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

Friday, March 25

Facial Hair Revisited

Feb 24, 2015
Over a year ago I was enough puzzled by men’s beards that I wrote about them, wondering why men would want facial hair and why women would be attracted to bearded men. A year later and I’m still confused. I realize that back at mankind’s dawning, body hair probably served as protection from cold weather, and shaving wouldn’t be necessary or practical at a time well before the advent of razors. But today we have clothes to keep us warm, and we have really fine razors. Yet men continue to grow hair on their faces in a wide variety of styles. I’m not a pogonologist (from the Greek pogonos for beard) nor would I want to be, but this present trend in men’s fashions still has me stumped. In golf, I see Gary McCord’s truly silly handlebar mustache
and wonder what that says about him. Wouldn’t anyone with whom he conversed be more fixated on the ‘stash than on what he was saying? The Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet
sports maybe the ugliest full beard of all bearded athletes, with Boo Weekley’s a close second. Last year, the Colts’ quarterback, Andrew Luck, grew a really ugly neck beard and kept it for the entire season. He has since come to his senses and shaved it off. Howie Mandel (America’s Got Talent) has no hair on his head but has a soul patch to make up for it. Golf analyst David Feherty
wears a goatee that’s well-groomed and attractive, as does Leo DiCaprio and George Clooney, but all three would look just as good without it. Johnny Depp’s goatee is an on-again, off-again thing, all depending on how he feels at the time (and he most often feels pretty strange). Tom Selleck’s full-brush mustache
has always been there and most of us probably wouldn’t recognize him without it. But how does he manage to keep it food-free? Harry Connick, Jr. (American Idol) typifies that three-day thing
that so many young men are wearing. It looks grubby, it looks uncomfortable, it looks like it would burn the hide off any woman he kissed. I wonder when this facial-hair trend will pass. Soon, I hope. I'll revisit this in another year. Meanwhile, I may have to comment on men's dreadlocks and ponytails.


Monday, March 21

Same Day Care Clinics

A few days ago, I went with Rosalie to the same-day care clinic. She’s having a terrible time breathing—asthma, bronchitis, emphysema. One of them. Or maybe a combination of all three. I went with her in case they sent her to the hospital, which would have left the car abandoned in the Banner parking lot. We were there for nearly three hours, a length that speaks to how popular and much used such a clinic can be. Immediate primary physician care and hospital emergency rooms are now out of the question. So, what does one do when one needs attention that can’t be found with one’s doctor or the local ER? One goes to a same-day care clinic.

I tried to read, but there was a man nearby who was holding two poor souls captive as he talked at them. In only half an hour he must have spewed forth twenty thousand non-stop words with the couple painfully nodding. It wasn’t his loudness that kept me from my book; it was his verbal rapidity, like sitting in a dentist’s chair for thirty minutes of non-stop drilling. Finally, finally, he was called into the inner-sanctum, and I was able to get back to my book.

I’m reading the third in Lawrence Block’s Hitman series. I catch myself occasionally chuckling, even outright laughing now and then. Such a strange concept—a really nice guy, an unassuming fellow who collects stamps and kills people with enough regularity to feed his philatelic tastes. Keller and his partner Dot take on contracts, splitting their fees. And all the while he’s killing folks, and the reader (I, at least) sort of sides with him. He’s such a nice guy, and almost all of whom he kills are not nice guys (or an occasional not nice lady). I’ve already read the entire series, but now I think I may have to read them all again. Damn! So many books, so little time.

Every now and then I’d set the book aside to people-watch. There were about two dozen of us in the outer area, mostly people waiting to be seen, a few, like me, there as company for a spouse. One in five reading a book, one in three on a phone or tablet talking or playing a game or maybe reading an e-book. More fat ones than skinny ones, many with ankles and calves sporting varicose veins like black and blue tattoos. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two alike. A man dressed all in white with matching hair got up to deliver a questionnaire to the check-in window. And he minced his way there and back. Never in my life have I had occasion to describe someone’s walk as mincing. But there it was, a sort of careful, short stride that announced his gaiety. I’ve often wondered if the affectations of gay men are learned or are innate, with them from birth. Many gay men have no gay labels. Maybe they’re considered the husband in a gay union and the flitty one the wife. I’m not stereotyping and I’m not homophobic; I’m just trying to understand what makes us all tick. I remember the sitcom Will and Grace. Jack (Sean Hayes) and Will (Eric McCormack) are both gay but only Jack is depicted with the assumed gay behavior—the flicked wrist, the saunter, the elevated vocal tone, the professed love for Barbra and Cher, the catty wit, the flamboyance, the crossed arm with index finger to cheek, the pursed mouth, the fastidiousness of The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger. Then there’s Will, a gay lawyer displaying none of the above. Straight and gay are no longer the only categories for sexual preference. And, happily, we’re no longer so hung up on anyone’s preference. At least, most of us aren’t. We still have homophobes today, but not nearly as many as just a few years ago.

