Mad Men: Still standing after all these months

Ed Lane sizes me up in Dog Alley.

Dog Alley has lost most of its pizzazz since the pit bull, Chaco, went away.  But not all is lost.

Across the alley from where Chaco used to rage at me is a retro poster on the south side of the offices of  E. B. Lane, the Phoenix advertising firm.

It harkens back to the old days of 1962, the year Ed Lane founded the company that bears his name.   A photograph of Lane dominates the field, confident, serious, thoughtful and not quite arrogant.  That and the rising smoke from a cigarette held ever so casually in the fingers of his right hand.

The poster radiates powerful symbolism and depicts an era when smoking was not only more sociably acceptable and far cheaper, but it defined America and particularly the successful businessman.  Every actor in a Hollywood film in those days seemed to fall under a mandate of cigarettes and wispy smoke.  In every scene.  Looking just like Ed Lane must have looked 50 years ago.  Masculine, invincible.

“Still Mad Men After All These Years,” the poster says, marking E. B. Lane’s 50th anniversary last March.

I’m trying to remember what I was doing in March 1962.  I can remember what I was doing a year earlier,  in 1961, all right.  I passed through Phoenix on a pleasant evening.  I was hitch-hiking back to Oklahoma from Los Angeles, having thumbed a ride with two drunken sailors at Ontario, California.  They let me out in downtown Phoenix.  I probably even carried a pack of Pall Malls.  Maybe even lit one up.

And I like to imagine Ed Lane and friends gathered somewhere that night, maybe at Durant’s, plotting out an exciting future for themselves with the start of a new ad firm.

But 1962, I don’t know what I was doing that March.  Nothing quite as spectacular as what Mr. Lane did, that’s for sure.

Anyway the Lane poster in Dog Alley makes me smile for some reason every time I pass it on the way for coffee down at the corner Starbucks.  The poster is of course a take-off on one of my favorite TV shows, “Mad Men.”  You know, Don Draper playing Ed Lane.  Or somebody that could be Lane.

Actually I would prefer the dog Chaco but the “Mad Men” poster works fine, a nice diversion for me along an otherwise boring route.   And it’s still standing after all these months.  But like Chaco and every other blessing in this mean, politically divided world that is America, I don’t expect it to last long.  And then to what in Dog Alley can I look forward?  Probably not much.  What good is an ad firm and a “Mad Men” poster  in a country going Third World?

What happened to us?  The quality of life in America began to hit the skids with the JFK assassination in 1963, a year and a half after Lane founded his ad agency.

That, followed by killings of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the corrupt Nixon presidency. the corporate ascendancy and huge budget deficits of the Reagan era, unnecessary wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and, most shattering of all, 9/11.

Life was better 50 years ago.   I like to think Ed Lane would back me up on that.

A hiker’s journal: July 2012

A rainy evening on the Christiansen Trail.

July 29, Sunday:  A hiking window opens, a break in the withering summer heat of the desert.  It is 88 degrees, sunny and muggy at 10:45 a.m.  That may sound awful if you live in Seattle.  But in Phoenix we call it a respite.  I’m thinking a hike at North Mountain Park is in the offing for this evening, the first “wilderness” hike I’ve done since June 18.  In the meantime, lounging in the house, I have just read an op-ed column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, “Blissfully Lost In The Woods.”    Kristof and 14-year-old daughter are backpacking a 200-mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon.  He offers an antidote to “our postindustrial self-absorption.”  Says he,  “Take a hike,” and tosses out a depressing stat:  Back-country campers in our national parks have decreased by almost 30 percent since 1979.  That can’t be good for future preservation of our wilderness areas.   As I wait for the evening’s sojourn, I toy with nature from inside cool walls.  I capture a beautiful Green June Beetle in my specimen jar, the plump one-inch beetle having attached itself somehow to a screen in the living room.  Glossy green and iridescent with golden edges, I can not think of a more handsome insect.  I set it free on the front lawn and soon it is gone. . . . North Mountain Park, inner basin west.  It is 6:40 p.m. and a cool, yes, cool 81 degrees, when Nebra and I hit the trail in a steady monsoon-season rain.  Half-dozen other vehicles are parked at the 7th Ave trailhead.  “Perfect weather, huh?” says a man passing by, going out in a hurry with a backpack.  He’s joking, I’m not.  “Amen,” I say.  “Amen.”  Nebra’s hacked.  Her newly coiffed hair is wet and flat.  She’ll need a lot of product when she gets home.  First time either of us has hiked in this much rain since Bryce Canyon, in Utah, years ago.  I count two other hikers and five bikers before we get back to the car in semi-darkness.  I let out a big hoo-ray.  I’ve at the last minute gotten in a July hike.

