Monthly Archives: November 2014

Grouse audubon
We all have lots of things to be thankful for, and a host of other writers and reporters will be checking them off for us during this week, in blogs, on Facebook, in newspaper Op-ed pages and in the closing feel-good segments of the evening news. And over the Thanksgiving turkey on the day that is the starting gun to the professional Alka-Seltzer season.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, too.

But I feel the gratitude has been adequately covered by the mainstream sentiments. So, I want to look at the other side: I’m such an unreconstructed contrarian that I like to find those missed opportunities, things we were never given the chance to be thankful for. honey boo boo

Like a TV-scape that could have been free of Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty and Pawn Stars, if only wiser heads had prevailed.

Or a decision not to make a sequel to Survivor, or to keep American Idol and its clones wheezing along season after tedious season.

So I’ve made a short list of things we cannot, in all honesty, claim to be thankful for.

–Like cell phones brrrrting-out in the adagio movement of symphonies.

–Like junk mail and the tonnage of mail-order catalogs clogging the mailbox — sometimes two or three identical catalogs delivered the same day. Can they afford to be so profligate? At least they keep the recycling bin full and humming.

–Like cable TV bundling, forcing you to buy a dozen useless channels in order to get the BBC news. andrew weil

–Like pledge breaks on PBS, and its endless, insipid Yanni at the Acropolis or Andrea Bocelli “specials,” to say nothing of snake-oil salesmen giving us pep talks on vitamin supplements, nutritional fads or investment advice. Please, just ask for money and spare me the week of unwatchable TV.

–Is there anyone in the country who doesn’t find Flo’s car insurance ads cloying and smarmy?

–All those Linked-In updates from people you never heard of.

–A literal-minded Supreme Court majority
Justice Scalia testifies on Capitol Hill in Washingtoncompletely lacking in common sense. “Ars lexis,” indeed: “The law is an arse.” I can only imagine Antonin Scalia reading T.S. Eliot: “This is a lie. The man who wrote this poem was 23; he was not old and, according to photographs of the time, he did not wear the bottoms of his trousers rolled.”

–Robo-calls from political candidates and police benevolent societies. I don’t talk to machines.

–Chatty, chummy waiters who will be serving me tonight.


Hmm. This list goes on: Stomach viruses, daytime talk shows; network sweeps weeks; movies based on television shows; Broadway musicals based on movies; movie versions of musicals based on movies. Then there is Sarah Palin, jokes about Palin, jokes about her trailer park progeny.

Technoweenies, Spotify, people who talk out loud during movies, small portions of cold food. brickleberry 2

And more: Twilight and its sequels, movie sequels in general, Jennifer Lawrence rumors, Jennifer Lawrence facts, baby bumps, Kim Kardashian’s steatopygia as ubiquitous as waving flags in a right-wing TV election ads.

For that matter, any election commercials. Cheaply made gross-out animation on Comedy Central. No, it’s not funny just ‘cause it farts.

Promos on local TV news pretending to be actual journalism.

The deluge of so-called news stories that begin “5 things you didn’t know about …” I didn’t need to know.

How about celebrity non-singers who pulverize the national anthem at sporting events?

All that spitting and scratching during the World Series.

Hundreds of cable channels available and still nothing worth watching. prince harry

And there are too many Kardashians. Do they multiply like tribbles?

A short list of other celebrities for whom I am not grateful: Prince Harry and his ginger nethers; Kristin Stewart and her sullen pout; Miley Cyrus and her tattoos; Amanda Bynes and her ilk; Taylor Swift and her break-ups;   Chris Hemsworth and his hair; Le Bron James and his self-esteem.

I’m sure you have your own list, but I’m sure it includes Adam Sandler.


So for all this — most of which can keep a curmudgeon in fruitful dudgeon for a year — I am suggesting that we create a new national holiday.

We have a national day of thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November, so why not a national day of remonstrance the fourth Wednesday?

After all, All-Saints Day is preceded by its opposite, Halloween, so why shouldn’t Thanksgiving be ushered in with a day of sour apples and vinegar? Instead of turkey, we could eat grouse.

We could have the bellyaching over with even before we start over-eating turkey and stuffing.

