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, July 31

School Daze

I know it’s too early to be talking about the beginning of school, but here in Arizona the schools pay no attention to what’s done in the rest of the country. So the start of classes can be anywhere from the beginning of August to early September, each school district setting its own calendar. Every now and then in the fall, I consider what it would be like to get back in the classroom, but then better sense prevails, and despite my mental alertness, my physical woes would prevent that long classroom day.
Wiley's Non Sequitur last Sunday had this hilarity to say about the start of school years.

I never deliberately made exams and assignments ugly hard just for the fun of baiting my students, but some them thought my tests were too testing. I usually made up for the difficulty by easing up on the grading. I always thought that anyone who could correctly answer 80% of what I was asking should get an A, and anyone who could answer 40% should pass. I was at odds with my fellow English teachers, who always stuck to the old 90% = A- and 64% = fail. Ah, the good old days. My only regret is that I will never again teach sentence structure using my ES³ method. More’s the pity.

An Internet joke that found me and I couldn't pass it up: A woman and her ten-year-old son were riding in a cab in New York City. It was raining and all the hookers were standing under the awnings.
“Mom,” said the boy, “what are all those women doing?”
“They’re waiting for their husbands to get off work,” she replied.
The cabbie turns around and said, “Geez, lady, why don’t you tell him the truth? They’re hookers, boy! They have sex with men for money.”
The little boy’s eyes got wide and he asked, “Is that true, Mom?”
His mother, glaring hard at the cabbie, answered in the affirmative.
After a few minutes, the kid asked, “Mom, what happens to the babies those women have?”
“Most of them become cab drivers,” she said.

This is my 998th post, creeping up on that one thousand mark. I still don't know if I'll continue after that or take some time off. What would I do to fill the hours each day if I didn't blog? We'll see.

Wednesday, July 29

Over Population

Nature seems to have ways to regulate the population of animals and insects. When an animal species grows at an abnormal rate, the rate of predators also increases, sort of maintaining an ecological balance. Nature first allows multiplicity of offspring to insure continuity of the species, considering the number that will never survive into adulthood—lots of babies, few survivors. Balance. But mankind seems to have circumvented Nature, our numbers growing at a frightening rate. Will Nature visit on us some awful disease to curb our growth, or will she simply count on war and terrorist killings to do it? Maybe another world-wide Bubonic plague or that cataclysmic nuclear holocaust we’ve feared for the last seventy years. I hope we can solve this over-population problem before Nature solves it for us. Some stats from that bottomless source of information on the Internet, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: 35,000 years ago, 3 million people; 12,000 years ago, 15 million; 1804, one billion; 1927, two billion; 1959, three billion; 1974, four billion; 1987, five billion; 1999, six billion; 2011, seven billion; projected for 2026, eight billion; projected for 2042, nine billion.
A long time ago, I read John Brunner’s science fiction classic Stand on Zanzibar in which he warned of a time when each human on the planet might have only a very limited amount of space. I remember also reading about the threat of “The Golden Hordes” of India and China overrunning the industrialized nations of the world for their wealth.
India and China currently account for more than two and a half billion of the earth’s inhabitants, but neither have sent hordes to our nation unless you consider the number of Indian doctors and tech advisors we now have here. And China implemented a one-child per married couple as a means of stemming its growth. Demographic experts agree that sometime in the near future, world population figures will stabilize at around nine billion. I’m not sure how that will be achieved with the Catholic Church’s continued stance against abortion and contraception; achieved with 3rd World countries’ continued population growth through ignorance and lack of contraception. “Go forth and multiply” may have been a legitimate command in Genesis when it was necessary to preserve humanity’s continuance. Farmers needed to give birth to farm workers; racial groups needed to grow to protect their numbers from outside dangers. But neither of those reasons apply any longer. I look at my and my wife’s parents who, in the last hundred years, have gone from four (our two sets of parents) to 61 (all their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren). That number would be much higher if it included the offspring beyond that fourth ancestral layer, but the ratio of 4/61 exemplifies how population can expand exponentially.
I won’t be around to see if we ever achieve a population balance, but I certainly hope it will happen before that epidemic or nuclear war occurs.

