The Hemingway cafe

The Wildflower:  Clean and well-lit.

The Wildflower: Clean and well-lit.

Everytime I drop in for a sandwich at the Wildflower Bread Co. on East Indian School I think of Ernest Hemingway.  Not so much Hemingway the author as the title of one of his stories, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”   But I think of  just the title.   I do not confuse it with the story’s deep meaning.

After attending a neighbor’s funeral service this afternoon on the other side of town, I treated Nebra to a sandwich at the cafe.  Brilliant sunlight slammed through the front windows on the south and into the large near spotless interior of the dining room where a dozen customers of all ages hunkered over e-readers, i-Pads and laptops.   Lost in digitized space.  Yes, connected and yet so very empty and lonely, or so it seemed.

The Wildflower is that kind of place.  Modern, in a tech-ish sense, and a little pretentious. You seldom see anyone poring over a physical book there, though a few days ago I did flip actual-paper pages of Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” in a nearby booth.  It’s no longer cool to open dust jackets.  I know that.

Nebra ordered a Chopped Salad.  I had a Turkey Breast and Brie sandwich with a cup of bland Ethiopian coffee.  We said little.  I was letting the funeral settle on my mind, that and this recurring thought.  Most of us never really know our neighbors until they die and we read the obit or go to the service.  Even then we only scratch the surface of a person’s life.

If the theme of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is the nothingness of man, I can see it here at the Wildflower. But the cafe is a great place to read stuff that doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things.  It’s a place to kid yourself how smart you are.

It was not until later, back at the house, that I thought again of Hemingway’s story and how true the theme of it sounds.


Shuffling along on the first day of summer

Rearranging the line-up for summer.

Rearranging the line-up for summer.

Summer here in Phoenix officially arrived yesterday at 10:04 pm.  And today, being the first full day of the new season, requires a duty that has become all but official.  It is the day to rearrange the driveway potted plants and move the umbrella, patio table and two chairs.

The driveway runs north and south along the east side of the house.  This means the south end of the driveway will bake in that oven like a peach pie.  There is no timer on this stove.  The baking season will in all likelihood last until October.  Three and a half months more.

The ecology of the driveway is largely dependent on our neighbor’s over-hanging willow.  It offers shade at the north end when it is beefed up by enormous amounts of water.  Particularly in summer.  Trouble is the willow’s owner cares not one desiccated leaf about the tree.  She has an artificial lawn and never waters anything unless a rare notion of conscience comes her way.  In fact, I’m running our hose on the willow as these words are imaged on the page.

The prep work is mostly confined to sweeping the drive of yellow, crumbly willow leaves.  And the sickly way the tree looks, many more are on the way.

It takes at least an hour to sweep.  That’s if I want to do a good job.  I wanted to today but didn’t earlier.  The usual sweep is in the open parts of the driveway, leaving the willow’s droppings and cobwebs to their own devices behind the scene.  Like serving as home to a small colony of colorful  little lizards.  Today, I actually moved plant containers to sweep.  Lo and behold!

After sweeping, it is time to migrate the plants north toward the modicum of willow shade.  It involves great and exhausting thought.  What plants need sun and what ones don’t.  The easy part is moving the tables and chairs.  No angst here.  They always go to the same place.  Where the fireplace juts out.  The umbrella is moved a tad north to expose the okra which is yet to bear fruit.  (Sadly I saw some at Sprout’s yesterday for $3.96 a pound.  I caved in and bought a mess of about 4 oz.)

The ferns, the Dianthus and English ivy (hanging from a basket) are the first plants to move.  I left one unproductive tomato plant on the south with an ice plant and the okra.  Full sun for them.  Other plants migrated northward in small doses.

All of this concentrated effort takes a whopping two hours and cuts into the monumental time required to read the A section of the New York Times every morning.  But in the end I suppose it’s worth it.  There’s something to be said for saving a plant life.  More to the point, it’s a tradition with me.

The cactus sun dial

The cactus-decorated sun dial.

The cactus-decorated sun dial.

What better location for a sun dial than Phoenix?   Well, discounting Yuma, also in Arizona.  The Colorado River city has 242 days of sun, according to  That’s tops in the U.S.  Phoenix rates No. 2 with 211 days.

The god of the sun dial?

The god of the sun dial?

Those facts and figures were furthest from my mind yesterday as I padded along the cement walkways of the Desert Botanical Garden in the east part of town.  The sun was unfortunately brilliant.  And hot.  I was trying out my new Canon EOS T3i camera, and just wanted to get it over with and back to the comfort of my swamp-cooler house.

