Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Merry Christmas. Technically, it's the day after Christmas. My brother's family gave me a collection of poems of Rumi. I like his poetry quite a bit. Or should I say the translations of his poetry that I have read.

The title of the book is A Year with Rumi. Since Rumi has been dead for a few centuries now, you can't take the title literally. The book is arranged with one poem per day.

The poem for December 25th:

The Population of the World

Christ is the population of the world,
and every object as well. There is no room
for hypocrisy. Why use bitter soup for healing,
when sweet water is everywhere?


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tamales and Pepperkaker

One of the fringe benefits of being a teacher is around the holidays, when some students do little things to let you know they appreciate you. One of the fringe benefits of teaching at a school with a large Hispanic population is that sometimes they show you their appreciation through authentic cuisine.

One time, at my night class, I mentioned the word "tamale" for some reason. The following class meeting, a nice woman in the back row brought me two tamales from her own kitchen. The night after that, the nice lady next to her brought me four. Soon, I was getting tamales of every flavor on a regular basis. Since I don't make tamales, I was in heaven for the rest of the semester.

One thing I discovered about tamales is that they take a long time to make and are a family affair. And, as with all traditions, making tamales provides a link that goes back many generations and is a primal act of love. Giving people food is one of the most intimate things you can do. So is preparing a dish that takes this much time. Nothin' says lovin' like tamales.

Likewise, in my family tradition, nothin' says lovin' like pepperkaker.

My Aunt Margaret made pepperkaker every Christmas for her three brothers and five brothers-in-law. We cousins all looked forward to this because these were some fine cookies. You could find them in stores if you looked hard and their were other home recipes. But nobody made them like Margaret. Her pepperkaker were potato-chip thin with just enough spicy bite.

Her sisters claimed that, whenever she shared the recipe with anyone, she always left out one ingredient so that no one would ever make them exactly like hers.

As each of her nephews turned eighteen, she made pepperkaker for them also. But we had a big family and, as she got older, the portions got smaller. I never had the luxury of my own coffee can full of pepperkaker, but I relished the pepperkaker I did get. I haven't had a pepperkaker in years--not one of Margaret's anyway--but I can still smell the ginger aroma as my dad first opened the lid of his coffee can and I can still taste the ginger and hear the snap as I bit into one.

I used to make these quasi-healthy chocolate chip cookies that I would pass around every Christmas. They aren't sugary sweet like most others. I adapted this recipe from one I found in Diet for a Small Planet. They have a balance of vegetable protein and complex carbohydrates. When I found out I was diabetic, I adapted the recipe by using date sugar instead of brown sugar and using salt-free butter.

I haven't made them in awhile, but I'm thinking I might revive this tradition.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Open Mike

We missed the last three open mikes. I felt I had to go this last one. All three Canaries performed separately.

As we entered, Blowhard was greeted like a rock star. He played "It's All Over Now Baby Blue." Billy C
played Frank Zappa's "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" after the first tune.

Each act now gets only 5 minutes, so I only sang Curtis Eller's
"Buster Keaton." People liked the song. I actually pluck instead of strum on this one.

There is an invitational open mike in December. Some folk grumbled about not being invited--and I agree that there is something un-open about an invitational open mike. We got an invite, so what the hey?

I'm not sure when we're going to get to rehearse.

On a sad note: While my first day back after Thanksgiving break was a good one, it ended on a very sad note. My colleague informed me at the end of the day that he had learned that a former student of ours had lost her mother and father in a collision with a drunk driver. She and her sister (also a former student of mine) were riding in the car.

What can you say?

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I've gone around and read all of my friends' blogs and most of them talk about their Thanksgivings and it made me think. Sure, Thanksgiving is about spending time with loved ones--but try a Thanksgiving without food. In most cases, every attendee must bring food. And it's not enough just to bring a dish, you've got to bring one of your PREMIERE dishes.

They have got to be colorful. They have got to be tasty. They must beckon you to come back for more. And there always has to be too much for one night so you can have leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers, my Sil makes this breakfast hash the morning after where she just dumps almost everything into a skittle and heats it up and it tastes yummy.

Then, after you have gorged yourself, sometime during the long weekend, you have to tell everyone what you ate. You have got to describe the dishes--how they looked, what went into them, how they tasted.

Then, we exchange recipes and/or discuss our own variations.

It's as if stuffing our bellies is not enough, we have to stuff our imaginations as well.

I'm not knocking any of this. It's just interesting to me. If I knew anything about how to do it, I'd start up a site called MyFeast.com, where friends could invite friends to be their friends just for the sole purpose of sharing Turkey Day menus.

A Poem from the Taos Summer Writers' Conference


Wednesday night.

You go in, pay your dollar,
take a fishing pole,
and enter the sanctuary
lined with neon sculptures—
each depicting a scene from the scriptures.
Searchlights dance around the stage
where showgirls with swan legs strut, their sequins afire.

Parishioners sit in booths
and order diet cokes and communion wafers
from waitresses in short skirts.

The stage floor opens
and the minister ascends
tied to a post—
the sin of the week
nailed above his head.

He asks the congregation to rise.

Each member clutches a fishing pole
and casts his or her line at the minister
while the pipe organ blasts “Just as I Am.”

Most people miss
but those who hook the minister’s flesh
give it a good yank
and are forgiven the sin of the week.

This goes on for ten minutes or so.

Some say this is hard on the minister—
that we should hire a homeless guy to stand in for him.

But most think that we shouldn’t mess with tradition.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Useful Info about Opossums

The two most interesting things I found out about possums:

1. "Playing possum" isn't a choice, it's a reflex triggered by extreme fear. Also, pretty much every one of their defense mechanisms involves disgusting bodily functions.

2. They can get rabies, but rarely do because their body temperature is too low to make the rabies virus comfy enough to thrive.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Would You Care for Some Salt with Your Sodium?

Billy C and I are both trying to watch our blood pressure and, therefore, are trying to watch our salt intake. So I can speak for both of us when I say we approached last night's Thanksgiving Banquet at the Tower (the assisted living facility where she now lives)with trepidation. At the tower, the spice des jour is salt--I guess in part because the "chef" has never heard of lemon grass or saffron.

All of the westside version of Mama C's family was there: Billy C, Vivage, Emily C, Blowhard C, his girlfriend, Princess C, and myself. We repasted on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and this stuff the color of mashed sweet potatoes but of baby food consistency--all smothered in gravy. And of course, well-salted.

For Billy C and I, it was kind of a kamikaze banquet. We dined out of loyalty to Mama C, but knew it couldn't be very good for us.

Most of the young people barely touched their food, except for the pie, which also tasted a little salty to me.

As we dined, the music of the Janet Goeske Singers wafted around the room. Janet Goeske used to be a local activist for the aged. They sang a mixture of holiday and show tunes. During a rendition of "The Impossible Dream," the held up posters of scenes from the fighting in Iraq. Fortunately, they weren't too graphic--although there was one that showed to soldiers under fire--one hunkered down behind a sand dune and one who looked like he may have been hit. They followed this song with "Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me."

Oh, and Dickey De Loss, another local treasure known as a tap-dancing realtor, tap danced. She doesn't walk very well anymore, so she tapped from her chair.

You gotta admire that, in a way.

I suggested to Billy C that we volunteer the Canaries for the Christmas banquet. We could certainly entertain these folks as well as the Goeske Singers. And it would give Mama C a chance to show us off.

I have started writing our own version of "Impossible Dream":

To impeach the impossible dunce,
To indict his Vice President too...

That's as far as I've gotten.

WE sat very close to the entertainment, but next time, we need to make sure that Mama C sits facing it. She kept looking around to see the show, which made it impossible for her to eat. I also noticed that she had trouble with the turkey. I asked if she wanted it cut. She said yes and I cut it up into bite-sized pieces--with mixed feelings because I'm not always sure whether I should make her do things like this for herself, since any task she performs herself may help her retain motor skills, or just do them for her, because it helps her eat in public without being self-consciousness.

We stayed in the lobby as Blowhard C and his girlfriend took off to a friend's house with one of my ukuleles, Emily C left to go pack for a flight back home to spend her holiday with her parents Pamela and David C and the twins Laura and Boogie C, and Princess C disappeared to Mama C's pad to watch her fave TV show.

The elder C's all stayed in the lobby for awhile and visited for about an hour.

It was about 8:30 when we strolled out to our cars. Billy C, Princess C, and I stopped and chatted briefly, when Princess shouted "Oh my God! Look at that!"

I turned and there, amid the shadows and the rose bushes, crouched the biggest possum I have ever seen. It was as big as a mid-sized dog. It stood there frozen. Billy suggested that I rush it to see if it would play possum.

I do not fear possums, but I respect any animal that looks like it could do harm if it decided to act against type upon my person.

It did run away as I took steps to my car.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sated, but not Bloated

My sister flew out from PA to help us get Mama C's house ready for an estate sale and rental. Mom needs the extra income to help pay the rent at the assisted living facility, as well as give her some spending money.

This is the home we grew up in. These days, when I go there, I am overwhelmed by so many of the events of my younger life. Each room holds shelves with boxes full of memories. Open a box and they pour out. Some of them aren't even my memories, but the memories of my grandparents, great grandparents--any distant relative who folded them, packed them away, and moved on to some other moment of life and forgot them. As I open each box, I can only see a hint of the adventure that produced the photo or piece of paper I hold in my hand.

One box I opened had three American flags in it. Each fold had either been unfolded, or just lost their folds with the jostling of sitting in that box and being moved from room to room over the decades. Two of them had 48 stars. I refolded each as best my fading boy scout training could remember. One was so old that it had become frayed at the end that had flapped in the wind a long time ago.

