Monday, April 25, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I'll Be A' Traveling

Starting on Tuesday I'll be making a sudden, emergency driven trip to the Land of the Free. Not a fun trip, no Disneyland etc, but I'll be there for two weeks or so. Mostly in horse territory outside of Tucson, Arizona. Maybe a trip over to Alamogordo, New Mexico ("the land of the fat cottonwood trees"). Billy the Kid territory. Due to time finally catching up to my father, you know, time catches up with all of us eventually.

My sister has no Internet at her house, which probably makes her and her husband the only people in their demographic in the entire United States that have no regular Internet access. They don't seem to care. They seem to like books the best, although they do seem to tolerate DVDs pretty well. Maybe I can go to a coffee shop or something; I think my nephews have Internet, maybe I can glom on them. I'll say hi! when I get a chance.

Might even think of a few tunes to share.

I'll say hi to the wildlife for you. There are Javalinas, which are mid-sized, wild pigs that love the desert. There are coyotes by the score, noisy as hell. There are several kinds of jack-rabbits, various sizes. I'm no expert. Mostly I stay indoors. I don't like to think about the snakes and lizards. Not to mention the scorpions as big as shoe boxes.

In the meantime, you (and I) can meditate on the blessings of remaining alive. It often seems like a mixed blessing, but seriously, let's just go for it. It has it's attractions, after all.

Eddie Bo-Hook & Sling(1969)

There goes that YouTube again. I was just making some notes for school, you know, and I started off on some Wild Tchopotulus long ago. And the YouTube found this! How great is that.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Magician Ricky Jay- Card Trick (Merv Griffin Show 1983)

Oh, that Ricky Jay. Supreme card trickster and historian of the art of prestidigitation.

Man, he does whatever he wants with those cards. How do they even stand for it?

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Father's Situation Is No Longer Fluid

My father has, in fact, passed away. He suffered a stroke; it was quick. It’s never a surprise when someone who is ninety-five dies, but it is always a jolt when a parent dies, especially the second parent to do so.

It was a bigger jolt for my sister. He died sitting at the kitchen counter of her home, having coffee. That makes for an awful interlude.

She’s in Tucson; I’m in Thailand. I’m also in the middle of my summer term at school, with students to teach. Or be taught by someone. Luckily I can afford to buy a last minute “full fare” airline ticket. “Bereavement” is no longer an issue that interests air carriers. I’ll probably make it within a few days. It’s Saturday morning as I find out about it, and before I leave I’ll need to get a reentry VISA. That’ll be Monday, the next day that that office is open. We’ll see how it goes.

So I hope that your morning is going better than mine is. Not that I’m complaining, I’ve got the living part. The dead part is harder. 

lightnin' hopkins - bring me my shotgun

Maybe it's true that Lightnin' Hopkins could only play in one key, but he played the hell out of it.

Dear Lady Twist - Gary U. S. Bonds 1961

Could this cut be any more Ska? This kind of skip-beat came up down south, New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City. The records, and the bands too,were popular down in Jamaica.

No criticism, that's just music. It's like a river, no, it's like fifty rivers starting way up there and twisting around each other down the line, feeding each other, learning a lick here, leaving an influence there.

It's music.

Hot And Bothered - Duke Ellington And His Orchestra - Okeh Metal Mother

Let's remember that for every horrible, sudden, shocking thing that happens in the music world, somewhere else, off in another corner somewhere, something wonderful might be happening.

Like these recently discovered metal masters of songs like this one, from Duke, and "Ain't Misbehavin'" from Louis. Even the guitar solo on this cut (at 2:10 or so) is pristine, and those things were hard to record back then.

That's life, isn't it? Learning to take the bitters with the sweet, as Muddy Waters said.

Life is loss, and it doesn't help matters to take it too hard.

Star Pilot (Italian, 1966)

Italian multinational, actually. Not as cool as some, but cooler than others.

The story is that a group of aliens crash landed on earth years ago and were trapped underground due to an earthquake. A group of scientists working on some kind of geological problem discover the alien craft. They are captured by the aliens, and another earthquake makes it possible for the ship to lift off. The scientists are kidnapped. Oh, the beautiful daughter of one of the scientists is taken as well.

The highlight of the movie for me was the red Alfa Romeo 2+2 sports car that the main characters drive around in early on. It was a moment of nostalgia for me. My friend Doug had the same Alfa, and we spent many a happy evening bombing around L.A. in the late 1970s, Doug, Norman and I. This is a rare coincidence, because it was a rare car. Someone broke Doug’s windshield outside the Whiskey Au Go Go one night, and getting a replacement was tough. The Alfa dealer needed not only the model number and year, but also the serial number of the car itself. It turned out that they were all a little different. The new one came over from Italy and that story ended happily, if expensively. Nice car! Doug’s was red, too.

The scientists are followed initially by a really old Chrysler sedan. This is before any alien involvement. The followers are two “Oriental” spies. They are self-described as such. “You may think that we are sent by the People’s Republic of China. You are wrong! We are Oriental, but we are not Chinese!” At first I wondered if they were North Korean or something, but one guy’s name is Chang. I believe that they put in this disclaimer to avoid pissing off the Red Chinese, who were still pretty hot stuff in 1966. Did I mention? The Chinese spies are kidnapped by the aliens, too.

Everyone seems to get along surprisingly well, all things considered. There is the odd fight, and a couple of people get shot, but only one of the scientists is actually killed. Usually there is social peace and quiet, cooperation, and two inter-galactic love stories are developed. It’s all mostly an excuse to show off the scientist’s beautiful daughter and the hot alien babe (who is also the alien boss).

Once the craft is in outer space, the story takes a strange twist. An earth space authority is introduced, using stock footage from the Japanese space movie, “Battle in Outer Space,” 1959. This takes up about six minutes of screen time, but then that whole plot disappears and is never seen or heard from again. They just wanted to show some space hardware, I suppose, on the cheap.

