Our Thanksgiving paper turkey

The wrap up:  Our Thanksgiving Day turkey.

The wrap up: Our Thanksgiving Day turkey.

It was laying in the driveway wrapped in plastic.  It had been there a while, thawing now in the solar oven of a 48-degree Thanksgiving Day morning,  Someone in a delivery truck had plopped it there in darkness at 39 degrees.

I was not happy to have to carry it into the house.  It weighed a lot.  Some things you have to do.  After all, it was our Thanksgiving Day paper turkey.

I immediately hauled it to the bathroom scales.  It tipped in at 4.7 pounds.  It was probably the largest paper turkey I had ever seen.

I pulled out my Canon and shot a photo of it.  Records these days need proof.  Then I carved off the fat.

The fat section was a confusion of bright colors.  It had exclamation points and $ signs.  A butcher would call this the ads section.  I weighed it too.  Wow, 3.5 pounds.  That left 1.2 pounds for the news section, a chunk of meat varying day to day in nutritional content but still, as any self-respecting journalist would say, it is the white meat of the turkey.  Its most important part.

The turkey was created by a well-known company in these parts, The Arizona Republic.  It thinks so highly of itself that the “T” is always capitalized.

The sad thing was this turkey’s news section looked much like the ads section.

News section (top) dwarfed by ads.

News section (top) dwarfed by ads.

Page One, the section with the most important news, was plastered behind something I just learned is called a spadia.  It is an ad section that wraps half way across Page One.  The spadia was designed to promote Fry’s Food Stores.  One of the most prominent ads was for a package of Lay’s Potato Chips for $1.77 “with card.”

And Page One itself looked much like an ad.  The “news” headline of the day was “the Big Thanksgiving Issue.”  Pasted near the top was an ad for Kohl’s Black Friday $10 off ad — with a purchase of $25 of more.

You would have to look really hard to find the only legitimate news story on Page One, “Hotel Owned by Phoenix has lost $28M since 2008.”  It was a small story hidden at the bottom of the page.

If you were to look at “the” Arizona Republic turkey this morning you would think that making money was by far the most important thing this newspaper does.  And you would be right.

Publishers of much better newspapers ala the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times would no doubt hold their nose and say, “What a travesty!”

Tomorrow will be a black Friday indeed.


Pie Town

Julian's Main Street on the day in question.

Julian’s Main Street on the day in question.

On our way home yesterday from a trip to the West Coast, we decided to stop as usual in Julian, this time for a casual lunch.  Julian is a small, isolated old gold-mining town in California, up narrow and snaking state 78 to a high point in the Cuyamaca Mountains.  The town is now noted in these parts for a different kind of nugget.  Its apple pie.

As we approached town from the west, passing the Apple Tree Inn on the left, I voiced concern about our timing.  Nebra said, “How busy can it be at noon in Julian?”  Seemed logical.  It was a Tuesday and the town has a population of only about 1,500 with a half dozen or more dining possibilities.

So much for assumptions.

Julian was swamped by visitors.  There was virtually no parking  spots left.  Main Street was filled with pedestrians. Restaurants sported long wait lists.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.

We finally discovered a parking place high on a hill near the cemetery in the northwest part of town.  It was a quarter-mile stroll into the business center.  It was sunny but a breeze made the 60 degree temperatures seem frosty.   Couldn’t be the weather attracting these crowds.

Nebra hopped into a fairly long line at the Julian Pie Company and after 10-15 minutes ordered two apple pies to go.  Outside, I saw a woman seated on a low wall with a child.

“We’re just passing through,” I said.  “Do you know why all these people are in town?”  By then I had started to believe a popular bluegrass band was playing nearby.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “We live in San Diego and come up here every year about this time to get pies for the holidays.”

Like a bolt, it struck me.  It was two days before Thanksgiving.  Everybody was here for the pies.  What’s Thanksgiving without Mom and apple pie?

“It gets worse about 1 o’clock,” someone told Nebra about the crowds.

With that piece of news, we walked back up to the car with our boxed pies and headed down the mountain toward home — but without lunch.

Sunday football at the 83

How to do football on the road.

How to do football on the road.

It seems obscene to spend a Sunday afternoon in paradise at, of all things, a sports bar.  But that’s what we did.  To hell with the beach and the roar of the surf and the perfect weather.  Some things, like football, you can’t leave behind in the arid lands of Arizona.

So, after a little recon, we discovered the 83 Degrees, a bar and grill in Carlsbad, California, where we are staying for a short time.

The 83, we were told by our very young waitress, actually received its name from 38 degrees, that being the optimal temperature for dispensing draft beer.  So I read.  Anyway, the owner wanted to name his bar “38” but discovered it was already taken by a bar in Los Angeles.  His solution?  Transpose the numbers.  Voila, “83.”

The 83 is not a special place, I suppose.   I’m no expert on sports bars.  A Yelp reviewer called it “a very simple gastropub/sportsbar with a phenomenal beer selection.”