I know that protocol would have a worn flag destroyed, but I new it held some unknown history in its threads. So I folded it as well.

I found one metal box and found my grandfather's "Order of Neptune" certificate, commemorating his crossing of the equator while serving in the Navy during World War I. Also, the certificate that gave my father Power of Attorney over my grandmother's affairs shortly after Grandpa died. She had MS and couldn't do much for herself. I was a third-grader during this time and I remember coming home from school sometimes and greeting my bed-ridden grandmother and one of the women from the neighborhood who would come and sit with her on days where my mother had to work.

Grandma would always smile and tell me how much she loved me and then remind me that my grandpa loved me too. He was an alcoholic. I only remember him making one cruel remark to me when he first moved in with us. I was quite young. I'm sure Grandma only meant to repair the damage.

So, how do you pack up a life?

You call a couple of older ladies, friends of your mother, and tell them they can have anything they want.

These two ladies are old friends of my mother's and came to collect some of her old arts and crafts stuff. It took them about an hour to sort out what they wanted, organize what we should sell, and throw the junk out, all the while visiting with Mom, who had come with us this day. The three of them had a grand time and accomplished more in that hour than any of us ever could in a day.

Roberta from across the street also came over to sort through some of the craftsy items. She's a nurse. She is also the neighbor who came and helped my mother 15 years ago when my dad had his coronary thrombosis. She and Mom sat in the room where Dad had collapsed years ago, looking through water color supplies. There, Roberta found buried under miscellaneous paints and notebooks several of Mom's watercolor paintings. Mom kept remarking that they weren't very good. But Roberta made it a point to show them to us and offered to frame them.

They might not be great art, but they're at least a little sacred.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Yardbird by Any Other Name, Part Two

I found myself with some unexpected free time this evening, so I drove to Redlands for the meditation class. Lately, I find it quiets my mind so I can sleep at night, what with all the thoughts in my head arguing with me at the end of the day.

Rest easy. I'm not hearing voices. It's just the various issues of family and work and unresolvable problems keeping me up.

I usually go to the class in Rio Nada, but I teach Thursday nights this semester and discovered that the same teacher teaches another class on Wednesdays.

During the drive there, I listened to the new Who CD. I like it a lot, although I admit that I have trouble getting past "Man in a Purple Dress." I keep replaying it.

This CD made me re-visit what I will call "The Yardbird Question." As you may some guy named An Opinionated Old Bastard chastised me for questioning whether or not the new Yardbirds had the right to call themselves the Yardbirds.

This new Who CD has convinced me that anyone who was in the Yardbirds or the Who, unless legally prohibited from doing so, probably has the right. I get the feeling that some of these bands, especially when they reach their sixties, certainly have a legit need to re-visit themselves.

This CD comes with a bonus CD and DVD of the two remaining Who guys, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey, performing at Lyon, France (I got this at Best Buy for . Roger doesn't swing the mike as wildly as he did, and Pete's guitar theatrics aren't as constant, but the passion is still there. Zak Starkey, Ringo's son, is a mighty fine drummer too.

It reminded me of the Pay-Per-View event of some years ago where the then three surviving members performed Tommy, with a cast of guest performers. I got to see it free because I was living at the Gribble house and my landlord-sometime-roomate had a pirate cable box.

These guys also kicked ass at the concert Paul McCartney organized after 9-11.

Not too long ago, when my mother still lived in her house and we'd all visit for Sunday dinner, I found my nephew in her bedroom listening to a CD of Tommy. This room was my bedroom at one time, and I told him that,in that very same bedroom, I heard Tommy for the first time.

This didn't impress him, but it made me feel like I was a part of some great spiritual continuum.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

William Styron

William Styron died today at the age of 81. Doc Koon, my favorite professor when I went through my Masters prgogram often referred to him as a "Golden God."

I have read three of his books,all of which I just relished: The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, and Darkness Visible. Each of them reads like the writer is on a mission from God.

The Confessions of Nat Turner examined a slave revolt in the Sotuh before the Civil War. It was a work of fiction, imagining much of the story it told, but it was brilliant.

Sophie's Choise of course told a multi-layered story about a Polish death camp survivor. Just when you thought Sophie's story couldn't get worse, Styron would clobber you with another smack-to-the-head moment.

Darkness Visible told Styron's story of his own battles with depression. A very short book, it also discussed several other writers and celebrities who suffered--and succumbed--to the illness.

One of my pompous-ass theories is that most great writers have one great book in them. Rarely do they have more. There are exceptions, of course. Styron was one of them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Costume Malfunction

I had hoped to celebrate Halloween as a Triceratops this year. It has been a dream of mine for some time now. The problem is that I can't sew. I have many friends and loved ones who can, but I never think to ask them until the night before I need it. Usually I get looks that remind me of the looks I'd get from my mother when I was in high school when I'd ask her to type a research paper that I had not yet finished writing the night before it was due.

This year, I asked around two weeks in advance (okay, it might have been one week), which was considerably earlier than years past, but not soon enough.

After hearing about how long it would take to do the tail alone, I realized my dream would yet again have to wait.

I tried downsizing my costume to a bear, then a bunny rabbit--but each of these apparently take time as well.

So, I opted to asking for a fez cap, inspired by the likes of Tiki King and Howlin' Hobbit--not to mention Laurel and Hardy.

My friend Do stepped up to the plate, in spite of having plenty to do otherwise. She whipped together a dandy black fez with a reclining crescent moon and star on the front, and two tassels intertwined--gold and black. I did have to attach a couple of hair clips, but it looked beautiful. On the night of her Halloween party, it looked great and there were no problems.

I wore it to school today. I didn't have any hairclips but, miraculously, it never slipped off my head when I looked down. It was kind of warm in my classroom, so I was perspiring under my hat. But I was comfortable.

At the end of the day, when I tried to take the fez off, my hair mysteriously clung to it. My sweat had mixed with the glue that held the cloth to the hat's base. I pulled it off with caution. Fortunately, the glue was pretty diluted, so I didn't lose huge chunks of hair. But my hair stuck like Larry of the Three Stooges until I could smooth it down.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Yardbird by Any Other Name...

Driving home from work, I turned on my XM radio and found myself listening to a live performance by the Yardbirds, one of my favorite bands of the 60's.

Except that none of the original lead guitarists--Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, or Jimmy Page--were there. And, of course, Keith Relph was still critically dead, having been fatally electrocuted in the 70's. I remember hearing, by the way, that he left the group because he was going blind. I don't know about that.

It turns out that only two of the original Yardbirds, guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty, are in the new line-up. Beck played a cut or two on the new album.

They sounded good, but were they really the Yardbirds? The spokesman, I assume one of the originals, introduced the familiar hits as songs "we" did back in the 60's. But the new lead guitarist is a young guy in his 20's. So he didn't "do" anything back in the 60's.

So I don't know. While the two original Yardbirds certainly have the right to recreate the music of their old band, shouldn't they call themselves by a new name?

The same thing has happened with the Doors (two original members and a couple of new guys) Creedance Clearwater Revival (two guys who didn't write any of the hits, but at least have the grace to bill themselves as Creedance Clearwater Revisited).

Two of the surviving Who are touring as the Who. But all of the Who were pretty high-profile within the band and remained legends long after the Who broke up.

Anyway, these new Yardbirds sounded really good. And I guess they have the right to bill themselves as more than just a tribute band. And I guess for them to be marketable, they have to use the name Yardbirds in some way.

But are they the Yardbirds?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

I don't remember whether it was Ben Franklin or Voltaire who said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. But, it seemed to me at one point, that last refuge had shifted to religion. I guess that politicians and pundits, having already staked out that territory--patriotism, that is--could not go back and reclaim it once they got their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar or got caught with their proverbial pants down or both.

So many--Charles Colson during Watergate and Gray Davis when he was recalled, for example--became "born again" when things got hot. Far be it from me to determine whose conversion is legit and whose is not. But it always seems like these guys, when embracing God, don't seem to change much else as far as their values go. They seem to remain the idealogues they were before they got into trouble. Colson, while renouncing his actions as related to Watergate, has never renounced the policies of Nixon. Davis, who made it a point to talk about going back to God during the recall, never renounced any the reckless spending or promiscuous fundraising that caused California to turn their backs on him.

But these days, on the far right at least, everyone seems to be a born-again Christian already. They talk about God and family values and the culture of life and it sounds beautiful. But it leaves them nowhere to go when they get caught doing wrong.

Except rehab.

Maybe they took their cue from Mel Gibson.

Now, I don't know how much of Gibson's recent problems come from alcohol or barely repressed anti-semitism. But he fits the pattern of retreat to rehab that so many politicians seem to follow these days.

If you have already found Jesus and get caught taking bribes or sexually harassing pages, declare yourself an alcoholic and go into rehab. Never mind that you have no history of alcoholism--that your closest friends, the ones who know your secrets, have never seen you drunk.

Unfortunately for Tom Delay, he's already known to be a recovering alcoholic. So there's no place for folk like him to go.

Except maybe to say that he had been assimilated by the Borg.

Resistance is futile, you know.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Five Things That Define Me

The ukulele
Don Quixote
My MA in English
My Record/CD collection

Two of these are constants in my life. Three mark recent profound changes in my life. One represents a major weakness. One is an achievement. One represents a change in my thinking. One is a work in progress.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

History in a Box

Billy and Mama C and I spent the afternoon at her house sorting through a huge box of pictures and documents--many of which date back to my grandparents' (her parents) childhood. Many of these pictures are close to century old.

