Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harry Reid Goads a Toad

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Harry Reid, the majority leader of the United States Senate - and a Mormon - just laid a devastating little trap for presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney - also a Mormon.  Obviously, sharing the same faith will not be enough to save Romney from the cunning wiles of Reid.

For weeks Romney has been stonewalling on releasing more of his tax returns.  So far he has released most, but not all, of his 2010 returns, and has promised to release his 2011 returns as soon as they are ready.  And that is all.  Mitt's people said that he is following the example set by Senator John McCain who released only two years of tax returns.

Mitt and Ann Romney paid just 13.9 percent in income taxes in 2010.  He has stated that he does not recall if he ever paid less than that in previous years - but he would go back and look.  He never did get back to the press and the public with that information.

Democrats have been quick to suggest that he would do better to follow the example of his own father, Governor George Romney of Michigan, who released twelve years of tax returns when he ran for president in 1968.  George Romney said that it would not be fair to only release one year, because a return from one year might be a "fluke."

With Mitt continuing to keep his tax returns secret, Senator Reid just could not help himself.  Today the wily senator from Nevada let it be known that a "Bain investor" had told him that there was a ten-year period where Mitt Romney paid absolutely no taxes.  It's all anonymous, of course, and Senator Reid is not identifying his source - except that he is someone who was involved with Bain, Romney's capital investment group that ruined several American smaller companies and shipped numerous jobs overseas.

Senator Reid went on to invoke the specter of Romney's father, saying "His poor father must be so embarrassed by his son."  Ouch.  So far the Romney camp has snapped back about Reid being so crude as to invoke the elder Romney, but there has been no denial about the story regarding the ten years of no taxes.

Mitt, this could be a huge political home run for you.  Just release those tax returns and prove that the odious Senator Reid is lying.  But if you keep stonewalling, many of us will assume the worst - that the presidential candidate of a major political party not only hides money in Swiss bank accounts, and takes advantage of of tax shelters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands - but that he sucks millions of dollars out of the American economy and into his own pocket without paying any taxes at all - for a whole damned decade!

Put up or shut up - or pay up - like the rest of us common people have to do.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Tucson"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I've neglected Monday's Poetry since returning to Phoenix a little over two weeks ago, and as a way of getting back into the Monday habit, I looked for something to post today that has an Arizona flavor.  The poem that I have chosen is "Tucson" by Stephen Dunn.   The piece is descriptive of Arizona's rough edge, and while the poet talks in terms of Tucson, the  picture that he paints could easily be of one of the seamier areas of central Phoenix.  It's tough writing, Arizona tough.

by Stephen Dunn

A man was dancing with the wrong woman
in the wrong bar, the wrong part of town.
He must have chosen the woman, the place,
as you choose what to wear
when you dress to kill.
And the woman, who could have said no, 
must have  made her choice years ago,
to look like the kind of trouble
certain men choose as their own.
I was there for no good reason myself,
with a friend looking for a friend,
but I'm not important.
They were dancing close
when a man from the bar decided
the dancing was wrong.  I'd forgotten
how fragile the face is, how fists too
are just so many small bones.
The bouncer waited, then broke in.
Someone wiped up the blood.
The woman began to dance
with another woman, each in tight jeans.
The air pulsed.  My hands
were fidgety, damp.
We were Mexicans, Indians, whites.
The woman was part this, part that.
My friend said nothing's wrong, stay put,
it's a good fighting bar, you won't get hurt
unless you need to get hurt.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

They were twelve-years-old and they were in love.

Sam was an orphan living in foster care and camping out with a local youth group called the "Khaki Scouts."   He was an accomplished outdoorsman, but socially awkward and not readily accepted by the other scouts.

Suzy also had issues of awkwardness.  She was the daughter of a pair of local attorneys.  Suzy was a difficult child whose parents were reading up on the topic of problem children in an attempt to deal with her.

Sam and Suzy met one night as she was preparing to play a raven in a church play about Noah's Ark.  He inadvertently stumbled into the dressing room where she and the other girl birds were getting into their costumes and make-up, and although only a few lines were exchanged between the two, the chemistry was obvious.  Sam and Suzy corresponded secretly for several months.  It was through that correspondence that  their love developed and they decided to run away together.

And so they ran away, escaping a world where they were judged by others and entering a realm where they could be themselves and enjoy each other's company.    Sam and Suzy walked across the island that was home to both, playing in the surf, camping, and learning a few of the basics of physical love.  Their clumsy journey of self-discovery also happened to coincide with one of the worst storms of the latter half of the twentieth century.

The year was 1965.

This is a quirky story that thrives on the talents of two ensemble casts - one adult, and the other juvenile.  The adult cast is comprised of some of the biggest names in the film industry.  Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel all give the types of performances that audiences have come to expect from actors of their caliber - and they flourish in their roles under the superb direction of Wes Anderson.

The other cast is a group of young people, many of whom I suspect will go on to be familiar names in film.  Jared Gilman is Sam and Kara Hayward is Suzy.  Both are perfect in their roles as emotionally troubled, yet surprisingly resilient, young adolescents.  There are also the boys who make up the scout troop and the three who play Suzy's younger brothers.  I was reminded several times of the kids who formed the earlier cinematic gang known as The Goonies - although in this film the adults were often as goony as the kids!

Moonrise Kingdom is surprisingly good.  It has about run its course in the theatres, but it will make a great rental for one of those nights when you are seeking something with exceptional acting and a good story  - a tale that will impart a sense of satisfaction long after the final credits roll. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Theatre Scene in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Phoenix, Arizona, and its surrounding suburbs represent the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, and while any urban area of that size is bound to contain its share of undesirable elements (Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, the insufferable summer heat, and enough guns to arm the entire country of China - to name but a few), it also has some positives that make the city bearable for sane residents.

Phoenix is home to professional teams of every major sport, a first rate university (Arizona State), and a multitude of cultural opportunities that include offerings such as symphony and dance performances, wonderful art exhibits, and endless desert vistas.   The Phoenix National Public Radio Station KJZZ is one of the finest that I have heard anywhere, and the authentic Mexican food served in many of the local restaurants and cafes is some of the finest to be found on either side of the border.

But it is the local theatre offerings that have really sold me on the city.  The last time I lived here (2007-2010)  I attended performances at Valley theatres on a fairly regular basis, and got to see some wonderful productions - including national tours of Les Miserables, The Kite Runner, and A Raisin in the Sun - as well as some quirkier offerings that were presented by the smaller theatres.  I wrote about many of the plays that I saw here in The Ramble.

There are six live theatres in the Phoenix area with which I am familiar.  Their seasons essentially match the school year, running from September through May or early June.  I attended multiple performances at four of these theatres when I was here before, and I plan to do better this time around.

The Phoenix Theatre is located in the heart of Phoenix at 100 East McDowell.  It has a nice auditorium with plenty of good parking, and their season always has a great lineup.  (I was actually a season ticket holder at the Phoenix Theatre at one point.)  This year their offerings include the hit Broadway musical Spamalot (9/19-10/14), Defending the Caveman (10/31-11/25), S' Wonderful (12/12-1/6), Love Makes the World Go Round (1/23-2/17), La Cage Aux Folles (3/13-4/7), and Thornton Wilder's classic, Our Town (5/1-5/19).

The first live play that I attended in this area was Altar Boys at the Phoenix Theatre.  It was a great piece of musical theatre which my daughter, Molly, and I enjoyed together.

The Phoenix Theatre owns a second, smaller auditorium on the same property which is the home of Nearly Naked Theatre, a more daring theatre troop that pushes boundaries in an effort to live up to its name.  Partial nudity is not uncommon in their productions, and sometimes things get even more risque.   But prudishness (or squeamishness) aside, Nearly Naked Theatre has some wonderful productions that are regularly enjoyed by serious theatre-goers.

A couple of years ago I saw a little known work entitled Killer Joe performed at the Nearly Naked Theatre.  It was the tale of members of a family who hire a killer to off their mother for the insurance proceeds.  I mention that only because that same material has just been released as a movie, also entitled Killer Joe, which stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role and Juno Temple as the virginal daughter who gets taken by Killer Joe and held as collateral until the family pays his fee.

