Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Worst Preakness Ever

Most years I watch the Triple Crown Races over and over again.

Not this year. I was prepared to see if Barbaro could set a hot pace through the mile and 3/16 and run away from the field like he did in the Kentucky Derby. He was clearly antsy and eager to run before the race, more so than any of the other horses in the scant field of nine. (The only other one who looked ready for the fast sprint race was Bernardino, but he was less combative.)

Once the horses were in the starting gate, Barbaro burst through the barrier before the starting bell, delaying the race a few minutes until they could assess that he was all right. He was fine, and was reloaded to the gate.

They were off!

But when all eyes should have been on the front runners, with Like Now setting a fast pace and Sweetnorthernsaint breathing on his shoulder, the focus was on Barbaro, who was fought to a stop (he wanted to keep on running) by his jockey, Edgar Prado -- because in the first brutal acceleration, Barbaro's right hind leg broke (the jockey on the horse behind him heard it crack) and then as he continued to try to run, broke the leg in a second spot.

Bernardino won, but all I can see in my mind is the footage that shows Barbaro trying to make that foot work while Prado hauls him to a stop. It looked like a rag on the end of a horse-leg, flopping in horrible directions sure to give horse-lovers nightmares all over the world.

Totally unrelated to the early break from the gate, they're saying. But right after he'd burst through the barrier on the untimely break, my son-in-law said with conviction, "Pull him! If he was my horse I'd pull him from the race until I knew he was all right!"

Ah, if they could have listened to my son-in-law, John, Barbaro would be sound tonight.

Congrats to Bernardino, and his owner and trainer, but what a sad and lonely win.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Writers in a Bar

We fled the heat last Wednesday.

It was the last day we had free before Bernie was to return to work, and the unseasonal heat (all the weather has been unseasonal this year, hasn't it?) and the damned gnats (have I ever mentioned that I hate gnats?) drove us to the blissful Bay.

There the fog was rising (that's fog in back of the boat, not clouds) and the air was cool and sweet. San Francisco is a wonderful place to escape to when the Valley weather is crummy.

We sat at the bar in wonderful Sinbad's and ate the usual exquisite calamari tempura over glasses of wine; mine, a pinot grigio (big surprise there) and his a pinot noir. The bartender, whom we had never met before, was named Mike, and he was smooth and strange, like a good whiskey with a squirt of lime and a hint of Louisiana Hot Sauce. He was both mellow and embittered; efficient but somehow lackadaisical; most polite yet more than willing to parry verbally in a low and non-carrying voice.

A "Writer" came into the bar, and suddenly, the atmosphere galvanized into some strange fellowship. The writer's name was "Dan," and after he casually dropped the information that he just happened to meet someone doing a film who needed a writer and thus, in his retirement, was working in films, it somehow seemed to require that the weary office manager on her third gin-and-tonic, the bartender, and Bernie and I ought to speak up.

The bartender confessed that he was into studying world religions, and had a book to prove it. The office manager demanded to see it, and read aloud a paragraph after opening the book at random. The book was entitled, "The Tao of Pooh."

"Sorry, Mike," she said, "this is shit."

I was on my second glass of wine by then, and I completely forget what Dan the Writer said that prodded me to suggest to the bar at large that Dan had written the shitful book under a pseudonym.

Thereafter, Dan the Writer ignored us as we examined the Tao of Pooh (an interpretation according to a Reader of Milne) critically and irreverently -- and turned his creative effort to hitting on a woman who dropped by Sinbad's for a quick drink. She was clearly thrilled to have a writer hitting on her.

An interesting feeling. I sat there, knowing I've written a lot of stuff, knowing quite well that I am a writer, but I had no desire to broadcast it. The poor fellow was just a bit pathetic once you waded past his ego. He obviously puffs about telling all and sundry he's a writer. Yet he is no more well known around the world than any Filthy Piker who writes for the Press.

It wasn't that he was a writer. It was that he was putting on a big, hokey mask with a neon sign above it that said, "I am a Writer!"

Well, yes, I intended to poke him with a stick by suggesting he'd written a shitty book under a nom de plume. I know what pisses off writers.

Ah, but the Office Manager on Gin -- now there I let myself down. She was genuinely funny, and bold, and inventive, and prodded Mike the Bartender into arguments about Winne the Pooh and Lao Tse. I should have stayed for one more drink and invited her to write for the Press.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Golden Spring

It's that time of year.

California poppies spring up everywhere, and that lovely weedy grass with its horsetail head simultaneously annoys and delights me. One of these years, I'm going to pick the heads, dry them, and then dye them purple and blue and red.

I don't know what I'd do with them afterwards, but wouldn't it be fun?

Today was hot, nearly 100 degrees. I may have lost one of my potted trees to the heat today; there hasn't been enough time between 62 degrees and 100 for the poor plant to harden off.

We spent some time in the pool, which is still just a skootch too chilly to remain submerged like a hippopotamus. It felt heavenly, though. I must score myself a little raft on which to float about on the cool water. And for the first time in days and days, there were no gnats.

Gnats, I'm convinced, are the reason God created tobacco, as a burning cigarette seems to be the only way to keep them from trying to fly into one's eyes, nose, and mouth.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beautiful Morning

Bernie and I once again made our way to the river to have a look at how high it is.

