Remodeling Hell, Part One

Here’s the kitchen after the first day of work. As you can see the contractor and his helpers got a lot done, if by “a lot” one’s benchmark is total destruction!

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Friends are asking what, exactly, we’re having done. The answer is: almost everything. We moved into this mid-1980s house in 1998, so we’ve been here 21 years now. The original kitchen cabinets and cupboards were well worn when we got here and pretty thoroughly worn out a few years later. From day one, Donna wanted a new kitchen. So: new cabinets and cupboards (one of which will contain an enclosed microwave), new granite countertops, raised ceiling with recessed lighting, a new exhaust fan, new island and cooktop, new sink and garbage disposal and dishwasher, new backsplash and tiling on the wall above the sink.

We retiled the floor several years ago and saved the leftover tiles, of which we should have enough to replace tiles taken out when they install the new cabinets. We put in a double oven a few years later and are having it reinstalled in its old location.

The cut-away drywall on the left is where Donna wanted the existing floor-to-ceiling wall cut down to waist high so we could see into the living room from the family room and kitchen. We didn’t think it was a load-bearing wall and neither did our contractor, but once he cut away the plasterboard he saw that it was, so the wall will have to stay. Donna’s disappointed, but I don’t mind.

Obviously, having one’s kitchen taken away, even if only for a few weeks, is hugely impactful. I’ve been comparing notes with friends who are undergoing power blackouts in California, and while our level of inconvenience doesn’t approach theirs, we can understand some of what they’re going through.

I’ll provide periodic updates in the days ahead.

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Sunday Bag o’ Chaos

It’s Sunday, the last day before the contractor starts tearing up our kitchen. The cabinets and cupboards are empty, the contents stacked in plastic storage bins and on planks and card tables in the living and dining rooms. We’re trying to keep the things we’ll need where we can find them. It turns out that’s just about everything. Oh what fun.

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I’m happy we got al-Baghdadi, but appalled at Trump’s me-me-me touchdown dance, belittling Obama while trying to be Obama, failing at both.

Wordy bloggage is coming hard this morning, so this’ll be more of an Instagrammy photopost. I’ve been taking lots of photos, and it’s time to share a few of them with you.

Yesterday was a big day for Maxie and Mister B. Our friend Millie, a fellow dachshund person, came over to help Donna trim their nails, express their anal glands (a horrifying necessity), and give them baths. No, I did not take photos of the anal gland business, and you can thank me for that.

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The dogs know something’s up, what with all the to-do leading up to the kitchen remodeling. Of course we can’t know what they think it is, but I’m pretty sure they thought we were getting ready for a long road trip in the car. They get to go on those, so they’ve been pretty excited. Then yesterday a contractor came to remove the old kitchen window and put in a new one, and now they’re confused. If not a road trip, then what the hell is going on?

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They’ll find out Monday when the serious work on the kitchen starts. It’s going to be every bit as hard on the dogs as it will be on us, but we’ll grit our teeth and get through it, and I can’t wait until we get to the photoblog where I show you our new kitchen!

For now though, I’m going to show you screen grabs of my Twitter profiles.

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Facebook friends keep telling me they don’t, or won’t, do Twitter. But I hope they’ll consider signing up and following me on Twitter. These images tell you what you need to know: my Twitter addresses and what each account is about. The main one is the first; the other two are more specialized.

I’ve been on Twitter eleven years. I find it useful and interesting. I learn things there, more so than on Facebook. I like to see what people are saying about events, politics, entertainment, and culture. I’m enough of a news junkie that when something breaks, my first stop is Twitter. Where, for example, I learned within minutes of Trump’s “something big has happened” tweet last night that we’d killed al-Baghdadi. Journalists and military insiders on Twitter were sharing what they knew before the media started telling everyone else. I like getting a heads up on breaking news. OTOH, Twitter users (me included) occasionally get taken in by hoax announcements and news, so there’s that. You have to be careful who you follow.

Why am I sharing this? I’m thinking about dropping out of Facebook. If I do, I’ll still be on Twitter, and I want people to know where they can find me. I haven’t left yet and maybe I won’t be able to cut the cord. People are always threatening to leave Facebook but few ever do. Maybe I’m no exception.

If I remember correctly, back in like 2014 and 2015 Facebook had a separate tab for regular news. The headlines they linked to were curated by human editors whose job was to comb the media and link to legitimate, honestly-reported news stories. Right-wingers began to complain, because their favored news sources … sources like Breitbart, Alex Jones’ Infowars, the Daily Stormer … were consistently rejected by Facebook’s curators. Because those sources don’t report news in any legitimate sense of the word: they’re outlets for opinion and propaganda, usually of the white supremacist variety.

Now Facebook says human curators are coming back, along with a revived news tab. But yesterday they announced Breitbart will be one of its “trusted” news sources, and if Breitbart, than Inforwars and UFO News and Liz Crokin can’t be far behind. Facebook caved to right-wing pressure when they fired the human news curators a few years ago; even though they’re hiring human news curators again, they’re still caving to the right by agreeing to push its fake news racist propaganda.

I know it’s nearly impossible for most of us to give up Facebook. There’s nothing else like it. It’s how we stay in touch with friends and relatives. In my case, it’s a place where I can easily notify hundreds of friends when I have a new blog post up. But if Facebook’s going to become a funnel for socially-destructive misinformation, I don’t know how good people can stay. Maybe adopt the Mormon “bleed the beast” attitude toward taking money and services from a secular society and government they scorn?

