Happy Halloween

To the rat-bastard punk ass little pukes who stole my daughter’s five pumpkins and smashed them in the street: May someone do the same to you and what passes as your brains.

Ah, yes. Teenagers at Halloween. What is that happens? I’ve been teaching adolescents for 20 years and I’m more confused than I was when I started. Even the good ones do things that simply boggle the mind. Of course, I’ve got a lot of students with whom I’m friendly and whom I care about a great deal. But on the whole, the skate-boarding, butt-hugging jeans wearing, pimply faced, limited vocabulary repeating, neanderthal looking, punk-rock playing, stupid species of the animal is something I could rather do without.

I mean, I’m not looking for Wally Cleaver, here. I’d settle for Phineas and Ferb-you know, kids who actually don’t want to hurt others or ruin their property? That’s probably too much to ask. Phineas and Ferb build Time Machines, use their imaginations and avoid boredom all without watching television.

I think I’ll dress up as something tonight, too–maybe Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. Or how about Dirty Harry? I just wish it wasn’t make believe…

Onward.

These are Fine Times…

These past few nights have again seen me fall asleep here at the keyboard. It’s Friday and I don’t feel like that’s going to happen, but how do I know? I’ve certainly been working hard–and that’s not a complaint, but an observation. So, there is ample reason for me to fall asleep. Still…

Peanut has the crud–sinuses and the burning throat. Wednesday we were at the doc because she did the seal bark cough. Doc said her tonsils were inflamed. It’s not the first time. Take them out? Maybe. Doc doesn’t like to rush these things. She’s young. We’ll see. She did school today and yesterday and wants desperately to do trick-or-treating. I am sure she will. No real fever at this point and all is loosening up and leaving her body. A good thing.

And October winds down as fast as it came. Seems like yesterday that Summer was “just ending.” Now, we’re full-fledged into Fall, daylight savings time comes to an end and football buffs are starting to use the word “playoffs” in sentences while the World Series is only starting game 3 (may the Giants hand it to our brethren to the southeast).

Did a little research for a story I’m doing on local wine bars this evening. Hit a new place in Ojai called Barrel 33. Very nice, very warm and inviting. Good and fresh food, small plates of course, along with a great wine list and a serious bartender and mixologist named Brian who mixed a mean martini.

I did some writing today that I am rather fond of and was going to post it here. But I think I’ll submit it somewhere instead. perhaps it will be accepted as a guest editorial and maybe, just maybe, get a wider audience. One can hope.

Meanwhile, it’s Halloween weekend. I wish you and yours a happy all Hallow’s eve.

Onward.

Wandering Wanderlust

I must take a shameless moment to give a rare–indeed, unheard of–shout out to Uncle Ken and Aunt Alice. Sue’s people, you know? Wonderful folks who have visited us here several times. They are based in Florida, but drive a well-equipped RV ’round the nation at various times of the year and are happy doing so. They left a comment below on a post about Scoop the wonderdog and revealed themselves as readers to these, your correspondent’s humble pages. Thanks Uncle Ken and Aunt Alice. Always good to hear from you.

I’ve been busy enough as a writer that I’ve allowed myself to get wrapped up in it, but an old friend, a familiar feeling, returned this evening after a long hiatus. No, it wasn’t the Black Dog, as Lileks refers to the great sucking of depression and melancholy. It was wanderlust.

I think that as I have become a writer and a 21st Century writer at that, I find myself wondering what it might be like to move my family to Colorado, say or New Mexico. Perhaps we’d even consider going further east–or north. Oregon always appealed to me, though I confess the constant rain and or gray days would indeed get to me as I know they would Sue. Her arthritis might not take well to damper climes. So, I don’t know. I even considered San Diego, though I cannot imagine living further south than I already do. I do, however, like the San Diego area a great deal.

Not that anything will come of that at all. My wife is in no mood to move, but the fact is circumstances may cause us to by next summer. The hard part is that as a high school teacher of 20 years, it would be foolish for me to walk away now. Next summer, August to be exact, is when our 5/1 A.R.M. comes up for adjustment and as things are now, we’ll probably pay less per month on the mortgage. But my gut tells me that inflation is on its way soon and when that happens, the mortgage on this house could shoot up as high as $4500 t0 $5000 a month and I don’t care if I’m the richest man in the world-I won’t pay that. That all, however, remains to be seen.

