Monday, September 29, 2008

Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir - Continued

The ride to the substation was uneventful. I watched my house recede into the distance as we passed it, and kept flipping-off the ride-along who thought it was polite to stare at a guy with his knees under his chin. I still have no idea where the substation is, I was “impaired” at the time. Being thrown into the back seat of a police cruiser will sober you up fast however, I discovered.

I wasn’t booked into custody with the fingerprinting and the mugshots, just told to take off my boots (it was during my “cowboy” period) and they put me in a concrete holding cell. The only thing that wasn’t concrete was the toilet in the back corner. I vowed to stay away from that completely. I sat down on the concrete bench. I waited. I freaked.

Some time passed. I was sitting there contemplating my circumstances, when the officer and his ride along showed up at the cell door, opened it and led me into a hallway. They went through the balancing and dexterity tests again, which are harder to do, by the way, in your stocking feet. But I still felt that I had passed them. I was then led to a room that looked a lot like a break room with a conference table, and told to sit down. The officer and the ride along sat across from me.

Officer: “Count from 1 -50 backwards.” Pen poised over a clipboard.

Me: “50-49-48-47-46-45-44….” This was easy. He stopped me at 35.

Officer: “Recite the alphabet.”

Kee-rist, was I in kindergarten? Was that how they treated “impaired” drivers, drivers operating “under the influence”? I start. “A, B, C, D”

“No, backwards,” he says.

Me: “Shit, I don’t think I can do that sober!” Dumb thing to say. I try, and I do pretty well I think. I have to pause every once in awhile to think, and he stops me on “h”.

Officer: “What color pants are you wearing? Tell me without looking.”

Me: Staring at the officer. “Stonewashed, black, Levi 501s, button fly.” Just like Garth Brooks, I think, but don’t say.

The officer does not seem impressed.

“Okay,” he says. “Step over here to the breathalyzer.” After setting it up, he hands me a straw-like thing and tells me to blow. I do. A receipt comes out the side. He looks at it. Puts it down.

“Do it again.”

I do. The receipt pops out; he looks at it and puts it down. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to give him two out of three.

After an uncomfortable pause, me standing there in my stocking feet, rocking from side to side and back and forth and wanting to sit down, “You didn’t test over the legal limit”, he says and he truly sounds disappointed. (At the time, the legal limit in Arizona was .10, it’s .08 now.) “You tested .093.” He shows me the “receipt.” I never see the other one, so I figure it must be lower. “So I have the option of charging you with Driving Under the Influence or not. I’m going to charge you. I also have the option of suspending your driver’s license.”

“What the hell did I do to make him so mad,” I’m thinking. Then I realize that he has to make an arrest because he brought me back to the substation alleging I was DUI, wasted two hours trying to impress a ride along with his tests, and now he had to make it into a legitimate stop and arrest. After all, remember, all I did was turn left on a red arrow as the light was changing, and admit that I’d had a couple of beers that evening. If he hadn’t left me in the cell for as long as he did he probably would have gotten that extra .007. I have been in custody, I note, for almost two and a half hours. It is 1:30 a.m. on the wall clock in the test room.

He hands me back my driver’s license. I guess he decides he’s punishing me enough.

The real truth is DUI can be prosecuted in Arizona (and most other states) either by showing that your driving ability was impaired only to the slightest degree as a result of the consumption of alcohol (or those other “influences”) or the “per se” law, which says you can’t drive a vehicle within two hours of having a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater. How they know what your blood alcohol level is two hours prior, I don’t know. You should know, that violating a per se law has absolutely nothing to with your ability to operate a vehicle safely, it’s all about blood chemistry. The only question becomes how high the blood alcohol level was at the time of driving. Since, as I pointed out, the breath or blood alcohol test is always given after the time of driving, it could be the same, higher, or lower than it was several hours ago when I was driving. Wow, the “Don’t Drink and Drive” signs are making a lot more sense now.

The officer asks me to sign his citation and I do, which of course is not admitting guilt, only agreeing to appear. I have the right to a jury trial, or I have the choice to waive a jury trial and have a judge hear the case, he explains. The arraignment is set two months away, and I’m able to drive until then because he has chosen not to suspend my license.

“Do you have a way to get home?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the complete opposite tone in his voice. He’s being nice. Why?

“Well, I don’t know where the hell I am, for one, and I don’t have a car, obviously.”

“We’ll take you home,” he says. “I have to get back on patrol in that area anyway.” So I get out of jail free, and I get a ride home.

There is absolutely no conversation on the way home. It takes about twenty minutes and he drives right up to my house without me giving him any direction whatever. That makes me a little uneasy, but I thank him for the lift and at 2:30 AM my arrest ordeal is over.

Coming soon.....The Trial.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir?

Why is it, when you’re driving home from “league” while “under the influence” the cops you never see on a normal drive home, are at every intersection and following you? Last night, I saw more cops on my drive home than I thought worked in Reno. Does a person driving “under the influence” give off some sort of glow in the dark?

