Friday, September 30, 2011

Stand All Ye Faithful

   Not long ago I realized a bitter truth; I’d been turning a blind eye to our environmental problems. I did very little recycling and took my gas guzzling car to places I could have, and should have, walked. My studio was downtown and I decided to take the bus to work. Leaving my car in the garage made me feel like part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
     That first day, the bus was only partially full when I climbed aboard. I had one of the double seats to myself, but eventually someone plunked down beside me, a chatty morning person with solutions to all of the world’s problems. The next day a woman on the seat beside me applied make-up and doused herself with perfume. And more disturbing, several passengers informed me that I have a face that reminds them of someone owing them money. By the time we’d arrive downtown it was standing room only.
     While it’s true that I’m quite a chatterbox, in the morning I need a few hours and several cups of coffee to rev up. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy a quiet ride. I started bringing books with me; surely I’d be left alone if my nose were buried in a book. But this was not the case. Common comments were:
     “What are you reading?” 
     “Is that book any good?”
     “I liked the movie better.”
     “I read that; the woman’s uncle was the murderer.”
     One morning I opened my briefcase to pull out a new action adventure, but in my haste I’d accidentally grabbed our dusty copy of the Bible.  
      As an art history enthusiast, I was familiar with most of the stories, thanks to great painters’ fascination with the Bible, but in truth I’d never actually read it. With nothing else to occupy me, I began to do so. I started with the beginning…literally.
     Halfway to work I looked up and noticed something odd. The bus, as usual, was filled to capacity but the seat beside me remained vacant. I watched as additional passengers clamored aboard, eying the empty seat beside me but looking warily at the book in my hand before moving to the back of the bus, where they preferred to stand.
     This went on for several weeks. I assumed my fellow passengers were afraid I'd look up from my Bible and start quoting scriptures at them. So long as that Bible was in my hands or on my lap I was spared being disturbed by someone sitting down beside me. No one prattled in my ear or made my eyes water with their perfume. No one said I resembled a person who owed them money. 
     No wonder they call it “The Good Book!” 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Other Than The Old Broad, What Else Did He Include?


     Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother is an American icon, but how many items can you name in the picture other than Whistler’s dear old mom? There’s only a few of them. Spoiler Alert: Answers below:
Here are the answers: 
     Two pictures on the wall 
     Lace handkerchief in her hands
     So how did you do? Give yourself a pat on the back if you did not identify it as a rocking chair. Most people do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Blows


    No joke; someone just gave me a box filled with a hundred new whistles. The reason I received them is complicated and might serve as a future post, but for now I only want to say that they’re really nice whistles and I need to find a way to put them to use. It would be a shame to let them go to waste, so I’m soliciting ideas for what to do with them. I know that some of you are thinking of a place where I could shove these things, but enough sound already comes out of that area. Besides, that would only take care of a dozen or so and I need to get rid of the entire box. 
     Can someone out there come up with a creative idea for these whistles?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not What It Seems

     Sue and I lived from paycheck to paycheck for several years after relocating to Portland, Oregon. Good fortune came our way one summer when Sue won the raffle at her company’s annual picnic—an all expense paid vacation to the Sunriver Resort in Central Oregon. We flew on a private plane to a small landing strip outside of Bend. When we landed it was evening; the setting sun was tipping the distant mountains purple and a large owl skirted a nearby meadow, hunting for dinner. We piled our luggage into a waiting rental car and headed for the resort.
     We drove up a curving road that bisected a fenced pasture. There we spotted something that disturbed us for most of our stay. Several buzzards were perched on a fence, and lying in the grass a dozen yards away we glimpsed the remains of a white horse. I hadn’t seen many horses, never a dead one, and the image was startling. My brain snapped a photo of it and that picture continued to develop in my mind, intruding on the vacation we could ill afford and so desperately needed.
     We spent five days hiking, and swimming and canoeing in the Deschutes River, but finally it was time to fly home to Portland. While returning to the airport we again drove past the site of that grisly scene. I wondered how much of the horse those buzzards had consumed, or if someone had loaded the carcass onto a truck and disposed of it. When we rounded the curve in the road I quickly noticed that the buzzards were still there, but they weren’t alone. Standing nearby and looking anything but dead, was that white horse! He seemed to be smiling and saying “Gotcha!” as he chewed on a piece of grass.
     I often think of that horse when I’m inclined to jump to a conclusion—things are often not what they seem.    

