Saturday, January 30, 2010

Don’t Go Near the Water

If you’re in South Florida this time of year, take my advice – Don’t go in the water … especially around Singer Island.

You see, it’s time for the annual migration of spinner, reef, hammerhead, lemon, and bull sharks as they follow huge schools of fish along the coast.

The authorities have done the only sensible thing – they’ve closed the beaches. Smart move, as at times as many as a thousand (THOUSAND!) sharks can congregate in any given area.

It’s particularly dangerous during the mornings and late afternoons, because that’s when sharks normally put on their bibs, grab their knives and forks, and munch away during the twice-daily scheduled meals.

I can hear the Jaws music playing now.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Odd Freeway Statue

Interstate 280 in California, which winds north-south next to the Santa Cruz Mountains on the eastern edge of the San Andreas Fault, honors Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, who founded the California missions.

Whenever we traveled along this so-called “World’s Most Beautiful Freeway,” we'd come upon a sandstone statue on a hill next to the freeway’s northbound lanes, just past the Highway 92 intersection in Hillsborough.

The wife spotted it one day and calls it “The Monk Statue.”

In reality, it’s a 26-foot-high statue of Father Serra kneeling in his robe and pointing westward over the freeway.

Once we knew it was there, we couldn’t help glancing at Father Serra every time we passed the statue.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Stanford ‘Dish’

Stanford University’s 150-foot-wide radio telescope is known throughout the Bay area as “The Dish” and is the most prominent landmark in the area.

It was visible as the wife and I used to head into San Francisco and back to San Jose along a segment of the Interstate 280 Freeway between Cupertino and Daly City, on what’s been called the “World’s Most Beautiful Freeway.”

There it was, scanning the heavens and collecting all kinds of valuable data from distant galaxies.

And there we were, tiny little beings that we are, trying to pay attention to the speeding cars around us and not gawking in awe at the incredible piece of science up on the hill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Maybe ‘Mum’s the Word’ is Better?

Information is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, we want to know where the U.S. government is lagging in its efforts to protect us from terrorism.

But on the other hand, if terrorists know what our shortcomings are, aren’t they likely to concentrate in those areas?

Our government was given a failing grade in improving response time in case of a biological attack, by a national security commission, and it’s been all over the news this morning.

It’s always bothered me to hear things like this – not because I don’t want to hear bad news, but because I know the bad guys are just waiting to find out where they can focus their efforts.

Also, the news media, in a zealous attempt to report everything and be the first to do so, cite the “public’s right to know.” And that’s okay, if only they’d exercise some judicious restraint.

It’s bad enough that people have targeted us – we don’t have to give them the strategic information they need so they can do THEIR job better.

Remember the World War II slogan ... "Loose Lips Sink Ships"?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scoot Lower, My Toes Are Cold

Have you ever arrived at your hotel room, freezing your butt off and trying to thaw out from Winter’s blast outside? I have. Have you gotten out of the shower, all warm and toasty, only to jump between the sheets and shiver, shiver, shiver? I have.

Well … Holiday Inn has pondered these situations as well and come up with what they consider an logical and comforting amenity on a trial basis for its guests in three British hotels (two in London, the other in Manchester).

You can call the front desk and request a human bed warmer. Yep, a human bed warmer.

A hotel employee will arrive in your room fully dressed in a fleece sleeper suit, slip under your covers, and bring the temperature up to 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit).

Presumably the bed warmer will have showered first. And no, s/he won’t hang around, but will leave before you jump in.

According to a spokeswoman, it’s “a bit like having a giant hot water bottle in your bed.”

I kid you not!

Hmmmm, I wonder about that. I think I’ll pass on this one.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Looking Up, Down and Around

It was sunny and relatively warm yesterday, so the wife and I went walking at San Jose’s Almaden Winery Park, just down the street from where we are staying.

Because we have done this often in recent weeks, I decided to ignore the obvious macro-beauty of the place and look for the “out-of-the-ordinary.” Y’know, left-field stuff.

Stuff like these …

I wonder if C3PO (of Star Wars fame) spray-painted his name on the walkway when he was young and before he learned to spell his name correctly.

Most of the leaves have fallen off the maple trees, but on one nearly bare tree, there was this one leaf that was hanging on for dear life. Stubborn little guy.

For some reason, this dead leaf reminded me of two volcanoes with their bases touching. Or am I stuck in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park land?