After two hours, Rosalie came out to inform me she had to have a chest x-ray. More reading, more people-watching. An hour later, she was back and we were able to come home. She told me the doctor said she had acute asthmatic bronchitis. She was prescribed a prednisone pack and an antibiotic, after which she should be feeling much better. I hope so. It’s not fun when you spend the night hacking and coughing and not sleeping. Neither of us sleeping, neither of us having any fun.

Sunday, March 20

Presidential Qualities & Little Big Shots

A non-endorsement editorial in the Arizona Republic (March 18, 2016) tried to explain why it wasn’t endorsing either of the two GOP front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, by stating what a U.S. president should be and then matching Trump and Cruz to those standards, both missing the mark by miles and miles.

“This is a time to stand our ground and say no to a candidate who leads this race and is now projected to win. We don’t expect our editorial to make any difference to that trajectory, but we do think it worth putting on record what we, as Americans, should value in a president. ¶ The president of the United States should be a model citizen, an exemplar of decency and high character. ¶ The president should work to bridge the divides that separate the American people. ¶ The president should possess a strong knowledge of the important issues of our day. ¶ The president should express him or herself in ways that are refined and dignified, worthy of any audience of any age. ¶ The President should understand our immigrant heritage and act with compassion when conceiving policy that shapes the lives of newcomers. ¶ The president should make America a beacon to the world, promoting freedom and stability. ¶ The president should possess the temperament and good judgment necessary to be trusted with the most powerful military on Earth.”

Cruz misses by a good many miles on most of the above, but Trump misses by light years on all of the above. The editorial goes on to say that John Kasich would fit nearly all the above requirements but that he can’t possibly win the nomination. And there you have it, a non-endorsement endorsement.

We watched the first two episodes of Little Big Shots, a show produced by Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey, a show that’s getting some very good press. Steve Harvey does his comic interviews with the tiny contestants before and after we see them do their things. They’re not really contestants since they aren’t competing with each other. They’ve been selected for the show for their unusual abilities, unusual because most of them are so very young and so unexpectedly talented. We saw the four-year-old pianist who had been playing for only three months, playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" flawlessly and like lightning, then telling Steve he liked Bach the best of composers. We saw a five-year-old home-schooled boy who apparently can spell correctly every word in the dictionary. We saw a tiny boy from Japan who could duplicate every karate move, every facial gesture, every scream from a Bruce Lee film in which the actor is kung fuing and swinging a lethal nunchuck. We watched a five-year-old boy shooting small basketballs into a net at least twenty-five feet away and some from even further out or below. And making all but one shot. And he never seemed to be thinking about what he was doing. He just took the ball overhead and threw it. And it went “swish!” All these acts, not exactly disturbing but provacative, made me consider what the human brains is capable of. I’ve heard that most of us make use of only about twenty percent of our gray matter, leaving the other eighty percent to just sit there taking up space in our skulls. Some of us use less than twenty percent, most of whom are now supporting Donald Trump. But what if we could use that other eighty percent? What might we be able to do? Telepathy? Teleportation? Have eidetic memories? Do math problems as fast as computers? That’s the premise behind the tv series Limitless, in which the main character can take a small pill called NZT and become temporarily a genius who aids the FBI in its endeavors to foil the bad guys. Life has become so complex, so frightening, so exciting. I feel a lot like the mom on Zits. And then there’s the son, who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

