Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Politically Incorrect Humor

Okay, it's a terrible stereotype, but:

Old Movies

Flipping the channels on the tube last night and came across Neptune's Daughter, one of Esther Williams' pictures from the late 1940's and early 1950's.

A musical released in 1949, this was a combination of screwball comedy and water ballet, and even won an Academy Award™ for Best Song "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The cross-cutting on this song, sung (lip-synched) by four people in two locations, was terrific.

Esther Williams had been a swimming champion in her youth; during what was called back then Billy Rose's Aquacade, where she swam next to Johnny Weissmuller, she was discovered by MGM and cast in several small roles. These led to starring roles in movies called "aquamusicals," wherein a lot of shapely-women in modest bathing suits swam, dived, and did synchronized routines, shoe-horned into a movie that was an excuse to show them.

They were big hits back in the day, and earned Williams the title of "Million Dollar Mermaid," also one of her movie titles.

This outing, one I'd missed, featured Ricardo Montalban as a South American polo player smitten with Williams, whose character worked designing swim suits at a company in SoCal. Thus the reason to have a water revue, to show off the new line.

Some of you will recall Montalban as Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island from TV, or as Khan, in Star Trek. This was his third movie with Williams, and the pairing worked, making them both stars. He was something of a jock, was Montalban -- if you saw him in The Wrath of Khan, you could see some heavy pec development -- a little droopy, but, yes, those were his -- even in his sixties, and in 1949, when he was not yet thirty, he was much fitter than most leading men of the day.

Keenan Wynn, looking surprisingly dashing as a young man, played Williams' boss at the swimwear factory. Red Skelton was the comedy relief, and if you look closely, you can see Mel Blanc as Pancho, a Mexican violinist. Every time he opens his mouth, you hear Speedy Gonzales, and that's because he was the voice of Gonzales, first as the mouse toon version, then later in Pat Boone's song, "Speedy Gonzales." Good, clean, racist stuff, that, going back to his radio days when he played a Mexican character named "Sy," whose one-word replies to Jack Benny slew audiences.

Mel was a local boy, grew up in Portland, got his start in radio here, then moved to the big time, where he worked for Jack Benny, keeping him in stitches before he became the voices of most of the major Warner Bros. cartoon characters: Bugs, Tweety, Porky, Daffy, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn ... the list goes on and on and on. He taught his son the voices, and when he retired, his son took over.

Um. Back to Neptune's Daughter. It was all terribly fluffy and silly, centered around a case of mistaken identity, with Skelton pretending to be Montalban's character to further his pursuit of a girl; a gangster trying to win a bet by keeping the polo player out of a match; a love story, and much goofy stuff in and around a giant swimming pool. Picture Red Skelton in a two-piece swimsuit pretending to be a woman in the water ballet rehearsal to avoid being grabbed by the gangster's goon ...

I thought it was notable, too, for showing people watching a television set. By 1949, there were already two million of the glass-fronted boxes in the U.S., and the big ones like a DuMont (20" being big) cost a thousand bucks for a black-and-white model. And note that in 1949, the average salary in the U.S. was $1300 ...

They don't make movies like that any more. A pity.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For a Limited Time Only, Another Teaser

(Morocco, by Rick Berry)


From the in-progress novel, Siblings of the Shroud:


(redacted)

An Inconvenient Truth?


So, Al Gore, former Vice-President of these United States, winner of an Academy Award, and the Nobel Peace Prize, and currently an activist working against global warming, has been accused of being a crazed sex-poodle by a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon.

My, oh, my.

The agreed-upon portion of the story is that Al was on a speaking tour in Portland in 2006, and while here, had an outcall massage in his hotel room.

Past that, accounts vary.

The LMT offers that he was all over her like white on rice, and while he didn't do anything that seemed criminal enough to get the police to bring charges, he was Al the Horny Octopus. Got some, ah -- semen on her pants to prove it, which she kept, in case, you know, DNA was ever needed.

Gore doesn't remember it that way. He recalls a pleasant massage, nothing past that.

Several things pop up, so to speak, in my thoughts about this. The therapist offers that she didn't come forward right away because he was worried about her reputation. I can see that.

She got a lawyer and eventually did get around to talking about it some months later, but when the police asked her to drop by and tell them the tale, she didn't go.

Gets a little iffier. You start smelling civil suit instead of criminal charge in the air ...

The National Enquirer, that bastion of fair and unbiased honest journalism, reported the story recently, and the shit hit the fan.

Oh, Al. And after forty years, splitting from Tipper, too.

There are some niggling details that bother me:

The therapist's stunned amazement that man would hit on her seems a little bit disingenuous: It never occurred to her that going to a hotel room for a late-evening hands-on might result in a pass? Really? Never happened before, and she hadn't come up with any way of dealing with it?

The details were such that when she did get to the cop shop, it ran seventy-three pages?

It's he-said-she-said, and you pick which one you want to believe, if either, though there is something buried in one of the accounts I happened across that causes the old eyebrow lift: The bill, which Al apparently paid, for this session was reportedly $540.

Um. For that kind of money, a happy ending might not be a completely unreasonable expectation ...

Did he hit on her? You know how men are -- I can see that possibility.

Is this a shakedown? Is that reported wants-a-million-to-talk-to-the-media story true? I can see that one, too.

Tsk, tsk. How tawdry it all is ...

(Breaking News: We have art -- the cover of the next issue of The National Enquirer)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Math, Logic, and Reality

I'm not the guy to be teaching anybody math, but there is a simple if/then statement that I understand:

If A is > than B and B is > than C, then A is > than C.

You can insert positive numbers of your choice and it works that way every time.

Logic also does this using syllogisms: All crows are black; Joe is a crow; therefore, Joe is black. That's logical. (But be careful -- a thing might well be logical but untrue. In this instance there are albino crows which are white, thus the conclusion is false because the initial statement is false. For it to be both logical and true, both parts of the construction must be true.)

GIGO.

One sometimes makes leaps based on math and logic that don't apply, even though at first look, they seem to do so.

You see this in everything from sporting events to the weather.