And tell me honestly now, doesn’t this piece of wood remind you of a Porterhouse steak? I must be hungry while I’m writing this.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Low Morning Clouds

The sun came out yesterday during a break in the rainstorms that have been pelting the San Francisco Bay area, including San Jose.

It might have been semi-sunny, but it was still very cold (especially for us Hawaii residents), and as we pulled onto Blossom Hill Drive in San Jose, we noticed low clouds hugging the base of the mountains to the east.

There is a certain mysterious beauty about mountain tops peeking over lacy clouds and I got to see some yesterday.

Good thing I keep my camera with me at all times, so I could save this lovely sight for later viewing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

‘Wicked’

Were you ever curious about the witches made famous in “The Wizard of Oz”? Here’s your chance, via a musical production based on the back- and side-stories from their points of view before, during and after Dorothy’s famous visit to Oz.

“Wicked” opens with the appearance of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, following the melting of the Wicked Witch of the West during a confrontation with Dorothy, then moves ‘way back in time to the birth of Elphaba (the West witch).

Fast forward to Shiz University, where the green-skinned Elphaba and her disabled sister Nessarose are enrolled. Amongst the new students are Glinda (known then as GA-linda), the Munchkin Boq, and the Vinkus prince Fiyero.

At first sharing their loathing for each other, Elphaba and Glinda become the very best of friends. Elphaba’s passion to do the right thing rubs off on Fiyero, who transforms from a scandalous playboy to a passionate naturalist.

Glinda, as a prank, has Boq declare his love for the wheel-chair bound Nessarose in order to get him out of her life so she can concentrate on Fiyero.

Madame Morrible, Shiz U’s head mistress, arranges for Elphaba and Glinda to meet the Wizard in the Emeral City, who, it is revealed, is the driving force behind a movement to ban animals from speaking, and to remove them from prominent societal positions.

Elphaba rebels against this and takes on the role of animal savior, pitting her against everyone else in the Emerald City.

That’s the basic story. What’s interesting is the interplay between song lyrics, stage dialogue and characterizations that parallel the Oz story with which we are so familiar. There are allusions galore to the scenes we’ve seen in the 1939 classic movie. Witches “explains” how the monkeys came to fly, why the Cowardly Lion is that way, why the Tin Man has no heart, and how the Scarecrow came to be.

Elphaba, it seems, is NOT a wicked witch, but the victim of image manipulation. If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. If you frame circumstances a certain way, people will believe it to be the truth. And that’s what happens to Elphaba, whose “greenness” induces xenophobia at its worst.

Kendra Kassebaum delivered a wonderful performance as Glinda, portraying her evolution from shallow, ditsy blonde to a deep, kind-hearted … well, ditsy blonde.

Patty Duke performed well as Madame Morrible, evoking fond memories of her early teenage years when she won an Academy Award for her performance as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” To be sure, her role then wasn’t anything like her Wicked role, but she does a most credible job in the musical.

The star performer, however, had to be Vicki Noon, filling in for Teal Wicks, who had the matinee performance off. Ms. Noon’s powerful performance as Elphaba touches deep into the audience emotion, and I wager there were quite a few moist eyes in the theater during her plaintive solos, and the surprise revelations at the end of the show.

The lyrics are funny, informative and entertaining. The music is uplifting when it has to be, and emotional when the time was right. I have to admit that I became very emotional and teary-eyed several times during the performance, and especially at the conclusion.

Do I sense a movie on the horizon? It's very possible. In fact, a movie is rumored to already be in production and expected to be released this year.

Check it out: http://www.filmshaft.com/theatre-review-wicked/

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Patty Duke

The first time I became aware of Patty Duke was when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1962. Her role as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” made her the youngest (16 years old) person to win an Academy Award in a competitive category.

What I didn’t know until many years later is that she had played the role on Broadway in the stage production of the same name. She was so good that halfway through the production run, her name began appearing above the title.

Her television series, “The Patty Duke Show,” lasted for three years, and her work as an American teenager and her look-alike cousin from Scotland won her an Emmy nomination, the first of several.

I’ve kinda lost track of her over the years, seeing her occasionally on television reruns, movies and specials.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened the Playbill for “Wicked,” which the wife and I went to see in San Francisco yesterday, and saw that she had a major role in the musical – as Madam Morrible, the old lady who caused the tornado that swept Dorothy into the wonderful land of Oz.

