I wear a black hat

I'm working amidst clutter
I’m working amidst clutter

I set up the laptop on the end of our dining room table. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I don’t have room in our office to set it up. When Cindy decides to do her work in the dining room as well, it really gets messy. I’ve decided to do more on the laptop even though I prefer our desktop PC. I know the PC will die someday…probably sooner rather than later, I think it is good that I start feeling more at ease with the laptop. I try to be progressive, but don’t ask me to use a tablet!

***

I am in a foul mood today. If your day is sunny and warm, stop reading. If you look out of your window and see rainbows and unicorns, don’t look here. I can’t guarantee that I won’t bring you down. I don’t want to burden you with the things that are bothering me. Today just about everything seems to be a dark cloud with NO silver lining, so I’ll deflect into something that won’t bring my blood to a quick boil.

When I worked for the State, our agency was always trying out the latest management fad. I remember sitting through training sessions on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The One Minute Manager, The Myers Briggs Personality Test (and how to use it as a tool in the office), and Six Thinking Hats. Our agency, in each case, decreed that we would be trained in the use of these tools, and that we would use them to make a better agency.

Half-hearted attempts would be made to implement and use the techniques for a period of time. The time period was usually long enough to get us past the next statewide manager’s meeting, where each manager would enthusiastically report on how well things worked, and then it would be quietly dropped. A few months later another fad would be discovered and another period of training, implementation, and reporting would occur. And so it went.

Generally speaking, the usefulness of these methods was proportional to how much attention the managers and supervisors paid in the training session, and how willing they were to change. Our managers hated change, so they seldom understood the concepts involved. Take the Six Thinking Hats as an example.

As I understand the process there are six ways that a person, or a group, can think to work on a problem or to develop a strategy. Each of these ways to think is assigned a different colored hat. Blue is for managing or determining what needs to be addressed and setting parameters. White is for information or determining the facts. Red is for instincts, or gut reactions. Black is for discernment or identifying reasons to be cautious. Yellow is optimistic or identifying benefits and seeking harmony. Green is creativity or statements of provocation.

When bringing this technique to bear on a problem each hat is supposed to be used. In this way a balanced approach will lead to a better informed decision. That is the theory as I understand it. Somewhere, out in the world, it may be  a useful technique. Not where I worked. As in all things, management used this process not so much to solve problems, but to use it a few times and then report success to the administrative office. The staff, who got even less training and who often viewed these fads with skepticism, couldn’t break out of their normal internal problem solving methods long enough to try thinking in a more balanced way. I understand. I have that problem. I wear a black hat.

Or at least that is the way I have been labelled by my wife. According to Cindy, I only see the negatives. That is her shorthand for discernment. I prefer to think of myself as often wearing the Blue, White, Red, Black and Yellow hats simultaneously. OK, maybe not so much the Yellow. I can occasionally wear the Green hat, but it isn’t my strong suit (or hat).

Still, I get tired of being labelled black hat because I try to see the entirety of a situation rather than just playing with the bunnies. I like playing with the bunnies also. But I keep my eyes peeled looking for the cat that is sneaking up on them.

That isn’t why I’m in a foul mood today, but I feel a tad better getting that off of my chest.

Upon awakening in the night

Barn on an early Saturday morning
Barn on an early Saturday morning

Here is another picture that I took early on April 15th. I had a choice of going downtown to take some pictures, or to drive into the country. I made the right choice.

***

I seldom sleep through the night, but I usually only wake up because nature is calling. Saturday night, or rather early Sunday morning however, was another story. Well, no. It is this story. Don’t let me confuse you more than I confuse myself.

Saturday night was a glorious night. It was warm enough to leave the windows open and to even run the ceiling fan for a bit. I fell asleep without much tossing and turning. I may even have had a smile on my face, which allowed the drool to pool on the pillow. It was good.

I woke up to the sound of a CLANG! At least I think that is what woke me up. I’m never quite sure that what I heard in these situations is real or part of a dream. I laid there, somewhat dazed, and tried to figure out if I had heard something or not. If I had heard it, what had I heard? I tried to re-imagine the sound. I think that it was an aluminum CLANG! Yes, definitely aluminum.

