Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Passing the Test

On Monday, April 23, our sweet daughter-in-law, shown here in some pictures with our son and their children, took the test required of the U.S. government in order to be a citizen. She passed and can expect a call in a couple of months or so to be sworn in as a brand-new U.S. citizen.

She has done well in this country. She is the oldest of 10 children, the rest of whom, with their parents, still live in Vietnam just outside of Ho Che Minh City, the City Formerly Known As Saigon. She came to this country without knowing much English. My son met her and fell in love. He was her supervisor on her first job and he told us all he had to do was show her how to do a job once and she could do it. He knew how smart she is, so when it came time to take the test we all knew she wouldn't have any problem.

Now she speaks and understands English very well. I'm fascinated by how she and my son raise their two daughters, who are being raised in a bilingual household. There're a whole bunch of studies about how children learn two languages simultaneously, and our girls could be a clinic in themselves. I think it helps them with other skills, too, but that's a topic for another day.In our country there's a big debate on illegal immigrants, but no debate on legal immigration. Since all of us but the Native Americans* are immigrants** somewhere along the line someone in our families went through the process of becoming an American. On some level we all understand it.

Anyway, congratulations to our soon-to-be new citizen! We all love her very much and are so proud of her.

Ciao for now.

*There is a great article in the May, 2007 issue of National Geographic on the Jamestown Colony, and how settlers immediately started changing--and damaging--the North American continent after the natives had lived in cooperation with the landscape.

**My earliest American ancestor was in Massachusetts in the 1620s, so if he didn't come over on the Mayflower, he came over on the Juneflower or Julyflower. As far as I'm concerned, the rest of you are just interlopers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

St George's Day

I see by my calendar that today is St George's Day in the UK. I don't know exactly what one does to celebrate St George's Day besides slay a dragon.

I have a couple of pictures of the real St George from his heyday during the swinging sixties.Ciao for now.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Prettie Bettie

April 22, 2007, is Bettie Page's 84th birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETTIE!

In the early 1960s a friend of mine handed me a stack of girly magazines and pointed out one of the models. "That's Bettie Page," I remember him saying.

I'd like to claim that I knew even then that Bettie would become the cult figure she is today, but I didn't. I thought she was pretty and sexy. She even stood apart from the other models, but I didn't imagine then that four decades later people would devote websites, magazines, books, and movie biographies to her.
I think the pictures that we all thought were perverted back in the 1950s look innocent today. Would you be scared if you saw this smiling woman with a whip? Bettie did a lot of bondage photos but frankly, she just wasn't the dominatrix type.Many people have done their own versions of Bettie though artwork……and some by mimicking her look.Here's Bettie a couple of years ago with Anna Nicole Smith and Pamela Anderson. There is a spark in the smile that shows the young Bettie.Click on pictures for full-size images.

The Bettie Page that is the object of the Bettie cultists is an invention, not a real person. There are thousands of pictures of her available everywhere and they are the object of worshipful fans. The real Bettie Page had a life and did all of the everyday things the rest of us did. In later life she even got religion, becoming a born again Christian. As with Marilyn Monroe the image took over the reality. But in her youth she had a look that the camera loved and it is these pictures that we know as Bettie.

Ciao for now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I Invented Sex

Today I was speaking to a teacher in the faculty room of an elementary school. I was taking a break, having a cup of coffee. Besides working for the same school district, Linda and I have been neighbors for over 30 years.

Neither of us have to have newer, bigger houses, keep up with the Joneses by buying boats, motorhomes or expensive cars. Since we're both still married to our original spouses we got on the subject of when we were young and first married. I said, "When Sally and I went through our hippie phase we had no money for anything but rent, groceries and utilities. We didn't miss money. We invented things to do. We had sex. We went to the park and fed the ducks, we went to the public library and read books."

Without missing a beat Linda said, "You invented sex? Well, thank you!"

I blushed, thrilled to be finally thanked for my contribution to humankind.

Ciao for now.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Husband Of The Murdered Woman

I was watching one of those cop shows, Law and Order or CSI. The cops were grilling the husband of a murdered woman. "Where were you on Tuesday night at 9:00?"

"I was at the hotel bar. You can ask anyone. Everyone saw me. I was the one who spilled my drink on the bouncer."

Aha. An alibi. An easily checked alibi. Sounds good, right? The cops go away frustrated. They can't hang this killing on the husband.

So where were you on Tuesday night at 9:00? Do you know? I don't know where I was.

It's a paranoid's nightmare. I can't account for myself 90% of the time I'm not at work, in between punches of the time clock. I'm obviously guilty, slap the cuffs on me, because I don't know where I was and even if I did I can't prove it. I was in a dark theater watching a movie, I was watching a basketball game on TV, I was watching an idiot TV cop show where a guy could prove he was somewhere on the night in question. And in none of those situations could I prove where I was or what I was doing.

