Soup Of The Day

For the past several weeks, my writing group has been doing an exercise at our meetings in which one member brings a mystery object in a bag, and we write a brief vignette after feeling it without looking.  This week’s object turned out to be a pelvis of some sort.  This was my piece:

Hamid ran down the dusty street, clutching his prize to his chest. Despite not having eaten in almost a day, his legs somehow found energy to propel him at a remarkable rate. Mama was going to be so happy! For days they had been dividing a baguette and a moldy onion each morning and not much else all day. The bombs had destroyed every shop within walking distance, and the buses no longer ran. Mama had come home this morning beaming, holding up two carrots and a wilted bunch of celery that she had pulled from an abandoned garden. Now, with his added find, the family would have soup. Just a few years ago, he had played in the park with the neighbor’s dog. Today, after the dog was killed in an air strike, he and his friends had divided it up with surprisingly little wrangling over portions. Tonight they would feast!




Totem Or Not Totem


I call ravens my “totem animal”.  I suppose the use of the term might be considered “cultural appropriation” by some.  I am areligious, and not particularly spiritual, and am not pretending to any shamanistic knowledge or ability.  I have simply identified with ravens for a number of years, and have had what felt like significant contact with them at various times.

I first took notice of ravens in the late eighties, when I was invited to crew on a Grand Canyon river trip with friends.  That trip was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, and led to 8 more river trips and 5 hikes into the canyon.  My friend warned me to keep an eye on the large black birds, telling me that they were cunning and often worked in pairs to try to steal food from campsites.  We were a large group, so we didn’t have any difficulty keeping them at bay.

A year later, I made my first multi-day hike into the canyon, down Hermit trail.  I am lucky to have survived unscathed.  I carried far too much and had inferior equipment.  Fortunately, I was young as well as dumb.  I did stay both nights at Hermit rapid, however, instead of hiking over to Boucher for the second night.  As was my wont in my pre-photographer days, I carried a little disposable film camera with me.  During the one full day I spent at the river, I watched river trips negotiating Hermit rapid, which, in my opinion, is the most fun of the canyon, even though Lava Falls is bigger.  At high water, Hermit sports a series of haystacks, or standing waves, that are relatively easy for a boatman to negotiate, and thrilling for passengers.

As I was hanging out on the beach, a pair of ravens came down to investigate.  I decided to try to get a picture of one and began stalking it.  It would wait until I was almost in position and then squawk and hop away.  I followed it for a bit until I suddenly remembered my friend’s warning.  I looked back, and, sure enough,  the other raven was trying to get in to my pack.  Laughing, I chased it off and sat down with a new respect for the birds.

About 10 years ago, I worked for about three months on an old adobe farmhouse north of Saddlebrook, next to the Canyon Del Oro wash.  It was a wonderful job.  Every day at lunch, I would take my camera (by then I had a DSLR) and head out to photograph birds and wildlife up the banks of the perennially running stream.  A pair of herons nested on the property.  So did a pair of ravens.  The first time I saw one of the ravens I tried to photograph it.  The moment I raised my camera, it flew off cackling.  The next day I tried again with the same result.  Then one day I was working inside and I heard “CAW!”  from outside.  Then again “CAW!”  I went out, and there was the raven photogenically perched on the power pole right by the building.  I went back in, got my camera, and slowly walked to within eyesight.  The bird watched me all the way, unmoving.  I switched on the camera, took off the lens cover, and slowly raised it to point at the raven.   “CAW HAHAHAHA!” he flew away before I could snap the shutter.

This became an ongoing game between us.  He would call me out (it might have been a she, who knows?), wait until I was almost ready to shoot, and then fly off laughing,  I never did get any more than a blurry shot of the bird diving down from the pole.


In those days I had a 1987 Toyota pickup which I had painted in a multitude of colors.  It was probably the most recognizable vehicle in Tucson.  It now resides in Carbondale Illinois, and I would love a photo of it.  Here it is around the time of this story.


It is sitting in front of the house I owned at the time, which was equally colorful.

