Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Adulting

Waxing Gibbous Moon


No matter what your party affiliation or level of political interest, every functional American should read (or listen to an audio version of) the Mueller Report. The primary purpose behind Russia's interference was to further divide the U.S. electorate and sow unrest/distrust in American institutions. Obviously, they were very successful.

Too busy with work and family to devote the time required to read the whole thing? At least read the executive summaries provided in the report to arm yourself with independent knowledge before you listen to the yakking on TV/radio. Think for yourself.

Click on the links to read the summaries.

Volume One describes Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Volume Two describes the investigation of obstruction of justice on the part of the current administration.

Peace, Love, and Responsibility,
Jim

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Beep Bop Boop

Waning Crescent Moon

Way back in the 20th century, in the fuzzy, backward days of black and white TV, the Huntley-Brinckley Report, Sander Van Ocher, and Cameron Swayze, optimistic patriots were regularly told that robots would soon take over the mundane chores of our humdrum Procter & Gamble lives. Everyone would have a Piper Cub airplane in the driveway. Leisure time would increase exponentially. America would be like consumer heaven on Earth.

Instead we got pet rocks, enough plastic junk to cover the planet thrice over, leisure suits, disco, and Ford Mavericks - plus the succeeding generations of stuff that just put lipstick on all those pigs. American ingenuity had failed miserably, replaced by short-sighted, enviro-disastrous gimmickry geared to make a buck.

Or did it?

Fast forward to 2019 and perhaps the predictions of ingenious, labor-saving robotics have begun to come true.

Or have they?

Lord knows we have the entertainment side of life covered. Laptops and cell phones and GPS, NetFlix and Roku and DirecTV, SUVs with automatic everything, insurance in case your insurance runs out, backyard bbq grills bigger than Grandma's kitchen - America is ready to party at the drop of a sequined celebrity ball-cap.


I must admit, however, that now, in my late sixties and struggling mightily to conserve energy and protect what's left of Mother Nature, I am not exactly up to speed on the robot side of life. Occasionally, I find myself wondering: what are the modern Ozzies and Harriets outfitting all those gargantuan mansions with to make life in the commuter lane more bearable? This week, having agreed to house (and pet) sit for a friendly young couple in a nearby gated community, I have become somewhat familiar with a few robot-type gizmos about whose existence I was not heretofore aware. Surprise, surprise, the 1950s are back! Yikes!

I will try to describe a few of these life-improving, labor-saving apparati as best I can. Let me begin with the Dog Training Active Collar PTOZ1 by Pet Tech. It comes in a box with a smiling golden retriever on the front - one of those kid friendly dogs that will cheerily chase a stick and bring it back from sunrise to sundown and wonder why you decided to stop. That smile. That is the dog's way of saying "why aren't you throwing the stick?"


Inside the box is a collar with two metal studs that get fastened to Fido's neck, plus a remote control complete with four different settings: a light, a beep, a vibration signal, and an electric shock. The latter is presumably for the uncooperative or more masochistic dog breeds (or the demented, sadistic breed of owner). I prefer the more civilized "beep" personally. This compact and easy to use remote training device can be used anywhere to zap your pooch with a gentle reminder to, say, not chew on the aquamarine solar sidewalk lights or not to crawl under the kiddie pool fence or not to eat the damn yard snails, you knucklehead. You never know where those things have been (or how many carcinogenic yard chemicals they may have slurped). In most ways, this collar is overkill in my opinion, but then I am not really a domestic dog kind of person to begin with. It certainly makes things easy.

Next is the robot vacuum cleaner thingy. It works okay, but man, is it noisy and does it ever have a clumsy penchant for getting hung up or lost. When one of those unfortunate happenings occur, it issues a loud, pulsing alarm, which you soon recognize as a needy vacuum cry for help. This is a hunting signal to begin the annoying journey up and around the mansion to figure out where, let's call it Arthur, is stuck. So far, I have found Arthur a) ass-end up atop a cat-feeding stand (more on that later), b) teetering on the brink of the second floor staircase about to tumble and possibly shatter in an ugly mixture of cat hair, plastic, and beeping, bleeping electronic hardware, and c) repeatedly bumping into the the back of a walk-in (roll-in) closet like a sleepwalker trying to bust a hole through the sheet rock out to the balcony.

Sorry, I'm not that much of an Arthur fan. Someone has to empty its collection bin of cat hair and stray cat litter every couple of days, which I find fundamentally disgusting. It should be trained, possibly using a robot shock collar, to defecate discretely into a trash can, you know? On the plus side, it recharges itself at a docking station, which is pretty handy, pictured here.


