Salinger: A mere blip on the radar screen

The death of J. D. Salinger is no more than a curiosity to me.  A recluse, the darling of the Eastern literary establishment and hero to the alienated teen and “the smartest” among us.  That’s about all that registers. 

While I skimmed it during my formative years in the Fifties, “Catcher in the Rye” was irrelevant to me and, I believe, to many other avid readers who grew up in the Midwest with the same feelings of unrest and alienation.  If reading Salinger is still a rite of passage among some young readers, I suspect they are swept up by the book’s reputation.  There are certainly alternatives to `Catcher.’

I don’t recall to where others of my generation turned, but I turned to two books and a film trying to escape the phony, pretentious and mind-numbing life in smalltown America. 

In both Jack London’s “Martin Eden” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” I found as a teenager and young adult something to build a dream on, an alternative to what I then saw as a nowhere future in the world of the living dead.  The film, “Rebel Without A Cause,” with James Dean, had the same uplifting effect.

My teenage existence was as the son of a merchant on Main Street.  My parents expected their two children to project a family image of perfection, although behind closed doors it was anything but.  To this day the right-wing chant of “family values” rankles my entire being.  Three of my best friends in grade school became bankers or accountants, and in high school we drifted farther apart each year, our aspirations more and more polarized.

Unlike many of my generation, I was able to separate Dean, the actor, from Jim Stark, the character he played in “Rebel.”   I really liked Jim Stark.  I empathized with his teenage predicament dealing with a weak father and a nagging, unloving mother.  The film was my first inkling that maybe I wasn’t such a bad kid after all, that my own dreams counted, that parents don’t have all the answers and sometimes none of them. 

Sal Paradise, the narrator in “On the Road,” opened up a new world for me.  Kerouac gave wonderful, electric words to what I always suspected was out there, excitement, travel and adventure, something beside the tedium of the everyday existence that I feared would drown me.

“Martin Eden” introduced me  to the rigors of the writing life, and how one man, largely living alone in poverty, could raise himself up by amazing determination, energy, study and hard work.  Although this was not the main message of London’s book, it offered inspiration to many who want to follow a dream rather than a paycheck .  “Martin” is almost the antithesis of Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast.” Hemingway, another writer like Salinger and Mailer, who wasted talent late in life. 

So now Salinger’s gone, officially gone, although he was gone in other ways for a long, long time. 

Maybe, if I take a few moments, I’ll reread “Catcher” or some of Salinger’s stories.  But I don’t think I’ll miss much if I don’t.


Little girls in the men’s room

I’m waiting to use the urinal this afternoon in the men’s restroom at a busy central Phoenix restaurant.  No big deal.  I’m second in line, no urgency, just standing there thinking thoughts I no longer remember.  And then out of one of the stalls pops a young girl led by a man I assumed to be her father.

This is not a baby girl.  Not even a toddler.  I know kids well enough to estimate her age at around 4, maybe 5.  Another man, not four feet away, is using the urinal.  The “father” holds the girl’s hand and seems to shield her from the urinal as they walk across the room to the door and out.  There is a slender chance I could be wrong, that this child is a young boy in drag.  But I don’t think so. 

I would not mention the incident except for one thing.  It is the second time this has happened in less than a month.  

Just before the Cardinals last regular season game at their stadium in Glendale, I walked into one of the men’s restrooms behind a man and a young girl.  She too appeared 4 or 5 years old. My head swiveled as I saw her as did the heads of several others.  I think everyone was too stunned to say anything.   The man got in a line to use the urinals and left the girl nearby at a wall where whe could see him at all times.  When he went off to do his business, she peeked around the corner.  Not more than six feet from her eyes was a man at a urinal.  I have no idea what she saw. 

But I do know this.  It should not have happened.  Girls have no place in men’s restrooms.  And it’s not only little girls who find themselves in the wrong place. 

