Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Working It Off

I've noticed that we have a national obsession with our asses. It's amazing how many references we make to it in a day. You work it off, run it off, drag it home at night, freeze it off, sweat it off, laugh it off, get in a fight and kick it, go to Vegas and lose it, go to work and cover it, get it in a sling, then bust somebody else's and try to save our own. And, I’ve even been told I’m an exceptionally smart one.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pinball Commute

Last week or perhaps the week before something fell off of a flatbed truck onto a busy rush hour freeway.  Traffic stopped, luckily, and within minutes was backed up over fifteen miles.  I listened carefully to all of this because I was wending my own way home and thus was keenly interested in freeway conditions.  None of the announcers could identify the object once on the flatbed and now on the freeway.  They did agree, unanimously, that the object weighed 18,000 pounds.  How could something that heavy fall off of a truck and be unrecognizable and unidentifiable?  The announcers couldn't even speculate about its identify and never wavered from its weight.  I don't think I've yet had to swerve to miss an 18,000 pound unidentifiable object.  Here's what I have narrowly missed though:  torn tires, cardboard boxes, reams of paper, dead animals, wheel covers formerly called hub cabs, lumber, broken furniture, an intact couch and not too long ago a mangled washing machine.
Driving the Los Angeles freeways has become very much like my imagined life in a pin ball machine.
Ah, well, tomorrow's another day and another commute.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Off The Wall And On The Shelf

While I avoid eating anything containing MSG (monosodium glutammate) apparently other people seek it out and if they don't find it add it.  And it's not inexpensive, either.  Just in case you were wondering.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

When the Desnignated Driver Is Busy

I went to a sports bar the other night to watch the UofA put the smack down on Duke. BEAR DOWN!! It was such a great game, I drank a few more beers than I normally would, so I took a bus home. That may not sound like a big deal to you... but I've never driven a bus before.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Should be easy as duck soup

I could be a contender.

For years I've been entertaining friends and relatives (well, entertaining myself, at least) with my talent as a duck-talker. And now, thanks to Gilbert Gottfried, I may have a chance to take my quackery to the big time.

As you probably know, Gottfried used to be the voice of the Aflac duck. It was a sweet gig, requiring only that he quack out an occasional "Aflac!" in his annoyingly grating voice, when the script called for it. No great skill required, so the job was a perfect fit for Gottfried.

Unfortunately, he couldn't be satisfied with that. When Japan got hit by a horrific earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people and caused a still-unfolding nuclear disaster, Gottfried was moved to comedy. He decided to share his insights on the disaster by posting jokes on Twitter.

One of the milder ones: "Japan called me. They said, 'maybe these jokes are a hit in the US, but over here they're all sinking."

They weren't that much of a hit in the U.S., either -- although some other comedians defended his right to push the envelope of good taste. In the face of general outrage, Gottfried deleted his tweets and apologized for his lack of timing and sensitivity.

However, that wasn't enough to save his job as spokesduck for Aflac, which does a lot of business in Japan. And on March 14, they fired him.

Aflac began running its commercials again this week with a silent-film version of its mascot. That's just a stopgap measure though. With a Monster.com job posting and a new website, the company has launched a nationwide search for a six-figure-a-year quackster.

"Show us how you can communicate an entire vocabulary in one word: Aflac," the website says. The company is looking for someone with a "collaborative spirit, especially when it comes to working with ducks."

Me, me, me, meeeee!

I'm not a natural-born talent as a quacker. In fact, I discovered my gift late in life during a vacation stay in the White Mountains of Arizona. The cabin where we stayed was next to a lake, and there were always ducks on or near the lake.

One of them, a white bird with a crack in his beak, hung around the porch of our cabin begging for pieces of bread. We became very fond of "Cracked Bill," as we called him, and I spent a lot of time practicing duck-talk with him.

Our conversations never touched on Aflac, but I did become fluent in "want some bread, Cracked Bill?" To which he would reply happily, "Quack!"