It could be a national day to celebrate all the politicians we’ve elected. I can’t think of a more appropriate day unless it is April 15.lewis black

Lewis Black could be spokesman.

It would be a day we would all eat sauerkraut and wear tight shorts, a day to give the lie to ideas of ”peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

The holiday would be called the Day of Discontent, but more informally, we could call it Kvetchmas. And even more than Thanksgiving, it would make the appropriate beginning to the holiday commercial frenzy.

Of course one of the complaints celebrated during Kvetchmas would be the proliferation of spurious holidays.

It’s odd, considering how old much of it is, that classical music is so recent an invention.

We think of classical music as being longhair music written by dead White guys. But, in fact, Mozart didn’t know he was writing classical music. He was just writing music.

“There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad,” jazz icon Duke Ellington said. (Mozart is in the first group.)

Bu something changed over the centuries: As mass audiences grew to like popular music, the kind of music written by the older composers was relegated to a new category: classical.

“Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune,” humorist Kin Hubbard wrote in the 1920s.bugs plays piano

And, increasingly, audiences diverged; one group went to the dance halls, the other to the concert halls. Classical music became marginalized, especially in American culture. It became a target for the Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny.

Yet a hunger for music that addresses larger and more complex issues has always existed alongside fiddle tunes. Even in the world of rock music, some music is understood to be more important than others. Radiohead has serious fans that would look down their noses at, say, Justin Bieber.

The distinction should be made, not so much between classical and pop musics, but between music created primarily as an entertainment and music that attempts to express more profound human issues.

There’s nothing wrong with entertainment. We all love a good song. But it isn’t the only thing there is. And we should not judge the one by the standards of the other.

Everyone knows what to listen for in popular music. They have a lifetime of dealing with it. The beat, the tune, the words, the instant gratification.

Rock music now has the “wow” factor, the light and spectacle. And now that’s what people expect, to be bowled over emotionally, to get their juices pumping.

Classical music is emotional, too, but it’s more interior and subtle. And it’s dramatic in ways audiences just aren’t familiar with anymore.

Drama is the key word: Like a play or a film, classical music deals with multiple characters (called themes) as they interact over time, and where you start isn’t where you end. Like I’ve written before: Classical music is movies for the ear.

Popular music is a place; classical music is a journey.

Listen to Mahler and one movement may take 45 minutes. But there are so many ideas juxtaposed in so many different ways that your mind starts spinning. You connect A to B and then A to C and then C to F. It’s all interacting in different ways.

You have to come to the concert hall prepared for that journey. You have to come equipped.

There are five important ways classical music differs from pop.

* Its length.

Classical music is almost always longer, In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida notwithstanding. Pop music may be likened to music videos, classical to a full-length feature. The plot takes longer to develop.

* Its dependence on harmony both structurally and expressively.

A sonata is built on D-major or F-minor, and the elaborate and subtle changes in harmony are both the structural and expressive content of classical music. You don’t need to know the name, but you feel the changes of harmony in your chest, physically.

* Its reliance on variety and contrast.

Unlike pop, which sustains a single clear mood, classical moves constantly, now fast, now slow; now loud, now a whisper. It seldom keeps a single mood for long, but asks you to compare and contrast.

* Its multiple simultaneous voices, or counterpoint.

Whether it’s a fugue or a quartet, there almost always is more than one thing going on at any given moment. You have to be able to hear two or more things at once.

* And finally, on the importance of “active listening.”

That is, the importance of paying attention and following ideas as they change and develop through the course of the piece.

Memory is the important part. You need to have a musical memory of some kind to distinguish between what happened before and what happens now.

You have to pay attention, the way you would when reading a novel, keeping track of what’s happening to Raskolnikov at any given time and how he changes over time.

Of all these things, harmony is the hardest to discuss in words. There is no non-musical language to express the modulation from D-major to A-flat. You have to hear it.

Or you try to describe it in words that can’t possibly mean anything to a non-musician: An enharmonic shift, followed by a run around the circle of fifths. How about the Neapolitan relationship? Does that mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. But you can hear it without naming it. Like the way you can hear the “changes” in 12-bar blues. You can feel when the phrase starts anew, with each round of chord changes.Brahms Fourth

It’s only more extreme when you follow the same kind of repeating chord changes in the finale of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony: You feel the drive of those harmonies racing to the finish line.

