Our Halloween 2012

It is late afternoon and I am sitting down by a table on the patio at the corner Starbucks.  I am waiting here for the yearly attack of 300-400 Halloweeners at our front door, drinking a cup of regular coffee and trying to brace myself for the onslaught.

The coffee shop here at the corner of 7th Ave and McDowell is a mini-staging area for the night’s festivities.  At a nearby table, a heavy teen-age girl dressed as a black cat with whiskers waits for the darkness.  She holds a large sack which no doubt will be full of candy and other treats by 9 o’clock when it all ends.  Three boys wrestle around on the grass with their wigs and exaggerated pants and coats.

At about 10 after 5, I head home, ambling through our usually quiet neighborhood.  I watch a middle-age couple fuss over their Halloween decorations.  They are blowing up a balloon archway.  Behind it is a series of electrified pumpkins and other stuff.  They are too busy to say hello as I pass.  About one-third of the houses have gussied up for the night, some with elaborate cobwebs.  One house has a giant black spider on the front porch.  It is fake of course.  I did not stop to peek at his belly for the fatal red spot that would ID a black widow.

Back at the house I prepare for a 5:45 start.  That’s when I plan to turn on the front light, though it is not quite dark, and open the front door.  I have no fear of a chill.  The temp is 77 F. on a clear evening during a period of extra warm desert days.  The high was 85 today.  I lay out my notebook to count the number of visitors, check the bowl of candy and the three auxiliary bags.  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Uh-oh.  Actually I’m beaten to the punch, two minutes early.  I hear a scratch, scratch on the front screen at 5:43 and open the door to see, ah, Plastic Man, a very small edition anyhow.  “Trick or treat,” the Plastic Man says.  It’s started.

Later . . . .

We closed down at 8 o’clock.  Out of treats after 381 visitors.  It was our third highest total in the 15 years we’ve kept count.  It started slowly tonight and built up in the last hour and a half.

About 15 minutes later, with lights out, door shut, we heard a knock.  It was a cute little Hispanic girl, maybe 4 years old, with an adult woman.   It made me feel sad, but I had say, “I’m sorry, we’re out of candy.  Come back next year, but come back earlier though. “

More on the mountain bee attack

News continues to trickle in regarding the death of a young hiker attacked by bees two days ago on Camelback Mountain.  And a lesson seems to be emerging on how best to minimize such bee attacks without losing your life.

Joshua Ruzsa, a 19-year-old just days away from joining the Marines, died when he fell about 150 feet after bees attacked him and his two as yet unidentified companions.  His father, Denis Ruzsa, said in an interview his son was training for boot camp.  The son had previously trained at  Thunderbird Park, on the northwest side of Phoenix, by carrying a 60-pound backpack.  Seeking a more challenging climb, young Ruzsa was giving rugged Camelback Mountain a shot, the father said.

The bees attacked the three near the popular Echo Canyon trail that leads up to the 2,704-foot summit from the west.   The elevation gain from the trailhead parking lot is about 1,200 feet.  This spot of the tragedy took place near George’s Route and Ice Box Canyon.

When attacked, Ruzsa tried to escape by climbing back up the mountain, according to the story in the Arizona Republic.  That’s when he fell to his death.  The other two reportedly found an “alcove” down below and huddled there until a helicopter rescue was performed.

While there is no way to fully protect yourself against such an onslaught of bees, Ruzsa perhaps added to the danger by trying to climb out.   You are imperiled enough with just the bees without adding to it the risk of a serious fall.  Hunkering down and covering up may have been the best solution.  It is easier said than done.  Who would have guessed you would be attacked by bees in such a treacherous spot?

The surviving hikers were hospitalized, each with over 300 bee stings.  No mention yet what will be done about the killer bees.

Bees and a mountain tragedy

A warning sign near Fat Man’s Pass on South Mountain.

I’ve written about bees several times. But this is the first time with bees as the enemy, as killers.

Yesterday three hikers were stung by a swarm of bees on what is usually a strenuous but routine urban hike on Camelback Mountain north of downtown Phoenix.  One of the hikers, as yet unidentified, fell 150 feet to his death.  The other two took refuge in a canyon, each suffering more than 300 bites, a story in the Arizona Republic said.  Details were skimpy.  No mention whether they were African bees, though they almost had to be from that excitable tribe.

I’ve hiked to Camelback’s summit several times, the last on February 17 going up the mountain’s rocky eastern spine on the Cholla Trail.  The hikers yesterday were taking the steep western route, through Echo Canyon.

In all the years I’ve hiked in Arizona, I’ve yet to see a swarm of bees.

But last January I did see a sign on South Mountain.  I was hiking up the Mormon Trail from the north, and as I approached the entrance to  Fat Man’s Pass I saw the sign:  “Bees in the Area.  Use Caution.”   I did not think much about it and proceeded to do the loop, never seeing a single bee.  I don’t know if there was a bee sign near Echo Canyon.  But now my own antennae are up with the tragedy on Camelback.

Most of the bad predicaments  in which I have found myself on the trail is of my own doing.  Like the time I was hiking the Big Canyon of the Hassayampa River and passed the last water without filling up my canteen.  It was a warm day and I soon emptied the canteen.  I sucked on a river rock for 30 minutes until I came across a wet spot in the sand, dug down and found the river’s underground stream.