If the Bulls always beat the Wolves, and the Wolves always beat the Nets, then the Bulls will always beat the Nets.

They might or might not, but the statement isn't mathematically, nor logically correct. Numerically-larger does not equate to "better," and as everybody who has followed any kind of sport knows, on a given day, the worst team in the league can stomp the best team, much to the delight of some high-risk gamblers who like long odds.

Because, sometimes the smart money is wrong.

It is not logical, as Spock would note, that if I step into a ring and always defeat John, and John always defeats Ted, that I can always defeat Ted; and yet, on some level, I tend to believe that. This is based on experience -- knowing what I know, and what John knows, I interpolate and extrapolate and come to that conclusion.

This lack of logic is the reason that so many people don't pick up and haul ass when the hurricane stomps ashore. I'm am guilty of that one myself: "Well, this house has been here for a hundred years. I personally rode out at least three major storms in it, and it didn't get knocked over, so I'm going with the notion that the one coming won't do it, either."

Nothing logical about that notion at all.

It doesn't always follow that because something has not happened before that it won't happen now. Because nobody ever ran that stop sign and broadsided your car before doesn't mean it won't happen next time you go through the intersection. (Then again, chances of the sun coming up in the west tomorrow are exceedingly small, so sometimes it does follow ...)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Boy Named Sue

Out on the Rez

Now and then, you hear a name and you shake your head. That was my name, you think, you'd change it. Family name is "Hitler?" Maybe shift a few letters around. Maybe, like the old SNL skit, it's pronounced "Az-weep-ay," but if it is spelled a-s-s-w-i-p-e?

Out on the Warm Springs rez, a local got chased by the police recently, and he took it upon himself to sling a little lead in their direction. (Actually, the story says there were two incidents, involving two men and two different tribal agencies, but let's just talk about the one.)

Nobody got hurt.

FBI came in, investigations ensued, and a suspect was identified and collected. Local young man with something of a bad-ass rep, apparently. The alleged miscreant's name?

Waylon Weaselhead.

I figure with a name like that, the boy was bound to grow up bent. Nomenclature is destiny ...


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Contact

A couple weeks back, I saw some neat videos on contact juggling. They do this with glass balls or hoops, and some of it is amazing to watch. So, I thought, here's another way for me to waste time (of which I have an ever-descreasing supply) and so, naturally, I ordered one.

Not glass, but acrylic, and the sucker weighs a pound-and-a-half, so it's interesting how fast your hands get tired. Hits the carpet hard when I drop it, scares the dogs and cat when it thumps.

All I've managed to learn since I got it last week are the most simple of moves, but since this is something I can practice watching TV, I can alternate it with twirling knives, and multi-task, so it's not really taking any time ...

video

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Feeling Good About Yourself?


Not too unhappy with how you look in the mirror?

Go here, tell them if you are a man, woman, over or under thirty, and whether or not you are a drug addict, then upload a current photo of yourself ...

And have a nice day.

Dodging Bullets

In April, I had a nasty chest cold: Productive cough, fever, the usual. It went away, but left a little dry cough now and then, and a tight feeling in my chest.

Okay, that happens a lot: The bronchioles get irritated and inflamed and you develop a case of acute bronchitis. No big deal, two or three weeks, usually, sometimes a month, it fades away.

Two months later, it hadn't gone away. A little tightness in the chest, shortness of breath -- working out or singing, I noticed, now and then a little hacking, still dry. A small wheeze at the end of forced exhalations.

Acute bronchitis is no big deal, but chronic bronchitis, left untreated, whatever the cause, can lead to bigger problems.

And, of course, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so there is a worry about the other crops that can grow and ferment and froth about in one's lungs, and they can range from mildly debilitating to widdershins-down-the-drain-fatal. Asthma, emphysema and other forms of COPD; fungal infections; neoplasms. Couple of my aunts had lung cancer. After seventy years of smoking, my father has emphysema. One of my writer friends died a few years back from COPD.

No fever, no particular misery past what I've already described. But still, it's nothing to screw around with.

So I sucked it up and made a doctor's appointment. Got listened to -- lungs sounded clear. And to be sure, given that I grew up in a family where both parents smoked, plus the family history and all, a couple of other things: A chest X-ray and a spirometer test.

Been thirty years since I had a chest X-ray. They're digital now. Back in my day at the clinic, the tech would shoot the image and the cassette with the film in it went to the dark room where it was removed and fed into a developer the size of a double-wide deep freezer and you waited for it to roll out the other end where it could get stuck up on the light box.

Now, you don't even have to take your T-shirt off. Thirty seconds after the shot, the image scrolls across a computer screen, nicely back-lit. The tech doesn't make diagnoses, and the doc will call me back later, of course, but I know enough about chest films to usually spot something ugly that ought not to be there, and I didn't see that.

Naturally, I prefer a more informed opinion. I'm a long way from my clinical practice days.

The spirometer tests lung function. You take a deep breath and blow into a tube until you start to turn blue. Do that three times for a baseline. Then, in my case, I got a couple spritzes of an Albuterol inhaler -- a bronchodilator -- waited twenty minutes, and repeated it. FEV1 and 6 lung function numbers are beyond me, but I saw the graph and it was normal for somebody my size and weight the first time and not much different the second -- and that could have been because of me figuring out how to do it better.

Could be it's a mold allergy, Lord knows there is enough of that growing around here, we've had record rains and only two days that topped eighty degrees here this year, and it might make it that high today. Maybe if we ever have summer, that stuff'll get cooked.

Or maybe it's just some stubborn remnant of the bug I had. I can get an inhaler to use, though it doesn't seem as if it's going to make much difference, and if it doesn't go away or gets worse, there are always more tests.

My previous visit to the doctor was to get my knee fixed, in the fall of '08. And even though I worked in a clinic for years, I still don't like sitting on the other side of the receptionist's desk.
Not nearly as much fun, though I feel better for having done it ...

Gun Mistake of the Week

I belong to a local writing group, leastways to the extent that I get the newsletter. This month's issue had a piece in it about research. A shooter just across the river -- ex-cop, serious pistol guy -- offers a class in guns for writers, which is a Good Thing.

