Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's Alive!

As my children and the few other stragglers who read Pa Rock's Ramble know, I am also working hard at posting the 242 issues of my old newspaper genealogy column, Rootbound in the Hills. Tonight I completed column #159. During that time I have not selected any "key words" to get the column to appear in the search engines, and assumed that strangers wouldn't be likely to happen upon it. My plan was to finish all of the issues, make a comprehensive index, and get it printed in book form. I didn't really anticipate any interaction from ancestor hunters.

This afternoon I got a comment on issue #76 from a lady in Michigan. She had managed to find one of her ancestors in Rootbound via a search engine. I was surprised (shocked) to get her comment, and she was equally surprised when I replied. (She thought that she had stumbled upon some abandoned work that was gathering cyber dust.)

It's exciting to realize that this body of work isn't a corpse after all!

Muchas Gracias, Amigos!

There are five Mexican men working in the parking lot of my apartment complex today, and I am reasonably certain that there is not one Green Card among them. They are hauling wheelbarrow loads of gravel to spread around the landscaping, they are mowing, they are weed-eating, and they are doing what they have to do to take care of their families while the Anglos that live here run from one air conditioner to another or sit by the pool drinking cold beer out of their ice chests.

These Mexican men, and women, and children - legal and illegal - may have not built Phoenix and its environs, but they maintain it, and it is their sweat-soaked dollars and pesos that keep the local economy churning. And what do they get for their efforts? Anonymous and lonely death in the Sonoran Desert, harassment from opportunistic politicians and law enforcement officials (who use these politically powerless individuals to maintain their own lawns, pools, and homes), the scorn of poor whites who see them as an economic threat rather than as fellow economic victims, and crap wages.

But where would we be without them?

Muchas gracias, amigos! Thank you for being here!

NO HATRED - NO FENCES - NO BORDERS!

Hypocrite, Heal Thyself!

President George Bush is calling for United Nations sanctions against Zimbawbe because Robert Mugabe rigged his re-election as President of that nation. Neither of Bush's elections as our President could pass the smell test. Oh, Dear Leader, heal thyself before pissing on (or off) the rest of the planet!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sweden (2)

Our group was only in Sweden two days. On our first full day there we went to the port on the Baltic Sea coast and visited the hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded. My memory of it is that it was large and airy, two stories, with large photographs and art work throughout. The hall and most of the points of cultural interest in Stockholm are located within walking distanced of the port. We were given that afternoon just to walk around and take in any tours that sounded interesting. My two friends from the University of Missouri elected to go to the Royal Palace and see the changing of the guard. I chose something that was, to my mind, more exotic.

At the port I purchased a ticket to cruise out through the Stockholm Archipelago to the island of Birka. Birka was a Viking stronghold in the last two centuries of the first millennium, but had suddenly been abandoned around the year 1000 A.D. There were several archaeological digs taking place on Birka at the time I was there, and artifacts from the Viking occupation were on display at a museum on the island.

The day that I was on Birka was cold and misty. I was under-dressed, wearing shorts, a tee-shirt, and sandals, so one of my main memories is of being cold most of the afternoon. I visited a small café near the port and had a cup of coffee, primarily for the warmth, did a tour of the museum, and then, with three hours left before the return trip, set off on a solo walking tour of the island.

There was no digging occurring that day, probably due to the weather, but I did come upon a few old ruins – chimneys and such. At one point I stopped and watched a local farmer driving his tractor down the lane. The old trail that I followed led around most of the island and ended at the sea, across a gulf from the port where I had arrived. As there was no direct trail to the port, I had to back-track the couple of miles that I had just walked. When I got back to the port, I revisited the museum and then sat in the café until the ferry arrived to take me back to Stockholm.

The Stockholm Archipelago is a long series of 30,000 islands stretching from Stockholm out into the Baltic. Most of the islands are small, heavily wooded, and populated with many nice vacation homes. Although the tax rate in Sweden was sixty percent, there appeared to be a great deal of visible wealth. We stopped at one island along the way to pick up a passenger, and I noticed that it was home to a large Electrolux factory

Back in Stockholm I walked to a restaurant where our group was assembling for supper. The food in Russia had been, almost without exception, God-awful, but everything in Sweden was focused around meat and potatoes – real food! I was able to enjoy genuine Swedish meatballs in Sweden! Later that might we walked around the old downtown and did some bar-hopping. I remember one bar that was similar to a cave: as you walked to the back of the bar, it began spiraling downward. The walls were a cement plaster giving the impression that the bar had been dug deeply into the ground. All along the way to the bottom were tables and barstools.

Some of our group also explored Stockholm by subway one evening. We made several stops, just consuming the great city through our own whims and at our own pace. One thing that I remember about that outing was that we only encountered graffiti at one location, and it was just a small patch. (When I visited England in 2003, the graffiti was ubiquitous.)

Another very interesting thing that we did in Sweden was to visit the ship Vasa. The Vasa was a warship that was built in the early 1600s to take part in the Thirty Years War. The ship was to have been the pride of the Swedish navy, but instead became a national embarrassment when it sank in the harbor as it was starting out on its maiden voyage. The Swedes elected to leave the poorly designed ship in its watery grave for three hundred years, but decided in the 1960s to raise it and turn it into a tourist attraction. The Vasa was towed to shore and a maritime museum was constructed around it. It is an excellent example of poor seventeenth century shipbuilding!

