Friday, May 30, 2008

The Adventures of Oliver

The other night, after we'd had Miss Daisy at the vet because of her kidney condition, Christine brought her home while I went back to work and then to work out.

Oliver, our indoor outdoor cat, was inside when she got home, but he insisted he be allowed to go out.

Christine obliged, her attentions focused more on Miss Daisy, and Oliver went bounding out into the back yard.

A few minutes later, after offering Miss Daisy some food and heaving a sigh, Christine looked out the back window to see Ollie pawing at something.

"Oh no, she thought. He has a rabbit cornered." When that happens, we try to grab him and let the rabbits make a break for it.

Christine went out, planning to help out any hapless cottontail, only to find it was no rabbit Oliver was battling.

Now the serpent was more subtle
It was a snake. Not the same one that poked its head through the French doors a while back but a larger one. It was twisting about and generally flicking its tongue and doing its share of snake posturing.

"For the love of God, Oliver," she cried and when she was sure the serpent wasn't about to lunge, she snatched Ollie up and hauled him back indoors.

I came home about then to find her checking his legs and coat for signs of viper fangs. He didn't see to bothered and didn't seem to have signs of swelling, but he was yawning a lot. She was not sure what kind of snake it was, not having taken time to get his business card.

"I can't believe we're going to have to go back to the vet and tell him Oliver got a snake bite," Christine said. "He'll think we're terrible pet owners."

I wasn't looking forward to sucking out the poison on my own, but there is an emergency vet. Fortunately we decided Oliver was OK, but it was a little scary.

And Jabez prayed please enlarge my territory
His position was that the snake was in his territory. Cats are all about territory as you probably know.

And that is as true an accurate account of his latest ramble as I can type, with him sitting on my lap.

Daisy is napping in the other room, having taken to a new Hill's kidney diet dry cat food and having endured a subcutaneous treatment from Dr. Sid. In her mind that's a little like being in a Mad Scientist's Lair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Andy's Whistler Is Gone

I've probably mentioned how much I love "The Andy Griffith Show." I'm old enough to remember watching it "new" on Monday nights, and my grandmother and I were frequent re-run watchers.

I was sad to read this a.m. that Earl Hagen whose name is familiar to all those read credits. He wrote not just the Andy theme, "The Fishin' Hole," but many other TV themes and "Harlem Nocturne" as well, the quintessential tune for private-eye voice overs used to such good effect in Stacy Keach's Mike Hammer.

Read the CNN obit here.

Listen to a few bars of Harlem Nocturne here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Liked Indiana Jones. What of It?

I've detected some Indiana Jones bashing out there. I liked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Is it like the others? Well, yeah, but is that really a problem?

There are great action sequences, from a thrilling opening--with Soviets replacing Nazis as villains--to a hyper motorcycle chase that helps introduce new Indy sidekick Mutt (Shia LaBeouf).

If you're familiar with general paranormal lore, you'll recognize many of the plot riffs stemming from the crystal skull but there's so much excitement and spin that it's all pretty fresh, and if you've avoided spoilers there are many other neat character surprises as well.

I liked it on a par with Raiders and Last Crusade and better than Temple of Doom.

Ohhh, I almost forgot to mention there's a "Lost" Easter Egg: Andrew Divoff aka Patchy aka Mikhail Bakunin is seen briefly as a Russian soldier.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Surface of Barsoom

Years ago--I believe 1976 to be exact--someone on NBC News observed: "If it weren't for Edgar Rice Burroughs, we wouldn't be on Mars today."

In days of gloom and doom and woes, the Phonenix Mars Mission is a reminder that there are still triumphs to be had. We are getting new pictures from the surface of Mars, Burroughs' Barsoom where John Carter drew his sword to save a princess and to stand for right and courage.

In spite of all, what a fabulous time we live in, where the pages of the pulps become real, where the dreams and imaginations of eons past are realized.

We find no canals nor men, but still we stand in surrogate at least on a distant land, distant world.

If we can do this, perhaps there is hope yet.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why Didn't Somebody Tell Me About Breakheart Hill?

