12/31/2012

Had They But Known

I caught an old 1962 episode of the tv series NAKED CITY, "Hold For Gloria Christmas".  Naked City was framed around several police detectives, but the emphasis was on the personal stories of the ordinary people involved in the investigations.  It was sort of a halfway-house between the pure anthology series like PLAYHOUSE 90 and the modern tv series focused on a central and continuing cast.

The episode itself was well worth watching, with Burgess Meredith as a self-destructive, dying poet desperate to retrieve his poems from the bar-owner to whom he's traded the manuscripts for drink.  (Also, a frighteningly young Alan Alda in what must have been one of his first roles, as a contemptful rival poet.)

Something else that caught my eye, though, were the scenes set at a street newsstand.  Take a look behind Burgess Meredith in this screenshot; see what was on display at that newsstand?



Oh, man.  Anyone still alive who ever worked on that episode who sees that screenshot must slap themselves in the forehead and think, "Oh, why couldn't I have slipped a little 'souvenir' from filming that episode down my pants?"

That issue of AMAZING FANTASY was the very first appearance of Spider-Man.  It would probably be worth more now than it cost to film that entire episode in 1962.

12/29/2012

Yay, Me.

A few days before I broke my arm, I reported here that I'd completed writing a short story for the first time in six years.

Much to my surprise, I completed a second short story, "Nell and Ray Go To Bed", about 1300 words, last night.  Yep, with one hand tied in front of me.  (For the record, typing one-handed -- with the left hand, at that -- is not a lot of fun.)

I think it's a good story.  In the past, the stories I've written quickly, in one or two sittings, have actually sold faster and gotten better critical reception than stories carefully plotted in advance and written over weeks or months.

I hope to do more "Nell and Ray" stories eventually.  I've had a note in my "story ideas" folder for a while that if Death had children, they'd be named Nell and Ray.

But one of the reasons I've had so much difficulty writing in recent years has been a loss of faith in my own ability to write fiction.  I've found myself unable to judge, or to trust that judgment, whether what I'm writing is worth writing.  I've tended to fall into the "This is crap" dead-end partway thru a story.  So it may be that writing these quick, short pieces is what I need to do to get back where I don't feel like a phony by calling myself a writer.  (I let my SFWA membership lapse in 2009.)

Part of the motivation for writing "Nell and Ray" may be that, while I'm not able to work or to do as much around the house, I've been reading a lot more than usual.  Among that reading has been THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ROGER ZELAZNY, a 6-volume set published a few years ago by the underappreciated NESFA Press.  If Zelazny's short stories are an influence, it's a pretty good one to have.  Even half-assed imitation-Zelazny is worth shooting for.

Michael Whelan's panoramic cover for the 6-volume Zelazny collection


12/28/2012

The Zodiac Re-Imagined

Found on behance.net, a lovely re-imaging of the Zodiac as a series of female portraits, by German artist Ekaterina Koroleva.  The full set can be seen here.

12/25/2012

An Appropriate Image For Today

image found on allthingsdurning.tumblr.com


You get Santa.  You get Charles Durning (whose December 24th death was reported earlier today) as Santa.  And that salute?  Durning was not only a fine, fine character actor who could make even mediocre roles in mediocre movies sparkle, he was a survivor of both D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge during WWII.

Thank you, sir, for your service not only to art and entertainment, but your service to your country. I salute you.

A video of Durning speaking about his D-Day experiences can be seen here.

12/23/2012

Dogs Read With Their Butts


posted from Bloggeroid

Not My X-Rays, But Close

I still haven't seen the x-rays from my own broken arm, but the image below should be pretty close to what mine look like.  I'll put the image behind a break, because it's pretty cringe-worthy.

The technical term for my type of break is "comminuted".  (From Merriam-Webster:  being a fracture in which the bone is splintered or crushed into numerous pieces.  Yeah, that sounds appropriately painful.)

The nickname for how I shattered my arm is "a Superman break".  That's when a falling person puts out one arm like Superman's flying position to try and catch themselves.  Well, let's just stamp a big, fat FAIL over that manuveur, shall we?

(One of the mentally painful consequences of my fall has been the realization that I will never be a superhero.  Goddamit, "Become a superhero" has been on my To-Do list since I was a kid!  That sucks.  Really, really sucks.)


12/22/2012

Christmas and Mortality

Our son Chris has been working essentially two jobs up in Las Vegas, both his long-time dead-end job and his "externship" for the Phamaceutical Technician career he's trying to get into. (And doing well enough at that it's been suggested he should go for a full Pharmacist degree.  Yeah, maybe, if a big bundle of cash drops out of the sky and lands at his feet someday.  He's really stretching himself just to afford the PT courses.)

But that meant his schedule was supertight, and he could only make a quick half-day trip down here for Christmas, and only yesterday on the 21st.  It's been three or four years since he'd seen Grandma Shirley, my mother, but my brother Denny was gracious enough to drive Mom on short notice all the way from where's she's been living with his family near the eastern edge of Mesa.  (Or, as we call it way the heck over here in Glendale, "The Far Side of the Universe", about a 50-mile trip.)

My mother's 85, with a variety of health issues.  None critical right now, but... she's 85.  So it's probably a good thing to take advantage of any opportunity for her and Chris to see each other.  There's no reason to think this will be her last Christmas, but... she's 85.

This is one of the drawbacks of geting older:  You have to start taking into consideration the question, "If I don't do this now, will I have an opportunity to do it later?"

The accident that broke my arm certainly contributed to this morbid line of thought.  I've always known, intellectually, that I'll die someday.  But being hurt so badly, and so suddenly and unexpectedly, has really impressed on me, in a deep visceral sense, that I won't be here someday.  The thought struck me while Chris and Mom were here that someday there'll be a Christmas that will be my last Christmas.  (Though I certainly hope my timing will be better than my Dad's, who actually died on Christmas Day, 1980.)

This is not an easy concept to grasp, when it's one you've been trying to avoid all your life.  I'm not sure where this mental processing will end up, or whether going thru the process is the point.  We'll see.



This lovely graphic apparently comes from
a Moldavian animation company,
possibly as part of a commercial. 
(What were they advertising?) 
That's all I've been able to find out about it,
tho' I'd love to see the full animation someday.


12/19/2012

Balance

You know you haven't quite gotten the balance right between taking too few painkillers for your broken arm and taking too many when you find yourself wanting the answers to questions like this one:

If Superman ate a bag of charcoal briquettes, would he be able to squeeze diamonds out of his ass?


And there never will be again,
if Superman has anything to say about it.

Or maybe I'm just weird.
 

12/18/2012

Modest Proposal: Stop Calling Them Trolls

I've decided to stop using the word "troll" to describe the people who obsessively post ignorant, racist, disgusting comments online.

Trolls are big.  They're tough.  They're scary and intimidating.  To the people who post these type of comments, being called a troll is a GOOD thing.

So I'm going to start calling them what they actually act like: Cockroaches.

And I'm going to call the comments left behind as the cockroaches pass through what they are, too:  Cockroach turds.

(from Wikimedia Commons)



(This post inspired by some of the despicable filth posted as comments to news articles regarding the recent death of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.)

12/17/2012

Not Dead Yet

Every once in a while, masked gunmen break into the house and force me to do a Google Search on my own name.  Because I would never be so shallow and vain as to do that on my own, of course.