Monday, July 27

Blue Bloods

For the past several weeks we’ve been bingeing on Netflix Blue Bloods, like two or three episodes a day. I can’t believe how many from the first three seasons we’d missed. I’d have sworn we were faithful viewers from the very beginning, but I guess I was wrong. Blue Bloods is such a good series, filled with admirable characters doing admirable deeds in the Big Apple.
The weekly Sunday dinners in the Reagan homestead allow us to see them interacting, arguing, praying, eating those fresh green beans that seem to be a Sunday staple, Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) frowning about some glitch in a case of his, Jamie (Will Estes) smiling his dissent at something Danny has said, Erin (Bridget Moynahan) giving us the district attorney side of cases, Grampa Henry (Len Cariou) growling something about “the old days” when he was police commissioner, Linda (Amy Carlson) keeping husband Dannie in line, elfin Nicky (Sami Gayle) looking like she should be starring in one of the Lord of the Rings movies, and Frank (Tom Selleck) handing out his homilies to keep them all on the same page. We get to know them all as real people with all the warts and scars real people carry with them. Dannie seems to be angry all the time, with a permanent frown on his face, and even when he smiles, it’s that crooked smile that’s more sarcastic than humorous. Erin, the rebel daughter who is now trying to keep her rebel daughter in check, is the beauty of the family. Erin is my definition of “beautiful,” whereas Linda is my definition of “pretty.” I love the duels between Frank and Garrett (Gregory Jbara) about news conferences and what Frank should be doing instead of what he wants to do, should be saying instead of what he wants to say. I love what Selleck does with facial closeups, the pursing of lips, the tiny nods of head, the eyes guarded behind those funny granny glasses he wears, the sighs of displeasure or frustration. I have a bunch of questions for the Blue Blood writers: When will Jamie ever make detective? When will you give Abigail Baker (Abigail Hawk) a bigger part to play? Will Jamie and Jenko (Vanessa Ray) ever get romantic? Will the whole family ever run out of Scotch, bourbon, or wine, and why doesn’t anyone ever have booze on the rocks? And finally, why do Frank’s shoes sound like they weigh ten pounds apiece? My wife and I both hope, as do a bunch of BB fans, that this series will continue for at least another ten years. I have too many questions that need answering.

Sunday, July 26

Body Language & Mr. Holmes

James W. Hall’s Body Language visits our current interest in senility, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, with the father of the main character sliding down that slippery slope of memory loss. Alexandra Rafferty, a police photographer, recalls a philosopher she’d once read who had “determined that the present moment lasted only three to twelve seconds, and everything else was memory. ¶ Three to twelve seconds. The juicy sliver of orange you are slipping into your mouth, the sudden sour burst against the tongue, then abruptly, the next thing. The phone’s shrill ringing. Just that and only that until the next moment appears. An endless succession of brief intervals, always the present. Moments forever arising, and seconds later, forever lost. ¶ But it was also within those three to twelve seconds that the past was recalled. So that every instant of the past was hostage to the vagaries of the present. Any story of yesterday had to be refracted and colored by the narrow lens of the moment. . . . ¶ Accurate history depended on accurate journalism, good record-keeping. But how could there truly be such a thing? As a child, how was it possible to know which things to pay attention to? What to store, what to let go? . . . ¶ The same long-ago philosopher had described the past as a palimpsest, that ancient tablet that was erased again and again so new directives could be recorded there, a tablet whose surface inevitably showed the traces of previous texts. New replacing old, but the old never completely disappearing. Shadows remaining, the faint scribbles showing through, year after year, layer after layer accumulating, until the present text was little more than a muddle, a confusion of imperfectly erased sentences from the past.” Isn’t that nice? So many writers have tried to define memory, to see it for what it is so that they and the rest of us can come to grips with this horrible thing we now face: dementia and Alzheimer’s. In the distant past, everyone who grew old had loss of memory to one degree or another, but back then, old was sixty or a little more, oldsters mostly dying before they were victimized by this total memory loss. Now, when we define old as late seventies up to one hundred, more and more of us are learning the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease as we see our parents and grandparents relegated to a facility that cares for them until they die.

In the movie Mr. Holmes, an aging Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), in his nineties when the story opens, is losing his memory, trying any remedy he can find to slow the process. He tends a number of bee hives at his country estate for the medicinal honey they produce. He journeys to post-World War II Japan to obtain a rare plant called prickly ash which is purported to slow memory loss. He is also trying to write the story of his last case in which he somehow lost a young woman who had come to him for his help. The story moves slowly as he remembers, reconstructs, the details of the case from thirty years earlier. The movie is a quiet mystery unraveled through flashbacks. The setting, mid-20th century England, consists of scenes in his country estate where he is tended to by his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). The cupboards and furniture, the doors, the bookcases—all reek of a past that looks and smells like something we might find when we climb up to some long-forgotten attic and rummage through a chest of yellowing, musty papers. McKellen is so good in this role that he’ll undoubtedly be nominated for an Oscar next year.