Storm clouds rumble above a lonely trail.

July 31, Tuesday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin/east.  I sit by my car in the parking lot waiting for a powerful thunderstorm to declare itself.  At last, the dark and rumbling clouds move east.  It is only then that I hit the trail.  It is 4:45 p.m. as I head out toward the dam, then cut back on the Shaw Butte Trail to the divide.  For the first 30 minutes I see no one.  As I try to shoot a photo of a Say’s Phoebe rustling in a sere bush, I hear the crunch, crunch of a jogger behind me.  I turn to see a man in his 50s, tan and slender and wearing nothing but blue shorts and running shoes.   He halts to ask if I will take a photo of him with his small camera.  I shoot a couple, then he’s off to complete a 5-mile trot around Shaw Butte.  “I don’t run all the way,” he says with a toothy smile.  Although it is partly cloudy with a westerly breeze.  The air varies warm to stinging hot.  Returning on the Christiansen Trail, I’m rewarded with the view of a rainbow, just a small arc of a larger one others at a different locale may be able to see.  High up on North Mountain, a few hikers pound the paved trail to the summit.  Down here, I count a meager number of five others on the trails, the fewest I’ve ever seen on an outing in this park.  Three joggers, a biker and a hiker.   No one but a dedicated masochist would hike out here in the sapping heat of July.  I do about 2 1/2 miles in an hour of leisurely walking.  To my surprise, I completed two hikes, not just one, for the month.

The road to a good woman

There is only one way to know whether you have a good woman.  Travel with her.  That is the acid test for compatibility.

I have some experience in the matter.

Many years ago I became infatuated with a tall woman but never traveled with her.  Finally we made a trip to Dallas from Oklahoma City, and, lo and behold, her essence emerged.  All she wanted to do was play word games.  That and swill wine from a Gallo bottle.  It was fun for a while, I admit.

But really.   How can you get involved with someone like that, someone who never gazed out the window once in 200 miles, who never saw in the passing landscape beauty, ugliness . . . something?   Like at least when crossing the Red River to remark its color did not match the name?

Then there was the woman who showed curiosity but curiosity for the wrong things.  Not far into almost every trip she would bury her head in a guide book, seeking out the next eating place, the perfect motel for that night, the nearest roadside attraction.  Long silences occurred.  We were not a good match.

Probably the very worst thing I ever ran into was a woman who did not like to travel at all.   She was a thickly-haired blonde who had lived in Arizona for all of her 30 years.  But she had not visited the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  It layed only a half-day’s drive from her doorstep in Phoenix.  What’s more, she did not want to peer down into that awesome abyss.  Ever.

I dated this woman off and on for several years but it was obvious we had no future together.  If only I had road-tested her.  Then maybe, just maybe. . . .  No, what am I thinking about?  No curiosity, no wanting to adventure?  I was blind to the cards spread out before me.

For the longest time I thought it impossible to travel happily with a woman, cooped up together for hours on end.  But Nebra changed my mind.  She was curious, she was adventuresome and like me had her kooky moments, moments like the time we got into a long lament about the sorry state of the collective noun.

Early on we set off on a trip to hike in the Grand Canyon.  We arrived at the half-way point, at Flagstaff, and began looking for a motel.  It was late at night, and “No Vacancy” popped up at every turn.  Finally we found a place with one room available.  It was called the Flamingo Motel, but the “o” was burned out on the large neon sign that now read “Flaming.”   We ignored the omen and should not have been overly surprised to hear a distinct squish-squish when we entered our room.  The carpet was sopping wet.   Someone putting out a fire?

But instead of storming back to the office and demanding our money back, we did the absurd thing of laughing. And we stayed the entire night amid a swamp of red shag.   Neither of us will ever forget that night at the Flaming, and remembering it always evokes a hearty har-har.

In January Nebra and I hit our 26th year together.

There have been some downs but many ups for us.    When our relationship hits a rough spot, we know how to pave it over.  Just jump in the car and motor, baby, motor.

Compatibility sits with us in the front seat.  I lucked out that way.  I hope Nebra feels that way too.

Aurora and Mr. Pearce of Arizona

Shortly after the tragic shootings last weekend at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a man clicked on to his Facebook page and feverishly banged out a 255-word message which in time would go viral on the Internet.

