Rainbows and Frogs!
feel for those who don’t know the blessing of these. When our monsoon
season comes on, usually late July is when it really gets going, it
brings with it the possibility of these two gifts. The rainbows come
most often of course….full and in vibrant neon and usually in
doubles……but what is rare is the blessing of the frogs.
Sure, where you are frogs may be no big
deal. Perhaps you even find them boring…maybe even annoying. But here
in the high desert the sound of frogs after a big storm is just…..well;
AMAZING! (I’ll avoid “awesome” but perhaps should not.)
Why use either of these adjectives?
Because these are the frogs of the desert. They don’t hang around
running streams or hop about on the banks of pools…we don’t have those
here, streams and pools that is. No, these are the spade-foot frogs.
These are the desert frogs, who when there is no moisture to be had,
will dig down three feet or so to await the extraordinary blessing of a
BIG rain. And they can and will wait there for years! Nothing less than
a deluge will bring them up through three feet of dry clay to surface
in an old cattle “tank”, a natural basin or man-made hollow that will
wind up being a, very, temporary pond, meaning it might last for two or
three days, and where they will, very quickly, seek a mate. For that
quest they will sing…all night and most of the day long for as long as
the pond lasts.
We haven’t had a “frog rain” in at least
two years and their song now is music to our ears too. This is part of
the magic of the desert country, where life waits…with much more
patience than humans, for a miracle.
Return with me to Those Golden Days of Yesteryear
Of course we all know that our
tendency to distort the facts of the past can paint yesterday(s) with a
gold patina….in some cases at least. And there’s the,
You-can’t-go-home-again thing……and all that that turns out to mean.
Gee, I went back to my old house, apartment…and it was a LOT smaller
than I remembered. Yeah, that one.
Or, I met up with my old girl/boy friend
last week and once we got by all the amenities we got into the same
argument(s) we used to have back when we ……and etc.
Nostalgia about “old cars” always gets me
going too. I don’t have any fond memories about all the old cars I
owned. I mean some of them were beauties; the ’57 Chevy Bel-Aire
convertible is now THE “classic” amongst classics. And the MG II was a
nice little sports car, and the ’61 Corvette looked great……and……I could
go on. But the FACT was, and this is not a distortion of memory, I
wouldn’t trade any one of them for the reliable, well-built,
fine-running Prius I have today. I don’t care if any one of those cars
still LOOKS great. They were unreliable, rattletrap, gas-guzzlers that,
if I took them on a cross country trip today, would have to be followed
by a parts car driven by a mechanic. (And I would hope that “parts car”
wouldn’t be a GM product). Fact; it would have been considered AMAZING
if one of those “classics” was drivable after the odometer passed
100,000 miles, something a Toyota or Nissan can triple today.
Anyway, that’s where I am with fantasies
about the past. BUT! One morning last week I had a yen for protein, as
in eggs and bacon, and we didn’t have any bacon. But what we DID have
was……a can of Spam!
What were we doing with a can of Spam you ask?
Good question. Actually, it was a joke. We
had been invited to dinner at a friends house and asked if we could
bring something. So rather than the obligatory salad,
we happened upon a display of Spam and decided to get a can for a
laugh. (It had the expected effect and then we brought it back home and
stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it.)
On the morning I had that yearning for
protein, we decided to open the Spam and give it a try. Can you return
to the past? Oh yeah. And it’s every bit as bad as you remember it to
be. Spam has NOT changed. It’s still good-ol’-Spam….just a lot more
salty than I remembered. Same canned dog-food consistency, same
lots-of-promise (it’s supposed to taste like ham after all) with the
same disappointing result; i.e. it’s NOT even close to ham.
So; next time you want to take a trip down
memory lane, if that lane happens to include a time when Spam was
parked along the way, just get and open a can of the stuff. And
take this to heart; Spam is a genuine window into the past….and there’s
nothing that can compare with it around today. Thank God.