Our plane left Stockholm in the morning en route to London. The only member of the group who didn’t fly out with us was my roommate, Michael Hyman, who had purchased a Euro Rail pass and planned on seeing more of the continent. There were vendors with stacks of reindeer hides at the airport, and I bought one for my son, Nick, who likes to hunt. From the air we were treated to a last glimpse of Stockholm followed by a view of the vast tundra that covers northern Europe, a hard landscape that had done so much to form the character of the Russians and the Swedes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rusty Pails #43
Ermine's Coffee Bar

by Rocky Macy

Shadetree Mike has been on vacation - which is why he wasn't around to help us burn down Gladys Clench's chicken coop. It wasn’t a normal vacation, of course, because Mike never does anything normal. Ermine packed him a bag with flowered shirts and shorts, and plenty of sunscreen, and took him down to Herb’s Truck Oasis. Miss Lola Longtooth, who works for Herb, found a trucker headed to California, and after some forceful negotiation on Ermine’s part, the trucker headed west with Mike in tow.

I got a postcard saying that his ride had ditched him on the west coast. (I was surprised that he had been able to put up with Shadetree Mike all the way to the coast!) Mike said that as soon as he got a few things straightened out in California, he was going to hitchhike back to Spring Hinge. That was four weeks ago. Mike’s prolonged absence gave Ermine time to get some things done at the Pump and Git, which was the point of her evil plan all along.

The first thing Ermine did was to have a sale. I never miss a sale, and I wasn’t about to miss this one. What kind of friend would I be if some of Mike’s treasures wound up in the hands of strangers? But surely, I thought, Ermine wouldn’t dishonor her man by selling off his unreplaceables! Wrong! The first thing to hit the auction block was our domino table, six rickety chairs, and Mike’s favorite set of well-worn dominoes.

My face got red and I was shaking. This was personal! How could she sell something that had served as the launching pad of Sprung Hinge shenanigans for more years than I cared to remember? The crowd was in shock, and the auctioneer, Colonel Basil Ironweed Peppercorn, looked and sounded like he was about to cry as he called for an opening bid of fifty cents.

Fifty cents! It wasn’t just Shadetree Mike being dishonored, it was every semi-retired, domino-loving, tall-tale-telling, root beer-swigging, adventuresome male in the community! It was an outrage! “One dollar!” I shouted. (Fifty cents, indeed!)

“I have a bid of one dollar,” Colonel Peppercorn roared. “Who’ll give me two?”

“Ten,” snapped Esther Pearl.

Ten! Ten for that old thing? Why one leg didn’t even match! I quickly checked my wallet. “Twenty-five!” I’d show Esther a thing or two about messing with history and the social order of things!

“Thirty,” she announced, before the Colonel could even ask for another bid.

“Thirty!” I shouted. “For that old thing?”

Esther gave me a sweet smile and a look that said “Put up or shut up.”

“Going once for thirty dollars,” Colonel Peppercorn said solemnly. “Going twice…”

I rechecked my wallet and the pockets of my overalls. “Thirty-seven dollars and fourteen cents.”

“Forty.” Esther was being plum nonchalant about breaking me.

My buddies began showing up to help. After shaking down Truman I was able to raise the bid to forty-six dollars and eleven cents.

“Fifty,” Ester said calmly.

Something smelled fishy, and I knew that I should cut bait, but my pride was at stake and she was bidding on my cultural inheritance. Heck was better healed than Truman and me, and I was able to jump the bid to one hundred and sixty-three dollars and a dime. It had been expensive, but that would settle Ms. Pearl’s hash!

“One hundred and seventy-five dollars,” Esther replied, still smiling sweetly.

I thought I was having a stroke! That crazy woman had done broke me and two of my buddies over a wobbly table and an old set of dominoes! Just as I was about to collapse and interrupt the sale with a medical emergency, Judge Rufus T. Redbone rushed up and handed me a roll of bills. “It’s all I got, Rusty. Make her pay, buddy! Make her pay!”

Nobody moved and nobody spoke. After carefully counting out the Judge’s contribution, I smugly announced my final bid. “Two hundred and ninety-nine dollars and ten cents!” If Esther was intent on hijacking our heritage, it would cost her three bills!

Everyone turned to Esther. Ester turned to Ermine who was smiling from ear-to-ear. Ermine shook her head no, and Esther smiled across the crowd at me and said, “You’ve beat me fair and square, Rusty. Enjoy your high-priced entertainment center.” She started laughing, and you know how laughter tends to spread.

The only four people at the auction who weren’t busting a gut laughing carefully moved our table across the road under the big oak and proceeded to have a game of dominoes. There wasn’t any point in staying at the sale because none of us had any money!

Over the next few days Ermine proceeded to fumigate and paint the Pump and Git from top to bottom. The comfortable old dirty green walls were suddenly mauve and tangerine. And then the men came to put down the carpet. Carpet! We all knew that Shadetree Mike was going to have a world class conniption fit when he got back and saw how Ermine had ruined the ambience that it had taken Mike years to create.

But it didn’t end there! A few days later the soft-serve yogurt machine arrived, and before it was up and running, an espresso machine was also being installed. Then came the little bistro tables and their fancy little wrought iron chairs with padded seats that looked like bloated peppermints. And the tables had table cloths, and the windows, clean for the first time ever, had lacy curtains.

The boys and I didn’t have to be told that we weren’t welcome to sit around the old Pump and Git and play dominoes anymore. Our old resting place had disappeared, and in its place, according to the new sign in the window, was Ermine’s Coffee Bar! And through its door Sprung Hinge women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo.

Shadetree Mike will be home any day, and we’re all anxious to see how he handles this. We’ll be watching from our domino table – across the road and under the big oak!