I want to make it clear to all those MADD supporters out there that I wasn’t driving home whilst “intoxicated”, I was driving “under the influence.” Big difference. Was I impaired? Not in my mind.

You know they changed that designation from DWI to DUI so that they could fit those other substances, included prescription drugs, under the law, because being intoxicated is not being “high”, technically. You don’t get defined as intoxicated on Heroin. But the real reason is a .08 blood alcohol level is really not intoxicated in truth. That’s like two beers for most people, kind of a two-beer buzz.You drink any alcohol and you’re by god going to have some level of it in your blood. That’s the delivery system.

“Don’t Drink and Drive”, doesn’t make sense. You drove to the bar, right? You parked in the lot which they provided. And you have to get home when you’re done drinking right? Is the bar parking lot an overnight storage for patron’s vehicles? “Don’t Drive If You’re Shit-Faced and Can’t Get Your Key in the Ignition” makes more sense. The problem, I guess, is the “shit-face or not” decision is made by the person with the key who is, well, shit-faced at the time.

Calling 911 to report drunk drivers doesn’t make sense to me either. I see those little blue signs all over California along with “Click-it or Ticket” signs. How is that call going to go?

911 Operator: “What’s your emergency?”

Reporting Driver: “Some asshole just cut me off on the freeway and I almost lost control of my car, and there wasn’t even enough room to pull in front of me because I was following the car in front of me too close, so I had to slam on my brakes, and then she swerved off to the next lane and cut another driver off, and then she took an exit.”

911 Operator: “Was the driver drunk, sir?”

Reporting Driver: “How the hell am I supposed to know? Would a sober person do that?.........Oh yeah, I guess they would.”

I have been arrested for DUI. I was even charged with DUI. And, interestingly, the charges were dropped and the arrest record purged. Let’s just say, I’ve only been “caught” once. It was not fun. Here’s how it happened.

We had just moved to Tucson, Arizona from Albuquerque, New Mexico and had been invited over to a new acquaintance’s house to play some pool. Beer was provided. I think I had three, maybe four, beers during the course of a several hours visit. The company turned out to be enjoyable and we left, my wife, daughter and I, at about 10:30 pm. All three of us in the front seat of the Brown Ford Ranger.

Now, in New Mexico, where I lived for 12 years, the intersection signals for the turn lane come on after the main signals go red. So if I’m make a left turn with an arrow, I would pull into the intersection and then wait, until the traffic signal turned yellow and when the intersection was clear I would start to turn as the turn signal went green. Not to be confusing, in Arizona they work the opposite. If the light is red, you get the left turn arrow first, then the cross traffic gets the green light. So as I came up to the left turn, approximately three blocks from my house, I pulled up into the intersection waiting for the left turn arrow to turn green. It didn’t. I’m now half way out in the intersection and I have no choice but to turn on the red arrow or get broadsided by oncoming traffic. I can't back up as other cars have formed a line behind me. This is as 8-lane intersection. So I go. As I go, driving “under the influence”, with an open container gratiously supplied by my host for the ride home, I spot one of Tucson’s finest in the inside lane of the opposing intersection. Within minutes of safely clearing the intersection, he is behind me.

I panic. Cops make me panic. I could be doing absolutely nothing wrong and a cop behind me will send me into an absolute panic. I’m trying to hide the open container. I set it behind the seat and make my right turn onto my street. I’m now FOUR houses down the street from home. The colorful lights come on and the siren wails. I pull over. I can see my house from the windshield.

The officer approaches. I roll down my window.

Officer: “Good evening sir.” Cops always fuck with you like that. Your evening is no longer good once you’ve been stopped.

Me: “Yeah?”

Officer: “Do you know why I stopped you?”

Me: “I turned left on a red arrow.” Then I try to calmly explain how I’ve just moved from New Mexico and it’s the opposite there and, and….he’s not buying any of it.

Officer: “Have you been drinking this evening, sir?”

I have since learned the correct answer to this question. The answer, even if you can’t form words that don’t sound like slurs, is NO. You do not tell the truth, period. But I did.

Me: “Well, I had a couple of beers.” Statement results in immediate action.

Officer: “Sir, step out of the car.”

Me: “What’d I do?” My daughter, who is ten, starts to cry. They’re taking her dad away and she’s not happy about it. On the other hand, the cop is clearly enjoying it. I step out of the car and he walks me to the back of the squad car. I go through the routine, arms outstretched, touch the nose, stand on one foot and then the other, walk a straight line. Tests I appear to pass without a problem. The coup de grace is when he tells me to take six steps, start on my left foot and end on the same foot. It is then that I realize he has a “ride-along.”

A ride-along is a civilian who is doing just that, at his request. Anybody can do it. Just call the Police Department and set it up. The cop, is clearly showing off because of it, probably due to the lack of crime that evening to show his ride along how a professional police officer does his job. When I start counting out my six steps starting with the left foot and ending on the right, the wrong foot, and I can’t seem to understand why, the cop jumps in.

