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.

Friday, March 27

The Maze Runner

As an old science-fiction fan (and I mean really old, going back to the days of pulp magazines and two-bit paperbacks), I was looking forward to seeing The Maze Runner, despite the lukewarm reviews. I was still feeling positive about it for the first hour. I and the young men confined were still trying to figure out what the maze was all about, why they were being confined there, who had put them there. Their society in what they called The Glade was reminiscent of the society of boys in Lord of the Flies, but made up of boys older and more numerous than in Lord of the Flies, and was probably more organized. Lots of mysteries to resolve: the ascending box that once a month delivered supplies and a new “greenie” to the glade; the memory loss of the new arrivals; the walls which daily opened to allow the runners to explore the maze, trying to find a way out of their enclosure;
the grievers that roamed the maze at night—large, nasty, salivating bug-like creatures that killed any runner who didn’t make it back before the walls shut. The newest arrival, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has occasional flashback in which he remembers who he was and where he came from, but not why he and the others were sent to this prison in the middle of a maze. Up to here I was still the old sci-fi fan, still positive about what I was seeing. But then the second hour happened during which the story became ever sillier and more nonsensical. Thomas and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) run the maze to discover the exit, battling several salivating grievers in over-long, chaotically filmed sequences. But (Whew!) they made it back out in time for the last delivery from the mysterious depths, this time with a young female who had an attached note telling them there would be no more deliveries. After three years of once-a-month deliveries, this would be the last. And then the conclusion, which not only didn’t answer my questions but which inconclusively and blatantly told us there would be a Maze Runner 2 and a Maze Runner 3, etc. All these young adult dystopian sci-fis (like Hunger Games and Insurgent) want to create money-making film franchises. But I don’t think Maze Runner will make it beyond this first installment.

Monday, March 23

Television Notes

The final two hours of Glee were . . . well, gleeful. We had sort of drifted away from our Gleekdom these last two years, but we just had to see how they were going to end it. And it was a tearful goodbye to maybe the best musical series ever. Or at least in the last thirty or forty years. In the old days of variety shows, we had the excellence of Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. But those were variety shows, with music and comedy sketches, not a series with a storyline like Glee, and not with a cast of singers like we heard on Glee. The final two hours took us back to Season I where we first met Will Schuester and Sue Sylvester, Rachel, Kurt, Finn, Artie, and Mercedes. Then we moved forward with the New Directions glee club, and finally into the future when Rachel, now married and pregnant with Kurt and Blaine’s child, finally wins her Tony award. Will Schuester is named superintendent of the William McKinley High School for the Performing Arts. Even Sue, now the U. S. Vice President, made her peace with Will. It was a wonderful way to end this ground-breaking show that gave us such great music. It also showed us the unacceptability of bullying, the acceptability of gay students and gay rights, and the dangers of drug overdoses with the tragic death of Cory Monteith. It was a great six seasons, Glee folks.

Must mention the PBS re-showing of the tribute to Judy Garland. It brought us back to just how great a singer and performer Judy Garland was, back to the tragedy of her life with pills and drugs, her up and down weight problems, her tragic death at 47. But most of all, we got to see again how charismatic a singer she was.

Another mention of two of the best shows on network tv: Madam Secretary and The Good Wife. Granted, the plot crises on Madam Secretary aren’t very realistic, but who cares? Téa Leoni, as Secretary of State and fourth in line for the presidency, would make nearly as good a president as Martin Sheen did in West Wing.
And Julianna Margulies, as the very good wife Alicia Florrick, will make an excellent Ohio State’s Attorney; Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma is still one of the most interesting characters on the tube but may very well be on her way out of the series; Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart-McVeigh discovers that shooting a deer is sort of fun; Mike Colter as the drug king Lemond Bishop has decided to hang up his kingpinship for the sake of his son; David Hyde Pierce as Frank Prady showed us that not all who run for public office are selfish, nasty people; and Michael J. Fox as Louis Canning is still not a very nice person.