We've had this discussion before -- if your hero/heroine doesn't know from hardware, no problem, say "Gun" and "went bang." and you are good. But if your sleuth or action hero is supposed to be able to field-strip a tank underwater in the dark while fighting off sharks amidst clouds of spewing oil, then it is a good idea to know a bit more so as not to sound ignorant when you write that scene.

So, one of the writers in the group took the class and then reported back on it. The writer was doing fine, talking about stance and grip and sight picture and all, until he got to the Dirty Harry part.

At the end of the session, he said, the teacher brought out a S&W .44 Magnum revolver -- Dirty Harry's carry piece -- and they got a chance to shoot it. Got to put the bullets into the magazine, aimed, and --

Hold up there a second, Sparky. Magazine? Revolver?

Yep. That's what the writer said.

Now, to confuse things, there was a .44 Automag pistol used in one of the later Dirty Harry movies. And it did have a magazine. But the writer said "revolver." Of course, maybe that's not what he meant; however, it is one or the other, but it surely not both in this case. (There have been "automatic revolvers." Not in .44 Magnum.)

Cowboy shooters call their hog legs "pistols" and that's now fairly acceptable. However: sidearms that ride in holsters or stuck in a pocket or belt aren't all technically pistols, since this term means the breech is contiguous with the barrel. The old dueling flint- or cap-locks were pistols, and when Sam Colt came along, what he made and sold weren't pistols, though people can be forgiven for making the generalization.

So, granted, this pistol-versus-revolver definition is hair-splitting and most people don't know and don't care. Ditto the difference between "clip" and "magazine." They aren't the same. And as more and more people continue to misuse it, it will eventually become the definition. In the grand cosmic scheme of things, it doesn't matter much. But even little errors will stop a reader who knows better and make them wonder: Gee, if he got something I know about wrong, what else is he getting wrong that I don't know about?

You want the reader to relax and trust you. If they don't, you are apt to lose them.

For me, catching a writer in a little mistake is usually not enough to kill my interest -- Lord knows I make enough of my own -- but now and then, it will. I'm not talking about a typo, but about something the writer assumed that s/he knew, but didn't. Schweitzer's Rule: If you don't know it, don't say it.

Take the word "hopefully." Most people get it wrong most of the time -- it doesn't mean "I hope." it means "With hope." -- and pointing this out gets you blank stares, because most people don't know the difference. But if your protagonist is supposed to be some kind of expert in a field, even if they dismiss something in passing as unimportant, they have to demonstrate expertise. You telling me they are an expert doesn't cut it. Show me.

In no definition of "magazine" pertaining to firearms does that word get applied to the cylinder of a revolver. That's just wrong, and if you put that in a book using a protagonist who is supposed to be dead-eyed death with anything that goes bang, that's when you lose my trust.

Least Surprising Announcement of the Day

Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, underwent a liver transplant Wednesday morning at the Florida branch of the Mayo Clinic.

Seems like it was successful, and more power to him, but that he needed one isn't really much of a surprise. When you do enough hard drugs to drop a herd of elephants in its tracks, killing your liver has to be expected; hepatitis is the least of your risks.

Like David Crosby, the new organ ought to keep another icon of geezer rock cranking for a while, and since I like his music, I'm happy to see him get another chance.

He changed his ways years ago, Allman said, but you can't turn back time. Every day is a gift.

Word ...

Curtain Call

Critters who live with you sometimes find the oddest places to sleep. We had a cat that liked to sleep in the bathroom sink. Found him curled up in a black iron skillet on the stove once. Another time with his head propped up on a Cheshire-cat-grin-moon-shaped neon lamp.

Jude will sometimes crawl under the drapes over the French doors and prop his head on a glass brick we use as a door-stop. We think it's way cute.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Practicing

I'm re-reading Glenn Kurtz's book, Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music. Re-reading it, I say, because when I picked it up in the bookstore, it didn't ring any bells, but once I got it home and got into, I realized I'd read it -- or at least part of it -- before. Or maybe I heard about him on NPR, where he's been featured, or in one of the guitar zines. Whichever, it sounds familiar enough so that I'm able to predict what happens next, and some of the stories I know I've heard.

Kurtz was something of a child prodigy on the guitar -- went from folk to rock to jazz to classical, and got good enough to make it into the New England Conservatory in Boston. He worked hard, but looked up one day and realized he wasn't going to be as good as he wanted to be. He quit playing, got a degree and a job teaching -- German and comparative literature --and came back to the guitar years later with a new purpose. He wasn't going to be a professional player, but he could play for love. The book is about how he got there.

It's a long road he took to realize what a lot of us figure out along the way: Being as good at something -- anything -- as you want to be isn't easy. One's reach often exceeds one's grasp -- what are you gonna do?

My attitude is as my splash panel says above, If you do the best you can, nothing else matters worth a damn.

In music, there are many different pedagogies -- i.e., methods of teaching. In classical guitar, a lot of these start with finger exercises and scales -- you sit down, run through these, often with a metronome. Start slow, speed up, seek a machine-like precision -- no buzzes, no squeaks on the chord changes or glissando, varied tone, volume. Once you are warmed up -- and this might take an hour or more -- then you move into playing pieces.

On the other end of the spectrum are the teachers who say repertoire is king. Once you know some basics, then you jump right into playing songs or instrumentals, learn how to make those sound good, and use that for a basis to learn the next piece. That is how most non-classical guitarists seem to learn. Here's a guitar. Here's a chord chart. Here is "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore ..."

Both methods have their pluses and minuses. Both require learning about tone and timbre and sustain; what the instrument sounds like with your picking hand above the sound hole (sul tasto) versus near the bridge (metallico.) Hammer-ons, pull-offs, glissandos, bends, rubato, attack ...

Kurtz's focus on coming back to the instrument moves from technique to tale -- What, he asks, is your story? What do you want to do? Figure that out, and you can determine your methodology. Want to sit solo on a concert stage playing Bach or Barrios? That's going to take you down a different road than if you want to play heavy metal rock or down and dirty delta blues. (Old joke: Know how to stop a classical guitarist from playing? Take away his sheet music. Know how to stop a rock guitarist from playing? Put sheet music in front of him.)