The water level has dropped by about three or four feet, which is good news. The poor flooded golf course showed how much the water had receded ... leaving the bad news of dead grass peeking out. It's also starting to smell kind of disgusting from the dead vegetation. Alas, it will be worse once all those fish trapped in there start to stink. (And then again, maybe not -- there are quite a few raccoons and coyotes in the area.)

We walked on the levee in back of the golf course, and were treated to the sight of this gorgeous tiger swallowtail butterfly. I snapped that first picture facing the sun and was thrilled to see the light illuminating the wings. I snapped several photos of this creature, and most of them were stunning. The butterfly must have been fresh from his chrysalis, because there wasn't a single tear or tatter on his wings.

In the shade under the cottonwood trees, a shaft of light peeked in and lit up something else -- a locust sapling in bloom. The intense greens and the softened shadows caught my fancy. I have this thing for locust trees, although I don't really remember why. Maybe because back East, they would bloom around the time of my birthday.

One of the pictures I took was of a bird that was very elusive -- we'd just catch a glimpse of color as we looked up into the trees, and couldn't really see many details. Suddenly it flew into the tree right above me, and I was able to snap a picture of the branch. When I uploaded it to my computer, with a little tweaking of contrast and color, we found that the bird was the beautiful Bullock's Oriole. My picture isn't good enough to post, but that link will take you to a phenomenal birding site!

Just to show you how perfect that butterfly was, I've included this photo. My back was to the sun when I took this shot; you can see a subtle difference in color from the first.

I think this insect captivated us for nearly ten minutes before cruising off in the direction of the golf course. I've never before in my life had a chance to examine such a perfect tiger swallowtail for so long.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

If You Have Filthy Pikers in Your Life, You Have Everything

I like Pikers.

Pikers are intelligent, and clean.

Pikers are funny, and insightful.

Pikers are quick to pick up people and set them on their feet again, unless those people are assholes, and then they just pick them up, set them on their feet again, and then write their characters into stories.

Pikers write better than most best-sellers, and spending a couple hours with them is just sheer pleasure.

I like Pikers.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kentucky Derby 2006

A couple hours ago we tried to watch the Kentucky Derby.

Well, we saw the race. We saw NBC "reporters" blather over and over again about jockeys playing ping-pong to pass the time. We saw the "reporters" yap about their sentimental picks and their longshot picks. We saw lots of footage of women in hideous hats and heard how it is tradition for women to wear elaborate Derby Day hideous hats. No doubt if it was Louisiana on Mardi Gras and not Kentucky in May, the women in hideous hats would have pulled up their blouses and showed their titties to the audience, ensuring them of even more coverage next year.

I think, in the hour or more that NBC violated the sports world, that we saw a total of 4 minutes of Horse. Indeed, we saw more of the glitzy and photogenic trainer Bob Baffert than we did of horses.

NBC has the worst sports coverage of any network. The. Worst.

Let me take a number and stand in line to announce that whoever directs their coverage of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness (up in two weeks, a sprint showdown that can make or break) ... IS A MORON!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you.

In spite of NBC, it was a good race, and I'm rooting for Barbaro in the Preakness ... and hoping Baffert's horse Sinister Minister doesn't come into his speed.

Color cue: High Blood Pressure Red

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fog, Smog, and Treasure Island

Yesterday evening, we left the pollen-laden Valley, went over the Altamont Pass, and made our way through the Bay Area, which was itself rather heavily laden with smog.

Once we got to San Francisco, however, the fog was already rolling in from the western side of the peninsula, bringing some fresher air with it. We walked around the Ferry Building and looked at all the wonderful organing produce. It all looked so good ... but by then even Jack In The Box tacos would have made my mouth water. Just before we went to dinner, I took this picture of Treasure Island. That's the Bay Bridge on the right. Behind the island, the rest of the Bridge meets with the city of Oakland, home of the nefarious Oakland Raiders Football Team.

At Sinbad's Restaurant, we met fellow Piker John Trindle, who was in SF for a conference, far from his home in Virginia. We hadn't seen John in -- is it two years or three? -- and he looked not a bit different. Bernie, John and I have at least one thing in common: we're all shy. Nevertheless, we manfully struggled to overcome our quiet natures, and I think we did okay. What I thought was interesting and comforting was that to me, it didn't feel like much time had passed at all. It was easy to settle into the cameraderie we felt when the first Filthy Piker Writers' Conference convened -- there, I looked it up in my Archive -- in 2004.

The food was good, too ... but not as good as seeing a friend again.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Morning Walk

The foxtail grasses are already withering -- they know it's time to embed themselves in doggy feet and coyote fur.

They must go by length of day, because it certainly hasn't been dry enough to wither much of anything.

On the other hand, the poppy that came up along the side of the path leading to the forbidden zone of the National Wildlife Refuge a couple blocks away would normally have seen the light of March and said, "Spring!" By May, I expect all of the wildflowers to be done and the grasses in the fields turning golden.
This isn't a native wildflower, by the way. Someone walked down there with a packet of seeds to brighten the walking path. I don't mind. They're pretty.

One of the things I noticed about taking pictures with my digital camera is that the reds come out really sucky. I have no idea why, when yellows and oranges come out so nicely.

Speaking of wildlife refuges, this picture was not taken at one. This is the still-flooded Jack Tone Golf Course, where waterbirds and fish have taken up residence.

I think the golf course makes a simply breathtaking little lake.