Harmony is the emotional effect created by playing several notes at once as a single idea. It also is the movement from one set of notes to another, and the emotional effect created by that shift.

Western music has the idea of expectation and release in it. Play a dominant-seventh chord and then try to stop. You can’t do it comfortably. You have to have it resolve.

Harmony, more than rhythm, provides the forward motion of classical music.

Of course, pop and classical aren’t mutually exclusive genres. It’s more of a spectrum of intent: There is pop that tackles serious issues and there is classical music meant merely to entertain.

And there are many classical musics from around the world: Indian, Chinese — and for many of us, American jazz — are classical musics. They all tend to be longer and more complex than the popular music from those same cultures.

Classical music isn’t only music with violins and oboes. It can be made with synthesizers or electric guitars, as any fan of Philip Glass or Steve Reich knows. Classical is not a style but an approach; not a sound but a way of thinking about music and what music means.

If all this makes classical music sound like work, well, it is. It requires more from the listener. But there is a reward for all the effort you put in.

It reaches depths of our souls that everyday music just doesn’t.

And it satisfies the hunger that poet William Carlos Williams defined: something that is difficult, but “men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Popular music deals with thoughts and emotions that are understood and already defined; classical attempts to understand things that we don’t yet fully grasp: the big questions of life and existence that don’t have simple answers.

Like all fine art, it seeks rather than finds, it defines questions rather than provides answers.

It’s a richer experience, and some people gravitate into it with age and maturity. People can graduate from pop to classical music, but it seldom happens the other way round.

What is classical music?

It can be hard to pin down. Many have tried to define it; certainly, they believe they can know it when they hear it. But the outlines of what we define as classical music are unhelpfully squishy.

Is it merely European aristocratic music from the 18th through the 20th centuries? Certainly the audience for Mozart’s Magic Flute wasn’t aristocratic. And Italy’s appetite for opera is wider than the upper crust.

Is it orchestral music? Not if we count Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Is it instrumental? Not if we count the masses of Palestrina.

It is often called “art music,” as if music in other forms could not aspire to the condition of art. Tell that to Frank Zappa. And frankly, much of the music played in concert halls was never intended to be more than entertainment, albeit of a refined order. Not everything is the St. Matthew Passion; some of it is just Skater’s Waltz.

To look at what we call classical music, we should consider: What is the central question of classical music? That is, what question does classical music answer?

And by that, I mean not only European classical music, but all those around the world, from Indian ragas to Chinese opera.

The question is so banal as almost never to be asked. What is the central question to all classical musics?

It is this:

“How do you make a piece of music last more than three minutes?”

Popular music consists of songs, and, in our culture at least, that means a 32-bar song that you can repeat over and over. But imagine listening to Memories repeated for half an hour and imagine the tedium. It would be my substitute for pistol and ball.

Whether it’s folk songs or rock and roll, the idea is to get in and out quickly, establish a mood and then finish it off.

Yes, there are exceptions in popular music, from In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida to Duke Ellington’s Reminiscing in Tempo, but a case can be made that they are “classical musics,” also.

When we ask the first question, a second question arises immediately:

“Why should a piece of music last more than three minutes?”

And it is here that we come to the difference between popular and classical musics: the difference between simple mood and complex emotional developments. Between a New Yorker cartoon and a Tolstoy novel. cartoonA song gives us a passing mood, seldom offering any narrative complexity (it may offer psychological complexity and even complexities of melody or key structure, and a great song usually has something of this). But a symphony, like a play or a movie, starts in one place and takes us on a journey, leaving us someplace else at the end.

The time spent allows for not just complex emotions, but a sequence of emotions that interact.

You can think of it this way: Classical music is movies for the ear. There are characters, there is development, there is a plot and plot twists. Fight scenes and love scenes, perhaps a mystery, perhaps a road trip.

It presents ideas in time in a way that makes sense to an audience listening for them.cellar 1

Most young filmgoers know the habits of filmmakers so well, for instance, that their expectations become part of the appreciation of the film: They know what to expect when the teenager opens the cellar door and goes down to the dark to investigate that funny noise, and they are delighted if the filmmaker does something fresh and new and upsets their expectation with a surprise.