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kill All the Lawyers!

        Shakespeare said it best in Henry VI (Part 2): “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” He may have had the right idea. Still, I need to find a lawyer for my eighty-six year old mom so she can get her affairs in order. The other day she reminded me that she was always interested in the law and tried to push me in that direction when I was a kid. By this she means she made me watch Perry Mason with her every afternoon. My mother talked through every scene, making me wish that, when the murderer stood up in the courtroom yelling, “I killed him! He deserved it and I’d do it again,” it would be Mom who was cuffed and hauled away. 
     I never became a lawyer, but I did fall in love with Della Street. It seemed to me that Della was the perfect woman. Day or night, she was forever doing whatever Perry asked. She was always happy to pour Perry’s coffee or bring him sandwiches, and she never looked frustrated at not having the slightest idea as to who the weekly murderer was.
     I’ve yet to find a lawyer like Perry Mason. The last one I visited used the word “technically” sixteen times in the hour I spent with him and charged me hundreds of dollars, thirty bucks for each “technically.” 
     In 1566 the brilliant Italian painter Arcimboldo depicted a lawyer in his painting “The Jurist.” Arcimboldo clearly  shares Shakespeare’s sentiments about lawyers. Notice the details making up the lawyer’s face. I believe that’s a plucked pigeon serving as the nose.    
   How appropriate.
     What are your experiences with lawyers? There must be good ones out there.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Near Death by Chocolate

     Ships this size don’t sink, I told myself. Sure maybe in movies, but I wasn’t Leonardo De Caprio and this wasn’t the Titanic. More than two thousand souls were on board and we couldn’t possibly be facing the unimaginable. Still, the storm was strengthening and waves were getting pretty darn high, breaking over most of the decks. The ship was plunging into deep troughs and moaning when she rose up to catch the wind, and from the window of our cabin I could see crew members preparing lifeboats. We had been ordered to stay off the decks and balconies, and told to have our lifejackets ready. 
     Our ship was Holland America’s Amsterdam, a full day out of Glacier Bay when the storm caught us in open water on The Bay of Alaska. Up until then I’d resisted cruising because I knew being trapped on a floating all-you-can-eat restaurant wouldn’t be good for my waistline. 
     Sue, usually the patron saint of moderation, this time enticed me with, “The Amsterdam, as its name would imply, is a Dutch ship. And you know what the Dutch are famous for, don’t you?”
     I licked my lips. I didn’t care much for tulips, wooden shoes or windmills, but I was a chocoholic, and convinced the streets of Paradise were paved with the stuff. I’d agreed to come on this cruise because the brochure promised a chocolate extravaganza beyond my imagination. Now it looked like my lust for chocolate was going to send me to Davy Jones’ locker.
     In our lurching cabin, Sue was already wearing her lifejacket, along with all of the jewelry she’d brought with her. She was wearing a path on the carpet while running to the bathroom with her hand pressed over her mouth. A steward knocked on our door. He was handing out Dramamine like they were Pez. 
     “Why is the ship rocking so much?” I asked. “Don’t these vessels have stabilizers?”
     He said, “The stabilizers are out of commission. The Amsterdam is scheduled to 
go into dry-dock for repairs when this cruise is over.”
     “Is this a hurricane?” I’d never experienced one before, but this certainly felt like one.
     “Winds are approaching seventy miles an hour, so we’re close.” 
     I checked my wristwatch, and then hit him with what was really on my mind. “They haven’t cancelled the ten o’clock chocolate extravaganza in the dining room, have they?”
     He pushed back his cap and looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead. “I haven’t heard anything, but I doubt many passengers are going to want chocolate any time soon.” 
     Sue took that moment to once more leap off the bed and dash to the bathroom.
     I thanked the steward for the Dramamine and gave them to Sue when, white-faced, she emerged from the bathroom. She took the tablets and was soon blissfully unconscious.
     It was five minutes to ten. Hurricane or no hurricane, I had no intention of missing out on the chocolate extravaganza. Sue was snoring on the bed, and I knew she wouldn’t want me plunging to the bottom of the ocean without my beloved chocolate on my lips, so I closed the cabin door behind me and inched to the stairs. 
     A sign indicated that the elevators had been shut down because of the storm so I 
descended the stairs on my hands and knees until arriving at the floor where Heaven awaited me. As I reached the dining room door, the ship shook like it was being crushed by a giant fist. I heard a tremendous crash. The door opened and a chef covered in chocolate barred my entrance.
     “I’m sorry, sir, but we just lost the chocolate extravaganza.”
     “What do you mean, you lost it?” I shrieked. 
     “The table collapsed and it just hit the floor.”
      “I need to see it, Pleeeze!” I wasn’t above chasing a chocolate truffle around the floor of a pitching ship.
     “It isn’t safe in there. I insist you go back to your cabin.” 
     He was too big for me to tangle with so I reluctantly complied. During the night the hurricane blew itself out and the seas finally flattened. The next day the captain ordered free champagne for the passengers. Of course few stomachs could hold any down. 
     As I drained my second bottle I reflected on Captain Ahab. Like him I, too, was destined to spend my life in pursuit of the unobtainable, forever searching for something just out of reach. Ahab would never get his whale, and although I’ve eaten a ton of chocolate over the years, none of it has matched my imagination. None has compared to what was denied me when my chocolate extravaganza crashed to the floor.

