That’s the way it was

I read recently in my hometown newspaper, the Messenger in rural Kansas, that in 1938, local men teachers received a salary of $1,386 a year and women teachers only $943. That’s a disparity of 32%.

This unjust pay discrepancy flew under my radar in the ensuing years of my boyhood, even though my father was on the school board and thus partly responsible for the practice.  All my grade school teachers were women, and as far as I know none ever complained.

After I had written this, a woman friend who still lives in that now-shrunken spot on the road, shrugged, “That’s the way it was.”

Many of my school friends look back on those long-ago days with sentimentality, as if growing up there was life’s grandest moment. And maybe it was if you were white and male. But to carry these myths about your hometown into adulthood, forgetting the racism, the barbarity, and the unfair pay to women, well, I can not see that as more than childish thinking.

This sentimentality for the past, I think, is one of the most crippling aspects in today’s America.

“That’s the way it was” doesn’t have to be “That’s the way it will always be.”



A couple of cats

A few days ago I walked up into the park north of the house as I do about once a week.  It was there, by the lagoon, that I saw the black cat and spoke to it.  Something like, “Hey, baby, what ya doing?”

On my return, walking the same route, I came across the same cat. It was laying in the parking lot dead.  Run over by a car.  I later wrote this in my notebook in ink and pen and now wonder what provoked me to spend, what, 15 minutes? writing about it.

“I had spoken to it not an hour before as it stalked a bird hidden from view.  The cat, so full of life then, knew not that it had only about an hour to live. Flies gathered on it now, around the eyes and the tail. It was a blessing, though, to not know the coming moment of death.

“Nearby, maybe 25 yards away, another cat, a young one, lay with its back up against the curb, the hot day sucking the life out of it. It was black too only with a little brown.  It was lethargic and did not move as I approached, emitting only a feeble mee-ow.

“I walked home and drove back with tuna and water.  The cat hadn’t moved. I placed the bowls close to it and walked back to the car to watch.  It headed for the tuna first and then drank.  It repeated this several times. As I drove off I saw the cat had lain down again.  I wondered if I had done nothing more than put it out of death’s way for only a few more days.  I’ll come back tomorrow and may take the cat home.  At the end of it all, I felt depressed.”

I did go back the next day with food and water again.  I found it this time laying under a car in the shade.  It made me shudder.  I stopped to tear off a piece of paper and wrote a note to the driver:  “There may be a cat under your car. Please watch for it before you back up.”  I placed the paper under the windshield wiper on the driver’s side.

Finding the cat under the car provoked me to pick it up and place it in my car.  I would take it home where I have two outside cats and an inside one named Ares. But it put up such a howl and was in such apparent distress that I gave up, let it trot away to some palm trees.  I placed the food, hard food this time, and water close by.  Then I left.  I came by the next two days but did not see it.

I’m still trying to understand my motives for feeling as I do.  The only thing that comes to mind is innocence.  Unlike people, animals live in the moment. I don’t think that even a snake or an alligator has a mean bone.  Sometimes, I think I care more for animals than human beings.



My life in sketching

I like to draw with pencil and paper.  It is an inner need that has a long history.

I remember drawing as a child during WWII.  At one time, I drew war cartoons showing Japanese and German planes being shot down by U.S. pilots.  I folded up the cartoons like newspapers and sent them sailing into people’s yards from a tricycle.  I can’t remember if anyone liked them.  But I didn’t get any complaints for the litter.

As a college sophomore, I took an art class. I recall standing before an easel with a charcoal pencil in my right hand.  The instructor watched me for a few moments, then readjusted the way I was holding the pencil.  Since I knew more than the instructor and possibly even more than Da Vinci himself, I thought he was crazy.  I soon dropped out.

If you would look now in my chest of drawers, you would find old sketchbooks buried beneath the underwear and t-shirts.  Some of the sketches go back to 1980 (see photo).  All are crude and unimpressive.  I was in my 40s then, but I give myself credit.  I wanted to learn.

Now,here I am years later — having led a life that clearly shows I was nowhere as smart as I thought — wanting to learn to sketch.

By departing with about $50, I ordered a video lecture series from The Great Courses. The course is called “How to Draw.”  I hope to write how things progress.  Or don’t. Given my poor record with authority figures, I may drop out of this one too.

So far, things are going nicely.  But it is early. The instructor, Professor David Brody, has yet to tell me how to hold my pencil.

The goring of horses

Only 10 pages in to “Death in the Afternoon,” I am in disagreement with Hemingway’s view of the most despicable act in bullfighting.  The goring of innocent horses.

Picadors riding on horses place lances in the bull’s neck during the Second Act of this “sport” the Spaniards call Tragedy.  They do this to weaken the neck muscles and force the bull to charge the matador, in the final Third Act, with head and lethal horns lowered.   A matador could not fight a bull otherwise without injury or death.