Unfortunately, my actual duck-talking tends to sound mainly like an angry duck. I need Clarence "Ducky" Nash, the voice of Donald Duck, to teach me how to work words into my duck sounds. Or Mel Blanc, who made Daffy Duck utter the immortal "You're de-e-eshpic-able!"

Fortunately, all I have to do is learn to say "Aflac!" By March 31, when auditions start in several cities around the country.

I'll be ready.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Teachable Moments

I was in the Court waiting area, sitting on a newspaper, because the seats are made of wire mesh, when a teenager dressed for Court came over and asked, “You reading that?” Sensing he was not, in fact, overestimating my gluteal abilities, but simply asking a question he had not really put much thought into, thus presenting a teachable moment, I said, “Yes,” stood up, turned the page, and sat down again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

May He Finally Rest In Peace

Army Cpl. Frank Buckles died last month at the age of one hundred and ten.  Today he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cpl. Buckles was the last of the World War I 'doughboys'.  Yes.  He fought in and survived that war to end all wars.
Except, of course, it didn't end all wars.
Buckles came home to talk about that war and to lobby for a more lasting tribute to those who served.
Today hundreds of visitors filed past the flag-draped casket inside the chapel at Arlington National Cemetery.  Flags will be lowered in his honor and memory.
I believe that war is one of the great insanities of life.
Nevertheless, I believe that our warriors deserve our highest honors.
Cpl. Buckles today received those high honors.
And we yearn for the time when war will end not with one final battle but with the realization that life deserves more than shallow graves in forgotten fields.

Monday, March 14, 2011

And The Winner Is ...

While researching the “2012-Mayan Calendar” issue I made this startling discovery in an episode of “Star Trek: The Animated Series” entitled, "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" (a quote from “King Lear”) The alien claims to be Kukulkan, god of the ancient Mayans, who vowed to return to either reward their accomplishments or to destroy them. I am clearing my calendar so I can go claim my Nobel prize.

Happy Birthday, Al

Happy 132nd Birthday, Albert Einstein!! “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." "Imagination is more important than knowledge." "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stop The Seach. I Know The Answer.

Lately scientists and explorers and all sorts of other folk are claiming to have discovered or are about to discover the whereabouts of Amelia Earhart's airplane, body, navigator, bones, and possibly even banjo.
AV Web, a news source for independent aviators, reported on March 5 that two different sources report having found the Lockheed Electra in which Amelia piloted her last and very famous flight.  Problem is that the sits are 2,500 miles apart.  One is near Lae, New Guinea, and the other near Howland Island.
You may recall a lot of news stories during the past few weeks dealing with some bones found on a remote island in the South Pacific.  They may have been, the new stories went, turtle bones or they may have been those of Amelia Earhart.  The jury is still out as researchers try to match DNA.
The newest hat to be thrown into the Where's Amelia ring is that of her cousin, Don Love, who lives in Wichita, Kansas.  He's eighty-six years old and is pretty sure he knows what happened.
I, too, am fascinated by Amelia Earhart but I know what happened to her.
You can find out everything I know about her by reading my novel, But This Is Different.
Just go to
and buy the book.
You, too, will join the steadily growing numbers of readers who really know Amelia's story.
You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stop Insulting The Mentally Ill

Today the participants in my Men's Depression Group wanted to talk about Charlie Sheen.  They were feeling pretty angry and had a thing or two to get off their collective chests.
Here's something you should know about this group.  They all suffer from significant mental illness -- Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder.  Some have been homeless.  Some have been involuntarily hospitalized.  Some have been incarcerated.  Some have attempted suicide.  Some are actively hallucinating.  Some teeter on the edge of relapse.  And despite all their distractions and obstacles, they keep coming to the weekly group.
Talking about anger is good for depression especially when anger is such a big part of depression.  Today's discussion was really good for these really brave men.
Here's what they had to say about Charlie Sheen.
It's insulting to the chronically and persistently mentally ill when people say that Charlie Sheen must suffer from a mental illness.  One radio personality with absolutely no authority in such matters went so far as to diagnose him as suffering from Bipolar Disorder.
He's not mentally ill, one group member said with more energy than I'd seen in some time.
Another participant agreed and said, "He's just a wasted jerk who got too much attention and too much money way too soon."
All participants agreed that the main problem with Charlie Sheen is that he's way too full of himself and he has taken way too many drugs.
"The human brain doesn't do too good when all those chemicals are pumped into it," another participant concluded.
I feel protective of the mentally ill and they deserve better than to be compared to an ego-manical coked out narcissist.
You go, Men's Depression Group.
Of course, witsendmagazine will continue to offer sarcastic Sheen observations.  It's too much to resist.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Dude, the Cowboy and the Marlboro Man