By the way, when I was a kid and had to
fix a meal on my own ‘cause my parents were working or out of town or
something, once in awhile I’d open a can of Spam (real meat was
rationed back then) and “doctor” it up a bit. I’d coat it with mustard,
a kind of marinade I guess, then I’d stick some cloves in it to mimic
real ham, then I’d bake it.
No, I’m not going to try that gambit just
to get the stuff to pass for food today. The rest of this can will get
mixed in with the dry dog food our guys like. (I’m not sure they will
actually know the difference.)
Actually, drop that last idea, I think we
will give it to the coyotes. They might even really like Spam.
Yeah, talk about no class.
I Usually Avoid Backward Glances
Raposo wrote a song that Sinatra sang which I’ve always thought of as
the bitter complaints of an old man, one of those guys who reminisces
about the-good-ol’-days. It’s “There used to be a ball park right
here…..”. I don’t tend to do much of that good-ol’-days stuff; not a
lot of it at least. Of course these days ALL of us are talking about
better days and fearing that they are all behind us. But that’s another
Today I was driving down one of our major east-west streets
in Albuquerque and was shocked to note that they’ve dug up and
destroyed the batting range I used to go to when highly motivated.
Going there used to be a sort of test for me, one of those
I-can-still-do-this thing (hit a ball). Of course hitting a ball in a
batting range isn’t any where near as challenging as it really used to
be. First of all I only tried hitting in the “Medium Speed” cage. I
avoided the Fast Speed cage just two rows down. I was tempted but a
little antsy about it. Even though every pitch was thrown by the
machine at exactly the same spot every time, that what if? bothered me.
Well, I didn’t want to Whiff every time either and that would probably
have been my experience in the “Fast” cage.
“Fast” by the way was actually only about
85 mph, not the 100s that major league pitchers are throwing routinely
these days. But hitting in the Medium Speed cage was heroic enough for
my baseball ego. I mean, there I’d be in my regular cowboy boots (yes
they are VERY comfortable) jeans, in-town shirt, plastic helmet,
swinging away at a rubber-covered ball with an aluminum bat…Boink!
Not really like the old-days. I really missed the Crack! of
wood on leather, But I’d hit one now and then, one that probably would
have cleared the infield, and I could still do it right or left. That
was fun! (especially if my daughter Lia was watching. She can hit too,
I taught her after all, but I really loved it that she could witness
her ol’ dad’s ability to still do it!) I’d think she’d be thinking,
“Gee there’s life in the old guy yet!” My fantasy of course…..but a
Yeah, there used to be a batting range….right there…..and I guess I AM a little bitter about it.
The Albuquerque BIG Band!
I just got
back from experiencing one “set” with the Albuquerque Big Jazz Band and
I can’t rave about them enough. Anyone who loves big band jazz would be
blown away by this band, they are spectacular! Not only does the band
sound great but the individual soloists, no matter what instrument, are
the best you will hear anywhere. The musicians who play in the show
bands in Las Vegas are all top drawer pros, these guys, and one girl,
are every bit as amazing and this is somewhat rare in any band.
Even in a good band, thirteen or more
players, though they all can read well, so section work is superb,
there are only a few, may one or two in each section, who can put
together a solo that is more than a collection of notes, but is
something comprehensive, something a listener can not only follow but
also “fits” the overall piece. Historically one of the best examples,
there are many to choose from but I’ll take this one, is every track on
the classic by Miles Davis release, All Blues. There’s not a boring
solo in the entire set. The opposite of this is the comment made by, I
think it was trumpet player Roy Eldridge speaking about an all night
jam session, “We played a lot of notes but not much music.” There seems
to be a lot of this kind of playing that has taken place over the past
twenty or so years. Their aren’t many great soloists who are noted to
be mentors for younger players to listen to. No, Lester Youngs, no
Colman Hawkins, no Buddy DeFrancos, no one who is spare of notes yet
full of story. The trend, led by Charlie Parker has been to stuff as
many notes into eight bars as quickly as possible. But Parker actually
made each of those notes relative to the melody of the song. They
weren’t just stuffed into a line to provide fireworks, they meant
something. And that was his genius. But what some subsequent players
picked up on was the number of notes played at the most rapid pace
rather than the central purpose they served, to decorate and enhance
Any listener of jazz knows when the train
has gone off the track. We begin to get bored with the solo. As it
loses its way we lose interest. When the soloist begins to entertain
him or herself alone they cease to communicate. The solo becomes a
self-serving, musical masturbation. We are no longer in partnership
with the player. And the masters knew when to quit. Like anyone who has
made their point in a conversation, not knowing when to put a period to
it will lead to a loss of audience.