Meantime, it’s just the sheer joy of considering something else, somewhere else and a change of scenery or pace. Considering is all at this point–but there it is.

I’ve tried to avoid descending into the upcoming elections. Writing about politics for me is rather like eating Italian food–the more I do it, the more I want to and the less good it does me. I end up raging against something or other (or, in the case of Italian food, saying to myself over and again, “I really shouldn’t have eaten that…) and the blood pressure goes up, my ire burns in my gullet and I sit there and marvel how perfectly sane and normal people could choose to vote for Jerry Brown for Governor of CA. Again. What? He wasn’t bad enough from 75-83? You need more tax hikes, more unemployment? Yes–that’s it. Raising taxes will get us right out of this mess, yes? Egad.

Well, as my friend Ty has so aptly placed on my new favorite bumper sticker…”if it’s Brown, flush it.”

Friday is upon us and this is a positive thing–a good and happy thing. Weekends are good and happy and they make me smile-even when I’m working Saturday evening-if it doesn’t rain. Outdoor event to cover, don’t you know?

Scoop is here with me. I feel no need to write much about him as things are status quo. If you’re just joining us, Scoop the wonderdog, the world’s finest hound, has been diagnosed with cancer. He only has a few months-but right now, the months are good. We walked about 2 miles over new ground today. Had to take the car in for its 60,000 mile service, so packed in Scoop and away we went. We dropped the car and then walked home. He was was happy to do it, too.

I have a new article up for your perusal at a members only publication for Broughton Hotels and Hospitality-but it runs a unique website that allows any and all to see it. My piece is on the Chappellett family and winery.

Onward, gentles.

Random Rambles and Tangential Tangents

I’m as busy as a writer with…..four pens. Or laptops. Or something. Writing for a few different places, interviewing a number of different people–and trying not to mix them up. This is why God invented the white board and it’s why I use one. It’s pretty marked up right now. And I was going to show you a picture of the whiteboard, but the camera’s connection to the Mac is acting up and I’m not sure why. Ugh.

Well-I’m glad it’s been seasonably cool. We’ve had Octobers that were in the triple digits in years past, but this one’s been OK so far. We even had a good spat of rain all week last week with gray skies when there wasn’t rain. Felt like we were…well…not in Southern CA. That’s not a bad thing. I prefer it, actually.

I find myself craving snow just now but I know that if I lived where it snowed, I’d find myself craving a 65 degree sunny weekend, too. So-I’ll be happy with what I have.

Scoop is sleeping next to me again this evening. We went on a walk and he worked pretty hard. I didn’t work him, he rather did it himself. There were, apparently, a spate of fine smells on the walk and he wanted to hit them all. We had a couple of dog visits–he’s pretty good with those–and we went later this evening, so it was dark outside already. I notice his sight isn’t what it used to be either.

I felt very strongly last week, after seeing him have a couple of bad days, that he wouldn’t last the weekend. This week, until tonight, you wouldn’t know he’s sick. His breathing is largely back to normal and he’s hungry, wants to exercise–and is barking at the neighbor’s dog, a source of endless joy for him in days past. Maddy, the dog next door, is a Queensland Heeler and though we have a 7 foot wall between our yards, Maddy can, from a very short run, jump the height of the wall. She does this on occasion to look over the fence and see what she can see. It’s pretty funny to watch, too. She’ll just sort of appear above the fence-line for a brief second looking over at us and then gravity pulls her back down. She does it four or five times just to see what she can see. Drives Scoop and Lucy-dog nuts. I think they’re jealous.

Scoop just woke himself up and looked at me. Tonight, he’s chosen closeness. This is relatively rare–he usually goes to the opposite side of the couch. He seems to want some proximity this evening-but that said, he’s simply sleeping, eyes closed and not really focused on anything other than rest.

I think I figured the camera out. I think I have the Blackberry cable instead of the camera cable. Both have the same insert ends and so I do get them mixed up once in a while. I’ll remedy that tomorrow–to remedy it now would require…well…effort. And my effort is about all tapped out for this evening. Good night, gentles.