On Being a Mom

by Molly Macy

Suddenly I'm a mom and I'm chasing down my baby before he makes it to the electrical socket.. before the 4 year old trips over him... before he touches the newborn on the face. I'm chasing him down on my hands and knees.. only people with babies feel completely normal about crawling around on their hands and knees in public. I'm closing in on him and he crawls even faster, squealing and laughing. A guy hands my baby a book. It's like he is offering to help me out without giving the verbal acknowledgment that I am not able to control my kid. It's a nice gesture, unfortunately Sebastian doesn't feel like reading. A song starts up and Sebastian lets me bounce him up and down for a while. The commotion stops and he no longer wants to be held.. "Mmmm!!" he cries, searching the room for food. I'm sure someone is shaking up a bottle somewhere or opening up a Ziploc of Cheerios.. he's heard it. He begins to squeak and panic. That's my cue to let him crawl. And he crawls.. faster and farther.. approaching more strangers and children.. completely naive to any type of danger... feeling trusting and loving of anyone who comes in his path. He is the sweetest thing in the world. He makes it to the bookshelf at the front of the room and starts taking out all the books.. tossing them on the floor, one by one.. in front of the entire room of children and parents who are trying to sit quietly and listen to the woman reading the story. Again, I'm dashing across the room to get him.. hunched over and slightly jogging.. as if that will cause people to stare any less. He squeals and cries, not wanting to be captured. I throw him onto my left hip (it comes naturally) and hold him with my left hand, while using my right hand to put all the books back on the shelf. I bring him back to our seat. I know the crying will stop if I let him go. Everything starts up again from there. It's an exhausting cycle. He crawls up to a woman, grabs her shoe and says "hiii!".. she says hello back & smiles.. and then completely ignores him. He looks over at me proudly and smiles, while continuing to sit a foot in front of her.. patiently waiting for her to pay attention to him. Again my cue to go get him, bring him back, and set him down, only to witness his next great adventure. It's just a 30 minute story time, but that was the longest 30 minutes of the day for me today. I'm pretty sure it's not even a story time to him anymore. I think he's convinced it's a 30 minute marathon of trying to outrun mommy.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somehow suddenly, I'm a mom. Today I knew it for sure.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sweden (1)

by Pa Rock
World Traveller

I have gone on at length about the social work tour of Russia that I was fortunate enough to be a part of in 1999. After spending over a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg, our group boarded a plane for a short hop to Stockholm, Sweden.

Those of us who weren’t in a hurry to get to the hotel and unpack were given an opportunity to go to the University of Stockholm for an orientation to social work in Sweden that was presented by the Dean of Social Work. The dean, an older lady, said that the three main functions of the school of social work were to educate social workers, teach research methods for social work, and do actual social work research. She said they were also educating social workers abroad, primarily in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Bosnia.

The University of Sweden, in 1999, had 30,000 students. It was a public university that did not charge tuition. The school of social work had 400 graduate students, including 50 in the doctoral program, and 800-1,000 undergraduate students. Students in the masters program were established social workers, and their curriculum was built around problems that they brought to the program. The masters program also taught managerial skills to social workers who wanted to move into social work administration. The school had a staff of 125, thirty-five of whom were pure researchers or administrators. Seventy percent of the teachers were women. The student population of the school of social work was eighty percent female.

The dean identified three major programs within the school: children at risk, elder care, and alcohol abuse. She said that were also two emerging areas of interest at the school. First, would the welfare state have the ability to survive? (Sweden had cradle-to-grave free healthcare, but the income tax rate was sixty percent.) And, second, what should society’s response be to the refugee situation. (Eighty thousand people had fled Bosnia within the preceding few years, and many of them had come to Sweden where they were experiencing a total lack of integration.)

The dean also talked about women’s issues in Sweden. She said that the country had new legislation regarding battered women aimed at insuring that male abusers were brought to court. If a woman declined to press charges, the police could do it if there was an established pattern of abuse. She also said that the country had established special clinics for young girls so that they could get medical advice and treatment without telling their parents.

As we were leaving the presentation we found that our tour buses had not returned to pick us up. Several members of the university staff pitched in to give us rides to our hotel in their own cars. I was one of three to ride with the dean in her older Volvo sedan. As we started up, I noticed that the engine sounded somewhat strange by American standards, and I asked her if it was a diesel. “No,” she laughed. “It just sounds like one!”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rusty Pails #42:
The Ruby Bee Caper (Part 6 - Conclusion)

by Rocky Macy

The first thing that I noticed as I pulled up to Gladys’s was that construction was already underway on her chicken mansion. The concrete floor had been poured and the framing was up. It was going to be quite a place. Those girls would be living in style!

Henry ambled out to meet me as I got out of the truck, and I handed over the baloney sandwich that I had packed for him. I followed him up to the back porch and was working up my nerve to knock when I noticed a sign pinned to the screen door: “Gentlemen Callers Please Report to the Front Door.” It was going to be one of those nights!

I knocked timidly at the front door, hoping that she might not hear me and I could convince the Judge that I had made an honest attempt. But my luck had been rotten since the night we burned down her chicken coop, and it wasn’t about to get better tonight. Old bat ears, who could hear a mouse fart at fifty feet, swung open the door and clamped onto my arm with the gentle clasp of a bear trap and pulled me into her lair.

“Why, Mr. Pails has come a-courting – and he’s brought me a corsage!” She jerked the flower away from me with one hand, and pushed me onto her sofa with the other. Normally my fight-or-flight instinct would have kicked in at that point, but the room was smothered in a smell of fresh-baked coconut pie that left me paralyzed.

Gladys sashayed around the room making sure that I got a good look at the new dress she was wearing and then left for the kitchen. She came back with a tray that held a root beer for me, with a glass of ice, and a coffee for her. She seated herself on the couch next to me and then commenced to pouring my root beer over the ice. "What about the pie?" I asked.