John Coltrane’s “My favorite things” is a long solo
performance which works well because 1. He was inventive and always
knew where the melody was. And 2. He had McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones
holding the track steady underneath and behind him. Still, there were
many examples of Trane going off the tracks in other solo attempts and
no one could save the effort. In those cases, Trane becomes
To return to my point here, The
Albuquerque Big Jazz Band is loaded with players who can solo and whom
you would want to hear. And that is what makes this band so special.
I’ve been listening to big bands for at least six decades now, and I’ve
heard and seen some certified great ones from Basie to Kenton, and none
of them was better than these guys on any level. Yes, those famous
bands had a lot cache’ and fame, but sound-wise? The A B J B could hold
the floor with any of them.
Football & America
some time ago to become a football fan again. It happened one Monday
night after I came home from a meeting of some sort and I turned on the
TV. Monday night football was on and it was a beautiful game…..not the
way it was played but the fact that the teams, the Green Bay Packers
and the Cleveland Browns, were a beautiful blend of color against that
green of the turf and the fringe of snow that bordered the playing
I was captured too by the drama. It really
was a good game, so I was hooked after decades of not being interested
in non-participatory sports. Years ago I WAS a “participant". I played
football and baseball and loved the games. But after I stopped being a
player I had no interest in becoming a spectator….until I saw that game
that night. Then I became a “fan”. I chose the Packers as “my” team
because they were the only major league franchise that was owned by a
town instead of a billionaire. That team to me felt like a real
“America’s Team”, not a manipulative brand. So, my support of them as
my team began. But I am now bordering on disillusionment with the whole
BIG sports idea.
In recent years, more and more, what used
to be classed, as a “game” has become something else. I don’t quite
know what to call it; I suppose the change began when the game, or
games, since this “change” has become part of every single sporting
event I can think of, the games began to be entertainment, spectacle,
and even a kind of performance art. In football it began
subtlety with how teams came onto the field. They used to simply come
out on to the field, just like baseball teams, but then they began to
rush out as a team, then they blasted through huge signs, then they
were introduced one player at a time, then entered through a corridor
of cheerleaders, then smoke and fire dispensers, and now flags, first
responders and military line-ups.
Of course half times have always been set aside
for entertainment, usually by large bands. This was begun in the
college games, but now we have “stuff” going on in the pro games as
well, though, since I have never attended a pro game in person, I don’t
know what’s happening on a regular basis. On TV of course half time is
when the old retired pros get a chance to tell us about what we’ve been
watching. Sometimes this is the most entertaining part of the whole
show. Pre-game they tell us what might happen; half time we are told
what IS happening, post game; what HAS happened.
But these days there’s a disturbing element that has been introduced into the game(s).
Frankly I don’t remember if we have always
been required to sing the National Anthem before the kickoff, maybe we
have. I guess that has always been true at baseball games too, but I’m
not sure. I know it’s the usual thing at the BIG games like the World
Series or the Super Bowl…..and hockey games have always started with
the U.S. and Canadian anthems. I always supposed that was because we
all know it’s a Canadian game being played in the U.S. by, mostly
Canadian players, so we’re just being politically correct
about it. But the real escalation of this patriotism thing has been in
the NFL. (There has been a concurrent escalation in baseball of late,
as reported by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake (this quote from USA
Today) ‘The Pentagon has paid more than $9 million to professional
sports franchises the past four years, including $6.8 million to stage
“paid patriotism” events, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain disclosed.