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Burn the Witch!

1-hillary-witch-2-768x432I know I’ve said it before, but Hillary Clinton needs to find a safe haven somewhere. Some island nation with tropical breezes and no extradition treaty with the USA. Trump’s coming after her. At bottom, that’s what it’s all about, this Justice Department criminal investigation into the original FBI probe of Trump’s 2016 election campaign collusion with Russia.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary and he’s never going to let that go. Fan away the smoke of the Steele dossier, the firings of Comey and McCabe and Sessions, the threats of indicting Obama and Mueller and CNN and MSNBC for treason, and there sits Hillary, the focus of his rage. You watch.

Seriously, though … wait, I was being serious … I keep coming back to a New York Review of Books article written by journalist Masha Gessen the day after the 2016 election, titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival. Gessen lived under autocratic governments most of her life, and is known for her reportage on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I’ve quoted sections of her article in previous blog posts, summarizing her warnings about what’s to come under Trump. Her warnings about what now has, in fact, come.

Here are a couple of prescient paragraphs from Gessen’s article I have not quoted here before. Keep in mind, she wrote this in November 2016:

Trump rally crowds have chanted “Lock her up!” They, and he, meant every word. If Trump does not go after Hillary Clinton on his first day in office, if he instead focuses, as his acceptance speech indicated he might, on the unifying project of investing in infrastructure (which, not coincidentally, would provide an instant opportunity to reward his cronies and himself), it will be foolish to breathe a sigh of relief. Trump has made his plans clear, and he has made a compact with his voters to carry them out. These plans include not only dismantling legislation such as Obamacare but also doing away with judicial restraint—and, yes, punishing opponents.

To begin jailing his political opponents, or just one opponent, Trump will begin by trying to capture members of the judicial system. Observers and even activists functioning in the normal-election mode are fixated on the Supreme Court as the site of the highest-risk impending Trump appointment. There is little doubt that Trump will appoint someone who will cause the Court to veer to the right; there is also the risk that it might be someone who will wreak havoc with the very culture of the high court. And since Trump plans to use the judicial system to carry out his political vendettas, his pick for attorney general will be no less important. Imagine former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie going after Hillary Clinton on orders from President Trump; quite aside from their approach to issues such as the Geneva Conventions, the use of police powers, criminal justice reforms, and other urgent concerns.

Yes, we all should have seen this coming. And now it’s happening, right in front of us, and who or what is going to stop it? The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives? Don’t make me laugh.

Okay, I know y’all hate it when I bring up good and evil. It makes people uncomfortable and we can’t have that. Kind of like yesterday in New York City when a few women confronted Harvey Weinstein at an event where he was present, and were booed and escorted out. I hear ya, so let’s turn to less troublesome topics:


The wind woke us early this morning. Mister B, on his walk, acted as if he’d never experienced wind before, continually turning his face into it, looking for the source. As soon as he pooped, which he forced himself to do far before we got to his normal spot, he started tugging against the leash. I gave him the lead and he pulled us straight back to the house.

The back patio’s a mess, but that happens every time the wind blows, and we’ve seen worse. Nothing’s been blown into the pool, at least so far, and I expect as the day warms up the wind will lessen. I’d taken an old door out of the garage and propped it against the house, planning to put it on sawhorses to use as a temporary table during the kitchen remodeling project. The door blew down in the wind, narrowly missing a stack of leftover flooring tiles from 18 years ago, when we tiled the kitchen, family room, bathrooms, and hallways. That would have been bad, because they’re discontinued tiles. They’re going to have to replace some tiles when they put in the new kitchen, so it’s a good thing we saved the leftovers from earlier. Otherwise we’d have to put in all new tile and there’d go the budget.

Donna and Polly have emptied most of the kitchen cabinets. Everything’s going in the living and dining rooms, where it’ll be stacked on tables (and our old door). Remodeling starts Saturday with the installation of a new kitchen window. The rest of the work starts Monday. It’ll be an adventure. And I’m sure I’ll hate every minute of it.

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Paul’s Book Reviews: Fiction, Nonfiction, Thrillers, Science Fiction, Horror

Yeah, I’ve noticed it too … my book reviews keep getting shorter. Of late, when writing reviews, I feel the presence of an invisible interlocutor, putting me on the spot by demanding I justify my reactions and opinions. Naturally, I resist. I like what I like. I don’t like what I don’t like. If you like my blog, that probably means you share at least some of my tastes, and keeping that in mind I’ll continue sharing book reviews with you, because you might not have heard of the books I’ve been reading and would appreciate my recommendations. When my reviews distill down to the point where they’re just star ratings, maybe I’ll quit. —Paul


grammariansThe Grammarians
by Cathleen Schine
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A reviewer, a woman, has this to say about Cathleen Schine’s novel: “Women’s fiction. Mild family drama. Did not match blurb.” Which made me think of those one-liner Amazon DVD reviews they make fun of on Twitter, like the classic one star put-down of The Wolf of Wall Street: “There were no wolves in the movie.”

Women’s fiction? The thought didn’t cross my mind until I saw that review. Good fiction? Yes. Damn good fiction? Also yes. A book for word lovers? Absolutely … and I plead guilty.

