The Desert Rat
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A matter of survival . . .

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A New Beginning



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Saturday April 11, 2009 - Reign of Terror Draws To A Close

Chock up another win for President Barack Obama's first 100 days. I guess.

I recall the day it all started10 back in October, aught-six: Those beady eyes glaring at me from the tangles of my back yard, Freddy-like claws slashing at my tree wells, CBR11 deposits spread innocuously across my patio -- weapons of mass destruction so effectively placed as to eradicate even a Black Widow Spider.

And the guerrilla warfare that followed -- traps, bait, leg hooks. But days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. City and government reinforcements were solicited -- running the gamut from the City of Phoenix barking dog line to the Humane Society to Arizona Game and Fish, food banks, feed and pet stores - and back again to the City of Phoenix. But to no avail. "You catch 'em and we'll eat 'em," was the mantra.

And the silence from 3-On-Your-Side was deafening.

So a self-help group was formed, a community militia was organized, and finally -- little by little -- the tables began to turn. One chicken was run to near exhaustion in a circus performance by grounds-keepers that will not soon be forgotten -- captured and spirited away to a country farm. Another was hit by a car in a daring escape to the after-life. A third managed to reach freedom in a stories-high flight across the gauntlet of 35th Avenue and was never seen again.

And the lone remaining fowl, no chicken, has managed to stay underground -- lo these past two years -- scratching a living from the earth by day and hanging out in some well concealed lair by night.

Until today. Would you believe that chicken stepped right out of the shadows into full daylight and gave himself up? He did. He walked up and marched right into a cat trap12, and he pulled the hatch closed behind him!

Now, getting back to Barack Obama, it's the most likely explanation I can offer. He's an excellent speaker, you know; and he walks on water? I know he talked that fowl-feathered fiend into giving up.

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Friday February 20, 2009 - Bureaucracy and the Common Man (Conversations overheard in a waiting room)

"I'm trying to sign in, but it won't take the ink; the sheet seems waxy."

"Sign down here," (pointing), "you're trying to write where the adhesive sign-in strip has already been removed. Here; please fill out these forms while you're waiting."

"You already have all this information; we've been with doctor Rothchild for years."

"Yes, but this is a new office; we have to enter this stuff into the computer. Doctor Rothchild works for Abrasive Medical Group now, and they're computerized."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Doctor Rothchild works for Abrasive Medical Group? Did you hear that?"

"I think she means he's affiliated with Abrasive -- it's a group of doctors associated with Baptismal Hospital."

"Look at these forms. What a bunch of bullshit! They know all this already; they've got all our files. Employer. . .insurance plan. . .insurance guarantor? They know that, too. Shittt! Street address. . .they made copies of my card. Give me my card. . ." "There's no street address on here; shit!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Excuse me, ma'am. This paperwork says 'VHS.' I'm having trouble getting the initials 'VHS' out of 'Abrasive Medical Group.' Does that stand for "Video Cassette Tape?"

"That's 'Vanguilder Health Systems.' It's the owner of Abrasive Medical Group."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"I don't understand. . .it says 'VHS' on this form. What does 'VHS' stand for?

"'Vanguilder Health Systems.' They own Abrasive Medical Group."

"I need another set of paperwork for my husband to fill out so he doesn't have to do it when he comes in. He's a patient of Dr. Rothchild, too."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Employer. . .shhh. . .insurance plan. . .shittt. . .insurance guarantor. . .shi. . . They already know all this stuff. . .shhh. . .street address. . .they ask the same questions over and over! Shi. . .shit. . .sh. . .more and more stupid shit. . ."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Hello! You found the office! How are you this afternoon?"

"Hi, doctor; you have no idea how strung out I am. I thought the clinic was going to send the paperwork ahead. They didn't do it, and now I'm not going to be able to see you. I've never seen an office that's so unreliable."

"Don't worry; we'll get you taken care of. . ."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Dr. Rothchild said 'Grand Canyon Surgery Center'. I'm trying to look it up. Is that 3032 W Glendale?"

"It's 4042 W Thunderbird; 'Crayon Surgery Center.'"

"I don't find that address; I'm checking another directory."

"They're supposed to be scheduling my surgery, but I haven't heard a thing. 'Crayon Surgery Center.'"

"Are you sure it's 'Crayon Surgery Center?'"

"Yes, that's the doctor that writes my OxyContin prescription; 'Crayon' or 'Contin' or 'Crayola Surgery Center,' or something like that. . ."

"'Crichton Surgical Center' in Mesa?"

"No, 4042 W Thunderbird; 'Brighton Surgical Center'. . ."

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Wednesday March 28, 2007 - Schmuckers and Cluckers

With the recent news that our third chicken has somehow dodged fate and, no dumb-cluck, managed to reach sanctuary in a back yard on the distant side of 35th Avenue, it looks like the grand chicken fiasco of aught-six and seven is drawing to a close like a Subaru in deep sand. Although apparently residing close by, number four is to this day glimpsed only rarely -- such as today.

Our gentleman 'o the 'hood appears at the front door.

"I had to work up the courage to come over here and ask this, because we have our differences," he states by way of opening the conversation.

"You mean you have your differences with me," I reply. "I have no thoughts about you. I really have insufficient basis for knowing you or your opinions about anything."

"OK," he says, "I had to work up the courage to come over here and ask you this, because I have my differences with you."

"No need for such concern," I reply; "what can I do for you?"

He wants to use our fax machine if we have one.

"My landlord asked me to send a fax, but I can't get his fax machine to work."

Our fax software quit when we upgraded our operating systems, I explain, and we haven't replaced it yet.

"Otherwise, I'd be happy to let you use it. Sorry to disappoint you. I've always had trouble with fax machines, too; there's no shame in that. Why don't you call your landlord and ask him to coach you through it?"

He turns and I watch him disappear around the corner of the garage, a lone rooster skittering ahead. Then I spot it: a gooey quarter-sized deposit of something on the front walk that looks a little like a bubble of blackberry jam in a puddle of cream.

I step inside for a paper towel, resolving to stay away from the gentleman 'o the 'hood in the future. I don't need it in my life; a desert rat trapped in the city needs all his energy to focus on his own survival -- such as replacing his own fax software.

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Monday February 26, 2007 - Physical Intimidation

It has been a bad new year's for our fowl feathered friends. One was recently captured by the community landscaping crew in a small maneuver that cost those involved (and there were many) several hours and a few injuries. They stomped through back yards like a herd of wild elephants, sailing and tumbling over walls until both pursued and pursuer were exhausted. That they caught anything but a cold was indeed a feat beyond imagination in the cool February air. Casualties included several pair of shoes, a number of shrubs, and one pursuee.

