Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little pampering

A variation on retail therapy, plus before-and-after photos


One way in which some women seem to find relief from emotional stress and distress is to go to the beauty salon. It's a variation on "retail therapy" – going shopping to lift one's mood. I hadn't tried the beauty salon idea before, but I had a gift certificate, so off I went to Axis Salon Spa.


I must admit, sitting in a chair and being ministered to is most pleasing; there is something decadent and astonishingly relaxing about having one's hair worked through. For three hours, I was ministered to by the inimitable Vicente. After a dye job, rinse-out, conditioning treatment, trim, style, and blow-dry, I have a new look. It's a restoration of the vivid auburn color that I like so well, and a new layered cut that Vicente designed to take advantage of the natural wave in my hair, so it looks great and is also low-maintenance.

Now I just have to find a good New Year's party to show off my new do.


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Saturday, December 26, 2009

FOCS best of 2009


Nothing stands out, but there were a few posts that were okay


Captain JP has issued, not a challenge, but at least a suggestion to his fellow bloggers. While he's digesting the surfeit of holiday foods (especially the mince pies), he'd like to read the best of what we have written over the past year.

I will have to admit, 2009 didn't have the same sorts of high points that 2008 did. Instead, the year started on a low note, with somebody deciding to celebrate the New Year by vandalizing our truck, and it got lower from there. The first post of the year, I started with a tagline "I sure hope 2009 is better than 2008 was," but that didn't happen. Instead, it was worse.

There was my major computer crash in January that caused me to lose just about everything, since the backup files had somehow become corrupted and wouldn't load. There were Internet access problems caused by a squabble between my ISP and the bigger telecom company from which it bought services. There was the flu that I caught in March, which left me with a lingering cough that just wouldn't go away – I'm pretty sure I was one of the first people in the country to get H1N1, which hadn't even been identified yet but which is characterized by a horrible cough. Pat's dad in South Texas has been in deteriorating health, and so Pat has been dealing with a lot of headaches trying to take care of him from a distance. My work obligations kept us from being able to go on the solar eclipse cruise that most of the rest of the family took to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. We've had issues with vehicles needing repairs that we can't afford. And our home in Albuquerque got burglarized again, a near repeat of the 2007 incident, except that these burglars didn't take anything of great sentimental value – the previous burglars took care of that. Finally, there are some other issues that we don't want to go into detail on in the blog, but that have made life miserable.

Still, there were some blog posts that seem worth noting, so here I offer my top 10 blog posts for the year, in the order they appeared on the blog:

  1. We started the year with two great days on the water.
  2. I had fun with a little bit of fiction titled "This is Awkward," which became the inspiration for a writing project.
  3. Tillerman issued a writing challenge to write a list, and I came up with ten lame or not-so-lame excuses not to get to the lake, triggered by a fit of pique at Zorro for letting me down the previous weekend.
  4. I converted one of my better classroom lectures, on logical fallacies, into a blog post.
  5. I issued a writing challenge to readers to come up with light bulb jokes about sailors, and the results were great.
  6. In response to another Tillerman writing challenge, I wrote a review of the short film Pirates of the White Sand, a fun romp from the Duke City Shootout film festival.
  7. I had another sailing experience with Zorro, involving moonlight under spinnaker and other such excitement.
  8. Then, during National Novel Writing Month, I got to write a scene that recreated my first experience of an Etchells racing sailboat.
  9. I noted a bit of irony over Thanksgiving weekend in Arizona.
  10. I let my scholarly side out for a discussion of Plato's "Phaedrus."

So there you have it: the best of Five O'Clock Somewhere for 2009. Maybe next year there will be more fun things to choose from, and less gloom and doom.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas

It's been hard to get in the spirit this year …

As I've mentioned before, 2009 has been something of an annus horribilis for us, so it's been hard to get into a holiday mood. I've been working all of the usual devices, most especially the music. Circumstances this year have made it difficult to socialize with friends – mostly the physical distances between us. The weather hasn't been exactly cooperative.

