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

Saturday, February 28

Kingsman: the Secret Service & Good and Bad Stuff on the Tube

I guess I’m old and the world has passed me by. So much of life today is a mystery to me. The music today doesn’t sound like music to me; conversation is an extinct animal; I keep seeing all these grungy guys with the three- to five-day beards, I hear f-bombs and m-f-bombs from virtually every mouth and in virtually every movie I go to, I see way too many impossible car chases and way too much blood and violence as one person wreaks stomach-churning damage on another person. And today I made the grievous mistake of going to see Kingsman: the Secret Service. Most of the reviewers both professional and amateur thought it was a wonderful spoof of all the James Bonds and Jack Baurs and Jason Bournes. All those predecessors just named were stylish in their violence, often funny in their hyperbolic action, visually stunning. Kingsman took it way over the top and Colin Firth should be ashamed for having been talked into this role as secret agent Harry Hart. I won’t go far into the plot (which went only a few feet): Harry Hart recruits young Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to replace a fallen agent into Kingsman (a really really secret British agency), who then goes into what seemed like a year-long competition against nine others to see which would be the one agent chosen to join the ranks. Meanwhile, a multi-billionaire named Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) decided to use his money to rid the world of about 99% of the population to save the world for his chosen elite by giving away free access to phones and internet with a chip that would turn those who took the freebie into homicidal maniacs. Whoa! And then the bloodbath begins. Dumb. This is a movie I should have walked out on, but a movie has to be even worse than this one was for me to walk out. Rosalie would have walked out and I’d have been right behind her.

And while I'm at knocking stuff I've seen recently, let me say a word or two about this season's American Idol. The audition weeks were all pretty good and we were excited about seeing what these chosen 24 signers might do when it came down to the final competition. And then this week's showing of the 12 guys and 12 ladies. Not good. Idol seems to be more interested in performance than in singing. If you can shriek really high and can shake your booty you've got a chance. Then there were the really awful waving arms that Idol has found necessary for way too many seasons, and the abbreviated comments by the judges telling each of them how good they were. Finally, finally, we're going to say goodbye to Idol, and stick to remembering all the really great singers they've introduced over the years.

Comment or two about what's good on the tube. Better Call Saul, The Slap, and the PBS special series called Wild: A New Earth are really good. Too much good stuff to watch, so why waste time on the bad stuff?

Wednesday, February 25

Stingers



I may have posted this poem a few years ago, but I think it's funny enough for re-posting. My wife and I used to celebrate dining out with a stinger or two after the meal. And then simply fall into bed. Stingers are really tasty but oh so powerful. Because limericks are universally funny, I used a limerick sequence of four as the form. Hope you like the poem. You may even try the drink if you've never done so, but be careful. They're dangerous.

Something else I’ve written about before, my son Mike’s grapefruit tree. I’ve kept track of it ever since we brought it here from New York and planted it here in Arizona. Quick story summary: When Mike was five or six (1974 or ’75), he stuck a grapefruit seed into the soil of one of his mother’s house plants. It sprouted and was then transferred to its own pot. It grew slowly, always a house plant, and we kept it in the living room. When we moved to Arizona, the plant (tree) came with us. I then dug a hole in our backyard and stuck it in, twenty years ago. Now look at it. It’s about fifteen feet tall and produces a few grapefruit each season, but not many and not very tasty. Who cares. It’s Mike’s tree and we love it.

Tuesday, February 24

Beards & Drought


One of the odd current trends for men is the 3-day beard. I see it everywhere—movie and television stars, sports figures (especially PGA golfers), almost anyone in the news, men I see in stores and on the street. Quite a few take it beyond three days to a full-blown facial bush, but most just stay with that "Did he shave this morning?" look. I call it an odd trend because I don’t understand if women do or don’t like it. Are women really attracted to men with that grubby look? Which came first, the beard or the attraction? When I was a young man, sometimes I wouldn’t shave for two or three days, not for some sort of fashion statement or to woo the girls, but because I was too lazy to bother. I remember how grubby I felt and how I’d then overcome my laziness and shave. I also remember girlfriends who complained about whisker burn after an evening of smooching. So, why this current trend? Do women no longer get a whisker burn or do they no longer engage in smooching? And how do these men manage to keep it to a 3-day beard? Do they shave and let it grow for three days or do they have an electric shaver set for a 3-day length? ‘Tis a mystery.