As the picadors place the lances, the bull gores the horses, disemboweling them.  The Spaniards have tried to prettify this by putting a quilt over the abdomen of the horse, so you often do not see the blood and guts pour out.  Not only that, but the horses that come into the arena for the other fights smell the blood and gore and are terrified.

“I believe,” writes Hemingway, “that the tragedy of the bullfight is so well ordered and so strongly disciplined by ritual that a person feeling the whole tragedy cannot separate the minor-comic tragedy of the horse so as to feel it emotionally.”

In other words, the end justifies the means.  In that case, you can justify all sorts of atrocities.

If in politics, say, you want a better America and the only means of achieving it is to torture and eliminate people who do not agree with the end result, then what do you have?  This moral issue is a difference of opinion I did not consider when reading “Death” as a young man,  So, in the first chapter, I’m already against bullfighting as a sport or a tragedy.

To read further, I must do my own pirouette.  I must say does reading the book as travelogue, the ends, justify putting myself through all the issues that lay ahead?  I am pushing ahead for now.


“Death,” The Second Time Around

This morning I began rereading “Death in the Afternoon,” Hemingway’s studied look at all aspects of the bloody sport of bullfighting.  This time I am reading it as a travelogue.  The book is set in Spain, a country we plan to visit in the fall.

Travelogue, yes.  But there will be no escaping the deaths of matadors, fighting bulls and innocent horses. I will get through it somehow, putting aside my evolved sensitivity to the art of killing innocent animals for human pleasure.

I was in my 20s the first time I read “Death,” inspired by news the charismatic actor James Dean, with his alleged fascination of death, literally devoured the book.

Not only did Dean read the book, he marked passages in colored ink:  Red for death, yellow for degradation, blue for disfigurement and green for disability.  So the story went.

Like star, like star-struck, I purchased “Death” through the mail,  an unused hardback, the one with the exotic dust jacket of a matador passing a bull under his cape.  And, though never fascinated with death, I marked it just as Dean supposedly had.  And I managed to learn much about bullfighting, though to this day I have never witnessed one in person.

To read “Death” is not simply to read of the bull fight.  In passing Hemingway offers advice to writers and expresses his philosophy of how things work in this world.  So, in addition to my reading, I will post my own thoughts.

I hope to rediscover how reading a book when you’re young is never quite like reading it when you’re older.




Flag man of the mountains

Flag Man on North MountainI had just settled in on a flat rock atop North Mountain and bitten in to a turkey sandwich when a man marched up from the steep National Trail hoisting an American flag. It was a strange sight to see, even in this urban wilderness of Phoenix.

He said his name was Larry, and described himself as the Flag Man. He was tanned and trim. Even in what appeared to be his 50s, he looked in excellent shape and boasted of running a recent marathon.

Larry said he and a friend tended to three planted American flags on peaks in Glendale’s Thunderbird Park a dozen miles miles or so to the northwest.  That was news to me. The last time I hiked in Thunderbird there were only two flags.  So the virus of “patriotism” is apparently metastasizing.

I did not tell the Flag Man of the Mountains that I disliked his idea of being a patriot, that I thought it actually unAmerican to put up unauthroized flags atop public parks. And I also think it a desecration of Nature.  Soon Larry and his flag were off but not gone. I later saw him several times clambering the summit trail along with his flag.

Flat Man at WorkIt should be noted that, in my experience, North Mountain is hiked predominantly by Hispanics, the dark-skinned race so despised by right-wing white people who fear “the others” are taking over their country,

I had asked Larry why he paraded the flag on such neutral territory as a public park.

“God and country,” he said. “For everybody.”

Not quite everybody.




The 5 deadliest roads and me

A thank-you goes out to the travel god who protected me while  driving on five of the deadliest highways in the U.S. I realized my good forutne only recently by coming across an article in the local newspaper.

Those killer roads, in order of their deadliness:

1) Interstate 4 (Tampa to Daytona Beach). I was covering the United States Football League championship game in Tampa when one night I just started driving east, hoping to reach Cape Canaveral, This was in July 1984.

2) Interstate 25 (Dallas to Galveston) In 1973, I was working for a newspaper in Temple, Texas, and took off with the family one afternoon on a travel adventure to Houston.

3) U.S. 192 (central Florida to Cocoa on the Atlantic shoreline.  Same trip as #1.

4) Interstate 17 (Phoenix to Flagstaff). I have driven this route many, many times. The last trip on Thanksgiving Day, we lost 25 minutes due to accident just north of Anthem.  Looked bad. Drivers side crushed.

5) Interstate 95 (Maine to Florida):  The major highway along the East Coast.  We were vacationing in New England and the Maritimes, in Canada, and drove back to Boston  and survived. Circa 2010.