Even in the shade happiness existed.

Even in the shade happiness existed.

Near a small plaza in the Herb Garden I was surprised to see a giant sun dial imbedded there in the concrete, decorated with two colors of cactus.  A long slanted pole hung over the dial pointing north.  The pole cast a shadow that was nearing the numeral “6” on the circle.  I didn’t need someone to tell me that meant 6 o’clock.  I shot the photo and later checked the time.  It was 5:45.

A nearby dial observor.

A nearby dial observor.

Somehow running across the sun dial made me feel better.  And I enjoyed the rest of my hour-long wander through the Garden, surprised even more to see so much color this intensely-hot and wilting  time of year.

Happy flowers near the Herb Garden.

Happy flowers near the Herb Garden.

My close friend, the Gambel's Quail.

My close friend, the Gambel’s Quail.

Journal of a new Canon T3i

The camera's first day.

The camera’s first day.

Index located at end of the Journal.

Latest entry:  June 29 re Zeiko tripod.


June 14, Friday:  I placed an order with for a new Canon EOS Rebel T3i 600 D, paying $641.83 with a credit card.  The order included an EF-S 18-55 mm lens.  It is a big upgrade from the other digital, a Canon Powershot SX 20 IS, purchased 3 1/2 years ago, also from Amazon. And it’s costing about $300 more than the old camera which was adequate.  I paid $22 extra for 2-day delivery.  Why change cameras?  Mainly I wanted more versatility.  Like being able to use different lenses and capability to manipulate the shutter with a remote release.  Also I like the T3i’s higher resolution, rated about 18 pixels compared to the old camera’s 12.  Consumer’s Report ranks this camera near the top of DSLRs.

First image I shot.  Not pretty but pretty detailed.

First image I shot. Not pretty but pretty detailed.

June 18, Tuesday:  Camera arrived at the house via UPS at 5:01 pm.   The large package amazed me.  The box ran 21 1/4″ x 14″ x 7 1/4″.  Then I remembered Amazon included more than just the camera kit.  In doing the inventory, I found among the many “extras” a cheap Zeiko 59″ tripod and a camera bag.  In a small box only 8 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ came the T3i kit that of course included the camera body and the lens.  A genius had managed to cram into this small box:  Battery pack, battery charger, 2 cables, a power cord for the charger, a 1 1/2″ strap, 2 DVDs, a pair of instruction manuals (English and Spanish) and 3 booklets (“Macro Photos Made Easy”, “Flash Classroom” and “Using Image Stabilizer Lenses for Better Results”).

Ares, god of war, my 2nd subject.

Ares, god of war, my 2nd subject.

Outside the kit, I found a 16 GB memory card, 2 memory card wallets, a backup LP-E8 battery, a 5-pc lens cleaning kit, a screen protector, a memory card reader/writer, a 6′ HDMI cable and a DVD, “Digital SLR Photography in A Snap.”  I have two other items coming. One is a wireless remote for the shutter release, the other a “rose-petal” shading for the lens.   Made computer notes on the inventory and filed them.  Set Up.  Followed the Quick Start Guide in the Instruction Manual, first inserting the battery pack, LP-E8, despite is having a low charge.  This is quite a change from the old camera and its four AA batteries.  Next I inserted the memory card in its slot, attached the zoom lens, set the lens focus mode switch to AF (Auto-Focus), turned the power switch to On with the Mode Dial at Scene Intelligent Auto, punched in the correct date and time (“1904”) and shot two photos, first via the viewfinder and then using the LCD monitor.  Thought the photo quality of my bare feet and the young cat, Ares, sharp and nicely exposed.  Differences from the old Canon seem largely button locations.  For instance the review and erase buttons are on the bottom-right, not on the right shoulder like the SX 20.  The other obvious difference is zooming.  No lever now.  I must rotate a ring on the lens.  And bringing up the photo image on the swivel monitor requires pushing a button at the top center.  To turn the camera ON/OFF requires moving a lever, not pushing down a button.   The mode dial, shutter button, viewfinder, monitor and set-button circle are located in similar spots as the old camera.  So not everything is new.  But it’s going to take time to use this camera effectively.

June 19, Wednesday:  Dislike.  No light to indicate the camera is turned ON or OFF.  The Access Lamp (back, lower right corner) flickers red and dies out immediately after switching the camera to ON.  Consequently, without a light, I left the camera running by accident for several hours last night and drained the battery.  On my old SX 20, the ON light stayed orange until the camera was turned off. The T3i must be for Mr. Perfect who never makes a mistake.

