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, May 29

Northern Trip Adventure

I recently flew to Minnesota to see relatives whom I may not see again for quite a while. It reinforced in me that flying these days is almost too complicated and time-consuming to consider. What follows is my lengthy blog about that experience. Forgive me the length, but I just had to write it.

Oh, my, will I ever be glad to get home. My trip north was an epic adventure with a few bright spots but also with a lot of gloomy skies.

The flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis was uneventful with a slender young woman next to me who slept the whole way. I feared some truly obese guy would be there, but he wasn’t. I read, listened to my IPod, and dozed a bit. And then we landed at 1:15. I stumbled up the gate tunnel to the terminal and didn’t have a clue where I might find the rental car windows. Bob, with his transport cart, spotted me and asked where I was headed. He told me my destination was faaaar away. I got in his cart and discovered just what “faaaar” meant—a fifteen-minute cart ride or a half hour walk. I can’t do a five-minute walk, let alone a thirty. He dropped me off and pointed me to the rental area. I found the Budget counter with about thirty people in line ahead of me. Thirty. And the Budget people were taking care of about three every seven minutes. You do the math: 30/3 = 10 x 7 = 70 minutes. That’s right. I was in that line for over an hour. My body isn’t good standing for even a few minutes, let alone seventy. There was a young mother in front of me talking several blue streaks into her cell phone, with her three small daughters running all around. Then a female friend showed up with her runny-nose son in her arms to converse loudly and enthusiastically with the cell-phone lady. Right behind me, two short Indians laughed and chatted in rapid-fire Hindi. Or maybe Urdu. They sounded like chipmunks gargling. And this went on for over an hour as we all moved forward oh so slowly. My only joy was seeing the faces of those who showed up to inquire if we were in the Budget line. We all happily said yes and pointed to the ever-lengthening line behind us. By the time I finally, finally, wearily got to the counter, there must have been at least another thirty behind me. Poor souls. I’m sorry now for having been happy at their predicament. I know I wouldn’t have wanted anyone smiling at me if I’d had to go to the back of the line.

I found my little red car in the Budget section, made my slow, confusing way out of the lot and onto 494 where I found my AmericInn lodging just down the road. A call to niece Marsha gave me instructions for finding their house. I can’t go anywhere without losing my way. That may be a metaphoric description of my entire life, getting lost along the way. So, naturally, I had to drive around most of south Minneapolis’s half-acre of hell before I arrived. We had a nice dinner—Marsha and Curtis, daughter Claire and son Phil, and the birthday girl, sister-in-law Doris, 85 years and 364 days young. Nice conversation out on their back patio under gray skies but no rain. I made my escape just before 9:00 and found my way back to the hotel with only one or two mis-turns. Another metaphor for my life—my escapes from awkward social situations. I love my relatives but I’d rather be alone than surrounded by people, even loved ones.

The next morning I drove around and around south Minneapolis looking for somewhere to breakfast. Anywhere else such places would be everywhere—countless Denny’s and Perkins and Cracker Barrels. Not here. I finally found a place called Carruthers. The packed parking lot suggested quality food and service and it had both.

Back to the hotel to watch some golf before the afternoon birthday party. As I turned for my hotel I noticed just south of Hwy 494 a Denny’s right next to a Quality Inn, easily within walking distance from my AmericInn lodging. Wouldn’t you know it, my sought-after goal was right there in front of my nose. Another life metaphor.

The party was hugely successful, with seventeen or eighteen relatives and friends (three cousins from my mother’s side whom I hadn’t seen for twenty-four years). Wine and beer flowed, then a buffet dinner and cupcakes instead of cake, then conversation as people singly or in groups departed. At 8:30 I also left, escaped back to the safety of my hotel room and a Scotch-and-water before crashing into the king-size bed.

At 6:30 the next morning I breakfasted at the nearby Denny’s and was on the road shortly after 7:00, 494 to 94 and 90 and east to Wisconsin, about three and a half hundred miles to Burlington where I had a dinner date with niece Amy and her husband Rick and daughter Annie. Off and on rain all the way, with by my count at least twenty-five dead deer and a few mushed badgers along the roadside, one really bad accident that held up traffic for half an hour, all cars inching along at two-miles an hour until we got past the accident site. I was finding my way to Burlington with Google maps and directions, no GPS for this kid. What sort of adventure involves GPS’s? I soon discovered, though, that trying to remember all the Google turns was about impossible. Without a navigator to tell me or an ability to read while driving, I simply trusted my instincts: keep heading southeast and I couldn’t miss, right? Right? Wrong! Instead of taking 94 to the east I stayed on 90 to the south, past Madison, past Jaynesville. And then I saw a large sign welcoming me to Illinois. Grab the first off-ramp, get back on 90 north, Burlington somewhere to the east of me. So I plunge off to the right, onto ever-narrower, ever-bumpier county roads heading east. After all, Lake Michigan would keep me from going too far east, right? Right? My trip was now expanding to more than four hundred miles. But I didn’t care. It was all part of the adventure. And I had four MP3 cds to keep me company.