Right now we’re getting rain coming down almost sideways, and a lot of it. It’s most unusual for us to get rain like this, especially when it comes out of the northeast. But here in the Southwest, any rain is good rain. We need to cut into the drought conditions in California, Texas, and Oklahoma. From what I’ve read, we’re heading for an even more extensive drought for years to come. I wonder how long it will be before we can attain that science-fictiony idea of climate control either through a control of the jet streams or by building domes over our cities. I’m guessing that might happen in another hundred years. That is, if we can avoid killing us all in the next hundred years. With Isis and al-Qaeda and Al Shabaab and too many other terrorist groups to name all trying to kill as many infidels as they can, humanity may not last another century. I hope we can put an end to drought and famine and needless killing someday. Before it’s too late.

Monday, February 23

2015 Oscars

Even though the Oscars got smart this year and imported Neil Patrick Harris from the Tonys, they didn’t import enough Tony class. Neil Patrick did what he could with what they gave him—a great opening number and a bunch of promptu and impromptu jokes,
even a funny nod at Keaton’s Birdman when he came out in his tighty whities, but it just wasn’t enough to save the night from too many overlong and really stupid acceptance speeches. When will Oscar learn that they could award some of the minor categories (the ones only folks in the industry understand) all at one time with only one acceptor for each award? I know, I know, everyone deserves his/her 15 seconds of fame and recognition, but too often it takes too long for the three or four or sometimes more people in each category to make it through the crowd and onto the stage where they then sort of dodge around to see who gets first dibs on the mic and often the mic winner uses up all the time while the others are looking like they could stab him in the back for his selfishness. They should all take a look at the Tony Awards show to see how winners give classy, succinct, meaningful acceptance speeches, and none of them is ever guilty of reading from a folded sheet of paper (Shame on you, Patricia Arquette). Some speech highlights: Graham Moore, who nearly killed himself at 16 because he felt weird and different, urges young people out there who feel weird and different to accept themselves for what they are; J. K. Simmons wants us all to call our mothers and fathers more often (“Call,” he says. “Don’t write or text or e-mail.”) to tell them we love them; Patricia Arquette speaks for wage equality for women; John Legend tells us our nation is still one of incarceration, where more black men today are incarcerated than were enslaved in 1850 (Did he mean that most black men are imprisoned unfairly?). There were no real surprises among the winners, although I would say that no rap song (and I still find it hard to call rap “music”) should have won over “Lost Stars” from Begin Again or Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Going to Miss You.” “Glory,” as sung by Legend and spoken by Common, was emotional, as witnessed by the many teary eyes in the audience, but its win was more a result of the meaningfulness of Martin Luther King’s march and the Civil Rights Movement than because it was a great song. Then there was the evening’s musical surprise, Lady Gaga singing a medley of tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. It was a surprise and a revelation to hear her sing so wonderfully and not at all like anything we’d heard from her before. Now if she’d just left the red rubber cleaning gloves at home. It all took over three and a half hours and it felt more like five. Can’t wait to see what happens next year.

Friday, February 20

Blogging & Arizona Weather

I’ve been blogging for over five years and only now do I wonder about the word “blog.” It looks like an acronym for something but I can’t come up with any possibilities. What to do? Well, obviously, I should go on-line to see what Google or any other search engine would say: “In 1997 a weblog (web log) was shortened to “we blog” and then to just “blog.” And OED defines it thusly: “A frequently updated web site consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc., typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary.” And that seems to be exactly what I’m doing, keeping a journal not just for myself but for anyone out there who might stumble onto it and give it a look. I guess that word could just as easily be “biolog,” Or maybe “B-I overtly-log.” What I and other bloggers are doing is pretty overt, isn’t it? We’re all saying, “Look at me! Look at me! I’ll tell you anything about myself you want to know. I have no secrets. Just feel free to ask.” Whoa! Talk about opening oneself up to identity theft. I guess most bloggers don’t really care if someone steals their identity.
“Here I am. Just take whatever you want.” If that really happened, we’d all probably go screaming to the police to get ourselves back. Meanwhile, I continue to post stuff, both for my own enjoyment and maybe for my mysterious readers out there.

