Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"To Kill, Drill Sergeant!"

Vip (Virgil Partch) was a cartoonist who was popular from the 1940s right up until his death some years ago. He did the "Big George" comic panel for national syndication for years, and filled up magazines with his bizarre cartoons. He was a master of grotesque line, as well as some pretty funny captions.

Last night I went through a couple of his old cartoon compilations, Water On The Brain (1945) and Armed Farces (1968). Some of Vip's best subjects were military. I'm showing you some of my favorites.

The first cartoon reminds me of my basic training days and learning to use the bayonet. I planned on never getting that close to anyone who was trying to kill me, and especially with a bayonet, so I went through the drills pretty half-assed. The drill sergeant had his routine down pretty well. After one ragtag attack by our platoon on the bayonet practice dummies, he screamed out, "YOU MEN DON'T LOOK LIKE YOU WANT TO KILL SOMEBODY! YOU LOOK LIKE YOU WANT TO MAKE LOVE!"

For some reason that hit me real funny and I started to snicker, then broke out into a big laugh. His response to that wasn't to thank me for appreciating his good humor, but to put me down for 50 pushups.

He also did a call-and-respond riff by yelling, 'WHAT IS THE SPIRIT OF THE BAYONET?" and our answer back, in unison, was, "TO KILL, DRILL SERGEANT! TO KILL!" I stuck in an extra word, so what came out of my mouth was, "TO KILL THE DRILL SERGEANT!"

Despite Vip's creativity, he wasn't above swiping from himself. The top cartoon is from 1945, the bottom from 1968.

The final cartoon is pure, vintage Vip. That's one tough sarge:

Ciao for now, El Postino

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The John Wayne Syndrome

Monday is Memorial Day, a day which was originally set aside as a federal holiday not to barbecue burgers or water ski on a lake, but as a holiday to remember our military dead, our fighting men and women.

I've got a confession to make: I was a lousy soldier. I was a reluctant (to say the least) draftee in 1966, and left a vapor trail behind me getting out of the Army in 1968. I'm not a fighter, I'm a peace-lovin' individual, so I don't really understand the military mind.

Even though I don't think war is any kind of solution for anything, I truly respect those young men and women who decide to go into the military. It's a tough decision to make, especially at a time when joining up might mean death or injury in Afghanistan or Iraq.

In thinking back I believe one of my problems was my own perception of what made a soldier. I knew I wasn't John Wayne. Now, this might sound stupid, but John Wayne was in a lot of movies playing a tough combat-hardened veteran who protected his men, knew what to do in every situation and was the bravest guy who ever put on a uniform and stepped in front of a camera to play a military man. No one could live up to the Duke.

I found out a couple years after Wayne died that he wasn't in the military at all. He was deferred during WWII because he was a married father. Well, so much for image! I guess he talked the talk, though. So much so that before I knew it was an act he made me feel inferior. It turned out that even John Wayne wasn't John Wayne.

OK, so that's the perception a lot of people have of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors: tough guys who don't wilt in the face of danger. I knew I wasn't one of those guys. Good thing they sent me to Germany instead of Vietnam, where the most dangerous thing I saw was a drunken old German man letting big beer-farts on a street corner. Talk about walking into a cloud of nerve gas!

That image of the John Wayne hardass G.I. carried over into popular media. In the 1950s and '60s magazines which I call "men's sweat" magazines were popular and continued to plug up newsstands until at least the early 1970s. They were popular with the guys in my Army unit, but we didn't take them serious at all. We used to lay on our bunks reading stories like "The Reasons We Became Wife-Swappers!" or "Hang-up Free Lust Mecca" out loud with a lot of laughing and hooting derision.

Still, those pictures of the G.I.'s on the covers were pretty compelling, letting us all know we didn't measure up. Looking at them now I see they look like 35-year-old models in WWII unforms posing for the artists, rather than the real-life callow youths we were.

Anyway, to all of our armed forces' men and women, those of you in a hostile land, those of you who've come home to your families, those who've come home injured or wounded, those of you who aren't going to make it home…I want you to know this old reluctant G.I. appreciates each and every one of you, and if I could wave my magic wand I'd send you all home to your loved ones in one piece.

Peace, and ciao for now, El Postino (Sad Sack '67)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

63 x 3

May 25 was my friend Clay's 72nd birthday. I'd love to send him a card or wish him happy birthday, but he died nine years ago at age 63.

Clay died of liver cancer, and I wrote an obituary that still exists somewhere on the Web. He was a very interesting person. He could be cantankerous and cranky, but talented, too.

Clay didn't have a regular job like most of us do. He had been a freelance journalist for many years since quitting his job as a college professor sometime in the late 1960s. In the last years of his life Clay made his living as a doorman in a nightclub. His needs were modest, but he had no health insurance, no pension, no retirement beyond his eventual Social Security and Medicare, which he didn't live long enough to see.

This week I went to a retirement party for a lady I've worked with for at least 25 years. She is now 63, and has congestive heart failure, which makes it necessary for her to leave. When I saw her she looked ashen and unwell. She was standing next to her husband, a handsome man in his early 60s who looked very healthy. I felt bad, knowing she may not get to enjoy much of her retirement, or much more with her husband.

The next day there was another retirement party for yet another lady I've worked with for years. Attending was a man who had retired a couple of years ago, who was one of our Accounting Department directors. He has terminal lung cancer. He told us he has his affairs in order, his family is taken care of, and he wasn't worried about dying. I thought, "What an attitude!" I'd be kicking, screaming and cursing the gods for my bad luck if I were in his shoes.

I can see why his affairs would be in order, because he was a guy who couldn't stand for things not to be in order. He was the first person in whom I recognized the condition OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I remember him locking his office door, rattling the doorknob for at least 20 seconds, walking away, then walking back to rattle the doorknob again. This happened every day. Now that he's dying his attention to detail for his family's sake is probably a case of OCD coming in handy.