Which lead to a site called IsXDead?, purportedly a site to find out if "celebrities" and "public figures" are dead or not.  An important part of their "research" is apparently from a public poll on the webpage, asking visitors to state whether they think I'm still alive or dead.

The good news: Four out of five people think I'm still alive.  1782 voted for "Alive", 442 for "Dead".

Or did they?  Because I frankly have a great deal of trouble believing over 2,000 people 1) Googled my name, 2) went 3 or 4 pages deep into the results to find the IsXDead? link, 3) actually followed the link, and 4) would actually cast a vote.  Particularly because to get to the IsXDead? link, you'd have to skip merrily past dozens of other links that would give evidence I was still alive and occasionally functioning, including numerous links here to UF.

(The most popular post on UF, regarding a 2006 book tour appearance by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, has had less than 400 pageviews.)

The site also gives my year of birth as 1906.  Well, I do feel that way, sometimes....

So where do those numbers come from? Who knows? I suspect that if I went on to register to post a comment that I'm still alive, I'd end up being asked for personal information, or to join Facebook (same difference).  So I didn't go past that first page.

That's also why I'm not providing a link to IsXDead?  Because, putting it into technical and computer-savvy terms, that website is fucked-up-in-the-head.


12/15/2012

Mim Keeps My Chair Warm


posted from Bloggeroid

Broken News

Home from hospital Thursday night. More on that broken arm:

Not much to say about the accident itself.  It would be nice to be able to say it happened while defending the property at my security job from hordes of ninjas and zombies, but it actually was just a bad fall on a concrete sidewalk.  The sidewalk won.

The break, in the shaft under the head of the right humerus, produced enough pieces the doctors decided against trying to use plates and screws to put the bone back together.  So Tuesday afternoon the top part of the humerous was removed and a metal prosthesis put in its place.  I guess this now makes me an Official Cyborg.  When bandages are removed and scars healed, I will see if I can use any of our fridge magnets to stick a to-do list to myself.  (First entry on that list: "DON'T FALL")

If it sounds like I'm trying to make light of the situation, it's because a totally serious account would read something like this: "AIIIEEEEE!!!!  AIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!  AIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!"  God damn, that hurt.  That hurt.  That hurt.  Every time the arm moved, it hurt like jagged pieces of broken bone were trying to cut their way further into already-traumatized tissue.  Oh, wait....

It didn't help that in the day between accident and surgery, every separate x-ray or catscan -- at least half a dozen -- seemed to require a separate trip down to radiology, with each requiring at least one painful shift from gurney or bed to x-ray table or CT machine, then back again.  AND with shifters who didn't seem too concerned about my screams when those shifts took place.  (You might think it just couldn't be avoided, but the guy who took my pre-op chest x-ray managed to shift me carefully and cautiously.  It wasn't painless, but it was a lot LESS painless than everyone else's transfers.  A LOT less painless.  Thank you, Brian; thank you, thank you, thank you.  That hospital should have you teaching your techniques to the other employees; I'm serious about that.)

Less pain, but still quite a bit, post-surgery.  Like my rotator-cuff-surgery recovery a few years ago, I'll be in a sling and with that arm mostly out of use except for physical therapy for some weeks to come.  Since the injury was to my right arm this time, it will be even more inconvenient.  Financially at least, most should be covered by Workmen's Comp, and my private insurance hopefully taking care of the rest.

Mentally, I find myself more disturbed by this accident than I expected.  Part of the reason the bone broke so badly was that my 60-year old body is starting to show osteoporosis, with loss of bone strength.  Twenty years ago, I'd probably have bounced up from such a fall, maybe with abrasions and/or a sprained shoulder.  And, even after just a few days post-surgery, I can tell I'm recovering more slowly than after the rotator-cuff surgery only two years ago.  A few days after the cuff surgery, I was able to supervise a yard/estate sale for a lot of our deceased friend Anne's belongings.  A few days after breaking the arm, I'm still barely moving.  Just typing this one-fingered post is deeply wearying.

(There also seemed to be an unspoken attitude on the part of some of the medical personnel I was involved with this week: "Oh, he's an old guy.  When old people fall down, they break.  Situation normal."  No.  No, IT'S NOT NORMAL, DAMN YOUR UNCORRECTED 20-20 VISION EYES!)

I've always been fairly physically strong.  I've always known I had that reserve of strength to fall back on, even in periods of illness or injury.  But this is the first time I recall feeling not only weak and feeble, but fragile.

If we didn't have Tabbi, Hilde's live-in night-time caregiver when I'm at work, to step up and take more care of not only Hilde, but to assist me with day-to-day tasks while I'm recovering, we'd be screwed.  (We've had Tabbi living with us for seven years.  It's gotten to be a lot like having an adult daughter sharing the house.  She makes a good "daughter"; hurt her, and I'll break your arm.  Eventually.  I'll put it on a to-do list and stick it to my shoulder with a magnet until I'm recovered.)


BONUS VISUAL AID:  Barely noticeable painwise, but pretty spectacular visually, I also hit my face on the sidewalk when I fell.  I'm putting a photo below the break, in order not to frighten young or sensitive Internet users who might stumble across this post.

12/08/2012

Wonderella Nails It

If you're a regular reader here, you might have noticed that I occasionally (as in, "frequently") creeb about growing older.

A recent Wonderella webcomic captures all the wonder and thrill of growing older.  I laughed a lot at this, between weeping bouts of self-pity.

If you don't have The Non-Adventures of Wonderella on your list of webcomics to follow, you should.  The Wonderella Twitter acount is also fun, proving that Twitter actually has redeeming social value on occasion.


12/05/2012

Stepping Back Is A Step Forward



Last night, I completed a short story, "After The Stomp".

Only about 2,000 words, but it's the first story I've completed since 2006.  I've done a number of notes and fragments for other stories since 2006, but none have been completed until now.

(Why, and why so long?  Ummm, because... reasons!  That's why.)

"After The Stomp" is my own take on the zombie apocalypse, from the POV of a cockroach.  I'll have to see if I can get it marketed and sold before zombies become passe'.  (Assuming that my writing a zombie apocalypse story doesn't mean they're already passe'.)

But I'm cautiously stoked about finally finishing something again.  We'll see if I can continue this trend....

11/29/2012

Opiates Are The Religion Of The Masses

Fountain Hills, AZ, the town where Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives, is in the news:

FOUNTAIN HILLS - The Maricopa County Sheriff's office says a former pastor at the Faith Mountain Christian Center Church has been selling drugs to multiple people.
 
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said deputies got word Tuesday that Pastor Mark Derksen, Sr., 63, was selling drugs to at least 30 people in a 24 hour period from his condo.
 
Authorities issued a search warrant on Derksen's house where they found heroin, prescription drugs, a shotgun and pistol. Deputies also seized computers and cell phones from the home. Investigators are searching through the devices to determine the names of Derksen's buyers.
 
Arpaio told reporters that Derksen believed he would "bring people closer to God," by helping them get off of drugs, but in reality, he was helping them become addicts.
 
[...]
 
Deputies believe Derksen got people hooked by giving the drugs to them for free.
 
Oh, surely he passed around a collection plate for people to give free will offerings.

"Oy, what a meshuganah!"
 
 

11/27/2012

Yeesh! Yuck! Yahoo!

