Friday, November 30, 2007

Chicago in winter

I came back to Chicago in late November, 1971 -- a previous post describes how I had gotten the frostbite on my toes in northern New Mexico, and so I left that cold place and went back to Chicago, to my parents' house, to recuperate.

It's a little different now, but in 1971 it was incredibly uncool to live with your parents, and that's how I felt -- when I got home -- uncool, sad, depressed, defeated, lost, screwed up -- but mainly depressed.

Like a complete failure, gone home to Mom and Dad.

But it wasn't really about getting lost in the mountains in northern New Mexico and almost freezing to death. It was -- my depression and sense of failure -- about the end of my two year's relationship with Gail Murphy, the golden girl, my California dream girl. When we broke up I thought I would die, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me -- up to that time in my life.

Actually, going back over 61 years, breaking up with Gail would surely make the Top Five of all the worst things that ever happened to me.

But it was late November and I was back in Chicago -- and that ice you see on Lake Michigan is real.

Balloons in Central Park

I was selling balloons in Central Park in New York City during the summer of 1972. Seymour, the hustler, fixed me up in that occupation when I got to town. He said he could set me up in a gypsy ( illegal ) cab operation, or he could set me up in the numbers racket -- also illegal, or he could set me up selling balloons in the park -- still illegal, because they don't issue permits for itinerant peddlars. Still, it was the least illegal of Seymour's choices, so he took me to the balloon wholesaler, told me what to buy, told me how to set up a portable cart, showed me a good place to stand, and then demonstrated the art of hawking balloons to tourists cruising in the park.

It was fun selling balloons. I made an easy $50 per day, which wasn't bad money in 1972. On the Fourth of July there were so many people in the park that I made $100, and I also chatted up this luscious Jewish woman who I squired to a restaurant, where I promptly spent the $100 on fancy drinks and seafood morsels, whereupon we retired to her apartment downtown for more fun.

That's where it ended. By the middle of July it was too hot. Nobody came to the park anymore -- they were all at the beach, so my balloon business dwindled, and I gave it up.

Instead, I got a job at Rockland State Psychiatric Hospital and worked there for the next nine months.

I don't know what happened to Seymour, but he got me set up pretty well. He was an honest hustler in a way, because he gained nothing by showing me the balloon business -- he was just helping a new guy in town.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. (COPD) is a combination of emphysema and bronchitis. People who smoke are most likely to get it. It shortens life. I read an article about COPD in the health section of the NY Times.

COPD can be treated, but it won't go away. The article said that COPD was under-diagnosed, that doctors don't look for it. Also, the article said, a number of things, like increased exercise and improvements in diet can alleviate the condition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snow Geese

I am at work right now -- at the hospital -- having a short break and able to spend a little time on this laptop. I wrote a 1,200 word story about working at the hospital. I hope it's good. But since I am an employee I cannot publish candid remarks about the job here without approval from the communications office. So I sent them a copy of what I wrote, and after they give the okay, I will post it here.

Otherwise I am getting settled into my new room at Patti Detzer's house on Fir Island. First I will tell you about the birds, because Fir Island is famous for flocks of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 - huge numbers and I am not kidding -- of snow geese that come down from Alaska for the winter.

They feed in the wheat fields planted all over Fir Island -- I see huge flocks flying over the house every day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

froze my tail off

The coldest place I ever lived was in Tres Piedras, New Mexico, elevation 7,000 feet, out in the sage brush plains, like it looks in this photo.

That was in 1971. One night I got my car stuck in a snow bank way up a mountain road. I had to walk out. It took me all night, and my toes got frostbitten and I ended up in the hospital.

My toes healed, but I got out of northern New Mexico, and I never went back -- too cold.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I'm not to used to feeling happy, but that's the way I feel today.

I am moving to a better place -- leaving the trailer by the barn on Beaver Marsh Road, leaving the trailer because it is too small and cramped in the winter time. Oh, it was lovely there in the summer, but it really sucks now, when the cold wind blows.

So I'm moving to another farmhouse, this one is on Fir Island -- thankfully, I will still be on the flats -- really, just 8 miles down the road.

But now I will be renting a room IN the house -- nice and warm and spacious in this sturdy old farmhouse.