Saturday, March 19

IRS Scam

At 7:30 this morning, our phone rang. No one we know or are related to would call us at this time. I mean, 7:30? To us retired folk, that’s almost the dead of night. CVS sometimes calls at strange times, but that’s always a computer voice telling us a prescription is ready. And now that we’re in the silly season regarding elections both large and small, we sometimes get an automated computer call about donating money or pledging a vote. But instead of ignoring it, now that I was fully awake, I took the call. After all, it might have been about the death or injury of a friend or relative. It wasn't a computer call and it wasn't that dreaded call about a loved one's injury. It was a call from someone purporting to be with the IRS. A woman, nearly unintelligible with a heavy Hispanic accent, said something about back taxes, that we supposedly owed money from a few years past. I didn’t really understand what she was saying because of the accent, but I kept listening. I wanted to keep her on the line long enough to find out what exactly she wanted me to do, but then she told me that I would be arrested if I ignored her request. She asked me which I would rather do—continue with her call or wait to be arrested within forty-five minutes. I said I guess I’d wait to be arrested, at which point she hung up. I dialed *69 to get the number, 786-358-0951, the area code for Miami. So I called back and was immediately connected to the same woman. Now, I ask you, when was the last time you called a corporation or governmental office and actually spoke to a live person and didn’t have to sit there listening to “hold” music? Yeah, maybe 1960, probably never. I hung up on her before she could again tell me I was going to be arrested. I went on-line to see about IRS scams and found out that millions of calls, especially around tax time, are made concerning taxes due, with threats of arrest or deportation if payment isn’t made, that some $14,000,000 has been scammed since 2013. I find it almost unbelievable that anyone receiving such a call would actually fall for it and give them a debit or credit card number. But then, H. L. Mencken said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” And P. T. Barnum supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And scammers never tire in their pursuit of sucker money. Oh, and by the way, no policemen ever showed up at my door to put the cuffs on me and lead me off to jail.

Wednesday, March 16

Buffoonigans & Quality of Life Today

Just as people are morbidly drawn to accident scenes and find themselves staring at blood and guts, unable to turn away, I’m now fascinated by the articles and Twitter comments about Donald Trump. Every day, I scour the Arizona Republic for Trumpish blood and guts. What’s the Donald been up to now? Doesn’t matter how long or short, I just have to read what’s there. Almost everything and everybody says how awful a presidential candidate he is, what a terrible mistake it would be to actually vote him into the office, what the world must think of us for even considering his candidacy. A few days ago I read a letter to the editor and thought it was so clever I have to include it here:

“It has been said that language is a living and evolving thing. To commemorate the current political climate in which we find ourselves, I have coined a new word: buffoonigan. The definition of which follows: someone who, in defiance of all rationality and common sense, is a committed supporter of The Buffoon. If, by chance, any individuals who can be so described feel my word is mean-spirited and insulting, I invite them to ponder why they find it so amusing when the vulgar insults and name-calling emanate from the mouth of the aforementioned Buffoon.” (Linda Snider, Gilbert, AZ)
Thank you, Linda Snider. I love your neologism, a combination of “buffoon” and “hooligan,” and it so aptly describes both Trump and most of the Trump supporters.

And while I’m on the subject of current political debate, I point to the moaning of so many people and politicians that our economy is almost beyond repair, that President Obama and his ilk have sent us on a path where the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, a sinking of the middle-class and a rising of the upper. But then I saw an editorial by Robert Robb (Arizona Republic, 3/11/2016) that put it in a more proper perspective. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment.

Mr. Robb said: “In the United States, the path to at least a lower-middle-class standard of living remains remarkably straightforward. Get a high school diploma. Don’t have a child out of wedlock. Don’t abuse booze or drugs. Get a job, any job. Be punctual and do assigned tasks diligently. ¶ A lower-middle-class standard of living in the United States today is probably better than that of 99 percent of the people who have ever lived, and 90 percent of those living on the globe today. ¶ Education remains a universally available path to even better. Regardless of how rotten the overall performance of any school, a student who pays attention and does school work diligently can go to college and get a degree. And that’s a ticket to an enviable standard of living in historical and relative terms. ¶ The average American today lives in a larger space than ever before. He shares it with fewer people than ever before. He has more stuff, and his stuff does more stuff, than ever before.”

Yes, I think back to my parents' lives when I was growing up seventy years ago. They'd have been considered middle-class, maybe even upper-middle-class. Yet they didn't have nearly as good a life as nearly everyone today has. Yes, even the lower-middle-class today enjoys a far better life than my parents had--longer, safer, more comfortable, and with a whole lot more stuff to make that life better. Thank you, Robert Robb, for making that so abundantly clear to me.

Friday, March 11

Jim Thorpe & 2001 World Series

After a lengthy and complicated dream about playing in a high school football game (Yes, an old man dreaming of going back to a much less complicated time in his life), four o’clock in the morning again found me staring at the darkened ceiling, thinking odd thoughts about odd subjects.