I've been using Yahoo! Bookmarks to click around frequently-visited and worth-saving sites for years.  So I was a little perturbed when the Bookmarks button on the Yahoo! Toolbar suddenly vanished -- poof! -- last night.

Tried refreshing the toolbar.  No luck.

Tried going to the Toolbar "Add Apps" page and adding a Bookmarks button back in.  The little "loading" icon spun... and spun... and spun... and spun... and the button never loaded, even after multiple tries, including one spinning session that I let run nearly an hour.

I did find that the bookmarks hadn't totally vanished into the aether.  (As other people had reported happening in the past, when I checked some various help forums.)  If I went to my My Yahoo! page (which I have reason to look at maybe once every few years), I could still access the bookmarks, though only 20 at a time.   Do-able, but a lot more awkward than the drop-down menus I was used to.

Next step was to try uninstalling and reinstalling the entire Yahoo! Toolbar.  This meant I had to re-add various other buttons I use (Groups, Flickr, a few others).  I tried adding the Bookmarks button again, but it still just spun in circles, forever.

So I went on adding back the other buttons.  And when I hit the "Add App" for a Notepad button... all of a sudden the Bookmarks button popped back up on the Toolbar.

WTF?

I gather that Yahoo! has been losing users for quite a while, which reduces their revenue, which means they've cut back on support for various features.  This may have something to do with the problems I encountered.

So maybe it's time to start thinking seriously about dropping Yahoo! and going to some other provider for email, bookmarks, etc., before they do a GEnie and vanish completely.  (Well, Yahoo! will probably continue to exist in some form for years to come.  After all, AOL is still around... somewhere... I think.  Isn't it?)

But I really don't want to have to go thru all the dead ends and non-working solutions I tried since last night, again.  Because it's just a little...


 
...FRUSTRATING
 
 
Update, several hours later:  Bookmarks button gone again. 


11/21/2012

Sleep: More Irregular Than Ever



I've been living with an irregular sleep pattern for years.  A large part of this comes from working graveyard shifts four nights a week and trying for a more "normal" wake/sleep pattern the other three days.  One of the by-shots of this has been that I generally only sleep about six hours per night.  Less, a lot of nights.  So I've gotten pretty used to going around mildly sleep-deprived and feeling tired.

But three times in the last two weeks, I've slept for twelve hours pretty much straight, with brief interruptions for giving Hilde her mid-morning meds, letting the dog out and back in, and annoying phone calls.  (Death Rows in prisons across the world are filled with simple murderers, but the person who invented robo-calling is walking around free.  There is no justice.)

You'd think this would be a good thing, that it's just my body catching up to the lack of sleep on other days, but: 1) Those unexpected extra hours of sleep I've been getting are hours I expected to be awake and trying to Get Shit Done.  Pre-Thanksgiving shopping?  Didn't get done today.  Sorting and organzing and filing papers?  Didn't get done.  Donating blood?  Didn't get done.  So I'll have to try and cram that, and more, into tomorrow's waking hours.  Annoying.  And 2) Why start this new trend now, when I've been running on short sleep for years?

Also, it's a weird feeling to wake up and feel mushy-brained from too much sleep.

(This post brought to you by Grumps-R-Us.  Fine complaints for every situation, no matter how positive.)

11/15/2012

Praising With Faint Damns

 



(I usually post my own LoLs here, but this one was too good to not share.  Posted on cheezburger.com by "Unknown", or I'd give the creator all due credit.)

11/12/2012

Vote or Die: Choose One

No, really.  This woman will try to kill you if you don't vote.

GILBERT, Ariz -- A pregnant Gilbert woman is facing domestic assault charges, accused of running over her husband because he didn’t vote in last week’s election.
Several witnesses called the Gilbert Police Department Saturday, to report a disturbing sight in the parking lot of a restaurant.

[. . .]

According to the police report, Solomon's husband told investigators his wife hates President Barack Obama, blaming the president for her family problems.

When the husband told his wife he didn't participate in the election, that's when police said things got ugly.
 
 Of course this took place in Arizona.  Of course it did.

Of course it involved someone suffering Obama Derangement Syndrome.  Of course it did.

11/09/2012

Packing for the Con



Clothes, check. Toiletries, check. Meds, check. Laptop, check. Books, check. Food, check. Cat... good try, Tyr, now get the f' out.

posted from Bloggeroid

11/01/2012

My Own Private Archer




Over at Tor.com, Irene Gallo has a long post featuring some of her favorite paintings and illustrations of archers and bowmen.  I thought I'd share this piece from Hilde's and my own little art collection, "Archer" by artist Jim Humble.  (One of the pieces in my winged-cat collection is also by Humble.)

(The backdrop isn't too fancy-schmancy, is it?)

10/22/2012

Leiningen vs. the Zombies




I've been reading Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth zombie-apocalypse trilogy, and I'm feeling pretty zombied out as I approach the end of the third book.

But the thought struck me that the archetype for zombie stories, the ur-zombie story, had no zombies in it.

I'm speaking of "Leiningen vs. the Ants" by German writer Carl Stephenson, first published (in English) in a 1938 issue of Esquire.  In my school days, at least, it tended to show up frequently in textbooks for English courses.

The story, of a South American plantation owner facing an advancing horde of carnivorous army ants, pretty much has it all for the zombie fan:  The army ants are essentially mindless, they're seemingly without number, and they will eat you if you get in their way.  Leiningen is the hero struggling to save his plantation (a stand-in for "civilization") and his workers ("humanity") from the Godless horde.  Defenses are put in place, with some success. ("Peace through superior firepower" is, in part, through actual fire-power in this case.)  But the defenses fall, one by one, until the hero finally has to directly confront the ants/zombies, at near-insurmountable risk to his own life, in order to save the remaining outpost of civilization and the humans still alive there.

Doesn't that sound like a template for a zombie story?

The link above includes an interesting article about the story and its author, as well as the story itself.

10/12/2012

Post-Debate Thought

Watching Joe Biden debate Paul Ryan was like watching Gallagher debate a watermelon.

10/11/2012

We Get Egoboo

Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan's Question of the Day was "What's your favorite short story?"

Imagine my surprise to find, among comments citing Shirley Jackson, Hemingway, Melville, Bradbury and others, one commenter saying:
"Death and the Ugly Woman" by Bruce Arthurs
 
I blush.  "Death and the Ugly Woman" seems to be the story I'll most be remembered by, if I'm remembered as a writer at all.

No one's ever reprinted the story, to my disappointment.  It has been optioned for movie/television, though that option expired recently.  I should probably either post it online or make it available as one of those short-story ebooks.

10/08/2012

My Lost Weekend



British military hospital in France, WWI,
from National Library of Scotland
(via Flickr Commons)
I'm home from the hospital, after spending most of Saturday and Sunday there.

Things actually started Friday evening at work.  I began having some fairly intense pain across the upper shoulder area of my back while at work.  This was unusual, because while I have occasional back pain, it's almost always in my lower back, not the upper.  Early in the AM on Saturday, the back pain lessened, but I began having pains in my upper chest area instead.  I started thinking it might be a good idea to go to Urgent Care or the ER after work to get checked out.

The chest pains continued to get worse, and I started thinking I might have to get off my shift early to go to the ER.   About 3:00 AM, when the pain was still continuing to get worse, I finally radioed Sam, the other security guard on duty that night, and filled her in on what was going on.  She called the security head and let him know what was going on.  By this point, I was starting to think that it would not be a good idea to try and drive myself to the ER, so paramedics got called and I ended up going to the closest hospital, John C. Lincoln, by ambulance.