As I sit here looking out my back window, the arbor vitae trees on our back property line are still and majestic, the grapefruit and orange trees are just now starting to show blossoms, and the sun is out in a 75-degree temperature. Eat your hearts out, all you poor folks in the northern tier and northeast. I see night after night on the news that you guys are more than ass-deep in snow and shivering in record-low temperatures. I shiver for you, remembering all those mornings in upstate New York when I’d leave the house to drive to school and find my driveway piled high with snowfall and the stuff the plows had thrown on top of it. No thanks. It may get really hot here in July and August, but I don’t have to shovel it.

Thursday, February 19

Magic Tuffy & The Mentalist

(That's Tiger on the left and Tuffy on the right. Or is it the other way around?)
Kitty update: Tiger and Tuffy have now learned how to open kitchen drawers. Why? As George Mallory replied when asked about why he chose to climb Mt. Everest, because it’s there. The kitty response is the same, because they’re there, just as any closed door or drawer is there. To be opened. To explore all the contents and secret places therein. Yesterday morning I found the bottom two drawers pulled out, Tiger sitting nearby, attentive to something to the rear of the drawers, an odd noise emanating from the lower of the two. A tiny brown paw was rifling through the pile of receipts we keep there. The paw was reaching from the back of the drawer, and I mean, the back panel of the drawer. I reached in to see how he had gotten there. Impossible. I could feel that there was at most a 3-inch gap between the back of the drawer and the bottom of the drawer above it. Yet there was this little brown paw reaching out from the back of the cupboard. I unhooked the catches at each side of the drawer and took the drawer out. And then removed Tuffy, who seemed to be giving me a very smart-ass cat smile, knowing that he’d just confounded the man he owned. That would be me. And I still can’t figure out how he got back there.

We watched the finale of The Mentalist on CBS last night. That is, we watched the first thirty minutes of its two-hour episode. Dish apparently had a transmission problem that would freeze a scene for a minute or so, then start again but without any sound, than another freeze. How irritating. We’d invested in seven seasons worth of Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon and now we aren’t able to see the conclusion? This morning I went on-line to CBS and found this episode and we were able to see it without any glitches. What a great way to conclude this series. A tense hunting of a serial killer who wants to get even with Jane, a renewal of old friends and relatives who want to attend Patrick and Lisbon’s wedding, insights into their past and a peek at their future, and a look at the cabin in the woods that Jane plans to remodel as a home for them. Spoiler alert: and Lisbon is pregnant. We’re going to miss these people whom we’ve come to know after seven years. I just read that there were no plans for any kind of spinoff. Good. We want the happy ending to be the end. But we can always look forward to seeing Simon Baker and Robin Tunney in something new, not together but starring in some new series of their own.

Wednesday, February 18

Still Alice & Under the Skin

After seeing Julianne Moore in Still Alice slide down that tragic slope toward Alzheimer’s emptiness, I have to say she’s probably a lock to win the best actress Oscar. But then, I also thought Julie Christie would win it in 2008 for her role in Away from Her. Both performances were wrenchingly, painfully good. I thought Away from Her was the better movie simply because there was more story to it than that of Still Alice. Moore, as Dr. Alice Howland, is the victim of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and goes from the first indications of the disease when she’s fifty to the near final stage, a rapid transition of only a few years. When she first learns that she has the disease and what it will mean for her, she says to her husband (Alec Baldwin) that she wishes she had cancer. The tragic irony is that she was a noted scholar in linguistics, a respected professor at Columbia University, and we watch as she goes during a class lecture from losing a word that’s on the tip of her tongue, to a panicky moment when she’s jogging on the Columbia campus and can’t remember exactly where she’s at, to the time at her home when she had to urinate and couldn’t find the bathroom, to the final moment when her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is reading something from a play she’s doing and she asks her mother if she liked it, to which Alice nods hesitatingly, and Lydia asks her what it means, to which Alice, in a heartbreaking mumble, says, “Love.” And, yes, there were tears as the credits rolled by, but this wasn’t a movie intended to jerk our tears. It was a frightening look at a disease for which we simply must find if not a cure at least something that will slow its course. In an article about several families in Columbia, I saw that there were studies being made in Phoenix on drugs they hoped could either slow or stop the development of plaque that invades the brain, causing the loss of brain cells and memories, causing what’s called in Columbia “la bobera,” the foolishness. None of us wants to be looked at as foolish; none of us wants to descend to Alice’s wordless level. Thank you, Julianne Moore, for your portrayal of that descent. And congratulations on your winning the Oscar for that portrayal.