The football dream led me to thinking about extra points in the NFL. A team, after scoring a touchdown, has the option of going for one point or two. If for one, the ball is placed on the fifteen-yard line; if for two, the ball is placed on the three-yard line. But . . . and it’s a big “but,” what if the extra point by kicking is missed but the other team was offside. Can the team decide to accept the penalty and have the ball placed at the yard-and-a-half line (half the distance to the goal line) to try for two points? Can they do so even if the extra point kick is good? Here’s another “but.” If the team sets up at the fifteen-yard line for a one-point kick but the snap is fumbled and the holder then scrambles and crosses the goal line, does it count as one point or two?

More football thoughts. I remember Burt Lancaster in 1951 playing the legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe in Jim Thorpe—All American. Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of all time, playing both baseball and football professionally, competing in seventeen events in the 1912 Olympics, winning both the decathlon and pentathlon.
Among the many facets of Thorpe’s athletic abilities, I remembered how he would kick field goals not with a holder but simply by dropping the ball on its point and then kicking it through the uprights. A drop kick. And though statistics weren’t kept very well or not at all back at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Thorpe is credited with drop kicking one from forty-five yards. The goal posts were then on the goal line and not ten yards back as they are today. So his 45 yards would be like a 35-yarder now. But still, a player would have to drop the ball on its point and then time it with a kick just as it bounces, and do it as the defense is rushing at him. I wonder what all the soccer-style kickers today would do if they had to perform a drop kick.

And then a baseball thought to go with the football thoughts. I’ve always wondered what the ruling would be if a batter in the ninth inning—two outs, score tied, man on third—got a hit that drove in the winning run but in the celebration the batter didn’t go all the way to first base. Does the run count? Would the other team have to get the ball and throw it to first base to record the third out, thus negating the run scored? Or would the batter, celebrating with his teammates at home plate, automatically be out because he went outside the base line? I thought about the 2001 World Series between the Diamondbacks and Yankees, arguably the best world series ever, and if not the best, certainly in the top five. Luis Gonzalez in the ninth inning of game 7 hit a little blooper to left field off Yankee closer Mariano Rivera that scored the winning run. I can still see Gonzo, arms raised, hopping sideways down the first base line, celebrating his hit and the winning run. But . . . and it’s a big “but,” did anyone see him actually touch first base? I’ve examined on YouTube footage of that moment but it shows the team celebration and not Gonzo’s run to first. It’s a moot point since there was only one out when the run scored and even if Gonzo was determined to be out, that would make only the second out and the run would count. And the Yankees can piss and moan all they want about losing the series to a little pussy bloop single. Diamondback fans still and will always rejoice at beating the Damn Yankees.

Thursday, March 10

Word Jumble

Too often in my dotage I wake up around 4:00 a.m. and stare at the inside of my eyelids, thinking about a dream I just had, or maybe listening to a song I hadn't thought of in decades and decades, or writing a rough draft of the essay I'm going to use on this blog the next day. Lots of stray thoughts to occupy me while I wait for the return of sleep. Last night, I thought back on the word jumble my wife and I together had solved in yesterday's newspaper. And that led me to creating a jumble of my own. I imagined the words to see if they were jumbleable (that is, with only one word possible). And I remembered a pun I'd used from an earlier blog, a pictorial pun that would work nicely for my jumble. If and when you solve my jumble, you'll see how my twisted (Or should that be "jumbled?") mind works in those dark, sleepless nights of the soul. Here's what I came up with.

Wednesday, March 9

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot & Fiddler on the Roof

I love Tina Fey. I’d go to any movie she’s in, just to see her do her comic shtick. I love her lopsided grin that borders on a sneer. I love her spot-on Sarah Palin, and before I ever voted for Sarah Palin for any office, I’d vote for Tina Fey for any office, including president of the United States. However, I may have to revise that love, that attendance, that vote of confidence in light of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. It just wasn’t very good. We got to see Tina as war correspondent Kim Barker in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2003 to 2006. The movie, based on the real Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was listed as a drama/comedy. Drama, maybe, but certainly not a comedy of any kind. We see her in 2003 accepting an assignment in Afghanistan to cover the war, joining the only other female correspondent there, Tanya (Margot Robbie), who shows her the ropes of life in Kabul, the booze, the sex, and yes, the reporting. The story shows her extending what she first thought was going to be only three months to nearly three years, with each year making her more daring in her coverage, looking for that endorphin rush that athletes and cops know from their proximity to victory and danger. And lots of boozing and meaningless sex. This is a film I’ll forget in just a few more days. If I remember it, I may never again see Tina Fey. If I forget it, I’ll probably go to the next one she makes, hoping against hope that it stars the funny, lopsided-grinning Tina Fey.