Officer: “Sir, I feel that you are impaired, and I am going to take you down to the station. Can someone drive your vehicle home?” I can see my house from the sidewalk where I’m standing.

Me: “They can walk home. My house is right there,” and I point.

Officer: “Fine. Get in the car.”

Now the back seat of police cars, intentionally I find out, has no room for the legs of a six-foot individual, now the person in custody. My daughter, I can see through the windshield is crying hysterically, and the cop is talking to my wife. I found out later what that conversation was. Mainly the officer of the law with his ride along was trying to find some damning evidence. Like an open container of beer.

To Be Continued Tomorrow……….

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How To Back Up a Boat Trailer.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to become “lake rats.” Technically, what that means is, we bought something that floats with a motor so you spend all your free time near water. In our case it was a pristine 1996 SeaDoo GTX on a single-place ShoreLand’r trailer. We named it LOBO 1. The LOBO being our initials and the 1 standing for our first boat, assuming we would have LOBO 2 and so on. Lobo is also the Spanish word for wolf, for those of you who don’t press 2 after you call someone. We’re up to LOBO 6 now.

We hooked our new, used, jetski, as they are called, to our Dodge pickup and took off to our nearest state park with a lake. We set up camp on a nice spot on the beach and then drove over to the boat ramp to launch the boat. Launching a boat requires the backing up of the vehicle down a ramp with a trailer attached. For those of you who do this with little or no problem, simply, I hate you.

As I start backing into my approach down the boat ramp, my wife takes a position outside of my angle of view in the side mirror. She then starts making twirling motions with her index finger pointing into the air, first twirling to the left, then twirling to the right. How do I know this since she is outside of my angle of view? Because I screamed out the window, “I CAN’T FUCKING SEE YOU!” Which caused her to move into my angle of view, and I saw the twirling to the right, although it was a different finger, just before the trailer jackknifed behind the truck.

I pulled the truck forward and managed to straighten out the trailer behind me, and back down the double ramp, pretty much using both lanes, and completely ignoring my wife’s twirling to the right and twirling to the left. I got the SeaDoo in the water and launched my wife (okay I know how that sounded, but she was on the SeaDoo) who promptly sped away. I hoped I hadn’t ruined the weekend with my outburst, earlier.

I went back to camp and waited, and waited, and waited. It was starting to get dark and I was starting to panic. Our first trip out on the SeaDoo and we were going to violate Rule #1, “Do not ride after sunset.” Okay, I was worried about my wife too. I had just jumped into the truck to go to the front gatehouse and get the Game Warden when, in the dim light, the SeaDoo beached itself on the shore.

“I got lost,” she said.

“You still mad at me?” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

And that was all I said. I know better.

We had a nice dinner, something she called Girl Scout Stew. I”ll tell you how to make it sometime. We had a real nice next day riding the SeaDoo, and getting some sun. Okay, drinking some Jack and Coke too. Okay, drinking a lot of Jack and Coke. Just as a sidebar, you get a lot braver riding a SeaDoo after you’ve had a few Jack and Cokes. You can go airborne on those things. But then, that is the real Rule #1 “Do not drink and then drive a SeaDoo.” But let’s not go there.

Sunday morning we break camp and go to the boat ramp to load the SeaDoo back on the trailer. Again, this involves backing a trailer behind a truck down a single lane ramp into the water with three other trucks and trailers attempting to do it at the same time because everybody’s trying to leave to go home on Sunday morning. Except now, I can’t see the boat trailer at all behind the truck, because it doesn’t stick up over the tailgate of the truck anywhere, like it did when the boat was on it. You people that do this without a problem, you’re lying, and I hate you.

The wife takes up a position behind the trailer, after beaching the SeaDoo, and then in her sweetest voice says, “Can you see me?” I can see through the sarcasm, that’s for sure.

I start backing the trailer I can’t see, down one of the middle ramps next to a 4 X 4 Dodge pickup that looks like it just came from a monster truck rally with a 30’ trailer behind it. He zips down the ramp, picks up his boat, and starts back up the ramp while I’m still criss-crossing the trailer back and forth between the lanes, not getting very far.

My wife is back there twirling frantically to the left, I think. The next thing I see is the trailer sticking out perpendicular from the side of the truck and the monster truck is about to drive over it. I quickly pull forward and straighten it out.

Now, I should preface this next part with a little description of the scene. There are people everywhere, loading up boats, wiping them down after extraction. There are boats docked or beached waiting to be picked up. And all of these people are watching a little red truck with a tiny white SeaDoo trailer try to back down a boat ramp, because that’s entertainment. After the third attempt and subsequent jackknife of the trailer, I jumped out of the truck and screamed back at my poor wife, while twirling my index finger high over my head to the right.


Then I started muttering, “I can’t fucking see it. How am I going to back it up? I can’t fucking see it.”

