Monday, August 30, 2010

Odds & Ends, Mostly Odds

Okay, folks, you really got to me this time with your comments on A Life Lived. I say comments, but they were more like testimonials. Or damned good eulogies. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were praising Caesar. But I do know better: I’ve never ever worn socks with sandals.

I admit to being inspirational at times, but I’m far from the only one who tries to stay high on life. The Good Cook recently lost her husband quite unexpectedly, and her post On, On is an inspirational masterpiece. Please take time to read it.

* * *

Dumb. Occasionally, I do something really dumb. Take last night, for example, and the simple act of taking two Advils for a headache. I took a BIG drinka water, swallowed it, and then popped the Advil in my piehole and swallowed ‘em dry. It’s a good thing they were gel caps because they slithered right on down my drain. It’s also a good thing Martha didn’t see it:

“Dumb shit,” she would have said, snorting at my dumbity.

* * *

Thank you, Jan (or DJan) for introducing your sister and BIL to my blog. And welcome, Norma Jean and Pete.

I notice that Jan and I have a lot in common hobby-wise. She jumps out of airplanes. I collect stamps.

* * *

Tchaikovsky's grave. Are you in there, Pete?
From the “Eerie R Us” department.

Murr Brewster, one of my favorite storytellers, said that she was air conducting Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto in D” while driving through the Columbia River Gorge. A spectacular and perfect setting, I suspect, but conducting with one hand often leads to carpal conductor’s conundrum (CCC).

CCC aside, two whole hours later, she read that one of the little pleasures in my life is air conducting Tchaikovsky's “Violin Concerto in D”.

Now what are the chances of that happening? Huh? Huh? Would the same thing have happened if I were conducting rappers like M&M or Snoopy the Dog?


* * *

I travelled around reading blogs yesterday, but I left few comments on them. By the time I get to a two- or three-day-old post with anywhere from four to seven thousand comments on it, there isn’t much left for me to say. I’m not the type to comment just to hear me comment, so I content myself with reading the meat and potatoes.

Similarly, I used to respond regularly on comments made on my own posts because people like acknowledgement and enjoy witty repartee. It’s a time-consuming process, though, so my responses have fallen by the wayside. (If you look closely, you’ll see my fallen responses strewn along the wayside with the other rubbish and plastic Walmart bags.)

I’m giving serious thought to experimenting with the Disqus commenting system, which is similar to the Wordpress system. If any of you have had experience with it, please let me know.

Uh, you should know that I have a rather dismal history of experimentation. An explosion or two, a couple of small fires, electricity on when I thought it was off—nothing too serious, but enough to make me wary and wear safety goggles.

* * *

For those of you who are interested in Leahy’s (Ragtime) concert DVD, it’s available in their web site store. The concert was recorded in 2006 in Gatineau, Quebec.

* * *

So there you have it, dear friends, all my odds for August. See you next month.


Friday, August 27, 2010

A Life Lived

So. Has it been worth it? I’m talking about life. My life, the sixty-three years I’ve spent living here on planet Earth.

Not an easy question to answer, especially when I’m sitting here feeling and watching my body slowly self-destruct.

I see my life as a journey, an obstacle course of events and emotions, of roads taken and not taken. I see it as a ceaseless series of decisions, in effect allowing me to create the life I have lived.

Yes, I have been the creator of my own destiny; who (or what) else has the power to make my decisions for me? Certainly not a loving God because how would I explain his bad decisions? Would I give him credit for all the good decisions while I took the blame, or blamed others, for all the bad ones? No way. I alone am responsible for the life I have lived, I take credit for both the good and bad decisions, and I accept the consequences of those decisions.

So. Has it been worth it? My life, that is.

There has been mental pain, and fear, and grief, some caused by me and some not. A childhood of abuse both by my parents and the church, the death of my mom when I was eighteen, the putting down of beloved dogs, a hundred other things I had no control over. The pain I have caused me (and others) was my decision to drink and to smoke—the latter one is killing me as I write.

I am hardly unique when it comes to earthly suffering. Every human, everyone reading this, has known pain both mental and physical, fear, and grief—many, many of whom have known it much worse that I. It is part of life’s obstacle course this suffering, and it is up to each one of us to choose which road to take: either overcome it by working on change, or continue to wallow in it with self-pity.

I made a choice, a decision, a long time ago to let good things dominate my life. Asking Martha to marry me was the best decision I ever made. Helping sick addicts, in fact helping anyone, comes in second.

But so do all the little things that cause joy, and happiness, and delight. A phrase from a book or poem. Air-conducting Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D”. The squirrel I trained to shell and eat sunflower seeds out of my hand.