What is your favorite food? If a comet were hurling toward the Earth and the end was near, what would you want to be eating at the time?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Answering the Call

     Situation in Hand, my post on Rembrandt’s etching The French Bed, has received more hits than any of my other entries, suggesting my audience might be as lowbrow as I am. Then and again, how lowbrow can we be if we’re discussing Rembrandt, one of the giants of Western art? It isn’t like we’re jawing over that picture of dogs playing poker.  Rembrandt was certainly a genius but he was also, like me, an earthy guy, so here’s another etching for your consideration. It depicts the Biblical tale The Good Samaritan. Notice the breathtaking detail Rembrandt achieves, the mastery of cross-hatching, perspective and chiaroscuro—the use of light and shade. But Rembrandt gives us something more, an unabashedly frank detail that might have made a Victorian lady blush and fall off her chair. The dog in the bottom right corner, often cropped in nicer art books, is ignoring all human activity while answering the call of nature. 
     Bad doggie.

Do you have a favorite work of art? Tell us about it, even if it is those dogs playing poker. (Did you notice that one of them is cheating?)   

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Love

     Every sixth-grade boy at our school had a thing for Mrs. Urbanick. Sophisticated, blond, regal; she was the Grace Kelly of our elementary school. Hers was the only class where the boys fought to sit up close in the front row just to be near her. It didn’t matter that we didn’t understand why we enjoyed studying her from behind as she scribbled Lake Tit-i-caca on the blackboard. She was the reward for toughing it out through grades one through five. When my time came, I was eager to participate in what was referred to as “The Mrs. Urbanick Experience.”
     It seems that Mr. Urbanick wasn’t as infatuated with his wife as we sixth grade boys were. He must have been what kids called a homo because there just wasn’t any other explanation for how anyone could be so stupid as to let her go. But let her go he did, and when I returned to school after what seemed like the longest summer in history she arrived with a brand new name—Miss Copicado. This didn’t seem so horrible, even though the name “Mrs. Urbanick” conjured up perfume-scented images of someone lounging on the deck of a yacht. “Copicado” sounded like a fruit with a ridiculously large pit. 
     It was exceptionally hot that first day of sixth grade, so hot that the indigo ink in my new Junior Huskies was heating up and beginning to run, staining my underwear blue. Mrs. Urbanick (make that Miss Copicado) was wearing a heavy wool suit in a light mauve color. (Why she chose this outfit I’ll never know. Perhaps her ex-husband was a cross dresser and kept all the lightweight party dresses for himself.) Miss Copicado started off the day by picking up a piece of chalk to write her new name on the blackboard. When she lifted her arm to write, we all saw the large dark stain under her arm. I’d begun that morning idolizing her from the front row, but my infatuation with her withered and died that day. Miss Copicado had…pitted out.
     It was beyond me to feel sympathy for Miss Copicado or to consider all that this poor woman had lost, aside from the aura that had briefly captured my pubescent fascination. I don’t remember much from my “Miss Copicado Experience.” The months flew by in a blur—but a year or so later I spotted her crying in an empty classroom. “Are you all right?” I asked.
     I could see she wasn’t, but she nodded, her lashes heavy with tears.
     “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Do you want me to fetch the school nurse?”
     Sniffling, she said, “Nat King Cole died.” 
     “I was confused, thinking she was referring to “Old King Cole.”
     She was wearing that same mauve suit and was now staining it with tears.  I didn’t know how to comfort anyone, much less someone blubbering over the death of a character from a nursery rhyme. 
     I was too immature to forgive her for those stains under her arms but I’ve matured since then, although I still think about her every time I see an avocado.