And, finally, my discovery of Justified on FX. How could I not have found this show six seasons ago? I mean, it’s based on a story by one of my favorite authors, Elmore Leonard; it’s filled with typical Elmore Leonard characters speaking typical Elmore Leonard dialogue; it stars Timothy Olyphant as a typical Elmore Leonard bad ass, who speaks quietly and shoots fast. Olyphant, as Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, walks like an old Western lawman, wears a cowboy hat that everyone makes fun of (but not to his face), and is more than willing to have an old Western High Noon shootout with anyone who wants to take him on. The body count in the series goes up and up with an assortment of Kentucky bad guys killing each other as fast as they can pull the trigger on a pistol or shotgun or rifle. I’m watching it on Amazon Prime, three or four commercial-free episodes at a time. I figure it will take me at least a month to catch up to Season Six and if I keep a careful tally I can add up the number of bodies that bite the dust. It’ll be a bunch.

Thursday, March 19

Les Misérables

Arizona Broadway Theatre’s The King and I was all about the two leads and their voices, how well they portrayed Anna and the king, how well they sang, how well they waltzed enthusiastically around the stage. It was a great show. But now I’ve seen even greater. Every theatrical aspect of ABT’s production of Les Misérables was better than any previous show in their ten seasons: the costuming, the lighting, the set design, the orchestra, the voices, ah, the voices. Where did they find so many great singers for this mammoth, intricate, difficult score? Kiel Klaphake, co-founder of ABT and now the executive producer, played Jean Valjean with a vocal range that went way up, best heard in the moving “Bring Him Home” in Act 2. In most musicals you can find two, maybe three, great voices and an ensemble of lesser voices for lesser roles. In Les Miz the approximately two dozen cast members all had great voices. Back to my question, where did all these great singers come from? It’s refreshing to know that in an age of hip-hoppers, rappers, and funky screamers who dominate the charts, there are still young people who sing as singers are supposed to sing. All right, enough about the vocal excellence. The set design for such a small stage was amazing with the back wall dominated by a large circular opening used to show a star-filled night sky, a stained glass cathedral window, a portal for the arrival of various dead spirits, a barred prison doorway. There was a fixed set of stairs and railed balcony on each side of the stage with entrances and exits above and below, a metal bridge that could be lowered from above the back wall, and a variety of circular stairs left and right near the rear that could be moved on and off the stage along with a pillared gate to indicate Valjean’s courtyard. The stage floor was covered with a circular flooring that extended toward the audience and sloped down near the front. At one point, when the young students were marching to their battle with the authorities, twenty or more men and women stomped to the front of the stage, right above the orchestra pit, their enthusiasm shown in their exuberant footwork. I’m sure the orchestra members were praying that the flooring would hold up and not come crashing down on their heads. I’m always puzzled by how ABT acquires and can afford the props it uses, in this case five or six 19th century rifles and one pistol, all of which fired blanks during the students’ fight with the authorities from behind the barricade. And, again, the number of and the diversity of the costumes, all of which have to be made by the costume department. The lighting made use of a variety of follow spots for the several duos and trios sung from distant parts of the stage, and whenever someone died, the spot would brighten dramatically to indicate the passing. When Javert stood on the bridge above the Seine, about to leap to his death, I didn’t know how they were going to create that moment. The lighting did it. He threw out his arms in a flash of light with the bridge going up behind him to give the impression that he was going down instead of only standing on a black support. Fade to black. Get him offstage. One must remember that this is a small local theater group replicating all the theatrical niceties of a Broadway show. Never before having seen a stage production of Les Miz, I can only assume that all productions use the same lighting trick to show Javert’s death. Again, I was amazed and impressed by the pit orchestra, eight members all of whom can play a variety of instruments, and in this case, provide for the nearly continuous musical background for this operatic production. Have I missed anything? I should mention the meal and the service. Excellent, as usual. We are so very lucky to have such a professional theater here in the West Valley. There were two bus-tour groups here for Les Miz, one from Wisconsin, one from Canada. I’m sure the eighty or so tourists were impressed with our Arizona Broadway Theatre, and most were probably envious of our good fortune. One more comparison: This ABT production was better than the film version that was out last year. I mean, Russell Crowe as Javert? No way.