"That's for later." Then as I settled in for a cold drink, she pinned the corsage on herself. I hate to admit it, but with the new dress, the new hair do, and the corsage – she didn’t look half bad. Maybe I could make it through the evening after all.

Gladys opened the passenger door and let herself into my truck, saving me the anguish of doing it for her. She looked as though she wanted to scoot across the seat and cuddle up next to me, but a convenient fresh oil stain in the middle of the seat kept her snuggled up next to the passenger door. Mama Pails didn't raise no fools!

Gladys 'suggested' that we drive to the city and visit a new French restaurant that she had heard about. It was a long drive, but it was that much more time that I could stare at the highway and not at her. When we finally pulled up to Chez Bob's, I commented that the parking lot looked awfully full and there probably would be a long wait. Gladys said not to worry because she had called ahead that afternoon for a reservation.

Chez Bob's is one of those fancy places where the only lighting comes from the candles on the tables. Under other circumstances, it might even be considered romantic, but not tonight. The low lighting served to keep customers from reading the prices on the menu or getting a good look at what they were eating.

Gladys ordered something that I couldn't even pronounce, and told the waiter to bring her a nice glass of red wine. When she saw me wince, she said, "Oh, what the heck - bring the whole bottle!" Her meal turned out to be pot roast with mushrooms and green beans. I have to admit that it made my French toast and French fries look mighty puny.

Gladys got a good buzz going from the wine. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, she had the passenger window rolled down and was singing, "Mademoiselle from Armentieres...parley-vous!" to the people lined up and waiting to eat..."parley-vous!"

Ten miles back toward Sprung Hinge she was still feeling no pain as I pulled into the VFW Hall. "Up for a little dancing?" I asked.

She was.

We Texas-Two-Stepped around the glorified quanset hut two times, before I led my date to a table. I wiped the sweat from my brow and settled down to a cold root beer. I barely had the first bottle down when a handsome young man approached our table and asked Gladys to dance. The name sewn on the fool's shirt pocket was Hank. Gladys was dee-lighted to be whisked away by the young stud.

Thirty minutes later when they made it back to the table, Gladys was smiling like a cat full of canaries. She reached for her purse and pulled out the form that the Judge had given her. She quickly signed my freedom papers and passed them over to me. "Rusty," she said coyly, "you are free to go. Hunk will be taking me home."

I wanted to tell her that she was old enough to be "Hunk's" mother, but more than that I just wanted to get out of there with my virtue in tact. Even so, I found myself stammering, "What about my pie?"

"I'm sorry, Rusty, but I have plans for that pie - and they don't include you!"

I'll bet she had plans. I slowly made my way to the door, pretending to be mortally wounded. As I stepped out into the cool evening air, I turned and handed a fifty dollar bill to Hank who was right behind me. "Thanks, Uncle Rusty," he said. "I almost hate to take your money. She's a lot of fun!"

"To each his own, Nephew. To each his own." He went back in to dance the night away, and I headed home - pie-less, but virtuous. It had been quite a night!

Hinky, dinky, parley-vous!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Crusty's Burger Burn

by Pa Rock
Food Critic

I had lunch today at Crustano’s, the snack bar in the Block House at Luke Air Force Base. My past eating experiences there have been very good, but not this time.

Crustano’s used to have a hot buffet, but that has been removed since my last visit. They now offer a very bare-bones salad bar and an extensive line of sandwiches which are prepared as you wait. Not feeling exotic, I decided on one of the specials – a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a large iced tea.

My first clue that trouble might be on the horizon came when the attendant asked me if I wanted mayonnaise on the cheeseburger. “No,” I explained calmly, “God did not intend for mayonnaise to be put on burgers.”

“Mustard, then?” she asked, sounding more than a little miffed.

“Mustard would be wonderful.”

She looked as though that was the oddest request that she had encountered in some time, but pushed ahead into the vegetation. “Lettuce.”

“No lettuce,” I said, stepping backward to avoid a V-8 head bop.

“Pickles?”

“Yes, please.”

“We don’t have tomatoes.” (I hadn’t asked.) “How about onions?”

“Onions would be good.”

“And would you like fries, chips or salad with that?”

“I would like onion rings. It’s there on your sign as part of the special.”

“Oh, so it is.” After a few minutes of fiddling with the cash register, she continued, “I can’t get onion rings to come up on my machine.” It wasn’t my problem, so I didn’t respond. There were a couple of more minutes of button-pushing before we moved on to drinks. “You can get a small drink with that for fifty cents.”

“I want a large drink.”

“Oh, I see.” More button-pushing. That will be seven dollars and fifty-cents.”

With the floor show at an end, I sat down to await the meal. It arrived very quickly, but to my dismay it was not very “special.” For starters the cheeseburger had no cheese, and she had ignored my request for mustard. There were onions, so many that I pulled most off, and three very thick pickle slices – sweet pickles! What planet was this gal from? In spite of all of this culinary strangeness, I still should have been able to make a modest meal from the bun, meat patty, and onion rings – but that wasn’t to happen either. The bun was fine, but the meat was overcooked to the point of being unchewable and inedible, and the onion rings were just a few degrees shy of being charcoal rings. I was able to enjoy the bun and the iced tea, but the rest went into the trash.

I doubt that I will ever eat at Crustano’s again, but in the event that I do, I will take the damned mayonnaise and go to insufferable extremes not to offend the server.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rusty Pails #41:
The Ruby Bee Caper (Part 5)

by Rocky Macy

I served nineteen days in the Sprung Hinge jail, certain that Judge Leonidas T. Redbone would change his mind about his awful plans for me. But Hizzoner, knowing that torture was fine at the national level, stood firm in his plans to torture me.