Not long after I finished the job north of town, I was sitting in my house and I heard a “CAW!”, and then again “CAW!”.  I knew immediately what was up so I grabbed my camera and went out front.  There was a raven, sitting on the power pole in front of my house.  I raised my camera, and, sure enough, “CAW HAHAHAHA!” off he flew, making a loop across the street and heading back north, laughing all the way.  I am convinced that it was the same bird who followed my truck or found it 20 miles south of the ranch.  The opening photo of this post is the best I got that day.  I never saw the bird again.

A couple years later, I met my ex wife, who also considered ravens her totem, and used to call herself “my raven girl”.  Sadly, unlike ravens, we did not mate for life, but we do still have a strong bond and friendship, and ravens still have a special place in my world.


Heliocentrism And Questionable Assumptions

Three days a week, I get up at 3:45, have coffee, and get on my bicycle for a half hour ride to the gym, where I am put through my paces by a trained instructor, swinging kettlebells and other strength inducing activities.  Then I get on my bike again and ride back.


When I first started riding my bike rather than driving, it was the middle of December, and damned cold, as well as pitch black out.  The street I ride down is a main thoroughfare of Tucson.  It’s quite busy during the day.  When I was riding during the first couple of months, however, I rarely saw more than a dozen cars on my way to the gym, and maybe two dozen on the way back.

About a month ago, the hour of sunrise moved back into my ride time.  This is where heliocentrism comes in.  I know I am not using the word in its traditional sense, meaning the belief that planets orbit the sun.  I am using it to describe the powerful effect the sun has on the way we live our lives, or how we individually orbit the sun.

P1010531smAs it began to be brighter and brighter on my trip home, I saw more and more cars, even though the hour was exactly the same. Some of this traffic was construction workers and other trades.  I know from personal experience that, in Arizona, where we do not abide by Daylight Savings Time, but rather switch time zones twice a year, start times for construction jobs often fluctuate over the year, to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures in the summer. A significant percentage, however, was just ordinary folks, adjusting their day to the sun.  Heliocentrism.

I am very fond of Guatemala.  I have traveled there more than any other country, I have friends there, and I may move there some day.


On my last visit, I bought a Guatemalan futbol jersey.  I have little or no interest in sports, but I thought I would wear it to my workouts.  A couple weeks ago, I did.  It has warmed up enough in Tucson that I no longer need to wear a jacket when cycling to the gym on most days.  Normally, cars are very polite to me as I ride down the bike lane, moving over when they can, even giving me a full lane of space.  The day I wore that jersey, however, I noticed what seemed like a majority of drivers buzzing right past me without moving over an inch.  Tucson is pretty bike friendly, we even got an award for being the most bike friendly city, I believe, but these people were far from friendly.  At first I was taken aback, but then it occurred to me that I was wearing a white shirt with “GUATEMALA” emblazoned across the back in blue.  My immediate thought, in our current political climate, which has emboldened racists and xenophobes, drawing them out into the open, was that drivers assumed I was an immigrant, and probably “illegal” and were taking out their frustrations on me.


Then I noticed that most of the vehicles buzzing me were construction vehicles full of Latino workers, probably Mexican-American, and I realized to both my embarrassment and amusement that they were probably futbol fans who simply hated the Guatemalan team.






Goldilocks For President


A friend on Facebook asked which would be better: too much government, or too little.  The title of this post was my glib response.  Facebook doesn’t lend itself to complex answers.  The question itself is a bit simplistic.  To be fair, my friend was fishing for material for his writing.  He likes to prompt discussions and then use the ensuing arguments in his books.  Regardless, after some thought, this is my response.

The decision shouldn’t be about quantity of government, but rather about the targeting and goals of it.  For example, would you prefer to ensure that everyone who needs unemployment gets it, even if a few people game the system, or would you prefer to restrict it so that the system can’t be gamed, but a few people who need help don’t get it?  For me, this is a clear cut moral choice.  I am willing to pay the tiny amount extra to make sure everyone who needs help gets it even though some freeloaders get by.

