Thursday, February 28, 2013

There's a Hole in the Bucket Where I Keep My List

by Pa Rock
Cranky Old Bastard

One of the pluses (and there aren't many) of returning to the States from Okinawa was that here I could receive quality medical care.  My care on Okinawa was provided by the military which featured a different doctor every time I visited the clinic, and a fairly limited formulary of prescription drugs.  I had some really good doctors there, but also several who were not.  After arriving back in Hellizona, I carefully researched available physicians and selected one who turned out to be quite exceptional in his medical and communication skills.  I am pleased with my primary care provider.

My new doctor quickly found that I had been left to flounder, medically speaking, for the previous two years, and he began referring me to a host of specialists, most of whom (with one exception) turned out to be of the same high caliber as my primary care doctor.  Recently while visiting with an endocrinologist whom I also like quite well, I happened to mention that I often have trouble breathing adequately while on the treadmill at the gym.  This doctor immediately gave me the name of a group of cardiologists and referred me onward.

I had a preliminary visit with one of the cardiologists where a cursory exam raised no concerns.  The cardiologist did, however, recommend further testing based on the fact that I am diabetic and was a heavy smoker forty years ago.  The first test, a nuclear scan (not fun), revealed some possible arterial blockage - and that resulted in me being quickly referred for an angiogram which was accomplished this morning.

The angiogram revealed that I have quite a bit of blockage in a couple of places, and I was told that I will need to undergo a triple bypass sooner rather than later.  I meet with the surgeon in one week to work out a plan.

So that's my medical update.  Over the past couple of weeks I have begun making drastic changes in my lifestyle and eating habits, though the effort is obviously more than a day late and a dollar short.  (It is so easy to get religion when the grim reaper suddenly appears strolling your way!)

The hardest change to date has been giving up my McDonald's Sausage-Egg McMuffin in the mornings and substituting with a serving of oatmeal.  That McMuffin represented more than just a meal.  I would drive off-base to pick it up, and then drive back onto base and park outside of my office where I would pull bits of bread and cheese and egg off of the sandwich and throw them out onto the asphalt for my friends, the birds, who often wound up with a quarter or so of my sandwich.  Regular morning visitors outside of my car included a pair of small woodpeckers, a cactus wren or two, a smattering of grackles, and the occasional dove and Gamble's Quail.  Many of them recognize my car and drop by to scavenge regardless of where I park - or when.    (With oatmeal there is nothing to share, and I feel like such a greed head.)  I guess that I will have to invest in some wild bird seed to keep in the car for my friends.

Keep smiling, I am.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Season of Rambo

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Earlier this week I had a close encounter of the weird kind, a sobering and somewhat scary experience.

It happened in a large doctor’s office, the kind of place where we older folks tend to congregate.  I was sitting and waiting my turn to have my insurance milked by medical professionals when an elderly (much more so than myself) husband and wife hobbled in and sat down across from me.    The wife was old, but she looked sprightly compared to her spouse.  The old man was pulling eighty (or perhaps ninety) rather than pushing it.  It took him several minutes to hobble from the reception desk to his seat.  Not only was walking an obvious difficulty, but he was also encumbered with an oxygen tank and a couple of hoses. 

The old guy appeared to be quite unhappy and so was his elder honey – but heck, so was I.  I would have been more worried about someone who liked being in a doctor’s office, so a negative attitude could be overlooked.

What couldn’t be overlooked was the big-ass badge that was pinned to the man’s shirt pocket.  Yup, this was one of Sheriff Joe’s infamous “posse” members – and probably way too representative of the armed volunteers that our sheriff has dispatched to patrol around the schools in the unincorporated parts of Maricopa County.  This particular individual did not seem to be packing a gun, and his smoldering attitude was probably due in part to the sign on the door which said weapons and smoking were not permitted on the premises.    How dare those namby-pamby doctors interfere with his Constitutional “right” to roll around on the floor and fire indiscriminately at any Kenyan or liberal Democratic terrorists who might storm the facility!

I am not nearly as concerned about terrorists as I am shaky senior citizens who think they are Steven Segal or Sylvester Stallone.   Joe and his geriatric groupies need to stand down and leave law enforcement to young, healthy, and well-trained professionals who are capable of handling the job – people who will reduce risk rather than increase it.   