Initial tests in the ER (ECG, etc.) came back negative for a heart attack.  I got admitted for further observation and testing.  The first set of enzyme tests also came back negative.  I was seen by both a cardiologist and an internist.  The internist thought my problems were probably coming from GIRD, Gastro-Intestinal Reflux Disease.

I don't think so, or at least I think there was more going on than GIRD.  For several days previous, I'd had a feeling deep down in my throat when I swallowed something, like my esophagus might be scratched or irritated.  But that only happened when I swallowed, and when I've had reflux attacks in the past, it's always felt like a constant heartburn down in the mid or lower abdomen.  Plus I'd already taken my daily omezaprole (Prilosec) just before work, and took a cimetidine (Tagamet) about an hour after starting work, when I was still getting that scratchy feeling in my throat.  Ever since I got diagnosed with reflux some years ago, the omezaprole has almost always kept any symptoms from developing, and on the few occasions when it didn't, adding a Tagamet on top always cleared up the problem.  The pain in the upper shoulders was something that had never been connected with GIRD before.

(Also, it's my body, and after sixty years I'm pretty well acquainted with it.  And, several times in the past, when my doctors have given me a diagnosis and I've thought "Not that simple", I've generally tended to be right.  A good example is my shoulder pain following a fall back in 2010; I kept saying "rotator cuff tear" and the doctors said "No, it's just a sprain; you only need physical therapy."  Finally, an MRI showed I did have a rotator cuff tear, just in an uncommon place, and I ended up having reparative surgery.)

The pain across the upper chest continued thru Saturday, sometimes backing off (but never completely), sometimes going back up to its higher level.  Saturday evening I finally agreed to a light shot of morphine, and was able to get to sleep, though I tended to wake up for a while every few hours.  (If you're awake at 4:00 Sunday morning and don't have a book to read, you'd better hope you like watching TV infomercials.)

When I woke up for the last time at about 8:00 AM Sunday morning, the upper chest pain had finally gone mostly away.  Yay.

A second enzyme test, for which blood had been drawn the previous evening. also came back negative.  But I still had a nuclear stress test scheduled for Sunday morning.

The stress tests I've had before have been treadmill tests, where they take ECG readings at rest, then have you run on a treadmill until your heart rate is elevated and do a second set of readings.  The nuclear stress test differs in two ways: 1) rather than an ECG, they inject a radioactive tracer and run you thru a big scanner, and 2) instead of a treadmill, they inject a drug that increases your heart rate ands simulates having exercised, then run you thru the scanner a second time.  I think I'd actually prefer the treadmill; when they inject that drug and just a few seconds later your heart is pounding and you're gasping for breath, it's alarming, even though you've been told what to expect.  (I gather that some of the street drugs available give a similar rush.  Some people apparently find that a positive experience.  Those people are insane.) In my case, while I never actually threw up, I also felt nauseous.

The stress test also came back negative for any signs of heart damage or my having had a heart attack.  By this time, the upper chest pain seemed to have faded away.  So I was told to follow up with my regular doctors and discharged.

(My regular doctors, for the most part, are with the Arizona branch of the Mayo Clinic.  With hindsight, I'm a little regretful that I didn't feel like insisting on going to the Mayo Hospital here, about 12 miles further away, instead of John C. Lincoln.  John C. Lincoln is an older hospital, I think first built in the late 1950's, and the general feeling while being there was that the hospital and staff were... "tired", I think is the best word.  There didn't seem to be much enthusiasm or energy.  My Mayo experiences have generally felt like the staff is actually happy to be working there.  I also know, from my own and others' past experiences with Lincoln, that their collections department was apparently trained by Michael Vick, so I expect to start getting phone calls and demand letters from them in about a week.)

I expect the doctors at Mayo will probably send me for an endoscopy to check out my esophagus and stomach re the possible GIRD problems.  At this point, I'm not sure what to guess about the upper chest and shoulders pain I was having, but I'll see if the Mayo doctors have any ideas of where to go from here.

A few miscellaneous things from my hospital stay:

One of the nurses on Saturday told me it was okay to get out of bed and use the room's bathroom "if you need to pee-pee."  Yes, she actually said "pee-pee".  I wouldn't have objected if she'd simply said "pee", but "pee-pee"?  That's a little kids' word.  "You can go ahead and say 'urinate'," I told her. "I'm an adult."

My roommate on Saturday didn't have as much luck with his test results as I did.  He'd had a quadruple bypass some years ago, and was now in for a quintuple bypass.  This was apparently going to be a fairly high-risk surgery, and there was a fairly constant stream of relatives and friends coming in to visit, some of them travelling from out-of-state to be there.  Then one of his doctors came in to tell him that a brain MRI had shown several mini-strokes within the previous few weeks, and that his surgery should be delayed about six weeks to give his brain a chance to heal.  This news upset the roommate's wife, who wasn't sure he'd still be around to have the surgery in six weeks.  But wait, there's more!  About an hour after that, another doctor came in to tell him "Your chest MRI showed a lump on your heart.  We think it's probably cancer."  That's not a trifecta you want to win.  (He was moved to a private room shortly afterward, both to deal with the news more privately and to deal with the congestion from his visitors.)

I was really glad to get home to Hilde and our Sleep Number bed.  The Sleep Number beds really are as good as their commercials say.  After spending a day and a half in that hospital bed, my chest pains might have gone away, but my butt hurt.

10/06/2012

9/04/2012

An Unexpected Sixty

So I turn sixty today.

This is not something I expected.  In my paternal family history, almost every male for about a century has died of a heart attack before reaching the age of sixty.  It's only in my generation, with my three older brothers, that we've started living past that date.  Since they're all still alive -- my oldest brother is 65 -- it's not a complete surprise that I've managed to get there too.  But until the last five years, I've pretty much expected that I wouldn't be here right now.

That's the good news.  The bad news is... I'm sixty.  Sixty.  Sixty.

When you're in your fifties, you can still say you're in "late middle age".  But when you hit the sixties, you're old.   Old.   Old.

Hilde, who is 66, is glaring at me right now.  But I still think she's hot, so her age doesn't count. (That's right, I'm talking about wrinkly old people having sex.  And now you will never get that image out of your head.  Never!  BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!)

So what am I going to do with the rest of my life?  Let's assume I manage to live another ten years, to age 70.

There are some things that can't be discarded.  On the money front, I'm still going to have to work for at least several more years.  The Postal Service retirement check is nice, but doesn't quite make ends meet.  We're refinancing our mortgage, which will drop the minimum payments by about $120 a month.  We're currently out of debt, and even have some money in savings, but experience says that's not a status you can expect to last forever.  We'll probably need to get a new car in the next five years or so.

Hilde's medical and physical issues mean there's a good chunk of each day devoted to assisting her with... well, pretty much everything.  (Tabbi, the young woman who lives with us, acts as Hilde's caregiver when I'm at work.)

I'd like for Hilde and I to start socializing more. One of the negative side effects of getting older is the social attrition that takes place. Putting it bluntly, our families and friends keep dying on us, we don't get out with or interact with as many people as we used to, we don't make new friends or acquaintances as often, so we get more and more socially isolated.