We sorted everything into different stacks: Mom's immediate family, extended family, notes and letters, etc. We asked mama C questions about each picture to identify the subjects and to get a bit of the connection they had in our family tree. This process consumed three or four hours and Mama C, who is 82, grew tired towards the end (and maybe a little confused), but she stayed with us as we scribbled her comments on post-it notes stuck to the back of each picture.

Some of the memorable pictures:

Mama C's cousin George and his sister June as kids, each holding a banjo. I didn't know June, but George and his wife had the habit of just showing up at our doorstep(unannounced) from time to time to visit. He received the Silver Star in World War II, if I've got my story right. He passed away a couple of weeks ago. He had this big dimpled smile in the photo, just like the one he wore on those days he showed up at our house.

Mama C's Aunt Lena, who apparently had an eye for the boys and gave her children up for adoption. One of her sons, Gin, had been adopted by Lena's mother while very young and went to his grave thinking she was his real mother. Gin's brothers and sisters disappeared into the mists of time, totally absorbed into their adopted families. In one picture, there was Lena, baby Gin, and a little girl who was apparently one of Gin's siblings given up for adoption. Mom says that no one knows the little girl's name.

Mama C's Aunt Vera with her three children. The children, all very young, looking at the camera while Vera's eyes were averted down, as if in meditation. Like all of my grandmother's sisters, she was a striking woman. This picture had been taken before the accident. As I recall, one of her children was playing with a pair of scissors and accidentally stabbed her right below the eye. The wound, while not blinding her, caused a large welt to grow under the eye. She rarely left the house after that, until much later in life, where surgery had been performed to remove the welt.

Mama C's cousin Jimmy, Millie's son. Millie divorced Jimmy's father and later married a man named Georges, who treated Jimmy badly. Millie refused to let Jimmy's birth father anywhere near the boy. Jimmy later searched to find what had happened to his father. He discovered that his father had always lived right down the street and had watched Jimmy grow up from a distance, never contacting him.

A portrait of Great Uncle Brick in his Highway Patrol uniform.

A picture of my grandmother and mother in their church choir. Mama C was probably in her early teens, grandma in her early 40's. There was another picture of the church choir with Grandma, but Mama C wasn't in it. As I have said in another post, my memories of Grandma put her in the late stages of MS. I have no memory of her where she was able to get around on her own, so it's great to see pictures where she was young and healthy.

We also found a letter to Grandpa, who served in the Navy during both world wars. Mama C said that he packed his bags two days after Pearl Harbor and re-enlisted. "I think he just wanted to get away. He couldn't stay in one spot for very long."

The letter, from her Aunt Eloise, urged my grandfather to finish his business with those "slant-eyed demons." Eloise's son, Happy, had gone missing. His ship had been attacked and sunk and the last anyone had seen of Happy, he was in a lifeboat, alone, drifting into the horizon. Grandpa was in San Francisco on medical leave when he received the letter. Eloise had heard that a few of the survivors from Happy's ship were in the same hospital as Grandpa, an she asked him to ask around for more information about her son. Clearly from her tone, she knew her son had died, but she also held on to any hope that he might be found or that she at least might learn what had happened to him.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Doppelganger 2

A colleague and I met a group of students at the local UC library this morning...and there he was again.

It's spooky--not because I think the resemblance is all that great. It's spooky because I see this guy where ever I go on Saturday mornings.

We take classes to the UC library about 4 times a year and he's always there. In the Spring time, when I work in the RCC Reading and Writing Center, he always shows up there. When I go hang out at any of the many coffee joints, he's there.

The students, who sometimes behave sophomorically (because they are sophomores), made a big deal out of it. To make matters worse, it seems like we are dangerously close to spilling into one another's consciousness as doppelgangers. I know he could hear the kids giggling at him and me. Even my colleague is in on it. When a couple of kids went to him with a question, he pointed at the mysterious stranger and said, "I don't know, why don't you ask Mr. BABoR?" I guess they actually approached him and had the question half out of their mouths before they realized it wasn't me.

I am afraid this guy is going to try to speak to me. True, at RCC, he and I went to the restroom at the same time and he said something like "How's it goin'?" But I said nothing to him. I couldn't.

I'm afraid that some day he will say something like "Hey, do you realize how much we resemble each other?" and my world will be sucked into a wormhole or something.

Besides, I think he's ugly.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Apologies to My Sister

My sister is farther along the road to packrat recovery than anyone in my family. I said earlier that we all hoarded stuff we didn't need and, true, she has an entire room in her house designed for storage. But her house is spic and span at all times. Now, that storage room could be a mess. I don't know because I am afraid to go into that room when I visit. I have seen too many horror films that center around a forbidden room that tempts characters--even dares them--to try and unlock the door and see what's on the other side.

So I don't go in that room.

One reason that my sister is so neat is that she married wisely. Her husband is always cleaning. I have often thought of moving in with them because, any time there is a mess, he cleans it up. This is almost perfect for me.

The down side of that is if you just set something down with the intention of coming back for it later, he cleans that up too. This bad for me because I'm always setting things down "for later." Later might be in a few minutes, a few hours,...or even a few years--but I always come back for it.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Another 6 Degrees of Separation

I received a mailer from Janet Klein
announcing her upcoming Vaudeville Extravaganza. Janet Klein and her ukulele perform with a kind of lounge jazz with her band the Parlor Boys, among whom is Ian Whitcomb who had a hit in the 60's. They put on a good show.

I taught with Steve Klein
, Janet's father, for several years before he died unexpectedly. He was in his early fifties. Steve was a fine artist and nice man.

Back to the mailer. It surprised me to read the name of one of the acts, Davis and Faversham, a comic tribute to Abbot and Costello. Beavis Faversham (aka Martinez)traveled in the same circle of local show biz folk that I used to awhile back. Last I heard, he worked at Universal Studios costumed as either W.C. Fields or Oliver Hardy. Now I guess he's added Lou Costello to his catalog of stars.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Meditation on Steve Irwin

I admit I had to look up and remind myself of this guy' name. I am amazed at how many students seemed to be in mourning, but they grew up with him. Irwin was there loud, wild babysitter-- a little scary, but very entertaining.

I guess the closest I come to feeling the same way occurred when Chucko the Birthday Clown announced to the kiddies in televisionland that he had been canceled. Chucko ended his last show in tears.

Or maybe when Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, died.

The subject came up in class today and a kid commented about how Irwin died doing what he loved.

I said I agreed.

A student asked me if I would like it then if a died in a bizarre ukulele explosion.

I said no, because I don't love explosions of any kind. I love playing the ukulele.

Shortly after Louis Armstrong died, one of his ex-wives died (I did a Google to find out her name, but no luck). She was a jazz pianist and died during a concert, right after ending a tune. I didn't see it, but Billy C saw the film clip on the news. She really did collapse right at the end of the song. I remember him raving about how good great the song was and then she was gone.

Now I'm not in her caliber. But playing my ukulele and singing wouldn't be a bad end.

Especially if I had just played a really silly song.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Cleaning House

My Bro-inlaw, Billy C, and myself helped Mom sort through stuff at her house. BroIL is a cleaning tornado. He is merciless about throwing stuff away, in part because his emotional attachment to all of the junk isn't as great.

We agreed that the plan for the day was to empty as many closets, cupboards, and shelves of knick-knacks and bric-a-brac as we could. I took the hall closet, where decades worth of sheet music and songbooks, mostly church-related, were stored. Some of it was recyclable, mostly guitar books that could be used for uke resources. There were also librettos of oratorios Mom had sung in. As I said, she was quite a singer in her day.

My parents had also stored their record collection in this closet. I don't think the records have been touched since dad died in '90.

One treasure that I think had been a gift to me was a record from Hawaii with Iz and his brother Skippy's band. I had no use for it then, but hope I can find a turntable now.

The real surprise find was something that I had thought I had lost. When she was still a teenager, my mother had recorded two songs--"Loch Lomand" and an aria from Puccinni's Gianni Sacchi (did I mention she was a singer?). It was on 78. I had borrowed it about 25 years ago to put it on tape with other old recordings I had been given by Les Weinstein. I forgot about the record and later assumed that I had stored it God-knows-where. As Mom got older, I began to fret that I had lost it and feared the day when someone asked if I still had it.

But there it was, in with her record collection.

I later pulled a big computer box down from this one closet, assuming it contained an old computer. What I found instead were old old pictures and keepsakes from my childhood, my mother's childhood, and my grandmother's childhood.

My grandmother had Multiple Sclerosis and my memories of her place her in bed or in a wheelchair. So, it was nice to find so many photos of her when she was young and healthy. One in particular had her in her swimsuit--the kind with the pantaloons and stockings and fluffy sailor-suit top.

Anyway,a lot of stuff to dig through.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Way to Go George!

I stopped by to visit my mother, who lives in an assisted living facility. She has made friends with a woman named Joan who is about her age (82) and who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease that robs you of your balance and mobility. So, the attendants at this place have to watch her because she is prone to fall and can't get herself up.

So last night an attendant came into my mother's room while making the rounds and asks her if she knows where Joan is. She wasn't in her room and the attendant feared she might have fallen somewhere and be in need of help.

My mother told the attendant that perhaps one of her meal-time table mates, a man named George, might know where she is.

So the attendant walks down the hall and knocks on George's door.

No answer.

Again concerned that one of her clients might be in trouble, she enters the room and calls his name.

She found Joan and George together. In BED!

