Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fear the R.O.U.S!

For those of you who continue to refuse to believe in the existence of ROUS’s, I would like to draw your attention to a little article that appeared in the New York Times several weeks ago.  For your benefit, it has been reprinted here in its entirety.  If you don’t take the threat of ROUS’s seriously now, you will by the time you finish reading this post.

New York Times
May 6, 2012

Betty Conklin – staff reporter                       

Public safety officials have issued a preliminary report stating that the death of a Waldorf Astoria hotel bellhop was ‘most likely’ the result of an ROUS (Rodent Of Unusual Size) attack.  Stephen ‘Kip’ Stevens, a bellhop for the venerable Manhattan landmark, was on duty when he disappeared around 1:32 a.m on April 20th.  He had last been seen unloading the luggage of a Mr. Atagatawa, a visiting pharmaceutical representative from Bellevue, Washington, from a Super Shuttle van next to the hotel’s Lexington Ave entrance.  Neither he nor Mr. Atagatawa’s bags ever made it to his room.   According to John Riordan, chief of hotel security, Mr. Stevens, a Waldorf employee of eleven years, was first suspected of absconding with Mr. Atagatawa’s luggage and was reported to the police Friday evening after an exhaustive search of the hotel premises.  Six days later, however, Mr. Stevens’ remains were located behind an isolated outcropping in Central Park, along with the luggage and abandoned luggage cart.  Mr. Stevens’ body showed ‘significant evidence of being gnawed to death,’ according to Sergeant O’Hurlahy, the lead investigator from the city’s elite Bizarre and Occasionally Silly Crimes unit.  According to Sgt. O’Hurlahy, “At this time, we believe the attacker was most likely an ROUS.  We are currently working with the Museum of Natural History, which, fortunately, has one of the few ROUS skeletons in existence, for confirmation based on the size and severity of the many incisor marks present on the victim’s person.”  Mr. Carvato, director of the rodent department at the Museum of Natural History, confirmed that the museum is working on a “gruesome, but fascinating” investigation, but would offer no further details.  When asked to explain the presence of the luggage and luggage cart more than a mile from the hotel, Sgt. O’Hurlahy responded that “one of the bags had been ripped open.  In our interview with Mr. Atagatawa, he described having placed two large summer sausages in the bag in question, which were gone when the bags were located.  We can only surmise that the perpetrator of this crime, whoever or whatever it was, somehow detected the sausages and removed them.”  Nothing else was reported missing from the victim’s luggage, which included “some gold jewelry and a dozen iPad knockoffs.”  Neither police nor Mr. Atagatawa would comment further on the sausages, except to say “they came from a specialty cheese and sausage shop in Nasonville, Wisconsin, and [Mr. Atagatawa] was extremely distraught by their loss.”  If authenticated, Mr. Stevens’ death would be the seventh this year to be attributed to an ROUS, placing it 48th in causes of death in the city, just behind non-vehicular jogging fatalities, and just ahead of mattress suffocation.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rings of Fire

We in the Southwestern U.S. found ourselves smack dab in the path of a solar eclipse on Sunday, proving once again that when desert dwellers say we’ll move heaven and earth to create a little shade, we mean business.  And it’s only May.  Imagine what we’re capable of come July and August…

The eclipse we experienced May 20th is known as an annular eclipse, and it occurs when the moon is too far away to fully obscure the sun as it passes before it.  This is in contrast to the more famous kind in which the moon completely covers up jolly old Sol, creating a total eclipse of the heart.  No, wait, I mean sun; Bonnie Tyler’s song just kind of naturally slipped out, child of the 80’s that I am.  Annular eclipses are also known as ring of fire eclipses because at their peak the moon fits perfectly within the white-hot circle of the sun, like a nestled pair of measuring spoons, if you can get your mind around a bigger spoon made of boiling, burning hydrogen gas.   These kinds of eclipses don’t occur very often, unless you’re a redwood tree, or a Galapagos tortoise maybe, in which case you’re probably thinking, Another one of these?  What’s it been?  Twenty years? Seems like just yesterday.  And why am I reading this person’s blog?

However, Phoenix wasn’t quite far enough north to experience the full effect of the eclipse, so on Sunday I packed up the family and drove them to the Grand Canyon, which was located within the annular sweet spot.  Three and a half hours drive each way, straight through; although when your traveling party includes a three-year-old, there is no such thing as ‘straight through.’

Saturday, May 19, 2012

'The Avengers' Dialogues

Saw the big blockbuster movie last week.  Those of you who read Avengers Assemble!  know the anxious excitement with which I was anticipating this film (by the way, for those of you playing along at home, it took 8 days to get to the theater, which, in parent time, is the equivalent of a single person missing the midnight premiere but making it to the 10 a.m. show the next morning).  You may be wondering if and how much I liked the movie.  However, those of you who are tbf’s of the blog know that I have little interest in writing straight-on movie reviews.   

The laws of physics and bloggers alike tell us that when two immovable objects meet, something’s gotta give.