Onward.

Memories and Surprises

When I woke Friday morning, Scoop bounded down the stairs looking for his morning treats. Later, we went for a brief walk. Took a walk today, too. Spoke to Dr. Perkins and took Scoop in. “The tumors are larger and they’re growing, but so far, he’s OK. He’ll have bad days. It’s when they pile up that we’ll make a decision.” Smart young woman. And totally focused on both the dog and the owner simultaneously. She has my family’s business for as long as I am a pet owner.

Just back from Greg’s annual Halloween bash. Peanut likes to go because Greg’s daughter is there and they get along well. They played all evening and we didn’t leave until after 10:00 P.M. Good times.

One of the guests, Glenn by name, did an absolutely spot-on performance as Hunter S. Thompson. Dressed like him, talked like him, drank like him. I was dressed superlatively as a pirate and wore a tri-corner hat, a plastic eye-patch and then I had on my Pittsburgh Pirates jersey. Glenn, as Hunter, walks right up to me and in that nasally tenor that Thompson had, he said, “Pittsburgh Pirates, huh? Yeah, well–anybody can have a bad couple of decades…” and then walked off. I couldn’t stop laughing. If Hunter himself were there, he couldn’t have done it better.

I grew up with Greg and Jeff, Eric and Doug-not big brother Doug, different Doug–and we were all together tonight. We had a blast, too. I needed to laugh this evening and we laughed for a good portion of the time.

And now that you’ve been updated, I need to sleep. Good night, gentles.

Onward.

One page turns

Scoop’s time may have come. The past two days have seen a marked decline in his behavior and wellness. He’s tired all the time and his breathing is labored. He wanted so badly to go on a walk this afternoon and I took him. We walked a full two and a half miles, but as we got about a mile in, he slowed down and even stopped once or twice. He was pretty beat. The tumor on his neck is now fairly large and his every move costs him a little more.

In other words, by slow degrees, he’s begun to suffer in ways that for him are unacceptable. He’s not the dog he was even six months ago and I expect that at this point, it is up to me to quietly end his suffering. Left to his own devices, he might linger another month, maybe two. But that would only be a life of pain and exhaustion. He still eats his food, though with no relish. He still craves his treats, though mostly quietly and without and drive and he still wants to walk-but it is more like muscle memory and the desire to please me than a real hope of exercise and movement. In fact, it’s the act of getting his leash and harness on that excites him. The walk itself seems of less interest now.

He is laying next to me on the couch again and his torso is rising with effort as he draws breath. Were I to guess, I’d say the disease is involved with his organs now and thus the reason fo his general malaise and labored behavior.

I’m sanguine this evening. I feel great sadness in the back of my mind, the pit of my stomach–but up here in the forefront of thought, I am merely sorry, and just a little bit grateful.

I’ve written scads on this blog about my friend Scoop. Anyone who reads this blog knows who he is and what he’s meant to me. I thank God that I was able to keep and raise him. As a child, we had dogs in our home and I don’t really remember a time without one. As an adult, Scoop is my first dog. Sue and I were married in ’94 and Scoop came into our lives in 1999.

When he came to the house, the number one pet in the family was a cat named Nana. At the time, I like the cat. As the cat got older, I couldn’t stand it. Now, my memories of the thing are that I didn’t much care for her. I put her down on New Year’s Eve 2001 when Peanut was just 9 months old.

Scoop is now 11 and for the first four months of his 11th year, you’d never have known it. Just back in the spring as I would walk him and meet people along the way, all would ask about him as his demeanor is so calm and when on the leash, he’s truly interested in having people pet him–that’s the only time, you understand–but it happens. They would marvel that he was 11 and said they thought he was more like 5 or 6.

Since August, however, he has aged considerably and in early September, I noticed that what I thought were two small fatty tumors in his neck were growing somewhat. They weren’t fatty tumors–and they’ve grown considerably.

I suppose I’m writing this for myself…for posterity. I love Scoop. Just so. But I am aware of his suffering-and I cannot let it continue much longer.

The day has been rainy, even some thunder and lightning last night and this morning. Early this morning, the weather scared Scoop and he came into our bedroom and jumped up on the bed with us. This is something he only does when he’s frightened. Once there, he was happy to be there and as it was about 6 AM, I was about to get up, and he stayed on the bed with Sue and rather curled up against her legs. He needed us.

