Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mencken's Dictum

Are you tired of seeing stories about some rube in Missouri who got nineteen thousand dollars for a cheese sandwich with Mother Mary's face on it? Of a yahoo in Minnesota finding a valuable Cheeto that looks like Jesus walking on water that he hawked for big bucks on Ebay? Some McJob kid who finds Moses on a potato in the fry basket and sells it for enough to get himself a used car?

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* How to open and reseal potato chip, corn chip, and even Pringles containers so that no one can tell. Imagine it as you open a Frito bag in the 7-Eleven, complete with the inert gas pop! that announces a never unsealed bag and come out with A FRITO THAT LOOKS JUST LIKE JESUS HEALING THE LEPERS, right in front of the amazed clerk's eyes!

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Friday, May 29, 2009


When my father was in the hospital with pneumonia, he got disoriented and combative -- kept seeing things, pulling his IV out, taking apart the cardiac monitor -- being an engineer and all.

I got worried that he might be off the beam once he got home, so I called my sister and asked her to see if there were still any guns in the house.

Most of the rifles and shotguns and even handguns, he had given away. He'd kept one, loaded, in the closet, and my mother found and moved it.

I brought it home, so that if paranoia flared, nobody would get shot accidentally.

The revolver, an Iver Johnson .22 target model, was one my mother won at a raffle more than fifty years ago. It's an eight-shot, not much gun, and even in great condition, not worth much. But it was the first handgun I had a chance to shoot, that and a .22 High Standard semi-auto pistol that now belongs to my nephew, who also got the 16-gauge Browning.

Sometime in the near future, I'm going to take the oldest two grandsons out to the range to shoot Pop's gun. Seems appropriate, somehow ...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Couple More Pictures from Dixie

Corn, hush puppies, potatoes on the ice chest. Speckled trout and batter in the bowls to the right.

Semi-tropical Sunset

Disturbing News

So, just back from a babysitting session with my youngest grandson, and, while watching a video of The Wiggles -- those of you who have small children know all about them, and those of you who don't, well, you don't want to know ... I came across something most disturbing.

To the non-connoisseurs among you, The Wiggles are not nearly as bad as Barney the Dinosaur, as apt to cause diabetes as Bob the Builder, or as insipid as Dora the Explorer, because the music is actually not bad. The Australian version of Sesame Street, only aimed at two-year-olds. Blues Clues has the edge, but The Wiggles get by because you can dance to them.

Although the refrain, "Fruit salad, yummy, yummy ..." is going to take on a new meaning for me.

And of course, none of these are in the class with Boobah, which is flat-out an acid trip from the git-go. Guaranteed to blow your mind, trust me on this. I think I remember seeing them live in the woods somewhere in the Sixties -- a cross between The Body Snatchers and Orange Sunshine, with a dollop of Purple Haze. If you ever have a chance, watch an episode of Boobah. You'll never be the same.

Okay, okay, I've been stalling, I admit it. I might as well just say it. If you have small children, cover their eyes:

Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus are cross-dressers.

It's true. They tried to hide it by using male actors to voice Wags and Henry, but inside those suits?

Girls. Girls, by all that's holy!

Not that there's anything wrong with being girls, some of my best friends are of the female persuasion, but what kind of example is this for our youth? Cross-dressing!

I mean, we all know about Tinky-Winky the Teletubby, who is queerer than a nine dollar bill, but this Wiggles business is much more insidious. Tinky-Winky is a gimme -- the name, the purse, c'mon, nobody is trying to hide anything there, easy for anybody to see it. But Wags? And Henry?

O, the calumny! O, the humanity!

Where is Jerry Falwell when we need him?

Oh, yeah, I forgot, he's dead. And if there is any justice in the cosmos, roasting on a spit six levels down in tropical Hades ...

Maybe Dan Quayle will step up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Okay, I Wasn't Gonna Put This Up, But ...

There has been, um, a change in the White House ...

(Blame Todd, he sent it to me.)

Pachelbel's Curse

Okay, so it's gauche to admit it in classical music circles, but I'm a fan of Pachelbel's Canon in D. I love it, first time I heard it, it called to me, and it has ever since.

So I determined to learn how to play it, sort of, on the guitar. (You can't really play a canon with only one instrument because, like a round, you need at least two voices, and more are better. There are some guitarists who can use electric instruments, and by tapping, get both a bass and melody line echoing at the same time. That's not ever gonna happen here.)

I found a couple of versions, extracted what I could from them, added in my own flourishes, and have been, for the last several years, fiddling with it, adding in bits here, taking them out there.