Did I mention this man is also 63? Three people, one dead, two dying, age 63. Did I also mention that once upon a time I thought 63 seemed like a "ripe old age." Yeah, ripe! And I'm getting riper every day.

Signs of aging are with me constantly. Besides the steady drumbeat from the parade of colleagues and friends who are going through life's final stages, I have my own body to give me evidence. Don't make me go into all of the things that are wrong with me, but at least a couple more problems pop up every year.

Unlike Clay, I have medical insurance, so I go to my doctor once a year and get checked. That doesn't prevent the problem, though, because my two fellow employees I just mentioned both have medical insurance, too, and they're dying anyway. Despite my usual paranoia, I'm so far so good…no cancer, no heart disease. At least not that I know of (gulp).

I'm not sure what else I could say about this whole thing…it's been a weird week for me. On Monday my boss came into my work area and handed me a letter from the Superintendent of Schools, and an engraved wooden box with an engraved ballpoint pen in recognition of my 30 years with the school district.

It all makes me even less sure of my own retirement, what I want or what I need to do. For many years I thought, "When I get my 30 I'm outta here!" but my accident in December and the inactivity while I was recuperating made me realize how much I like going to schools, and being around people who make my job worthwhile.

The old joke is about retiring after a lifetime of hard work and then dying a week later, but I know at least one person to whom that happened. Once you get to a certain age you have a couple of choices: Retire now, hope you have enough years left to enjoy life; or stay on the job, and risk being carried out in a box.

Maybe I could take the little engraved box my boss handed me and put it aside so my wife can will have a container for my ashes.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Friday, May 26, 2006

Horrible Howard and Jerky Jerry

My coworkers were at it again yesterday. They were acting like junior high kids, doing things boys do when they're immature: goosing each other, playing grabass, a little slap-and-tickle. These guys are buddies; they hang out after work, go to each other's houses.

Do guys ever grow up? Both of these guys are in their early fifties.

Years ago, 1974, I was a shipper in a dried food plant. I worked with a couple of guys, Howard and Jerry, who were a lot like my current coworkers. In those days we were in our mid-twenties, which was Jerry's age, but Howard was 10 years older.

They were both rednecks, but unlike the stereotyped "Southern" redneck, these guys both came from different parts of the country. Jerry had been raised in Northern California and Howard in Minnesota. In all other respects they were rednecks, pure and simple. Howard and Jerry met at the plant. They had some things in common: They both drank a lot, they were both divorced, and they both hated women.

Howard was quite a misogynist. Anne, who was a 60-something woman working at the plant thought Howard needed a "good woman" to settle him down and he'd be OK. She told him that and he said, "There are lots of good women, but they're all in the cemetery."

Howard was taller than Jerry, with a pompadour hairdo, and wore a small mustache. Jerry had reddish-blonde, longish hair and a buckaroo mustache. They both had missing teeth: Howard was missing a canine tooth and Jerry was missing both front teeth. Howard had one eye that would wander toward the bridge of his nose, giving him a cross-eyed look. They were quite the dapper pair!

They soon moved into a house together and started some serious bingeing. Jerry had vowed he would save some money so he could buy some front teeth, but he spent all of his money on beer. Every night when they'd punch out they'd yell, "It'll be the beer!" and off they'd go in Howard's old pickup truck to 7-Eleven to pick up a cold case or two. At home they would drink, holler, listen to country music, generally whoop it up until it was time to come to work, at which time they'd stagger in the door, red-eyed and tipsy.

Unlike Howard, Jerry wasn't quite as much of a woman-hater. He liked women for sex, anyway. A young girl, Ruth, started work on the can line Jerry ran, putting dried food in #10 cans. Jerry thought she was really cute and tried his best to seduce her. She was a young Mormon girl, no more than 18 or so, and tried to be nice, but discourage him at the same time. Like most men he was too dense for subtlety so he kept up his ardent pursuit. In 1974 if sexual harassment was called that it was a concept unknown to us. It wasn't our company's policy to prevent or discourage it, that's for sure. A girl went into the production room and she was fair game for the guys, who made sure she knew she was working with guys: crude comments, farting, boisterous and offensive behavior even by the standards of the day.

Ruth ended up at a party where Jerry and Howard were. I've forgotten all the details. Maybe Jerry invited her, although I don't think she went with him. There was a lot of drinking, loud music, real partying. Ruthie was getting the attention of the guys and Jerry got upset. He was drunk enough and horny enough that he grabbed her and dragged her toward the bedroom, yelling, "C'mon, Ruthie! Let's go in the bedroom and fuck!" Ruth began to cry, sobbing, "No! No!" Jerry stopped pulling her, and got in her face. He opened his gap-toothed mouth and screamed, "It's this, ain't it! It's this!" pointing at where his front teeth would be if they were still in his head.

The rest of the story is a bit murky in my mind. Ruth either quit her job the next day or lasted a day or two, working with Jerry's surly silence. Either way she was gone very quickly. Jerry took it out on the guys who worked with him. Howard was very upset because Jerry had let himself be made a fool by a girl.

Shortly after that Howard and Jerry went to Wyoming to visit Howard's brother. They took a couple of days off work, but on their second day gone my leadman, Ken, came up to me, pale and shaking. He said, "Howard's been killed!" Howard and Jerry had been on a state highway, drunk, and Howard rolled his pickup truck. He was ejected and killed. Jerry ended up in the hospital. Later Ken told me that he drove to the hospital where Jerry was and when Jerry saw Ken he sat up in bed, sobbing, "I've killed my best friend!" I don't remember ever seeing Jerry again.

