Sunday, September 13, 2020

Breathing Smoke

    It might have been my imagination, but I was out in the backyard, trimming the trees and roses, yesterday, when I irrupted into a coughing fit and could swear that I smelled, and believed I was breathing smoke from the ongoing fires.  These fires aren’t so close that I can see them – or even see smoke I know comes from them, but the sky is gray rather than blue and the coughing diminished when I went back up to my study and spent a few minutes breathing air-conditioned air.
    Since reading Lives of a Bengal Lancer as a child, I’ve been concerned about what I breath.  One of my reasons for giving up my last motorcycle was to eliminate breathing gas fumes while filling the tank.
    In the 50s, The Conquerors, featuring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, was shot near the town of St. George, a mere 100 miles downwind of some ongoing nuclear tests.  Out of the 220 cast members, 92 have died of cancer.   Howard Hughes had selected the site and was convinced his decision had caused the deaths.  He spent $12,000,000 and bought up every copy of the movie and presumably destroyed them – no great loss, the movie wasn’t very good.  John Wayne’s portrayal of a barbarian warlord was described as catastrophically bad and Susan Hayward was described as underwhelming as his lover.  The film was listed as one of the 50 worst films of all time in 1978.

    The Southern California high-heat and Covid 19 sequestering have given me plenty of time to strengthen my broken right leg – that is the knee-cap area.  One might argue that I am inclined to ignore medical advice; which is true, but in this case I asked the orthopedic surgeon (and my son is a witness) if there were any exercises I could do to improve my ability to walk somewhat normally.  The surgeon hemmed and hawed and among other things said I was above the recovery curve and described me as an over-achiever – probably another case of a doctor fearing a future law-suit.  I have experimented with exercises that weren’t helpful, but in recent weeks seem to have managed better.  I haven’t been on any recent hikes, but I’ve worked in my yard almost every day without mishap and with fewer cases of “almost” falling over.  Also, I have one particular exercise that transforms me from a stiff awkward cripple into a near normal-walking person almost instantly.

    I have for some time sought the perfect “going light” camera set up.  I’ve tried different cameras over the years, the Olympus E420, the EPM-2, the OMD-EM1 and the EM5ii.  With Pentax I’ve acquired the KS-1 but preferred the K-70.  More recently I purchased the Nikon Z-50 with its two kit lenses.  
    The other day I was going through some old digital photos and thought my very first serious digital camera, the 6MP Hewlett Packard Photosmart R717, produced some pretty good shots.  Susan left it in the back of her car on a hot day in Tucson and fried the electronics; so I couldn’t actually use the one I had, but I checked eBay to see if any used R717s were being offered.  I still have the excellent little R717 belt case and recall that it was an excellent setup for hiking.  I could leave my R717 in the case while starting out, but take it out to snap a quick shot when anything interesting or scenic happened.  There were a couple of R717s on eBay but neither was attractive.
    I next gave Ricoh GR cameras serious thought.  In size they seemed close to the R717.  I compared the 16MP GRii to the 24MP Griii and thought the former might be the best re-entrance into the point-and-shoot world.  Although Ricoh claims much more than point & shoot capability for their cameras, point-and-shoot is the way I would expect to use them on hikes.  I ordered the $639.95 Grii with a $45 case, an extra $49.95 battery and a $12.29 strap.
    Contributing to the decision to buy a Grii was the sky which remains gray.  There is no need to take better cameras out under such a sky.  Perhaps by the time I get the Grii the smoke will have dissipated and I’ll be able to carry a better camera, but I feel pessimistic.  I will perhaps feel the way I did when I was hiking with an R717: out for the hike and not intending to do a lot of shooting, but just in case some particular scene seemed irresistible, I could have it on my hip and could whip it out.  

    I walked out back just now to police dog-poop off the grass.  I couldn’t smell smoke, but then I couldn’t smell the dog-poop either which probably doesn’t prove anything.  John Wayne denied that he had gotten his cancer from the nuclear tests.  He argued it was the six packs of cigarettes he smoked every day.  