To everything there is a season – and when your age is equal to or greater than the age of Joe Arpaio, that season is fishing, golf, grandkids and a hundred other happy activities – not stroking your ego by playing Rambo.  The season of Rambo has passed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Frank Bill's "Crimes in Southern Indiana"

by Pa Rock

Life is rough in America’s meth belt, and if you want to know the just how god-awful it is, then may I recommend a book of short stories by a sensational writer by the name of Frank Bill.   The collection is called Crimes in Southern Indiana, but sadly those tales could depict the hidden life in many communities across America – the life most of us fail to observe or acknowledge.

Damn, this guy is a powerful writer!    Frank Bill’s stories show us desolate, dangerous, and despicable places that are populated with some of the strangest, sickest and sorriest people imaginable.  His characters visit taverns in the mornings and dog fights at night.    They cook meth, do meth, steal meth, and sell meth.   They maim and murder, take part in gang rapes, kill children while driving drunk, and sell the occasional granddaughter into prostitution.    And the scariest part of all is that Frank Bill’s characters are starkly real, living in the dark alleys and rusted trailers that lie just beyond our comfortable field of vision.

Every story in this book is a punch in the gut, but my two favorites are “The Accident” and “The Old Mechanic.”  Both deal with PTSD.   In the first a man in an elevator tries (or perhaps he doesn’t) to help a man on the outside whose arm gets stuck in the door and is ripped off as the elevator rises to the next floor.  The other story, “The Old Mechanic,” looks at the evolution of a World War II vet who suffers deep grief and trauma during the war before coming home to a wife and two daughters.  The girls listen in fear and silence night after night as dad beats mom senseless.     The story advances one generation to show the same veteran, now a sad and angry old man living alone, as he tries to get to know his grandson.   That man, the old mechanic, represents a true measure of the cost of war.

And then there are the rotting bodies, rusting cars, infidelities, tortures, murders, tweakers, lost souls, and more rotting bodies.  Life does not get any more real than the tales of Frank Bill.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "To a Mouse"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns was a mere scamp of a young man (age 26)  when he accidentally destroyed the home of a young field mouse while plowing.  The incident troubled Burns to the extent that he took the time to craft and record (pen to paper) remarks to the mouse in which he paid homage to the delicate connections found in nature.   Burns recognized the needs of the mouse, who had only to live and function in the present, and compared them with his own existence which took in a problematic past and an unknowable future.  There is quite a bit of sadness and despair in the poem.

I first became aware of this piece while taking an English literature course in college - and I thank Professor Ann Slanina for leading me to it.  To a Mouse has always been one of my favorites, and I enjoy revisiting it every few years.  The original Scottish version follows.

To a Mouse
by Robert Burns

On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
          Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
          Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
          Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
          An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
          ’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
          An’ never miss ’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
          O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
          Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
          Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
          Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
          But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
          An’ cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Freud's Last Session, a Yawn

by Pa Rock
Theatre Goer

It is September 3, 1939.  Hitler's Nazi war machine is busy invading Poland, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is making sporadic radio announcements trying to calm the British people, and famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is pacing the study of his London home awaiting the arrival of his invited guest, Christian theorist and novelist, C.S. Lewis.  It will be their first and last meeting.

Freud's Last Session by Mark St. Germain is currently playing at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix.  The show is an imagined dialogue between Sigmund Freud, an outspoken atheist with Jewish roots, who is in his eighties and dying of jaw cancer, and C.S. Lewis, an Oxford professor and writer who has spent part of his life denying the existence of God, but has returned to the Christian fold.  These two men play out their discussion on whether God exists or not before a backdrop of impending war.

J. Michael Flynn (as Sigmund Freud) and Benjamin Evett (as C.S. Lewis) bring their roles to life and give convincing performances as the two great men in this fictional encounter.  Flynn, in particular conveys the misery and pain that Freud is enduring with his ill-fitting mouth appliance that is supposed to be helping protect and hide the cancerous hole in his jaw.  As he suffers, and bleeds, Evett reacts with discomfort and frustration at not being able to help in a significant way.  Their conversation wends its way through suffering, air raid sirens, history, religion, suicide, and the mind of God.  It is at times light and humorous, but often steeped in philosophical despair.