Saturday, March 14

Squash & Arizona Stupidity

English is such an odd language, borrowing words from other languages left and right, sometimes keeping the original pronunciation and sometimes putting our too often haughty linguistic twist on it and to hell with the original (I’m reminded of my decades-old battle with people mispronouncing “forte”). Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more examples of “squash” being used when my ear tells me it should be “quash.” The two words aren’t really synonyms, the first, “squash,” suggesting the physical act of squeezing or flattening something, and the second, “quash,” suggesting putting something down or refuting something non-physical. The word is almost always linked to rumors, as in “He quashed the rumor that he was gay.” Today, in Entertainment Weekly, I read a short review of an HBO documentary on Scientology. Melissa Maerz, the reviewer, says “that the church allegedly helped squash rumors about John Travolta’s sexuality.” One might sit on John Travolta hoping to squash him, but I think any rumors about him would have to be quashed. I'd have thought that a reviewer for the prestigious magazine Entertainment Weekly would have known better. But then, maybe the word “quash” is on the brink of extinction just like “forte” and old English fogies like me.

Arizona has gotten a lot of bad press these past several years, but too often we’ve deserved it. The world has gotten a good look at our state during the lengthy Jodi Arias trial, the trial not to determine her guilt or innocence, which was decided almost two years ago, but to decide whether to kill or not kill her.
After this very long, very expensive trial (over three million bucks in Arizona taxpayer money), Arias has made the best argument against the death penalty: It would cost much less to keep her in prison for the next forty years than to seek the death penalty in a long trial. And the whole world sees just how stupid we are. Arizonan John McCain and his GOP cohorts made a stupid move in that letter they sent to Iran. And most stupid of all, Arizona’s gun slingers are trying to pass legislation allowing for sawed-off shotguns and silencers and concealed weapons in public places, citing that old Second Amendment ploy that the more people who carry guns the safer we’ll all be. Talk about the shootout at the OK corral.

Thursday, March 12

McFarland, USA, & Texting

McFarland, USA, was a feel-good surprise, surprise because it was so well done, surprise because it was so nice to see Kevin Costner finally do something good again. He’s had a surprisingly long list of films in his career, forty-nine, and he’s had his share of critical clinkers along the way (Think of The Postman, Waterworld, and Robin Hood, and more recently Black or White) along with the good stuff (Think of No Way Out, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, Tin Cup, Bull Durham, and more recently The Upside of Anger). Okay, the story of McFarland, USA, was right in line with other Disney happy endings about losers into winners (Think of Cinderella, Snow White, Glory Road, Secretariat, Million Dollar Arm, and The Mighty Ducks), and this might have turned out to be nothing more than a tear-jerking emotional race over the California cross-country courses through really photogenic California countryside. But Costner and his cast of young California Hispanics and the almost entire Hispanic community of McFarland field workers played it straight and not too obviously happily-ever-after. After all, it was based on real events and the success of the McFarland cross-country teams actually happened. We didn’t need to know whether they won or lost; we needed to see how they got there. It was a moving journey, and one that opened my eyes to the harsh reality of migrant field workers all over the American Southwest. Good for you, Kevin Costner.

I’m an old codger, but I think I’ve successfully entered the computer age and can find my way around the Internet without too many miscues or too often getting lost. I can see how important computers are, and now how useful tablets and smart phones are. But I still can’t get my head around the texting craze. Is it an activity indulged in only by the young? What is the advantage of texting over phone calls?
What could cause otherwise sane people, young or old, to engage in a text conversation while they’re driving a car, endangering themselves and their passengers and all the people in other vehicles nearby? I’m confused by this fad.
Is texting faster than phoning? Is it more private, more secret, because you can do it under a table without moving your lips? Or is it non-interruptive as a phone call would be? Then there's the added bonus that you don’t have to use proper grammar or know how to spell anything or worry about punctuation. Texting, like tweeting, might just be the precursor to lost linguistic elegance. Here I go again, moaning and groaning about the decline of the English language. And I blame it all on texting and tweeting and Facebook jargon and idiotic chatroom threads and illiterate critical comments in Amazon reviews. I’m still an old codger, but I’m also an old lover-of-English codger.

