Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A host of golden daffodils

Last Friday was the first anniversary of our Cockerpoo Spice's death (that's him in the photo across), so of course Larry and I went to his grave and just stood there remembering him and the good times we'd had throughout the seventeen-and-half years of his full life. His grave looked pretty.

Last fall, one evening when the Pennsylvanian air was icy and thick with the promise of a wicked winter (a promise that wasn't kept...thankfully) I planted two large packets of daffodils on the grave, nine in each of the four corners and then mulched the top. It had been mucky but satisfying work, a sort of labor of love performed in the dusky solitude. It also brought to mind another beloved dog I'd once owned.

Sandy was a corgi-terrier mix and I'd had him when I was a kid back in Northern Ireland and he'd died prematurely, poisoned by the British Army who used to sneak up to people's houses late at night and listen at the windows in hopes of hearing people talk about being in the IRA or planning something, etc. (I lived in a staunchly Nationalist area.) To stop the dogs barking, they fed them poisoned meat to kill them and my Sandy must have ate a piece because I found him dead, his mouth caked with spent froth, in the garage next morning. Anyway, Mum allowed me to take the day off school to grieve and I held his rigid corpse for hours before I wrapped my school tie around his neck and buried him in the garden. (Thanks for that, Mum.)

We bought Spice's daffodils on a whim. We'd been visiting a local garden store and happened to notice them in a bin--an 'end of season' sale sort of bin--and as we hadn't decided how to mark his grave, they seemed the perfect answer. We figured they'd beautify the area in spring and be a lasting reminder.

To my surprise, when we arrived at the grave last Friday, the daffodils were in vibrant bloom, most of them anyway. It was like our dog was giving us a gift.

Today, I had a call from a feature editor of a website that's running a tie-in feature with the film entitled Year of the Dog starring the incomparable Molly Shannon of Saturday Night Live fame. It's about a woman and her dog, and the dog dies, and how she tries to rebuild her life, etc. I'm looking forward to seeing it. I'll link to the interview when it posts on May 5th.

As I reread this, I realize some people will think this guy's crazy writing about his grief over a dog, but I don't really give a damn. People need to grieve. They need to grieve over humans that die--in my opinion, people don't grieve sufficiently about anyone other than very...and I mean very...immediate family nowadays, and even then their grief's not for long because they get distracted with stuff that doesn't mean much in the end--and they need to grieve over their animals. It's good and right, period.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yoga 101-First inflate your ball

Yesterday was a magnificently sunny spring day in this part of Pennsylvania. As I outside on the deck drinking coffee and listening to a woodpecker drumming against the trunk of a nearby elm, the phone rang.

It was Lee of L&L.

"Hello, I need to ask Larry something," she said.
"He isn't here. What's up?"
"I've bought a yoga ball and I can't get it to inflate using my compressor. I've tried everything."
"I'll tell him to call."

Later, after doing some weeding in the garden we decided to fetch some black mulch to dress up the flower and shrubbery beds, so we decided to kill three birds with the one stone--get a tuna sandwich for lunch from our local WaWa (Indian for goose), buy a truck load of mulch from our local puppy mill that also doubles as a 'mulch dispensary' in Spring, and call in with L&L to see if we could sort out the Yoga ball problem.

To my amazement, Lee was still working on it, Lynne dressed in a caftan with her mane of long blonde hair tumbling over her shoulders, clearly exacerbated but still giving instructions. The ball was purple, large and flat as a pancake, the compressor straining like a jet engine as Lee held the hose with a valve inside the ball's opening.

"You're taking up yoga?" I said.
"Aha...hopefully." She nodded at what should be a ball.
Lynne was consulting the writing on the box. It was a Yoga novice's dream--mat, wooden thingie to help with body posture while performing the more complex contortions, and the aforementioned pancake-like, lurid ball.

"I can't believe they don't give instructions how to blow the ball up," Lynne said. "She looked at the black hand pump that had come with it. I've given up on this."