I’ll share my thoughts on the musical tomorrow, but I just wanted to pay tribute to a famous actress that people of my generation will fondly remember.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Take a Deep Breath Before …

Every one of us has had moments when we have an incredible urge to do something – an action that if we stop to think about, we may have cause to regret later.

Football players do it all the time. In the heat of a game, they’ll be over-exuberant and taunt an opposing player, or celebrate excessively after a touchdown, or kick a challenge flag.

Regardless of whether the rule is ridiculous or not, the fact remains that the rule IS there, so maybe they should stop and think first. I know it’s hard to suppress celebratory actions, but it has to be done.

They’ve got to restrain themselves.

We saw this last August when Roger Stephens of Stone Mountain, Georgia, slapped a little 2-year-old girl he didn’t know four times because her mother couldn’t stop her from crying.

Stephens was found guilty this week of cruelty to children in the second degree, and sentenced to six months in jail and six months home confinement. He also has to wear an ankle monitor and undergo counseling.

If he had only restrained himself and not given in to his impulse and aggravation …

Again in Georgia, jurors who found a man guilty of rape and murder celebrated by sending a chocolate penis to the judge, and chocolate breasts to the baliff, and had other contact with them.

A split U.S. Supreme Court told the federal appeals court to take another look at the case and examine the relationship between the court and jurors, and whether or not the trial was fair.

What possessed the jurors to do this, one can only wonder. But the upshot of their bizarre action puts the conviction in question and possible jeopardy. What were they thinking? Why did they give in to their impulse? Why didn’t they restrain themselves?

Remember the “Count to 10 before acting” adage? Keep that in mind when you have the urge to do something that might have consequences. Exercise some judicious restraint.

Look at me, I’m trying.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Blackbirds

Seven big blackbirds

High in the tree,

C-A-W … I-N-G.

Pretty ominous, huh? It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The Birds.”

They were probably thinking they’ll wait until the big Silicon Valley rainstorms pass, then just when everybody’s about to enjoy the sun again, they’d make their move.

The wife and I walked quickly out from under them before they sent us personal greetings.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Doré’s Bronze Urn

Standing outside the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park is a pretty remarkable piece of art that I just happened upon while the wife and I meandered around the Music Concourse before heading to the Japanese Tea Garden.
It’s a huge, dark, bronze urn that represents a celebration of winemaking as figures, animals and grape vines cover its busy surface.
The three-ton art piece is called Poème de la Vigne, and was created in 1877-78 by Gustave Doré (1832-1883), a famous illustrator especially noted for his characterization images of Cervantes’ Don Quixote – the “man of LaMancha” and his faithful squire Sancho Panza.

It was first exhibited (for a special admission price) at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and was later purchased by Michael de Young.
The Doré vase has been moved around Golden Gate Park several times over the years.
I just thought you might be interested in this.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Penguins at the Zoo

I could sit there and watch them for hours – penguins, that is.

We didn’t have hours to sit there, as we still have a couple more areas to cover during our walk at the San Francisco Zoo yesterday.

But we did enjoy watching them bob in the water, some doing a comical side stroke, others waggling their bodies, still others zipping at supersonic speed beneath the surface of the water.

Occasionally, one would waddle to the edge of the rock it was on, and dive into the water, where it seemed most comfortable and in its element at last.

video

Yep, that was fun yesterday at the zoo. You should visit YOUR local zoo soon and watch the penguins cavort and play.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hard Steel, Soft Beauty

Nestled amongst the San Francisco Muni tracks that separate the north- and south-bound lanes of 19th Avenue are splashes of brilliant color.

Hundreds of California Poppy Orange (Eschscholzia californica) have given the wife and me a daily gift of vibrant orange, in stark counterpoint to the gray steel of the trains and the tracks they ride on.

This beautiful flower was named California's official state flower in 1890 by the California State Floral Society, and the selection was made “official” in 1903 by the state legislature. The flower is celebrated on April 6, which has been designated as California Poppy Day.

Its flowering season is February through November, but I think they were doing us a favor by blooming during the winter months.

It was awfully kind of the Muni people to ensure the survival of these flowers along the train tracks. And I want them to know I appreciate it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Motorcycle Cop Shimmy

Yesterday as we headed north on I-280 on our way to UCSF Medical Center, something strange happened.

Just before what we call the “busted-up Arastradero exit sign,” a motorcycle cop pulled onto the freeway with his lights flashing.