The LP-E8 battery pack that came with camera.

The LP-E8 battery pack that came with camera.

June 20, Thursday.  Battery.  Very easy to see how the ol’ battery’s doing.  Turn camera to ON and open up the Monitor.  There, on the bottom left of the screen, is the battery icon with two diagonal lines through it.  If all white, battery’s OK.  Shows three other levels:  low but operable (first diagonal), low and near exhausted (second diagonal and blinking) and empty (all white).  After an afternoon of use yesterday, the icon is still as white as can be.  But I’m a little concerned about battery life.  The manual says the LP-E8 should last for about 550 shots with no flash and 73 F.  And about 440 shots with 50% lash.  I’ve read this camera’s batteries can be a problem.  The LP-E8 is expensive.  Canon lists it at $53.50 but it can be purchased for less.  And a lot less if you choose a generic “replacement” battery.  Saw one on Amazon for $13.  The LP-E8 is a lithium-ion battery, 2″ x 1 1/2″ and a half-inch thick.  Despite its bulk, this battery is much easier to snap into place than the four AA batteries in my old camera.  The compartment door on the bottom does not jam like the SX 20 did.  The “LP” is said to be the most advanced (lighter and higher capacity) than the other three ranges of EOS batteries (NP, BP and NB).  The “E8” category is designed to fit Canon’s 550 D cameras and above.  The battery is suppSo now I drink, a sip of coffee, to a long, happy battery life. . . . Last shipments arrive.  The last two items of my camera purchase arrived in separate packages:  A wireless remote (Neewer IR, $3.83) and a Tulip Flower lens hood (Vivitar 58 mm, $5.89), all at a “discount” and part of the original package price of $641.  The lens hood came with two unexpected items.  A Zeiko’s 3-pc cleaning kit and a lens cap “keeper” that attaches to the camera body.  More on these products later.

June 21, Friday:  Zooming in on Playback.  Until today I was annoyed with the Playback (image review).  I couldn’t zoom-in and shift around on the image.  For instance?  Yesterday I captured an image of a Gambel’s quail.  The quail as it appeared in Playback was too small, almost lost among its surroundings.  I wanted to blow up the image so I could see if the bird was in focus and positioned properly.  If not, I would have to take another shot. But I didn’t know how to zoom in.  I returned home relying on luck that everything would turn out OK.  (And it did).   My old SX 20 had a spring lever toward the front of the camera that would enlarge the image quickly, often too quickly.  Dithering about this morning, I found two unexamined buttons on the right shoulder of the T3i.  A small one on the right for enlarging the image and a larger one on the left for reducing it.  Although not as quick to manipulate as the SX 20’s zoom, this zoom is one is more precise.  Every time you tap a button, it goes up or down a notch.  Problem solved.

June 23, Sunday:   Photo quality is very good.  And I think my photography will improve as I become accustomed to the camera.  The trick for me is to take my time when shooting, find a focal point and press the shutter button steadily.  Too often I press the shutter quickly and camera movement occurs, spoiling the shot.  And I need to use the tripod more.

June 24, Monday:  Continuous shooting v. single shots.  This camera can reel off 3.7 photos in a second, even when you don’t want them.  Yesterday, while shooting in North Mountain Park, I pressed the shutter down and before I knew it, I had shot 4-5 photos of the same thing.  I didn’t realize at the time that in Portrait or Sports mode the default is continuous shooting.  I should’ve been in Landscape with the “single-shot” default, but was probably in Portrait.  Must pay better attention to the Mode Dial on top-R.  You can shoot single-shot from default in Portrait and Sports but your shutter finger has to be quick to release.

June 29, Saturday:  Tripod.  Unboxed the Zeiko Pro Series 59″ tripod that came as part of the camera package.  Sells for $30 on Amazon, so I wasn’t expecting much.  And I was right.  It is not nearly as sturdy as my old Slik and to connect tripod screw to camera is problematic.  If extended from the packaged 21 inches to 59, it is shaky.  I’ll stay with the Slik.


Battery:   LP-E8.  Life expectancy, price to replace, ease of changing, (June 20).

Cleaning kit:  A 5-pc “extra” that comes with Amazon package,  (June 18).  Unexpected arrival of a second kit, a Zeiko’s 3 pc, (June 20).

Comparison:  Why change cameras? (June 14).  Differences from old Canon SX 20, (June 18).

Continuous shooting:  It’s default in Portrait and Sports modes. Shots per second, (June 24).  To prevent several shots of the same subject, check Mode Dial, (June 24).

Dislikes:  See also Likes.  No ON light indicator, (June 19).

