Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's Death Week!

Has anybody here seen my old friend Saddam?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him
Up over the hill,
With Jerry Ford and James Brown.

The Iraqi and U.S. governments stretched a point when Saddam Hussein stretched a rope. James Brown did the Funky Chicken for St Peter, while Jerry Ford tripped past him and through the Pearly Gates. It's Death Week!


So Gerald Ford has died! I admit to having a bias against ol' Jerry for the past few decades. I didn't really have anything against him as President, because he inherited so many problems from his two predecessors. Like the whole Vietnam mess and the usual shenanigans in Congress.

I didn't have a specific problem with him and the Nixon pardon, because that just seemed like business as usual at the top. The good ol' boys taking care of each other. The problems I had with Ford were the Dynamic Duo* of Cheney and Rumsfeld, who both worked for him.
I'm also mad at him for not getting himself elected President. Yeah, that sounds odd since I voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Gerald Ford was never elected to anything but Congress, and yet by a couple of strokes of cosmic fate got into the White House. He retired after 2 ½ years with a full Presidential pension, full Secret Service protection, and for nothing more than being in the right place at the right time. He was able to do this by not making waves, by being a good Republican flack and go-to guy his entire political career. He polished the right apples along the way.

Don't feel bad this guy died, folks. He led a charmed life while he was alive. For many years I referred to him as America's highest paid Welfare recipient. I wish I could do something for a couple of years and retire to East Street the rest of my natural life.


He died a bearded reprobate...
...but he was such a nice-looking young man!

Saddam Hussein was one of those guys you like to read about, but would never want to meet. I read enough about his torture chambers, his climb to power over the dead bodies of his enemies, and his further peccadilloes to know I didn't care much for him.

My favorite gruesome stuff was about his sons, though. In any other country they'd be considered sociopaths and locked away for good. These were a couple of ruthless criminals who literally got away with murder. But, while their dad met the hangman, they met their ends fighting to the death with U.S. forces. Their dad hid in a hole, then when discovered came out declaring he was president of Iraq and wanted to negotiate with George Bush. That alone got him the Chutzpah Award.


The first time I saw I saw James Brown was on the old Lloyd Thaxton TV show, circa 1965 or '66, doing "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag." I wasn't hip to the slang. I wondered what a "brand new bag" was. Maybe a new girlfriend?

Does anybody else remember Lloyd Thaxton, the poor man's Dick Clark? Brown had the most ridiculous bangs I've ever seen. Thaxton asked him about his hairdo and J.B. said, "Got to keep up with the thang, man."

I'm not real big on funk, but I've got to admit, J.B. kept up with the thang.

Ciao for now, El Postino

*Here's the
real Dynamic Duo.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas At War


I found this picture on a soldier's blog. Sorry for appropriating it, guys, but I want to use you to make a point that with all of the news from and about Iraq, it's easy to forget you are there in Afghanistan, also fighting.

I hope that everyone will be thinking about the tough job our men and women in the armed forces are doing while we open presents, visit with friends and relatives, and eat dinner.

Hey, guys…love your hats, but ditch the cigs. You're in a business that's risky enough.

And lest you have forgotten (like that could happen), here are some folks to remind you of what's hom


In a prior blog I talked about getting a Superman suit for Christmas. My buddy Dave was reminded that he wanted a cowboy outfit with a black hat. He just had to have that black hat. This isn't a picture of Dave, but this boy also got a black hat.

That's one of the things I've noticed…sometimes the really good guys wear black hats, and sometimes the sneaky, crooked bastards will wear white hats to fool you.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Flying Saucer Boy

Comcast Cable's On Demand is showing the 1956 science fiction movie Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers on its Free Movies section. I'd seen it about five years ago but today I took another look.

I like the naïve earnestness of Hugh Marlowe as the leading man, Dr. Marvin. Everyone trusts the military to do the right thing, and they look to Dr. Marvin for guidance, and for their weapons development. That's why they call it science fiction, obviously. The special effects by Ray Harryhausen, even in our era of CGI, are still entertaining. The reviewer for commended the sound effects, but they were actually annoying.

This is a very paranoid film done in a paranoid era. That's part of its appeal to me. America was facing down the Soviet Union in a tense standoff, arms proliferation, nuclear bombs, and all of that sort of worrisome stuff. So a threat from outer space had a lot to do with how we were feeling at the time. The flying saucer men were stand-ins for our real external enemies.

Mom took my buddies and me to the movie on my birthday in 1956. She dropped us off and let us sit through 2 ½ showings before coming to pick us up. I think it was because Allen's mom called and asked where the hell he was, and wasn't that damn birthday party over yet? Mom was probably preoccupied, as she often was, by whatever it was the preoccupied her. I never knew.

The subject of flying saucers came up the next day when Allen and I were kicking a ball around in my back yard. We talked about the movie and I said, "Do you think flying saucers are real?" We'd heard a lot about flying saucers--my dad was interested in the subject--but Mom said that people were "seeing things," or "just nuts" when they said they'd seen them. Allen said, "Sure they're real. They fly over us a lot. Like that one, right there."

I looked east into the afternoon sky and saw a large object, which for the life of me, looked like my mom's steam iron flying overhead. I watched it for a short while and it vanished. For a few years I told the story of how I'd seen a UFO and when I said that people would perk up, but groan or laugh when I said it looked like a big steam iron. So I didn't tell the story after a while, and I really only thought of it on occasion. Like when I read in Fortean Times years ago that one of the shapes of UFOs reported by people is, you guessed it, a steam iron.

As an adult I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I thought as a child, hoping to discover why I think the way I do as an adult. I had a really active imagination, fueled by TV science fiction shows and Flash Gordonserials. I read science fiction comic books, and juvenile science fiction novels. As my third grade teacher, Mrs. B., told me the year after I'd moved on from her class, "I thought you'd be on Mars by now." So my mind was bent toward that type of sighting.

Allen, my childhood buddy, was also a trickster. He liked to do things to fool me. Perhaps when Allen pointed to the sky I was primed to see a UFO and wasn't disappointed.

The problem is I had a nine-year-old's mind, and I'm trying to figure it out with my now-adult mind, putting myself in my back yard over 50 years ago, looking up in the sky. I don't recall any sound coming from the object. I realized years later that it could not have been a commercial airliner because that wasn't then, nor is it now, the flight path to our airport. It's too near the mountains. If it had been a helicopter or private plane I think I would have heard something. Was it a hot air balloon? Not very common in those days. Not even these days.

I also know nowadays that the power of suggestion is just that, power. It's easy to make someone believe something when they want to believe it. And memory, as we all know, is the trickiest thing of all and most easily fooled.