Years--make that eons--ago my next door neighbor at the time mentioned Thomas H. Cook's Blood Innocents. I'd seen it on the stands, but it had a cover that made it look like a routine police thriller.

A few good words made me change my mind and I read it and enjoyed the story of a homicide cop working on a pair of murders which resemble the killings of a pair of zoo animals. It featured a strange solution and a few character flourishes that shined.

I've picked up more Cook novels over the years, and he's picked up Edgars and accolades, but for some reason I've never made it a point to pick up every title.

I'm not sure what prompted me back into the Cook fold, perhaps an interesting synopsis on a book called The Interrogation, but my new interest recently led me to Breakheart Hill.

It's a stunner, a literary mystery that as the first-person narrator puts it is "the darkest story that I ever heard."

A Small Town in Alabama
We learn that he is Dr. Ben Wade, a doctor in the small town of Choctaw Ala. He once wanted to leave about as bad as Jimmie Stewart's character in It's a Wonderful Life, though this is sort of an anti-Frank Capra story.

He returned to serve as a general practitioner after medical school. In the mid-90s he is looking back to 1962 and events surrounding Breakheart Hill where he still envisions a teen-age Kelli Troy whose battered body was found there one summer afternoon.

Kelli, we learn, at the beginning of that school year, was the new girl in school and we follow the course of Ben's unrequited love. He and Kelli are thrust together to edit the school paper, and he and we find her to be a beautiful, remarkable girl with a socially conscious spirit and a desire to change the world.

Civil rights and social consciousness
Ben tells of how they visited a nearby town where some of the earliest civil rights protests were taking place and how that affected her, and gradually he reveals how--even as he tried to prevent it--she fell in love with another student.

Cook tells the story with a masterful skill, revealing facts carefully yet not with contrivance, building to a discovery of what really happened that is chilling and affecting.

I suppose this book may resonate with me for a couple of reasons. I and I suppose everyone can recall high school unrequited loves and how those emotions feel.

While I was in high school in the '70s, my mother was a high school teacher in the '60s and Cook, who is from the South, captures a keenly accurate sense of what those days were like both in the day to day and in the gradual awakening of social consciousness and change.

I'm working my way now through other Cook novel's I've missed including The City When It Rains, but if you've never read Cook Breakheart Hill will make a fine introduction.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Christine and Benjamin Button

I owe a bit of a debt to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Benjamin Button, the man who ages backward in a somewhat atypical Fitzgerald short story that's now due soon as a movie.

I was a bit excited to hear a while back a film was being made, and I just bounced across a trailer on the New Yorker web page.

I was checking out some shows I might jet up for over the long weekend. Kidding. I'll be here working a comics script, but about that debt.

Christine and I met while we were both reporters. She was not long out of college. I was a seasoned scribe with about five years' news experience.

She replaced the staff medical reporter who'd gone off to study the law, and we'd occasionally talk about this and that. Christine was not much of a fantasy reader. I was the eclectic I remain, and had read Gatsby in school and had encountered "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" but was not familiar with much of Great Scott's shorter work. Christine had and has a collection of short fiction and mentioned Benjamin Button. She brought the book to work for me to read, and we talked some more after that and started having lunch and playing putt putt golf--the latter kind of close to a first date after I finished an afternoon of interviewing Ray Stevens about Ahab and others.

Anyway, BB is due soon and here's the trailer that Spanish? I'm terrible for recognizing languages.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thanks for the Thoughts on Miss D

Thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts about Miss Daisy. She's been in good spirits the last couple of days and the vet has been pleased with her response to treatment.

We've had some trouble getting her to eat the special diet food, not unlike the time we bought the best petfood in the world only to have her turn her nose up at it, so the vet said it would be OK to mix in a touch of her usual canned food for flavor.

I did that, and in typical Miss Daisy fashion she started eating, and I think managed to eat just the flavorful food and leave the healthy diet on the plate.

Video upload is better today. Here's Daisy at play a couple of nights ago.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

That's All the Time We Have

We got some bad news this week. Miss Daisy Kittycat, eldest of our four feline companions, is suffering kidney failure. She's had some weight loss of late, but we attributed that to an effort to avoid free feeding to cut down her calories.