Classical audiences also know what to expect and are delighted when a composer takes a left turn and expresses a new way to think about it.

It is often thought there is special, arcane knowledge required to enjoy classical music. And, of course, there is a lot of specialized language. There is with films, too — key grip, D.P., fade, dissolve, two-shot — but you don’t need to know any of them to enjoy a film. It is the same with symphonies or sonatas.

It isn’t the words that matter, but the sounds. You don’t need to know the words to enjoy the music.

These are words about wordless things.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

When you see a gun being put in a desk drawer in the first half of a movie, you know instinctively that it will be used in the second half.

When Beethoven’s audience heard C-major sneak into the first three movements of his C-minor symphony, they knew it would come out blazing in the finale: They waited in suspense to hear how he would do it.

This is the appeal of classical music for its audiences.

This isn’t something technical only a musician would know. “Major” and “minor” are simply words: It is the emotional shift that matters, from the tight, constricted, frustrating feel of the opening of the symphony to the ecstatic release of the ending. It is an emotional journey, and one that you could not accomplish in a simple song.

It’s also part of what distinguishes classical music from its popular cousin. Popular music is like a commercial: short, punchy, memorable; classical music is like a novel: long, involved and with many characters and a slowly achieved resolution.

None of this is meant to denigrate popular music or songs. I love a good tune as much as the next person. But popular and classical musics are attempting very different things.

You couldn’t pack all of Indiana Jones into a three-minute trailier.

In the 1970s and early ’80s, pulp writer Mickey Spillane wrote a couple of children’s books. As a fan of his Mike Hammer novels — or rather of their Baroque lowlife verbal stylishness (I once called him a first-rate second-rate writer)– I had a hard time imagining what such a children’s book might be like. Perhaps a one-eyed cat as his hero … 



Being the lost manuscript of a children’s story

by Mickey Spillane.

Suitable for grades K-3

His brakes squealed to a hot rubber stop and Thunderpaws let a little curse escape like steam from a pressure cooker.

“Damn hot number waving her arms in the road.”

Paws had been planning on his vacation for nearly a year. He had rented a beach house and planned to sun himself every day and drink himself silly every night. And now this.

It was after midnight, but there in the middle of the road was this silky dame waving her arms and screaming for him to stop. She ran up to his door and as he rolled down the window to bitch at her, she spit out, “Help me! I’m being followed. I’ve got to get out of here. You’re my only hope.”

“What in the dingbat are you doing screaming in the road like that? I almost cashed in my catnip swerving.”

“Will you drive me to LA?”

“Look, Wonderface, I’m going north. If you want to go to LA, why don’t you try to wreck someone going the other way?”

“You’re a good looking cat. Maybe there’s something in it for you. Why don’t you turn around?” she said, stroking the curly whiskers that grew from his face. He hadn’t shaved for a week.

“OK, get in. But I don’t want to know anything about your problem. Keep it sealed between those gorgeous lips, huh?”

Paws slammed the stick into reverse and arced the tires across the pavement, then whammed the shift up and sped off toward the city of sin, sharing the front seat with the best looking pair of pairs of legs he’d ever seen.

Thunderpaws was a round, orange cat, who had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks. He learned the bitter laws of the sidewalk even before he was weaned. By the time he reached his adolescence, he was tough enough to scratch the hide off any boxer or German shepherd that dare cross him. But he also grew up with a strong sense of right and wrong. And he knew, somehow, that it was wrong to pick up this midnight hitchhiker. He felt it in his bones.

“What’s your name?” he asked. “Want a cigarette?”

“Thanks. Tabitha.” Paws reached into his glove compartment and yanked out a pack of Camels. he shook the pack and Tabitha reached for one of the tarsticks.

“Where are you trying to get in LA?” he asked, holding the wheel with his elbows as he struck a match to light her up. The lighter in his old jalopy had gone out the window years ago in a fight with his ex-wife.

“The dog pound.”

“The pound?” He tried not to seem too inquisitive, but he suspected already.