For me, woodshedding is fine. I want to learn how to play the guitar well enough so that I keep getting better. Maybe someday, sit down with somebody else and be able to jam well enough to keep up, but no aspirations to make any kind of living at it. I have an hour, hour-and-a-half a day right now to give it. I'm not very good and won't live long enough to get very good. But I can manage "better." I'm not a musician.

With martial arts, I train because I want to master as much of it as I can, knowing that with any good luck at all, I won't ever have to use the stuff for real. I'm not stepping into a competitive ring for a trophy or cash; no plans to try and clean out the bad-ass biker bar; no desire to open a school and teach. It's a personal journey, and my biggest critic is me.

As a writer, I want to sharpen my edge and keep it honed well enough to continue to sell books. Maybe the odd script now and then. Rich and famous? Be nice, and I wouldn't kick it out of bed, but that's not what I'm focused on.

The blog? I see this not so much scales and finger exercises, (though it makes a nice warm-up,) but as repertoire. It's mostly non-fiction, but I'm still telling a story with most posts. Beginning, middle, and end, an arc, albeit a short one, that starts somewhere, travels a bit, and ends somewhere else, having made -- I hope -- a point.

And the point of this post? It's easier to get what you want once you figure out what it is that you want ...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dinosaur Twitches

Back in the days before home computers, before typewriters with easily-changed typefaces, like the IBM Selectric, the standard manuscript submission for publication had some basic rules:

Type on one side of the paper only; leave margins all the way around; double-space the text, put two spaces after the end of a sentence. Typographical errors had to be cleaned up with some kind of white-out, wet or dry, and if you had more than three of those on a page, you were supposed to junk it and re-type it.

Each page needed to be numbered, usually at the top right hand corner, and it was a good idea to put your name or the title or both up there, too, in case some fumble-fingered assistant editor dropped a couple of manuscripts and had to try to reassemble them. Hard to do without pages numbered.

If you wanted something set in italics, you underlined (or underscored) it. This told the typesetter to set it in italics, whereas actually putting a word in italics might slip past him unnoticed. This could be costly, because the setter actually had to chose a different typeface, insert it, and then go back to the original.

Your copy editor would mark the em-dashes and all on the ms -- those were done with a space, two dashes, and another space -- thus -- and not an actual em-dash as done in the printed version.

Even with the word processing programs of today, most of those rules remain the same. Most book and movie houses want to see manuscripts in Courier, which is pretty much like the standard typewriter imprint. They want the spacing and margins and double-spacing and all, even though that is a snap to change -- select all and zap it, it's done.

You don't have to double space after a period or question mark or exclamation point because the type is justified and your computer will add a little bit for you there.

Up until now, that's how I did my mss. But given that typesetters don't exist any more, and that whatever I submit is going to be electronic, I'm giving up the underlining for italics. Two reasons: First, whatever wp program they use will collect the formatting enough to show these. Second, if I decide to publish something myself, this saves me the step of having to go through and change all the underlines to italics manually -- because my writing program won't do this on a global search. (It will take out the space-double-dash-space and replace it with an em-dash, so I don't bother with those.)

Not that big a deal, but after you've done it one way for a long time, you have to adjust a little bit mentally.

Sigh.

Damned little mammals are stinking the place up, sucking eggs, and if I had the energy, I'd go stomp 'em flat, but there are so many of them ...

Blasphemy

Just saw the trailer for the latest in the spate of remakes, The Green Hornet, out in 3D in January.

Starring ... Seth Rogen as Britt Reid.

Seth Rogen. As an action hero.

And -- oh, man -- played for laughs. Sure, Iron Man and Spidey and even Supe and Bats have plenty of funny moments onscreen, but ... c'mon!

Another classic radio drama that has been transplanted to the theater and/or tube, and each time, there are more winks at the audience, more tongues so jammed into cheeks that you need a battleship's anchor motor to pull them loose.

The Reid/Hornet character was originally the Lone Ranger's great-nephew, and came into being as part of what has become a classic trope, hearkening to Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Shadow -- that of the rich playboy whose secret identity is that of masked vigilante. The best-known of these is, of course, Bruce Wayne as Batman.

But: Seth Rogen. Yeah, he's funny. He writes funny stuff. But as an action hero? At least Adrian Brody has gotten buffed up for the next Predator movie ...

It's enough that I have to worry they are going to butcher Green Lantern. I won't be going to see this one. Bruce Lee is probably spinning in his grave like an atomic-powered gyroscope.

Saving Grace

Last night was the series finale of Saving Grace, Nancy Miller's cop-with-an-angel show.

The series starred Holly Hunter as Grace Hanadarko, (playing against type) a bad-ass, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, sexually promiscuous Oklahoma City detective. Leon Rippy plays her hillbilly angel, Earl, in whom she doesn't want to believe but can't deny. Laura San Giacomo plays Rhetta, Grace's BFF from childhood who is the PD's chief CSI.

Most of the rest of supporting cast are quirky and on-target, and most of them named after towns in Oklahoma, where the series creator Miller grew up.

The series was passing strange, odd-ball, slightly off, but almost never on-the-nose, which I loved. ("On-the-nose" meaning that a show is entirely predictable.) Grace was good at heart, a long-lapsed Catholic, and her hard-livin' started her out drunk, whereupon she ran down and killed a pedestrian. When Grace called on God for help, Earl showed up and allowed that Grace was headed for hell, she didn't change her wicked ways and turn herself over to God.

The show's three seasons are all about Grace resisting the call.

Produced by Fox and on basic cable -- TNT -- the show got very convoluted, and at the end of the second season, with apparently six episodes of the third season in the can, Fox cancelled it. It had good ratings, but it wasn't making enough on DVD sales and foreign rights, and was spendy, so they allowed the writers to add a final three episodes to wrap it up.

Lest anybody here forget, Hollywood isn't about quality, it is all about the bottom line.