The acting is exceptional and the set and technical aspects hit the mark,  but unfortunately that is not enough to warrant the time and expense required to attend this production.  The script is mired in tedium, leaving one to wonder why this particular material was chosen for production.    I left the theatre feeling that if I had encountered the same presentation on television, I would have flipped the channel.  The Arizona Theatre Company has brought some truly great plays to the Herberger over the past few years.  Sadly, Freud's Last Session is not one of them.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winter's Bone, the Movie

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

Last night I finally had the opportunity to view the movie, Winter's Bone, on a commercial television channel.  I was impressed with the film adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's outstanding novel, though, as with most movies that spring from books, there were a few things lost in translation.

First the criticisms:

The Missouri Waltz is a beautiful song and its use to identify the setting as the Missouri Ozarks was clever.  The song is known primarily for its connection to Missouri's only President, Harry Truman, and  I am doubtful that more than a handful of real denizens of the Ozarks would be familiar with it.  As a native of the Ozarks myself, I never heard it wafting through the rugged hills of home - nor did I ever hear it being played in any of the country music theaters along the strip in Branson.  But it is a wonderful song, it served a purpose in the movie, and it is what it is.

Ree Dolly's two younger and very dependent siblings in the book were Sonny and Harold, a pair of rambunctious brothers.  The movie transforms them to Sonny and Ashlee, a brother and sister.  Obviously putting a little girl into the family adds to the sympathy factor, but I felt that it cost the movie, albeit slightly, in the area of realism.

The old, hardened hillbilly women, especially the ones who gave Ree the beating, all looked like they could be scrubbed up and become quite presentable - possibly even attractive.  They were not nearly as hard core rough as the ones described by Woodrell in the book.  And as for the beating, Ree came out of it looking somewhat busted up - but not nearly as crushed and destroyed as in the book - where she lost her front teeth in the encounter.  Yes, the aim was for sympathy - without making poor Ree repulsive.    The director apparently felt the audience could not handle repulsive.

The movie was filmed in Christian and Taney Counties (the Branson area) in Missouri, and the scenery is authentically Ozark in nature.   West Plains (Howell County), the area where Woodrell set the story, is also very Ozark - but not nearly as scenic as the hills and valleys around Branson.  Both areas have their share of meth cooks and crime, but Howell County has a starkness and level of poverty that goes well beyond the calendar shots surrounding Branson.

And the good points:

Jennifer Lawrence made a credible Ree, looking like she could be holed up in some backwoods hovel (which the movie made far nicer than the one depicted in the book) taking care of two younger siblings and a mother with mental disabilities - undoubtedly due to years of drugs and mistreatment.  Lawrence absorbed the roughness of her character, though she would have been far more real without those pesky front teeth after the old hillbilly women beat her almost to death.

Ozark singer Marideth Sisco (from West Plains) and her fellow musicians provided a wonderful soundtrack for the film.  She was also featured in the film as a singer at the birthday party.  Sisco has a voice as clear and true as church bells on Sunday.  Her rendition of the Missouri Waltz is a treasure.

Overall, I liked this movie - a lot.  While it didn't follow the book page-by-page,  Woodrell's story basically survived the transition to film.  That doesn't always happen, but this time it did.

Note to Hollywood:  Two of Daniel Woodrell's books have been made into films.  Next time you should consider Tomato Red - Woodrell's truest account of poverty and crime in the Ozarks.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Not All Stupid Legislation Originates in Arizona

by Pa Rock
Political Observer

Daily Kos reported yesterday on a proposed law that was so addle-brained it could have easily come from any number of Republican Arizona legislators - but this asinine proposal comes from a Missouri legislator - a Republican, of course.

State Representative Mike Leara of St. Louis County has concocted a bill that would make it a felony for any of his brother legislators to propose any gun control measures.  His measure reads, in part:

"Any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony"

You can't make this stuff up!