Sunday, March 8

Charlie, Tiger, & Tuffy

I’ve written about them before, shown pictures, and now I’d like to describe them as humans, our three children—Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie—our three boys so distinctively individual. Charlie is a big cat, a tuxedo with long legs, and is the most handsome cat I’ve ever seen (not pretty, not beautiful, for those terms wouldn’t suggest his masculinity even though he’s been tutored (neutered) when he was a wee lad. He has a silky black coat, back and tail, and a snowy belly and face. He’s now just over three years old, and he still barely accepts me or any strangers in the house. He lets me pet him when he naps in our bed in the afternoon, but if I try to pet him any other time he skitters off to the side. He’ll often get on Rosalie’s lap but never on mine. He and the other two are great friends who take turns bathing each other and racing around from the back patio to the living room, navigating at high speed through the table and chair legs in our dining area. I have no idea how they can do that without knocking themselves silly on an intervening leg.
Tiger and Tuffy are orange tabby siblings we got when there were tiny babies. That's Tiger on the left and Tuffy on the right. At first, as with most twins, we couldn’t tell them apart. After a while, their personalities emerged—Tiger, darker colored stripes and more aggressively alpha, Tuffy, somewhat lighter stripes and a beta attitude. Tiger stares at us with eyes aslant and Tuffy with eyes wide open and innocent. Tiger plays endlessly with plastic balls, batting them up and down from kitchen to laundry room, little soccer feet as skillful as Beckham’s. Tuffy prefers the quieter artificial mice that he flips in the air. Both deliberately shove their toys of choice under whatever they can shove them under, loving the challenge of retrieval. Both of them climb onto anything above floor level, the higher the better, the higher the naughtier. Tiger defies us by finding any blind or curtain string to chew on, any real or artificial plant to chew on. We now keep all plants, real or artificial, in the closed spare bedroom along with all the breakable knick-knacks we own. We now have an essentially knick-knackless house. Charlie only sits and watches his brother’s bad behavior, giving a “tsk tsk” and a head shake when they misbehave. We’re convinced they never do bad when we’re gone, only when we’re here to see them perform. Every afternoon, we give them a treat (even though they don’t necessarily deserve a treat), dividing a small can of wet food. Charlie and Tiger will always wait in the kitchen until we put their plates down. We have to go find Tuffy and present his plate wherever we find him. Tiger eats most of what he gets and Charlie apparently doesn’t know how to eat wet food, licking it but not picking any up except what sticks to his tongue. And Tuffy eats everything and licks his plate clean. Unlike our previous pair, Dusty and Squeakie, these three never sleep with us except when they hear one or the other of us get up for an early morning pee run. Then Tuffy will come in to sleep for a while cradled in my right arm. Then Tiger will enter to chew momentarily on Rosalie’s hair before settling down between our pillows. Charlie, poor antisocial Charlie, will sit in the hall outside our door, sort of peeking in at us until he’ll finally give in and join us for a brief while before we all get up to begin another day. I read of horrific acts perpetrated on cats and dogs and I don’t understand how anyone could do such things to these little creatures. How can anyone treat these little people as less than little people? But then, some people do horrific things to big people. How sad.

Friday, March 6

Un-Social Media

At the Arizona Broadway Theatre last week, just before the Streisand tribute show began, we watched a couple a few tables away. They were sitting across from each other, heads down, shoulders hunched, hands in front of them not quite clasping. They looked like two novitiates praying to God, in this case, the almighty Phone God. Their little thumbs were clicking and clacking away at some game app, neither one looking at or talking to the other, neither taking in their surroundings to see what or who was there. They didn’t care. They were lost in their "appiness." I just don’t get it. This last five or six years has seen such an explosion of cell phones and cell phone technology that now almost our entire population has one of these tiny hand-held computers, with constant babbling and texting, so much so that almost everyone has these busy thumbs and fingers and almost no one is saying anything meaningful. I keep asking myself, why is texting so fascinating? How is texting better than phone talk? Why is phone talk better than face-to-face conversation? Texting has also led to the silliness of text shorthand, with the subsequent loss of words and spelling and punctuation, the same kind of abbreviated messages that we now find on Twitter and Facebook. “Tweet” sounds like an adolescent trying to say “treat,” and almost all the tweets I’ve seen are pretty adolescent and certainly no treat to read.
Who in the future will be the guardians of language? Who will give us beautiful, meaningful essays and stories and novels? Who will see to it that no one misuses words like cliche or quash or forte (forcing cliche to be an adjective instead of its original noun, mistaking squash for quash, putting that unintended accented syllable on the end of forte)? Will all of civilization be lost in this barrage of inconsequential tweets and texts and Facebook chatter? As an old English teacher, I shudder to think of that linguistic future.

