Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cats I've Known

We had three cats when I was growing up.  Pocohantis or Poki was a black and white outdoor cat.  He was scared of people and lived under the house.  Malahini or Mali was a female Siamese.  I have a picture of her with a baby bonnet on her head and intense glaring eyes.  She raised three litters of kittens.  If a dog wandered into our yard, she would chase it off.

We kept one of the male kittens out of Mali’s first litter.  Nebbechadnezer or Nebbie had a kink in his tail.  We sold the other kittens, but no one wanted a kinky cat.

Cats have distinct personalities.  One of the cats we had in Boulder, Opus, would all of a sudden charge around the house like his synapses were misfiring.  Tammy, was very motherly.  When we yelled at one of our kids, Tammy would get worried and come sit with the disgraced child.  When one of us was sick, Tammy would be on the bed, consoling the invalid.  She purred so loudly you could hear it from the next room.  She liked people and wasn’t phased by any party or gathering.  She’d saunter through the house undaunted by any commotion.

Our current cat, Athena, is just the opposite.  For fifteen years, she only accepted three people in the world:  My wife, my daughter and me.  If anyone else approached or entered the house, she streaked off whatever perch she was on and hid under one of the beds.  When the plumber replaced the furnace, Athena stayed under the bed all day for two days, only venturing out after he had left.

Athena purrs, but has it set on vibrate.  You can’t hear a sound, but can feel it if you place your hand on her throat.

Athena is very self-centered.  She’s out for herself.  She used to try to eat all of Tammy’s food as well as her own.

But she likes to sleep on legs.  The moment I lie on my back in bed, she jumps up on the bed and snuggles down on my legs.  I can’t image that that would be comfortable, but that’s her place.

Athena likes to chase string, bat around play mice, toss them in the air and do flips.  Then she’ll get wild-eyed and streak across the rug.

When we lived in Colorado, she only ventured outside when it was dark for a brief foray before charging back to hide in the garage as if a pack of wolves were after her.  As soon as the door was opened she shot inside with her afterburners blazing.  She is the original wussy pussy.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Threats on Both Ends of the Political Spectrum

You have to hand it to both political parties this election year. The followers of both extremes exhibit a tendency to issue threats. Rather than listening to opposing views, the reaction is to drown out or threaten someone who expresses a different opinion. What happened to the perspective of listening to a different viewpoint, discussing the issues and then making a decision? True believers on the left and the right have all the answers and aren’t open to civilized exchange of differences. It must be reassuring to have all the answers, but it’s not reality. Too many issues have shades of gray. I have no problem with people changing their position if it is based on thoughtful consideration. We can all learn as we gather more information. But let’s hope we can openly debate issues and not resort to personal attacks and threats.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Decisions Made at the Federal, State or Local Level

In this political season, I’ve been intrigued by various issues that have been debated at the federal, state or local level. I’ve always held by the saying of think globally and act locally. In the United States, powers are defined for the federal government and remaining powers go to the states. This in itself leads to many different interpretations. Added to this we have cities now passing statutes that go against state mandates. Whether the topic is fracking or the use of bathrooms we currently have much discussion and dissent on where these issues should be decided. What do you think?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Kids and Other Intriguing Challenges

Being an only child, I was often lonely as a kid.  Consequently, when I grew up and when my wife and I had children of our own, I enjoyed the background hum and chaos of having three kids in our home.

The birth of each was a momentous occasion.  I was at work when I got the call to head to the hospital the first time.  In those days, fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room so I had to wait until the nurse announced to me that our first son had arrived.

I was present for our second son’s birth which happened to be on our first son’s first day of kindergarten.  He drew a picture of his family that day with three stick figures and a blob.

The early morning our daughter was born, we dropped the boys off at a friend’s house, dashed off to the hospital, barely making it in time.  Our daughter was anxious to get out into the world.

I have fond memories of the kids growing up.

In a restaurant in Santa Barbara, our four-year-old son was acting up, and we were contemplating mayhem when an older couple came over, and the woman said, “Isn’t he cute.  He reminds us of our grandson.”

When we were considering moving to San Jose with IBM and were discussing where to raise our kids, our second son piped up to announce, “I don’t want to be raised.”  And the expression on his face at the reception after my mom and stepfather were married when he put a pad of butter in his mouth thinking it was cheese.

One time the kids and I went camping and drove on the four-wheel drive road above Peaceful Valley in Colorado.  After a rough Jeep trip, I made a comment that our daughter had cried a little.  She said, “Cried a little.  I was crying my guts out.”

Along the way all the concerts, plays, swim meets, soccer games, Bolder Boulder 10K runs, vacations, ice cream socials, scout trips, Indian Guide/Princess events, hikes, homework assignments, school projects, birthday parties, minor emergencies, lost sun glasses and swim goggles.  My wife and I wonder how we did it.  We must have been younger and had more energy then.

So now we’re into the grandparent era.  This is the world of rent-a-kid.  We can spend time with our grandkids, spoil them and then return them to their parents for the hard part.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Great Roast Beef Heist and Other Crimes

Readers often ask where I get ideas for my mystery novels. They can come from anywhere: the newspaper, an overheard conversation, a past experience. In 1969 long before I became a mystery writer, I served on a Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles.  We met one day a week for six months and our role was to hear evidence from the District Attorney and render indictments for federal crimes.  At the time most of the cases presented related to draft evasion, being during the Vietnam War era.  But other crimes included bank robberies, counterfeiting and smuggling.  Here were three of the best cases:

The Great Roast Beef Heist - Two men had been tracking an armored car that moved bags of money between bank locations.  They figured out the route and picked a good time to jump the guard.  As the guard exited the armored car, they attacked him and grabbed the bag he carried.