Might I suggest, Rep. Leara, that you read the complete Constitution.  It doesn't begin and end with the Second Amendment.  Check out the First Amendment, for example, the one that talks about freedom of expression.  One must assume that would include the freedom to propose any bill that a legislator desires.  You certainly seem to have availed yourself of that freedom - yet you would deny it to other members of the state legislature.

Also, may I recommend that when you reach your golden years and want to retire someplace sunny, that you consider moving to Arizona.   You would feel right at home here - trust me on that!

Thursday, February 21, 2013


by Pa Rock

Years ago I took a class called Science Fiction Literature at the West Plains campus of Southwest Missouri State University.  One of the books that we read that semester was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  The instructor, John Mayfield, was an ardent admirer of Bradbury's writing, and described the author as crafting "luscious" prose.   I liked the book, thought the word choices were interesting and the descriptions unique, but never quite got to the point where I felt the author's pen was oozing lusciousness.

That was twenty-five years ago.

Recently I began one of the late author's stranger and more entertaining novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and while luscious does not feel like the right adjective to describe his prose, I am finding his phrasing, descriptions, and word choices to be nothing less than amazing.   His writing is so precise and clever that I sometimes have to stop and reread a paragraph just to make sure that I understood everything that he was trying to convey.

But this is not a review of Something Wicked This Way Comes, the story of two young adolescent boys and the impact that the late-night arrival of a carnival in their community has on their lives.  It is, rather, a commentary on a word that I came across last night while enjoying the novel.  That word was "criminently."

It is an old word, one that is not heard in everyday conversation, but when I was a youngster I strongly associated the word "criminently" with my mother who used it in all manner of situations.  It was a declaration, "Criminently, who let the cat in!"  The word was also occasionally substituted for a mild curse.  I had no idea what it meant, other than Mom was unhappy about something.  (Years later while thinking about her use of the word, I decided that it was probably a shortened version of "crime in Italy," though I had no idea what my mother's connection to, or interest in, the Mafia was!)  I didn't even have a clue as to how it was spelled.

But last night there it was - in print - and used by a formidable author.  This morning I started snooping around the Internet searching for the definition and history of the word.  It appears to be declarative, as accurately practiced by my mother, and some sources believe that it comes from the word "criminy" which is somehow based in the word "Christ."  I also learned that "criminently" was used in the Disney cartoon film, Robin Hood.

"Criminently" is colorful and very Bradbury, though not the least bit luscious.  I intend to place it in my verbal spice rack and occasionally sprinkle it into conversation - a bit of a tribute to Mom.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jan Brewer Gets Her Snit On

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano was back in the state this past Tuesday when she and a couple of important guests toured parts of the International Border with Mexico near the city of Nogales.  Napolitano, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, was accompanied by David Aguilar, the Deputy Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection Bureau and US Senator Tom Carver, the incoming chairman of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  One dignitary whom Napolitano did not have in tow was Jan Brewer, the current governor of the Scorpion State - and therein lies the rub.

Napolitano and Brewer are both receiving criticism in the local press regarding what some see as political posturing around the border situation.  Napolitano apparently announced she was coming and then promised the press more information regarding the visit before she actually arrived.  The next thing that reporters supposedly heard from her office was a recap of the trip – after it had happened.  Napolitano is stressing that border security is at its strongest point in years, with illegal crossings down 78% since 2000. 

Governor Brewer, on the other hand, is having none of that.  She, like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, routinely depicts a border rife with holes where drug dealers and criminals stroll through with impunity.    Brewer recently visited with some ranchers along the border and collected anecdotal data of border transgressions.  Some members of the local press are irritated because she won’t release the names of the ranchers who provided her with information – and thus they are unable to confirm her statements.  The journalists feel the governor might be selectively choosing her sources.

Brewer is upset that she wasn’t invited to participate in Napolitano’s visit to Nogales.  She complains that Napolitano and the President ought to be seeking her opinion on border issues.   This is the same Jan Brewer who raced onto an airport tarmac just over a year ago to get her picture snapped as she stuck her finger in her President’s face – and now those people from Washington are ignoring her! 