Two weeks ago, Nebra was in the women’s locker room at the Downtown YMCA, preparing for a gym workout.  She described how two boys, ages 6 or 7, passed through the room with a woman making  their quick exit from the swimming pool.

I don’t pretend to know what these adults were thinking, if thinking at all. But I’ll bet they were thinking of only themselves.  I know damn sure they weren’t thinking about me and my rights to privacy or anyone else’s. 

I’m not a prude.  Nor am I one to tell a parent how to raise a child.  But if a young girl, say, who can not take care of her toilet business by herself or she is not old enough to be left alone while daddy takes a whiz,  well, she should stay home.  Or petition the venue to bring in a port-a-john expressly for such situations. 

I can take it a step further.  On a recent trip to Rome, I was using the urinal in the basement of the Termini, the train station.  As I stood there finishing up, a crew of janitors came in with mops and buckets and began to work, chattering away.  Everyone of the janitors was a woman.  A European thing, I thought, but now I see differently.  The unisex toilet apparently has spread to this isolated region in the desert. 

If this is a trend, a new openness among the sexes, then I’m not ready for it.   Make a law, put up signs if need be, levy hefty fines.  I’m up to my ears with arrogant parents who think they and their kids have a right to stampede their personal values on everyone else.

Our big winter storms: A summary

Storm clouds moving out of Phoenix to the northeast

Having done their damage, the storm clouds of the last several days tried to sneak away before dawn. But, aha, I caught the last of the culprits with my digital camera about 8 a.m. They were feeble-looking blobs and streaks now, moseying off to the northeast, to New Mexico and beyond, returning this land to its sobriquet, Valley of the Sun. And they left with a blessing. There should be no water shortage this year, continued drought or not.

Here in central Phoenix, I enjoyed the best of it.  The brunt of these three or four quick-striking winter storms passed to the north.  They left ample rainfall, 2.22 inches at my house, and did minimal damage.  And too, with the big reservoirs to the northeast of the metro area filling up, I will receive the long-term benefits without paying the terrible short-term price.

The first and lightest storm struck on Monday, the 18th, followed by a much bigger one the following day.  Wednesday was sunny and quiet, then the grand-daddy, No. 3,  blew in on Thursday, the 21st, and began to peter out on Friday. 

The 1.10 inches I logged Thursday on my rain gauge was the highest-single day total at the house in a year and a half.  On July 10, 2008, I recorded in my notebook 2 inches that fell in a cloudburst that lasted only 45 minutes.  Nebra reminds me that the basement flooded that time, about two or three inches deep.  And, she adds, a little bitterly I thought, that it was she who bailed the flood water out in buckets, “while you were sulking on the couch about one thing or another.” 

Anyway, our mountain watersheds now lay in deep snow, along the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains.  The snowmelt will bring a delayed blessing in the weeks ahead via the Salt and Verde rivers.   Some places, like Wickenburg, reported six and seven inches of rain, far above the annual total in 2009.  An entire town west of here, Wenden, was evacuated. 

Today is clean-up day.  Clean up and wait for the next storm.  We can always use more rain out here in the arid lands.

One man, one vote: What a laugh!

The U.S. Supreme Court stuck it to me again yesterday.  It will further dilute my one, meagre vote for political candidates and important issues.  I feel disenfranchised more  than ever.  One man, one vote.  Don’t make me laugh.

The Court, long shanghaied by big business and right-wing radicals, ruled in the so-called Citizens United case that corporations can not be limited in the amount of money they direct to political campaigns and candidates. 

 In essence, corporations will now enlarge their stranglehold on politicians.  Not only at my loss but at the cost of democracy.  Democracy being a mere concept, a concept that no longer holds practical reality in this country.

Anyway, the Court has said corporations are comprised of people and have the same rights as an individual person.  It’s a matter of free speech.  Congress can not ban such corporate expressions as it has tried to do in the past.