The day we learned that Howard had been killed the news spread quickly through the plant. We all gravitated toward the break area. We sat around in silence, or making small talk about Howard, wondering about Jerry's condition. My boss gave us a little speech on how "Howard would want everyone to go back to work." We slowly got back up to go to our workstations. I was looking at Anne, who had been sitting on the edge of a work counter, her head down. She looked up at me, her eyes misting, and said, "Well, now Howard is with those good women."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

All Their Lovin', They Will Give To You...

Sometimes I wish I was a time traveler, able to go back and revisit important moments in my life. That's the way I feel about The Beatles coming to America in early 1964. I'd like to go back to those moments, relive those exciting days.

I was 16 and a junior in high school. I was the perfect age to get caught up in Beatlemania. The first Beatles song I heard was "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and I heard it on New Year's Day while driving my 1957 Ford Custom, the radio cranked up, feeling young and way cool. That song just made my day. What energy. The next day I went to the record store and bought the single, backed with "I Saw Her Standing There." I listened to those songs over and over and looked at the picture of The Beatles on the jacket sleeve, thinking, "This is different, this is great!"

I wouldn't have guessed on that day in January, 42 years ago, that I'd still be listening to Beatles songs as we all got older.

Well, hell. At 16 who thinks of getting old?

For my birthday a couple of years ago my wife bought me the 2-DVD set, The Four Complete Ed Sullivan shows Featuring The Beatles. There were several surprises in watching these DVDs.

First of all, in the excitement of seeing The Beatles for the first time I'd forgotten that there was still a show...that it was Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety hour, full of what made Ed Sullivan's show popular in those days, magicians, comedians, acrobats, segments from Broadway shows, introductions of guests in the audience. A true variety show.

The Beatles did their legendary first three songs to open the show on February 9, and the poor sap picked to follow them was a guy named Fred Kaps, described in the DVD listings as doing a "card and salt shaker trick." Say whut? Can you imagine the flop sweat going on in this poor guy's head, knowing he did not have the audience with him, that they had been completely stolen by the preceding act? No wonder I never saw or heard of Fred Kaps again. Fred, if you're still out there, when you came on live in 1964 I was out of the room, my brother and I talking excitedly about what we'd just seen, wishing away the rest of the show so we could see more of those Beatles. I'm sorry, Fred. You got screwed, but blame Ed or his producer, not me.

Something interesting about the show that caught me by surprise was the cast of Oliver! doing a couple of songs. One of the main kids in the play was Davy Jones, who later went on to do his own Beatles imitation with The Monkees.

Sullivan's genius was in booking The Beatles for three shows in a row, even building the second in the series around The Beatles' appearance in Miami by moving his whole show there for that week. Joe Louis made a bow from the audience, Mitzi Gaynor did a horrible medley of "hits," and Myron Cohen--an ethnic comedian mostly forgotten today--doing his Borscht Belt Yiddish schtick to mixed results. Frankly, I just couldn't understand what he was saying. My hearing is bad nowadays (probably from listening to Beatles records too loud), but I wonder if I heard him any better on our old 1962 RCA TV on the night of February 16.

I watched the third in the series, the February 23 show, when I first got the DVD set, but haven't watched it since, and looking at the list of acts I'm most puzzled by an act called Pinky & Perky doing a "Caterpillar & Crow routine," and right after that a "Dog & Cow Routine." I guess I'll have to watch that again to see what the hell that's all about.

Also on February 23, besides the up-and-coming Beatles we saw the down-and-going Cab Calloway doing "St. James Infirmary" and "Old Man River." Poor Cab. Just 30 years prior he had been a huge musical star in his own right. Now he was just meat in a Beatles sandwich, stuffed in with the other acts between Beatles sets.

After that show The Beatles went back to England, made A Hard Day's Night, did some touring, made Help! and then reappeared on Ed Sullivan's show September 12, 1965. By this time it was plain that they were no flash in the pan. They were entertainment royalty, the likes of which no one had seen. I had remembered something about that show, but I remembered it wrong. When Paul introduces "I'm Down" he refers to it as "...the B-side of our latest record." To which Lennon, off-camera, yells, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" I had remembered it as someone hitting the wrong note to start the song, and Lennon correcting it by yelling "A!" Wow. How could I have gotten it so wrong? I was "remembering" something that never happened. John was just being his usual smartass self, saying it was the "A" side of the record, "I Feel Fine," which of course it wasn't. I was pretty stunned and realized once again how imperfect memory can be.

What I haven't forgotten in all of those years in between the original shows and seeing them again, commercials, unfunny comedians, bad singers (was there any payola involved in some of these people getting on national television?) and all, was how influential and how important The Beatles were in their time. Some in our parents' generation thought they had come down from Mars. My mother thought they were sent by Satan to seduce all of us young people, and she wasn't alone in that belief.

This DVD set is very important historically, because it doesn't present The Beatles by themselves, but in the midst of what else passed for entertainment in those days...and based on what I saw, I can see why they stood out. If I traveled back in time I wouldn't waste any of it watching the kind of schmaltzy drek I saw on these four shows. Yeah, yeah...yeah.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Teacher Toons

I've worked with teachers now for three decades. I think they're great, but they're not above getting a little ribbing. Next to our parents, what other adults do we spend as much of our childhood with as our teachers? No wonder they make a good target for cartoonists. Here are some of my favorite cartoons I've found about teachers over the years:

(I'm sure there isn't a teacher alive who hasn't wanted to say this to a parent!)



(Finally, my all-time favorite. I'm sure this would be every teacher's paranoid nightmare.)

As I write this we have just 10 days left in our school year. "No more pencils, no more books..." Have a great summer, my pedagogical pals!

