Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Willow!

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

Today is the 1st birthday of my youngest grandchild, Willow Midnight Seraphina Files.   I know that she is having a birthday party this evening, and I wish that I could be there.

Willow is a bright and smiling little girl who is just learning to walk.  She has taken her first tentative steps within the past couple of days.  She has two older brothers (Sebastian, aged five, and Judah who will be three this week), so I know that she has to be assertive in order to get her needs heard and met.

Willow and her brothers and parents live in Oregon.  I only managed to visit with her once during her first year, so I will have to make up for that in the coming year.  Pa Rock has much to atone for!

Happy first  birthday, Willow!  Pa Rock loves you!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Arizona-Missouri Connections

by Pa Rock
Traveling Man

The very first thing that I heard on my local NPR station (KJZZ in Phoenix) this morning was that two winning Powerball tickets had been sold - one in Arizona and the other in Missouri.  How exciting, I thought.  I had some tickets purchased in Arizona, and my two sons live in Missouri.  Could there be a Macy family winner somewhere in those circumstances?

Of course not - but it kept the buzz of "what if" going for a couple of extra hours!

In fact, I had one other ticket - an airline ticket that took me from Phoenix to Kansas City today on a long-planned trip.  It will be a fast one, however, because I have to be back at work in Arizona on Monday.  In fact, I am flying back early Sunday morning.

I am at Tim and Erin's house this evening.  Baby Olive is growing up so fast!  She is not only walking, but is also quite adept at running.  Olive is thirteen-and-a-half-months-old.

Tonight we went downtown to the Plaza for dinner and walked around looking a the beautiful holiday lights.  Our evening meal was at the Panera Bread Company at the Plaza.   As we were placing our order, I happened to notice four teenage males sitting at a table with their heads bowed.  My first thought was that they were saying a blessing over their food, but after we ordered and walked on into the dining area, it became clear that they were all reading copies of what appeared to be the same hardbound book.  Tim finally managed to get a look at the cover of one of the books when one reader set his book aside to eat.  It was a novel called Cold Days by Jim Butcher.    Later we stopped by Barnes and Noble where I thumbed through a copy.  It is part of a continuing "urban fantasy" series whose official title is Cold Days:  A Novel of the Dresden Files, and it had a release date of two days ago.  These young men were hardcore Dresden Files groupies.   Their social lives might be lacking (though I don't know that for sure), but at least they were reading.

But back to Powerball:  the winning ticket in Arizona was bought at a store in Fountain Hills - a nice suburb of Phoenix where the Arpaio's reputedly live.    I couldn't help thinking that if America's most expensive sheriff won the big payoff, would he begin to reimburse Maricopa County all of millions that he has cost the county and it's insurers in lawsuits related to the way his department is run and the mistreatment of prisoners in his jails?  One could only hope!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More Powerball Secrets Revealed!

by Pa Rock
Schemer and Dreamer

Back in August of 2009 when the Powerball jackpot reached an astonishing $138 million, I ran a piece in this blog entitled "Powerball Secrets Revealed!"   It basically suggested that readers for that particular drawing avoid my numbers because they were certain to be losers.  And, sure enough, I was right!

The jackpot in tonight's drawing is an astounding $550 million and will almost certainly be won by some poor smuck who will be ruined beyond repair by sudden wealth and attention.  And again, it won't be me!  (But I do have a few tickets, just in case!)

There is an old saying that a person is more apt to be struck by lightening that win the lottery.  According to some statistics from the Internet (and what a reliable source that is!), an average person has a one in 5,000 chance of being struck by lightening during his or her lifetime.  Those aren't great odds, but getting hit by lightening does happen - especially to golfers who think they can get in another hole or two before the storm gets serious!

The chances of being the big winner in Powerball tonight is one in 175,223,510.    Having the winning ticket is much, much less likely than getting hit by lightening.  In fact, a person is just as likely to be hit by lightening 35,044 times during their lifetime as they are to win tonight's jackpot.   (Either of those outcomes would be guaranteed to put a sizzle in your pizzle!)

Powerball Secret #1:  If you are struck by lightening more than 20,000 times or so, begin to consider buying Powerball tickets.

Powerball has changed over the past few years.  Now there are more white balls, fewer red ones, and the price of a ticket has gone from one to two dollars.  The end results are that big jackpots build up faster, and more fools are separated from more of their hard-earned dollars on a more regular basis.

I let the machine pick my numbers for me, a process that is commonly referred to as quick-pick.  That is a dumb way to do it because, from a statistical point of view, all combinations of numbers will eventually be winners - over the next several hundreds of millions of weeks.  If a person has a set of numbers that they play every week, eventually their combination will win - perhaps eons from now - but if the machine chooses a different set with each drawing, it is likely that a person could play forever and never win the big jackpot.  So that is Powerball Secret #2:  Play the same numbers every drawing!

Here is one more"secret:"  There are now just thirty-five red ball numbers - 1-35.  That means that there are 17 chances that red ball number (the Powerball number) will be even, and 18 chances it will be odd.    Powerball Secret #3:  The Powerball number has a slightly better chance of being odd than it does even.  