He slowed down one lane, then another, then another, then finally the last one.

When we were all finally creeping along at a moderately slow 40 miles-per-hour, he began weaving from the inner-most lane to the outer-most one. Again and again, he weaved back and forth from one side to the other, not allowing any cars to pass him.

In no time, I could see quite a pack of cars behind us; there must have been at least a hundred cars in the cortege.

He took us on this merry ride for a couple of miles then pulled far ahead and finally exited just past the Stanford “dish” (I’ll write about the “dish” another time).

The cars began to pull ahead and we eventually got back up to speed. We didn’t get to the hospital as quickly as I’d originally hoped, but we were still early, and at least I had another weird little adventure to talk about.

What I’m curious about is … what was THAT all about? Any speculations out there?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Warming the Engine First

I was always told that if it’s a cold, cold morning, I should let my engine run for at least five minutes before heading out on the road. So that’s what I did when I lived in Los Angeles, and when I drove rentals on the mainland.

Now, I find out that warming up the engine before driving on cold days, to make sure your engine runs smoothly. is outdated advice. You don’t have to do that anymore.

Both the Automobile Association of America and Popular Mechanics have debunked the old myth that our fathers (perhaps grandfathers or great-grandfathers) have tried to instill in us over the years.

Newer cars manufactured during the past 20 years are designed to be driven immediately after starting. They are have better lubrication and are more resistant to sludge formation, so if you let your engine run for a while, all you’re doing is wasting gas.

It IS true that low-temperature running will cause unburned fuel, water and acids to collect in the crankcase, and if you only make short trips that last less than a half-hour, then that could be a problem.

However, just make trips of at least a half-hour once or twice a month and that should take care of it.

There. Now you know. Just make sure to scrape the snow and ice off your windshield first.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking Care of Fido

Sushi Ran (“Rawn”) in Sausalito knows that patrons sometimes arrive with their doggies. And like the saloons in the Old West, they provide a “hitching post” for the animals.

Now THAT’S showing respect for our pets.

A thought: If you see something other than fish or seafood on the menu, ask questions.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wasn’t It Cold?

Well doggone it. I knew it was coming, and I completely forgot to do it.

Yesterday was the 9th annual No Pants Subway Ride Day in New York.

Sure, I’m in California now, but I figured I might get into the swing of things and do it on the VTA light-rail train as it went through a tunnel. Hey, doesn’t THAT qualify as a subway?

Oh well, sometimes my memory deletes things off my list when I’m not looking.

Wait! I’m sitting here in my undies. I forgot to put my pants on this morning. Does that count?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Art Clokey (1921-2010)

Gumby shed a few clay tears yesterday when he learned that his “father” – creator Art Clokey (born Arthur Farrington) – had died at the age of 88.

The inspiration for Gumby, the green clay icon of the ‘50s, came when Mr. Clokey was a child visiting his grandfather’s farm, where he made play animals out of the clayey mud he found there, which people called “gumbo.” He patterned Gumby’s hairstyle after his father’s.

Since 1955, Gumby has been an intermittent star – beginning with his appearance in Mr. Clokey’s “Gumbasia,” then in his own TV series, “The Gumby Show.”

His popularity resurfaced in the ‘80s when Eddie Murphy began imitating the clay icon on Saturday Night Live. When Murphy started sporting the famous Gumby swooping cowlick hairdo, toy sales went through the roof and at last, Mr. Clokey started seeing some serious financial returns from his creation.

I remember seeing Gumby and his pony companion Pokey for the first time when we got our television set sometime in the late ‘50s. To me, he was always a little weird, not very smooth in his movements, and definitely low, low-tech compared to current animations.

But y’know, I kinda loved the li’l critter. Mr. Clokey’s going to find a lot of fans up there.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Road Kill

On the very first day I drove back to San Jose from San Francisco, I spotted a dead cat/squirrel/dog/something in the median, on a curving stretch of I-280 just south of the Serramonte turnoff.

That was on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Every weekday since then, I have checked to see if someone (or perhaps a hungry crow or buzzard) has taken care of the road kill.

Not yet. It’s still there, and we’re already at the end of the first week in January.

The dead animal started out a little flat, then became swollen, and has returned to deflation status. I tried to take a photo of the thing, but all I got was a blur. Plus, I was going 65 and it was only about 20 feet to the side. And, I had to keep my eye on the freeway lane ahead. Result ... no pic.