The events ranged from full-field displays of the American flag to
enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and emotional reunions of
returning service members and their families. ‘What is upsetting is
when you see activities like this that people assume when they go to
games are paid for out of the goodness of the heart by the owners and
the teams, and then to find out the taxpayers are paying for it. It
kind of cheapens (it) and it’s simply not right,’ Flake said at a news
conference held with McCain.”
The patriotism thing HAS become a problem
for me not just because it’s obviously manipulative and serves
something other than an expression of love-of-country, though I don’t
understand why a sporting event, a sporting-entertainment event, is
used as a venue for this. However it has become a bigger problem because of the
black-lives-matter situation. (By the way, these paid demonstrations
have, since this report, been “banned”. But I’ll bet that when the
season begins again, some version of this will remain as
If there is anything that white America
needs to be educated about today, it certainly is this issue about
black lives. In two out of three of our major sporting events, football
and basketball, black athletes make up the largest population of
players. (In baseball, Latin Americans now exceed the numbers of black
athletes and I believe, though I’ve not looked at the numbers, that
black athletes now dominate in track and field.) Concurrent with this,
black men make up the largest population of incarcerated males in our
(mostly private) prisons. And, as you must certainly know but may not
have noted (if you’re white) black males make up the largest number of
males shot by police on America’s streets.
Something is very wrong here. And this is
what kneeling black athletes are saying in their, powerfully silent,
protests. This in itself is a patriotic act. Why is it not being
recognized as such? Because from the top down, from the White House to
the team ownership to the stadium crowds, this demonstration has been
called “un-American”! As I see it there is only one way to turn this
around. This is what I would like to see my team take the lead in at
the first game of the season, preferably a home game; before the
kickoff the entire team would gather at midfield and talk about why
BOTH black and white team members support the concept of calling
attention to the fact that MOST of the members of the team are not
being treated equally in our society….and that the WHOLE team stands in
solidarity behind the belief that this must change in our country so we
can all live up to the concept written into the Constitution that ALL
are created equal.
I would hope that this demonstration would
spread NFL-wide, that every team would then follow suit so that an
entire stadium of people who will all stand for the National Anthem
will also know that it is every bit as “patriotic” to take a knee for
equal rights for EVERY person, the very thing we pledge to and sing
about in this country. Nothing will change as long as we stay divided
over this issue and there is nothing like the power of a mass of people
joining together when it comes to bringing about change.
The courage to do this must start with the
teams themselves. They are the leaders when it comes to bringing the
“fans” along. No “statements-of-support” from management or media
quotes from single team members will have much impact at all. That will
be lost in the noise and buried under the rah-rah of the GAME(S). This
must be a centerpiece of the event itself.
Football has become more than a game, it
has become, for good or ill, a representation of the heart of America.
Yes, I know this is an exaggeration to some degree, but at the same
time it’s an important fact. As such, this spectacle can be used to
make a genuine difference in American life. A difference of much more
import than any final score.
Just Say No! (Not Maybe)
“You’re not the boss of me!”
“You can’t tell me what to do!”
“No! I don’t want to!”
Remember when you were trying to parent
those 3 year olds? And later those teens? How did we handle those
refusals to play by the rules?
Yeah, that stuff was hard to handle. Arguments. Consequences. Eye rolling. Giving up. Blow ups. Resentments.
But the bottom line was, as parents, we
had to win in the end. We could NOT allow our kids to have their way
when, 1. What they wanted went up against what we, as responsible
parents, had determined was the best course. Or, 2. What they wanted
was dangerous or unacceptable behavior for them or for others.
But as a society that is exactly where we
have failed when it comes to weighing individual Rights vs. individual
Responsibility. What we have done has been to tip the scales way out of
balance when it comes to determining that Rights are more important
than Responsibility and we did it first with our actual children, the
young in our society so that they determine the shape and make-up of
our fashion and entertainment….in fact the youth of our country have
control of our culture. All of this is based upon the fact that our
children have the purchasing power to draw the attention of marketers
and marketers pander to that huge sector of our economy. We adults have
allowed this because we worship youth.