As an adult I don't believe in flying saucers. They've been reported now for almost 60 years, and even when people try to sell me on the idea I don't have much patience. No one has come up with any real physical evidence. If you see lights in the sky and instantly translate that into visitors from outer space then you out-imagine me. If, in what's left of my lifetime, a flying saucer lands on the White House lawn and little gray guys step out waving, then maybe I'll believe there are such things.

And as for the little gray guys, don't even get me started on what I think of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens and given anal probes or transmitters implanted in their nostrils. Put down your DVD sets of The X-Files and come back to earth, folks.

For all of that, childish imagination, the power of suggestion, the flying saucer movie I'd seen the day before, my dad's belief in flying saucers, newspaper stories, Allen's statement, "They fly over us a lot," I keep wondering: I did see something. So what did I see in the sky over the east bench of Salt Lake City fifty years ago?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Super Suit

Mom asked me, "So what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?"

My answer was immediate. "I want a Superman suit!"

It was 1953 and I was in the first grade. Superman was a favorite show of mine. I watched it every week with my parents on our 19" 1950 RCA console television. I don't remember what else I asked for that year, but I got my Superman suit.

There weren't any Superman costumes available--or if there were my mom didn't know about them or couldn't afford one--so she made it. When I saw it on Christmas morning it was--hot dang!--a genuine Superman suit all right, with one important difference. Mom had never seen the color Superman comic books. All she'd ever seen was the television character, so she sewed the costume in shades of gray and black.

It's been a lot of years and memory of the actual costume is dim. There aren't any old photos, but I remember the top was a sweatshirt onto which she had sewn an "S" logo in a shield. It seems that I didn't think it looked that much like the one I'd seen on TV, but it was OK. It was my Superman suit, cape and all!
When we went back to school the day after New Year's Day, 1954, the teacher said, "You can bring a favorite Christmas toy to school tomorrow and show the other boys and girls." I knew exactly what I wanted to show them.

We got up individually for show and tell. I don't remember much about the other kids and their toys except that classmate Chris's dad owned a wholesale toy distribution business. So Chris had every damn popular toy made.* Grrr. I hated him.

I got up in front of the class and took off my shirt. Underneath it I had on my Superman shirt and I was really proud! I stuck my scrawny little chest out a half inch. At recess one of the cute girls in the class came up to me while I was still wearing the costume and invited me to sit on the windowsill. She plopped herself onto my lap. Of all my childhood memories that one really sticks out. Talk about feeling really super.

I guess some of the other boys were jealous. They came over and one of them gave me a shove. "Think you're super, huh?" one of them said. Then they all ganged up and pummeled me until the teacher broke it up.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons that day in the first grade. If you look cool girls may like you. If you look cool to girls then other boys will hate you. If you want to look like Superman you'd better be prepared to act like Superman, and not get the crap kicked out of you by the guys.

Despite that I had a lot of fun in that Superman suit, even jumping off the roof of the garage to see if I could fly. I wonder how many kids did that? Must've been a lot, because there was a 16mm short film shown to us in school called Only Superman Can Fly, which featured Superman actor George Reeves explaining why we couldn't jump off roofs or tall buildings and such. Well, duh. I already knew that from my sore ankles and the ass-blistering I got from Mom.

This Christmas Sally is giving me a DVD set of the first season of the Superman TV show. It has been many years since I've seen these old black and white episodes, and I'll be telling you at some point what I think of them.

*Another of my classmates was the grandson of a candy maker. The family owned a local candy factory. Talk about rubbing shoulders with the elite of childhood fantasies…all of the toys you'd want and all of the candy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Brian Williams, of NBC Nightly News, ran a report tonight on Baby Boomers and their love of the music of their youth. Well, naturally. Everyone loves the music they grew up with. The music that was the background for their first date, first prom, first kiss, first…well, you get the idea.

If I compiled a list of my favorite songs from the 1960s, when I became a teenager and went through so many important--and terrible--events in my life, I'd have to pick the groups that influenced me and everyone else, and top of that list would have to be the Beatles.

What seems incredible now is that the Beatles' most creative period took place over a period of a short five or six years…about 1963 to 1969. That's when the group members themselves were still youngsters in their twenties! Think about what you were doing in your twenties.

I thought of Beatles songs that to me were the best, most representative of what I loved about the group. I picked three…there are lots and lots more, so I had to boil them down to a manageable amount. You can pick your own, but this is my blog and I get to pick mine first.

The first would have to be "She Loves You," which I think is one of the great pop/rock songs of all time. It starts out with Ringo's drums, goes right into the powerful three-part harmony of John, Paul and George, and in a couple of minutes tells a story. When our parents, and those who didn't listen, heard this song what they heard was "Yeah, yeah, yeah," and the Little Richard-like "Oooooo," which got the girlies screaming as the lads shook their mop tops. That was all theater, though. The song is about a guy who is very noble. He has been told by a girl to tell her former boyfriend she still loves him. The guy imparting the information doesn't take advantage, doesn't tell her, "Yeah, well…he doesn't love you, but I do," which would be a ratty thing to do. No, he goes to his buddy and tells him, "You think you've lost her, but you haven't, because she still loves you. Go on, forget your pride and apologize to her. She loves you, and you know you should be glad." Not only is it a great and memorable melody, but the vocals are excellent. John, Paul and George never got their full due when it came to their three-part harmony, but even the Beach Boys would have to admit those guys had some great vocal moves, each voice perfectly complementing the other.

I believe the song owes a lot to George Martin, the producer, and maybe George Martin is the true genius behind the genius of the Beatles. At least I think he is. The way the song ends, not fading out, but with the echo-chambered "Yeah, yeah, yeah…" harmony ending on a slightly discordant note is pure brilliance and is a perfect ending to what I think is a perfect song.

My next favorites would be the tandem of "Strawberry Fields," and "Penny Lane." I heard these songs the day they were debuted on American radio in 1967, while sitting in a basic training barracks, listening to a radio we weren't supposed to have. After nearly 40 years I still remember the power of those two songs, for two different reasons. John's song evoked the mystical, whereas Paul's song evoked nostalgia. George Martin called that record the beginnings of Sgt. Pepper, and I never could figure out why they weren't included on that album. The songs showed the individual directions the artists were taking; that even though the compositions were signed Lennon/McCartney, it was obvious that each song was thought up by a mind going in a different direction from the other. What is amazing to me is that they made those songs work so well, even though you'd probably admit that the other guy's song probably wasn't this guy's cuppa tea. Paul and John worked just as diligently making each other's music sound great as they did on their own. And they had George Martin working on them, polishing away rough edges, making sounds that no one had made before, sharing a vision.

As of the time I write this, I have not yet heard the CD, The Beatles Love, which is done by Martin, deconstructing and then rearranging some of the Beatles songs. I will hear it at Christmas when I give a copy to my wife. Remember, don't tell her I'm giving it to her. I want it to be a surprise. It'll be a surprise to me, too, but I expect to like it, because as much as I love the originals, I don't think a little tinkering will hurt them. This album will be on the shelf with the originals, but will never take the place of the originals.