Last Sunday, however, she started turning down Pounce, which never happens. She's always been motivated by flavor.

We took her to the vet thinking maybe she had some dental pain because she did finally accept soft canned food, but midday we learned he'd tested creatin levels and found them to be at about the worst.

He began some fluid treatments and by Friday the levels were better and her personality was chipper, so she's home for the weekend and sitting on my lap demanding my hand as I type.

Time can bring you down
It's hard to know how long she will retain a decent quality of life, but for the moment she's hanging in. She'll get more treatments next week.

At 10 1/2 it just seemed like we'd have longer with her, as Christine noted tearfully Wednesday night. Cats can often live until 20 or older, and it's Monty, the oldest Tom in the house--besides me--that we've worried about the most.

Time can bend your knees
Daisy came to us as a kitten, first out of the box when she and her litter mates were dropped off by one of Christine's co-workers so that we could choose the one we'd adopt.

We wound up taking her and her brother, Cleo, who was unfortunately killed only a few months later when a neighbor's cat chased him away from our house. Daisy became an inside cat only a short time later, something I've sometimes felt bad about, but theory is that inside cats are safer.

Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
The nights she was at the vet reminded me, even with other cats around, what the absence of her "personality" feels like. She's different from the boys, possessed of a sweetness and femininity that makes her unquestionably special and unique.

Robin Williams' Popeye was not a hit but when it was about to be released, there was a Popeye float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from which one of the film's song was performed. "Sweet Haven! God must love us..." was the chorus.

I've long substituted by own lyrics:

"Miss Daisy, God must love us. Miss Daisy!"

She dispelled any notions I had early on that cats are aloof, and as I tried to coax her to eat the special diet food the vet sent home for her, I remembered how strong her spirit has always been.

When she was spayed, her body rejected the stitches. I remember watching her eat a few days after surgery, even though she clearly felt terrible, her fur ruffled and ears turned down. The stitches gave way on a Saturday night and we had to call the vet and rush her to the office where plain cotton stitches and rounds of antibiotics were required to spur healing.

That feels like it was like yesterday, just as does the time she slipped through a hole in our fence and got nabbed by animal control, and I had to go bail her out of the pound.

Time can break your heart, have you begging please
She has curled on me most nights to sleep for as long as I can remember, has climbed into every box that's come into the house to claim it, inspect it and sleep in it and has kept the males at bay with a strong will. She forces her head between my palm and the telephone handset if I'm talking to someone and not paying attention to her.

At least this has come with warning, forcing me to slow down and cherish every poke and prod she gives me, demanding attention. My father died from kidney failure as well, but we had some good hours the days he was in hospice as he declined.

My doctor once told me it probably is not good for my lower back to have the Daisy-weight when she sleeps on my spine, but I think I'll try to tolerate it.

Hopefully that will be a good while longer.

Addendum - 2015
Miss Daisy exceeded all expectations for a cat with chronic renal failure. She responded well to care and remained with us until Dec. 4, 2015. She continued to sleep on my legs or at my side most of that time.

She breathed her final breath resting peacefully in her bed between Christine and I at our veterinarian in Orlando where we moved in 2012.

More details on her passing are here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doctor Who Tackles Serious Issues

(From Miladysa I learned that today is Bloggers Unite for Human Rights Day. This is my little effort to keep with the cause. I hope it's worthwhile.)

I was not initially enthusiastic to see that the Ood were returning to this year's Doctor Who. The ancillary figures in Season 2's The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit move to center stage in The Planet of the Ood.

Whoopie, I thought. Then I settled in to watch the episode on Sci Fi where the show is airing only a little behind the BBC debut. I discovered in watching what a brilliant and timely metaphor writer Keith Temple had penned.

Subtext has long been a part of the Who universe. Much digital and actual ink was used to discuss the Prime Minister's decision to destroy an already retreating space craft in The Christmas Invasion.