But it hasn’t stopped there. We have also
allowed our society to give way too much power to the concept of Rights
in so many areas that we are now reaping havoc everywhere. Where once
we determined that no one had the right to, on a whim, yell Fire! In a
crowded theatre, we now claim that this is a Right of Freedom-of-Speech
and should not be abridged. Now insult, no matter how egregious, falls
into this category as well. So simple civility has been cast aside in
favor of individual freedom of expression.
Fact, whether as a scientific proof or
Fact as a report of an actual occurrence can now be called into
question simply because it may be inconvenient to acknowledge reality.
And now we have created a full blown
culture of guns based upon a fairly simple Amendment, the 2nd of
course, having determined that a “well regulated militia” means
EVERYBODY….should walk around carrying guns of every caliber, capacity,
and capability and these should be able to be carried everywhere.
That’s our “right” after all and it should not be abridged lest a
tyrannical government take us all into concentration camps. And no one
has been willing to say No! to this mad idea, to these adult children
who claim they have the RIGHT to go about in our society, creating and
contributing to the air of paranoia and anger that fills our streets
day and night and makes everyone feel unsafe. For contrary to the claim
that if all are armed we will be safer for then it will be true that
the criminals will be out-gunned, now everyone has the potential to be
a killer, intended or not.
So; what to do about our current
un-reality? First, ALL public buildings must be equipped with metal
detectors because no one should be allowed to carry a gun inside a
public space. Yes, that includes, but is not limited to; movie
theaters, hotels, churches, restaurants, coffee shops, department
stores, malls, liquor stores, libraries, schools (of course) government
buildings, super markets, etc., etc in short any space open to the
public (probably have to include parks somehow) must have, at all
entrances, metal detectors and personal to oversee them. Yes, just like
air ports. (After all, if we’re going to be protected against
“terrorists” we must include the most prevalent source of terror in our
country, our own citizens.) Who will pay for this? Well, the gun lobby
of course. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t need to do any of this so
they are responsible. Oh! And they have the money.
Next, let’s stop selling assault weapons.
Nobody hunts deer with them so no excuses from the hunting lobby. And
let’s stop accepting the,
“Stop-telling-us-we-can’t-have-assault-weapons!” people telling all the
rest of us that they have a right to have them just “because”. Maybe
they feel “safer” having them around but the rest of us do not. And
there are more of us. Yes there are thousands and thousands of these
around and we will just have to cope with that but let’s not add to the
total. (No point in trying the Aussie answer and have the Government
off to buy them back ‘cause those obsessed with having them aren’t
going to let them go….the whole “…pry them from my dead fingers…” thing
having been a flag waver for them after all.
No more high capacity magazines sold. (For
obvious reasons. Of course any restrictions would be put in place at
this point for “obvious reasons”.)
Register ALL guns. (ditto above)
None of this will solve the problem we
have been building up to all these years, but there’s not much we can
do about that. There will still be random killing by guns, there will
still be mass murders occurring, the trend after all, is continuing and
the body count grows with each passing year, but it may slow things
down a bit and most importantly, all of this will send a message that
this romance Americans have with guns is NOT a good thing. It’s a
problem, and anyone who contributes to it is feeding that problem.
I don’t know about you, but if people are wandering around in
a public space carrying guns I DO’T FEEL SAFER! Crazy people with guns
look just like sane people with guns and I can’t begin to tell the
difference. So I just think it’s better for everyone to not have to try
to figure that one out. Just take the gun out of the picture and I
won’t worry about your sanity….or mine.
Once we get outside of a public space,
well……we will just have to get back to duck-and-cover I suppose. Fewer
semi or fully auto weapons will help. Limits on how much a shooter can
fire in a given amount of time may help. Other than that, we’ve been
working on creating this nightmare scenario for over a hundred years
and now we are reaping the whirlwind. No one in high political office
seems to be willing to take the role of responsible parenting about it
so far but perhaps these few steps will help some.