The Beatles to me don't just represent an era in my personal life. When I think of the Beatles and their great songs I think of the influence they had on all aspects of our culture. Imagine (hey! what a great title for a song!) what music would be like today if it hadn't been for the Beatles.

My musical tastes don't start and end with the Beatles, but they are very large in my life. I see a songwriter like George Gershwin representing his era brilliantly, and I see the Beatles doing the same with their era. Gershwin's songs are still played, still recorded endlessly. But Gershwin didn't sing his songs. The Beatles' songs will live as long or longer than Gershwin's music, but their voices will also be there to remind everyone listening how vital they sounded in their day, and how vital they will always be.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Friday, December 15, 2006


A year ago today I was driving home from work, slammed into the car ahead of me, totaled my pickup truck, then laid on my couch for six weeks nursing a fractured sternum.

Isn't this the worst feeling in the world? You're driving along, maybe distracted as we all tend to be, your eyes wander away from the road. When you look up you see the vehicle ahead of you isn't moving. You make a panic stop, just like they taught you in Driver Ed! Foot against the brake as hard and fast as you can, only to realize in that split second you aren't going to stop, you're heading for full-on impact.

I remember the crunching sound of metal against metal when my Nissan hit the Chevy Suburban ahead of me. The very next thing I knew my airbag was deflating. The smell was pungent. I reached for my glasses, groping around until I found them. They had flipped over and were upside down on the back of my head.

I stepped out of my vehicle to see the front end in total ruin. I figured even then it was a total loss. I didn't think anyone could put those pieces back together, and I was right.

The lady I hit, Betty, told me that the traffic light ahead of us was green, but for some unknown reason the car ahead of her came to a complete stop, forcing her to panic stop, which caused me to pile right into her rear end.

The cop investigating the accident believed her, and told me he didn't think it was all my fault, but let's face it, in a rear-end crash the car doing the rear-ending gets the ticket. So I got my first moving violation in over 20 years.

I also noticed at the time I was having a stabbing pain in the center of my chest. I called my wife on my cell phone (the only time I've ever been glad to own a cell phone), told her where I was, come get me.

Betty's Chevy Suburban was hardly damaged. As the guy in the body shop where my car was taken later told me, my pickup truck hit her trailer hitch at exactly the right angle to destroy my vehicle, but barely scratch the chrome on hers. It made me think about what I've heard for years: you're better off in a bigger vehicle than a small one.

Sally drove me to the emergency room against my protestations. I thought I was just sore from the airbag hitting me. As it turned out from an MRI I had a fracture to my sternum. I think when my seatbelt cinched up, as it was supposed to do on impact, my body was thrown sufficiently far forward to cause the fracture to my breastbone.

The ER nurse was a doll; she was very solicitous of me during my time there, and even gave me a big hug when I left. She told me, "You're my best patient. You've never complained." I thought, well, gee, lady, I didn't know I was supposed to! But I took the hug, even though the squeeze put more hurt on my chest.

This is a long story to tell you this: Every time you get in your car and go out onto the road you are at risk of an accident. I got lucky that time, but I think back on how quick I could have been killed. That kind of death you don't get a chance to say goodbye to anybody, just hello to St. Peter. You might be driving along, looking back to yell at your kid in the back seat, finding a CD in your glove box, reaching for a cigarette or answering your cell phone, and the next thing you know you're standing in front of the Pearly Gates saying, "Wha---?!! I can't be here. This is my bowling night!"

It also costs in other ways that are more of this earth. I paid a traffic fine of about $122 for following too close. I took a guilty plea in abeyance and six months later without further mishap my record was cleared. I had to find another car, but I let my wife do all of the communicating with the insurance company. This was all during the Christmas break. We found another car on January 2. Yes, I got a bigger vehicle this time.

I drive for a living. I've been in the driver's seat almost 44 years. I thought I knew all of the tricks, had all of the close calls without damage or injury, but this time the law of averages caught up to me. It can happen to you.

People, be careful. Because I lived I got to see my granddaughter's first birthday, and will see her second if everything goes as planned. Frankly, I'd like to be around to see her graduate with honors from Harvard, but I'm not going to plan that far ahead. I still have a lot of driving to do before I hang up the car keys. There are a lot of other cars on the road, and a lot of distracted drivers, just like I was that day. Wise up. Hands on the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00, eyes on the road ahead. Do all of the things they taught you in Driver Ed, and turn off the damn cell phone.


Here are some folks who know the sickening and helpless feeling that something is happening too fast for them to do anything.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Breath Of Death

Sally and I were talking about some people we worked with in the 1970s. Laura Jo worked with Sally. She was a woman in her early twenties, already morbidly obese. Some of the guys who worked around the place called her "Large O."

Laura Jo married Bruce, a skinny guy who was just back from Vietnam. They had corresponded when he was in the Army. I can't imagine his letters could have made much sense, since he couldn't read or write beyond a second grade level. Besides writing, both he and Laura Jo had trouble with fundamentals like brushing their teeth. She always had some problems with that. Bruce's breath was like poison gas because he smoked, and because he ate onions at every meal. He also had sort of a tint to his rotting teeth, hence the name I pinned on him, "Green Teeth"

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In 1974 Sally drove one of Detroit's finest cars ever, a 1971 Chevy Vega (hey, you! I can hear you laughing all the way through the monitor!) Laura Jo gave Bruce a timing light for his birthday, and when Sally's car needed a tune-up he offered to do it. Sally thought, gee, what a nice guy.

When Laura Jo called her and said Bruce had finished with the car Sally got in it to find a note from Bruce. It said:


…and that's exactly how it was spelled, "to funk you."

Sally was pretty upset, but didn't say anything to me for a couple of days. Finally she came to me and handed me the note. I went to the phone and my conversation went like this:

LAURA JO: Hello?

ME: Hi. Is Bruce there?

LAURA JO: Sure. Just a minute.

BRUCE: Hello?


I slammed down the phone.

The next day at work Laura Jo told Sally, "Gee, that was so nice of your husband to call Bruce and tell him thanks for timing your car."

Hey, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade! I had to admit, Bruce was quick on his feet.

When I told my buddy about the incident he said, "It sounds like you came off like a charging rhino." Bruce and I didn't work together at the time, but eventually both of us got jobs at the school district. He didn't last. His personal hygiene was so bad that schools he visited would call his boss and say, "Please don't send that guy to our school anymore." Eventually, for that for other reasons, he was sacked.

At one time his boss told me, "Don't ever hit Bruce in the mouth. You'll get lockjaw from his teeth." His boss pronounced the word as lockjar, which was almost as funny as Bruce's "to funk you" note.