Powerball Secret #4:  Odds of winning increase with the purchase of each additional ticket.  While owning one ticket gives a person a one in 175,223,510 chance of winning the jackpot, having two tickets doubles the odds to two in 175,223, 510 (or one in a mere 87,611,755).   People like me who have four tickets for tonight's drawing might want to consider starting the process of clearing out the closets or selecting a skilled financial planner because our chances of winning have quadrupled to an astounding four in 175, 223, 510 or one in 43,805,877.5.

I am also a co-owner (with fourteen of my co-workers) of a set of seventy-five Powerball numbers for tonight's drawing.  That gives us seventy-five chances of striking it rich - although we would have to settle for tens of millions each rather than the big bucks because we are co-owners.  I didn't really want to join an office pool, but wouldn't I feel special if one of those sets of numbers won and I was the only genius in the office who had to come to work the next day!  (Two of my co-workers didn't invest in our get-rich-quick scheme, and the joke is that they will be the ones coming to work on Thursday to collect the resignations!)

Everyone who is in our office pool has a list of the numbers that our money purchased.   One of the interesting observations that I made while reviewing our numbers was that thirty-five of the seventy-five red ball (Powerball) numbers were even and forty were odd.  (See Powerball Secret #3.)

That's all the secrets for this time.  Remember if you win big to pay your taxes, do your own yard work, treat your employees fairly, be kind to the family dog, and do all of your banking in this country - at least if you ever want to be President - and be charitable.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Biscuit-Bullet Story

by Pa Rock

Last week while preparing the Rusty Pails piece that ran in this space on Thanksgiving Day, I did some basic research on "foods that explode."  It turns out there are a variety of foods that can be induced to explode, especially with an assist from a microwave oven.  As I explored this often neglected area of culinary expression, I kept running into slightly different versions of the same urban legend.

Basically, urban legends are stories that are not true, yet the people who tell and retell these weird tales are usually convinced of their absolute truth. When the storytellers are questioned, they will admit that they did not actually know the person who suffered or perpetrated the experience, but in almost every case they claim to know someone who was personally acquainted with the victim, or culprit, or central character in the tale.   They are adamant that they almost have firsthand knowledge of this amazing happening.

The basic outline of this particular urban legend, which is usually referred to as the "Biscuit-Bullet Story" or some close variation thereof, is this:

          A woman (gender is not important to the story) is getting into her car on the grocery store parking lot when she notices a person slumped over the steering wheel in the next car over.  That person (let's make this one a man) is in some type of obvious distress and is holding the back of his head with his hand.  His car window is down.  
          "Oh my goodness," exclaims the woman.  "Are you okay?" 
           The man slowly opens his eyes.  He looks terrible.  "I've been shot," he says, "and I can't move my hand because I am holding in my brains." 
          The woman freaks, but being a truly good Samaritan, she finally is able to call 911 on her cell phone.  She waits patiently at the man's side until emergency responders arrive on the scene.   Soon thereafter, either in the ambulance racing to the hospital or at the emergency room, the man's hand is pulled away from his head so that his wound can be examined and evaluated.  When the hand comes down, the amused medical personnel discover that the exposed brain is actually biscuit dough from a canister of biscuits that exploded in the warm back window of the victim's car!

Okay, I wasn't there - but my sister's landlord's girlfriend's cousin was a nurse's aide at the hospital where it all went down.  The story is absolutely true!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Self Portrait at Twenty Years"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Chilean novelist and poet, Roberto Bolano, died in 2003 at the tender age of fifty.  Bolano became a definitive force in Latin American literature during his short lifetime.     My two favorite Bolano novels are The Savage Detectives and 2666.   Both have a strong connection to the small towns Sonora Desert, the geographic feature that laps across the border and up against my current home in the West Valley of Phoenix.

Today's poem, Self Portrait at Twenty Years,  is a tribute to young Latin Americans coming of age and striking out on their own.  It is Bolano recognizing the courage that he displayed in early adulthood as he began stepping into his own future.   The poem speaks to the spirit of independence that many aspire to, yet not all have the courage to pursue aggressively.

Roberto Bolano became his own man on his own terms, and he left an enormous impact on the literary landscape of the Americas and Europe.

Self Portrait at Twenty Years
by Roberto Bolano

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don't know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mayors Experience Dining in Poverty

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Mitt Romney told us about the takers in America, the forty-seven percent who always have their hands out expecting the government to take care of them.    One of the things that the takers take are food stamps, something that remains particularly galling to conservatives.

Cory Booker, the dynamic Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey, recently got into a Twitter discussion with someone who was being critical of food stamp recipients.  The mayor responded by challenging the tweeter to join him in living off of a food stamp budget for a week.    In New Jersey that amounts to $4.44 per day.

Mayor Booker is a big force in his community.  He is known for things like rushing into a neighbor's burning house and rescuing a woman, and inviting members of the community into his home during Hurricane Sandy.  His Twitter account is an action hub for people to cut through the political red tape for assistance and services in Newark.  As he tackles this food stamp challenge, his observations will be readily available to the public - and he won't be bashful about relating what he experiences with the limited food budget.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, another Democrat,  aligned himself with Arizona's 1.1 million food stamp recipients this past September during Hunger Awareness Month.  Mayor Stanton also lived for a week on a food stamp budget ($4.16 per day in Arizona).  He kept a journal on Facebook that told of his experiences.  The following is from Mayor Stanton's journal on day four:

"So I'm surviving on an apple and handful of peanuts, and the coffee I took to the office until dinner. I'm tired, and it's hard to focus. I can't go buy a sandwich because that would be cheating - even the dollar menu at Taco Bell is cheating. You can't use SNAP benefits at any restaurants, fast food or otherwise. I'm facing a long, hungry day and an even longer night getting dinner on the table, which requires making EVERYTHING from scratch on this budget. It's only for a week, so I've got a decent attitude. If I were doing this with no end in sight, I probably wouldn't be so pleasant."

