Sunday, May 31, 2009


Do you know what this image is? Really? After I took it, I was surprised by the way it looked. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it. But so it is. It is what it is, nothing more, nothing less.

When I was in Houston recently, I went to Pappas' Barbeque for lunch, twice. During my second visit, I noticed a family who, for various reasons, I believe had just left church and gone to Pappas for lunch. There were seven or eight of them, from the sixty-ish patriarach to the baby and every age group in between. After their food arrived, I watched as the all grasped hands and the man said a prayer. I assume it was a prayer; while I couldn't hear it, it appeared to me that he was saying a prayer. After he finished, I saw and heard some audible "amens" from the family. So, I'm convinced they had said a prayer.

For almost as long as I can remember, I've considered that saying prayers is a fundamental waste of time. I mean, what do people expect to get when they say a prayer, anyway? Do they expect to hear a booming voice say, "Gottcha. I'll take care of that after I eat lunch and resolve the conflict in the middle east."

Seriously, I've been pretty brutal in my assessment of people who say prayers. But something that day made me think a little deeper. While I haven't converted into a believer, I have had a bit of a change of heart about the people who say prayers. Not all of them, mind you, but I suspect a lot of them are people who are simply expressing their hope that good things will happen to their family, their friends, and humankind. And they are expressing gratitude at the good things in their lives.

And it occurred to me that a lot more people ought to express gratitude, not to a being, per se, but simply because there is a lot to be grateful for. Even nonbelievers like me love their families and their friends and want good things to happen for them. So when good things happen, we're grateful; not TO someone or something, but JUST BECAUSE. We're happy for other people. We're GRATEFUL that good things are happening for someone we care about.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the Christian and Jewish and Muslim practice of regularly expessing that gratitude is probably a good thing. I wish the people who believe in the teachings of those religions would admit rational thinking into their minds, instead of "faith," but I admire the fact that they take a specific moment, on a regular basis, to acknowledge the good things that are happening and to express their desires for more good things for more people. There's nothing wrong with that. Maybe if the rest of us, including those "pretend" Christians and Jews and Muslims who say one thing and do another, would make it a point to regularly and consciously look around and acknowledge the things and the people around them for which they are grateful...maybe the world would be a better place.

Atheists and agnostics and wiccans and the rest all could benefit from taking a few minutes every day to consciously express appreciation for the goodness that surrounds us. Maybe that's the spirituality that I think is in all of us. Maybe not.

Of course, when I hear prayers that suggest to me that people believe in some grand plan that is being actively managed by a supreme being, I go a little nuts, but at least I'm making progress. In time, perhaps, I'll allow myself to think of those people as a little brighter than I think of them today. But for now, I am glad they at least acknowledge that it's right to look around us and express gratitude.

By the way, the image is a view of a little crystal container full of toothpicks, looking down from above.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

REVISED: An Affront to Grammatical Purity

I just read a blot post that upset me. It argues that good grammar is not as important as I think it is. It suggests that someone who writes "Its going to be a long time until we meet again" is not necessarily a lesser human form than someone who writes "It's going to be a long time until we meet again."

Until I can frame a good, strong argument against this monstrous attack on the value of good grammar, I'm going to pout. And I'll go for a walk in the pre-horrific heat of a June morning in Dallas.

OK, I'm back and I'm ready for a fight! Granted, the meaning of the sentences above does not depend on proper usage, but that argument does not hold water in the real world. Let's say, for example, that people decide to stop using punctuation or capital letters. Would it still be possible to understand what they write? Most likely. But does that fact negate the value of punctuation and capital letters? Hell no! So, I steadfastly refuse to accept the assertion that grammar and usage are archaic remnants of "old language" skills that are no longer valid.

I accept that even some very smart people may be very poor at grammar and usage, but that does not make grammar and usage any less valuable. A blind person may get along just fine without sight, but that is not a persuasive argument against eyeglasses. So there!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Snarky Liberal

I've spent the morning, thus far, drinking seriously strong black coffee and looking through a catalog sent to me by Gilbert Realty in Mountain Home, Arkansas. There are dozens of listings for homes on acreage, from just over one to 40 or more, that look very attractive...and they are inexpensive. Of course, photos don't always show the warts. And I'm not sure I want to live in the Ozarks because next time I move someplace, I want it to be a place where there are more people whose political perspectives I can more easily tolerate...people who are, at least, liberal and tolerant of lifestyles dissimilar to theirs. Maybe I don't know the political climate in the Ozarks, but I bet I do. And it's probably is just as offensive and right-wing and unyieldingly intolerant as Dallas ever hopes to be.

So, just because housing is cheap, the Ozarks probably aren't for me.