On a good day, I can play it through from start to finish as clean as anything else I can manage. But every time I have turned on a microphone or a camera, I have developed a case of Red Light Fever (though in my case the go light on my mic is green) and, Lordy, Lordy somebody has to call the SPCA 'cause of all those clams I start hitting ...

Me and the dogs, I can play it clean, no sweat. Turn on the recorder, clunk! Every time I try to lay it down.

This is about as close as I have come lately. It is my current musical goal to be able to play the piece all the way through without a mistake, so this is the baseline ...

Sweeping the Cat

So, while at my mother's house, I met Darryl. Darryl is a neutered, de-clawed tom, one of three that my mother feeds. Not her cats, she points out, even though she feeds them thrice a day, and they tend to hang out close to her house. Darryl and Princess belonged to a family that up and moved one day and just left them behind. Gypsy was one of the barn-cats my father used to feed before he stopped walking to the back of the subdivision to do that.

Darryl is old, and he sleeps on a towel on the glider on the patio. My father goes out and sits with him and combs his hair now and then.

Not my mother's cats, but if they don't show up for a couple meals, she goes looking for them. And when the weather gets bad, they sleep in the garage on a blanket she puts down for them.

My mother feeds the cats, along with about fifty varieties of birds -- all I saw when I was there were hummingbirds, sparrows, blackbirds, mockingbirds, jays, crows, woodpeckers, wrens, nut thatches, starlings, bluebirds, and doves, but there are a bunch who come at other times of the year -- and while she's slacked off on feeding the squirrels, there aren't any skinny ones in her yard.

But Darryl: My mother discovered when she was trying to sweep the pine needles off the back walk that Darryl would attack the broom. But here's the fun part:

Look Away, Dixieland ...

Crawfish - Before

Crawfish - after

The Old Oak Tree

Magnolia bud

Those of you who drop by here with any frequency will have noticed that that urine bag was up a long time. 'Twas because I was away from the keyboard. Away from the state. Almost away from the country, having spent the last five days in Louisiana ...

If you could hear my voice right now, it would be dripping with corn pone and chittlins, and you'd be looking around for the rest of the cast of Gone With the Wind ...

I went to visit my folks, to see how my father's Alzheimer's was progressing, and how the family was in general: Mother, sister, niece, nephew, grand-nieces, in-laws, and the old cats my mother feeds but which aren't her cats ...

But let's talk about the food:

Fried catfish tails. Fried shrimp, stuffed with blue crab meat. Fried hush puppies. Fried potatoes. Fried speckled trout. More hush puppies. Even one I'd never seen before -- fried corn on the cob. You roll it in cornmeal batter and drop it into the pot with the fish my brother-in-law caught.

The weather was pretty good for that part of the world this time of year. Raining when I got there, and raining when I left there, but between, mostly dry and cloudy, so it was only in the mid-eighties -- that's temperature Farenheit and relative humidity, for which the technical term is "muggy." I got to see Mike the Tiger's new cage, a four million dollar landscaped yard with a pool and lots of shade. My sister wondered about the tent-roof effect with heavy chain link that covered the place. That to keep people from throwing stuff in? she said.

I expect it's to keep the tiger in, I allowed. Being as how he can jump over that ten-foot tall wall with about as much effort as you'd exert stepping out of the bathtub ...

But no, really, let's talk about the food, not of all which is fried. Some of it is boiled, as in, take a thirty-gallon pot, drop in five pounds of new potatoes, stubby ears of corn, sausage, mushrooms, a whole bunch of cajun seasoning, and forty pounds of crawfish and crank up the propane burner out on the driveway until it is done.

There was a great macho moment, when my brother-in-law Gary and his son-in-law Eric, an ex-marine and deputy with the EBR Sheriff's department went to lift the pot off the fire. Each man put on a rubber glove and grabbed the wire handle.

Eric: Huh. That heat goes right through that rubber glove, doesn't it?
Gary: (I can't quote him exactly here, in case any of my family reads it, but he allowed as how my niece's husband might be less than manly.)
Eric: I've been drinking beer. I can hold onto it as long as you can.

So the two of them held onto the hot wire, looked at each other. Naturally, I couldn't find my camera. Eventually, there was a moment of unspoken mutual agreement and they put the pot down. When you go home, bring your ruler ...

But, no, really, let's talk about the food: Those before and after pictures of the crawfish, look at the after. That pile closest to the camera, that's mine ... (Only real coonasses suck the heads; the pansies like me just eat the claw and tail meat. My nephew Heath's girlfried was the sole cajun-style eater at the table. (Truth in advertising: My heap of et crawfish actually stops at that wadded-up napkin on top the pile -- those to the right belonged to my nephew.)