“Yeah, the pound.” She seemed hesitant to let on any more and to change the direction of the conversation, she reached over and stroked his shoulder, sending Richter-scale vibrations up and down his hard-boiled spine.

“Don’t do that, baby, unless you mean business.”

“Business is just what I had in mind.”


Paws reached his office early the next day. For him, early was anytime before the bars opened.

“What are you doing here today?” asked Arlene, his secretary. “I thought you left for your vacation yesterday.”

Her fingernails were red and drying in the air in front of her face. She chewed gum.

“I got turned around in the night.”

“She must be a looker. I see the gleam in your eye.”

Thunderpaws had only one eye. His left eye he gave to a collie in a brawl many years before. The one eye that looked out seemed all the more aware for its being singular. And this morning, it did gleam.

“She was all right. Look I’m leaving again this morning, but I want you to keep your ears cocked for any strange news from the city pound. I have a hunch something stinks down there and I want to get my nose in it.”

“But your vacation. You’ve been working so hard. Even a private eye has to unwind his springs now and then.”

“You know the number at the beach. Call if anything comes up.”


Two days later, Paws had just come in from the beach when the phone in his one-and-a-half room beach house drilled a message into his ears. He gave his hair one last tussle with the towel and picked up the receiver.

“Paws here … yeah … OK … Tell her not to worry, and, Arlene, doll, try to keep her from freaking. I’ll be back in  a couple of hours.”

He dropped the phone back on its cradle and smiled the smile of the self-satisfied gumshoe. He knew he would hear from Tabitha once more, and he knew he now had a chance to clean things up down at the pound. Stories of corruption had been circling the city like berserk buzzards and now they were coming home to roost.

He packed up everything in a few seconds by stuffing his bottle of bourbon in his pocket and leaped into his rusty Ford. He licked his hand and straightened an eyebrow with it and eased through the gears up the coast and back toward the city.

While he sat at a stoplight in Santa Monica, thinking of ways to get to the commissioner, he noticed a huge purple Cadillac purring in the next lane. In the passenger seat was a tortoise-shell with a cigar between his grinning teeth and dressed in double-breasted pinstripes. The grinner reached under his lapel and yanked something out.  All Paws saw was the flash.

The light changed and the Caddy blasted away; the cars behind him honked, but Paws wasn’t going anywhere, at least not on his own.


Arlene waited three hours, then four.  In the inner office, Tabitha was crying her eyes out, muttering phrases that Arlene couldn’t make out. When five hours came and went, she started calling around.

At the 15th call, she heard from Sgt. O’Roarke of the city police that a pudgy orange cat with one eye and a stub tail had been wounded by unknown assailants and was at Mount Cyanide Hospital.

When she got there, Paws looked up from his bed.

“Hell of a vacation,” he said.

“I found out a few choice items,” said Arlene, pulling an evil-looking notebook from under her coat. “Tabitha is mixed up in this deeper than you thought. Do you know who her husband is?”

“Are you Monty Hall? Quit the game show, Arlene. Spill it.”

“Tabitha is married to Commissioner Gramalkin of the dog pound. Before that, she was married to the Fat Man …”

“Fat Man, huh? this is beginning to shape up. She’s a cobra, all right.”

“It’s more than that,” continued Arlene, with an obvious grin of satisfaction. “She has had affairs with at least 15 other men …”


“… and one of them was Deputy Mayor Fido.”

“Fido! Gramalkin’s worst enemy. That could explain the payoff scheme at the rabies center. Arlene, this gets deeper with every sentence. Got any more?”

“This is the clincher. Fido and the Fat Man have opened up a burger stand on the corner of Vine and Alameda. They are business partners and the only thing they have in common is Tabitha.”

“The lowest common denominator.”


One week later, out of the hospital, but with his ass in a sling, Thunderwonder cruised down for a bite to eat.  The joint was called Sam ’n’ Ella’s, and the hash was the usual nondescript salty muck. Behind the counter was an ex-Marine with a half-inch butt smoking in the corner of his mouth. His apron could have been the apron of a grocer; his eyes could have been the eyes of a butcher.

“What’ll you have, Bud?”

“What do you recommend?”

“Hey, we got a comedian,” spat the mug to no one in particular.