Tuesday, March 3

Sharon Owens as Barbra Streisand

Last night we enjoyed a Tribute to Barbra Streisand at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, as performed by Sharon Owens with an 8-piece backup band. She may not have been the real Barbra but she certainly looked, spoke, acted, and sang like her. Barbra Streisand has always been my favorite female singer, ever since I first saw her on the Judy Garland show and later in the many television specials she did in the 1960's. No one can duplicate her special vocal quality although a good many have tried . . . and failed. She's always had perfect pitch and impeccable phrasing. Maybe not when she was in her teens, but it didn't take her long to climb to perfection. Even now, in her seventies (she'll be 73 in April),when she gives a rare vocal presentation or puts out a new cd, she's better than any other female in the business. Sharon Owens managed to capture most of Barbra. She came onstage in a floor-length black and white gown to introduce herself and the members of her band--same hair style, same occasional Brooklyn accent, same hand gestures (the constant fiddling with her hair and the signature arm moves to the audience and the band), same nose. And nearly the same voice, close enough that we were thankful we got to see and hear the pseudo-Barbra for the price of one ABT ticket and not the $5,000 tag for one of the real Barbra's concerts. Sharon (Barbra) sang for forty-five minutes, then a 20-minute intermission, then a final forty-five minutes. The 250 to 300 of us in attendance gave her a standing ovation at her closing wave goodbye. This was right after we had all joined her in singing her final "Happy Days Are Here Again." It was a wonderful experience. Vocal highlights: "Hello, Dolly," West Side Story's "Somewhere," Yentl's "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" "The Way We Were," "Evergreen," "Don't Rain on My Parade," a throat-clenching "Send in the Clowns," and a duet with her pianist/musical director on the Neil Diamond "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." There were other songs but I can't remember all of them. To see a bit of what we saw, and hear some of what we heard, give a look and listen to this YouTube presentation of Sharon Owens as Barbra.

Monday, March 2

The Last Man on Earth

I’ve had laugh-out-loud moments with lots of television characters over the years: Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Dick Van Dyke, Archie Bunker, Bill Cosby (but not many laughs lately), Raymond, the Golden Girls, and Frasier, to name only the cream of the crop. And more recently, Jerry Seinfeld, the bunch of friends on Friends, and the nerds on Big Bang Theory. Now I can add another to the list. My wife and I almost fell on the floor laughing at the absurd antics of Will Forte and his Last Man on Earth opening episodes (Sundays on Fox). A virus has wiped out everyone on earth but Phil Miller (Forte), and his efforts to find someone else alive are futile. He’s visited every state, dutifully crossing out each one on his list when he finds no one alive, writing as he leaves each city the same message on the welcome signs, “Alive in Tucson.” He returns there to live as best he can, taking up residence in a Tucson mansion. And he drinks everything he can get his hands on, finally filling a kiddie pool with margarita mix, salting the rim, and lying down in it for sideways sipping. What does the last man on earth do when there’s no running water and he’s run out of bottled water to fill his toilet tank? He has a large swimming pool in the backyard. So he cuts a hole in the diving board and calls it his “poop pool.” “Oh, yuck!” you say, but, yes, very funny. What does he do for companionship when he’s the only one left? Although he makes fun of Castaway Tom Hanks for naming a volleyball and talking to it as though it’s human, Phil also finally paints faces on a wide variety of balls and gives them names and talks to them. What does he do when he meets Carol (Kristen Schaal), apparently the only other human still alive? Carol thinks they’re destined to save humanity and wants to have children with him. When he learns that she’s obsessive about laws and rules, telling him not to go through stop signs and not to park in a handicap space at a hardware store, he tells her he wouldn’t have sex with her if she were the last woman on earth. Which she is. Thank you, Will Forte, for coming up with this outlandish idea for a sitcom. We can’t wait to see what else you have up your sleeve. Or hiding in that facial bush of a beard.
You can count on us to watch faithfully to see what else you develop. But, please, no more “poop pools.”

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