"I've got about twenty metal valves and tried any that will fit inside the ball's air hole and still that compressor won't fill it with air," said Lee.

Larry checked the compressor and hose. It was functioning properly.
"That's wierd," he said.

He took a valve he'd brought, stuck it inside the ball's opening, wiggled it about and then switched on the compressor. Stll the ball remained defiantly flat.
He tried another valve with the same result.

"Oh, wait a minute," he said. I think the white thing inside the air hole has to come out."

"I don't think so, Larry," said Lee.

Nevertheless, he took a knife and pried it out. It was long, sealed at the end, but its core was hollow which had allowed the valve attached to the compressor to be inserted without rupturing it.

"It's a plug," I said. "You've got to pump the air into the hole and then insert the plug to keep the air inside.

Sure enough the ball began to fill with air as soon as Larry inserted the valve and started the compressor.

We laughed at how such a simple thing could be so baffling.

"Come for drinks at five," said Lynne. "We'll sit on the veranda and watch the sun set."

Friday, April 20, 2007

An unwanted peacock

It's a sad day in the States as throughout the country people have the victims and families of the Virginia Tech shooting in mind.

I've been trying to decide whether NBC was right or wrong to air (and pass on to other media outlets) the video tape the killer sent them. Though it was undoubtedly very painful for the families of the dead and injured, I think on balance they did do the right thing because I don't believe what the talking heads and some shrinks are saying, namely that they're giving the shooter a voice beyond the grave a podium he never had or deserved. The reason I think they did the right thing is because people need to know why this chap did what he did and what he looked like and how he acted. From all accounts, he was bullied, taunted mercilessly, made to feel inferior and I really think the public has a right to see the type of human being that's produced by years of that behavior. He was a disturbed individual who began to hate and I suppose eventually that hatred drove him mad and delusional.

However, I could have done without the damned NBC peacock logo being emblazoned on every image regardless as to which media outlet was airing it. That was crass and contemptible behavior and showed a complete lack of respect in my opinion. NBC stated how they sympathized with the victim's families but they had a duty to inform the public, yet at the same time one of their employees sat and inscribed their logo on each tape/CD they distributed to other media or required the outlet to include the logo in order to ensure NBC got the credit. That is what is truly tasteless.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Floody Taxes!!

Tomorrow's the deadline for filing our federal and state taxes here in the US and, as we're currently in the end throes of a horrid Nor'Easter here on the East coast that's caused a lot of flooding and disruption, I thought I'd share some pics of waterfalls nearby where I live as they're so beautiful.

I really feel bad for the folks living near creeks, streams and rivers who haven't taken out floor insurance--though hopefully there won't be that many people this time around because we've had our share of heavy rains and floods in the past two years. We're not affected as we live high up, though there's a stream flowing through our property that's usually a trickle and this time it managed to put on a rather lovely show.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Is hate speech also free speech?

It was 'Survivor' night last night and we have this thing going with our neighbors for a couple of seasons whereby we go to their house or their come to ours beforehand. Last night was at our place and the conversation got around to Don Imus's firing for calling the Rutgers ladies basketball team a racial slur, namely "nappy-headed hors". I don't care that that is part of the 'rap' vernacular and thus invented and used by black rappers everyday. That is not a defense.

To be honest, when I first heard it, I got that 'hors' alluded to whores but I did not get that 'nappy' means kinked hair.

Anyway, our neighbors both thought that Imus had a right to free speech that was protected by the Constitution. Jessica said that people who hate have a right to make hate speech, to say something she does not like or agree with because hate speech is also part of the right to free speech. She said she was Jewish and there are many people who say hateful things about Jewish people that she does not like, but the right to free speech must be protected. Larry and Scott seemed to agree, Larry even saying that many people in America say horrible racist things about Puerto Ricans and he just ignores it or laughs it off. Their argument also followed the line of 'let the market decide', that if people don't like it, they can switch off the radio or TV or not buy the magazine or newspaper, etc.