Laura Jo was one of the very earliest patients to have a stomach stapling operation. She lost all of her fat, but her heart gave out when she had to go in for follow-up surgery. Bruce moved back to his hometown in Southern Utah, and I never heard any more about him.

Maybe the Army could find a way to use his Breath Of Death as a secret weapon.


On a more positive note, last night we had some snow, and this morning the pollution sitting over us for days is finally gone. I love the crisp, cold air after a storm. I love to look at the mountains which surround us with their fresh coat of white snow. Lots of people hate snow, and it can be a hassle to drive in. I've done my share of cursing it, but on a day like today, where the sky is bright blue and everything around me is fresh and white, snow is not a hassle but a beautiful thing.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Perversion Is Better Than Inversion

For the past five days Salt Lake City has been helpless in the throes of one of our winter inversions. A high pressure systems sits over us, trapping cold air and pollutants in our bowl-shaped valley. If you're smart you stay inside until the inversion is over; if you have to work in it like me you come away from a day's labor with a splitting headache and a fuzzed-over tongue.

This morning when I left my house it was 17º, and within moments of being out in chilly, polluted air it felt like Brillo pads had been hammered into my sinuses with dirty icicles. It was hard to breathe and when I did the rotten taste of the inversion was in my mouth. I feel our inversion is probably something like the killer fogs that used to settle over London in years past. People with respiratory problems are warned to stay indoors, but c'mon…some of us have to earn a living and we have to be out in that stuff.

I found these pictures on the Internet, taken from some kinky magazine of a bygone era. I could probably use one of these suits with gasmasks, but I'd forego the lacy garter belt, thank

Just for the hell of it, who could find these outfits sexy? I don't care how kinky you are, there ain't nobody who could find someone with a gasmask the least bit sexy.I'm familiar with gasmasks. Not these, but the more official military mask. When I was in the Army in the mid '60s I went through gas training five times. The first time was during Basic Training. We were taken into a small building wearing our regulation gasmasks. A form of gas called CS, more commonly known as tear gas, permeated the room. We were given a short lecture, then we had to take off our masks, walk around in single file in a circle and file out the door. If anyone bolted or panicked he was put back into line and we would march again. We hit the open air with tears streaming from our eyes. There was a godawful burning sensation, too. It took a while to clear our eyes, standing with our faces toward any breeze that might be coming by.

The last time I went through the gas chamber a couple of years later I thought I had it down. This time the drill was, according to the sergeant's instructions, take a deep breath, then remove the mask, say name, rank and service number, walk calmly to the door and out. Since I was such a know-it-all I didn't think I needed to listen, so I took off my mask, then took a deep breath. When I opened my mouth to speak all that came out was a squeak. Luckily the sergeant didn't chew my ass, just pushed me out the door. I'm sure I felt about as dumb as I looked.

While our inversion isn't anywhere near as unpleasant as the experiences I went through in the Army, it's bad enough.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Curmudgeon

Only about three weeks until Christmas, so I guess it's time to break out the BAH, HUMBUG! badge I wear on my coat during the season.

As an American growing up during the baby boomer era I was just as sold on Christmas as everyone else. That's because when we were kids it was all about us. Santa came down the chimney to give toys to us, the kids. We didn't need to give our parents any presents. Santa didn't give them anything, anyway. I never even thought about it until I was a bit older and my mother said, "What would you like to get your father for Christmas?" I said, shocked, "Say what?" I didn't know I was supposed to get presents for anyone else. I thought they all just came to me.

Last year my son talked to his mother and me. He said he didn't believe in getting a whole bunch of junk for his kids for Christmas and he'd appreciate if we didn't either. He called it Excess-Mas, which is probably as good a handle as any to hang on a holiday that promotes greed and gimme-gimme as much as Christmas does. Oh yeah…you hear about all of the folks who want to help other people with meals, and gifts for their poor kids, but the rest of the public is less altruistic. "I bought my wife a diamond necklace, and she better goddam well get me that 52" plasma HDTV!"

We got into this mess because we believed that we were supposed to inundate our children with gifts, and buy expensive stuff for our spouses too. I'm sure if you go back a few decades you'll find the fine hands of retailers in all of this. To them the Christmas spirit is green, as in $$$.

For a few years our local daily newspaper used to run letters from a guy who wrote about Santa Claus. He hated the idea of Santa, hated us lying to our children about Santa. He called Santa Claus the "god of Christmas." At the time I thought the letter writer was another right-wing Christian fundamentalist crank, but now I think the guy hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. We do tell our children that there is a man who has a reward for them if they're good. He lives in a place where we can't see him. He is omniscient: he can see what we are doing, misbehaving or behaving. He answers our letters (prayers) by bestowing blessings upon us. He travels by magic/supernatural means. Oh yeah…he has a long white beard, too. I am starting to see that far from being a crank, that letter writer was actually the most observant person among us.

There comes a day when kids find out the truth…there is no Santa Claus. Until that time it seems a harmless enough fiction to tell kids, but it's actually the first of what I call the Three Basic Lies We Tell Kids:

The first lie: there is a Santa Claus. He is a man who gives you something for nothing. You've just got to be good and your rewards will be given to you in the form of toys and candy.

The second and third lies aren't about Christmas, but they have the same sort of pie-in-the-sky quality: You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. Number three is the real kicker: If you work hard and are good, then good things will come to you.

And the other lies always start with the Santa Claus lie.

Christmas is a holiday with a split personality. It is religious. It's secular. It's two (click), two holidays in one! It isn't a bit odd for deeply religious, devout Christians observing Christmas as the anniversary of the birth of Christ, to also tell their kids lies about Santa Claus. The secular is blurred with the religious, and I notice no one, except maybe Larry the Cable Guy, seeing anything strange about lawns decorated with a Nativity scene standing next to a light-up Santa with reindeer.

Now, where's the BAH, HUMBUG! badge of mine?

Ciao for now, El Postino

Click on the pictures for full-size images, taken from Humbug Magazine, January 1958.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Draft Day

I thought about this anniversary several weeks ago, reluctant to believe it could be that long ago. I'm not that old, am I? As mind-boggling as it is to me, November 30, 2006, is the 40th anniversary of the day I went into the U.S. Army, a 19-year-old draftee from Salt Lake City, Utah.

In those days getting drafted was more of a process. You almost had to work at it, because other guys were finding it so easy to stay out of the Army. Stay in college, keep your deferment. Dick Cheney did that several times. A friend of mine was deferred because at 17 he had become a married father. Other guys found legal ways to stay out, going into the National Guard or Army Reserve. I never even considered that route. I had no clout, no rich daddy like George W. Bush, who could get me into such a unit.

My process was to get kicked out of college in December 1965, then go to work in my dad's business for several months. I knew I'd be drafted and I went into a depressive funk. It kept getting worse. The more depressed I got the less capable I was of doing anything like getting back into college to help myself stay out of the Army. I got called for my pre-induction physical in July, 1966, and was scheduled to be drafted at the end of September.