And that has made me very happy -- that, and something else is making me happy, which is a little bit private, so that I cannot yet share it with you here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Exercise is Overrated

The Doctor is IN, beginning with exercise tips. Taking a walk after dinner is a good idea, a little fresh air and a stroll. Have no goals. Don't keep records. Enjoy yourself. Build movement into your life.

Did you ever see a farmer out jogging? Or buying exercise equipment? Or taking out a gym membership? No, because he subscribes to a program known by its initials, W.O.R.K. or "work," which causes sweat -- in the summer -- but keeps you warm in the winter. Work is composed of a subset of activities known as chores, such as unloading the truck, or cleaning out the barn, all flowing into such a smooth slate of activity, that the farmer never yearns for exercise, but in fact dreams of idle time on the couch, when he can sink into a blissful fatigue in front of a mindless television.

But the ill-formed man has been jogging, five miles, or bicycling 25 miles, as a form of self-punishment, and even the sight of this mechanical runner produces stress in those who observe him. If the ill-formed man only joined the program of W.O.R.K. he would never even think of exercise. He would see a new day and look at his car, and decide to wash it himself, not for the exercise, but to get it clean, and not to save water or to save carbon credits, but simply to save the money he spent at the car wash.

Don't make it too complicated.

Still, the ill-formed man cannot sink in blissful fatigue on the couch. He must justify himself, he must find that meaningful piece that is missing, so, in the evening, after his punishment run, he sits before the cold blinking eye of his computer seeking information. "Gloria," he says to his partner,"I'm so glad we didn't take out an A.R.M. mortgage. Our equity is building up. We're in a good position now. I'm going to order four pairs of organic socks to support the cotton farmers in Darfur. They only cost $14 a pair."

But there is no comfort from information, and no ease comes from data. His shoulders are tense, his neck begins to crink. He discovers a website that promises the virtue of spinach or folic acid, he takes notes, he makes a plan, he emails a friend who smugly agrees, "We don't waste our time watching TV, because we are improving ourselves."

It's kind of sad.

Now the Doctor discusses the fundamentals of nutrition -- if it tastes good, and if it doesn't cost too much, then buy it. Eat a little bit less of everything you like in order to stay trim. Tired people eat compulsively, so get plenty of sleep.

It is natural, for a hundred generations of humanity, to sleep more in the winter. It is natural to put on a little fat in the winter -- it keeps you warm.

Go to bed an hour earlier and turn down the heat -- Al Gore will be proud of you for that…..I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned him. Then you start thinking you're for him or against him, and you won't get to sleep, you'll get up and cut a brownie out of the square pan -- but not made with sugar from corn syrup, because you read the label, and that information is stored in your brain in a file next to folic acid and spinach.


Advice for young women who have spent too much time looking in the mirror: The mirror is not your friend -- you will fixate on imperfections. Put a towel over your mirror. Hide the bathroom scale -- hit it with a hammer -- throw it in the trash.

Go to the Blockbusters or Netflix and check out an old movie starring Barbara Stanwyck. Learn from her. Be her. Feel that graceful strength. It's all about posture and carriage. Relax your shoulders, lower your shoulders, and move them back a tiny bit. This lifts up the chest, but naturally, and flatters the bosom. Lengthen the back of the neck -- this lowers the chin and gives you an air of confidence.

Study the Barbara Stanwyck movie -- you think she was born beautiful? It's all about her entrance -- that magic moment, because you can make a first impression every day.

Life is a stage and we all play a part. William Shakespeare never wrote a line about exercise or diet -- there's no poetry in it.

Everybody is planting wheat

"It's going to look like Kansas out there next summer." That's what a local farmer said last week over his morning coffee. "Wall-to-wall wheat and looking like a lawn of new grass over the winter," he said. This is an exaggeration of course, but the normal wheat acreage of 4-5000 acres in the Skagit Valley has doubled to 8-10,000 acres.

Record high wheat prices in the global market explain that, according to Mike Shelby, executive director of the Western Washington Agricultural Association in Mount Vernon.

The market for wheat is complicated and volatile. The price has doubled from a range of $4 a bushel to $8 a bushel, and Skagit Valley farmers have been fast on their feet about this.

They plant wheat in October, and passersby can see young green shoots in various fields at this time. Air temperatures are low now, but the soil is still warm from summer heart. The young wheat plants will get established and send down good root structure in November, and then go dormant in December.

