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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, July 31

From Disgusting to Sublime

Last night we went out for Chinese at Peking House, wonderful menu, wonderful meals, but much of their revenue comes from take-out. There were only six of us there when we arrived, two single males and another couple seated near us. One of the men was at a table for eight near the back of the restaurant. He was nearly finished when our dinner arrived, drinking beer. And then he went into a prolonged nose blowing. I’m a bit OCD so I started counting. He blew once, then twice . . . then another eleven at about one minute intervals. Thirteen all together. Nose blowing is a personal activity, much as is defecating and urinating and masturbating, and should be done in privacy, not in a public place, especially not in a restaurant. But there he was, blowing and blowing quite loudly. Each time he blew, I shuddered, as did Rosalie and the couple near us. On our way out, I was tempted to go up to him and slap him on the head. But I was afraid with the slap he’d probably blow something onto me. Disgusting man, disgusting behavior.

And now to the sublime. I’ve written often about my admiration for So You Think You Can Dance. Once more won’t hurt. I find it odd that Nigel Lythgoe is connected to both SYTYCD and American Idol, as producer on both and judge on Dance. Odd since the one is so very classy and the other so very unclassy. We’ve been faithful followers of SYTYCD for all ten seasons, and each season is better than the last—better dancers, better staging, better costuming, better choreographers. The judges supply insightful comments about each routine, often funny, sometimes rhapsodic, always insightful, unlike the judges on Idol, who wouldn’t know insightful if it bit ‘em on the ass. Then there’s always the comparison between Cat Deeley and Ryan Seacrest. No contest. She’s tall and beautiful; he’s short and though not ugly, freezes me with a forced, frozen grin. I was sad to read that this might be the last season for Dance. Ratings down. That must say something about the intelligence of the viewing audiences of both shows. If you’ve never tuned in to SYTYCD, do so now. We need the rating to rise. We need the sublimity of this show to continue.

Wednesday, July 30

The Not-So-Funny Pages

When I was young, I and other young kids always raced to the Sunday paper to get the funny pages, that colored section featuring Popeye, Li’l Abner, Dagwood (Yes, even seventy years ago he and Blondie were around.), Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Superman, Dick Tracy, Andy Gump, Batman, and enough comic detectives and superheroes to fill about six pages. They were the funny papers. And today we may not have many of the old ones and a lot of the new ones aren’t very funny, but there are enough straight stories on the editorial and front pages that at first seem funny but really aren’t. Call them the Not-So-Funny Pages.

Today I read that Red Robin has won first prize for serving the unhealthiest meal known to man, the Monster Meal of double burger, endless fries, and monster milkshake, all coming in at 3,540 calories. Is that obscene or what? But tain’t funny, McGee.

This just in from Iraq: “A little more than a decade ago, Mosul was home to 60,000 Christians who practiced their religion in the midst of their Muslim neighbors in Iraq’s second-largest city. No more. Earlier this month, Muslim extremists who had captured the city ordered all Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or face execution. They later revoked the tax as an option.” No wonder they’re fleeing the country. Tain’t funny, McGee.

Another use for the ubiquitous cell phone? An Arizona man was just arrested on voyeurism charges for turning on the video mode and placing his cell phone in a shopping basket and placing it on the floor next to women. Not a “selfie.” Maybe it could be called a “pantsie.” That’s a new wrinkle on the old tiny mirror on a shoe toe. Tain’t funny, McGee.

A Phoenix man carried an AR-15 rifle into Sky Harbor Airport, and even though in this funny state that was legal, it was frightening and stupid. Tain’t funny, all you gun supporters.

A man in Texas writes to Abby, “I am a man who has recently fallen in love with a beautiful male-to-female transgender. She considers herself a woman, but on social media lists herself as male. I am wondering if I should consider myself gay, bisexual or straight.” Only now could we have such a strange predicament. Fergus, in The Crying Game, fell in love with Jude, a man he thought was a woman. Was Fergus gay, bisexual, or straight? Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) in Dallas Buyers Club, came to understand and love Rayon, a male cross-dresser and wannabe transgender. Was Woodroof gay, bisexual, or straight? Same dilemma as for Abby’s correspondent. The lines between male and female have gotten really confusing.

As I said, the “Not-So-Funny Pages.”

