Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cathouse Out Back

Over a year ago we inherited some feral cats, who were hanging around our place. My wife, Sally, contacted No More Homeless Pets, who put us onto a plan to trap the cats, and have them neutered by a veterinarian at the low price of $10 each. The catch is that after the neutering we then had some cats we were caretaking; not really as pets, just as guests.

Sally and I built a shelter for the two black feral boys we called Black and Decker. We took two Sterilite storage containers, one smaller than the other, cut a hole in the end of both of them, insulated the spaces between the smaller and larger containers with newspapers and styrofoam, and put a pad inside our little cathouse.

They both used the house, came by our back porch twice a day to be fed, until just before Christmas when the larger of the two cats was killed by a car. I renamed the smaller cat Little Brother, and he was by himself for quite a time.

Since then he's acquired a couple of buddies. One may be his mother, who we saw when he and his brother were kittens, and the other may be a stepbrother we have named Whitepaws. They all show up in the morning and evening for their meals.

Sally and I went under the porch in the backyard on Sunday to clean out the cathouse, and found it to be in really good condition. The outside was dirty from the weather, but the inside was nice and cozy.

Because of the nice weather, Little Brother (the black cat), and Whitepaws (the Siamese cross) have been sleeping on a padded wicker chair on my back porch. I got this picture the other night while they were bumming around, waiting to get fed. Sometimes Sally slips them a treat after dinner. She's pretty softhearted when it comes to animals and grandbabies, spoiling both of them.

You can see if you look closely that both cats have the tips of their right ears cut off. The veterinarian does that so if the cats are ever trapped again and taken to the vet they'll know they've already had the sterilizing procedure. We had Little Brother neutered, but have no idea who trapped Whitepaws and had him fixed.

Despite the fact that these cats are still very skittish and won't come to us, they are very endearing. Whitepaws likes to run around the kitchen if we leave the sliding glass door open while we're fixing his dinner. There may come a time when Whitepaws can be tamed, if only slightly.

My last pet cat died in January, 2000 and it was a heartbreaking thing to watch her die. I said I'd never have another pet. My wife pet sits other people's dogs and cats, and there are things about pet owning I don't miss--like cleaning up a litter box, for instance--but I miss the animals themselves.

A friend told me I'll get "brownie points in heaven" for taking care of these ferals, but that's not my motive. There's just a lot of suffering in the world. Maybe it's my way of alleviating an infinitesimal part of that. Or trying to build up a little good karma.


As a school district employee who visits 29 schools a day, including five high schools, I find stories like the Bailey, Colorado tragedy hitting close to home. I'm sure our administration and school district police department do too.

The fact is you don't know who is walking into a school. They are public places. The doors are open. I have seen parents who are much stranger looking than the guy who held the girls hostage in Bailey. Nowadays people can look as slobby as they want and you don't know if they are parents or some transients walking in off the street. It can be in any part of town, affluent or low income.

I've often wondered what I'd do if I ran into a situation where someone was shooting in a school. I just don't know. I hope it never happens in any of our schools, but we have had lockdowns when suspicious characters are in the buildings, until they can be located and ejected. Our police take away several weapons a day from the kids, but so far they've had no indications of any Columbine-type plots.

On the one hand you have to make schools accessible, but on the other hand you are sometimes letting in people you definitely wouldn't want anywhere near your children. The scary thing is that sometimes those undesirable-looking folks could be the parents of your child's classmate.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Postcard From The Edge Of Sanity

I was going through a drawer in my basement studio and came across an envelope full of old pictures, postcards and birthday cards. One postcard immediately popped out at me. I bought it some years ago at an antique store because it made me laugh. A sardonic laugh, though. It's a penny postcard, probably from the 1930s, of the Utah State Mental Hospital in Provo.

Who the hell would send a postcard of a state mental hospital?! What would you say on the back, "Having a wonderful time (receiving electroshock therapy daily)…wish you were here."

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s the name "Provo" meant mental hospital. We'd say, "You need to go to Provo," if someone was acting strange. Nowadays Provo means Brigham Young University, but the state mental hospital is still there.
I read a news article the other day saying that the state kicked in some money for an additional 20 to 30 beds at the state hospital, but that there is a shortage of psychiatrists. My advice is, if you're a psychiatrist needing a job, they need you.

Before you get an idea I'm just another insensitive clod who makes fun of people who are mentally ill, I'll tell you that my mother was mentally ill for years before she got Alzheimer's. We never had to send her to Provo, or to any other facility, either, because her mental illnesses were mostly paranoia and delusional, and we thought she was bizarre, but not mentally ill. She had exhibited symptoms all of my life, but the illnesses only took over her life in the few years before she was put in the Alzheimer's care center.