And it may be the last time.

Onward.

And down goes the day…

You know, the day was going too well. It really was. That’s actually quite rare for a Monday and so, I was happy about it.

I got caught up on all of my grading at school and with the juniors, we finished reading The Crucible together. So today, I began showing them the film made in 1996 and guided them through some important notes. Teenagers like movies, so all were in a good mood. The seniors have this week to polish a final draft of a narrative and that’s going fairly swimmingly, too for the most part.

My managing editor, editor in chief and copy editor have instituted some important changes in the student newspaper and those should garner positive results and I invoiced the local paper today for a pretty hefty sum after working my tookus off the past few weeks (about which I am not complaining and, in fact, am plotting to do even more now).

I had a story to do tonight, but it was one I’ve been researching and reporting on for a while, so it just was a matter of putting the pieces together which I did. I even found time for a two and a half mile walk with Scoop the Wonderdog who is still interested in such things, though his physical condition is deteriorating.

Sue came home with Peanut from her dance class and though Peanut is a bit under the weather, she isn’t nearly as bad so far as many of her peers have been and so school, activities and such are all going well.

And then…

Peanut started her manipulation. The worst manipulation she has is bedtime. Like most kids, bedtime isn’t her favorite time of day and she simply hates having to go to sleep. Normally, though, she does go to sleep and does well at it, stays in bed all night with the rare nocturnal visit after a bad dream or whatever.

But once in a while, she claims she cannot sleep and so she asks to sleep on the floor in our room. I suppose I should be thankful. I know their are kids who still try to sleep in their parents’ beds at 9. We put the kaibosh on thatand if she is going to be in our room, she has to be on the floor. She says that she wants to because she doesn’t feel well–and there’s some truth to it, I guess. The problem is that she associates not feeling well with sleeping on our floor–which is, of course, the worst place for her to get a good, restful night’s sleep. I’m fairly nocturnal. I’m a light sleeper most of the time–I get up a couple of times a night–I snore and I’m prone to sleep even less well when she’s in there because I’m thinking about her.

But, such as it is–I have found that arguing with her merely means I’ll be up late arguing. I don’t want to do that. I make it clear that this is the wrong thing to do, that both her mom and I frown on the behavior and that it will be expected of her to return to her room as soon as possible. Appropriately chastised, she beds down for the night.

I don’t like it. It’s not optimal. But there are worse things in life and I imagine that my good friends who have told me so are right that one day, she won’t want to be anywhere near our room at night.

C’est La Vie.

Onward.

Secretariat

I bought a copy of Seabiscuit when it came out on DVD. It was and is one of my favorite films of 2003 and I continue to think it one of the best films of the decade.

So, when Disney announced it would make and release Secretariat, I was skeptically excited. I’m a Disney fan, but I also know what “Disney-fication” can do to a complex story by oversimplifying it. And Secretariat flirts with that very problem at times. From the pull back and slow zooms into facial expressions on both people and horses to a few tried and true bromides delivered on cue by the main character Penny (Chenery) Tweedy, Secretariat is filled with opportunities to stumble beneath mediocrity.

But fortunately for director Randall Wallace, himself no stranger to cliches and bromides such as the ones he helped place in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, or in the forgettable Pearl Harbor, he had fine actors and a tighter script overall. John Malkovich’s portrayal of Lucien Laurin, the French-Canadian horse trainer who quite literally saves the day for Mrs. Tweedy’s horse, is a bright spot in what could have been a mediocre film. Malkovich has a presence on any screen that is both commanding and understated and while some would say that his talent was wasted here, I have to disagree. He came through on nearly every scene and the ones that could have been campy or kitchy were funny and even touching. John Malkovich is a consummate professional and his “gravitas” lends itself to Secretariat with real grace and elan.

Mike Rich, who penned Finding Forrester, another of my favorite films of all time, and 2003’s Radio, seems to have been kept on a tight leash by Wallace. In Finding Forrester, Rich used subtlety, panache and even a touch of grace to pull together a complicated psychological profile of two rich and interesting characters. Here, though, Rich yields to Wallace’s desire for caricature and only pulls back when he can, as though he is conspiring with Lane and Malkovich to run a flanking move on Wallace’s direction. It works, too.