Maybe if Governor Brewer left the cheesy publicity stunts to Joe Arpaio and concentrated on governing, she would be allowed to run with the big dogs.  Short of that, however, she will have to be content playing to the teabaggers in Sun City and imagining that she is a political leader of consequence.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Roots of Dysfunctional American Television Families

by Pa Rock
TV Viewer

A few weeks ago I mentioned the television show Shameless in this space.  It chronicles the fictional existence of a highly dysfunctional family, the Gallaghers, of inner-city Chicago.  The American program is in it's third season on Showtime, and it is a very good ripoff of the British version which has been playing on BBC for a decade.  Shameless is the story of a large family, basically surviving on public assistance and their wits, with a father too drunk and drug-addled to be of much use and a mother who gave up and moved away a couple of years before.  The oldest daughter, Fiona, and her live-in boyfriend, Steve, basically manage to keep the family together, fed, and in school.  The five younger siblings survive in the chaos while contributing their best efforts to maintain the sense of family

My daughter-in-law commented that the Gallaghers put the "fun" in "dysfunctional." And truly they do.  If it weren't for the fun factor, viewers would have no reason to tune in.  As a former child protection worker, I have been to dysfunctional households that weren't geared for fun.  They were places where not only was there nothing to laugh about, most visitors were even scared to sit down.

When I was a child, families on television were extremely functional, though not very realistic.   Barbara Billingsley (Leave It to Beaver), Jane Wyman (Father Knows Best), and Marjorie Lord (Make Room for Daddy) all wore their pearls and evening dresses around the house during the day waiting patiently on their male breadwinners to return home from work.  Fortunately all three had children to provide some sparkle to their days.

Those early television shows weren't like my family - a family where both parents worked.  My mother owned a few pieces of costume jewelry which she would sort through and trot out for special occasions - but there was not a pearl in the pile.  And I knew at an early age that if I was hungry, the quickest way to resolve the situation was to go in the kitchen and fix a sandwich.  Mom did cook, though how she found the time I will never understand - but many meals were "catch as catch can."

That was real life in the fifties and sixties - not the high-toned elegance of television families.

The first time I remember watching a television show and realizing that it involved a "real" family was Roseanne which premiered in 1988.  The Connors were real people - screaming, yelling, laughing - making their way through real situations.  A big part of the plot line was devoted to multi-generational, mother-daughter conflicts, but the show also explored how families functioned when they were forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck - in a world they jokingly described as "white trash."  Each episode looked at situations that could easily impact a majority of the viewers.  Roseanne was as real as real could get at the time.  

In 1989, one year after the premier of Roseanne, another highly dysfunctional family appeared on television - The Simpsons.  Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are still living in havoc twenty-four years later,  but it is a cartoon havoc which gives license to some truly bizarre antics that would be hard to replicate with real people.

My all time favorite dysfunctional family hit the airwaves in 2000 and ran for seven seasons.   Macolm in the Middle showed that, unlike Roseanne, mothers can also experience difficulty in dealing with sons.  (Of course, Lois, the mother, maintained a beaut of a mother-daughter conflict with her own obnoxious mother.)  The boys ranged from Francis, the eldest, who had been sent to a teen boot camp as an older adolescent and eventually aged out into life on his own, Reese, the friendless screw-up with a strong, and usually unfulfilled desire to belong, Malcolm, the smart middle child and the family's hope for the future, Dewey, a charmer who had to be outrageous in order to get noticed, and the baby, Jamie, a toddler with a mind of his own who seemed to be the burgeoning equal to his older brothers.  Malcolm's family also lived hand-to-mouth with both parents working dead-end jobs.

Looking back, the dysfunctional television family may have actually begun with Lucy.  True, she was a non-working housewife with nice dresses and the occasional pearls, but she found herself in situations that June Cleaver could never have imagined.  Lucy possibly begat Roseanne, and then along came the Simpsons, Malcolm, and finally Shameless.  Can it get any more real than that - and if it does - will we still think it is funny?

Child Protective Services showed up at the Gallagher home last week.  Trust me as one who has stepped into a home with a pickup order signed by a judge on many occasions, that is not funny - but it is very real.  There comes a point when dysfunctional ceases to be fun.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "Balloons"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Sylvia Plath, poet and novelist, died by her own hand fifty years and one week ago today.  She left behind two small children and a husband, Ted Hughes, who would later become the Poet Laureate of Great Britain.  Plath was a troubled soul and her work often focused on death.  She did not believe in an afterlife, per se, but did consider that immortality might be reached to some extent by what one creates, both through material accomplishments as well as off-spring.  And by that measure, she achieved immortality whether her soul reached an eternal state in the great beyond or not.