The music for my adventure was one of the things to which I most looked forward, old Great American Songbook songs sung by some of my favorite old GAS singers—Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Jack Jones, Matt Monroe, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae—and a few younger ones who also love the old standards—Diana Krall, Barbra Streisand, Jane Monheit, Stacey Kent, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jackie Allen, Karrin Allyson, Michael Bublé, and the true keeper of the GAS flame, Michael Feinstein. At least 95% of the standards are about love, requited and unrequited, and are all about a simpler, more permanent love than we know today. Simplistic, maybe, but the lyrics are so much more clever and meaningful than most of what I hear from today’s young singers and songwriters, rappers and hip-hoppers. Examine any lyrics by Ira Gershwin or Cole Porter and you see clever, surprising, inventive words and rhymes. Look at one of the best-known Ira Gershwin lyrics for “I Can’t Get Started”: “I’ve flown around the world in a plane, / I’ve settled revolutions in Spain. / The North Pole I have charted / But I can’t get started with you. / Around the golf course I’m under par / And all the movies want me to star. / I’ve got a house, a show place / But I can’t get no place with you. / You’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you, / Scheme, just for the sight of you, / Dream, both day and night of you. / And what good does it do? / In 1929 I sold short. / In England I’m presented at court, / But you’ve got me downhearted / ‘Cause I can’t get started with you.” And here’s Cole Porter’s “Every time We Say Goodbye”: “Every time we say goodbye / I die a little. / Every time we say goodbye / I wonder why a little, / Why the gods above me / Who must be in the know / Think so little of me / They allow you to go. / When you’re near / There’s such an air of spring about it, / I can hear a lark somewhere / Begin to sing about it. / There’s no love song finer / But how strange the change / From major to minor, / Every time we say goodbye.” Look at the old déjà vu song “Where or When” by Larry Hart: “Sometimes you think you've lived before / All that you live today. / Things you do come back to you / As though they knew the way. / Oh, the tricks your mind can play. / It seems we stood and talked like this before. / We looked at each other in the same way then, / But I can’t remember where or when. / The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore. / The smile you are smiling you were smiling then, / But I can’t remember where or when. / Some things that happened for the first time, / Seem to be happening again. / And so it seems that we have met before / And laughed before / And loved before, / But who knows where or when.” That’s good stuff.

Look at all the old-fashioned songs with lengthy intros, a practice that’s almost entirely gone in today’s music. For example, Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”: “Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom / When the jungle shadows fall. / Like the drip, drip, drip of the raindrops / When a jungle shower is through. / So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you.” And then the refrain, “Night and Day / You are the one, / Only you beneath the moon / And under the sun. / Whether near to me or far / It’s no matter, darling, / Where you are, I think of you / Night and day. / Night and day / Why is it so, / That this longing for you / Follows wherever I go. / In the roaring traffic’s boom, / In the silence of my lonely room, / I think of you / Night and day. / Day and Night / Under the hide of me / There’s an oh, such a hungry / Yearning burning inside of me. / And its torment won’t be through / Till you let me spend my life / Making love to you / Day and night, / Night and Day.” The function of the intros was as a setup for the hook, anticipatory, explaining the story to come, and then the opening bars; cue the bass and brushed snares, and then the story. One more example, this one from Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By”: “This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension, / With speed and new invention, / And things like fourth dimension. / Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory. / So we must get down to earth at times, / Relax, relieve the tension, / And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved, / The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed . . .” (And now we can cue the bass and snares, leading into Bogie’s well-known song about fleeting time.)

“You must remember this / A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. / The fundamental things apply / As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo / They still say, ‘I love you.’ / On that you can rely, / No matter what the future brings / As time goes by. / Moonlight and love songs / Never out of date, / Hearts full of passion, / Jealousy and hate. / Woman needs man / And man must have his mate, / That no one can deny. / It’s still the same old story, / A fight for love and glory, / A case of do or die. / The world will always welcome lovers / As time goes by.”