Now the Ood, as we learned in The Impossible Planet, are a servant race, born and sworn to act as sort of universal butlers. In Planet of the Ood they are also standing in metaphorically for slave labor and mistreament everywhere while also indicting consumer apathy--not just in Britian, within other borders as well.

I don't think the production of a major television series could have intentionally been coordinated with the news of slavery conditions in the Asian shrimp industry revealed in an AFL-CIO study, but it certainly resonated when the Doctor and his new companion Donna (Katherine Tate) looked on a group of trapped Ood and had this exchange:

Donna: A great big empire built on slavery.
The Doctor: It's not so different from your time.
Donna: I haven't got slaves!
The Doctor: Who do you think made your clothes?

I don't mean to trivialize in any way the plight of so many around the globe. The strength of a metaphorical message can often have echoes in many ways. If it makes us all more aware consumers I believe that's a good thing. Another exchange in the episode raised relevant points:

Donna: If people back on Earth knew what was going on here…
Solana: Don't be so stupid. Of course they know.
Donna: They know how you treat the Ood?
Solana: They don't ask. Same thing.

I special order fair trade coffee, but I couldn't tell you who made the current shoes or shirts I wear. Christine has begun making an effort to study the origins of products we purchase and use, but that's a bit of a challenge.

With the current tumult in the U.S. economy, consumer awareness is the kind of thing that can quickly slide. "I can't afford to worry about such things," we might say.

Christine passed on a quote to me a long while back that sticks with me. "A purchase is a vote."

We can't afford any longer not to ask who we're voting for.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Six Unremarkable Quirks Meme

Shauna Roberts at For the Love of Words tagged me for the "Six Unremarkable Quirks" meme. These are da rules:

  • Link the person who tagged you. (See above)
  • Mention the rules in your blog. (These are they)
  • Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours. (See below)
  • Tag six bloggers by linking them. (They shall be "it")
  • Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger's blogs letting them know they've been tagged. (OK, that will take a little time.)
And here we go:

  1. I drink tea at work, and--as with most things with which I am obsessed--I do not limit myself to one type of tea. If you checked my office right now you would find boxes of about five varieties, more if you take into account that one of those boxes is a sampler with multiple flavors. I do not have any compulsive approach to the drinking of the tea. I select the flavor for the cup of the moment at random.
  2. I tend to keep TV on in the room even when I'm reading, though with the volume turned down. This frequently frustrates Christine who does not understand my need for a constant input stream while waking. Usually I am tuned to CNN, and I am frustrated when they cut over to talk shows. I wish there were a "Situation Room" at night, however relevant news is not a requirement for my input. Shopping channels with live programming will suffice and I sometimes flip over to QVC or HSN for a while, but I never order anything.
  3. When I become engrossed in something at work it's easy for my co-workers to sneak into my office and startle me. They love to do that.
  4. I rub my brow when I'm thinking but before I speak. I'm told it's usually a sign that I'm about to make a pronouncement of some kind.
  5. I like to grow heirloom tomatoes. Traditional varieties from a gardening standpoint bore me. Some day, though not this year, I hope to grow one of the varieties that stays green.
  6. I have a small figure called a Mum-Ra--a robed mummy with a scary looking staff--that sits atop my computer where I write. I don't ascribe it any value or magic, but I always try to have it there.
Now, the "It" bloggers are:

If you read your name here before I get a comment posted, well then you've got a head start! Go!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hillary on SNL Unfiltered

(Sorry, link on this seems to have expired.)

On, there's some kind of annoying Flash pop up blocking the view of SNL's cold open from last night in which Amy Poehler parodies Hillary Clinton's mid-week remarks about her support base.

However, the embed code seems unaffected so as a public service for those who couldn't want on, here's Hillary.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Adventures in Voting - Tyler, Texas Style

Well I did my civic duty this a.m. With effort. If I'd known it was going to be as much trouble, I would have shaved.

There's a mayor's race in this burg. I'm not really from around here, so it matters less to me than national and state races. There have been two mayors since I've lived here. I've never noticed them doing much, but the polling process is important, and my co-worker was supporting one of the candidates, so I figured I'd go cast a ballot.