I got back in the truck and started back down the ramp one more time. Same result. The blood pressure went ballistic. I jumped out of the truck, unhitched the little SeaDoo trailer and walked the son-of-bitch down the ramp into the water. Then I walked back, got in the truck and backed it down and hooked the trailer back up. The crowd watching truly enjoyed this.

It’s been described to me that the best way to back up a trailer is to put your left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. I tried that, but you have to see the trailer in order for it to work anyway, and it doesn’t work all that well because I’m not left-handed. You can’t put your right hand on the steering wheel, because you have to turn around in the seat to see the boat trailer jackknife. Most of you that have ever attempted to master the art of backing a trailer, know what I’m talking about. The rest of you that have no problem doing this, we hate you.

So the next weekend, I came prepared with removable flags for the corners. I found some of those flags they put on ATVs with those 6’ fiberglass poles, and I screwed them on with a bolt and wing nut to each of the back corners of the trailer. It looked pretty stupid but it worked great. I could see the flags over the back of the tailgate and know where the trailer was while I was backing it. Although, once I got the trailer in the water, I had to take them off before I could load the SeaDoo. This, of course, involved underwater removal. The crowd around the boat ramp still found it all pretty entertaining.

Two years and a lot of underwater removal later, I accidentally left the tailgate down on the truck before I started backing up the trailer. Do you know what I could see clearly through the open tailgate? Yep, the trailer!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hand-Me-Down Betsy

My first car was a Ford truck, a 1939 two-tone green, flat-four, double-clutching, Ford pickup. The paint job was done with a brush, a kind of Kelly green with avocado accent. The rear fenders were bolted on with steel straps mainly to hold them together, and to the truck, because they were rusted out and the sheet metal was split. No plastic on this truck.

Double-clutching, for those of you unfamiliar or who have never even driven a standard, involved stepping on the clutch to bring it out of gear to neutral, then stepping on the clutch again to drop it into the next gear. If you didn’t double-clutch you ground the gears, particularly in a down-shift situation. As you got better at driving the truck, you could kind of know the right spot, kind of feel the gears mesh and get the up-shift without the second clutching, but you had to be good. If you wanted it in “compound low” you lifted a lever with your thumb on the side of the stick shift and, double-clutching, moved the lever up and over to the left. The truck would then crawl like a tank. So in effect, the Ford was four on the floor.

The truck was a hand-me-down. My sister drove it first until she bought her 1955 Willey’s sedan. Yep, the jeep company made a car. It was ugly, but then I thought my sister was ugly at the time too. I’d say she was still ugly, but then she might see this at some point and that wouldn’t be nice. True, maybe, but not nice. She drove that car until she bought the 1965 Mustang. The Mustang was four on the floor, not. It was an automatic, and she blew the engine on it driving to Washington State. She was going to school up there.

The gas gauge didn’t work on the Ford. You used a stick that we kept on the floor behind the seat. You sent it into the gas tank to see how much gas you had, or you could drive it up High School Hill and if it stalled, you needed gas. Of course, you had to roll it backwards down the hill to get it started and head in the direction of a gas station. I only ran out of gas one time that I remember though.

My father bought the truck as a mountain truck, something to sacrifice driving up to Coffeen Park, the trail-head for the wilderness area where we went backpacking and fishing. It had a camper shell of sorts on the back with a small cab-over that my father built. He paid $75 for the truck I think.

Helping him build that shell is not a particularly happy memory. It was my job to hold the folded end of the aluminum skin making up the roof. The drill he was using to put this on had a short or something. So every time I would hold the aluminum for him I would get a horrible shock, so I would let go. He’d yell at me, and I would hold on again until he started drilling. I would feel the current again, and let go. Took a while for him to agree that I was getting shocked from the damn thing, although to this day, I don’t think he believed me. He must have been grounded somehow, because he could hold it just fine.

The truck wasn’t anything you would drive any great distance out of town in for sure. There was a free swimming pool in Buffalo that we would frequent in the summer. It was twice the size of our pool and, well, it didn’t cost the 35 cents we had to pay to swim for two hours. We would load up the truck and drive about two miles out on the interstate and park on the shoulder. Then we would thumb a ride into Buffalo, about 30 miles southeast. When we were done swimming (we weren’t swimming, but we won’t go into that here) we would thumb our way back to the truck, cross over the median and drive home. Worked every time except once, when the guy that picked us up insisted it made more sense to drive us the two miles back home, than the 30 miles down the road if we were having car trouble, which is what we always claimed. We’d say that the old girl was overheating and she’d be fine if we let her set and came back.

I tried once to sneak a whole pack of my friends into the drive-in movie hidden in the camper shell on the back. We got six people stuffed back there and then paid the admission for the two of us up front. Just as a side note, two up front was all you could get, so you can imagine the cramped quarters the six in the back were enduring. The lift up gate on the camper shell was fastened with a couple of slider locks on both corners. Those slider locks were in place as we pulled up to our speaker.