I wanted to capture my thoughts and observations about the film while they’re still fresh; you know, give a first blush reaction while I’m still blushing, as it were.  It also has to do with the fact that I have a notoriously defective memory, plagued as it is by a constant crawl of oblique thoughts and completely unpredictable flights of fancy.  But how to do it, that is the question…

Hmmm, here’s an idea.  Let’s treat this as though you and I just went to the movie together (Harkins Theatres, of course), and now we’ve arrived at Culver’s for a double-cheese ButterBurger and a concrete mixer, ensuring us plenty of time to hash out our reactions as well as draw curious looks from the restaurant’s patrons who can’t help but notice the two crazies in the booth who are way too excited about something.  For those of you out there unfamiliar with Harkins and/or Culver’s, feel free to substitute your own favorite movie theater and burger/shake joint, although, in all honesty, it’s just not going to be the same. 

The Avengers Dialogues


Monday, May 14, 2012

Zachary - the other half

In "Zachary," the previous post, my daughter and I went to Duck Park (Cortez Park for those of you who live in Phoenix) after running errands on a Tuesday morning.  While there, we met a young boy with a lazy eye, and a speech deficiency.   The three of us spent time together enjoying the ducks who hang around the park's lake.  This is the second half of the story of our encounter with the little boy.    

There is a fountain of sorts in the island’s middle, made to look like a spring.  It is formed from granite boulders of various size, pushed together to create a rocky trough.  The water pools and trickles downward through the gully until it is absorbed into the green water of the lake.  The boy practically beats you there.  He clambers immediately up onto the rocks and looks down into the water, where some sparrows are dousing themselves in a shallow pool.  “Bird ’imming?” the boy asks, pointing at them.

“No, not swimming.  I think they’re just taking a bath.”  Your little girl wants to see the bathing birds, and starts to climb, far more inexpertly than the boy, onto the rocks.  He’s a stocky boy, and you’re not certain of his coordination, so you subtly change positions so that you’re ready if he happens to stumble into her, or bump her obliviously.  Also in your mind is that persevering intimation of wildness.

The sparrows seem to have given him an idea, and now he creeps closer to the water, almost dipping his shoe in.  “Go ’imming?” he asks with a smile. 

“Oh, I don’t know.  That’s not my decision.  You need to go ask your Dad.”  You smile helplessly, but your tone is serious.    

To your surprise, he accepts this and says, “Be ’ack,” scrambling down from the boulder and over the short wall.  You watch him as he hurries over to where the man in the red shirt is sitting.  It is then that you first notice the shopping cart next to the rock where the man is seated.  The cart holds a half-load of clothes and other things, none of which you can readily identify.  Your heart sinks.  You knew the boy was in need of cleaning, because of his messy face, and you also noticed that his dark red Diamondbacks shirt had some dirty streaks on it.  But it hadn’t crossed your mind that the boy might not have a home.  You focus on the man in the red shirt, but he’s too far away to see in detail.  In addition to the shirt, he’s wearing a non-descript ball cap, and some baggy pants.  A brown, scruffy beard is the only other thing that stands out.  This new element, the shopping cart, inspires multiple chains of questions, about the man, about the age of the boy, about school, about the boy’s safety.  Is that where that latent sense of wildness you detected comes from?  It would explain that, too, wouldn’t it? 

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Tuesday, you have decided, is going to be errand day.  You enlist your three-year-old daughter’s enthusiasm with a promise to take her to the park.  You haven’t been in a while, and now that it’s May, you don’t know how many pleasant mornings you have left before the summer sear sets in. 

“Which park, Daddy?”

“Let’s go to Duck Park,” you say.  Duck Park is your name for Cortez Park, one of the larger parks in the city of Phoenix.  It’s got a man-made lake, and ducks, which distinguishes it from the smaller parks in your neighborhood.

“Does Duck Park have a playground?” she asks, frowning uncertainly.

“Yes, it has a big playground.”  She brightens in immediate response, as though she only needed to hear it to remember.

You load your little girl into the car, and join the straggling traffic of the post-rush city streets.  You complete your errands without much difficulty, dropping reminders of Duck Park when necessary to steer your little girl back into compliance, which only happens once or twice.  You arrive at the park as promised around 10:30.  Before you even open the door to unlock her from her car seat, you’ve already taken note of several dark men reclining in the shadows of sheltered picnic tables, but you see no reason to give them any more than a casual glance.  They do not stir.

You walk hand in hand across the grassy expanse of the park, passing in and out of the shade laid down by enormous old pine trees, following the cement trail that leads to the playground, and beyond that, the concrete-lined lake.  She wants to swing, so you push for a few minutes, and then she wants to climb, so you lift her out and let her carve a path through the sand to the play structure, a combination of enameled steel and plastic in a swirling jumble of teal, and two kinds of purple.  There are a few other little kids and their parents on the playground, and a small group of preschoolers under the supervision of a gentle-looking, but rough-voiced, African-American woman, but they’re all over at the bigger kids’ play area.  You give your little girl the opportunity to roam far and wide, but she doesn’t want it.  She wants you to go up the stairs with her into the structure, and stand by the cone-shaped tube at the top, which is too high for her to talk into, while she goes back down and talks into the other end of the cone-tube sticking out of the sand.  You play this much sturdier version of tin-can telephone, and then she leads you across the elevated walkway to the curly slide at the other end.  She wants to go down the slide, but it’s in the sun, and the plastic is hot.  So you put her on your lap and go down the slide with her, taking the heat of it on your bare, but far less sensitive legs.  Then you ask her if she wants to go see the ducks now, and she nods. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

100th Post Spectacular!

