Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Flying Colors @ Vista Grande - Banners 7

Vista Grande Elementary School lies along the route of my morning walk. Sometimes I wander through the grounds on weekend days. This past Sunday, I spotted the following 2 banners brightening up the walkways:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another Connolly

I have made no secret of my liking of author Michael Connolly and his Harry Bosch detective novels. Although I started reading Connolly relatively recently, Bosch quickly became one of my favorite characters. So, a few weeks ago when rushing past the book counter in the local Costco, I saw another Connolly novel and quickly grabbed it.

A few days later I picked up the book and started reading. In the middle of the first page, I felt something was wrong. This clearly was not written by the Connolly I knew and there was no Harry Bosch. I looked back at the cover and discovered that I had picked up a thriller by Irish author John Connolly. I had just gone through another one of those "senior moments" that occasionally drive me to distraction.

Actually, The Unquiet was a fascinating and disquieting book. This Connolly, while living in Ireland, uses the state of Maine as the backdrop for this psychological thriller that takes place several years after the disappearance of a psychiatrist who worked primarily with children who had been abused. It was well written although in a style that, at times, I thought was a bit ponderous. But what made the reading more difficult for me was that this was at least the 4th of Connolly's novels in which private detective Charlie Parker was the protagonist. Without knowing any of the back-story, there were a lot of references to the past that left me a bit confused.

Every now and then, a passage leaps out of a book that just hits you between the eyes. That happened to me in The Unquiet when Parker was interviewing the attorney of one of the "victims" who was in prison and, among other things, she said: "Winston Churchill once said that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners. You know, there was all of this stuff about Abu Gharib and what we're doing to Muslims in Iraq and in Guantanamo and in Afghanistan and wherever else we've decided to lock up those whom we perceive to be a threat. People seemed surprised by it, but all they had to do was look around them. We do it to our own people. We try children as adults. We lock up, even execute, the mentally ill. And [referring to her incarcerated, mentally ill client] we tie people naked to chairs in ice-cold rooms because their medications aren't working. If we can do that here, then how the hell can anybody be surprised when we don't treat our enemies any better?" [Note: bracketed phrase added]

I do apologize for the length of the quote but, by itself, it made reading this novel worth it. It was a decent read overall and it did contain some scary insights into human nature. Now, I have to decide if I will go back and read this Connolly's earlier novels.

Flowery Colors Along the Way

Three examples of the wonderful colors along my morning walk today.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Glimpse of Long Ago

The framed pictures below sit in our family room. While Donna and I did not know each other when they were taken, they do provide a glimpse of a time long ago.

I believe The Ancient One was a sophomore in college when this picture of him was taken. And the fair Donna was but a lass in her high school years. Photographs do provide us with wonderful memories.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Disappearing Sun. . .

The below sunset was shot while standing on the deck of a friends house looking out at the Pacific Ocean.

I wanted to take the picture a minute or two earlier but had to go back into the house to find my camera. I still was pretty lucky with the results as the last vestiges of sunlight for the day were sinking below the horizon.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Family Seder (5768)

Last night was our family Seder for the year 5768 on the Hebrew calendar. Last year I wrote about the Annual Family Seder and the tradition in Donna's family. This year there were 20 people at the long extended table set in our dining/living room area. Donna was a bit depressed about the number; it was significantly lower than we are accustomed to. The 2007 Seder was small at 27 people and this year was, well, it was just not enough people and not quite as diverse as previous years. Our Seders tend to be very ecumenical but there were too many conflicts this year that precluded many of the "regulars" from joining us as we retold the story of the Jews exodus from Egypt.

Several hours before the guests arrived, and before it was fully set, I did take a picture of the table to preserve a memory of its expanse:

But it was special just the same. We knew that it might be the last Seder that daughter Alicia would be with us for a few years; she just accepted a job with Hillel at the University of Deleware and will be moving to Wilmington in June. She brought with her a friend, Jason, a "Jew by choice" who was attending his first Seder and willingly agreed to read the four questions in Hebrew. He did a wonderful job and brought heartfelt smiles to all our faces.

Son Seth was on vacation in the Washington, D.C. and we thought he was with my nephew and niece (Danny and Kate Cohen) at their family Seder in Rockville, MD. Then, just as we were sitting down to start the service, the doorbell rang and in Seth walked with a big grin on his face. He returned to the west coast early and decided to surprise us. He succeeded! Donna was in joyful tears because both of her children were seated at her side and the Seder could truly begin.