But I got sick in early September with mononucleosis, which had me down in bed for 10 days. They call it the kissing disease, but my then-girlfriend never got it. I don't know what I kissed to get mono, but I hope I never kiss it again. My doctor wrote a note to my draft board asking for a deferment of six months, because he told me it would take that long to fully recuperate. He said I'd be weak and worn down. They gave me 60 days, so in late October I got my notice: Report on November 30, 1966. Say goodbye to family and friends, girls, long hair, my car, my job. There was a war to be won, boy. Get over there and win it for Uncle Sam. Oh yeah…we don't care how sick you are.

November 30, 1966 was a day we know in Salt Lake as a temperature inversion day. We live in a valley surrounded by mountains, a bowl. During the winter sometimes high pressure settles over us, and our car exhausts and industrial pollution can't go anywhere, so it all lays in the air like a big, ugly, brown cloud of fog. It makes your lungs feel like you've smoked a pack of cigarettes, all at once. It's gotten better over the years with stricter regulations, but it still occurs at times almost every winter. It creates hazards to health, but when it gets bad enough it can also keeps planes from flying. We were scheduled to go to Fort Lewis, Washington, but there was no flying out that night. The Army fed us at a local greasy spoon. I don't remember anything I ate except that it had no taste whatsoever. Some goofball sat across from me and I thought he was on drugs. His eyes were bright, and he seemed manic. He kept saying, "Boy, I'm excited to be going into the Army! Aren't you guys excited? I'm really excited." I just looked at him, hoping my eyes would tell him, "Hey, Excited, shut the fuck up." I didn't say anything, though. Maybe I was the only guy in there who wasn't excited to be going. I looked around. No, the guy across from me was the only one excited. The rest of the guys had the sick look of men condemned to hard labor in a federal penitentiary.

The army set us up in a fleabag motel, two guys to a room. They told us, "If you live locally you can call someone and go home for the night, or if you live out of town you can stay here." About half of the guys were from out of town, including a clown named Willard, who was from Park City. He called his girlfriend and they screwed all night, much to the amusement of everyone else. There was a parade of guys going through his room just to say hello, checking out his girlfriend sitting up in bed, nude. I didn't see it, but I sure heard enough about it the next day. At least Willard got a sendoff. I don't remember what I did. I think I went home and went to bed. Alone.

The next day Dad drove me to the motel in the stinking, still thick inversion. After gathering us all up we were on our way to Ft. Lewis by rail, which took about 24 hours. It wasn't Amtrak, because it was in the days before Amtrak. It was some creaking, rattley-assed train with a genuine porter who mostly sat in his cubicle, told stories and drank whiskey out of a bottle.

What I remember most about that trip was that the meal they'd served us the day before and a case of nerves was hitting me hard, so I was in the bathroom every hour or so. So if I tell you it was a shitty train ride, I'm not being facetious.

Nowadays there is no draft, so with a lot of Americans there is no real connection with the wars we're fighting. In those days every family either had a male eligible for the draft, in the service, or trying to stay out. I listened to Rep. Charles Rangel say on Face The Nation recently that we should reinstitute the draft. There's no stomach for that anywhere, so it was rhetoric on his part. I understood his point. What he wants is for the rest of the country to feel like they have a stake in this war, to make the rich and powerful feel it the same as poorer families with servicemen who are fighting.

I'll bet if I was to stop 10 students at any of the schools where I go every day and ask them about the war at least half of them wouldn't know anything about it. They'd probably know we are in a war--actually we're in two wars--but they wouldn't know any details because kids in high school don't care about things like that. They're in their own little worlds of girls, boys, cars, cell phones, who's doing what to who…war? That's someone else's business, isn't it?

On that day 40 years ago I was faced with the real possibility that this could be the last stop for me. I could end up in Vietnam, I could end up dead. I'm still around to talk about it, but those were my thoughts at the time. And my parents, friends and family were all thinking the same thing. I'm not recommending we ever start up the draft again, but we also need for Americans to shake off their apathy and know what many young men and women are facing every day in a combat zone.

Ciao for now, Private E-1 Postino

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The United States Of Wal-Mart

I don't pay a lot of attention to business news. It bores me. But I keep hearing about something called Black Friday. Over 30 years ago Steely Dan had a song called "Black Friday," which was about a really bad day. The new meaning for Black Friday is that it is the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers hope to have a strong day of sales leading into the Christmas season.

I usually try to avoid stores right after Thanksgiving because of all of the wild-eyed, desperate-looking people rushing around for bargains. I also don't understand why people camp out overnight to hit the big sales at Wal-Mart or similar stores, just so they can trample each other getting in at 5:00 in the morning. It's cold around here that time of year! Sleeping outside just so you can buy a TV set for a few bucks off regular price isn't worth sleeping on the cold asphalt of a store parking lot.

I get the sense from newspapers and television, who keep repeating this stuff about Black Friday, that it's some sort of unofficial holiday. For some reason the media is keeping track of the retail losses and gains. They are really making ordinary Americans feel like they are somehow responsible for whether Sears, J. C. Penney , Wal-Mart, Kmart, Smart-Mart, Fart-Mart or Mart-Mart are making a profit. When did we become the people who are made to feel guilty if the fatcat stockholders of these big retail outlets aren't happy with their Christmas bonuses?

What did these guys ever do for me except try to sell me useless stuff I don't need and won't use, just so they could live in luxury while I live in poverty, surrounded by the junk I bought from their stores?

In my neighborhood a big Wal-Mart superstore is going up. It should be ready by February. Already nearby businesses are giving up, moving out. It isn't enough that Wal-Mart should come to town and put all of the little guys out of business, now it's putting them out of business before they even open their store.

The reason it's not ready by Christmas is that we fought building the store, and they couldn't start building until after our special election (we lost) in June. Folks around here fought against the Wal-Marting of our town, but there it is, sitting like a giant toad in the middle of our little pond. The lure of tax revenue is too great for cities. I'm sure our mayor and city councilmen walked around with erections for weeks once they knew Wal-Mart had bought into our suburban town. Did it matter to them that nearby stores have vacated their buildings, leaving whole sections of town with nothing but empty, blighted looking stores? Do they care? Probably not. Maybe they'll just bulldoze those stores and put in condos, with more consumers to fill the ever hungrier mouth of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has done some public relations work by selling generic prescription drugs for $4.00. I may need some of those drugs someday. But it may also ruin my local pharmacy, where I've bought my Rx's since the 1980s. That would really be a shame, because the people who own it and work in it have become more than pharmacists, but friends. They all work like I do to support their families. Ah, but Wal-Mart really doesn't care about that, do they?