Monday, July 28

Cats & Cursive Writing

Last night, around that witching hour of 3:00 a.m., I heard an odd sound coming from the living room, an intermittent scratching and an occasional thump. So I got up to see what was going bump in the night. We have a cat toy, a motorized circular thing with a round yellow cloth on top, a revolving arm with an attached mouse beneath the cloth that circles back and forth randomly, a black button on top to turn it on. Tiger and Tuffy had turned it on and were busy chasing the mouse. They looked up at me as though asking what in hell I was doing up in the middle of the night. I might have asked them the same. What in hell are you two doing, playing catch the mouse in the middle of the night? I know they’re cute and really bright, but I hadn’t realized they knew how to turn play toys on. I turned it off and went back to bed. The boys probably did the same.

Our other boy, Charlie the elder, seems to have taken over the responsibilities that used to belong to Dusty, to protect and comfort his younger siblings.
My favorite photo of Dusty and Squeakie shows him with his arm around his little girl. And now I have another, eerily similar, showing Charlie with his arm around Tiger. Tuffy wasn’t included, but I’m sure he wasn’t jealous since Charlie frequently gives him a nightly bath. Oh, how I love my three boys.

I ran into a PBS article on the Net, saying that even though cursive writing was on the decline in our schools, it was still an essential part of a young child’s learning. Hmm, “The art of handwriting,” I thought. “The Art.” I could remember Pearl Paul, my third grade teacher, daily drilling the Palmer Method into our little hands: “Push, pull, push, pull, circle, circle, circle.” It was a pain in the . . . hand, but it taught us all to be good little writers. Now, though, with the many devices available even to small children—cell phones, tablets, computers—the art of handwriting and calligraphy may go the way of the bustle, to extinction. My main concern, as an old English teacher, is that too many people now only text, with thumbs that stumble on letters,stumble on thoughts as well, causing the message to be a garbled mess that even spell check can’t correct, and all kinds of texting shortcuts that may communicate but do so without the elegance of what was once cursive writing. I think that cursive writing, within the next ten years, will join the bustles and corsets and horse buggies into that realm of no-longer-needed things. More's the pity.

Sunday, July 27

International Crown, Baby Shampoo, and Lucy

One of the talking heads on ESPN radio yesterday said he thought the International tournament being played by the women golfers really wasn’t interesting enough that it should be continued in years to come. He must be a golf idiot. The format is interesting to say the least, and the shot-making these ladies displayed was just short of incredible. The pressure of international match play must feel like someone squeezing your neck . . . with both hands. The only problem for the sponsors of this event is that the U.S. squad was unable to get through to the singles matches on Sunday. The rating had to fall off a cliff with them not there. Not that the Sunday matches wouldn’t be interesting; but to keep the American audience tuned in, they really needed our four ladies to make it to Sunday. Tom Fazio’s course at Caves Valley near Baltimore was made to look like a pussy cat, but it still measured over 6600 yards and the greens were lightning fast. It certainly wasn't a pussy cat. Yet the women kept knocking down sticks and making long putts. If this tournament doesn’t do wonders for women’s golf, both amateur as well as professional, I’ll eat my sweaty visor. And the ESPN talking head must not know a bogey from a boogie.

I found a wonderful remedy for dry eyes and I’d like to pass it along. I didn’t really find it; my ophthalmologist gave it to me. I’ve been having a problem with red eyes, teary eyes, irritated eyes, to such an extent that I was squinting all the time, wiping my eyes, feeling like I was partly blind. She told me I was suffering from blepharitis, a condition in which the eyelids become coated with oily particles and bacteria near the base of the eyelashes. Such a simple thing to do: buy some baby shampoo and scrub the eyes with it once or twice a day. Rinse and there you go. Now why didn’t anyone tell me about baby shampoo a long time ago? Why didn’t I think of it myself? All my life I’ve washed my face, splashed my face, but never really scrubbed my eyelids. Who, after all, wants to get soap in the eyes? Well, babies don’t mind.