Christmas Eve, I saw for the first time the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, I know, it's supposed to be impossible to be older than maybe 10 years old and never have seen it, but it's true – I'd never seen that movie before. Yes, I knew the basic plot line, but that was all.

I think I needed to see that movie. It was the right one for me to see right now. Some of the events of the past couple of months have left me figuratively out on that bridge with George Bailey, looking down and preparing to leap off. I think my own personal Clarence might have been working at the television network, placing that movie in a time slot where I could finally see it, at a time when I pretty much couldn't avoid seeing it – Dulce was in my lap, so I couldn't get up, and there wasn't anything else on that was worth watching (we don't have cable or satellite, although based on what I hear from people who do have either, I'm not really missing much).

Holidays are stressful even when things are going well. When life is one disaster after another, the super-cheerful spirit of the season just seems like salt in the wounds. Everybody else is happy and celebrating, but I'm fighting a cloud that feels like impending doom.

So to James Stewart and Frank Capra, thank you. You've earned your wings – although probably you already got them a long time ago.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Poetry Corner: Ralph Blane

Maybe I should stop calling this Poetry Corner and start calling it Song Lyrics Corner …

This year has not been a good one for our family. Some of the setbacks have been covered on this blog, such as the burglary just before Thanksgiving (I just realized that one of the DVDs the burglars stole was How the Grinch Stole Christmas; how's that for irony?). Other disasters have been of a nature not suitable to share here. Suffice it to say we have had annus horribilis, but without the public scrutiny that Buckingham Palace has to endure.

So my iTunes played Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," from the 1944 movie Meet Me In St. Louis. It's not just the song itself; it's the way she sings it, with a sort of pleading, desperate hope that next year will be better. "We'll have to muddle through somehow." When Frank Sinatra later recorded the song, he changed that line to something more optimistic, and that became the words everybody knows. But Garland just seemed to be singing to me directly, and her words and her delivery are all the more meaningful.

It was hard to find the original (as Garland sang them) lyrics online … I finally found them at sing365.com. Actually, these aren't the true original lyrics; the song was written the year before for soldiers fighting in World War II, and those lyrics had a reference to maybe not even living until next year. Garland insisted on changing that line for the movie. She was, after all, singing comforting words to a distressed 7-year-old.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Ralph Blane

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be
out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yule-tide gay
Next year all our troubles will be
miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another great sailor passes

Who's in the future?

Wednesday afternoon, we learned of the passing of Roy E. Disney, following a year-long battle with cancer. Disney may not have been as high-profile as Walter Cronkite or Ted Kennedy, but he was also of that generation of gentleman sailors who truly wished to promote the sport of sailing.

Most recently, he produced the Morning Light project, in which he recruited and trained a crew of young sailors to sail in the Transpac race to Hawaii. One of the participants in that project was a student at New Mexico Tech and a member of the Rio Grande Sailing Club, who raced some at both Elephant Butte and Heron. It was great to feel at least a little bit of a personal connection to that effort, and the DVD of that movie was probably the one single disc we most miss that the burglars took last month.

Here in New Mexico, we remember Disney not so much for sailing, but for his other philanthropic efforts. He was a major force behind the establishment of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and his name is on the performing arts center there. Other entities, such as a major national bank, only get names on little things, like an atrium, but Disney's name covers three theaters and assorted support facilities. He was a strong supporter of the arts in New Mexico, and he especially promoted programs to find and develop talent among traditionally disadvantaged communities.

Vaya con Dios, Roy.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cat Herders Day once again

No takers on the contest, though …

Yes, it's now December 15, and we can celebrate National Cat Herders Day. To all of you who literally herd cats, and to all of you whose feline-herding efforts are merely figurative, we salute you.

As you scramble through your days, doing all of the stuff you usually do to take care of your family, your job, and whatever other duties you have, and then on top of all that, cope with all of the holiday preparations and shopping and cooking and planning parties and whatever else you do, remember that there is a holiday in your honor.