As an investor and a very small shareholder in 10 corporations, it is bewildering how five of the nine Court justices can remotely think of a corporation as democratic institution.  

I own 100 shares of Berkshire Hathaway, the Warren Buffett corporation.  And, yes, I am allowed to vote as I did recently on the 50-to-1 stock split.  But do I, as one person, have an equal vote with Buffett’s?  Get real.   As a shareholder, I get to vote my 100 shares.  And Buffet, with his millions of shares, gets to vote those millions of shares.  In short, my vote is less than nothing.  It’s ceremonial.

While you can look at corporate rights as free speech, it is free speech for the few, free speech for the wealthy elite.  In other words, a corporation with 50,000 shareholders is at the mercy of two or three majority owners.  They alone decide what candidates to back, how many lobbyists to hire.

Take pro-life.  While 49,999 of those corporate shareholders may be proponents, one man at the top can decide to express the opposite view using the company’s funds to pay-off politicians and develop TV promotions.  As a shareholder then, you’ve in reality voted against your own political interests.   If anyone can see democracy in that, or even common sense, please enlighten me. 

It’s not so astonishing that middle-class and blue-collar conservatives buy into this idea.  I suspect they are too busy playing with their computerized toys to pay attention.  Or caught up in small peripheral issues, polishing the brass fittings as the ship sinks. 

Nothing will change anytime soon.  I see little difference between Democrats and Republicans.  I know, I should write the Congressman and two senators who on paper represent me.  I should ask them to enact a law that would at least make my corporations’ political expenditures much more transparent.  But I probably won’t contact any of them.  They are already bought and paid for by corporations and other large interest groups. 

It’s the kind of America I live in.  It’s sickening.

The Warners, er, Cardinals

To accurately assess the Arizona Cardinals, there is one mandatory rule.  You must first place a value on Kurt Warner, the quarterback who is considering retirement.  Was he 100 percent responsible for the team’s successes of the last two seasons?  Or 50 percent?  What is your figure?  Mine is very high.

Without Warner I see a very average NFL team in the Cardinals, a team that would’ve been fortunate to win half its games last season.  And doubly fortunate to reach the playoffs.   Instead the Cardinals finished 10-6 in regular season and reached the second round of the playoffs.  It is a freaky team, probably more dependent on one player, Warner, than any other team in the league.

Even with Warner playing as he did, at a very high level, the other ingredients often missed the mark. 

The defense proved again it could play atrociously at times.  Even with three All-Pros.  One of them, tackle Darnell Dockett, disappeared altogether in New Orleans.  Not even a single tackle and almost no pressure on the Saints quarterback Drew Brees.  To say injuries to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle led to that final loss is ridiculous.  Both played the week before in that defensive debacle of the last quarter and a half against Green Bay. 

Then there was the “improved”  running game.  Considering most opponents over-played the pass in fear of Warner, you would expect a rise in run production.  But in truth, the Cardinals’ top draft pick and most talented running back, Beanie Wells, regressed in the last part of the season and had a disappointing time in the Louisiana Dome.  The other running back, Tim Hightower, will never be more than adequate unless he puts on weight and develops more speed.  His 70-yard touchdown-run on the first play in New Orleans was a fluke, a horrible lapse on the part of the Saints defense.

And when you talk about the Cardinals in 2008 and 2009, you have to consider their lightweight schedule.  The team all but had five victories in the bag before the ’09 season began.  They so out-matched St. Louis, Seattle and Detroit that a loss in any of those games bordered on impossible.  Given that, the Cardinals were 5-6 against other opponents.  And a nice win at home over Minnesota caught the Vikings coasting, much as the Cardinals coasted in the last part of  ’08.

My assessment of Warner’s value to the Cardinal is this.  I believe he was 90 percent responsible for the team’s fine record the last two seasons.  Without him, it may’ve been “the same ol’ Cardinals” of yesteryear.  Say what you want about the greatness of Larry Fitzgerald.  But if someone doesn’t read the defenses accurately and throw the ball within Fitzgerald’s mighty range, how effective can he or any other receiver be? 