The year's schedule for Nearly Naked Theatre has not been released as of this time, but the season will be a good one - it always is!

The Arizona Theatre Company usually performs their productions in Tucson and Phoenix - with the Phoenix shows being produced at the beautiful Herberger Theatre which is also located in the central part of the city.  This year the schedule at the Herberger includes Next to Normal (10/11-10/28), Lombardi (11/15-12/2), Jane Austen's Emma (1/3-1/20), Freud's Last Session (2/14-3/2), The Sunshine Boys (3/28-4/14), and Clybourne Park (5/2-5/19).

Gammage Theatre at Arizona State University is also known for hosting some great plays - and although I didn't make it to any of their productions in the past, I plan to correct that oversight this year.  The Gammage season opens with the wonderful Les Miserables  (9/11-9/16), followed by Anything Goes (11/13-11/18), The Addams Family (12/11-12/16), Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan (1/8-1/13), War Horse (2/5-2/10), Memphis (3/5-3/10), Disney's Beauty and the Beast (4/9-4/14), Flashdance, the Musical (4/30-5/5), and Sister Act (6/25-6/30).

Stray Cat Theatre is more experimental in nature and somewhat transient.  I have seen Stray Cat productions at a couple of different locations.  This year they have four shows scheduled:  punkplay (9/14-9/29), Wolves (11/30-12/16), Sons of the Prophet (2/15-3/2), and Chicks with Dicks (4/19-5/11).  The last production reportedly centers on a female motorcycle gang.

Theatre Works in Peoria is located in the West Valley near where I live and work, but somehow I never made it to any of their shows the last time I was here.  They have a nice auditorium, and I plan on attending some of their work this year.  The schedule for Theatre Works includes Doubt (9/7-9/30), The Music Man (10/5-10/28), A Christmas Carol 12/1-12/25), Burning in the Night - a Hobo's Song (1/25-2/24), Musical of Musicals (3/5-4/7),  Accomplice (4/12-5/12), and Hansel  and Gretel (5/10-5/26).

So that's what's happening at several of Phoenix's main theatre venues this year.  If you are thinking about traveling out west to see me, plan accordingly.  We'll take in a show or two!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mollie Carroll

by Rocky Macy

I learned yesterday that my good friend, Mollie Carroll, (aged 66), passed away last December 3rd while I was living in Japan.  I had been back to the States in late September/early October and knew that Mollie was in the hospital and very ill, having just been diagnosed with brain cancer.  I heard at that time that she probably wouldn't know me, and I neglected to go see her, partly because I was rushed for time as I tried to see everyone in just a couple of weeks, and partly because I didn't want what would have been my last visit with her to be under those circumstances.

I wanted to remember her as she was, and I think that is what she would have wanted as well.

Mollie Carroll was a very good friend going back to the 1960's when we were both students at Noel High School in the Missouri Ozarks.  Her younger brother James was my best friend, and he is still a very special person to me.

Mollie was a heavy smoker.  She was, in fact, a smoking fiend who was seldom without a lit cigarette.  Nobody, at least nobody that I knew of, ever lectured her on the dangers of smoking because that's who she was - a constant smoker.  The habit eventually claimed her life, but I doubt that she had any regrets about smoking.  Cigarettes were a part of her life, a definitive part of her life.

Mollie grew up in Noel, the only girl in a family with four brothers.  Her mother was a registered nurse and her father was a mechanic.  She attended Southwest Missouri State University where she became involved with the theater crowd.   (SMSU is a very good school for dramatic arts, having produced some nationally known actors such as Kathleen Turner, John Goodman, and Tess Harper).  When Mollie graduated from SMSU she followed some of that group to New York City where she taught in a Catholic high school for a couple of decades and had a continuing involvement in the theater scene there.

Mollie drifted back to the the Midwest a decade or so ago, living in the Kansas City area for awhile and eventually finding her way back to Noel.  During her last years she lived in a nice apartment in Noel's senior citizen complex.  We reconnected while she was living there.

Every time that I came to Noel in recent years I always found time to go see Mollie Carroll.  We would sit in her apartment where she would chain smoke and tell me endless stories about her youth - or mine, her years in New York, and people she had met over the years.

Mollie had gone to the little airport in Joplin in 1960 to see John F. Kennedy as he was campaigning for President - and much to her eternal delight, she had managed to shake his hand.  Some of Rudy Giuliani's children had attended the school in New York where she taught, and she was thrilled when he was elected mayor of New York City.   Also, she was stepping onto a New York City subway one day and almost walked straight into playwright Neil Simon who was in the company of a "much younger woman."   She said that she was flabbergasted and could only point and say, "You're...you're..." to which the considerate playwright helped her out by replying "That's right.  I'm Neil Simon."  By then she had regained her composure and said, "Mr. Simon, thank you for all of the laughter."

And there were lots and lots of other stories!

We had our last visit shortly before I moved to Japan in the summer of 2010,  Neither of us knew, of course, that we were saying good-bye for the final time - and who knows, maybe we weren't.  If there is a Heaven out in the great beyond, Mollie Carroll has surely found her way there and is regaling the angels with stories of her time on Earth.   She is also probably smoking, but the angels won't mind because that's who she is!

Mollie, thanks for the friendship.  You were a bright and cheerful part of my life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ann Romney's Dancing Horse

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

(Disclaimer:  I am aware that Ann Romney, the Mittster's wife, suffers from multiple sclerosis, and that as part of her treatment for that disease she trains horses and works with horses.  This is a story about a horse of which Ann Romney is part-owner.  It is not a therapy horse, and, from everything I have read she has not been involved in the training of this horse.  The pampered equine is simply a very expensive hobby and a hell of a tax break for a very wealthy individual and her two partners.)

Ann Romney is a part-owner of a horse that is going to compete in this summer's London Olympics - and, as with everything Romney, much about this horse is being carefully "sequestered" from the press and the public.  Inquiring minds cannot find out how much money was involved in the 2006 purchase of the horse by the three investors, nor can they see pictures of the horse preparing for competing in the Olympics.

The particulars:  The horse, a fifteen-year-old mare named Rafalca was born in Germany.  She is an Oldenburg, a type of horse that is bred for show jumping and dressage - a stylized movement to music that is often demeaned in the press as horse dancing or horse ballet.   One of these animals can sell for six or seven figures, but, again, the Romney's are going to extremes to keep the value of this particular horse a secret.

But here is a clue to Rafalca's value.  In the Romney tax returns for 2010, they took a $77,000 loss (actually a tax credit) for their one-third share of the mare.  Parents get a $1,000 tax credit for a child.   The Romney's bought their share in this very fine horse in 2006, but Mitt is keeping his 2006-2009 tax returns secret, so we have no way of knowing how much money that ownership of Rafalca has actually saved the couple on taxes over those years.

Not every Romney tax dodge is hidden off-shore.

While Mitt Romney may not give a rip whether Americans have health care or not, and he definitely does not want the government assisting them in paying for health care, he is shelling out over $2,000 annually for Rafalca's medical needs.  Her stable rent is $2,400 a month, over a thousand dollars a month above what the average family shells out for rent.  And Rafalca's annual clothing budget is ten times that of a normal family in America.

So America, rest easy.  While the rest of us ride coach, Rafalca flew to Britain on a private jet.  She is well dressed and in good health, and it sounds like her stable is pretty damned fancy.  Why a horse this special probably even gets to ride in the car elevator!

Rafalca, best of luck in your dance recital.  Here's hoping you bring home the gold.  Anything less could result in you taking your next trip on top of the family car!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

Sunday evening I decided to take in a movie, and I had a big assortment from which to choose.  My ultimate selection was the very clever, and very well done - Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter.

The movie has been out for several weeks, so I was not surprised when only eleven people, myself include, showed up in the small auditorium (capacity: 111) at the local multi-plex.  The few who were there were focused on the movie, and not on texting or chatter - so it was a  pleasant setting in which to enjoy the movie.

Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter  is a fantastical account of the impact that vampires had on the life of President Lincoln and his struggle to lead America safely through it's greatest crisis, the Civil War.  The story begins when nine-year-old Abe witnesses a man walk into his family's cabin late at night and bite his mother, Nnncy Hanks Lincoln, who then dies the following day.  Although young Abe isn't clear on why the man bit his mother or how that killed her, he understands that the man is somehow responsible for the death of his mother.

Lincoln, as a young adult, comes across the man who killed his mother and decides it is time to take his revenge.  He fights the man who proves to be strangely powerful, and finally shoots the man in the eye - but even that fails to kill the killer.   Later that day Lincoln meets a fellow named Henry Sturges who informs the country lad that he had been fighting a vampire.  He also tells Abe that he is a vampire hunter and can teach the young man how to kill vampires - if, and only if, he will just kill certain vampires.

Lincoln agrees to those terms, though he still is focused on killing the specific vampire who killed his mother. Henry teaches the young rail-splitter how to fight with an ax, and he coats Lincoln's ax blade with silver to make it especially deadly to vampires.

Lincoln and Henry remain friends over the years as Lincoln works his way through being a shopkeeper, a lawyer, a state politician, and ultimately President.  And through those years Lincoln continues to battle vampires, and they continue to be the bane of his existence.

As the great war consumes the nation, a vampire kills Lincoln's young son, Willie, as he plays with his toy soldiers in the White House.  The grieving President soon learns that vampires have allied themselves with the Confederate government and are fighting with the rebels on the battlefields of the Civil War where they are immune from regular lead bullets.  Together Lincoln and Henry come up with a plan to equip the Union forces with silver bullets and silver cannon balls in order to win the Battle of Gettysburg and ultimately save the Union.

Okay, it sounds really far out there.  A good friend, knowing the limits of my simple mind, cautioned me that the vampire part was fiction - and she's probably right.  But it was a really good story, and if vampires do exist, well, then the whole tale is plausible.

But whether the tale is true or not, it is highly entertaining and even educational at a certain level.  There are two big action scenes unlike any that I have seen in movies before.  One is a gun fight and a physical fight between Lincoln and a vampire that takes place in the middle of a wild horse stampede.  It includes the combatants running among the stampeding horses, jumping on and off of the horses, and even standing on horseback and jumping from horse to horse during the fight.

The second great action scene has Lincoln and his friends fighting vampires on a train that is racing across a long burning trestle bridge.  Will the vampires kill the good guys?   Will the train fall through the flames and into the abyss?   Will Lincoln save the day at Gettysburg and rid America of the bloodsucking vampires?  Get thee to a movie theatre and find out!

One other thing that I really enjoyed about this film was the beautiful photography and the scenes of Washington DC as it appeared in Lincoln's day.  It does an excellent job of taking viewers back in time.

There is a scene near the end of the movie where Mary Todd Lincoln is standing by her carriage on a gravel circular drive in front of the White House.  Lincoln and Henry Sturges walk out onto a balcony overlooking where she is at, and Mary calls to her husband to hurry or else they will be late for the play.  A young man sitting a few seats down from me was so engrossed in the movie, that when Mary brought up the play, he said loudly, "Oh, no!"

Yes, it is fantasy overlaying history - but it "sucks" the viewers into a place that feels very real.  This movie is exciting, fun, and even a bit educational.    For me, it was an evening well spent - and I would definitely sit through it again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thirty-Nine Candles

by Pa Rock
Proud Father

My eldest, Nick, turned thirty-nine today.  He was born on the island of Okinawa in 1973 when I was a mere lad of twenty-five.  A lot of birthdays and important life events have come and gone since then, and all of that time has passed way too quickly.

Nick has grown up into a fine young man.  He works hard and takes care of things in a responsible manner, and even when he is swamped with his own stuff, he always finds time to help his friends.  Nick's greatest achievement, however,  is his success at being a parent.  He has always been completely devoted to Boone (who is now thirteen), and spends lots of time with him hunting, fishing, playing, and having fun.  They are devoted to each other as father and son, and they are also very good friends.  Nick is one of the best parents I have ever known.

Jack Benny, the late comedian, spent about half of his life claiming to be thirty-nine.  I can remember when I couldn't see the humor in that because I felt that thirty-nine was really old.  It's not so old any more!

Happy birthday, Nick!  You always make me proud.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grocery Clubs

by Pa Rock
Aggravated Consumer

Groceries, and all of the other sundry items for sale in modern grocery stores, are, on their best days, a racket subject to price manipulation by the government, growers, manufacturers, transportation systems, and retailers.  A major trend in recent years has been the expansion of a few mega-grocery chains, and the subsequent elimination of many smaller "mom and pop" stores from the marketplace.  Convenience stores have helped to fill the niche left by by disappearance of small grocery stores, but, by-and-large, they have neither the quantity nor selection that today's shoppers seem to require.

(I went to a convenience store this weekend in search of laundry detergent.  It carried one brand in one size - not something that I normally use, and the price was exorbitant.)

Most of the major grocery stores in the Valley of Hell have what is called a "club card" where they offer discounts on selected items in return for their customers' personal identifying information (name, telephone number, address, and email).  These cards are scanned during checkout and savings are deducted from the final bill electronically - as if by magic.

It's all a scam, of course.  Prices are raised on the selected items so they can be "discounted" at checkout.    The poor fool without a club card (like me yesterday) winds up paying an excessive price for not allowing the store to know his information and track his buying habits.

It's bad enough that we have to be held captive to the whims and vagaries - and fees - of big banks who can track our every move and purchase at the click of a mouse, but now grocery stores want in on the surveillance act too!

Orwell's grim future has arrived, and Big Brother prevails!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Please Pass the Car Fax

by Pa Rock
Careful Consumer

Remember the bright yellow 2010 Chevy Aveo that I was going to look so good in as I drove down the palm-lined streets of Phoenix?  The salesman assured me it was a one-owner, having been the pride and joy of a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays and holidays - or some such nonsense.  He even volunteered that he had sold the car to the old lady to begin with, and she had recently shown up to trade it in on a newer model.  There would be no problem with the little Aveo, he assured me, and if there was, I could return it under the terms of the Arizona lemon law.

I returned to that lot yesterday morning ready to do the deed.  We took the spiffy little car for a spin around the block, and it drove beautifully.  Then we returned to the office where he and his manager quickly tried to get me to sign papers - but I hesitated and asked to see the Car Fax report.

It was as though I had asked to see sex tapes of their wives or parents.  They looked stunned and appalled for a few beats, then quickly went back to the importance of getting things signed before someone else swept in and bought my Aveo.

The Car Fax, please!

Finally, and reluctantly, they relented and gave me the report of the car's history.  The little old lady turned out to have been not one - but two - car rental agencies from two different states.  It had a factory recall that had never been honored, and the agency that I was dealing with had bought it at an auction.

Little old lady, indeed!

Postscript:   Yesterday I visited a major Chevrolet agency where I bought a 2005 Saturn Vue.  I fit in it nicely, and it drove like a dream.  I was able to buy it at a price that left me with enough cash to purchase the protection of a three-year extended warranty.

Oh, and one thing I learned from the reputable car dealer (is that an oxymoron?) is that Arizona has no lemon law on used cars.  (I should have suspected that because it would be greatly out-of-character for the Arizona legislature to have passed anything that would actually benefit citizens of the state.)

When buying a used car in the Scorpion State or anywhere else, shop patiently and carefully, doubt everything, and always ask for the Car Fax.  You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Answer Is Not More Guns

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday we as a nation awoke to the horrific news of the massacre at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado - twelve people dead, apparently including an infant, and fifty-eight wounded - several critically.  A deeply troubled young man bought a ticket to the midnight premier of the latest Batman movie, went inside and somehow managed to  open an exit door and block it from closing, went back outside to his car where he armed himself as if in preparation for war, and then entered through the exit lobbing teargas canisters into the audience and opening fire with multiple weapons.

One of his weapons apparently was equipped with a thirty-round clip, the same type of monster-clip that was used in the Giffords' shooting last year in Tucson.

As the young man continued to fire into the packed auditorium, it quickly became a scene from the worst horror movie imaginable, one that featured bloody carnage interspersed with raw heroics.  It had to be an event more awful than any of us dare imagine.