Another example: Would you prefer to prevent all pollution of the nation’s water supply even though it might make some companies less profitable, or would you prefer to protect the businesses even though some lakes and streams might be poisoned?  Again an easy choice.  The short term profits of a coal or chemical company can’t compare in importance to the very ecosystem which sustains human life, even if we have to pay more for their products.

Both examples above illustrate situations where I favor too much government over too little.  Here are a couple where I swing the other way.  Should the government regulate the recreational use of drugs, including narcotics, because there could be a cost to society from their abuse, or should drug use be uninhibited by adults with  clear consequences borne entirely by the user in cases of abuse? I favor less government in this case.  There is no reason why any drug should be treated differently from alcohol.  Prohibition simply creates, enriches, and empowers a criminal class.  We have dozens of Al Capones terrorizing Mexico and Central America because of our draconic drug laws.  We need laws against doing certain things while intoxicated, and treatment for addiction, no more.

Another example: Should motorcycle riders be required to wear helmets and drivers and passengers in automobiles be required to wear seat belts in order to save lives and lower the societal cost of accidents, or should people be able to decide for themselves the risk they wish to take.  In this case, I am in favor of mandating the installation of seat belts in cars, but not their use, nor that of helmets.  Fairer would be allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums for people who don’t use them.

The one issue I have the most difficulty with is abortion.  I absolutely believe a woman should control her own body and have the option to terminate a pregnancy up to a point, and that her life should always take precedence over that of the child unless she chooses otherwise.  I am uncertain about abortion on demand after the point at which a baby can survive if it is born.  Religion should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on this, unless it is the religion of the mother.  Science, on the other hand, complicates the issue.  At viability, with no life threat to the mother, should caesarian or induced labor be required, with the baby given up for adoption?  I don’t know.

We live in a nation of 350 million unique, thinking, feeling people, who have to coexist within a governmental structure that serves all of them as well as possible.  We will never reach Goldilocks’ “just right”, but we have put in place a system of deliberation, checks and balances that has, for two and a half centuries, managed to evolve to meet our needs.  The key is to make sure the stewardship of that system is in thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate hands.  Let’s remember that next election day.

PS, that beautiful girl in the photo is my granddaughter, who would make a fabulous president, and may someday do just that.



Buses, Not Busses


When I was a young boy, living in Montana, I had a recurring nightmare.  In it, I was driving a sports car, something like an MG convertible, and was being chased by a school bus full of stereotypical whooping and befeathered wild Indians.  We swerved back and forth up a winding mountain road in the woods.  At the end of the dream, I would always turn suddenly to the right and the busload of Indians would drive off a cliff.

It is unclear where these images came from.  For my entire childhood, I was restricted to one hour of PBS programming a day plus news and special events like the olympics or the moon shot.  My home town in Montana was so small that I’m not sure we even had a school bus, except maybe for the kids who lived on outlying ranches.  Nobody drove sports cars, and, in northeastern Montana, a convertible would be exceedingly unlikely.

My favorite thing about the dream is that I always escaped, surviving to dream again.  My least favorite thing is that I did so by killing all the Indians, or at least by leading them to their deaths.

I didn’t actually ride in a school bus until junior high school.  We waited for the bus on a corner at the base of a steep hill.  A ways up the hill were a couple of apple trees.  We would pick apples and roll them down into the intersection to be squashed by cars.  At one point, someone had the clever idea of lobbing them at cars in the air.  That stopped as soon as he got “lucky” and the outraged motorist slammed on his brakes and gave us all a dressing down.  Then we started smuggling them on to the school bus and dropping them out of the windows on to passing cars.  It is amazing that we never broke a windshield or got anyone hurt.  One day, I sat in a seat that a bully wanted.  When I refused to get up, he slammed the detached seat cover in front of me on to my fingers, breaking one.  This is the only bone I have ever broken, and the school nurse didn’t even believe it was for several days.

I rode the public bus to the YMCA once a week for swimming lessons.  I made it all the way to barracuda, which I think was the highest level.  A bus ride cost $0.20.  I would give the driver a quarter, and he would give me back an Indian head nickel every time.  (Indians again)  I don’t have any of those nickels.  I probably spent them on candy.