Three burly rescue cats live primarily in the upstairs master bedroom which opens into a hallway and leads to a utility room. The automatic cat feeder is a big plastic container that holds enough dry cat food for said burly cats to eat for several days. The feeder is plugged into a socket and is set to release a set amount of food into a tray three times per day. Prior to the food dump, a recording (using the cat mommy's voice) announces that it's time to eat. If you are downstairs, you can hear the three burlies jump off the king size bed and hit the floor running. It's a rumbling sound not unlike what I imagine a herd of bison might make racing across the Great Plains or maybe the annual elephant migrations in Kenya.

I happened to be upstairs emptying Arthur's trash bin one day when the feeder sounded that it was dinner time. What happened next was every bit as frightening as a Nat Geo pack of lions attacking a downed eland somewhere in the Savannah. It was savage. There was snarling and shoulder-bumping and aggressive, sideways hiney-thrusting. The noises should have been rated MA for mature audiences only. I wasn't sure I should even be present to witness this spectacle, but I was definitely glad I didn't have to be the one handing out the kibbles and bits. The automatic watering stations are relatively simple and nowhere near as scary. Sheesh!


Chief among the household robots, however, has to be the Meow brand Litter Robot. Imagine all the labor this nifty machine saves after a gnaw and gnash session at the kibble feeder. Those hefty feline critters can put out some major league turdage. Their waste deserves its own, separate weight class. "Number Two" does not even begin to describe it. The cleverly designed Meow Litter Robot provides a sheltered place for a cat to do its business, complete with a little step ladder and a signal sensor that is triggered when he or she leaves. Then the big cylinder rotates, sifting the clean litter from the soiled, and deposits the lumpy stuff in a plastic bag lined tray below the cylinder. Finally, the cylinder rotates back to its original position and resets, ready for the next cat.


Theoretically.

A few days ago, the Meow Litter Robot went on the fritz. It got stuck mid-rotation and the cylinder was frozen, empty of litter, smelly and quite useless. I happened to go up there to check on things and as luck would have it, I noticed, with a great sense of alarm, that there was no functional place for the burlies to poop. Oh. My. God. What in the name of Felix, Fritz, and the Cheshire Cat would happen if I didn't get this situation fixed? I didn't even want to think about it.

Quickly, I employed my extensive problem-solving skills, honed by years of graduate studies and classroom innovation. I turned the machine off, then on, with great expectations. Nothing. Nada.

Time for Plan B. I unplugged the robot, waited  a count of eight, and plugged it back in. The cylinder sprang to life. Eureka! But it barely got to the "r" in "rotate" before it stopped again. Nothing. Zip.

Then I did Plan B over again a couple of times because I didn't really have a Plan C. Same durn thing happened every time.

Now I was feeling stumped and really, to tell the truth, hot mad, not to mention old and dumb. I looked all over the compound/hacienda for something I could use as a litter box, all the while dreading the obvious consequences, i.e. having to monitor the box for the next few days and out sift giant burly cat turds. Having no luck with the search, I called a neighbor on my emergency list and she hustled over not one, not two, but three jumbo cat litter boxes to save the day.

Meanwhile, I hatched Plan C. This was your basic ugly, Neanderthal, cave man approach. I went back up to the the Meow Litter Robot, grabbed it by its sides, and shook it. Hard. I yelled long forgotten expletives. I picked it up and shook it even harder. It smelled horrible while I did this, adding to my Bigfoot/Tarzan rage. I cursed its ancestors and their ancestors and threatened to bury its severed pieces where no one would ever find them.

Bingo. Victory. That was the ticket. The recalcitrant cylinder mysteriously began to turn. The litter sifted. The poop plopped. In a matter of a minute, the Meow Litter Robot reset itself and it has behaved flawlessly ever since.

Let that be a lesson to you, cat fans. Should you ever decide to purchase a litter robot, or house-sit for someone who has one, always have a backup box, train your major muscle groups to dead-lift it, and think up nasty, filthy, stinky things to scream in case something goes wrong.

Peace, Love, and temper Tantrums,
Jim

Monday, May 6, 2019

35th Annual California Indian Market

 Waxing Crescent Moon

This past weekend was the 35th Annual California Indian Market in San Juan Bautista, CA. Sponsored and organized by the One Earth One People Peace Vision non-profit group and headed by Elayne "Laynee" Reyna and Chief Sonne Reyna, this event is peaceful, educational, family-oriented, sobriety- promoting, and highly respectful to American war veterans.

San Juan Bautista was the kickoff event of the season for artisans and craftspeople from reservations and communities all over the country. In coming weeks, these native artists will take their genuine, hand-crafted, culturally significant works to powwows and markets at Stanford and further northward up the west coast. You won't find any cheap, plastic doo-dads imported from China at these markets. These folks are the real deal.