All I knew was the bar carried NFL games on a dozen or so TV sets scattered around the place, high and low, even a large one outside on the patio.  Each set with an attached piece of paper identifying which game it would display.  Near the back, we found our set, “Seahawks v. Cardinals.”   The Cardinals being the NFL team in Phoenix.

Most of the tables were filled by 1 o’clock.  We sat at a stool with high chairs and ordered.  MJ, a ”roast-beet salad,” which was a lot better than it may sound, and I, a s”Pittsburgher” (a burger with cole slaw ala a New Yorker) served with what seemed an endless pile of fries.  Neither of us ordered beer, but I did not see anyone eyeing us suspiciously.

There were only a few Cardinals fans and, to think of it, there weren’t that many rooting for the Seahawks either.  The game of the day, it appeared, was the “local” team, the San Diego Chargers, taking on the St. Louis Rams.  Most of the shouting came from that section.

The Cardinals lost, 19-3, but only Nebra felt the pain and she, not much.  I rooted against the Cardinals as usual.

That said, I do feel guilty about this small diversion.  Three hours in a crowded bar in such a beautiful area!   But I rationalize the sports-bar scene as an interesting excursion into the para-normal world of the American sports fan.

Four days in a beach town

Our patio view at the Tamarack Beach Resort.

Our patio view at the Tamarack Beach Resort.

It continues to amaze me how good I feel when crossing into California from Arizona.  It must be something like reversing course on the River Styx and coming, not back to Earth, but off-trail and into paradise.

California, true, is a physical place.  But to me, it is also “California,” a state of mind, freedom from the restraints of living in a conservative dust bowl that is Arizona.

A cantankerous Arizona friend suggested, “you, um, could stay there in your paradise.”  But as I tried in vain to explain, living in paradise everyday would soon become ho-hum and then would not be paradise at all.   You need a taste of hell to appreciate it.

So as we crossed the border a few days ago at the Colorado River, where even passing the drab desert town of Blythe, in California,  sent my spirits soaring.  It was then I felt assured we would soon reach our destination on the coast, at the pretty little beach town of Carlsbad, between San Diego and L.A.

We took a room with an ocean view at the Tamarack Beach Resort.  Our patio is separated from the Pacific only by the busy four-lane, Carlsbad Boulevard, the upper walkway with its blue metal railing, the lower walkway and the beach.  That is probably all of 100 yards, depending on the tides.

The great thing is we have not used Nebra’s Prius since arriving three days ago.  We walk everywhere.  The town is only a short walk away with its numerous restaurants and boutiques.  We loaded up on toiletries at an Albertsons market, one of the many generic businesses here..

Weather is nice.  Sunny every day, temps in the 70s.  Yes, that is much like Arizona, but with the added pluses of brisk ocean air and the atmosphere of freedom, something unavailable at our home in Phoenix under that angry, mean, hateful  red-state cloud.

We leave tomorrow for home, our four-days in blue-state paradise sadly at an end.

It is not lost on me that this little pocket of heaven is subject to risk.  After all it is in Earthquake Country.  But I’ve found in this life that without risk, man’s life on this lonely planet never comes close to reaching the stars.

A different kind of Veteran

Veterans Day stirs up dusty and dreary memories. I am a veteran after all, though not much of one.  I still see the scar on my right thumb, wounded in battle with a grumpy oil pan at a 4th Infantry Division motor pool.  Still, I too am eligible to go to a VA hospital and be mistreated and ignored.    I have seen the vagaries of military life in a time of peace. I understand why we as a country do not do well at wars anymore.

Here is a brief summary of my military adventure.

Back in the day, the gods of war created the draft.  You had a number.  If it was high, you were “called up.”  That meant a two-year stint in the Army.  Even then, the draft was a farce.  All sorts of deferments laid at your feet.  Stay in college, get married, have children. Most kids my age never saw an M-1, never learned the finer art of dyeing brown army boots black and spit-shining, never had to clear a gas mask or faced the humility of a bolo-ing  on the shooting range.

Any way, I was a low wage-earner with no savings and only a year of college.  Navy ROTC didn’t get me anywhere.  So I “volunteered for the draft,” as they say.  Two years of my time and a nice adventure.  I soon found myself in boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, in the Ozarks of southern Missouri.

For recruits it was learning a lot of skills needed later in civilian life.  Long marches, bivouacs, calisthenics and training with rifles and  gas masks, crawling on your belly through mud on an infiltration course with explosives going off at your side and machine gun fire above.  And then there was KP, peeling potatoes and washing pots and pans. And guard duty in the middle of the night, walking around with a rifle on your shoulder knowing nobody would steal anything.  The highlight of your stint was a trip to Lebanon.  Not the country.  The post-town to the west.

I qualified “to go Airborne,” but did not like heights.  I qualified for Officer Candidate School but did not want to “re-up” for more years.  So I stayed with the grunts, the lowest rank of soldier.  The ones who mostly die in wars.

One good thing. Boot camp slammed two different cultures together.  Small-town kids from Kansas like me merged with rough with tumble thugs from Chicago.  We became unified, though, in our hate of arrogant officers and NCOs who routinely lied to us.  If you do this and this, you will get liberty on the weekend, we were told.  We did as ordered, like winning the post athletic competition.  But, alas, no trip to Lebanon.  A lesson in false promises and motivational speeches.