These two mayors are setting bold examples through their firsthand research into a major component of public assistance.    Mitt would almost have us believe that the takers, the 47% who always have their hands out for assistance, live quite well and feast at the public expense.  He, of course, is full of crap.

More of America's politicians and religious leaders (particularly the ones who are pious conservatives) need to take this food stamp challenge and see how it impacts their lives. Mayor Stanton, who is not a large person, lost four pounds in the week that he lived on a food stamp budget.

I need to quit yammering and take up the challenge myself.  My daily breakfast at the local McDonald's  (a sausage McMuffin with egg, large iced tea, and a carton of milk) comes in at a pricey $5.55 - which breaks the food stamp budget with just one meal.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Best First Family Ever

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday was "Black Friday," a day for herd-shopping in the big box stores, and next Monday has been traditionally set aside for shopping on the Internet.  It goes by the clever moniker "Cyber Monday."  Now there is even a "Small Business Saturday" sandwiched between the other two to focus on shopping with merchants who are not associated with national chain stores.

Today President Obama made news by taking his daughters to a privately owned bookstore, One More Page Books, in Arlington, Virginia, to do some holiday shopping.  He made a purchase of fifteen children's books to use as Christmas gifts.

It was a year ago this week that the President and his daughters stopped by one on my favorite bookstores, Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, to do Christmas shopping.  I noted that visit in this space with the following comment:

"President Obama has had only one wife, with no hint of scandal in the marriage.  He spends time with his children and is involved in their lives on a very positive basis, and he even lets his mother-in-law live with the family.  I think that when it comes to real family values, the President has it nailed."
The President is the political and military leader of our nation, and he and his family are also strongly representative of who we are as a people.  The Obama's set a wonderful example and show our very best face to the rest of the world.

America truly has a "first" family, one in which we can take a great deal of pride.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in the Modern Age

by Pa Rock
Holiday Diner

I arrived at the Cracker Barrel in Goodyear, Arizona, yesterday around one in the afternoon, and though the place was nearly full and very busy, I was immediately shown to a table.  Like almost everyone else in the homey restaurant, I was there for the Thanksgiving special - a meal of turkey and dressing with a slice of ham, sweet potato casserole (which I don't care for), one extra side dish (make mine corn, please), biscuit, cornbread, a piece of wonderful pumpkin pie, and a glass of iced tea.  All of that for ten dollars and a penny - plus a respectable tip, of course.

I had just gotten seated when my phone began to buzz, indicating that I had received a text message.  Obviously someone had died, so I felt obliged to read it.  The text was from my sister, Gail, and nobody had died.  She wanted me to know that she had just arrived at the Cracker Barrel in Venice, Florida, and it was going to be forty-five minutes before she could be seated.   We exchanged a few messages about how good the meals looked in Arizona and how hungry she was in Florida - until my food arrived and she probably found someone for a game of checkers on the Cracker Barrel front porch.

I'm not much on texting, in fact, I don't like it, but it was nice having someone to visit with during my wait up until Thanksgiving lunch.  I'm sure that the waitresses and some of the customers might have mistaken me for just some rude guy with an electronic toy,  but that wasn't me.  I was just some old guy  chatting with his only sibling while waiting on the turkey and dressing.

We were a family enjoying the holiday the best we could.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rusty Pails #50: The Big Thanksgiving Blowout!

by Rocky Macy

Thanksgiving is a time for being with family, and for me and my motley assortment of friends, family generally means each other.    We play together (usually dominoes), camp as a group several times a year, drink lots of root beer together, and have even served time together in the county jail – after accidentally burning Gladys Clench’s hen house to the ground – again, as a group.

Yup, but almost any measure, we are a family.

Esther Pearl has been the matriarch of our merry band of misfits for longer than she probably cares to remember.  Even though she rarely plays dominoes, doesn’t believe in sleeping in the great outdoors, doesn’t care for the taste of root beer, and has never served time in jail, at least that we know of, she is often close by to put the brakes on our wild plans, or failing that, to help clean up our messes.

So since we are a family, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that we would do Thanksgiving as a group.  Esther Pearl, our mother figure, agreed to organize the affair, but as her living quarters are tight (a small apartment over her junk store, “Esther’s Pearls and Swine”) she thought it would be best to have her swine assemble and cook at my place.

Lucky me!

My contribution to the affair, excluding my cabin and hospitality, of course, was the drinks.  I had two ice chests heaped with root beer and ice by the time the varmints, I mean “guests,” began arriving. 