The deceased died unceremoniously in the intersection at Maryland and 35th Avenues, at the wheel of a Toyota Camry. The prisoner went to live on the farm of a member of the landscaping crew. One escapee managed a clear flight to the far side of 35th Avenue and has never been seen again, and the exhausted remaining pursuee laid low in the back yard of a neighbor's house and has stayed the several months since.

One afternoon as I pull into the carport the gentleman 'o the 'hood beckons to me to step over into his driveway. As I approach he waves a well wrinkled envelope in the air and gestures erratically.

"Are you trying to physically intimidate me?"

"What do you mean?" I respond.

"Are you trying to physically intimidate me with these messages you're leaving on my door?"

I wonder where all this aggression is coming from. His arms wave wildly when he speaks, and he appears almost to be jumping up and down. There is a threatening scowl on his face.

"Let's see that," I counter; "This isn't for you; it has the homeowner's name on it."

I point out the name, written in large capitol letters across the envelope.

"Yeah, I saw that after I opened it; but why are you leaving it on my door? Are you trying to physically intimidate me?"

"It should be obvious," I snap; "It's not your house and this is HOA business -- the homeowner holds an office on the Board -- it has nothing to do with you and you have no right to open it. Has the owner seen it?"

"No, but I was going to give it to him when he gets home from work."

He shoves the now almost wadded up envelope into his pocket.

"Why are you so angry?" I press.

A white vehicle passes behind me and turns into our driveway; it is my wife arriving from work.

"You said you were going to write a letter for me9, and it's been almost three months and I haven't heard a word from you," he retorts loudly, arms waving wildly again. "I think you're trying to physically intimidate me."

"Hey," I counter, "You agreed to make a list of the points you wanted covered in the letter. Have you done that?"

"No, but I knew you didn't want to write it."

"You didn't give me a chance," I continue; what can you expect if you don't tell me what to write? How do I know what you feel?"

A peculiar look comes over his face.

"You're very slick with words," he says, a sort of half smile crossing his face.

His arms drop to his side and for the first time since this conversation began it looks like he may be relaxing a little.

"You really shouldn't act so threateningly," I comment; "someone may get the wrong idea."

"I have a problem with authority," he reminds me.

It seems like a good time to change the subject.

"I see the groundskeepers have rounded up the chickens -- actually, only one of them."

"Yeah, one of them; and another one got hit by a car -- thanks to them."

"How are you doing now?"

"I'm hangin' in there -- taking it a day at a time. I feed some birds out back and that keeps my mind off some of the other stuff. Some days are better than others, but as long as I have my girls to feed I'll do OK."

"Glad to hear it," I respond.

"I really don't see what harm it does to have a few chickens decorating the neighborhood," he says. The arm waving and posturing start up again. "I still think you're trying to physically intimidate me."

"I have to go."

Girls, huh, I note to myself as I re-cross the street; so he's the one feeding the last chicken.

"What the devil was that arm waving about?" my wife asks as I enter the house.

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Sunday June 18, 2006 - A Tribute Thailand

Yeah, it's been a long haul, but here we are finally back on the ground again.

The bedroom appears to have been designed for our oversized furniture -- although it is close -- with less than a quarter inch to spare in the recess that perfects the installation. And now it's time to turn to organizing the computer room.

Our computer desks have been beat to a pulp in the moves from Phoenix to Memphis and back, and a new house provides the opportunity we have been seeking to justify replacing them. We unpack and assemble the new discount market desks, manufactured apparently from Siamese Gum wood. That they are even made from real wood and real wood veneer is remarkable considering the $78 price tag.

"Look at this," my wife exclaims holding up a strip of hand-torn cardboard padding that has protected the wooden pieces from a tightly-drawn containment strap.

It contains a message written neatly in semi-script hand printing:

"Made in Thailand. I love Thailand. . ." one message pronounces.

Another reads, "made Aom Gom from Thailand or Hinrae City," as nearly as can be interpreted; and is signed, "Tharkradam Sanamchaiket chacheong chao. 24160."

Always ready for an unexpected encounter we revel with the unknown authors of this very human display of pride and adventurousness. It is, in these modern times of unprecedented mass and individual communication, tantamount to setting afloat a message in a bottle. While these messages may stand an infinitely greater likelihood of being found, they are no doubt much less likely to produce a response in our jaded world.

We are not totally ignorant of Thailand. It is a country of enormous pride, rich culture and historic depth, a country whose modern technology is built upon the stability of a peace loving people whose ancestry goes back thousands of years. Our 93 year old mother visited Thailand back in the seventies when a family member was there on behalf of a burgeoning computer company, and an aunt spent years there working with the poor in the service of Her Majesty the Queen and the American Federation of Churches8. It is a credit to the Thai people indeed that they had the grace and wisdom to manage the message of western missionaries without injury to their own well based philosophies and religious doctrine.

But back to our computer desks, it takes ingenuity and dedication to make a bland endeavor memorable, and this desert rat would like to acknowledge the effort that you, who packed those desks for shipment, have exerted -- not just for the messages, but right on down to the perfection of the woodwork, the packing and assembly instruction, and the presentation of the hardware.

Thank you. Your desks are by far the highest quality we have seen for the price and we appreciate that they were manufactured and packaged with love in Thailand. Thank you, and a tip of the sombrero to you. You made our day and we have posted your messages among our memorabilia.

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Thursday December 28, 2006 - Wild Chickens Terrorize Phoenix Neighborhoods

For months we've watched chickens peck their way through our yards and our lives obliterating tree wells and flower gardens, eating shrubs, spreading mulch piles, awakening us as early as 2:00 AM with their crowing -- and leaving deposits of chicken manure on our front walks, patios and private breeze-ways. Their circuit hits every house in our subdivision and adjoining neighborhoods.

Who owns these beaked terrorists? To our knowledge, no one. Whatever their origin they're now apparently wild guests of the City of Phoenix.

This morning, in exasperation at finding them actually nesting in our back yard I shape a length of stiff clothesline wire into a classic chicken hook in hopes of catching one by the leg -- a technique used on farms in western Kansas to secure an evening meal from the flock. Although I did it many times as a child I am unable to get within ten feet of these birds; when I approach too closely they simply take flight and light on a tree branch about three stories up.

Next I prepare a trap baited with popcorn: a large rectangular basket supported by a stick, with a rope attached to one end so that when a chicken comes to get the popcorn I can yank the cord from my Arcadia door and drop the trap. I spend hours over a period of days in the living room, awaiting just the right moment. Although the popcorn is quickly picked up around and just under the edges of the trap no chicken ever steps far enough under to reach the inner-most bait -- at least not while I 'm watching. By the end of each day the popcorn is always gone, apparently grabbed during the fleeting moments I am out of the room.