Who was your first infatuation? Care to share?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Invisible Man?

     I recently had a nightmare where I ran out of things to write about in my blog and I resorted to writing about Jon and Kate Gosselin. I woke up sweating, and then saw the source of my nightmare—a copy of People. I must have spotted it on my wife’s nightstand before falling asleep. On the cover was Kate and her eight lovely children…but where was Jon? 
     I never really watched Jon and Kate Plus 8, but my wife once tried to get me hooked. 
     “Look how cute those kids are,” she said. “And the one with glasses is named Collin." 
     Our son is named Colin, with only one “l” in the spelling. “Yeah, the kids are cute as puppies, but that isn’t all I see.” 
     After a few minutes my wife asked, “So what do you see?”
     “I think Jon really hates this,” I answered, “and I think he hates Kate, too.”
     “Why do you say that?” she asked.
     “Just look at their body language while they’re being filmed on that couch.”
     “It isn’t a couch. It’s a loveseat.”
     “There isn’t much love from what I see. You have to work pretty hard to not touch when you’re sitting that close together. And why is she saying all of those terrible things about him?”
     “He doesn’t help out around the house very much,” she said. 
     My cue to get up and leave the room.
     I’ve since picked up a bit more information about this couple. I understand that Jon has always had a hard time standing up to Kate, saying “N-O” to her. They went through a messy divorce a couple of years ago and Kate has gone Hollywood, which explains why I see her face everywhere. This brings me to my irritation over that People cover. The caption reads: After six rocky years on TV, Kate and her kids face an uncertain future. “I’m really scared,” says Kate. Jon isn’t quoted. He’s barely mentioned in the People article.
     From what my wife tells me, Jon sort of went off the deep end after the breakup and tried to be a party animal after separating from Kate. From what I’ve seen and read about her, I think I’d be partying if I’d suddenly been cut loose from her. But does he deserve to be wiped out as if he never existed, like those unfortunate men standing between Lenin and Stalin in doctored Soviet photographs? Jon was an integral part of that show for all but the last season, which was a ratings flop. Kate Plus 8 premiered without Jon and was pulled after only one season. 
     I don’t know Jon Gosselin who obviously has some growing up to do (who doesn’t) but he is the father of those kids and I’ve no reason to doubt he loves them and, like Kate, is equally concerned about their future. I have an axe to grind when it comes to deadbeat dads who, unlike Jon, don’t trouble themselves with pesky child support, but I also have a hard time with parents like Kate who exploit their children for personal gain. Programs like Toddlers and Tiaras turn my stomach. I’m sure Jon is doing everything in his capacity to provide for his children, even though his attention addicted ex has spoiled them with a lavish lifestyle few could afford.
     So Jon, stand up and be counted, not in front of cameras but in the eyes of your children. Don’t disappoint me for defending you, and more important—don’t disappoint your children. The upside of your failing to do so might send you to Hollywood instead of Kate, as the lead in the next remake of The Invisible Man.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Penny For Your Thoughts