On Saturday mornings a prissy lieutenant would inspect the barracks.  Again, there was the promise of weekend liberty if we “passed.” At first, I thought it was a real inspection.  The officer entered the barracks while we stood at attention and waited his heaven-cast decision.  He checked our beds by flipping a half-dollar coin onto the Army blankets to see if it bounced.  If it did not, the officer was not happy.  He put on a white glove and probed into every nook and cranny until he invariably found his glove soiled.  That distressed him greatly.  No liberty and a weekend of labor and drills.  I reluctantly accepted my station in life.  Slave to the masters.

It was all a game, I suppose, with a purpose.  But, if you had too much pride as I did, you rebelled.   At least privately.

I survived boot camp somehow.  I could strip down an M-1 rifle, clean the parts and reassemble it blind-folded.  I was lean and hard.  But I came away with a life-long distaste for the military life.   Never again would I put myself in a position where others totally controlled my destiny.  I thought of the battlefield more than once and how some officer could “sacrifice” my platoon, my life, for the so-called greater good.

After boot camp and school at Wood, I was sent west to the 4th Infantry Division.  The 4th was then based at Fort Lewis, WA.  For a short time, I served as a supply clerk with the 4th Aviation Company.  The officers flew motorized planes for recon.  No jets.  I typed out forms, or requisition orders.  My daily life came down to airplane parts, mops and brooms, all the little things that make the military function.  I was good at it.  I could type fast and knew all the codes and I worked diligently to escape the tedium.  I kept my spirits up by reading books more I ever had.  I bought a set of barbells from York and worked out in the back of the supply room.

Pay was pitiful.  The figure $76 a month comes to mind.  Of course you got room and board, such as it was.  Near the end of every pay period a sad parade of married soldiers would amble through the barracks begging to borrow money.  They lived off-base and had wives and children to support on the same wages as mine.  I did a couple of loans myself and always got paid back.  I could not bring myself to charge interest as some did.  It was another dim reminder of politicians in Washington wanting to buy an army on the cheap and increasing business for pawn shops.

For a long time I walked everywhere.  Mostly to the PX and back.  Finally, the company clerk and I went together to buy an ancient Plymouth sedan.  It was green and so were we.  We got what we paid for.  The ignition didn’t work and we had to push it so it would start.  We learned strategy from parking that lemon on lonely spots on hills. If the Plymouth was in the mood, we’d head for paradise, a trip into smelly Tacoma where the pulp mills fouled the air.  Compared to the base, it was wonderful.

The highlight of my military career, if you could call it that, was playing ball.  I did little the last year and a half but play baseball, football and basketball.  For a while I thought I had beaten the system.

We jocks lived like kings.  This was particularly true during football season.  We were given “Class A” duty.  We lived in a separate barracks away from the normal, hard-working grunts and slept in till noon if we wanted.  I learned pinochle and backgammon from a running back  from California who also gave me an appreciation for jazz.  The only expectation was to attend practice in mid-afternoon and play the games on weekends.  The games, though, could be hell.  I still remember playing the semipro Seattle Ramblers in a cold, driving rainstorm.  Poor us.

Basketball and baseball got only “Class B” status.  While we lived in the same separate barracks like football, the jocks had to return to their companies in the morning to do this or that.  Mainly I was a driver for the battalion commander, Col. Pete Clainos, one of the few officers I half  way liked.  He was a West Pointer, after all, and seemed secure in his role, so unlike the officers that came up through OCS and college ROTC.

In the summer, though, everyone went on maneuvers in the Rattlesnake Hills above Yakima, on the dry side of the Cascades.  I was a short-timer by then and marked down the days I had left to serve in the underside of my Army cap.  Because I could taste freedom again, I suppose, the slightest of moments filled me with joy.  Like the smell of apple blossoms wafting up from the Yakima Valley at night, and even driving in darkness with a major who couldn’t read a map.

And there was the time, we prepared to go to war in Lebanon, not the town.  Even back then there were tensions in the Middle East.  The 4th was a STRAC unit, ready for combat anywhere in the world within 24 hours, it was said.  We greased our rifles, packed our bags and were on the verge of boarding a train to the docks when everything was called off.  Not that I minded.

So, now, I am, yes, a veteran.  But it is nothing I’m proud of.  I got through the military the best way I knew how.  On the other hand, I was available to fight a war.  But that was about it.  Being “available” is not worth the “shit on a shingle” we had for breakfast.  Not compared to what others have endured.

That does not keep me from wishing the best for all those veterans before and after me who truly served their country in a meaningful way.  Particularly those who actually came into harm’s way.  And extra-particularly those who fought in unpopular and needless wars, like in Vietnam and in George W. Bush’s campaign of empire in Iraq.

Having watched the sons and daughters of our wealthy class avoid wars their parents are so fond of creating, I hope the draft will again return. A real draft with real consequences for everyone.   It is the only fair way to go.  Everybody should be required to do government service of some kind.

If I can get through military life, anyone can.