My mother asked me not to tell anyone, but I have a feeling that George would be glad if the word gets around.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No $#!+, Sherlock

Back in 1989, I traveled to Europe with my buddy Bob. We flew over two days ahead of a group of students. The trip started in London and, once the students joined us, we traveled through Paris, Lucerne, Florence, and Rome. This trip almost ended our friendship, but that's another story. Let's just say that traveling with friends and or loved one really does put you to the test.

We landed in London. While there, we decided to take in a couple of plays. There's a booth at Leicester Square where you can tickets to some pretty good shows for half price. The line is usually peppered with scalpers trying to sell extra expensive tickets to the big hits, but I don't care much to see the big hits.

We got tickets to see a play called "The Secret of Sherlock Holmes," Starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, who played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on the British TV series in the late eighties and early nineties. Hardwicke's father was Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Brett needs no introduction to Holmes Heads. But he also played Freddie, the young man in love with the reborn Eliza Doolittle, in the film version of "My Fair Lady." In interviews, Brett complained about the dubbing process for both him and Audrey Hepburn, whose voices were replaced by Marni Nixon and some guy. I guess both Brett and Hepburn were hurt when they discovered this.

Anyway, we enjoyed the play. It was a two-man show and the actors were very good. Hardwicke's played Watson cool and reserved to Brett's manic Holmes. Brett was a sweater. I mean, it just poured. The actual mystery was secondary to the chance to see this famous Holmes and Watson work their stuff.

After the performance, Bob and I walked to the alley behind the theater where Brett and Hardwicke would soon emerge to greet fans and sign autographs.

This older gentleman dressed in a worn tweed suit and beat up bowler sat on a beat-up suitcase, resting his back against the theater wall. The twinkle in his eye and his manner hinted that he had been at some point and actor.

Brett came out wearing a cloak and a beret. As he came out, the old gentleman rose, picked up his suitcase by the handle, stood up straight, and took a deep breath, muttering "Ah, here he is."

Brett cheerfully, but quickly, signed autographs, making certain to mention that they had begun filming new Sherlock Holmes shows.

The elderly gentleman approached Brett s he signed his last autograph and greeted Brett extending his hand. Brett quickly reached into his own pocket, pulling out a few bills and handed them to the gentleman, quickly saying "Good to see you,"--then quickly turned away and left.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Last Romp of the Summer

School started this week. On the night before the first day, a night that usually finds me making last-minute plans. I usually get het up with anticipation. As I grow older, this anticipation lessens, but it's still there.

Camper Van Beethoven had a gig at the Belly Up in Del Mar on this particular Back-to-School Eve. We know the bass player so we thought we'd check them out. I knew I'd be up late, but what the hey?

While driving down, the traffic slowed a couple of times. At one point, when it slowed to around 40 MPH, this guy in the lane next to me started swerving. I passed this guy and glared at him as I did so and saw that he was rapidly, repeatedly slapping his own face while trying to steer. I glanced at him in my rearview mirror a couple of times. He continued to slap his own face, swerving from one edge of his lane to the other.

This will remain a mystery to me forever.

The concert started late. When they came out, Greg Lowrey, the lead singer, seemed subdued. He is kind of cocky and arrogant, so this was a departure from his usual stage manner. Camper is a tight band and Lowrey's songs are great, but they were less engaging than they had been at the other performance I had seen a long time ago. Not much audience interaction. But the same tight musicianship for the most part and the audience seemed to love them.

I got home late and arrived at school to meet my new students. By about 4th period, I was really dragging. I could have fallen asleep at my lectern. I managed to stay awake and even stay after school a little while to finish some work.

I hope I can get my circadian rhythm back this weekend.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Music Teacher

My brother grilled some hamburgers last Sunday for our weekly family dinner. I brought Mom, which wasn't easy. She had not gotten dressed to go out and expected me to help her.

If and when the time comes that there is no way for Mom to get dressed without our help, I will do it. But she is paying big money to stay in this assisted living facility where dressing the tenants is among the things the employees are paid for. Mom said that they were short-handed that day.

A couple of the employees here don't do their jobs very well and I have made it my mission in life to be a pain in the ass until they either shape up or get fired. So, knowing that at least one of these two was on duty, I marched down to the assisted living office. Sure enough, one employee was loading the medication cart while another just stood there chatting with her. I asked if one of the could help my mother get dressed.

In these places, you don't always get what you pay for unless you demand it.

So Mom got dressed, got her pills for the day, and off we went.

We dined al fresco in cooler weather than we had expected. We asked Mom if she wanted to go inside, but she said no. The steps into my Brother's house are challenging for her, so I think she assessed the time it would take and the time she would spend in there and decided it wasn't worth it. So as it got dark, we wrapped Mom in a blanket and brought out a portable DVD player to show her our collected performances, both as The canaries and as solo artists.

My mother, by the way, had once planned to study opera. Then WWII intervened and she left college to stay with her mother. Grandpa had enlisted in the navy (he also served in WWI).

Her voice matured while she was very young. In junior high school she already possessed a mature soprano voice. My siblings and I inherited this trait, except my brother and I went baritone, of course. At thirteen, I looked younger but sounded older.

During her own pre-teen years, Mom performed in recitals and became known locally for her voice. Not quite a child star, but advanced.

So on the way home she, inspired by hearing her grandson singing (the kid's fearless and self-taught), she reminisced about a thing that happened between her and her junior high school music teacher.

The teacher had handed out grades for the semester. She sat with a smile on her face as she watched my Mom open her report card.

Mom's jaw dropped as she saw the "B" the teacher had given her. The teacher then walked up to her and said "What cost you your "A" was the fact that you did not invite me to your recital last week."

Angry, Mom left the classroom.

When Mom got home, she was greeted by her mother and the same music teacher, who had come by to apologize for her actions and said that she had changed the grade to an "A."

As Mom told this story, I could hear the same anger she must have felt at the time bubbling up from inside her.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Lifetime in Stuff

My mother has Parkinson's Disease and is living in an assisted living facility and we're trying to clean up her house for rental. The extra income will give her some disposable income--not to mention more money to cover expenses should her level of care increase.

She lived in her home for 50 years and she and my father had, in all of that time, one garage sale. So, needless to say, there is a lot of stuff there.

Mom has been a collector. Among the things she has collected: Teddy Bears, these little wooden building thingies, demis tas (French for tiny cups and saucers), pitchers, dolls. Yesterday, I tried to sort some of these things out--in retrospect, I'm not sure why. I'm not sure of there sale value or that Mom will even want to sell any of them.

Mom is also a hoarder. All of her kids have inherited this trait. I alone of my siblings am in recovery. I throw things away or donate them to Goodwill. I don't have a lot of stuff that I save, unless it has some sentimental value.

I'm not consistent about this. But I try. I really try.

I also sifted through all of the old bills and check stubs that my mother has kept from the last century. I started to be ruthless at first, but quickly realized that hidden amongst this useless stuff Mom had put old photographs, letters and drawings from her grandchildren, and other stuff that she will want to go through herself.

One of our tasks is to find an old manila envelope with pictures of a policeman the father of her high school sweetheart who had been killed in the line of duty back in the late 30's, when this town was still a sleepy small town. She had dug this out a couple of years ago and left it out on the dining room table. We don't know what happened to it. I have found scores of manila envelopes in every drawer or closet and all of them have been something else.

The demis tas collection comes from her grandmother. We found them in a cupboard in an old Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Some of them are broken. Some are in excellent condition. I don't know where any of them came from.

Mom had an old silver set that we thought she had tucked under a hutch cupboard. It had belonged to her mother. When we pulled it out, we found that a lot of pieces were missing. Mom says that some of it was scattered inside the hutch, but we haven't found them. We suspect one of her living assistants who attended her when she still lived in the house may have taken those pieces.

Before I left put some towels in her washing machine out on the patio that had been built by my father. In one corner of the floor, you can see where my brother, sister, and I had put our hand and foot in the wet cement as children. Next to our imprints, you can see those of our beloved one-eyed dog Inky.

A swallowtail had found its way into the patio and fluttered against the screen, trying to escape. I took a closer look and saw that this butterfly's wings had become tattered. I managed to trap it in my hand without having to hold the wings. I kicked the door open and released it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Vespa or Electric Car

My old friend Curt has this electric car. While it is approved for driving on surface streets, it looks like a four-seated golf cart. It can only go up to 40 mph, so it wouldn't be appropriate to drive on the freeway, but he and his wife drive it around town on short trips. I think the charge is good for 24 miles round trip.

It made me think about my own commute to work and alternatives my current driving habits. I hate the idea of carpooling. Of my colleagues who have carpooled, there always seemed to be the problem of what time to arrive at work and, more important, what time to leave. I don't like having to live around someone else's schedule.

My car is a hybrid, but not a mega-mileage hybrid. It gets decent mileage, but not great mileage.

One reason for my musing about this has more to deal with the ethics of living in the current war-monger atmosphere and fighting in wars that have more to do with giving big oil companies control over oil prices. The less money I spend on gas, the less tainted I feel. I have no delusions about bringing down the oil companies, but I can choose where my money goes.

I don't want a motorcycle because I don't plan on going on any long trips. I just would want something to get to work and back and use for short errands.

Public transportation is undependable around here, so it's not an option for getting to work.

The pros for either a Vespa or electric car are not that different. The cons are greater. In both cases, other motorists would probably show me little respect and I'd have to be extra careful on the road. For an electric vehicle, there is the question of sized and overcrowding my garage. A Vespa would leave me more vulnerable to other motorists, as well as the weather and road conditions. Of course, this is California, so the weather doesn't change that much.