Because I love Scarlett Johansson, I decided I wanted to see her in Lucy, her latest film. I and Bill Murray both fell in love with her a long time ago when the two of them met in Japan in Lost in Translation. And even before that, when she was only twelve in The Horse Whisperer, I fell in love with her. But then, I’m a dirty old man. Lucy is science fictiony enough that I knew Rosalie wouldn’t like it, so she stayed home. Apart from my being able to watch Scarlett strut her stuff, I found the movie to be just a tad silly. Just a few years in the future, the plot was built around an artificial hormone called CPH4, looking a lot like blue crystal meth. Lucy is conned into delivering a briefcase to a really nasty Chinese mobster. But he won’t let her go until she opens the case and shows him what is in it, four plastic bags of this blue crystal stuff. Then he makes Lucy become part of his plan to smuggle the bags out of China. It’s not at all clear who sent the stuff to the mobster or what he was going to do with it when he got it out of the country. He was using three young men and Lucy to smuggle it out in their intestines, one to Berlin, one to Paris, and one to Rome. I’m not sure where Lucy was supposed to go. But she manages to struggle with her captor and in doing so the bag in her belly get broken and some of the CPH4 invades her body, morphing her into a super intelligent being whose intelligence, up to 20% of her brain’s capability, makes her able to control people and objects around her. And her brain capacity keeps growing. With the help of a French cop, she sets out to retrieve the other three bags of CPH4, knowing she will need them to keep herself alive. Good sy-fi concept, good action, lots of Scarlett, quite a few bits of silliness, especially in the second half of the movie, such as the obligatory race against on-coming traffic in which cars and trucks go into their obligatory smashes and the oozing stuff that comes out of Lucy to create a super-computer. But, all in all, a nice way to spend an afternoon with some popcorn, alone in a darkened theater with Lucy.

Wednesday, July 23

Dualities & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie woke me up in the wee small hours, apparently wanting me to join them on the back patio. So I did, always willing to obey my three masters. It was pre-dawn gray, the cats on their cat condos peering out in the darkness at our tall arbor vitae trees. Then a hulking shape appeared near the trees, a huge coyote come to mark his territory with a few urinary squirts. The boys were mesmerized, as was I. Dark shape in the darkness, our only separation the flimsy screening between that shape and us. It struck me then how little separates us from evil, how the universe and mankind are so much influenced by dualities: day and night, good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and devils, yin and yang, peace and war, female and male (although this last duality isn’t nearly as clear today as it once was).

It’s almost as though without this balance between positives and negatives, we couldn’t exist. But how frightening it is to think of the balance tipping toward the dark side. Wars all over the Middle East, atrocities against women in Nigeria, and Iraq and Iran, senseless killings in our schools, pedophiles in our churches, and drug cartels butchering people to our south.

After the coyote finished marking his territory, he went on his way and I returned to my bed to dream uneasily about dark shapes and imbalanced teeter-totters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the eighth in this film franchise, got generally good reviews. So we went. We sat for nearly two hours, both inwardly chuckling at some of the more stupid moments, and there were plenty, both of us agreeing after the credits that it wasn’t a very good film. The costuming and makeup and special effects were impressive, but the plot sort of reeked of ape feces (simian shit, or bull shit with a bovine borrowing). A post-apocalyptic setting only ten years later could not look as rusty and devastated as this one did. And the apes could not leap as high or as far as these apes did. Caesar, the leader of the apes, is one moment near death from a gunshot wound and the next moment is engaged in violent battle with Koba, the villainous ape who wanted to usurp Caesar’s leadership. The violence of the battles between ape and human was almost laughable in its absurdity. We were thankful that we hadn’t chosen to see it in 3D, because we’d have had to leave midway, dizzy and nauseous from so many apes leaping into our laps. Maybe we should have left midway through the non-3D version. That would have been good. I’ll stick with the old original Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell. All the others can go climb a tree.

Tuesday, July 22

Dystopia & Utopia

The word “dystopia” seems to be popping up all over the place lately. Not that it’s a new word or concept. It’s been around as long as it’s antonym “utopia,” which dates back to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia in the early sixteenth century. But a recent flood of novels and films like to describe themselves as dystopian, that is, set in some future reality or allegorical time and place which is bad, in which the human race and/or the earth have undergone radical changes for the worse. I think part of the word’s popularity has to do with the ubiquitous ads for pills to fix erectile dysfunction. You know, keep a stiff upper lip and hold your head up high? But back to what could be labeled as dystopian. Probably the best known and maybe the best examples are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But the list goes on and on as a string of writers warn us of impending dangers to the future: nuclear war, a new ice age, Big Brother governments, overpopulation, viruses that nearly wipe out humanity, a revolution of robots or computers, alien invasion, environmental disasters such as global warming or poisoning of the seas or the atmosphere (a sub-category called ecotopian fiction). The list continues to grow as seen in the popularity of so many young adult series of novels and films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the success of so many television series like Falling Skies, Person of Interest, The Last Ship, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and Extant, the new one with Halle Berry. And now another one called The Lottery (sort of leaning a little on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in which once a year the lucky winner gets stoned to death). In the tv Lottery, there’s a biological problem wherein women can no longer reproduce, an idea much like the plot twist in Children of Men a few years ago. Two other works that are sort of like “the Lottery” (the story, not the tv series) in that they’re microcosmic dystopian tales, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (set on a South Pacific island) and the recent film called Snowpiercer, set on a train.

