Thursday, May 31, 2007

New American

Here's our new American, my daughter-in-law. Along with 195 other immigrants she got her certificate yesterday in a ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah.

She was born near Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. She is the oldest of 10 children. All of her siblings, and her parents, are still living in Vietnam.

With her new citizenship she has taken a new American name, Julia.

I feel very proud of her and for her. In many ways, and considering the way most Americans take their citizenship for granted--even abuse it--I think she deserves it more than some who have it by birthright. She is a hardworking person who has contributed much to society since she's lived in our country.

Besides, she and my son have made a couple of really great children!
Congratulations to Julia and all of the other 195 people who attained their citizenship yesterday, our new fellow Americans.

Ciao for now.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

To all of the brave men and women, then and now, who gave their all.

We remember you.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Now, Junior, Behave Yourself

A bad little kid moved into my neighborhood
He won't do nothing right just sitting down and looks so good
He don't want to go to school and learn to read and write
Just sits around the house and plays the rock and roll music all night
Well, he put some tacks on teachers chair
Puts some gum in little girl's hair

Now, junior, behave yourself

The other day I walked into an elementary school during an assembly for parents. In the office the principal was pushing a young guy, maybe a 5th or 6th grader, onto a chair. She told the secretary, "He's not going to ruin this for everyone else." I assume she meant he had been acting up in the assembly.

I've seen this kid in the office of that school before. I've seen his mom and dad in the office with the principal. Apparently this kid is the school hell-raiser. The office staff just shake their heads, but the custodian told me once he had taken a dump on the boy's room floor. Sounds like a kid who has some problems.

As I was leaving I noticed he was sitting with his arms folded in front of him, his lips set into a thin line, and his eyes were straight ahead, not on anything in particular. I don't know what a child psychologist would call this body language, but to me it says defiance.

Going tell your mama you better do what she said
Get to the barber shop and get that hair cut off your head
Threw the canary and you fed it to the neighbors cat
You gave the cocker spaniel a bath in mother's Laundromat
Well, mama's head has got to stop
Junior's head is hard as rock
Now, junior, behave yourself

I don't speak to students. It's a policy I've had for 30 years, and unless I'm asked a direct question or am spoken to directly I just keep my mouth shut. This kid, though, I wanted to tell him in as direct a manner as possible: "You can't win."

The deck is stacked against rebellion, defiance of authority, in the school system, in society in general. Some inner programming in some kids makes them kick against the pricks, though. I could tell the kid that, but it wouldn't work. It never does. You've just got to hope they get smart early enough, so that everyone won't give up on them, because that's what happens. Then the real trouble begins.

Bad boys, bad boys
Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you

When you were eight
And you had bad traits
You go to school
And learn the golden rule
So why are you
Acting like a bloody fool
If you get hot
You must get cool

For several years part of my route included one of the kid jails in our county. I call them kid jails but they're official "detention centers" or some other euphemism. But really they're jails for youthful offenders. The worst was a secure, lockdown facility out in the middle of a field, fed into by a single road. If a kid were to go over the wall from that facility he'd be easily picked up because of the distance he would have to travel to get anywhere. Using my own euphemism, I called that one the Young Murderers Program.

Years ago they were holding a 16-year-old who had invaded the home of a 40-year-old woman, beat her, raped her, kidnapped her in her own car, taken her to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, stripped her nude and left her. This was in the middle of December, too. You can't throw a kid that age into prison, but what he did was so bad he belonged there. So they put him in the youth offender program until he was old enough to go to prison.

I was talking about him with a school custodian who told me he'd known the kid when he was five-years-old. The custodian said, "If I was ever to pick a kid who would end up in prison, it'd be that kid." You've got to feel sorry for the teachers and counselors who tried and failed to reach that boy during his growing up years. You also wonder if there came a point where they all looked at him and said, "We've done all that we could, now just go on out and do your thing and we'll see you when they stick the needle in your arm on your execution day."

Well, I'm exaggerating, because in our society people are given chance after chance, and if they're smart they'll take the chance. If not, they'll end up where the rapist-kidnapper ended up.

I looked at the defiant kid in the chair in that elementary school and wanted so bad to tell him what I had to say: "You just can't win. No matter how many times you show hostility to authority or act out against your family or society you just can't win. It's not the way our system works. Wise up now, kid. Pay attention."But what I did was what I always do in that situation: Walk out without saying anything, let the professionals handle him.