I could see their point, but in the end I concluded that free speech must indeed be protected but there are some forms of speech that is so abhorrent, so derogatory, so destructive that it is not true speech at all. It is hate or prejudice, uttered to incite a targeted audience, and thus it is dangerous because, when received by that audience who may have the power to take action against the victims of the diatribe, it can lead to bloodshed and even murder. Moreover, the fiction or analogy of people being subjected to hate speech as being people operating in an open market is not applicable. Not everything in our society can be reduced to a question of market forces.

In my mind, the state has a compelling reason to prevent hate speech from occurring and can take all action available to it to remove the speech from the airways. I would even go further and add that the government should take action to remove such speech from private airways, such as those streaming cable TV, satellite radio, etc. into our houses.

I believe we, humans, are in a constant struggle to evolve, to become better, to reach higher levels of justice and compassion for our fellow human beings and hatred, discrimination and bigotry have no place in the evolutionary cycle. Neither does Don Imus's 'jokes.' He went to the trough one time too many and it is just that he pay a price and his time at CBS and MSNBC is now over.

Of course, politicians and other leaders in society should take a look at themselves and ask why they were prepared to overlook his jibes at African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and women in order to appear on his show and get their own messages out in the past yet stated they wouldn't again appear on his program before it was actually canceled. I'd say that is hypocrisy.

Can we hope Rush Limbaugh and others of this ilk are next?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bringing down Rosie

Well, I guess this has been gathering steam and will undoubtedly gain more so in the wake of the Imus in the Morning debacle for which it looks like he's going to pay with the loss of his job. Rosie O'Donnell, who's known for stirring a bit of controversy, now has some fellow called Ethan Czahor gunning for her. He's started a website and is asking people to sign their names on a petition to have her removed from THE VIEW. The strategy is apparently to get 100,000 signatures (though he appears to be having trouble with false signatures) and then approach the show's advertisers and demand that pull their advertising dollars.

I took a driveby his site and it looks pretty slick, though I came off with the impression he's a bit of a misguided chappie who needs to do a bit of living before appointing himself to the task of determining who's a patriot in the United States. Of course, he could also be shrewdly trying to build up a bit of a buzz and land himself a job on the Fox News Network or with a right-wing chat show. In that case, I wish him luck. They deserve such a talent.

His beef is that Rosie is unpatriotic and not a proper American by spouting her mouth about a possible governmental conspiracy and the inability of fire to melt steel at the World Trade Center. I don't watch the show and didn't see her rant about that, nor do I know if fire can melt steel or not. He also says she's anti-Christian.

I had a like-dislike relationship with Rosie that comes down ultimately on the side of more liking than disliking her. Sometimes I find her a little unpolished but I've disliked her temporarily only because I once left a message on her blog telling her about my newly released novel when it came out in 2004 and asking if she'd like a copy and was pissed when she didn't get back to me. By hey, it was self-interest and I got over it because it may not have been her cup of tea anyway. Besides, she was off the air then and I'm sure thousands of people leave that kind of thing on her blog. To tell the truth, I never went back to see if she left a message.

I like her because she stands up for what she believes and is unafraid to speak her mind and take on bullies, something I can imagine she's had to deal with growing up on Long Island. She's also hilarious and I like hilarity. I so enjoyed her spat with Donald Trump, especially when she did the exaggerated comb-over on the view to poke fun at his ridiculous hairstyle.

So Ethan should get over himself and concentrate on getting a real job and stop trying to court the liberal vote to your cause by saying you once voted for John Kerry but regret it now. It's unpatriotic to try to stifle free speech. Go to a good law school and bone up on the Constitution and Bill of rights...if you've got the grades to get in, of course.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The bees have AIDS

A few years ago I became really interested in the subject of genetic engineering when I learned how much GMO foodstuff crap is on our supermarket shelves here in the United States and how quietly it has been allowed to become part of the American diet despite our absolute lack of consent. Supermarkets here say such corn and tomato products do not differ in any way from the natural varieties--also official USDA policy--and they have no means of preventing it from coming on the shelves. This is a lot of bullshit because an American supermarket chain doing business in the UK, for example, is not allowed to stock GMO products on its shelves over there and is able to take action to comply with the law.