Esther showed up first, just about the time that I was putting the second pot of coffee on the stove.    She brought a pair of pies, pumpkin and pecan, a large bowl of dressing,, and a box of metal camp plates and utensils.  Esther said that she liked us and all, but she wasn’t about to trust the safety of her grandmother’s good china to the likes of me and my friends.   

Heck Frye came in before Esther had finished her first cup of coffee.  He was toting a good-sized, thawed turkey in an aluminum pan.  Heck and Esther set to work preparing the big bird for a proper baking, one that would take the better part of the day.

Shadetree Mike ambled in not long after with a pan of baked sweet potatoes.   We all suspected (and hoped) Ermine had prepared Mike’s contribution to the feast.

Judge Redbone brought a dish of cranberries and a platter of corn-on-the-cob that would need to be boiled  about the time the turkey was ready to come out of the oven. 

The Judge also brought Truman Treetopper.   Truman, who can’t drive or do much of anything else for that matter, sometimes has trouble adjusting to the normal demands of society, even Sprung Hinge society – and he doesn’t cook – so we were all eager to see what he was going to pull out of the crumpled grocery bag  that he was clutching to his chest.    What he eventually produced, after his old, arthritic hands started cooperating, was a large, dark green can that he proudly placed on the kitchen cabinet among all of the other contributions.

“What in the Sam Hill?”  Heck asked as he picked the can up to read the label.  “Military Rations:  Turkey Dressing with Oysters”  He read on, “Why, it’s twenty-three-years-old!”

“Thank you, Truman.”  Esther said, deftly snatching the can away from Heck and setting it out of the way.  “It was sweet of you to bring it.”

Being a beautiful day, we opted to set up the domino table outside – smack dab between the two ice chests - where we played our never-ending game and told stories while the sun rose and then began its descent.    Late in the afternoon, when the smells of baking turkey were beginning to waft out through the kitchen screen door and remind us of how truly hungry we were becoming, Esther excused herself to go put the dressing (hers) in the oven to warm and start the corn on a slow boil. 

Truman left for a nature call when Esther returned.  He was gone quite awhile, but it takes Truman extra time to do just about everything.  When he finally rejoined us at the card table, the rich aromas of turkey that followed him outside were well nigh irresistible.

We were within minutes of adjourning to the kitchen when the kitchen blew up!

By the time the dust began to settle, every window in the house was blown out, me and my friends were lying in twisted heaps around the yard, and poor Baker was halfway to town yelping – and covered in pecan pie!  Thankfully (and it was Thanksgiving, after all) no one was seriously hurt – not even my loyal dog, Baker, who was probably going door-to-door in Sprung Hinge looking for someplace safer (and saner) to live.

Fire Chief Gladys Clench of the infamous Sprung Hinge Bucket Brigade and Sewing Circle, announced that her “investigation” had determined that “some idiot” had put a twenty-three-year-old can of oyster dressing in the oven.  The idiot, who chose to remain silent, had seen his dressing sitting on the counter after hearing Esther say that it needed to be put in the oven and warmed.

It was an honest mistake – one that could have only happened in Sprung Hinge or the immediate vicinity!

The fire chief, with a well-worn battle axe resting on her shoulder, told me rather discretely that since my house was wrecked and smelled like rotten oysters, I could bunk at her place for awhile.  I quickly shot back that I couldn’t afford it.

“But Rusty,”  she cooed, “There’s no charge.”

“Then I really couldn’t afford it!” I declared, quickly backing out of axe range.

Ermine made ham sandwiches for out supper, and I moved some fishy-smelling things into Shadetree Mike’s spare room for what I hoped would be a very short visit.  The cleanup would commence in the morning on our own unique version of Black Friday.

We were thankful to be safe, well-fed, and together for another holiday season.  And I was especially thankful to know that Gladys Clench was home cuddling her axe – and not yours truly!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

By the Seashore, By the Beautiful Sea

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last month while I was in San Diego visiting my sweet Aunt Mary, she took me for a drive northward along the coast to the ritzy seaside community of La Jolla.  The further north we went, the more beautiful the homes got, and the more expensive the gasoline became.    When we arrived in La Jolla we passed a Shell station that was advertising its gas for $4.97 a gallon.  Aunt Mary remarked that it was the highest we had seen, and then in an aside directed at the high-toned beach community of La Jolla, she added, "Any you know it would be here."

Today there was a picture popping up all over the Internet of Mitt Romney pumping his own gas at a Shell station in La Jolla.  And while there are possibly multiple Shell stations in the area, I am sure in my own mind that he was standing at the one my Aunt Mary and I had lightly denigrated at just weeks before.

A local person snapped the picture of Mitt pumping his own gas and noted in the story accompanying the photo that he had talked to the former Republican standard bearer for "a good three minutes."  He described the rich politician as looking "tired and washed up."


My own thoughts on the matter are that if Mitt had pumped a little more of his own gas during the election season (and a little less of the tea party's), things might have gone differently a couple of weeks ago.  He seemed to struggle endlessly with trying to identify with the common man.   What better way to do that than whip into a 7-Eleven and gas up your SUV?

But no matter how hard Mitt might have wanted to be seen as Joe Six Pack, it just doesn't come easy to someone who has floated through life on a raft of privilege.