Huge flocks of snow geese feed on the wheat shoots over the winter, sometimes causing crop damage, but this year they will have twice the acreage to choose from, so that's good for the geese and also good for the farmers.

Wheat is not a big money maker here. Farmers plant it as a cover crop, or as part of their crop rotation. For instance, red potatoes need a 4-year rotation, and seed crops need up to 8 years before they can be re-planted in the same field, so wheat and peas and corn for silage fill in during the off years.

Farmers, in most years, will decided in the spring whether to plow under the wheat crop, or leave it to be harvested in late summer. This year they are more than likely to keep their wheat crop in the ground because of the high price.

Commodity prices, from oil to corn to soy beans, have been surging upward. Ethanol production in the Corn Belt has led to record corn prices, and wheat prices follow corn prices. A serious drought and crop failure in Australia has lowered the global supply of wheat. Economic growth in China has increased demand, and crop land in China has been reduced to make room for that growth. Throw in oil at close to $100 a barrel, and all the basic prices start moving upward.

When farmers plant as much corn and wheat as possible, less land is available for vegetable crops, and those prices rise too.

In the Skagit Valley, an extra 5,000 acres of wheat, means 5,000 acres less of some other crop, and that will most likely be peas.

Peas used to be the cash king of local crops, but their place has been taken by potatoes, seed crops and berries. Most farmers say peas are only a break-even crop, but it's a legume that helps to fix nitrogen to the soil and worthwhile planting for that reason.

But pea acreage should be way down next year unless buyers can offer a higher price. That means Twin City Foods in Stanwood, the only pea processor left in the area, will be under competitive pressure to offer more to farmers. They can only do this if they can pass on the cost and sell their peas at a higher wholesale price. Then consumeres will end up paying more at the grocery store.

It's all tied together, all around the world. Wheat and corn are fed to cattle, chickens and hogs, so meat prices will rise. Record grain prices mean increased soy bean planting in Brazil because soy bean land is less available in the U.S. Increased soy bean planting in Brazil means more destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

Record grain prices also mean money is transferred from urban areas, where most consumers live, to rural areas where the producers live.

It means every farmer in Iowa is buying a new pickup this year. If you're a seller, you're happy, but if you're a buyer, you're hurting.

Locally, higher crop prices ensure the preservation of farmland, because when farmers make money they are less inclined to sell land for urban development.

And one last point. It can all change in a flash and it's a calculated gamble for the farmer. Everyone knows what the price of wheat is today. No one knows what the price will be in August when the wheat is harvested.

Oh, they are also having a serious drought in Georgia where most of the nation's peanuts are grown, so the price of peanut butter will go up too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Man in a Dress -- or Rudy vs. Hillary

It will take a man in a dress to beat a woman wearing pants. This is what I think when faced with the prospect of Rudy Guiliani competing with Hillary Clinton -- if they both get the nomination.

Rudy and Hillary will be stage an incredible fight -- nasty, vicious, and highly entertaining -- not at all good for the country, and I don't think either of them will make a good President -- but what a battle!

The Weather

I'm not used to the weather out here. After thirty years in the Skagit Valley, you would think I might be acclimatized, but I am not. I wish I was back in New England or back in the Midwest. I am used to the weather back there.

I mean, I would rather live here, but I just wish I could get used to it, like so many other people have done.

The god forsakes Anthony

Απολείπειν ο θεός Αντώνιον
Σαν έξαφνα, ώρα μεσάνυχτ', ακουσθεί
αόρατος θίασος να περνά
με μουσικές εξαίσιες, με φωνές --
την τύχη σου που ενδίδει πια, τα έργα σου
που απέτυχαν, τα σχέδια της ζωής σου
που βγήκαν όλα πλάνες, μη ανοφέλετα θρηνήσεις.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
αποχαιρέτα την, την Αλεξάνδρεια που φεύγει.
Προ πάντων να μη γελασθείς, μην πείς πως ήταν
ένα όνειρο, πως απατήθηκεν η ακοή σου•
μάταιες ελπίδες τέτοιες μην καταδεχθείς.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
σαν που ταιριάζει σε που αξιώθηκες μια τέτοια πόλι,
πλησίασε σταθερά προς το παράθυρο,
κι άκουσε με συγκίνησιν, αλλ' όχι
με των δειλών τα παρακάλια και παράπονα,
ως τελευταία απόλαυσι τους ήχους,
τα εξαίσια όργανα του μυστικού θιάσου,
κι αποχαιρέτα την, την Αλεξάνδρεια που χάνεις.