Well, now from Der Spiegel comes an article about the mass number of deaths occurring in the bee populations and how it could become a world crisis because we need bees to pollinate our plants and create food, etc. The bee population in the United States where thousands and thousands of acres of land are given over to the growth of genetically modified plants is also being decimated; some are referring to it as the bee AIDS.

Now researchers are looking to see if it is genetically modified corn and other plants introduced into our environment that are causing these deaths, that a poison has been created from the "Frankenscience" that is proving fatal to bees.

No doubt big agribusiness will try to obfuscate the facts if this proves the case and we will have to take action to end the 'experimenting' on Mother Nature. When I read articles like this, I am glad the European Union for all its problems and flaws is growing in power. I think Europeans are more aware of the dangers in this area than we are and will, through their actions, move us away from our dangerous indifference.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

An interesting spot

Feeling like eating some good ribs, we went to a local restaurant we don't frequent a great deal last night. It's very basic, owned by an Irish-American, and they stock excellent beer from all over the world including a number of Irish beers (Beamish, Harp and Bass) as well as offerings from some good American microbreweries. (At the moment, I'm very into hoppy beers and one in particular--Victory's Hop Devil--really fits the bill. They also don't rip their customers off with outrageous prices fro imported beers.

Unfortunately, they'd already sold out of ribs even though it was only six o'clock. As one enters the cavernous room (to the unfortunate smell of stale cigarette smoke because Pennsylvania still allows smoking in the bar areas), many might walk out for fear they'd entered a redneck joint. And the barmaid, though slim of figure, in her early forties, has done a lot of living and suffered hardship because it's written on her face.

It has the feel and ambiance of a redneck bar. However, a closer inspection reveals an assemblage of an entirely different clientele. There's a healthy flock of gray-haired 'early-bird special' folks, the snowbirds who've just returned for the summer from their condos in Florida. They perch at their tables, yakking among themselves while sipping from their glasses of water (always from the faucet), deliberate on the specials of the day and question the waitress to death about them, and then after ordering launch into grandchildren comparisons, yada, yada, yada. There's also the sophisticated New Yorkers, the ones who drape their Saks Fifth Avenue jackets casually over the cheap chairs and order a baked potato sans butter and cream instead of chips yet tuck into the Prime rib au jus like it's the last to be had on the planet. Of course, they also order the special wine (that's what it's called in this place) at a $1 extra instead of the common garden Chateau Box. And there is a smattering of friendly rednecks and their families. While not meant to be judgmental though it will appear so, it is noteworthy how so many of their wives and girlfriends are obese (as are their children, though I must confess their choices of food undoubtedly cause the condition because it's always fried and apple sauce appears to be the consistent vegetable of choice.

The waitresses themselves are all in their early to mid-fifties, with 'smoked for many years' faces, a little butch-looking though they're straight but I think I'm correct in concluding they're no longer interest in men for sex. They exude the slightest hint of dangerousness, a sort of 'don't even think about giving me trouble and don't ask for food substitutions.' I like it. You know where you are with them and they can crack a joke. They also sit beside the customers at their tables when they feel like it--only the regulars and even when they're eating--and share the latest gossip, which always seems to be most welcome judging by the commonality of paused heaped forkfuls before mouths thrust open with surprise and/or shock.

All in all, a very interesting spot.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mirna and Charla

Generally I'm not into reality shows, though have been watching Survivor. This season, as it's on a Sunday, I decided to watch The Amazing Race and I'm really really glad I made the decision.

A number of teams race around the globe and every week--unless it's not an elimination week--one of the teams (all comprised of two people) gets sent home.

One of the teams racing are two first cousins called Charla and Mirna. They are hysterical. I have NEVER laughed as hard as I did last Sunday.