The message, written by one Russell Pearce, of Mesa, Arizona, needed no translation.  Pearce criticized the Aurora victims for not protecting themselves.  “Where,” he wrote, “were the men of flight 93????”  The four question marks were his.

The timeline of Pearce’s comments is confusing.  The date on his Facebook page says he published his message Friday night at 10:21, Arizona time.  That would be 11:21 in Aurora, about an hour and 10 minutes before the shooting.   We know that the message was written hurriedly and sent unedited because it contained numerous easily-identifiable typos including:  “who’s” (whose),  “noone” (none), “Courages” (courageous), “sensless” (senseless) and simple punctuation errors.

The disingenuous Mr. Pearce of Arizona began the message with a falsely-sympathetic description of the shootings.  His heart, he writes, goes out to the “best friend” (Mikayla) of a “very good (friend’s)” niece (Kim), who were in the theater when the shootings took place.  Pearce’s “very good friend” having just called him from San Diego.  Kim apparently escaped but Mikayla’s status was unknown at the time.

“What a heart breaking story,”  Pearce writes before charging on to what he really wants to say, with the allusion to the Flight 93 passengers’ revolt during one of the 9/11 airplane hijackings.

An excerpt follows:

“Had someone been prepared and armed they could have stopped this “bad” man from most of this tragedy.  He was two and three feet away from folks, I understand he had to stop and reload.  Where were the men of flight 93????   Someone should have stopped this man.  Someone could have stopped this man.  Lives were lost because of a bad man, not because he had a weapon, but because noone was prepared to stop it.  Had they been prepared to save their lives or lives of others, lives would have been saved.  All that was needed is one Courages/Brave man prepared mentally or otherwise to stop this it could have been done.  When seconds count, police are ony minutes away.  My prayers are with all of those suffering from this sensless act, may God be with them in this moment of pain and heartache.”  You can read Pearce’s entire message at http://www.facebook.com/#!/russell.pearce.77?sk=wall

Why should we care what Russell Pearce has to say about shootings far away from his own bailiwick?  We should care because the recently recalled state legislator, Senate President and author of the infamous immigration SB-1070 bill, is still a powerful voice for liberal gun laws, not only in Cowboy Land, his own state, but nationally.  In fact, Pearce co-sponsored a bill in 2010 that became Arizona law, a law that allows concealed weapons to be carried without permits.

That is why Pearce rushed to the computer that night and fired away from his keyboard.  He feared his liberal gun laws will wither under the scrutiny of 12 deaths and almost 60 injuries at the hands of a deranged man carrying an automatic assault weapon.

Imagine this scenario that could be painted by Pearce and his Tea-Party followers:

A movie-goer that night with his own automatic weapon attempts to return fire on the assassin.  The room is filled with smoke.  The would-be hero fires anyway, unloading his ammo into the murk, and eventually stops the perpetrator.  But in the process Mr. Hero has killed another dozen innocent people, to which Pearce and others might assign collateral damage.  The assassin could’ve killed more if not stopped, the argument holds.

Here we have in Aurora, the most innocent of Americans, movie-goers seeking a night of entertainment with family and friends, with children even, to watch another version of the much-anticipated “Black Knight.”  How foolish.   These movie-goers, we are told, should have come to the Century 16 theater steeled for combat.

Russell Pearce sees enemies at every turn.  He and his ilk are in a panic.  They fear dark-skinned Latins will take over Arizona, then take over America.  They want their country back.  They want a white America.  They will do anything to make it happen.  Grab that Glock, baby, press its trigger, Civil War is at hand.  It is their way or the highway.  In his wrong-headed zeal to protect “his” country, Mr. Pearce of Arizona sadly spins the tragedy of Aurora into Dark Ages political statement.

This is the kind of State I live in.

“Take This Waltz:” On being semi-happy

If anything is perfectly clear in Sarah Polley’s probing film, “Take This Waltz,” it is this.  The lead character, a fledgling writer named Margot, and her sensual artist neighbor, Daniel, are meant for each other.  They are the perfect love match, two people whose essences are so intertwined, so natural, so deep that you have the feeling their fate together is foretold and inescapable.

To hammer home the power of this attraction and its seemingly inevitable conclusion,  Polley devises an erotic pool scene in which the two would-be lovers swim in an underwater mating dance, just as you might imagine aquatic animals have done since the beginning of time.   Surely a life of utter bliss is in the cards.