I went to a boarding school in Vermont, which had some school buses that we used for field trips and the like.  I once got kicked out of the back of one by a jerk as it was driving away.

I took the bus to Des Moines, Iowa once, thinking I might live out there.  It was incredibly boring, although I did get amazing seats for a Yes concert.  We decided the day of the show that we would go.  We got there 15 minutes before the doors were supposed to open and bought general admission tickets.  There were only a few people outside, so we walked straight up to the doors and were among the first people inside.  The venue was still filling as the band took the stage.

I also took the bus all the way across the country to Portland, Oregon, to stay with friends.  This was supposed to be the first leg of a trip around the world.  I was in Portland for four months.  I left one week before Mt. St. Helens erupted, and took a bus to San Francisco.  Little vials of volcanic ash were selling for a dollar on the streets in California, and my friends in Portland were shoveling it out of their driveway.  Bad timing.  Two months later, I took another bus to LA.  The driver got lost entering the city and a passenger had to help her find the bus station.  I caught a local bus from there to Seal Beach, where I spent a couple months working at Taco Bell and sleeping under a lifeguard tower to avoid being chewed up by the machines which cruised the beach at night picking up trash.  That was as far as my round the world trip went.  I hitchhiked home.

Back in NJ, I rode the bus back and forth to Port Authority in NYC to go to shows, and later on to get to the subway which took me to Pratt Institute, In Brooklyn, where I went to art school.

In 1983, I took another cross-country bus trip, this time to Tucson. These trips were back in the day when I smoked cigarettes and you could smoke in the back of the bus.  There was always a core group of people who got smellier and friendlier by the day.  We smoked more than tobacco, and drank a bit too.  There was even a bit of hanky panky (busses).

I’ve ridden the streetcar in Tucson, but never the bus, except one time when I was courting a girl who lived on the south side and I took the bus to Laos Center and walked from there.  She moved in with me shortly thereafter, and I haven’t been on a local bus since.

Since then, my only bus trips have been almost exclusively tour buses in other countries, ranging from the luxurious, high security buses that are wise to take in Honduras, to the second hand, colorfully painted American school buses in Guatemala and India.  In India, I took the bus from Badami, where I had seen spectacular cave temples and accidentally eaten some bad meat, which made me sick.  On the trip to Margao, I could only eat the occasional potato chip for fear of nausea.  At the end of the day, a few miles from our destination, the bus got a flat tire.  Coincidentally, it happened right next to one of the many used tire stores along the roads of India.  The driver got off the bus and talked to the proprietor for what seemed like an hour.  In the end it was evident that there were no tires available of the correct size.  Fortunately, because the buss had dual tires on the back, we were able to continue on.  Unfortunately, the other tire on that axel went flat 500 yards down the road.  We were stranded in the middle of nowhere, at dusk, with no hotels or bus stations for miles.  I began to panic, but then the other passengers grabbed their bags and started flagging down passing buses.  When one stopped, there was a crush of people trying to get on it, as is the way in India.  I stood back as it pulled away with about three quarters of my fellow passengers jammed into it and hanging off the side.  The next bus that came by easily accommodated the rest of us with seats.  We weren’t even charged for the ride.

photo taken in Antigua, Guatemala


Hands Off My Filly, Buster!

On November 21, 2013, Democrats in the Senate used the so-called “nuclear option”to eliminate filibusters on all presidential nominees except those to the Supreme Court.  The move was made out of frustration (justified) over the obstructionist tactics being used by Republicans against President Obama’s nominees.

Many warned that Democrats would eventually regret the move, as they were not guaranteed control of the Senate in perpetuity.  Now, with a patently insane man in the White House making horrific nominations on a daily basis, I am sure many do indeed harbor such regrets.

I do not.  I think it is important for the American voters to experience the real consequences of their choices at the ballot box.  While it might be nice to be able to block Trump’s nominees procedurally, that would just enable Republicans to shift the blame for any failures on to Democrats, just as Democrats can now say that Obama’s shortcomings were the result of an obstructionist Republican Senate.  I happen to agree with the latter, but we ought to get what we vote for, regardless if it is a classy, intelligent, thoughtful Black man or a racist, self-serving Oompah Loompa.  It helps inform future votes, and forces the winning party to govern with accountability and without excuses.