The god forsakes Antony
When suddenly, at the midnight hour,
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts --
your fortune that fails you now, your works
that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions, do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
as it becomes you who have been worthy of such a city,
approach the window with firm step,
and with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911) Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης (1911)
ωρα -- hour
μεσανυχτ – midnight, but the dictionary gives μσανυχτα – so Cavafy is using a variant… νυχτα – night, μεσα -- middle
ωρα μεσανυχτ – “at the midnight hour”
The title “The god forsakes Antony” is put differently in another translation, “The god abandons Antony.”

This is one of my favorite poems. It is a delightful November day in the Skagit valley, the sky looks like the vault of a cave, and we safe and warm below.

Before the Beginning

The first line of the Bible says, "In the beginning," and I studied that line for years before I started to ask this question, "What was going on before the beginning?"

Here's the answer: Before the beginning, there was Africa, there was this face, a face that is a mask.

I went to Africa and found this face and I knew I it was a mask, but I never found out what was behind the mask. I don't think I can ever know that.

Thousands of years later, in a world that marks time, I am looking at the day ahead of me, and not thinking of this mask, and not thinking of that question about the beginning and before the beginning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reverence for Robert Sund

Robert Sund was a poet who lived in LaConner -- until he got tired of the nonsense and then he spent his last few years in Anacortes -- where many new friends gathered around him. He was admired and revered for his simple poetry and Buddhist life.

But we, who knew him for so many years in LaConner, did not revere him. He was just one of us -- a good man all around, with well-known character flaws. Everyone in LaConner has a Robert Sund story, and most of them are not reverential.

But he was our poet -- that was good. The rest of us weren't poets, and we felt that our town, of population 700, could support a poet, because we were a wealthy and sensible town, and any town that chose not to support a poet was bound to be stupid and poor.

And we still feel that way now, although Robert died 6 years ago.

I remember seeing him laid out at the funeral home. He was going to be cremated, so they didn't fix him up. He was laying on on a hospital gurney, wearing only his hospital gown, and his long bare feet hung over the edge of the gurney. Another friend folded his hands over his gown, and laced them with the Buddhist beads that Robert loved.

I was thinking that I ought to put some socks on his bare feet -- his feet might be getting cold. But then I realized that he's gone from us now, and where he was gone to they don't wear socks or shoes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Middle Ages

Bring Back the Middle Ages -- those were great times back then. I often think I was born in the wrong century -- and might have done better sometime around the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Illuminated manuscripts, stain-glassed windows like psychedelic light shows, frothy ale and honey mead. I would have it all, along with only two modern conveniences -- painless dentistry and antibiotics.

We will arrive again at the Middle Ages, as soon as modern civilization collapses. Kings on stag hunts! Years long journeys to Jerusalem. The contemplation of ancient ruins of what was once Manhattan. Celebrating the arrival of spring with true joy and abandon -- for what has passed will come again.


I have a couple of guidelines on risk in my life.

1. When I was 12, Charlie Swanson's mother slipped in the bathroom, banged her head on the tub and died. I remember how sad Charlie was at the funeral -- but what I took from that tragedy was that life was not really safe even if you never left the house.

2. Thirty years ago, my friend Dean Flood got very drunk, got into his truck, drove down the Fir Island Road, and crashed into a telephone pole -- he's been in a wheelchair ever since, and nerve damage prevents him from speaking clearly. The lesson here is that if you're going to take a risk, at least make it a little interesting, because Dean ruined his body and didn't even come home with a cool adventure story to tell.

3. What I told me son, when he was a teenager. "Get in your own trouble." Meaning, if you're going to screw up, at least let it be your own plan, and not be following someone else's path to hell.

4. What my mother said -- she's gone from this earth 11 years now, but she said, "There's no such thing as security."

5. Advice for my friend, pictured here -- It's enough to be in Iraq -- I hope you're not looking for trouble on top of that.

Old Ironsides

The United States Navy celebrated its 232nd birthday on October 13. It was founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775. This old ship is moored at the Charlestown Navy Shipyard in Massachusetts.