I the price difference is also significant.

So I brought this up while dining with my brother, my SiL, and my mother. The Bro and SiL thought it was laughable to get a Vespa. But most passersby I asked (my friend Curt, Blowhard Canary and his GF, and Zoe all thought the Vespa would be better).

Anyway, I'm far from having the disposable income right now, but am just thinking about it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Disney Fruit

I go to Disneyland and I see evil.

This started a little while after Walt died and the rumors of his being frozen until they could find a cure for the cancer that afflicted him had begun. Throw in the fact that, even after he died, he was still somehow able to show up as host to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (how was I to know it was filmed for broadcast in advance?), and you've got all of the evidence of pure evil that you need.

A long time ago, post-Walt, I bought this environmentalist magazine that had an article about how the Disney company was planning to expand its theme park operation to Yosemite National Park. The lead picture was a scene of Yosemite decorated with images of Mickey, Goofy, and the gang cavorting amongst the trees. The thought horrified me.

So imagine my horror while shopping for produce at a local supermarket and, while testing a peach for ripeness, Donald Duck smiled up at me from the tiny packing sticker.

I knew that a long time ago Donald came out with his own brand of Orange Juice. But this was new.

I dropped the Peach and gasped as I saw before me piles and piles of peaches with Disney characters stuck to their fuzzy skin, each smiling happily. Each sticker proclaimed the guaranteed ripeness of its piece of fruit.

Peaches are one of those fruits that, around here, can be iffy. When ripe, the aroma seduces, the flavor intoxicated. And these peaches were aromatic.

But I couldn't bring myself to buy them.

So, I moved on to the plums, which also promised succulence and flavor. There to tiny Disney faces greeted me. They seemed to be everywhere. I half expected to find them on the blueberries.

I returned to the peaches and began sorting through them carefully. Indeed, I could find some that had stickers from Disney competitors, so I bought those. Likewise with the plums.

It's just my way of sticking it to the mouse.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mad-Dogged at the Folk Center

Standing in line, waiting for the Folk Center doors to open and Open Mike to ensue, Billy C and I stood in line, chatting and passing my Oscar Schmidt back and forth. Neither of us did this on purpose, nor did either of us realize what the other saw, but we casually gazed over across the street where we saw this rail thin man in a dirty sports coat adjusting his jeans and shirt looking over--nay, staring at us. Probably a homeless guy, I thought, probably planning to walk over and ask for change.

I turned back and continued chatting with Billy C and others, but I could see through the corner of my eye that he now walked across the street and seemed headed for us. But I didn't look directly at him. Billy thought he was looking at him, but I don't know. Soon, he was inches away, his face close to mine. I turned and met his gaze--the cold stare of a man there...but not there. Just as I looked at him, he turned and walked up the street. Three people ahead of simultaneously turned and looked at me, having themselves noticed that he had singled me out.

I said, "I hope you guys have got my back if he sneaks up behind me."

PJ showed up at one point with his new squeeze. He didn't come for the Open Mike. He and Squeeze had just left some lecture (it's a college town, for all of you outsiders).

This character who had appeared at an earlier Open Mike showed up with his mother. Let's refer to him as Asshole Profundo (AP, for short). He has a deep voice that sounds like a bad faux Paul Robeson and pasty white skin. The first time he and his mother appeared, I couldn't tell if they were husband and wife, brother and sister, or mother and son. And I had the odd feeling that it might not matter.

Anyway, the reason I harp on this is because Billy C and I sat behind them. While the crowd filed in, during which time most of us self-actualize, AP kept turning around, and looking at my notebook and singing which ever song I had it opened too, tainting it for the evening. Tucked in the inside flap were a couple of poems by Maria Ranier Rilke, handouts from last weeks writers' conference. One poem included the original German version next to the English translation. AP proceeded to read the whole thing in German to me, thinking it quite clever. I began to explain who and what it was and then thought, Nah, I don't even want to talk to this guy.

I mean, he and his mom really give me the creeps.


House lights down. Stage lights on.

As the first act walked up on the stage, AP became anxious and Mom/Sis/Mrs. AP turned and asked Billy C if he had a pencil. AP also looked around for a pencil. As the first act began, he got up with his notebook full of music and walked out, presumeably to look for a pencil.

When he came back, having found a pencil and having satisfied his penculiar needs, he continued to mumble smart comments about other performers, harmonize to himself, and just generally be annoying.

He spent most of his set, fumbling with his music, tuning his guitar, and trying hard to be funny. He sang an aria from an opera entitled "The Jew."

Never heard of it.

But there was something about the way he introduced it that, again, reaffirmed his creepiness.

I gathered from his performance at the last Open Mike, that he and Mom/Sis/Mrs. AP belonged to some sort of cultish religious group.

After intermission, as the lights went down again and I could see which empty seats would likely remain empty, I moved to the other side, sitting next to one of the regular performers.

Highlights of the evening:

Bebe, she of the Koto-like Chinese instrument, played. Billy C and I wondered aloud on the drive home whether she was really that good, or just good to us because we have never seen anyone else a Koto-like Chinese instrument. She rocked my limited Koto-like Chinese world.

Then, the store's owner, Musical phenom Ben Harper, a successful singer-songwriter and grandson of the store's original owner Charles Chase, played two songs.

Billy C and I both saw him outside with his wife, Laura Dern (the actress from the original Jurassic Park and daughter of Bruce Dern).

Anyway, he played two songs and was really excellent.

For a dollar admission, that was a pretty good deal by itself.

The woman who followed him had the best pipes in the universe.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Adventures with Bobs

I met Bob at the first of two job interviews at a school where I taught for 9 years. I didn't get the job that time, but did on the second job interview a few months later, where Bob sat again on the interview committee. I got the job this time in part because Bob and some friends had seen me the previous night in a performance of Threepenny Opera, in which I played Mr. Peacham.

Like so many of the teachers I worked with then, Bob is a fascinating character loaded with quirkiness. I regard him as one of my best friends--probably the best friend acquired in this phase of my life.

Bob's mother has alzheimer's and he and his wife have begun the process of finding a place where she can stay and get the kind of care she needs. He and I got together to talk about what I have learned about some of the facilities locally, since my family and I have already moved our mother into one of them.

We met in this local independent coffee place and talked awhile, sampling some of their sugar-free and sugar-loaded sweets (I eschewed the latter, I'm trying to be good). We both had on rust-colored t-shirts, so we looked like either a couple of aging twin brothers or an aging gay couple.

Bob and I are both diabetics--his, I believe being more advanced than mine. Bob is more of a compulsive personality than I, so he often acts on what he wants in the moment, which can be amusing and can also be exasperating.

We decided to go on a drive-by tour of some places I had checked out, while I gave him what I knew of the low-down on each.

We stopped at one and Bob decided he wanted to go in and check it out, so he stopped right in front of the entry-way--in a red zone (I mentioned this a couple of times, but it didn't matter to Bob)--got out of the car, and walked into the building--passing the check-in desk and making a beeline into one of the hallways, stopping to chat with residents, pausing to inspect the dining room and other gathering places. We were in and out in five minutes.

On the way to the next place, I ran down the positives and negatives of this place as Bob listened thoughtfully while driving and dialing his wife up on his cell phone--all the while trying to drive, weaving between lanes and stopping a little bit to quickly at red lights, unless he decided to try to beat it--so she could talk to me about living trusts and so I could talk her out of buying tickets to a production called Sleeping Beauty put on by Junior University (a local children's theater known for its four-hour-long productions and hard metallic seating) to which they had planned on taking their seven-year-old grandson. All the while. I think I did a public service here.

At another home, this one an independent facility, we drove down to the end of the ample parking lot down this alley that looked to Bob like it might circle around the building but instead turned into a green walking path for residents. We stopped at the start of the path and walked the distance around the path to inspect the outside of the building--I, of course mentioned that we had parked illegally--Bob of course not being concerned with that.

We walked into the reception room where Bob asked questions, took a flyer, as well as piece of candy, chatted with a lady about the food served at this place, marched outside and down the alley where he had parked the car. As we backed out, he asked me to watch and let him know if he was about to hit the wall which to me looked like he almost did several times.

We decided to get dinner at Panera, where we evaluated the day's adventure thus far. I had the half-sandwich/bowl of soup combo, with a fruit salad and diet coke while he had an Italian sandwich and a bag of chips with a jumbo diet coke. We decided to go see Clerks II, so Bob refilled his jumbo soft drink cup with coffee and we took off for the new theater in MoVal. As I checked the movie section of the newspaper for times, Bob steered with one hand, held his jumbo coffee-filled soft drink cup in his other hand and tried to manage a leak in the bottom of said cup with his third hand which of course he doesn't actually have so I guess each of his hands was operating at each task at only about 66% capacity. I asked him if he wanted me to hold his cup. He said, "That's ok, I've got it."

I pulled a napkin out of my back pocket and gave it to him so he could catch the leak, which helped him better control both the cup and the driving.

We got into Clerks II just as it started. The theater was full enough that we could only find seats in pairs. We're both big guys, so we usually sit with seats between us, but couldn't find a row to accommodate this. I think, subliminally, what with the same-colored t-shirt thing, we wanted to play down the aging gay couple thing. So, we each took an aisle seat, one behind the other.

OK. I admit that Jay and Silent Bob are a kind of guilty pleasure of mine. I don't always like the gross humor, but there is a certain heart to many of Kevin Smith's films that I like. Values like love and friendship always seem to triumph against the backdrop of glandular humor. I can appreciate that.