OK. I’ll bet that it was the aluminum extension ladder that was up against the enclosed deck on the back of the house. I had set it there the day before to get it out of the yard before I cut the grass. Why had it been laying in the yard? Cindy’s oxpecker had left it there before he took off last autumn. But that isn’t really what this post is about. I quickly decided that I had heard someone or something on the ladder. Burglars? Clumsy burglars? Or was it…oh no! I’ll bet it was a raccoon climbing up to the roof to gain access to an upstairs window so that it could break in and ravage a room. A second story raccoon so to speak.

It doesn’t make any sense, does it? No. I suppose that it doesn’t. But that is the way my mind was working around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. My mind cleared enough to realize that I wasn’t making much any sense, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. I rolled over after I got out of bed and looked out the window to make sure there were no burglars or raccoons on the deck roof.

About an hour and half later I woke up again. This time their was no sound that caused me to open my eyes. This time I smelled something. I smelled smoke. It reminded me of wood smoke, but I wasn’t sure. My gosh! Is the house on fire? I heard no smoke alarms. Perhaps there is a fire somewhere outside and the aroma of the smoke was wafting in through the open windows. I went to the window and looked out but saw no flames, saw no plume of smoke, saw no burglars or raccoons playing with matches on the deck roof. I didn’t smell any smoke coming through the window. But I could still faintly smell smoke. Maybe it was a olfactory hallucination. I’ve had those in the past, but only about food.

Once again I returned to bed. This time, however, I first went around touching walls and sniffing to determine if there was a smouldering fire in the wall. There was nothing there.

I’m glad that I don’t wake up like this every night.

Saturday movie #13

Marathon Man
Marathon Man

This past Saturday I went back to an old favorite movie, “Marathon Man” starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, and Marthe Keller. This thriller, released in 1976, touches on many of the themes that catch my attention. There is conspiracy, betrayal,  really evil villains, love interest, and an underdog who is dragged into the whole thing against his will.

Anybody who watches television in these times know that the levels of violence have increased in a major way. But I have to say that much of the violence in this movie, from forty years ago, make me cringe and want to look away. In fact, I found myself walking out of the room when a particular part of the movie rolled around. I’m pretty sure my youngest granddaughter would call it boring, but it bothers me. It is, perhaps, because I am older and prefer some things left to my imagination. Or maybe I’m just a wimp with old fashioned ideas.

William Goldman wrote the screenplay from his novel of the same name. Goldman has written the screenplays of many of my favorite movies such as, “Harper,” “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” “Papillion,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “All the President’s Men.” He has probably written others that are among your favorites. After all, he started writing screenplays in 1965 and is still writing them. In my opinion, he is a master of his craft. I hope he continues writing them for a long time.

I am sure that you have detected the theme that most of the movies I watch are from the 20th century. It isn’t that I don’t watch newer films, but I tend to use my Saturdays to re-watch movies that I know will please me. Some times, when I try something that I haven’t seen before, I am disappointed, that is why I usually watch something tried and true.

If you can handle the violence, I recommend “Marathon Man” highly.

What hath we wrought?

Stately old farm house
Stately old farm house

I took this photo last week when the sun had only been up for about an hour. It is one of my favorite times of day to take pictures because of the shadows that you get on sunny mornings. I have a few more pictures that I took on that morning, and I’ll be sharing some of them here.

***

I have always enjoyed being compared to my father. He was the finest person I have ever known. I don’t really enjoy being compared to my mother. She has some flaws. But I have to admit that I have some of those same flaws. For instance, yesterday I started coughing, which is not an unusual thing, but I felt a sharp pain in my upper right side. Being (partially) my mother’s son, my first reaction was “LUNG CANCER!!” However, upon twenty-four hours of reflection, and mentally going over my final bequests, I have decided that it is more likely that I pulled a muscle doing yard work. That is my father’s influence kicking in.

Like it or not, we are all products of the people who are around us when we are growing up. I suppose that means that even my sister, She Who Must Not Be Named, had some influence over whom I became. That’s enough to give one pause. In fact, I’ll probably not sleep much tonight as I start trying to figure out what I may have picked up from her.