Diane Lane’s portrayal of Penny Tweedy is a fortunate blessing, too. There seems to have been an attempt to keep her character very much the Denver housewife that she was when she learned her mother had passed away, thus beginning the journey to race-horse owner and extraordinary businesswoman. The film’s editing is rather jumpy in this first part of the story and the result is that the audience is left with simple knitting together of plot scenes rather than with the emotion of the story. Score a few points for Lane here because in the hands of a lesser actress, this role would have lost its audience before the film was an hour old. Lane is still able to bring some passion to this over-simplified hash and she saves the moment.

Much like Seabiscuit, the audience is aware what the outcome will be before they see it. Wallace’s direction is deft here and he doesn’t hide what’s going to happen. It is Malkovich, however, who saves the moment in a brief scene in which the actor offers no dialogue, just a moment alone with some newspaper clippings about Laurin’s past losses on the racetrack. Other vignettes probably give away too much, including when Eddie, played by Nelsan Ellis, yells to an empty Churchill Downs stadium in the early morning light, announcing that no one has ever seen what they’re about to see. It’s campy-but it’s also effective and some majestic photography adds to the scene.

Secretariat is every inch the American success story that Seabiscuit is and this version of it is not a bad one. Seabiscuit is a much more artful film and its characters are more compelling and more three-dimensional. But Wallace’s direction shortcuts and his propensity to mythologize events that really took place, a habit he honed into his idiom with Mr. Gibson in Braveheart, are minimized by a stellar cast. Malkovich and Lane along with small parts played by James Cromwell and Fred Dalton Thompson, bring Secretariat to life and while they don’t quite get to the award-winning level that the story perhaps deserves, the film is satisfying, interesting, touching and fun.

The Speed of a Week

It has been a smokin’ fast week. No sooner did I get home from Mammoth on Sunday, exhausted but joyful, than I was off and running at school and for the newspaper. I have had two interviews a day or more everyday this week and I’ve written four stories. I have three more to do this weekend, too. Not complaining–explaining. It’s why I haven’t posted as much.

For those who have asked after Scoop the wonderdog, thank you. He is as well as he can be. He is yet again here next to me on the couch and sleeping. He finds that if he lays on his side, the breathing is easier. He’s tired, but as near as I can tell–he is not yet sickly. The disease is in there and it is spreading and there is nothing I can do but wait.

Had the fourth grade conference today, or rather, my wife did. Peanut is growing up fine, thank you. It’s a wonder to watch and she is a typical 9 year old. She takes after her mother and math and science are her thing. She’s an impatient writer and her creative side, while fully developed in imagination and play, is stymied somewhat by her desire to get it done fast. Her love of math, it seems to me, is the exactness of it. There is a question–there is an answer. The kid likes things clear cut. She comes by that honestly.

Scoop is dreaming and having small fits of what appear to be chasing or running. I never know if that’s real or not. Lileks writes a lot and clearly about what dogs think. I am in agreement with most of it. I am, however, still convinced that dogs have souls. I don’t buy that they don’t. Even the book of Psalms says, “Oh Lord, you preserve both man and beast…” My pal Ron pointed this out today. It’s thin cover–but I’ll take it.

It will be bedtime very soon. Eating was light today for the most part as I am in the midst of a minor weight battle. But, I had a small dish of pasta with fresh sausage marinara for dinner and while I am a pasta fanatic, my stomach tells me it can do without the acid in those sauces. I make my own, sometimes, and try to cut down on the acid from tomatoes by adding honey, sugar, cream or some combination. But, I’m rather heartburn-y tonight and I’ll have to fight through it somehow. Ugh.

Finishing the Crucible with the kids this week. It’s one of my favorite things to teach and today, I got to do a bit of acting in a readers theater fashion with my teaching neighbor and friend Richard Winterstein. He is an awesome actor and we make a good team. But it’s also a chance for us to have fun with it and to make it work for the kids and bring it to life. That’s why I got into teaching in the first place, to bring words to life.

A good week, then gentles. A good week.

Onward.