And I'm back, in one piece, and on a diet for a couple weeks to drop a few pounds.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

What'd I Miss?

Check out, which is a most clever and useful concept. You go there, click on a current movie showing in theaters, and it will give you a timeline and places where, if that thirty-two ounce Dr. Pepper you foolishly sucked down is threatening to burst your bladder, you can take a pee-break. 

Here's how it works:

Say you are an hour and twenty minutes into the new Trek movie. The Urine Dam is about to give way. Old Spock tells young Kirk to "Live long and prosper," Kirk beams out, and if you clicked on the unscramble button just below that on this site, you will know what the next three minutes of the movie will be, so you can run to the loo, and get back. Not the same as seeing it, but at least you'll know what happened.

A tip of the hat to Dal for this one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


So, my wife and I got a chance to drop by the Morningstar Cafe in downtown Portland -- that's Oregon -- for lunch. Run by J.D. Ray -- who has posted here a time or two over the last few years -- the place has just moved to a new space. They are mostly doing soup, salads, and sandwiches at the moment, the hot line awaiting city approval, but probably that'll be up and cooking in a couple-three weeks. It's worth going to visit just for the sandwiches, though.

And they have booze -- seven microbrews on tap --

Laurelwood Tree Hugger Porter
Hopworks Deluxe Organic Ale (D.O.A.)
Lompoc C-Note Imperial IPA
Alameda El Torero IPA
Amnesia Dusty Trail Pale Ale
Cascade Raspberry Ale

On guest tap:

Ninkasi Double Believer Red

Great stuff, unless you are one of those Nazi monk-pee beer snobs, in which case nothing will please you anyhow. And wine. And hard liquor, in case you want a zombie or a mojiito or like that.

I had a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich, the Felipe, my wife had half a veggie sandwich, the Tasty Treat, which was more than enough for a normal appetite. Came with a couple of orange slices, those thick Kettle-style potato chips, and we had iced tea, all for for less than fifteen bucks -- hard to beat that for a lunch with words like "organic" and "fresh olive bread" "stone ground mustard" and "cilantro" and such connected to it.

Service was great, the place was clean, bright, and the food was excellent -- outstanding, even.

We'll go back, which is for me, the highest form of praise.

If you are looking for a place to have a quiet drink -- they are open in the evening and they have a happy hour -- or a great sandwich at a reasonable price, check it. They are on the corner of Third and Washington downtown. Tell them I sent you

Anybody Got a Knife?

Old joke in the silat class -- ask if anybody has a knife, and the sudden clicking of tactical folders opening, or fixed-blades rasping out of Kydex sheathing, will be loud enough to drown out a marching band ...

Silat, being a blade-based art, the practitioners tend to carry knives. Our philosophy is this: We are not apes, we use tools. Quite legally, of course, observing the local laws about blade-length and concealment or belts or whatever.

Well. There are players who carry knives that might be -- how shall we put this? -- a tad over what is considered proper for concealed carry. (You can haul a two-foot-long bowie around in a sheath if it is not concealed, in this state, and a couple of its neighbors, but generally speaking, "ordinary" pocket knives bear four-inch blades or shorter. Until 9/11, you could take those on commercial aircraft.

I confess that I know some folks whose concealed folders are, when opened, sufficient to clear a path through jungle vines in a Tarzan movie or to stab an elephant -- and reach his heart. It's quite impressive to be talking to one of these fellows and to have them go zanshin and all of a sudden you are looking at a wicked knife the length of your forearm in their hand, backed by a equally-wicked grin.

Those guys, you shoot at a distance and have done with it. 

Some players carry more than one knife. There is the primary, then a back-up. Sometimes they carry more than two.

Personally, I think more than three is paranoid. Well, okay, maybe four.

"How many knives you have on you?"

"Three. But ... uh, well, they're ... small ..." (And you don't count those on the key rings, which are teeny-tiny and part of those pliers/screwdriver/nail file things, the blades are only an inch or so long,  so it's really not five ...)

Accompanied here also by a less-wicked, shit-eating grin.

So the latest toy, which would be considered a back-up, is a stubby little thing from Boker, the Subcom F. With a blade under two inches long, and almost that wide, it's an itty-bitty sucker.