The show was about redemption, with a vein of good versus evil running through it. Characters died, and in ways both expected and unexpected. You'd see it coming, but you didn't believe it when it happened. It was violent, shading into R for nudity and language, and a showcase for Hunter to chew some excellent scenery.

A few years ago, HBO did an adult western series, Deadwood, with Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, which was the grittiest and most-swear-words-per-minute show ever aired. I loved that, too. I put Saving Grace in that same category of riveting, gonna-be-a-trainwreck, can't-look-away TV, of which there is not nearly enough. (Olyphant now plays a toned-down modern version of that sheriff in Justified, one of my current guilty pleasures, on the FX network.)

Since you might get around to watching the DVDs or streaming the series, I won't give away the Grace ending. It went pretty much where I thought it was going to go. It felt a little rushed, and there was one way-too-hokey moment at the end I wish they hadn't put in, but otherwise, it ended the arc as I would have done, had it been me writing it.

Adiós, Grace ...

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Buy a Vacuum Cleaner

I mentioned that our old vacuum cleaner had a stroke and shorted out, and since dog hair never sleeps, we went looking for another one. If we waited more than a couple of weeks, we'd need machetes to get out of the house ...

I've seen all the TV commercials for the gosh-wow Dyson, and it looks cool and high-tech, but it is spendy. We dropped by Costco, checked online reviews, and decided to go to the local vacuum cleaner store, Stark's, where we could do side-by-side comparisons.

We told the manager what we had -- the Kenmore/Panasonic upright -- what we wanted the new machine to do -- suck up the dog and cat hair -- and that we hoped it would last as long as the old one.

He grabbed three upright machines: Dyson's Animal-hair model; a cheaper Hoover; and a Simplicity, also much cheaper than the Dyson. (I don't like canister vacs, the hoses never last.)

He took a handful of dog hair from a handy jar and rubbed it into the carpet and then ran the three machines.

Took the Dyson three tracks to clear the swatch, but it cleaned it good. Took the Hoover four. Took the Simplicity two, and it looked cleaner. Yep, it had bags, and no bells and whistles, but a steel roller instead of plastic, and three hundred bucks cheaper?

Hmm.

Guy laid the Simplicity down and then stood on the body of it. Made in America, he said, same plastic they use for football helmets. Don't want to do that with the Dyson. Uses bags, but you'll probably get eleven or twelve years out of it if you bring it in every couple of years for a tune-up, at $24 a whack. Four-year guarantee -- and the Dyson has a five-year guarantee, but, it will be dead by six or seven.

Much of his business is repairing these critters.

He could have tried to sell us the six or eight hundred buck machines, but since we had been happy with the old one and this was pretty close to it, and, allowing for inflation, about the same price?

Hmm.

Oh. And he had a dog at home, too. And this was the one he had.

Hmm.

Consumer Guide gave it a Best Buy rating.

Good enough for me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Civility

So we took the camper and went to the Gorge for a couple of days. Caught a break on the weather; we had a little rain after dark and in the early morning, but mostly sunny after that, even though the forecast called for rain.

Amazing to me that we walked to the river and the wind howling from the west was white-capping the water and gusting to what had to be 45-50 mph, but a hundred yards away in the trees, there was no discernable wind. Could have lit a candle.

Shows what a funnel the river is, and how wind will take the easiest route when it can.

On the way there, we pulled into a truck stop in Troutdale to get gasoline. The truck stop's cash price was almost fifteen cents a gallon cheaper than the credit card price in town, and when you have a 55-gallon tank, that mounts up.

The stop was busy. Two rows of pumps, four lines of traffic, port and starboard. There was a Popeye's Fried Chicken place and quick-stop market next to the lot, and several cars that were parked nose-in at the sidewalk, all empty.

We pulled into one of the lines, had three cars in front of us, a couple behind us, and to the left, with the parked cars on the right.

After a couple of minutes, we moved up. Friday afternoon at the gas pump, made slower because in Oregon, you can't pump your own petrol. Us and, I think, New Jersey, only two states where that still happens. Got to wait for the attendant.

A woman came out of the chicken place and got into a car parked nose-in. We were blocking her, but there was no place to go. She lit her engine and leaned on her horn. Tried to jockey out, couldn't, then hit the horn again.

(Dont'cha just love jackasses who, while sitting a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic -- usually right on your rear, decide that their horn is like Harry Potter's wand, and if they use it, the cars in front will somehow magically disappear? My reaction is usually less than sanguine: Yeah, that will help, asshole ...)

Mmm. So after a moment, the woman got out of her car and stomped over to where I was sitting in the passenger seat. "You have to move," she said. "You're blocking me in."

Right away, I'm thinking, how did a blind woman get a license to drive? Because anybody with any vision can see there is nowhere for us to go. What -- I'm supposed to get out and hoist the twelve-thousand pound camper over my head so she can back out?

But I was blocking her egress, so I tired reason: "We can't move right this second." I pointed at the cars around me -- as if that was going to help. Like maybe she couldn't see them, but me directing her attention to them would do the trick.

Didn't. Do the trick.

This was an angry person standing at my window. Her face was ... pinched is the term I want, and florid. She was really pissed off. An unhappy woman, and from her look, not just about the current situation. Probably in her thirties, and if I had to guess, tipping the scales at around three hundred pounds.

"Why did you have to block me in?!" Venom dripped from her voice.

I just stared at her. I wanted to say, "Sure, lady, we drove from Beaverton over here though Friday afternoon traffic to do just that. We knew you'd be here, and we were waiting for our chance, because we live just to make your life more miserable than it already must be. We are part of the conspiracy to do that."

Or, I could have pointed out that when we got there, she wasn't in her car and nowhere to be seen, and we'd be out of the way in two minutes, tops.

But I didn't. The time for reason had come and gone. I just shook my head and said, "Go get back in your car. We'll move as soon as we can."

She stomped off, and have a terrible fucking day.

My wife, who is mostly a vegetarian and a yoga teacher and as peaceful a person as you are apt to meet, said, "I hate it that I feel this way, but -- I just wanted to slap her!"

Me, too. Well, except for the hate-it-I-feel-this-way part ...