And while I’m at it, why not a few words about maybe the strangest movie I’ve ever seen: Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as (I guess) an alien who steals a human identity (and why not steal the loveliness of Scarlet) and comes to Glasgow, Scotland, to entice men into her pool of black something where they sort of dissolve into just skin. Very little dialogue, in fact none for the first half of the movie, just alien sounds and garbled words of people on the street. And we have the unexplained helmeted motorcyclist who seems to be helping her or hunting her as she goes about her business driving around the city in her delivery van. Strange, strange flick. But I’m always more than happy to see Scarlet in anything she chooses to do, and the photography was gorgeous, with slow motion scenes of clouds and snowfall and forests and Scottish countryside with tiny humans moving about. I was so intrigued by what this movie was trying to tell me that I ordered a copy of the novel on which it was based. Maybe that will explain what the movie did not.

Sunday, February 15

Brian Williams & Hillary Clinton

I’m still saddened by Brian Williams’ departure from NBC. Things being said about him and his story have gone back and forth, some excusing him, some blaming him for his apparent lie, blame him for betraying his viewers’ trust in him. I’m just sad. I loved him and his anchoring. He was a man I admired. Will he or won’t he be back? Time will tell. Meanwhile, in an article by Morgan Housel for The Motley Fool (2/12/2015), I found an explanation that seems valid. Here’s a part of it. See what you think.

“Was Williams lying? Maybe. Although it's hard to think how someone as high-profile as Williams thought he could get away with fabricating a story that is so easy to verify.

Could it have been an innocent error? I think so.

False memories are more common than you might think, particularly when they involve emotional events, like reporting from a war zone. Understanding how your mind can fool you is key to knowing how seriously to take yourself, even in something like investing.

For decades, psychologists have interviewed people about an emotional topic, added some fake details and watched their subjects' memories trick them.

Psychologist Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine, discussed the Sept. 11 attacks with a group of research subjects and found that, when prompted, several could vividly describe seeing video of Flight 93 crashing into a field in Pennsylvania (this video, of course, doesn't exist). ‘It just seemed like something was falling out of the sky,’ one participant said. ‘I was just, you know, kind of stunned by watching it go down.’

Hillary Clinton had a similar flub a few years ago, recalling coming under sniper fire after her plane landed during a 1996 trip to Bosnia, running from the plane toward cover ‘with our heads down.’ In reality, video showed, Clinton walked calmly off the plane where she was presented with a poem from an 8-year-old girl.

‘Memory is man's greatest friend and worst enemy,’ said novelist Gilbert Parker. That's because memory is just a series of woven-together stories we tell ourselves. And we can be such good storytellers — and such elaborate weavers — that what we recall as fact can be bits and pieces of truth spun into something that never happened.

Clinton, for example, was traveling to a war-torn country. As a high-profile target, that was surely a scary trip. There might have been legitimate threats from snipers. Or snipers later that day, a few weeks later or the month before. She may have been rushed off a plane during a different trip, or heard the Secret Service discussing plans in case of an ambush. All that fear put together could result in Clinton's mind filling in the gaps of what actually happened with vivid, emotional thoughts of what could have happened.

Williams reported a story on the helicopter that came under actual fire. Replaying ‘what-if’ thoughts in his head about a helicopter an hour in front of his own—which surely terrified him and his family — could have caused him to weave the two stories together.
‘I don't know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another,’ Williams said after admitting his mistake.

But psychologists might.

False memories ‘are much more common that people intuitively think’ and ‘should be considered as a possible explanation in cases like this,’ psychologist Christopher Chabris tweeted recently.

It all comes down to taking an event that actually happened and pushing it against one that could have happened, should have happened or almost happened. Our storytelling mind takes it from there, filling the gaps of actual memories with the visions of false ones.
‘Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories,’ wrote psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson in their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). ‘Once we have a narrative, we shape our memories to fit into it.’

It's entirely possible Williams, Clinton and everyone else in this story is an attention-seeking liar.”

I hope that last statement isn’t true. I really want to vote for Hillary next year. I want to be able to trust her. I want to think she was simply the victim of false memories just as Brian Williams was.

