Sunday, July 27, 2008

Comfort Food

I’m in Mesa and I’m not really supposed to be here.
No, it’s not as though that I have been banned from Mesa or anything sinister like that. (On second thought, who knows, maybe I am banned from Mesa; I haven’t looked at my court papers in a while).
It’s just that I was supposed to be back at home in Tempe after back-to-back house/animal-sitting engagements in Mesa, then Ahwatukee.
But the day I left Mesa, the folks I was house-sitting for - Ron and Joanie Newth - were involved in a pretty bad crash on the interstate. Ron suffered broken ribs, broken bones in one hand, a couple of broken fingers on the other and a concussion. He was released from the hospital Monday (July 21). Joanie is still in the hospital where she is recovering from broken ribs, punctured lungs and a stubborn infection in her leg.
'Since I’m in a position to help out, I returned to the Newths home here in Mesa on Friday and will be here until Ron runs me off. Presumably, the idea was that I would be handy to help Ron with things while he continues to recover.
But Saturday morning, Ron was busy making French toast for our breakfast while I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?
Anyway, any of you who know the Newths will be relieved to know that Ron is taking excellent care of me.
In my defense, I will say that I mowed the lawn. So there.
Of course, I stand ready to help, should Ron need it.
It would be difficult for me to deny Ron and Joan anything, to be honest. Of course, I don't actually HAVE anything, so there's no real internal conflict on my part, if you know what I mean.
The larger point I am trying to make here is that the Newths were there for me in my most difficult days.
On April 21, 2007 (coincidentally that was also the anniversary date of my mother’s death), I received a letter from The Tribune saying that the paper had changed its mind and decided to fire me. In an instant, I was just another incarcerated convict, with nothing much waiting for me outside the prison gate - no home, no job, no plans. The next day, I wrote a terrified letter to Ron and Joanie, asking them to put the word out that I would need a place to stay and a job. Did they know anyone who could help?
They were the one couple that I somehow knew would be there to help. This, despite the fact that I had only known them for a few years and we were more acquaintances than close friends.
A lot of people that I knew much better than the Newths didn‘t waste any time in putting some distance between themselves and me. Not the Newths.
Looking back, there were a handful of truly supportive people who held me up when I was sinking - when, in fact, I sorta wanted to sink. I am referring to folks like Mark and Ranae Salem, Matt and Billye Paulson, Rex Griswold (he offered to let me stay in his home: Imagine THAT conversation: “Honey, get the guest bedroom ready! A convicted felon is coming to live with us!), Geri Koeppel and, of course, my brothers and sister.
So, I will be forever indebted to the folks like the Newths. Ron can make me French toast as long as he wants, as far as I’m concerned.
Funny, our whole relationship started with food.
Back in December of 2005, I wrote a column satirizing a meeting of the Mesa City Council. (if you want to read that column you can find it at:
A couple of days later, I arrived at the office to find a fresh loaf of homemade banana nut bread on my desk with a note from Joanie, a woman I had never met, saying how much she enjoyed my column. That still stands out as one of my favorite memories of my days as the Metro Columnist at the Tribune. It is not for me to say how good that column was, but I bet Hemingway never got homemade banana nut bread for anything he wrote. I’m just saying, you know?
Anyway, like so many people in this part of the world, I’ve grown to love and admire the Newths. They are kind and thoughtful and generous. They’re bright, articulate and hospitable.
During the time I’ve spent with Ron here, I have witnessed how deeply moved he has been by the many expressions of sympathy he has received as he and Joanie recuperate. But that kind of outpouring of affection doesn’t surprise me at all. The Newths have been sowing kindness for years. The crop is coming in, now that they need that sort of nourishment.
I don’t necessarily eye-to-eye with Ron and Joanie on everthing, of course. When it comes to politics they are a little more liberal than I am. For example, they have two miniature schnauzers. Their names are Barack and Hillary.
Of course, while I was house-sitting I called them Ron and Nancy.
But, please, don’t tell the Newths.
I’ve grown quite fond of Ron’s French toast.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gray's Anatomy