Someday when Wal-Mart has put all of the local pharmacists, grocers, hardware stores in the whole country out of business, then we'll change the name of our nation to the United States of Wal-Mart. Black Friday will become more than just a day after Thanksgiving, it will become a national holiday where all Americans will be forced to shop, so that the obese giants of commerce can make sure we pay their prices for their products. Where will the $4.00 prescriptions be then? Well, they won't need to charge only $4.00 anymore when there is no competition, will they?


Stuff takes over your life. Sally and I spent a few hours on Sunday cleaning out my computer room. I admit, most of the junk we put in boxes and donated to a local thrift store was mine. We've lived in our house just a few months shy of 32 years and things accumulate. We have a room in the basement that is so full of things that we're afraid to open the door. If we need to put anything in there we open the door real fast and toss it in, then slam the door shut again.

There's really no reason for me to have all of this, but we have a culture that teaches us it's good to buy things, lots of things, and it only makes sense that many of them stick to us for years after their usefulness has gone. That's called The Economy. Keep people working by buying things you don't want, don't need.

But, ah…when you do need something… Ever had this happen to you? You are looking for a little box of 3/8" flathead screws. You know you have the box. You bought one a couple of years ago, used a couple of the screws and you just know you put the box in this drawer here. You look where you keep your screws. You can't find them so you figure your memory has tricked you. You look where you keep your tools. Finally, out of frustration you go to the store and buy another box of screws. Months later you're looking in a box under your workbench and you find the original screws. As a matter of fact, you have three or four boxes of screws in there with price stickers on them from stores you know have been closed for over 20 years. You get that old familiar, "So that's where those screws were!" remembering yourself tearing the house apart looking for them. That's when you've got too much stuff.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Getting The Bird

Number two of the eating holidays is over, with one more to go.* Thanksgiving is a nice day to be with family, have great food, but yesterday morning I had to back up on the belt notches. A little too much conviviality, far too many calories.

This is the first time the whole family has been together for Thanksgiving since before my father-in-law died in 2002. I realized that at one time my wife and I would go to these dinners and her brothers and sisters, their spouses, were all the young people. Her parents and their invited friends and relatives were the old people. Now we're the old people, surrounded by the young. It's fun to have a chance to catch up on how tall the kids are getting; a couple of them I hadn't seen since they were in elementary school, and now they're 6" taller and several years down the road in school.

My son, his wife and their daughters were there. My grandbabies were the youngest children there, and the cycle perpetuates itself. If we're all together again next year everyone will remark on how they've grown.

Here's a picture of my daughter-in-law, Loan, with our newest grandbaby, Gabby, who was born in June. It was a big night for the baby; lots of excitement, people milling around, lots to look at!


I mentioned in my last blog the only sane way for me to buy presents for women is to let them pick them out and give them to you to give to them. It works both ways.

I have always liked Cat Stevens, so I was glad when he decided to get back into the recording biz under his Muslim name, Yusuf Islam. Here's a video from of his latest song.

Some of the lyrics sound a little strange to me, like "Heaven must've programmed you." I realize he's singing about a religious experience, and I don't know anything about how Muslims talk. I also picked up from some comments on the Internet that some of the new song was part of an old song of his. Still, what I appreciate is hearing his unique voice and the catchy hooks of a Cat Stevens song.

I bought the CD yesterday at Borders, and handed it to my wife. Another Christmas present to be. Oboy.

Ciao for now. El Postino

*Halloween, with its teeth-rotting candy overdosing; Thanksgiving with its orgy of eating, and finally Christmas with all of its excesses.

Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) - Heaven/Where True Love Goes

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"...who steals my purse..."

Friday night Sally and I were eating dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant when we were approached by a retired secretary, someone we'd worked with for many years.

Let me tell you something about this retired secretary: She is one of the most dramatic persons I have ever met. If you were to watch a history of World War II, and then listen to
her story of an encounter with a telemarketer--something I have done years ago when we were working together--it wouldn't seem anticlimactic.

On Friday night she talked with us about what she's doing now, working for her son's business. What her husband is doing, how her daughter-in-law is anorexic, how her son and daughter-in-law have no children, but she has a "granddog"…all while our waitress brought our drinks, and then brought our dinner. At that point the lady felt it was time to leave, so with relief we watched her go back to her seat.

A few minutes later she came back to us, saying, "While I was talking to you someone stole my purse!" She was off again in a hurry, after telling us the busboy had given it to a woman. When we finished our dinner and walked out the restaurant there she was, on her cellphone, with a police officer walking towards her.

While I felt sorry for her in her plight, I also thought there was a part of her that enjoyed the attention she was suddenly getting. I've had experience listening to her tell the most trivial stories from her daily life as if they had been written by Shakespeare. I visualized her telling everyone within earshot, in the most dramatic tones possible, about the theft. Kind like this lady.

Sometimes I've had to remind Sally not to turn her back on her shopping cart, where her purse rides in the child seat. A thief could have that purse and be out the door in seconds. It happens all the time.

On the other hand, some thieves are more blatant. My coworker Bob told me a story a couple of weeks ago. His 73-year-old mother-in-law drove into her driveway, got out of her car. A
white van pulled up and a man got out, approached her and demanded her purse. She saw a knife in his hand and gave it up.

I'm really sorry the retired secretary and my coworker's mother-in-law lost their purses to
thieves, but ladies, be careful. A bad guy looks at your bag like it's a key to the bank, and in many ways it is.


Speaking of purses, my wife collects them. She's been collecting old purses for a few years and usually looks for something unusual looking, something that has a brand name or at least says Made In America. You can tell if it's made in America it's gotta be old! How many years have those things been made in other countries? Forty or more?

I helped start her on her collecting course by finding this purse at a thrift store for $1.00. It's a Joseph Magnin purse, metallic, with rhinestones.

A couple of years ago on Solano Avenue in Albany, California, we visited an antique shop and I bought her this interesting lucite-paneled purse with lucite-links handle. It's got a leather interior and is marked "Meyers, Made In U.S.A." I didn't get off as lucky on the price of this purse. I looked in it before taking its picture and saw the original receipt. I paid $48.00.

I have some other purses for her for Christmas but I can't show them to you. Actually, it probably doesn't matter, because she usually comes up to me, hands me a purse or something else she likes and says, "Here, wrap this up for me for Christmas." Over 38 years we've evolved a system. We buy our own Christmas presents, then hand them to each other to wrap. We usually forget exactly what they are by the time Christmas rolls around. It prevents any returns to a store.

I found out early in my marriage that any man who tries to buy clothes for a woman is stupid. Purses are the same way. A woman will size up a purse in an instant. She'll either say to herself: "I've got shoes to match that purse," or, "I need to go buy some shoes to match that purse." Guys just don't think like that, so it's smarter to let women buy their own Christmas and for the man to present it to them.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who Are You?