I have to say my fellow Goodreads reviewer is not all wrong: “The Grammarians” is overly innocent. Real life intrudes on Cathleen Schine’s mild family drama, but not in the destructive, painful ways it intrudes on most of us. Everyone is good, or at least decent. No alcoholics, no affairs, no sudden reversals of fortune, no betrayals. If “The Grammarians” is ever made into a movie, it’ll air on the Hallmark Channel.

Nevertheless. I loved this novel and have recommended it to several dear friends. Dear friends who happen to be bibliophiles like me, true, but also some who could give a shit about words, but whom I believe would enjoy Cathleen Schine’s insights into siblings, families, and love.


homeHome
by Toni Morrison
4_0

My book club selected “Home” for our October 2019 read.

This short novel is so structurally unlike the previous Toni Morrison novel I’ve read, “Beloved,” that I wasn’t sure at first I was reading Toni Morrison. Which is unfair, making assumptions about an author after reading only one of her books.

There was more of the supernatural about “Beloved,” and a more complex narrative structure. “Home” tells a simpler story, in spare, direct narrative form. Like “Beloved,” it’s set in the deep South. Also like “Beloved,” “Home” has its own ghosts, though the supernatural element is gone.

One ghost is the full story of Frank Money’s past, which emerges over the course of the novel. Another ghost is the living black memory of not only Jim Crow, but the outright theft of southern black land and property, an unsettling aspect of American history suppressed to this day by the whole weight and might of the state.

If you think Ta-Nehisi Coates can get you fired up about the social justice of reparations, wait’ll Toni Morrison tells you about the black families who, one day … seemingly out of the blue, and at gunpoint … were given until sundown to abandon their homes and land in Alabama and make their way elsewhere however they might. Many of those families, the parents of the characters in “Home,” made their way to relatives in a neighboring state, there to start life over again with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Southern blacks, Frank Money reminds us, are treated “… like dogs. Change that. They treat dogs better.”

Frank Money is both better and worse than I hoped he’d be. In other words, a character in full. His sister Cee is perhaps less fully developed, but this is Frank’s story, not hers. “Home” is short to the point of being more a novella than a novel, but it bites as hard as “Beloved,” and I was moved.


because internetBecause Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
by Gretchen McCulloch
4_0

I joined AOL in 1990, built my first website in raw HTML in 1995, and started blogging in 2004; between that and my later embrace of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram I feel comfortably up-to-date on internet writing conventions. I quit double-spacing between sentences long ago, and am on the record as a pioneer in the movement to lowercase “internet.” So a lot of what Gretchen McCullough has to say in this enjoyable book is old hat to me, but she says what she has to say in elegant and engaging prose, and I had fun reading it. She got me thinking about things I take for granted, like how I answer the phone.

You see, before she writes about how people answer calls on mobile devices, she backs up to the earliest days of landline telephones, when people were taught to say “hello” or “ahoy.” Ahoy (the salutation Alexander Graham Bell tried to popularize) didn’t catch on, but hello did, and people continue to answer by saying hello in the mobile phone age.

I’m sure it wasn’t just my family, but we were raised by parents who thought answering the phone with an anonymous hello was rude. We were taught to answer by saying “Woodford residence,” similar to the way receptionists answer with a cheery “Doctor Smith’s office,” or “Acme Plumbing.” It became an ingrained habit, and to this day I answer our landline with “Woodford Residence.” I’m glad mom and dad raised us kids right. The way most people mumble “hello” when they answer your call, it sounds like “duh” or “huh.” Might as well just grunt. But it’s better than “ahoy,” I guess.

A benefit of answering the phone with a crisp business-style salutation is that it’s an effective filtering tool in this age of spam and robo-calls. “Woodford residence” confuses telemarketers and automated recordings that key off “hello” and its variations.

[phone rings]

Woodford residence!

[silence]

[sound of me hanging up]

You might think from all this that technology hasn’t changed my telephone behavior, but you’d be wrong: I don’t say “Woodford residence” when I answer my iPhone. When someone calls that number, they’re not calling the house, they’re calling me. I answer by saying “This is Paul.”

Note: I wrote all that before I’d finished the book. McCullouch went on, to my pleasant surprise, to discuss cell phone etiquette. After addressing the debate over the rudeness of answering with “hello” or “hi,” she mentioned that many answer cell phones with their own name. I appear to be not so special, after all.


cold storageCold Storage
by David Koepp
4_0

I’m midway through a multi-volume science fiction epic that’s become padded, repetitive, drawn-out, and less charming by the page, so when the library emailed to say it was my turn to pick up “Cold Storage” I took it as a welcome break and opened the book in that spirit.

“Cold Storage” proved to be more than a welcome break. It was a refreshing one: a compellingly thrilling bio-terror story with well-developed, engagingly odd characters, a breezy narrative structure, and excellent writing. I got through the first two-thirds in one night’s reading and finished on the following day. If it were not that the idea of a fast-growing deadly fungus intent on eating the world would alienate my wife, I’d be pushing the novel on her at this moment. Instead, I’m pushing it on you. Get it, read it, hope for more from David Koepp.