The closest thing I had to an entry in my writing project about the true meaning of Cat Herders Day was a somewhat cynical comment about how those who think they can herd cats are delusional. I offer this photo as evidence that Tillerman's suspicions may be correct; we have a creature whose natural instinct is to be the herder, but he's joined the herd instead.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie magic

A blast from the past

One movie that I have been eager to see that has just come out is Invictus, the movie about the South African rugby team and the way it united a previously divided country. With Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon leading the cast, and Clint Eastwood directing, I am expecting great things.

However, I currently can't afford full price movie tickets, which means I have to wait until the movie gets to the bargain cinemas to see it.

Then I remembered El Cortez Theater in Truth or Consequences. Depending on what source you look at, this theater was built sometime in the 1930s or possibly 1943. It's old (the website recommends that moviegoers bring blankets, as the heating system doesn't work so well). It shows movies on 35mm film. It also charges far less than the multiplexes in the big city, both for admission and for refreshments – when is the last time you got a large order of popcorn for $2? The disadvantage is that it has only one screen, so moviegoers in Sierra County don't have any choice what to watch – it's whatever the theater is showing that week.

Eureka, I thought. If El Cortez is showing the film, I could go sailing during the day and then see the film in the evening, with Pat, or Zorro, or Cornhusker and Bassmaster, or some combination thereof. Unfortunately, when I looked up the theater's schedule on the Internet, I found that Invictus is not listed among the next few films to be shown. (However, the theater is showing It's a Wonderful Life free of charge through the month of December, in addition to the first-run movies.)

Maybe I'll go and watch The Blind Side. That's another sports movie, and since it's about football, wrapping up in a blanket like fans in the stands will make the film all the more realistic.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Black Magic snowflake

Not like any other

I have a colleague, Connie, who has a special talent: She makes snowflakes. She will start with a photo or some other image, and she will create a custom snowflake based on that image. Some of her creations are astonishingly intricate. It's appropriate that the area she lives in is called Tijeras.

Some time ago, I gave her a picture of Black Magic under sail. Today, she gave me her creation based on that picture. Around the perimeter of the snowflake are silhouettes of the sails and hull of the boat, with watery waves beneath, and little fishies swimming below. It's delightful.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Getting back to true meanings

Caution: scholarly content ahead

Here's one word that's been misused just about everywhere I've seen it: Platonic. Over and over, I hear people say something like, "Oh, my relationship with [insert name here] is strictly Platonic." When people say that, they usually mean that they are "just friends"; that there isn't a romantic relationship involved.

To see just how seriously wrong this definition is, it is important to go back to the original work from which the term derives, Plato's "Phaedrus." If you want to follow along, you can read the entire text of the work here, in a translation by Benjamin Jowett. "Phaedrus" is considered a defining document for two reasons: It is a superb description of the ideals of classical rhetoric, and it also contains an excellent explanation of the concept of Platonic love.

I'll start with the structure of the piece. "Phaedrus" is a dialogue between Socrates and his pupil Phaedrus. Phaedrus has just come from hearing a speech by Lysias, one of the more popular sophists of the day. Phaedrus is enthusiastic about the speech, and it doesn't take much persuasion to encourage him to recite it for Socrates. Lysias' main point is that, if given the choice between the attentions of a lover or a non-lover, one should choose the non-lover.

Socrates at this point facetiously comes out with his own speech in favor of that position, but then he makes another that completely refutes this idea and comes in solidly on the side of favoring the lover. We'll get more into the details of that speech later, as it contains the meat of the ideal of Platonic love.

Next, Socrates and Phaedrus discuss the three speeches. Through dialogue (there is nothing else in this work, no stage directions, no "business" aside from that which is spoken of directly), Socrates leads Phaedrus through the reasoning behind the speeches and develops principles of rhetoric which we still use today. He points out that Lysias' speech is poorly organized, full of platitudes, incompletely and sometimes fallaciously reasoned, and, in general, not good rhetoric. He also points out that his own speech in favor of the non-lover has its own shortcomings, such as reasoning from false and unsound principles.

