Monday, November 30, 2015

Willow Is Four!

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandfather

Little Willow Files has a birthday today - she is four.   Willow lives in Oregon with her parents, Scott and Molly, and her older brothers, Sebastian and Judah.  Willow is presently my youngest grandchild and one of the ones whom I see the least.  She is growing up fast, and not being around to see that happen is a loss which I feel deeply.

Willow is at the front end of her life, just beginning to figure out that there is a lot going on beyond the walls and family warmth that represent her home.  She has so much to look forward to and enjoy as she works her way across the decades, and she is sure to experience things that are well beyond my imagination.  So much changes with time.

My grandfather rode into Missouri in a covered wagon, and my grandchildren may well ride into space on rockets.

Your future is limitless, Little Willow.  Enjoy every day of your life, and live it knowing that Pa Rock loves you very, very much!

Happy 4th birthday!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Huckabee Gets It Right - for a Change

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It should come as no surprise to anyone that in the United States of America, a country awash in guns and intolerance, acts of domestic terrorism are becoming more and more common.  Some news organizations seem reluctant to identify terrorist acts for what they are - particularly if the terrorist is not of Middle Eastern persuasion - but anytime a bomb goes off or a shooting rampage occurs over something that has its roots in politics or policies deemed unfair by a significant portion of the population, an act of terrorism is underway.

One way to gauge the honesty of our political class is to observe and note their reactions to acts of domestic terrorism.  Do they label it for what it is, or do they try to look the other way and ignore it?

This week's shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado serves as a way to begin separating forthright politicians from those who are less so.  It wasn't necessarily surprising that all three Democratic presidential candidates condemned the actions of shooter and killer, Robert Dear.  Almost the entire slate of Republican contenders kept quiet on the issue - and that wasn't surprising either.  That must have been exceedingly difficult for some of the GOP candidates considering that one of the dead was a police officer and part time Christian minister, but, nevertheless they stayed quiet - not wanting to upset their "Christian" base who abhor Planned Parenthood.

The statements from both sides were highly predictable with one glaring exception.

Former Baptist minister and Fox News personality, Mike Huckabee, a man who sees himself as God's horse in the presidential race, stepped back, looked at what actually happened, and called a spade a spade.  It was, he said, an act of "domestic terrorism."  While speaking of the shooter, the Huckster lamented on CNN:

"But regardless of why he did it, what he did is domestic terrorism, and what he is did is absolutely abominable, especially to those of us in the pro-life movement, because there's nothing about any of us that would condone or in any way look the other way at something like this."

The ground between the pro-life and pro-choice movements has always been a bit of a swamp, with many in the pro-life movement seeming to favor capital punishment and policies leading to war, while many in the pro-choice movement oppose legal practices that terminate the lives of adults - and both sides quick to label the other as hypocrites.

Huckabee managed to maintain his pro-life principals while condemning the shooter in accurate terms.  The shooter, Mr. Dear, made a statement to arresting officers that indicated a sympathy with the pro-life movement, but his actions were not theirs.    Mr. Dear's actions were those of a terrorist - and it was very good of Mike Huckabee to admit that.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

More Terrorism in Colorado Springs

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Colorado Springs, Colorado, is no stranger to controversy or acts of terror.  The city is home to James Dobson's right-wing Focus on the Family as well as the mega-church founded by Ted Haggard, a man who fell from grace when it was discovered that he used the services of male prostitutes and did meth.  It is also home to the United States Air Force Academy, a college long-noted for faculty members proselytizing to students about the "rightness" of fundamentalist Christianity.

Colorado Springs is also a cesspool of prostitution, bars, liquor stores, gun shops, and pawn shops set up to take the money of soldiers at nearby Ft. Carson.  Those seeking to know more about the sleazy underbelly of Colorado Springs would do well to watch the PBS Frontline Documentary "The Wounded Platoon."  It is an eye-opener on both the effects of too much war as well as trying to function in a warren of clashing sanctimony and sin like Colorado Springs.

Last January there was a bombing in Colorado Springs that drew national attention primarily because it took place near the city's NAACP headquarters.  The bomber later denied that the NAACP was his target, saying instead that he was focused on the office of his accountant - an office that had been closed for over fifteen years.   Regardless of the target, a bombing in a public place is a terroristic act, one with the intent of frightening, wounding, and killing people.