There’s some kind of emergency landing on a planet where our travelers are attacked by big, strong looking hairy man-beasts who carry curiously insubstantial sticks as weapons. Everyone duels with these flimsy sticks, and then Hot Daughter and her alien boyfriend blast the poor beasts. Another dead end plot distraction.

Around now there is a very brief description of the possible time distortions that may occur due to high speed space travel. And then they discover that some kind of spacecraft is heading back at them from somewhere further out. It’s small to have traveled that far, so it's a mystery. They go out and take a look.

Interestingly, both the aliens and the earth scientists (and spies) can go for space-walks in this movie using only a small breathing apparatus. They have heard a partial message from the craft, and they go over to have a look. It turns out that the message is a warning about nuclear destruction back on earth (the discussion of time distortion was a call-back). On the craft are two long-dead Russian cosmonauts who have decayed to dusty bones.

Oye, vey ist mir! By now we’re way up on the love plots and a strong anti-nuclear message is coming through, seemingly out of nowhere.

They land on the alien home world and . . . no one is there. It’s all overgrown and deserted. It seems they were so afraid of impending nuclear pollution damage that they just packed up the civilization and split for outer space.

I’ve seen better examples of such movies, but this one was mildly entertaining throughout. I enjoy trying to keep up with inexpertly joined together plots. The two female leads were very decorative; one had some substance and the other one was delightfully ditsy. They were always dressed in wardrobe intended to show off their secondary sexual characteristics. Plus, it’s all on YouTube, so the price is right.

I wouldn’t encourage you to watch it, but you wouldn’t regret it, either. Honestly, if it didn’t have Doug’s car in it, I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Well, that's interesting. I'm not surprised that the studio felt like this vision of Star Trek "needed work."

Concrete, Briefly

Cement and concrete are not the same thing. Cement is one of the ingredients for making concrete, along with sand and gravel (in most countries). The sand and gravel are the “aggregate.” Oh, and water, that’s important. Water not only makes it fluid and formable, but also causes the chemical reaction that binds it all together. It’s amazingly practical stuff.

Concrete has been around for a long time, something like 8,000 years. The recipe was very different, but the idea was the same: aggregate and some kind of binding agent, activated by water. Some of the trading people around present day Syria and Lebanon had a pretty good recipe and used it for “rubble wall houses,” and underground cisterns. People are clever.

The Romans really put concrete on the map. They had a great recipe and used it for great things. Like the Colosseum and the Parthenon in Rome. The Parthenon is still the biggest free-standing concrete dome in the world. And non-reinforced, too. Everything from the giant public baths that they liked to the big apartment houses that they invented was made from concrete. Or opus caementicium, as they called it. From 300 BC (or BA as I like to call it, “Before Augustus”) to 476 AD they used the hell out of the stuff. Then came the big crash and the art of making concrete was lost to the world for over a thousand years. How stupid was that?

The Germans make some great concrete. I’d venture to say that they have consistently made the best super-hardened concrete in history. Remember when the Berlin Wall “came down?” Cheering crowds with huge German sledge hammers rushed the wall and set about to smashing it. Well, that was easier said than done. I’m sure you will recall the news footage of strong, young men with big hammers hauling away at the wall and the wall just standing there yawning. “That the best you got, asshole?” the wall seemed to be saying. Every few blasts they would get a small chip to flake off.

The Germans, of course, had had a lot of practice, and a lot of reasons for wanting the best concrete in the world. I spent the summer of 1984 studying German in Kiel, a lovely city in the very north of Germany that had been completely flattened during World War II. Completely, except for the civilian and military bomb shelters and the headquarters building of the Kriegsmarine (The German Navy). One of the bomb shelters was left in place and a park was built around it, as some kind of memento. And the entire vast bulk of the Navy Headquarters is still there, too. It’s still a Navy base. We could just walk on, there was no security at all at the time. It’s a huge rectangle of concrete, the best super-hardened, reinforced concrete that the minds of German science could devise. It’s about thirty or forty meters high, maybe a couple of hundred meters across, and several hundred meters long. And it’s there, still there, after furious aerial bombardment that lasted a couple of years, being subjected to bombs of up to a ton in weight. Sure, there are chunks blown off, it really does look like it’s been in a fight, but the building was never close to being compromised and the staff working inside were never threatened. That, my friends, is concrete at its finest.

Thailand is a wonderful place to observe the progress of concrete. The Thais are very adept with the stuff. Most of the bigger buildings in Thailand are built from reinforced concrete. They must use a great recipe, because drilling a hole in a wall is a daunting task that requires a huge drill and a long time. Just hanging a picture is a big ordeal. They reinforce the hell out of it, too. I watch them at construction sites, and when they’re putting down the forms and laying in the rebar it’s a sight to see. All of that rebar, elaborately interconnected and laced together. Thais mean business when they do almost anything. And anything that is important is done with great care. Building tall buildings is, of course, very important.

And, almost surprisingly, there never seems to be any chiseling going on in the amount of cement used. In many countries around the world the construction supervisors or somebody will steal some of the cement and just use more sand. Bags of cement are worth money. Boy, it’s trouble when they have an earthquake in some of those countries. Whole building just turn to dust and fall around the inhabitants. Sometimes it happens without even the agency of an earthquake. That stuff never happens in Thailand.

I lived for eight years on the fifth floor of a twenty-three story condo building made entirely from reinforced concrete. I worried for five minutes once, when I considered the weight above my head. Then I got over it. Thais are too proud to fool around with something so important.

Thailand is interesting in its countryside innovations in concrete, too. When I was with the Peace Corps I frequently visited a small school in a non-prosperous, agricultural province in the northern mountains. The principal got some money and built a computer room. About eighteen by twenty-five feet, a modest room off the main building. Did he contract it out to professionals? No, he did not. He just had the maintenance man build it, singlehandedly. The fellow was talented and resourceful, and it came out fine. I watched him prepare the concrete for the foundation and the uprights to hold the walls and the roof. He built good forms and a good matrix of rebar, and he used good cement, and good washed sand, and . . . river rocks bigger than golf balls!  Smooth as a baby’s ass they were, too! Not technically correct, but it’ll probably work out okay. It’s got a light load on it.