Well, the title gave it away:  we've reached the 100th post on thunderstrokes!

 Many of you who knew me before I started the blog weren’t even aware that I liked to write.  Many of you who had pinned me down on that point had never seen any actual examples of my writing.  People whom I consider to be close friends had read little, knew little about my ardent desire to be a writer.  They didn’t know that since the age of ten, I defined myself to myself always first as a writer.  That definition never truly left me, but it was modified:  writer-in-training; then, later, writer-in-waiting.  A theoretical writer. 

What an extraordinary waste of time! 

The only way to be a writer is to write.  Duh, right?  Write crap, and then write some more crap.  Then learn from the crap you wrote, and write more crap, and more crap, and more crap until it stops being crap. 

That’s what thunderstrokes is:  the place where I go to write my crap.

That fact that some folks seem to be enjoying the crap I’m writing tells me that you people must be surrounded by such a high level of quality in your day-to-day lives that you like coming here because you miss the unique odor, or like to reminisce about your own days of crap, writing or otherwise.

In my more doubtful moments, this is the kind of thing I tell myself.

Considering where I came from, the fact that I still have doubts after 100 posts shouldn’t be too surprising.  The good news (for me and my crap, at least) is that they are no longer crippling doubts. 

Instead, they are doubts about whether I’m not being honest enough, or too honest.  Whether I’m being funny enough, or too funny; or smart enough, or too smart; whether I’m simply stating things which are so obvious that nobody even thinks to bring them up, or writing things so far out there that no one will have a clue what I’m talking about.  Whether I’m taking short cuts and being lazy, or boring the bejeezus out of my readers.  Often, they are doubts about very mundane things; for instance, right now I’m having doubts about using the word ‘crap’ so many times, and doubting whether I should have even written that part.  Who wants to hear someone talk so much crap? 

After 100 posts, I’ve learned that doubts do not go away; they just change shape, and come at you from new angles.  But even that is something I only could learn by writing.

So I’ve learned a lot after 100 posts.  Here are some of the other things I’ve learned:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Avengers Assemble!

The Avengers is coming out this Friday, and I have to admit, I’m more than a little geeked out about it. 

For those of you living off the pop culture grid, there has been a spate of recent superhero movies focusing on individual Marvel comic book characters Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America.  These films established the origins of each character while simultaneously injecting a shadowy, overarching plot line that will serve to bring them all together in the culminating film in this series.  The Avengers is that film. 

I’m not one of those people who will camp out to see the first show at midnight on Thursday, and I’m not one of those people who would willingly sit through the five preceding Marvel movies consecutively as a warm-up for The Avengers, as some theatres are doing.  In fact, I’ll probably wait a week or two to see it (okay, I’ll be lucky if I make it a week), just to prove to myself that I am in firmly in control of my geekitude (geekiness?  geekosity?). 

Considering that I am a forty-four-year-old man with two young daughters, the fact that I’m excited at all about this latest superhero movie is probably reason enough for concern, especially amongst the hardcore realists with whom I have been known to associate.  It’s a superhero flick.  It’s shallow, adolescent, male fantasy wish fulfillment.  What’s wrong with you?  I sidestep the question, because I don’t know how to answer it.

Yes, I know it’s foolish to let my inner geek’s enthusiasm get the better of me.  I completely understand that it’s entirely possible, even likely, that The Avengers won’t live up to my expectations.  By now I should know; I’ve been through this so many times before.  My better judgment says the rational approach is to go in expecting two hours of light escapist fare, like any other summer fluff film.  But I can’t.  I want, I truly want, The Avengers to be a great movie.  I’ve waited a lifetime for something like this.  It’s difficult to suppress the giddy rush of anticipation, even though I know I shouldn’t pin my hopes to a film genre that has been so consistently disappointing. 

You see, there have been a lot of bad superhero movies made over my lifetime.  In fact, in all the years I’ve spent watching these kinds of films, I can say that there are only about five or six that I truly love out of the many dozens Hollywood’s cranked outoHoilaa.  The rest have been decent at best, or far more commonly, alright, or just okay.  The worst – well, the worst have been a lot like being dragged naked down a gravel road for an hour, then forced to sit in a lemon juice dunk tank on Cy Young reunion night at Cooperstown.  You think I’m exaggerating? I’ve got the scars, and the lingering aversion to lemon juice, to prove it.  Yes, the last four decades have been nothing if not unnecessarily cruel to the superhero movie enthusiast.