Saturday, July 25

Donald Trump & Sarah Palin and Gloria DeHaven

Almost every day in the news we see stories about or images of Donald Trump. It seems that all the media people are in love with his mixed bag of tricks—stupid comments about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or any of his fellow GOP contenders for the throne, his statements about his net worth, his advice about what we should do about a Great Wall of China on our southern border, about his possibly running as a 3rd party candidate. As Sinatra once sang in “Everything Happens to Me,” “Every time I play an ace, my partner always trumps.” Well, nearly everything he’s doing is like that partner who “Trumps” the country’s aces. I think the perfect GOP ticket to insure Hillary’s win in 2016 would be a Trump/Sarah Palin pairing. Instead of one joker in the pack we’d have two.

I always check the list of famous birthdays in the day’s newspaper to see who’s close to my age, the oldest at the top working down to the youngest. I can always stop looking at 50 because I don’t recognize most of those younger than that. Two days ago, at the very top at age 90, was a name that brought back memories, Gloria DeHaven, that sultry star with the come-hither smile and the beauty mark on her left cheek. I best remember her from her role in the 1950 movie Three Little Words, in which she sang “Who’s Sorry Now?” She was just one of the film stars I fell in love with back then. Or maybe it was “fell in lust with.”

Thursday, July 23

Legally Blond, The Musical

Arizona Broadway Theatre is currently showing Legally Blond, The Musical. To familiarize ourselves with the plot, we watched the Netflix non-musical version starring Reese Witherspoon. Cute flick, cute Reese as the blond Valley Girl who decides to apply to Harvard Law School attempting to win back the love of her life, yuppie egotist Warner Huntington III. Cute dogs, too. Elle Woods (Witherspoon) carts around a tiny Chihuahua as she descends pinkishly on an unsuspecting Harvard. As I said, cute story, but not one anyone would spend much time admiring for acting or theme. All blonds aren’t dumb blonds, as Elle so delightfully tells us.

The musical version was faithful to the movie almost to the letter, even with live dogs (a Chihuahua and a bulldog). It was a most entertaining evening of song and dance in a very light-hearted story. Once again, we were impressed with nearly every theatrical aspect of ABT's presentation: a set involving eleven different locations, even a bathroom with shower, sink, and commode; choreography that keeps getting better and better with each production, even an extremely complex and difficult number in a women’s prison, where Brooke Wyndham (Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man), a wealthy health guru who’s been accused of killing her elderly, wealthy husband, leads a group of six fellow prisoners in a number involving synchronized jump roping and swinging of the jump ropes (all kinds of room for error and injury); the voices, although maybe a little too strident, were all good, especially that of Paulette the manicurist (Abigail Raye) and Emmett Forrest (Jesse Michels), Elle’s real love interest once she sees how shallow Warner is (Glen North); the orchestra, only seven pieces, continues to surprise me with the quality of its musical accompaniment. The score, clever and funny, included numbers neither I nor anyone else in the audience knew, numbers that wouldn’t have ever made it onto a top-ten chart, the best of which were “Omigod You Guys” (sung in the opening Delta Nu sorority house), “Blood in the Water” (sung in Professor Callahan’s classroom expressing the professor’s attitude toward successful defense attorneys), “Whipped into Shape” (sung in the prison during the jump rope number), and “Bend and Snap” (sung in the hair salon when Elle teaches Paulette how to win a man). Melissa Mitchell was filling in for Leanne Smith, who is the regular Elle Woods. Ms. Mitchell had a bunch of singing to do and sung them adequately but not great. And it was slightly unfortunate that she was enough overweight to make Elle look odd in some of her skimpy outfits, especially the pink bunny costume she wore to the frat house party. But it was a fun way to spend an evening with another excellent ABT meal to lead off that fun evening with Elle Woods and the cast of Legally Blond, The Musical.