Ciao for now, El Postino

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Fun, More Paranoia

My coworker Jeff is given to some sort of hysteria about diseases, disorders, mental and physical. It's something he shares with me. The hysteria, that is. Yesterday while we sat in our breakroom (which in the former hospital where we now work, was once an office used for blood testing) he breathlessly described a brand-new medical phenomenon, damn near the scariest one yet!

When I finally understood what the hell he was talking about, I found out it's a disease that shows in the form of lesions, and feels like bugs crawling in and under the skin. It may have small tentacles grow out of the lesions! It's got lots of other nasty symptoms, too. It's called Morgellons, and right now it's seen in South Texas and in California.

I read the article and felt those bugs crawling under my skin. It's the creepy-crawlies come to life. No one knows what causes this disease, and some doctors even think it's some form of mass hysteria, but the people who run the foundation website www.morgellons.org don't think it's hysteria.

Lots of people worry about weird diseases. The biggest worry right now is probably Avian Flu, the so-called bird flu. Probably the biggest thing about Bird Flu is how the government instills fear into the public by warning of a pandemic, like the one in 1918. I used to like to read about that pandemic and scare the crap out of myself. This is a good concise article from Stanford, and this article ties the 1918 pandemic in with the subject of Bird Flu.

Oh good! More stuff to worry about! I remember my wife and I stewing in our own paranoia juices when our son went to Vietnam in 2003 with his fiancee and the SARS epidemic was in full swing. Well, SARS killed some people in China, Canada, etc., but was probably fairly well contained once the Chinese stopped hiding the fact it was popping up in their country. My son and his future wife were stopped in Taiwan and given medical exams. If they had showed any signs of illness they would have been quarantined. Now I have the same concerns about Bird Flu, should he and his family go back to Vietnam any time soon.

But I have to keep shaking off this sort of thing...there are real risks we face every day. Exotic diseases are real sexy-sounding and get our attention, but other things are more likely to happen to us. Like having a bad accident in a car. Mine happened on December 15, 2005, when I totalled my 2002 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. I'd been driving for 43 years and had never had an accident. Did I think I was immune? Probably. What I know now is that I won't ever forget the sick feeling of realizing I was going to crash, the airbag hitting me in the face, the smell of the gases from the bags, and the aftermath, a broken sternum. Even with that I got off light! Without a shoulder harness, lap belt and airbag I might have been impaled on the steering column, like thousands of people since cars were invented.

Unfortunately, car wrecks are considered acceptable risks. We take those risks to get to work every day. We feel safe in our cars, even though we can be hurtling down a freeway at 75 mph with nothing but a yellow line and faith separating us from doom. I don't think anyone, except someone who's suicidal, ever gets on the road and figures, "This is the day I'm going to get into a bad crash!"

That wasn't my first near-death experience though, which was during a common boating accident when I was 11. I wasn't wearing a life jacket, a boat I was riding in, being driven by a 16-year-old hot rodder, flipped over. I was saved by some teenagers who dived under the boat where I had come up and pulled me out. Since I couldn't swim I can still remember thinking, "I'm going to die," but that wasn't my thought when I got on the boat.

What's the lesson here? I'd say that bigger risks than getting Bird Flu, Morgellons, dying in a tsunami or having Hurricane Katrina visit your town would be the everyday things we have no fear of: car wrecks, water, industrial accidents, heart attacks (lay off the burgers for a while, chums), cancer...jeez, if you think about what's really scary you won't get out of bed in the morning!

As for me...I think I'll go back to bed and count all of the things I'm paranoid about.

Omigod. Is that a zit on my forehead, or is that a Morgellon's lesion?

Ciao for now, El Postino

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Found Items Part III

You walk into any thrift store in America, I don't care what it is, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Thrift Town, whatever, about 95% of what you see will be typical thrift store fare.

By that I mean you'll see the same 1970s stoneware dishes, the same coffee mugs that say, "World's Greatest Fisherman," the same Andy Williams or Herb Alpert LPs. I go in trying to find something different so I've got a practiced eye at mentally sorting the everyday from the exceptional.

I can be surprised. A few years ago I went looking for a nice photo frame. I found what I wanted and when I got it home took a good look at it. What I thought was the original advertising print in the frame was actually a school photo of a pretty high school girl.

I don't have any idea who she is, or why her family donated her picture to a thrift store. Stuff like that happens occasionally, and it's probably some sort of mistake. I can't give back the picture because I don't know who she is.

She's a cutey, though, huh? Maybe 16 or 17-years-old, nice broad forehead, connoting smarts--probably an AP or 4.0 student--pretty brown eyes, nice chin, but an especially pretty smile. Young woman, I'm sure when you turned that smile on to expose the $4000 worth of work on your teeth that you melted hearts from one end of the school to the other.

I don't know how to date this picture. Probably early '90s; the moussed hair is a clue, but you figure it out.

A couple of years later the same scenario. I'm looking for a frame and come across this picture. What the--! This one I spotted immediately as a family picture. It even came with a name on the back and maybe someday I'll google that name and see if I can locate the subject.

It appears to be from the late '40s or early '50s. You just gotta love the Yankee outfit! I tried to sell this on eBay a couple of years ago, shamelessly listing it with the name Yankees prominent in the headline, but I had no bidders. I guess Yankee fans don't want pictures of babies dressed up like Babe Ruth, but to me it gives new meaning to the nickname, "The Bambino."

Looking at these pictures makes me feel like I do about my feral cat, Little Brother. I'm the caretaker, not the owner. Family pictures are so intensely personal. They mean something to the family, very little to anyone else. Still, I like the subjects in both these pictures. I see hundreds of high school girls every day in the course of my job and I don't really take much notice because there are so many of them, but there is something about the frozen moment aspect of a photograph, the attention to the subject that school photos specialize in, as well as that pretty smile that draws me back to this picture.