     Yesterday one winked up at me from the gutter. I considered bending down and picking it up. After all, I’m as superstitious as the next guy, and as the saying goes: Find a penny pick it up, and it will bring to you good luck.  
     Although I’m tired of gathering them from under my couch cushions, I admit to having a soft spot for the penny, which has been part of our culture since the beginning. Our language is ripe with references to them: Penny wise and pound foolish; A penny saved is a penny earned. And the most popular: A penny for your thoughts… But with so much blathering about government spending, I’m amazed that no one is seriously talking about eliminating the penny, which costs just under two cents each to make. The value of the materials needed to make a penny is worth more than the face value of the coin.
      When I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, the elephant died at the San Francisco Zoo. Bay Area children, including me, mailed in their pennies to buy a new one, later named Penny. When I went to the zoo I’d stand in front of that massive eating pooping pachyderm and imagine the mountain of pennies it took to buy her. If pennies could buy an elephant, they must be worth something. Back then pennies were said to come from Heaven, but inflation has altered our lifestyle since 1955. I’ve a fondness for penny loafers and I like sucking on penny candy but I must reluctantly conclude that it’s time for the penny to join the two dollar bill in Monetary Heaven.
     A few days ago I was at the cashier’s line at our local grocery store and the cashier handed me my change—a penny. “No thanks,” I said. But as I started to walk away she got pushy about it. 
     “Take your change, sir!” she insisted.
     “I don’t want it.”
     “Why not?” she asked. 
     “It isn’t worth anything. What can I buy in this store with a penny?”
     She hemmed and hawed, finally admitting, “Nothing.”
     “If I tried to pay you with a few hundred of these things, would you take them?”
     “The manager won’t let us.”
     As I walked away I saw her toss the penny aside, like it was crawling with contagion and capable of contaminating her cash register.
     Here are three reasons I pulled off Wikipedia that support the elimination of pennies:
          #1  There has never been a coin circulated in the U.S. worth as little as the penny is worth today.
          #2 It takes the average U.S. wage earner about two seconds to earn one cent. Thus, dealing with pennies isn’t worthwhile.
          #3  Pennies are not accepted by all vending machines or many toll booths, and pennies are generally not accepted in bulk.
     In 2008 a law was introduced in Congress that, if passed, would have resulted in the penny being made of steel instead of expensive copper, reducing production costs. The bill claimed that lowering the cost of minting pennies would save the U.S. more than $500,000,000. The bill was never passed, but consider how much money could be saved if pennies were eliminated altogether.  
     So there’s my budget trimming idea—eliminate the penny and save billions! And what do I want for my brilliant idea to help put our financial house back in order? Not 
one red cent.

Guess how many pennies are under your couch cushions right now and let me know how accurate you were. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

If Looks Could kill....

     In the mid 70s the retail company I worked for transferred me from San Francisco to Oxnard, California, fifty miles north of LA. Oxnard had a rough and tumble reputation, and as a newlywed I was concerned about bringing Sue there. When I expressed concern, my boss put an arm on my shoulder and tried to calm me with, “You like Mexican food, don’t you?”
     “Well, downtown Oxnard has the best Mexican restaurant in the world. It’s called Cielito Lindo, and the food is to die for.”
     Jobs were hard to come by and it had taken me a long time to land this one, so I brushed aside my concerns. Sue and I rented a truck and filled it with our belongings. We scooped up the cat and hit the highway for Oxnard. Three hundred and fifty miles later we reached the outskirts of the city. Our stomachs were rumbling and I was eager to sample the food at Cielito Lindo, but first things first; we were driving on fumes so I pulled into a gas station. 
     On the other side of the pump I overheard an interesting conversation. The fellow behind the wheel said to the attendant, “I want to take my wife to a restaurant called Cielito Lindo. Have you heard of it?”
     The attendant leaned toward the driver’s window and said, “Man, it’s a dangerous 
place. Knifings all the time. Cops were there just last night. I wouldn’t take my woman 
there if I were you.”
     The driver responded, “Yeah, but is the food as good as they say?”
     If looks could kill, that man’s wife would have been guilty of murder.
     I sized up the expression on my own wife’s face. After filling up and leaving the gas station I quickly drove to the nearest McDonalds. 