Both women are 27 years old, live in Maryland, were born in Syria and grew up together in Armenia before coming to the US, and they love one another but usually bicker. Oh, and Charla is a 'little person' and quite rightly states that she sees no limitation in 'being a midget.' As the manager of six sports stores back in Maryland, I'd say she's right.

Mirna is a lawyer, drama queen, and a type A personality who is hopeless at driving a car or navigating when they're required to do so, often blaming her incompetence on her cousin's inability to read maps (Charla, do something...anything. You must contribute. It can't all be me) when she can't even find the handbrake in a parked car. Her search for it was priceless. In the end, Carla had to summon a taxi-driver to show her cousin where the handbrake was in a leg of the race requiring them to drive it to a forest on the outskirts of Warsaw as part of one leg. Poor Charla was bouncing back and forth in the back seat screaming "Can you blame me a little bit more, Mirna? Come on, blame me some more" while feeling very queasy at the same time because they'd had to eat two feet of Kilbasa sausage at a restaurant in order to move onto the next leg of the competition. Charla's little tummy was unable to cope--Mirna kept practically force-feeding her cousin the sausage and ordering her to eat faster--and they finished in last place, much to Mirna's annoyance

Poland and the Poles were not kind to them. Everyone they asked for directions on the city streets would not answer their beseeching questions (Mirna was actually screaming at them in the end she was so upset) and gave them wide berth until Mirna articulated, "Maybe they don't know to handle little people, Charla? Do they not have little people in Poland?"

On the last leg of Sunday's portion of the race, Mirna and Charla arrived at the forest to discover one of them had to don a suit of armor (all teams had to) and lead a huge black stallion 1000 feet to the entrance of a castle. Once completed, they could run into the castle and find the umpire who would tell them if they were to be eliminated.

Loud-mouthed Mirna announced she was terrified of horses so Charla suited up in the armor and it was hysterical seeing a dwarf (she was also afraid) lead this huge black steed toward the castle gate. Unfortunately, Charla kept being tugged by the horse toward the hedge every time it wanted to eat something. She kept tugging back while saying, "Nice horsey. Come along, nice horsey." At one point she even offered the horse a bribe--yes, you got it...a piece of Kielbasa.

Unable to control the animal because of her size and the armor, at various points along the walk, she and the horse literally walked round and round on the pathway in bizarre circles while Mirna screamed, "Do something, Charla. Another team is coming. Look over your shoulder, they are coming." She made it sound as if it was the Angel of Doom coming. Mirna's hands flew back and forth from her face like an Arab woman weeping and shrieking and she tore at her long blonde hair as she screamed, "Do something. They are coming. Walk fast. No, run, Charla. We will be eliminated. Eliminated, Charla Pull the horse hard, Charla."
At two points on the stroll, the horse jerked its head and poor Charla was lifted off the ground and fell prostrate on the path. Even as she lay dazed and confined by the armor, Mirna screamed, "What are you doing, Charla? Get up. They are coming. Look. Look. They are coming. We will be eliminated. Do you want us to be sent home, Charla? get up right now."

In the end they finished second from last and are in the race for another leg. Can't wait for the next installment.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What a nerve!

Goodness. So I open my email this morning and was informed that some chap called Mr. Joe Kerr who's of Irish descent and commissioning editor at one of the biggest houses in the US received the first six chapters of my memoir America and me late yesterday, spent until the wee hours of the morning reading it and rereading it in some fancy New York hotel, and now has made an offer and are prepared to pay a colossal sum. The catch is I have to make my decision by Friday at latest and title should change to From Ulster to here;the saga.

So excited was this person that they emailed the manuscript without my permission to a famous Hollywood director who has already been on the phone to him. Famous Hollywood Director will not under any circumstances allow me to know who she is until I agree to sign on the day I meet her. That is outrageous and wholly un-American. The nerve.
And they want Colin Farrel to play me. Oh, please!!!

What to do? What to do?