If you’re a fan of Carl Hiaasen’s early Florida novels, you’ll see echoes of Hiaasen in Koepp’s characters. I mean that as high compliment. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, will look forward to more from the same author, and return to my increasingly-unsatisfactory science fiction epic with freshly girded loins.


ballardThe Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard
by J.G. Ballard
3_0

This has been a long-term episodic read. I’ve been eating this elephant of a book (1,216 hardbound pages!) for two years, nibbling away at it one story at a time.

Many of the stories collected here were published in sci-fi magazines of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and I actually remembered one or two; others had not been published before. Almost all are SF, but there are one or two autobiographical reminiscences of the young Ballard’s experiences as a British civilian detainee in China during WWII, held in a Japanese POW camp (fully explored in Ballard’s autobiographical novel “Empire of the Sun”).

I recall reading that J.G. Ballard held a low opinion of some American SF authors, and being disappointed he felt that way. I remain disappointed in him after reading the stories in this collection, because IMO they are not nearly as good as those of the American SF writers I grew up reading. And they’re pretty much all the same to boot.

Most of these stories are narrated by solitary men inhabiting ruined worlds. There seems always to be a beautiful and mysterious woman nearby, usually appearing on the balcony of an abandoned beachfront hotel, and a raffish villain, often a former astronaut, competing with the solitary man for the woman’s attention.

Many of these stories were written in the early days of the space race, when the launch of an artificial satellite was front-page news; many more were written in the heady days that followed, when astronauts and cosmonauts began go up. In the stories, Ballard sets up scenarios where the mere act of going into space somehow alters human behavior and the orderly flow of time. Several of these stories are set in and around Cape Canaveral and Florida’s Space Coast, now abandoned and partially covered with sand dunes. Even in the later SF stories, written after men had stood on the moon, the same strange conceit is at play, that space travel has somehow changed everything down below.

Other stories (which also involve the impact of space travel on humanity) are set on the Spanish and French Riviera, and in those the three characters are British. Wherever the stories are set, the characters (with one exception in a rather good story about rebellious teenagers reoccupying an abandoned city and making its machinery work again) are unrelentingly white and upper middle class.

Sadly, even this limited cast of characters lacks depth and individuality. The loners are all the same. The women on their balconies are interchangeable. The raffish villains, sometimes astronauts, sometimes doctors, are all of a piece. Of the literally hundreds of stories in this volume, only a few stand out and feel to me like they were written by the J.G. Ballard I remember reading in my teens.

Give me Isaac Asimov and Theodore Sturgeon any day. Those guys could tell stories. J.G. Ballard, at least here, tells the same one over and over.


extraordinary lifeThe Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
by Robert Dugoni
3_0

I wish I had glanced at the reviews before starting this novel. Even though Sam Hill narrates a childhood with a staunch Catholic mother possessed of unwavering faith, a childhood spent attending Catholic grade and high schools, he tells the reader early on he lost his faith sometime in his teenage years and continues to reassure us he no longer believes … right up until the final chapters.

I was lulled into accepting Sam Hill as a plausible character dealing with a few interesting issues in life. Had I realized up front the novel is basically Catholic propaganda I would not have read it. As it was, I kept ignoring the hints dropped on nearly every page until the end, when Sam, accompanied by his father and mother, makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes and experiences epiphanies and miracles. Goodness gracious, where did that come from! Goodness gracious, Robert Dugoni lays it on thick, don’t he?

What kept me reading was a simple and direct narrative of a life so unlike my own I may as well have been reading about someone from another dimension, one where people live out their lives in the town where they were born, lo even unto the same house, lo even unto going to college in the community and staying put as adults, lo even unto staying in the same house … and miraculously so do most of the important characters in Sam Hill’s life. What a concept! And one, as a military brat who became a military man with his own military brats, I find wholly exotic, almost unbelievable.

As a side note, I may be one of the few readers who knew of Orbis, a flying eye hospital, before picking up this novel. One of the former Orbis DC-10 aircraft is on display at the air museum where I work as a volunteer docent. I was delighted to see this worthy charity depicted in fiction, and thank Robert Dugoni for helping spread the word about it.

Yes, the novel has charms, and if you are a religious person, specifically a Catholic one, you will be rewarded and uplifted (in a cheap and manipulative way). Me, I felt ambushed. I should have known better. It’s not like Robert Dugoni didn’t telegraph Sam Hill’s return to Catholicism a mile away.


frontlinesFrontlines Series
by Marko Kloos
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This is a six-book science fiction series: “Terms of Enlistment,” “Lines of Departure,” “Angles of Attack,” “Chains of Command,” “Fields of Fire,” and “Points of Impact.” After reading the first, I decided to read the entire series and write a combined review upon finishing it. I thought I had discovered another phenomenon of the self-published science fiction world, a writer like Hugh Howey (author of the “Silo,” “Sand,” and “Wool” series, and I set into this project with enthusiasm.

That initial enthusiasm started to fade with the third novel in the series, which was overly repetitive, as if written for an audience unfamiliar with what had gone before. Surely, I thought, readers of Kloos’ third “Frontlines” installment would have read the first and second books? By the fourth book, I had become annoyed with Kloos’ habit of padding his narrative with long drawn-out descriptions of space battleships and cruisers, military chains of command, and the domestic arrangements of Andrew Grayson and his lover Halley, all of which had been thoroughly developed and described in previous books.