I've already talked about how many baby boomers there are in this country, and this little Yankee Boy looks like he fit in with my generation. His mom took him to the photo studio and proudly put him on a stool and told him to look at the birdie and smile. Awwwwww, how cute he looks, she thought. Then years later she's dead, he's an executive with IBM living in Hong Kong; someone cleans out her stuff, selling it in an estate sale. The new owner looks at this picture along with the van load of other stuff he got at the sale, says, "What the hell do I do with this?" He tosses it in his junk box. From there the picture makes its way into the donation pile at my local thrift store, and I buy someone else's memory for 50¢.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Biker Chick

I just read an e-mail my friend Margaret sent me last night. She has spent the weekend in California where her husband lives and works. She said they took a ride on his Harley-Davidson, and spent some time in a biker bar.

To think about Margaret, sweet, school-teachin' Margaret, on the back of a Harley is well, hard to imagine. Impossible, actually. Margaret is a pretty woman, but I've known her for over 20 years and the last place I would put her is on the back of a motorcycle. Shows how much I know.

Now a few years ago when I was encountering the woman I nicknamed Biker Chick she was a person I could visualize on the back of a Harley!

Sharron was in her early 30s and had two boys. As I found out, two kids by two different fathers. She wasn't married and never had been. She was living with her mom. She didn't have a job, but sponged off mom and collected some child support money for both her boys.

Sharron approached me. I delivered to a school which has since closed. Sharron was usually in the parking lot, close to where I parked, dropping off her oldest boy, who was in 5th grade at the time. He was also, as I found out, in a behavior discipline unit. One day Sharron just started talking to me. She was standing by her car, some old mid-'80s GM car, one of those that all looked alike. An Oldsmobuick, as I think Chevy Chase called them in Fletch. She asked me some question and engaged me in conversation.

She got my attention fast. Whenever women approach me a couple of different thoughts go through my head: "Does she want to have sex?" and "Does she know I'm married?" Well, there are more thoughts than that going through my mind but let's just say those are the first ones that pop into my head.

(Incidentally, and this is for my wife if she ever reads this: One of the first things I do in the situation I am describing is work you into the conversation. Every woman knows within minutes I'm a married guy. After that, well...it's up to them what they do with that information.)

To make a long story longer, I found Sharron to be fascinating but repelling at the same time. I thought she was cute and sexy, but in a rough sort of way. She wore tight jeans, tight tops, sandals or athletic shoes, and was always in a leather jacket with chains dangling off the pockets. She had long brown hair, which was usually unwashed but not really dirty. She smoked cigarettes so she always had the smell of smoke around her. Her voice was very low and husky, a whisky-and-cigarette voice, I call it. Whenever I talked with her the paranoid/danger alarms went off in my head.

I came home and told my wife, "You should see this biker chick who started a conversation with me today." That became what I called her, Biker Chick. I found out later what her real name was, but Biker Chick was what I called her in my head, just not to her face.

What I found out was if there was another man who arrived at the school before me, a dad, maintenance worker, etc., and if he had a beard, she would talk with him. I had met my first, and to my knowledge, only, beard groupie! The woman just loved guys with beards. I don't have long hair, but sometimes the facial hair came with ponytails, long braids, ratty, oily, greasy, nasty hair. If a guy was a fuzzface, or a hairy-scary, she liked him.

Biker Chick and I kept in touch for several years because I ran into her at schools where she was dropping off her kids. The boy who was a 5th grader when I met her went on to junior high, then high school. He got to a point where he towered over me, a tall, thin, handsome kid with a soft voice and the soul of a murderer (according to the school secretary, told to me in confidence). I expect to see his name in the paper one day in connection with something heinous.

I hadn't seen Biker Chick in several months and at the beginning of one of the past school years I saw her outside a school. There were construction workers doing some work. The foreman had a beard and a long braid down his back to his belt line. That's where I saw her, chatting him up. I also noticed she appeared to be about 8 months pregnant. She saw me, greeted me, and when I asked when she was due she laughed and said, "Any minute!"

The last time I saw Biker Chick was at yet another school, where her second son was a student. She told me, proudly, the father of her third son had married her. She suddenly looked married to me. She looked 20 pounds heavier than I had known her, but she was the same Biker Chick, even down to the leather jacket.

That was about three years ago and I think about Biker Chick now and then.

I remember once she got a job in a discount cigarette store and was fired after a week because over $600 was missing from the till. They blamed her. She told me this with a straight face and I didn't ask, "Did you steal it?" because I knew she had.

When I was still running into Biker Chick I read an article about a syndrome with some women. They like bad boys...they find dangerous guys sexy. Those are the guys who don't stick around, so a woman gets pregnant thinking that'll settle him down, but it doesn't. So she's left with a kid but no ring. Biker Chick had repeated this syndrome a couple of times but the last time she managed to get the guy to stay.

At least I hope he stayed. I still think I'll see Biker Chick somewhere and maybe she'll have yet another kid added to her brood.

When I think of her I think of the lyrics to the Neil Young song: "Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley-Davidson, her long blonde hair flyin' in the wind..."

(This isn't Biker Chick but is a woman who could raise any biker's oil pressure):
Ciao for now, El Postino

Monday, May 15, 2006

Where She First Showed It To Me...

Arnie Arnoldson is dead. I saw his obituary. He died at age 88, of "causes incident to age." I hadn't thought of him for many years.

Arnie was our neighbor in the 1950s. When I think back on Arnie and his family I can only remember him but not his wife, a son my age, Allen, Allen's older brother, Roger, and the youngest girl, Inger. I know there were other kids in their big Mormon family, but I don't remember them.