Wednesday, July 22

The Open, 2015

Another really long golf weekend, with the Open going about ten hours a day, which included a rare Monday round because of the awful playing conditions on Friday. I realize how much golfers love the Old Course, set in that barren Scottish landscape, but I wonder how many are lying because they don’t want to offend the old Lady or their Scotsmen hosts. All that tradition, they sigh, Swilcan Bridge and that hateful 17th Road Hole; the Swilcan Burn that snakes its watery way through the course, just waiting for an ill-struck shot like Tiger’s on the first hole on Thursday; the colorfully named bunkers, like Lion’s Mouth, Principal’s Nose, Spectacles on #5, three Coffins on #13, Hell on #14, and The Sands of Nakajima on #17, so named for poor Tommy Nakajima who in 1978 took four shots to get out; that dreaded deep depression in front of and to the left of the 18th green, appropriately named the Valley of Sin; saying goodbye to aging past winners like Tom Watson and Nick Faldo; saying goodbye to Ivor Robson, the squeaky-voiced fellow who has announced the players at the first tee since 1975. At least this time around the Old Course was green instead of tan, and it was a bunch better than what we saw in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. But still, all that rain and wind and the silliness of balls rolling and rolling away in the wind. Yuck! Tiger missed the cut by a bunch and once more we’re all wondering if he’ll ever get his game back. Watching him lately is like observing a train wreck: we see such awfulness but we can’t turn away from all the blood and carnage. There were a number of good plot lines this year: Jordan Speith’s pursuit of that record for three Majors in a row; Dustin Johnson’s magic act in which the Magnificent Dustin showed us his disappearing act; Paul Dunne, the wonderful British amateur who led the field after three rounds, and his meltdown in the final round (Poor kid couldn’t stand that last round pressure); and, of course, Zach Johnson’s gritty performance on Monday, setting the bar at minus 15 with his lovely putt for birdie on the last hole, carding a 66 that tied for low round of the day, and then holding off Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen in the four-hole playoff. It was a great win for Zach, who has to be near the top of the list for nice, humble pro golfers. Justin Speith was gracious in his loss. That 4-putt on the par-3 eighth cost him the title, and the five 3-putts on Friday were uncharacteristic of the young phenom. The analysts in the booth kept talking about how Speith could become only the second to win the first three majors of the year, joining Ben Hogan. But they never mentioned that he would also become the only golfer in history to have a chance to win all four in a calendar year. Hogan never had that chance since the PGA in 1953 was scheduled for the same weekend as the Open. Now we have the PGA to look forward to, with Rory and Jordan duking it out, maybe even seeing if the long hitters like Dustin and Bubba and Phil can make it a contest. Or maybe it will be the tactician Zach who comes out on top.

Tuesday, July 21

Arizona Diamondbacks

I decided, somewhat against my better judgement, to see another live Diamondbacks game, take a tour bus to Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. They were playing the Giants, Patrick Corbin pitching against Madison Bumgarner, two of the best in the National League, so it would probably be a low-scoring game, but one worth seeing. Last year (or was it two years ago?), I signed up for a tour bus game and was moderately disappointed in the experience. Too far away from the action in the stadium, seats too close together, too much travel time from when we left to when we returned, too many jerks sitting nearby (both in the stadium and on the bus). And yet, here I was, going again. Pretty much the same objections this time as before. Okay, now I’ve done it twice and I don’t need to ever do it again.

The ride in was made tolerable because I had a book to read and could ignore all the tour guide’s chitchat. I was the only single, everyone else couples or paired women. I’d have thought the men would outnumber the women but we must have been two-thirds female. I don’t know that many women who like or understand the nuances of baseball, certainly not my wife.

We arrived and de-bussed about an hour ahead of first pitch. I was surprised by the amount of security at the gate, all handbags checked and then a walk through a gate similar to what we go through at airports, such a lifestyle change since 9/11 thanks to all the Jihadist nut cases. Our seats were in the same section where I’d been the last time, on the first-base side about midway between first base and the right foul pole, about twenty rows up from the field. I could see home plate and the pitcher’s mound, but not very well, especially when the geezer just to the left of me decided to lean forward. The seats were just as narrow and uncomfortable as I remembered. First impressions: hubbub noise of nearly 30,000 people in one small enclosure; kaleidoscope of colors dominated by the green of carefully tended infield and outfield; Giants and Diamondbacks warming up with windsprints and long throws; the entire field seeming to be somehow smaller than what we see on telecasts; busy, busy, busy with people coming and going to their seats or back up to get food or drink; wild variety of food scents reminiscent of what you’d smell at a carnival; lights everywhere around the stadium telling us about the players, hawking various food vendors, flashing a serpentine diamondback that flowed around and around about midway between the second and third tiers of seats, huge screen above center field to tell us about what we were unable to see on the field. In fact, many of the people around me didn’t watch the field at all, just gazed at the center field screen. I kept wondering why anyone would spend a bunch of money to come here and then watch the action on a tv screen. They could do that at home. For nothing.

At 1:15 we all stood for the National Anthem sung by a country singer I’d never heard of, sung not very well but better than some versions I’ve heard but not nearly up to the standard set by Whitney Houston in 1991. Then it was time to play ball. I watched as well as I could but was too far away to see what the plate umpire was calling or how the pitchers were throwing. And my ear missed the play-by-play I was used to on telecasts. So I found myself turning to the big screen to see what balls and strikes were. My view of right field was better than on the tube and I got to see a few spectacular catches that were more immediate and real than they would have been on television.