Esther Pearl continued to stop by jail every evening to offer me comfort and moral support. “Serve’s you right, you durned fool!” She cooed. “If you ask me, you’re getting off easy!” (Well, I hadn’t asked her, but that had never stopped her before, and it wasn’t going to stop her now.)

On day nineteen I had a personal visit from the Judge. He informed me that the county was going to start selling off my belongings to pay for my “jail vacation.” It was then that I swallowed my pride, like a hunk of bad baloney, and told him that I would take Gladys on a date – but he couldn’t make me like it!

“You don’t have to like it, Rusty,” he said, “but she does. I’m giving her a form to sign saying that the date was satisfactory. If Miss Clench ain’t happy with her big night out, it’s back to jail for you!”

So things were set up for Saturday night. Esther came by that afternoon with her barber kit and a suit that she bought at the funeral home’s yard sale. My co-conspirators, feeling guilty for causing me so much grief, also came by to help. Heck and Judge Redbone (the stupid one, not the sadist) detailed my old pick-up and had her sparkling like never before. Truman drifted out to town and came back later with a boutonnière and a corsage. Turns out that the ladies in the flower shop donated them free if Truman promised to leave and not come back!

Esther sent me back to the tub twice before she was satisfied that I was fit to wear the suit. As soon as I got my longhandles on, she hustled me out into the kitchen and proceeded to give me a manicure which I didn’t like, but tolerated. It was when she grabbed my foot and started trying to pedicure me that I drew the line. “Leave my toes alone! There ain’t no way that Gladys is going to see my feet!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Somehow I knew that Esther was enjoying my suffering.

“She’s right, Rusty.” Heck looked up from shining my best work boots and continued, “Gladys is a mighty determined woman!”

“She’s out to assault your bachelorhood,” the Judge chimed in. “It’s a good thing there ain’t none of them all night wedding parlors around Sprung Hinge.”

I tried to get up and start swinging, but Esther pushed me back down on the kitchen chair. “You just stay still!” Esther was pulling out her barbering clippers that looked suspiciously like the ones she uses to groom her goats. “I’ve still got to cut and grease your hair.”

“Ain’t no need for that,” I declared. “I’m going to wear Heck’s!” Heck, afraid that I was serious, backed up so fast that he tripped over Baker and fell backward out the door. Baker refused to allow him back in the house after that stunt, so he had to finish shining my work boots on the back porch.

Fifteen minutes before I was supposed to pick Gladys up, Esther doused me with lilac water and handed me the box containing the corsage. Then, in a solemn procession, my friends walked me out to my shiny pick-up truck. Before I got in Esther gave me a quick course on manners. “Be sure to tell her she looks lovely.”

“Fat chance,” I grumbled. Gladys Clench is many things, but lovely ain’t on the list!

“And if she asks you to pin on the corsage, don’t stick her,” Esther said.

“And my girlfriends think is especially nice when I open the truck door and help them in and out,” Heck said.

“And don’t blow your nose at the table,” the Judge chimed in.

“And if you do,” Esther continued, “use the napkin and not the table cloth.

As I drove off down the lane, I glanced in the side mirror and looked back at the group standing in my yard. Would I survive the horrors that surely awaited me this night? Was the good life that I had enjoyed all these years about to come to an end? And, most important, what did those laughing fools standing in my back yard think was so danged funny?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Good Exit

by Pa Rock
Obituariest

Tim Russert died yesterday. The NBC newsman was fifty-eight, two years younger than me. Any time death comes to someone younger than me, it sets me ruminating on the meaning of life and the importance of recognizing happiness when it is swirling all around.

NBC and MSNBC are the outlets where I get all of my television news (well, 90% - BBC also enters into the mix), and Russert's presence, especially during this election year, was downright ubiquitous. When my radio news outlet, PBS, told me yesterday that Russert had died, I felt a very real loss.

NBC Nightly News last night was a wall-to-wall tribute to Tim Russert, with no other news even being mentioned. MSNBC also dedicated the entire evening to remembrances of him. They talked about his wife and son (Maureen and Luke), and his father - Big Russ of Tim's best selling book, Big Russ and Me. Tom Brokaw told of Russert putting Big Russ in an assisted living home just nine days prior, and the emotional impact that had on Tim. There was video of the flags in Tim's hometown of Buffalo, New York, flying at half-staff. They aired condolence statements from political formidables like President Bush, Barack Obama, John McCain, and even Ethel Kennedy.

There were three things that stood out about Tim Russert in all of the stirring remembrances: his love of family, his unwavering Catholic faith, and his love of politics. His last days, it seems, were a beautiful conflux of all three. Tim's son, Luke, had just graduated from Boston College and his parents took him on a trip to Ireland and Italy as a graduation gift. While in Rome, two days prior to Russert's death, they had an audience with the Pope. Russert left his family in Rome and rushed back to the United States to prepare for Sunday's broadcast of Meet the Press. He was working on voice-overs for the Sunday show when he collapsed in his office. Several speakers remarked that Russert's love of politics was so intense, that he often said to co-workers, "Can you believe they're paying us to do this!"

Tim Russert was a busy and happy man when he died. I can only hope that is the way that death will find me.

Lovecraft Words

by Pa Rock
Word Sprite

As mentioned previously on this blog, I have recently finished reading the Library of America edition of Lovecraft Tales, a compilation of works of H.P. Lovecraft that were selected for publication in this volume by horror author, Peter Straub. While Lovecraft's stories are exceedingly dark and disturbing, he sprinkles them with words that glisten. Lovecraft employs a vocabulary that is somewhat arcane, especially by modern standards, yet it is elegantly arcane. The following examples come from the first story in the collection, The Statement of Randolph Carter, which is a mere seven pages in length.