We thought we'd drop in and punch the card or pull the lever or touch the screen as the case may be and then get groceries.

It's now about four hours later, and I have voted and picked up groceries, but it involved some heavy lifting. Not at the grocery store.

We should be home by eleven
We live on the cusp of a different school district, which matters in Texas, so we usually get shuffled over to another town to vote. All right usually we "early vote" at the court house. We didn't get a chance this time.

So we get our voter cards, and we go to the polling location where the road was under construction. There was not any real signage that explained how to traverse the gravel mounds and torn up lanes, so we had to drive by about three times before we figured out how to zigzag across the demilitarized zone into the parking lot.

I live in America - help me out
Not surprisingly no one was there except the poll captains.

"You can't vote for our mayor," said one poll captain.

Usually they have machines there with the appropriate ballots for all of the districts regardless of which city they've dragged you from. It looked like he had one machine today.

"I don't want to vote for your mayor," I said. "I want to vote in the city where I live. Usually I have to come here to do it."

After a little back and forth they decided to call the registrar.

"Yeah, we have two people here who want to vote, but they're not from this city. They can't vote for our mayor."

I was ready to say: "I'll stipulate to that point if we can just move on."

The poll captain got involved in a long conversation with someone in which precinct numbers, districts, road signs, and I think tea leaves and animal entrails, were discussed as deciding factors.

Finally he put me on the cell phone with the registrar.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't have a place for you to vote," came the voice from the ear piece. "She started rattling off some other verbiage which I interrupted with:


Suddenly I cared more about about voting in the mayor's race than just about anything else. Suddenly it was my raison d'etre.

"I'm feeling a little disenfranchised here," I said.

Didn't we hassle these issues out in this country over the last say 200 YEARS?!

I'm thinking OK I'll have to call the newspaper, the ACLU...there's probably some sort of voter's rights league. I was discovering what I had in common with an elderly Indiana nun.

I had other things planned for today--I was even reading research materials in the car--but you know standing up for the American way of life was starting to look like it would take precedence.

"You didn't let me finish," she said. "If you can come down to the registrar's office we will give you a paper ballot."

So she did have a place for me to vote. Personally, I would have opened with that, but I realize she didn't know she was talking to Lewis Black.

Livin' in America - hit me
So after a good bye in which the poll captain defended his signage, we drove from this other-town-up-the-road back to our house where we picked up a water bill in case there was any question then drove downtown. Not a short journey, especially given our dependency on foreign oil and the consequences. You may have experienced some of that too.

So, at last we go in the courthouse and get hit by snide sarcasm from the guard at the front door. A guy in uniform further making the voting process trying. What did I wake up in a Kafka novel this morning?

Anyway, we traverse that and get up to the office where I apologized for getting worked up on the phone.

They gave us the paper ballots and explained they'd fired up their GPS system and now knew where they should have sent us. Unfortunately they didn't have a call back number for the precinct captain's cell. They also noted that they had discovered a mistake in how about three houses in our neighborhood were designated and had corrected it.

We filled in the dots like the old SRA tests, exchanged pleasantries again and ta da, I'd completed my right and my privilege.

Gee, I hope my friend's candidate wins. I've got a few issues I want to write her about.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

So How Long Until the Iron Man Sequel?

As I was watching the excellent new Iron Man flick, I had the realization that I was liking it so well in part because I didn't have his origin story memorized in quite the detail as say Spiderman's, Batman's, Superman's or the Fantastic Four's. That's why I usually hate sitting through origin stories and like things like Superman II--especially the Donner cut--better.


I know that's not true for every viewer, but I really didn't recall all the ins and outs of how Tony Stark became Iron Man and thus didn't know what would happen next.

I had to check Wikipedia when I got home in fact for the reminder that he was in Vietnam in the early '60s as a U.S. advisor.

The story is updated to Afghanistan for the new movie, and it makes it seem immediate and intense, and since we spend the bulk of the movie with Robert Downey Jr. and not the Iron Man suit, it makes the story seem all the more human, a film not a movie, a richly textured graphic novel on celluloid, not just a comic book splashed on the silver screen.