It's not an expensive knife -- you can get one for around twenty-six bucks; nor is the steel the stuff of legends, AUS-8; still, it is surprisingly comfortable in one's hand, given the short handle -- open, the whole knife it's only a tad longer than four inches, and at two-and-a-half-ounces, light enough that you could carry it in a shirt pocket. Opens with a thumb-stud, no springs. You can get them plain or partially-serrated, with bead-blast natural or a blackened steel. Frame-lock, Steel on one side, FRN handle (fiberglass reinforced nylon) on the other, in assorted colors. Black. Sissy-green, like that.

Small enough so if you didn't want to use the reversible clip, you could hide it entirely in the watch pocket of a pair of blue jeans. (I have an ambiguous relationship with pocket clips on folding knives. On the one hand, they position the knife so it is exactly where you want it and you don't have to fish around in your pocket looking for it; on the other hand, anybody who looks can see the clip and assume -- rightly so -- there is a knife attached to it. If you hide it under a shirt, or jacket, then you have to clear those to get the thing into play. Plus I don't like the way a clip feels under my grip.)

Need a new Flash Drive?

For all you computer geeks -- have a look: Transformer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Am Hans, und I Am Franz, und ...

... ve vant to pump you up!

The link here leads to an article about the Belgian Bodybuilding Championships. 

The short version: When officials showed up for an unexpected drug check, the boys all ran for the door. All of them. Well. Maybe lumbered for the door might be more appropriate ...

Contest had to be cancelled.

They had moved the venue across the border, into the Netherlands because at the previous outing, twenty-two of twenty-nine contestants had either refused the test, or showed positive for steroids. 

Drugs? In bodybuilding? I'm shocked. Shocked!


Check out the link to a tank getting IEDed in Iraq. Let the vid load, then go to the three-minute mark ...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring Has Sprung, the Grass is Riz

So, warm days arrived here in the Northwest, at least a couple, so we loaded up the camper and went out into the Gorge this past weekend. Where we live, we can be at the beach in a couple of hours; or, enjoying one of the scenic wonders of the country -- the Columbia River Gorge -- in half that. Several good places to camp -- parks, RV places and country fairgrounds, like that -- within fifty miles. You can kick back, read, walk the dogs, watch the river go by. Even with gas prices high and the low mileage the truck gets, it's a cheap date, less than what you'd pay for one of those tiny log cabins at the KOA.

Concrete guys are out smoothing over the first section of sidewalk, the driveway yet to come. Rhoddie is in full bloom, the hostas have unfurled their leaves, strawberry plants are thriving. Warm, seventy-five F.  or so  out there now, a bit of a breeze. Not like Louisiana, where it's already eighty-five or ninety every day, with a humidity to match.

Warm enough to do lawn stuff -- weed-eater, machete the blackberry vines a bit, then vacuum and shampoo carpets which might actually dry before the rains return. 

There are a lot worse places to live than here ...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Grandson Wins

Zach wins the animation award for his effort, posted here earlier. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cyborgs R Us

Top picture taken from about two feet away; 
Bottom photo, a little less than three feet. 

So, got the new electronic whiz-bang ear trumpets from Costco. The one I had was good and most helpful, but the new ones are pretty amazing. I can hear a mosquito sneeze across the street ...

Well, no, not really, but the pair, which talk to each other radiopathically, do give me something close to normal hearing. So far, I've had to turn down the volume on the car radio, the TV set, and the computer, and they seem less intrusive and obvious than the one that fit into the ear canal. I can't even feel them.

All kinds of noise in my house I wasn't catching -- heater vents, fridge, computer -- I can even hear the phone ring in the other room now ...

I wore them home, didn't tell my wife I'd gotten them, and she hasn't noticed yet. Of course, she had a long day at work and she's tired, but still ...

Better living through hardware. Got to love it; between these things and my glasses, I might not get shoved off the sled for a couple more years ...

For Those of You Who Missed My Star Turn ...

From Star Trek: Phase II, "World Enough and Time ..."

Listen to the dashing and handsome shuttle pilot's melodic and manly voice ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For the Silat Class

Keep on Trekkin '

So, the new one: how'd it do, compared to what has gone before?

First, you might want to read the essay "To Boldly Go," down the page a little, to see what I use as criteria, if'n you haven't already.

Second, if you are a hardcore fanboy who thinks Everything-but-the-original-series-is-crap, you can stop right here. You won't like the new movie -- and weren't gonna, no matter what they did. Go back and argue with the other HcFb's about what color the lint was in Sulu's pocket last Thursday. All I got for you is: Get a life ...

Now, for those of you are are more casual Trek fans ...