Inventory: Camera kit and extras, (June 18).

Lens:   Tulip-flower lens hood arrives, (June 20).  Arrival of “keeper” string that attaches lens cap to camera body, (June 20).

Likes:  See also Dislikes.  Ease of changing battery, (June 20).  Quality of photo, (June 24).

Modes, Portrait:   Caution, default is Continuous Shooting, (June 24).

Modes, Sports:  Caution, default is Continuous Shooting, (June 24).

Photos:   Canon EOS Rebel T3i (June 14).  Battery pack LP-E8, (June 20).  First photos, (June 20).  Quality, (June 23).

Playback:  (Image-review feature).  Zooming in on an image, (June 21).

Price:  At compared to old SX 20,  (June 14).

Set up:  Using Quick Start Guide, (June 18).

Shutter:  See also Wireless Remote.

Tripod:  Zeiko Pro Series 59″, (June 29).

Wireless Remote:  Arrival of wireless remote release, (June 20).

A sad farewell to the trumpet

I wanted to play the trumpet as a boy.   I was reminded of that a few nights ago while watching the film “Chinatown” for the umpteenth time.  The rich, melancholy sounds of Uan Rasey’s trumpet dot the soundtrack and capture the film’s essence, Los Angeles noir, to a tee.

It’s unclear when I first fell in love with the brassy sounds of the trumpet.  I suspect it was a 40s film toward the end of the Big Band era but really I do not know.

I was in fourth or fifth grade when the music instructor, Mr. Christopher, began meeting with parents, urging them to buy instruments for their children so the school would have a decent band by the time they reached high school.

My choice was the trumpet, or the similar cornet.   Making the choice easier was the fact my two best friends had signed up for the trumpet.  But to my great disappointment, Mr. Christopher, told my parents I didn’t have “the lip” to play trumpet and suggested the clarinet whose softer often squawky sounds marked it in my mind as an instrument for girls.  I didn’t like anything about the clarinet but in the end, wanting to please my parents, I capitulated.

I see now that I was probably the victim of a numbers game, that Mr. Christopher was less worried about my lip and personal desire than he was in having X number of clarinets to go with Y number o trumpets and cornets.

When I finally got old enough to start thinking for myself and making a limited number of decisions, I dropped the clarinet and gave up entirely on the music game.  I liked to listen to music.  I just didn’t want to play it.

Looking back, I wonder what might have happened had I been allowed to experiment with the musical instruent I admired.  Parents make a mistake when they force certain musical instruments on their children to please a band instructor.  Such decisions, I’m sure,  always turn out bad.

And people wonder why their children grow up frustrated just like they did.  It’s bad parenting.

Michael Shannon: Perfect face for ‘The Iceman’

Apparently even the most cold-hearted and vicious of killers needs a soft corner in his life, even if it is a make-believe world held high and separate from the crud that dominates his violent livelihood.  In the case of mob hitman Richard Kuklinski in “The Iceman,” this fairy-tale world is his family, a wife and two daughters, who he allows to go about their suburban lives in blissful ignorance.

“Iceman” is a film in need of a face.  The voice tells us very little.  And Director Ariel Vromen could not have found a better face than Michael Shannon’s to portray his superb study of real-life killer Kuklinski’s split psyche.   It is a monster’s face, and if you study it as the movie progresses it seems to look more and more like “Frankenstein’s Monster.”

Shannon, a little-known actor who received a 2008 Oscar nomination for a supporting role in “Revolutionary Road,” has a big, square-jawed face with eyes and mouth that can express utter indifference to human life and a flicker later reflect the doting love of a husband and father.  And a face too that reveals the mounting stress as his two worlds come closer and closer together.  Kuklinski’s words are nothing.  The Face tells all.  And what it tells shakes our confidence.  What is real in our own lives and what is fiction?

In the opening scenes, The Face undergoes a believability test.   Kuklinski is seen bundling porn films for the mob’s distribution network headed by small-time New Jersey mobster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) and then on a sophomoric first-date with the child-like Deborah, his wife-to-be played equally well by Winona Ryder.

It is during this date that we truly encounter The Face for the first time as taciturn Kuklinski lies about his occupation.  The Face is stoic as usual but the eyes reflect a kindness we do not see a few frames later when we see him slit a man’s throat over a trifling matter.   When The Face tells Deborah his favorite film is “Cinderella,” we too are torn between our cynicism and wanting to believe it possible.

“The Iceman” is unrelenting in its violence.  It is hoped the Oscars will not turn away from the film because of it.  The film is so much more than violence.