I had plenty of time during and between innings to examine my fellow spectators: a surprising number of tiny children who couldn’t have had any knowledge of baseball nor any desire to watch baseball; obesity all around me; tattoos all around me; people obsessed with selfies to show that they were there and really enjoying themselves; people carrying in huge trays of food: hot dogs and submarines and huge loaded burgers, popcorn, pretzels, corndogs, nachos and cheese, pizza, and ice cream sundaes of all kinds and flavors. There was a Latino family two rows below me, four women and five men, all but one overweight, one male teenager who may have weighed between 350 and 400 pounds (How in the world did he fit in one of those tiny seats?), two overweight males in their twenties, all four women well overweight. I watched them consume three small pizzas, several orders of hot wings, three packs of cotton candy, and for dessert three or four dishes of Cold Stone ice cream. I have no idea how many calories went down, I have no idea what it all cost. But the numbers must have been high. The young man just in front of me left and came back with a tall can of Bud light, then later bought a 12-ounce Coors light from a vendor--$8.50 for the beer and a buck and a half tip. Ten bucks. For a can of beer that would have cost the vendor less than a buck. During the game, he called another vendor over to buy $20-worth of half-and-half numbers, forty numbers for twenty bucks. The payout at the end of the game was half of what they’d taken in, just over $19,000, for a take-home win of about $9500. His odds of winning on those forty numbers would have been around 300 to one, odds just a bit better than twenty lottery tickets for a lot less money. In all, with the ticket cost, the food and drink cost, the half-and-half ticket, he must have spent over a hundred dollars for this game that he couldn’t even see very well.

My final impression of live baseball? That well over half the people there were more interested in socializing and eating and drinking and chatting on their phones than they were in what baseball action transpired. It was an interesting experience but one I won’ ever feel like repeating. Oh, yeah, the D-Backs lost 2-1 in a fairly uneventful game.

Wednesday, July 15

Donald Trump & Tiger Woods

Mondrian's "The Thinker"
Almost every time I open a newspaper lately, there are three or four articles talking about The Donald, talking about how the GOP would rather he just shut up, not run, disappear. But the Trumpster doesn’t do any of that—shut up, not run, or disappear. Like the bad penny, he just keeps showing up. According to the Oxford English Dictionary regarding bad pennies, Donald Trump represents “the predictable, and often unwanted, return of a disreputable or prodigal person after some absence.” Well, he hasn’t really been absent from the news because he thrives on news about himself, but he also hasn’t been in the news as much as he is lately. And, oh, how the Republican Party wishes he would just go back to his golf courses and beauty pageants and The Apprentice and leave the politicking to the other candidates. In a negative way, he’s just like Tiger Woods: no matter what either of them does, the public wants to read about it. Or, in Tiger’s case, watch him do it. The Trump haters want to read about how The Donald has again put his foot in his mouth, like when he questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship or when he got in a fight with Bill Maher about his ancestry. And Tiger haters want to read about his fall from grace, watch him make a fool out of himself on the golf course, witness Tiger’s feet of clay. The Tiger lovers want to see if maybe this week, just maybe, he can get back to his winning ways. Tiger lovers want to see his every swing, not matter how he or anyone else in the tournament is doing. And tomorrow we’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if he can recreate the magic that allowed him to win two Opens at the Old Course, St. Andrews.

Tuesday, July 14

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl & Max

A movie about which I have mixed feelings, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I think I loved it, or at least loved Rachel, the dying girl (Olivia Cooke, whom viewers might remember as Norman's friend with the oxygen tank in The Bates Motel), and her relationship with Greg (Thomas Mann), who spent almost six months with her during her fight with leukemia. But then my mixed feelings arise over what I consider to be an unrealistic view of high school and high school students. Granted, most movies about high school and high school life aren't meant to be realistic. Take Glee as the best example. But Me and Earl is supposed to be real. The school Greg and Earl (R. J. Cyler) and Rachel attended was unlike any school I’ve ever seen or taught in, with an odd cafeteria and odd classrooms unlike any I’ve ever seen or known, with too many students weirder than any I’ve ever known (jocks too jockey, nerds too nerdy, stoners too stoned, even one truly weird rapper who’s all by himself in a group of one), more mature and knowledgeable than any I’ve ever known, with teachers weirder and more knowledgeable than any I’ve ever known (in this case, Mr. McCarthy, the wildly tattooed history teacher). Greg has spent his high school years trying to be invisible, pretending to be in every group but never being in any group, never getting to know anyone or wanting to know anyone but his childhood friend Earl, a black kid from the lower end of the economic scale in Pittsburgh. The two of them are co-workers, as Greg describes their relationship, not really friends. They co-work at making tiny film parodies of classic films (“2:48 Cowboy,” “Senior Citizen Kane,” “A Sockworth Orange”), a total of forty-two when we first meet them in their senior year. Predictably, Greg will try to make a film for Rachel, about how he feels about her and her imminent death I realize that students today are far more knowledgeable about computers and video capabilities than they were when I last taught over twenty years ago. But still, I don’t quite buy into their film projects. I think what they were doing would be beyond their abilities. What else was I in love with? The unpredictable film techniques used to tell this predictable story of a dying girl and the growing friendship between her and Greg. Funny and poignant, with a moral about how our lives can still affect others even after we die. I guess I love it more than I dislike it. But I do wish there'd been a little less Greg and a little more Earl and Rachel, the Dying Girl. Go see it and see if your feelings are as mixed as mine.