I don’t know how you prepare for bees.  It is like a lightning strike.  A long shot, just an unfortunate moment when you know your time is up.  In this case for the deceased, a perfect storm of events.  The bees attack at a particularly treacherous part of the trail.

But I do know one thing.  I’ll pay a lot more attention now to bee signs.

On the film “Argo:” Cowboys and Indians

I went out last weekend to see what I thought would be a serious film about the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran.  The film is called “Argo” and is based on a true but lesser-known story of that troubled time.

And too I hoped “Argo” would in the process provide insight to the Iran of today and the tense stand-off over nuclear weapons.  Why else come out now with a film of events 33 years old unless only to make money?   And how could that be?  Two serious and politically-astute guys were behind the film.  George Clooney was a producer and Ben Affleck the director and lead actor.   Visions of “Syriana” danced in my brain.

I stepped into the theater with limited knowledge.  I had read no reviews and had only an inkling of the plot:  The attempted rescue in Tehran of six Americans who fled the over-run U.S. Embassy and secretly holed up nearby in the Canadian Embassy during the anti-American riots.  Their lives are at risk.  Time is short.

A CIA operative, Tony Mendez, devises a goofy plan.   He will pose as Kevin Harkins, the producer of a phony sci-fi movie, “Argo,” and with help of two Hollywood friends,  incorporate the six Americans into a group seeking a filming location in Iran.  From there, the “film crew” will try to return to the U.S., passing  through intense airport security in Tehran via phony passports, visas and film “documents.”

To be sure, “Argo” is an intense and thrilling film.   It likely will do well at the box office.   But the flaws are many.

Events are too compacted and over-dramatized, the characters other than Mendez (Affleck) too wooden and false, the agent’s family issues over-played and the direction far too pandering to the CIA and American patriotism.  Not to mention the last 10 minutes of “Argo” should be laying on the cutting-room floor.

So a serious film?  In two words, no,  no.

In the sum, “Argo” is akin to an old oater, a western with heroic cowboys (Americans) v. villainous Indians (Iranians) .  Black and white, no gray.

What, pray tell, would constitute a more serious film?  I would have preferred a more balanced depiction of American and Iranian points of view.  Perhaps a larger role for the Iranian security chief as he tried to puzzle out the missing Americans and why it was so important.    Maybe he was thinking of his family as Mendez had.

The U.S. has a long dark history in international affairs.  Think Chile, Nicaragua, Iraq, Panama, Cuba or numerous other countries where American interests have changed or tried to change the course of history like in Iran.

At a moment in time when relations between Iran and the U.S. seem to grow more tense with every passing day, “Argo” is a disappointing film.   The stand-off begs for more understanding, not caricature.

Through actual film clips in the beginning, “Argo” attempts to show oil-starved America meddling in Iranian affairs with the installation of the murderous Shah Pahlavi regime of the 1950s.  But the thrust of the entire film overpowers it.  “Argo” paints Iranian  brutality in broad strokes, that the government is wild-eyed  and evil-doing with  no justification for denouncing good ol’ America.

I hope I kept my theater stub.  Maybe I can get a refund.

A life of a single bee

I saved a bee today from excruciating death in my coffee cup.  To see it fly away made me feel so good my eyes watered up.

There it was floundering in that black bitter liquid on the verge of drowning, its wings so heavy with the sludge that it could not get away.  I likened the scene to quicksand.   I was so worried that I snapped at Nebra to hurry up with a spoon.  She had dallied, thinking the bee was dead.

I spooned it out and set it down in the sunlight of the driveway table.  The bee immediately set about with its legs to flick off the coffee from a drenched body.  At first I thought a wing was missing.  But soon the second wing popped into place.  I began to feel optimistic and went off to continue planting the Dianthus.

“It just flew off,” Nebra said, describing two drops of coffee dropped by the bee on take-off.

I looked up.  It hovered for a moment under the umbrella and flew away.

Nebra surmised the bee would have a whale of a story to tell when he got back to the hive.

My motives in the rescue were not pure.  I’d read the stories about the Zombie bees, the declining population in the world of hives.   I want the bee to survive in great numbers, to pollinate my gardens.

I used to feel bad about my softer feelings.  I’d grown up in a tough small town in Kansas, and I often kept those feelings muted.  But now I think the tender side of me may be the best side of me.  I owe something to that bee for reminding me of that.

‘Nightline’ and its depressing path

Yes, ABC’s Nightline has come a long way the wrong way since Koppel and serious news.

The day’s big event was the Vice Presidential debate between VP Joe Biden and VP-aspirant Paul Ryan.  It was one of the best political debates in recent years.  Substance and arguments.  And clarity.  The lines between Biden’s Democrats and Ryan’s Republicans rang clear as a midnight bell.  Yet Nightline‘s lead segment was to contrast, and extol really, Ryan’s youth over the aging Biden.   What has age got to do with the issues, with truth-telling, sincerity or being open with the voters?

I suppose ABC was playing to its young viewers and trying to keep up its ratings.  There are few TV news shows worth the time anymore.  Nightline is just silly.