Socrates then leads Phaedrus through many of the classical concepts of rhetoric: The speaker must know the truth of the matter spoken of, must organize ideas into a head, body, and feet (reflected in the modern terms introduction, body, and conclusion), must define terms for the audience, must follow rules of correct diction (grammar and tone), must understand who the audience is and what its needs are. Not only that, while some orators begin with a natural talent, all can improve through practice, and even the best talent will not produce great rhetoric without practice. More than 2300 years later, I'm still teaching the same principles to my students. Some things just never go out of style.

Meanwhile, it's not possible to talk about rhetoric in the abstract, but rather, a discussion of rhetoric must use examples of rhetoric, and those examples have to be about something. In "Phaedrus," the subject matter is love. In Socrates' second speech, we have not only an example of a well crafted argument; we also have a thorough explanation of the virtues of love, especially the sort that is now known as Platonic.

Love, Socrates contends, is a form of madness, not caused by human weakness but rather, by the gods and, therefore, divine. The human soul, meanwhile, can be compared to a charioteer driving two winged horses, one good and one evil. Souls aspire to be like the gods, and the souls of philosophers and lovers come close – especially lovers under the influence of divine madness. However, the horses pulling the chariot can prove to be a hindrance. When the soul sees the beauty of the beloved, the good horse behaves itself in a noble fashion, but the evil horse lusts after physical pleasure and makes trouble for the good horse and for the charioteer. It is only with a great struggle that the soul can keep control of the impulses of the evil horse, but when such a struggle is successful, the relationship between the lover and the beloved becomes something of great beauty, and the pair can enjoy true joy in a way that is not possible otherwise, on a blissful path heavenward. This is certainly not the status of "just friends," but rather, a relationship that, if anything, is deeper and more rewarding than the sexual kind.

This type of relationship is demonstrated throughout "Phaedrus" by the actions of the characters. The teacher and his pupil are walking through the countryside. At one point, they wade barefoot together in a clear stream; then they settle down on the soft grass under a shade tree full of sweet-scented blossoms. Socrates often addresses Phaedrus with terms of endearment, such as "my divine darling" and "my sweet Phaedrus." This, then, is the Platonic ideal, in this case a relationship between the teacher and the student that remains lofty and divine.

Every so often, a news story comes to light, in which a teacher has crossed the line and engaged in sexual activity with an underage student. In a recent case here in the Albuquerque area, a female middle school teacher had a relationship with a 13-year-old seventh grader; when she was questioned over the issue, she said, "It was what he wanted." No, probably that was not what the kid wanted. Based on other information in the story, I can infer that this child's parents neglected him, emotionally if not physically. What this child wanted, what would have served him best, would have been a Platonic relationship with a teacher who truly loved and cared for him, who held his best interests to heart, who kept sex out of it – not one whose evil horse took over and dragged the chariot into treacherous territory.

Of course, the relationship between teacher and student isn't the only one in which Platonic love can occur. It can be a relationship between coach and athlete, or between employer and employee, or simply between very close friends of either gender. The lover and the beloved find something of the divine when they are in each other's presence, even if they don't have a name for it. These are special relationships, deep ones that go beyond merely liking each other, far beyond "just friends." If Plato is to be believed, these are the most heavenly relationships of all.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Permanent substitute

An oxymoron

In recent years, Albuquerque Public Schools have been criticized for having a large number of so-called permanent substitutes – teachers who aren't certified as full-time teachers, just as substitutes, who are taking the place of fully certified teachers because of staffing shortages, especially in fields such as math and science where qualified teachers are hard to come by.

While the No Child Left Behind act has shortcomings, a few of its provisions have been beneficial, and one of those was to reduce or eliminate the use of unqualified teachers. APS now has very few permanent substitutes, and those have legitimate qualifications, such as a degree in math or science but no teaching certificate.

Meanwhile, three times this season, the person who was scheduled to serve as race committee for the Rio Grande Sailing Club's regattas has canceled at the last minute, leaving Pat to fill in. True, he does have the official US Sailing race committee certification, but he shouldn't be called upon to be committee every regatta. In essence, he is now being called on as a permanent substitute.