I need to deal with some old emotional baggage.  I've been thinking about that a lot recently.

I should start exercising at least semi-regularly again, and watching my weight better.  (I've been yo-yo-ing between the mid-170's and mid-180's for about the last year; my goal weight, where I look and feel my best, is about 165.)

I need to get a better sleep pattern going. Working graveyard shifts, I tend to sleep in chunks of several hours, interrupted by periods of wakefulness. I should have at least six hours sleep a day to function decently; I don't always get it.

I'd like to make better use of my leisure time.  Read more books, watch more movies, listen to more music. 

I need to start whittling away at sorting, culling, and organizing (and disposing of some of) our household belongings, in preparation for our eventual infirmity or demise.  (Neither Hilde or I want to leave that huge task for our son Chris to deal with.)  A big chunk of that is dealing with all our books.  (And that ties in with wanting to read more books; I've always tended to buy more books than I have time to read, and after forty years, my To-Be-Read pile is, ummm, large.)

And I'd like to get more writing done.  One night per week at work is spent doing Dispatch duties, which at night basically means writing down the times that night's roving guard calls in each building check.  I've been keeping a yellow pad handy on those nights, and using the gaps between call-ins to jot down a few sentences or paragraphs on the "Alice At Zero" story I posted a bit of awhile back.   I get, usually, two or three pages filled on those nights.  But that's awfully slow progress, and I need to figure out where to find some writing time at home.

That all sounds like it should keep me and Hilde pretty busy.

8/30/2012

Drinking and Making Commercials: Do Not Mix

So I've been seeing a tv commercial recently for Newcastle Brown Ale:


Way to go, Newcastle!  Make a perfectly good commercial touting the skill and care that goes into your product, and then at the very last second, drop a turd into the punchbowl by saying your female brewmaster is too ugly to have her face shown.

Gratuitous, unnecessary, unfunny and... yeah, really... ugly.

If Newcastle wants people to talk about their commercials, this as is a success.  If they want people to actually BUY their product... not so much.

8/29/2012

Toast


Welcome news from the Arizona primaries election yesterday:  Former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, trying to get back into elected office after losing a recall election earlier this year, got skunked by his opponent, Bob Worsley.  Worsley had a 12-point lead by the time votes were counted.  Pearce, author of the controversial "Show Us Your Papers!" SB1070 law, was reportedly sulking in his tent after evicting reporters from his election-night party.  This defeat should finally put a stake in the heart-shaped vacant space of the former leader of the Pasty-White-Guy wing of the Arizona Republican party.

For an extra bonus, one-term Congressman Ben Quayle also lost his bid to be on the November ballot.  He can now go back to being... whatever the hell he was before being elected. 

8/28/2012

Advertising Space Available



Our token black cat Bastet has matching bald spots on both sides, following a visit to the vet today. She's had occasional coughing spells and unwarranted panting for some months, so we finally took her in for an exam. An X-ray found fluid around the lungs, so she got shaved, then drained like a boxed wine at a frat party.

The fluid's been sent off for testing, so we'll have a better idea of possible diagnosis in a few days.

Our Siamese, Tyr, had an interesting reaction when Bastet wasn't brought back to the house right away; he went around the house with his back arched, tail fluffed, and a wild look in his eyes.  "Am I next? AM I NEXT?"

8/22/2012

An Interview With Congressman Odd Fakin

"Congressman Fakin, you stated in a public interview your belief that in cases of rape or incest, a woman's body has natural defenses that will keep her from being impregnated."

"That's correct."

"How exactly does that work?"

"Guns."

"Guns?"

"Yes.  A woman has guns, little tiny guns, up inside her hoo-hah.  When a rapist's sperm gets inside her, a woman's body can just shoot each sperm with her little tiny bullets."

"I see.  But what about women who claim they're pregnant by rape?"

"I'm not saying they deliberately choose to get pregnant.  They just choose to not use their hoo-hah guns, because they're a bunch of liberal pussies."

"Liberal pussies?"

"Yes.  You know, the kind that believe in gun regulation, or -- my God, can you believe it? -- not using guns at all.  Jesus Christ, if you don't have guns, how are you going to defend yourself against rape sperm?  With a coat hanger?   You'll never see a decent, God-fearing, American conservative woman bearing a rapist's child."

"How does a woman's body tell the difference between a rapist's sperm and non-rapist sperm?"

"Oh, that's easy.  A rapist's sperm is swarthy."

"Swarthy?"

"Yep.  You know, deep beige to dark brown, almost black sometimes."

"Thank you for sharing your views, Congressman."

"You're welcome.  I'm always glad to share what I learned at church."







8/01/2012

Blasts From The Past: Train For Tiger Lily, by Louise Riley



TRAIN FOR TIGER LILY by Louise Riley (Viking Books, 1954)

TRAIN FOR TIGER LILY is a 1954 children’s fantasy written by Louise Riley, a librarian in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

I first read TFTL in grade school in the early 1960’s.  In the intervening years, I’d forgotten the title and author, but still remembered elements of the plot as being unusual enough that I’ve made several attempts to identify the book.  My Google-fu finally got good enough to recently pinpoint the book and re-read it via an Inter-Library Loan request.  (Thank you, Murray State University, for keeping a sixty-year old book still available in your stacks.)

The plot:  One car of a train making a days-long trip across the Canadian plains is occupied by five children of various ages.  Mostly pre-teens; brother and sister Duncan and Cathy, and siblings Mark and Victoria and their younger brother Benjie.  They waken from a night of travelling to find their sleeping car sitting in the middle of… nowhere, apparently, with the countryside stretching away on all sides and only a signpost reading “Tiger Lily”.  Except for a dining car and a railcar holding Duncan’s prize calf Prince Rupert and its watchdog McRoberts, the rest of the train has vanished.

The person behind this is the train’s porter, Augustus (“Gus”) P. Wallingford.  Gus isn’t just a porter, he’s a wizard (Master of Magic, Second Class).  The lack of any other adults in the children’s railcar makes it possible for to spend three days in Tiger Lily, where the initial placid appearance doesn’t rule out adventures and dangers.

Gus is also a Negro, as virtually all train porters were when the book was written.  This was unusual for a children’s book in the mid-20th century, enough so that even at age 10 or 11, when I first read TFTL, that fact stood out to me.  Black characters in children’s books, by and large, either didn’t exist at all, were such minor characters they barely counted, or were negatively stereotyped.

Gus is intelligent, friendly, and responsible.  If he’s led the children to a place where they might face danger, he also helps protect them and advises how to deal with it.

The major fantasy element of the story comes when Seven U O’Leary, a decrepit broken-down old cowboy on a decrepit broken-down old horse, comes onto the scene.  Seven U’s magic horsehair belt, which had kept him and his horse Lightning young and vigorous, has been stolen by a witch.  Helping Seven U recover the belt before their three days in Tiger Lily expires leads the children into risk.

(Shape-shifting is also involved.  The youngest boy, Benjie, finds being a duck so much fun his older sister is afraid he won’t change back.)

Louise Riley’s writing is aimed squarely at about a mid-elementary school audience.  (I was in 3rd or 4th grade when I first read it.)  The writing and vocabulary is kept at an appropriate level.  And while the children find themselves at risk, it’s never portrayed in such a manner as to overly frighten or alarm the book’s younger audience.