I remember Roger because I heard a common expression for the first time in regards to him. In Sunday school a girl leaned over to me and said, "Roger looks like he slept in his clothes." I hadn't ever heard that expression, and until I got old enough to understand I took all such expressions literally. I thought that meant that Roger had really slept in his clothes!

I'm going to devote another blog just to Allen and his early influence on me.

Inger is my favorite Arnoldson. I don't remember exactly what she looked like. I remember she was pretty cute, but she was a couple of years younger, which at that time meant she was 7 or 8, so she had her own friends. One summer day when I was out playing in the front yard with a bunch of boys Inger sauntered over and told us she wanted to take us behind the garage and show us her "thing." We were all pretty curious, but she had rules. Only a couple of guys at a time and we could look but not touch. When it was my turn I remember she led us back behind the garage, lifted up her skirt so we could see she had no underwear, and we got to see how girls are different from boys. It was all over pretty quick but it seems to have burned itself into the memory lobes of my brain, or I wouldn't remember it nearly 50 years later.

We moved to Washington in '57. When we had our house cleaned out after selling it and were ready to go to the airport, my mother (thanks to her OCD, no doubt) had to make just "one more trip" through the place to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. She opened up a closet and there was Arnie Arnoldson. I guess he'd gone in to check out if anything was left behind and when he heard my mom come in the door had shut himself in the closet. Mom thought that was quite low, and it was. Poor Arnie. I can only imagine his red face.

That was the last time any of us saw any of the Arnoldson's, but not the last we heard of them.

In the '60s my brother was in a band with a guy who went to high school with Inger. He brought up her name as someone who was considered a real high school hottie. I told him about my memory of her flashing us. He said, "Well, she's still doing it." Nowadays we'd call Inger an exhibitionist. I'm sure it gave her quite a reputation in school. We had a couple of girls in my high school who did the same and they were legendary amongst the boys when we got together to bullshit about girls.

So now the old man is dead. Looking at Arnie's obituary I saw that Inger is still around, but no husband is listed. By this time she could have been through several of them. Allen is still around, as is Roger.

Inger would be in her mid-50s now. I wonder if she's still showing it to the guys? This isn't a picture of her, but since when do you need a reason to look at something like this?

Ciao for now, El Postino

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Muvver's Day

Mom and me at the beach in happier days, 1948

Today is Mother's Day. We visited my mom, Wanda, in the nursing home, where she is living because of her Alzheimer's Disease. She's been there two years so far and appears to be thriving, and that's all anyone can ask at this time.

The nursing home had a party for the moms and set out a dessert spread that was bulging with calories, fat and sugar. I guess anyone in the situation these moms are in, at this stage of their lives, no one worries about getting fat.

I'm the last in the family who still has a mom. My wife has lost a mom and stepmom. We've both lost both sets of grandparents. So Wanda is the last survivor of not only her five siblings, but also of our parents and grandparents.

Mom nowadays, at age 85:

I'd like to dedicate this blog to the mothers in my life right now:

My wife, Sally, with our granddaughter, Bella:

My son's wife, Bella's mom, Loan, due again in late June or early July with our second granddaughter:

...and your mom, of course! I hope she's healthy, happy and had a great Mother's Day!

Ciao for now, Postino

Friday, May 12, 2006

Found Items Part II

"Awesome" is such an overused word that I don't use it in my daily conversation. Still, there are things that fill me with some awe when I see them.

That's the case with the two paintings I found at a thrift store a few years ago.

There are websites devoted to thrift store art. One of the best I've found is http://www.thriftstoreart.com/ which has some truly oddball pieces.

My additions to the collections of awful (not awesome) art are by the same anonymous artist, who went crazy with an impasto technique. I use the word "technique" but I dunno...I'm not sure that dolloping on 1/2" of paint to build up texture is really a technique, but it makes for some interesting 3D effects.

Click here for larger image. "Big Pink." Unsigned, undated. 12"x16", oil on canvas.

The first painting is one I call "Big Pink," in memory of The Band, and for the house plopped into the middle of the nicely landscaped yard. The doorless mailbox, incongruously big, lumpy and yawning open, waits for a postman to fill it with some really large packages. Maybe art supplies! The driveway, without a sense of perspective, drops off like a waterfall. I have to give the artist credit for his/her impasto work on the tree blossoms and leaves, which are really built up. Hell, they are sharp! I have to be careful not to cut my fingers on this painting.

Click here for larger image.

"Monster Children." Unsigned, undated. 10"x13", oil on canvas.

This painting I call "Monster Children Playing On The Lawn." Consider these poor deformed creatures, forced to play by themselves in the yard. No faces, misshapen bodies. And their toys? Some sort of shepherd's crooks, two of granddad's canes, or are they golf clubs of some sort, maybe a wood? and what looks like a pumpkin resting on the grass. Maybe they're playing a game named after their favorite band, Smashing Pumpkins, and we are observing them just before releasing their hostilities.

Really bad art has a charm of its own, because its creator is working out some sort of personal vision and has no talent whatsoever to back it up. You gotta give credit for effort, but zero points for execution. Some people who have done outsider art have become famous. I'm not holding my breath that this anonymous artist will ever be drawing crowds at SFMOMA, but I've got to admit the prices on these pieces were definitely right: $1.00 apiece! Easily an awesome bargain.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Found Items Part I

A few years ago I found a book at a thrift store. Well, that's not a big deal...I've found hundreds of books at thrift stores. I try sometimes to sell them on eBay. It took me over a year to get around to actually opening this book but when I did out fell this snapshot:

Click on picture to see it larger.

On the back of the snapshot is the notation "Taken in May, 1953. Marlene C. and me. Some gym class!"

I took the picture to my friend Sherry, who works in the school district accounting office.

"Say," I said to her after handing her the picture, "there are a couple of points of interest in this picture."

"There sure are," she snorted.