There was still another special aspect to the gathering. Donna's parents, Resa and Sy Brenner, were able to join us for the first time in several years. Cousin Lisa Rycus drove them up from San Diego and just their presence brought back the wonderful memories of the Seders they hosted for so many years in their own home. Before we began reading from the family Hagadah, I asked Sy if he would offer us some observations about freedom, the underlying theme of Passover. As I suspected would happen, he talked about being a POW during WWII and the emotions that overtook him when he was liberated by the allies following the war. He is a man who truly appreciates how precious freedom is and who has willingly passed this message on to younger generations starting with his grandchildren and carrying into many classrooms where he has been invited to speak over the years.

So, once again, we experienced a wonderful Seder in our home with many friends and family members around us. Tonight will join our neighbors, the Barryte's, for the 2nd Seder at their home. It too will offer that sense of fellowship and belonging that is so important for all of us. Passover is one of those holidays where it is critically important to be with other people to recall the Exodus. No one should have to be alone on this occasion!

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Observation (Reprise)

About 10 days ago I posted An Observation about a U.S. Department of Energy projection that gasoline prices would top out at $3.60 a gallon this coming June. I also mentioned that I had been paying more than that on a trip to San Diego and that the day after we returned, prices reached $3.75 a gallon in our area of Los Angeles County. Now I find myself adding to my call for a "reality check" at the federal agency that is supposed to know about all things related to energy. This morning, local radio stations were reporting that the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area was $3.82 a gallon. (Here on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, it is running from $3.85 to $3.87 a gallon.)

Bearing the weight of gas price increases by themselves is hard enough. But traveling down the aisles of the supermarket or thinking about a flight across country makes clear that the cost of living is getting out-of-hand. We are not only paying more for our gas but for the increased energy costs of those who provide us with our consumer goods and services. Maybe I would not feel so put upon if petroleum company profits did not continue to soar to new heights and if they paid their fair share of taxes. But it would still hurt us average folks just as much.

And more and more experts are saying that we are in a recession although not many of them actually are involved in setting the federal government's economic policies. I guess the administration's confusion is understandable. I thought I had learned in elementary Economics classes years ago that recessions were accompanied by a drop in retail prices, not the inflation we are currently experiencing.

I try not to be political in what I write but I certainly hope that the new President, whoever he or she may be, recognizes the economic calamity in which we find ourselves and presents some realistic programs to put the economy back together again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back in the Courtroom…

I was back in the courtroom today and it felt great. Actually, it was not a real courtroom. This one was located on a soundstage at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, CA. I was one of the spectators for a trial on the ABC series Boston Legal. The last time I worked on this program was in August, 2007 when they started shooting for the current season.

Today's shoot was very special because it was the first background job I booked since getting my SAG card. As is true with most extra work, more time was probably spent on networking and socializing with the other extras than in actually sitting in on the filming of the trial. Boston Legal is my favorite TV series to work on and I think this was my 14th day on the set in the past 2 seasons. The whole production team is great and the background actors are treated well. AND . . . it's only a 20 minute drive on surface streets from our home to the studio. (Folks who know Los Angeles understand what a plus that is!)

It was wonderful getting back to work. I also have one summer movie project set which I will talk about in a few weeks. Hopefully, SAG and the producers will agree on a new, fair contract before the current one runs out on June 30 and there will be no interruption of film and TV work.

Now, if only I can get a speaking role!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Alex Delaware At His Best

Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist, is the protagonist in most of Jonathan Kellerman's mysteries. In Obsession, the latest Kellerman novel to come out in paperback, Delaware is at his best.

The story evolves from a visit from 19-year-old Tanya Bigelow, whom Delaware had treated when she was a child. Tanya explains that her mother Patty, who had recently died of cancer, made a deathbed confession indicating that somewhere in the past she had committed a murder. In her dying breathes, she urged Tanya to see Dr. Delaware to help her learn the truth.

From that seed, Alex proceeds to unravel the mystery with the help of his friend (and Kellerman regular), LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis. As they begin to ask questions and put together disparate pieces, new murders occur. Eventually the full story is revealed and the real bad guys are dispensed to their fates. It was a pleasant journey that challenged the mind as psychological mysteries are supposed to do. The only strange twist was the final chapter which occurred after all was solved but which added what, for me, was not a totally unexpected sidelight to the tale.

It was the kind of good read I expected from a Jonathan Kellerman effort.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Taxing Ritual. . .

It's over! I finished yesterday afternoon! For the first time in my memory, I actually completed our income tax returns and submitted them a full 4 days before the April 15 deadline. Now, I can come up for air and get back to living again.

I have always prepared my own tax returns (with the exception of 1 year in the mid-1960s). I think that my first return was submitted in 1953 covering the little I earned in a part-time job the previous year. Those were simple returns. In 1960, I received my undergraduate degree in Accounting and that certainly contributed to my ability to survive the annual "filing taxes ritual." In recent years, the availability of tax preparation software has lessened the pain of the process but I always seem to be pushing the deadline with the submission of our return never coming before April 14. Somehow I finished earlier this year although I seemed to get a later start than usual. I guess that I just have more discretionary time on my hands since I retired.