I think it was in the second book, “Lines of Departure,” that Kloos dropped an interesting observation about the Lankies, the alien threat to humanity, its colonies, and our own Solar System: when the first Lanky seed ship was destroyed in orbit, Lankies ravaging the human colony on the planet below became disoriented and disorganized. I took that to mean there was some sort of living connection between the Lankies and their seed ships, which appear to be composed of organic matter, and confidently waited for Kloos to develop this intriguing plot line in later books. And he never did. In fact, Lankies in later installments become smarter and smarter, regardless of the status of their seed ships in orbit.

In fact, now that I have finished all six books, I have to say that no intriguing plot lines ever do develop. They’re just war stories set in space, and especially in the later books, even the space battles don’t happen until quite late in the books. You have to wade through chapters and chapters of stuff you’ve already read to get to the good parts, which occupy less and less of every succeeding installment.

Overall, the experience has been a disappointment, and I have decided to give up on another initially-promising Marko Kloos series, “The Palladium Wars,” the first of which, “Aftershocks,” I likewise enjoyed but which I fear will go the same way as the “Frontlines” series, a collection of what should have been short stories puffed up with air in order to make them look like novels.


night filmNight Film
by Marisha Pessl
0_0

Did not finish, no rating.

This was my book club’s selection for November 2019. The category was horror. I gave up on it after a few decidedly non-horrifying chapters. Moreover, I didn’t like the narrator and his assholish way of interrogating witnesses. Life’s too short to drink bad beer, as they say.

Here’s a bit of advice for anyone tempted to buy the e-book version: “Night Film” is half traditional novel, half graphic novel, and you may not be able to read the graphics on a Kindle or other e-reader. Page after page is filled with tiny images of fictional newspaper columns, police blotter writeups, etc, which can’t be enlarged on an e-reader. My workaround was to download the Kindle app to my iPad, which did allow me to enlarge them. I wish I had known this earlier … I’d have ordered the actual book.

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Floor Show, Side Show, Car Show

UntitledOur friend Mary Anne’s floor has been pulled out from under her. Her house, like ours, sits on a concrete pad. A pipe ruptured down below. Contractors ripped out her flooring, broke up the concrete with a jackhammer, and dug a trench through the middle of the house. She called Donna yesterday and asked if she could come over for dinner tonight … she can’t cook with her house in the state it’s in, and (perhaps more importantly) she could use some moral support. Of course we said yes, and I’m in charge of dinner. I’m making beef Bourguignon … not the full-scale Julia Child production, but an easier to prepare and just as tasty version featured on my cooking blog … and we’ll do our best to cheer her up.

Oh, and get this … her homeowner’s insurance company says the pipe repair isn’t covered. How convenient for them!

As for the state of our own house, we’ve started moving things out of the kitchen cabinets and into the dining and living rooms in preparation for the upcoming remodeling project, so there’ll be no formal sit-down dinner tonight. We’re eating on trays. Full disclosure: we eat on trays every night. We’ve fallen into slovenly ways in our golden years. And I love it. When they came out with TV trays in the 1950s, I knew even as a kid the future had arrived, and that it was glorious. Mary Anne and I like science fiction, so we’ll stream some Firefly with our dinner, and best of all Donna can’t complain about it because company!


One can’t help but notice that the Boy Emperor backs down in the face of harsh criticism, as he did yesterday on his self-serving attempt to host the next G7 summit at his Doral resort in Miami. But one cannot help but also notice that he always circles back once the heat’s died down, and don’t think for a minute he’s through trying to inject cash into Doral with future government business. Who knows, maybe USAF cargo jets on international routes will start diverting into Miami International to get their tanks topped off, with crews staying overnight at Trump’s resort. After all, it is near the airport!

Earlier this weekend he called the prime minister of Italy, Sergio Matarella, “President Mozarella,” and today he called his own secretary of defense, Mark Esper, “Mark Esperanto.” This would be endearing if it were anyone but Trump. Rick Perry, maybe. We’d laugh. I don’t know where I’m going with this thought, actually. Won’t someone do something about this human-shaped kidney stone lodged in the body politic? When will it pass, and how much damage will it do on its way out?


Normally, when I go to a car show, I put up a stand-alone photoblog. But I’m becoming less enamored with Tucson’s first big show of the season, the annual Tucson Classics Car Show held on the grounds of the Gregory School, so I’m incorporating some photos into this post instead.

What’s my problem? It’s the crowds, mostly. I’m not agoraphobic, but I do dislike being jostled by strangers, and felt squeezed on all sides yesterday. Donna rode over with me on the motorcycle, which was a treat. If she hadn’t been there I probably wouldn’t have lasted half an hour. As it was, we ogled the cars for a hour and a half. Here’s my yearly panorama from the bleachers:

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As always, hot rods, muscle cars, Bulgemobiles from the 1950s, a few genuine antiques. Quite a few were cars I photographed in past years, so I tried to pick out ones that were new to me. And of course I also tried to get the reluctantly-photographed Donna to hold still for a couple.

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Selfie in the crowd

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Hopped up Chevy Six

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1899 Locomobile steamer w/spare engine

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The sexiest of the sexy Jags

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Nice Model T

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Desi & Lucy and the Long Long Trailer?

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1950 Studebaker Land Cruiser

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1935 Ford Model 48 Cabriolet


There are a few more in my St Gregory Car Show 2019 album on Flickr. Click if you dare (c’mon, you know you wanna).