Here’s a short list of novels and films that exemplify the various categories of dystopia: Karel Capek’s play RUR, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and the recent film Her (robots, computers); H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, tv’s Falling Skies, and the film The Edge of Tomorrow (alien invasion); Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the films Dr. Strangelove and all in the Mad Max series (nuclear war and post-apocalyptic devastation); Pierre Boulet’s Planet of the Apes, John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass and The Long Winter, the tv series The Last Ship (deadly viruses and ecological errors); John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Harry Harrison’s Soylent Green, and, in a crossover about cannibalism, McCormack’s The Road (overpopulation and starvation); Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Stephen King’s (written as Richard Bachman) The Long Walk (totalitarianism).

This list is only one grain of sand on the beach of all the other novels and short stories and films about dystopia. It’s interesting that The Hunger Games has a common thread with King’s The Long Walk: Both have a plot element like the Roman Coliseum in which a contest is held to entertain the masses and to eliminate contestants. Stephen King did his best to exhaust his readers as we walked along with the hundred young men who had to keep walking and walking until only one winner remained with the other ninety-nine killed along the way. But then, Stephen King has always been exhausting with his endless string of huge novels.

Now, what about utopian novels and films? It’s far easier to warn us of what could go wrong than to paint a positive picture of the future. Of course, there’s More’s Utopia, but what since then? The most positive novel about man’s future is Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which mankind evolves from childhood to adulthood when we become united with a universal life force. In fact, Clarke, maybe my favorite sci-fi writer, is usually positive in his examination of technological advances. Both series on tv and film, Star Trek and Star Wars, are essentially positive in their views of the future. The only other positive looks I can think of are Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, Baum’s Oz series, and Barry’s Peter Pan. But in these last two, about eternal youth, there are still witches and dark woods, Hooks and crocodiles. Then there’s that unusual depiction of the near future in Spike Jonze’s Her. Is it a positive or a negative statement? Is it a good relationship we might have with our computers and smart phones or is it a creepy indictment of where we’re going with computer technology? If my computer sounded like Scarlett Johansson, I could easily fall in love with her (it?).

Maybe the next best-seller will be a dystopian examination of a world in which all men, not just the numbers we now see, are afflicted with zero testosterone and erectile dysfunction. All men are slouching around with both heads drooping and all women looking in bemusement (and maybe a little amusement) as the human race ends, not with a bang, but a limp whimper. And, thanks to T. S. Eliot again, it might be called The Hollow Men.

Saturday, July 19

The Shut Open & Hamas

It looks like Rory has literally shut the door on his competition after three rounds at Hoylake. Or maybe that should be “slammed the door.” The young Irishman on Saturday eagled two of the last three holes and he made it look easy. He goes into Sunday with a six-stroke lead over Rickie Fowler and seven over Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson. And the rest of the field lags severely behind. I really like Rory’s chances. The only hiccup could be if they get high winds and rain on Sunday and Rory shoots an 80. But with six strokes to play with, he could probably still win even if he shot 90. All right, now what about Tiger? Those who hate him will say he stinks and he’ll never get his game back. And they’re happy as hell about it. But even with rust all over his game, he’s still doing as well as or better than a bunch of the best golfers in the world. After two rounds, he was only one behind Martin Kaymer, the U.S. Open champ, and Henrik Stenson, and he was tied with Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Stewart Cink, Luke Donald, and Jordan Spieth. And look at who didn’t make the cut: Lee Westwood, K.J. Choi, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, and Ernie Els. Granted, Tiger isn’t making the putts he used to make and he doesn’t seem as mentally focused as we’re used to seeing, but he’s still only 38 with at least five or six good years left. Don’t count him out just yet. The Tiger will return.

I saw this political cartoon in today’s paper and it says exactly what the world should note about the situation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. How can the Gaza citizens continue to allow Hamas to endanger them with its assault on Israel? Are the people of Gaza completely under the control of Hamas? Why is Hamas so intent on shelling Israel? What does it hope to accomplish? Too many questions, too few answers. It’s all a mystery to me.