You’d have to be a dog lover to accept the movie Max for an acceptable way to spend an afternoon at the theater. It really wasn’t very good, but it had a loveable dog named Max, a Belgian Malinois, in the center, and a dog lover could fall in love with Max’s big brown eyes. Max is a military dog who was wounded in Afghanistan when he and his handler, Kyle Wincott, were sniffing out hidden caches of enemy weapons. An IED goes off, killing Kyle and wounding Max. The dog is returned to the U.S. but is suffering PTSD and can’t be handled. The military thinks he should be put down, but instead sends him to Kyle’s family to see what they can do with him. Kyle’s younger brother Justin is given the task of taking care of Max. And, as you’d suspect, the two bond. And then the plot goes downhill into action silliness, with Kyle’s hometown buddy and Marine companion Tyler (Luke Kleintank) coming back to take a job with Justin’s father (Thomas Haden Church). Tyler, it seems, has been stealing weapons from those Afghani weapons caches and somehow shipping them home to Texas where he plans to sell them to a Mexican cartel. Silly, and way too many coincidences that are never explained. Justin and his friends stumble onto the weapon deal and are then pursued through deep woods by Tyler, the Mexican hoods, and two of the ugliest, drooling black Rottweilers you’ve ever seen. Talk about the hero dog Max and two villainous Rots. If this movie had been made sixty or seventy years ago, when Lassie was winning our hearts, we’d have said, as we so often said about one of Lassie’s amazingly human actions, “Write it in the mashed potatoes, Lassie!” Unrealistic and romanticized. For example, we see the three kids zooming through the forest on their bikes, going through dense underbrush at about a hundred miles an hour with Max galloping alongside. Do they never hit any trees? Do they ever hit a ditch or boulder and go flying over the handlebars? Does Max ever get tired? Three times no. How did Tyler manage to get all those stolen weapons from Afghanistan to Texas? Never explained. Are the kids in danger? A resounding YES. How to save the day? Have Max run back to get Justin’s dad and tell him where to go. “Write it in the mashed potatoes, Max!”

Saturday, July 11

Lady Gaga & Netflix Streaming

Last night, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta—29 years old, known by most of us as Lady Gaga—along with Tony Bennett, showed her stuff on a PBS Great Performances special. And most of the stuff she showed was much quieter and more conventional than what she usually chooses to shock and capture young audiences. Nearly all the songs she and Tony sang are also on the Cheek to Cheek cd they put out last year. I remember how I and most of the audience watching this year’s Academy Awards show were surprised by Lady Gaga’s voice when she did a medley of songs from The Sound of Music. Well, she demonstrated that same voice on this special, giving us studied jazz vocals, exhibiting half a dozen changes of her outfits and hair styles, looking like a combination of Cher and Liza Minnelli. In fact, wearing a huge black Cher wig, she did the old Cher standard, “Bang Bang,” sounding better than Cher ever did. The similarities between Cher and Gaga are noteworthy: both chose to build careers on outlandish outfits and language and song choices. Go to YouTube and watch Cher do “Bang Bang”; then watch Lady Gaga do “Bad Romance.” The two may be forty years apart, but they look and sing almost exactly the same, showing as much flesh as the law allows, bumping and grinding around the stage with their backup dancers. Of the two personas in both cases, I prefer the jazz vocalist Gaga and the Moonstruck Academy Award winning actress Cher over either of the “shock jocks.” When I heard her launch into the opening lines, “I used to visit all the very gay places, those come-what-may places,” I knew I was going to hear one of the all-time great jazz songs, “Lush Life.” Nearly every female jazz singer worth her salt has sung “Lush Life,” but none have ever done it better. Thank you, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, for showing me a side of you I can admire instead of the wack-job the young folks like. Just listen to what she does with Billy Strayhorn’s song.

I canceled my Netflix cd membership and instead joined the television streaming version. It's hard for me to understand how anyone has enough time to watch all the movies and tv programming that's available through Netfliz and Amazon and other providers. Now I find I can call up almost any old movie I might want to watch or any tv series from the past or present to see what I may have missed. We're looking at the first episodes of Mash, Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond, and a bunch of others. They're still as funny now as they were when we first saw them. We're also watching the first season of Blue Bloods, most of which we'd never seen. One thing we've noticed is how much bigger a role Det. Abigail Baker (Abigail Hawk) had in the first season compared to what she has in the fourth season. Why? The writers could very easily work her into one or two scripts that center on her. I, for one, would love to see it. The other thing we noticed is that Jamie, now in his fourth year as a beat cop, has never been made a detective like his brother Dannie. Why? He certainly deserves it. Another thing we noticed: that the family almost always has fresh green beans with the meals they share on Sundays. Now that's a dumb thing to notice. We'll watch all the Blue Bloods seasons as fast as we can and see what other oddities we can come up with.