Two pretty little girls stand in the living room and it is obvious from their posture and demeanor that they have rehearsed the speech they are about to deliver.
Their dad is sitting there in the living room in his favorite chair. I’m guessing he is watching a ballgame on TV, although it is strictly conjecture on my part. That’s what I do when I sit in my easy chair.
The elder of the two girls, says in a solemn tone, “Dad, it’s time.’’
The younger pipes in on cue, ‘You would be a nice catch for someone.’’
The elder daughter reveals the box she has been hiding behind her back.
It is a box of “Just for Men’’ hair coloring.
You see, dad suffers from a condition that insures perpetual solitude. Dad has gray hair, which means he is condemned to a life of - I don’t know - watching whatever he wants to watch on TV, eating dinner in his boxers when his daughters aren’t staying over, playing golf on both Saturday AND Sunday if he chooses, not having to lower the lid on the toilet and not having to go see “Sex & The City‘’ or - even worse - "Mamma Mia!'' when he really wanted to see “Iron Man.’’
Now, you can bet if this dad’s progeny had been boys instead of girls, the scene would have played out differently, maybe like this:
Elder son: “Dad, it’s time.’’
Younger son holds out a box.
It is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
Now, of course this is simply a television ad. The folks at “Just For Men,’’ are making a point: Gray hair isn’t appealing to women, at least it isn't appealing to lean, long-legged, pretty women in their early 30s.
Based on my own observations, I am conflicted over the accuracy of this claim. As you can tell from my photo, I have gray hair. I am alone. I have not noticed any lean, long-legged pretty women in their early 30s knocking on my door. Of course, I did go to the mailbox down the street a while back. Maybe they came by then. I don’t know. I sorta doubt it.
On the other hand, many women have told me that they find gray hair attractive on a guy.
So maybe it isn’t my gray hair. A quick personal inventory seems appropriate:
Things I have:
A felony conviction.
A winning personality.
A lots of silly stories.
Things I don’t have:
A drivers license.
A home of my own.
A car.
A decent job.
A savings account.
Yes, it is obviously to the gray hair that’s holding me back.
But, then again, there is one huge problem with this conclusion: I already tried coloring my hair.
Really, it was my brother Mick’s fault. About a year-and-a-half ago, he came to visit from Houston and attended church with me. All the folks at church told me how nice it was to meet my younger brother.
Younger brother? He’s four years older than me, for cryin’ out loud!
My brother is living a lie, you see. He’s been coloring his hair for years, the big fraud.
Well, I was so offended that the next day I went down to Smart Clips and had them color my hair. The cosmetologist lady asked me what my natural color was.
“Brown….I think, Yes, brown. I’m pretty sure.’’
An hour later, I emerged from the Smart Clips with a head full of dark, brown hair.
Over the course of the next few days, I noticed that women did not seem to be paying any attention at all. Sometimes I'd walk right past the same woman two or three times, running my hand through my thick brown hair. No response at all, although one lady did threaten to call 9-1-1, if you can count that as a reaction.
None of my male friends noticed, of course That's how guys are. You could walk past your friend with one of your arms torn off and he might not notice. Men tend not to look at each other. Ever.
Of course, there were some women who noticed. My ex-wife, for example. Co-workers, too. And folks at the church. Nobody liked it. Now, they just didn’t come out and say it, of course. But I could tell by their forced smile and the rather vague compliments. “Wow, you look really different!’’ That sort of thing.
The one exception was my teenage daughter, Abby.
“Cool!’’ she said.
Of course, Abby changes her hair color about once per month, so that pretty much eliminated her as an impartial witness.
To be honest, I didn’t like it, either. I felt like a total phony and couldn’t wait for the color to fade to gray.
So, here I am.
Gray again.
And all alone.
Watching a ballgame on TV.
Eating dinner in my boxers.
Works for me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Streaking down Memory Lane