Now, unfortunately, some politicians have already begun using this tragedy to promote the gun industry - and perhaps raise some cash from the gun lobby in the process.  It began yesterday when Texas Republican congressman, Louie Gohmert, noted that Colorado has concealed-carry laws - and wouldn't it have been great if somebody in the audience had been packing a piece so he could have taken out the shooter.

Yes, Louie, in a dark theatre, late at night with teargas everywhere, another person shooting would have been a wonderful idea.  Or even better, what if a dozen theatre patrons had been armed and firing during the bloody melee?

Today former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, also a Republican, promoted essentially the same crazy notion.  (Pearce was the primary author of Arizona's racist Senate Bill 1070, for which he was ultimately recalled from office by his embarrassed constituents.)

Gohmert and Pearce both seem to be lamenting that the situation would have ended better if the audience had acted responsibly and shot the savage killer.  In a perfect setting I might agree with them.  But it was a theatre that was packed with humanity, confusion reigned, and the whole place was awash in teargas and smoke.  One person shooting was one too many, and several shooting would have been exponentially more catastrophic.

Using the logic of Mr. Gohmert and Mr. Pearce, we would also all be safer if airline passengers were armed.      (Perhaps make it a pre-boarding requirement.)  Think about that the next time you're sitting in one of those long, tin cans, six or seven miles above the ground.

One person who was at the Gabby Giffords' event said that he was armed but did not shoot.  He said that it was a very confusing scene, and if he had shot, he would have ended up firing at the man who was actually trying to take out the killer.

There are some political responses that could lessen the possibility of these types of massacres, but NRA-funded politicians won't have an interest in limiting the size of magazine clips to six or eight rounds, passing stricter requirements for background checks, or eliminating gun show loopholes.  Their answer is to increase firepower, and than answer just does not work.

Peace and comfort to the good people of Aurora, Colorado.  We are all suffering with you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Into the Heart of Darkness, Arizona Style

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

This evening marks the end of my first week back in Arizona, and I am still in need of two things:  a car and a place to live.  Most of my worldly possessions are still on a ship somewhere out on the Pacific, and the government is paying my temporary lodging - so the house is less of a priority than getting a dependable set of wheels.

I have spent three evenings this week car-shopping and have so far come up with three cars that fit or almost fit my shopping parameters:  reasonable price (cheap), low mileage (50,000 miles or less), fairly recent vintage - say,  less than six-years-old, and economical.  I am  looking at a big-ass 2004 Buick LeSabre, a 2010 Cbevy Aveo, and now a 1995 Firebird.

A 1995 Firebird?  Allow me to elucidate.   It is a one-owner, spotless vehicle with less than 50,000 miles that looks like it just rolled off of the showroom floor -  and it is priced under $8,000!  And of course the owners were a white-haired little old couple from Pasadena, or Pascagoula, or Pass the Metamucil, who finally traded it to the car agency for something more befitting their advanced years.   The beautiful little Firebird is white, the perfect color for the desert, and I would look really good driving it down the road.

The Chevy Aveo is bright yellow and also would look great with me at the wheel - and an Obama sticker on the back bumper!

Tomorrow is Saturday, the day when I intend to buy something, somewhere.

This evening after work I visited a place on the western edge of Phoenix that is called an auto mall.  It is a strip of dealerships that run two miles or so along a frontage road of Interstate 10.  I began at the Chevrolet dealership on the eastern end of the road.  Those sales people were so cool, that they wouldn't leave the air conditioning to come outside and try to unload one of their lemons on the sucker driving the rental car.  I walked their lot on my own, found nothing of interest, and moved on to the next dealership.

At the second lot I was greeted by, well...a young lady who called herself a "greeter."  She found out what I was after and then rushed inside to find a salesman as I began wandering through their vehicles.  The salesman quickly joined me, carrying a printout of cars that met my criteria - low miles, fairly new, economical, and cheap.  But there was nothing there that grabbed my interest, so I moved on.

The third place had the aforementioned Firebird.  Two salesmen dealt with me, and while they were fairly nice, they were also more persistent and insistent than the guy on the lot that I had just left.

The salesman at the next lot was even hungrier and tried everything that he could think of to hook me on one of his cars - but to no avail.  That was followed by a young lady in the adjoining lot who played every card in her salesmanship deck..  She began as cheerful and helpful, and then when she sensed that I was edging toward my rental to make an escape, she seemed to be on the verge of crying.  But tears wouldn't stop a seasoned shopper like me, so as I got to the rental, she shifted into the hateful mode.

And from there on it seemed to get worse with each stop.  The final car lot had stakes driven into the ground around the perimeter that were topped with severed human heads.    The salesman who waddled out to meet me was named Kurtz.  He has a blow-gun in one hand and a bloody machete in the other.  Kurtz had obviously spent way too much time at the end of the road in the hot Arizona sun!

The horror!  The horror!

It was time to call it a day and go home!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

You People

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Romney campaign has been stumbling all over itself this week as it tried to put some distance between their candidate and the company he founded - a company that made lots and lots of money by stripping and selling the assets of companies it acquired - and sending jobs of good Americans overseas.   Mitt  and his team want the American public to believe that while he founded Bain Capital and ran it for a quarter of a century - a period of time when he accumulated personal wealth of a quarter of a billion dollars - he was responsible only for the good things Bain did, but has no ownership in the sleazy business practices which resulted in obscenely huge profits for his company through asset-stripping and outsourcing jobs overseas.

Mitt calls outsourcing "off-shoring" and seems to feel that is somehow more acceptable.  But sending American jobs overseas, regardless of the terminology, is detrimental to our national economy and devastating to the workers who lost those jobs.

But before poor Mitt could get the outsourcing mud wiped off of his Italian shoes, people started talking about his taxes.  Well, maybe not people in general, but the Obama campaign, a phalanx of reporters, and even some prominent Republicans.  Romney has released his 2010 taxes, though not in-full, and has promised to release his 2011 returns as well as soon as they are ready.  (I had to have mine prepared and paid last April.)   And while other presidential candidates have traditionally released multiple years of their tax returns, Mitt has drawn and line in the sand and says he will not release any more than those two years.

George Romney, Mitt's father, released twelve years of tax returns when he ran for President in 1968.

The 2010 tax returns of Mitt and Ann Romney alerted the press - and thus the public - to his use of banking accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.  The candidate argues that if he releases more, reporters and the Obama campaign will comb through those records and raise more questions.  His team, of course, has the opportunity to raise questions about things contained in the Obama tax returns.  But the Obama tax returns are obviously small, dull potatoes compared to those of the Romney's.

And Mitt doesn't want more questions.  He just wants it all to go away.  A report on the Internet yesterday suggested that Romney would not have run for President if he had known that he would have to disclose his taxes and business dealings.

But it's not going away.  Today the Romney campaign sent Ann Romney out to face a  morning show host and try to pour cold water on the tax returns issue.  Unfortunately, Ann was not up to the task and wound up snapping that she and her husband have "given all you people need to know."

You people?  Really, Ann?  It sounded a bit like the Queen leaning over the castle wall and yelling at the peasants.  Mitt is running for President and you, by extension, are running for First Lady.  It shouldn't be "you people" - it should be  "we the people."  The White House was built to serve real people, not royalty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Arpaio Doubles Down on Birther Buffoonery

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Joe Arpaio, the octogenarian sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, is a world class publicity hound who would drive over his own mother to get his face in front of a press conference.  Joe is a skilled politician who carefully chooses his issues and positions - many of which have absolutely nothing to do with Arizona law enforcement.

Old Joe's current jihad is to be the point man for the crazy birthers in their quest to prove that Barack Obama was born in a foreign country and therefore ineligible to be President.  The issue has zip to do with Maricopa County, Arizona, but that doesn't bother the High Sheriff who feels that his authority includes anything he damn well pleases.

Last year Jerome Corosi, a conspiracy theorist who has made lots of money writing books that pander to fools, spoke to the Tea Party of Surprise, Arizona -  a group of angry old white people, many of whom live in or near Sun City - and Corsi encouraged them to sign a complaint asking Arpaio to investigate President Obama's citizenship.  Sun City is ground zero of Arapio's support network, but even without that factor, Joe recognized this as an excellent venue for making some national news.  He quickly agreed to address the matter and get it sorted out.