Last night, we had the extreme pleasure of seeing Fiddler on the Roof at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, and again, they just keep getting better and better, more and more professional, more and more a joy to visit the best theatre in the Valley, maybe in the state, maybe in all states west of the Mississippi. Well, that last may be a stretch, but they’re certainly good. As we were leaving, the cast members were standing in the lobby to say goodbye to us. I made a point of finding Jason Simon, who played Tevye. I shook his hand and told him that Zero Mostel would be proud. I hope he understood what I was saying; I’m sure he must have seen a video of Zero Mostel doing the original Tevye on Broadway. I wanted him to know that his Tevye was every bit as good as Zero’s. In fact, I can’t imagine any theatre group anywhere, including Broadway, doing Fiddler any better. The sets were innovative, the lighting flawless, the costumes accurate, the pit band excellent, the choreography nearer and nearer to professional (especially the three Russians doing the crossed-arms-floor kicks and the slow dance with bottles on top of the head), the voices as good as anyone could want. And Tevye was large as life, both in girth and voice. I guess the only other positive comment I can make is that the dinner was fabulous, pretty much in line with the excellence of this Fiddler on the Roof.

Tuesday, March 8

Demagogues and Pedagogues

There’s a word that’s showing up more and more often this year, “demagogue,” often used when referring to Donald Trump. I don’t think “demagogue” has had such play since the Depression days of Louisiana’s Huey Long or the hysteria of Hitler’s rise in Germany in the Thirties. It means “leader of the people.” Or at least it did originally. But then it took on a negative connotation, as so often happens with some words, coming to mean a really bad leader of people, an orator or political leader who “gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.” Does that have Trump written all over it? The same thing happened to “pedagogue,” which originally meant simply “teacher.” It’s odd that both words, deriving from Greek, have different noun forms: “demagoguery” (de'-ma-GOG-er-ee) and “pedagogy” (pe'-da-GO-jee). A long time ago I wrote a short essay about the linguistic possibilities of “pedagogue.” See what you think.

As an English teacher, now retired, I’ve long admired the word “pedagogue,” even though I’d rather not be called one. It originally meant a teacher, a leader (agogos) of children (paidos or ped), but has now come to mean a bad teacher. The joy in the etymology remains, though, and the possibilities for creating new words are almost limitless.

For example, I often thought of my classes as “pedagroups” and their attempts to understand the intricacies of the English language as “pedagropes.” But then, they had their own kind of “pedagrammar” (Still do). Some female students too often engage in “pedagiggles,” and a group of them would be a “pedagaggle” indulging in “pedagab.” Oh, how often I wanted to be able to use “pedagags!” An especially childish student was a “pedagoogoo.” The quiet, unobtrusive student at the back of the room was a “pedagoodie” who usually wore “pedagoggles.” The class clown was a “pedagrin,” the class Scrooge was a “pedagrump,” and the class dummy was a “pedagoon” whose writing was often “pedagarble.” Those stomach noises just before lunch were “pedagurgles,” and at lunchtime the cafeteria abounded in “pedagobblers” and “pedagorgers.” The bell dismissing class was a “pedagong.” An absent student was a “pedagone.” An absent teacher was a “pedagogueagone.” A retired teacher, such as I, is a “pedagogueago.”

Saturday, March 5

"What Are You Doing . . . ?"

Last week, I submitted a story to Glimmer Train, a really classy magazine that annually has five or six contests for short ficton. This was for really short stories of 300 to 3,000 words. What the hell. Why not? I realize they must get hundreds of submissions, but someone has to win, right? Why not me? It's a little racy but sort of clever also. See what you think.

“What Are You Doing . . .?”

One month after his wife’s death, John is still dazed and at a loss for what he will do with the rest of his life. John, an early retiree from high school teaching at sixty, lives in a retirement community in the Arizona West Valley. His wife Leslie was only fifty-seven when she died rather suddenly, a victim of the kind of cancer that appears one day with stomach pain. The doctors opened her up and found it everywhere, and the end was rapid. He kept assuming that he would be the first to die and would never have to figure out how he would cope with the loss of Leslie or how he would face his last years alone. This home was supposed to be the one they’d live in for at least another twenty years before they had to consider death for either one of them. And now, here he is, still a reasonably young man, alone. And he just doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Leslie and John had gone to the same small Minnesota high school, Leslie graduating three years after John. They had known each other then, but only casually, he being the big senior jock and she the lowly sophomore nerd.