The home that the Romney's bought in La Jolla four years ago for $12 million, sits along sixty-one feet of Pacific Ocean beachfront and is 3,000 square feet in size.    He and Ann are preparing to have it torn down and replaced with a place four times as large  - a house where the now infamous $55,000 car elevator will be installed.  Their California neighbors are not impressed - or pleased.

One gay couple who own a house nearby were asked by Romney's attorneys to sign a statement saying that they have no objection to the expansion - a move that will destroy much of their current ocean view.   The couple declined to sign - probably for multiple reasons.  Another neighbor was subjected to a lecture by Mitt himself when the presidential candidate came upon him on the beach smoking pot and and imbibing in some alcohol.  Mr. Romney asked him to not do that, and a day or so later the police came by and told him the same thing.  They said "neighbors" had been complaining.

One of the established residents of the neighborhood questioned why the Romney's would want to live there at all.  That neighbor described the area as "progressive."

Obviously God is real - and she has a really wicked sense of humor!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Political Sweets

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is big political news out of Florida today where world class whiner and departing congressman Allen West has finally conceded defeat to his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy.   Poor Allen.  He spent $10 million in teabagger donations trying to get re-elected and still lost!

Here is a sweeter bit of irony to come out of the general election:  the nationwide Romney-Ryan popular vote total looks like it is going to settle right around forty-seven percent!  Forty-seven percent, Mitt!  Would you like a shot of whiskey with that bitter pill?    Maybe you should have offered gifts to more than just your rich country club friends!

And this nugget is perhaps the sweetest of all.   Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the pride and joy of Janesville, Wisconsin, failed to carry his hometown in his congressional race - and in the presidential race.    Ryan won the congressional race, but in the city of Janesville, his iconic small town base, he pulled only 44% of the vote!  The Republican presidential ticket did even worse in Janesville, taking in only 37% of the vote - and at the Hedberg Public Library, the place where Paul Ryan himself votes, Romney-Ryan took in just 34% of the vote.  Those are Paul's friends and neighbors!

It's a safe bet that Paul Ryan will carry his groundswell of public support into Iowa a couple of winters from now - and hell, Allen West may too!

How sweet it is!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday's Poetry: Turnkey Day (A Poem for Leonard Peltier)

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

My goal for today's poem was to find something regarding Thanksgiving from an American Indian perspective.  I was sorting through the beautiful words and thoughts of Chief Seattle, which relate to the importance of honoring and preserving the earth, when I suddenly came across the following ode to Indian activist and long-term federal prisoner, Leonard Peltier.  It contains references to Thanksgiving, and the title would appear to be a word play on "turkey day."    In actuality, Leonard Peltier would seem to have little to be thankful for, but I felt that this poem needed to be shared.

Leonard Peltier is one of the best known inhabitants of America's vast prison system.  The Indian activist was convicted of the murders of two FBI agents in the 1970's.  He maintains his innocence, and his conviction has always been the subject of controversy.

Mr. Peltier, who was incarcerated at Leavenworth at the time this piece was written, is now residing in a federal penitentiary in Florida.  He is a 68-year-old grandfather.

The somewhat quirky poem was written by Jonathan Stevens who is described on the Internet as "a songwriter, musician, and baker" living in Massachusetts.    His aim in crafting these lines appears to have been to disturb - and his aim was true.

Turnkey Day  (a Poem for Leonard Peltier)
by Jonathan Stevens

I drove my Plymouth across to Alcatraz to see
if it could rock.
I mean, the only thing to do with such a sitting duck
is baste and roast it 'til it cries
Bury yr wounded knee in sweetened cranberry sauce
and count the dimpled Mayflowers chasing shad in the
shallows of Palm Beach.
This is your Squanto, here in the heartland of Kansas
ripening like indian corn in the dungeons of Leavenworth:
His name is Leonard Peltier.
Give thanks that your feast has yet to consume him entirely.
Give thanks that his prayers echo in canyons far beyond your
Pontiac pilgrimages.
Give thanks that the wild rice of his spirit may yet forgive and
feed your children something more than guilty pleasure.
Take that quill out of your cap and sign his walking papers:
You can call it justice
-I call it stale macaroni.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Looms

by Pa Rock
Holiday Reveler

One of my co-workers asked, quite innocently, last week if I had plans for Thanksgiving.  I gave a quick and honest two-word answer:  "Cracker Barrel."  She appeared to be mortified at my response, but the joke is on her because Cracker Barrel has a very good holiday meal.  In fact, I was talking to my sister today and learned that while I am enjoying Thanksgiving turkey at the Goodyear, Arizona, Cracker Barrel, she will likely be dining with the same franchise in Naples, Florida.

I have had a few sad holiday meals during my six decades, probably none more so than Christmas dinner in 2008 which I enjoyed sitting at the counter of a Denny's - the only place in West Phoenix that had the cajones to make their employees come to work on Christmas day!

But Thanksgiving is looking more and more like Cracker Barrel.  My back-up plan is to take a road trip.  There are two places in New Mexico located relatively close to one another which I have always wanted to visit:  Roswell and Carlsbad Caverns.  Round trip would be about 1,200 miles, so that may be a bit much for four days.

Cracker Barrel or a road trip?  What would Squanto do?