Friday, July 10

Admirable Sportsmen & Unadmirable Actors

In professional sports today, it’s hard to find anyone to admire for character and not just sports accomplishments. We have too many domestic violence violators, too many cheaters, too many grandstanders and hot dogs, too many more concerned with “I” and “me” than with team, more concerned with how much money they make than with team loyalty. In the past we had Pete Rose, more recently Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds, most recently Alex Rodriguez, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson. I have several choices for you to admire, sportsmen who exemplify the honesty and character that all sportsmen should aspire to: golf’s Jordan Spieth and baseball’s Paul Goldschmidt. Anyone who watches televised PGA golf can see what I see, Jordan Spieth as an unassuming, humble, well-spoken 21-year-old who goes about his business without any chest-pounding or egocentricities. I admire him tremendously. Anyone who watches Arizona Diamondbacks baseball can see what I see, Paul Goldschmidt as the epitome of what all baseball players should be—someone who always runs out ground balls and flyouts, who never complains about bad calls, who takes his stance in the batter’s box and stays there without having to step out after each pitch to re-tighten his batting gloves, who, after hitting one into the stands, doesn’t showboat on his way around the bases but simply runs around and then high-fives his teammates at the plate, who plays 1st base almost errorlessly, who doesn’t need a beard or countless tattoos to call attention to himself. His play does that for him. I admire him tremendously.

Two professional actors that have disappointed me recently, one in a minor way and one in a very major way: Tom Selleck and Bill Cosby. It has come to light that Selleck, during California’s drought, has been stealing water by the truckload for use on his ranch. It’s not a crime but it’s certainly a selfish act resulting in a civil suit brought by the water district against Selleck. I cringe at the thought that one of the actors I most admire has done something so unadmirable. I want him to be the Frank Reagan he is in Blue Bloods, the honest and capable New York City police commissioner who would never stoop to stealing anything. I want him to be the Jesse Stone he is in the Parker series for television, flawed somewhat by his addiction to alcohol but still doing what's right for the citizens of Paradise. Say it isn’t so, Tom. Say you knew nothing about the stolen water. And then there’s Bill Cosby, whom most of us once admired as the knowing, caring father Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the Bill Cosby Show. Now, he’s admitted to giving Quaaludes to young women with whom he wanted to have sex. I’d like Dr. Huxtable to say it ain’t so, but Cosby has already said it really was so. One image tarnished, Tom Selleck; one image smashed, Bill Cosby.

Tuesday, July 7

Stan Kenton & Maynard Ferguson

About a million years ago, give or take a few hundred thousand, I was an ardent fan of Stan Kenton and his big band sound of the Forties. For all I know I might have been the only Kenton fan in all of South Dakota. I mean, Kenton Jazz, South Dakota? But there I was, a fan of "Artistry in Rhythm," "Artistry in Percussion," and all the other artistries he put out, keeping time to "The Peanut Vendor," "Machito," "Intermission Riff," "Concerto to End All Concertos," singing along with June Christy on the sexy "Interlude." After I could finally afford his albums in the Fifties, I bought almost everything I could find, some on multi-play 45’s, some on 33-lp’s. I even had a 12-record set called The Kenton Era. The albums, along with most of my other albums, fell victim to one or more of our cats, who loved to sharpen their front claws on the album edges. Just before we moved to Arizona, I decided to transfer all my albums to tape, as though tape was the answer to musical longevity, then sell or give away all the albums. One Kenton number that haunted me was something by Maynard Ferguson, a showpiece for him and his talented trumpet, entitled simply “Maynard Ferguson.” I played it so many times almost the whole thing was in my head and I could hear it whenever I thought of it. A few days ago I went through all my taped music, trying to figure out what I was going to do with it all. I mean, who today even wants tapes? And there it was, on a tape of The Kenton Era, on a side called Stan Kenton Presents—Maynard Ferguson, Shelly Mann, Art Pepper, and other well-knowns in his band, especially June Christy. I stuck it in my ancient tape player, went back and forth on the tape until I found what I was looking for, and listened again. Even through the scratchy noise of my transfer, Ferguson’s trumpet screamed out the notes I remembered. I wanted a cleaner copy to play for my grandson, who is now learning to play the trumpet, so I went back to Amazon and searched for Stan Kenton Presents, found it, could buy it used from a place in Japan for a reasonable price. In fact, all of Kenton seems to be available in Japan. Apparently Kenton is a Jazz icon there. I ordered it and then also found that the track I was looking for was on YouTube. Is every piece of music ever recorded available on YouTube? It seems to be. Here it is, in fuzzy black-and-white, a very young man in 1955 playing this incredible number, hitting notes that seem other-worldly. I’m also a fan of Chris Botti, but no two trumpeters are more at opposite poles than these two. I think of Ferguson as the Anti-Botti. Give a listen.