Years ago I worked with a married couple named Warren and Margo. Margo was a head custodian in a junior high, Warren worked for us, but had recently quit to go to work on the loading dock of a truck line. On February 21, 1992 Margo went to work and wasn't seen again for four months until someone found her remains in the desert west of us, a murder victim.

Warren worked nights so he usually went to the school to visit Margo in the morning, or if he couldn't do that he called her. He called that morning of February 21 and no one could find her. He went to the school. No one knew where she was. They conducted a search. Police were called, dogs were used. No Margo. It made the news, and police said it looked suspicious but they had no indication of foul play. Police questioned Warren. When did you last see your wife? When did you last talk to her? Typical cop questions. Cops know when someone goes missing there's a reason. There's been a fight and they have walked off to cool down; they have decided to run off with the mailman; they are injured or dead in a ditch somewhere.

Because of it happening in a school, and Margo's pretty girl looks, her photo was often on local TV newscasts. I remember Margo as a cute, petite woman in her early forties who worked out at the gym. She was also in fitness contests and not a few of my female coworkers were outraged that Warren had let her parade around in a bikini in some of these contests. The speculation was that it was because of that she had disappeared, that Warren was jealous of the attention others gave to her.

Early on it looked like the cops were focusing on Warren. Because of the buzz about the case, for a time it got national attention. Warren appeared on Oprah with some other spouses of missing persons. Based on working with him, my personal opinion of Warren was that he was immature for his age, even though he was in his thirties. He was a few years younger than his 42-year-old wife. I saw him as emotionally stunted at about a 17 or 18-year-old level. He was a braggart, embellishing stories of being in fights, and he was a liar when it suited his purposes. So knowing those things made me--and others of his former coworkers--wonder if in a jealous rage he had done something to his wife. I thought he came off pretty well on Oprah, though. I knew Warren as an unconvincing liar, and on this show he didn't sound like he usually did when I'd heard him lie. At the time I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He didn't sound like a murdering husband.

A father and son were out in the desert hunting in June, 1992, when they saw what looked like an animal bone stuck in the ground. It turned out to be Margo's arm, and her skeletal remains were beneath it in a shallow grave. Something I found out at the time about our west desert: because of the chemical composition of the soil, decomposition is vastly sped up.

Police then really turned their attention to Warren. Warren felt heat and hired a lawyer. He must be guilty! He's hired a lawyer! The lawyer wouldn't let Warren take a police lie detector test, but had Warren take a test with an outside polygraph expert. Over a period of time Warren passed three tests but the cops didn't care. They weren't tests under their control.

Some years later a man came forward and confessed to murdering some teenage girls and Margo. He had gone into the junior high looking for a student to abduct. Petite Margo was there instead, and became his unlucky victim. But years before we learned that I had a conversation with Margo's former boss who outlined "exactly how Warren had killed her and disposed of her." This was from his conversations with the police, who had formulated the theory.

Warren and Margo had fought, the police said, quoted to me by her boss. Warren came to the school early on the morning of February 21 right after Margo had opened the building, before anyone else arrived. They continued their fight, he got violent, overpowered her and strangled her. He put her body in the trunk of his car, then drove home. He coolly called the school to ask to speak to her and when she couldn't be found he drove back to the school, Margo still in the trunk. He pretended to help in the search. That night he drove to his parents' home. They were out of town. He stashed Margo's body. Later he drove Margo to the west desert and buried her, returning home with no one the wiser. I knew Margo's boss did not like Warren. He told me he thought Warren was a pest because of the time he had spent at the school keeping Margo from her duties.

In the time between Margo's disappearance and the confession of the serial murderer Warren had been the main suspect. That's because in most cases it is the spouse who is the killer. Warren had this hanging over his head for years. Many times during those years I had heard others say, "He killed her." I thought back to his displays of childish temper, his lying and denial on the job even when caught in acts of nonfeasance. My imagination got the better of me and at times I fell into the common consensus that it was probably true; despite my initial opinion of his truthfulness to Oprah, he must've killed his wife.

Warren took the rap for his wife's murder even though he was never officially charged. It's a Hitchcock movie: wrong man accused, looks guilty as hell, but turns out to be innocent when the real perpetrator is caught. That's the movies, but this was real life.

Warren lost his wife, but he must've also lost whatever trust a person has in the system in this country. Often we hear of people released from prison after decades because DNA evidence exonerates them. How could they feel while doing time but not the crime? Warren had been in a vortex of accusation, both vocal and silent. He also had some extremely good luck when, like in a Hitchcock plot, the murderer confessed.

So, Mr. Postino, where were you at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, 2007?