Why did you have to act so mean
Don't you know you're human being
Born of a mother with the love of a father
Reflections come and reflections go
I know sometimes you want to let go
I know sometimes you want to let go

Lyrics are from "Bad Boy" by the Beatles and the theme from Cops, "Bad Boys" by Inner Circle. Cartoons are cover illustrations from Panic, issues one and two, from 1954.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

50% Honest

Today I lost my cell phone. I got to a school on my route and realized I didn't have it. I retraced my steps and drove to a school where I thought I'd lost it. I asked the secretary if someone had turned in a cell phone and she held it up. "A lady just brought it in," she said.

"Great," I said. "Where's the case?" I have a nice leather cover with a magnetic flap, so the phone can't fall out.

"There wasn't a case," she replied.

So I got my phone back, which was important, but no case. Hmmm. Now where did it go? If the whole thing fell out of my truck onto the ground, then the phone wouldn't just fall out of the case because of the magnetic flap. What I had to conclude was the lady who found the phone took the phone out of the case, kept that, then turned in the phone.

Click on pictures for full-size images.I should consider myself lucky that I got the phone back, and that she hadn't kept both, or even just turned in the case. But it's still just 50% of what I lost. So is she 50% honest?

Do you get into heaven if you do right 50% of the time? Like you only shoplift every other time you go to Macy's, or you only deliberately break the speed limit half the time? Or you give back what you found after taking half of it?I don't understand the morality of that, but I'm still glad to get my phone back. She could have made a bunch of calls before I cancelled the service and left me holding the bill, but she didn't.But I'm only 50% grateful to her.

Ciao for now.


I walked into the office of a junior high on my school route yesterday. One of the secretaries told me, "Don't look over at Debbie's desk. There's a kid being sick." Of course I looked at Debbie's desk. Debbie was typing, which is what I usually see her doing. There was a boy on his knees leaning over her trash can, heaving. My first thought was, "I'm glad they put liners in those cans."

The girl who told me not to look was grimacing, as was the other girl across from her. They are both young women who don't have children. Debbie, on the other hand, is a mom, so a kid barfing is nothing new to her. Nor should it be in any school. You've got to expect things like that in schools.

Once I talked to a secretary who couldn't stand the sight of blood. I said, "How can you be a school secretary when kids are coming up to you all the time with cut fingers or waving a bloody stump of an arm?" She said, "I ask someone else to put on a Band-Aid." She told me she had five children, so I asked how she survived their upbringing. She said, "I'd call the neighbor to come over and dress their wounds."
I wonder how I'd do in this particular situation? Years ago a coworker, Dick, drove into a schoolyard to see a commotion on the playground. A big kid had somehow gotten a rope knotted around his neck and was hanging from the overhead ladder, strangling. A teacher was trying to untie the knot while the kid was grabbing at it. Both were in a panic. Dick ran over, took his pocketknife and cut the kid down, then carried him into the school where the knot was untied. By this time the kid was purple. The principal called paramedics, then called the parents, who said, "Oh, no need to take Johnny to the hospital. We're sure he's fine." In other words, Mom and Dad had no medical insurance. The principal was wise to send the kid to the hospital, anyway, despite dire threats of lawsuits from the parents. A lot of people don't realize that when a kid is in school the principal has parental rights in such cases.

The kid recovered, but not so Dick, who was never the same. Dick was a short man, about 5'2" tall, with an enormous paunch that practically touched the ground when he walked. Running with the large boy in his arms put his back into spasms, and he had some other damage, too. Eventually, after two or three years, a couple of surgeries and lots and lots of sick leave, Dick retired. I'm sure the kid has grown up by now and that incident is just a distant memory, but Dick is probably still paying for it.

So entering a school you never know what you'll see. Custodians tell me kids sometimes shit in a corner, and vomiting is common. What the hell are these kids eating that makes them little puking machines? I haven't thrown up twice in the past 20 years, much less twice a week like some of these kids. Or could it be…stress? For some kids just the thought of school, or taking a test, or being late with an assignment, is enough to cause last night's dinner and this morning's Cheerios to make a quick trip backwards through the esophagus.
Ciao for now.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Don't Be A Fred, It's Only Me...

Do you know me? Do you think you know me? Some people do.

Saturday morning I had my car in to get it serviced. I was talking with the service manager when a man with a Spanish accent walked up to me and said, "Hey, Fred, what you doin' out here--?" then he looked at me and said, "You're not Fred! You look just like Fred!" The service manager said, "Yep, you look just like Fred, all right."