Wednesday, July 16

Peter Pan

Here I go again. Every time we go to the Arizona Broadway Theatre, I come home to rave about it on this blog. Some readers may be thinking, “Enough already! I don’t want to hear any more!” Well, tough. I’m going to do it again. Last night we went there to see what ABT could do with Peter Pan, James M. Barrie's hymn to eternal youth. A couple of cocktails and a meal of mesclun greens salad, hot rolls, and an entre of prime rib for me and mojo chicken for Rosalie. Excellent meal, and so bountiful we had to bring about half home with us. Then the play. We soon discovered that they were able to do just about everything that could be done in this high-flying musical. For a relatively small stage, with intimate seating for only about 350 diners, they construct amazing sets. The opening scene was in the bedroom of Wendy and her two brothers, with a large curtained window at the rear, which when opened showed a black backdrop with lights for stars. Peter Pan enters through the window, and then the opening song “Neverland,” followed by “I Can Fly,” during which Peter and the children soar front to back, side to side. Again, for a small stage with limited possibilities, ABT does an amazing job. The sets in Neverland were magically varied with large, orange-spoked wheels to represent flowers, huge green leaves hanging down, a small hill that covered the home of Peter and the Lost Boys, then later a house where Wendy and the boys would live while she served as their mother. And, of course, a pirate ship with plank for Captain Hook and his pirates. The singing was very good, especially that of Keil Klaphake as Hook, and David Errigo as Peter. The choreography was excellent, especially in the dance of the Indians, led by Tiger Lily in the “Ugg-a-Wugg” number, followed by a timpani instrumental called “The Pow-Wow Polka.” Peter and Tiger Lily beat on a large drum while the rest of the cast clacked out a complicated syncopation with sticks. All right, that’s enough raving. If there are any readers out there who live anywhere near the Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, AZ, they should buy a ticket for this show, have a great meal, see a great show.

And how about a cat truth from "Pickles?"

Tuesday, July 15

Hamas/Israel & Random thoughts

Am I the only one confused by the Gaza/Israel situation? As I understand it, Hamas, a terrorist group, controls Gaza, and has been tossing rockets at Israel for several years. Israel counters by shooting down most of the Hamas rockets before they land and sending their own rockets into Gaza. If Hamas would quit launching rockets at Israel, Israel would quit doing the same. If Gaza residents don’t like the bloodshed, why don’t they get Hamas to stop? War is such a stupid activity. All through history wars have been fought for only four reasons: for power, for territory, for religion, and in some cases, for freedom from tyranny. Only that last one makes any sense—American, French, Spanish revolutions, and any other nation that’s risen up against tyranny. Increased territory and power are stupid reasons. Increased territory is only one aspect of the need for wealth and power. And who gets that power? Who gets that wealth? Some dictator or tyrant or governmental head, not the people. Then there’s that third reason—religion. More people have died because of religious wars than for all the other reasons combined. “Believe as I believe or I will kill you!” In this age of supposed enlightenment, who cares what anyone else believes? Hamas, stop shelling Israel; Russia, back off the Ukraine border; Irish Protestants and Catholics, learn to live together; terrorist groups everywhere, stop trying to kill all infidels. Let’s all just learn to leave everyone else alone.

A few random thoughts for you to ponder:

(On the style of some bad writers) I think of his writing as Milk Dud prose—soft and sticky and finger-messy, and it gives you a bellyache after just one box.

(On contemplating oneself in a mirror) The mirror has a way of hiding the truth, but I think I bring to it a fairly objective eye. Now and then I catch a glimpse of my father, but I don’t see myself as an old man.

(On getting old) Every now and then I get this wave of depression at the thought of my own mortality. It’s never an intellectual thing, something to ponder. One moment I’ll be thinking about what I’m doing and then suddenly it overwhelms me and I feel this rush of emotion about what it will actually mean when I die. This long (all too short) practical joke will be over and what will it mean, what will my existence have meant? Then the feeling goes away for several months, only to pop up again when I’m not paying attention.

(On male stupidity) It’s hard to find many men of his caliber—about a .22 small bore. Firing shorts instead of longs, or maybe even dum-dums.

(On anyone’s stupidity) Isn’t it sad that some people can turn on tv and not find a single program that insults their intelligence?

(On the difference between involvement and commitment) In Jonathan Kellerman’s book Self-Defense, Milo says to Alex, “Involved but not committed—know the difference? In a ham-and-egg breakfast, the chicken’s involved, but the pig is committed.”

(On taking a difficult exam) The oral comprehensive exam might be called a situation in which the testers slowly squeeze the testees.

(On paternity) You can’t feel paternal over every passing seed.

(On verbosity) You should give that nasty cut under your nose a chance to heal.

(On sensitivity) The kinds of things that make people cry say a lot about their sensitivity.

(On intelligence) The kinds of things that make people laugh say a lot about their intelligence.