A brief in Friday’s edition of the Arizona Republic caught my attention and made me wax nostalgic.
OK, “wax’’ is not a word I generally use every day. But if Bill Goodykoontz, the Republic's movie critic, can refer to a movie as being a “lark’’ then I should have some license, too. By the way, I thought a lark was some sort of bird. Also, I vaguely recall that Lark was also a brand of cigarettes way back when.
At any rate, the brief was about how the Gilbert police were looking for a man accused of indecent exposure after a woman saw him running naked through a park Thursday morning.
According to the report, he was last seen riding a bike into a neighborhood. I am assuming he was still naked at that point, but the story doesn’t say.
Anyway, the police were provided a pretty good description. The perp is reported to be between 20 and 30 years old, is about 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds and has a tattoo of a sun on his right thigh.
I’d say the woman got a REALLY good look at the offender. At this point, I half expected her to say that the offender likes long walks on the beach, cuddling, old movies and is possibly Jewish, if you get my drift.
I mean, heck, she got everything but a phone number, you know?
Of course, these days the idea of a man running naked through the park is, in some quarter, considered a serious offense. You can get prison time for it, in fact. And after you get out, you have to register as a sex offender and folks will hound you out of any decent neighborhood.
Ah, but this was not always the case.
Well do I know that, in fact.
Let’s travel back to the summer of 1975. A group of 16-year-old boys are hanging out at one of the kid’s homes. They are bored because it is summer, they are 16 and the XBox won’t be invented for another 25 years.
So, one of the boys stands up, strips off his Peter Frampton T-shirt and announces, “I’m going to streak around the subdivision.’’
This pronouncement prompts a lively discussion among the boys. Wagers are made. Then off comes the Levis and Fruit Of The Looms and he is standing there, wearing only his Converse All-Stars.
As the boys begin to scream and holler, heads peak out through the windows of the houses along the previously quiet street. As the boy begins to run down the sidewalk, 14-year-old Avery Bank is, at that very moment, walking out her front door, oblivious to the figure that is soon to pass with a few feet of her.
She hears the hollers, looks up and sees the boy right in front of her. The boy sees her stunned expression as he passes and laughs so hard he almost stumbles.
Soon, he has made the complete circuit and is greeted with cheers from his buddies.
They laugh, slap five (high-fives would not be invented for another five years or so).
Then one of the boys, Bill Perkins, makes a suggestion:
“You know, if you really want to do it right, you should streak by Rockwell,’’ he says.
Now this suggestion represents a serious raising of the stakes.
Rockwell Park is where all the high school kids hang out in Tupelo on a Saturday night. To streak past Rockwell Park - the plan involves running behind Perkin’s ratty old Ford pick-up truck with its headlights flashing and horn blowing - would be an enormous risk. But it would also insure the streaker a permanent place in Tupelo folklore.
“I’ll do it,’’ I said.
So, a hundred feet or so before the entrance to the Park, I emerged from the pick-up truck and made my dash into immortality, with Perkins blasting the horn and shutting the headlights on and off. The kids at the park began to hoop and holler, girls peaked and blushed and laughed.
And at the end of the circuit, the truck stopped and I climbed back into the cab of the truck.
An hour later, Randall, who had also been in the truck told me that he had to talk Perkins out of abandoning me, naked, and speeding away.
“I would have killed him,’’ I said, laughing. That would have been pretty funny, I had to admit.
Now, I don’t know what would have happened if the cops had caught me that summer night 33 years ago. But I doubt I would have had to register for anything or being facing any jail time. Of course, my folks would have gone ballistic, so I'm grateful I wasn't caught.
Of course, times have changed.
There was a time when simply being naked wasn’t considered a sex crime. Heck, I can remember many times when Southern mama’s wouldn’t even let their muddy children set foot in the house. If you had been playing in mud holes - another pre-video-game pastime - your mama would make you strip naked out on the front lawn while she washed you down with the garden hose. Mamas were more concerned with the state of their carpet than any embarrassment suffered as a result on being naked out on the front lawn. Mamas back then were practical that way.
I would strongly suggest mamas avoid this these days. Otherwise, you can expect a visit from CPS.
Late humor columnist Lewis Grizzard put it pretty well, I thought, when he said that there was two states of being unclothed: Naked and Nekked. Naked is when you don’t have any clothes on. Nekked is when you don’t have any clothes on and you’re up to something.
Now, I don’t know the intentions of this guy in Gilbert. I like to think t was just a bit of innocent exuberance. I hope that’s the case.
Somehow, I suspect the woman who reported the incident feels the same way.
It was just a lark, after all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Ripped From The Headlines''

