Any comments? Write me at jertrav33@aol.com