Surely, I delude myself, the City of Phoenix should be able to help us rid ourselves of a peck of impertinent poultry. Thus begins a three week exercise in futility that takes us through numerous city departments, food banks, the Humane Society, feed stores, Arizona Game and Fish, the Arizona Department of Agriculture, and finally back to the City of Phoenix. The circular, common thread is the finger pointing, "we don't do that, but I can tell you who does. . .".

In desperation I fire off a letter to our local 3-On-Your-Side TV station, but their silence is deafening.

Disgruntled but resolved, I have become obsessed with a need to show up these do-nothing chicken livers.

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Friday July 18, 2008 - Telephone Snex

"Yes," I respond; "Two large pizzas -- one Extravaganza and one pepperoni with extra cheese. What is your address?"

"You're going to pick it up?"


"We're at 5833 N. 35th Avenue, just south of Circle-K."

"Which Circle-K is that?" I ask.

There are hundreds in Phoenix, and at least a dozen on 35th Avenue.

"You have that many streets named Circle-K?"

"No," I chuckle; "Circle-K is a franchised convenience market. Are you near Bethany Home Road or are you further north than that?"

"I can't find any Bethany homes in your area," she responds; "But we're easy to find -- we're on 35th Avenue just south of Circle-K."

"But what cross-street. . ."

There is an audible click as she hangs up the telephone.

"Another call center in India?" My soul mate asks, distractedly.

"I guess," I reply; ". . .and she had such an attractive accent."

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Sunday November 5, 2006 - Birds of a Feather

The problem with keeping chickens, either voluntarily or involuntarily as in the case of our community chicken flock, is that their continual pecking and scratching produces a certain regular degradation of vulnerable yard features such as shrub beds and tree wells -- it is my tree wells that I have been working on this morning. Without regularly building them up with a hoe the periodic watering that is necessary in Valley of the Sun summers would flood the back yard that we're still preparing for planting; but before I've completed the task my wife calls me inside to speak with someone at the front door.

It is the gentleman o' the 'hood. As I step through the doorway he's lifting his foot to inspect the bottom of his shoe; it looks like he's stepped in another chicken poop on our front walk.

"When would you have some time to talk to me about something important?" he asks.

We're up to our elbows in our own alligator swamp this morning, but I tell him to come back in a couple of hours. When he reappears I step out for a stroll with him around the 'hood. We walk in silence until I prompt him for the reason he has requested audience.

"I've been observing you," he begins, "and the more I see, and the more I think about it, the more I know that you are in a unique position to help me with my problem."

That's scary.

"Do go on," I prompt despite a sudden feeling that I shouldn't even be here.

We turn the corner; chickens scattering ahead.

"You see, I know that as someone in a mixed-race marriage you must be a very empathetic person. . . ," he continues.

I wince, realizing that his whole basis for talking to me is askew.

". . .and I've seen you deal with the Mexican Nationals that work on cars next door to you, and I know that you can help me with a problem I have. You see, the devil has hold of me, and there are days that I can just barely hang on; and I fight him all the time and nobody has any idea how hard it is; and I'm grateful to be able to stay with my folks while I get myself straightened out, and I just need some understanding until I get it all together; and I have a little trouble with authority figures and I got fired from my last job; and I'm very thankful to the community for giving me this job, and I don't know what I would do without it; and I see it as a sign and I just want to repay my folks for taking me in, and I'm just taking it a day at a time and focusing on this job, and I just don't want to blow it, and. . ."

"Whoa!" I interrupt. "What is it you'd like me to do?"

We walk in silence again for a while, and then he begins again.

"I'm just grateful that everyone has given me a chance and I don't want to let anyone down, and I just try to get up and focus on work everyday; and the devil has these great dynamics at work on me, and when I do drugs I keep going out to bars and. . ."

[here, the editor has cut several minutes of monologue]

". . .and everybody else is against me, and I've observed how empathetic you are, you know, and I have trouble with authority, and a lot of them don't like me, and I want to show them that I appreciate everyone for giving me a chance to earn some money."

That it was a mistake for me to step out with him at all is a fact now banging me in the face as if with a two-by-four. After twenty-five minutes we've circled the neighborhood twice and I still don't know what it is that he wants from me. Yet, he clearly needs some kind of help and for a moment I feel the weight of the responsibility.

"Why don't we walk down to the corner," I suggest; "Speaking of drugs, I need something with caffeine in it."

Out on the thoroughfare he begins again. He rolls on as we walk, but his message is still eluding me. Soon we're sitting on a bench in the afternoon sunshine with a soft drink in hand. After a few sips I can feel the calming effect of the caffeine and resolve again to direct the conversation to some -- any -- conclusion.

"I'll try to help," I break in; "what exactly do you want me to do?"

"Through this job God has provided a way to help me escape from the Devil. You're in a unique position to help me: you're my savior."

"Let's not get too melodramatic," I respond; "but go on."

"I want you to write a letter and present it at your next meeting."

"What kind of letter?"

"I think I can make it if my employer will put me under contract to reject drugs and force me to be tested every couple of days as a condition of my employment. You're good with words; I've read your stuff. The only way to get them to do it is for you to present a letter and demand that they require drug tests as a condition of my employment."

Plop! There it is, squarely in my lap; and it only took an hour and fifteen minutes. Resting his case he leans back and takes a long first sip on his soft drink.

"You know," I respond, "there is no easy way to stop taking drugs. The only way I know of to be successful is to accept one-hundred percent of the responsibility yourself and do it the hard way. And the best support mechanism ever developed is a support group of peers in a twelve-step program. They're the only ones who know exactly what it's like and how best to provide support; and they'll do it 24-7 if you need that."

"No, no; this is the only way."

I can easily see that he isn't ready for any final solution.

"Give me a few minutes to think about this," I respond.

That isn't hard; as we walk back to the 'hood he resumes a one-sided diatribe about bars, women, the devil, drugs, race, and who-knows what else. During the whole time my mind is frantically telling me the whole thing is a very bad idea.

Back in the neighborhood, I make my case amid clucks and flaps of fleeing fowl.

"I'll write the letter," I tell him, "but I'll be honest with you. It must be signed and presented by you. If I represented such a letter as coming from myself I'd be drummed out of the community for sticking my nose where it doesn't belong -- into someone else's business. Clearly, clearly, they wouldn't understand why I am involved in it. And besides, they'll respond more empathetically to you if they understand that you are the one who wants this and that it comes from you in all sincerity."

He says no more, but I can tell he's unhappy about my decision. I ask him to make me a simple list of the things he wants me to say in the letter, and send him on his way.

"Let me know when you have it, and I'll write the letter."

"I will; I will," he says as we shake hands; "and thanks."

I return to the house; I have scratched tree wells to rebuild.

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Wednesday September 19, 2007 - It Works Both Ways

We note with some relief the overturning of Mychale Bell's sentence, the first to be tried of the Jena Six. For those with open eyes the ongoing teenage scuffles prove racial hatred is alive and well in the small Texas town.