*So tell me, where was the best Mexican food you've ever eaten?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The 9/11 Generation

A few months after September 11th when the horrors of that day had receded into ache and outrage, my son came up to me and said, “You know, Grandma and Grandpa had December 7th, and you and Mom had November 22nd, but until September 11th I hadn’t experienced a defining moment in time.”
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and I’m still thinking about his comment.
He seemed to be saying that 9/11 was a generational event. “It’s an anchor in time,” my son said when questioned further. “I’ll always know where I was and what I was doing when the towers came down and those planes flew into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.”
In that regard I understood what he meant. I wasn’t around at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, but I was eleven when Kennedy was assassinated. Like most folks, I still remember where I was when I heard the news—fifth grade at Jefferson School, late afternoon just before the bell ended classes that day. The announcement came over the intercom, and I was scribbling in my notebook and not paying attention until I heard our teacher sobbing and looked up to see her covering her face with her hands. I remember walking home from school thinking, What does it mean? I still wonder.
So when my son said September 11th left him with something I thought, What does he mean? The events of that day resulted in a bone-chilling tragedy of great complexity but for my son it represented something more. But was it generational? I felt traumatized by 9/11 as well, and I’m a generation removed from my son.
Do we need tragedies to anchor us in time? Are we drifting on the wind like Forrest Gump’s feather until something bad grabs us and shakes us to our core, something so dreadful that it transcends time? Why can’t moments of happiness traumatize us for the better?
As I think about it, I realize that my son was right, but not in the way I thought. September 11th was a generational moment, not because it belonged to a single generation—young people like my son—but because it was a trans-generational moment shared by everyone with the capacity to feel pain and loss, revere heroism and respond to the suffering of the innocent. That dreadful day made us think about our loved ones in a different way. It blurred the differences between young and old, forced us to examine our lives and our actions and bound all of us into a powerful force for good—the 9/11 generation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not Sold in Any Store

     The other night I couldn’t sleep and reached for the TV remote. As I channel surfed, I sensed that something was missing. I wasn’t happy when I realized it wasn’t something, it was someone. He was gone, the late night King of the Pitch. Could it be possible? Could I truly be missing…him? 
     How was it, I wondered, that I was regretting the loss of someone who drove me crazy hawking products I couldn’t care less about. Every time I turned on the TV there he was, with a mega-grin on his face and a beard so black it looked like he’d just been bobbing for apples in a tub of tar. 
     Billy Mays!
     Sure, Billy was a pitchman who made a fortune peddling OxiClean, Kaboom tub and tile cleaner, the Samurai Shark knife sharpener, the Turbo Tiger vacuum cleaner and such, none of which could be bought in stores, if we believed Billy. But I realize now that his exuberance, if not his products, made me feel good. I’d drift to sleep with his voice bubbling in the background, secure in the knowledge that capitalism was alive and well in America, something I seldom felt while dozing off on politicians or economic pundits.  
     Billy was actually offering something not found in any store—his unbridled enthusiasm. Billy is a reminder of just what we need in these cloudy economic times, a reminder that determination can often win out over talent. To my knowledge Billy never sang or danced, held political office or shared his spiritual views. But by the time he left this world he’d definitely left his mark, a mark that could probably be removed with elbow grease…and of course OxiClean.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Revenge of the Claw Foot Tub

I realized too late that you don’t buy old houses—old houses buy you. And “charm” is spelled: $$$$$. When we purchased our hundred year old house in Northwest Portland, it came with an enormous claw foot tub. Mrs. Chatterbox said it was charming and worth the cost of having restored. I wasn’t convinced, but the tub must have weighed as much as a Sherman tank and having someone come to our house and restore it seemed preferable to lugging it down the stairs.

So we paid to have the porcelain redone and the claws refinished. I must admit it did look charming when finished, even though we could have installed a new Jacuzzi tub for less money.

Mrs. C. insisted that I take the first bath.

I turned on the faucet, sipped the glass of Chablis she brought me and waited for the tub to fill. The water wasn’t rising very quickly, and it still wasn’t very high by the time I drained my wine glass. I called for a refill. After two glasses, the water was still only a few inches high. It didn’t matter; I had a delightful buzz going and climbed into my newly restored claw foot tub.