It’s fascinating stuff, concrete. But then, I find everything fascinating.   

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lucio Battisti - Sì, Viaggiare

Here's a bonus for you. Sad to think that my comment on this song one year ago is the last one in the string.

Lucio Battisti - Ma è un Canto Brasileiro

Just because I haven't bothered y'all with this one for a long while. I'm bothering myself with it right now.

And Oh! how I loved bothering myself with it back in the day! Driving my 1978 Rabbit on San Vicente in the fog, with the opposing headlights shining behind the Brazilian Pepper Trees! Man, were those the days or not?

I love Battisti, and I don't care who knows it.

Minbo No Onna - Japanese film clip

This is a great movie, and the whole length of it is up on YouTube now. With so much shitty happening to us all the time now, and the whole world going to hell by high-speed rail, the least that we can do for ourselves is try to enjoy the good things in life. There are still several available to us, untaxed and not yet criminalized, and free YouTube is one of them.

Juzo Itami's movies are all more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Look for them soon on a TV near you!

Animated Sheet Music: "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, wasn't 'Bird too much? What must the world have looked like to him? Everything moving in slow motion or something.

I love Confirmation, and I love looking at this treatment, but I'll be damned if I can keep up with it visually. Ha! Like I can keep up with it aurally either!

No wonder no one plays real instruments anymore. If you listen to guys like Mr. Parker, maybe it's normal to just say, "well, that's been done."

Animated Sheet Music: "Au Privave" by Charlie Parker

I love these! This one led to more in the suggestion column. The only one that I've seen previously was Giant Steps by 'Trane.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Almost A Movie Review: My Gun Is Quick

All up on the YouTube. Very good resolution; highly entertaining.

A Mike Hammer movie from 1957, and much, much better than I would have expected it to be. Robert Bray as Mike Hammer, and he makes a very good job of it, too.

This is a Hollywood cheapie. I’d never heard of any of the actors, and the sets were all smooth and simple, filled with stock furniture. All of the surfaces looked as though they had been scrubbed of detail.

The narrative, however, was in “drive” for the whole ninety-five minutes or so, full throttle, and linear and coherent. The acting, by this crew of also-rans, was generally more than adequate, professional, even. And often better than that.
The movie takes place in the Los Angeles of long ago. There’s a great sequence of a long “follow” on the L.A. freeway system. It would be too grand to call it a chase. Both the object car and the following car are in the frame of every shot, and there are many shots. It shows freeways all the way from Pasadena to Long Beach, lots of freeways but never that many cars. Look! There’s a ’49 Mercury! Stock! Wow! There’s a ’55 Studebaker! With front end damage! Hey! There’s a Volkswagen Beetle! Must be one of the first!

It’s a Noir Film, so there are not many sympathetic characters. Such as there are get mostly killed. The story is pretty good, even if it is as buffed of detail as the cheap sets are.

The women are first rate. That much is true. Genie Coree (as Genie Core), probably a Filipina, is just beautiful as an exotic dancer named Maria Teresa Garcia. She dies, and then moves after she is dead in a bathtub. Whitney Blake plays Nancy, who turns out to be the real villain of the piece. (Forgive me if I don’t worry about spoilers. No amount of foreknowledge could ruin a movie like this anyway.) Patricia Donahue plays a minor bad guy named Dionne. And the least screen time of all goes to the most sympathetic character in the movie, Jan Chaney playing Red, the unfortunate streetwalker who is given a worthless ring by a stooge, setting off the entire sequence of events.

Did I forget Pamela Duncan as Mike Hammer’s secretary, Velda? She’s a cantilevered cutie.

The old days look so stripped down and downright simple by now, don’t they? There are a lot of scenes down on the docks on Long Beach. Cargo ships look like such cute little things. The dockside cranes look like toys. We’ve certainly gone big time in the last fifty years. One could be forgiven to wonder what the next fifty years will bring.

The most fun of all was the French gang, who will do anything at all to get the jewels except use their brains even once. They all get killed after making a mess of every single thing that they tried to do. They wear berets, if you can believe it, and the even wear striped undershirts. With cigarettes hanging off of their lips! Like a bunch of fucking Apache Dancers! It’s amazing! But those were simpler times.  

I’d recommend this movie wholeheartedly to anyone at all. It’s free; it’s over quickly; it’s more than mildly entertaining; and you won’t regret having watched it. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham-Lover and a Friend

Sometimes you can just let the YouTube go ahead on while you do the dishes or something. And sometimes, on its own motion, YouTube gives you something like this.

2013 NPB Plays of the year

I think that would be "Nippon Professional Baseball," but I'm not sure. Help a brother out.

I do know that Japan has had a professional baseball league since 1907. After that Black Ship incident Japan became fascinated by the United States. They studied us, and one of the things that they decided to emulate was baseball. It appealed to them, obviously. I believe that the very nature of baseball appealed to the core of the Japanese mentality, the Japanese cultural essence. Baseball is a game of rules, elaborate and detailed rules, and one thing happens at a time with no reference to the clock. Other games have general rules and time constraints. Not baseball. Any baseball game could conceivably go on forever.

And boy, and those guys play! Check out this highlight reel! Sure, there are a few of "us" in there too, but baseball is international now. This is a big-time baseball league. Many of these plays are amazing, in the best sense of the word.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Profound Technological Achievement

Today, with no help at all from friends or family, and after only one session last week of almost two hours of trying and failing, followed by another hour and a half on my bank’s website doing some housecleaning and adding a “travel notice,”* I have successfully purchased a legitimate copy of the software for Microsoft Word 2016 for $79.00, only about seventy-dollars more than its worth. Less than a hundred all together! That’s pretty good!

I could have gotten a bootleg copy for about six dollars, but I’m getting nervous about that solution. Someday, the machine will contact Microsoft for an update or something, and they’ll realize that I am a seriously criminally minded individual who has violated not only their property rights, but also several Federal laws. I have money in American banks that is available to pay criminal fines or civil judgments, so I’ve decided to be more careful.