In the past, the RGSC has had a policy of requiring all racers to serve regular turns as race committee. If a racer was unable to serve for the assigned regatta, he or she had to make arrangements to fill the gap, or else face severe scoring penalties in the regatta series. This policy served to keep skippers in line.

We're probably going to re-institute a policy on this order, since right now Pat's just not getting to race at all.

Meanwhile, this Saturday was the RGSC's final event of the year, the Kris Kringle Regatta and Christmas party. A cold front had just passed through – the previous two days there had been a blizzard that actually shut down the freeway between El Paso and Las Cruces. Temperatures at the lake were cold, and there was snow on the ground in the shady places. The plan was for the Etchells to run short course races, while the other boats would have a distance race around Rattlesnake Island and back.

There was a problem, however, with the Etchells fleet: Zorro's boat, Constellation, was in El Paso, where he had spent the past two weeks making hull repairs and painting her. His original plan had been to bring the boat up to the lake Friday to rig and launch, but the highway closure put an end to that plan. Instead, he was to borrow a truck from Carguy Saturday, haul the boat to the lake, rig it, and launch it, all in time for the day's racing.

There was a hitch with this plan, which was that there wasn't a hitch on the first vehicle Carguy had. So he and Zorro went to his lot to find a towing vehicle with a hitch. That delayed Zorro's departure for the lake. Once he got to the lake, he got help from me, Twinkle Toes, and Trail Boss, a skilled sailor who was to sail with Cornhusker and me (and originally also Pat) on Black Magic. Still, there were problems, such as the boat being full of snow and the bilge being frozen solid – along with a lot of the rigging, which pretty much had to be thawed out before it could be run.

Finally, Zorro told Trail Boss and me to go ahead and get out sailing; he and Twinkle Toes would finish rigging and launch Constellation.

So Trail Boss, Cornhusker, and I set sail in cold temperatures and light air. Just about the first thing Trail Boss noticed was that a large number of the lines on the boat were fouled and weren't running smoothly. He also noticed many other things that weren't working quite right – some of which had been on our radar (such as missing a masthead fly), and some of which had not (such as the tracks for the jib cars being placed too far forward; they would be all right in light air, but in heavier conditions it would not be possible to move the cars back as far as they should be).

Conditions to start with were light, but reasonable for sailing in, especially given the temperature, which was right around freezing. Trail Boss decided not to wait around for Zorro to get Constellation in the water; rather, he wanted to sail around the lake, both to give me and Cornhusker some lessons in sail trim and to get a feel for Black Magic and how we might improve her performance.

Then the wind did something it often does at Elephant Butte. It went away. So when Zorro and Twinkle Toes finally got the boat launched, we were becalmed far away.

Meanwhile, Pat was cold and miserable on Cornhusker's boat, Free and Clear IV, which she had made available for committee duty so we wouldn't have to rig or launch Syzygy. The anchor was lightweight, and it didn't have enough rode, so it dragged even in drifting conditions. After starting the distance fleet (two J/24s and a Grampion), instead of waiting for the Etchells to show up, he set a course, and then he had to keep changing the line as the wind shifted. We had tried to call him to let him know what we were doing, but the calls kept going to his voice mail. Meanwhile, he had tried to call us to ask what was going on, but he picked times when we couldn't answer the phone, such as when we were raising sail or tacking. He finally got through to Cornhusker's phone a couple of times when she wasn't occupied with running the boat, but he never clearly communicated exactly what he was doing or what information he wanted from us.

Eventually, we got back to the starting area, and we sailed along with Zorro for a while, but by then, the sun was getting low and the day was getting cold. We sailed back to the marina and put the boats away.

Because of the weather, turnout at the Christmas party was low, but at least it was not as low as the turnout for the regatta; about 20 people turned up for the party. Zorro presented awards, including 2008 Sportsman of the Year (Zorro had been preoccupied with damage to his boat last year and forgot) for Pat, and 2009 Sportswoman of the Year for Cornhusker. The white elephant gift exchange was quieter than usual, but it was fun.