John returned one humid July weekend for a five-year class reunion. He met Leslie in the First National Bank, a temporary summer job at one of the teller windows until she returned to college for her third year. No more the sophomore nerd. Here was a stunning honey-haired beauty that made his humidity rise when he first saw her. More than just his humidity rose.

“Good morning, sir, and how can I help you?” she asked, smiling brilliantly. She knew who he was but she was sure he didn’t know her from a bump in a Minnesota back road. He’d always been too busy charming a bevy of senior bimbos to notice her. And now, here he was.

“Uhh . . . uh,” he stammered, “I need some cash. From my savings account. In Colorado.” He waved his hand, like she should know what he was talking about. “Oh, yeah, you need my account information.”

“That would be good, yes,” she said with that same brilliantine smile.

He managed to give her his account. She managed to give him his cash. He asked her if she’d be willing to go to dinner with him. That evening.

“Yes,” she said. “I’d like that. But don’t you even want to know my name?”

He shook his head up and down, then side to side. “Duh, of course I should know your name.”

“I’m Leslie Johansson. I was three grades behind you in high school, but you probably don’t remember me from way back when.”

They went out, had a dinner he barely tasted or remembered. He was smitten.

They were married three months later.
* * *
Carol Shane, one of the bimbos Leslie referred to, had graduated with John. But she was as far from bimbohood as possible, a charming, intelligent young woman who admired John for his good looks and good sense more than his jock successes. But somehow they had never connected in high school.

She too went into teaching, English, spending her entire career in Montana. She had lost her husband more than a year before Leslie’s death. She and John had known each other all their lives but their contact over the years had been only occasional meetings in their Minnesota hometown for one class reunion or another.

She read about Leslie’s death in the obituary in the local Minnesota paper and felt compelled . . . no, that’s too strong a word for it . . . felt it somehow necessary to console him for his loss with more than a phone call or letter. It was a month away from the start of school. Still hot in Arizona, but why not, she thinks.

She calls John to see if he will agree to her visit. He agrees.

With that, she flies to Phoenix, knowing that John will probably be having a hard time getting over his loss. When John picks her up at Sky Harbor, she at first insists she will stay in a nearby motel while she is there, but he won’t hear of it.

“Hey,” he says, carrying her one suitcase to his car, “I’ve got an extra bedroom and it isn’t as though we’re kids who need a chaperone. Right?”

“Right,” she agrees. “And I guess you know how we teachers have to pinch as many pennies as we can. Okay. But you have to let me take you out to dinner tonight.”

After they get her settled in the guest bedroom and John has given her a tour of his home, they go out to a nearby Outback for a steak and conversation. The steak is excellent; the conversation a little awkward.
“You’re still beautiful, Carol. For an old broad, that is. Must be our Minnesota weather that does it.”

Carol takes a sip of her merlot, looks at John, and smiles. “Thank you, John. Although I’d rather not think of myself as an old broad.” She has to admit it is nice hearing her old friend tell her she is still beautiful. “You want to hear a short, very short, story I wrote not long ago?”

John remembered when they both had taken a creative writing course in high school, how Carol had always wanted to be a writer, had written short stories for the school paper.

“Yes, I’d love to hear something you wrote.”

“Here it is: ‘I do,’ she said. ‘Me too,’ he echoed before the question was even asked. She thought it was too much like him to say it that way, and wondered if maybe she was making a mistake. Father Martin thought it was a sign of how wrong this union might be. ‘Maybe,’ the young man thought, ‘I shoulda said I don’t.’

“There. Short and not so sweet, but oh so true. Well, what do you think?” She sips merlot.

“I think it’s the best short-short story I’ve ever heard. And I like it. Romance, suspense, conflict. And all in about fifty words.”

After dinner, they return to his house for more conversation, this time, with the alcohol lubricant, not so awkward. The subject of sex for elders comes up. John confesses that he and Leslie had struggled with their romantic endeavors. He admits that he had been impotent for several years and that his and Leslie’s relationship had diminished and all but disappeared.

“Even if you and I wanted to . . . dally a bit without a chaperone,” he chuckles, “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to.” He goes on, haltingly, to explain all the remedies he had tried: First, the painful and embarrassing penile injections; then the really embarrassing penile pump that simply didn’t do what it was supposed to do; and finally the little blue pill that only made his face flush and not much else.

“You silly man, you,” Carol says. “Making love and having sex don’t have to have anything to do with the actual act of coitus. Intimacy is in knowing everything there is to know about each other, having no secrets or shameful parts hidden away. And that starts with physical parts.”