...confine or execute me if you must have a victim to propitiate the illusion you call justice...

And why Harley Warren did not return, he or his shade - or some nameless thing I cannot describe...

But I do not fear him now, for I suspect that he has known horrors beyond my ken.

...for a waning crescent moon was high in the vaporous heavens.

...so ancient that I trembled at the manifold signs of immemorial years.

On every hand were the signs of neglect and decrepitude...

Over the valley's rim, a wan, waning crescent moon peered through the noisome vapours that seem to emanate from unheard-of-catacombs, and by its feeble, wavering beams I could distinguish a repellent array of antique slabs, urns, cenotaphs, and mausolean facades...

My first vivid impression of my own presence in this terrible necropolis concerns the act of pausing with Warren before a certain half-obliterated sepulchre...

...we stepped back some distance to survey the charnel scene...

The removal of the slab revealed a black aperture, from which rushed an effluence of miasmal gases so nauseous that we started back in horror.

Our lanterns disclosed the top of a flight of stone steps, dripping with some detestable ichor of the inner earth, and bordered by moist walls encrusted with nitre.

I seemed desperately anxious to accompany my friend into those sepulcral depths, yet he proved inflexibly obdurate.

Then he shook my hand, shouldered the coil of wire, and disappeared within that indescribable ossuary.

...and the grotesque shrines and monoliths seemed to assume a hideous personality - a half-sentience.

Amorphous shadows seemed to lurk in the darker recesses of the week-choked hollow and to flit as in some blasphemous ceremonial procession past the portals of the mouldering tombs in the hillside...

...and after a pause a piteous cry from Warren...

I have said that aeons seemed to elapse...

Shall I say that the voice was deep; hollow; gelatinous; remote; unearthly; inhuman; disembodied?

Heard it well up from the innermost depths of that damnable open sepulchre as I watched amorphous, necrophagous shadows dance beneath an accursed waning moon.


The tales of H.P. Lovecraft are strewn with gems of language, sparkling across every page. It is a sad sign of our increasingly vulgar homogenity that Microsoft Word does not recognize many of them!

Friday, June 13, 2008

L.A. Confidential

by Pa Rock
Movie Reviewer

Although I finally saw the movie, L.A. Confidential, in its entirety for the first time this week, the fact that it is an exceptional film came as no surprise. First of all, I had seen enough bits and segments while channel surfing over the past few years to already be predisposed to unflinching enjoyment. Also, any film that boasts talent like Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Bassinger, and Danny DeVito (and eighty-four lesser knowns!) is unlikely to be some slapdash of cinematic tedium. So when I finally was able to catch the movie at the beginning and plant myself down for a two-hour sit, I knew that I would be well entertained. What I was not prepared for, however, was just how really fine this movie is – in every sense of the word.

A movie can hit the mark of greatness without megastars and huge budgets, but a movie that is poorly written will never have a lasting impact on society, no matter how much money is lavished on its creation and promotion. Films that hold up over time are the products of great scripts, the issue of writers who know how to create images with words that compel people to willingly and eagerly suspend belief and enter an alternate realm. James Ellroy, the author of the novel, is a master of the noir genre, and the scriptwriters, Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson, were able to bring Ellroy’s Los Angeles and its hard-boiled residents to life in flawless fashion. The writing on this project is superb.

Good writing alone cannot guarantee success. The actors, those daring souls who bring the words to life, are also integral to a film’s success. Danny DeVito, the tabloid journalist who also serves as the movie’s narrator, masterfully reflects the sleazy underbelly of the celebrity and criminality of Hollywood in the 1950s. Kevin Spacey bridges the gap between the police and show business as a cop who serves as a consultant to a television police drama, and is at-the-ready to assist DeVito in pre-arranged celebrity take-downs. Kim Bassinger bridges both worlds, crime and celebrity, in a gripping portrayal of a prostitute who has been groomed to present to her clients as actress Veronica Lake. She becomes pivotal to the story when she is used as a pawn to inflame tensions between two policemen played by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.

It is Aussie actors Crowe and Pearce who supply the friction that moves this film. Crowe, as Officer Bud White, is the epitome of expedience. He does what it takes to catch a crook or coerce information - such as hanging the district attorney out of the window of his skyscraper office by his feet. Crow’s cop is your bud, and he is white – and he is very representative of things that need to change in the Los Angeles Police Department. Pearce, as Detective Lieutenant Ed Exley, represents where the police department is headed. He is a bespectacled, college educated, goodie-goodie who promotes ethical conduct and proper behavior by public servants, but he can be conveniently opportunistic in building his own career. Together they do a dance of ‘good cop-bad cop’ throughout the movie, alternating from one extreme to the other with disturbing ease. Eventually their symbiotic relationship becomes so clear that even they are forced to recognize it and work in tandem to clean up Los Angeles and its police department.

L.A. Confidential whispers in your ear as it slams you in the gut. It’s a powerful film that is destined to stand the test of time - it's that good!

Pillage First!

by Pa Rock
Local Commentator

This morning a young man passed me while I was on my way to work. The bumper stickers that his vehicle was sporting caught my attention. On the left side of the bumper was an artsy sticker proclaiming “Co-Exist”, an unusually lefty sentiment for Arizona, while on the right was one advising “Pillage First, then Burn!” Two thoughts regarding this incongruence came to mind: 1. If this individual is the sole operator of the car, then he is diagnosable, probably with bi-polar disorder; or, 2. if he shares the vehicle with a significant other, then they view the world from alarmingly different perspectives.