And therein lies the answer to my question.

Has my life been worth living?

A resounding yes, because the good has always outweighed the bad.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm busy composing a "think" post, which is really making me think, so I've decided to take a break from thinking and offer y'all this bit of enjoyment before I get a thinkache.

Yes, another video. I know they make the page sluggish and screw up scrolling, but the content makes up for it.

The group is named Leahy, the surname of a family of eight brothers and sisters. They are Canadian, and another example of Canada's super-rich musical heritage and talent. Ponita featured them in her last blog post, so I went searching for them on YouTube—in lieu of having to think.

Leahy performs much more than Celtic music—in this video it's ragtime, a uniquely American forerunner to jazz. I prefer rag (and its offspring honky tonk) played on an upright piano, but that's just quirky me. Watch the video, marvel at how good the ladies are, and I dare you not to tap your toe.

I'll be back later in the week, but I have to do some thinking first.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Farm Girl

Martha, my beloved, was born and grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, not far from Mankato and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. Actually, it was grew up on farms, plural, because her folks were the nomadic type: There was always a cheaper and better place just down the road. Don’t believe it. Cheaper, maybe, but never better.

Like the farmhouse that came with a skunk in the dirt cellar. Martha’s father, who normally used his shotgun for blasting holes in the barn roof so he could get at the pigeons (no bird lover he), blew the poor skunk to kingdom come. In the middle of the night. In the aforementioned dirt cellar. Guess what happened.

Yeah, Martha and her sisters walked around for days reeking of the very exotic Eau de Pepe le Pew. The odor was everywhere: on her clothes, in her hair, between the pages of her schoolbooks. Even her lunch smelled worse than usual. It was mortifying to say the least, but there was an upside to the downside: all six boys at school instantly fell in love with her. The offspring of hog farmers, these lads had finally found the woman of their dreams: a girl who smelled just as putrid as they did.

* * *

After thirty years of living in big cities, then, I thought my beloved had long ago overcome her farm girl "roots." But when she started digging holes all over the yard like a crazed Golden Gopher, I realized

You can take the dirt out of the girl,
but you can't take the girl out of the dirt.

It’s all because we have a house with a yard, a few hundred square feet of rocks and scraggly desert plants that just won’t die—unless you’re a farmer, in which case you use a mule or a backhoe to dig them up. Or, if you’re like Martha’s dad, you just shoot ‘em with a shotgun in the middle of the night.

In the old days, we used to enjoy doing big-city things like going out to dinner, to a concert, or taking our lives in our hands on the freeways. Sundays used to be a day for resting, lollygagging and, uh, fooling around. But Martha’s innate passion for trans- forming her tiny piece of the desert in to a vast prairie changed all that.

A typical Sunday morning nowadays goes something like this as she leafs through the advertising supplements in the newspaper:

“Holy shit! Home Depot has mulch on sale, the good kind with the cow flop in it, and the shovel I really really really want is half price!” (You can always tell when she’s excited because she exclaims in bold italics.)

During the week, Martha is a serious, well-dressed, professional businesswoman. Come Saturday, however, she looks like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon. Only worse. Unlike Pigpen, there is a certain . . . odor . . . that accompanies dirt and hard labor. Something along the lines of . . . Eau de Pepe le Pew.

* * *

Today, August 23, 2010 my Farm Girl and I are celebrating our

36th wedding anniversary

(I can do flower gardens too!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Apologetics and Where's Matt?

If it seems like a coon's age since I've visited your blog (or visited but didn't leave a comment), you're probably right. For some its been a month of Sundays, while others have experienced a cold day in Hell.

The problem isn't at your end, of course, so please, do not adjust your sets. 'Tis me on this end of the Intertubes. I'm dancing just about as fast as I can dance, but I'm not getting anywhere—just like poor Matt in this outtakes video. (I love this guy.)

You know the reasons for my slowity: not breathing on all cylinders, a nasty medication, and increasing damage to my eyesight. I know I'm missing a TON of good stuff and it's frustrating as hell. Stressful, even—I want to know what is going on in the lives of all my Blogaritaville friends.

But all I can do is the best that I can do, and I have to accept that.

You know, as long as I'm here, I might as well bitch about something. I know I have the original "Where the Hell is Matt" video around here someplace, but I'll be dang nabbed if I can find it. Professor Organized ain't as organized as he thinks he is because he's cheep, cheep, cheep with the labels.