(For comparison and contrast, two other books about young people discovering the existence of magic and how to use it are Diane Duane’s SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD, aimed at young teens, and Libba Bray’s A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY for older teens, both of which go into situations and experiences that are much darker and more troubling.)

Ms. Riley wrote a small number of other books, including at least one that also features the porter/magician Gus.  After re-reading TFTL, I did some research and contacted Ms. Riley’s nephew, who appears to have the rights to her literary estate, suggesting that with so many older books now being re-issued as e-books, it might be worthwhile to make Ms. Riley’s books available again in that format.  He seemed receptive to that idea, and we’ll see if there’s further progress along that path.

7/23/2012

Shots In The Dark, or, How I Became A Sharpshooter


One of the idiot memes arising in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting comes from the wanne-be Rambos who think that if other theatergoers had been carrying concealed weapons, they could have taken out the body-armored fellow who was spraying the audience with semi-automatic gunfire.

When I was in the Army I qualified for a Sharpshooter badge during our weapons training in Basic.  Before the Army, I'd fired a gun, a .22 plinker, only a few times.  But I did... okay... with the M-16 during our first training sessions.  Not great, but enough to pass and to look like I'd earn a Marksman badge by the end of Basic.  (Marksman was the lowest level of proficiency, followed by Sharpshooter and Expert.)

And then came the Night Firing training....

Among the other guys in my training company, one was really good with a gun.  I mean Good.  As in Really Good.  As in, Holy Shit, I Can't Believe You Hit That Little Tiny Target So Far, Far Away.  He was clearly in the running for an Expert badge.

At the Night Firing range, the targets are small boards that flip up at intervals.  The only illumination coms from a tiny bulb with an even tinier wattage that flashes (barely) for a fraction of a second.  All this in the dark, and a long way from where you're laying in a cold damp hole with your M-16, trying to see those faint, almost imaginary flashes of light onto the targets.

Several ammo clips later, I and the other trainees have finished the Night Firing exercise and gather around to get our scores.

I get a high score.  I get a surprisingly high score.  I get an astonishingly high score, far above the type of scores I'd gotten during daytime firing exercises.  I get a score so high that suddenly I've moved up into Sharpshooter-level numbers.

That Holy Shit guy?  He skunked it.  Didn't hit a single target.

Well, let's revise that statement, because it doesn't take much time or brains to figure out what happened.  In the dark, with everyone firing around him, with multiple targets and multiple dim flashes, he'd gotten his orientation just slightly off and had been shooting at the wrong target.  The target of the guy next to him.  At my target.

Both of us ask the Drill Instructors if this can be corrected.  I didn't want credit for targets I didn't hit myself, and the Holy Shit guy didn't want to see his expertise-level-of-record suddenly dropped. To which the Drill Instructors say, "Tough shit."

So I ended up with a Sharpshooter badge that was more than I deserved, and the Holy Shit guy also ended up with a Sharpshooter badge, less than he deserved.

But in the dark, even under strongly controlled, relatively ideal, conditions, with advance notice of what to expect, it's difficult to hit your target, even when you're a crack shot.  (Almost all of the trainees had single-digit scores, mostly low single-digits, for the Night Firing exercise.)

Under less controlled conditions?  When there's a crazy guy in full body-armor firing, and firing, and firing into you and the other theatergoers?  With nearly everyone screaming and trying to get out of those rows of seats?  (Think about how much trouble it can be to get in and out of a row of seats just on a normal night.  Think about that for a moment.)  With smoke and tear gas rising around you?

You have a concealed weapon.  Let's assume you get it out of your pants without being hit by gunfire.  Let's assume you get the safety off without getting hit by gunfire.  (Because you're not dumb enough to carry a gun with the safety off, right?)  Let's assume you even manage to chamber a round without getting hit by a bullet.  (Because you're not dumb enough to carry a gun with a chambered round, right?)

You lift the gun up, take careful aim, and... oh, fuck that, you're getting shot at!  Get that gun pointed in the general direction of the shooter, and pull the trigger, and pull the trigger, and pull the trigger... and God help any other moviegoers between you and him.

But you hit him!  You hit him!  You hit him in the body armor, and he staggers back for a second, and then he turns towards you and now he's shooting at you, he's shooting at you.

But you still have bullets of your own!  So you pull the trigger again, and again, and again...

...and anyone still alive between you and the shooter is now caught in a crossfire.  Their life expectancy, already not too fucking great in this situation, takes an exponential nosedive.  Thanks, asshole.

The particular idiot who inspired this rant is Arizona's very own Russell Pearce, author of the SB1070 "Show Us Your Papers!" law.  (Who's not a racist, mind you.  He just likes to cozy up to and hang around with self-declared white supremacists and Nazis.)  In several Facebook posts (since deleted) he not only blamed the Aurora victims for not defending themselves, , but had the audacity to compare them to the passengers of Flight 93 on 9/11, who died trying to re-take their plane from the hijackers.

The Aurora shootings lasted 90 seconds, 90 seconds of utter chaos.  On Flight 93, the passengers had time to learn the other hijacked planes had been used as suicide missiles.  Their only chance of survival was to try and re-take the plane.  Not a difficult decision in those circumstances.  That Mr. Pearce would even try to compare the two incidents is deplorable and disgusting.

Russell Pearce wins the Walking Bag of Filth award for today, hands down.

7/20/2012

Folk Music For Massacres


In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, earlier today, this song from long-time folksinger Tom Paxton (written in response to last year's shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson) seems appropriate:



(Pragmatically, I know "What If, No Matter" is a wish-fulfillment song, but... goddamn, I wish I could clone Tom Paxton.  We could  use more like him.)

That's Finally Over

For nearly the past three years, I've been acting as the Personal Representative (i.e., executor) for the estate of our friend Anne Braude, who died in August 2009   Yesterday morning morning I went to the estate attorney's office and wrote out the checks for the final distribution to all of Anne's heirs, the final piece of paperwork that will close the estate.

It's a relief.  I knew it would be a big job, and that it would be hard to find enough time to get it done in a timely manner.  Which I didn't; I thought it would take about a year.  Turned out bigger, more complicated, more difficult than I expected.

I initially thought Anne's only heirs were an aunt in California and an uncle in New York.  Whoops!  Turned out the cousins I thought were the children of the uncle in NY were actually the children of a different, deceased, uncle.  So those two cousins were heirs, too.  Whoops!  Turned out there were still other cousins, by other aunts and uncles, that Anne had never mentioned.  Whoops!  Turned out there was still another uncle who had either abandoned or been disowned by the family in the 1930's -- accounts varied -- so I had to hire a genealogical researcher to see if he or his children could be tracked down.  No, as it turned out.

(That part of dealing with the estate would have been simpler if Anne had written a will to express her specific wishes for distributing her assets and belongings.  I've said this before, but it bears repeating: Write a will, people!)

It also wouldn't be too unfair to say of Anne that she never met a piece of paper she didn't want to keep.  Very little of which was organized, filed or stored neatly.  Everything had to be gone through to sort out any papers that might pertain to the estate's assets.  I still have boxes of Anne's personal papers and correspondence that will need further sorting and organizing, but the financial documents are done with now.  (I'm planning to eventually set up a blog or webpage to showcase some of her writing and interests.  There's some pretty cool stuff among those personal papers.)