Two blocks later the police caught up to the robbers.  They opened the stolen bag and found, not money, but roast beef sandwiches.

The guard was delivering lunch to some friends at the bank.  The robbers faced one to ten for stealing roast beef.

Dress for the Occasion - A man in long greasy hair and torn clothes came to claim an expensive Italian marble-inlayed table from customs.  The customs agent got suspicious and told the man that the table had been damaged in transit, but would be ready the next day.

He had the table x-rayed and discovered a hidden compartment stuffed with bags of hashish.  All but one bag was removed, the table was sealed back up and agents followed the man the next day when he claimed it.  When he got it back to his house and opened it, the agents arrested him.

Lesson:  if he had been neat and well-dressed, the customs agent would never have been suspicious.

Never Trust a (Wo)Man - After a bank robbery, the police questioned a female teller, but had no good leads to follow.  A week later the teller came to the police and confessed.  She and her boyfriend had arranged the robbery.  She had handed her boyfriend the money and then had given a phony description to the police.  “But officer,” she said.  “I want you to catch the son-of-a-bitch.  We were supposed to share the money, but he took it and ran off to Vegas with another woman.”

Fictionalized adaptations of these crime appear in my theater mystery, Dinner of the Mystery Playhouse, and my upcoming novel, Court Trouble: A Platform Tennis Mystery being released in July, 2016.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Playing Sports

Sports have always been an important part of my life.  As a kid, I played pickup football games in the alley where I lived.  Since it was narrow, running plays seldom worked.  So the typical play was “everyone go long.” 

I played in the outfield in Little League baseball, like my hero Duke Snyder.  I was a fair but not outstanding hitter.  The only time I really connected was when we were fooling around before a practice and I hit another kid in the head with a bat by accident.  My stomach went though my feet I felt so bad.

Over the years I have also participated in basketball, volleyball, ping pong, racquetball, running, intramural wrestling and skiing, but tennis was my sport.

In tennis there are certain plateaus reached.  I had one friend who never took a set off me. Against the top junior player in Hawaii, I took a set once, but never beat him.

All those years hitting tennis balls against a backboard, practicing serves with a bucket of balls, rallying and playing matches.  Tennis provided the vehicle for me to travel, meet people, get into a top college and stay fit.  When I no longer could run because of an arthritic hip, my sport changed to platform tennis.  On the smaller court I was competitive and put less stress on my hip. In fact, I have a mystery novel coming out in July inspired by this sport called Court Trouble: A Platform Tennis Mystery.
Now that we’ve moved to Southern California where there is no platform tennis, I’ve taken up pickleball.

How many balls have I hit over the years?  I calculate that I hit 1.5 million tennis balls during the ten years I played competitively.  Add in the next fifty or so years of playing racquet sports several times a week, it probably totals another four million strokes.  You’d think with all that practice, I’d be more consistent.  The problem is that the aging process more than offsets the improvement.  Still getting out on a court is something I look forward to.  My biggest challenge still is expectations.  I expect myself to play better than I do.  I get mad when I don’t play well and hate to lose.  When I’m in a zone, I play well and enjoy the game.  It’s a constant internal argument on whether I get upset because I’m playing badly, or play badly because I get upset.  Some days my strokes flow, the ball goes where it should, I anticipate well and I make the points.  Then there are times when the shots go wild and out of control.  Five and a half million strokes, and I still miss-hit the darn ball.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vacations When I Was a Kid

Being a photographer’s son, vacations often involved going to scenic places in Hawaii.  For years I could open any travel book about Hawaii and find the back of my head.  My dad liked to take pictures of my mom and me silhouetted as we walked down a beautiful beach.

We often stayed at beach houses on the windward side of Oahu.  Kawela Bay was one location we frequented.  One cottage had an enclosed porch that faced the bay.  I built model airplanes and explored the beach.

Another time we stayed at the beach house near a Hawaiian burial ground so I was afraid to go out after dark.

Kona was a favorite outer island destination for us and we stayed at the Kona Inn.  I swam in the salt water pool that was fed by waves crashing over a retaining wall into the deep end of the pool.  When I was very young we watched Hawaiian cowboys driving cattle into the water in downtown Kailua, Kona. The cowboys rode horses into the water to herd the cattle to a ship anchored offshore.

The summer after I graduated from college, my dad and I went to Kauai and stayed at the Hanalei Plantation.  We drove up to the end of the road along the Napili cliffs and upon our return discovered that one of the bridges had collapsed.  Since that was the only road along that part of the island, we accepted a ride in a rowboat from a boy who was ferrying people back across the stream, hitchhiked back to the hotel and got another rental car.  I heard later that it took several months to get the road rebuilt. 

My dad rented a helicopter and we flew along the Napili cliffs and landed on a white sand beach that is only accessible by an eighteen mile hiking trail, by helicopter or by swimming in from a boat.  I still have a picture in my home office of me walking down that beach toward a cave in the overhanging cliff.  We stayed about an hour before the helicopter came back to pick us up.  Although my dad and I had conflicts during the summers of my college years, that was a trip of togetherness.