Every time we would get out of the truck to let the sweltering, claustrophobic group out of the camper shell, the manager seemed to be within view with his flashlight. I tried several times before the movie started and each time I was forced back in the cab by the manager and his light. The group in the back started pounding on the wall adjacent to the cab. The movie started, “Midnight Cowboy,” and the two of us in the front kind of forgot about the prisoners in the back.

I tried once more, in a guilty moment, to unlatch the locks from the camper shell, but the pesky manager was right there waiting for the extra fares he was certain would emerge. I walked to the bathrooms, like that is what I intended to do all along and went back and finished the movie. It was a hot and humid August night, with no breeze whatsoever.

As we were leaving the drive-in I started hearing bangs. I should add that there were no glass windows in this camper shell, just small peep holes on both sides, like you see in the gangster movies where they look out the door to see who it is and ask for the password. “Joe sent me.”

I’d have to say that was the maddest six people I have ever seen from that day since. When we finally let them out, a ways down the road from the drive-in exit so as not to be caught, they acted like they had just been released from a coffin. Kicking, screaming, and chasing me around. Worse part is we were trying to save them a whole 35 cents. That was a lot of money back then for a teenager without a job.

Needless to say, the next time we tried that, we left the locks open on the back of shell. They still caught them as they were climbing out of the back. I pretended I didn’t know they were there. Like that worked.

I drove the Ford for two years in high school until I graduated to my very own 1956 Chevy Wagon. It wasn’t one of those ’56 Chevy’s you see restored now with the big V8 power plants and the four on the floor. It was a red, white and green, straight six, with a column shift. It was partially green because an old lady came around the corner and ripped my left front fender clean off as I was pulling from the curb. I picked up the green replacement at the local junk yard. The car was in mint condition until then, and I paid $150 for it right off “Locke’s Used Cars” lot. I paid more for the mini-bike I had with the three and half horsepower Briggs and Stratten.

I miss the Ford truck though. Her name was Betsy. I'm not really sure what happened to her. I’m sure my father sold it after a time. I was long gone from home by then, and I’ve stuck with Ford trucks all my life.

That is until I bought the metallic blue 2007 Tundra Limited with the GPS, and the voice actuated controls, and the 10,000 pound towing capacity, and the big V8. I put my first dent in the brand new truck over the weekend. I almost cried, but I swore at my wife, and threw my keys instead. Not cool for a grown man to cry about a dent in a $32,000 truck, but some of you might grant me immunity. Not really a dent, more like a crease in the side wall of the bed from the weight of the fifth-wheel trailer resting on it while I was trying to pull it into a pull-through space at the storage yard that would have taken a vat of vaseline to get into.

Still, I pay over nine times the amount every month for the Tundra, than my father paid for that most reliable of transportation. She didn’t have a GPS, a radio even, the gas gauge didn’t work, no heater to speak of, the fenders were bolted on and the truck was hand-painted with a brush. Betsy would start up on the coldest of days, and refuse to blow her top on the hottest. Everyone knew she was my truck too. At least for a time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Catch a Tagger By His Trail

A neighbor on the corner has a long, whitewashed, six-foot picket fence, which is a blank canvas too hard to pass up to a few wanna-be graffiti artists. The fact that we call them “artists” doesn’t sit well with me anyway, but I call them wanna-bees because they just aren’t up to the “standards” of a real graffiti artisan. What I don’t get is why the guy keeps painting over the graffiti fence, and then two to three days later, the tagger strikes again on a fresh canvas. I think I’d be sitting in wait for them with a shot-gun loaded with rock salt.

I remember Johnnie Mayer got a full load of salt in his ass when he was trying to steal a watermelon from Mr. Beachum’s field. According to the story, it hurt like hell, and he never went into Beachum’s field again. The truth is, the only thing that probably happened to Johnnie was Mr. Beachum scared the shit out of him. The barbed-wire fence where he left most of the seat of his pants hanging, probably did more damage then even a close-up load of rock salt. But I saw the scars when I was a kid, so I’ve always thought it might be a good non-lethal way to catch the little sons-a-bitches in the dark with their spray cans. Might straighten them up, and you’ll probably get sued.

And another thing; I believe The Home Depot advertises that they can match any paint color exactly, so why do all these paint-overs look worse than the original graffiti? There is also a product I know of, called Graffiti-Melt. Once it’s applied to a surface, graffiti won’t stick. It’s sold as a sacrificial product that you can just use a hose to clean the graffiti off then reapply, or as a surface cleaner that quickly removes the graffiti with just a pressure washer, thus the “melt” part of the name. It’s low-odor, non-toxic, and biodegradable. Sounds like just the ticket to me. That would save a whole lot of trouble for that neighbor down the street.

I don’t sell Graffiti Melt, but I’ll bet they sell it around here somewhere, because we get our share of tagging. How they get on those big signs over the interstate, with no one seeing them, is beyond me though. It might be fun to pick them off with our salt-loaded shotguns as we’re driving by swillin’ our beers.

“I think I nicked that one, Jake.”