Did I mention that I love this guy?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Movie Review: Jerry Andrus

Andrus: The Man, the Mind & the Magic (2008)

A film by Robert Neary and Tyson Smith

Producer and Director: Robert Neary
Co-producer and Cinematography: Tyson Smith

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 78 minutes

Film Website for purchase options

You may not recognize the name Robert Neary; he is not a major filmmaker, you won’t see him strolling around Cannes or Sundance, and he doesn’t have a footprint at Grauman’s Chinese. What he does have is a blog titled Plead Ignorance, written under the moniker Robert the Skeptic with an avatar of Dr. Strangelove.

Let there be no mistake, however: this film is no amateur effort. It is a first-rate production throughout—from sound and lighting, editing and graphics, to cinematography and music. I was surprised,  frankly, by its professionalism.

What Neary and Smith have put together is a compelling look at a truly unique individual named Jerry Andrus—a “magician” if you want the short description, a “modern-day da Vinci” if you don’t. Patrick Martin, a fellow illusionist, describes him thusly: “Jerry is a kind of a combination of Albert Einstein and Walt Disney.”

Jerry tells much of his story himself (he didn’t live to see the finished film, however), while fellow magicians and others who knew him, along with archival stills and film footage, fill in details and facts about his life and work.

Jerry, the man, is described as a “fanatically honest person” by magician Jamy Ian Swiss. Andrus refused to tell a lie, and Swiss backs this up: “. . . even the little white lies, the theatrical lies that a magician routinely tells, are objectionable to him.”

I think Jerry reveals himself for who he is when he tells a small audience:
"Now if what I’m doing as a magician primarily doesn’t fool you then I am not doing my proper job as a magician; but if I do or say anything that makes anyone feel foolish then I am not doing my proper job as a human being by my standards. So I want to pause and explain to you why we can all be fooled. I can probably fool you for the same reason I’ve been fooled because you’re the most wonderful thing I know of in the universe that I’ve seen and that’s a human being. And you have an incredibly wonderful human mind. And a lot of our mind is on autopilot; and most of our, a lot of our thinking is absolutely beneath the conscious level, it has to be. You don’t look at a dog and wonder what it is. You don’t look at an automobile and wonder what it is; we’re on automatic pilot making these decisions and they’re usually right but sometimes they’re wrong. And because of that we don’t need to feel foolish." [Italics and bold are mine.]

To me, Jerry Andrus was an eighty-eight-year-old boy who never lost his insatiable curiosity about people, the power of the brain, or the world around him. Through hundreds of inventions and observations, he designed incredible tricks meant to fool (but never belittle) his fellow humans.

Jerry disdained the common “magical” practice of misdirection because it violated his policy of honesty. Rather, he invited onlookers to watch his hands very closely as he performed sleight-of-hand with either optical illusions or a common deck of cards. He went straight for “the burn,” which in magician’s parlance means, “catch me if you can.”

Neary and Smith have created a work much larger than I can cover here—Andrus’s genius, his Skepticism, the Castle of Chaos—but this is a review and not a documentary of their documentary.

Jerry Andrus:
"We’re each a unique mixture of sub-atomic particles. And so the only thing that’s left other than our remains is the effect that we might have had on other people or maybe will have on other people."

In my opinion, Jerry, this film attests to the affect (present tense) you have, and will continue to have, on other people. Well done, Robert and Tyson.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'm Gonna Be Rich!

I just received this email at 7:30 p.m. and I'm beside myself with joyfulness! Imagine Mrs. Faiza, a good Christian woman who has a ton of fucking problems, choosing ME to receive Two Million Great Britain Pound Sterling! I'll let ALL of you know the minute I get the check in the mail—maybe as soon as next week before she kicks the bucket from the stroke she's having.

Boy oh boy oh boy—I can hardly wait—I'm gonna get a whole shitload of these!!!

23, Hawley Crescent,
Camden Town, London,
NW1 8NP, England.

Dear Beloved,

Here writes Mrs. Ghayth Faiza, suffering from cancerous ailment. I am
married to Watson Ghayth an Arabian who is dead. My husband was into
private practice all his life before his death. Our life together as man
and wife lasted for three decades without a child. My husband died after a
protracted illness. My husband and I made a vow to uplift the down-trodden
and the less-privileged individuals as he had passion for persons who can
not help themselves due to physical disability or financial predicament. I
can adduce this to the fact that he needed a Child from this relationship,
which never came.

When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of Two Million Great Britain Pound Sterling which were derived from his vast estates and
investment in capital market with his bank here in UK. Presently, this
money is still with the Bank. Recently, my Doctor told me that I have
limited days to live due to the cancerous problems I am suffering from.