I wonder how long it’s going to stay there. Guess it’s ‘way past buzzard meal now, huh?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gained a Few? You’re Outta Here!

See, there’s this website – BeautifulPeople.com –a dating site launched in 2005. At the time, CNN called it the “sexiest website in the world today.”

The homepage sets the tone: “Do looks matter to you?” “Do you want to guarantee your dates will always be beautiful?” “No more filtering through unattractive people …”

Apply for membership, and current members will either vote you in, or give you the boot.

I couldn’t find membership numbers, but apparently it’s substantial, if the website can give the boot to 5,000 members.

Why did they lose their membership? Well you see, a bunch of the other members complained that some post-holiday posted photos showed weight gain.

“Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model,” said site founder Robert Hintze.

The banished former members could reapply, but only a few hundred were welcomed back by the remaining members with open arms. The rest of the 5,000 were directed back out the door.

Jeesh! It’s just another sign that the Apocalypse is just around the corner.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sukyo Mahikari

Every day, as we slide off the freeway onto 19th Avenue in San Francisco, we come across this building with an intriguing name – Sukyo Mahikari.

More than once, it’s prompted stupid jokes from the people in the car. Okay, I admit it … me.

Ummm … so then, tell me, what is Sukyo Mahikari?

The only hint visible as to what it is, is its tagline: “Centers for Spiritual Development.” Heck, it could have been Centers for Disease Control for all I care.

I just had to look it up. Here’s what their website says:

"Sukyo means universal principles and Mahikari means light energy. The Sukyo Mahikari center is a place where people from any walk of life and different religions come to develop themselves in order to achieve their true potential as human beings.”

Ahhh, I got it … um, no, I didn’t. So I read on:

“In Sukyo Mahikari, a positive, spiritual energy is transmitted from the palm of the hand to the receiver. This energy has also been referred to as light or true light. This energy purifies and revitalizes the spirit, mind, and body. One of the best ways to initiate a natural and sustainable process of change in oneself, at the very deepest level of consciousness, is giving and receiving light energy and practicing the universal principles.”

Oh hell ... I give up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Presidential Hand

When President and Mrs. Obama left Hawaii this weekend after their Christmas holiday vacation, the news camera followed them as they proceeded up the boarding ramp stairs into Air Force One.

President Obama had his hand on Mrs. Obama’s … er, derriere … and the newscaster explained that he was helping her keep her dress from flying up in the wind.

Oooookay, I’ll buy that. Uh huh. Sure. Fine.

(I searched for a picture, but there was none to be had. I searched for a youtube posting of the news video, with similar results. Shucks.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It’s Winter, But …

It’s early January, which means that San Jose, the wife and I are shivering in the early days of winter.

We wear warm clothes when we go outside.

Many trees are denuded of their leaves, and squirrels are bundled up inside their nests.

The skies are gray; there is no sunlight to warm our bodies.

The air is crisp and chilly, stuck in the 50s. At night, the temperature dips into the 40’s and lower.

But … the roses are blooming again, lending their beauty to warm our spirits during these gloomy days.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The $5 Vacation

Forty-four-year-old Alan Duffy of Brooklyn had a good idea that he shared in Real Simple magazine. And it kinda makes sense to me.

He pays for everything in cash, and saved every $5 bill he received in change, putting them into a special envelope.

Once he had 10 bills, he deposited them into a special savings account, at a different bank from his other accounts, eliminating the temptation to transfer savings into his checking account.

In about a year, he’d saved $2,000, and then used the money to take his wife and kids to Cape Cod for a week’s vacation this past summer.

He’s doing it again, and has a $350 balance in the special checking account.

I might try this. Then again …

Friday, January 1, 2010

Teen Texting

I was reading an old issue of Time in the hospital waiting room, and saw something about teen texting. The Nielsen Company is keeping track of how teenagers utilize the texting capabilities of their mobile phones.

I had to pick myself up the floor. The numbers are staggering. According to Time, the average American teen sent and received 2,272 text messages in the third quarter of 2008.

Quick! Give me some updated numbers! The Nielsen website reported that the average number of monthly texts for teens (ages 13-17) in January-March 2007 was 435. The 2,272 number I saw in Time represented a 422% increase.

They had a more recent total (January-March 2009) of 2,899 on their website. That’s an increase of about 27% over the previous three months, and 566% since Nielsen has started crunching the numbers.

I’m so glad I’m not paying for any teenager’s mobile phone.