Yesterday there was another serious act of terrorism in Colorado Springs.  This time a 57-year-old man by the name of Robert Lewis Dear stormed the Planned Parenthood clinic and barricaded himself inside for several hours.  Mr. Dear, who reportedly was armed with multiple weapons, killed three people, including a police officer, and wounded nine others.  He was later arrested without harm to himself.

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic had been the scene of a large public protest in August.

All that is known of Mr. Dear so far is that he was formerly of North and South Carolina, and has an extensive arrest record for crimes such as driving violations, animal abuse, and being a peeping tom.

And he is a terrorist.

It will be interesting to watch as the story of Robert Dear unfolds, particularly as the light of public scrutiny begins shining on those individuals and organizations who influenced his delusional thought processes.   Not every terrorist is armed.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Lives Really Do Matter

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When someone out here in the woods utters the words "black lives matter," it it interpreted one way - and one way only:  that person is anti-police.   The racists and political harpies - especially those on Fox News - were quick to subvert an honest effort to shine a light on racism in America into an imaginary war on cops and an attack on traditional American values.   Honest discourse was immediately swept aside in a flood of patriotic twaddle and and angry demands to stand clear of the police and let them do their jobs.

But, of course, the angry white shouters aren't the ones whose children are being killed by out-of-control cops.

We have become so used to stories of young black men, often unarmed, being gunned down by white policemen that it has dulled our senses to the awfulness of what is going on.  Sometimes, as with the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, the shootings appear to be more closely aligned with executions than they were with accepted police procedure.   Some have even begun referring to this trigger-happy overkill as today's equivalent of lynchings.

Police shootings, however, are just one aspect of how we are systematically destroying black communities.   Black men are disproportionately represented in America's prisons, often for non-violent crimes and crimes for which white offenders rarely get incarcerated.  And then there is the lack of decent jobs in black communities, and decent schools, and social connections.

America's black communities are, by-and-large, being intentionally excluded from the national mainstream of opportunities for advancement - and the reason for that exclusion is, at its most basic level, skin color.   Yes, we have a black President, but sadly Mr. Obama's presence in the White House seems to have strengthened the resolve of some Americans to double down in their mistreatment and marginalization of blacks.  One step forward, two steps back.

We are a land of many resources, and chief among those are our people.   The continued economic and social war on our black citizens represents a colossal waste of resources and impairs our future as a world leader.  We, black and white American's, are stronger and wiser together.

 It is not them and us, it is all us.

Stop the executions by the police.  Demand justice be color blind.

Black lives really do matter.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Let's Welcome Refugees in the Spirit of Thanksgiving

by Pa Rock
Descendant of Refugees

There was a human interest piece in yesterday's local paper in which a reporter asked over fifty area citizens what they were thankful for.  As could be expected, many of the responses focused on family and health, but some ranged a bit further out.  One fellow said that he was thankful for "Fallout 4" and Adele.  Another person, a lady who is actually someone I know, listed a couple of things related to freedom, family, and health - and added - "not being a refugee."

I thought that was an interesting way to twist the current situation with all of the flap over whether to welcome refugees from Syria - or not - or under what conditions.  Some say bring them in because we are, after all, a nation built by refugees and inhabited almost exclusively by the descendants of refugees.  Many add that it is the "Christian" thing to do.

Others rail up against the concept of allowing refugees in, particularly individuals from Islamic countries or of the Muslim faith.  They, too, invoke Christianity (their unique brand of it) when seeking to deny refuge to outsiders.

And some, like my friend, are just thankful not to be among the displaced as winter closes in.

Many of the Syrian refugees still seeking asylum are living in crowded, chaotic, and deplorable circumstances.  They are fleeing an area that has been made politically unstable partially as a result of ill-advised American interference.  They need a place to settle, somewhere to call home, and America should be more than willing to open its doors and invite these unfortunates to join us.    That should be who we are as a people because they are who we were as a people.

Will there be some "bad apples" scattered among the new arrivals?  Probably.  Do we breed our own bad apples here - in families that have been citizens of the United States for generations?  Certainly.  Are there measures that we can be taking that would keep everyone in this country safer, regardless of when they arrived?  Absolutely.