Aside from the tastelessness of some of the gags, the one thing I think he misses is in the character of Silent Bob, who usually speaks in only one or two scenes, often to spout the wise lesson of the film. Silent Bob is like Bill the Cat from the Bloom County, Outland, and now Opus comic strips. Bill says little. So, when he does, it should be brief, to the point, and either hilarious or deeply profound. If he says too much, the magic is destroyed.

Likewise with Silent Bob. Kevin Smith too often crosses the line between what would be just right and too much. The first line he speaks is hilarious. But then he responds to some comment from Jay and ruins the magic. If he is truly Silent Bob, his words should be economical and precise. All else should be silence. Anything more becomes self-indulgent.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Specs

As I said before, while in Taos, while cleaning my glasses, I was overcome with a surge of Herculean strength and twisted my glass frames so that one of the thingies became noticeably wobbly. I tried to be careful with them for the rest of the week, but the thingy broke off in the middle of a workshop session. Several people scrambled to find glass repair tools in their purses or bags. But,alas, it was for naught. The problem wasn't a lost screw, but structural damage. So I spent the rest of the week holding my glasses up to my face so I could read.

I had an old pair with me, but they didn't help much with the reading.

Just before I left for Taos, I got a prescription for a new pair and I knew they would be ready when I got home, so no Biggs.

I picked them up today. There was a family ahead of me that was picking up a new prescription for one of their little girls--her first pair. She was a pretty little girl, 11 or 12. When she tried her new glasses on and looked in the mirror, tears filled her eyes and she began crying silently. She hated the way she looked with glasses. Her mother and the girl at the counter tried to comfort her. The lady helping me had the same prescription, so she also turned to comfort the girl. The mother began explaining to her that, if she earned the money, she could get contacts and show her how to put them in. But, in the meantime, she would have to wear the glasses.

The counter lady offered to go back and have them tinted for her. When she came back, the girl liked them better that way and stopped crying.

Ah, how fragile the psyche of the pre-teen. Oh, the pain of growing up.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In Dreams

One thing I didn't mention earlier about my Taos stay is that I stayed at the Sagebrush Inn, which is where Georgia O'Keefe stayed when in Taos painting her vagi-flowers. I stayed in what I think must be one of the original rooms. It was upstairs and relatively secluded an close to the lobby and restaurant. It also had to bedrooms with king beds, a fridge, and fireplace--which I didn't need. I only had two neighbors--one next door and one downstairs. I checked to make sure that I wasn't getting charged for the extra room and the clerk assured me that I wasn't. I guess they just ran out of singles and I lucked out.

I didn't much care about the extra bed, but the extra room gave me a place to work and practice my ukulele without having my neighbor pounding on the walls next door.

I don't hold with a lot of the new-agers who believe that Taos has some magical quality (the mountains humming and all that). It could be true, but I'd rather concentrate on the explainable.

One thing I did notice was the frequency and intensity of my dreams. Our fiction workshop leader mentioned this too. He had several nightmares while in Taos. I didn't have nightmares, but each night I would have an intense dream full of archetypal goings-on. I would awake, then fall back asleep, have another dream, wake up again, fall back asleep again, have yet another dream, and so on until morning. I probably had at least three such dream per night. I would have written them all down, but I would never have gotten any sleep.

A product of the Taos hum? Maybe. But it could have been the altitude. It could have been a product of the intense weather. It could have been because I kicked in full gear with the creative process all week and my subconscious just wanted to join me.

On a practical note, when cleaning my glasses, I forgot my strength and twisted the frame, which threatened to just break for the first half of the week and then finally did on Wednesday. So I spent the last three days having to hold my glasses to face so I could read.

Among the topics for the week-long workshops, for those who are interested: Writing Poetry that Matters, Writing for Change (non-fiction), Writing Your Family Story, Writing a Screenplay, Mystery Writing.

The website: Taos Writers's Conference

As long as I'm in the linking mood, here is a picture of last year's fiction workshop.

The guy next to me with the up-turned baseball cap is Dan Meuller, the workshop leader both this year and last year. He wrote a book of short stories called How Animals Mate. The girl in front of me was in both last year's workshop, as was the short guy on the end. But he isn't as cute.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Taos and Back

I just got back from Taos, New Mexico this afternoon. This is my third year attending the Taos Writers' Conference and I always feel refreshed when I get back.

I drove across the desert from Mo Val to Taos. My original plan was to drive the whole distance like I did last year, but that plan changed as I drove into Arizona at about midnight and saw the thunderclouds in the distance. They were amazing to behold, but the rain they brought with them made me decide to play it safe and check into a motel in Kingman. Didn't need the extra challenge of rain coming down in the dark.

It rained off and on the whole trip and. When I arrived Friday Night, it began to rain pretty hard and kept up the whole weekend--stopping on Monday. Usually, Taos is sunny and hot, with the occasional winds or showers. But this was a constant downpour.

I took a weekend poetry workshop during which time we wrote about four poems each. Rough drafts, of course--but I felt that each had possibilities and plan on revising them this week. The workshop group met in an upstairs meeting room. Strange thing was that we had two participants out of the 12 who had major injuries that made walking up stairs difficult for them. One young lady had some kind of leg injury and used a crutch. The other injured was this poor woman who looked like she must have had some major car accident or something. She wore a neck brace, had to pad her chair with special cushions, and used a walker to get around. The hotel provided assistance for her, but I was surprised that no one offered to change meeting rooms to accommodate her.

The week-long workshop was for fiction. That focused primarily on stories we had brought with us. We spent the week reading one another's stories and critiquing them. The participants ranged from amateurs, like me, to published authors. One 72-year-old lady had written one book, her memoirs, and gotten them published. Another woman had just signed a three-book deal with a publisher and was in the process of re-writing the first one.

Didn't do much of the touristy stuff. I've already done most of that in Taos. When I wasn't meeting with my workshop, I was either reading, writing, or walking. There are lots of walking paths behind the hotel, but there are also packs of wild dogs that lurk there. One lady told me of her encounter with three dogs who weren't very friendly. So I just created a civilized trail for myself at Kit Carson Memorial Park and environs and walked that every day.

Anyway, I'll post some of the stuff once I've had a chance to revise it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Short Hiatus Explained

It has been difficult this summer to do many of the things that I have vowed to do because of outside stuff, some of which has been worthwhile, some of which has not. In spite of everything, I have managed to eat better, exercise almost every day, and write almost every day (mostly on this blog).

The reason I haven't written anything here for the past four days has been because I have been working on a short story and trying to get it finished in time for the writers' conference that's coming up.

I had one in the can from a while back, but decided that I should come up with something new. It started out to be very short, but, after working on it, it has grown to almost 13 pages.

I haven't written much short fiction. I didn't used to think I had any ideas. Recently, I have discovered that our memories are our ideas. We all have stories to tell.

Anyway, that's about as much writing about writing as I can do. I'll probably either post what I've got here or send it to those of you who might want to see it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Singers Who Can't Sing Goes Broadway

Now that I think of it, how many actors who have won acclaim and/or awards for their performances in musical theater did so without being able to sing? I can think of a few people who created their roles in original Broadway productions, yet their singing ability was not technically good. They depended more on their ability to sell the song as a part of the characters they portrayed.

1. Carol Channing comes to mind. She played Dolly in "Hello Dolly, as did

2. Pearl Bailey. Those of you who remember her might disagree, but, while she could project, I'm not sure her voice was all that good. But she had the ability to infuse her energy into a song.

3. Zero Mostel in Fiddler and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

4. Yul Brynner in the King and I.

5. Richard Burton in Camelot.

6. Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

7. Mel Ferrer in Man of La Mancha.

8. Peter O'Toole in the film version of Man of La Mancha. I know they dubbed another singer into that one, but he couldn't sing either.

10. Sophia Loren in the same film. She wasn't dubbed, but who cares?

Maybe those last three don't really count. But I needed at least ten to feel complete.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Singers Who Can't Sing

A recent post on Howlin' Hobbit's
blog made me think about all of the singers that I like who can't really sing. I have gotten into heated arguments with friends and family over some of these. People in their fan base love their music so much that they just can't hear the fact that their actual singing isn't very good, but it somehow makes the music work. Still, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, their voices are not "good" singing voices. If you were a teacher in a music class and one of these guys enrolled incognito and then sang for you, you would probably choke.

That does not mean that they shouldn't sing. In fact, many of these performers have a genuine drama in their voices that recreates the song anew.

When I was in musical theater, there were always people in the cast who, when they got a solo, would go "pretty" with it every time, instead of going "character." As a result, their solo would just sound horribly wrong.

Even guys like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, after their voices have long lost the youthful timbre that made them stars, still manage to carry the song with the shear drama of their voices coupled with their ability to interpret.

Here is my top ten list of singers who can't sing but should nonetheless keep singing. If you disagree, just try to imagine each of them singing "Some Enchanted Evening" and tell me it would sound as good as Enzio Pinza. Or, on the other hand, try to imagine Enzio Pinza singing "Walk on the Wild Side" or "Vertigo."

1. Louis Armstrong (of course he can't keep singing because he's dead
2. Moms Mabley (see Louis)
3. Sonny Bono (see Moms)
4. Bono (Okay, I admit I included Sonny Bono just so I could follow him with Bono)
5. Lou Reed
6. Neal Young
7. Marianne Faithful (the older version)
8. Bob Dylan
9. Mick Jagger (Okay, maybe he should stop now)
10. Tom Waits
11. Muddy Waters
12. Carol Channing
13. Johnny Rotten
14. As long as I mention Johnny, why not Joe Strummer?
15. Van Morrison
16. Johnny Cash
17. Leon Russel

Okay, so that's seventeen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Folk Fest haiku

When I arrived at the Folk Fest and finally got my tent up. I folded out my lounge chair and watched the sun set. As background music, all coming from different directions and distances, I had various camp jam sessions, the band at the contra dance, and a group of fiddlers at the outdoor concert stage playing at the same time. The music was both cacaphonous and melodic, kind of like a piece by Charles Ives.