Arpaio activated his cold-case posse to find the truth - because the truth is out there.  A small group, including Corsi and his writing partner, former deputy Mark (or Mike) Zullo, spent a few days traveling to Hawaii and walking up and down Waikiki Beach looking for the truth.  Unfortunately for Arizona taxpayers, Arpaio also sent along one of his deputies to help with the investigation.   The current estimate of public tax money poured down this rat hold is $10,000 - but Joe has never lost any sleep over spending the taxpayer's money.

Last March Arpaio called a press conference to announce that the President's birth certificate is probably a forgery.  Yesterday he called another press conference and announced unequivocally that the document is a forgery.  The only thing he didn't present at either news conference was substantive evidence.  (There are some statements on the document that the birther investigators feel may have been filled in after the fact - based on a phone call to a 95-year-old former Hawaii government clerk.)

I watched the news recap of Arpaio's most recent press conference this morning on our local CBS Channel 5 (KPHO), which appears to be the station that really gets under the sheriff's wrinkled  old skin.  A reporter from Channel 5 noted that Arpaio was basically using the "research" and leg work of two men, Corsi and Zullo, who are both making money off of this controversy - and that if the sheriff had any real evidence he would be taking it before a judge and not a news conference.  Arpaio's reply - he told the reporter that he was "very rude."

And maybe he was, because nobody knows rude better than Joe Arpaio.

Joseph A. Wisch, a special assistant to Hawaii's attorney general, had this response:

"President Obama was born in Honolulu, and his birth certificate is valid.  Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed, and misconstrue Hawaii law."

Coincidentally, just as Arpaio was holding his news conference, an e-book went on sale on the Internet at the bargain price of $9.99 each.  The title is  A Question of Eligibility:  A Law Enforcement Investigation into Barack Obama's Birth Certificate and his Eligibility to be President.  The authors are Mr. Corsi and Mr. Zullo.

Barack Obama is an American.  He was born in Hawaii which was, and is, a part of the United States, and his mother was an American citizen who was born in America's heartland state of Kansas.  If Arpaio, Corsi, Zullo, Orly Taitz,  and any other "investigators" want to look into politicians who were born beyond America's borders, maybe they should shift their focus to John McCain (who was born in Panama) or former New Hampshire governor and current Romney attack dog, John Sununu, who was born in Havana, Cuba.

Oh wait - they're white.

Never mind.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Hey, You're Back!"

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

It's hotter than hell in the Valley of Hell.   (I may have mentioned that in this space before!)  It is so hot that most people stay in their air-conditioned homes and offices, and only rush outside when they have to get to their air-conditioned cars and go to air-conditioned stores or other climate-controlled places of respite from the hellacious heat.

Not surprisingly, I haven't seen any of my old friends hot-footing it across the base.  Now I am also working in a different building, so sightings of old friends have been exceedingly rare inside as well.  I have been waiting for that "Oh-my God, it's you!" moment, but it just hasn't happened - that is, it hadn't happened until this morning.

As I pulled into the local McDonald's drive-through this morning, I recognized the young man taking orders as someone I had spoken to only a couple of times in my previous life here.  At one point he had mentioned that he needed to find a home, and I had suggested that he inquire at the nearby trailer park where I was living.  Since then he has probably served tens of thousands other customers.  But when he looked out to hand me my order this morning, there was a spark of recognition and a big smile.    "Hey, you're back!" he said.   "Where have you been?  Have you moved back in where you were living?"

I hope his memory is half that good when he's sixty-four!

It's really an ego-booster to know that somebody missed me!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Arizona Rising

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

This was my second full day in the desert, and I am finally starting to get a few things done.  Today I completed most of the intake paperwork for my job, visited the office where I will be working and met the boss and many of my co-workers, rented a car (hallelujah!), opened a bank account, and began looking for a car on-line.  Not bad for a Monday.

I was so rushed getting things done that I literally forgot to be concerned about driving on the right side of the road.  I slipped up about four times, but fortunately Security Forces were off doing other things and nobody seemed to get too excited about the old man driving directly toward them!

Tomorrow I will work at sorting and organizing my office - and get serious about finding a car to buy.  I have also made contact with a realtor and a rental agent and will begin looking at available housing.

It would all be so simple in a moderate climate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hell Also has a Dry Heat

by Pa Rock
Desert Rat

Okay, I'm in Arizona and I can already report that it is still inhumanely hot.

Actually, according to the very few people that I have run into during the past twenty hours, it could be a lot worse.  The high today is supposed to top out at a mere 99 degrees, when normally it would be a minimum of 110 this time of year.

I arrived during a storm yesterday that was so bad our plane had to circle the airport for nearly an hour waiting on things to calm down.  It never, ever rains in the Valley of Hell, but Pa Rock comes flying and brings a good rainstorm with him.  Jan Brewer ought to name a street after me!

My friend who was picking me up at the airport went to the wrong terminal - but eventually found me wandering through the luggage carousels in a daze.    I found one of my two bags on the wrong carousel without the tracking tag.  The other one was missing.

I am staying at the Fighter Country Inn (an Air Force on-base motel) and my room is very satisfactory. My plan was to rent a car on base until I could find one to buy, but the rental agency was closed by the time I got to base and isn't open on  Sundays - so I am afoot.

The lost bag turned up during the night, and I got a call early this afternoon telling me that I had twenty-two minutes to make it to the South Gate to claim it.  (The baggage handler didn't have a military ID and couldn't come onto the base.)  I walked very fast across the base (about half a mile - in the heat) and met the fellow just as he pulled in.   I guess I looked like I was having a heat stroke, because he went and talked to the gate guard, surrendered his driver's license for surety, and drove me back to my room.  (Of course, by then I was so sun-addled that I couldn't find it, so we had a nice tour of the west side of the base and explored all of the streets!)

Luke Air Force Base is divided right down the middle by Litchfield Road, a major public thoroughfare running north and south.  Security walls line Litchfield Road, and there are only a couple of places where a person can exit onto or out of the base.   There is a vehicle and pedestrian bridge connecting the east and west halves of the base.

There is only one place to eat on the west side of the base (where I am staying), and it is closed on Sundays. I can see several fast food places from my room, but they are on Litchfield Road - outside of the wall - and I would have to walk at least a mile to get to them.  This afternoon I walked to the Burger King, which is on base and also about a mile away.  Right on cue, it turned out to be closed on Sundays!  There was a Shopette next door which was open (praise Allah!), so I bought a few things and walked back to my room.

Unlike the bases on Okinawa, taxis cannot come on Luke Air Force Base.

Did I mention that it is hotter than hell?

But it's a dry heat.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Waiting to Fly

by Pa Rock

0800 in the Far East.  My bags are packed and I am waiting on Valerie and Murphy to arrive and take me to the airport.  The plane lifting me off of Okinawa will take to the air in a little less than five hours.  I have seen my last Okinawan sunset and sunrise, said good-bye to some of the best friends I have ever had, and turned my sights toward Arizona.

Sheriff Joe, I'm coming home!  Jan Brewer, break out the bubbly!

I will leave here at 1255 on the afternoon of July 14, travel back in time most of the day, and, hopefully, deplane at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix at 1415 on the same day - approximately one hour and twenty minutes after leaving Okinawa!  In actuality I will have been sitting cramped in an airplane seat for hours and hours - but I probably won't be able to explain the nuances of time zones and the International Date Line to anyone in Arizona.  Those people still haven't accepted the idea of Daylight Savings Time!

Leaving is bittersweet, but it will be nice to get back to the States!

The Little Gecko and Other Tales

by Pa Rock
The Good-Bye Boy

Friday afternoon.   In twenty-four hours I will be landing at Narita Airport near Tokyo and preparing for the long flight to Seattle.   I have my headphones ready, so I will spend that time in the air watching movies, reading, and maybe even doing some writing.  From Seattle I will fly on to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix where my good friend Leslie Kirby, a psychologist at Luke AFB, will be waiting to meet me.

As I near the end of my work career, I can look back and realize how fortunate I have been to make such wonderful friends everywhere that I have been employed.