Ira and Bunny Walker, with baby Tom, c.1943.
My father, Ira Franklin Walker, could have been the Marlboro Man. I'm serious -- he really could've had the job. It was his for the taking.
Here's what happened. It was about 1956, and we were living on our JV Bar Ranch north of Wickenburg, Ariz. The JV Bar was a real cattle ranch, with cows, horses, loco weed, and all.
And then there were the dude ranches. Catering to wealthy easterners, they were a booming business back then; in fact, Wickenburg was billed as "The Dude Ranch Capital of the World." The Remuda Ranch, the Monte Vista, the KL Bar, the Slash Bar K -- those were big names in dude ranch circles. Mostly, all are gone now.
Anyway, in lean times, my dad often hired out as a wrangler for dude ranches and events like the Desert Caballeros trail ride. He was widely respected in our community as a rancher and horseman, so he always had a dude ranch job when he wanted it.
If you had to draw a picture of a cowboy, you'd probably come up with someone who looked pretty much like him, sitting on his horse as though born there. He had the cowboy look, from his Stetson hat to his Tony Lama boots, and that led to his brush with fame.
His chance to become an advertising icon.
One of the guests at a dude ranch where Daddy was working was connected with the ad agency for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes. Philip Morris wanted to reposition its filtered Marlboro brand from a "woman's cigarette" to a man's smoke.
With major studies linking smoking to lung cancer, Philip Morris figured it could sell men on switching to the "safer" filtered cigarettes, by using manly figures like cowboys as a sales tool. The ad agency had tried using professional models in the commercials, but they just didn't look rugged and "cowboy" enough. So they were on the lookout for a real cowboy.
Enter Ira Walker, my father. After the ad man "discovered" him at the dude ranch where he was working, the firm quickly offered him the job of Marlboro Man. "We're gonna make you a star," they said. And, they hinted, they were also going to make him a lot of money.
It was tempting. We were a poor ranching family, trying to scratch out a living on a desert range with about 350 head of scrawny crossbreed Brahma-Hereford cattle. It seemed like we were stuck in a perpetual cycle of drought and bad markets. Our family could have used the money.
But in the end, Daddy turned them down.
It wasn't that he'd never smoked. He and my mother, Bunny, both used to smoke, a lot. Hard-core stuff like roll-your-own Bull Durham cigarettes, and fancy store-bought brands when they could afford them. But they both quit, cold turkey, several years before the Marlboro Man opporunity came about.
So my father said sorry, but he just couldn't ride that Marlboro horse. It would be a lie, he said, to promote cigarette smoking when he no longer smoked himself.
"So?" the ad guys said. So, my dad said, some kid might see him looking all rugged and cowboy-tough on his horse among the Marlboro Country mountains, and decide that smoking was a good thing. "So?" the ad guys said.
So Darrell Winfield, a ranchman from Montana, got the job and enjoyed a twenty-year run as the Marlboro Man. And meanwhile, Ira Walker enjoyed a clean conscience. Which, to him, was more important than the money.
That was my father, who died 41 years ago this month. I'm so proud of him -- the man he was and will always be, in my memory.
I love you, Daddy.