One problem.  Margot is married to a real nice guy named Lou who is writing  a cookbook on chicken.   Lou is as mundane as the book’s subject.  But Margot loves him too but in a totally different way, juvenile and shallow yet caring.  She wants to please Lou, even though her deepest feelings for him are limited.  At one point she complains to him how terribly hard it is for her to try to seduce him.  Lou is bewildered.

Grounded in family and friends, Lou is steeped in the traditional views of love and marriage.  A wife should not have to work to seduce her husband.   The two know each other so well, Lou feels, you do not have to talk much other than to say over and over, “I love you.”  Margot and Lou are often seen mouthing words of love through the barrier of a glass window.  They see each other but they can not touch.  They do not speak the same language.

But there is more to her love of Lou  “He is the kindest and gentlest man I have ever met,” Margot tells Daniel as they approach a potential adulterous encounter.  “I can’t hurt him.”   So Margot attempts to live “in between” her true love and her marriage, not fully engaged with either of the men in her life.

If Margot, played by Michelle Williams, and Daniel (Luke Kirby) are living intensely in the moment, the playful Lou (Seth Rogen) drifts far into the future.  He is so in love, so infatuated with Margot that he dreams of dying old with her.  He wants to confess to her at age 80, for instance, that it was he, not a mechanical failure, that has pummeled her with cold water for all those years while she was showering.  It is Lou’s traditional and idealistic expectations of marriage that widens the hole in Margot’s life and makes possible the connection with the ever-circling shark, Daniel.

For Margot and her 5-year marriage to Lou, it is the crucial moment many young marrieds face around their 30th birthday.  Do you struggle on with what you have?  Or do you alter your life to be happy and a fully complete person? Do you wean yourself away from the expectations of mom and dad and close friends and begin to seek your own life?.   In that sense the film’s title is like exploring the marriage vow, “Do you take this man . . . ?”

In the end of this engaging film, directed and written by Polley, there are no clear answers.  Just questions.   Like what is happiness and fulfilment?  How can you attain the bliss so crushingly absent?

“Take This Waltz” is about understanding the human condition, the nature of life and particularly love in an imperfect and chaotic world.   We are after all not like aquatic animals.  For us, troubling consequences and unrelenting sadness often travel with a search for happiness and love.

Maybe, if we can accept a state of semi-happiness, Polley  seems to suggest, we have a chance to become true adults and to be as happy as we can.   Perhaps it is this unwillingness to accept compromise and a less idealized view of love that has driven Margot’s sister-in-law, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), into alcoholism, delusion and self-destruction.

Margot is smarter than that.  And she is braver.  She describes herself early on as “being afraid to be afraid.”  Finally unshackled Margot slowly uncovers an important truth.  There are no matches made in heaven.  It is a truth she will have to live with.

Sandusky’s “hush money”

There is a stench coming out of  Penn State beyond Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse scandal.  It is a stench that rises beyond pediphilia and begs the question:  Why would legendary football coach Joe Paterno and officials at the highly-respected university not intervene back in 1998?   Just to protect the football program and school from a small blackeye that would soon have turned into a shining moment for exposing Sandusky and taking swift action?

No, I think there is more to it.

The most logical explanation I can come up with is this.  Sandusky, once the football team’s defensive coordinator, knew too much dirt, dirt that would not only bring down the curtain on Paterno’s career and squeaky-clean image as well as the football program but would reveal corrupt academic practices that gave players special treatment in the classroom.

Anyone who has delved into college athletics knows it is a rotten operation at the core.  At the college level, football is not so much about coaching as it is recruiting top players from around the country.  And you can’t compete for the best players unless you cook up some unethical deals.  Payments under the table, cars, bank accounts, sex, summer “jobs,” all those things the ruling NCAA prohibits and yet can’t fully enforce.

Penn State was beyond all that, though.  That was Paterno’s reputation, anyway.  He was the cleanest coach in college football, so it was said.

The Louis Freeh investigation’s findings, released yesterday, offered a damning look at Penn State, and one of the most interesting aspects of it was buried deep down in an article that appeared in today’s New York Times.

The Freeh investigation “also determined that Mr. Sandusky, upon his retirement shortly after the 1998 investigation, received both an unusual compensation package and a special designation of ’emeritus’ rank that carried special privileges, including access to the university’s recreation facilities,” the same facilities he used to lure his young victims.   The university president signed off on a $168,000 lump-sum payment to Sandusky, the Times reported.

I think when you say “hush money” you are getting close to what really happened between Penn State and Sandusky.  It remains to be seen whether the real truth ever comes out.