"I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen," threatens La Salle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, oblivious to the adolescent nature of the scuffle and the benign action undertaken by the black students to avoid acceleration of the squabble.

Experience clearly shows that most Blacks hold themselves to a higher standard than do whites. The predominant attitude, "The Black students should have known not to get involved, because if arrested they obviously would not get a fair trial." It's not a question of guilt or innocence, but of a broken system. And their fears were born out by the verdict.

The outcome is unremarkable to me: Mychale Bell was not innocent until proven guilty.

And in other news, Cirque 'd O.J. has just opened in Las Vegas, 13 years after the paparazzi stalkers filmed his drive across Los Angeles to say goodbye to his mother -- for all to see on live national television. The only "chase" part of the "low speed incident" was on the part of so-called "news" media looking for a cheap thrill.

There seems no doubt that the man was guilty of murder. But keep in mind in the pending media circus that O.J. is not guilty until proven innocent.

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Tuesday October 9, 2007 - So That's Our Problem. . .

NPR - Diane Rehm Show: Dan Morain, a reporter for the LA Times, points out that the United States spends more on dog food than we spend on electing the leader of the free world. That's it -- I should have realized sooner -- that's why we wound up with a dog for president.

Other comments by famous people recently siphoned from the same source would appear to provide more backing to this notion that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, to wit:

George Bernard Shaw - quoted on NPR, 4/18/2007 said,

"Hypocrisy is only bad when it's improperly used."

And Abba Eban, an Israeli, said during the 1967 war,

"When all else fails men turn to reason."

I guess all else hasn't failed yet, although I really don't know what's left. But we'll get there. According to commentator Eric Sevareid,

"Civilization is only about seven meals away from anarchy."

I figure we've got about a meal and a half to go.

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Wednesday April 23, 2008 - Tern Revisited

Just wait a cotton pickin' minute! Weren't the pundits just saying that if Clinton beat Obama in Pennsylvania by single digits it would be a major down-turn for Hilary? So if nine percent is so horrible, is ten percent really that large a victory? I'm not so sure; the difference is 1/100th of the range, substantially less than the margin of error.

Remember Texas? A major victory for Clinton! Oh, wait a minute; she "won," but Obama got more electors. Again, how was that a win?

And now she beat Obama in Pennsylvania by double digits! Oh, wait a minute; that was, to be precise, 8.5%.  8.5% may be two digits, but I'm not sure it's what the pundits had in mind.

Big victory? I don't think that dog will walk; I think that Tern has Wormed.

Good luck in the final gauntlet, Hilary and Barack. The cattle prods are in the fire and you're both going to need it.

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Wednesday March 5, 2008 - The Tern Has Wormed

Well, four more primaries have passed like so much Florida swamp gas, and the election has by all pronouncements taken a turn.

With Hillary Clinton surging in Ohio and Texas she has apparently stopped Barack Obama's eleven count winning streak and turned away the vultures who would stop short the election process.

Still, whether she'll wind up a Royal Tern6 or a Lesser Noddy may depend more upon her delegate count than on her recent "surge", which seems from my vantage point closely akin to our military's surge in Iraq -- sort of a "virtual" surge or "surge that really isn't". A new term may well be in order here -- possibly "paper surge" or "vaporsurge": a surge that can be shown statistically, but not practically. We'll need to watch Wikipedia for breaking news; meanwhile, Royal or Lesser -- what we've seen of the Clintons in recent days are a Bridled and a Large-Billed Tern.

I don't know why it took almost a week for the news media to pick it up, but I figured out the truth about her Texas win late last night, right after the election and caucus and, oh yeah, three slow drinks. My computation wasn't 100% on, but it was close enough:

188 (total delegates) - 67 (caucus only) = 121 (election only)

50% of 121 = 60.5 election delegates for Clinton
48% of 121 = 58.0 election delegates for Obama

44% of 67 = 29.5 caucus delegates for Clinton
55% of 67 = 37.0 caucus delegates for Obama

and the final result:

60.5 + 29.5 = 90.0 total delegates for Clinton
58.0 + 37.0 = 95.0 total delegates for Obama

The actual figures wound up a little closer than this, but clearly an Obama win in Texas. Yet, we've only heard minor references to this fact in the news on the whole, and nothing of it on CNN. And what was it Bill said about her needing wins in both Ohio and Texas to stay in the election?

Sorry, Hillary Clinton; I'm afraid the Tern has wormed7.

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Wednesday June 27, 2007 - Package From Hell

The package arrived early this morning looking average enough -- a small corrugated box designed to be opened without ruining it, with a single strip of unremarkable brown plastic tape wrapped once around to keep it from coming open.

Sitting down with a cup of coffee, I cut the tape and open the lid in great anticipation; it has to be the watch I've been expecting.

After playing with it for a few minutes I realize it isn't operating quite as expected. I bring up my laptop and fire off an email message requesting information on return for exchange, but with a trip deadline looming I shortly find myself telephoning rather than wait for a response from a distant time zone.

"No special requirements," the gentleman on the other end of the line says; "just send it."

Now that's where Hell comes in.

I package it up in the original shipping carton and wrap it once around with fresh tape laid directly over the top of the original. The package is rigid and secure. I head out for the Post Office.

Reaching the head of the line after some twenty-five minutes, I step up to the window.

"Germany?" the clerk says; "you can't use plastic tape on packages going to Germany."

"Are you sure?" I respond; "It arrived from Germany that way just this morning."

She waves to the more knowledgeable and long established sourpuss at the other end of the counter. You know who I'm talking about; postal regulations require one be available at every branch at all times. Sourpuss throws her first and only punch even before reaching the window, but it's effective enough -- she has the experience and well honed delivery you would expect of someone the Post Office has placed so much responsibility with.

"You think I make the rules?"

Postal regulations now satisfied, Sourpuss returns to her station and we resume our dialog.

"You must use paper package tape," the clerk says; "you know, the stuff that you have to lick to make it stick. It's a U.S. Postal requirement for packages going to Germany. And you have to cover all exposed cracks."

"Really?" I respond dumbly; "Is that stuff still available somewhere? You sell packages and self-closing boxes; do you sell it?"

"Of course not!" She chides, "All we sell is the plastic tape; but you can get it at any office supply."

Twenty-nine minutes have elapsed and I can see that I didn't leave nearly enough time to make my next appointment. I jump in the car and head off to a Staples about three miles away. I pluck the smallest roll of brown paper tape off the shelf, enough to last me the rest of my life and then some, walk to the counter and buy it: $7.95 plus tax. Then I retrieve my package from the car and proceed with removal and replacement of the plastic tape that is so generously spread all over the package -- clear tape that I hadn't even noticed before now. It comes up easily, but a thin layer of the cardboard comes up with it. I then go to the drinking fountain and, wetting the tape under the stream of water as an alternative to all that licking, spread an equally generous layer all over the package -- taking care, of course, to cover all exposed cracks.