The new one. Was the science any better? Certainly not. The plot? What plot? Both still have more holes than a fleet of cargo ships full of colanders and swiss cheese, but that's not what matters. 

Did the trio of Kirk/Spock/McCoy work together? Were Uhuru and Scotty and Chekov and Sulu there? How did Spock Prime play?

There's the measure of how well the picture did. Were they having a good time? Did it look and sound like they were having a good time? Did they behave as you thought, or maybe even hoped, the younger versions of themselves would have behaved? 

It worked for me. 

A movie either does or doesn't, and whatever you have to say about it hangs on that simple yea or nay question, everything else is essentially window-dressing. 

It worked for me. 

In fact, save for my brief moment of glory in my fly-on role in "World Enough and Time," and the fourth movie, in which the original crew goes back in time to save the whales, this was the most fun I've had at a Trek movie. Space opera, sure enough, and the new guys will never have the resonance of the originals, because we are all decades older and our eyes not so fresh; still, those of you old enough to remember when Disneyland had paper tickets, this was an E-ticket EFX ride and I enjoyed it. Nobody was doing Ibsen here, nor should they have been. Get your popcorn and your soda and Raisinetes, settle in, and enjoy the show. 

There are some good lines, and the funniest ones come right out of character. My biggest laugh came from Spock Prime (Nimoy) and his comment about his normal leave-taking remark. Second biggest one was with Kirk and Spock discussing an offer to the enemy captain, with Kirk taking the logical position and Spock's response to it.

It played fast and loose with Trek canon, but explained it in a manner that ought not to surprise anybody who ever watched any of the movies or TV shows. And they all nailed their characters dead-on.

Was it a perfect movie? No, certainly not. The villain was kind of a weenie. The fight scenes were just okay. Being a redshirt is still a death-sentence. Was it a worthwhile edition to the moribund Trek franchise? Absolutely. 

If you are a fan of the original show -- and you also have a life -- go see it. You'll have fun.

To Boldly Go

Okay, so I'm going to see the new Star Trek movie this evening, and before I truck back here for a review, a bit about why the original series had legs, and what the movie has to do to work.

The original -- and all that followed -- certainly weren't about the science. Nobody in his right mind ever tuned into the show to upgrade his lessons from Mr. Wizard. 

Science? I would not have been surprised in the least if, when nobody was looking, Mr. Scott opened a secret door in the matter-anti-matter chamber and tossed in a couple of cheeseburgers to feed Merlin the Magician, who was how the ship really ran. Or seen somebody sacrificing goats and chickens and summoning the loa, which was how people were actually beamed to and fro.  

Don't even get me started on the fact that everybody in the galaxy spoke English -- or better, that there was a universal translator that really worked -- input and output, instantly, in real time, upon a language it had never heard before -- and was small enough to carry unseen in a pocket. Newton, Einstein, and Googlefish all wept.

No science. Don't go there.

Plots? Save for a few -- Harlan's The City on the Edge of Forever, a couple others -- no. Many of the stories were great fun -- Sturgeon's Amok Time, Gerrold's The Trouble with Tribbles  -- but that wasn't it, either. Some of them were so unbelievable as to boggle one's mind. An alternate Rome -- and second version of Jesus? Chicago gangsters with tommyguns? Hippies in space? O story-editor, O producer, where were thy stings?

No, the reason fans tuned in was to see the three main characters, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy,  do their larry-moe-curly routine. How was Spock going to pull McCoy's chain this week? Could Kirk make Spock show emotion? What unfortunate woman would fall for Kirk and thus doom herself to a quick death? 

And let's not forget poor Ricky Redshirt, who, knowing how away- teams always roasted, broiled, or evaporated the security guy within seconds of beaming down every damn time, had to get up dreading each and every day: 

"Hey, Ricky, 'sup?"

"I'm beaming down to the hostile planet with the Captain, First Officer, and only doctor for a trillion light years today."

"Aw, gee. Sorry, man. I enjoyed working with you. You want me to deliver a letter to your mother?"

So there they were, the archetypes: McCoy, the man driven completely by emotion; Spock, the creature of logic; and Kirk, who was supposedly the best synthesis of the two, feeling and intellect. He could reason, but was quick to toss that out and go with his gut, and whichever way he leaped, he was never wrong, which continually pissed Spock off, even though he was forbidden to show it. You could almost read the half-Vulcan, half-human's mind: Fuck. I work it out, everything is reasonable, by the numbers, but, no,  Jim pulls some insane, illogical notion out of his ass and saves the day every fucking time. What do I have to do to get a break around here? 