Modern songwriters don’t seem to write this way, with a few obvious exceptions like Stephen Sondheim and the Bergmans, Alan and Marilyn. One of my favorites from the Bergmans (right after “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”) is “Pieces of dreams.” Take a look: “Little boy lost, in search of little boy found, / You go awondering, wandering, / Stumbling, tumbling round, round. / When will you find / What’s on the tip of your mind, / And why are you blind / To all you ever were, never were, really are, nearly are? / Little boy false in search of little boy true, / Will you be ever done / Traveling, always unraveling, you, you? / Running away could lead you further astray / And as for fishing in streams, / For pieces of dreams, / Those pieces will never fit. / What is the sense of it? / Little boy blue, don’t let your little sheep roam. / It’s time, come blow your horn, meet the morn, / Look and see, can you be far from home?” If you want to hear it with the wonderful Michel LeGrand music, go to YouTube and search for Streisand’s version. Songs don’t get much better than this.

Enough about music, although I could go on and on and on. My adventure continued through heavy rain, too many dead deer and other small critters along the roadside, and one bad accident that delayed me for half an hour of creeping along at walking speed until I got past it. And now I’m back on the Wisconsin backwoods looking for the elusive Burlington. A lady at a tiny roadside store on a lonely county road told me how to finally find Burlington. I arrived to discover that I had not only chosen Memorial Day weekend for my trip but also a famous Burlington chocolate festival, the streets bursting with countless chocolateers. I found my hotel, got checked in, called Amy about dinner to learn that Annie had to work and wouldn’t be joining us. We decided to go to the place where she was working and let her serve us. It wasn’t quite the fancy dinner engagement I’d envisioned, but it was all right. I had a very good dirty martini and a bloody beer prepared by a bartender who wasn’t quite sure of either drink. I explained to Amy and Rick that when I was a young, naïve South Dakota boy, tomato juice in beer was what we called a Bloody Mary. What did we know about fancy drinks with vodka and tomato juice and celery stalks? Ah, the old innocent days of my youth. The dinner was fine, the reacquaintance with the niece who was most like my sister was good, so too the hasty acquaintance with grandniece Annie, a lovely young woman who, like me, loves to write. I would like to know her better, but that will happen only in e-mails. I’m better with written words than with conversation face to face. I hope Annie and I can become Ethernet friends.

The next morning, in more rain, I left for Madison for my Monday date with sister-in-law Linda. When I booked my room in Madison, I assumed that Watertown, where Linda lived, was just a short hop down the road. Wrong assumption again. It was several long hops. I got to Watertown and didn’t have a clue how to find her house, and each time I called her on my cell phone, I got no answer. Finally I figured that when calling a cell phone out of state I needed to use the 1 prefix. I’m a cell phone imbecile with a very cheap dumb phone to match my cell phone dumbness. She’d been trying to call me on my cell phone but mine wasn’t turned on except when I wanted to call Rosalie in Arizona. Cell phone stupidity, right? Right? Certainly. She directed me to her house in a new development to the west. Since her son Steve and his fiancé Gwen and her mother were coming from Milwaukee to join us, we decided to order pizza instead of dining out. Good decision. I heard all about Steve and Gwen’s plans for their June wedding, their Wisconsin reception, and another reception in South Dakota in July. The one in Mobridge sounds like it will be a West-river hoot, with not one, not two, but three pigs ready for an outdoor roasting. Should be a blast.

I left just as the sun was setting and drove back to Madison where I collapsed on my AmericInn bed, more than ready for my long trip back to Minneapolis, more than ready for my flight back to the Valley. My adventure was . . . interesting. But I think I’ll confine my future adventuring to Arizona and let friends and relatives pursue their own adventures by coming here to see me. The drive was without incident. I didn’t get lost even once. The flight was without incident. But it involved nearly the entire day. I was at the airport by 8:30, three hours ahead of time. The flight took three hours (but I gained back the two I’d lost on the flight out). At Sky Harbor I connected with my driver without too much waiting. I was home by 1:30, very happy to greet Rosalie and our three kitty boys, Tiger, Tuffy, and Charlie. “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”