"First of all, they had some great gym outfits 50 years ago, huh? And then, isn't that Joan, who works down the hall from us in the public relations department? Joan approximately 50 years younger, that is."

Sherry said, "Sure looks like her."

I have to mention we weren't talking about the Marilyn Monroe/Mamie Van Doren/Jayne Mansfield wannabe, we were talking about the gal to her left, grinning her toothy grin, cat-eye glasses on beaky nose. We think it was the lady who had worked with us for years...who had a doctorate, was a teacher, writer, and all around smart lady.

I looked at the picture, again...hmmm. I didn't want to take it to Joan and have her say, "That's mine! I wondered where that was! Give it back to me!" so I never actually asked her if it was her, and if her booby buddy was actually a friend, or if this was someone's idea of a joke; maybe some pithecanthropus high school yearbook editor had posted it in the yearbook under the header, "Who do you think got asked to the prom?"

Over the years I've had some experiences like this. Finding things, I mean. Some mean something, some don't. Sherry's other comment about the picture was, "What's up with the pointy bra?"

What's "up," indeed! Sherry isn't old enough to remember pointy bras, courtesy of Howard Hughes, as we were always told. Nowadays the mechanical engineering on those things is amazing, but in those days it was a little more primitive.

The lady on the left, who we supposed was Joan, retired a few years ago. By my reckoning, if in 1953 she was 17 or 18 as she appears in the picture, she'd be about 70 now, which would certainly be the same age as our Joan.

As for the other girl, well...I hope gravity has been kind to her. Usually what goes up after a time comes down. Maybe I knew her, too, but at 70 wouldn't have recognized her.

As it is, I have this, once a forgotten bookmark, now a great found item, a gem of a snapshot up on a corkboard in my computer room.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Little Brother

Little Brother has gone from two visits a day to one. He comes to get fed.

For months he came to the back door and sat on the deck furniture waiting to get noticed by us for his feeding, and now he goes to the front door. We usually have the door open in the evenings, with storm door closed. Since I walk past that door several times an evening I usually notice him. When I see him it spooks him, so I go upstairs, put together a plate with a small bowl of evaporated milk on the side, leave it on the front porch. He comes back, inhales his dinner and goes off to do his Little Brother thing.

Little Brother and his brother are two black cats I once called Black and Decker. They were ferals who showed up two summers ago when they were kittens. We think someone dropped off their mom in our neighborhood when she was pregnant.

B & D learned to hunt in our back yard. At that time we had created what I called an attractive nuisance. Sally, animal lover that she is, had built a wild bird feeding station. Actually not just one, but several. So we had birds filling up our back yard all year long. Naturally birds attract cats, and what a great place for B & D's mom, Mama Cat, to teach them how to hunt.

Because of the nuisance factor we took the feeders down (sorry, birds), but the cats stayed. By this time they had grown into teenage cats, jet black with piercing green eyes. Their mom was a purebred applehead Siamese. A beautiful little thing, but she came and went for a time, then finally went for good. I'm sure someone picked her up.

We had come to pity them and we put out food for them, eventually building them a house made from two large Sterilite storage containers, under our deck. By then they had no reason to leave our yard!

In the meantime Sally found out from No More Homeless Pets of a lady who let out traps with which to catch feral cats, so she signed up for the program. I won't go into detail, but I can't say enough for organizations like NMHP. They do yeoman service in trying to keep down populations of stray animals. They gave us a voucher and after we trapped Black and Decker we took them to a local vet, who was part of the program and neutered them for $10 each.

When we got them back from the vet we released them and they stayed away for a few days. Scared out of their minds, no doubt, but maybe even pissed off because we had their nuts cut off. I know how I'd feel if someone did that to me.

Black came back first. He was the bigger of the two, an alpha male. His little brother, Decker, was a lot more skittish, more easily frightened away. Black ate first, always, got what he wanted and left the rest for his brother.

Last December, about 8 p.m. one night just before Christmas, I was lying on my couch trying to will my broken sternum to heal when I got a knock on my front door. A hysterical lady was sobbing that she'd hit and killed a cat right in front of my house. When I went out to look sure enough, there was Black, dead in the road. He was a black cat crossing a dark road, and I know how hard that would be to see. I tried to make her feel better by telling her his story, that he was a feral, that his life wouldn't be long outdoors anyway. I felt worse for the lady than I did for Black. I told his lifeless body as I carried him to the spot in my garden where I buried him, "No more cold winters for you, buddy."

After a time his brother came to our back door by himself, probably puzzled by the absence of his big brother, but also glad he was getting fed.

I started to call him Little Brother rather than his original name, Decker, and Little Brother he's been since then. We used to be able to set our watches by when he'd show up for meals, but now it's getting more erratic. He went two days last week without showing up. Maybe another sucker--errrr--kind soul is feeding him.

Because he's still a 'fraidy-cat--he puts the "pussy" in "pussycat"--other neighborhood cats who come up on the back porch because they know there is food scare him off. One night we noticed him in the front, so we fed him out there, and while the dumber neighborhood cats wait at the back door for a handout, Little Brother is getting fed at the front.

When we trapped him and his brother and had them neutered, we became their caretakers. Little Brother won't come near us. He'll never be a pet. He'll be a cat who lives under our back porch in his Sterilite cat house and who shows up for meals. But while he's around we'll try to keep him fed and then nature has to take its course with our Little Brother.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Friday, May 05, 2006

Dangerous Characters

This week Thief ended its initial season on FX.

I hope there will be a second season...and a third. I don't say that about many TV shows.

There is a certain trend to antiheroes. People like to see and read stories about guys who get away with things that people normally don't get away with, like murder and stealing. Some call this sort of thing "glorifying criminals," but I call it something more like morbid curiosity about darker sides of human nature.