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I Hate to See a Baby Seal Grow Old (Updated 10/18/19)

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 12.31.12 PMI follow This Modern World cartoonist Tom Tomorrow on Daily Kos and Twitter. His work stays relevant, no matter how old, and periodically he’ll recycle a panel from the archives.

Unlike Mr. Tomorrow, I work under my actual name. Like Mr. Tomorrow, I too recycle work from my archives. When it comes to Trump, everything I wrote from election day in 2016 on has come true in spades, and then some. So like Mr. Tomorrow, I’m recycling a post from eleven years ago. It’s about corruption, written long before Trump. But as you’ll see, I recycled the post once before, just a few months into the Trump administration, when it had already become clear the entire Republican Party, the media, and the majority of the American people were prepared to ignore corruption and pretend everything is normal.

And here we are today, as Trump’s acting chief of staff announces that world leaders will stay at Trump’s Doral golf resort in Florida for the upcoming G7 meeting, another in a long string of open assaults on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and although there’s plenty of noise about it in the media at the moment, I bet by next week coverage will have moved on to some other outrage.

Why Congressional Democrats conducting the impeachment inquiry aren’t focusing on Trump’s repeated violations of the Constitutional prohibition against using the office of the presidency for self-enrichment … actual, provable, criminal behavior … is beyond me. It makes me think they really aren’t interested in impeachment, and that they’re going to slow roll the process into the 2020 presidential election and beyond, and moreover that as a society we’ve given up on fighting corruption. Which puts us, as I pointed out in my update two years ago, on the same level as Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, never mind our vaunted rhetoric about democracy and the rule of law.

Here’s the update from October 2017, followed by the original post from September 2008:

(Update: 10/24/17): Last night I read about the awarding of a no-bid contract to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid (awarded to a two-year-old company that had two employees when Hurricane Maria hit the PR just over a month ago, and is situated in Interior Secretary Zinke’s home town), and started thinking about corruption.

My initial thought was that the kind of frank corruption and cashing-in we’re seeing with Trump and his administration is a new thing, but then I remembered George W Bush and Dick Cheney and the rampant corruption involving no-bid contracts in Iraq after we invaded in 2003, and then I remembered that a little over 100 years ago it was normal to pay a bribe to get a government job, and then I remembered that under current House and Senate rules lobbyists are legally able to bribe members of Congress, and then … well, then I started missing the days when I could open a bottle of scotch and quit remembering things.

Probably a coincidence, but this morning a reader commented on a post I wrote on September 19, 2008, and I decided to move it back up to the top of the blog, because here we are as Trump & company dismantle even the polite white lie that this country adheres to higher principles than Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, noshing on bloody chunks of baby seal and not caring what anyone thinks, and we’re averting our eyes and doing nothing about it.

Here’s the post from September 2008:

This brilliant comment, posted by a reader named Wesley to a thread on Making Light, encapsulates the current state of our ongoing culture war:

There was a short story a few years ago by Howard Waldrop, called “Calling Your Name.” It ended up in a couple of Best-of-the-Year anthologies. There’s this guy, see, and after getting a shock from a badly wired power tool he learns Richard Nixon was never president. And then it turns out the Beatles never got together. And then JFK turns up alive, married to Marilyn Monroe. And then even members of his family have different names. Little bits of his reality keep shifting away from him.

I feel like the guy in the story. Except instead of history, it’s civilization that’s shifting. It seems like every few days I wake up and find another thing that was once beyond the pale is now normal, and considered unremarkable by everyone except some blogs somewhere. The lies are a little more blatant. The standards of behavior and intellect we expect from our leaders are a little lower. And hardly anyone cares, or even notices. Maybe I’m misremembering, but twenty years ago, before George W. Bush lowered the bar, wouldn’t somebody like Sarah Palin… who ran Alaska by filling important positions with old unqualified high school buddies and subadolescent sycophants who could in cold blood email things like “YOU ARE SO AWESOME” … wouldn’t someone like this have been a national laughingstock?

I keep expecting, someday, to wake up and on my way to work pass a handcart selling baby seals on a stick, freshly clubbed, skewered while still writhing. And everyone will be like, where have you been, dude? Everybody’s always eaten live baby seals for breakfast. It’s how things are, in this great country of ours! And then they will splash me with the excess blood, laugh terrible shrieking laughs, and wander off to relieve themselves in the nearest park.

From now on, whenever I hear Rush Limbaugh or see Bill O’Reilly (which I’ll continue to do as infrequently as possible), I’ll picture them gnawing on freshly clubbed baby seal.

The title of this entry, by the way, is a line from a truly awful song I learned in my fighter pilot days.  Don’t go below the fold if you don’t want to read it!

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Energizer Birthday Bunny Is Energized

It being my birth month and all, I decided to energize my batteries with a motorcycle cross-country. Here I am leaving our home in Tucson Thursday morning, October 10th:

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Donna came out to say goodbye and take my photo. Polly emerged from hiding as well. My dachshund Mister B was too upset to participate in the sendoff, and according to Donna stayed in a funk the entire time I was away … only four days, but to a loving dog it might as well have been forever. The first night Donna sent a photo of Mister B looking out the front window, waiting for me to pull back into the driveway. The next night she sent a photo of him waiting on my favorite chair (the one by the same window), looking for all the world like one of those faithful dogs who guard their departed masters’ graves.