She convinces him they should try it. She will lead the way. They disrobe and shower together, scrubbing each other, laughing and talking all the while. They go to his bed and when he wants to turn off the light, she says no. All they are going to do is discover each other.

She begins by showing him various scars and injuries on her body, frankly discussing the ways in which her body has aged, sagging here and there, plumping here and there. She is totally unashamed of her body, showing him everything. Then she asks him to do the same.

He shows her his array of old physical imperfections—the ragged incision when he’d had his appendix removed by a very bad surgeon, the small scar on his forehead from an unfortunate encounter with a car door, the crooked finger from a fastball hitting finger and bat simultaneously. Each time she says, “Oh, poor baby,” and kisses him there. Then he tells her about the time his mother discovered a tick on the end of his penis and how painful it had been. She says, “Oh, poor baby,” and kisses him there, then briefly takes him in her mouth. He laughs nervously and tells her about another time when he tripped and fell leg-straddled on a park bench, blacking and bluing his penis and scrotum. She repeats her act, and he then starts making up story after story and they laugh each time as she poor babies his nether region. By this time, with the kisses and the slow awakening of his manhood, it is obvious he no longer has any problems with potency, but she tells him they must continue their project in intimacy. They explore all aspects of each other’s bodies. He is looking at her as she spreads her legs for his viewing and she tells him about the time a bee stung her, “Right there,” she says, pointing to her special place, her Clytemnestra Castle, and he kisses her there and says, “Oh, poor baby.” She says there was more than one bee and more than one bee sting, and he continues poor babying. “There must have been thousands of bees,” she sighs. By this time they are ready for anything and they couple enthusiastically and very successfully.

Later, he is telling her he hasn’t felt so good in a long time, so . . . masculine in a long time. She assures him his masculinity is well intact.

She spends several more days with him, but she insists they not repeat their first-night act, that she would like to be courted by him, virginally courted as if they were young again with life just starting. He agrees.
After four days of catching up with their lives since high school and college, after agreeing that they might make a senior life together, he takes her to the airport for her return to Montana to rearrange her life there. It will take her at least a month, she tells him, and the month will be a good buffer to see if what they have is truly real. In the meantime, she says, she would like to be courted by mail as well, hard-copy letters instead of e-mails. She wants love letters, she wants to send love letters, she wants them to burn up the postal system with their heat. He agrees. And as he watches the plane take off and ascend into the sky heading north, he feels as though he has a lifetime of life and love ahead of him.

He hurries home, composing in his head his first letter: “I remember a time when I was about twelve and I did a header off my bike and landed in a sticker patch. I had stickers all over the place, but especially from my belly button to my crotch . . .”

Friday, March 4

The Lady in the Van

I remember seeing Maggie Smith when she won the academy award for best actress in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody in 1969, almost fifty years ago. She was then a lovely young thing, mid-thirties, great actress. And recently she’s been seen as a little old lady, raisin-faced, owly-eyed, purse-mouthed, in all the Harry Potters, in the two Exotic Marigolds, and now in The Lady in the Van. I guess what disturbs me is that Maggie Smith is one year younger than I am. How can she looks so very old when the man in my mirror doesn’t look anywhere near as old as she does? One of life’s mysteries. Her role in The Lady in the Van was a tour de force, and one that should have won her a nomination for best actress, almost fifty years after her win for Miss Jean Brody. I’s based on a mostly true story about a woman who accidently kills a young motorcyclist when he runs into her at a country road intersection. But she, thinking she’s to blame, flees and then tries to hide from the police by living in her van. For years. Miss Mary Shepherd becomes simply a cantankerous old bag lady, living in a filthy van, in filthy clothes, with filthy habits. Not a very admirable character. She parks along residential London streets, moving along whenever people complain, finally ending up in front of the recently acquired residence of Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), a middle-aged, semi-successful playwright. We see him doubled, Alan the man talking to Alan the playwright, trying to figure out what to do about the lady in the van. He and other residents along the street treat her far better than she deserves, and when she is required to have a parking permit for her van, he allows her to park temporarily in his driveway . . . where she remains for fifteen years. That seems to be way above the requirements for proper British behavior. Viewers, along with Alan, learn about the woman’s background, about her past as teacher, failed nun, skilled pianist. Was it a great film? No. Was it a great bit of acting on Maggie Smith’s part? Yes. Does she really look that old or was it only in the art of makeup? I hope it was only makeup, because I’d rather not think of myself as her senior by a year.