I would rather spend my days watching a few Muslims roll out their prayer mats than listening to my Confederate flag-waving neighbors fire automatic weapons - but that's just me.

Immigration pumps new blood and ideas and energy into our nation.  It makes us more relevant and vital in the modern world, and it adds strength and character to the profile of who we are as a people.

The acceptance of others, particularly those in need and without homes, is a fundamental of Christianity.

I am relatively healthy, and so are my children and grandchildren.  I have a dry roof over my head, a full pantry, and plenty of propane to last the winter.  I have a place of safety and permanence in this wild and wicked world, and for that I am very thankful.  But others are not so fortunate.  Centuries ago the pilgrims held a feast of Thanksgiving to praise God for getting them safely to the new world.  Now, as we continue to celebrate that miraculous feat of immigration, we should repay that original divine kindness by helping today's refugees gain the same foothold in their own new world.

(And just for the record, I also am thankful for Adele!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Unflinching Burden of Too Much to Do

by Pa Rock

Many people maintain bucket lists of places they want to visit before they die, but my list contains things that I want - or need - to accomplish before the grim reaper throws me over his shoulder.   I'm not talking about the daily stuff - like the jonquil bulbs still needing to be placed and covered in the holes that Nick has already dug, or the fresh straw that needs to be spread across the peacock's pen - but the long-range projects that I had intended to get done during the early years of my retirement.

One thing that has been dogging me for many years is to get my old 242 newspaper genealogy columns indexed so that they might be of use to family researchers.  I got ambitious back in 2008 and carefully re-typed each column into a blog on the Internet, but they would be so much more beneficial with an index.  To my credit, I have finally started that task.   Recently I have copied, reformatted, and printed each column so that now I have a paper copy to work from.  The next big step, of course, is to sit down and actually do the work - something I truly dread.

Shortly before I left Okinawa in 2012, I drove down to Peace Park on the southern tip of the island and took pictures of the rows and rows of granite slabs containing the names of every American who died in the Battle of Okinawa.  As near as I can determine, that information is still not available in a collected version on the Internet.  If, after one more very careful search of the net, I still cannot find a source page with all of the names, I will create it myself.

With just those two items alone - plus the daily blog - I have more than enough inside work to last through the winter - and I need to get on it because I have no way of knowing how many winters I will last through!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Unterrified Democrat

by Pa Rock
News Hound

Early Friday morning as Gail and I were driving toward Jefferson City, we stopped at a convenience store just south of Missouri's capital city to pick up a few things (munchies and such) to take on the long train ride.  While we were in the little store, I happened to notice a stack of the area's local weekly newspapers.  The title of the small town paper was "Unterrified Democrat," and I immediately relieved myself of seventy-five cents so that I could have a copy to take along on the train ride to Chicago.

After a bit of basic internet research I learned that the Unterrified Democrat has been published weekly in to town of Linn since 1866.  It was founded by Missouri State Senator Lebbeus Zevely.  Senator Zevely, even though he was a Democrat, had supported the Union during the Civil War, but after the war when some legislators proposed that all should sign a loyalty oath to the Union, Zevely refused.  Later during a debate in the Senate Chamber, a colleague referred to Senator Zevely as an "unterrified Democrat."  Lebbeus Zevely wore that moniker as a mark of honor and proudly used it as the title of his newspaper.

The Unterrified Democrat refers to itself as the UD.

Last week's edition (November 18th) of the UD had twenty-two pages of area news, sports, hunting updates, and school activities.  The front page featured a story on the arrest of two meth dealers along with their photos, three non-complimentary articles on the local sheriff, the tale of a fuss-up as a local school tried to get another school's trailer removed from its property, and some local city council action where aldermen passed an ordinance making landlords responsible for unpaid utility bills at their rental properties.  There was also a photo of some area bikers who were on a trip to the far west.

One thing of interest inside of the newspaper were a couple of pages of youth hunters posing with deer they had killed.  One of the hunters was only six-years-old.  Although I am not a fan of children lugging around loaded (or even unloaded) weapons for any reason, Missouri seems to have more than enough deer to satisfy the needs of hunters of any age.