“I’ve come looking for information,” said Paws, shifting his one eye back and forth.

“We don’t like nosy cats around here. Noses were meant to be snipped short.” He shifted the butt to the other corner of this mouth and made a scissors gesture in front of his schnoz.

“If it’s good information, this is a good sawbuck.”

The counterman’s nostrils flared and the ghost of a smile or a sneer lit over his mouth.

“What I want to know is, where does your meat come from?”

“You the law?”

“Lieutenant Donahue doesn’t think so.”

“What’s your angle, Pal? If I give you the straight poop, I want to know this bill ain’t marked for some copper.”

“I’m Thunderpaws, the detective …”

“Never heard of you.”

“Well, I’m in the Yellow Pages; you can look it up. And I’m working on a divorce case. It’s important to find out where you get your hamburger.”

“Whose divorce?”

“Tabitha Gramalkin.”

The thug look thunderstruck. A tear ran down his cheek.

“Tabitha,” he whispered. “She was good to me.”

“She’s been good to a lot of men,” whipped out Paws, snidely.

“You watch what you say, Buster. She’s my daughter.” A threat assembled on his face. “She was always good to me, sending me money and getting me this job. If she hadn’t married well and sent me a monthly check, I never would have kicked the booze and I’d still be rotting in the Old Sailors’ Home eating cheap labskaus.”

“It’s true then,” said Paws. “The meat you serve comes straight from the city pound. No wonder you burgers are so cheap. Tell me, are we eating poodle or collie today? And Tabitha is mixed up in this to her twitching little ears. I hate to be the one to break the news, but she is going to have to take the fall.”

“Ain’t there some other way? She’s all I got.”


Paws had just dozed off that night when he heard a quiet rap on his door. He reached under his pillow and pulled out a blue piece of steel and yanked back the action. He opened the door cautiously and found the feline Lilith.

“Can I come in?” Tabitha winked her eye.

Paws put the pistol down on a pile of laundry resting near the TV and unhooked the chain on the door.

“I know you ain’t here to borrow a cup of sugar, Sweetwhiskers. What are you hatching in that devious skull of yours?”

“The grand jury is after me and I have to get out of town. I know you have a car.”

“I’m not a fool.”

“Maybe not, but this talks loud.” She grabbed the Baretta from the laundry and aimed it at his favorite body parts.

“I’m not a fool, but I get your point. Put that thing away, please.” Paws had never trusted a woman with a gun. They can go off. And the gun can, too. Dangerous.

“Where are we going?” asked Paws.

“Anywhere,” she answered. “You brought down my husband, you put my hash stand out of business, you poisoned me to my father. I have nowhere to go. You decide.”

“If it was up to me, I’d send you for a long vacation in the Big House, but you’ve got the upper hand right now.”

Paws didn’t want to admit how much he was moved by those big, sexy green eyes. He meant for her to take the fall, but he, himself, had fallen.

“Look, Sugar, why don’t we zip on down to Tijuana?”

“Why don’t we go in the morning,” she said, zipping down her skirt.


By the next night, they found themselves in a seedy hotel on a sidestreet just outside Tijuana. Paws stretched back in the bed and reached for his tequila.

“This joint has more roaches than a national convention of NORML,” said Paws, unscrewing the cap and pouring the spicy sauce over the dust-filled icecubes the concierge had brought.

“We can stay here tonight, but tomorrow, we’ve got to find someplace else.”

“Don’t worry,” called out Tabitha from the next room. I know a great place to go, but it means more driving.”

“How much?”

“How far is Puerto Penasco from here?”

“Another day’s drive, if there are any roads.”

“There is someone there I know who will meet us.” Tabitha finished brushing her teeth and came towards Thunderpaws with a smile only a cat understands.


Paws turned his wheel around the last rocky turn and looked out over the bluff and Puerto Penasco. He saw a small town, a mere pencil line around the bight of the bay. He could see the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez and he smelled the fresh salt air. The white buildings glared in the sun and the few paved streets were the only dark lines through the brightness that was everywhere.

Tabitha had been there before and guided him through the streets to a small restaurant across from an Esso station. On what might have been a sidewalk in front of the eatery were 15 or so round tables, each with a striped umbrella for shade. in the shade of one of them, Paws thought he recognized a smiling face. It was Arlene.