Trina and Lee, Cindy’s children, had already received their imprinting from their parents and various grandparents before I came on the scene, so I can claim nothing good nor bad in their characters. The grandchildren? I don’t see that I’ve had much influence on them…certainly not the girls. Perhaps a little with our older grandson, Mason…the good stuff only, of course. Only time will tell.

To think; this blog post grew out of a simple cough. Hmm.

Books that I won’t read this year

What once was
What once was

I took this picture of a tulip plant in our front yard just a few days ago. When I went out to cut the grass today, I found that both blossoms had been plucked and tossed into the yard. I am disappointed in some of our neighborhood residents. I assume it was done by some youngster, but I don’t know for sure.

***

I have a bookcase filled with books that I mean to read. Many of them will be included in my Reading Challenge this year. I don’t need any more books at this time, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t purchase a few more as the year goes on. Yesterday, in the mail, I received a book catalog from one of my favorite mail order book companies, Daedalus Books. They have an interesting selection of books, and I am always tempted to buy one or two…or three…or four.

There are at least three reasons I won’t be reading any of the books in the catalog, and two of the reasons are because I don’t want to buy them. There are a couple that I do want to buy, but I don’t need them for the challenge this year. One of them is The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, by Will Storr. It deals with people who choose to ignore scientific facts in favor of their own beliefs. It sounds interesting, but I don’t need it for the challenge this year. Another book that I would like is Traitor to The Crown: The Untold Story of the Popish Plot and the Conspiracy Against Samuel Pepys, by James Long and Ben Long. I think the title says it all. I may end up buying this book and saving it until next year’s reading challenge.

There are a few books that sound interesting, but I would never bother reading them because they are based on speculation. Two such books are The Missing Family of Jesus: An Inconvenient Truth — How The Church Erased Jesus’s Brother and Sisters from History, by Tobias Churton Watkins. I don’t buy it for a minute. Another such book is When Jesus Lived in India: The Quest for the Aquarian Gospel: The Mystery of the Missing Years, by Alan Jacobs. I’ll save my money, thank you.

And then there are the books that befuddle me because I have no idea why they were printed. In this catalog there is a book titled A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice, by Alex Goodwin and Tess Gammell. That’s right, there is a 56 page book retelling the Jane Austen book using photographs of guinea pigs dressed as the novel’s characters. Why? I understand that Pride and Prejudice is a hot commodity now. There is a version with Zombies of all things. I received a catalog from a different company a few weeks ago and was surprised at the number of books that were spun off from Jane Austen’s novel. There were at least five, and two of them were labeled Adult’s Only. It seems that Mr. Darcy exhibited a great deal of friskiness. Who knew? I won’t be buying any of those books.

 

Saturday movie #12

Legal Eagles
Legal Eagles

I went back to our collection of DVDs to choose one Saturday. I decided on “Legal Eagles,” and it was a good choice. The movie was released in 1986 and starred Robert Redford, Debra Winger and Darly Hannah. Brian Dennehy and Terrence Stamp also had key roles in the film.

I think that the movie is best described as a mystery/thriller/romantic comedy; though I didn’t think it was a head-scratching mystery. Maybe I’ve watched so many mysteries over the years that I’m seldom puzzled anymore; or maybe I just have a devious mind.

It has been a long time since I watched a movie with Debra Winger that wasn’t a drama, and so I was pleasantly reminded how good she is when being comedic. Redford, who is also at ease with comedy, seems to me to keep it low-key so that the transition back to drama is never jarring. Together, you get more chuckles than guffaws, and I like that.

The movie was directed and partially written by Ivan Reitman. To me, he is best known for producing and directing “Ghostbusters,” as well as producing and writing “Animal House.” He has worked both in film and television, live action and animation.

If you enjoy light-hearted films, I suggest that you watch “Legal Eagles.”

Reading Challenge Update #2

The Pagan Lord
The Pagan Lord

“The Pagan Lord” is the seventh book in the Saxon Tales series by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is probably best known for his series of books about Richard Sharpe. The Saxon Tales, also known as the Saxon Chronicles or The Warrior Chronicles, are set in Britain in the ninth and tenth century. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the protagonist. The stories take place during the Danish invasion of Britain and deal with the England becoming a nation. A television series named The Last Kingdom, also the name of the first novel, has been broadcast.