 It was a buddy movie, a series about guys in the trenches, and even given that it was network television, amazingly, character-driven. 

So, how will the new movie compare to where so many men have gone before? Tune in again tomorrow for my review and see what I think ...

Monday, May 11, 2009

How David Beats Goliath

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell in this week's New Yorker.  Called Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath. Covers everything from girls basketball using the full-court press, to computer-designed naval war games, to, of course, the giant versus the shepherd. 

This kind of thinking is at the core of our martial art, so I found it particularly interesting. 

Tower, This is Beaverton Flight 357 ...

So, the future is all over the place. Check out the latest version of the airplane/car conversion ...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Never Be a Country Singer ...

What the hell, one more:

Hey, Play Melancholy Baby ...

Normally I don't take requests, but Dojo Rat being a fellow musician and all ...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Grandson's Animation

So Zach, the oldest of the grandsons, at twelve, and like them all, a stone computer geek, did an animation for a class at school.

A long way from Pong, these kids today ....

Great Moments in American Pop Music History

Nothing Up My Sleeve

I've always been a fan of close magic, stuff that features sleight-of-hand rather than the big tricks -- more interesting to me to watch a guy hide something in his hand than to vanish an elephant.

I've seen a lot of really good magicians over the years. But I have, never, ever seen anything like this before. 

Rated R, so watcher beware ...


So, I went to have my hearing checked and see about what new electronic gizmos that might be out there. They fitted me for a pair of itty-bitty marvels and let me walk around the inside of the Costco to see how they worked. 

They worked really well. And there was a remote, about the size of a pack of gum, with which I could change the programs, volume, etc, at the touch of a button, and check the battery levels of the instruments, too. 

Amazing place to be living, here in the future. 

So, a week or so, I'll go back and get the things, which come in different colors. I ordered mine in gray, to match my hair ...

The picture? Well, it doesn't have anything to do with hearing aids, but I came across it and though it was neat. That's Nikola Tesla in the chair, the inventor, who, save for better luck on the parts of George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, would have been filthy rich and famous as the father of electricity. Tesla had a lot more to do with the process than Westinghouse, but George was a better businessman. Ain't that always the way of it?

The image is a double-exposure -- otherwise Tesla would have risked getting barbecued by the discharges, which ran to more than a million volts ...

Rock On! (Jimmy Dean)

Photo by John Schreiber, of Bobby Hinkle

PBS reran an American Masters segment last night on the late actor James Dean. Dean, for you younger viewers who might not know, was the star of but three movies -- East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant.  His career went up with a bullet in 1954, and ended when, only a year later, at age twenty-four, he killed himself driving his Porsche on his way to a race.

Giant, his last picture, came out after he died. He won a posthumous best-actor award for East of Eden.

Dean was a method actor, out of the same school as Brando, and his performances were full of tics and quirks and twitches. Rebel Without a Cause was the teenage angst movie of its day, and influenced a generation of juvenile delinquents. (There is something of a curse connected to Rebel, which also starred a young Natalie Wood, who, years later, fell off a yacht and drowned; Sal Mineo, who was murdered by a pizza delivery man; and Nick Adams, who OD'ed, though his family always thought he was murdered, too.)

I felt a kind of kinship with Jimmy Dean because, well, we were distant kin. "Dean" was my mother's family name ...

Um. Anyway there is a scene in Giant, wherein the greedy lawyer and land guy are trying to get Dean's character to sell them his land, upon which he is drilling for oil. Dean has no real dialog in it, but he didn't want Rock Hudson, who was nominally the star of the film, to shine too brightly, so Dean brought a prop, a short length of rope with a weight tied onto one end. A local, Bobby Hinkle, who had been hired to teach Dean how to talk Texan, and how to handle a rope, had shown Dean some rope tricks. 

So Dean twitches and tics and fiddles with the rope and basically steals the scene. As he was exiting, he let the weight hang down on the end of the rope, and with a little flick of his wrist, threw a loop over the weight and tied an overhand knot. 

This was a trick I taught myself how to do as a boy, and until I saw that scene replayed last night more than fifty years after the movie came out, didn't remember that was where I had first seen it. 

Another variation of "Wow, I didn't remember that actor was in that movie ...?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Indiana Jones, with Zombis ...

So, I got the galleys back on the Indiana Jones novel today. Pretty clean so far, a couple things I have to fix, nothing big. (I had a Japanese character utter a curse that, upon second examination, is a lot dirtier than I first thought, so I'll replace that with something milder. A couple typos, like that.)

Still scheduled for a fall release, I think, end of September, I believe.