Though what bothers me most is the stroke that I have in addition to the
cancer. With this hard reality that has befallen my family and I, I have
decided to donate this fund to you and want you to use this gift which
comes from my husbands effort to fund the upkeep of widows, widowers,
orphans, destitute, the down-trodden, physically challenged children,
barren-women and persons who prove to be genuinely handicapped

It is often said that blessed is the hand that giveth. I took this
decision because I do not have any child that will inherit this money and
my husband's relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy persons and I do not want my husband's hard earned money to be misused or invested into ill perceived ventures. I do not want a situation where this money will be used in an ungodly manner, hence the reason for taking this bold decision. I am not afraid of death hence I know where I am going. I know that I am going to be with the Almighty when I eventually pass on.

The Almighty will fight my case and I shall hold my peace. I do not need
any telephone communication in this regard due to my deteriorating health
and because of the presence of my husband's relatives around me, I do not
want them to know about this development. With God all things are
possible. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of
the Bank in UK. I will also issue you a Letter of Authority that will
empower you as the original beneficiary of this fund. My happiness is that
I lived a life worthy of emulation. Please always be prayerful all through
your life.

Please assure me that you will act just as I have stated herein. Hope to
hear from you soon and God bless you and members of your family.

Reply to my mail through my email address: [I deleted it because I ain't sharin'.]

Yours Faithfully in Christ,

Mrs. Ghayth Faiza.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ma & Pa Kettle

How best to describe my mother- and father-in-law?

The Kettle movies were cornball comedies shot in the 1950s, but to my in-laws they were documentaries on farming, child rearing, fashion and the social graces. To Mom and Dad, there was nothing funny about them: a Kettle movie was as serious as an Army training film on digging latrines that drain away from the troop tents.

I tell myself that my in-laws are different from other people because they are from another time and place. Like characters from Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, they grew up during the Depression and the Dust Bowl: he on a hardscrabble ranch in Montana, she on a desolate farm in South Dakota.

But unlike most of their peers, my in-laws live in a perpetual 1933, smack-dab in the middle of a Depression that has never ended for them. At eighty-six years apiece, this is just a small sample of their Kettle-like wisdom:

  • Never ever throw anything away—including anything molting in the back of the refrigerator. Never mind if it's broken, burned-out, or smells like a mis-dug latrine: there might still be a use for it someday. If by chance there isn't, it will end up on one of Mom's semi-weekly garage sale tables for 25¢.

  • Never ever buy anything new. This is one of Dad's major wisdoms. No matter what it is, from a lamp to a sofa, he can get one that is "just as good" for four bucks. Tops. If it happens to be broken, burned-out, or smells like the back shelving of the refrigerator, it will end up on one of Mom's semi- weekly garage sale tables for 25¢.

  • Never ever pay anyone to repair anything. There is an important "until" clause in this one: Never ever pay anyone to repair anything until it is so incredibly fucked up that only a professional fixit guy can fix it. If the fixit guy just laughs his head off and walks away, then buy another already-repaired one for four bucks. Tops.

Having witnessed their wisdom a thousand times, there is a whole lot I don't tell my in-laws. I don't tell them that I pay to have my oil changed, my tires installed, and my brakes replaced. I also don't tell them that I do not keep the old oil, the bald tires, and the filthy brakes lying around the yard, even though I might need them for something someday.

Because of her parents, Martha and I have our own family wisdom. Never ever tell Mom and Dad that we knowingly, willingly, and with thought aforethought, actually throw our broken old shit away.

The reason people laugh at Ma and Pa in the movies is because they are pure yokel. We laugh at their ignorance and naïveté, but never at who they are as people: dirt-poor, unschooled, simple country folk who make do with what they have.

And so it is with Mom and Dad. I shake my head at some of the things they do, but I also know who they are and where they have been. Life has never been easy for them, a life of backbreaking work with mostly no return. And very little play because I suspect no one ever taught them how to play—or allowed them any play time.

The Depression of the 1930s is long over, the farming days are gone, and the fake Kettles live on only on film. So too will my in-laws pass, the real-life Ma and Pa, who have given me their beautiful daughter, a ton of laughter, and a sense of how hard the life of two have-nots can be.

* * *

Since I wrote this piece my father-in-law has passed away. My mother-in-law is 90 and still lives on her own in southern Colorado.

Monday, August 09, 2010



FOUND: In the worldwide village of Blogaritaville, in my itty-bitty corner of it, the family and friends I never had. Inquire within.


FOUND: In my desk drawer, the postage stamps I claimed in March 2008 the US Postal Service never delivered. Oops. Inquire within.