If  Warner retires, and  their is no true sign he will (unless you take to heart the camera shots of his wife Brenda in New Orleans with eyes closed in fear of her husband turning into ground meat), then seismic changes will have to occur.  Here are a few I see:

If indeed heir-apparent Matt Leinart is Warner’s replacement, expect a shift in the character of the offense.  A lot more balance, less passing and more running.  Less scoring, more reliance on field position, Ben Graham’s punting and defense than before.  Leinart would face some headwinds.  Warner’s shadow for one.  Playing without injury for another (two bad shoulder injuries already in a short career). And I wonder if he carries the passion to become a successful NFL quarterback.

If Leinart is so dubbed, look for a shake-up among the offensive coaches.  Warner coached himself, but Leinart will need help.  Ken Whisenhunt should hire an offensive coordinator and get out of the way, go back to being just the head coach.

Beanie Wells should be moved up to a new role as starter and primary ball carrier.  By alternating with Hightower, Beanie will never become the blue-chip back for which he seemed destined after leaving Ohio State.  He needs more carries, a chance to get into rhythm. 

The defense needs a shake-up.  That may involve hiring a new coordinator.  The current one, Bill Davis, was Whisenhunt’s second choice last year after firing Clancy Pendergast.  The unit has gone nowhere under the Davis regime either.  An upgrade replacement for Bryan McFadden at cornerback would be nice.  As would would be  the addition of a talented pass rusher. 

And even with Warner’s return, many of those changes should occur. Not to mention the possible  loss of key players like Karlos Dansby or Anquan Boldin.  One of the more interesting off-seasons  for the Cardinals is in store.

As for the head coach, I give Whisenhunt a grade of B.  After all, he knew the value of  Warner and didn’t tinker too much with the engine.  But Whisenhunt’s real value might better be evaluated if Warner goes, and more demands are placed on his coaching.

Our big winter storms: Day by day

It was a blue sky, not a cloud anywhere at 9 a.m.  Nothing that would suggest what lay ahead.  The grand-daddies of all winter storms were out there to the west somewhere.  And coming this way.

This barrage is lining up out in the Pacific like giant jetliners at Sky Harbor on Thanksgiving weekend.

Storm No. 1, the mild first wave, struck yesterday and left only 14/100 of an inch.   Forecasters say the second of the big storms will bury us in rainfall by nighttime.   And maybe, by the time all the storms have passed, more rain will have been recorded than the 4 inches we had all of last year.   As weather goes in drought-ridden Arizona, this is gigantic news.

I thought I would do my part by recording what actually happens this week, as seen from my house in central Phoenix.

January 19, Tuesday

9:34 a.m.  —   Sunny, still not a cloud in the sky, and 55 degrees.  A light breeze blows in from the east.

11:09 a.m. — Lonely puffs of white cumulus moving in from the west.  Temp 60, equalling the high of yesterday.  Very light breeze.

12:33 p.m. — Mostly cloudy with cumulus, much of it dark gray.  Temp 65, with light southerly breeze. This must be what’s it’s like waiting on a hurricane.

4:30 p.m. — Completely overcast with dark clouds.  Temp 61, down from high of 71.  Light breeze.  Reports of sprinkles at Metrocenter to the north.

5:19 p.m. — Steady rain has begun.  Temp 59. Channel 10 showing heavy rain in outlying areas.  I feel left out of the party.

6:23 p.m. — Just returned from a half-mile walk in a steady rain to the corner coffee shop.  Helicopter flying east, back to TV station I assume after covering the storm.  Cap and jeans bottoms soaked.  Temp 56.

8:51 p.m. — Rain has lightened up.  Already 70/100 of an inch in gauge on the fence.  That matches the biggest single rain of last year, on August 13.  Temp 55.