Still reads pretty good to me, but, of course, I'm not completely objective about it ...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Musician Joke

Courtesy of Skeifer, on the makers.guitar.acoustic newsgroup:

A musician who has spent his entire life trying to get a record deal is extremely depressed.  He's been turned down by every record company he's ever contacted.  No one seems to recognize his unique genius.

So he comes up with an ingenious plan to get back at the record companies who have rejected him all his life.

He books time at a recording studio and instructs the sound engineer to record everything he says, and every sound he hears, and then copy it all onto five hundred CDs, and send one to every record company executive on the list that he hands the engineer.

The guy walks into the vocal booth.  The red light is on, and he begins:

"This is a message for all you sycophantic, no-talent, stupid record company assholes who've ignored me all these years!  I've dedicated my life to writing and performing beautiful, emotive, soul-touching music, and all you bastards do is discard my tapes and sign these

horrible, no-talent, ridiculous, stupid bands.  Well, you bunch of morons, you dumb pricks, I've taken all I can of this puerile, shallow industry, and it's you who've driven me to this!  Goodbye you heartless murderers of art!"

Whereupon, he puts a gun to his head and blows his brains out.

The sound engineer looks up from the console, hits the talk-back button, and says,  "Okay. That's fine.  I've got a good level.  Let's go for one."

Breaking Rocks in the Cold Rain

So, I am in a neighborhood association, and I am a reluctant member -- it is compulsory, one of those nine hundred papers we signed when we bought the house. Having never been in one of those before we moved here, I had no clue what they were about. 

Sign here. And here, and here, and here, and here --

Sure. No problem.

What they wind up being, the neighborhood association, are, in effect, yard nannies. Grass gets too high, you get a letter saying, you better cut it. Want to paint the place? Got to run a sample past the committee, 'cause it's "earth-tones," only around here, i.e., no white, nor pink (well "salmon" is okay) nor purple with azure spots. Want to put on a new roof? (Finally allowed that composite shingles are okay, if they are a certain kind that looks sorta like cedar shakes.) Put up a fence, install a deck, take down a dead tree, anything like that? Must be pre-approved, else they can put a lien on your house, and that's how it is, too bad, seig Heil ...

And if you get a crack in your sidewalk, or the tree roots -- from the trees you aren't allowed to cut down without association approval and a permit from the city -- shove the concrete up so there is more than a 3/8" disparity in height from one slab to the next? Better fix that, pronto, or the association rats you out to the city, and the city will give you thirty days to repair it or they will, and charge you top dollar for the job. Break up the old concrete, dig out the roots, set forms, pour, smooth, and if you are lucky, three or four years before you have to do it again.

A few years back,  a developer wanted to put up a mini-mall behind my across-the-street neighbors' houses, in a area that was zoned residential. Those of us at this end of the street fought it, and the zoning commission went our way and recommended to the city council to deny the developer the permit. But the City Council split on the vote, three/three, and the then-mayor got to cast the tie-breaker. So happened that the biggest contributor to his campaign was the same developer. 

Want to guess which way the mayor voted ... ?

Fortunately, all we got was a drugstore and not a McDonald's. But our friendly neighborhood neighborhood association? They supported the developer, and not us. Isn't that lovely? 

All of which is to say that every couple of years, the gum ball and fir trees the builder planted along the walks thirty-odd years ago cause the sidewalks to warp and buckle, and the association sends out letters -- better get that fixed. Oh, and since there are so many people who are gonna get it done, we can get a deal from a contractor to have it done cheaper, only eighteen hundred bucks for your section ...

Sometimes, you can rent a concrete grinder, buy a wheel, and for a couple hundred bucks, flatten the ridges if they aren't too bad and skate for a year or two. Or pay somebody to do it for you. Which is what I did time before last. Last time, I hired a contractor who replaced the two bad slabs, a thousand bucks. This time, there are three or four bad slabs, and, unfortunately, my driveway has gradually sunk at the road, so that every big rain, all the water running down the gutters on my side of the street takes a detour into my front yard.

Couple days ago, we had a thunderstorm, dropped half an inch or so of rain in about five minutes, blew over trees and broke a lot of big limbs, and before I could go sandbag the driveway, we had five inches of standing water in our courtyard and rising fast toward the front door. My submersible pump had a seizure and died, I was out there with a shovel, damming the driveway with mud and leaves, then bailing the courtyard with a bucket, lightning flashing from cloud to cloud overhead, and boy, was that fun ...

So, since I have to get the driveway done, and since I can get a better deal because the contractor will be buying a lot of cement and laying it up and down the street, I got a bid. 