(On word twisters) Misogyny almost always obviates progeny.


Sunday, July 13

Arizona Birds

I can’t get over the oddity of the bird population here in Arizona. We have a variety of Egyptian blackbirds (I call them Egyptian because they look like they belong carved on a stone next to Nefertiti). They're really boat-tailed grackles and they have a comical mating ritual. The male, who has a very long tail that acts like a rudder in the air as it opens into a V, puffs up and does a little stiff-legged dance around his sweetie (who ignores him completely), all the while giving her these shrill whistles. A few days ago I saw a smaller blackbird, not the same kind as the grackles, trying very hard to impress his love. She was on the ground and he would fly a few feet above her, hovering like a hummingbird, his tail pointing down at the female and his wings going like sixty. Quite a feat. But she was oblivious to him. He did it three times before he finally flew away. As far as I could tell, after all that foreplay, he’d probably be too pooped to do any effective mating.

Since we’ve been feeding birds in our backyard, we’ve acquired quite a host of different species. We now have five pigeons who regularly arrive in late afternoon for their snacks. They’re such big healthy birds, and quite pretty in a wide variety of colors, although our five all look exactly alike, sort of purplish with that iridescent sheen of oil on water. Lots of quail families come through. One group had eight little ones, eight little tan puffs greedily working on the quail block. A few days ago as we were pulling into the garage, we noticed four babies unaccompanied by parents scurrying across the street from our house. And since then there have been only four in our backyard. So we figured the parents either kicked half of them out or the four just got tired of living with mom and dad and decided to cut out on their own. In Sun City West they’ll do quite nicely. I’ve never seen such a place for easy animal living. In addition to the quail and pigeons, we have red-breasted finch, lots of dove, an odd little brown pair who look and act much like cardinals, and a number of cactus wren who hunt bugs on our back patio. Other than an occasional one who comes by and has a sip of nectar before darting away, we haven’t had much business at the hummingbird feeder. The finch love it, though. I don’t see how they can get their beaks down far enough to get anything, but they seem to be doing all right. They sit on the edge, their feet slipping and sliding, and peck into the feeder holes, and the liquid level seems to be going down. We have quite a few of the white-winged singers who sit on one tv antenna or the other and sing their hearts out. They’re Arizona mockingbirds whose song is so lovely and varied during their mating seasons. But they also have the irritating habit of singing throughout the night. Thank goodness their song is as pleasant as it is. I remember visiting a friend in Florida a few years ago and getting a taste of my first whippoorwill. Now that bird is a real pain in the butt: I quote from the Columbia Desk Encyclopedia, “North American nocturnal bird of goatsucker family. Weird song is monotonous repetition of its name.”

I watched three families of mallards 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 a month or so ago. The state conservation people have taken most of the female mallards out of the PB ponds, so the remaining males tend to get horny with no resources available. That leaves the weak and the strong, or any port in a storm, so to speak. All of a sudden 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 under water as he had his way with him. And right behind this duo were another three or four males. Whenever the weaker one managed to get away momentarily the other four would fight over whose turn it was. I can’t imagine anything more brutal taking place in a prison shower room. He managed 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 we can ignore the brutality inherent in nature as well as in human nature.

At a nearby golf course, I noticed four red-winged hawks in the backyard of one of the houses along the fairway. They were hunting in concert in a pack (pack?). According to Eric Partridge in his book Usage and Abusage, it would be a flight of goshawks. But that applies to them only as a group, not as a hunting team. The curious thing is how they cooperated. One was on the ground acting as herder or harrier, scouting out an oleander hedge, one was on a fence post, two others were on the edge of adjoining roofs, all keeping interested eyes on the oleander. Then a rabbit made his timorous way out of the bush. Two of the hawks rushed him and he scampered back into the safety of the bush. So all four of them hung around for a while, then flew away. They were quite beautiful in a savage sort of way. They were rusty brown on the body, more reddish on the wings, with white backside and belly. I found out months later, when we went to the San Diego Zoo, that they were Harris hawks, one of the few birds of prey that hunted cooperatively.

I love our Arizona birds.

Friday, July 11

Idle Thoughts

Such a simple solution but one that would never have occurred to me. I’ve been having trouble with my eyes—tearing, redness, itchiness. I saw my ophthalmologist, who told me I was having an allergic reaction in my eyelids, not my eyes. She recommended lubricant eye drops and one more thing, Aveeno baby shampoo. Use the shampoo to scrub my eyelids two or three times a day. Really scrub them, without fear of normal shampoo irritation when some gets in the eyes. So simple. So effective. Baby shampoo. And here I am, eighty years old.