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Blank Cartridge


The state of Utah executed Ronnie Lee Gardner last night. Five anonymous shooters with rifles, one of whom had a blank charge, the others with live rounds. Strapped him to a chair frame, hooded him, put a small white target over his heart. Blam.

It was his choice. Utah did away with the option -- dance with bullets or ride the needle -- but Gardner was sentenced to die before they did, and that was his pick. He and his lawyers fought it for years, but his time finally ran out.

He was a bad guy, a career-criminal. He attempted escape, then did escape from prison, severely battering a guard, and during the course of an armed robbery following his escape, he shot and killed a bartender. A girlfriend managed to get a gun to him during his trial and he killed an attorney during his escape, shot a baliff, who survived, and took hostages.

In prison after his murder conviction, he stabbed a fellow inmate, and at one point, broke the barrier between himself and his girlfriend in the visiting area, barricaded the door and had sex with his girlfriend while the other prisoners watched and cheered. There is some question as to whether or not she was a willing participant.

You have to look a bit to find this stuff -- most of the accounts gloss over what a bad man he truly was and focus on the execution.

This wasn't a guy who made a mistake and then repented and changed his ways. He was a lethal danger right until the end.

Live by the gun, die by the gun.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beyond Me

Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce (Ulysses)

Kinda dumps the dumb-blonde notion on its ear. (I confess that I found Ulysses opaque enough to use for welding goggles, and I gave up after fifteen or so pages -- and that was back when I was young and determined ...)

The picture was supposedly unstaged -- Monroe was actually hauling the book around and reading it, according to the photographer. Then again, she appears to be looking at the last page, which is usually blank ...


Movie Madness


Mostly from a post I did on another site:

My wife and I saw Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (written by Roger Ebert) in 1970 or so, on an all-night movie crawl in and around L.A. Right after, I think, Ice Station Zebra. Part of a multiple bill with the Lee Remick/Temple Drake version of Sanctuary, as I recall.

(Why we wanted to do this, I don't recall. But we got a baby-sitter, my sister-in-law, and off we went.)

Dolls showed at one of those fifty-cent admission theaters in central L.A., probably Broadway, where they kept the sound cranked really loud to keep the homeless (called bums, back in those days) from sleeping. You could still smoke in the back of movie theaters, and the floors were an inch or two deep in mummified popcorn and Coke syrup and long-dead Jujubes. Not the greatest venue.

Probably around two a.m. when we got there, and we'd seen five or six movies by then and were getting punchy.

Halfway through the picture a man ran down the aisle and slammed out the emergency exit; a beat later, two of LAPD's finest charged down the aisle and after him. Nobody in the theater gave it much notice that I could tell -- half the audience snored away unperturbed.

Not to be a spoiler on a forty-year-old exploitation movie, but the line near the end, from David Gurian's paraplegic character Harris (whatever happened to Gurian?) -- "I can walk!" almost put my wife and me giggling onto the begrimed and surely-diseased floor. It became part of our private couple-speak thereafter. When something unbelievable happened, one of us would look at the other and offer it up, in an amazed voice.

"I ... I can walk!"

Thanks, Roger. I owe you that one. And for a distant connection to a nice review -- I had a few uncredited lines in the Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm, written by the story editors of the TV show, one of whom (Reaves) was my collaborator.

Problem with being a writer who gets published or onscreen is that it is always there to haunt you. I had a character hiss the word "damn" in a story once. Can't do this. Noooo sssssibilants. Fucking editor let it pass. My writer friends downtown never let me forget it. I was once afflicted with a major case of exclamation point poisoning. I misused "hopefully." I had folks blinking their eyes and shrugging their shoulders. And those are the mildest examples I admit to -- I've done worse. Then again, them stories got published and I got paid for 'em which offered a bit of Gileadian balm ...

Don't bogart that joint, my friend ...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weather or Not

So, as of last night, it is officially the rainiest June in Portland since they started keeping records, and it's only the middle of the month.

And it is raining now.

Also managed to set a record low/high temperature. That is, the high temperature day before yesterday barely made it into the sixties, ditto yesterday, and more of the same is predicted for today, tomorrow, and the rest of the seven-day forecast.

We have had exactly one day this year when the temperature hit eighty degrees F. (By contrast, the overnight low in Baton Rouge yesterday was ten degrees more than our daytime high was.)

I know there are people in the country who'd happily kill somebody for a couple of cool and rainy days, but the moss and the mold are beginning to totally obscure the rust around here. I am ready for summer. Winter has gotten old.

I'm going to have a devil of a time come the next Ice Age.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God As An Art Critic





The sixty-foot tall statue of Jesus, in front of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, was hit by lightning during a recent storm. It caught fire, burned, and left only a charred metal frame.

The famous local landmark, sometimes known as Touchdown Jesus, for obvious reasons, was not considered to be the finest representation of Christ. When photographed at the right angle with the reflecting pool in front of it, more than a few people noticed that it appeared Jesus was drowning.

Kind of makes you wonder if it was on God's to-do list -- create some planets in Andromeda, throw a comet at Jupiter, and, oh, yeah, take down that butt-ugly statue in Monroe, Ohio ...

Suck It Up

So the vacuum cleaner gave up the ghost. It's an old beast -- we've had it for a long time, I remember it as fifteen years, but I could be wrong, since I also had it in my head that we bought it at Monkey Wards. That's not so, since it's a Kenmore (probably made by Panasonic) and sold exclusively at Sears.

It's a good machine, heavy, draws twelve amps, and pretty good at cleaning the carpets. The only place I can find bags for it locally is Stark's, a shop that sells and repairs vacuum cleaners.

After years of dog and cat hair, small toys and roller-wrapping string, the purple monster is battered. The plug fell apart a year ago, and I spliced another one on. Last time I used it, I was almost done when it began to spit sparks, crackle like something out of Frankenstein's lab, and died, emitting a small cloud of smoke and ozone.

Lot of things have happened in the vacuum cleaner world since we got a new one. Don't have to have bags any more. There are roller balls that look like the old toilet tank floats instead of wheels. Things that don't lose suction, whatever that means.