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Pronunciation and other language fads

There is no "single" American pronunciation,  There are many, and they are being, or once were, studied.  About 60 years ago I took a course from a young woman who was working on a particular American dialect.  She was part of a scientific organization that did that sort of thing.  I can't recall how many dialects we had at the time or whether there have been many new ones since then, but as part of the course we were required to learn the code for designating the different sounds.  By the time we finished the course we could have  done the grunt work for one of these scientists recording and describing American dialects.  I can't refer to a text book for details since it has long since disappeared.  I don't even know if such a field continues to exist.  But with a little time and a good dictionary I think I could still recapture the code and how to use it -- though I can't think of an reason why I would want to at this point.

I recall another class, this one in Chaucer.  We were informed that Chaucer's poetry was for a long time thought poor and irregular because his critics had lost the sense of pronouncing fourteenth century end vowels. Even if we pronounced his poetry properly, I thought to myself, one would still need to learn the meaning (which has changed dramatically from his time to ours) of his words, and so reading his poetry was a time-consuming matter which I scarcely took beyond three or four of his far from uplifting tales -- whatever was required to pass the course.

And it isn't just the pronunciation and meaning of words historians and literary scholars have to contend with.  There are word fads and taste.

From one generation to the next what is "cool" or tastefully "in" changes.  We don't in most cases talk exactly the way our parents did.

And if some widely considered "great" poets and novelists of past ages had more of an historic sense and could have appreciated how short would be the time that their writings would be  faddishly "in," perhaps they wouldn't have drunk themselves to early graves in search of such fame.

Lawrence, entertaining dark thoughts in sequestered San Jacinto

Thursday, July 2, 2020


    A stratum of existence
    Exists beyond the words
    At our disposal – some of
    Us yearn outward toward it,
    Others anxious to belong
    Join in ignoring the
    Confusion with their kin.

    Surely, some say,
    There is nothing beyond the
    Words we use to define
    The universe – words originated
    In our prehistoric battles
    With clubs and spears made
    Of wood and antler horn.
    At twilight I can hear
    An acapella choir singing
    Music I can somewhat
    Grasp through words
    Beyond my ability to
    Clearly hear, and seemingly
    Anyone’s to believe.

Half way

    It was half way
    She had been wanting,
    Her father in Indio,
    Her brother in Garden Grove.
    San Jacinto in the middle
    Was neither a city,
    Nor off-grid
    As I had wanted
    During the decades
    Of years in buildings
    Building DC-8s, KC-10s
    And C-17s; and wishing
    More that she could be
    As she could no longer be.

    She, wild at the start,
    Someone to set a heart
    To racing, fearless behind
    Me on a Yamaha, racing
    Between the lanes, speeding
    Up before the sickness
    Slowed her down.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Dialogue part two

    Grim-faced Lawrence, erstwhile        
    Marine, did you think I’d change
    The cosmos on a whim? You
    Wished those many years ago
    And I gave you what you sought,
    Her to be cared for, and you
    To have something to do.

    I extended her life beyond
    Her doctors’ predictions,
    And yet you brayed like
    Balaam’s ass when you
    Experienced her inevitable
    End.  Do you accuse me
    Now of trickery or lies?

    Am I some devil and you
    A Faust to make me give
    Her back after all these years? 
    Set aside your vaunted knife
    And gun.  Who knows,
    I may have you write some
    Trifles in days to come.

A Dialogue part one

    After coffee, taking the dogs
    Out back and half way through
    My morning workout, I needed
    To be quiet so as not to
    Wake Susan; then looking up
    At the mirror recalled,
    And all that had

    Gone before returned
    In muffled thoughts
    Matching the mercurial fog –
    No jogging, I would
    Work harder with weights,
    Not willing to go down
    Placidly in the coming

    Eventuality. At my
    Desk, sipping espresso,
    Ghostly thoughts be
    Damned, I’ll be ready
    With hand-gun and
    Ka-Bar, and not go
    Out without a fight.

Going Home


    Ben and Jessica stopped,
    Bodies rigid.  I reached
    For my non-existent gun
    As the earth irrupted
    Screeching like a tin roof
    Bending beyond its limitation.
    Seeing a brilliant churning
    I climbed up from the sea,
    Seeing Susan at the tiller
    With wind sweeping her hair
    About her head.  I sat there,
    Water dripping from my mask
    Watching her never wavering
    Eyes as she steered toward home.