Like most Microsoft products, Word 2016 appears to be less useful than the versions that preceded it. If I could have bought another copy of Word 97, I would have been as happy as a little girl! But no, we must progress, and soon I will be required to figure out how to back-up my stuff into the Cloud or some shit.

I can’t wait! It’ll be such fun! (Attitude is everything, and self-hypnosis to convince yourself that it’s all fun is highly recommended.)

*The travel notice was one of the keys. No one seems to be capable of understanding that I actually LIVE in Thailand. When I’m in the States I’m traveling, visiting. Then I come home. To Thailand. Get over it, people! Is it that hard to understand? At the rate things are going, lots more Americans will not be able to afford to live in America. We’ll have addresses all over the place. I dearly hope that they eventually figure out how to deal with overseas Americans. 

We Become Our Moms: Discuss

“As we get older, at some point we become our moms.” I’ve heard this said over the years; I read it in a ‘Net article recently; and I’ve been accused of it myself. Maybe the truth is out there in the gray areas, which is true of almost anything when you think about it.

It has never been evident to me, by observation, that anyone in my experience has actually become “like their mom.” Some people adapt mannerisms from their moms; others may develop some personality traits that they seem to share with their moms; and many may evince similar behaviors in some ways. Everybody though, I’m sure, remains their own person, with most of their characteristics not being shared with mom.

My ex- told my on several occasions that I was “just like my mom.” I took it as a very hurtful thing to say, because we both knew that my mom was a thoroughly disagreeable person. Unless you didn’t know her, that is. She was rather nice, and friendly, to people outside the family. With us, though, she took no steps to hide her misery and she took very effective steps to bring that misery into our experience of the world.

That is a rather important difference between my mom and me. She directed her misery outward; my own misery is directed exclusively inward. I think exclusively, anyway. Some unintentional spreading of misery surely happened. I generally tried to hide it from the family, my coworkers, and others, but sometimes there was no mistaking it. There was no conscious effort to share my misery, however, I never felt the need to inflict it on others for the purpose of either sharing it with them or making myself feel better. My mother did both of those things, with clear intention and often with obvious enjoyment. So, yeah, saying that I was like her was hurtful. That might have been intentional, too.

Even where some characteristics may be shared, there are big differences in the degree and the effects. Oh, it’s enough, already. This is not a confessional blog.

There are things about my ex-wife in my notes for this post, but I’m not going there. I have never had anything but admiration and love for my ex-wife. That and deep appreciation for everything that she has done for me and for our children. She’s been a great mom, and she’s mostly responsible for my having had a very successful family life. But she’s got a mom, too.

When my mother-in-law died, all three of her siblings were at the funeral. When she thought that no one was looking, her youngest sister approached the casket alone. She stood still for a time, and then she shook her head back and forth and said, out loud, “well, Annie, maybe now you won’t have to be angry at everybody all the time anymore.”

I would never say, to my ex-wife or to anybody else, that she was “just like her mom.” That would be a ridiculous thing to say. My ex-wife was a great mother to our children, a much more well-rounded human being, much more ambitious than her mom had been, and generally a much nicer person. But maybe none of us escape completely bringing into ourselves something of what we learned at our mother’s knee.

Mothers are the most significant others, starting before our births, so it is reasonable to think that we may, in ways big or small, model their behavior. We also carry their genetic inheritance, which will influence our personalities. But let’s not go around glibly accusing people of being like their moms, or foolishly suggesting in print that we all, at some point, become our moms. Most people, including me, don’t want to hear it. 

Clean Up Woman - Betty Wright (1971)

Betty Wright is a great singer, and this cut is a good example of what the long-ago Soul guitar players could do. On this one the guitars are allowed to take the front line and carry it through the whole song. The horns come up sometimes, but in this case it's their turn to be subtle.

And three guitars, no less! Very intricate pattern, nice interplay. Clarence Reid ("Blowfly") played guitar and got half of the writing credit; Willie Hale ("Little Beaver") played the main lick (says Google) and number three guitar player might have been Patrick Jernagin (reported by a personal friend in a YouTube comment). The guitar section is very disciplined here. They stick to the pattern and honor the construction of the song, which I'd say was typical of Soul musicians.

Great cut all around.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Jerry Butler Only the Strong Survive

Back when all of this stuff was new I loved the sound of guitars. Crashing guitars, lots of crunch, wailing guitars, rockin' guitars, bluesy guitars, GUITARS. I liked the white guys, the usual suspects and some guys over in the corner, and I liked the black guys, mostly the blues guys, but including Wes Mongomery and Kenny Burrell, maybe Mickey Baker. I loved me some guitars.

But other than Curtis Mayfield, I totally neglected the soul musicians. It was too subtle for me; my ear was not that developed. Right now I couldn't tell you the name of James Brown's guitar player, even though later in life I did learn to appreciate his playing. Most of the soul guitar guys seemed to be in the background. They let the horn players take the front of the stage. That's just the way it was. Look at Jimi Hendrix's experience (to coin a phrase). It reminds me of of that Russian proverb: the nail that stands up will be hammered down. Jimi couldn't get arrested in the black musical community.

The fellow playing on this cut is just great. Smooth, clean and perfect. There was a great art to this kind of soul guitar. I'm sorry that I spent so many years missing the point.

Spin Easy Time!: No Offence!

This is a post from 2011 that for some unknown reason was read by four people recently. That was enough to put it on my Stats this week. It's a good post, I like it, and it's nice to be reminded that I still got comments in those days. But why is it attracting readers now? Something word-searchable in there? These phenomena are hard to figure out.

Spin Easy Time!: No Offence!: Don’t give me too much credit for being a polite, charming man who is loathe to give offence. I am completely self-serving in this endeavor...

Alexander Rybak - Fairytale (Norway) 2009 Eurovision Song Contest

Something today made me think of this song. I can't imagine what it was.