Wednesday, May 20

Planes, Trains, & Buses

On Friday, I’m flying to Minnesota for a birthday fest for my sister-in-law, who is going to be 87. How in the world did we all get so old so fast? Whooosh, goes the time train. I’ll be in Minneapolis for two days, then drive to Wisconsin to see several other relatives. Then fly back on Wednesday.
I’m flying because I can no longer suffer through long-distance driving—too expensive, too draining on my old bones. The drive from Minnesota to Wisconsin doesn’t count since it’s not really a long distance. But then there’s flying, which is no longer any fun, with all the hassle of checking in and getting seated in ever-smaller seats, almost always seated next to or in between really fat people. I haven’t yet figured out exactly how fat one needs to be before one has to buy two seats. But morbid obesity is another topic best saved for later. I’ll be traveling light enough that I won’t need to check a bag, just a small carryon in the overhead. And I’ll have my IPod for music and my IPad for watching episodes of Justified and a big bag of trail mix for munching since we're no longer given any munchies by the airline. One ear on my IPod, One eye on my IPad, and the other eye watching for the threat that our pilot may be a nutcase who wants to take us with him when he decides to kill himself. Or simply fly off the grid and put us down in some remote portion of the Pacific. In the old days of Friendly Skies that never used to be a consideration. And train travel is no longer an option, at least not in this part of the country, and our railway infrastructure is getting so bad we see too many examples of derailments and horrific crashes. Loco-motion, indeed.
Buses? I don’t think so. Crowded, time-consuming, dirty. That leaves me with flying. On the good side, though, this may be my last trip to anywhere by any means of transport. I’d rather just stay here in the Valley and let visitors come to me instead of me to them.

Monday, May 18

Delicious Desserts

This one will indicate just how far down I’ve come in terms of blog topics, resorting to several of my wife’s favorite recipes. This first one we got from a woman we met in Boulder, Colorado, when I was there working on a PhD in English in 1970. I’d never before heard of such a thing as apple pie cake and have never heard of it anywhere since. Yet it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. And it’s so easy. Maybe it’s just my imagination; maybe lots of people out there have heard of it and have made it. Maybe not.

Apple Pie Cake
1 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 egg
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. hot water
⅛ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp.vanilla
½ cup crushed walnuts
2½ cups diced raw apples
Mix all together.
Bake uncovered in 9” pie tin at 350º 45-60 minutes.
Top each serving with scoop ice cream or Kool Whip.

In about 1990, our sister-in-law Clarie Zimmer introduced us to what she called “Dough God.” It’s like the old-fashioned cinnamon rolls we knew as children that our mothers made, in a time when all the mothers we knew often made cinnamon rolls for their families. But Dough God is much easier than that old recipe. And, oh God, dough God, are they ever good.

Overnight Sticky Buns
15 or 16 frozen dough for dinner rolls
1 small pkg. vanilla pudding (not instant)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup pecan or walnut pieces (or a combination of the two)
1 stick butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
Separate dough (still frozen) and place in Bundt pan (Doesn’t everyone still have a Bundt pan
somewhere hidden away in a cupboard?).
Melt butter and pour over rolls.
Mix dry pudding, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts and sprinkle over rolls.
Cover and let rise on counter overnight.
Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.
Let cool for 30 minutes, then turn onto cake plate.

This recipe will serve six to eight people . . . or two very hungry people . . . or two pigs. Each serving would probably be about 1500 calories, so one should not make it more than two or three times a year. Anymore often than that and you’d have a family of Pillsbury Dough Boys.

Sunday, May 17

Mud-Slinging, Boston Bomber, & Rory McIlroy

It seems too early to start in on the coming Presidential race, but apparently not for Wiley’s Non Sequitur. But how appropriate his Gloop monster that spreads sludge over the American landscape. Diapers and politicians are both full of it. I can hardly wait to see what this next year of mudslinging will give us.

I was surprised at the unanimous decision to put the young Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsnaraev to death instead of giving him life imprisonment. I’d have thought the jury would have at least one holdout against the death penalty. But with our legal foot-dragging that sentence may not be carried out for several years.

McKilroy is here. Rory is proving once again just how good he is. This week’s Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow is a runaway win for the young Northern Irishman. He set a new course record on Saturday, a 61 that is also his career low round. And all his competitors are now aware that McKilory really is here.

Thursday, May 14

Jeb Bush & Rickie Fowler

I’ve been absent from my blog for quite a while. I don’t know if it’s because I’m running out of things to say or I’m just too lazy to work on a topic. It’s so much easier to just bop along on random thoughts than to have to do research on a film or a tv show or items in the news. Just lazy, I guess. Also, I’m approaching my thousandth blog post and am considering that number to be enough for one lifetime. Not that I’m planning to drop over when I hit one thousand, sort of like that wonderful one-hoss shay that Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote about. On November 1, 1855, 9:30 a.m., this wonderful shay had simply had enough and dropped into a heap, “went to pieces all at once,” leaving the poor parson sitting on the remnants wondering what had just happened. I guess there are still people who find my blogs and read them. I’m still amazed to see how many readers there are from outside the U.S. My blog site keeps track of such information and lets me know each day where my readers reside. For the past year or so, about half of those who read them are from far away places. For example, this past week I’ve had readers from France, the UK, Greece, Russia, China, Canada, India, and the Netherlands. What are they searching for when they find me? Are any of them repeat readers? Do any of them recommend my blog to friends? I’d like to get feedback from some of them, but I never get any comments. Maybe Google or whoever has made it too hard to leave a comment. But enough of that. How about a few non-researched comments.