Expensive, but no way around it. This afternoon in the drizzle, there were two guys out breaking up sections of my front sidewalk. One had a sledgehammer, the other a long pry bar, and after a couple of hours whacking and prying, created big chunks of dead concrete out front.

Apparently the Day of the Machine is a ways off here in Oregon. Want to bet against the idea that it is cheaper to hire two guys to do it by hand than to rent a pneumatic chisel?

After a time, they wrapped it in yellow tape and a couple of sawhorses and left.

The driveway will be next -- I'm supposed to get a warning so I can get my car out.

Owning your own home is a joy and privilege and I am happy to have one, and I don't get to bitch too much; still, it's mine, and I also don't get to call the landlord to come fix stuff for me ...


While I've always considered myself a masculine enough fellow -- I have two children and the family resemblance is obvious -- I don't really put myself into the tough-guy category. I don't leap up  onto the table if I see a mouse, but I also don't care much for walking through a major spider web face-first in the early morning woods ...

However, somebody asked me recently what I'd consider a macho moment in my life, where I did something people might widen their eyes a bit if they heard it. I don't have many such occasions, being a sensitive, new-age, ex-hippie with nothing but kind regard for my fellow humans, but there was one instance ...

Back when I was working at the clinic, my wife and I realized that two children were enough for us. The quickest, safest, and most effective form of birth control, we decided, was for me to have a vasectomy.

Those of you unfamiliar with the procedure, it varies somewhat, but the essence of it is simple: Under a local anesthetic, your urologist makes a couple of incisions in your scrotum, sticks a small pair of pliers inside and uses stainless steel clips to clamp shut the vasa deferentia, i.e., the two hoses that carry the wiggly little sperm guys from the testicles, and, after sufficient stimulation, out Mr. Willie. The doctor then cuts the vasa next to the clamp, removes all the toolery, and sutures the incisions closed. With the tunnels shut down, the wiggly guys have nowhere to go, and are reabsorbed and recycled by the body. After six weeks or so to make sure there aren't any of 'em hiding out for a last mighty effort to nail an egg, you no longer can do your half of baby-making.

Gun still works fine, but you are shooting blanks.

On the table and off in twenty minutes, and a few days R&R, with a strategically-placed ice pack, and you are good to go again. (If you are contemplating such a surgery, however, be prepared for the doctor's sense of humor, for invariably at some point in the procedure, while you are numbed up and doubtless staring at the gorgeous nurse he has malignantly chosen to assist him, the doctor will say "Oops!" Which, as all men know, is not a word you want to hear when somebody is waving a sharp scalpel around Mr. Happy ...)

Okay, nothing particularly macho about this --  about half a million of these are done each year in the U.S. alone, and those numbers go up when the economy declines, by the by, for obvious reasons. 

Before I had this procedure done, I had scheduled a tai chi demo at my church, back when we dabbled in Unitarianism. Long ago and far away, I knew the Yang-style long form, and had set up the demonstration  a couple months before I scheduled the surgery. 

I had the procedure done on Friday afternoon, and the demo was for Saturday morning. Now, I was supposed to be lying around with a package of frozen green peas on my groin and moving only if necessary, but being young and still bulletproof, I decided not to cancel the demo. 

Okay, so that might qualify as macho ...

But wait ...

During the demo, which was more active than I had anticipated, I pulled the sutures out on the right side of el scroto. This is not a good thing, and I knew my doctor would take me to task for it, just I would any of my patients who did something so stupid. So, since I was working at a medical clinic, and I had keys to the building and the alarm codes ....

Saturday afternoon, after the clinic closed, I went to the office. Broke out a suture set, sat on the surgery table, and stitched the incision back up.

No big deal at the time, I was a PA, I assisted on minor surgery and sewed cuts frequently, though admittedly on other people. The hard part wasn't doing a couple of interrupted sutures, it was injecting the lidocaine ...

When I tell that story, I usually get a few raised eyebrows. Not like rushing into a burning building to save somebody's child, but I've had guys who do that for a living go pale at the notion of digging a sharp needle and thread into the sack around their balls ...

Saturday, May 02, 2009


An interesting article on genius, by David Brooks, in the New York Times, regarding a subject to which I have spoken here a time or two.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Prius Bastards

Okay, this is politically-incorrect all to hell and gone, and blame Van Harn for sending to me, but, hey, what can I say -- I couldn't figure out for whom the commercial was right up to the end.

Two points for cleverness. Minus two because it's awfully close to reality ...