Sunday morning was much warmer, but there was no wind. That was all right, since we wanted to put Carguy's boat on my trailer so he could get the bottom cleaned (it currently resembles green shag carpet) and then Zorro could repaint it; meanwhile, Black Magic could occupy Carguy's slip and be available to sail on or do boat work. Pat, Cornhusker, and I got the boat onto the trailer with no difficulty, and we left it parked just above the boat ramp, so Carguy can come when he's able to de-rig and take the boat to get it cleaned.

As we were finishing that task, the wind was beginning to stir. We went to lunch, and when we came back, there was a nice breeze, and the temperature was probably somewhere around 60 degrees. We got on our foulies and prepared to set sail.

We didn't stay out long. While we were raising sail, the wind came up strong, and by the time we were out of the harbor, we decided that sailing wasn't such a good idea after all. So we went back and put Black Magic in the slip. Then it was boat work time. I went forward and discovered a complete mess. The jib sheet fine tunes, especially the one on the starboard side of the boat, were twisted up. Whoever had run lines the last time the mast had been raised had done a horrible job, so that the mast moving system was fouled up in just about everything else under there. The fraculator had been run through a block that inexplicably had been tied with a bit of string to one of the blocks that the starboard jib fine tune was supposed to run through, and I couldn't fathom a reason for that block to be there, as the fraculator was run straight through that point.

So I spent about an hour up inside the front of the boat, and things are running much more smoothly now. There are still other things to work on, such as the jib cunningham, which used to be routed around the bilge pump hose that's no longer there and which now has too much length of line in one part of the system and too little in another, and the traveler, which right now has oversized blocks that hang up on things.

The weather was predicted to turn worse, and we wanted to get started on the journey back to Albuquerque before it got too late. We tied the boat securely, put the cover on, and headed up the hill, stopping to take pictures in the late-afternoon light of Constellation, with her shiny new paint job, and Black Magic, with a clean transom now that the motor mount has been removed. (It was about time; we haven't actually used the motor in about three years.)

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

I just found myself in a women’s magazine …

And the scary thing is … I think I liked it …

As I was writing my recent post about National Cat Herders Day, I went to see if I could find further enlightenment about the holiday, beyond what I had found in the past. I didn’t find anything new, and in fact, I found that the source I had previously used no longer existed.

However, I did see that someone had blogged, “I’d like for the person who decided that December 15 should be Cat Herders Day to step forward. Please explain yourself. What exactly is this holiday all about?”

Since my research last year had turned up at least a partial explanation, I ventured over to that blog. I found it to be full of useful information about pets – if rather heavier on advertising than I really like. I posted a comment that at least partially answered the blogger’s question about the holiday.

Then I began wandering around the site. The pets blog is one of many at this site; others feature such issues as women’s health, parenting, and recipes. I was getting a really warm feeling, as if somebody was baking sugar cookies. I could smell the sweet, buttery aroma, and I was mentally transported back to earlier, stress-free times.

Then I realized—this is the evolution of women’s magazines. In the past, there were Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal; now there is Blisstree.com. Its focus is on the home and the traditional roles of women but with a decidedly modern flavor; one of the blogs is on green living. It’s not normally the sort of thing that I’d be interested in, but I found a lot to like.

Partly, it’s the season. This is the time of year when the kitchen at Five O’Clock Somewhere kicks into full gear, cranking out fruitcakes, bizcochitos, and chocolate-chip cookies. I’m in a domestic mood, and when the weather isn’t suitable for sailing, it’s usually wonderfully suitable for heating up the kitchen with the oven going and sweet aromas floating throughout the house.

I did find the large amount of space devoted to advertising to be distracting—but then, advertising is a reality that journalistic enterprises have to cope with. When I worked for a newspaper, the area of pages devoted to advertising had to be about 60 percent for the paper to break even. (And that was when the salaries of those of us who produced the actual editorial content added up to about 2 percent of the paper’s expenses—paper and ink and electricity and running the press are a lot more expensive than reporters and editors.)