10:00 p.m. — The winter storm is the lead 10 o’clock news story on all local TV stations.

10:49 p.m. — Rain has stopped after a flurry about 9:30.  The gauge now shows 80/100 of an inch for the day, a very nice soaking rain, and the largest single-day total my gauge has recorded since August 14, 2008.  An even bigger storm is forecast for tomorrow night or Thursday.

January 20, Wednesday

9:43 a.m. — Sunny, 51 degrees, light breeze from east.  Storm No. 2 is gone and Storm No. 3, the forecasted big one, is muscling up to the west.  Gauge held another 5/100 of rain from overnight.  That makes the total for Storm No. 2 a very good 85/100 at our house.

1:40 p.m. — Sunny, not a cloud in sight, 63, with a very light westerly breeze.

2:17 p.m. — Like yesterday, lonely puffs of white cumulus have started to move in from the west, alerts for us from the weather gods.  Temp 64, very light southerly breeze.

5:34 p.m. — A ring of blue sky has hovered over Phoenix all afternoon.  Like a bull’s-eye.  Storm No. 3 is just now beginning to cross the Colorado River into Arizona, according to TV radar.  The vanguard clouds retreated to the edges of the Valley, and here at sundown, some cirrus grace the western horizon.  Temp 59, light breeze from east.

6:09 p.m. — Scary news on Channel 10.  Mayor’s warning.  Sand-bagging in suburb of Glendale.  Forecasts: Winds of 30-40 mph, gusts to 60.  Rainfall of 2-4 inches in Phoenix, 5-6 inches in higher elevations, Possibly more than all of last year.  Weatherman Dave Munsey saying he can’t remember a storm like this one’s potential in his 35 years here.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio warning drivers of crossing barricaded washes and the state’s “stupid motorists law.”  Flagstaff, in the northern mountains, getting ready for 3 feet of snow.  It’s insane news for desert dwellers.  We have mostly clear skies still, 57, very light breeze.

7:30 p.m. — Walked home from coffee at the corner under a starlit sky.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, to hint at an approaching storm.  A waxing crescent moon high in the west, a fast-disappearing Jupiter in the WSW and jetliners queueing up for eastward landing at Sky Harbor.  Temp 54, calm.

11:04 p.m. — Clouds now commandeer the night sky.  Still no rain.  My big concerns are flooding of the basement and garage.  Nebra and I did our best at rain-proofing both with garbage bags, wallboard and bricks. Temp has actually warmed a few degrees to  56.  Only a slight southerly breeze.

January 21, Thursday

12:32 a.m. — All quiet on this western front at bedtime.  Cloudy, 56, same light breeze from south.

2:33 a.m. — Awoke briefly to find a light rain falling.  Temp 54, wind has picked up.

9:54 a.m. — Rainfall 35/100 overnight,  Steady rain.  Temp 56 after low of 52.  And it’s windy.  I throw leaves straight up in the air from the back porch and watch them sail east and land about three feet from where I stand.   Republic headline atop Front Page this morning:  `Monster storm bears down on state.’

12:26 p.m. — Gauge reads 40/100.  I thought this lion of a storm held more ferocity.  So far, it’s been a calm, steady rain that is expected to last into tomorrow evening.  Temp 58.  Still windy.

5:45 p.m.  — Steady rain all afternoon.  Gauge now approaching 1/2 inch.  A mere smattering compared to suburbs like Surprise to the northeast where 2.75 inches have been reported. Tornado Watch until 10 o’clock.  Channel 10 says parts of I-40 to close between Kingman and Winslow.  Ditto I-17 between Camp Verde and Flagstaff.  Temp 59 with stout southerly wind.

 8:25 p.m. — Stepped out of the gym into a cold, swirling torrential rain.  Ran about 30 steps to the car, and the wet bullets left me soaked.   I struggled to keep my balance in the gale.  This is the heaviest rain so far of the three storms.  Phoenix has no storm drains and the street near our house is one huge lake.