Well, we had the quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors for this blog this afternoon and big changes are in the works, let me tell ya.
The biggest change will be an additional feature, a commentary on stories “ripped from the headlines of today’s news.‘’ That used to be a promo used on the TV show “Law And Order.‘’ Very dramatic, huh?
The board, in case you are wondering, consists of me and the other residents who live on the property, all of whom happen to be horses.
Anyway, the vote for six in favor, none opposed, with Bernie the draft horse abstaining in favor of hogging all the alfalfa while the rest of us discussed the idea.
I’m not sure how often I’ll do this: Fortunately, the board has given me great latitude on the content of this site, mainly because none of them ever read it anyway.
“Man caught with Cocaine in Shoe”
A Chandler man was arrested Thursday after police said he was supporting a lifestyle based on drug sales in the presence of small children.
Rene Saul Arrieta, 27, was arrested at Dobson and Elliot roads Thursday after police said they found approximately 2 ounces of cocaine inside his shoes while he was in the presence of four children between the ages of 1 and 9.
COMMENTARY: Gellin’ like a felon. Literally.
“Gilbert Woman To Be On Big Brother 10’’
A woman from the Higley area of Gilbert made the cast for the 10th season of CBS's Big Brother that premieres Sunday.
April Dowling, 30, is a financial manager for a car dealership, and according to the show's Web site, is obsessive-compulsive and can't sleep unless the bottles in the refrigerator are lined up correctly.
COMMENTARY: I did some further research on this story and discovered that this woman is very blonde and, uh, busty, to put it delicately. Shocking, huh?
I think it’s wonderful that we have someone from our own backyard joining this cesspool of a show. I am wondering now how long she will maintain her virtue. My guess: She’ll be deflowered by the second commercial break, if past shows are any barometer.
If you know this woman's parents, good taste dictates that you avoid the subject altogether when in their presence.

“Sheriff Won’t Be Deterred By Graffiti Incident’’
Sheriff Joe Arpaio says the Mesa graffiti incident won't hold him back from doing his job.
Graffiti of Arpaio's head and the words "Nazi Joe" were recently spotted on several buildings in downtown Mesa.
"There hasn't been one elected official to step up and say 'they shouldn't be saying these things about our Sheriff' regardless of what they believe," Arpaio said. "Where is everybody? For me, no one cares."
COMMENTARY: It’s a comfort to know that Joe’s single-handed mission to Make The World Safe For Inhumanity will not be impeded by the presence of his name on some cinder block walls in Mesa. Quite frankly, I would expect nothing less from “The Toughest Human Being Who Ever Lived” or whatever title he claims for himself these days.
I suspect Joe is already brushing back the tears (For me, no one cares!) and making plans for another massive assault in an effort to get those dangerous hotel maids off the streets.

The real news here is that Joe’s name wasn’t already on all those cinder block walls to begin with. Look around: Everything in the county seems to have Joe’s name on it. If he ever leaves office , it’s going to cost the county about a zillion dollars to take his name off everything.


GOOD NIGHT! And remember, if you can read this blog, thank a teacher. If you can read this blog in English, thank a soldier. If you can read this blog in English and Arabic, thank Barack Obama.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