It wasn't always that way.

In its "Remember When" column, the Unterrified Democrat printed this snipped from a century earlier.  According to the issue printed on Thursday, November 18th, 1915:

"Five deer have been killed in Osage County in the vicinity for Folk, Koeltztown and Babbtown since Nov. 1, which demonstrates big game in that section of the state has not disappeared.  Two were killed near Folk, two at Koeltztown, and one at Babbtown."

Just five deer were killed in a big section of Osage County, a very rural area, in seventeen days.  I have hosted that many in my back yard on multiple occasions.  Conservation efforts work - though some might argue that when it comes to deer, they work to a fault.

Democrats and Republicans have basically switched descriptions over the past hundred and fifty years, but regardless of whatever Senator Zevely's core beliefs were, I do admire his belligerence - and his newspaper must be fairly belligerent because it has certainly stood the test of time!

UD - you rock!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

by Pa Rock
King of the Road

(Note:  This blog entry is being posted from onboard an Amtrak passenger train near Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.  Who would have thought that there would be Wi-Fi service on a train - and electric outlets by every seat!  Heaven, I'm in heaven!)

Our final night in Chicago found us at a very unique small theatre just a few blocks from the Pfetcher’s home.     The venue houses the Chicago area’s longest running play – one that has been going on for years – called “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.”

The production is actually more of a concept piece than it is a dramatic effort based on a standard and set script.    In the performance thirty “plays” (actually skits) are played out in one hour.  A clock with a timer is set, and at the end of the hour a timer goes off and the performance is over whether all of the material has been produced that evening or not. 

The plays (skits) are performed by a cast of five – the same people who authored the material.  They are presented in a random order – with numbers of skits being called out by audience members – causing cast members to have to rush to drag out the right props and remember their lines from the highly distinctive and unusual scripts.  Then, to ensure that things remain really dicey, some plays exit the performance each week while others are added – the number of replacements being dependent on the roll of a die by an audience member.

The overall performance is rushed, chaotic, and lots of fun.  It’s easy to see why the show remains so popular.  Heidi and Jason had last attended a performance nine years ago.

One of my favorite plays of the evening centered on a young man of mixed Korean-American heritage who only got to see his Korean father one day a year when the old man would come to America for the briefest of visits.   The young man and his father always had a hard time making conversation during those visits.  In the play the fellow told about the visit in which he struggled to let his father know that he was gay.

Others were more farcical.  One was about a young man who hoarded and hid cans of Tab cola.   The bit was called “Keeping Tabs.”   Another, “Mike Check” had one of the cast members setting up and then testing a microphone.  After he successfully completed that task, he asked, over the now-functioning microphone if there was anyone in the house named Michael.  When one person acknowledged that was his name, the person at the microphone inquired at to how he (Mike) was.

Lots of fun stuff – and some of it very touching.

Funding of the production is also worth a mention.  Tickets were fifteen dollars in advance or nine at the door.   No, that’s not a misstatement.   People who paid nine dollars for a ticket at the door were required to roll a die and add the amount of the roll to the price of a ticket – meaning the ultimate purchase price was between ten and fifteen dollars.  People who paid the fifteen in advance also rolled a die and got cash back for the amount of their roll – meaning tickets would ultimately be between nine and fourteen dollars – a slight advantage for buying tickets in advance.  A further quirk to pricing, however, was that ticket-buyers could forgo money saved through the dice-rolling by loudly declaring “Keep the change!” as they stepped through the door and into the darkened theatre.  Many chose the “Keep the Change!” option – thus providing more funds to keep the unique theatre experience alive.

“Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” is an extremely unique theatrical experience, one that any visitor to the Chicago area should make an effort to see.  The theatre, a small establishment that seats less than one hundred – affording everyone a great view and easy participation – is located in downtown Andersonville.

And when you’re there, let them “Keep the change!”  Those young people work very hard at plying their craft and keeping us entertained.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Andersonville on Ice

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

Today is our final full-day in Chicago, and the weather is cold, cold, cold!