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Heartbreaking. I almost turned around and rode home after she sent the first one. By the time she sent the second, I was having too good a time.

I rode from Tucson to Flagstaff on the first day and registered at the military recreation facility at Fort Tuthill, just south of Flagstaff. Our son Gregory rode his speedy BMW down from Las Vegas and stayed there with me that night. The rec center is operated by Luke AFB in Phoenix, and consists of a hotel, several log cabins and A-frames, and a campground, all surrounded by pine trees. Here’s the hotel lobby, where I waited for Greg to arrive. Not bad for government issue.

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When Greg got in we rode into town for dinner, then crashed early in preparation for Friday’s long ride north through the Navaho Nation and into Utah. Good thing, too, because Friday’s ride turned out to be even longer than we thought it would be. Our destination was the small town of Torrey by Capitol Reef National Park, a place Gregory chose because it anchors the eastern end of a legendary-in-the-motorcycling-community scenic road, Utah Highway 12. We rode straight from Flagstaff up to Page, stopping only briefly for gas, and on into Utah, then zig-zagged west and north on US 89 to Kanab and Panguitch, switching over to Utah 62 and 24 for more zigging and zagging, finally pulling into Torrey just before sunset. The motel was out of the 1940s and had its own restaurant … thank goodness for that because neither one of us felt like getting back on the bikes to ride into town.

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Overlook at Vermillion Cliffs

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Glen Canyon Dam

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Pit stop in Page

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Motel/cafe in Torrey


As in Flagstaff the night before, the temperature in Torrey dropped into single digits overnight, and even though we had at least as long a ride Saturday as on Friday, we couldn’t leave until the temperature climbed back above freezing, just before 10 AM. It was still 35°F when we climbed on the bikes Saturday and set out west on Highway 12, fortified by breakfast at the motel’s cafe.

There must be some drama in every road trip, and the drama this time was Gregory’s. He’d put a pair of cheap Pirellis on his Beemer a while ago, knowing they’d last only 3,000-4,000 miles. He had a new set of Dunlops in his garage for when the Pirellis wore out, but chose to squeeze just one more wafer-thin trip out of the cheapos. He chose poorly. When he post-flighted his bike Friday night in Torrey, he discovered that not only was the tread on the rear tire gone, cords were beginning to show. I thought the tire would get him home to Las Vegas, but he worried and fretted and sometime in the middle of the night came up with a plan.

Which was to ride Highway 12 on Saturday as originally intended (after all, that section of road was the planned high point of our trip), then cut through Zion National Park to the only motorcycle shop between Torrey and Las Vegas, the Harley dealership in Hurricane, Utah. The GPS said we’d arrive there around 1:30 PM, and Greg’s wife Beth … a saint if ever there was one … would load the new rear tire and some tools in their car and drive 140 miles to meet us in Hurricane. Greg also called ahead to the Harley dealership to let them know we were coming.

The GPS lied, and we should have known because it had lied about Friday’s ride too. It took us nine hours to get to the Harley dealership near Zion, and another two hours to get to our final Saturday destination, Las Vegas. More on that in a minute.

Tell you what, though, it was a beautiful ride. Utah Highway 12 is a national treasure, especially around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and I only wish I’d set up my GoPro before we left that morning. It was spectacular, but with the pressure to get to the motorcycle shop on the west side of the state before it closed for the day, we barely had time to stop and take in the views.

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Utah Hwy 12

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Utah Hwy 12

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Greg in Zion National Park

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Traffic in Zion!


But as you can see, I was able to take a couple of still photos along the way. There was a marathon on Hwy 12 between Escalante and Cannonville that morning, and had we left earlier we’d have been in the middle of it and wound up just as late. As it was, we caught up with the stragglers near mile 20 and didn’t even have to slow down. Deer and cattle were everywhere, though, and we rode with our heads up and on full alert lest we run into one. Deer, judging by the number of their dead colleagues along the sides of the road, aren’t very sensible about cars. The cattle, save for one young one who bolted onto the road in front of me, seemed more used to traffic and stayed to the shoulders. The scenery was spectacular all the way, and I really want to go back and ride that road some day when there’s no pressure to be anywhere.

We got to Mount Carmel Junction, two thirds of the way to the Harley dealership, about 1:30 PM, an hour and a half later than we thought we’d be. We’d originally planned to join up with a couple of Greg’s Las Vegas riding buddies there for the ride through Zion. We figured they’d be long gone, but hey, they waited for us and you can see them behind me in one of the photos above.

There wasn’t time for Greg and I to stop for lunch because it was beginning to look dicey whether we’d make it to the Harley place before closing, but while we were gassing up I clamped the GoPro to the top of my helmet so I could at least tape the ride through Zion. Where’s the video, you ask? Well, in the rush I didn’t check how the GoPro was aimed, and it was pointed too far down. I’ve got a lot of great video of my handlebars and speedometer, but the scenery cuts off at eye level. Here are a couple of screen grabs from the video to show you what I’m talking about. You’ll have to imagine the jagged and colorful sandstone peaks towering above us on all sides. Oh, and a couple of photos from the Harley dealership (yes, we made it in time).