I remember seeing a diagram of a tagger and how to spot them in the newspaper when I was living in Tucson. What to do about them after I spotted one, seemed to be the problem. That’s why I always thought lying in wait with a shotgun was a good idea. However, after discovering the actual effects of a salt-filled shell, I’m favoring the “melting” process. I mean, if you have a wall, and I’ve seen several around me, that seems to get hit on a regular basis, let’s look for some alternatives besides whatever paint is left over in the garage. Trust me, it looks worse than the graffiti art to have 50 feet of multi-colored fence on the street-side of your house.

In Arizona, and I’m sure most states now, you have to be 16 or 18 (I can’t remember) to buy spray paint. Although the law was probably put into effect so that the delinquents wouldn’t sniff the stuff, the intent was also to keep the main tool of the tagger off the street. Takes too long to use a brush and can, I guess. The law, as most, doesn’t work though, and it only aggravates those of us who need to buy a can of spray paint that is now in a locked case. You have to find the clerk, usually difficult if you’re not looking for one, and get them to open the case, stand there while you make a selection, and then lock it up again. And, of course, there are the stores, that, tired of the locking and unlocking, have taken to leaving it unlocked. Surprisingly you don’t have to answer a questionnaire about what you intend to do with the stuff.

I used to buy a lot of clear-coat spray paint, and I would amuse myself by telling the clerk, and then the check-out person, that I was going to spray some graffiti on my neighbor’s fence with it. They never seemed amused. Doesn’t it seem ridiculous to lock up clear spray paint? I guess it has the same hallucinogenic effects as the colored version though, but less likely to be in the backpack of a tagger in my mind.

I heard somewhere that they actually had a graffiti art exhibit in New York or somewhere, in the 80s. I wonder how they got those walls, train cars, semi-trailers, street signs, and fences into the art gallery?

Although I’m sure you have seen some pretty impressive graffiti, the majority of it is marking territory and just plain vandalism. One of the things they discovered in Tucson was that if you had a mural painted on the side of a building the taggers would respect the art and not deface it. There are a lot of murals in South Tucson, and I never saw one that was sprayed over with the initials, nickname, or symbol of some idiot who wants to see his name in print on what amounts to a billboard.

My favorite graffiti was the large white letters on the highway, both directions, that I would see every day on my commute to and from work. Sprayed on the pavement, like a “stop ahead” or turn arrow, was:
is a

Read properly from bottom to top as if you are driving across it. I imagine painstakingly painted, in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the oncoming cars, by the unfortunate x-boyfriend of Becky. Like I said, it was in both lanes, so you got the sentiment coming or going. It had to have taken some time to accomplish, especially in the dark.

My most recent exposure to the tagger’s art, was done by a young man by the name of Connor Burton, aged six going on seven. During his August visit to his grandfather’s fifth-wheel at the lake, in the pristine mountains of the Sierra Nevada, young Connor chose to leave his mark.

I didn’t discover it right away. It was on a big flat-faced rock at the base of the campsite. Seen easily from the road by passersby, but generally hidden to me standing at the top of the hill. Three or four weeks after the tagger left the area, I was walking up the path when I saw clearly the name “Connor Burton” emblazoned on the rock face. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Like I said, it had been there a few weeks and the biodegradable “paint” (I assume charcoal from the campfire.) was still holding up fine. Had I caught him in the act, I think a shot in the butt with some rock salt might have served him well. Maybe it’s harder to catch a tagger than I thought.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sarah Palin's Glasses

I’ve been having a standing argument with my kids for the good part of 25 years about the value or lack of, with name-brand merchandise. My argument has always been that you pay $10 a letter more for name-brand shoes, purses, jeans, etc. when a knock-off or lesser brand is just as good, often made in the same factory, and lasts just as long.

“Not true,” I’m told by my son. “Nike shoes last longer than Addidas Shoes.” Funny, since I tell him that they’re both made at the same plant in East Asia. He doesn’t believe that. He thinks Nike’s are made in Beaverton Oregon. Nike isn’t even incorporated in Oregon, they’re incorporated in Washington State.

I’ve still got a pair of Converse that I’ve worn almost every day, for four years, and they’re still as good as any Nike’s I’ve owned. I paid $19.95 for them. I just learned that they were bought out by Nike in 2003 for $305 Million, so now Converse is really Nike anyway.

When I was growing up, there were only two kinds of “tennis” shoes, Converse and Keds. We wanted Keds because we could jump higher and run faster, and not just because we saw that on TV.

Right now I’m wearing a pair of LA Gear. My theory would tell you that they cost $10 X 6 or $60.00 more than a no-name pair of running shoes, but that argument started in the 1990s so using a cost adjustment it would now be $16.34 X 6 = $98.04 more than a no-namer. However, I got them at a “buy one get one at the same or lesser value free” sale at a Big 5. All Nike, Addidas, LA Gear, and other assorted name brands, which tells you, if they can give them away free, that my mark-up theory might just be close.