Saturday, November 17, 2012


by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (or perhaps more aptly, Tony Kushner's Lincoln)  is a marvelous piece of historical drama that is so remarkably well done that it leaves very little room for constructive criticism.  The visuals are amazing, taking the viewers back into a very believable 1865 - from the battlefields, to the streets of Washington, DC, to the interiors of the Capitol and the White House as they must have looked during the American Civil War.

But the visuals would have been nothing more than classy curiosity without the rich, evocative language that Kushner pours onto Spielberg's palette.  I heard an interview with Kushner in which he said that he explored the history of every word that he used in the screenplay, making certain that the movie's vocabulary was completely true to the times.  But it is so much more than just using the correct words.  Kushner's pen (yes, he uses a fountain pen for all of his writing) spawns clever and witty dialogue that defines the historical characters sharply and with vigor.  Abraham Lincoln, in particular, slips seamlessly into his homey stories that do so much to make him real to the people sitting in the audience.

Lincoln, based on the book, Team of Rivals, by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a recounting of the political machinations that went into the passage of the 13th Amendment (official emancipation of all slaves in the Untied States) by the House of Representatives.  President Lincoln is viewed through the lens of shrewd political operative, statesman, family man, and war-weary leader of the nation.

Spielberg as the director, the person who creates the vision, and Kushner as the screenwriter, the person who gives voice to the vision, were ensured success in their endeavor by the wonderful cast that they were able to bring to this project.    Daniel Day-Lewis, as Abraham Lincoln, owns every scene that he is in.  Day-Lewis makes himself into the sixteenth President, body and soul - mannerisms and voice.  He is folksy, funny, angry, demanding, conniving, and so very tired of war.   And he is determined - steadfast in the belief that the deaths of over half-a-million people have to have a noble result - the end of slavery in America.  Getting the 13th Amendment passed and enacted is to be his last battle, and the Lincoln crafted by Daniel Day-Lewis seems to exude the knowledge that his power is coming to an end.  He must complete this last task, one that he sees as the justification for the long, bloody war.

Sally Field nails the role of Mary Todd Lincoln.  Lincoln's wife, often dismissed as crazy, or at least emotionally disturbed, by historians, was obviously a complex character.  She was a southerner by birth and had already suffered the death of one of her four sons by the time the Lincoln's moved into the White House.  Another small son, Willie, died in the White House during the Civil War.   At the time of the events in this movie, the Lincoln's had one small son, Tad, living with them, and a grown son, Robert, attending college in Boston and chomping at the bit to join the Union Army and serve his country.  Mary Lincoln was certain that if he joined the military, he, too, would die.  The Mary Todd Lincoln that Sally Field brings to the screen in this movie is a mother desperate not to lose any more of her children.  

Tommy Lee Jones is Thaddeus Stevens, a congressman from Pennsylvania who was Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Stevens was a "radical" Republican, one who was for strong pursuit of the war and making sure the Confederacy suffered serious and enduring consequences for their betrayal of the union.  Jones's Thaddeus Stevens is clever and verbose, and he has some of the best  lines in the movie.  He is a tough opponent in a debate, yet he can also hold back and be almost chivalrous when necessary.  One of the sharpest verbal exchanges in  Lincoln occurs when Thaddeus Stevens is trying to enter a White House reception but has to stand in the line and take a very smart dressing-down by the President's wife.

One more role of note is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's rendition of the Lincolns' eldest son, Robert.  Gordon-Levitt, like Day-Lewis, is a highly talented actor who has taken on several quirky and challenging roles as he grew in his profession.  There is a scene in this movie where father and son confront each other outside of a Union field hospital.  The President has taken his son there in an effort to demonstrate that war is is not romantic and glamorous, but the visit results in Robert feeling even more guilty about not serving.  In the confrontative scene, the President slaps Robert across the face, and the young man walks off vowing to enlist in spite of his parents' desires.

The weariness of Abraham Lincoln, the loneliness and sadness brought on by his responsibilities for directing a war and planning how to bring the country back together, can be seen clearly at two points toward the end of the movie.  The first is as Lincoln rides his horse through the still smoldering battlefield of Petersburg, weaving among the lifeless bodies who stare at him through vacant eyes.  For those dead soldiers the war is over, but the lonely rider will never know peace.  The other scene of immense personal desolation is of Lincoln and Mary riding in the carriage to Ford's Theatre on what was to be the last night of the President's life.  Daniel Day-Lewis in that carriage is a man whose life is draining away,  He knows it, Mary knows it, and the camera shows it with an unflinching eye.

I can't say enough good things about Lincoln.    You will be hearing it mentioned again, and again, and again - at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.  It is getting lots of hype - and all of it is well deserved.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Books as Conversation Starters

by Pa Rock
Reader of Books

When I see someone engrossed in a book, I often try to work my way in close enough to see what they are reading.  I do that because I'm curious.  If the book is engrossing, I want to know what it is so that I can find out more about it.   That little act of espionage is much harder  to accomplish if the person has his nose in a e-reader.

An e-reader is a gadget.  Toting a gadget around tells people that you have and understand gadgets.  Beyond that, it reveals little of the complexities an individual embodies.  A book, on the other hand, offers a bit more of a description regarding the person who possesses it.

And knowing just a bit about a person can lead to conversation - an exchange of information with someone who otherwise might amount to little more than a shadow flitting across your day.