Exempting the Supreme Court was a wise decision, because the consequences of appointments to the highest judicial body extend far beyond the lifetime of a presidency.  I hope Democrats use the filibuster liberally (pun intended) against Trump’s sure to be terrifying Supreme Court nominees.


Fake News Of The Future


This is Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.  Or maybe it isn’t.  Rogue One, the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise, takes place just before the events of Episode IV, which was the original film released in 1978.  Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by Cushing, had a significant role in the events of the new film, so, with the permission of his family, his face was superimposed on another actor using state of the art CGI.  I was several minutes into his appearance before I realized I was watching a dead man resurrected by technology.

Flash forward to yesterday, when the probably false but quite believable rumors about things Donald Trump did in a hotel room in Moscow surfaced.  All it took was an internal CIA memo, possibly faked, to send the internet into an uproar, dominate Trump’s press conference, and start a pissing contest (see what I did there?) between him and CNN.

I’m sure the tech used to generate a completely believable scene featuring Peter Cushing is prohibitively expensive.  For now.  Four years from now, or maybe eight, imagine a salacious video surfacing of a presidential candidate on the eve of an election.  We have the technology.  It won’t matter if it is proven a fake once the outcome of the election has been changed.


Lucky Baby

Wiggling her toes in the sand under the swing, she watched her little brother explore the lawn, gurgling and cooing at each new sensation.  She remembered how afraid she had been when Mommy and Daddy told her she was going to have a little brother.  How could they?  That ruined everything!  When he was born, all her fears were realized.  When she was out shopping with Mommy, everyone they met immediately fawned over her baby brother, poking and tickling him, asking to hold him, ignoring her except to ask “Isn’t it great to have a little brother?”  She hated him!  He was stealing all of Mommy and Daddy’s time away!

Now, though, she felt differently.  Something about the way he looked at her.  She couldn’t help but smile.  And when Mommy asked her to watch him, she felt almost like a grownup.  She had said she just needed to run to the store for a minute.  Trips to the store weren’t nearly as fun these days.  It seemed like all they bought was canned stuff and macaroni and cheese in a box.  Sometimes they went to the place where nice people gave them food for free.  They had started going there when Daddy moved out of town to look for work.

Mommy sure was taking a long time.  Usually she stayed at the playground with them.

“There they are”

“Hey, sweetheart, your mommy said to come get you here.  Come along, we are going to get you some lunch.”

“How are we going to tell her?”

“I don’t know.  Poor kid.  At least the boy won’t know any better.”

“Such a shame.”



This Changes Everything


9-11 changed everything.  No it didn’t.  The election of Donald Trump changes everything.  No it doesn’t.  We like to speak of seminal events as if they are switches, turning something on or off, or changing channels.  They aren’t.  Seminal has the same root as semen.  When the sperm enters the egg, the human who will appear 9 months later is not predetermined, much less the adult they will become.  All the sperm does is create potential in the egg.  The eventuality is determined by environment and the actions of other humans.  The same is true for a seminal event. 9-11 created enormous potential, both for good and evil.  Immediately after the towers fell, there was a massive outpouring of unity, empathy, and solidarity from all corners of the globe.  This could have been embraced and nurtured, had there been leaders with the vision to do so.  Instead, our leadership chose to use fear and ignorance to fuel two devastating wars for profit.  One might say that the actual seminal event was not 9-11, but the 2000 election debacle which installed George W. Bush as president.

The election of Donald Trump also unleashes great potential, both for good and evil.  We can look at it as George Bush looked at 9-11, you are either with us or against us, dividing the country in two, or, we can embrace the common issues which brought us to this point.  Democrats, rather than trying to figure out how to defeat Trump, should be crafting legislation to rectify the problems and address the issues which resulted in his election.  Don’t worry about whether his populist agenda was genuine, don’t worry about Russia.  Take him at his campaign word and craft legislation to rebuild the infrastructure, to create jobs, to reform immigration, and to reform the tax code.  While the Republicans are busy repealing Obamacare for the 5 zillionth time to be replaced by an identical Trumpcare, steal their agenda, call their bluff, and do it in a way that is non-partisan, without a bunch of special interest riders on the bill, just genuine, straightforward legislation.  They will either have to get on board and do what is right for the country or own their hypocrisy.