Laws are really made to keep honest people honest. Like me. I could be a master criminal, bump off everyone who ever wronged me, steal with impunity...live a high life on the Riviera with my ill-gotten gains made through a life of thievery, playing con games or by being a hit man for hire. But of course I don't. I'm paranoid (that is the theme of this blog, in case you hadn't guessed it by the title). I don't want to ever go to prison. I don't want to spend even a minute in jail. Besides that I also have a conscience, empathy, all of those good things that keep people from going out and wreaking murderous havoc on fellow human beings.

When I was growing up there was an unofficial rule of fiction: You can make a story or movie about a bad guy, but he has to get his comeuppance at the end. That unwritten rule seems to have vanished into unwritten rule limbo.

Thief is a good example. The main character, Nick, is a criminal mastermind who presides over a professional gang of burglars, pulling off big jobs. He also isn't afraid of killing someone, as he did in the first episode of the series, when he took out one of his henchmen who had become a liability.

In the last episode of this current season, although he had in turn been ripped off, he drove off into the sunset, uncaught and unrepentent.

Another FX series, The Shield, has as its main character a corrupt policeman who also has no problems with stealing and killing. And who, in several seasons now, hasn't been put away.

It goes practically without saying that the spiritual goddaddy of these series is James Gandolfini's superb portrayal of a murderous Mafia boss in The Sopranos. He's a Mafia boss who is also a likable family guy. Both of the main characters in Thief and The Shield share that trait.

Before any of these TV series there were novels about amoral criminals. I have my favorites.

In 1955 Patricia Highsmith began her brilliant series of novels about Tom Ripley, criminal, murderer, conman, with The Talented Mr. Ripley (made over the years into some great films!)

In the 1960s Donald Westlake, using the pseudonym Richard Stark, began his series of novels about the thief and robber, Parker (one name only, like Cher or Madonna).

The difference between the characters of Tom Ripley and Parker from characters like Nick in Thief, Vic in The Shield, or even Tony Soprano, is that Nick, Vic and Tony have some redeeming qualities, mainly love for their families and loyalty to their friends. Ripley and Parker are both conscienceless sociopaths who don't care who they hurt or what they have to do to get what they want. Reading about them is a real guilty pleasure, literally...because I know when I read about them I am enjoying books about people who I'd run from in real life.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Teevee Jeebies

Monday nights my wife goes to a cooking class so I get a chance to lump out in front of the tube.

Early in the season I decided to take a chance on Fox Network's Prison Break because a local TV reviewer I think a lot of said he thought it was pretty good. I was interested, to a point, but after its hiatus (due to the new season of 24), I lost interest. It ran out of gas for me. There are too many illogical plot developments, the staff at the prison are dolts, including the warden, who wouldn't last two minutes in the real prison system, and the corrupt guard, whose actions would cause him to be fired in no time flat, not to mention prosecuted.

I also notice that the main characters usually never change expression. Wentworth Miller, the lead actor, never changes his expression at all. He must've had a Botox treatment over his entire face to freeze it into place like that. You can tell how much I think of the series by not being able to remember the names of any of the characters as I write this.

I had never watched 24, but decided to try it and see if I liked it. I like it, but not because of the way it's supposed to be liked by fans. I like it because it is so dopey it has a charm all its own. The characters are supposed to be going through a 24-hour day, told in "real time" (ha-ha, more like "real TV time"). The gimmick wears thin real fast. The main character, Jack Bauer, even pumped on adrenaline, couldn't do so much and still have any energy left to take care of bad guys. How many times can he run, how many times can he pull his gun, get involved in a gun fight, threaten or torture someone, yell "Dammit!" in one 24-hour period anyway? Why, at least once an hour, and sometimes more, at least.

I notice the other characters, like Chloe, who sits in front of a computer screen during the whole show, never has any kind of fatigue, much less what she would really have, eye fatigue. I watched her last night; it's between 2:00-3:00 a.m. "real time" (ha-ha) and no red-eye for her. I'd be pumping a couple of gallons of Visine into my eyes if I had to sit in front of a monitor all the time.

I admit I quickly stopped paying attention to the plot and started noticing things the writers don't want me to really think about, like how cellphones are used in every scene. They always are in range, they always make their connections. The characters don't use any kinds of code while on the phone. Early in the season I noticed the terrorists and their White House connection constantly talking on the cell, saying things like, "Do you have the NERVE GAS?" "Where are the NERVE GAS bombs right now?" Jeez, folks...give me some credit for brains. Cellphone calls can be picked up and listened to by third parties real easy, especially anything coming from the White House.

A plot device is that the President of the U.S. is actually the head of the conspiracy! Oboy, a paranoid's dream! He makes all of the same dumb moves, talking on his cell, looking and acting conspiratorial. No fear, Jack is on to him and I'm sure when 24 winds up this season he'll be more than taken care of, and most likely by Jack himself.

C,mon, Jack! Say "Dammit!" for us!
I noticed early on that the actor portraying "President Charles Logan" is a Nixon lookalike. That can't be a coincidence. The name "Logan" is five letters, like Nixon. There are no coincidences like this when casting.

So far my two favorite shows of the season have been Big Love and a surprise to me, Thief, with Andre Braugher. Big Love I've talked of before, although I like it better each week. Thief I took a chance on, since I also like FX Network's The Shield. The season finale is tonight, which caught me by surprise, since the story arc has only taken six weeks, but this might be a test to see if the show has legs, or could develop an audience.

I think Andre Braugher is a terrific actor, like DeNiro or Brando. The fact he's African-American might be why he's making a late night TV series on a cable network rather than big budget movies, or is that just more paranoia? Considering how good he is I expect to see more of him, and I'd definitely like to see another season of Thief.

Ciao for now, El Postino