When we get to the action sequences, which are plentiful, they are wonderful exclamation points to a story-driven adventure. Sure there are some obvious markers. Canny viewers will at least suspect the underlying conspiracy and even detect the inevitable mano-a-mano, but that's really OK. It didn't matter that we all knew Spidey and Green Goblin were going to have to kick each other's butts before the final real either.

Speaking of the final mano-a-mano, it of course had to be Iron Man against a bigger and stronger man-tank, right? It works in cool ways and is far more than the model kit vs. model kit extravaganza you might expect.

In summation, Iron Man is a pleasant surprise, the most fun I've had at the movies since the last time I went to a good movie. I saw it in digital with surround sound or some sort of stereo that made everything shake when stuff "blowed up real good" so it was a great theatrical experience, and a great argument for getting out of the house to see a flick.

I didn't wait for the surprise post-credits moment that suggests a mega-cool sequel--though the rumors are true. It is you know who as um hum. I figured that would be online--and it is--and my policy is still get the f out of the theater when people start stepping on my feet, but there was a great teaser for The Spirit, speaking of comic book characters whose origin stories are not as well known.

The Slate Cultural Gabfest podcast--which can be downloaded for free--includes a great discussion of Iron Man and other summer movies with some interesting contemplation on the subtext of Tony Stark's weapon's merchant change of heart.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Storm Warning

I had the realization yesterday morning that generally I don't get scared often in adult life. All of the irrational fears such as the dark are behind me, and I have achieved the willing suspension of belief that danger lurks all around, even in the economy.

That occurred to me while I was in the midst of being scared. We got reports that a tornado had touched down one town over and that more were possible in the band of thunderstorms sweeping in our direction.

I heard the weatherman
The weatherman--not the one who interrupted Lost though I'm sure he hated missing the chance to cut in on The View--announced swirling patterns in a small town northeast of us, and the clock ticked on. I IM'd with Wayne a while about the bad rains he was experiencing in Chicago. He was expecting his lights to go out but not a tornado.

Christine and I work down the hall from each other, so shortly we joined our co-workers in the nervous jokes while watching weather online or on a couple the TVs in the office.

Looming disaster came in stereo and people worried about hail damage, then loved ones, their children, their pets.

We all kept joking, but suddenly we were in one of those situations where something bad seemed possible and real.

You can always go da da downtown
Downtown is a couple of miles roughly north of us, and our town has an early-warning system. The grinding alert sound started near the television station, picked up apparently on the TV studio's sound system. Soon it was broadcast from all the TVs and computers and then outside as well.

Around that time security called and told us to take precautions.

My boss had gone earlier to our main building. His office shares an inside wall with the business next door, so we all went into his office, pulled up the live news webcast on his PC and waited.

A lot of people were around the office, so we had a crowd of people on cell phones telling loved ones to get under tables.

Bugs in the software flash the message something's out there
I readied the space under the desk in case a couple of us needed to crawl under there, and others were ready to go under a small meeting table even as we discussed the projectiles my boss's collection of knick nacks might become. I was thinking I'd hate to die with an Anna Nicole head-bobber embedded in my skull. A Darth Maul figure seemed somehow more...dignified.

The air raid sirens continued and we listed to rains and winds a while, and then the weather man started noting a swirling pattern roughly over my house south of town.

I reminded myself that TV news is a little more alarmist than reality, but I worried about our cats and dialed home. I didn't expect them to answer--the answering machine picked up suggesting at least the lights were still on.

In a few more minutes the weather man came on with warnings for the towns south of us and we started filing out of the boss's office and started getting back on track with the rest of the day.

The cats were sleeping when we came home at lunch to check things out, and life was suddenly not London during the blitz any longer.

It was just a few minutes of mild fear, but it made me think both of lands where people live in much more fear at every hour and of the old multiple timelines thought experiment.

Perhaps in another life a different Me is cleaning up debris is this morning, and in another there's a Me that didn't get to carry on.

C'est la vie
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