By the time I'm back in line forty more minutes have passed. I wait, resignedly, and when my turn comes up I hand my package to the clerk with confidence.

She takes it, and in one fluid motion brings her stamp down on one corner and immediately rubs it off with her index finger.

"My stamp will not soak in; the ink will smear," she states redundantly.

She tries to hand it back, but my mind is spinning with the old joke about the speech challenged senior who hands the brown paper bag to the bigoted store clerk demanding as best he can, "put your hand in the bag;" and once the clerk has soiled his hand states with impeccable clarity, "I'd. . .like. . .to. . .buy. . .a. . .roll. . .of. . .toilet. . .paper, . . .please."

"But...but you didn't give it a chance to dry," I gasp in surprise.

She dutifully stamps my package again and sets it aside while she waits on another customer, then fixes her gaze on me with an "I'll show you" look on her face and vigorously rubs the spot with her thumb. It doesn't rub off, but it does smear to a certain extent.

She hands the package back to me without speaking.

"Who's going to rub it that hard...," I start; then, realizing I'm dealing with pure and true bureaucracy I acknowledge defeat. "Never mind."

I leave the Post Office again, aware only that I'm an hour and forty-five minutes late to my next appointment. Back at Staples a few minutes later I inspect the only other roll of paper tape I can find. It is glossier than I remember tape being thirty years ago, but not nearly as glossy as what is on my package, and of course the roll is substantially larger. I buy it to the tune of $9.79 plus tax and go though the difficult exercise of re-covering my package again without removing the old tape or ruining the label. This tape sticks to the glossy tape but doesn't want to stick to itself. Despite these problems, I do manage to complete the task, and eventually I'm on my way back to the Post Office once again.

Soon I'm waiting for a third time in the ever-lengthening line. In a dark mood, I miss her cue when the clerk finally waves for me to approach the window, but once I'm there she processes the package without comment.

As I leave the Post Office I notice a distinct sensation of having been fleeced. I check for my cell phone. Yeah, it's there, and two and three-quarter hours have passed since I first entered the Post Office. That doesn't seem to ease the feeling any. I check my wallet. Oh yeah, I just spent $19.16 and burned two gallons of gasoline on two rolls of paper shipping tape I'll never use again.

Whatever, that was easy.

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Friday November 30, 2007 - In Memory of Evel Knievel

We note the passing today of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. A legend in his own time, he had a way of staying young even into old age. There probably isn't one among us who can't identify, in our own childhood, with one or another of his antics -- or attempted antics -- over the years.

As to ailments caused by his accidents (or maybe they should be called "on purposes"), The Independent lists "diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, two strokes, Hepatitis C [Wikipedia: 'apparently contracted during one of his numerous reconstructive surgeries'], a hip replacement, arthritis, a liver transplant, 38 formerly shattered bones, including a seven-times-broken back, twice-crushed pelvis and frequently fractured legs, plus several comas, one lasting 29 days." In an NPR interview his oldest son, Kelly Knievel reports that he "broke every major bone except his neck"; "there might have been some metatarsals somewhere in there that he missed," observes anchor Steve Inskeep. A New York Times article states that "he was in so many accidents that he occasionally broke some of his metal parts." And he reportedly earned $60 million and spent a total of 3.5 years in the hospital for his efforts.

They say his death at age 69 was a slow, accumulative result of all his accidents; but as his timeline does not seem to me to be appreciably shorter than anyone else's, Evel has made me unsure about the usefulness of a cautious life.

A little spark of our own life has gone with you, Evel. We'll miss you.

(Check out NPR and Wikipedia for news stories and a thorough bio/obituary.)

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Sunday April 9, 2006 - The Dynamo

He knocked about 9:00 am, and I knew from experience that if I didn't answer the door he'd hang on the railing for an hour or more in a plethora of gravity defying postures that you have to see to believe. So I threw something on to cover what I usually work in (my skivvies), and opened the door.

He'd done yard work for us before and I figured I was facing a lot of it in the near future, what with our recent decision to hang it up and move into a real house. And knowing he worked hard when he worked it was easy enough to be interested in his offer.

"Does that include trimming the palm?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," he assured me; "and I'll haul it all away in my truck. You'll see; the whole place will be spic 'n span."

But he would have to go home to get his tree spikes.

"They're in my pickup," he explained; "My friend has it today."

This tree was about a hundred feet high and about as big around as your average arm; it stuck up there in a gravity defying lean like one of those things you see in the foreground of a million dollar beach shot on some tropical island, like one of those that formed the big "W" in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He'd cut down its dead mate shortly after we bought the place. He looked like a crack-pot, but with those spikes he'd walked up that tree like a monkey and dropped the sucker within two inches of where he called it. So I figured it was worth the hundred dollar asking price to get the whole works done at once.

"Can I use your trimmers?" he asked; "all my stuff is in my pickup."

Sure, I said, noting that he'd parked a bicycle with a garden trailer in tow at the curb. I got the stuff out of my shed and went back inside to my work.

After a couple of hours or so I began to be distracted by the activity outside. It seemed like there were several people out there; out of the corner of my eye I could see them flashing past different windows on different sides of the house. I got up for a closer look but there was no one but him. But boy was he moving fast! I stepped out onto the landing. He zoomed by at break-neck speed, coleslaw spewing from the hand clippers like an Osterizer without a lid. I watched for a while thinking he was showing off for my benefit; but no, I don't think he even knew I was there.

"Aren't you getting tired?" I called after him. "You better slow down; you'll have a heart attack."

He ignored me. Or maybe he just didn't hear. I called again.

"How short do you want that tree branch?" he stopped to ask.

He pointed at the tree with a branch hanging over the fence into the neighbor lady's driveway.

"You can cut that one clear off," I responded.

He took off again on a near-run, resuming his previous activity. I watched, absorbed. It was amazing and alarming at the same time. Soon he was growling as he went - low at first, then loud enough for the neighbor lady to take notice as she came out to get in her car.

"Wow," she said surveying the situation; "you really cut that tree right down to the nubbins." She pointed over her shoulder.

I was dumbfounded. He'd cut the whole tree off at the top of the fence, and I didn't even see him do it. Granted, it was only about two inches in diameter, but he'd cut off the whole top instead of just the branch. Realizing it was too late for my feelings about it to matter, I went back inside; better I didn't know what he was doing.

I went back to work, but I could hear him growling and running around at about the same rate for another couple of hours. I estimated his age at late thirties to forties, but how he could have continued that pace at any age was beyond me. Around 3:15 pm he came to the door and asked me to take him home for his tree spikes.