The next morning, I sat watching the horizon again as the sun rose higher from behind me.

But the first haiku was inspired by this bird who kept attacking my window at school.

junkyard landscape:
oriole perches on fence
then flies into window

red sun sinks behind mountain
owl’s silhouette glides across horizon
at dusk

a thousand frogs croaking at night
I lean over the bridge silence

vulture’s circle
an airplane cuts a straight line
across the sky

Mt Rub Haiku

When I walk the Rub with Do, or anyone else, we usually talk. But when I walk alone, I try to be open to noticing something new. These haiku are products of the alone walks. You may have read the images elsewhere in this blog.

red-tailed hawk
perches atop dying tree
studies hikers below

hummingbird grasps branch
nape and throat shimmer ruby and green
no escape

the mountain top:
we watched the rain
spray the valley

wind blows my hat off
sunset colors the clouds
trapped by the mountain range

hiker reaches the peak
chats on his cellphone
spectacular view

rain fills river bottom
the water’s shimmering v’s
birds fly in formation

dabs of cloud
drift across cobalt sky
hide, then reveal random stars

2/3's of the Canaries

Open Mike again. A small crowd, due in part to the heat and maybe in part to the earlier start and maybe in part because people are on vacation.

A lot of new folk there. A lot of youngsters, a lot of whom either knew each other or were just very entertained by many of the performers.

UF sang a song with the word "Motherfucker" in it. I think it rhymed with something. Both of his songs excelled.

This one guy who will remain nameless at one point began beating the time on his guitar case when other people sang. That annoyed me. I kept thinking of something the teacher of my bones workshop said yesterday. Just because you can find the beat doesn't mean you should invite yourself to play along. Percussion is supposed to decorate the song. This guy has also taken to making comments to the performers that aren't especially funny.

A lot of talent once again. This guy named Spiro (like the Agnew) especially wowed the audience. I know he had some fans there because some ladies behind me knew his songs.

Billy C got there late and had to be coerced by me to go ahead and play the two songs he had brought with him.

I sang Quinn the Eskimo and America, Here's My Boy. I used a cheat sheet. Neither were songs I had originally planned on performing. I decided at the last minute to perform them because I wasn't secure about the two I had originally wanted to do. Next time. I kind of knew these two songs, but never really commited them to memory, hence the cheat sheet.

A young man and his daughter performed a song with her singing and him playing the mandolin. She was very young and very nervous. The audience began clapping along, which I think both made her more nervous and also made it difficult for her to establish her own pace. Anyway, she was cute and the audience loved her.

Special Ed--who usually gets there early, sets his guitar at the door before it opens, and then leaves until the just before the door does open and claims first place in line--got there late because he didn't get the memo about the earlier start time. He usually plays and then leaves. Tonight, he had to play towards the end, which meant that he had to wait for others to perform.

I have a problem with people who play and leave all of the time, unless they are really really good. It disrupts the community feeling.

Billy C sang two really good songs: I Go to Pieces and No One Cares for Me.

It was a good night.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jammin' with the Big Boys

Just got back from the Folk Fest. Due to plans to cancel it, followed by a last-minute influx of funding, followed by a rushed scheduling of acts and workshops, attendance was lighter than last year. Last year, I got there late and almost didn't find a place to camp. This year, I got there close to the same time and practically had my choice of sites. Fewer vendors showed up this year, which only matters kinda. I like to browse, but don't like the temptation.

A lot of good workshops. A beginners' marimba workshop looked like the surprise hit. 10 minutes after it began, music from these multi-sized marimbas ensued with abandon. They played bass marimbas, soprano marimbas, tenor marimbas, all kinds. Whomever ran the workshop provided them. And let me tell you, the participants had a wild time. A few of these workshops tend to be pedantic, like the one I started the hour with. I left and followed the music. I would have joined in, but the line was too long and the marimbas were too few. Sad that they only gave one workshop.

When I say that some workshops are pedantic, that doesn't mean that I don't learn anything. Almost every workshop leader had me making music before the workshop ended. But each leader spent a little too much time on history or personal anecdotes.

The big news is that I took my Fluke and sat in on a blues jam. At one corner of the fest, they schedule different styles of jams. I decided that I would go to this one and sit and listen and maybe join in.

I sat in the outside circle, where the less experienced usually sit while the pros in the inner circle take turns soloing.

I was the only ukulele. For the most part, when the leader shouted out the song and the key, I worked it out. Most of the songs had only three or four chords and I didn't solo and they didn't ask me to leave. Yahoo!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Your Baggage Has Been Delayed

I swear that my training as a world traveler--that which has always begun with the mantra "pack light, pack light, pack light"--should have kicked in before I left for Pennsylvania. But, like so many accidents and mishaps in life, I instead listened to the little voice that said "Don't worry about it." I took three bags: my fluke in its case, my laptop, and a bag with clothes and stuff.

I could have just bee-lined for a music store or pawn shop and bought either a cheap uke or a really nice one and played that during my visit. I could have left it there for my nephew and whomever to mess with. Or, if it had been a collectible, I could have figured out a way to carry it with me on the return flight. Either way, someone would have ended up with a ukulele.

I could have gone a week without my own computer. But the reason I bought the laptop was so I could take it with me and write, which would have been difficult on the one computer at my sister's house, since everyone uses that all of the time.

I could have just packed bare necessities and combined uke with regular travel stuff.

Anyway, the marginally positive thing about it is that, if I had bought one of those vintage ukes at Buck's County Music, I would have probably had to pack either that or my fluke and checked it in with my other bag, which got lost. I don't know how they lost it. It was a non-stop flight. All they had to do was put it on my plane and there it would be--no stop-overs where they could transfer it to the wrong plane.

Next time, I won't pack anything I can't carry on.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Hiker and the Bass Player

I spent a week in Downingtown, PA visiting my sister and her family for the occasion of my eldest niece's high school graduation-that, and the fact that it might be the last time I could count on everyone being together for any length of time in the future. Of course, since all of the kids are teenagers with jobs and active social lives, we rarely were all together at the same time anyway. But I did get valuable face time with each of them.

Downingtown is a small town and there isn't much to do. But it also has some beautiful scenery, so I used that as an excuse to walk for about an hour almost every day. My sense of discipline was in high gear and it paid off--at least as far as my blood pressure goes, as it was way down. Today, for example, it was 107/71 which is a significant drop.

Mt. Rub is nice, but nothing compared to walking the Strubel Trail that runs parallel to the Brandywine River. Lots of green. Lots of shade. One day, while walking with my sister, my younger niece, and their dog, we actually saw a deer wander out on the trail.

On Saturday morning, I awoke especially early. It was the day of my return flight and I slept little. So, around 7 AM, I figured that I may as well get one last walk in before I left. I could sleep on the plane that afternoon if I needed to.

I discovered a variation on my standard route and followed it, not sure if I would get lost--but it's pretty hard to get lost in Downingtown. Keep your eye on a couple of prominent landmarks and you can find your way.

As I finished my walk and returned to my sister's house, I passed some apartments in the area--old apartments that could use some refurbishing. Outside of one, a man carried a large case with a stand-up bass in it that it looked like he was going to try to fit into a car that looked to small. He set it down to bring out some sound equipment.

As I passed, he greeted me and asked "Are you a hiker?"

I said "No, I'm a walker. Are you a bass player?"

"Yeah," he said. "Do you play?"

"Not bass. My axe is the ukulele."

"Alright," he replied. "Do you play around here?"

"No, I just play around the house."

"Well, that's cool too."

"Yeah, my brother and I sometimes play at open mikes back home along with my nephew."

"Hmmmm, I oughta look into getting me one of those."

The Canaries at the Backstreet

For a Mom's-eye review, check out Vivage.

The three of us arrived at the Backstreet, a local one-of-kind sandwich shop, where our friend Luigi Canario plays ambient guitar music on Wednesday nights. Luigi is a classical guitarist who used to play in a band called Sterno and the Flames when we was kids. A lot of local folk of legend were involved with that band.

So, aside from listening to Luigi's musical stylings, we knew that he would let us do something during one of his breaks. We each did a song. Billy C sang I Go to Pieces. I sang I Wanna Be Like You. Blowhard Canary sang Don't Think Twice. Then, we sang I Shall Be Released. The crowd ate it up.

Princess Canary then came up and wanted to sing Amazing Grace with us. We had sung this a capella at one of our rehearsal's at Mom's apartment. We tried playing our instruments this time, but we were not tuned and we couldn't agree who the culprit was. I tuned my uke to Billy's (my uke was losing its tuning because the pegs need to be adjusted), but things were still not happening. Blowhard sounded out of tune to me. But what we really need to do is rehearse these things. Also, Princess needs to join us more because she has a really sweet voice.

My childhood friend Curt (not a Canary) came in with his lovely wife Joanie and an older couple after we had finished the songs we sang well. During Amazing Grace, the older gentleman walked up to the stage and began clapping either with us or for us, I'm not sure.