Thursday, March 3

The Voice

The Voice just began its tenth season, and for some reason, we’ve never watched it until now, opting for American Idol instead. Our mistake. Now, after seeing only two shows to start this season, we realize how much better it is than Idol—better singing, more drama, fun elimination process, and better banter between the judges, with Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Pharell Williams. The eliminations are complicated but understandable, relying on the judges to weed out singers through the first four stages, and with viewer voting to bring the contestants down from twenty to a final three. The preliminary auditions aren’t part of the show as they are on Idol; thus, the blind auditions, in which the judges have their backs turned away from the contestants, include only those who made it through the preliminaries.
The judges then may hit a button to turn their high-back chairs around, in essence saying yes to that performer. If more than one judge turns around, the contestant then chooses which judge’s team to join. If no one turns around, the contestant is eliminated. These blind auditions continue until each judge has a team of sixteen. The next stage, called the Battle Round, has each judge pitting two of his/her team members against each other in a duet, after which their judge chooses a winner. The other three judges each have two saves (taking a loser to join his/her team). After the battle rounds, each team then has ten (eight battle winners and two saves). In the next round, called the Knockouts, each judge pairs two of the team to compete with songs chosen by the judge who then decides the winner. After the knockouts, each team has five contestants remaining, leading to the live performances with viewers voting to see which two of the twenty will be eliminated (just as Idol does it). And finally, down to the last three, the ultimate winner again being decided by viewer votes. Whew! I warned you, it’s complicated. I’ll know how understandable it is after watching the rest of Season 10. How else is The Voice a better format than Idol? No distracting arm waving, much less audience screaming, more interesting banter among judges, better overall quality of performers, less loud, intrusive band arrangements and backup singers, no pre-judging on the basis of physical attributes. I guess the final three from both shows are pretty much equal in singing ability, but the final twenty on The Voice are generally better than the final twenty on Idol. We’re looking forward to seeing how it all plays out this season.

Tuesday, March 1

LPGA Masters

Last weekend I watched the LPGA tournament in Thailand, with Lexi Thompson winning in a walkaway. I still can’t get over the popularity of golf all over the world, in places like India, Chile, South Korea, and Siam. Anna and the king simply didn’t live in a world even remotely like today’s world. About the only places where golf isn’t now a popular pastime are the nations of Africa (South Africa excepted), and, of course, North Korea. I wonder if Greece has any courses. With golf in the upcoming Olympics, it would be appropriate to have a nice layout in Athens.

But back to Lexi and the Thailand Honda Classic. Lexi Thompson is so much fun to watch. She’s athletic, beautiful, and so charmingly unassuming. She was playing in the final round with South Korea’s Amy Yang, another lovely lady. Talk about a contrast in style. Amy has the most fluid, gorgeous swing of almost anyone, male or female. Then there’s Lexi, who simply smashes the ball, up on both toes at impact, and then does that strange follow-through where it looks like she’s going to fall down, a little like the old Arnold Palmer finish where he nearly screws himself into the ground. I swear, now that Tiger is no longer playing, I’m enjoying watching the ladies on tour almost more than the men.

Which brings a question to mind: Why not an LPGA Masters? Would the old Augustan curmudgeons agree to let women desecrate their hallowed halls of ivy? Probably not, even though they love to point to their token black female member, Condoleezza Rice. Which five would be so lucky to stay in the Crow's Nest? Might the winners be donned in pink jackets instead of green?
What would they feel as they crossed Hogan's Bridge on the way to the twelfth green? What stories might they create, like Jack's 1986 win, or Freddie Couples' lucky hangup on the edge of Rae's Creek at twelve, or Tiger's 12-stroke margin in 1997? I'd love to be a witness to their stories. And I’ll bet CBS would get whopping viewer numbers for such an event. How interesting it would be to see how the ladies handled Amen Corner, how they coped with those triple-tricky greens, How they figured the winds on that scary tee-shot on 12, how they’d play the par-5’s, especially those on the back nine. I think Lexi, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, and other long hitters would probably go for 13 and 15 in two. It’s no longer as it was when Nancy Lopez was the standard in women’s golf. These modern bombers are averaging off the tee between seventy and ninety yards more than Nancy (Nancy – 202.5, Lexi – 290.5). That’s a huge difference. C'mon, Augusta, go for it. I and millions of others would be watching.

This week they’re playing in Singapore, with a field that includes Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Yani Tseng, Suzanne Pettersen, Shanshan Feng and Xi Yu Lin from China, and the two youngsters Brooke Henderson from Canada and Charlie Hull from England. And I’ll be watching.

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