All in all, though, I found Blisstree.com to be an enjoyable and informative site. I’m giving it a thumbs up.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Holiday coming

There’s a reason for the season …




Yes, I looked at the calendar. National Novel Writing Month is over, and that means it’s now … December! Yes! Holiday time!

No, not December 25; I’m talking about December 15, National Cat Herders Day. Yes, the official holiday of Five O’Clock Somewhere, when we all think about those we know who spend their lives herding cats. Sometimes this is a literal thing. Zorro has somewhere in the vicinity of 11 cats, and Teddy Bear has an unknown but also large number (his wife volunteers for a humane association). Just this afternoon, I discovered that one of my fellow faculty members at the community college is also a cat herder; he rescues feral cats.

Then there are also those who find themselves herding cats in a figurative way, trying to get all of the various parts of their lives together and get control of them. The middle of December is probably when a very large number of us are frantically trying to organize holiday events, shopping, work, family, and who knows what all else.

This year, rather than write a post saying pretty much the same thing I say every year, I’m opening this out as a writing project for everybody. Between now and December 15, write a blog post about “The True Meaning of Cat Herders Day” and post a link to it in the comments here, or write a comment on the topic. If you have pictures, even better.

The grand prize for the winner of this project will be an autographed 8 by 10 glossy of Dulce, the queen of Five O’Clock Somewhere. (Well, OK, how about a jpeg?)

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

NaNo: The marathon is over

As usual, I’m not finished yet

So November is over, and so is National Novel Writing Month. This year, my final total at the end of the month was 64,030 words.

This time around, Hannah Montgomery and her friends are trying to solve Murder on the Sports Desk. The victim is a photographer whom nobody much liked. There’s an irate hockey goalie who’s the prime suspect, but things look awfully fishy – even if he’s not the brightest bulb on the string, he wouldn’t make all of the dumb mistakes that make most of the evidence point straight at him.

Hannah and her fiancé, Harry O’Malley, have finally set a wedding date. But somebody’s blackmailing Hannah, apparently thinking that she’s stepping out with her best friend, Flash Duran. The photographer who got murdered is (or was) apparently one of the blackmailers. There’s the added complication that the victim of this murder was the brother of a previous murderer … or rather, a previous killer who was found not guilty by reason of insanity and is now in a mental institution.

So Harry’s working the late shift at the cop shop, and Hannah’s gone to Flash’s place to share a pizza with him. The pizza came with an unexpected extra tucked under the round piece of cardboard underneath the pie itself, a CD-ROM with a compromising video.

Flash’s face was pale. “How did they get that disc into my pizza?” he asked.

“How often do you order pizza from this place?” Hannah asked.

“About twice a week,” Flash said.

“Well, they clearly have a camera pointed at my boat,” Hannah said. “I’m betting they have one pointed at your house, too. They’re probably well aware that you have a habit of ordering pizzas from this particular pizza place. All they would have to do is find an employee to bribe into slipping that disc into your order.”

Flash pulled out his phone and pressed a speed dial number. “Hello … This is Flash Duran … Yes, it was good … I just realized I didn’t tip the delivery boy as much as I had planned … Yeah, next time he’s out, have him stop by here on the way back … Oh, yeah, he’s good; you ought to give him a raise … All right, thank you.” He hung up.

“Well, if the delivery guy was the person who got bribed, you’ve got a chance at getting something from him,” Hannah said. “But if it wasn’t him, you’ve just made a kid very happy for no good reason.”

“That’s the very best reason for making a kid happy,” Flash said. “Random acts of kindness were always fun when I was a kid.”

“Well, I guess while we’re waiting, we can watch the rest of the movie,” Hannah said. Flash complied and switched the discs in the player. Just as the movie was ending, and Bob Hope was watching Bing Crosby getting the girl, the doorbell rang. It was the pizza delivery guy.