“I hate to be the one to break the news to you this way,” she said as Paws and Tabitha slid their chairs toward the table.

“News? What news?” asked Paws. He saw Tabitha nervously shift her eyes and try to smile. Arlene reached for Tabitha’s slender paw and they held on to each other from across the table.

“It all happened on that one day when you were blasted from the Caddy,” said Arlene. “While you were being driven to the hospital, Tabitha was crying in your office and I went in to comfort her. Don’t blame her. It was me who did the seducing.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” Paws winced. “Are you telling me that  you’re a flaming …?” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word. Paws hadn’t been shocked when his own mother had turned out to be the mastermind of a counterfeiting ring. He turned her in calmly. But he was shocked at this.

“Tabitha?” he mewed in puzzlement and pain. “What about last night? All those things you said.”

“They were true.”

“But you were thinking of Arlene?”

“Not all the time. I’m attracted to you. But I feel a sympathy with Arlene I never felt with a man. Net even with the Fat Man.” She lit up a cigarette and waited for Paws’ reaction.

He gathered up the shards of his self-esteem and tied them in a bundle. “I hope you two will be happy.”

They broke out laughing. The string broke on the bundle.

“Don’t be silly,” said Tabitha. “We want you, too. There’s room for you in our plan. For one thing, we couldn’t live in a country as Catholic as this just by ourselves. People would talk. Won’t you stay?”

“Living French in Mexico, eh?” said Paws. “A great big happy AC/DC family.”

Tabitha flashed her eyes at him. He looked at Arlene and his stomach tightened.

“OK,” he decided, knowing he didn’t know what he was doing.

“Arlene and I have this plan. Can you cook?” asked Tabitha.

“Hell, I ain’t playing housemaid for a couple of dykes.”

“Just listen a minute,” she continued. “I mean can you cook in a restaurant? Arlene and I want to open up a taco stand here. I mean, here we are in Mexico and all they serve is fish and rice. These people have never had real Mexican cooking. A taco stand down by the market is bound to rake in the pesos. Can you cook?”

Paws was beginning to catch on. He remembered the passel of information Arlene had mysteriously turned up when he couldn’t get to first base on the case. He remembered Tabitha’s father wiping his grimy hands on the apron and shifting his cigarette butt from corner to corner in his cynical mouth. He remembered the riptide of corruption that had nearly drowned him when he tried to ferret out the truth about Deputy Mayor Fido. His stomach tightened even further.”

“OK. I’ll go down tomorrow and check out the city pound,” he said.

soulful stars and bars 6

There is a solution to the problem of the Confederate battle flag hanging over various Southern state capitols, a solution so simple and pure that I cannot understand why no one seems to have thought of it before now.

The problem is that the battle flag, which blazons the Mississippi state flag, and until recently was part of the Georgia state flag and was hung atop the South Carolina state house along with its state flag, is seen by a sizable portion of the Southern population as a symbol of slavery and White supremacy. They do not want it hanging over their state houses. They take deep and honestly earned offense at the idea.

Yet another faction declares that they are not honoring slavery or Jim Crow with the flag, but the memory of their dear, departed ancestors, who fought so valiantly for the noble lost cause. Their defense of the flag seems not a little disingenuous, considering that the flag in question wasn’t added to the state flags until the strife-torn Civil Rights era, and then as a symbol of defiant segregation. The Georgia flag dates from 1956, and the South Carolina practice of flying the flag began in 1962.

But let that be: If it is indeed their heritage and not their intransigence that is celebrated with the battle flag, then I propose a compromise sure to make both sides equally happy and unhappy:

Surely the heritage they celebrate has to include the African-American population that was essential to the economy and culture the flag partisans honor.

So, allow the flag to be displayed, but portray it, instead of its normal colors of red, white and blue, the “soulful colors” of green, black and red.

The vexillological problem in the design is that these three colors don’t provide a lot of contrast from light to dark. And since green and red are complimentary colors, if they are placed side by side, they jar the eye, so, my design solution is to spread them out, with white borders between, separating the colors.

The soul of compromise.