I wonder what he was thinking about me and my Obama sticker as he zipped around? It’s on the left. Maybe I need to balance it out with a McBush sticker on the right! On second thought, probably not - then I would know for sure that I am diagnosable!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Car Book

by Pa Rock
Bookworm

Reading is one of the true enjoyments of my life. For as long as I can remember I have kept a book by the bed that I read from each night. It usually takes two to three weeks to complete an average size novel. Since moving to Arizona last fall, I have also gotten into the habit of going into work early and reading in the car before entering the din of the office. On days when the heat isn't too awful, I will drive to the local Sonic for lunch, put the top down under the big Sonic awning, and read a few more pages of the car book before dealing with my afternoon clients.

While my bed books change every few weeks, I have been reading the same car book since arriving in Arizona. Today I completed Lovecraft Tales, a compilation of the major works of H.P. Lovecraft, a pulp writer of the horror genre in the 1920s and 1930s. This edition, over eight hundred pages of very small print, was put together and edited by The Library of America.

I now feel that I know as much or more about the ancients than the average social worker. Although I have never read the dreaded Necronomicon, I have been exposed to some of its darker secrets, and I know that at least one copy is still in existence - in the ancient book section of the library at Miskatonic University. Lovecraft shared so many of life's horrific mysteries and secrets, and his writings point the way to answers of questions that have yet to be asked.

The highlight of reading Lovecraft, however, is not the strange places to which he transported his readers, it is the beautiful and arcane language that he employed while telling his tales. Those who collect elegant words and masterful phrases would do well to peruse the pages of any Lovecraft story or novel.

Monday, June 9, 2008

McCain News Flash!

by Pa Rock
Re-Teller of Tales

The Huffington Post announced today that the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain, plans to actively campaign in all thirteen colonies!

Rusty Pails #40
The Ruby Bee Caper (Part 4)

by Rocky Macy

A lot has happened over the last two weeks. Our gang managed to burn the Clench chicken coop to the ground, but we were able to save all of the hens. Gladys said, through her lawyer, that most of them “ain’t right” and may require therapy if they are to resume laying eggs. The fire brought out the sheriff, the paddy wagon, fire trucks from three communities, and every durned fool from fifty miles around. The Sprung Hinge Sewing Circle and Bucket Brigade hauled out their Weenie Wagon and made several hundred dollars selling food and drinks to the on-lookers.

We were arrested, of course, which safely removed us from the wrath of Gladys and her shotgun, and Judge Leonidas T. Redbone (a real judge, unlike his cousin the road commissioner “judge” – who was now a defendant in one of the most heinous local crimes on record) ruled that we were to remain in jail until we could produce a plan to build Gladys a new coop.

Rebuilding the chicken coop could have been a major problem because Gladys’ nephew, an architect, drew up plans for a new henhouse that would make a big city Madam blush. As luck would have it though, the money issue took care of itself because our movie won the big bucks. The Hollywood people said it was the funniest arson film of the whole season. They especially liked the climax with us pitching hens out the doors and windows of the coop, and Gladys trying to beat each of us with her shotgun as we fled the fiery inferno. They also liked the part where Gladys snatched Heck by the hair and it came off in her hand!

Judge Redbone (the real judge) dragged us all into Court again last Wednesday and demanded that we sign our movie proceeds over to Gladys. If we didn’t, he assured us, we would rot in jail. We all signed, eager to get on with our lives - and three of us were released.

“Rusty Pails,” the Judge thundered, “since you are obviously the leader of this dastardly crew, I’m imposing an extra requirement for your release.”

“But, Judge,” I began to beg, “It wasn’t me. I was just sitting at home minding my own business when my buddies hatched this addle-pated scheme. I’m a victim of circumstance!”

“Nonsense, Rusty. Miss Clench is the victim. Your evil plan caused her to lose a perfectly good henhouse.”

“And we’re replacing it with a palace!” I self-righteously point-out.

The Judge was having none of it. “And because you had the audacity to lead your friends astray, I’ve asked Miss Clench to feel free to set an extra requirement for your release.”

“Leon!” I screamed. “Don’t do it!”

“Miss Clench?” The Judge nodded solemnly toward Gladys who was parked on the front row. As Gladys rose to speak, I stood dumfounded watching my life flash before my eyes.

“Your Honor,” she said with killer sweetness, “I would consider the account settled if Mr. Pails would take me out to dinner and dancing. Then we could go back to my place for dessert.”

I woke up back in my cell. Apparently after hearing Gladys’ demand, I fell to the floor and began howling and slobbering like a hydro-phobic dog. They had to clear the courthouse until the vet arrived and shot me with his tranquilizer gun.

Esther comes by every evening and brings Baker to visit. I’ve begged her to bring a gun to the jail and help me escape – or shoot me – but she tells me that I just need to “man-up” and do what the Judge ordered.

It may come to that, but for the time being I’m going to stay in jail and wait on a miracle. Maybe those guys in Hollywood will offer a prize for the best jail escape movie. That might entice my buddies to rescue me. On second thought, they probably wouldn’t be able to get a plan together without their “leader!”

What I wouldn’t give for a cold root beer – and a hacksaw!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rusty Pails #39
The Ruby Bee Caper (Part 3)

by Rocky Macy

Ruby Bee is a big, fat hen, and she’s not just any hen. She is Gladys Clench’s champion Rhode Island Red, known far and wide for consistently laying the rich double-yolkers that are the not-so-secret ingredient to Gladys’s blue-ribbon pies. Ruby Bee is as admired as Gladys is feared!