Some People Just Can't Take A Joke

Some parents just don't "get" that this is supposed to be fun. Yesterday, while on our weekly trip to the library, Niko was wandering around, and I was sitting in a chair looking at some of his other choices (remember, we're in the children's section), when a mom, looking for her son, started calling out, "Marco." From the look on her face, I could tell she didn't find my "Polo" response at all amusing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

33 Variations Is A Must See

The play by Moisis Kaufman will end its Los Angeles run at the Ahmanson Theater in a couple of hours.  We saw it last night and were amazed not by the acting, necessarily, and certainly not by some of the lame jokes and contrived dialogue.  In any other play those deficits would have been enough to keep me squirming in my seat.  '33 Variations' doesn't need good acting and it doesn't even need good jokes and consistently good dialogue.  It is simply an amazing concept that carries the play through the evening.  I never lost interest.  I never stopped feeling fascinated.
The play contains three different and intensely connected stories.
The fascination of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven for a waltz composed by a guy named Diabelli. Diabelli published music and invited famous composers to submit a variation on his waltz for publication.  Beethoven couldn't stop at one variation and ultimately composed thirty-three.
A fictional musicologist, Katherine Brandt, is fascinated by Beethoven's fascination with the Diabelli waltz and -- despite the fact that she is dying from ALS -- goes to Germany to uncover the mystery of Beethoven's fascination.
Dr. Brandt's daughter, trying to rebuild or create to begin with her relationship with her mother, goes to Germany against the mother's wishes to care for her and ultimately presents her final academic paper posthumously.
Separated by centuries and emotional chasms, the three central characters appear simultaneously spanning all that divides them and ultimately defy their separations.
The play is amazing.
It didn't need Jane Fonda's name.  It was, though, nice to see an energy that would dwarf even that of the fictional Dr. Brandt.
We hope you can find a performance of this play somewhere.  If you can't find a performance, find a copy of the script and read it.  It is creative in a way that I haven't seen on the stage in years.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What in the World?

What in the world is getting into people these days? I was sure kindness and generosity had gone by the wayside and that love and understanding were foregone. Our society today has gone through many, many changes from caring to not caring to right back to caring. I have been the recipient of kindness, generosity, caring and loving. I have had some unfortunate circumstances....or....perhaps I should say, fortunate circumstances which has brought to light that all of the above has never been lost --- I'm the one who lost hope and faith, it never lost me. My bestest friends and neighbors know of my plight and the other day presented themselves at my door with two weeks' worth of groceries. I was astounded. Astounded not because I never expected such understanding but, because of the love with which their presence was made. Love has never been lost -- I've been lost. What in the world?

Welcome She Writes

Witsendmagazine welcomes bloggers from Meg Waite Clayton's She Writer Blogger Ball Redux as part of SheWrites.com and its many supportive projects.

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball! 

Meg Waite Clayton is the host of the SheWrites Novelist – Struggling or Not group and the Blogging about Books and Writing one.  She is also the author of the national bestselling novel The Wednesday Sisters.
Yay, Meg!
(Click on the bookshelf icon to visit Meg's Blogging Project.)

So Few We Can Trust

It just seems that corruption no longer lurks in corners.  It walks with head held high among us.  Now deceit and dishonesty bask in the bright light of day as de riguer realities.  Fox News and the conservative pundits create their own realities and then present them to their viewing and listening public as gospel and are believed as much as any gospel.  Political platforms are modified and fictionalized after victory without outcry.
Things change and we are too bombarded to even notice much less protest.
Here's one change that really bothers me, though.  In a world of too few trustworthy voices, I desperately miss the Geico Gecko.  That voice (male or female not the issue) was one we could trust.  And all of a sudden, I recently realized, that voice is gone.
I say bring back that Gecko.  We need such voices now more than ever.

Friday, March 4, 2011

No Child Left Behind

I saw that Charlie Sheen’s two-year-old twin boys were removed from his drug and porn star-ridden home. Family Services reports that they're trying to coordinate efforts between two potential placements, both identified as "safer environments": one is filled with chainsaw juggling drunken clowns, the other is only identified as "an unnamed Libyan dictator."

Thursday, March 3, 2011


When I looked at the mail last night, I saw an envelope addressed to me from Starbucks. I opened it to find my Starbucks gold card. A gold card! And it even has my name on it! About eight months ago, I began a job that has me traveling around all day. Starbucks has free wi-fi, nice restrooms, good coffee and allows me a place other than my car to sit and do my documentation in between visits. I guess I've been patronizing them a lot.