This morning  the Pfetcher’s took us to the Science and Technology Museum on Chicago’s south side.  The highlight of that trip was a tour of a captured German U-Boat from World War II.  We also viewed one of the world’s largest model train set-ups that had a variety of little trains rolling through miniaturized cities and smaller communities.  There were also two full-sized locomotives on display as well as airplanes, stagecoaches, and a Conestoga wagon.  The museum is immense (as any building that houses an actual submarine must be), and we didn’t see nearly all of it, but the things we did see were amazing!

This afternoon I took a stroll by myself up through Andersonville, a small and rather fun community just a few blocks from the Pfetcher’s home.   The wind was sharp and cold, and there were still many patches of ice on the sidewalks – so it was slow-going on foot.  I visited a bookstore (one of my weaknesses), a toy store (another of my weaknesses), and walked through a Persian store primarily for the warmth and sweet, inviting smells.

This evening Jason is preparing steaks on the grill – and then we are off to a nearby little theatre production.   Gail and I are being treated exceedingly well in Chicago.  It may be hard getting back into chicken-rancher mode!

Wozzeck at Chicago's Lyric Opera

by Pa Rock
Theatre Fan

Yesterday evening my sister, Gail, and I had the pleasure of attending the final performance of the German opera, Wozzeck, at the Chicago Lyric Opera.  We were in the audience primarily to see Gail's granddaughter, Lauren Pfetcher, appear on stage with several other area youth in an action and singing scene at the close of the show.

Lauren was amazing - very professional in her stage debut as a German street urchin.  After the show we joined her and the other German street urchins for ice cream at a local Baskin Robbins.  It was fun watching the kids interact.  Just weeks before they had been unknown to each other in the big city of Chicago, but the experience of being a part of Wozzeck, rehearsals and seven performances, had bound them into a tight little group of friends.

The Chicago Opera House is a very ornate theatre that has been a cultural venue in the Windy City for decades.  Gail and I had what were referred to as "box seats," but were actually groups of eight sectioned off across the first balcony.  We arrived early and got the front two seats in our box, staring out over what was essentially the dead-bang center of the theatre.  Literally two of the best seats in the house.

I've already prefaced this by saying Lauren was great.  That said, I think it only fair to say that when it comes to opera, I am less than a fan.  The only opera that I remember ever having see before was a college production years before of La Traviata.   I have also seen a film of The Pirates of Penzance (the Linda Ronstadt - Kevin Kline version which I liked immensely.)

(In my defense, however, I do enjoy the ballet!)

We had been forewarned that Wozzeck was a very dark piece of operatic theatre - and it certainly was.  The title character is a German soldier who serves as a flunky to his captain and his regiment.  The soldier has a mistress out in the community who refers to herself in perjorative terms.  They are the parents of an illegitimate young son.  Wozzeck volunteers to be a part of medical experiments with his regiment's doctor so that he can earn extra money to support his family.  As the story progresses the mistress has an affair with the regiment's handsome drum major, a sad failing which ultimately leads to despair and death.

Cheery stuff, right?  And all in German!

But, darkness aside, Wozzeck was an evening that I wouldn't have missed for the world!

Great job, Lauren!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chicago in the Snow

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

Our train pulled into Chicago's Union Station last night just as the first snowfall of the season was kicking into gear.  My niece, Heidi Pfetcher, and her two girls, Lauren and Ruby, were there to meet us.  Heidi said that it was the girls' first visit to that famous train station.

Our drive to Heidi and Jason's beautiful home was uneventful, even with the snow.   Heidi pointed out several places of interest along the way including Grant Park where the Obama's celebrated his election night victory in 2008 - and the high rise where Oprah lives.

The snow, which appeared to be quite heavy last night, did not last.

The train ride was fairly uneventful.  The trains between Chicago and Kansas City apparently do not have dining or observation cars - something I did not realize, so our wandering about the train was limited to trips to the restrooms and the cafe car.  Everything in the cafe car was overpriced, but it was still nice to have an excuse to get up and move around.

Yesterday was Gail's first long-distance ride on a train and she was not very impressed - if fact she called it boring!  I however, liked having the quiet time to just sit and read and watch the world slide by.  She likes the excitement of cruise ships, and I prefer the rocking solitude of trains.