Poor Fred. He might be the person people are spotting and walking up to, thinking he's me. It happened a couple of months ago to one of my female coworkers who said, "I saw you at the burger joint yesterday afternoon." I said I wasn't at any burger joint. "Oh, really? You're kidding, right? I mean, it was you."

Well, no, it wasn't me. I told the story to another female coworker who told me that a few months prior she'd seen a man she was sure was me at a restaurant. She was so sure she went up to "me," who was really some puzzled guy, and started talking to him. It was only then she realized it wasn't me. She asked him if maybe he was my brother. He said no. I told her, luckily for my brother, he looks nothing like me. The Monday after that yet another female coworker approached me, asking me if I'd been in a local sporting goods store the previous Saturday. No, I hadn't.

Somewhere out there I have a doppleganger, a double. It may or may not be Fred. It may be several people. It may be that middle-aged white men with white beards are a distinct species, and we all look alike.

I have noticed over the years that lots of people I don't know walk by me, smile with a look of recognition and say hello. They may "know" me, or think they do. It's all kind of creepy, really. I just hope my double isn't a bank robber or liable to get me in trouble. (Paranoia.) And perhaps my double realizes he has a double out there, and is worrying the same thing. Then that double has a double, who has a double…and on and on. Maybe someday we'll all run into each other at a burger joint, restaurant or sporting goods store, and we can all have a good laugh.

Ciao for now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What I Don't Know

I was being my usual smartass self today. Someone was annoyed with me and said, "Oh, what the hell do you know? You don't know shit."

Well, to set the record straight, I do know shit, but there is a bunch of stuff I hear people talking about that I don't know. So, just so YOU KNOW, here's what I DON'T KNOW:

I don't know why Paris Hilton is going to jail.

I don't know who has been booted off American Idol.

I don't know who is still left on American Idol.

I don't know where The Great Race is racing to.

I don't know who is lost on Lost.

I don't know who is surviving Survivor.

I don't know who Lindsey Lohan is.

I don't know who Brittney Spears' husband, ex-husband(s), or current boyfriends are.

I don't know who Jennifer Aniston's current boyfriend is.

I don't know who Justin Timberlake is.

I don't know any of the bands or artists in the Billboard Top 10.

I don't know what movies are playing at my local movie megaplex. I don't know what the number one movie in America is.

I don't know why I love you like I do…I don't know why, I just do. (Old song lyrics, for those of you who don't know.)

Also, to add to the list of "I don't knows," I also don't care about any of the above subjects. I know shit, I just don't give a shit.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Funeral For A Friend

We said goodbye to a friend. Our pal, Jan, died from injuries she got in a car accident, and was buried yesterday.

Jan was one of the hardest-working and nicest people I knew, but had a major fault about driving: She didn't like to wear a seatbelt, and because of her hard work she drove tired, about as bad as driving drunk. It's all the same thing, really, driving impaired. In the accident that caused her death, she turned left in front of a truck which struck the passenger side. She was pinned in her car, unconscious, and lived for six days, never regaining consciousness.

It's all so sad, and yet it was preventable.

I don't have a picture of her wreck, but trolled around on the Internet to find some pictures of cars that have been smashed up. You can probably figure from the look of them that somebody got seriously hurt or killed. .According to statistics about 40,000 Americans a year are killed in car accidents. I'll bet there isn't a crash that couldn't have been prevented at some point. That's a lot of people to die from any cause. If avian flu or E. coli or something sexy-scary was killing 40,000 a year there would be a hue and cry from the American public, demanding somebody do something. With cars, eh. We accept the risk because we love our cars and we feel more in control than we do with diseases or public health risks.I've driven for 43 years but still catch myself driving distracted. It's hard to pay 100% attention 100% of the time, but we all need to. As long as we don't we'll keep ratcheting up the fatality rate.Last night Jan spent her first night in the ground. She lived for just over 42 years, a very short time, but she's going to be forever dead. It's too bad, but she could have bought herself a few more years with those of us friends who really cared for her had she not been driving when she was exhausted.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The $imple Joy$ of $uburban Home Owner$hip

Ah, home ownership. The American dream.

After about 40 trips this morning up and down a ladder to fix a problem on my roof, I'm exhausted. I'm 59 years and 10 months old (that's almost 60, for you mathematically impaired types out there). I'm too freakin old to be going up and down a ladder.

I should pay a guy but he'd charge me about $100 to do what I can do with some labor and some equipment. So up the ladder I go. Down the ladder I go.