I have been reading the novels in the order of their publication. Two more have been published since “The Pagan Lord,” but I haven’t purchased them yet. Perhaps I can find time for them after I successfully finish this year’s challenge.

A Most Wanted Man
A Most Wanted Man

My next book, “A Most Wanted Man,” is my choice for a book published in the 2000’s. It is by John Le Carrė, one of my favorite author’s of International thrillers. I have been reading him since the early 1960’s when I read “A Murder of Quality” in a paperback edition. For about two decades I read everything that he published. Then my tastes evolved and I read less in that genre and added greater variety. But when I saw this book on sale, I snatched it up and decided that I wanted it for the reading challenge. I’m glad that I did because it is a fine book. Le Carrė has been described as one who writes literature but hides it in espionage thrillers. Or perhaps it was me who said that. At any rate, his writing has a quality that goes beyond the pot boilers that seem to be churned out by so many other authors. I’ll be buying more of his books, both old and new to read. I’ve been away from them for too long.

Children of Ol' Man River
Children of Ol’ Man River

The next book I read, “Children of Ol’ Man River,” falls into the category of a book of any kind. It is basically a memoir written by Billy Bryant about his life as a performer on showboats in the early 1900’s. But it is more than a memoir because there is a forty-four page prologue by Martin Ridge that gives an overview of North American showboats. It is an interesting book, and a quick read. The book that I read was published by Lakeside Press, an imprint of R.R. Donnelley and Sons. The Lakeside Press books were not for sale to the general public, but were given as Christmas presents to Donnelley employees. My book was published in 1988. I picked it up, as well as a couple of others from Lakeside during a book swap with some friends and acquaintances. I know that I got the better of the deal. Most of the other people there stick to mysteries and thrillers.

Kindness Goes Unpunished
Kindness Goes Unpunished

Finally in this update I read “Kindness Goes Unpunished” by Craig Johnson. It is my entry as a mystery this year. It is one of the Walt Longmire mysteries. I bought this book over a year ago and have been waiting patiently for the right time to read it. As soon as I finished the previous book, “Kindness Goes Unpunished” started calling to me from my bookcase of unread books. I couldn’t wait any longer. I love the Longmire mysteries, and I finished this one in a little over twenty-four hours. I had to take time out to eat and sleep. I have another of the Longmire mysteries in my unread bookcase. I wonder how long I can hold out before grabbing it.

Saturday movie #11

Kiss Me Deadly
Kiss Me Deadly

Usually on Saturdays I choose a movie from the DVDs that Cindy and I have accumulated over the years. This past weekend, however, I decided to try a movie from our county library’s holdings. I checked out a copy of “Kiss Me Deadly” starring Ralph Meeker.

At first glance it You might think that this would be a movie that I loved, since it is touted as a film noir classic. It is a black and white movie released in 1955, and was directed by Robert Aldrich. The movie is based on a novel by Mickey Spillane, and stars his character Mike Hammer who is played by Ralph Meeker.

I didn’t like the movie. I should like the movie. I understand that it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress because it is culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Maybe it is historically significant, but I can’t believe that anyone would find it culturally or aesthetically significant.

Here are the positives that I found in the film: 1) It opens with Cloris Leachman (in her first film role) running barefoot down a two-lane highway, trying to flag down a ride. She has on a trench coat, and supposedly nothing else. 2) Jack Elam has a small part. Any time that Jack Elam is in a film is a positive. 3) There are some interesting camera angles and sites with photogenic staircases. 4) There is no number 4.

Here are some of the negatives for me. 1) The movie is based on a Mickey Spillane novel. I have tried many times to read and enjoy Spillane novels, and have never succeeded. I have liked two of the actors who played Mike Hammer on television: Darren McGavin and Stacey Keach, but I still didn’t like the character. 2) I don’t believe that all of the plot points were resolved. But I have to admit that I dozed off for a bit in the middle of the film. Maybe everything I didn’t understand was explained in that five or so minutes when I was spared from watching. 3) If you think that Donald Trump has trouble with women, show this movie to a group of women and they will burn down the studio. 4) I don’t know whether to blame the bad acting on the actors or the director. I thought about pointing out one portrayal in particular, but I don’t want to speak ill of the dead.