We put his bike in the back yard for safekeeping, then I drove him the couple of miles to his house. He got out and asked me to pay him.

"I'll be back, he assured me; "I've got a reputation to uphold, and without a reputation what does a man have?"

"I thought you wanted me to wait for you."

"No," he said, "I don't know how long I'll be since my truck isn't here."

To say that I hadn't been weary the way the whole thing unfolded would be a gross lie; now he was asking me to pay him before he was finished and then leave him there. Only a fool would cough up the whole amount at this point; but I figured he'd done over half the work, so I dug in my bag and gave him fifty dollars.

"Sorry; that's all I've got," I said; "I'll give you the rest when the job has been completed."

I pulled the door closed and went home assuming he was coming back in his pickup; but of course he didn't return that day. I figure he slept at least eighteen hours. At dusk I went out and locked up his bike to make sure nobody spirited it away in the middle of the night. I wanted the job completed.

Next morning I looked out the window about 11:00 am, and there he was raking in the yard. I say it that way because something caused me to watch him for a few minutes -- and he clearly wasn't raking the yard; he was raking in the yard, sort of making a pretense of working -- and now instead of quadruple speed he was doing it in slow motion. I checked the front yard and the porch and didn't see any equipment, so I stepped outside and asked him about his truck. He said he didn't know where it was, but that wasn't particularly alarming because it wasn't in his name.

"I asked my friend, who had it," he said, "but he doesn't know; maybe it was repossessed. I'm going to need some food; can you give me some more money to go get something to eat?"

"I just gave you fifty dollars," I said.

"I had to pay my rent with it," he said.

I coughed up another ten dollars. He went for his bike, but I explained that the key to the lock it was chained up with was on my wife's key ring and she was at work. I'm no Rhodes Scholar, but I know where it's at in the cabbage patch.

"I'm sorry," I lied; "that was a dumb thing to do."

So he left on foot. I knew I wouldn't see him again that day, but I looked up forty minutes later and there he was -- and that includes about twenty minutes walking to the nearest fast food joint -- well, maybe five for him. He'd apparently popped a fresh batch of pills because he was running around at break-neck speed again, growling and raking in quadruple-time.

He finished up in record time, leaving a humongous pile about ten feet wide and eight feet high by the curb. He left, still on foot. I don't think he'd have stuck with it this long if his bike and trailer hadn't been locked up, and I wanted to keep him interested until the pile was gone.

"If he comes back with his tree spikes don't let him climb that tree," my wife had said the night before; "he'll kill himself."

But he didn't, so I couldn't -- not Friday or Saturday. And this morning we got up early because we have to go to Fry's to get some packing boxes they've been saving for us. While I'm getting dressed I begin to realize I'm going to have to give up his bike and trailer whether he gets rid of the pile or not. But before I finish dressing my wife comes in and says it's gone.

"Gone? Unbelievable," I say, incredulously.

"Yes," she says, "I didn't see them loading up, but I just saw the truck pulling away from the curb loaded to the hilt."

"Remarkable!" I exclaim.

After a quick breakfast I go outside and unlock his bike and trailer, walk it through the gate and park it near the front porch. When I look up, our dynamo is standing there at normal speed.

"I told you I'd be back to haul the stuff away," he says; "All a man's got is his reputation."

I dig in my pocket for his last forty bucks and thank him for his endurance. We watch him pedal off down the street in uncharacteristic slow motion -- trailer in tow -- then turn around to find his coat and gloves lying on the planter at the front of the house. I hang the coat on the porch railing and place the gloves on the landing beneath it, then we get in the car and back out of the driveway. We're a little late for the appointment the produce manager insisted on scheduling to turn over the boxes to us.

Just as I'm about to tromp it a neighbor about three doors down the street comes screaming out of his house running toward the car and waving his fist in the air. I think it's just as well we can't hear what he's yelling, but for some reason I stop anyway and roll down the window a little tentatively.

"What do you think you're doing, filling my garbage cans with your garbage?" he demands.

Taken by surprise, I can only stammer.

"No, no, no; I didn't do anything like that."

"Yes you did; I saw you. You came right up here to the house and put all your garbage in both of my cans. Look at them! You filled my recycling can with garbage, too; they won't like that."

"No; I really didn't do that; I haven't been out of the house until just moments ago."

"My wife saw you right there at the garbage cans. It unnerved her. You have no business coming so close to the house like that; it's not your property."

Like I said, I know where it's at in the cabbage patch; I can only stay dumb so long, and it's beginning to dawn on me what's going on here.

"We watched you;" he continues, "you filled every can on the block! I have a mind to punch you out!"

He's still irate, but more importantly I'm beginning to realize I've been had.

"Simmer down," I say; "it wasn't me and I didn't authorize the guy who did the yard work to do anything of the sort. But I don't blame you for being mad and I'll empty your can and take all my garbage back. I'll take back the garbage from every other can he put it in, too. You watch me. But I'm late to an appointment right now; I'll be back in less than an hour and I'll do it as soon as I get back."

He's beginning to simmer down a little now, but he seems to be the kind of guy that needs the last word.

"You should have known better."

"Yeah," I respond, "I should have known better! I'll be right back and take care of it."

With that, I put my foot in the carburetor and we take off with him still standing there -- a minor expression of my growing irritation.

"Are you sure you saw a loaded truck pull away from our house this morning," I question my wife.

"Absolutely;" she responds, "there can't be that much spread around the neighborhood."

We get our boxes and go home. Before removing them from the car I unload my own garbage can -- which has not so mysteriously filled up with yard refuse -- and walk it down the street. It takes me two loads to bring Irate's cans down to the stuff that belongs to him, which I leave. Then I go up and down the street unloading everybody else's cans; there are six or seven in all and it takes about 45 minutes. When I'm finished I have a pile at my own curb that's about six feet in diameter and four feet high, and the exercise has given me sufficient time to mellow. All-in-all, it's not that much compared to the pile that was there before, and via regular garbage pickup it will be gone in about ten days.

And the coat? A few days later my wife spies it heading into the sunset one evening on a bicycle powered by a dynamo.

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Wednesday November 14, 2007 - Naughty Ladies of Shady Lane

Announcing our latest crop of grandchildren. Yeah, they're coming in crops now -- like grain. . .


Chicken Legs La Femme / Eyes: Indigo / Weight: 6 lbs, 5 oz / Length: 18.5 inches The Quiet One / Eyes: Sierra / Weight: 7 lbs, 14 oz / Length: 20 inches

Indigo Jayden,
Alias Chicken Legs La Femme
b. October 24, 5:01 pm

Ciara Marie,
The Quiet One
b. Nov 14, 9:36 am

Mothers and daughters are all doing well.