I think that I told the story in this space about the lady working the cash register at a bakery/grocery store in Toronto last fall where I was having breakfast.  The book that I had brought along to enjoy with my croissants was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  The cashier and I would have had nothing more in common than the quick exchange of money but for the presence of that book.  As it turned out,  I learned about her college coursework and her interest in English literature, and she became aware of the work of my son - the screenwriter.

Today I had a similar encounter in Arizona, a place I often dismiss as being a cultural wasteland.  For the past three months or so my "day" book has been The Complete Works of H.P Lovecraft, a bulky tome of over a thousand pages.  I read for thirty minutes to an hour each morning in the car before work - and lately before daylight - and also at lunch.   Lunch is often at the local Sonic, a place that I like to frequent because it is never very busy and the kids who work there don't mind me taking up a parking space to read after I finish my burger.

Today when the young girl brought my delicious lunch of two corn dogs and a Route 44 diet cherry limeade, she managed to get a look at the cover of my book which was sitting on the front seat.  "Oh," she said excitedly, "I love H.P. Lovecraft!"

"You do?"  I replied.  "That's very unusual in someone so young."  She could not have been more than a year out of high school.

"Oh, yes."  She assured me.   ""I also like Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey - and when I was in high school I learned to appreciate Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."

That led me into telling her about my visit to Westminster Abbey a few years back where I searched unsuccessfully for the grave of Chaucer.  (He is buried in the famous Poet's Corner, but his grave, alas, is unmarked.)

Now I have a new friend, and my opinion of the cultural landscape of Arizona has risen - if ever so slightly.  If I had an e-reader on the car seat instead of an actual book, the corn dogs would have been the highlight of my lunch break.

Can you guess what will become of my large, wonderful book when I finally finish it next week?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bond, James Bond

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado 

Last weekend included a federal holiday which resulted in me having a bit more time than projects, so I used some of the extra hours to take in a movie.   There were some good movies on the horizon (Lincoln and Hitchcock, for example) but the pickings last weekend in the Valley of Hell were pitifully slim.  I wound up going to see the latest James Bond flick, Skyfall.

The last time I remember seeing a Bond movie was decades ago when I watched Goldfinger from the projection booth at the Ozark Theatre in Noel, Missouri, where I was working.   Did you know that Sean Connery no longer plays James Bond?  I was shocked!

The current Bond is Daniel Craig, a fine young actor who portrays Agent 007 in a manner that is adequate - just.    (I saw Mr. Craig a couple of years back on the set of the Today Show in New York.  He is a diminutive individual who comes across on film as a bit larger than life - which, I suppose, is a good thing if one is to play someone as physical and explosive as James Bond.)

There were five stars in this movie:  three people, an old mansion in Scotland (that moans and groans for Sean Connery), and Bond's car, a spiffy little Aston Martin DB5 that, I believe, Connery drove in Goldfinger. (Spoiler Alert #1:  Don't look for that particular car in any future 007 movies.)

Of the human stars of Skyfall, Daniel Craig, as noted earlier, is adequate as James Bond - though his characterization of the British spy is far from his sterling performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.   His portrayal of the Swedish magazine writer was inspiring, while his take on James Bond leans more to insipid.

Dame Judi Dench, who appears (in this movie, at least) to be fast approaching one hundred, is never-the-less a wonderful actress who pumps as much vitality as she can into the role of Bond's boss, "M."  (Spoiler Alert #2:  You probable shouldn't commit to seeing a future James Bond movie just for the pleasure of watching Dame Judi putter across the screen.)

Javier Bardem was the bad guy - and he was really, really bad.  His performances are often darkly disturbing, and this one is no exception.  Of particular note is one strongly homo-erotic scene where Bond is tied to a chair and Bardem's character lets his hands drift ever so lightly along the contours of his captive's body.   Bardem's villain also kills with nonchalance and impunity.  His electric performance alone was worth the five dollars that I coughed up for the price of the ticket.

If an evening of mindless escapism is the objective,  Skyfall will get you there - just.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Coradell Alexander

by Rocky Macy

This morning I learned of the passing of a close friend, a wonderful lady who literally taught generations of young people in my hometown to appreciate and love music.

Coradell (Crain) Alexander was born on June 23, 1918, in Morrow, Kansas, and died this past Saturday, November 10, 2012, in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She was 94-years-old and survived by her daughter, Casey Sanders.

Mrs. Alexander and her husband, Howard, moved to McDonald County, Missouri, in the late 1950's or early 1960's.  Although I was not in the school band, I remember her well from my years at Noel High School (1962-1966) where she taught music.   She usually enjoyed and drove sporty little cars, but she must have had a "family" vehicle as well, because I remember her taking a group of us from the high school to her home in Ginger Blue Village one day to listen to some special music on her stereo.   Casey was a toddler in diapers at that time.

My dad had an appliance store in Noel while I was in high school and for many years afterward.  I worked there some as a young man after the military when I returned to college in pursuit of a teaching degree.  It was during that time that I really got to know Mrs. Alexander's husband, J. Howard.   One of his joys in life was planning trips to Joplin to greet the arrival of the new foreign sports cars in the showrooms.  He and Pat Laurie, a retired army lieutenant colonel who had been my high school principal, liked to hang around my dad's store and tell stories that often involved each other.  Howard passed away many years ago, and Pat is also no longer with us.