For me, the highlights of both days were the Aztec dancers and their colorful, hand-made costumes. Each dancer makes her or his own headdress and clothing, having learned from their elders the old ways, songs, and dance moves. The drumming was powerful and enchanting.




There were two groups, one made up of adult, veteran dancers, the Xipe Totec Aztecs, and one that consists of Nena "Grandma" Sanchez with her children and grandchildren and even one great grandchild, the Capulli Itzpopolotl Aztecs. The joy and dedication to this athletic, rhythmic art form were obvious in the performers' expressions and enthusiasm. Seriously, I could not have been any more impressed.




Sunday's venue included a welcome home ceremony honoring war veterans from the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and both Gulf Wars and a special personal honoring of local hero Lou Fiori for his service and valor in Viet Nam. Those of us who have never served the country in war simply cannot know what it was like to make that sacrifice or to deal with the aftermath. Watching these veterans honoring each other with handshakes and embraces gives a little peek into how each of them bears their private burdens with strength and pride. The rest of us can only stand with respect and honor them with solemn applause. 

Peace and Love for One Earth, One People,
Jim

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Birds Revisited

Waning Gibbous Moon

On a tip from my great friend Jessica, I ordered a used copy of Daphne du Maurier's collection of short stories called Kiss Me Again, Stranger from a famous non-tax-paying internet bookseller. Jessica read my previous entry praising Hitchcock's movie The Birds and she wanted me to know that Hitchcock used du Maurier's short story of the same name as the basis of his film.


I knew very little about Daphne du Maurier. I remember from years ago when I drove a bookmobile for a public library that her books were popular with mainly the white-haired, chatty, bespectacled grandmas who frequented the bookmobile and checked out tens of books every two weeks. In my ignorance, I assumed these stories would not interest me, so I never even took a peek at one. Was I ever wrong!

My well-worn, faded, three-dollar copy of Kiss Me Again, Stranger arrived a few days ago and yesterday I sat down to read The Birds. It's thirty-five spellbinding pages long, concisely gripping and dark. I loved it. I will read the rest of the stories now that I know what a vivid storyteller she is.


Maybe I have grown a little wiser and more open-minded in my old age? Dunno. But Daphne du Maurier can paint pictures with words and scare the pants off you, too, people. Those old bookmobile biddies back in the 1970's were onto something!

Peace, Love, and Daphne,
Jim

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The National Steinbeck Center

Waxing Gibbous Moon

For a measly senior rate of  $9.95, I treated myself yesterday to a visit to the National Steinbeck Center at One Main Street in Old Town, Salinas, CA. The center has been operating at this location since 1998 as a memorial museum to honor renowned author John Steinbeck, a native of the area. At 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, I expected a large crowd, but instead, for about twenty-five minutes, I had the place to myself and two other quiet patrons. This allowed for the proper slow absorption of some of the exhibits and a bit of reflection on his stories. Some of them I have read and re-read, others I read long ago and had mostly forgotten.


As more folks filed in, it was harder for me to concentrate, but I persisted. What stood out was the amazing number of books he wrote and how many had been made into plays and films. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. While somewhat small in square footage, this museum is packed with information and context for both his novels and the movies made from them. Adding to the interest is Old Town, several blocks of rejuvenated buildings on Main Street which make for a fun stroll afterwards. Parking is close and cheap.


The exhibits are arranged in a large circle, based on the most famous of his works. My two favorites, probably like a lot of folks who live nearby, have always been East of Eden and Cannery Row. I recently re-watched the classic movie version of East of Eden starring James Dean. I was stunned by how much more I appreciated it now than when I was younger. Maybe that's because I have lived in an agricultural community (just twenty miles or so Northeast of Eden) for the last fourteen years. Or maybe some misty bit of wisdom has wiggled its way through the sloppy folds of my brain over time. Regardless, this story ranks right up there with the very best.


I see Cannery Row as an environmental parable, a warning shot, and a call to awakening about human greed and over-fishing, resource-gobbling, self-destructive stupidity. The characters are sharp and the language is brilliant, too. And I still think this is the best opening line of a novel I have ever read.




Why did I wait so long to have this Steinbeck museum experience? When I was teaching I was just too busy, but I have been retired for almost six years - never once did I drive over the divide and see it. Maybe next I will head down to the Sea of Cortez - let the ghosts of John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts teach me more about life and nature and relationships.



Peace, Love, and the Tides of Time,
Jim

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Los Pajaros del Mar


Waning Crescent Moon

Fifty-six years ago today Alfred Hitchcock released The Birds, which, along with Psycho, permanently scarred the fragile, developing medullas of an entire generation. It wasn't Elvis or Little Richard or Dylan or Kesey or the Beatles or Hendrix or Joplin that screwed everybody up. It was Alfred Freakin' Hitchcock.