My friend dropped me a note last night that said, "Great concert. They've still got it." She was referring to The Who, who played Salt Lake City last night. I don't doubt it. Even though The Who is now really just Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend, they have been in the business long enough--over 40 years--to know how to put on a show.

Pete was interviewed via telephone by a local reporter about past visits to my town. The reporter asked, "Do you have any specific memories of past visits to Salt Lake City?" Pete replied: "Salt Lake City was sadly somewhere that I was first called a 'long-haired queer' on American soil -- in 1967 by a very sexy and glamorous woman of about 40. I'd love to find her now I've cut my hair real short, we could pick up the conversation. She'd be nearly 80. We could compare notes and work out what might have changed."

Well, Pete, I'm sorry that happened to you, but at least you were a big rock star at the time and people were also kowtowing to your every whim. Those of us who wanted to be you, who wanted to have long hair and look like rock stars and attract grrrls and be hip, we had more of a problem. People called us "long-haired queers" all the time. There was hardly a day went by without some sort of insult or verbal assault, or even a physical assault.

Nowadays things are a lot more mellow when it comes to hair styles. Forty years ago when our hair started to sprout my parents thought we had been put under an evil spell by you Brits. They thought you were the sons of Satan. They didn't realize--because they didn't know history--that long hair on men comes into fashion every 100 years or so. Even my parents' righteously religious Mormon forebears sported long locks circa 1840-1860.

Forty years ago anything that reeked of the wicked world of rock or teenagers was looked down on with alarm and panic, and that disdain and disapproval came out of their mouths with crass and tactless remarks about hairstyles or clothes. I was actually fooled, as were some of my peers, by nagging parents and school administrators, into thinking there was something intrinsically wrong with boys wearing long hair.

These days when I walk into schools on my everyday job I see boys with hair that looks a lot like the way you wore it in 1964, Pete. Nowadays nobody calls a kid a queer just because he has long hair. The kids take it for granted they can wear their hair any way they want and no one will call them names. I, for one, am very happy about that.
Yep, Pete, with m-m-my g-g-generation, when it comes to long hair we won't get fooled again.


Another report just came out touting the healthy effects of dark chocolate. While in California we visited the Scharffen Berger factory in Berkeley. These folks make some of the most delicious dark chocolate ever. I'm sure if I ate a pound a day of Scharffen Berger chocolate I could live to be 150.

Those of us who always thought of chocolate as decadent…something used to seduce members of the opposite sex, heh-heh, now know we can ease our consciences and seduce away by telling our seducees the chocolate is actually good for them.

One of the coolest parts of the tour was seeing all of us in hairnets. I got to wear a beard net, too, making me feel like I was wearing a burka.
When in Berkeley, visit the chocolate factory. There's no Willy Wonka, but the chocolate is definitely a golden ticket.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Dave, Karen, Sally and Postino ready to boogie on down to chocolate town.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Life Amongst The Ashes

One of our stops in San Francisco last week was the Columbarium, where ashes of the dead sit in windowed vaults. Over a century ago San Francisco disallowed cemeteries, and over a period of time disinterred those already buried. The Columbarium was the centerpiece of a cemetery, left standing, soon to be neglected. In 1980 the Neptune Society bought the building and restored it. It is a gorgeous monument to the deceased, probably unique in the world.

Emmitt Watson is the caretaker of the facility, and gives spontaneous guided tours. His enthusiasm is infectious. He tells stories about the folks who are there, gleaned from years of talking to relatives.
We got lucky enough to have Emmitt guide us through, giving life to the dead he watches over.

Emmitt came to San Francisco from Louisiana during the hippie era, living with them in the Haight section until, as he put it, "the skinheads took over." Emmitt, in his job as caretaker, reminds us that as long as stories can be told of us, we are still alive.

The structure itself doesn't lend itself to morbidity. We don't think of it as a cemetery, a place where corpses are a few feet below us.

Some of the displays are very ornate and beautiful. In the Fernando display you see ornate antique tobacco jars, stored now with the ashes of husband and wife. Chet Helms, founder of The Family Dog, of hippie-era fame, has his ashes interred in the building. There are more stories than I can recount here in my limited space.

When we left Emmitt presented us each with necklaces of beads, like Mardi Gras.

We visited the Columbarium November 7, election day. The place was being used as a voting precinct. Trust San Francisco to bring out the unique in every situation, even elections. It reminded us that even though the dead are present, the living must still do the business of the living.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Digital photos are by my friend, Dave M., and are used with his permission. Click on pictures to see full-size images.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Today is Veteran's Day, also the 38th anniversary of the day I became a veteran. I was discharged on Veteran's Day, November 11, 1968. I've never considered myself what people think of when they think of veterans. I was drafted during the Vietnam era, but I was stationed for my two year hitch in Nuremburg, Germany. Not exactly a combat zone.

I consider the real veterans to be the guys who have been in combat, and specifically those who fought World War II. My dad was in the Army Air Corps, stationed in the Philippines. My father-in-law, Ray, was a Combat Engineer who went through the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944-early 1945, then was one of the first into Germany when the Americans finally crossed the Rhine.

My father died early at age 47. Ray died in December, 2002 at age 87. According to statistics, on the day Ray died a thousand or more other veterans also died. I hope they had a great party when they got to their new duty station!

My dad used to like to talk about his time in the Army, but Ray didn't have many stories. His children and I suspect he had a lot more that he had seen and done that never came out. But that was his generation, also. Some of them didn't talk about things like that. They came home from the war, they settled down, finished their educations, got jobs, fathered us baby boomers, who are now burying them.

I'm respectful of those servicemen and women who have lost their lives in other conflicts since that war, but I always thought the World War II vets were the guys who set the bar, who were the benchmark of how people should behave under extreme stress. Of course I was simplifying it in my mind. Lots of people didn't make it through World War II, either physically or mentally.

I'm sure a lot of people came home from the war changed forever, not for the better. But Ray came home, picked up his life with his wife and daughter, shown in the picture he carried with him all through his Army service.
He and his wife had four more children, including my wife. Ray worked for the Post Office for 16 years, then quit and worked more skilled jobs until he retired. At his gravesite some servicemen did what they did for my dad. They blew taps; they gave my mother-in-law a flag and said the words that never fail to move me, "…with the thanks of a grateful nation." I wish they would never have to say those words to another veteran's widow, mother or family member again.

During and after the world wars, in every conflict we as a nation get involved in, men are sent to their deaths and it is usually said of them, "They died so we could be free. They died for freedom and democracy." There was that, but what Ray, what millions of other men and women in his circumstances were fighting for was a lot more simple. Ray wanted to go home. He wanted the war to be over, not only because he wanted to help us prevail over our enemies, but because he wanted to go on with his life. He wanted to be there when his children were born, he wanted to watch them grow up.