Well, Detective, I was typing up my blog, and…and you can check it out! It's time-stamped on my computer! Really, I can prove it!

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken

The other day I took my wife's car in for an oil change and lube job. Getting Sally out of that car long enough to even check the oil is a chore, so I usually have to finally throw myself over the hood and yell, "No! You're not going anywhere! We're going to get your oil changed!"

We went to a local establishment that sells tires and does oil changes, amongst other services. The guy putting our information on the computer told us it'd be about 30 minutes, so we wandered off, coming back in about 35 minutes. We showed up at an empty cash register. I could see the car was done, but I wanted to pay the bill and get my key back. A woman standing to the side of the counter near me said, "There was a girl here a few minutes ago, but I don't know where she went." A technician came out of the back, said, "I'll go look for her." He was gone about five minutes, came back, said: "I'm still looking," and took off again.

After standing like this for about 10 minutes--and feeling the fuse of my dynamite temper start to sizzle--one of the other technicians came out and said, "Sorry, I don't know where the girl went, so I'll ring you up." I noticed his name tag said, "Hi! My Name Is LLOYD." He gave me my bill and then proceeded to talk to the woman who was standing by the counter, telling her he couldn't get the rims off her car because he didn't have the proper tools. Huh! A tire shop without the proper tools to get a rim off a car…? Say what? Anyway, I was trying to run my debit card through his machine but he was doing something that caused the transaction to cancel. He went back and started over, but in the meantime never stopped talking to the woman about his tools and her rims (that sounds dirty!)

By now I was muttering things like, "You folks are something else…" and then the girl who was supposed to be behind the cash register showed up. So he proceeded to tell her where she had gone wrong. She got sullen and defensive, said something about going on break, to which he said, "You didn't have anyone to cover for you," which made her more sullen. He was yakking at the girl and talking to the woman while I was trying to get my card to work. With my wife hovering nearby I knew better than to say anything but what I wanted to say was, "PAY ATTENTION, LLOYD, GODDAMMIT. I'M THE ONE MAKING THE PAYMENT. QUIT TALKING TO EVERYONE BUT ME AND LET'S GET ME OUTTA HERE." I would have also added, "GO BACK TO PLAYING WITH YOUR TOOL, LLOYD, AND LET SOMEONE CHECK ME OUT WHO KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE DOING!"

Sally said when we left, "It doesn't do you any good to say anything. It only makes you look bad." Oh yeah…? Who was looking bad in there? Lloyd or me? I decided not to have her decide because I knew her answer. I just swallowed my mad, damped the dynamite fuse in my brain. In a few minutes it was over and I was glad I hadn't said anything. She was right, as usual.

By coincidence two days later my son handed me a CD by a Scottish band named Camera Obscura. The first song on the album Is "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken." So for Lloyd and all of the other people who have forgotten their lessons in customer service, I present this video.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring, Tra-la

It was Easter yesterday and a quiet day for my family and me.

I hardly think of Easter as a holiday, but understand how important it is to others. What's more important to me is that it means spring is finally here after a long, cold winter.

My friend gave me these pictures of some daffodils and poppies to prove to me that it is indeed spring. The young redheaded girl amongst the flowers is not from my friend, but a picture I found on the Internet. Girls that young make me think of flowers coming into bloom. It's an appropriate setting for her.And of course there are the other signs of spring; ants marching into the house, dandelions in the lawn, the smell of Pax fertilizer, the sound of my cursing as I try to get just one more season out of my old Craftsman lawn mower. Yep, when I've thrown my back out and given myself tendinitis from trying to get the old beast roaring full-throat I know it's definitely spring.

Space In My Head

Going through some old files I ran into the oldest story of mine I still have, a science fiction short called "Zero Hour." Many more of my stories went the way of all things over the years. It seems that some of us--me, in particular--put no value on much of our pasts, and let a lot of it get away from us.

Click on the picture to get a full-size image.

Based on the handwriting I was probably in fourth grade when I wrote it, about 1955 or 1956. It isn't necessary to read past the first page to see where the story is going. Joe McLenen (sic) is checking out some "intsurements" on the rocketship SP-12. The dumb "enginner" wasn't "carefull" and slammed the hatch on poor Joe. Joe compounded his problems by slipping on some "greese" and falling.

I can say something for "Zero Hour," reading it 51 years later: it has a beginning, a middle and an end, which means I was already familiar with plots and story structure. It also showed my early interest in space, rockets, trips to the moon and even beyond.

I was a solitary kid, just as I am a solitary adult. I have lived most of my life in my head. If I'm awake I'm dreaming up stuff and when I'm asleep I'm dreaming of stuff to dream up. I used to read books on the future and talk about space and rockets a lot. So much so that when my third grade teacher saw me in the hall during my fourth grade year she said to me, "I thought you'd be on Mars by now."