Plath's last poem, Edge, was written just days before her death.  It was centered on death and had her ever-present hints of suicide.  The poem she wrote a few days before that, however, was a bit cheerier.  In that poem, Balloons, she talked about the children's balloons left over from the holidays.

Please enjoy Sylvia Plath's next-to-last poem, Balloons, and if you've not read her classic work, The Bell Jar, which is also deals with suicide - get thee to a library and check it out.   Plath was a wonderful writer and poet who sadly lost her long battle with depression.

by Sylvia Plath

Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Oval soul-animals,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk

Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish--------
Such queer moons we live with

Instead of dead furniture!
Straw mats, white walls
And these traveling
Globes of thin air, red, green,

The heart like wishes or free
Peacocks blessing
Old ground with a feather
Beaten in starry metals.
Your small

Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,
He bites,

Then sits
Back, fat jug
Contemplating a world clear as water.
A red
Shred in his little fist. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Warm Bodies" Gives Off Warm Fuzzies

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

Okay, the world probably didn't need another feel-good zombie movie, a quirky romantic tale of a blossoming love between a rifle-toting, zombie-hunting, beautiful girl, and the ruggedly handsome young male zombie who befriends the girl after killing her boyfriend and munching on his brains - but "Warm Bodies" is so good that the cliches can be easily overlooked.

"Warm Bodies" is first and foremost a love story, but it also brings to light some zombie facts that aren't generally known.  I, for one, did not know that if a zombie kills and then destroys the brain of his victim, that victim is truly dead and will not walk the earth as a zombie.  Did you know that?  I also learned the when a zombie eats the brains of his victim, he acquires the memories of that person.  Another thing I learned was that there are two types of zombies - the standard stumbling dead, and the vicious black skeletal zombies (who resemble the demons of hell from the movie "Ghost").  The black skeletal zombies are well beyond redemption.  Also, the way to kill zombies is to shoot them in the head.  This movie was so educational!

The plot:  The world has suffered a zombie apocalypse and most of the population has been turned into the walking dead.  They roam the planet searching for the few remaining humans with the intention of dining on their warm, bloody flesh.  There are some surviving humans who have walled themselves into the center of a large urban area.   The secure area has one well-guarded gate, and one secret entrance that some of the teens know about.  Occasionally the humans have to send patrols beyond the wall to forage for supplies.  These patrols of young, pretty people are well-armed and ready to shoot any zombies that they encounter.

Julie (Teresa Palmer) and several of her friends go on patrol in search of medical supplies.  While they are rummaging through a hospital pharmacy, they are discovered by a group of roving zombies.   During the ensuing melee, Julie stands on a counter spraying fire in a manner that would have brought a tear to Rambo's eye.  Julie's boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), shoots a young male zombie named "R" (Nicholas Hoult), but Perry hit  him in the chest rather than the head - and that just pissed R off.  R attacks Perry, kills him, snacks on his brain and puts the left-overs in his pocket to enjoy later.  Somehow during the altercation, R takes Julie by the hand and leads her away from the danger.

R escorts Julie to the local airport that he and some of the other zombies inhabit.  He places her in a passenger jet where he keeps his valuables - vinyl recordings, a record player, and an old fashioned hand-slide viewer.    Very slowly as the two young people (okay, young lady and young zombie) begin interacting, R discovers that he is acquiring human characteristics.  (The tagline for the movie is:  "He's still dead, but he's getting warmer.")

One complication that the couple face is that Julie's father (John Malkovich) is the president of the colony of humans and he is firm in his belief that all zombies need a bullet to the head.

"Warm Bodies" is an enjoyable film, a look at love from a bit of a quirky perspective - but it is love nonetheless.  The soundtrack is fun and the actors are believable and engaging.  It's well worth the price of admission and refreshments!   Viewers who are truly human will take away some warm fuzzies from the experience!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Lure of Duval Street

by Pa Rock
Tourist Wannabe

My sister is leaving today on yet another cruise - and I am sitting out in the Scorpion State, desert brown with envy!