If I had a time machine to do it over, I'd try to take several months leave of absence from work to get a running full-time start at everything, rather than trying to eke out a few hours here and a few hours there.  As it is, I pretty much give myself a "C' grade in dealing with it.  (If I ever have to represent another estate, I'd do a lot better.  I hope to hell I never have to represent another estate.)

Of course, if I had a time machine, what I'd go back to when Anne first started feeling ill and drag her to the ER right then, when she still had a good chance of a full recovery.  She spent three months in hospital, most of it in ICU, most of it in a coma or a non-lucid state, before she died.  The only reason there was any financial estate left to distribute at all was because the hospital wrote off over a half-million dollars of her bill, several days before she died.

Anne with other members of the DePauw University team
on the television show GE COLLEGE BOWL in 1962.
(The show's host Allen Ludden is at center.)
They were undefeated in five (the maximum) appearances.

7/10/2012

Lobster Ice Cream


I don't know about you, but when I see a sign like this...



...I've just got to check it out. 



The ice cream is based in a sweet-cream butter-flavor ice cream, with chunks of Maine lobster mixed in.  The butter ice cream is very nice, sweet and smooth, but I don't know that the lobster adds that much to the experience.  The lobster is mild, slightly sweet itself, and a bit crunchy.  (Not frozen rockhard, which would have been unpleasant.)  But it's an undertaste to the ice cream, not a dominant flavor.  I think once was probably enough for the lobster ice cream, but I'd definitely like to have the butter ice cream regularly.

The shop that features the lobster is The Pink Spot, on Thomas Road in Phoenix.  A very nice ice cream, coffee, and sandwich shop; now that we've tried it, we'll be stopping in regularly when we're in that area.  They feature the lobster ice cream as a seasonal selection each July.  (While most of their ice creams are made locally, the lobster version is actually shipped in from Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine, where it was originally developed.)  Hilde and I tried samples of various other flavors before making our order; I had a full scoop of the lobster (though I was tempted by the peach habanero), but Hilde had the grasshopper ice cream instead.

Ummm.... that was "grasshopper" as in this:



Not as in this:


Just thought I should make that clear.

If you're not in Phoenix or Bar Harbor, and still want to try lobster ice cream, there's a recipe for making your own here.

Ka-*Ching* In, Ka-*Ching* Out



One of the problems with trying to keep to a budget is that the theoretical cash flow on your spreadsheet doesn't always match the actual cash flow in your life.  Some income ebbs and flows, and some expenses do likewise.  (Although, as a general rule, you can usually figure on expenses rising to exceed income.)

One of the positive changes recently was that one of the medications I take regularly has become available in generic form.  If we didn't have good insurance, the monthly cost for those pills would have been over $500; because we do have good insurance, I've only had to pay about $80 a month.  Still, that's been a stiff chunk of change every month.  (Especially when you add in all the other pills we take; between Hilde and me, we usually figure prescription drugs will run $400 to $500 a month.)  Now that I can get a generic version, the cost drops to $5 a month. A $75 a month saving... that's nearly a thousand dollars a year.  That's a welcome bit of news.

On the other hand, my work boots are starting to wear out, with stitching starting to come loose in multiple spots, so I went online earlier tonight to see about getting a new pair.  I paid about $120 three years ago for the current pair.  (If I didn't have ridiculous EEEE-width feet, I could have paid less for other brands, but having your feet not hurt when you're wearing shoes is a pretty good motivation for paying for shoes that actually fit.)  Same online merchant, same manufacturer and model... and the price had jumped to $210 in those three years.  *gasp* *splutter* *choke*  What the hell caused that big a price jump?

Overall, though, the economic news in our household has been more positive than negative lately.  My new job has been a significant player in that.  I get a higher base pay than the last job, plus a 10% bonus for working the late shifts, plus I'm back to a 40-hour work week.  (I'd been doing 32 hours at the previous job.)  Because the commute is less than half what I'd been doing, I save about a tank of gasoline each month, plus the shorter commute saves me an extra $5 a month for my auto insurance.  It all adds up, and our financial comfort zone (depending on the vagaries of the Unexpected Expense of the Month Club) feels a lot more comfortable since getting the new job.

(I don't remember signing up for the Unexpected Expense of the Month Club, but they keep sending the selections regardless -- sometimes the selctions are small, and sometimes they're knock-you-on-your-ass-whoppers -- and there doesn't seem to be any way to cancel a membership.)


7/05/2012

Boom! Day In America

photo by Hyungwon Kang for Reuters, via the Baltimore Sun

Yesterday, the 4th of July, Hilde and I watched several of the television specials showing fireworks celebrations.  These included shows in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC.

The most impressive one was in Washington, DC, broadcast by PBS.  I haven't seen such a massive display of pyrotechnics since the US bombed Baghdad in 2003.  Musical presentations during the show were well done and seemed more or less appropriate to the occasion.

The Boston show, broadcast by NBC, however... my god, what a train wreck.

Hilde liked the Boston fireworks.  Otherwise...

The first thing the NBC showed was the host Michael Chiklis, with a decorated bus behind him.  That was the NBC "Buzz Bus", painted with pictures of actors for the forthcoming new season shows for NBC.   So you start out a 4th of July specdial with an obvious piece of product placement for NBC.  Which Chiklis then amplifies by saying, "That's our NBC Buzz Bus behind me."  (Chiklis is starring in one of those new shows, "Vegas".)

I've liked Michael Chiklis in almost everything I've seen him in, even the less-than-stellar projects.  (*koff* Fantastic Four *koff*).   But he looked really uncomfortable hosting this special, and he didn't so much "host" the show as shout his way thru it.  He was just not the best choice for the job, and I think he knew it.

The "Special Guest" for NBC's show was Jennifer Hudson, who sang... you know, I can't remember what she performed.  Something from "Dreamgirls" and... something else.  What I do remember is that neither piece seemed to have any connection to 4th of July or celebrating America.  It was more like she was performing for a Jennifer Hudson special, instead of a 4th of July special.

What the hell was NBC thinking?  Who wrote that crap?  Who gave it the thumbs up?  I ended up being annoyed and pissed, instead of feeling upbeat and patriotic.

Hey, NBC, maybe this sort of decision-making is why your share of viewers has been going down the toilet?

6/14/2012

Good Things Happen To Bad People: My Evening With Richard Thompson



I first heard Richard Thompson's music back when Mirror Ball came out in 1994, as part of an interview with him on NPR.  "Wow! Great music!" I said to myself back then, and later went on to pick up the entire album.  "Wow!  Really great music!"  And I've picked up a lot his new works since then and some of his backlist, both solo and his earlier works with the group Fairport Convention and in collaboration with his then-wife Linda Thompson.  "Why have I never heard of this guy until now?" I asked myself back then.

That's still a puzzle.  About the same time as that NPR interview, Rolling Stone magazine ran a piece on Thompson which described him as "the biggest rock-&-roll star you've never heard of."  He's an extraordinarily talented artist in multiple ways, frequently acknowledged as one of the world's best guitarists, best songwriters, and best performers.

The local Music Instrument Museum has been presenting a wide-ranging series of music performances in its Music Theater since it opened its doors about two years ago, and is beginning a new "Virtuoso" series by top-of-their-field artists.  Richard Thompson's appearance is the first in that series.