All my life I was taught, by my parents, by my friends and coworkers, "Owning a home is really important. You have a sense of pride in ownership."

Oh yeah? Take a look at the yellow patches in my lawn…take a look at some overgrown shrubs or some weeds in the backyard. The weeds are so damn tall you could camouflage a Humvee back there. Who's responsible? Well, me, of course.

What happens when the toilet clogs or breaks? What happens when the stove or refrigerator goes out? Who has to buy new carpet, new mini-blinds? Who gets to worry about cracks in the driveway turning into chasms that will eat a tire next winter unless some needed repairs are done? You guessed it.

And as for "owning" a home, that's the biggest laugh of all. Laugh, laugh, I thought I'd die…sang the Beau Brummels. And I'm laughing.




Who really owns your home? After 32 years of living in my palatial estate I have paid off mortgages one and two…but still owe on mortgage number three. That's another five years of paying, and who knows what I'll need then. (All this being conditional on me living through all of these trips up and down that ladder.) So the bank has interest in my house. Then when I get the mortgage paid off, get the deed back in my hands, then who really owns the house? Not me. The County really owns the house. Just see what happens if I neglect to pay my property taxes.

The simple joys of home ownership. What a crock.

Ciao for now.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cheap: One Jack the Dripper Original!

I watched 60 Minutes last night, with the story of the 74-year-old truck driving lady who claims to have a Jackson Pollock painting. She found it in a thrift store a few years ago, and bought it for $5.00. She's a non-art person, and the art establishment is denying that it's a genuine Pollock. She's gone around and around with them for a few years making her claim.

The kicker was when she said she'd been offered $2,000,000 for the painting but she doesn't want someone "stealing" it from her. Jeez, two mil doesn't sound like much compared to 50 million, which is what she thinks it's worth, but it's about $1,999,995 more than what she paid for it. That's a good rate of return, I'd say.

Tell you what, Art Establishment…I found the above pictured painting in a trash can at a Salt Lake City high school. It's on foam board, and I'm not claiming it's Pollock, but on the chance it is, and because I got it for nothing, I won't be greedy. One million dollars--or even the best offer--takes this fine foam board Pollock away!

Ciao for now, art lovers.

Bring on the 'bots!

I was in the library going through sthe do-it-yourself books when I ran across this book that tells me that intelligent robots can be built. Wow. How far away are we from a Utopia where robots are doing our jobs for us? It's too late for me, I think, but maybe sometime in the future everyone will have a Robby the Robot to send off to earn a living while they go on vacation or sit home and watch TV.

If I had a robot I'd like to program it to shoot death rays or at least to beat the crap out of all my enemies.Click on pictures for full-size images.

When I was a kid there were movies, comics, television programs and movies that featured robots. They all had humanlike characteristics. What a bore when I grew up and saw things they called "robots" welding pieces on cars. It was a comedown to dull reality. Now I see these books on robots showing humanoid robots on their covers. Yippee. Maybe my old childhood robot fantasies aren't just fantasies after all.

These are a couple of books with the images of robots I grew up with:
The scientist and writer Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction stories about robots. He came up with three laws of robotics. Maybe some day we'll need these!

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Her Majesty's a Pretty Nice Girl..."

The Queen of England was in the U.S. for a few days, and was a spectator at the Kentucky Derby. She also got to keep company with some…urp!…dignitaries, including…gag!…Dick Cheney. Here's a picture I scanned from a newspaper that shows how she was feeling about sitting next to Mr. Happy.

I've been wondering what the protocol is when the Queen arrives? Does someone go ahead of her and tell the President and Vice President what to do and say? Like, "Don't turn your back on her," or, "Please call her 'Your Majesty.'" Wouldn't that be sort of grating for a bunch of self-important politicians to have to kowtow to an appointed-for-life Queen? On the other hand, how often does the Queen come to call?

I picked up some issues of Majesty Magazine at a thrift store a few months ago. Here's a cover photo that was taken back in the early '50s when Elizabeth II became Queen.

Click on the pictures for full-size images.I think the photo shows that even as a young woman she had a queenly appearance, but didn't look as austere and uptight as some of her predecessors.
My wife and I are fascinated by these magazines for showing us a life that seems so impossibly far away. How can I even resent that sort of life? I've never even been close to it, or even cared to. These people are born to it and all of the responsibilities that go with it. I also think the Royals have a tough go of it with all of the duties they perform. They always have to be "on." The latest is Prince Harry who will be going to Iraq as a lieutenant. In other words, the Royals are willing to send a prince to Iraq. Can you imagine anybody in our administration going to war or sending their kids? Fat freakin' chance of that.