Someone tell me who in the hell is Dooney and how did he meet Bourke, and why does every woman in America want their handbags? I found out that Peter Dooney and Federic Bourke launched their company in 1975 in South Norwalk CT. They started out making belts and suspenders. Then they came up with their All Weather Leather bags made from, yes, cow stomachs. Dooney and Bourke are very expensive designer bags, which is why knock-offs of D&B are so popular. When was the last time you asked a woman if her hand bag, emblazoned with those initials, was really a $195 Dooney and Bourke? Funny how that works out to almost exactly $16.34 x 12 = $196.08. Next time you see some woman shouldering a D&B ask her if she knows that they make them out of cow stomachs.

Coach is another auspicious entry into the purse business. Coach Leather was established in 1941 though. One of my co-workers has a “Coach” but it’s really not, it was made in Korea and is a knock-off. I asked her if anyone has ever noticed that she had the fake, and she said that most everyone says “Look at you girl, a Coach.” I couldn’t tell a Coach from a WalMart.

Coach has a hallmark clasp, a silver toggle, that Bonnie Cashin came up with from the latch on her convertible sports car roof. Let’s see what these go for…..Anywhere from $348 to $1,000 on their website, and frankly the purses all look the same to me except they’re different colors. I still ain’t paying $1,000 for a purse. I hope my wife doesn’t either.

One of my favorite stories about the designer label culture, is when my son bought himself a Rolex from a “rich” guy at the golf course where he worked. He paid $50 for this Rolex and he was ecstatic about his purchase. He had, what I termed, a “watch fetish” at the time. He spent any money he earned on Gucci watches. If anything stands out though, it’s a Rolex. Fifty bucks seemed like a good deal even to me, or a very “hot” to the touch item. So I asked to see it. He reluctantly let me touch it.

“Nice watch,” I said, “You got a real deal here too, because it has an extra ‘l’.”

His Rollex probably got more ah’s and oh’s than questions about the extra “l” anyway. I still have the watch and I chuckle every time I see it. How I got the watch is a whole ‘nother story.

Now we have a fashion crazed public wanting a pair of the Kawasaki’s on Sarah Palin’s nose. I heard that the company has sold more of the frames in the last month than they did in all of last year. “Frames” is kind of a misnomer because they are “frameless” glasses. You would think, logically, that would make them cheaper, but no, they retail upwards of $700.

Kawasaki, who also had a hand in designing an artificial heart (don’t see the connection), hopes that we Americans vote for Palin for her accomplishments and qualifications and not her fashion sense. He’s not the motorcycle guy, by the way, but he might be related.

I want you to know I’ve been wearing a pair of designer “frameless” glasses for the past four years. Made by Marchon, they are the Airlock2 model. The most expensive frames in the Optometrist’s office, I was told, which figured. But they’re FRAMELESS so how can they cost more than frames that actually are made of something, like titanium? And how do you design a frame that really isn’t there?

I’m just proud that I was on the leading edge of current fashion. I still wish I was the one who thought up the pet rock though.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Wednesday night is league. For the uninitiated, that means I bowl on Wednesday nights, six -thirty, or there abouts. I say that because we rarely start on time. So when someone says, “I can’t do it on Wednesday night, I have league,” you know what they’re talking about, if you didn’t already know.

League, for me, translates into an excuse to drink. Jack and Coke. Five fifty a pop, plus tip, at the bowling alley bar. Julio, the bartender, knows me and has the drink ready for me when I walk up. Kind of a Cheers-like thing. Tall glass. Slice of lime. Double, if I don’t care how I’m going to bowl, which usually means a double. I pretend to care how I’m bowling during the game, but I don’t think anyone really buys into it. I get unduly pissed about missing a seven-pin pick up, but, in fact, more pissed that all the pins didn’t go down in the first place.

“That ball was right in the pocket, for chrissakes! I can’t buy a strike tonight!” And, frankly, I would buy a strike if they sold them. It would make the whole thing a lot easier, but as you can see, I talk a good game.

And, yes, I drive home under the influence, DUI, but I don’t drive while intoxicated DWI. They should never have changed that.

A reduction in the number of Jack and Cokes (It’s really Pepsi at the bowling alley bar.) might improve this missing right in the pocket, but probably not. Probably not, because the ball really wasn’t “in the pocket” in the first place. A pocket strike, as published by the USBC, occurs at board 17 to 18 with an entry angle between 4 to 6 degrees. That would be a 4 to 6 degree angle to the right of the head pin at the correct speed and revolution of the ball. You can imagine that I have probably missed one or more of these necessary components in my missed pocket strike.

The team is made up of myself, my wife, a friend, and his wife. The friend is Denny and his wife of one-year, is Mia. Our team name is DMS. We went a whole year not telling anyone what it meant, which was an inside joke. There were a lot of guesses. DMS stands for Doesn’t Mean Shit, and, believe me, most especially in league bowling, it doesn’t.