I read quite some time ago that Arcata, California is quite a liberal place and is a college town (home to Humboldt State University), to boot. Unfortunately, I think I read in the same place that Arcata is a very expensive place to live, better-suited to über-rich liberals (whose embrace of the underclass is likely to be intellectual) than to liberals who came by their liberalism through more experiential means. Now, that was the statement of someone who just stereotyped the entire population of a town and a "class" of people...not very liberal of me at all, was it? And that was after I stereotyped the entire population of a region of the country. I need to chill.

A blogger friend is in the process of moving to the coast (I think she's planning on living on or near the coast, anyway) of Nova Scotia. That has some appeal to me; very low population density but who knows which way the people lean, politically. Or there's always the nice place I once found advertised in Chile; it was my dream house, sitting on the side of a mountain view views of the Pacific and a large volcanic lake. Of course, if I seriously considered that place, I'd probably have to make snide comments about earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the need to learn to speak fluent Spanish.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back to Normal

My sister had an angioplasty on Tuesday that went well, except that it was complicated by severe breathing problems during the procedure. She improved enough to be released from the hospital yesterday (Saturday), so all is right with the world. Well, almost. I filled a new prescription for her that the pharmacist said her insurance wouldn't cover because of the way it was written (the dosage). It was horrifically expensive, at $329 or more (I forgot), but I was happy to pay it. Sister, though, was not happy and insisted I take it back to get a credit on my credit card...she has other sources.

So, this morning I will take it back. And then will return my rental car and head home. I was going to take the bus home, but the logistics of getting from the rental car return place to the bus station are just too damn involved and unreliable (and expensive), so the bus will have to wait for another trip. Speaking of which, I better make my reservation online.

OK, and now I return to normal, to the extent that is possible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bus Ride

There's something alluring to me these days about riding the bus cross-country. I don't know just what it is, but there's something inside me that, when I think about being on a bus, evokes a sense of loneliness and a feeling of being down on one's luck, but not far enough down to have let it get the best of me. I want to explore those feelings, but with the security of knowing I'm not least not yet.

Those are artificial senses and feelings, I know, because I am neither lonely (in the sense of having no one around me who cares) nor particularly down on my luck. I'm a 55 year old guy who owns my own little break-even business and who lives with my wife in a perfectly respectable middle-class neighborhood in north Dallas. I'm the epitome of a middle class, middle-American, white man with a mortgage and a growing belly.

Those traits notwithstanding, I want to feel what it's like to have to scrape by to take public transportation from city to city. I'm not asking for poverty and heartache, I'm just looking for an experience that might help me understand something more about just a few more of my fellow humans.

I suspect that my desire to ride the bus would be viewed as symptomatic of an emotional void of some kind, at least by some. Or I would be just another pitiful liberal with a capital "L" who wants to understand and even walk among the "little people." Or maybe I'd be seen as someone who needs to demonstrate that he has a "bond" with the blue collar working man who defines America.

The unfortunate thing is this: it may be that all those things are true. Or none of them. I just don't know. I can't explain in terms my wife can understand why I want to jump on a Greyhound and ride to Austin. No one else seems to "get it" any better than she does, or I do.

"Why would you want to get on the bus with a bunch of people, many of whom don't even speak English, and be stuck there for hours while they sweat? Wouldn't you rather be in a car, where you have control and can stop whenever you want?"

The answer is, 'sometimes, but not always.' There are plenty of times when I just want to get on a bus and go. Maybe I don't want to take a trip to Austin and then come back. Maybe I want to take a trip to the West. Maybe I want to buy a ticket to the next town, then buy another ticket to the town after that and then the one after that, but not leave a trail. Maybe I want to escape.

Riding a bus isn't what it once was, though. I remember riding a bus many years ago with two of my friends. We travelled from Corpus Christi to Dallas, with our parents' consent, on a Continental Trailways bus, I think. I remember an old man was kicked off the bus for groping children; it may have been us he was groping, but the memory is now long-since clouded. He was put off the bus in the middle of the nowhere. Of course there were no cell phones then. He was just suddenly on the roadside, left to his own devices. I don't think that would happen now. Everyone, almost, has a cell. But back then, the old guy probably got a ride quickly. Not so today; who picks up hitchhikers anymore?

Maybe I'm looking for experiences that are just no longer available. Maybe I'm wishing for a way of life that's gone. Maybe the bus ride is my attempt to travel to places that no longer exist, except in my mind.

Whatever the reason, whatever the emotional draw that the cross-country bus-ride has for me, I'm planning to take it, and soon. And then maybe I'll know enough about my emotions to write intelligently, and intelligibly, about them.