Our plan, if you could call it a plan, was to snatch Ruby Bee out of the Clench coop, spirit her away to a secret location, and hold her for ransom. My initial role in this criminal activity was to pull out my old Underwood typewriter and peck out the ransom note. After everyone got in their two-cents worth, this was the end product:

Gladys,

We have your fat chicken. If you want her back you will need to bring four warm homemade pies (coconut, lemon meringue, strawberry-rhubarb, and chocolate cream) to the picnic table farthest from the road at the state park at eight o’clock tonight – and then go home. Your fowl will be returned to you by special courier – if the pies are worthy. If you fail to pay the ransom, or try to poison us, she will be returned to you as chicken salad!

In order to keep any nosey truckers away from our pies, you are to wear your plaid bloomers, chartreuse bowling shirt, and your hair in pin curls when you make the delivery.

Any deviation from the terms of this note will have dire consequences!

Yours truly,
Four Desperate Men


The real reason that we wanted her to show up in her bloomers was so that we could film her from a hidden camera. Our director thought that would make an artsy ending for our movie.

It was getting on toward midnight by the time I finished the ransom note. Heck and Truman had come up with an empty burlap feed bag and a couple of kerosene lanterns, and the Judge had completed reading the parts of the camera’s instruction booklet that dealt with taking low-light movies. I quickly threw together a bologna sandwich and stuffed it into my emptiest pocket. It was time to get the show on the road!

Things pretty well come to a stop around Sprung Hinge when the sun goes down, and if anyone is out running the roads late at night, they are probably up to no good. Fortunately that described us and only us, and we made it to Gladys’ lane without any pesky witnesses. Heck turned the truck around and backed into the lane. He killed the lights, turned off the engine, and put the truck in neutral. We were able to coast down the lane until we reached the edge of the yard, just feet from the chicken coop. Our get-away vehicle was headed toward the highway, ready for a speedy retreat!

Judge Redbone got his camera cranked up and began filming the rest of us as we made ready to commit Grand Theft Chicken. Heck and Truman were lighting the lanterns while I dealt with the Clench security system. That system was Henry, Gladys’ Russian Wolfhound. He ambled over to the ragtag team of trespassers, stuck his long snout in my pocket, and retrieved the sandwich. After taking a minute to pee on Truman’s leg, Henry made his way back over to the porch and laid down to enjoy his late-night snack.

The Judge was the first one into the coop so that he could film the rest of us as we entered. I stepped in next with a lantern, being careful not to make any undue noise and wake the sleeping hens. Heck followed me in with the burlap bag, and Truman was the last one through the door. He was standing just inside the doorway and concentrating on shaking his leg in an effort to dry the gift that Henry left on his coveralls.

Gladys had about three dozen hens. Some were asleep in nesting boxes, while others were roosting on railings that were placed there for that purpose. The Judge panned the hen house interior with his movie camera, before focusing in on the large nesting box in the corner where Sprung Hinge’s most famous fowl was happily dreaming of fat bugs and earthworms.

It was starting to look like we could pull this crime off, but our confidence was to be short-lived. Heck, bag in hand, moved over to the queen’s box and was gently lifting her out. We all shuffled in closer, providing a good group shot for the Judge. Ruby Bee, waking suddenly to a coop full of criminals, began with a squawk that could wake the dead two counties over, and the other three dozen hens took up the chorus. Henry, having finished eating, took the opportunity to change teams and began baying.

Even with all of the commotion, we might have still made good on our escape. But when Gladys’ shotgun blasted through the bedlam, Truman dropped his lantern and set the coop on fire! Things were starting to heat up!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Discipline

by Pa Rock
Typist

It used to be that I posted to this blog every evening. No matter how dull my day had been, I could always come up with something clever (to me at least!) to rattle on about. Recently, I have been lagging.

As mentioned previously, I am working on two blogs. The other is a collection of my old genealogy columns, Rootbound in the Hills. There are 242 columns in that series, each taking approximately and hour to type and correct. I have set a hard pace in order to get that column all up by the end of this year. I do one entry each night, and three each on Saturday and Sunday. That battle of constantly typing and proofing has left me dragging when it comes to Pa Rock's Ramble.

Tonight I passed a milestone when I posted Rootbound #121, the halfway point in that project. With any luck and a good tailwind, I should be able to finish typing the collection into the blog by sometime this fall. Then I will take on the task of sorting back through all of those re-typed columns and indexing for surnames, place locations, and topics. I anticipate that phase will take another several months to complete. The final step will be arranging to have this magnum opus published - and figuring out how to pay for it!

If you would like to look in on the project, it can be found at: www.rootboundinthehills.blogspot.com

Happy trails!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fiat Accompli!

by Pa Rock
Prodigious Political Prognosticator

The Democratic Presidential race ended tonight, and for the first time in my life I had my chips on the winner from the get-go. Barack Obama has defeated Billary, though she has yet to admit it. The hard part of the race is over, and defeating John McBush will be little more than a mop-up action.

Change is at hand, America! It's a new day!

Janet Napolitano for Vice President!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Three Days of the Condor

by Pa Rock
Movie Critic

Turner Classic Movies was having a Sydney Pollack festival tonight out of respect for the famed actor/director who died this week. I managed to still myself long enough to watch Three Days of the Condor. This 1975 film has held up well, though it had less action and stunts than a modern version would doubtless employ. I had two lingering observations regarding Condor. The first was how quickly things once considered commonplace have become anachronistic, such as typing on typewriters and smoking in the workplace. The second was that Faye Dunaway is the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen.

One of my ten favorite movie lines of all time was given by Faye Dunaway as she was being slapped around and interrogated by Jack Nicholson in Chinatown:
"She's my daughter...She's my sister...She's my daughter...My sister, my daughter. She's my sister AND my daughter!"

And she's beautiful in that movie, also - far outshining Robert Redford in Condor and Nicholson in Chinatown.

And don't even get me started on her portrayal of Bonnie Parker!