Next week I’m going back to a film that I have on hand.

A trip in two parts

My first graveyard of the season
My first graveyard of the season

I took this picture on Tuesday while driving back from northern Indiana. I was on a county road somewhere betwixt Lake County and home. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was listening to some great folk music. In fact I was attempting to sing along with many of the songs. Luckily my voice gave out.

***

Tuesday was a memorable day for me. Normally, as a retired gent, I don’t have much on my schedule beyond things like “Do your laundry” or “Cook dinner for you wonderful wife.” However on Tuesday I drove up to spend time with my mother and my sister. Those trips are always memorable. If you haven’t followed my mother’s deterioration, you can read about one of my other visits in a post titled Signals from a dark place (click on the title, it is a link). 

Mom was actually doing quite well this trip. She only mentioned a couple of her recent conspiracy theories, for which I was grateful. One of her imaginary people has been coming to the house frequently. He is one of a set of triplets. She said he had three brothers, which made me question if he wasn’t really part of a set of quintuplets, but my sister, She Who Must Not Be Named, and my brother-in-law quickly jumped in and told me not to start something. I saw the wisdom of their concern and didn’t restate my question loud enough for Mom to hear me.

Like many of her imaginary people, her imaginary visitor had a wonderful singing voice. She has no trouble hearing them, but is often deaf as a stone when trying to talk to us. Sadly she doesn’t see that inconsistency. The other thing that amazes me about their singing is that to my recollection, Mom never showed any interest in music. I don’t get it.

***

After spending some time with my mother and sister, I went on to a happier reunion. I was able to have lunch with one of my favorite people, Kathryn.

When I stopped working for the State, I took a part-time job as a clerk in a retail store in Lafayette. I was older than everybody else who worked there. One of the other people there was Kathryn, who was a young student at Purdue University. While all of the people who worked there were friendly, Kathryn was special. She went out of her way to befriend an old, full-bearded geezer who had to be taught new skills. Hmm. Maybe she thought I was Santa Claus in disguise.

She, of course, has graduated and has moved back to northern Indiana where she is happily working. The sweet thing for me is that we haven’t lost touch. I don’t get to see her smiling face four or five times a week anymore, and I have cut back on my letter writing, but we do text and follow each other on Instagram. And every once in a while (not often enough) I get to see her when I head north.

I guess that I need to go north more often to see people who are important to me.

 

Saturday movie #10

Junior Bonner
Junior Bonner

On Saturday evening I watched a Steve McQueen movie, “Junior Bonner.” I like this movie a lot. It has been a number of years since I last watched it. The movie stars McQueen in the title role. In the movie he plays a rodeo cowboy who travels from rodeo to rodeo in his old convertible, towing his horse trailer. He arrives in Prescott, Arizona, his home town,to take part in he rodeo. There he reconnects with his father Ace, played by Robert Preston; his mother Ellie, played by Ida Lupino; and his brother Curly, played by Joe Don Baker. There are other familiar faces in the cast, such as Dub Taylor as the bartender, Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, and Bill McKinney as a friendly rival in the rodeo.

Sam Peckinpah directed the movie. I must say that this was the least violent film directed by him that I can remember. In fact, there is only one person in the film whom I found to be unlikable. I don’t know, but you might even like that person.

Don’t get me wrong; there is conflict, but for the most part it takes place in the dialogue and shows in the acting. While some punches are thrown, nobody seems to hold a grudge. The most violent exchanges occur in the rodeo ring between cowboys and bulls.

Why do I like the movie? Part of the reason is the acting performances. Also, it was released back in the early 1970’s, before CGI took over the movie industry. Issues are raised that have no easy solutions, and the movie doesn’t pretend to have the solutions. In the end, McQueen’s character tries to do what he thinks is best for the individual members of his family. Who can do more than that?