Another good friend, Valerie Seitz, whom I originally met at Luke, is asleep on my couch.  She spent the better part of yesterday helping me get my car de-registered (a very cumbersome process), and has been my chauffeur ever since.  Tonight we are headed out to dinner with still more friends.  It is Nefredia's birthday, and her daughter has just arrived on island to visit, so we will be joining them and a few others for a nice meal.  After dinner Murphy is taking us for a ride on Okinawa's famous Ferris wheel.  It will be my second and final ride on the contraption  - and I will enjoy it immensely!

I had planned on seeing the new Oliver Stone film, Savages, tonight after dinner, but many of the Okinawans who work on base are having a one-day strike and the theatre has been closed.  It guess I'll wait and see it on some hot afternoon in Phoenix.

Forty years ago geckos were extremely common on this island.  Most houses had a goodly number of the little lizard-like creatures climbing the walls and scampering across the ceilings - and occasionally falling onto a dinner plate or the human who was trying to enjoy a meal, bath, or nap.  The creatures have a distinctive little bark that lets you know they were on duty keeping the bugs at bay.

This time around I have not seen many geckos, which is kind of sad.  The old building that I have worked in had almost none, leading me to conclude that the Air Force has probably been spraying them to oblivion.  But today,  my last day in the Mental Health building, a little gecko fell off of the wall right in front of me and ran into my office.  It made me smile.  A few minutes later, like Elvis, I had left the building - never to return.

If my friends in Arizona would get together and make it rain for my homecoming, I would be most appreciative!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rick Perry Takes Care of Rick Perry

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday I wrote about how the Republican Party of Texas is opposed to the teaching of critical thinking skills in Texas Schools.   They want to insure that youngsters never move beyond the intellectual boundaries of their elders, and in Texas those intellectual boundaries are often about the size of a postage stamp.

The state's governor, Rick Perry, is an excellent example of what can result when students are restricted to rote memorization and regurgitation.   Mr. Perry knows how to get his own needs met, but when it comes to helping those less fortunate than himself, a Christian concept that many accept as a fundamental of effective political leadership, the big-haired governor just doesn't get it.

Governor Perry's Texas has the highest rate of citizens without health insurance in America, with a quarter of the state's population - 6.2 million - being uninsured.   But instead of worrying about how to take care of these individuals, the governor is refusing to participate in the Affordable Care Act because to do so would result in over two million Texans suddenly having access to health care through Medicaid.  Egads!

In fact, instead of increasing Medicaid support, the governor has overseen a cut in Texas Medicaid of over $3.1 billion.  Not surprisingly, the Federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality has gone on record as saying Texas has the worst health care system in the United States.

That's worth repeating:  Texas has the worst health care system in the entire United States!

Governor Perry has also managed to cut $5 billion from the state's education budget over the past few years, but we've already made the point that education is a very low priority in the Lone Star state.

So what does Rick Perry spend the state's money on?   Well, the Governor's Mansion for one thing.  The big house in Austin was damaged in an arson incident a few years back.  It is now almost completely renovated at a cost to Texas suckers taxpayers of $25 million.   One news source pointed out that $25 million would fund 11 million school lunches...but school lunches aren't a Republican priority either - especially in Texas.

Damn, this is one of those times when I really miss Molly Ivins!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Texas GOP Moves to Ban Critical Thinking in Schools

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Republican Party of Texas had just released its 2012 party platform, and, not surprisingly, it is a patchwork quilt of craziness.  One of the more memorable planks in this redneck manifesto deals with the subject of public school curricular offerings.  Lone Star Republicans have gone on record as opposing the teaching of critical thinking skills in Texas schools.


The Texas GOP reasoned that they don't want challenges being presented to the "fixed beliefs" of students -  or anything else that would "undermine parental authority."  Stupid, uniformed parents have a right to keep their kids stupid and uninformed.  Of course, if the two most recent governors of Texas, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, are any indication, critical thinking skills have never been much of a priority in Texas schools anyway.

But the elimination of teaching critical skills in public schools is only one small piece of the craziness in the new platform of Texas Republicans.   Here are some  of the other positions that the group is endorsing:

  • Abstinence-only sex education
  • Trying juveniles as adults
  • Emphasis on faith-based drug rehab
  • Opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Flat-rate income tax
  • Repeal of the minimum wage
  • Opposition to homosexuality in the military
  • Opposition to red light cameras
  • Opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (because firms should be able to fire people for what they consider "sinful and sexually immoral behavior")
  • Continued opposition to ACORN (which hasn't existed since 2010)
  • Opposition to statehood or even Congressional voting rights for citizens of the District of Columbia
  • No-questions-asked support of Israel - based on biblical considerations
So if the Republicans of Texas have their way, the children of that state will get knocked up or enter into fatherhood early because they have no access to birth control, work for less than minimum wage to support their young families - and when they necessarily turn to crime to make ends meet, they will be subject to incarceration in the adult penal system.  However, even with all of those handicaps, Texas youngsters might still stand a chance of success in life if they possessed some critical thinking skills - but the good, God-fearing Republicans of Texas aren't having any of that either!

Some people respect and value children,  Others don't.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jane Pitt Pitches a Fit

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I am from the Ozarks and spent many years living in Springfield, Missouri, where I completed the requirements for three college degrees.  I know the city quite well - and was not at all surprised to learn that Brad Pitt's mother recently vented her rabidly conservative spleen in a letter to the editor of Springfield's local rag - The News Leader.

Mama Pitt wanted the world to know that has no love for "Barack Hussein Obama."  (You know they are serious when they throw in the middle name!)

She said, in part:

"Barack Hussein Obama who sat in Jeremiah Wright's church for years, did not hold a ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer and is a liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage."

Ouch!  (Well at least she didn't throw in the Kenya thing!)

Jane Pitt's purpose in writing was to garner support for Mitt Romney by playing on her son's fame.  (If she had been  my mother, nobody would give a rip about what she had to say.)  She went on to note that she has  issues with the "Mormon religion," but described Romney nonetheless as:

"...a family man with high morals and business experience, and is against abortion and shares a Christian conviction concerning homosexuality."  

I don't know where the senior Pitts live now, but back in the day when Brad was attending Kickapoo High School they resided in an exclusive part of Springfield called Southern Hills, a very expensive and very white enclave for people of means.  Some people manage to break out of a stultifying environment like that - young Brad, a supporter of gay rights and a friend of the Obama's, certainly did.  But others see the changing world around them as an expanding threat and tend to set up defenses and circle the wagons.

My own father always had issues regarding race.  As the song goes, everybody has to have somebody to look down on - and for my dad that role could always be filled by black Americans (not the term he would have used.)  Eventually we managed to improve his vocabulary by telling him that we were teaching our children that people who spoke that way were ignorant.  But his underlying resentment of black people, especially successful ones, never progressed much beyond the 1950's.  He lived long enough to see Barack Obama elected President, and had a definite sense that the world had moved well beyond his grasp.

I'm sure that Jane Pitt is a nice lady (in fact I know someone who knows her, and my friend assures me that she is a very nice lady),  but her bitter tirade against the President was drenched in bigotry and intolerance - and that is sad.  She has much that she can learn from her famous son.

My dad even learned a few things from me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday's Poetry: Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This Saturday, July 14th, 2012, will mark several important events.  Not only is it Bastille Day, the French national holiday of independence, it would have also been my mother's ninety-first birthday, and it is the day that I will quit Okinawa - for the second time.  But this Saturday will also be significant for one other reason: it will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of American folk legend, Woody (Woodrow Wilson) Guthrie.

Guthrie, a songwriter and poet, recorded much of the American experience during the Great Depression.   After dust storms and poverty ravaged the Midwest, he followed many of his fellow Okies to the promised land of California in much the same manner as John Steinbeck's fictional Joad family traveled there in his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  (Guthrie even named one of his sons "Joadie.")  Later Guthrie moved on to the Pacific Northwest where he lived among the workers constructing the Grand Coulee Dam and taming the mighty Columbia River.

Woody Guthrie's classic song of the American experience is, of course, This Land Is Your Land.  Another favorite of mine is Roll On Columbia which he wrote during his time in the Pacific Northwest. .