Is that good or what? Or maybe you're from South Dakota and don't care much for big-band jazz.

Monday, July 6

A Spot of Bother

I recently finished reading Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, and what a nice read it was. It’s the story of a dysfunctional family reacting to the upcoming wedding of a daughter, Katie, to Ray, a man of whom most of the family don’t approve. George Hall, the father, is going a little crazy, thinking that a recently discovered spot on his thigh is probably cancerous. Jean Hall, the mother, is having a late-life affair with George’s business partner. And Jamie Hall, the son, is having a problem with his lover Tony, because he doesn’t want to bring him to the wedding, thus acknowledging to family and friends that he’s gay. Just your everyday, ordinary dysfunctioning. It’s one of the first novels I’ve read in a long time that had me laughing out loud. It’s becoming harder and harder for anything in print to get me to laugh out loud. I’m not sure if it was the characters or the plot that so amused me. Or maybe the style, which is much like that other really funny writer, Garrison Keillor. Check out some of Haddon’s wry observations about life and love.

[This one echoing Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”] “Obviously it would be nice to go quietly in one’s sleep. But going quietly in one’s sleep was an idea cooked up by parents to make the deaths of grandparents and hamsters less traumatic. And doubtless some people did go quietly in their sleep but most did so only after many wounding rounds with the Grim Reaper.”

[Katie’s observation of men in general] “They took up so much space. That was the problem with men. It wasn’t just the leg sprawl and the clumping down stairs. It was the constant demand for attention. Sit in a room with another woman and you could think. Men had that little flashing light on top of their heads. Hello. It’s me. I’m still here.”

[A nice comment on the way we view life as we pass through it] “At twenty life was like wrestling an octopus. Every moment mattered. At thirty it was a walk in the country. Most of the time your mind was somewhere else. By the time you got to seventy it was probably like watching snooker on the telly.”

[On youth and the cell phone/tweeting/texting age] “In another fifty years children would have the attention spans of sparrows and no imagination whatsoever.”

If your life seems a bit gray and gloomy, you might insert a few rays of sunshine by reading A Spot of Bother.

Sunday, July 5

Fourth of July & Quitting Time

This will be my 985th blog post. I'm thinking that I may either call it quits at one thousand or maybe just take a long break. I don't know. Blog writing is as addictive as cigarettes. And I've given those up, like Twain, who said quitting smoking was easy. He and I have done it many times. It isn't that I'm running out of topics. Good heavens, every day the news is filled with stories worth commenting on. And movies and books and television shows are still available for reviews. I think it may be that I'm feeling claustrophobic as my life ruts keep getting deeper and deeper. Too many days and nights exactly the same, so much so that I can't keep track of the days flying by, time just a comet racing across my horizon. I'll decide about the quitting when I get to 999.

The Fourth of July is now behind us. There were fireworks displays all over the country, with countless performers singing our nation’s praises, reminding us of where we were 239 years ago and how far we’ve come since that 1776 Fourth of July. It was a wonderful day. We all had good reason to celebrate our freedoms. It was also a day of holding our breath, waiting to see if the ISIS idiots would launch one or more attacks on our country, on our celebrating citizenry. And they didn’t. I hope it was simply that they couldn’t rather than that they didn’t want to. I would like to think that the bully boys and girls of the Middle East don’t have the firepower for any large-scale attack within our borders. I would like to think that our security forces and security measures could make such attacks impossible, on the Fourth or any other day of the year. I think it should be the end of the Jihadists’ holding us and the rest of the world hostage. But how do we accomplish that? We can’t resort to their tactics of simply killing whoever doesn’t believe as they do. We can’t win them over with love. We seemingly can’t convince them to just leave the rest of the world alone and have them go about their own religious monkey business. I keep wondering what would happen if all of us in the U. S. were magically transposed to Iraq or Iran and all of ISIS or a conglomeration of Jihadists were transposed to this country, living here, ruling here, with our present military might. They would undoubtedly rain nuclear bombs down on our heads, killing all of us and however many others in that part of the world who didn’t share their beliefs. Wouldn’t matter to them how much collateral damage resulted. Just gotta kill all pagans in order to attain that heavenly reward. That makes no sense. What sort of Creator would want that?

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