For me this is the best Eurosong Contest entry since Waterloo by ABBA, and better than anything since. I know it's kind of simpleminded, but the kid makes it work, doesn't he? Maybe it's not real charisma, but it's close.

And those dancers! Those dudes are in shape, big time. They manage to keep it all in time with the song, too. Good for them! I hope they got paid enough. The dance is Norwegian; the singer was an immigrant from the Ukraine, I believe. The song has no national character at all, like most Eurosong entries.

If I recall, Alexander Rybak tried to get a career off the ground and found out bloody quick that music was the toughest gig in the world. I should ask Professor Google how he made out in the long run.

Friday, April 15, 2016

More Near Death Hijinks

The burst appendix episode unfolded over a longer time frame, but most of our close encounters with death come suddenly. For instance . . .

In My Taxi

I drove taxis in New York City for two years, usually four nights per week. We tended to stay in Manhattan, because any block, at any time, could produce a ride. My company used the old Checker cabs, purpose built taxis made by the Checker Motor Company using General Motors pick-up truck fames and engines and a flimsy body made by Checker. Additional background: Manhattan is laced with underground steam trunks that provide heat for many of the buildings; these often vent through manhole covers and can create quite a cloud of steam.

Driving through those steam clouds could be a blind faith kind of experience, since you had no idea what was on the other side. One night I was going down Fifth Avenue and I decided to turn left on 72nd Street, a big two-way cross street. I was probably heading to Park Avenue, where there would be more potential fares. I didn’t see the steam cloud until after I had turned. It covered the entire street in front of me, curb to curb. Building to building! As usual, I gutsed it and kept going. I was almost to the cloud when two cars emerged from the steam. One was in the oncoming lane, some kind of private car, and one was in my lane. The oncoming car was one of those tricked out Cadillacs that were popularly known as Pimpmobiles, and it was coming directly at me, fast. He was passing the other car blindly, which is never a good idea. I just had time to push back in my seat and widen my eyes before he swung back to his own lane, missing me by about a foot.

It was one of those times when thousandths of a second are the difference between life and death. If I had been going thirty-two miles per hour instead of thirty-one, let’s say, I would have been killed. No seat belt; air-bags hadn’t been invented yet. Just a dead guy in some twisted wreckage. Those early 1970s Cadillacs were solid automobiles, not the kind of thing you want to ram head-on at a combined speed of about seventy-five miles per hour.

So, that was a lucky break.

Boulder on Malibu Canyon Road

Malibu Canyon Road connects the 101 Freeway with the Coast Highway somewhere north of “downtown” Malibu. North also of Pepperdine University, where I attended law school. In my third year I had a part-time job clerking for a family lawyer (that’s the euphemism for a divorce lawyer) over the coastal mountains in Woodland Hills. This made me a regular on Malibu Canyon Road, often over and back on the same day.

It’s a very pretty drive. The canyon has very steep sides and it is very deep, with a small creek running down in the bottom. The road winds its way along the north side of the canyon. It’s got one of those snake-like signs every hundred feet or so, because the road is always describing an “S.” It’s fun in a fast car, and it’s even more fun on a fast motorcycle. You do need to be careful, though, for two reasons. One, no one wants to go over the side, what we called “taking a flying lesson;” and two, it gets a lot of police activity. (More on the first subject in an upcoming installment of Death Watch Funnies.)

Something else happens on Malibu Canyon Road, something that can be very exciting if you time it right. One afternoon at about 4:30 I was traveling back to school from the office. I had a class that evening. Just another California day, lots of sun, blue sky, mild temperatures, very light traffic. From the freeway to the coast takes about fourteen minutes. Halfway down there’s a tunnel. On this occasion, right before I got to the tunnel, I saw something to my right. It was up on the steep side of the canyon; I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was a boulder that was substantially bigger than a basketball. It was somewhere between a basketball and an easy chair. As I turned my eyes to focus on it, it became airborne and came straight for the road. Exactly, it appeared, to the space that I would be occupying at the same point in time.

It was another lucky bit of time management for me. The boulder hit the road less than a hundred feet in front of my car, took a huge bounce (leaving a nice little pile of debris), and sailed down into the canyon. Here too, I just had time to widen my eyes in amazement, no time even to formulate a response involving the brakes or the steering wheel. And here too, if I had gotten to that spot in seven minutes and fifteen seconds, instead of in seven minutes and seventeen seconds, I’d have been creamed.

That’s enough thrills, chills, and almost spills, for one day. Tune in for the next installment, which will feature an actual catastrophe in which many people died. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bad Astronaut - Jessica's Suicide

Two for the price of one, you Lucky Devils!

Make your own value judgments. I'm tired. Not to mention sick and tired. Very, very fucking sick and tired. Of everything, the entire 21st Century full of every fucking thing at all. Thank Sweet Baby Jesus for songs like this to cheer me up! Ha! What is that, a joke? If only.

ArmChair Martian Jessica Suicide

I heard Bad Astronaut's version first. Man, that's two cool band names right there. "Armchair Martian" and "Bad Astronaut."

Great song, too. I could succumb to the now normal Internet supremely confident declaration of which whatever is better than the other similarly situated whatever, but I respectfully decline. They're both great.

My Father's Situation Is Fluid

Word has reached me that my father’s health is failing. Perhaps that’s not an adequate description of the process at his age. He celebrated his ninety-fifth birthday last week. He has no particular condition or disease. At that age, more or less, things just seem to run out of patience with the earthly life.

He enjoyed his birthday very much, from the evidence of the pictures and the reports of those present. All four of his grandsons were there, with their wives and his only grandchild. My sister’s house was the scene. His winning smile was still in place, and his mind remains sharp. A more comprehensive report from my sister alerted me to the deterioration of his general condition. She hadn’t seen him for a few months, because he was still insisting on living alone in his house in New Mexico. She informed me that he had suffered alarming weight loss, some twenty pounds in three months, having no appetite and no remaining sense of taste or smell. She said that he seems to sleep most of the time now, and that last week he spent thirty hours in the hospital suffering from dehydration and “a little touch of” pneumonia. Most alarmingly to me, he was no longer spending time everyday reading. This is a man that only two years ago told me that, “the best part of getting so old is that I finally have time to read Flaubert.”