Woody Guthrie had a high regard for the common man, and a basic distrust of his corporate masters.  He would have quickly identified with the ninety-nine percent.

Bob Dylan is easily the second most gifted and prolific balladeer of the twentieth century, and he is a great admirer of Woody Guthrie.  Dylan's Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie pays homage to the legendary songwriter and musician in a way that few others could ever hope to achieve.  It is presented here to honor the centennial of the birth of Woody Guthrie.

(Note:  This selection is very long, but well worth the read.)

Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie
by Bob Dylan

When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb
When you think you're too old, too young, too smart or too dumb
When yer laggin' behind an' losin' yer pace
In a slow-motion crawl of life's busy race
No matter what yer doing if you start givin' up
If the wine don't come to the top of yer cup
If the wind's got you sideways with with one hand holdin' on
And the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone
And yer train engine fire needs a new spark to catch it
And the wood's easy findin' but yer lazy to fetch it
And yer sidewalk starts curlin' and the street gets too long
And you start walkin' backwards though you know its wrong
And lonesome comes up as down goes the day
And tomorrow's mornin' seems so far away
And you feel the reins from yer pony are slippin'
And yer rope is a-slidin' 'cause yer hands are a-drippin'
And yer sun-decked desert and evergreen valleys
Turn to broken down slums and trash-can alleys
And yer sky cries water and yer drain pipe's a-pourin'
And the lightnin's a-flashing and the thunder's a-crashin'
And the windows are rattlin' and breakin' and the roof tops a-shakin'
And yer whole world's a-slammin' and bangin'
And yer minutes of sun turn to hours of storm
And to yourself you sometimes say
"I never knew it was gonna be this way
Why didn't they tell me the day I was born"
And you start gettin' chills and yer jumping from sweat
And you're lookin' for somethin' you ain't quite found yet
And yer knee-deep in the dark water with yer hands in the air
And the whole world's a-watchin' with a window peek stare
And yer good gal leaves and she's long gone a-flying
And yer heart feels sick like fish when they're fryin'
And yer jackhammer falls from yer hand to yer feet
And you need it badly but it lays on the street
And yer bell's bangin' loudly but you can't hear its beat
And you think yer ears might a been hurt
Or yer eyes've turned filthy from the sight-blindin' dirt
And you figured you failed in yesterdays rush
When you were faked out an' fooled white facing a four flush
And all the time you were holdin' three queens
And it's makin you mad, it's makin' you mean
Like in the middle of Life magazine
Bouncin' around a pinball machine
And there's something on yer mind you wanna be saying
That somebody someplace oughta be hearin'
But it's trapped on yer tongue and sealed in yer head
And it bothers you badly when your layin' in bed
And no matter how you try you just can't say it
And yer scared to yer soul you just might forget it
And yer eyes get swimmy from the tears in yer head
And yer pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead
And the lion's mouth opens and yer staring at his teeth
And his jaws start closin with you underneath
And yer flat on your belly with yer hands tied behind
And you wish you'd never taken that last detour sign
And you say to yourself just what am I doin'
On this road I'm walkin', on this trail I'm turnin'
On this curve I'm hanging
On this pathway I'm strolling, in the space I'm taking
In this air I'm inhaling
Am I mixed up too much, am I mixed up too hard
Why am I walking, where am I running
What am I saying, what am I knowing
On this guitar I'm playing, on this banjo I'm frailin'
On this mandolin I'm strummin', in the song I'm singin'
In the tune I'm hummin', in the words I'm writin'
In the words that I'm thinkin'
In this ocean of hours I'm all the time drinkin'
Who am I helping, what am I breaking
What am I giving, what am I taking
But you try with your whole soul best
Never to think these thoughts and never to let
Them kind of thoughts gain ground
Or make yer heart pound
But then again you know why they're around
Just waiting for a chance to slip and drop down
"Cause sometimes you hear'em when the night times comes creeping
And you fear that they might catch you a-sleeping
And you jump from yer bed, from yer last chapter of dreamin'
And you can't remember for the best of yer thinking
If that was you in the dream that was screaming
And you know that it's something special you're needin'
And you know that there's no drug that'll do for the healin'
And no liquor in the land to stop yer brain from bleeding
And you need something special
Yeah, you need something special all right
You need a fast flyin' train on a tornado track
To shoot you someplace and shoot you back
You need a cyclone wind on a stream engine howler
That's been banging and booming and blowing forever
That knows yer troubles a hundred times over
You need a Greyhound bus that don't bar no race
That won't laugh at yer looks
Your voice or your face
And by any number of bets in the book
Will be rollin' long after the bubblegum craze
You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it's you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you're sitting
That the world ain't got you beat
That it ain't got you licked
It can't get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope's just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner 'round a wide-angled curve
But that's what you need man, and you need it bad
And yer trouble is you know it too good
"Cause you look an' you start getting the chills
"Cause you can't find it on a dollar bill
And it ain't on Macy's window sill
And it ain't on no rich kid's road map
And it ain't in no fat kid's fraternity house
And it ain't made in no Hollywood wheat germ
And it ain't on that dimlit stage
With that half-wit comedian on it
Ranting and raving and taking yer money
And you thinks it's funny
No you can't find it in no night club or no yacht club
And it ain't in the seats of a supper club
And sure as hell you're bound to tell
That no matter how hard you rub
You just ain't a-gonna find it on yer ticket stub
No, and it ain't in the rumors people're tellin' you
And it ain't in the pimple-lotion people are sellin' you
And it ain't in no cardboard-box house
Or down any movie star's blouse
And you can't find it on the golf course
And Uncle Remus can't tell you and neither can Santa Claus
And it ain't in the cream puff hair-do or cotton candy clothes
And it ain't in the dime store dummies or bubblegum goons
And it ain't in the marshmallow noises of the chocolate cake voices
That come knockin' and tappin' in Christmas wrappin'
Sayin' ain't I pretty and ain't I cute and look at my skin
Look at my skin shine, look at my skin glow
Look at my skin laugh, look at my skin cry
When you can't even sense if they got any insides
These people so pretty in their ribbons and bows
No you'll not now or no other day
Find it on the doorsteps made out-a paper mache¥
And inside it the people made of molasses
That every other day buy a new pair of sunglasses
And it ain't in the fifty-star generals and flipped-out phonies
Who'd turn yuh in for a tenth of a penny
Who breathe and burp and bend and crack
And before you can count from one to ten
Do it all over again but this time behind yer back
My friend
The ones that wheel and deal and whirl and twirl
And play games with each other in their sand-box world
And you can't find it either in the no-talent fools
That run around gallant
And make all rules for the ones that got talent
And it ain't in the ones that ain't got any talent but think they do
And think they're foolin' you
The ones who jump on the wagon
Just for a while 'cause they know it's in style
To get their kicks, get out of it quick
And make all kinds of money and chicks
And you yell to yourself and you throw down yer hat
Sayin', "Christ do I gotta be like that
Ain't there no one here that knows where I'm at
Ain't there no one here that knows how I feel
Good God Almighty
No but that ain't yer game, it ain't even yer race
You can't hear yer name, you can't see yer face
You gotta look some other place
And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin'
Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin'
Where do you look for this oil well gushin'
Where do you look for this candle that's glowin'
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital
And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rusty Pails #49: Welcome to the Game!

by Rocky Macy

After being pitched out of Gladys Clench's love nest on his birthday, Shadetree Mike spent a couple of weeks bouncing between friends until Ermine had his new digs ready.  It was a Friday afternoon when the word finally came that we could move Mike into his new home, and out of ours!  The following morning, a glorious Saturday, we were ready to get back to the very serious business of playing dominoes!

I was sitting out on my front porch waiting for Heck Frye when he came roaring down my lane, horn a' blowing, and slowed down just enough for me to jump in without dumping the platter of Rustwiches that I had whipped up for the special occasion.  I noticed that he had two large ice chests, presumably filled with cold root beer, bouncing around in the bed of his pick-up. 

Mike's place was a small, two-story affair.  He had chosen to put his bedroom downstairs, which meant that the domino parlor would be upstairs.  Ermine had been smart to make the second floor accessible from inside and outside, so guests did not have to wade through Mike's bedroom in order to get to the big game - never a pleasant prospect!