Saturday, February 14

Assault Rifles & American Idol

Wiley’s Non Sequitur does it again. I haven’t yet figured out why gun owners are so against legislation banning assault rifles or requiring background checks before purchasing. Why should anyone own such a weapon? Surely, no one goes out hunting with them unless they’re hunting human beings. And we have enough folks out there hunting human beings with knives and pistols, which pretty much limits their hunting to only one or two at a time. We don’t need to hand them a weapon that can spit out as many as a hundred rounds in less than a minute. I went on-line and learned that one such high-capacity magazine is appropriately called a "Casket" and that assault rifles (or AK-47’s) that are fully automatic are currently banned. It’s the semi-automatic that isn’t banned. You can still insert a magazine that holds anywhere from ten to a hundred rounds but you can only fire them one at a time, one with each trigger pull. One can spray-fire with a fully-automatic weapon but fire only one shot at a time as fast as one can pull the trigger. I’m not opposed to hunting bear, deer, whatever, or anything with fur. But why does one need to hunt those things with a rifle that can fire as many as a hundred rounds before reloading? When I was in Korea I carried a semi-automatic M-1 Garand rifle that held a clip with six 30-caliber bullets. It was a wonderful weapon for fighting a war, but I can’t think I’d ever need it for shooting a deer. I’m not opposed to our Second Amendment right to bear arms, but I don’t think we need to bear machine guns or bazookas or mortars or atom bombs. C’mon, hunters and rifle owners, all you NRAers, get real.

American Idol has cut its contestants to 48 with a final reduction next week to the 24 who will compete for the big one. It seems to us that this year's crop has singers that are better than most of them in past seasons. And so many of them are so young. I guess with the ease and availability of YouTube and karaoke sites, kids now have lots of opportunities to perform and improve their techniques. I envy them that. I wish I'd had YouTube when I was a young, shy lad. I might have even tried out for Idol. Or not. We can never know how life might have changed if we'd taken that less-traveled road.

And, since it's Valentine's Day, I thought I'd present any readers I have with a field of red roses. Happy Valentine's Day whoever you are.

Wednesday, February 11

Fury & Black or White

On Netflix I finally caught up with Brad Pitt and Fury and watched it on a Saturday when Rosalie was at 4-Paws caring for all her feline charges. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have wanted to see it, and I was so right. I’ve seen many war films all the way back to my childhood when I watched Gary Cooper in Sergeant York plink off Germans in WWI, Robert Taylor and John Wayne battling the Japanese in Bataan and Sands of Iwo Jima. That was before films were allowed to show graphic scenes of the horrors of modern warfare. And every war film thereafter became bloodier and bloodier and more and more horrific. I thought Saving Private Ryan was about as graphic as I cared to see, but now I can honestly say I’ve seen the epitome of war films depicting the horror and brutality and dehumanizing of people killing other people, of the traumatizing effects such brutality can have on those who must participate in such action. In Fury there are no clear lines drawn between the good guys and the bad guys. All the participants seem to be bad guys. Even the best of them, Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), is evil when he instructs his new, young tank-mate, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), in the need to kill Nazis. He forces the boy to take a pistol and shoot a captured German soldier in the back. Collier is the father-figure in his tank “family.”
But his “children” have devolved into barbarians who would rape and pillage and kill and destroy in the name of warfare. If Director David Ayer wanted to convince us that war is evil, he’s done an admirable job. Our televised proximity to the conflicts in the Middle East have made us all aware of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) from which too many of our young combatants suffer. The tank crew in Fury, led by Sgt. Collier, had it before we even knew what to call it. Fury was a furious assault on our senses and our sensibilities.