The water barely covered my toes. I turned the faucet to maximum and settled back for the hot water to reach a level I could enjoy.

I waited.

And waited.

By the time the water reached my privates it was already turning cold. I thought about

giving up and climbing out, but I’d spent a small fortune and was determined to finish at
least one bath in the darn thing.

The water finally reached a suitable level, but it was now icy cold. Mrs. C. poked her head into the bathroom to say, “There’s no more hot water in the kitchen.”

I wasn’t surprised. “We need to budget for a bigger water heater.”

“Would you like another glass of wine?”

“No, but a hot cup of cocoa would be nice.”

By the time she returned with it, I was immersed and shivering in frigid water. My nipples were hard as glass cutters and it would have taken a melon baller to scoop out my testicles. Worst of all, my fingers and toes had curled into claws.

I’d discovered the real reason they called it a claw foot tub!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Remembering Why We're Great!

     Everyone should know about this unassuming stone gate because it represents something remarkable, something never before seen in the history of mankind. Few people pass through this portal anymore because it is no longer the quickest way to enter Yellowstone National Park, but if you do, take a moment to look closely at the words engraved on it: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People. Heralding trumpets should go off in your head when you read these words because this was the result of revolutionary thinking. I’ve been to Windsor, Versailles and Capri, playgrounds of the rich, powerful and famous, but never before had land been designated for the benefit of—everyone. This was an American idea. When this gate was constructed the sentiment expressed on it was unthinkable in most corners of the world.
     This is Labor Day Weekend and many people will be enjoying their last fling of summer. Many will travel to national parks. Think about it when you’re there: how is it that these parks came into being, and why do you feel so much better when you go there? Why isn’t there a Starbucks at the base of Yosemite Falls, a KFC at the overlook to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone? 
     Our country has so many problems right now, but it’s reassuring to remember that there was a time when our leaders could come together in moments of greatness. And they can do so again. I was thinking about this the last time I was in a national park. Check out Ken Burns’ series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and feel good again about being an American. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chasing Freedom!

     Sue picked out our longest lasting dog, an ugly mutt named Ginger. The pound was going to stamp Ginger’s ticket to the Rainbow Bridge that evening. She never forgot Sue saved her, and for many years she and Sue were inseparable. As far as Ginger was concerned, the sun rose and set with my wife. Sue was inconsolable when Ginger died, but after a period of grieving we went to the pound to rescue someone else.
     As an artist, most of my decisions are aesthetic, a big mistake when it comes to picking dogs. I passed over gentle faces wagging their tails and promising to snuggle on the couch and pass me the remote. Instead, I chose the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen, a gold and white, blue-eyed Australian shepherd named Freedom. For reasons I can no longer recall, I renamed him Cody.
     Had I studied up on the breed I’d have learned that Australian shepherds are as intelligent as they are active. They need a job, preferably herding sheep, of which our condominium was in short supply. Cody did the best with what he had, and constantly tried to herd us into the hallway. He barked nonstop and his fluffy tail was a disaster for Sue’s collectables. He ran around our condo faster than the Road Runner.
     One day while loading Cody into the car to take him to the park, he slipped out of his leash and was off like Secretariat. Soon he was out of hearing range, and before long he’d vanished. Sue and I hunted the neighborhood for him. He’d never responded to voice commands but we kept yelling out his name, “Cody…Cody…Cody…”
     An hour later we regrouped in front of our condo and took a breather. “You know,” 
Sue said, “he really hasn’t been with us long enough to know his new name.”
     By gosh, she was right! We split up and continued our search, yelling out the name our run-a-way came home from the pound with. I finally found him several blocks away, rolling about in someone’s petunias. Sue, unaware that I’d found the subject of our search, continued to run through the neighborhood, waving her hands and shouting, “Freedom…Freedom…Freedom…”
     A young African American woman was driving by and heard Sue. She slowed down and pumped a fist of solidarity through the car window. “Freedom’s where it’s at, sister!” she shouted. “You go, girl!”
     Several weeks later we found a more suitable home for Cody…er Freedom, who ended his days on a ranch in Central Oregon, where he had all the freedom he could want.
     I decided to let Sue pick our next dog.