AARP jumps the gun

The very first e-mail I opened Wednsesday morning was an invitation from AARP.
“Happy Birthday to me,,‘’ I thought.
Then I thought, “Hey, hold your horses on that invite, hoss. I’m only 49 today!’’
Wednesday was my birthday. I was born on July 9, 1959. Do the math. I am 49. Honest.
That’s the problem with being 29 or 39 or 49, I suppose. Any birthday with a “9’’ at the end invites skepticism.
Fortunately, my birthday fortunes improved as the day progressed.
Part of my morning ritual is to read through the Valley’s two newspaper websites and I quickly discovered that Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts had chosen Wednesday to publish a column about me. I doubt that she wrote the column to coincide with my birthday, though. I suspect it was mere happenstance, one of those rare days when Sheriff Joe isn’t up to some self-promoting nonsense.
Laurie was very generous to me in her column. She even included this blog address and, boy, did readers flock to it. Normally, I’ll get a couple dozen visits per day. By early Wednesday afternoon, more than 300 people had chosen to visit the blog. Of course, that means I’m going to have to be a little more diligent in writing blog entries, now that I’ve captured a wider audience.
Many of the visitors to the blog followed up with an e-mail to me. I even reconnected with a few of my old readers from my days at the Tribune, which was very nice.
One guy from Prescott e-mailed me to ask my advice. He’s headed to prison for a four-month DUI sentence later this month. I called him Wednesday evening and we talked for more than an hour about what he could expect in prison. It made me feel good to be able to answer his questions, to assure him that he can get through the experience. I thought back to how frightened I was about the prospects of going to prison.
Laurie also forwarded me responses she received. Several of them mentioned job prospects. So we shall see. I am hopeful, as you might imagine.
I’m certainly grateful to Laurie. I can‘t see much news value in a column about me, to be honest. I will say that is very odd to be the subject of a columnist. I had always been on the other end of that particular stick, after all. She was kinder to me than I deserve, I realize, although she didn't mention in the column anything about my rugged good looks. Maybe the editor took that part out because of space limitations. I’m going with that theory, anyway.
All of my brothers and my sister called with birthday greetings. Birthday cards arrived in the mail from my kids and ex-wife (we have a surprisingly good relationship now that she’s shed of me, oddly enough) and my dear, sweet friend Ann in Queen Creek.
So, on the balance, it was a very good birthday.
I look forward to hearing from AARP this time next year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

An old dog, a new trick

Maggie is going home tomorrow and I’ll miss her.
Calling your attention to the photo on the right side of the page, you’ll note that Maggie is a dog, an Airedale Terrier/German Shepherd mix.
She has been staying with me for the past week while her owners were on vacation in Boston. We’ve had no disputes, really. Oh, the first time I left the house, she proceeded to shred the bamboo blinds on the front door, but I do not believe she did this with any malice. I think she was just suffering from a little separation anxiety, which is understandable since she was in unfamiliar surroundings.
But that has been just a hiccup. We’ve gotten along famously, to be honest.
Each morning, before the heat becomes too oppressive, we talk a little walk. In the evenings, we take a longer walk, usually about 45 minutes.
Now, I am sure that Maggie will be happy to be back home. After all, she has a lot more room there and more people, too, including a couple of kids. Dogs love kids, it’s been my experience.
So, while I’m sure she’ll enjoy being reunited with her family, I also believe that she’s enjoyed her stay here. I know I’ve enjoyed having her.
I gave her snacks and belly rubs and a place of prominence on my bed. (not my side, of course; we worked that out on Day 1).
Really, it’s a pretty good place for a dog. Because I live on an “urban ranch,’’ there are a lot of things that are of natural interest to dogs
Now, as the time approaches for Maggie‘s departure, I realize that she has been teaching me a pretty good life lesson.
They say you can‘t teach an old dog a new trick. But I reckon an old dog can teach us a lesson or two, if we pay attention.
The first couple of days, as we made our evening walks, Maggie seemed to be aware of everything we approached. There were many, many thinks to sniff, to study, to bark at. During those first couple of days, she must have stuck her nose in every gopher hole on the property, which is saying something. She put all the horses on the property to a through sniff test, and they returned the favor. She stared, fascinated, at the goats and the Alpaca who live on a nearby property. Alpacas are world-class competitors when it comes to a stare contest, by the way.
Yes, Maggie spent our entire walks sniffing and discovering and investigatin g. She seemed to be aware of everything.
And, then, on our third evening walk, she spotted a rabbit. The fact that it took her three days to see a rabbit is a bit surprising, to be honest, for the rabbits are plentiful and unafraid here on the ranch. You can approach to within a few feet of them.
But a rabbit’s instincts tell it that a dog is a predator. And in Maggie’s case, those instincts were correct. Maggie spotted her first rabbit as we were leaving the house. The rabbit was lounging under a horse trailer when it caught Maggie’s eye. Suddenly, Maggie was sprinting after the rabbit, almost jerking my arm out of its socket, so hard did she pull on the leash.
Well, that single incident changed the nature of our walks.
What had been a leisurely stroll, became - at least from Maggie’s point of view - a hunt for blood.
From that point on, she rarely investigated any gopher holes or stopped to sniff out the scents that had always fascinated her in the pre-rabbit excursions. Horses, alpacas, other dogs - they also disappeared from Maggie’s consciousness.
Her’s was a single-minded obsession. The multitude of pleasures that greeted her along the way in previous walks seemed to offer no solace.
I think it was a poor choice on Maggie’s part. After all, she must have realized the futility of it. There was no way I was going to let her off that leash. She was never going to catch a rabbit.
And yet, she persisted in her obsession.
I wonder if we humans aren’t like that, too.
I know I am.
God save us from our most desperate desire. Its pursuit can blind us to all other blessings.
I guess Maggie taught me a lesson she can’t learn for herself.
Thanks, girl.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A year out of prison