By the way, as I was exploring my senses about the bus, I came across this blog as a result of a search for "the allure of riding the bus." Read it; you'll like the blogger.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sharon Robinson: A Remarkable Talent

I listened to Sharon Robinson’s first solo recording, Everybody Knows, several times over the past few days. Before I wrote anything about it, I needed time to be able to really hear her voice, alone, without the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen. That was hard, inasmuch as I am such a devotee of Cohen’s work and know both his lyrics and his melodies and how they work so well together. But after hearing Sharon Robinson’s unique voice on Everybody Knows, I realized why so much of Cohen’s work melds lyrics and melodies so remarkably well; his collaborator, co-writer of many songs and producer of some of his best work, Sharon Robinson, left her indelible mark on his music, just as he has left an indelible mark on hers.

Robinson is no newcomer as a singer-songwriter. She has had a very successful career, writing songs that have been performed and recorded by people like Patti LaBelle, Aaron Neville, Diana Ross, Rufus Wainwright, Roberta Flak, and the Pointer Sisters. But she has never before had her own, solo, recording. Finally, her time has come and I am more than a little delighted!

The lyrics and melodies of almost every piece on Everybody Knows conspire to tell a heartfelt, raw, emotional story. The music is a splendid complement to Robinson’s voice, which she commands so completely that it is almost magical.

Three songs on the album (Everybody Knows, Alexandra Leaving, and Summertime) were written collaboratively with Leonard Cohen. My personal favorite of the three on this recording is Alexandra Leaving. In that piece, Robinson’s voice and her deliberate inflections tell a story quite different from the same one on Cohen’s recordings, but it’s a surprisingly appealing presentation, actually better in my view than when the singing is shared with him. As I was exploring information about her recording, I came upon an interesting interview that Sharon gave in Helsinki, Finland while there last year in conjunction with her participation in Leonard Cohen’s world tour (which ends this June). If you have the time, I recommend it: (interview in Helsinki)

What’s completely unexpected, and what demonstrates to me the exceptional talent that Robinson possesses, is that I absolutely fell in love with other songs, songs that Leonard Cohen had nothing to do with, to my knowledge. Invisible Tattoo, Secondhand, Forever in a Kiss, Sustenance and The High Road all speak from the heart and convey a sense of sincerity that is a hallmark of Leonard Cohen’s music—but this is not his music, it’s Sharon’s. And that gets to the heart of this new recording. If I had to express any disappointments, I would have to say Party for the Lonely was the only piece that left me feeling that it was not up to the standards of the rest of the pieces on the recording; I can think of no particular flaw, though, so it's likely simply a matter of personal taste. Beyond that, I wish she had selected Sustenance as her title piece...but, again, it's purely personal.

Robinson uses her voice in an almost magical way, combining intellect, emotion, and raw sensuality. She tells not just a story, she tells the story. She asserts with her music, quite convincingly, that every experience she describes with her voice and her nuanced delivery is her very own experience. Quite apart from her remarkable technical brilliance as a singer and songwriter, which this first solo recording amply demonstrates, Robinson shows with Everybody Knows that she is a poet, as well.

I look forward to many more recordings from her, solo and otherwise. Sharon Robinson's talent and genius must be shared more openly and more often!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Peek Under the Hood

Try as I might, I can't pinpoint the time nor the trigger that changed me. But I remember, long ago, holding the distinct belief that government was incapable of deliberately doing wrong. I just knew, deep in my heart, that our government really was "us" and that we would all do right by one another. I remember when I assumed people I met were fundamentally decent, good folks until they showed me otherwise.

You can call it naivete, but it wasn't that. Maybe it was an idealistic belief in me that I extended to others. If I remembered the time or the series of events that led me to lose such an innocent belief in goodness, I would be able to pinpoint when it happened. But I don't. And maybe that's for the best because I don't have a specific target for my analysis or my rage. If I had such a target, I might understand the genesis of what has been a lifetime of skepticism and mistrust that regularly bubbles to the surface.

I miss my belief so much it sometimes makes me want to cry. When I believed that the government's motives were pure, as young as I must have been at the time, I felt like everything would work out all right. I believed it. People were, as a whole, trustworthy. It was not only OK to help people in need, it was natural. It was expected. And I knew that if I ever needed help, people would be there to help me. Because we all would look out after one another. Because the government was really "us."

Today, I find myself angry at people around me for shirking what I believe are their responsibilities to get involved in their government...just vote, for God's sake! And I get furious when I realize that people take at face value what our government tells us. I want them to "question authority" and demand explanations and insist on seeing evidence that what we're being told is true. We can no longer rely on the media to ask our tough questions for us; we have to ask them ourselves. But we're not asking. We can't rely on trust anymore; maybe we never could.

I suppose I wish for the innocent days when I believed in people. It's not that I don't believe in people now, but my trust is no longer automatic and it can be lost in a heartbeat. I wish I could believe that people cared about their fellow humans. Sure, plenty of them do. But I'm afraid many more do not.