OK, your Majesty…hope you enjoyed your visit to the States*, and just thought I'd add, love the hats.

Ciao for now.

*Despite having to talk to our Big Dick.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Beware of Texters

Yesterday I walked into a high school as two high school girls brushed by me. They didn't see me. They were both involved with their cell phones, texting.

Saturday night we had a family dinner at a nice restaurant, celebrating my wife's birthday. My wife is her teenage niece's favorite aunt, so the niece sat next to her but during the entire dinner was busy with her cell phone, texting.

Yesterday I walked down the stairs of a school behind a teenage girl, about 15-years-old. She had on a midriff top which exposed a roll of fat. She was wearing hip hugger pants that exposed her thong underwear. She was wearing sandals with 2" platform soles. She was blithefully skipping down the stairs while engaged with her cell phone, texting.

What I want to know is…what the hell are all those kids texting about, and to whom?

Is this some sort of plot we should all be worried about? Why is my Spidey-sense tingling and my paranoia bump itching? Maybe one day all of these young texters will rise up and kill all of us oldsters, non-texters, who actually use a cell phone (and yes, I have a cell phone) to communicate by speaking!

I'm not against writing, but what are all these kids writing about, and why are they concentrating on it when they don't pay attention in class? Hmmmm.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Overnight at The Ruins

I picked up a couple of novels removed from library circulation recently at a library sale, along with some VHS tapes I discussed last time. The Ruins is by Scott Smith and The Overnight is by Ramsey Campbell.

I'd read and enjoyed Smith's other novel, A Simple Plan, and felt anything by him would probably be good. Campbell I've never been able to read, but thought I'd take a chance on this book. It turned out I was right about the Smith novel--it was good--but Campbell's book was so boring that I gave up on page 118. I felt like I couldn't finish up the 400 pages of this novel, and when I feel like that I give up. I'll donate the book back to the library and maybe someone else will enjoy it.

The problem with the Campbell book is too much exposition, which seems to be the opposite of The Ruins. Campbell wants to make sure you know how a chain bookstore works. I guess the time he spent working at Borders taught him what he needed to know about padding a novel with stories about stocking book shelves, but frankly I don’t care. I worked for a bookstore years ago and if anything it's even more boring than this novel. Campbell is working on some sort of horror here besides having to face eight hours of customers and putting books on shelves. There is something going on in the background and I assume it works its way into something, maybe even something worth reading about, but I'll never know what it is.Stephen King did a review for The Ruins in an issue of Entertainment Weekly in 2006, and part of his review is reprinted on the back of the book jacket. I guess having King praise a horror novel puts an official imprimatur on it. King said, "There are no chapters and no cutaways…The Ruins is your basic long scream of horror." I agree with King that there are no chapters and no cutaways, but the "long scream of horror" is just basic King hyperbole. He knows how to get his name on someone else's jacket by composing a quote that a publisher can put on the cover of a novel.

The Ruins is simplicity itself. Some young Americans in vacation in Mexico meet a German and three Greeks. The German is going to look for his brother who went off earlier with some archaeologists to the site of some Mayan ruins. He talks the Americans, and one of the Greeks, into accompanying him. Unlike Campbell's novel, The Ruins kept me engaged with the characters until we got to the horror part of the story, and after that it was pretty much like what I'd expect, one horrible thing about another happening to them.

The ruins the people are looking for are hidden by a Mayan village for a reason, but are found by the Americans. After all, it wouldn't be a novel if they couldn't find them and just went home, would it? And when they and the German walk into them the Mayans surround them and refuse to let them out. I won't spoil it for you further except to say that Smith is very careful to allow the horrors to accumulate without getting into any longwinded explanations of it, or even much speculation on its origins. I like that because it allows the characters to get on with trying to survive.

The Ruins is Smith's second novel, but I see that up to The Overnight Campbell has either written or edited 26 books. I'm sure someone, somewhere, is reading a Ramsey Campbell novel and loving it. And that's all I have to say about him.

I liked Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, but if I have a criticism it's that it read to me like it was written to be made into a movie. It was, and a fine one starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton. On the other hand unless some things in The Ruins--like the ending--were changed I'm not sure how it could be filmed to satisfy an audience.

The Overnight By Ramsey Campbell. 2005, Tor Books. 396 pages.

The Ruins By Scott Smith. 2006, Alfred A. Knopf. 319 pages.