I generally don't enjoy live music performances (more on reasons for that below) and stick to recorded media, but I was tempted-plus-a-bit when I saw Thompson's name listed in the MIM's newsletter.  Some of the other Thompson fans I've encountered online have enthused about his live performances.  So I put out a query regarding the ambience at his performances, and the response was reassuring enough to decide to purchase a ticket.

Good call, me. The MIM's Music Theater seats about 450 people, with steeply banked rows that allow good visibility to everyone, and comfortable seats.  (One quibble:  The backs of the seats are solid pieces of wood that extend down past the top edge of the next row's floor.  Essentially, the seats in front of you form a solid wall; most movie theater seats arranged similarly leave a space open towards the bottom, where you have a few more inches of legroom available to tuck your toes into.)  The acoustics there are very, VERY good.

(Hilde and I have been to a few events at the Glendale Public Library's "Live At The Library" program, when they've featured artists like Joe Bethancourt.  The library theater's acoustics are decent enough, but MIM's were markedly better.  Sorry, GPL.)

Thompson comes out, and you can tell that this audience sure has heard of him, because he gets a standing ovation before he starts performing.

Thompson was on stage for an hour and forty-five minutes of nearly continuous music.  His selections were a mix of his most popular ("Wall of Death", "Shoot Out The Lights", and -- fuck yeah! -- "1952 Vincent Black Lightning") and others less familiar to me.

Those popular songs help show why his live performances are memorable.  When a lot of long-experienced artists perform their "standards", songs they've performed dozens or hundreds of times before, they can be performing on an "Automatic" setting, with only a perfunctory presence onstage.  Thompson performs each piece with the same intensity and feeling as if it were a brand new song.

One song, the second of the night, is a new song, a preview from his current album-in-progress, with the refrain "Good things happen to bad people."  (Thus not only cinching a future album sale for Thompson, but a title for this post.)  And there's one cover song, a "Hipster Hamlet" song by 1950's Broadway-musical writer Frank Loesser that was probably intended as pure comedy in its original incarnation, but is given a level of pathos by Thompson's rendition, especially in the refrain "Dog eat dog eat dog in Denmark".

Thompson's guitarwork is spectacular.  Before the show started, music producer Tony Berg, who'd helped MIM develop the "Virtuoso" program, spoke about Thompson for a few moments, and mentioned that Thompson could not only sound like there were two guitarists playing at once, but like there were two great guitarists playing at once.  This was not an exaggeration.  At times during Thompson's performance, I not only wondered how he could pull so much music out of one instrument, but wondered "Why are this man's fingers not bleeding, or on fire?"

The MIM doesn't allow photography or video, so I can't give any images from last night's concert, but here's a good YouTube video of Thompson performing "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" from 2010:




-----------

Why I Don't Usually Attend Live Performances

While I don't have full-blown panic attacks, there are some things about public events that can make me feel anxious, uncomfortable, and on-edge.  Crowds, especially large crowds and crowds that mill about and around.  Raucous or unruly behavior (especially drunks). Overly loud noise levels (both from performers and audience). Poor (or outright bad) acoustics.

That pretty much leaves out most arena-type concerts. It also leaves out most live music at bars, restaurants or lounges.

(The "bad acoustics" bit tends to also apply, a lot, to filkers at conventions.  When you're performing inside a hotel meeting room, almost always a hard-walled rectangular box, even a filker with a good voice or instrument skills can sound like, well, crap.)

So that pretty much leaves well-behaved theater-style performances, with a seated audience, like the MIM or the Glendale Library.  For a lot of people, such an experience feels restrictive.  For me, it feels comfortable.

-----------

Miscelleaneous Bits

One thing that struck me about the audience at Thompson's concert last night was how age-skewed it was.  Most of the attendees were of middle-age or (like me) late middle-age; the most prominent hair color was grey.  Walking out to my car after the concert, I noticed that one attendee had brought his (I assume) daughter, about age 11 or 12, with him.  I was almost tempted to shout, "Thank you, sir!" at him.

(I would think that this might be because people of that age are more likely to be able to afford $60 for a ticket, if I hadn't mentioned it to one of my co-workers who's in her early 20's and heard in reply that she'd spent $100 for a ticket for a Rammstein -- industrial metal band from Germany -- concert.)

Also, not directly related to the concert, but, just to note it for the record:  I noticed a few years ago that "The Star Spangled Banner" can be sung disturbingly well to the tune of Thompson's "Cooksferry Queen".

6/05/2012

Mark Your Calendars


I've seen some of the coverage from Britain of the celebration over Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubille, the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the British throne.  Most notably the 1000 ships and boats gathered as a fleet of honor.

So I've told Hilde that if we get to our 60th wedding anniversary, we'll celebrate in a hot tub...


... with a thousand rubber duckies.

(Only twenty-five years and a bit to go!)

5/22/2012

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Saboteurs


Arizona, Arizona, Arizona.  What did you do to deserve this?

The Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, is making threats to remove Barack Obama's name from the election ballot unless the State of Hawaii provides proof of Barack Obama's birth there.  He says he's doing this because "1,200 constituents" have emailed him expressing doubts about the validity of Obama's birth, citizenship and eligibility.

In short, he's acting as an enabler for the Birther Conspiracy folks.

At this point, after every so-called-fact and objection and fantasy the Birthers present has been disproven, again and again and again, the only sane reaction to Birthers is to call them what they are:  Lunatics, imbeciles, and saboteurs.

Saboteur, one who engages in sabotage.  The term purportedly inspired by Netherland workers in the early Industrial Age who would throw their wooden shoes (sabots) into the gears of machinery to break and jam the machines that were threatening to destroy their jobs and livelihoods.

Leaving aside the genuine lunatics and imbeciles among the Birthers, sabotage is precisely what the remaining Birthers are trying to accomplish.  They're trying to subvert the political process, overthrow the results of the last Presidential election,or failing that to distract their opponents's time and energy away from real issues and problems.

The Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, produced a manual of sabotage methods.  Besides actual physical damage, those methods also recommended ways to slow down efficiency and production via more passive methods.  And one of those recommendations was to always keep raising irrelevant issues.

So, is Ken Bennett a lunatic, an imbecile, or a saboteur?

If he's a lunatic or an imbecile, he's unfit to hold his office, and should be removed.

But if he's a saboteur, why?  Why would he threaten to remove Obama's name from the ballot?

Hmmm, gee, I don't know.  It's almost like he's trying to throw the election Mitt Romney's way.  He's acting almost like he's the co-chairman of Mitt Romney's election campaign in Arizona.

Oh, wait. He IS the co-chairman of Mitt Romney's election campaign in Arizona.

At this point, you really have to sit back and take a deep breath.  The magnitude of the conflict of interest here is so amazing that the audacity is breathtaking.  The state offical in charge of elections is a partisan and offical campaigner for one candidate, and is threatening to remove the other candidate's name from the ballot.

A decent Secretary of State, an ethical Secretary of State, an honorable Secretary of State, would never have accepted that co-chairman position in Romney's campaign in the first place.  (For that matter, an ethical candidate would never have offered such a position to someone in Bennett's office in the first place.)

Let's cut to the chase here:  Ken Bennett's actions have proven that he's morally and ethically unfit to hold his office.  He should either resign, or be removed.

Oh, and one more thing from that OSS sabotage manual.  Among all those passive methods of sabotage recommended, they pretty much boiled down to one simple technique: "Act stupid."