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Video still, Zion

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Video still, Zion

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Greg’s bad tire

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Our savior, Beth


The ride through Zion National Park was spectacular, but the road was clogged with tourists (no tourist, no tourist, you’re the tourist!) and even after we were out of the park on the west side, heavy camper and RV traffic continued to impede our progress, but by golly we rolled into the Harley place at 4:30 PM, half an hour before closing. Beth was there, having patiently waited for us with the new tire and some tools. Greg took off his rear wheel and the Harley mechanic rolled it inside to dismount the old tire and mount the new one. Beth drove back to Las Vegas, and the four of us (Greg’s two buddies stayed with us through all this, good guys that they are) got on I-15 for a 90 mph ride back to Sin City about an hour later. Greg and I pulled into his garage around 7 PM, and Beth had takeout Chinese waiting for us.

So that was Saturday. Now that Gregory had decent rubber on his bike again, we were able to go for a relaxed putt into the mountains north of Las Vegas on Sunday, along with two fellow members of the Knuckledraggers Hash House Harrier Riding Club (Las Vegas Chapter), Jim and Jeff. Greg is a LV Knuckledragger as well, and I’m the grand master of the Baja Arizona chapter. We rode up to the helipad at the top of Lee Canyon for a traditional hash beer check, then on to the lodge at Mount Charleston, where we had lunch.

I used a different mount for the GoPro on Sunday’s ride, which resulted in far better videos, but I’m still editing them and will have to post some short clips later. Meanwhile, here are some photos from Sunday with the Knuckledraggers.

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Knuckledraggers (Jeff, Jim, Greg, me)

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Mt. Charleston Lodge

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Video still, Lee Canyon

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Video still, Lee Canyon


Sunday night was a family night with Greg, Beth, and our grandson Quentin. We watched El Camino, the post-Breaking Bad movie about Jesse Pinkman, and Monday morning I left for the long solo ride back to Tucson, a route I’ve traveled many many times by motorcycle and car. Happy to say the ride home was uneventful, and should probably note here that not one cager tried to kill me this entire trip. Which makes it above average. Add perfect weather and (tourists in Zion excepted) no traffic, and it was close to perfect. My batteries are recharged.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve had a long recovery from my second knee replacement in July 2018, and had been a little concerned about my ability to hang in there on a long ride. Yes, the knee’s still full of scar tissue and stiff, but I can ride and by alternating between the regular footpegs and the highway pegs, I’m good for back-to-back days in the saddle. Whew, that’s a relief! Oh, and the sore tooth? It didn’t bother me on the trip, and it hasn’t flared up since. Another relief, although probably only a temporary one.

I hope you didn’t think I had forgotten about poor Mister B. I thought about him every day I was away, and when I pulled into the garage Monday afternoon, Donna was there holding him. He jumped from her arms to mine before I could even get off the motorcycle, and Donna took this photo of our reunion. Do we deserve these loving devoted faithful friends? No, we do not.

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Reunited with Mister B!

p.s. There are an abundance of photos in this post, but if you want to see more, I have a trip album on Flickr. Just click here to see it.

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On the Road

I’m packed for my first motorcycle trip of the year. Rain gear, spare boots, essential tools. Socks and underwear, a change of clothes. Cold weather gear because you never know. Camera, GoPro, GPS.

Tomorrow morning I’ll strap the bag to the bike and ride north to Flagstaff. I may or may not take the back roads around the Mogollon Rim … I’m putting that decision off until tomorrow morning, after a look at traffic and the weather. Our son Gregory will ride his BMW from Las Vegas and meet me in Flag. We’ll overnight there and on Friday make our way north through the Navaho Nation to Torrey, Utah. Saturday we’ll ride mountain roads from Torrey to Las Vegas. I’ll crash at Gregory’s house from Saturday night through Monday morning. Sunday we’ll hook up with some Vegas riders and ride to Mount Charleston or Spring Mountain. Might even get to see my grandson Quentin perform in a high school play. Monday I’ll solo home down US 93 through Kingman and Wickenburg to Phoenix, then brave I-10 the rest of the way to Tucson.

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Our last father/son ride in southern Utah, May 2017 (somewhere near Bryce)

It won’t be my most ambitious cross-country ride, but I’ve been on a long recovery with my second knee replacement and this’ll be a good test of my ability to put serious mileage on it.

I’ve been worried about an incipient sore tooth, a molar way in the back, but luckily had a periodontal appointment yesterday and the dentist didn’t see anything obviously wrong. She gave me a prescription for an antibiotic, which I’ll take while I’m on the trip, and didn’t laugh at me when I told her I was bringing along a small bottle of oil of cloves. When I made a feeble joke about Marathon Man she got it, which surprised me because she’s in her 30s. Kids watching classics? Who knew?

Later next week I’ll schedule a visit with the endodontist and start psyching up for a root canal. I endured one two years ago and know what I’m in for. I’m lucky to have good teeth and to have had good dental care over the years. But like many my age, I’m starting to outlive my teeth, and can only hope serious problems will space themselves out to one a year, because that’s all the insurance will bear.

Donna’s making a favorite recipe tonight, Portuguese chicken. It’ll be road food the next couple of days, but then I’ll be with with my son and his family in Vegas … Beth is a great cook (and so is our son, who takes after us).

So anyway, in a few hours I’ll be off. I’ll check in frequently with OTR (on the road) updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And photos! Wish me luck, please. I promise I’ll be careful.

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