The reviews of Black or White were mixed—as many goods as bads, as many blacks as whites. I felt strangely uncomfortable through the entire movie. My discomfort had to do with the film’s depiction of black families as seen in the grandmother’s extended family living with her and across the street with her daughter. Rowena (Octavia Spencer) was a successful businesswoman and the grandmother of the biracial 7-year-old Eloise (Jillian Estell,who has to be the cutest, most adorable little girl the screen has seen since Shirley Temple). Elliot (Kevin Costner) is a wealthy lawyer and the grandfather of Eloise. And the central conflict in the story is the battle between Elliot and Rowena over custody of Eloise. Should she live with her grandfather, with whom she’s lived since she was born, or with her grandmother, who believes that Eloise would be better off with her than with the drunken Elliot. To further complicate the issue, the child’s father is there in court with Rowena, his mother. But Reggie (Andre Holland) is a crackhead loser who, according to Elliot, essentially raped his 17-year-old daughter who died when giving birth to Eloise. Back to my discomfort. Reggie is seen as unrealistically bad, a conniving ex-con who speaks in "ain't”s and “He don’t”s, and when asked in court how his daughter's name is spelled, he stumbles with "Loeez." His oh so strong, intelligent, successful black mother would never have raised him to be what we see in the film. And her extended family of nieces and nephews and cousins and siblings are just too extensive and stereotypical, especially when they all show up at Elliot’s house for a backyard pool party. I’m surprised that director Mike Binder didn’t have them eating watermelon and grits at this party. What else caused my discomfort? We learn at the beginning that Elliot’s wife has just been killed in an auto accident, the woman who apparently did almost all of the raising of their granddaughter Eloise. And we see Elliot drinking oceans of Scotch, morning, noon, night, in the car going to court, almost everywhere. And from the extent of the bar in his house, he’d been drinking like this for a long time, not just after the death of his wife. I find it hard to believe that he's be able to function either as a lawyer or a child rearer. So, does Rowena have a good case for taking Eloise away from him? You bet. Should the little girl be given to her crackhead father? Never in a million years. Should you go see this movie? Yes, but don’t look for any enlightenment about racial bigotry.

Sunday, February 8

Writers and Writing

Today I’m going to write about writing. Odd subject, you say? What can one possibly say about writing that hasn’t already been said? We’re now in an age when more people are talking than writing. I guess if you consider texting as writing there are still a bunch of folks who write, but I don’t consider texting as any more than silly teeny tiny talk. Writing is what people used to do in letters and essays and short stories and novels, putting words on paper for other people to read. Most who then wrote did so because they wanted someone to read their words, listen to their ideas, maybe comment on what was written, maybe even pay them for what they wrote. Did anyone ever write simply for the sake of putting ideas on paper without expecting any audience? Henry David Thoreau could be one, but even he might have thought his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson would give him a look, maybe a few others in their transcendental group. I’m sure there must have been some who wrote in diaries solely for private perusal. Samuel Pepys in the 17th century put his diary entries into a current kind of shorthand called tachygraphy which many later thought may have been his attempt to keep what he said strictly private. Or maybe he really wanted someone someday to translate his words. Which we did, finding it an invaluable picture of life in London in Pepys’ day. Emily Dickinson wrote thousands of poems, only a few of which she shared with friends and correspondents. Did she never want us to share “Hope is the thing with feathers— / That perches in the soul” or to puzzle over “Wild Nights—Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be / Our luxury!” or to exult in “A word is dead / When it is said / Some say. / I say it just / Begins to live / That day”? There must be others, but I can’t think of any. Most of us commit words to paper because we want someone to read them. It’s an egotistical endeavor. We live and then we die, and for most of us the only words that point to our existence are the cryptic words carved on our headstones. “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” John Keats, who died very young, was probably despondent because he thought no one would ever recognize what he had written. He borrowed these words and personalized them for what his grave would say, and how ironic that his words and his name were written not in water but in books that will be around forever.
Some are driven to write. I include myself in that category. Our lives are shaped by the amount of time we spend with pen and paper, or, much more likely today, sitting with keyboard and word processor, putting thoughts on paper or hard drive. That’s what I’m doing right now. That’s what successful writers (those who actually make money at their craft) do. And some of them who have already made more money than they can ever spend continue to write daily until the day they die. They’re driven to write. In the past it was Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, John D. MacDonald and Ed McBain (or Evan Hunter or Salvatore Lombino), Agatha Christie and Barbara Cartland. Today it would be Stephen King and Dean Koontz. These people all wrote and wrote and wrote, with little regard for how much money they could make. They wrote because they had to. And then we have James Patterson, who writes and writes and writes with any number of co-writers for the money. How in hell much money does any writer need? I want him to be driven, as am I and Grey and L’Amour and MacDonald and McBain and Christie and Cartland and King and Koontz. Forgive me for having put myself in the same category as those I’ve mentioned above (other than Patterson). But then, maybe no one is reading this.