As my own therapist put it, 10 years ago, after hearing stories about my mother, "Growing up with a mentally ill parent is one of the hardest things to do." It can't help but have an effect, emotionally, and maybe someday after Mom has died I'll be able to tell people what it was like, but for now let's just say that while I don't have all of Mom's problems, I can see that I have a few of them. Genes will tell.

Like a lot of uneducated people, I thought of mental illness not as a brain problem but something else. Who knows what I thought? People thought "crazy people" were crazy because it was their own fault, maybe their parents drove them crazy, or maybe they were being punished by God. We have so many derogatory terms to describe mental illness, and we are still superstitious, fearing the disorder rather than trying to understand it.

I think it was what kept my mother from asking for help. Mental illness was so stigmatized that to be admitted to a state mental hospital was tantamount to being convicted of murder. At least it was in Mom's eyes, and she passed that prejudice along to me. My brother and I finally got her to see a doctor about two years before she finally had to be put into the care center. One of the last lucid things I remember her asking me was, "Is he going to tell me I'm insane?"

NAMI is an organization devoted to education about mental illness, and is in its tenth year.
Right now after a lifetime with Mom, of battles with brain disorders and quirky personality traits, I'm a lot more sympathetic with people who have those problems, either with themselves or a family member.

Alzheimer's is a destructive disease which has robbed my mother of what quality of life she had left, even with mental illness. But the mental illness took my mother away from the joys of life many, many years ago.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Gay Bashing, 1950s Style

Recently two friends of my wife went to Vancouver, BC, Canada, to get married. It was mostly symbolic, because when they returned the the U.S. the marriage wasn't recognized, since they were both women.

The fact that a country would recognize a union between two people of the same sex is a major step forward for gay people. My wife and I aren't gay (as Seinfeld says, "Not that there's anything wrong with being gay!") but we know a lot of gay people. Everyone does. They just might not realize they do, because a lot of gay people are still in the closet.

It was especially true in past generations, when gay-bashing was kind of a national sport, like telling racist jokes, perpetuating stereotypes about all people who weren't the "typical" heterosexual white American. If you were able to hide your true identity to avoid such prejudice, wouldn't you?

I was going through one of my old paperbacks, Washington Confidential, when I came across this chapter, Garden Of Pansies, which might be the most anti-gay material I've read in a mainstream book. I've scanned it and am reproducing it so you can see for yourself how easy it was to publish such a screed in 1951.

I doubt that today any mainstream publisher would publish something that includes every gay pejorative known to the English language: fairy, faggot, swish, queer, used in a totally derogatory way. The authors even admit that their experiences with homosexuals were with people in entertainment, and that was OK with them. It was just all of those damn homosexuals in the government with whom they had problems…

Authors Lait and Mortimer published two or three other books in the popular "Confidential" series, including New York Confidential and Chicago Confidential. The titles probably inspired the popular magazine, Confidential, which, along with its other scurrilous gossip, liked to "out" gay entertainers. In a metaphorical sense, it was like hunting foxes, flushing them out of the brush and then killing them. It could mean the end of a career.

Pages 1 & 2 (152K)

Pages 3 & 4 (157k)

Pages 5 & 6 (151K)

Pages 7 & 8 (131K)

Pages 8 & 9 (144K)

Page 10 (42K)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

40 Years Of Star Trek

Good lord. Can it really have been 40 years since Star Trek first came on the air?

A local movie critic just wrote in his weekly column that the 40th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek was a week ago. Can that be possible that those characters we've lived with for so long have been around for, well, so long?

Guess so. It's all part of the general feeling I have that my life is being spent in a starship going at warp factor 9.

Forty years ago this month I was in bed, sicker than I've ever been, either before or since. I'd picked up a nasty strain of infectious mononucleosis coupled with tonsillitis. I had to quit my job (no sick leave), I couldn't eat (only a diet drink called Metracal, and is that still being sold?) and my girlfriend dumped me. I was sick in bed for about a month, but after a couple of days she got bored waiting for me to get better.

I was a science fiction fan, so I may have watched those early episodes of Star Trek, or maybe not. I don't remember. In those days I was usually out doing something. I hung out at a local club and listened to music; I had friends, and I had dates. I didn't spend a lot of time in the 1960s watching TV. The only reason I might have seen them on their first run is because I was too sick to do anything else.

When I did watch Star Trek, which was in reruns after my discharge from the Army, I just didn't care much for it. I know its original fans point to it with great affection, but despite the ground it did break--racial diversity in the cast members, for one thing--it was still, as creator Gene Roddenberry had said when selling the concept to network executives, "Wagon Train in space."

Science fiction often leaves out the "science" part of its name, but Star Trek was especially bad at that. The Enterprise's "warp drive" notwithstanding, things in space are very, very far apart, which is probably why we're not zipping over to other star systems right now. I found the Enterprise's ability to hop from galaxy to galaxy really hard to accept.