Today, I went to the Starbucks in La Canada to show off my new card and get some coffee. "A tall coffee of the day", I began modestly, "And here's my new gold card". "Very nice," the barista replied, "but I see you only have 1 cent on your account balance". "Well, that ill befits a gold card owner", I said, whipping the last $20 bill from my wallet, "Put this on my account". I stopped short of adding, "And draw a cup for yourself, my good man".

Later in the day, I drove past Burger King. The sign in their window says that they now serve Seattle's Best coffee. A cup of Seattle's Best at Burger King costs $1.00. The same size cup at Starbucks costs $1.50. Burger King also has nice restrooms and free wi-fi, and I can sit there for just as long without being disturbed. But they'll probably never give me a gold card, which entitles me to a free drink on my birthday. I will try not to think about how many extra 50 cents per cup I will spend over the next nine months in order to earn that free drink.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In memory of Christina-Taylor Green

There was such speed in her little body,
And such lightness in her footfall,
It is no wonder her brown study
Astonishes us all.
-- John Crowe Ransom
"Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter"

I need the soul and words of a poet to tell of the grief I feel for Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old girl I never met.

Christina was the youngest of six people killed in the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that also left 13 others wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Gabby, who represents Arizona's 8th congressional district where I live, is recovering in a Houston hospital, smiling, singing, speaking single words. Miraculously, she is healing from a bullet wound through the left side of her brain.

There was no miracle for Christina.

Born on a day of horrific national tragedy, Sept. 11, 2001, Christina was fatally wounded on another tragic day as she waited outside a grocery store to meet her congresswoman.

She was a third-grade student leader at her school, a choir member at her church, and the only girl on her Little League baseball team. So much promise, until a gunman's senseless bullet stole it all away from her. Stole it from her family, and from all of us.

I am sorry beyond words for the deaths and injuries of all the adults caught up in that day of gunfire in Tucson, but I still grieve for this little girl. I think of my own two grandkids, not much younger than Christina. Actually tear up when I think of her, of the tragic ending of her life.

On Monday, Feb. 28, they renamed a northwest-side park where Christina used to play. The new, official name of the park, "Canada del Oro Christina-Taylor Green Memorial River Park," has as many words as poor Christina had years.

To residents of the area, it'll simply be "Christina's Park."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Meaningful Anniversary

On March 25, 1911 the Triangle shirtwaist factory, located on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of a Manhattan building, caught fire. The owners, whose offices were on the top floor, were able to get up to the roof and across to another building. About half of the workers on the 8th and 9th floors were able to get to safety by elevator or by the one available flight of stairs. The fire department ladders only went six stories high, and were useless. Of the three hundred Triangle employees, 146 died in the fire, most of them immigrant women in their teens and twenties. Several months earlier, Triangle workers, along with many other garment industry employees, had gone on strike for shorter hours, higher pay and safer working conditions. The owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company agreed to modify hours and raise pay, but would not allow a union. Neither did they make the place any safer. About 30 of the workers died while trying to leave the building on a fire escape that was rusted and rotten and plummeted to the ground with them on it. The reason that there was only one stairway available is that the others were locked because the owners feared employee theft.

As a result of the Triangle Fire, the labor movement was able to establish itself and lobby for hard-won victories in working hours, minimum wage, child labor laws and safety and health requirements. Our country learned at a steep price that if those issues were left to business owners, human safety and quality of life would never take precedence over profit. Sadly, that fact is still true.

Later this month, the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory fire will take place. It could not come at a more appropriate time. As thousands take to the streets in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio to protest the effort by Republican governors to bring down public-sector unions, and as hotel and food service workers in California try to improve their lot by unionizing, we need to remember the reasons why unions were necessary, and what they have accomplished. Auto workers, truckers, nurses, garment workers and supermarket checkers bought their homes, sent their children to college and retired in some comfort because of unions. Unions have been largely responsible for creating a stable middle class in the United States and yet, 100 years later, we still need to prove to some in this country that they need to exist.