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Tuesday October 24, 2006 - Kooks and Clucks

Having recently completed the renovations to our house that are necessary for minimum levels of survival, I sit down in the living room this morning with a cup of coffee -- my first good opportunity for early morning relaxation since our move. Reclining on the sofa I stare contentedly through the full-width glass of this patio home into the bleak back yard, as-yet a wasteland comparable, if not in size, at least to the desolation of Bikini Island after its first atomic bomb blast. I envision a patch of freshly sodded St. Augustine, the dinner salad of ground covers, neatly contained within an irregular boundary of bricks mortared side-by-side at a level that easily allows use of a hand lawnmower without the need of an edger to keep the grass in check. There is room for large tree wells around the two remaining trees. (We've come to discover a hidden "feature" of this yard: seven tree stumps buried from view in the tangles of surviving Bermuda grass that we must eradicate before reclaiming it in the vivid image of our imagination.)

But, what the . . .? Is that a chicken rummaging in the tangles of dead growth along the rear wall? I pull the security bar, open the Arcadia door, and step onto the patio for a closer look. At this moment another -- definitely a chicken -- appears on the top of the block fence from a neighbor's yard. . .then another, and another. I step back inside to watch as the first, an adult rooster, emerges from his cover and joins the newest arrivals. Two hens and two roosters, one of them juvenile -- New Hampshire Reds to my untrained eye. They proceed to peck and scratch around the yard, occasionally finding one tender morsel or another, and after half an hour or so gravitate toward the other side of the yard and, one by one, disappear over the fence. I lean over the fences on either side and study the neighbors' yards carefully. No chicken coops.

In the afternoon I stop by the home of our community den mother, who knows about everything going on around the 'hood. No, I am told; no one in this community keeps chickens. In fact, she volunteers, the chickens appear regularly all over the community, and various homeowners have canvassed the surrounding housing areas. No one has been found who keeps chickens -- not surprising for neighborhoods entrenched deeply within the inner-city. So where do they come from?

"I think they belong to the people next door to you, the ones who work on all the cars," she states; "they'd be just the type."

Whatever that means.

"If not, then they're wild; but I think they are the owners."

I assure her I have seen no evidence leading to that conclusion.

"Their yard looks just like mine -- scratched and picked over but not kept in," I assure her; but her mind is already made up.

On the way home I run into a middle-aged gentleman scooping gravel into a wheelbarrow along the tennis court sidewalk.

"Looks like a never-ending job," I comment by way of making conversation in passing.

"Yes," he responds; "you must be the guy that moved in next to the people with the chickens."

He leans on his shovel and points over his shoulder toward the house where all the automotive work goes on.

"We are. My wife and I moved in at the end of May. But I'm not sure the chickens have an owner; I understand they have a regular circuit that takes them all over the neighborhood. They're kind of nice to see around -- makes the neighborhood feel less urban -- but I think they tend to mess up yards with all of the pecking and scratching, not to mention the droppings."

"Might be wild," he says, "might not". "But I hope nobody tries to get rid of them. A lot of people are complaining about the mess they leave, but I don't see anything wrong with them; they aren't doing anyone any harm, and they're quite pretty. They're just chickens -- people around here have no tolerance. Yeah," he continues, "I've seen both of you coming and going. You seem like quite an empathetic sort."

That seems like an odd statement for a first conversation, but maybe he's talking about chicken tolerance. He goes on.

"Yeah, I got this job to tide me through a difficult time in my life. I'm really thankful they gave it to me. In the scheme of things, I would say that I'm caught in a tug-of-war between God and the Devil. I take it a day at a time and try to concentrate on doing a good job; but there are dark forces at work and many trials, and I don't always feel well enough to work. It's a very dark period in my life."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I respond; "the world can be an unforgiving place, but things have a way of working out if you just hang in there. Sorry; I gotta get back to the house. Good luck with it."

With a smile and a wave I head back to the house in time to clean chicken feces off my front walk before the mailman arrives.

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Thursday June 21, 2007 - On and On, and On. . .

It has been a quiet 18 months in the Concrete Jungle. Quiet, but not static. During this time two winters and a summer have passed, and real estate has peaked and fizzled. Our neighbor, Mexico, has laudably gained another new president via politics instead of weapons, and in a global perspective Russia's Vladimir Putin has restored a more "comfortable" form of government.

And for us it's also business as usual. The price of gasoline, $3.169, was exceeded only by the US Military body count in Iraq, 3,5451 -- which surpassed the number lost on 9-11 way back in the last holiday season. During this time the confirmed total Iraq body count of 72,165 was more than offset by the growth of our very own Concrete Jungle alone, an estimated 87,600 -- a whopping 160 people/day, mostly illegal aliens. Are we doing something right, or what? All I can say is, it's a good thing we implemented tight control of our borders following 9-11; we sure wouldn't want anyone but illegal aliens entering the country.

And in the new world order, was launched -- surpassing ad nauseam all expectations in "reality" based offerings, with a rating on the Contrichter scale of -2.92.

What about the Desert Rat? Much water has passed in and out of the estuary of time, but like the remote playa not much has changed. Back in January of aught-six our Guestbook began getting hammered by automated web crawlers designed to fill it with much-desired SPAM such as advertisements for "Girls, girls, girls," Viagra, and miscellaneous penis enlargers - you know the stuff. So we were forced to re-direct our attention to development of a web crawler-proof Guestbook interface. The Guestbook is now SPAM-proof and at best a pictorial enhancement to the Cortez Chronicles; at worst a hard to use nuisance for our very appreciated readers to endure.

Then in March we decided to put our house on the market; it was time to look for a better investment. This put our site renovation project on hold again and focused our energies on tweaking the appeal of our labyrinth house. Thus began a series of unfortunate events envious even to Lemony Snicket.

Without a doubt a lot of good things happened along the way; but it has taken all the way up to Monday, June 4, 2007 to turn the tables on the move beast and regain control of our lives. During this time certain elusive details were accomplished, such as bringing our "new" house up to minimum livable condition and completion of our core website renovation; but suffice it to say that we would rather load up and move to Memphis, then change our minds and come back -- than go through the last 18 months again. And it kept the Desert Rat in a blank funk for months.

So what did happen?  Well. . .

We hired a neighborhood handyman to clean up our yard and prune our trees prior to putting our house on the market. He steamed around the yard like a locomotive high on amphetamines (or higher), chopping whole tree branches into salad-sized particles -- and entertaining the neighbors for three days until they awoke one morning to find their garbage and recycling cans full of our yard refuse and decided it was no longer funny. He was long gone, of course, and you-know-who got the blame.

So we sold our house and moved into a vintage patio home in the armpit of a beautifully appointed and well manicured central Phoenix neighborhood.