Heck made a quick lunge for the platter of Rustwiches as he stopped the truck, a maneuver that would have left me to lug the ice chests upstairs.  But knowing my friend as well as I do, I was too quick for him.  I snagged the plate of sandwiches and headed for the stairs, never looking back.

There were five chairs at the table, one each for Heck, Judge Rufus T. Redbone, Truman Treetopper, Shadetree Mike, and me.  That just about filled the room.   The others were already in place, and I sat at one of the two remaining seats making small talk while we waiting for Heck to come wheezing up the stairs and join us.  But I under-estimated my friend, because when he did make his entrance he was combing his Hollywood hairpiece and looking fresh as a daisy.

"Mr. Frye," said Shadetree Mike, "Welcome to the new Pump and Git.  The boys and I were just hankering for some cold root beer."

"It's on the way," Heck said, as he took his place at the table.  Now we were five - including four who couldn't wait to see how Heck was going to levitate two full ice chests up the stairs. 

The answer wasn't long in coming.   Before the plate of sandwiches had made its first lap around the table, a formidable presence appeared in the doorway.  Ermine's mother, The Duke, was pushing her way into the small room with an ice chest on each shoulder.  She managed to get both of the chests to the floor rather gracefully considering none of the flabbergasted males at the table jumped in to help.  Then she held out her hand to Heck, presumably for payment.

"Rusty will take care of you, darlin',"  Heck offered magnanimously.

The second most feared woman in Sprung Hinge turned toward me.  I jumped up, more out of fear than respect, and slapped a Rustwich in her outstretched hand.  The Duke looked at her tip. gave a nod that I hoped meant approval, and then strong-armed me out of the way and took my seat at the table.  She had usurped my throne - and nary a one of my friends made any move to intercede on my behalf.  That pack of lily-livered cowards commenced to play dominoes!

"Well of all the dag-goned nerve!"  I stammered as I turned on Heck and prepared to throw him out of the window.  But before I could reach the shiftless bum and get my hands around his throat, Shadetree Mike suggested that since I was up anyway, I should get everyone a root beer. 

I got everyone two root beers, hoping that sooner or later one of them would have to get up and go to the bathroom and then I could get back at the table.  Half-an-hour passed, really slowly for me, and still they sat.  I was beginning to think that some of my friends were wearing adult diapers!  It was like a bad game of musical chairs and I was the sour note.  I was sitting on the window ledge, watching a game that I should have been winning, and getting very, very perturbed!

But then I decided that if Mother Nature couldn't defeat them, maybe country smarts could.  I quit watching the game and turned to look out the window which offered a nice view of part of Sprung Hinge's Main Street.  A few minutes later I said, very quietly, "Well, I'll be."

"You'll be what?"  Judge Redbone asked.

"There's a new waitress walking into the Spit and Whittle Cafe."  Heck almost knocked me out of the window as he rushed forward to get a look, and as he stuck his head out the window for a clear view, I slapped his hairpiece causing it to fall to the ground two stories below.

"Rusty, that was just plain mean," he shouted as he whipped out his handkerchief to cover his bald spot (most of his head) before rushing out of the room to retrieve his personality.  "Mean, mean, mean!"  He roared as he tromped down the stairs.

I got a cold root beer for myself and sat down at the table.  Shadetree Mike looked at me and said, "Welcome to the game, Rusty." 

I was ready to play dominoes!

The Good-bye Party

by Pa Rock
The Good-bye Boy

Five people are leaving the unit where I work within a span of a few weeks.  One psychiatrist left yesterday, I leave next Saturday, and my departure will be followed fairly rapidly by the Air Force major who runs our Flight, and two more psychiatrists.

Today we had a going away party for most of the above at Torii Beach.  In addition to grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, there was lots of fresh fruit and a host of goodies brought by people who had come to make certain we were actually leaving.  It was a very nice affair - very hot, and very nice.

Four decades ago I spent four years in the Army - with little or no recognition.  For the past two years I have been an Army employee working on an Air Force base, and today I received a genuine Army medal for my efforts:  The Achievement Medal for Civilian Service.  I was quite impressed.  It came with a nice certificate signed by a bird colonel.  Unfortunately, I don't have a uniform to pin the medal on, but I am tempted to wear it to work anyway.

After the party Murphy and I went on a drive-about over parts of northern and central Okinawa and along the Pacific coast.  He was looking for a particular curiosity shop, which we found, called Sachi's Japanese Antiques.  Unfortunately, it was closed, but the stuff that they just had in the yard was fairly amazing.

We also went to a place called "Pizza in the Sky" which has an amazing view of the area around Churami Aquarium and a big piece of Okinawa coastline as well as Ie Shima island.  Driving back toward Naha we passed the arena where he and Nefredia and I went to the bullfights on Father's Day 2011.

Forty years ago we spent a weekend at an Army resort on Okinawa called Yaka Beach.  The resort is gone now, but we did drive through the community of Yaka Beach while heading south.

As we got back closer to the base we stopped for dinner at the Orange Cafe, a nice place where big house cats roam among the tables as people eat - and occasionally jump up on a table to look around.  (It's nicer than it sounds!)  They have a beautiful player piano which was cranked up and tickling the ivories tonight.

Again, I am still saying good-bye to places from my present and my past which I will undoubtedly never see again.  I feel just a bit of sadness as this chapter of my life closes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Long Good-bye

by Pa Rock

Tomorrow I will have been in temporary quarters for a week, and I will have exactly one week left before I fly off of Okinawa for what will undoubtedly be the last time.  I have begun the process of saying good-bye to the people and the places that have been a part of my life for the last two years.

Wednesday I drove to Peace Prayer Park on the south end of the island for what was certainly the last time.  Getting there required going through the city of Itoman.  I remember Itoman well from forty years ago because it was a very picturesque and quaint fishing village where anyone driving down the main road of the village could watch the fishermen standing in the water and working with their nets.  Today Itoman is a large urban area with many streets and a couple of enormous highway bridges that cross the bay.  There is nothing quaint about it.  I cannot imagine what changes forty more years will bring to the area.

Last night I took in a movie at the Kadena's Keystone Theatre.  In two years it was only the third time that I have gone there to see a show, and it was undoubtedly the last time that I will visit that particular facility.  When I first got to Okinawa and was staying in transitional housing - without a car -  I walked down to the Keystone and saw The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  A year or so later a couple of us from the office went there one evening to see the new version of True Grit.  Last night's fare was a fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe's last days entitled The Raven.  The ratings weren't stellar, but I actually enjoyed the story of a psychopath murdering people using plots from Poe's stories while the famous writer matched wits with the killer.   The story was interesting and held my attention, but the photography was positively brilliant - very Gothic with lots of blues and purples and splotches of moonlight across the darkened streets of Baltimore.

Tonight three friends from work (Murphy, Nefredia, and Valerie) took me to dinner at Jack's Place on Kadena.  My boss took me there the second night that I was here, and it quickly became one of my favorite places to eat.  I believe that I have eaten at Jack's Place four times in the last two years, and each visit was memorable.   I will remember it long after going back to the States.

Valerie and I are going to a movie later tonight at Camp Foster.  The Foster movie theatre has been one of my more regular hangouts, and when I think of movies on Okinawa, that will be the place that comes to mind.  Tonight will be my last visit because there is nothing during the upcoming week that I really want to see.  The movie tonight sounds interesting:  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Tomorrow the unit is having a going-away party for myself and a couple of others - including my boss - at Torii Beach.   I have spent many peaceful afternoons walking that particular beach and picking up shells and sea glass.  There is more sea glass on Torii Beach than anyplace else that I have ever been.  The party will be getting underway before noon and will last a couple of hours.  It will be hot - but, hey, I'm heading to Phoenix in the middle of July and I know what hot really is!

So, I'm saying my good-byes to Okinawa, undoubtedly for the last time.  Maybe forty years from now one of my grandchildren can come out this way and blog about the changes that have occurred since Pa Rock left in 2012.   In fact, I hope that all of my grandchildren will be blessed with opportunities to see and enjoy the world.