That bit about sleeping too much, I’ve seen that one in action. Long ago in Los Angeles my family and I lived in a rented house in West L.A. The rent barely covered the taxes on the property. The landlord had been a musician in film studio bands for decades. He was a nice fellow, a widower, in his mid-nineties. He wanted to use this property to help out young families. He stopped by sometimes to visit, and we all enjoyed the company. On rent day, we visited him in the house he lived in. One rent day, the last day that we saw him, we rang the bell and everything was strange. We could see him sitting in a chair in the living room, half sitting and half slumped over, but it took many minutes of ringing the bell to rouse him. He answered the door wearing a dress shirt, a tie, a suit jacket, a raincoat, underwear, and socks and shoes. He didn’t look right. One side of his face had seemingly sloughed off to the side and downwards. He remarked that we were days early and was surprised to find out that it was Wednesday. “Really? It isn’t Monday?” He’d been asleep for forty-eight hours. He told us that he’d had a dream in which his long dead wife came to visit him, telling him not to worry, they’d be together soon. He died within days. So yeah, when the super-old start to sleep too much, I get nervous.

We’ve had a checkered past, my dad and I. The adult relationship has always been pretty good, but he’s a funny guy. My childhood left rather a lot to be desired. I love him, though, and I’ve been genuinely happy that he has lived so long with a decent quality of life. He worked hard, and he was rewarded with more Golden Years than most people could imagine with never a money worry at all. But no one lives forever.

And now I’ll bore you with a poem about the old man that I wrote almost ten years ago:

My Father

My father, a complex man, still alive as of this writing.
Likes music, if you can call it that, opera mostly,
Gilbert and Sullivan, a favorite, not a good sign that.

The nicest thing he ever said to me:
“You know?  I’ve noticed that the records you play are a lot better than the crap I hear   on the radio.”  Not a rock fan, generally.  Jazz he found annoying.

A reader too, complex stuff, the classics.
Thomas Hardy, the whole boring lot of them.
Was known to read Thomas Mann in German back in the day, laboriously but with obvious interest, he might still, when nobody is looking. 
Showing off?  Probably, to the only significant other, himself. 

Not exactly a fan of homosexuals, but tolerant in his old fashioned way.
“Who cares, it’s not a big deal.  If Walt Whitman came through that door right now I’d run up and give him a hug.”
I had queer friends, he was unfailingly gracious, maybe he didn’t care at all,

At least he wasn’t willing to throw away all of the wondrous gifts of homo artists down through history, odds are that’s where it started, the tolerance, seemed to have grown into a general acceptance.  I guess that’s a good thing.

He was a good provider, money anyway, brought home the bacon.
Handsome?  I don’t know, he takes a good picture.
Unfailingly charming, with other people at least,
And sometimes charming at home too, he was, although the other effort must have left him somewhat debilitated, from all indications.

He didn’t need our validation, I see that now, got more than enough at work.

Not work, his “Career,” an engineer, loved burning coal, built power-plants, boilers big as city blocks, driving in Jersey he’d point them out, “see the black smoke over there?  number two boiler, see the other two?  clear as a bell.  No one ever figured out why number two burns black.”

We’d love to have seen more of him, but he was a busy man after all. 

I remember one time after he retired, I was at his house for some reason and the phone rang, the old kind with the wire, you had to stand right there to talk.

My mother, may her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen, answered the phone, she was kind of excited,

My father took the call, it was an engineer in Finland, no less, they were designing a power generating facility that was to burn peat, not the best fuel, but cheap and they had a lot of it, he’d met my father somewhere or other, Spain?  China?  and he wanted to bounce some ideas off him, they talked for about forty minutes. 

Do I sound proud?  I am, I admit it, but not inordinately so.
We’d love to have seen more of him, but we had limited interest to him,
We’d overstayed our welcome, just a hysterical woman and two mere children, he had things to do, places to go, people to see.  My mother-in-law was convinced that he had a second family to attend to.  That I doubt, the family part, he’d had that up to here, the family part anyway.

A man of many talents, he can eat any chili you hand him like normal people eat   cherries, and he likes them all too.
Never known to sing, never played an instrument, all sport was denied him by fate (except to watch others play).

The drafting table was his chess board, drawings that in their execution would weigh a quarter of a million tons, and burn clear, it was to be hoped.

He’s still alive, as of this writing.  Lives in New Mexico now, a long story. 
I still make the pilgrimage sometimes, went last month, ten time zones.
He lives alone, drives every day, cooks, reads, watches TV, he’s eighty-seven.

We both remember everything, but we never, ever compare notes about anything except newspaper humorists from the Twenties and Thirties, the Penn Relays, German verbs, poets, what we’re drinking these days, winners of track medals at the 1968 Olympics, the old Gillette Friday Night Fights, especially Gene Fulmer and Willie Pep, cars, anything to keep us smiling, like two old school chums, you’d hardly know we’re related except for the resemblance.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

I just lifted this one from Lapham's Quarterly, a magazine that I do like very much. You couldn't say that I've stolen it, not really, because they sent it to me as a teaser in an e-mail. 

1911 | San Diego

National Pastime

It seems impossible to write on this branch of the subject—to treat of baseball as our national game—without referring to cricket, the national field sport of Great Britain and most of her colonies. Every writer on this theme does so. But, in instituting a comparison between these games of the two foremost nations of earth, I must not be misunderstood. Cricket is a splendid game—for Britons.

But cricket would never do for Americans; it is too slow. It takes two and sometimes three days to complete a first-class cricket match, but two hours of baseball is quite sufficient to exhaust both players and spectators. An Englishman is so constituted by nature that he can wait three days for the result of a cricketmatch, while two hours is about as long as an American can wait for the close of a baseball game—or anything else, for that matter. The best cricket team ever organized in America had its home in Philadelphia—and remained there. Cricket does not satisfy the red-hot blood of young or old America.