I wasn't on Mars, but Mars was in me. I read everything I could on the subject of the solar system and knew as much as anyone about the then-current knowledge of the planets.

One Saturday morning last year my brother and I were having coffee. We both said that in some ways we didn't regret getting older because it meant he had lived through some important parts of the Twentieth Century. The thing that stuck out most in his mind was the moon landing on July 20, 1969. It was one of my Top Ten life-moments, too.

It seems that as a species we made that giant leap, and then have gone back to taking baby steps on our way into space. Of course, as I watch the days dwindle down to a precious few, as the old song says, I get less patient. I want to see people boldly go where no one has gone before!

Ciao for now.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Movie Star Who Wasn't

Tim Holt is an actor probably mostly forgotten except by old time movie fans. He was the star of a series of B-westerns in the late 1940s and early '50s, and ended his motion picture career at age 38 after starring in a terrible 1957 monster movie.Holt was born in 1919 as Charles John Holt III. He served in World War II as a lieutenant in the Air Force. He died of cancer in 1973 at the young age of 54.

Tim Holt acted in one of my personal top ten movies of all time, Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston's father, Walter. It wasn't the first A-movie Holt had made; he'd been in Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons, for instance, but Sierra Madre should have cemented his reputation as an A-list movie star. So what the hell happened? I've read the biographies on the Internet and they don't really tell me. I wonder if it was personal problems or enemies in the studios? Maybe contract problems? They don't say.

What I know is what I saw on the screen. In a movie like Sierra Madre it would have been easy for Holt to get lost between two scenery-chewers like Bogart and Huston. Neither of those guys was ever accused of being subtle as far as acting technique. But Holt is the man in the middle. He's the glue that holds the team of three together. It is understated as far as acting goes, but his character is as important as the other two, and in examining the themes of the movie, maybe even more so.

This is a blog that's supposed to be about paranoia, and that's what Bogie's character, Fred C. Dobbs is, in spades. While Director Huston allowed his father, actor Huston to emote without restraint, adding to the din caused by Bogart's character, Holt stands quietly by and is the solid force on which the three of them depend as they dig for gold in some of the most remote and treacherous country on earth.

Maybe in 1948, then as now, the accolades went to the actors who got the most attention on the screen. There was no doubt that Bogart was the star. Why Holt's star didn't go on the ascendancy after this movie is one of those Hollywood mysteries. I'm sure there were reasons unknown to those of us who wonder. Tim Holt was a fine movie cowboy in the Saturday matinee tradition of Western movies... ...but he was also a fine actor with a great presence on screen who should've been a major movie star.Ciao for now.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Goodbye Little Brother...?

I've written about Little Brother, our feral cat, before. In the summer of 2005 we saw a Siamese cat with her two black kittens hunting birds in our back yard. We had several feeders and the cats thought this was a good place to catch some meals. We eventually took down the feeders, captured the two kittens, and was that a story! We couldn't ever catch Mamacat. We took the two trapped cats to the vet and had them neutered under a special program to cut down on strays and feral colonies.

We took responsibility and fed the two ferals. At the time we called them Black and Decker, but Black was killed in December 2005 when he ran across the street in the dark and was hit by a car. I buried him. Decker was renamed Little Brother. Another cat showed up a few weeks later, another feral we call Whitepaws. Then Mamacat showed up again. But Little Brother disappeared about three weeks ago and we haven't seen him since.

The life of a feral can be short and miserable. We tried to give Little Brother the best we could. We made a house for him under our back deck, a warm and insulated place where he could sleep and he took advantage of it. We fed him twice a day on our back porch and made sure he had fresh water. During the coldest parts of two winters we made sure the water didn't freeze by putting the water dish on one of those cup warmers people use at their desks to keep their coffee warm.

We never got to touch Little Brother. He was just too skittish. He would never get closer than five or six feet from us; just far enough away that if we made a sudden move he could get out of there. We don't think he was caught by a dog or a person; he was just too wary of other animals and people. We wondered if we killed him with contaminated cat food, but in searching the lists of products Menu Foods of Canada made we don't find the brand we feed our cats, and besides, the other cats ate the same food and they're still healthy.

My guess is that like his big brother, Little Brother was probably hit by a car and killed on a dark night. A jet black cat running across a dark street couldn't beat the odds for long, and Little Brother did wander.

We love cats and we loved Little Brother. We knew we'd never be able to have him stretch out next to us on the sofa or be underfoot when we walked through the house. We knew we'd never come home from work and find him asleep on the back of the couch. But it didn't stop us from wishing we could do more for him than give him a dish of food, fresh water twice a day and a homemade crash pad to stay the night.

Ciao for now.