Friday, February 6

Celebrity Birthdays

I noticed this morning in the celebrity birthday notifications that a number of people I’ve known for a long time from movies or newscasting or music seem to be much older than I want them to be. Okay, Zsa Zsa Gabor is 98, and I can accept that. To me she always seemed to be old.
But then I get to Rip Torn, 84, and Mamie Van Doren, 84. How can they be that old when I remember both as much younger (and Mamie as much sexier)? Mike Farrell is now 76, and I remember him from his M*A*S*H days when he was a relatively young doctor teaming up with Hawkeye Pierce to drive Frank Burns, Charles Winchester, and Hot Lips Houlihan crazy. How can he possibly be 76?

Tom Brokaw, who attended the U. of South Dakota a few years after I was there, is 75. Look at him. Why isn't he still anchoring the news on NBC? Why doesn't he really replace NBC's Brian Williams, who just got caught with his newscaster's pants down, caught in a flagrant lie from his past reporting in Iraq? Ah, Brian, we loved you, but now we have to let you go.

And most surprising of all, Natalie Cole is 65. But I remember her dad as one of the top pop singers of his day, of my day, and now his little girl can go on social security. Look at her. Isn't she, wasn't she, gorgeous? I splash my face with cold water and look in the mirror and there I am, this old guy who looks just like my father. Well, no, older than my dad since I’m now thirteen years older than he was when he died. Where in the world did all those years go? Down an ever-steepening ski slope, and I’m about to crash into the lodge.

Thursday, February 5

Amira Willighagen

Now and then we're reminded of mankind's potential, of the occasional genius with eidetic memory like Einstein and his ilk, of child prodigies who, without any training, can sit at a piano and play any music they've just heard, or can pick up a violin and play like an angel. A friend of mine just sent me the YouTube video of a young girl in Holland who won their 2013 Holland's Got Talent contest. Neither the judges nor anyone who sees this video can believe what comes out of this lovely nine-year-old girl's mouth. You have to see it to believe it, and then you still might think it's just some elaborate hoax. How, you think, can this beautiful child without any vocal training sing as though she's an accomplished opera star? Her name is Amira Willighagen. And I can't wait to see what she becomes as she grows up. Oh, please, dear Lord, don't let her get a swelled head and become a nasty woman who thinks the world owes her everything. Let her become the beautiful woman with the remarkable voice. Let her show us all what the future might hold for mankind if we can somehow keep from killing ourselves. All right. Just listen and you'll see what I mean.
Amira!

Wednesday, February 4

The King and I & News Nuggets

Last night, we went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre to see The King and I. My wife and I are old enough to remember Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in the 1956 film version, and both of them would have been looking down on this production with pride and envy. Proud that they were also a part of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and envious that their two counterparts at ABT were every bit as good, maybe even better, than they were. This show has a really large cast, with all the king’s wives and children, and all the voices were good, especially that of Chelsea Soto, who played the reluctant gift from Burma Tuptim, and Kyoko Ogawa, who played the head wife Lady Thiang. But the voices and performances of Jill Tieskoetter as Anna and Alan Ariano as the king of Siam were better than good. And such memorable songs: “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” “We Kiss in a Shadow,” “Something Wonderful,’ “I Have Dreamed,” and, of course, “Shall We Dance” with Anna and the King doing an energetic waltz around the stage. Then there’s the staging, which just keeps getting more and more elaborate with each show. The same for the costuming, which in this show involved some really gorgeous designs for those in the ballet segment. called “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” The choreography during this little play put on for the king and his English visitor was magical. Now we can’t wait till March when we get to see what ABT can do with Les Miserables. That should be a good test for the stage crew.

News Nuggets:

Isis has taken atrocity a step further with the video of the burning death of the Jordanian pilot they took captive. The world really needs to unite to put an end to these barbarians who kill in the name of religion.

Bruce Jenner, at 65, is now transitioning into a woman. And Chaz Bono a long time ago went the other way. Such an odd announcement about Jenner. Here’s this super athlete who has spent all his life, apparently, wishing he was a woman instead of a man. The divisions between the sexes keeps getting less and less distinct, with more and more shades of gray, until one day we may have completely done away with any distinctions between us and we’ll all be one sex, with procreation left up to the scientists. And all the condom and erectile dysfunction companies will be out of business.

A young man in Alexandria who wanted to be a pretend police officer made the sorry mistake of pulling over a real police officer. Now he can pretend to be a convict in a pretend prison. Oh, wait a minute, it wouldn’t be pretend at all.