Later, when I joined their table, he began talking to me and I learned that he was from Denmark. I couldn't figure out much of what he was talking about beyond that. It wasn't a language barrier. Rather, he had trouble putting his thoughts together. At one point, he had me touch the side of his head, where, under his hair, I felt a pronounce dent. It became clear that he had had a severe head trauma of some sort and that he had been explaining to me how it happened and how the doctors had treated it. At that point, his wife asked whether I understood that her husband was a stroke survivor and his head injury took place when he fell from said stroke and that he had to re-learn how to speak and do almost everything else.

I then learned that he had been the most prominent architect in town and had signed the plans of almost every major building project in town, including the cross at the top of Mt. Rub, most of the schools in town, the refurbishing of Mission Inn, the Museum of the Desert, and many many more.

I sat and talked (actually listened) to him for at least an hour--having to really work my deciphering antennae extra hard. In addition to talking in numbers (he had been an excellent mathematician), he also had a problem with gender referents. When Curt had left to go talk to Luigi and the other Canaries, he asked Joanie, "Where is your wife going?"

There were times when I don't know what he was saying at all. But he was a nice man--very cheerful. His wife even said that, although he sometimes made her crazy, he was always so sweet to her, both before and after his stroke, that she felt lucky. Sometimes stroke victims' change of personality can bring out the worst in them.

I capped off the night by taking a look at Curt's electric car. It's a Ford Think, which has been discontinued for a long time now. He bought it from a car dealer in San Diego. It looked like a golf cart. Good for surface streets, but not allowed on the freeway--but, these days, getting on the freeways doesn't get you anywhere very quickly anyway.

Friday, June 16, 2006

An Autistic Classroom

My sister invited me to her classroom recently. She is an instructional aide working with autistic kids. The regular teacher has been out for quite awhile, due to a medical emergency that became more complicated when they tried to treat it, so they have had a couple of long-term substitutes. So, in reality, the instructional aides have been running things and my sister is the senior-most instructional aide.

The deal was that I could come to her class on their last day of school and play my ukulele for them. Each student's program is highly individualized, so their aren't many times during the day that all of the students gather as one class. Instead, each student usually does their own thing. As opposed to the usual room filled with desks in rows, this class room is set up with activity centers, with lots of cubicles to help the students concentrate. I noticed that, even when they are all gathered in the play area, each student seems disengaged from the other students, unless one ventures into another's space.

So, most of the time, I provided ambient music. I practiced mostly the more difficult songs that I have been learning.

There are seven elementary school-aged boys in this class and almost as many adults to see to their needs and intervene if any of them act out inappropriately. Trust me, each instructional aide and teacher that enters this classroom has their work cut out for them.

Eric was the first student in the door. He was to receive an award for being promoted to the middle school next year, as well as one for art. I offered my hand to shake. He took it and shook it for a while. Sis had to cue him to stop. Eric was a pretty calm kid otherwise. My sister says his artwork is pretty wonderful.

Joey reminded me a little of Eeyore. He spoke with a slow, forlorn cadence of one for whom life had been a struggle. When my sister introduced me, she mentioned that I had diabetes (type 2). I asked him if he had diabetes, to which he replied, "unfortunately yes." Joey blood sugar needs to be monitored pretty carefully by the staff.

My sister later told me a Joey story, where the class had gone to a place called Rita's to get some Italian Ice stuff, what ever it's called. She told Joey that he cold have some, but he'd have to get two "mosquito bites" (insulin shots). Joey thought for awhile and finally said that he'd take both the mosquito bites and the ice. Later, my sister asked him if it was worth it, to which Joey replied "You bet."

Joey has to get his blood tested before he gets on the bus for home because, if it's too high or too low, he could have a serious problem. The day I visited, Joey tested low. The nurse at the office gave him a couple of sugar tablets and tested him again and his blood sugar was even lower. It took awhile to get it right.

A student named King was one of the most interesting students. He was a cute kid, skinny with buck teeth. He had one man, Mr. Tom, who spent the whole day monitoring just him. King sometimes would invade other people's space and had a problem with biting people at one time. King also had very poor communication skills and severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My sister told me that there would be times that King would just get locked into an OCD cycle that he could not get through and would just roll around on the floor until it passed.

Mr. Tom brought King over to me and said "King really likes music." King's toothy smile told me as much. I then noticed his two dinosaurs that he had with him. The whole time we were in the classroom, King would alternate between dinosaurs, clicking one against his teeth three times, putting it in his pack, then taking the other out, clicking that with his teeth, walk around the room, then go back to his pack and repeat the process. At one point, King approached me, holding the dinosaur close to his face and, just inches from my face, whispered "Grrrr," clicked the dinosaur against his teeth, and scrambled back to exchange it with the one in his pack.

At the awards assembly, King suddenly jumped up and got really close to a random man in the audience. Mr. Tom quickly followed King and gently guided him back to his seat.

Like most people, Most of what I knew about autism I got from "Rainman." I had also read the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel told from the point of view of an autistic kid.

But I had never seen autism in real time before. The day left me feeling proud of my sister and the work she does.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dream #5

I was leaving the Riverside Brewery. I had parked my car under a bridge on a busy street. As I walked out, I saw this guy climbing into a burgendy colored van. He had to squeeze between my car and his because our cars were right next to each other. There was no room for him to be getting in between the two cars, so I was amazed that he could do it. Once he got in his car, he purposely slammed his door into the side of my car and he and these other two guys laughed and began to drive off.

I ran to my car and somehow, even though the car had sped off, the guy in the back, who looked like a former student of mine, a big football player, was able to stick his head out and get in my face, telling me "You better check your car. These guys ripped you off. If I was you, I'd stop the traffic."

Sure enough, they had broken into my car. Nothing was gone. But the dashboard was torn up and lots of junk was scattered around. As I closed the car door, I noticed that, while not scratched or dented, the door was smeared with burgundy paint.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Flat Tire Principle

Once they had started boarding the flight, Nick allowed a nervous looking woman to go ahead of him, which he immediately regretted when he noticed her dragging a huge carry-on with wheels. As he followed her through the tunnel to the plane, he noticed her unsteady shuffle, as if perhaps she had been drinking before the flight. As he followed. She weaved a bit and, just as she was about to enter the plane, took an unexpected turn, tipping her carry-on over on its side. She apologized and righted her bad with his help. Yeah, she had been drinking alright.

He found that they were to be aisle-mates at the bulkhead as she stopped in front of him.

The flight attendant took one look in her bag and said, "That's too big, honey. We have a full flight and won't be able to stow that in the overheads. You'll have to check it in."

"I'm NOT going to check it in," she replied.

"Well, I don't we're going to have enough room."

A nice man took a bag out of the overhead and stowed it under his seat so she'd have more room.

"Excuse me, sir," she said, "but would you mind helping me with my bag? It's too heavy for me to lift."

Nick knew that she was talking to him. But he had already decided that he didn't want anything to do with her. She had already proven that she was going to be a pain in the ass to anyone who dealt with her. So why should he get involved. Besides, he thought, if you can't lift it, you shouldn't carry it on the plane. That's why they call them carry-ons.

Nick pretended he didn't hear her. Five times.

Someone finally helped her and she sat down.

Nick inventoried his flight-gear-not because he could do anything to change it if he had forgotten something, but because he needed the reassurance that he had remembered everything. He had worn his all-cotten longsleeved shirt and pants, for when the plane went down. Cotten, because it would burn before your skin, giving you a better chance for survival, long sleeves and pants for full body protection. Boots instead of shoes or sandals, because you never knew what you might step on or trip over in a falling airplane. His lucky hat, for luck. A long work of classic fiction because he knew the plane would never go down if hadn't yet finished the book he was reading.

The lady across the aisle swiped her credit card to access the television service. placed the headphones over her ears and began nervously working a crossword puzzle. Multitasking to take her mind off her fear.

Nick could sense her madness.

She sat alone in her row. Nick had one other rowmate, with a seat between them.

"I guess we really lucked out," she said, clutching her armrests. "I never get to sit alone. We'll probably crash."

Nick couldn't believe his ears. Why did she have to go and jinx the flight like that? Didn't she know about the "Flat Tire Principle?"

Nick thought back to when he first learned of the Flat Tire Principle as a young boy. He and his family were going to Disneyland. They had happily been playing the alphabet game, when his mother said, "This has really been a fun drive so far."

"Yeah," Nick said, "I sure hope we don't get a flat tire."

Just then, a small explosion took place right behind where Nick was sitting. The car swerved a little to the right of the road and several other drivers honked their horns in agitation. Nick could hear the flip-flopping of the rear tire.

"Now why did you have to go and say that?" Nick's Dad asked him. "You know that's how people get flat tires. You never even think of flat tires when you're driving, boy. Ain't you got sense?"

Nick locked his seatbelt and the plane began to approach the runway. As it picked up speed, the cabin shook and Nick thought about how primitive airflight was. As the engines whistled and the plane took off, he turned to the woman and said "You know, if we all die tonight, it's your fault."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dream # 4

I'm not sure how much I'll remember except that there was some kind of science fair going on in the school gym and several of my students were involved. But the science wasn't really science. It was more like the students had each perfected some sort of magic trick.

I found my self in my classroom, except it was angular and dreamlike, not at all practical for desks or students. Not many students were there. I eventually figured out that most of them were at the science fair.

My friend Bob appeared from out of nowhere, his beard trimmed down to the stubble, his waistline down to what it was probably 10 years ago (he's a big guy). He had a worried look on his face, like he had just witnessed something horrible. When he told me what was wrong, it didn't seem like a big deal to me.

The only reason I remember any of this is because Bob looked so deathly afraid of something.