I spoke with her on the phone today as she was driving to the port to board her big boat for five days on the Caribbean.   I strongly encouraged her to take along some extra food - emergency rations like snack bars - and maybe a supply of baggies.  She laughed, but I don't think she was really amused.  Gail reminded me that she would be sailing on Royal Caribbean, and not the disaster-prone Carnival Cruise Lines.    I hope she has made a good decision, wish her well, and think the snack bars and baggies are a good idea, nonetheless.

Gail's cruise will eventually reach Cozumel, but tomorrow they will go ashore in Key West, one of my favorite places on earth.  There is nothing more relaxing than a lazy stroll along Duval Street on a warm Caribbean afternoon:  the tourist shops, street performers, Margaritaville, Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's house, Truman's Little White House, the drunks, the same-sex couples kissing on the street, the music spilling out of the bars, the screaming parrot - the magic never ends!  I am certain that I could spend the rest of my days sitting in the open-air Sloppy Joe's sipping beer and watching the tourists stumble up and down Duval.

Wouldn't it be great if that's what Heaven was like!  It sounds like Heaven to me!

Have fun, Gail!

Friday, February 15, 2013

GOP May Get the Economic Devastation It Desires

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

While not being a fan of Wal-mart (it has been over fifteen years since I last set foot in one), I do understand that the company is a bellwether of the national economy.  That's why today's report from Bloomberg is so disturbing.  Bloomberg has secured an email from Jerry Murray, a Wal-mart vice-president, that said February was off to the slowest start that he had seen in seven years.  Murray lamented, "Sales are a total disaster."

My own personal grievance with Wal-mart is that it single-handedly swallowed up America's small businesses - the stores that used to line every Main Street in America - hardware stores, five-and-dimes, clothing emporiums, and grocery stores - leaving significant holes in our communities and in our hearts.  But I know that era of history is over.  Today everything has been taken over by bigger and bigger companies that fight ferociously to not pay their workers a living wage or show them any respect.  Wal-mart is just one among the many.  That is the world we live in.

Everyone, except me, goes to Wal-mart to save a few bucks and gaze in hypnotic awe at all of the wonderful things which they suddenly must have.  Going to Wal-mart has become a national obsession.     It is one way that families spend their "quality" time together, a reward for kids doing their chores, a convenient excuse to get out of the house.

But Jerry Murray says business is tanking.  What's up with that?  The government says that the job market is growing, albeit painfully slow, but the unemployment numbers are scandalously unreliable because they fail to take into account people who have given up on finding jobs.  And the jobs that are out there are minimum wage or less, seasonal, and less than reliable sources of long-term employment.

The real problem is government.   One party has won the presidency for the past two elections, and the other party has made it a holy mission to block the President from getting anything done.  The Republicans won't pass jobs bills, they won't vote to raise the minimum wage, and they keep seniors living in a state of fear with veiled (and unveiled) threats about cutting their Social Security and Medicare.  The only people that the GOP has not been terrorizing are the extremely rich (whom they refer to as "middle class"), and large corporations that they like to call "small businesses."

The Republicans think they can wreck the economy and then lay all of the blame at the feet of the President.  They pulled that crap for most of the past four years, and it didn't sell.  The President handily won re-election over their "small businessman," multi-millionaire Mitt Romney.  It didn't work then, and it is not going to work now.

Wal-mart is losing business.   Payroll taxes have gone up thanks to inaction by Republican members of Congress - and people know they are to blame - leaving consumers with less money to spend.    The federal government is about to go through a massive spending cut that will kick the slats out from under the struggling economy, and Republicans fantasize that the Democrats will be blamed.  They won't.  Republicans want to force Democrats to sign onto their austerity measures - cutting the social programs that literally give millions the ability to survive with some dignity - but the Democrats are proving tougher than anticipated.

So uncertainty rules - and uncertainty keeps people out of Wal-mart.

The Republicans in Congress need to be very careful about what they pray for because they just might get it - along with the credit for the whole mess.  Mr. Speaker, we are smarter than you think.