ANNOUNCMENT: When the consulting pulmonologists agreed that I’m in the “final stage” of emphysema, they were correct. The daily, sometimes hourly, struggle to breathe is getting harder. We are in the process of checking out hospice services so I can stay with Martha and the dogs. Inquire within.


ANNOUNCMENT: The hearing in my right ear is getting harder, too. Inquire within.


PERSONAL: As my earthly sail gets ever closer to the other-worldly wind I wonder, in The Great Scheme of Stuff, where I’m going next. I want to go home, but where, exactly, is it? Inquire within.


Friday, August 06, 2010

How Insulting!

This has been a heavy week around here, so it’s time to lighten up a bit for the weekend. And what’s brighter and cheerier than a few good insults?

I’m not talking about insults to your intelligence; journalism, politicians, advertising, and television already do a superb job of that. I’m also not talking about personal attacks— the kind that are meant to hurt—which seem to be the order of the day and creatively require the F-word in some form or manner.

Rather, I’m referring to the great insults of yore, when insulting was an art instead of a text message or a finger salute. Immensely witty and clever, I think Winston Churchill was the Master Insulter:

Lady Astor: "If you were my husband, I'd give you poison."
Churchill: "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

"Mr Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right."

"When I am abroad I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the Government of my country. I make up for lost time when I am at home."

On Neville Chamberlain: "He looked at foreign affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe."

George Bernard Shaw to Churchill: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."
Churchill, in response: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one."

Oscar Wilde, an outstanding Irish wit:

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."

Mark Twain could fill a few books with insults (and he did), but just a couple for now:

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

Other insults I like:

Clarence Darrow: "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

Irvin S. Cobb: "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."

Moses Hadas: "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."

Billy Wilder: "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

I did not forget the women:

Mae West: "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."

Dorothy Parker (a Harvard woman): "If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be surprised."

To summarize this post:

Groucho Marx: "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."

* * *

Do you, dear students, have a favorite insult or quote you would like to share with us in the comments? If not, I may be forced to call on someone.

And in case you're wondering, my favorite of these sixteen insults is Dorothy Parker's.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Thankful: The Flip Side

To continue with my post Thankful, here are some I purposely left out so I wouldn’t ruin a perfectly good and heartfelt essay:

I am thankful that I have health insurance to pay for good medical care and modern technology.

Unlike other civilized countries like Canada and Great Britain, the United States does not provide health insurance to its citizens—except for some half-assed benefits for the disabled and those folks who are over 65 (Medicare). Americans have to purchase health insurance through private companies, and are at the mercy of those companies regarding cost, coverage, and annual rate increases.

I am thankful that Martha has a job, and a job that pays her monthly health insurance premiums.

I am thankful that we’ve had the $5,688 in cash to pay for deductibles, co-insurance, co-payments, and drug co-pays since January 1. (If you don’t know or understand these terms, don’t ask.)

To repeat a comment Robert the Skeptic made last night on Thankful:

"Yeah I'm marking time until my aortic valve starts giving me 'symptoms', the stenosis is 'severe' so I am on the long countdown. Will probably need to take out a second mortgage to pay the copays and deductibles but as you say, I'd be dead meat if the technology weren't available. Guess we are lucky bastards."

Robert and I may be lucky bastards, but there are millions of Americans who don't have jobs, health insurance, or the cash the insurance companies require (or very likely, they don't have all three).

* * *


From an article in USA Today on July 22, 2010:

"Non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans stockpiled billions of dollars during the past decade, yet continued to hit consumers with double-digit premium increases, Consumers Union found in an analysis of 10 of the plans' finances.

"Examples cited include:
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona: A $717.1 million surplus in 2009, seven times the regulatory minimum. The plan raised rates for individual market customers by as much as 18 percent in 2009. Company Spokeswoman Regena Frieden said, 'We believe the amount we have in reserves is appropriate.'

"Regency Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon: A surplus of $562.2 million in 2009, about 3.6 times the minimum. The plan revised rates on some plans an average of 25.3 percent in 2009 and 16 percent in 2010. Spokeswoman Angela Hult said the surplus is 'essential to protecting our members from surges in claims costs.'"

Our health insurance carrier is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois by way of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (don't ask). On January 1, 2010 they ruled it necessary to institute a new co-pay: every time Martha or I visit a "specialist"—Dr. Lung, Doc Potty, Dr. Eyeball—we pay another $50 out-of-pocket to help defray the insurance company's "losses."

Addendum: A chart of ObamaCare changes for your perusal and refusal.