People who love Star Trek don't worry about that, though, not letting reality intrude on a good fantasy.

It's really been forty years, though, since Star Trek and my bout with mono? Good lord a'mercy. Beam me the hell outta here, Scotty.


Reality TV is one thing, but really good realistic fictional TV is hard to find. HBO's The Wire is that show for me. It's in its fourth season now, and I've followed it since the first episode of the first season. I find it as challenging to follow as any novel, which it's been likened to.

The characters live in a dystopian version of the city of Baltimore, which can't make the real mayor and citizens, and especially the Visitors Bureau, very happy. The show is about inner city crime, drugs, despair, politics, more despair…

Jacob Weisberg of Slate Magazine has written a review of the series which really puts to shame anything I could write about it. Read this, because he has put into words what I want to say.


I went to a union picnic Saturday. As my union is wont to do, they planned it weeks ago and the date happened to land on the coldest Saturday since last winter. Dark, threatening clouds filled the sky. The picnic was inside a pavilion which acted like a wind tunnel, funneling the cold air right over our barbecued hamburgers, giving the refrigerator effect, instant chilling.

I'm sure the weather dampened everyone's spirits. Not too many people showed up. My coworker, who is our union rep, was the MC, working the microphone, giving away door prizes. Someone commented about him, "Somebody take that hambone's mike away," but no one could have wrestled it out of his fingers.

I looked around at the several dozen people (out of a potential several hundred members plus families) who did show up, and except for my buddy on the loudspeaker, not one of them was anyone I knew. I've been with the school district for 30 years, and don't know most of the people I work with. It's the problem of working for an organization with thousands of employees, teaching and non-teaching alike.

The cold and not winning a door prize finally drove me out. I'm sure the goal of the picnic was to sign up new members and I hope they were able to do that. In today's world a working person needs all of the help he/she can get. Plus, they need hamburgers that haven't gone cold by the time you slap the condiments on them.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bunker Hunker

Is it safe to come out yet? I've been hunkered in my bunker the past week or so, waiting for another 9/11-styled terror attack. In trying to get past my paranoid fears, the one thing that has kept me going has been my faith and trust in our wonderful President, George W. Bush. He is standing tall atop the ramparts of freedom, staring down those crazy Islamofascists.

If I was one of those Islamofascists*, I'd be shaking in my pointy-toed shoes and burnoose to know that the United States has a leader like George W., who is ready, willing and able to send the best of the country's young men and women to fight and die, get blown up or shot, horribly maimed, have their lives and their families' lives ruined, all for that ideal of freedom for all humankind.

That makes me sit down in my basement bunker feeling pretty secure, lemme tellya.

I also like the way our leader has no qualms about invoking the images and remembrance of 9/11 to further political advances for his political party. I mean, here's a man who, despite liberal dissing, is a conservationist, because he knows when to combine topics. He can tie two things together, saving his voice, and ultimately global warming from his oral exhalations, by bringing up the fact that the Muslim world hates us and wants us to die--horribly--and that if Democrats are elected our enemies will be streaming across the border like the entire Latin populations of Mexico, Central and South America are now doing!

Needless to say, during this past solemn occasion of the 9/11 anniversary, it is not necessary for our great leader to mention also that our economy is in ruins, the rich are getting filthily richer, millions of Americans have no health care, we're spending a billion a day on a war that can't be won, illegals are flooding our country and overwhelming our social systems, and most of us are counting the days until January 21, 2009, when he's out of office…

…he's there now, daring those enemies of freedom and truth. Using other people to do his fighting, mind you, but that's what great leaders do, isn't it?

God bless George W. Bush, and God bless the United States of America.


*Islamofascist sounds more like a medical condition, like plantar fasciitis.


While in my bunker I had a chance to look at some old magazines. (Amazing how the topics in my blog can jump around, isn't it?) A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in a mall, and noticed the windows of The Gap. There was Audrey Hepburn, jumping up and down in a couple of great old photos. Both Sally and I agree, they just don't make stars like Audrey anymore. With all respect to Scarlett Johanssen, who I love, in the days that Audrey Hepburn was a major star, the stars had real fabulous faces: I'm thinking of Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, as well as Audrey.

I found this old Town and Country magazine from 2003. Even years after her death, Audrey could still be counted on to sell some magazines. Is that a face, I ask you. Is that a face?!

Ciao for now, El Postino

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Drama Trauma

I hate cell phones. I carry one, but hate it. Those phones have become a major distraction in our lives. There is also a matter of common courtesy, which a lot of people don't observe, and that is not talking in public on a cell phone so the world can hear your business.