Guns In My Life

I was born in Ekalaka, in the South East corner of Montana.  Ranching country.  My dad was minister of the town’s Congregational Church, so he hung out with ranchers from the congregation.  He did rancher type things, like holding down the calves for branding (somewhere I have a photo of this), and, on occasion, going out to shoot prairie dogs.  Prairie dogs are anathema to ranchers, because both cattle and horses can break legs when they inadvertently step on a burrow.  He had a rifle he used for that.

He also had a shotgun that he used for bird hunting.  We ate grouse, pheasant, and duck.  One time we had a goose.  I remember fishing the shotgun pellets out of my grouse or pheasant soup, although Mom always seemed to arrange for most of them to end up in Dad’s bowl.

My dad used his rifle to go deer hunting one time.  He hit a deer but didn’t kill it.  He told me that the look in the deer’s eyes as he made the kill at close range was heartbreaking.  I don’t think he ever hunted again.

He did keep the rifle, though.  I don’t know about the shotgun.  About eight years later, we were living in suburban New Jersey, on a hill overlooking New York City.  My mom had a garden, as she has for all of my life.  Our house backed up on a wildlife preserve, which was great for us kids.  It also meant that the garden was plagued by woodchucks.  My mom tried everything, from traps to chicken wire, with mixed results.  That year there was a particularly wily critter who avoided all of the traps and broke through the chicken wire.

My dad’s parents were visiting, probably for either my birthday or my sister’s, when the woodchuck showed up, brazenly munching down a row of lettuce in the middle of the day.  My grandfather looked at my dad and asked, “Do you still have that gun?”  “Yep,” my dad replied, and they fetched it from its storage place in the basement.

We lived on a long, skinny, hillside lot, with a driveway running up to the house, which faced the view of the city rather than the street.  Opposite the garage was a long back yard, the furthest third of which was Mom’s garden, bordering on the woods.  My grandfather came out of the garage and braced himself on the corner of the house, at least 50 yards from where the woodchuck sat munching arrogantly away in the far corner of the garden.  He took one shot, probably his first in years, and killed it instantly with a bullet to the head.  We were all impressed, but we didn’t cook and eat it.

I was going to boarding school in Vermont at the time, and I spent part of the next summer working on a new art building for the school. When I got back in the fall, I found out that one of the older kids I had been working with had walked out into the woods, put a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.  To this day, I don’t know why.

I have a hazy memory of shooting a 22 rifle at bottles in the desert, maybe when I lived in Phoenix.  It was fun, I guess, but not all that fun.

When I worked as a cellular technician, one of my coworkers and I bought paintball guns and stalked each other through the orchards around the Salton Sea.  That was fun, but I always lost, splattered with neon orange or green.

I have traveled all over Mexico and Central America.  Guns are everywhere down there, but always in the hands of military, police, and security guards.  I saw shotgun wielding bulletproof vest wearing men guarding everything from a truck delivering water to a Burger King.  Young kids with M-16s asked me where I was from and where I was going at Puestos Militares throughout Mexico.  I never saw a civilian with a gun.  Even when I was in Juarez in 2009, at the height of the gang war there, I never saw a gun that wasn’t carried by a Federale.  Obviously, there were a lot, 15 people were shot and killed every one of the four days I spent there, but no ordinary citizens, just gang members and cops.

Here in Tucson, I see holstered guns on civilians almost every day, and assume that there are many more concealed weapons.  They are carried by people who are frightened of everyone around them, people who fantasize about someday using their weapon to be a hero, and by people who just want to make a political statement.  They are guns which can unleash a volley of bullets rapidly in the general direction of a perceived threat, or capriciously gun down a Congresswoman and several of her friends and colleagues.  I doubt that most of the people carrying them could drop a woodchuck at 50 yards with a single shot to the head.