Today we are off to see a few local sights, and tonight we will be in the audience to see the final production of Wozzek at the Lyric Opera and to cheer on young Lauren as she performs in the show.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Silver Streak Redux

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

Gail and I are fixing to head out this morning, way before daylight, for a drive to Jefferson City where we will board the Silver Streak for a trip to Chicago.  Okay, it will just be an Amtrak train – not the Silver Streak – but that part of the route will be the same as the one traversed by Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor all those many years ago.    Hopefully our train will stop of its own accord when it reaches Union Station in Chicago tomorrow night – and not go plowing into the building!

This will be my sister’s first ride on a train.  She wanted to know if our luggage will be inspected (usually not) – and could she bring sharp objects and liquids?   (I’ve never been asked to surrender my fingernail clippers.)    I think that Gail will find that train travel is far less traumatizing than flying!

Tomorrow night we will be sitting in a box seat at the beautiful Lyric Opera in Chicago watching Gail’s granddaughter, Lauren Pfetcher, perform.

A train ride and a classy show.  Life just doesn’t get much better than that!

The forecast is for snow - and even that will be fun!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Children of the Harvest

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I'm not sure why there is such a rush for children to grow up quickly.  Childhood, at least from the vantage point of the years just prior to senility, seems like it was an enjoyable time for me.  Children are acting older, dressing older, and exhibiting signs of independence guaranteed to get them noticed.  Parents are not only often complicit in this rush to age, but at times seem to be instigating it.

Okay, it's probably just me being old fashioned.  I don't like seeing infants and toddlers with pierced ears, and the other day I saw a very young boy, possibly elementary-school aged, with a tattoo on his arm.  My old instincts as a state child protection worker kicked into gear and I thought that I ought to report it.  Then I realized that his school teacher, a mandated reporter, probably already had.  Of course not all kids attend school - regardless of their ages - and I have been out of the child protection business way too long to know the legal constraints regarding tattooing children.

I recently heard an appalling story from an old man that I know.  He said that years before he had taught his six-year-old nephew how to chew tobacco.   Everyone who heard him tell that story was aghast, but he blundered on:  "Well, he asked me to show him.  If I didn't someone else would have.  What was I supposed to do?"

What indeed.

And then there's the topic of kids and guns.  Lots of parents push a knowledge of guns on their children for a whole variety of reasons - and the NRA sponsors classes to teach children how to shoot "responsibly."  Sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn't.  I personally knew a thirteen-year-old who was killed by his friend while they were both playing with a gun in an unsupervised setting.  Adam Lanza's mother kept several firearms in her home and took young Adam to the range so that he could learn how to fire them.  She was rewarded for her efforts when he shot and killed her in her sleep and then took a couple of her guns to the local elementary school where he killed a group of first graders along with their teachers and principal.

Missouri has a youth firearms season for hunting deer which was held recently.  This week the local newspaper ran a full page of color photos of successful young hunters with their dead deer.  (The Missouri Conservation Department refers to the annual deer hunts as "harvests.")  The young hunters - six girls ranging in age from 7 to 14 and four boys aged 9 to 13 - were all smiles as they knelt beside their trophies.  They were mighty proud, and their parents were proud, and I like kids - so heck I was even a little proud for them myself, but I still felt a bit of the uneasy queasies thinking that some very young people were becoming comfortable carrying deadly weapons.

It seems to me like somebody may be getting shortchanged out of a few carefree and happy years.  The deer may not be the only thing getting harvested - we may also be taking the best years of childhood away from our children.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Sun, She Shines!

by Pa Rock
Weather Watcher

After two days of unrelenting rain, the sun has finally managed to make an appearance.  It has been so miserably soggy here in southern Missouri that I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see blue skies again.  But here they are!

It was raining heavily when I woke up yesterday morning, well before daylight.  The downpour continued, more-or-less unabated, throughout the day and into the night.   The water formed thin lakes across the yard, filled the pond, and rushed into the low-lying area down next to where the roads intersect.  Although I still had an egress into town, both roads next to my place were covered with water for several hours.

Most of the poultry elected to make forays outside into the rains in an attempt to flee the stuffy hen house - and they wound up soggy and bedraggled as a result of their outdoor explorations.  The hens looked like a discomfited assemblage of blue-haired GOP committeewomen whose windows had suddenly rolled themselves down during the crescendo of a car wash.