Cricket is a gentle pastime. Baseball is war! Cricket is an athletic sociable, played and applauded in a conventional, decorous, and English manner. Baseball is an athletic turmoil, played and applauded in an unconventional, enthusiastic, and American manner.

End of pasted text. 

I've watched some cricket on TV, and it seems very dull to me for the identical reason that baseball seems dull to the uninitiated: we have no idea what we are looking at. Both sports have elaborate rules that cover everything and seem to go on forever. The rules of baseball are several times the amount of text in the U.S. Constitution. Cricket is the same. 

But a couple of days does seem a little much, does it not? Cricket requires a massive attention span.  It's a rare baseball game today that is accomplished in two hours, but generally it still isn't much longer than that. So, for Americans, baseball. I love the game, myself. Played the hell out of it when I was a boy. I might take up watching cricket someday, too. About six years after I've mastered opera music. 

Thai-Light-Zone: Names And The Alphabet

I thank God on a regular basis that Thai uses a phonetic alphabet, and in general the Thai alphabet is very useful. More useful than the A, B, Cs sometimes.

Like the vowels. A, E, I, O and U (and sometimes Y) can be tricky, because each one can represent several different sounds. Thai has over twenty vowels, variously reported between twenty-four and twenty-eight, so it’s pretty much one for every occasion.

Thai names can be very, very tricky to pronounce, even if one knows the alphabet pretty well. The difficulty comes in the form of “implied vowels,” spaces where there is a vowel sound that is not represented by a printed letter. I came across a name while proctoring last week that makes a great example.

Thai letters are spoken as the sound, followed by an example. Such as “gaw-gai,” which is the sound of the letter followed by the Thai word for a chicken. The name went like this:

Saw, ngaw, waw, naw, waw, ngaw, saw. (That’s the sound components only.)

In English: SNGWNWNGS. I have a very good friend, American, whose family name has only a solitary A for vowels in the middle of five consonants. He gets teased about it sometimes. But Sngwnwngs must be some kind of record.

I am informed, and believe, that the name is pronounced “Saengwanwong.” So there are three of those implied vowels in there. There are problems for the un- or semi-initiated.

Problem number one: notice that the implied consonants in the name take three different values. In a word or name that you are not familiar with it can be a challenge to choose the correct vowel sound.

Problem number two: the S at the end is marked with the tone marker for “don’t pronounce this one,” or these ones in some cases. It’s there for reasons that are hard to explain. When I used to ask, the answer was usually, “it’s Sanskrit.” (Answered delivered after a period of eyes rolled towards the ceiling.) I don't ask anymore. 

The whole thing is very interesting. There are, for instance, six letters to cover the sound of the S, along with one or two combinations of letters that sound like the S, with neither of the letters being one of the S letters. You may recall me mentioning that the Lao have gone ahead and eliminated all of the S letters but two, which carry different tones. Communist governments can go ahead and do such things on their own motion; it will never happen in Thailand, where people just would not stand for it. We are Thai! We got this alphabet from the great King Ramkhamhaeng! Hands off! And I think that they are right, too. It’s easy enough to keep up with it all, especially if you learned the language from your parents.

Like I say, I’m just happy that there is an alphabet, not like Chinese where if you want to learn to read you must study over 5,000 pictograms. And only one alphabet, too, not like Japanese where every paragraph of the newspaper, if not every sentence, uses three different alphabets and about 900 Chinese characters that they still find indispensable.

If Thai were any more difficult, I could not have made the little progress that I have in learning it. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

An Outbreak Of Left-Handedness

My firm impression is that left-handedness has been in full retreat for all of my life. I attribute this to forced-right-handedness, which I am pretty sure is an actual thing and not a figment of my imagination. People just can no longer bear the thought of subjecting an apparently left-handed child to a lifetime of annoyance, and some physical pain, at the hands of machines, devices and contraptions that were designed for the comfort and convenience of right-handed people. To see what I mean, go and try to cut something holding the scissors in your left hand. Or imagine the difficulty of renting left-handed golf clubs.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, left-handed. But my father is left-handed, and a close cousin of mine is as well. So I have heard the complaining. Pay phones were a common object of hatred, as was the entire concept of handwriting.

I arrived in Thailand over ten years ago and I was surprised at the number of left-handed students. In classes of students numbering in the mid-forties, there’d usually be half a dozen or so. That seemed high to me. I taught a class of forty-five seventeen-year-olds that included thirteen left-handed students. I remember thinking, that’s great, they let the lefties be lefties over here. Must be a Buddhist thing. Things have changed over time.

I’ve been teaching at my big university for over eight years now. Several times every year I proctor tests, and I always scan my quadrant of the room for left-handers. Without having made a science of it, I’m prepared to say that the numbers have gone down over time. I’ve written about it hereon already. Sometimes, though, there’s a sudden outbreak, an unaccountable bulge in the left-handed population. I cannot even speculate as to the why or how, although I might, just a little.

Sometimes it seems to be a particular subject that has drawn the attention of a lot of lefties. Perhaps the left-handed brain is also predisposed to the study of certain things. Mathematics? Chinese language? Further study would be required, and I am not so disposed.

My proctoring this time lasted nine days, and over that entire time every group of test takers included a greater number of left-handers that I’ve become accustomed to. Usually I need to walk the isle for a good stretch, searching through a few isles to the left and right, to come across the first lefty. Last week, anywhere I stood I could look around and find a few immediately. On a couple of occasions I could see two sitting in a row, one right behind another. One row of thirteen test takers included five lefties! Every one of the nine days was the same. It was an outbreak of left-handedness.

It has always been a blessing to me to be so interested in the world’s mundanities. Very good luck, that. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Eddie Harris - He's Island Man

Just goin' nuts here. Care to join me?

White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians: My Big Chief's Got the Golden Crown #1 ...