Filmed mostly in Bodega Bay, just 130 miles up the coast from here, The Birds starred Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, with a minor appearance by a very young Suzanne Pleshette. Pleshette was so addled by her role in the movie that she spent several tri-polar years married to TV psychologist Bob Newhart. Thank God. What a great show. Every single character was certifiably cuckoo.

So what did I do to celebrate my personal, cracked-up-cortex anniversary? I went to the beach, of course, knowing full well there would be no telephone booths to hide in, that every church in a fifty mile radius would be locked up tight, that every school would be fenced and gated and patrolled by an armed resource officer, and that every place of business would charge me top dollar to hide behind their counter. My only refuge would be Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Palomino Transporter, which already has a couple of cracks in its windshield, and a pair of wobbly, stinkin' green port-a-potties on the edge of the parking lot, which is separated from the beach by a steep line of sand dunes. Sheesh.

Okay, not to bore you, I'll cut right to the chase. Nothing bad happened. I walked a little over six miles in the sand and I saw all kinds of beach and sea birds, especially at the mouth of the Pajaro River near Zmudowski Beach. Pajaro, of course, means "bird" en Espanol. It was the opposite of scary as hell. It was heavenly. I loved it.


I saw snowy plovers, black flying cormorants, gulls, sulking red-faced turkey vultures, nervous curlews and sandpipers, but nary a pelican, not a solitary one. I saw a single bobbing sea otter and a bunch of fat, lazy harbor seals napping on a spit in the harbor. I only saw a handful of other, non-scared humans. All together it was a great, fun day.







Probably, it is better that no birds gang-pecked me or chased me over the dunes into the potty. Maybe after fifty-six years the generational curse is over and The Birds is merely another classic scary movie. Maybe. I hope so. At this point, I can't outrun a sea turtle much less a flock of crazed sea birds.

Peace, Love, and {insert seagulls squawking here},
Jim

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Trip Al Sur

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Ever since I came back from Arizona, there has been one cold rain event after another. Until this week, that is. El Sol came out on Tuesday and stayed gently brilliant every day, old school style, the OG  blazing his casual self from morning to night. How could anyone not be in a happy mood?

I enhanced the weather change with a quick truck trip down south, swinging through Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Carpenteria, Figueroa Mountain, San Luis Obispo, Cayucos, Ragged Point, Gorda, Lucia, Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey. The drive home up Highway 1 along the coast was ideal, primo, super, stupendous. All those rainy days are gone, erased from the memory bank by Papa Sun and Mama Surf. I heart California.

After breakfast at Vic's Cafe, a little stroll around downtown Paso Robles.
Then a quick stop at Palisades Park in Pismo Beach. Couldn't resist.

Sort of a nice place for a park.
In Santa Barbara, I joined Craig and Don and their dogs Myra and Ozzie for a sunset walk on East Beach. The lighting was simply holy. 

Ozzie left, Myra right. 
East Beach sunset.
Next morning was breakfast at Esau's Cafe in Carpenteria. Esau's used to be on State Street in Santa Barbara, but I guess the rent got too expensive. The cool vibe is just the same in Carp and so is the food - yum. A quick walk on the World's Safest Beach aided digestion.

No worries, it's Carp.
I wanted to go up to Figueroa Mountain to see if there might be a wildflower bloom happening. It was too early for a major splash, but it didn't matter. The scenery was great and the air was magnificent. It didn't hurt that I got to ride in Craig's 1990's gimme-a- ticket-red Porsche Boxster convertible up and back. A racy go cart for grown-ups.
A little color was happening on the south facing side, much too far for me to hike right now.
The Sun did not disappoint the next morning in SB, lighting up the Dolphin statues by Stearn's Wharf after breakfast at the Breakwater Cafe.

Joy.
Then it was back up the 101 to San Luis Obispo to check out some new-to-me parks and museums downtown.

I especially liked Cheng Park and this disturbingly friendly creature.
Cayucos on Highway 1 is one of my favorite beach towns ever. Will it continue to survive with its sea charm and laid back surf demeanor or will the monsters of development consume it, too?

Long live Cayucos.
The Big Sur coast from Ragged Point to Carmel is magnificent, the jewel of North America. I have bicycled it three times and I have driven it too many times to count, but it never gets old, particularly when the weather is as perfect as this. I always get a fried egg sandwich at the grill in Ragged Point. Always. It is still $4.95 and as awesome as ever after all these years.

Ragged Point

Yer basic Big Sur coast pic.
I stopped at all my little favorite turnouts and reminisced about bike journeys both with different folks and solo. I am confident that this is one place that will outlive all the crazy. God rules here.

Peace, Love, and the Left Coast,
Jim