The new house wasn't supposed to be a fixer-upper, but the need for some minor improvements became obvious the minute we signed the papers, such as disposal of a couple of tons of garbage left behind by the previous owner and upgrading both bathrooms to "working" status. Once we were on the roll it seemed appropriate to go ahead and plant the bare-dirt front yard and shrub beds and start the killing of what little Bermuda grass was left in the otherwise bare back yard in anticipation of eventually putting in a real yard.

So the house turned out to be a fixer-upper, but the 'Hood? How convenient to find a very active auto-repair facility next door. It made us feel safe. With eight or ten cars being moved around every day in front of our house and in and out of the carport next door, at least there would be no time for any potential burglars to find the privacy required to do their dastardly deeds. It's easy to see why they located here with all of the antique3 vehicles stored against community covenants and regulations in neighborhood carports. It turns out that the irate homeowners didn't understand that in order to accomplish cleanup you have to make the violators uncomfortable, but the owners of these vehicles looked upon the $5.00 monthly fine levied by the Association as a maintenance fee for permitting the storage of their vehicles.

Then there was the great Terror Chicken fiasco, an almost welcome relief in the ongoing feline zoo that is our little community.

But our neighborhood really is a pretty place, foliage-speaking-wise. And despite the extra problem-solving overhead, we did manage to achieve some progress in our personal lives. In June, 2006 we took a vacation trip back to Memphis, TN; then in October we sought respite on the Mexican playa and came back healed enough to face the 'Hood again.

And there were certain other trivial conquests [hardly] worth noting. Before resuming the website renovation we were forced to upgrade our SpamAssassin software and implement other new functionality to prevent SPAM from overwhelming our server. We managed to avoid the dubious title of savior to a middle-aged gentleman that came with the house, who believed our involvement could relieve the need to grow up on his own. Then sometime back our grandson was mugged, in a virtual sense, on the streets of metropolitan Phoenix4. And in assembling our new computer desks we found an upbeat, hand-written message directly from the hearts of the Thai people, who put it afloat in the sea of packaging crates that regularly wash around the globe. Then finally, we completed our long-awaited website update and started a program of getting our vintage calculator collection refurbished and on display in case any geeks should happen by the house. We don't get many visitors, but you can't be unprepared.

Some of these sufferings may (or may not) be worth a closer look as time goes by. As we continue our diary it's worth remembering the immortal words of NPR's Scott Simon5, ". . .the over-examined life is not worth reading." But we do what we do. . .

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Friday March 23, 2007 - Therapy by Automaton (Antithesis of Labyrinth)

The Social Security Administration's national Customer Service telephone number is prominently displayed on their website. Hoping for a simple human exchange in correcting my wife's birth date I dial the number, 800-772-1213, and wait for the answer.

"Thank you for calling Social Security. To continue in English press '1,' or you can say 'English' now."


"Many of our services are also available on our Internet site at Please tell me briefly the reason for your call. For example you can say, 'Please tell me the address of your local field office'; or you can say something like, 'I need to change my address.' "

"I need to change my birth date," I respond.

There is a long pause. I chuckle, knowing through experience that my response will not be one the designers of the primitive answering system could foresee. Then the recorded voice continues.

"OK, to change your birth date you will need to submit form 'FS-5,' the form for changing personal information such as name, address, birth date, etc."

I feel the sudden jerk of my jaw involuntarily dropping.

"Would you like me to send it to you?" the voice continues.

"Yes!" I answer incredulously.

"OK, the telephone you are calling from is registered to L- F-. Is this the name you want the form sent to?"


"OK, please say and then spell your first name."

I provide my wife's name.

"Please say and then spell your last name."

Again, I comply.

"OK," the recording continues, "according to the telephone you are calling from, your address is "----, Phoenix, AZ 85017." Is this the mailing address you would like me to send it to?"


A wave of giddiness washes over me.

"OK, you'll receive the form in the mail within two weeks. Would you like to be returned to the main menu?"

"No," I respond numbly.

"OK; goodbye, and have a nice day!"

I drop the handset in the cradle and collapse into my chair, head swimming. I feel euphoric, then nauseas. I grasp the easy chair with both arms in fear of falling out of it.

"My God," I mumble to myself; "is this what the world is finally coming to?"

I sit there a few minutes trying to regain my composure. A thousand past telephone calls swirl through my head like a tornado of last night's stale wine -- countless hours wandering aimlessly through endless menu labyrinths, futile cries for help, pounding the zero key in frustrated attempts to reach a live person -- anyone who breathes -- repeating endless account numbers and identity information, the frustration building from call to call, and over the years until the pressure is unbearable. A quiet shiver runs through my midriff, and then a shudder. I begin to shake -- softly at first, and then violently.

"Yes, yes!" I cry softly, "You have my permission to access my account; if you didn't why would I be talking to you on the phone right now. . .?"

Soon I'm sobbing like a baby -- loud, deep sobs at first -- coming from so deep within my being that I can feel my knee caps pulling with each thrust of my abdomen; then the softer, more comforting whimpers of a wounded puppy. I lie there for a long time after they subside, spread limply across the over-stuffed chair -- daring not to come out of my stupor.

RINNGGGG!  It is the telephone jumping out of its cradle. I reach over, pick up the receiver and put it to my ear.


"Hi, darling; I was just thinking about you..." It is the musical voice of my soul mate.

"I just had the most wonderful experience of my life!" I blurt, "and it took me less than one-and-a-half minutes on the phone!"

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L. Fox



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1This is a moving target; US Military casualties continue to mount. During the writing of this article we had to update the total three times:

date count
6/21/2007  3545

2Contrichter scale: A logarithmic scale ranging from -1 to -10 for measuring the intensity of "reality" television shows. Named after Charles F. Richter (1900-85), a U.S. seismologist who developed the Richter scale for indicating the intensity of earthquakes. For Reality shows the intensity is represented as the log of the absolute value of the number and is then appropriately negated, or "-log|n|". Example: Where zero is the base for most (no value) TV shows, a reality show 10 times as bad would be rated -1 on the Contrichter scale. A -2.9 on the Contrichter scale is 794.3 times as bad.


4Reference Ugly American: 11/12/2005, The Mugging of Devotion Del Palicia.

5Desert Rat: 11/15/2003.

6Reference Wikipedia: Royal Tern, Thalasseus maximus; Lesser Noddy, Anous tenuirostris; Bridled Tern, Onychoprion anaethetus; Large-billed Tern, Phaetusa simplex.

7I've been waiting 40 years to pop that on someone.

8 As a result of her work there, this now retired aunt was once invited to have tea with Queen Sirikit of Thailand circa 1975.

9Desert Rat: 11/05/2006.

10Reference Schmuckers and Cluckers, 03/28/2007; Physical Intimidation, 02/26/2007; Wild Chickens Terrorize Phoenix Neighborhoods, 12/28/2006; Birds of a Feather, 11/05/2006; Kooks and Clucks, 10/24/2006.


12Not ours; we don't have a cat trap.



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