Hillary Clinton is in the news more and more often as the next presidential election looms on the 2015 horizon. One article even said that she, like Cher and Prince and Beyonce and other one-name celebrities, is now so well-known she’s more often referred to as simply Hillary. I think back to her years with Bill in the White House, how much I didn’t care for her then, even feared her domineering presence, much as a lot of people fear Nancy Pelosi. I was happy when Barack Obama beat her out for the Democratic nomination in 2008. And here we are again, with her being the obvious nominee for 2016. And I now admire and respect her, no longer fear her, and will, along with a bunch of other former Republicans who are put out by the dysfunction of that old elephant, vote to see her as our first female president. If Chris Christy is the best the Republicans can offer, then it should be a shoe in for her. We’ll see.

More confusion on my part. Why are we all of a sudden seeing a flood of young people streaming up from Central America to cross our border? Is life there so horrible for them that they’d take that dangerous and long journey through Mexico to get here, in many cases only to be turned around and sent back? What do they hope for up here? Jobs, citizenship, personal safety? Or do they simply want the benefits of a welfare system that offers them free medical aid and subsistence benefits such as food stamps? Are there jobs here that no U.S. citizen wants? If so, why not let those who are able come in on work visas and take those jobs. Don’t we have a system that’s able to keep track of people on visas? If not, why not? What if we allowed them in but didn’t extend welfare to them? Wouldn’t they still be better off here than in the countries from which they’re fleeing? We’re a nation of immigrants—streams of tired, poor, huddled masses, the wretched refuse who came to this country as a way to better themselves. Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty, tell us she lifts her “lamp beside the golden door.” We should find some way to let these young people come in through that golden door, let them in to stay.

Wednesday, July 9

Stray Thoughts on Daily News

Gun violence in Chicago. How can NRA people still maintain their position on gun control? Would all those deaths in Chicago, recent as well as in the past, have happened if guns weren’t so easily obtained? Without a gun, murder would have to be up close and personal, strangling or beating on a head with a hammer or sticking someone countless times with a knife, none of which would be accidental. Guns make it too easy from an impersonal distance. Up close and personal. Yes, people would still die but it wouldn’t be in such numbers.

Recreational marijuana in Washington. This is just the beginning. Soon we’ll see more states legalizing pot, both medicinal as well as recreational. It’s hard to say what the repercussions will be. Will we become a nation of potheads? Will our young people take it up with a vengeance? Will DUIs from marijuana zoom up? Or will it make illegal pot from south of the border a thing of the past? Will the revenues from sales and state and federal taxes be enough to justify its legality? We’ll have to pay close attention to how it goes in Colorado and Washington to find the answers to all the questions.

World Cup Soccer. I was all set to write a comment about the low scoring in soccer, a game about which I know almost nothing. I was wondering how the rules of the game could be changed to accommodate more scoring, if the net could be enlarged or if more penalty kicks could be granted for fouls. Then I watched Germany simply destroy the Brazilian net in the first half of their semi-final game. But that was an anomaly, not a norm. I still think I and a bunch of other people would find soccer more attractive with more scoring.

What does it say to the rest of the world, especially to those who are undernourished, even starving to death, that in this country we can have a hot dog eating contest in which this year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, stuffed down sixty-nine hot dogs with buns in ten minutes? That’s right, sixty-nine. And in Custer, South Dakota, at another hot dog eating contest, Walter Eagle Tail, choked to death when his throat became engorged with buns and wieners, with no way to Heimlich it open. Senseless death, senseless contests. The rest of the world must just scratch their collective heads at such stupidity, such crass consumption. It seems to me that we could use an updated version of Eugene Burdick’s and William Lederer’s The Ugly American. We’re still ugly, maybe even more so than we were in 1955.

Monday, July 7

Five Quickie Movie Reviews

The best of these five—certainly also the quirkiest, the strangest—has to be the oddest film I’ve ever seen, South Korea’s Joon-ho Bong’s dystopian allegory Snowpiercer. Basic premise: The earth in 2032 has frozen over after a botched attempt by science to halt global warming; everyone on earth has perished except for the people lucky enough to board an experimental train called Snowpiercer, which rolls through the frozen landscape on an endless circuit of the earth. Sort of a parallel to Noah and his ark, or Katherine Ann Porter’s Ship of Fools, a microcosm of mankind. The train is sectioned off into classes, with the lowliest, grubbiest in the train’s rear, with each car going forward through increasing status to the engine, occupied by the train’s inventor, Wilford, sort of like the Great and Wonderful Wizard in Baum’s Oz series. The back car people want to revolt and move forward, even to take over the engine. Mayhem and bloodshed everywhere as they move through car after car, increasing luxury car by car. There are all kinds of holes in the logic of the allegory, some grisly humor provided by Tilda Swinton as an imperious administrator for Wilton, and an ending so ironic I’d be letting the bear out of the bag if I told you.