Probably we'll truck on over to Sears and get a new one before the dust bunnies start lining up in the kitchen when it's time to feed the dogs ...

Creatures of the Night

One-thirty a.m. and my little dog went off, woofing and scrabbling down the hall. I got up, put on my glasses and went to see why. I figured it was the cat, who sometimes gets rambunctious in the wee hours, but I, uh, equipped myself as a precaution.

Jude looked up from his bed and figured Layla and I could deal with it. Went back to sleep.

It was the cat, sort of. He had caught a baby bird, either fallen out of a nest or collected by a climbing predator, too young to fly, and mostly dead -- but not quite. It had squawked, and Layla had heard it.

The cat had left the critter on the floor, and when I got there, the dog was carrying on. As I arrived, Layla decided it was prey and grabbed it up. I couldn't tell at first whether it was a bird or a bat, so I gave her a "Leave it!" and shooed her away.

Those of you with indoor/outdoor cats have no doubt been surprised with little gifts like this. Mostly here it's mice. Now and then a frog or bird. We once had a cat brought us everything from hummingbirds to a small rabbit.

So here's the ethical question of the day: You have a wounded baby bird. You have no clue where its nest might be -- could be in one of the potted plants hanging from the eaves or fifty feet up a fir tree or in a bush. The creature is wounded, probably mortally. Now what?

You going to hop into your car and drive to Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital ten miles away? Toss the bird into the yard and let nature take its course? Or put it down?

I didn't think it would survive, and if by some miracle it did, then what? Hand-feeding it in a house with a cat that already knows what birds are for?

A trip to the Audubon Society?

The kindest thing, I figured, was to put it out of its misery. Which I did.

Last time we had a bird, a parakeet, it lived for five or six years and then had a stroke, began having a kind of rolling tetany. He was a goner, and I eased his passage.

Fortunately, I haven't had too many dogs who lived long enough to develop debilitating medical conditions -- but I have had a couple. And fortunately, I live where good veterinary care is available. But if I lived in the country way the hell and gone from help and my dogs got to the place where they were suffering and it couldn't be made better, I'd help them out -- I feel that's part of my responsibility as a pet-owner.

There comes a time when the dog or cat or bird is ready to go -- and you can finally let them --and keeping them once they are in constant misery because you can't do what needs to be done is, for me, wrong. When my German Shepherd Dog developed a condition called DM, we fought the good fight -- medicines, vitamins, got her a cart when her hind legs went out, leather booties for her dragging paws. I carried her out to pee, carried her back in to her bed. Cleaned up when she couldn't stir herself enough to let me know she needed to go out. It was terrible.

We didn't want to let her go, she was our baby. But the time came and we had to admit it. If you love your animals, you know how it feels to let one go. The joy of companion animals is tempered by knowing that mostly we outlive them.

There's a lyric from Mr. Bojangles:

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about/
The dog up and died, he up and died/
And after 20 years he still grieves ...

I can understand that.

We have assisted suicide for people here in my state. I voted for it. I like my dogs more than I like a lot of people ...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Geezer Action Movie - The Expendables

You probably want to watch this on YouTube to get it in HD widescreen, just double-click on the movie and it'll take you there. You'll have to watch a commercial up front.

Looks like a Seven Samurai plot, but, big surprise and so what? They creak, but they are still moving. Gotta love it if you are an old guy like me ...

Favorite Fast Draw Scenes

Now and again, I get tickled in a movie. Years ago, when I saw the following scene from Get Shorty, this was one of those times. It doesn't really need any set-up, but the dialog between Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) and Jon Gries (Ronnie Wingate) is terrific -- a great example of how not to get into a gun fight. Rated R for violence and language.

Moving to the Dark Side


Okay, the picture tells the story, sort of ...

My first instrument, back in Music-Art-Speech in 7th grade, was an ukulele. (The proper way to say this word, I am told, is not with a hard "u," as in "you," but a soft "ooh," so it's "ooh-kah-lay-lee." We learned to tune it with the "my-dog-has-fleas" standard tuning, i.e., G-C-E-A, from the fourth to the first string. I never owned one, we played them in class.

That is pretty much all I remember about it.

But the ubiquitous uke has made a comeback, and in the right hands, it will amaze you -- go listen to Jake Shimabukuro play Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Yeah, he's playing an instrument that cost more than my guitar, but still, if this doesn't amaze you, you have a tin ear.

Um. Anyway, the guitar gives me more than enough to worry about and I had no desire to get into the ukulele, but Saturday, we attended a fund-raising auction for my grandsons' school, and part of the silent auction was the instrument pictured above. I put a little bid on the sheet, passed by later and saw that somebody had upped it five bucks, so I shrugged it off. Hey, I offered.

My wife sneaked back when I wasn't looking and upped my bid another five bucks.

So I got it for about what you'd pay for it if you bought it from Amazon.com, a few bucks less than if I'd bought it in a shop. The money goes to a good cause. Took me about fifteen minutes to figure out Pachelbel's Canon in D with mostly first-position chords, and probably I can figure out how to make major and minors and slide them up the fretboard. Only has twelve frets and those frets are itty-bitty things, but I'm thinking maybe some down home blues might be fun.

Or maybe something like this:

What Comes Around Goes Around ...

For the steampunk fans:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rejections

On a site I visit, a writer who is having trouble getting her stuff into print offered up that she was mightily depressed over this. I spoke to it there, and decided it was worth putting up my response here:

The late John Creasey, who, depending on whom you believe, got something like 700 rejections before he sold a book. Over his subsequent career, he produced more than 600 hundred books.

Gary Cooper is reported to have said that Gone With the Wind was going to be the biggest flop in history and he was glad it was Gable who was going to fall flat on his face and not him.

The editor of the San Francisco Examiner is reported to have told Rudy: "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."

Wonder what that editor's name was?

Nobody wanted Frank Herbert's Dune in droves. When it finally came out, it was from Chilton Press, known for their auto repair manuals, and it got a minimum print run. Today, it is usually pointed out as the best-selling SF novel of the modern era.