Navy people celebrate the birthday every year. The old ship is kept in good shape. I was reading a blog by James Aalan Bernsen
who is serving in the Navy as we speak, stationed in Baghdad, pretty far from the saltwater, engaged in intelligence work, whatever that is -- but he seems intelligent and reports in his blog on what he sees of the Iraq conflict.

I make my own connections, because when I got to thinking about the Navy, I remembered the time I lived in Boston, when I walked across the Charles River Bridge and took a tour of Old Ironsides.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Viva Zapata

I have this on the authority of Colonel Jesse Perez, U.S. Army - retired, that Marlin Brando played a credible role as Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican civil war leader. Colonel Perez and I had many interesting conversations at his office, both of us sitting in comfortable leather chairs, and we often disagreed, quite amiably. But his endorsement of Brando as Zapata was something I shared enthusiastically.

Colonel Perez was the executive director of the Floresville Economic Development Corporation, during the fifteen months I lived in Floresville, Texas, when I worked there as a reporter for the Wilson County News.

Floresville is is a half-hour's drive to the Southeast of San Antonio, set in very Texas-looking country, lots of mesquite and prickly pears and cattle.

Colonel Perez descends from the Hispanic community of Floresville, which has lived side-by-side with the Anglo community for almost 200 years -- but we got here first, he would say, in so many words.

"We merely co-exist," Perez stated, when I asked him about Anglo-Hispanic relations. On this I disagreed, I knew there were issues and conflict and hostility between the two groups, but I also knew of love, friendship, and beneficial working relationships -- far more then mere co-existence.

Still, Perez, after his illustrious Army career, returned to Floresville and became the leader of the Hispanic community, and his stance was quite militant. On this we also disagreed, because I felt that in his determined opposition to most arrangements with his white neighbors, he was passing up some good opportunities for the progress of his own people.

I also disagreed on this, they were not merely "his own people," as if he had them in his pocket, and others could not know them without his permission. And so, some of his white opponents called him a racist. I never called him that, to his face, or to other people, but only because I liked him very much.

He was dignified, educated, intelligent, and amusing -- a good friend. His office was a refuge for me. I toiled over at the newspaper in the company of 17 women and one other man, and the ladies could drive me up a wall, so then I would walk across the town square, across the courthouse lawn, to Jesse's cool, leather-bound masculine cave, and sit-down in his red-leather chair and lean back, him leaning back with his friendly grin, and we would begin to talk.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Best and the Brightest

They really were the best and the brightest -- the men at the top of presidential government in the 1960s. They were highly intelligent, well educated, realistic, dedicated, competent -- the best men in America -- but it still didn't work.

I re-read David Halbertstram's book about the origins of the War in Vietnam, which I first read in 1972, the year it was published.

My views on the subject haven't changed. Lyndon Johnson was a figure of towering tragedy. He and McNamara never really decided to go to war in Southeast Asia, it just kind of happened -- at the highest level of rational planning, they actually never made a clear decision about what to do -- what an amazing story.

I decided, sometime in the late 1960s, to oppose the war -- I realized that we could have the Great Society's War on Poverty, we could send a man to the moon, and we could fight a land war in Asia against communism -- but we could not possibly do all three at the same time.

I was right about that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Let's Bomb Pakistan

An urgent message to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Let's Bomb Pakistan.... and Bangla Desh too -- because they used to be part of Pakistan. Moslem villagers in the vast Ganges delta of Bangla Desh have been complaining of rising sea waters, caused by global warming -- we bomb them into silence, we bomb the Pakistani capital, thus eliminating the current strong man, whose name is too hard to spell, and get this nice lady, Ms. Bhutto, to become President again.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Rain Queen

The Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI, 1978-2005, was the 6th in a line of the Balobedu tribe's rain queens. Makobo was crowned on 16 April 2003 at the age of 25 after the death of her predecessor and grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji. This made her the youngest queen in the history of the Balobedu tribe.

But she died unexpectedly two years later and a successor has not been named. There is no Rain Queen now. This is a matter of great concern.

The Rain Queen reigns in the northern provinces of South Africa. Her guidance is widely respected throughout the region, in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia

She can make it rain, or the rain comes through her, however it is put. She is assurance against drought, which is the greatest threat to the livelihood of the people in that area.

The unit of currency of Botswana, a mostly desert country, is called the "pula" which is the Tswana word for rain. Rain makes the corn grow. Corn is food, corn is made into corn-beer. But no rain, no food, no beer, and pretty soon no people.