I see that Jeb Bush is building an almost insurmountable war chest for his push for the GOP nomination. Haven’t we already had enough brushes with Bushes? I also find it disturbing that people running for office may be elected not on their political views or their character but on how much money they can raise. If that’s the case, why bother with an election? Why not just put people in office based on how much money they have behind them. Heaven forbid, if we did that, Donald Trump could become president, and that’s not a scenario I’d want to see. Why haven’t we required financial limits, each candidate allowed the same amount for campaigning? And why must all these campaigns be based on negatives instead of positives? The more dirt those running can buy and throw at opponents, the more likely they’ll get elected. Nonsensical. In this Internet age, candidates need to be squeaky clean to run for office. In this age of an almost infinite storage of information, every word ever spoken, every action of every candidate is there for examination, like little mud balls ready for throwing.

Last weekend, I watched the conclusion of the Players Championship at Pete Dye’s test of golfers’ nerves, the TPC Sawgrass. It was the most exciting finish of a golf tournament I’ve ever seen. Well, maybe second to Jack’s win at the Masters in 1986, but certainly the second best ever. Rickie Fowler put to rest the idea that he was overrated. His final six holes of regulation and then the four playoff holes have to be the finest golf I’ve ever seen, especially when it was played on that monster of a course. Rickie played the final six holes in birdie, par, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie. And in the playoff between Sergio Garcia, Kevin Kisner, and Rickie, Fowler twice birdied the nasty island green 17th to beat Kisner. Non-golfers won’t understand a word of what I just said, but golfers all over the world will.

Okay, readers out there, welcome me back, and maybe you could even post a comment. I’d be happy to respond.

Monday, May 4

Ex Machina & Artificial Intelligence

The movie, Ex Machina, had a simple plot: A young billionaire genius, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), spends a fortune to build a hideaway in a remote region, the only way in or out by helicopter. He’d made his billions on the Internet, and was now working on creating humanoid robots (but only females). A young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), working for his company, has won a contest, the prize being a week spent with the billionaire in his hideaway, participating in a Turing Test of Artificial Intelligence, specifically in the person of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a beautiful robot.
Caleb is to see if Ava is capable of more than factual intelligence, capable of human emotions. Ava and Caleb interact under the watchful eye (and omnipresent cameras) of Nathan. That’s the plot setup and I’ll leave it at that, no spoilers here. But the whole idea of artificial intelligence is intriguing and has been dealt with in science fiction from the very beginning of the genre, most notably in Isaac Asimov’s I Robot. We also saw it in Her, the Spike Jonze film starring Joaquin Phoenix who fell in love with his cell phone operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johannson). Today, however, we’re actually on the brink of creating robots and artificial intelligence that in the near future will take over most of our tasks: cars that drive themselves, planes that fly themselves, houses that clean themselves and cook our meals, machines that operate on us and take care of all our medical needs, assembly lines that automatically create other machines to take care of all our basic needs. I just read that Gartner, an information technology research firm, predicts that by 2025 AI and robots will take over a third of current jobs, one-third by 2025 with the likelihood of two-thirds and three-thirds in the not too distant future.
Does that mean that mankind may in fact get to that Utopia envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel Childhood’s End? A time when all of man’s needs will be met by robotics and no one will have to work to survive, but will be able to engage in whatever activities they enjoy? I hope so. But back to Ex Machina and its considerations of how far artificial intelligence might go. Would it be possible to create machines that not only know and use all of man’s knowledge but could also be programmed to feel as humans feel? To appreciate music and beauty, to know love and hate, joy and regret, shame and triumph, sympathy, empathy, pleasure, even sexual pleasure? Could we give a machine a sense of humor? Mark Twain sardonically said, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” Could a robot blush? Would a robot need to blush? Fear seems to be the only feeling we wouldn’t need to program into an android. What would a machine fear? Death or injury? No, that’s strictly a human feeling. But even death might one day be defeated when we could store a person’s memories and experiences on a hard drive, to which later thoughts and experiences could be added endlessly, living in an artificial body and switching to another artificial body when the first one wears out. A robotic immortality. Science and technology are expanding exponentially and the future may be closer than we think.
Oh, yes, and by the way, go see Ex Machina. It will lead you down the same introspective paths to the future that I found.

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