Second best is another sci-fi flick, Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt battling an invasion of aliens, each battle beginning over and over each time Cruise is killed, in a time warp they need to break to finally defeat the bad guys. Time travel has always been a favorite topic for science fiction writers, from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine to Robert Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, and now another wrinkle in that timely progression.

Then there’s The Fault in Our Stars, a re-do of the old tear-jerker based on Erich Segal’s Love Story, staring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. You know, two kids falling in love with one dying of cancer. The story is old, but the tears get jerked just the same, and in this one Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the two lovers take this old plot out of the ordinary and make it something special.

Next is a movie that critics liked better than I did. Clint Eastwood produced and directed this film version of the successful Broadway musical Jersey Boys. Good voices (especially that of John Lloyd Young doing his impression of Frankie Valli), good old songs, but I’ve never been a fan of r‘n’r, so these weren’t even close to my favorites. Then there’s the Jersey depiction of the Italian segment, with the mob connections and the fraternity of Good Old Boys. For me it was a turnoff, and I don’t mean onto the Jersey Turnpike.

And finally, a film I thought I wanted to see when it came out but didn’t get around to until we rented it on Dish, the remake of Thurber’s old story “The Adventures of Walter Mitty.” I love the story, I loved the Danny Kaye film version, I wanted to love Ben Stiller’s version. But I didn’t. It was too hokey with Mitty actually doing things the real Mitty would never have been able to do, like climbing into the Himalayas and treking across miles and miles of snow and ice to find Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), his famous photographic friend, like skateboarding high speed three or four miles downhill into an Iceland village. Nah, Mitty wouldn’t have been able to do any of that. Nice try, Ben, but Danny Kaye's was better.

Friday, July 4

Prednisone

I really hate to keep cataloguing all my aches and pains and weird medical afflictions, but bear with me, just one more time. I’ve been experiencing pain in shoulders and hips that kept getting worse and worse, pain so bad in shoulders that I haven’t been able to sleep very well, flopping from left to right and back again when the pain told me to try the other side, dreaming wild and crazy dreams, not nightmares exactly but just anxiously negative. To counter the pain I’ve been taking higher and higher doses of ibuprofen, as much as eight or nine hundred milligrams a day. But even that stopped helping. So I went to see my primary physician, thinking he might prescribe some stronger pain pills, maybe the Celebrex one of my golf buddies told me was good for arthritis pain. My doctor quickly nixed any pain pills, told me what I had was probably fibromyalgia. No arthritis. No joint pain. No pain pills. Fibromyalgia is muscle inflammation, not joint friction. So he prescribed prednisone, 20 mgs once daily. He assured me I’d obtain almost instantaneous relief. I filled the prescription, took one that afternoon, and slept like a baby. In the morning, although I didn’t quite leap out of bed like a youngster, I was able to get up without the usual moans and groans. Prednisone. I read the side effects of prednisone and nearly fell down laughing. All pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies are so intent on covering their asses that they list nearly every side effect possible . . . to the point of absurdity: aggression, agitation, anxiety, blurred vision, decreased urine, dizziness, fast, slow, pounding or irregular heartbeat or pulse, headaches, irritability, depression, mood changes, nervousness, noisy rattling breathing, numbness or tingling in arms or legs, pounding in the ears, shortness of breath, swelling of fingers, hands, feet, or lower legs, trouble thinking, speaking, or walking, trouble breathing at rest, weight gain. And those are only the main potential side effects. The list goes on to other possibilities: bloody stools, insomnia, excessive sweating, cataracts, bulging of eyes, convulsions, reddening of face, abdominal distension, hives, inflammation of esophagus, fluid retention, peptic ulcers, muscle weakness, vertigo. Whew, that covers just about everything. The benefits of prednisone are great, but the possible side effects are alarming. And all to eliminate the pain of fibromyalgia. Nearly all of my ailments regarding skin problems, psoriasis, squamous cell cancer, and fibromyalgia seem to be related to a wacky immune system. It’s such fun to get old and prone to every medical problem known to man.

Oh, yes, and Happy Fourth of July

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