I got that teaching credential in the late 1970's and moved to south central Missouri where I worked as a high school teacher and later as a principal.  In the fall of 1983 I returned to Noel as the principal of the little community school where I had graduated nearly two decades before.  By that time it had morphed into a K-8 feeder school for McDonald County High School in Anderson.    Much to my pleasure, Coradell Alexander was still on staff.

Sometime toward the end of the school year preceding my move back to Noel, but after I knew that I had the job, I slipped into town for a quick school visit and to gage what I was actually getting into.  As I was walking down a hallway, I spied Mrs. Alexander making her way across the schoolyard from the music building - heading directly toward my location.  She opened the door, looked up at me, and grinned.  Then she sort of ducked her head and said, "I always knew that one day it would come to this."  And I think we were both very pleased that our professional lives had crossed.

Coradell Alexander retired from teaching the following year, and I trust that it had nothing to do with me being her "boss."  As a tribute to this great lady that had given so much of her life to the youth of Noel, our staff and the PTA made a decision to name the small rock building where she had taught all of those years in her honor.  The new sign over the door read "Alexander Hall."   Her daughter, Casey, came up from Little Rock for the unveiling and celebration.

My memories of Coradell Alexander at the Noel School are profuse and cherished.  There were the countless times I watched her march her struggling little bands down Sulphur Street and out onto Main. The parents standing along the sidewalks could not have been prouder if their children had been marching in the Rose Bowl Parade.    The holiday programs that she put on in the gym or on the school stage were delightful.  Every child had a part, and every part was important.  The kids were guided and inspired by a great teacher!

After Mrs. Alexander retired, she was often at the school working as a substitute teacher.  She was one of our most reliable and best substitutes, and it was reassuring to know that whatever class she happened to be in that day would run smoothly.  She was also a good person to have around for special school events that required a competent piano player.  Years after I left the Noel School, she was drafted to play at my son's (Tim's) eighth grade graduation.  Her presence at the event made it all the more special for this proud dad.

Sometime after Coradell Alexander retired, I stopped out to visit with her at her home in Ginger Blue Village.  She met me at the door, and practically the first words out of her mouth were "Would you like a cocktail?"  And I thought that was a grand idea!  We sat outside in lawn chairs until late in the evening talking about our memories of life in Noel and the Noel School.  One of the things I remember from that evening was her account of the Kennedy assassination and how it had impacted the school staff.  The superintendent, Bill Spears, had gone to them for support and advice - but, like the superintendent, none of them knew what to do.  It was unchartered territory.  The decision was finally made to keep school in session for the remainder of the day, an then to close the school on the day of the funeral.  The students had been very emotional that afternoon in November of 1963  -  I remembered that clearly - but Mrs. Alexander had a few tears in her eyes forty years later as she told me that the faculty had also been distraught over the killing of the President.

The last time I saw Coradell Alexander had to have been five or six years ago.  I was working for the military at the time and living out of state.    Being home on a brief visit to see my dad, I was driving up Noel's short Main Street when I spotted Mrs. Alexander getting into her small sports car while lifting an oxygen tank in with her.  I pulled over and walked up to her car where we exchanged a brief greeting - a chance encounter that proved to be our last.

There are lots of ways to measure success in life, but I believe that the truest measure is the positive impact that we have on others.  By that measure, Coradell Alexander led a remarkably successful life.  I mourn her passing, but, at the same time, feel so fortunate to have known her.

Rest in well deserved peace, dear friend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Arizona Voter

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Holly Solomon of Gilbert, Arizona, was not pleased with the re-election of President Obama last week.  In fact, it would be fair to characterize her as extremely pissed off (or perhaps homicidally pissed off) at the President's big win.  According to news reports out here in the Scorpion State, Holly Solomon believed that her family was going to "face hardship" as a result of Obama winning the presidency for a second term.

Ms. Solomon somehow came to the conclusion that Obama won the election because her husband Daniel slept in on election day and did not vote.  (Note:  Votes are still being tallied in Maricopa County, but Romney appears to have won the state decisively - by nearly 200,000 votes.)

But Holly blamed her snoozing husband.

Holly confronted Daniel in a Phoenix parking lot and, according to witnesses, a lot of yelling ensued before Holly climbed into her Jeep and began trying to run him down.    Daniel took refuge behind a lamp post as his wife raced past him - still yelling.   After a couple of angry passes, Daniel decided to make a break for it and took off running.    That's when she got him.

Witnesses said she hit her husband with the Jeep, pinning him beneath the vehicle on a curb.

Daniel Solomon was taken to a Scottsdale Hospital in critical condition.  His injuries are very serious and he may be permanently disfigured.  Holly Solomon was arrested and her bond was set at $50,000.

So yes, her family is facing quite a hardship as a result of the election.

The problem was not that Daniel Solomon failed to vote.  As the Phoenix New Times aptly pointed out, he would have had to voted around 200,000 times to have actually made a difference.  The problem obviously was that Holly did vote.    Mitt Romney needs to scratch her vote from his total because Holly Solomon clearly lacked the calm and thoughtful perspective that a responsible voter should possess.