All these macho bowlers in a “fun” league throwing 232s so they can get their names on the leader board every week, don’t get it. That 232, being on the leader board, being in first place, bringing in a ringer at the last hour, doesn’t mean shit. Actually that part about bringing in a ringer generally matters because it really pisses me off. When you roll a 232, a team member will go over to the front desk and they’ll announce your accomplishment like this:

“Congratulations to Joe Blow on lane 12 who just bowled a fabulous 232!”

Sometimes there will be some applause, mostly from his or her own teammates, and then we bowl on. If anyone on our team bowled a 232 we probably wouldn’t bother going over to the front desk to have it announced. We’d go over to the bar instead to have a smoke and get another drink. The reason: it doesn’t mean shit.

Though somehow, the combination of booze, missing the seven pin several frames in a row, and the asshole on lane 10, suddenly made the “shit” matter. And the shit started when the asshole on lane 10 said, “Guess you can’t get them all, huh?” when I missed the seven pin for the fourth open frame in a row. He said it in a relatively innocent manner. Lane 10 was sitting at five strikes in row at the time. Known in the parlance as a “five-bagger,” going for a “six-pack” if he gets the strike in the next frame. I’m sure you care.

“What the fuck do you mean by that?” It came out of my mouth before the mental censors could use common sense and close off the vocal chords. Comments like that can escalate in league pretty darn quick.

To Be Continued…….

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Looking in the Eyes of Dragonflies

I’ve always loved dragonflies. They are one of the most beautiful and most ancient of living creatures. Some of them have these incredible wingspans, hover low over the water, and then they seem to vanish in an instant. The hover and dart routine, I know you’ve seen it.

I find myself watching them sometimes if I’m not doing much of anything but sitting on the bank of a creek or a lake, mainly because I hear they sting. I haven’t figured out what they’re doing while they hovering and darting. Sometimes they just dart in front of your face, hoover for a second or two and then dart away. I suppose they’re feeding, but it might interest you to know, that whatever they’re doing, they only have 4-6 weeks to do it. Pretty short life span. Common in the bug world, I guess. It’s just hard to imagine with all the effort to metamorphise and learn how to fly like a helicopter and then fly off doing whatever it is you do, that you’re going to pretty much be dead by the end of the month. It didn’t surprise me, then, that the majority of their time, I found out, is spent looking for female dragonflies to mate with. Seems like we spend a good majority of our life doing the same thing.

Scientifically, and, right, who the hell cares, they’re called Odonata and the Suborder: Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies). There are subtle differences between the two, the biggest of which might be the placement of the eyes. The dragonfly’s eyes almost touch on the top and make up most of the head. The damselfly’s eyes are noticeably apart. So now don’t go around ponds, lakes and streams looking in the eyes of dragonflies to see if they’re Zygops or Anisops because, again, who the hell cares and they might sting you.

Odonatas start out their lives as larvae and breath through gills then they actually metamorphise into the adult flying version. Of course, they’re fish food for most of the time, so survival is a pretty good trick. Once they emerge, they fly away from the water and hide out in the near-by countryside so they can mature sexually. I’m not making this up. They also are taking precautions that the water supply that they were living in might dry up, so they can scout for new locations if the need arises. And that need to go back to the water arises when they reach their sexual maturity and are looking for dragonfly chicks.

Now this is the part I like. It’s going to sound real familiar. When a male encounters a receptive female, he uses the appendage at the end of his abdomen to grab her by the back of the neck and hangs on. (Okay so far?) Then both partners will curve their abdomens so that the female’s genitalia engages with this accessory organ on the male that has been personally stocked with sperm. This then forms the characteristic “wheel position.” Yeah, that’s right they have a “position.” This mating, depending on the specific species, can last from a few seconds to hours. (I know what you’re thinking.) Now this part is going to gross you out. Before the male ejects his own sperm into the female, he will sometimes remove any that may have already been deposited.

Let’s take that step by step. Okay, let’s not. We’ll just leave it that….females of the Order Odonata Anisoptera, sleep around. When she’s done with the egg laying, which she gets too as long as she doesn’t run into another male that she likes better, she flies off away from the water and doesn’t come back until she’s ready for more. That can only be a good thing, right?

Well odonates have been around for more than 325 million years. Makes you wonder how they pulled it off. Seems that the best thing about them is their resilient body shape. They have 3 pairs of legs which probably helps. They breath through their abdomens in the flying stage. That allows for some extreme adaptation to the environment as it changed over time, I guess. But Darwin also maintained that a species had to find a niche…..Odonates are aerial hunters like no other and no other species has tried to take over their niche successfully.

Now why did I tell you all that stuff about Dragonflies? Do a little useless survey around the office. Ask people if Dragonflies can sting you. I’ll bet it runs 10-1 or better that they say they don’t know or that they can sting you. I went around for 42 years believing my mother, who said that Dragonflies can sting you.

They don’t sting. They don’t do anything to otherwise bother humans except maybe hover in your face occasionally.