John Kennedy Toole's novel, A Confederacy of Dunces garnered no publisher interest and depressed him so much that he killed himself. Eleven years later, his mother found a publisher, and sold millions, winning the Pulitzer Prize.

Emily Dickinson.

I'm a so-so writer on my best day and I got 300 short story rejections the first year I was giving it a go. But since then, I've managed to keep enough of a literary fire going to help keep the house warm.

The only sure way to lose the game is to quit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Did It Have to be ... ?


Snakesssss ...

And for those of you who don't do Los Links! this story is about a guy in Omaha who was showing off his boa constrictor. It wrapped itself around his neck and killed him. Twenty-five pound snake.

Top Shot


I'm not a fan of "reality" shows. I could not care less who gets kicked off the island, though I confess I kind of like the cooking shows where it is chef versus chef -- it's fun to watch people cook under pressure.

But, it seems, they have made a show for me -- Top Shot, on the History Channel.

The set-up: Sixteen shooters, from various disciplines -- rifle, pistol, archery, etc. -- are brought together in one of those big honkin' houses, divided into teams -- a blue and a red -- and then given a challenge (after a practice session.)

Winning team is safe, losing team has to pick two members for a shoot-off, and loser of that goes home.

The first challenge was a series of token obstacle courses -- under barbed wire; through a stick maze; along a rope; slogging through a water pit; one obstacle each team, at the end of which the pair had to fire rifles at targets set up at fifty and a hundred yards.

The first three weapons were "historical," a 1903 Springfield, Mosin-Nagant Tokarev SVT-40, and an M14. Each shooter had one exploding target. Soon as both were hit, the next two-person squad tag-teamed in. First team to bust all the targets won.

There is the usual rainbow coalition of contestants -- mostly white guys, mostly cops or ex-military, some gun buffs, several professional shooters. One black guy, one woman, one asian, one kid, one old guy (48 is supposed to be old here).

In the first contest, Mike, the red team leader, went on in a V.O. about how his team had the advantage and how they were gonna smoke the blue team, yadda, yadda, which brag is always a bad idea.

Mike was first up, paired with Andre. One guy shot, the other was the spotter. Andre hit the fifty yard target after a couple shots. Mike set up on the 100-yard target. Shot and missed. Shot and missed. And missed and missed and missed and ...

Meanwhile, the blue team went through the whole course and took the match.

Mike never did hit the target. With a weapon he supposedly dialed-in the day before, and picked because he thought he was the best choice.

Selection of the two for the shoot-off was hokie but fun -- there were targets with each contestant's name on one and the way they chose the two was to fire one round each into the name of the guy they wanted.

Wound up, to nobody's surprise, that Mike, the guy who couldn't hit his target was selected. The other was the kid, Kelly. The shoot-off was with a modern scoped rifle, three targets, two hundred, four hundred, six hundred yards. Each had a spotter, first to hit 'em all won.

There was a pretty good wind blowing the flags by the targets.

Unfortunately for Mike, Kelly the kid is on the U.S. National Rifle Team, knows all about long-distance rifle work, and can shoot smiley faces on his targets, so Mike went home. And rightly so. Twenty-odd rounds with a 1903 Springfield at a hundred yards and most of them weren't even on the board. Sheeit.

Next up, pistols, with the 9mm Beretta ...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

And Just for Fun

Skill

There is a form of crystal -- read: acrylic -- ball manipulation, sometimes called contact juggling, and done well, it's fascinating to watch. There are a bunch of vids on YouTube, and if you watch these, you can run down some of the other links at the end.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Watered Steel


Check out Chuck Pippin's random-pattern Damascus blade, made as a 60th birthday present for Buzz Smith and presented at the 10th annual Gathering of the Tribes last weekend in Grand Rapids. You can read about it on the KSMA blog, by Jay, Terry, and Chuck, here.

Plus see pictures, including the pink bunny slippers presented to Bobbe Edmonds.

Major Questions in Life

Written by Billy Rose in 1924, this song originally said "Spearmint" instead of "chewing gum." Lonnie Donegan, the skiffle guy who was a big influence on Lennon and McCartney, changed it because the BBC wouldn't play stuff that used trademarks in it.

But I never knew there was a version with Sha Na Na.

Be warned: This might cause you to go blind, insane, or both ...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Can't Have Fun, Why Bother?


Ninja Death Camp 2010

Buncha of martial artists get together every year for a kind of tribal gathering in the midwest. I won't narrow it down to a particular state. Lot of SE Asian stylists, some Chinese arts, odds and ends. They train, swap off teaching, and apparently drink lots of beer. This picture came from that.

I can't come up with a caption -- the mind boggles. (Photo is by Anton Buntić.)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

When the Rain Comes



Weather guy last night said we'd get a little rain, maybe a quarter inch or so, today.

Got maybe an inch and a half, and showers still in the forecast The little creek down the road overflowed enough to stop traffic on the cross-street next to it.

Must feel great to be a weatherman and have to listen to people carping at you when you miss it by this much ...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cain't Spel

The Champ: Anamika Veeramani, 14, of North Royalton, Ohio

Happened to catch the tail end of the National Spelling Bee last night on the tube. Bunch of kids, youngest was eleven, oldest, around fourteen. Cleveland can't win at basketball, but they apparently know not only the Queen's English, but all the other languages, too.

Me, I'm a full-time professional writer with, I like to think, a fair vocabulary, but I haven't won a spelling contest since I took the title in Mrs. Tillery's class in third grade at age nine, with "handkerchief." (In Louisiana, that "d" is always silent, but I'd read the word before. Big advantage, knowing how to read in a spelling bee.)

But: I got exactly two words right during the finals last night: netsuke and juvia, and neither of them English. The former is a small Japanese carving, and I knew it because I have one on my katana's handle. The later is a South American word for Brazil nut. The "u" is usually silent in netsuke, so it's pronounced "net-ski." The "u" is offered as an alternative pronunciation. And the nut word is given the Spanish "h" for the "j." Fortunately, the alternative way of saying it uses the "j" sound -- thus " joo-vee-uh," so I got that one, too.

Rest of them? Not even close ...