He was able to do all that. He was a veteran of the most awful war in the history of humankind, and he came out of it and went home. He lived long enough for us to appreciate what a tremendous job he did, but he never told us what it might have really cost him.

On this Veterans Day, for Ray and all of those like him, peace be with you.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Albany Bulb Part 2

There are several artworks on the Albany Bulb constructed from landfill materials left behind. It's all striking in its originality, but painters have also left their works.

The anonymous surrealistic artwork is good but not meant to be permanent. No one can expect artwork left out in the open to last indefinitely. It's this impermanence that makes it necessary to photograph. I've done some of that, but what I'm showing you here are just vignettes from the larger panels.

Click on the pictures for larger images.

The video is by a group of students.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Albany Bulb

We just got back from our California trip, visiting friends near Berkeley, at their home in Albany.

Dave and Karen took us for a walking tour of one part of the Albany Bulb, which was once a landfill, a place where homeless people lived, and a home for bizarre artworks made from old construction debris. I had a couple of favorite artworks, but my absolute favorite was Jesus, made of various wood, metal and even tree branches for his hair.I hardly ever use the word "awesome" in my speech, but this sculpture by an artist who didn't sign his/her work, is really awesome! Sally is standing next to Bulb Jesus. She's 5'1", so he's pretty big. Dave took the picture.
Click on pictures for full-size images.

According to Dave there is a whole section I missed. I'm hoping it's still there when I go back.
I'll be back here shortly to talk about some other stuff we did, including a visit to a chocolatier, and the Columbarian in San Francisco.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Goblins Go Home

Did you get through Halloween all right? We did. The trick or treating didn't start until 7:00 p.m., which is late for our local kids. We like the ones who come with their parents, the real little kids whose parents stand on the sidewalk while the kids come to the door. We don't like hearing "Trick or treat!" yelled out in voices deeper than mine. Older kids, stay home, willya? You come late, you come without costumes, you're smartasses just bugging us for candy. When I see you coming I will break out the cough drops and you'll have your choice: Halls, Luden's or Smith Bros. Grow up.

We drove from work to visit Mom in the nursing home. Mom was in the dining room in what looked like the tail end of a Halloween party. Some visits to the nursing home are better than others, and this wasn't one of the better ones. Maybe everyone was in the throes of a sugar rush after all of the sweets, cakes and ice cream they'd been served. One woman was wailing that she wanted to get out of there; not the dining room, the whole place. Another was telling us my mother was a liar, that this was her home and "her attorneys were working on it, so get the hell out." That poor woman was apparently off her meds.

Another one was having hallucinations about something she called "scrunches" on a tabletop. We didn't see anything on the tabletop, much less scrunches--whatever scrunches are--but she said, "There are lots of scrunches on there. You can see them."

While those women appeared to be off their meds, my mother seemed to be on a full course. She was nibbling away at cake but was also completely docile. There wasn't any recognition in her eyes or on her face. We could have been scrunches.


My friend, Dave, whom I'll be visiting in a couple of days at his home in California, had an interesting couple of days before Halloween. Dave works in the banquet department of a large hotel. I asked him for permission to share his e-mail.

"I have had a weird couple of days. It seems Halloween goblins are doing their work. I'll keep it brief. Friday I saw an old man in a motorized wheel chair at the grocery store, in the parking lot. He was stuck behind 3 shopping carts and kept backing up and slamming into them to free himself. I was across the street in my car and kept hoping someone would come to his aid, but no one was around or pretended not to see. I finally felt guilty enough and ran to his rescue, but felt bad that I had sat and watched him for about a minute before helping.

Later that same day I was driving along the water front coming home from work and saw a body sprawled out on the ground. Drunk, dead or just passed out? I never found out and just kept driving. I don't have a cell phone and figured someone else would see him and make the call. I added to my guilt.

When I went back to work a couple hours later for my dinner shift, the chef told me that an old lady in the restaurant had "taken a shit in the dining room" just after I left! Turns out this old lady got up and made a fast walk to the bathroom, which is very far away from the dining room. As she did this, she would stop every few feet and shake a turd out of her pants leg, all the way to the bathroom. Then she took a dump in the sink.

The next day some customer went ballistic on the staff and me. Everyone was very nice to him, but he couldn't have a breakfast buffet at 1pm. It is removed at 10:30 and it is menu only. He was livid and complaining to everyone he saw. One manager told him he could eat off the buffet I had set up for a private party. I had been told not to let anyone in the restaurant use the buffet as it was private. I told this to the manager and guy stormed out and claimed that I had thrown him out of the restaurant. Turned out he is a Diamond customer and supposed to be treated as a VIP.

Later that day my co-worker had a customer go ballistic on her and criticized her over and over for no good reason. That same night my manager went ballistic on my co-worker.

It all was making me think something really bad was going to happen before the day ended. I drove home and actually feared something would happen. It is a short drive and sure enough, I passed a head on collision on the way, my car stalled in the street when I tried to park and a car almost hit me in the dark.

I just wonder why so many things happened in a two days? Weird. That will serve as my Halloween story this year and it is all true!"

I'm sure the story of the woman shaking turds out of her pants leg will enter into urban legend, but you read it here first.

Lately I've been reading the book, Things That Go Bump In The Night, by Louis C. Jones, published in 1959. This is a collection of ghost stories, most of which we'd now call urban legends. The book is fun and entertaining.

The book reminded me a story from 1970, when we stayed with my friend Tom and his family in an old mansion in Vermont. The first night when we finished our visiting and went to bed I asked Tom, "Anything I should be aware of?"

He said, "Just watch out for the lady with her head in a basket."

Ciao for now, El Postino

Monday, October 30, 2006

Batty For Weird Tales

For some people Halloween is all year long. For people who like scary stories every issue of Weird Tales was the best of the best nearly every month.

Weird Tales was a pulp magazine published between 1923 and 1954. It never had a big circulation. It's subject matter was too specialized, but it had its fans then and now.

The magazine has such a reputation even now that you can hardly find an anthology of horror stories, fantasy or the bizarre, that doesn't include a story from the 31 year run of Weird Tales. Of the seven authors listed on the cover of the May, 1932 issue, the first six have been heavily anthologized for decades.

I'm showing you some covers that have bats on them. A bat is a horror symbol that doesn't really fit that creature's gentle nature. But for centuries people have made a connection to vampires, and that lore is still strong.

Click on the pictures for full-size images.

Two of the covers are by Margaret Brundage, who painted some of the sexiest covers ever for pulp magazines. The girl with the bat-mask is very chic. I'd like to meet her at a Halloween party, if I didn't think she'd bite my neck.

The earlier cover from May, 1932 is by an artist I'm not familiar with, and not nearly as accomplished as Brundage. But I like the bat.

Happy Halloween! El Postino