This is a crisis.

People like me know nothing about Africa. Everybody is going there now -- Bono, Bill Gates, Madonna, Angelina Jolie -- buy a plane ticket, get on a plane, take the tour, make a press conference -- they know nothing. I know nothing.

Except for Princess Diana, she is revered throughout Africa -- she was the one who understood what was going on. Now departed from this earth ten years.

No Rain Queen now, no Princess Diana. The situation is very bad.

Nelson Mandela will not live forever. When he goes, it will get worse.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Rexville League of Gentleman Watches a Football Game

It is the custom of the Rexville League of Gentlemen to watch a football game on Sunday afternoon, usually over at Richard Mattrass's house on Bradshaw Road. Mattrass is a fence and gate builder.

Jimmy Schermerhorn, a League of Gentlemen Founder, came over from his Fir Island residence. Jimmy is the premier shade mechanic in the Skagit Valley. He nicely maintains my beloved 1993 Red Toyota. His service is first rate and his prices are reasonable.

Mike Carlisle is a stone mason, a practitioner of that ancient, mystical discipline. He hails from Jackson, Mississippi, and maintains a complex relation with his Souther heritage. Carlisle is considered -- no formal process here -- the football insider. He knows the game. He can see it. His play-by-play comments are spare, but dead on.

Stuart Welch, owner of the Rexville Store, from which most League activities eminate, is also an expert on football. But Stuart operates from a much larger perspective. Being the chief functionary of a general store, Stuart is an expert on everything.

I never hesitate to ask his opinion on any matter. Why even this morning, I discussed with Stuart my plan to seal my air-leaky windows with clear vinyl to provide insulation against cold, creeping air.

He said that was a good idea, but, as he often does, Stuart had an even better idea. "Use bubble wrap," he said.

"Why, that's a great idea. I hadn't thought of that. Bubble wrap would be far superior to clear vinyl. I will use the bubble wrap on those windows I never look out of, and save the vinyl for the two windows that announce my view of the lovely wheat fields on Beaver Marsh Road."

(I should insert here that all the farmers have planted wheat this fall, because of wheat's very high price, and the field outside my trailer window is like a multi-acred new mown lawn -- the wheat sprouts are 3 inches tall by now, and will stay green, if dormant, throughout the dark winter days.)

Anyway, Stuart advised me on my winterizing project this morning, and he announced before the game began this afternoon, with his usual unqualified voice of authority, that the New England Patriots would trounce the Indianapolis Colts.

We usually watch the Seahawks of course. But we faced a quandary, because both the Patriots and the Colts were undefeated in nine previous contests with lesser opponents, and the Colts vs Patriots promised to be a dramatic and decisive battle.

The League, always resourceful in these matters, decided that we simply needed to get another TV set, so we could watch both games at the same time.

I agreed to that, although I knew, personally, that head swivelling from one set to another would make me dizzy, so I decided to affix my attention to the Patriots and Colts and ignore the Seahawks.

My attention was rewarded. It was a close fought contest by two superb teams. Although the Colts led the game for the first three quarters, Stuart never wavered in his certainty that the Patriots would prevail.

Notwithstanding that Stuart grew up in Maine and might seem to favor New England, I would never challenge the impartiality of another League member. Stuart was right of course.

Despite some bad calls by the referees, especially three dubious charges of pass interference against the Patriots, despite Brady, the Patriot quarterback throwing two intercepted passes, the Patriots overpowered the Colts in the 4th quarter and won the game.

You might say that Carlisle provides the play-by-play, and Stuart provides the color, but I supply the atmospherics.

"Indiana is the armpit of the Midwest," I stated, midway through the game. All the gentlemen agreed. "It's the New Jersey of the Midwest," Stuart added.

"Larry Bird is the only good thing that ever came out of Indiana," I continued. "And the Indianapolis Colts play in a domed stadium. What? Are the afraid of a little weather."

Nevertheless, I wanted the Colts to win -- I can't say why.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Otherwise, She died

I lived in Zimbabwe for most of 1997 and part of 1998. I knew people like the women you see in this photo.

Many of the people I knew are dead now. Even last week I got an email from Mpofu that his sister died -- that would be Patricia, but it could have been another sister that I did not meet.