It seems that whales may have a way to repel danger by putting out a stream of poop. A scuba diver, Keri Wilk, reported such an episode, a “poonado,” in which he was awash in whale feces. But, according to Wilk, the cloud of poop washed away and left no apparent poopy smell. Good to know in case I ever decide to go scuba diving in an area with whales.

And speaking of poop, let’s go to Fargo, North Dakota. Most of us already consider Fargo a strange place based on the movie and television series of that name. But we now learn that Fargoites are having a problem with jack rabbits that are residing in town and procreating rapidly, causing a problem with all the poop they produce. Residents are worried about stepping in it or having children possibly picking some up and eating it. Oh, yuck!

And finally, not a news nugget so much as simply a hilarious lip sync duel between Jimmy Fallon and Emma Stone. Watch it and see Miss stone beat the Fallon pants off.

Monday, February 2

Super Bowl 49


Finally, finally, the Super Bowl is in our rearview mirrors. Not that it wasn’t a great game. It was. Not so great for all the Seahawks fans but great for Pats fans. All the hype leading up to it became simply too much. And that perfectly awful half-time extravaganza with Katie Perry was right in line with all the past perfectly awful half-time productions, like the bared breast of Janet Jackson or the censored lyrics of old Big Lips Mick Jagger. Light shows and hoopla are all right, just as they are for the opening ceremonies of Olympic Games, but light shows with obviously lip-sync singers who can’t be heard or understood are not all right. If they’re going to sing, sing, and if they’re going to sing, sing something understandable. Was Idina Menzel good in her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”? You bet. Could we hear her and understand her? You Bet. Now, as for the game, that last play call at the one-yard line will be talked about for years and years to come. Who made the call? Was it Pete Carroll, was it the offensive coordinator, or was it Russell Wilson who made a switcheroo at the line? Whoever made it, it was a bad decision when they had two plays with Marshawn Lynch doing his man-beast thing to get it in the end zone. That too is now in the rearview mirror, and the Seahawks will have a year to agonize over it.
And Tom Brady will now be labeled as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, whether he deserves it or not.

Now, what about all those SB commercials? Each 30 seconds cost $4,500,000, which works out to $150,000 per second. That’s a buncha money, and for some it was worth it, and for some it was waaaaay too much. But then, money doesn’t seem to mean as much these days as it used to, at least not in my world. For example, Clayton Kershaw signed a contract with the Big Bucks Dodgers for an average annual salary of just under $31,000,000. Let’s see, if they ask him to pitch 200 innings, he’d be making about $155,000 per inning, or about $10,000 per pitch if he averaged 15 pitches per inning. LeBron James signed a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for an average of $21,109,000 per year, or about $200,000 per game (counting season, pre-season, and playoff). Kevin Durant, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, averages just under $18,000,000 per year. Larry Fitzgerald, with the Arizona Cardinals, is making just over $16,000,000 a year, or about $800,000 per game (16 season, 4 pre-season). Richard Sherman, the loud-mouthed Seahawk, makes $14,000,000 a year, or about $700,000 a game. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are both making $9,000,000 a year, or $450,000 per game, and poor Russell Wilson is low man on the totem pole, playing for $750,000 a year, or a paltry $37,500 per game. I use the term “paltry” with tongue in cheek. Nothing paltry about it. Back to the commercials. The worst of the worst was probably that bummer that Nationwide put out, about the boy who would never get to do all those great boy things because he died in an accident. Nationwide sort of made up for it with the Mindy Kaling bit about being invisible except when she asked Matt Damon if he’d kiss her. The in-betweeners were probably the two Doritos commercials, the one with the air passenger who discouraged folks from sitting in the middle seat and the one with the flying pig. The Victoria’s Secret commercial set to “I’m in the Mood for Love” probably got a lot of pubescent boys’ attentions with the boobs in the face bit, but pubescent boys wouldn’t be doing much shopping at Victoria’s Secret. But the winners were Fiat and Budweiser. Fiat should have split the expense with Viagra, for that really funny “little blue pill” that bounced away from the Italian lover to land in the gas tank of a tiny sports car that then grew into a really lusty Fiat.
Budweiser brought the cute little dog and the Clydesdales together again in their Hallmark moment, the tear-tugging reunion of the “lost dog” being saved from the wolf by the charging Bud horses.

Now that football is finally over, I have to get ready for March Madness and the Masters.

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