New Orleans has the richest cultural heritage of any American city. And me being a New Yorker, that's saying something.

I've always loved the New Orleans music in general. For me, at first, that was the New Orleans pop music on the radio. Fats Domino; Lloyd Price; Little Richard. It was "New Orleans" by Gary U.S. Bonds that made me realize that New Orleans was where this music was coming from. After that I could spot it . . . "Mother in Law," yup, that's N'orlins music.

These White Eagles will bear further study. They sound very sincere.

The Wild Magnolias - Golden Crown

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Percy Mayfield- River's Invitation (Tangerine Version)

Percy at his best.

Forgive me, but I'm proctoring tests these days. It just plum wears my boney ass out, it does. I finish up the gig on Friday, and I'll get back to prose signifying before too long.

If anyone is interested, there's a version of this song by Stevie Ray Vaughn up on the YouTube. Not many hits, so it must be way down the pages when you go looking for Stevie Ray instead of approaching through the Percy windows. It's worth a listen.

Hit The Road Jack - Percy Mayfield

I've posted this one before, but here it is again, due to the fantastic photographs that come with this incarnation.

This the the demo by the songwriter himself, the Poet of the Blues, Percy Mayfield. Strong stuff, no chaser. Here's to all of the guys who got the old "Hit The Road, Jack" somewhere along the way. We should start a club.

The Velvet Underground - Sister Ray (MONO, Best Sound)

Oh, go for it. You know you want to listen to it.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Arbouretum - Sister Ray

And it sounds like they started the tape with the song in progress! How long does the entire performance go on?

I was on a Sister Ray jag about a month ago, and I played a few Velvets versions and quite a few covers. I played some of this one, although I'll admit that I didn't listen to the entire fifty-one minutes. For some reason based in its own algorithms, YouTube fixated on this cut and has been trying desperately to get me to listen to the entire thing. For a month now this cut has shown up in every single right hand suggestion column, whatever I'm listening to, and in the Watch Again line in the opening screen, too. That's every day for a month now. I'm pretty sure that never happened before.

So I'm going to go through it tonight. There'll probably be some jump-cuts, but I promise to listen to the end.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Today In WTF: Divorce Edition

Today I woke up in a world where I am a terrible human being. Not only because of things that I may have done, things that would have originated in my active mind to be carried out by me in the real world, in opposition to morality and common decency, but also because of what I am, which is depressed, and somehow incapable of simply snapping my fingers and magically becoming cheerful and well adjusted, and also being a man that is so out of control that he cannot even sleep without snoring.

People are telling stories about me. Stories that are neither flattering, nor true. I am not now aware of the details of these stories, but I know that they are in the air, and I think that I know in which direction they travel. I have a hunch that they would, if they were true, make me a much more interesting man that I actually am. So I’m on a fence about confronting them. No, I’ll settle for the real me, the dull me. If the rumors are in any way exciting, they’re probably not true.

The rumors serve a purpose, and that purpose is my demonization. Oh, my friends, I have counseled you all recently not to get involved with beautiful women, and I would add to that to never, ever get involved with women who have anger issues, women who awake every morning to an entire world of people and things that infuriate them, women who hate their own parents and at least half of their siblings, who hate most of their friends, and who virulently hate almost all of the rest of the world on general principals. Don’t do it! No matter how beautiful they are.

Why would anyone hook up with such a woman? Marry her and try to make a life with her? Stick by her for forty-plus years, raising two nice sons? Well, for one thing, there’s the beautiful bit, and she was plenty sexy besides. For another, she was very smart and well organized. Those skills would come in handy building a family. I also knew that she was adrift herself in a world not of her making, and that she was unhappy in the extreme. We shared those conditions. I stupidly thought that maybe by forgiving her peccadillos and loving her unreservedly I could make her happy. And maybe she would forgive me mine. More fool me.

Of course, she ultimately kicked me out. After five years of exile I filed for divorce. Of course, being depressed, I blame myself. Of course, in the eyes of my ex-wife, my sons, most of my family, my neighbors, the friends that were “our” friends (and even some that were “my” friends), and the world at large, all of this is massively my fault, exclusively. It’s always the man’s fault! I make matters worse by living in Thailand. When people hear that, they’re absolutely positive that I went Cuckoo For Coco Puffs and am just here for the girls. Which, just to be clear, is not the case. I came to Thailand to make a living and to be able to afford a decent lifestyle. I know what you’re thinking, most of you are on the Pussy Crazy side of the argument. Ah, well, it does tend to make me much more interesting than the quiet, unassuming man that sits at the keyboard before you.

I might as well get on board; this train is ready to roll. Think what you want, world. I’ve got shit to do. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Eddie Harris - Listen Here

Just in the mood to comfort myself with music here. Please forgive me, I'll get back to boring you with prose any second now.

Hard to believe, at least it is for me, but this was my favorite LP in 1967. I wasn't a jazz guy, not by any means, unless it was Wes Montgomery or Jimmy Smith, or the two of them together. So, 1967, it was this LP and Lauro Nyro that were really doing it for me. Sure, I loved Jimi Hendrix, and Procol Harum, and James Brown, and Cream, and Savoy Brown, and the 'Stones and the Who, and countless others, but this LP spoke to me. Maybe to tell me that there was more out there . . . maybe I was just convincing myself that I was three dimensional . . . who knows?

Holds up pretty well, though. Eddie Harris was amazing.

Oscar Peterson plays All of me

But if you really want to talk about touch . . . well, there's lots of ways to go on that one.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Fleetwood Mac - Fighting for Madge

This one comes first. Continued below. Great band. Great album.

Fleetwood Mac - Searching for Madge - Then Play On

I'm not one to say that this one or that one is better than these guys or those guys. Everyone listens to everyone else, and everyone puts their own little twist on things. How democratic is that? Spread the blame; spread the credit. That's me.

Having said that, I've always thought that Peter Green was a fabulous guitar player. Danny Kerwin was very good too. This band, in this incarnation, rocked hard.