Many times when we were in Bulawayo we went to visit Patricia at her pleasant house in a neighborhood called Luveve. She had a tiny house, and it was good. Her mother lived there too, Mpofu's mother. The mother died too, but she was old and this was expected.

Patricia and many other have died from the troubles. I learned never to ask what people died from, because I would not get an answer to that question, except, "Otherwise, she died."

I might have pressed for an answer, but that never works in Africa -- if you do that, they will just tell you anything you want to hear.

For news about the crisis in Zimbabwe, go to Zimbabwe Situation. This site is a daily compilation of news stories.

For a more personal account of the madness and suffering, read the letters of Eddie Cross

He is a merchant living in Bulawayo. His business is hanging on by a thread, but he is determined to stick it out, and even raises small hopes for a future when President Robert Mugabe dies or leaves office.

On the Samish River dike

I was just out walking the dike along the Samish River. I said hello to a friendly couple, a man and a woman out walking their dog. I looked at fishing boats moored at the dock, and saw several old hulks slowly rotting in the marsh. The tide was in -- when the tide flows in from Samish Bay the river stops moving and the water is still.

I visited my friend Dana Rust, who lives nearby. He operates the Edison Eye, an art gallery in the nearby town of Edison, which sits athwart Edison Slough, which joins the Samish River somewhere out there.

Dana and I watched a football game with casual interest. He made an excellent pot of coffee and we enjoyed that. Then his daughter and grand-daughter came for a visit and I decided to leave and let them have family time.

The Best and the Brightest

"The Best and the Brightest" is David Halberstram's very best book, about the men who starred in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and led us into the debacle of Viet Nam.

The title is not ironic. Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy and others really were our best and brightest. The story is fascinating. I am re-reading it, probably twenty years after I read it the first time.

I avoid thinking about my own past for the most part, because I find nostalgia to be a sickly feeling -- but when there is a purpose, I will do it.

This war in Iraq is not my war. My war was Viet Nam and I served in the regiment of Hell No, We Won't Go.

It was awful. I don't know a single American man my age who views that war and that period without ambivalence.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner starred with Gregory Peck in the movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's story, "The Snows of Kilamanjaro."

She's so beautiful. Now I must locate a DVD of "On the Beach," also starring Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck, based on the novel by Nevil Shute.

I often compare myself to Gregory Peck, feeling that we have similarly good looks and strong character.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Buick in Kansas

What if we couldn't get the old Buick fixed. We could be stuck here in Kansas forever. We'll never get back to San Francisco, just live and die in Kansas.

It's so awful hot here. Hot and dry and flat and these hard-faced farmers never smile.

I'll never buy a Buick again. I think it's the timing chain this time. I'll have to take the whole engine apart to replace it. At least we can work in the shade. We'll push the Buick underneath the cottonwood tree and I can work on it there.

Then we don't have any money, so you'll have to look for some work while I fix the car. What if you stop by that bakery we saw on Main Street. You never know, they might need some help. Offer to clean up or something. Then we'll have a little money and they'll give us a lot of day old bread.

Maybe if we pretended we liked it here, then people will be nice to us. Okay, I'm going to look in the mirror and practice my "I love Kansas" smile. I'll tell them I'm just a cousin to Bob Dole, long lost, but back here in Wichita to claim kin.

All we gotta do is just think it could be worse. The Buick could have broken down in Oklahoma, but at least we made it across the state line. Kansas is heaven compared to Oklahoma, but we're never going to make it back to Sam Francisco.

I could just dig us a grave underneath this cottonwood tree, a big enough grave to bury us and the Buick too, except somebody might say, "Oh yeah, they went to Kansas, but we've never heard from them again."

Trout Fishing in Georgia

Trout fishing in Georgia is not good this summer. The summer was hot and dry, drier than anyone can remember. Memories of floods and hurricanes could not make it rain.

So rain is what we prayed for every day. But day after day, the sky was blue and hard. And hardly a drop of water flowed in the river. The river had been full of trout before the drought. Droughts are natural, but they are like a slow death.

Death is something we all face, but still we hope for rain. Rain, Rain, if only it would rain. Rain is a blessing, the blessing that makes life green. If it was green, we would feel happy again.

Happiness will return with the rain. The cool rain makes the earth fresh. Fresh water makes the trout leap with joy. Joyful too are the breeding mayflies that leap from the water after it rains.