10:52 p.m. — Back to a steady rain and light breeze.  Now there’s 1.10 inches in the gauge.  Temp 50.  Wickenburg, about 60 miles to the northwest reported over 4 inches already, and this storm is far from over.  It’s wave after wave after wave.  Basement is relatively dry, thanks to our preventive measures of last night.

January 22, Friday

12:02 a.m. — The rainmaker has stopped.  I pour the day’s total, 1.10 inches, from the gauge on the two-year-old houseplant, a croton, and place the empty glass tube back on the fence to await a refill.  That makes 2.02 inches at my house since these storms began on the 18th. The Bougainvillea branches nod in a modest breeze by the back porch.  Outside it is a drippy, cool 50 degrees. 

8:54 a.m. — Is it over?  Cloudy with blue patches in the west.  Only 10/100 of an inch fell here overnight.  Temp 50, westerly breeze.

2:06 p.m. — Mostly sunny with scudding blobs of white east-bound cumulus. 61 degrees and a strong west breeze. 

4:52 p.m. — Overcast, 56 degrees, light northbound breeze.  Dark, menacing clouds passing to the south. Showers possible tonight.

6:18 p.m. — Light rain began not long ago.  Temp 49. 

January 23, Saturday

12:04 a.m. — Cloudy, calm, 47 degrees.  Short, steady rain ened by 8:30 p.m.  Day’s rain, 15/100 of an inch.  Total for week’s storms, 2.22 inches.

8:08 a.m. — The day broke with bright sunshine, our big winter storm apparently gone.  The last of the clouds disappear to the northeast.  I pity the rest of the country as this baby moves toward the Midwest and East.  Temp 41, calm.



America’s `Invictus’ moment nowhere in sight

I’m trying to equate what I saw in the current film `Invictus’ with what I see today in America.  

The film, directed by the amazing almost-80-year-old Clint Eastwood, focuses on president Nelson Mandela’s attempt to build national unity and pride  in racially-torn South Africa shortly after his election.  His unlikely tool is the Springboks, the mostly-white and mediocre national rugby team. 

In a compelling performance by Morgan Freeman, Mandela succeeds in convincing the team’s white captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), that winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup at home is not only possible but that a victory would go toward a far greater good.  It would bring their country together.

Whatever I think of the film’s artistic qualities is unimportant.  The message is what I take to heart.

I don’t know if Eastwood had America in mind when he decided to do `Invictus.’  But I can see many parallels.  I see a newly-elected black president, Barrack Obama, ala Mandela, and a divisive country that is barely treading water, if not sinking in its own murky stew of ideology, anger, hate, religion,  jealousy and pettiness.   We do not live in red states or blue ones.  We live in an ugly gray world of in-fighting and unholy compromise.  

What Obama needs, and has not found, is his own “rugby team,” a unifying force to mend a country slit apart by everything under the sun. He likely will not find one, although I think in many ways he has tried.  This country wasted a chance to pull together after 9/11.  It was wasted when our president, George W. Bush, told us to go back about our business, that he would take care of everything.  And he promptly set off in a bewildering war in Iraq, giving a free pass to those in Afghanistan who attacked us. 

A common focus and cooperation have no meaning here anymore.  Many Americans are confused as to who their enemies really are.  They line up on teams.  Conservatives v. Liberals.  Harsh words fly back and forth, while the real enemies advance.  Enemies like diseases, job losses overseas, expensive healthcare, greenhouse gases and corporations too big to fail.  

My guess is this.  America is a  long way from anything close to unity.  It will continue to flounder.  Many years will pass before this country scrapes bottom.  Only then, like South Africa, can it hope to rebound.   That said, America will need its own Mandela, a selfless visionary with the courage to fight the old biases. 

In the meantime, should my spirits sag while living in this gray, gray nation, I can rent “Invictus” and feel good for a moment or two.