But today the sun is shining, the air is cool and crisp, the standing water has begun to disappear, and all is right with my little world!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Putting On the Ritz

by Pa Rock

Putting On the Ritz is the second novel of comedic writer Joe Keenan, following closely the heels of his first hugely successful effort, Blue Heaven, and featuring three of the main characters from that debut effort.

The story's narrator, Philip Cavanaugh, and his best friend, Gilbert Selwyn, are gay young men who operate on the fringe of society and the entertainment industry in New York City.  Philip is half of a composing team that struggles to write and produce successful stage musicals.  Gilbert is a writer who lives off the kindness of others and seldom writes anything.

Greed was the motivator in Blue Heaven as Gilbert arranged to marry a very disagreeable woman whom he did not love so that they could collect and divide a pile of wedding gifts dutifully surrendered by their rich relatives and friends.   In Putting On the Ritz, however, the motivation for action becomes love as Gilbert and Philip each fall under the romantic spell of a magazine editor.

The editor, Tommy Parker, shamelessly leads each of the young men on and uses them to further his own agenda helping his boss, a well known New York billionaire, embarrass and perhaps ruin another New York billionaire.  The second billionaire, (who bears a striking resemblance to an actual New York billionaire currently involved in politics) has a wife who gave up a mediocre career as a cabaret singer years ago - and now wants to make a comeback.  As a part of a devious duplicity, Philip and his other friend, his composer-partner Claire, get themselves hired to help the singer launch a late-in-life career.  (Philip is willfully being duplicitous in order to gain Tommy's attention and romantic rewards.  Claire is his unwitting accomplice.)

And from there it gets dicey.

Joe Keenan, a former writer and producer for the television show Frasier, is relentlessly laugh-out-loud funny and he is a master plotter who never tires of surprising his readers.   His writing is often compared to that of P.G. Wodehouse, especially with regard to the same type of hapless characters that people Keenan's and Wodehouse's works.   As one reads a Keenan novel, the expectation is that Jeeves and Wooster are sitting just around the corner enjoying a cup of coffee or battling hangovers.

Blue Heaven (1988) and Putting on the Ritz (1992) have been alone on bookshelves for more than twenty years, but there is now a third novel out featuring the antics of Philip and Gilbert and Claire.  It is called My Lucky Star - and I can't wait to get a copy!

Joe Keenan offers a refreshing and necessary break in the tedium of life.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Unemployed"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

As we near the "holiday" season much attention is generally focused on helping those deemed to be "less fortunate" in our society.  While some, especially politicians, rush to appeal to our baser instincts by demonizing the poor, minorities, and others not clearly of the American "mainstream," there are many among the disadvantaged who are ready and willing to work, but can't find employment that will pay enough to lift them above the grip of poverty.

The following poem, "Unemployed" by Bernard Shaw, puts voice to the frustration of those who desire to work, but can't find enough in the way of employment to get "off of the dole."  As our thoughts turn to sharing and charity, let us pause to remember that "unemployed" and "lazy" are not necessarily synonymous.  Lend a hand when you can.

by Bernard Shaw

Unemployed and on the Dole,

Winter time without any coal.

Empty bellies, Wife and Child,

I only hope that Spring is mild.

Searched and searched all over Town,

Tired, Hungry, Must not fall down.

The Family depends on me,
I'm their only hope you see.

So once again with cap in hand,

WORK for me Sir, would be grand.

I'll labour and slave away, All Day,

In fact I'll do anything you say.

Sorry Old Chap, Come back tomorrow,

There is nothing doing much to my sorrow.

So on to the next, to beg and plea,

Sir haven't you got any work for me.

Once again, The reply is the same,

Do the Employers think that I'm having a game.

Do they think that it is one big joke,

To hear grown men use words that choke.

The Rent Man has come yet again to-day,

Sorry mate I just cannot pay.

With the money from the dole,

I went and bought a bag of coal.

A sack of potatoes, stolen from a farm,

To feed my Family, I meant no harm.

In future if I find work,

I'll pay the Farmer, I wont shirk.

But at the moment I would sell my SOUL,

Not to be any longer on the DOLE.