Today is Wednesday, July 2. That means that one year ago today, I walked out of Florence West prison. I doubt that Emily Post has a section on how such anniversaries are to be commemorated.
Here’s how I chose to do it.
I’m having a friend over. Her name is Maggie. She’ll be staying with me for a week. She came in last night and the only instructions I had for her was to show her which side of the bed was mine. I should point out that Maggie is a dog. I mean, a real dog. I am taking care of her for a friend, who is vacationing in Boston for a week.
Maggie is part Airedale Terrier, part German Shepherd. Basically, she is a large fuzzy-faced dog.
And, like most all dogs, she is a very good listener.
It’s kind of nice to have someone to share my thoughts with on this occasion. For some reason, the anniversary date of my release for prison has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. During that time, I’ve been trying to reflect on what has happened since then and what this whole experience has meant.
Well, I wish I could share with you some profound conclusion. But the truth is, in many respects, I don’t think I’ve made a whole lot of progress since the day I got out of prison.
Back then, I was brimming with optimism. I figured I’d be able to land a job with a newspaper or, failing that, find a job in a related field and would quickly get back on my feet financially. Well, it’s been a year and I’m still just scraping by, still looking for work, still applying for jobs online, still waiting for responses to those applications that never come.
Back then, I had entertained the idea that I could somehow re-connect with my fiancé,, who broke up with me a few months before I went to prison. To my surprise, I found that she had met someone else and got married while I was in prison. So that door has been slammed big-time. To be honest, it still stings a bit.
So, by all outward appearances, I’m still in pretty much the same spot as I was when I got out of Florence West 365 days ago.
But in another sense, I think maybe I have made some progress. More and more, I am beginning to view this whole experience, which began with my DUI arrest on Feb. 19, 2006, as primarily a spiritual journey.
And as I reflect on this past two-and-a-half years, I’ve come to realize that God has used these often painful circumstances to point me toward those things that are really important in life.
And slowly, I am beginning to realize that while a fulfilling career, a companion, and a secure financial future are all things to be desired, they aren‘t the essence of life.
All the things we can see or touch or possess in this world are temporary. The enduring things - faith, hope and love - are the real treasures of life.
And that is why, through no credit of my own, I find that with each job rejection, I am more hopeful, not less. That is why, on those days when it occurs to me that, gee, it would be great to have a mate to share my day with, I find that I am not so lonely anymore. And that is why I find myself to be more empathetic toward people I would have previously judged ever so harshly.
I’ve come to understand that there are really only two kinds of people in this world: The Unrighteous and The Self-Righteous. It’s pretty obvious that I fall into the latter camp. What I realize now, is that it’s the best camp to be in.
So, while my external circumstances may not have improved in any discernable way, I know that I am a better man than I was back then. That’s progress of the best sort.
Of course, I cannot accept any credit for that. People don’t change. People are changed. If I’m better, God made me better.
So here it is a year later and these days I find that my life is sort of like trying to put together one of those giant jig-saw puzzle. Only I don’t have to cover of the box to look at.
The big picture has yet to emerge and, as you might imagine, I am extremely curious to see what it will be. But for now, the best I can do each day is to find pieces that seem to fit together and trust that the picture, a good picture, will someday emerge.
What do you think, Maggie?