Of course it will take a bunch of law
makers deciding to say “No!” to the willful children-with-guns (and
money) to get all of this done (and ALL of it must be done in order for
anything to be even moderately effective).
But do we have any responsible parents in control anywhere?
Reflections about Elroy Bode
If we were
to look up from our lives to find that suddenly the Franklin Mountains*
were gone and all that remained was an empty desert we would be shaken
to the core.
A few days ago I looked up from my life
and found that my life’s landscape had suddenly been altered, been
swept clean of richness and depth, my dear friend Elroy Bode was gone.
I remembered my doc saying to me when I
got my cancer diagnoses, “Well, everyone has to die sometime.”
Previously I considered that to be simply a philosophical observation
about life in general…..nothing to do with me or with those I love. But
now death has become personal, my seeing-eye writer friend has left my
side. That’s the bad news.
The only good news is that he will never
leave my mind or my heart. That would be truly impossible. After all,
he caused me to be very aware of light and shadow. Aware of the
smallest beauty, the humblest truth. He was the one who stopped to
smell the roses and the enchiladas, the one who heard the things I
heard but had no names for.
50 years ago when I read Elroy’s, “Texas
Sketchbook” the first thing I thought was, “Hey! He wrote the book I
should have written!” The second thing thought was, “I’ve got to talk
to this guy. He’s someone who knows what I’d like to know.” And sure
enough, we listened to the same big bands, appreciated the same
sunsets, even read the same books, year after year, decade after
I wanted 50 more. I expected Elroy and the mountains to stay.
*Mountain range in El Paso, Texas
You weren’t supposed to leave us Elroy Bode.
From northern New Mexico you were my southern anchor.
My go-to source of intelligence. My dependable source of sanity. And now I feel adrift.
Lonely. Yes, just like your book title, Alone in the World, Looking.
Is there anything beyond “sad”?
Just that I knew you for 50 years
But it wasn’t enough my dear brother…..I wanted another 50
I wanted a few whiskeys more
Another hour of your presence.
I look up and the Franklins are still there
blanketed by haze
or is that just a veil of tears in my eyes?
but they are diminished somehow
it seems everything is smaller with you gone.
What am I left with?
Your beautiful words
Your way of seeing the world
so many memories of you just
A sure thing
And Elroy Bode.
The Dali Lama said “No one is important but each is essential”
You were my “essential” Elroy,
Now I will have to make-do with what I remember
And there is so much. So much.
You will just have to hang around inside me for a long time yet,
Siempre my dear, dear friend. Always.
I wrote, or
at least attempted to write, about the sadness, the loss, the
inevitable wish to deny his absence, but I couldn’t finish any of those
pieces because Elroy kept smiling at me.
I’m a believer in the concept of
life-after-death, not as a flight- to-Heaven sort of thing but as a,
they’re still hanging around idea so it didn’t surprise me that Elroy
would keep popping up in my awareness as I tried to process my own
grief on the page, but it did surprise me that he expected me to find
some ironic humor in any of this pain….this being haunted by the now
empty place at the table in my life.
But if anyone were going to find the irony
it would be Elroy, and here it was. This is exactly the kind of little
vignette he would write about…that here is this elderly gent, going
about his Sunday morning task of making a familiar breakfast, setting
the table, preparing a wake-up feast and then dropping dead before he
could even raise a forkful….oh yes, Elroy would have loved to write
that scene. Great expectations, best laid plans…..and all that.
So he has left me with a small smile on
his and my face, about the wonderful life-viewer he was, about how he
saw all of life half-amused, half-wonderful, all alive. Elroy may have
left his body, but he will remain for decades to come a light breeze in
our past and a constant awakeness to all of life around us.
He has been, and will continue to be a
gift to us all….bemused, aware, a soft walker through life. A smile in
(I'll write about who my great
friend Elroy Bode was in time and include a picture too. Right now,
these words will have to do. c)