I was pretty annoyed the other day to be in a thrift store looking for books to resell, when I heard the familiar yakking of someone talking loudly on a cell phone, as if the rest of the world didn't exist. However, this call was intriguing. I looked around the bookcase to see a woman on a phone, saying, "You'd better pull over! Does the hospital know you're coming? I'll call the paramedics! I'll stay on the line with you, keep talking."

Another woman, a bystander, handed the first woman her own cell phone and she called 911 to report that her husband was on Riverdale Road heading for the emergency room, and he was feeling faint and she was afraid he'd pass out while driving. In the meantime she would go back to her own phone saying, "Don't drive! Pull over! Let the paramedics find you!"

The guy apparently decided to go his own way, faintness or not. I noticed a crowd starting to gather around the woman, and she saw them too. At that point she became the star of a play, a movie or TV show. She started making big flourishes with her hands, her voice took on an added sense of urgency. She lost contact with her husband and called her son, telling him in her most dramatic tones, "Your dad is on the road and I want you to trace his route to the hospital to find out if he's crashed!"

The crowd moved in a little bit closer. Oboy. This was like a movie, huh? And it didn't even cost anything for admission! To save you from suspense I'll cut to the bottom line…the man made it to the hospital and was admitted, the son made it to the hospital to be with his dad, the woman handed back the phone to the lady who had volunteered it, and as a crowd we all went back to our business. It was the kind of extraordinary thing that a cell phone does; it puts bystanders into someone else's life, even if only for a few moments. You get one part of a conversation, and our minds provide the rest of the story.

It's still ruder than hell, though, to talk like that in public. I still hate cell phones for just that reason.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rocky Rolls

Thanks to Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson for not kowtowing to the Bush juggernaut that blew into Utah on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. He gave a magnificent speech during an anti-Bush rally which drew about 4000, in comparison to the 300 that showed up for the pro-Bush rally. Among other things, Rocky proclaimed the Bush administration to be the worst presidency in the history of our country.

A lot of Utahns are outraged by Rocky; not just because of his politics, but as an environmentalist, and as a major proponent of gay rights.

Personally, I think it's refreshing to have a guy in this reddest of the red states who doesn't bend to the will of the majority. It makes for a lot of redfaced Republicans, that's for sure. Seeing them all spitting, coughing and strangling on their own vitriol was worth a lot to me.

The Bush forces have gone the extra mile to defuse criticism by basically smothering babies in their cribs, before they get a chance to do their own thinking. This latest talk of Islam as "fascist," or anyone who disagrees with our rotten foreign policy as "fascists," would be more laughable if it wasn't so dangerous. As I recall, among their other sins, fascists were enemies of a free press, or a freethinking populace.

The Bush people have started this fascism theme just recently. All four of the major players, Rummy, Cheney, Rice and Bush, have used the term in one form or another in their most recent speeches. I imagine them standing around in the Oval Office doing a four-part harmony as they rehearse their use of the word "fascist."

The old tactic of accusing anti-war people of being anti-troops is getting old. Recently I heard a gold star mother, whose Marine son was recently killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad say, "If we don't stay the course in Iraq then my son will have died in vain."

I really feel bad that her son died. And I believe I can be antiwar and still pro troops, because I think if you don't want her son to have died in vain, then why put more soldiers and Marines in harm's way so they can be killed? There comes a time when things just have to stop before more people get killed. It's called cutting our losses, and it's a viable alternative to throwing soldiers at potentially deadly situations so that some other soldier will not have died in vain.

Cindy Sheehan's son also died in Iraq. All she wanted was for George Bush to sit down with her and assure her that her family's sacrifice was not in vain. He wouldn't do that, preferring to speak only to people who agree with him beforehand, like the aforementioned mother of the dead Marine.

What people forget about G. Dubya Bush is that he was a CEO in private business for many years before following his dad into politics. CEO's don’t take kindly to criticism. They want sycophants and yes-people around them. So does our president.

The other thing that has gotten my ire raised about this week and the response of the right to Rocky Anderson's speechifying is the harsh criticism that, unlike other mayors around the country, he doesn't show deference to the president. The president, no matter how much you disagree with him personally, is still the president and deserves respect, say those critics.

Bullshit! Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit! What everyone keeps forgetting is that George W. Bush is not our CEO, he's our president. HE WORKS FOR US, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!

If you think I have to respect the president when you can rip the mayor, then I have to ask you where you put your X when you voted, and whether you are aware that a president, like a mayor, is a public official, voted in.

Finally, yesterday the Salt Lake Tribune had an article about Bush's hotel stay while in town. He stayed at the luxury Grand America Hotel in a $4,500 a night presidential suite. How the hell can any hotel room cost $4,500?! Did we pay for this luxury room? The article also stated he ordered four cigars. I remember how much trouble Bill Clinton got into over one cigar.

Ciao for now, El Postino