Everything went along fairly easily this year with only one quirk. It happens that I become an "employee" for every job I work in film and TV; that apparently is the law. The production companies cannot pay the talent as independent contractors. Between my several "background" jobs last year and a small number of residual payments, I received 9 different W-2 forms from production and payroll companies. (One of them was for all of $10.45 in residual payments from a TV show shot in 2000 which still gets occasional reruns.) The data from each form had to be entered separately and challenged my keyboarding skills.

The annual ritual is over and was a little less painful than it has been in recent years. Now, back to life. . .and blogging!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

License to. . . What?!

On every trip we have made to San Diego over the past few years we have driven past the below sign in front of a business.

I must confess that we drove by many times before I even noticed the sign. The day I did notice, I only saw the top line and did a classic double-take. Then I saw the second line, breathed a bit easier and admired the business owner for the clever, attention-grabbing name.

Yes, he is licensed. And we do need folks to rid our homes of termites and other pests. I finally remembered my camera this morning and can now share what I have seen along the way.

An Observation. . .

I just read an article that announced that the Energy Department in Washington believes that gasoline prices will peak at $3.60 a gallon in June. I must say I find that curious. Since last Saturday I have paid $3.699 in both the Los Angeles area and San Diego.

Maybe, once in a while, the folks in D.C. ought to talk to all of us out here footing the bill! We could tell them what's really happening!

Oh well, The Ancient One must show his cantankerous side every so often. ;~D

P.S. (4/9/2008) - Back home in Palos Verdes, this morning I found the price of gas at the 2 stations nearest to where we live at $3.759 per gallon.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Son, the Poet

The Ancient One's #1 son over at BillyBlog is celebrating April as National Poetry Month by highlighting a poem (or volume) each day of a different poet. Being a proud and dutiful father, I thought I might recognize the month by offering up one poem; one written by Bill in the wake of the violence that shook Los Angeles following the 1992 acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King. [This poem was published in the San Fernando Poetry Journal, (Vol. XV, #4, 1993, Northridge, California).]

First, the poem :


by William Dickenson Cohen

Echoes of baton blows
resound though the hills
as thousands of poets
and scramble for their pens.
And I drive along
the Los Angeles River
and see
scrawled on a wall
in brutally honest
thin black paint

The fires are out,
and a smoldering silence
mocks the politicians
as they smile
and make trivial statements
resonant of droll fortunes
in stale cookies.
But Anger still soaks up the sky,
chews up the smog and
spits it into the ocean.
The Madness has slithered away
into invisible cracks
that no one seems to notice
and life returns to normal
only for those that were merely
Those who live among the ruins
know only that Anger does not die,
It does not go away
It will not go away
And soon,
It will rise from the ashes
and the world as we know it
will crumble again
under Its
fiery gaze.

Second, some backstory:

When I saw this poem written by my then 25 year old son, I was so impressed that I put it up on my office door at the university where I worked. A colleague from the English Department saw it in passing and asked about it. When I told her who wrote it, she first wondered out loud where Bill developed the sensitivity to understand the depth of feelings in the devastated communities. I told her I didn't know for sure but, possibly, the fact that he grew up as a haole in Hawaii, allowed him a deeper understanding of minority communities.

Her praise of the poem did not end with her admiration for what was written. She took it one step further and asked if she could use it as an assignment in an English class she was teaching. Bill agreed and it was used for several semesters.

So, my salute to National Poetry Month is to present this one poem written by "my son, the poet." Thanks Bill. Who knows, I may later publish other poems of yours here, if you allow such license to "dear old dad."

Look At Those Tail Feathers

I know it's not a great photo but it was the best I could do while driving this morning. There was a magnificent peacock strutting his stuff and he had the tail feathers to prove it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An Exciting First Novel

I just finished the paperback edition of The Faithful Spy, the first novel by Alex Berenson, and it was good. It is another one of those books I probably would never have seen if not for the paperback counter at the local Costco store.

The hero of this thriller is John Wells, who grew up in Montana and ended up as a CIA operative inside of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. When I started the book, I was wondering how Berenson could succeed in writing a story about terrorism without becoming too polemical. But he does. And it was a spellbinder although, fortunately, I was able to finish it in daytime hours and did not end up reading through the night.

I found it to be an excellent, very well written story and look forward to his follow-up, The Ghost War, which was published in hard cover in February. I expect to remain a fan of Berenson in the years ahead.