“I’m so glad you showed up,” Flash said, handing the kid a $10 bill. “I had decided to give you an extra large tip this time because you’ve always been so good – on time, always polite, all the things a pizza delivery boy should be. But then I got distracted and forgot” – he glanced over at Hannah, who was stretched out languorously on the sofa – “and I left this on the table when I meant to give it to you. But anyhow, here it is. By the way, I noticed there was something extra in the pizza box.”

The pizza delivery kid’s face turned red. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “This has really been my big night. This guy came into the shop just after you ordered your pizza, said he was a friend of yours, said he’d pay me $20 to put this disc in the box with your pizza. I thought it was weird, but twenty bucks is twenty bucks … and now I got thirty!”

“Do you remember what this guy looked like?” Flash asked.

“Well, he was sort of … average,” the kid said. “Average height, average build, maybe a little more fit than average.”

“What about hair and eye color?” Flash asked.

“I don’t know about any of that,” the kid said. “He had on a baseball cap and a hoodie and dark glasses. He was white, though, very fair skin. Probably sunburns easily. That’s why he was covered up, I figured.”

Flash pulled another $10 bill out of his pocket. “Thanks, kid,” he said. “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Joey,” the kid said. “Joey Rodriguez.”

Flash handed Joey the money. “Thanks again for everything,” he said. “Just be sure never to mention these extra tips or the other guy, or anything else about this, to anybody. And I mean anybody.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Duran,” Joey said. He gave a half-wave, half-salute, and walked back to his car with a spring in his step.

“Well, that gets us something,” Hannah said. “But it doesn’t get us all that much. We already knew we were looking for a guy of average height and average build in the flower case; now we have the added information that he’s a fair-skinned white guy who maybe works out some.”

Flash gestured toward the disc that was now lying on the coffee table. “I wish we could get that thing tested for fingerprints,” he said. “But if we take it to the police, the police look at its contents, and the police include Harry.”

“There probably aren’t any fingerprints on the thing anyway,” Hannah said. “These guys aren’t careless.”

“I guess I could take the disc to my studio and use the computers to look for digital signatures,” Flash said. “But like you said, these guys aren’t careless. They probably wiped their tracks.”

They both slumped back on the sofa, tired and dejected. Suddenly, Hannah sat upright. “My column!” she exclaimed.

“Your what?” Flash asked.

“I need to submit next week’s column to the Capitan tomorrow,” Hannah said. “But I haven’t even thought of a topic yet. Quick, what’s your biggest grammar bugaboo?”

“My what?” Flash asked.

“The grammar issue that causes you the most frustration,” Hannah said. “The one that you’re dying to see a clear explanation of.”

“That’s gotta be which ‘there’ to use,” Flash said. “I mean, I never can figure out whether I’m supposed to use T-H-E-R-E or T-H-E-I-R or that other one with the apostrophe in it. I’d love to see a Grammar Goddess column on that.”

“Your wish is my command,” Hannah said, pulling her laptop out of her satchel and shoving the now empty pizza box to the floor to make room on the coffee table. Half an hour later, she had a column written. “Here you go,” she said to Flash, turning the laptop toward him. “See if this clarifies things.”

Flash scrolled through the article, reading it. When he finished, he turned the computer back to Hannah. “Wow,” he said. “You really can explain things. I especially liked the bit about apostrophes, how you use those when you have something that can be spelled out. I didn’t know that before.”

“I’ll take that as a ringing endorsement,” Hannah said. “I’ll be taking this to the Capitan tomorrow.”

“Before or after we go sailing?” Flash asked.

“Before,” Hannah said. “Once I get this out of the way, we can have the rest of the day unencumbered.”

“What about Harry?” Flash asked.

“I don’t know what his plans are,” Hannah said. “He officially has the day off tomorrow, aside from being on call. Even if he doesn’t feel Avenger the way you and I do, would it work for him to come sailing with us?”

“Sure,” Flash said. “Maybe eventually, he will get to understand that boat, or at least understand what she does for the two of us. And even if he doesn’t ever get to that point, maybe … well … if he does ever see that video, maybe he will understand what caused me to … what caused, well, what happened.”

As previously disclaimed, this is pure fiction.

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