That's a hard attitude, I know. And it tends to make one unappealing and unapproachable. But it provides a hard shell that helps keep those soft inner attitudes protected from an angry, viscious, and increasingly hostile world.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Good Times

My brother and his wife came through last weekend, for a 3-day visit. It was fantastic. They share our love of Indian, Afghan, and Vietnamese food and they like wine. Couldn't be better. And they are liberal in their politics and fun to be around. And they enjoy many of the same things we do. So it was a good time. This photo is the two of them at one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, where we all had curry...three of us opting for goat curry and my sister in law opting for chicken curry. It was fabulous stuff. Not much to look at, but the restaurant serves some outstanding Vietnamese food. Most of the clientele are Vietnamese and they seem to like it, too, and suggest it it authentic. I could be fooled...but with the taste, that would be OK, too.

And these are a few of the bottles of wine the four of us went through over the course of several days. I didn't get many photos, as I tend not to when I'm having a good time. I forget. And I did. But if I had gotten a few other photos, they might have included a few shots of the four of us playing Sequence, a board game that my wife and I first played when visiting the two of them in Mexico. I'm not much of a board game fan, but I really enjoy Sequence. Even when, as occurred this time around, the two women whipped us badly.

One day I'll get into the habit of shooting lots of pictures when I'm having a good time. One day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quick Trip

Off to Chicago on Wednesday morning (I get there at 11:40 and my meeting starts at 1:00 pm). Then, back to Dallas late afternoon on Thursday, arriving home about 7:30 or so. My Mexican brother and sister-in-law will join us Friday for a fun weekend! I'm taking Friday off...and I deserve it! (Also, I have to be here so the window replacement glass installer can do his thing and the bed delivery people can do theirs. Finally, a new Sleep Number bed!)

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Checking to see if my rainstorm video, recorded yesterday on my little Nikkon, is viewable:

Jarabe de Palo

A couple of nice pieces from Jarabe de Palo, a Spanish group formed in 1996 in Barcelona and led by Pau Donés. According to Wikipedia, Jarabe de Palo is loosely translated, from European Spanish, into something like "the syrup or 'cure' of the stick," which refers to paddling a child for his own good. In Latin American Spanish, though, Jarabe de Palo refers to semen and is not, therefore, a good topic for mixed company with Victorian sensibilities.



Thunder and Lightening and Rolling Down the Road

I haven't been able to sleep worth a damn for the past few nights, but last night and this morning have been the most difficult so far. It's 4:30 am now and I've been up for about an hour, awakened by blinding flashes of lightening and bone-shaking rolls of thunder that echo and growl for a full minute after the initial clap.

But it wasn't the lightening and thunder, alone, that awoke me, nor was it the torrential downpour that accompanied them. It was my lower back. For days, my lower back has been giving me grief, especially when I lay on my back in bed. When I attempt to turn over onto my side, jabbing pain shoots up and down my lower spine, rousing me out of what little sleep I've been enjoying. I went to bed early last night in an attempt to rid myself of the flu-like achyness I've been experiencing (it's not the's simply achy like the flu); aside from going to sleep quickly and snoring loud enough to send my wife out of the room, that didn't have much effect. Damn bones!

Yesterday afternoon we went to an RV show and climbed around inside some Class B and Class A motor coaches. I thought the van-sized versions that would be very easy to drive would appeal to me, but I found myself in awe of the monsters that looked to be the size of a bus. Some of them have 2 bathrooms, washers and dryers, satellite television and internet access, and seating for seven! They are huge. But I am not sure I can envision myself driving one of the behemoths, nor paying for fuel. The van versions can get up to 22 miles per gallon; I have no idea about the luxury coaches with living rooms and full-size side-by-side stainless steel refrigerators, tiled floors, and granite countertops, but I suspect not. We may have to rethink our decision to travel and live in our little motor home. My blogger friend who, with her husband, wandered the earth in her Westy for 7+ years swears by it, but that little space just seems too small for a geezer with a desire for comfort.

It's 4:45 am now. Maybe I should make coffee; I'm not likely to go back to bed.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Today, we went out to relax and have a good time. But by mid-afternoon, the skies opened and the world went dark and wet.

First, we went to the Cottonwood Art Festival. It was overcast and very warm, but not too bad.

Inside the festival, lots of people were looking at art and walking their dogs.

After the art festival, we went to an RV show. This is one we'd like someone to give us as a present...birthday, Christmas, it doesn't really matter. Just give it to us. Seriously, this beast is far too big...and probably a gas guzzler. But the amenities and luxuries! They are really embarrassing. What are people thinking when they buy these monsters?