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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

———

Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve rarely had vehicle problems on the road, but, well, life is like a box of chocolates.

The last time I drove west in the RV was in September 2019. On that trip, before heading east again, I had the RV checked out at the Pep Boys in Flagstaff. They changed the oil, looked for problems, and pronounced it good to go.

This spring, I stopped at Pep Boys again — but not for a routine once-over. Somewhere back in Texas, I discovered that I had no headlights or tail lights. The turn signals and brake lights worked, but that was it.

The mechanic found a burned-out headlight switch, replaced it, declared my battery on its last legs, replaced it, checked for other issues, and sent me on my way.

That was the morning of March 31. The rest of that day was spent as described in my previous post: driving to Tusayan, finding a massive traffic jam courtesy of the spring-break hordes, and retreating to Flagstaff.

I found a motel, proceeded to Beaver Street Brewery for supper (three-sausage pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, plus two pints of their very excellent Midnight Black IPA), and slept soundly.

The next morning, I was on the road early, eastbound on I-40. I planned to pick up I-25 south and drive down the Rio Grand Valley to Hatch, the “chile capital of the world.”

Over the next couple of hours, cruising at 75, I began to notice that the engine occasionally was skipping. Running slightly and uncharacteristically rough. It wasn’t extreme, but it was noticeable.

I had thoughts of the engine dying and leaving me stranded in the desert 50 miles from the nearest town.

But the engine didn’t die. I drove on with my fingers crossed.

Then, about 40 miles west of Gallup, my check engine light came on.

Oh, hell.

Stopping made no sense. I needed to reach Gallup and find a mechanic. Gallup probably had a Pep Boys, right?

So I slowed to 65 mph and drove on to Gallup, the check-engine light shining brightly, the engine still ominously sputtering every few seconds. On the way, I Googled Pep Boys, and the nearest shop was, thank God, at the first Gallup exit.

The store manager said he would take a look when time permitted, although repairs might take a day or so. I asked if any motels were within walking distance.

He pointed across the street to a handsome SpringHill Suites. “Newest in town,” he said.

Thus, instead of being marooned in the desert with a blown engine, I checked into a SpringHill Suites and took a nap while Pep Boys tended to my RV.

At about 3:00 pm, the Pep Boys manager called. He said the spark plug wiring harness was old, brittle, and in the process of self-destructing. They replaced the harness, and all was well again.

The next morning, I was on the road to Hatch and points east. That afternoon, I picked up a non-Interstate route that took me through a succession of smaller cities and towns and avoided all that nasty Interstate truck traffic.

The good news: the RV ran smooth as silk, all the way home. The bad news: between the repairs, the motels, and the price of gas, my wallet took a serious hit.

The view from behind the wheel. In springtime, the bugs are as troublesome as the college students.

I just got back from a road trip to the Southwest in my RV. It was my first time out of Georgia in over a year.

It felt good to get away, see the outside world, and have some new experiences. But the trip was something of a mixed bag.

For one thing, COVID restrictions are in effect to some degree everywhere. Most businesses, if they are open, limit occupancy and require masks. In New Mexico, restaurants wisely record your name and phone number, in case the virus is later detected and they need to contact you.

For another thing, RV camping was a constant problem. Many private campgrounds were closed, and the rest were full. My personal choice, state park campgrounds, were either closed or operating under new rules — such as requiring reservations or only serving state residents. Most nights, I had no choice but to check into a motel.

Also, my RV had mechanical troubles that required two stops for repairs. More about that later.

Let me begin by describing how, to my dismay, I was unable to visit Grand Canyon…

———

Tusayan, Arizona

On March 31, I learned that spring break is a thing at Grand Canyon National Park.

Silly me, I always thought spring break happened at the beaches in Florida and California and wherever. I had no idea that the south rim of Grand Canyon also gets swarmed each spring by hedonistic college students. Vast mobs of them.

I saw them in person when I arrived in Tusayan, a resort town near the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Before me, northbound traffic on Arizona Route 64 was at a literal standstill.

I was stunned. Was it a traffic accident? A fuel spill? A helicopter crash?

The traffic jam was three lanes wide. It continued north through Tusayan, over a distant hill, and out of sight. I knew from previous trips that Route 64 becomes a two-lane highway north of town, and the Park entrance is two miles away.

Two miles of traffic that appeared to be at a dead stop.

Before I got trapped in the jam, I turned around and headed back south. I stopped at the airport to ask what the bloody hell was going on.

The woman at the counter rolled her eyes and replied that spring break was in progress. My wait time to get into the Park, she said, would be about three hours.

I turned around and drove back to Flagstaff.

The thing is, I made the trip to Arizona specifically to visit Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon, you see, is my favorite place anywhere.

But this trip, I was traveling without reservations. Clearly, no lodging or camping would be available at South Rim Village or in Tusayan. And frankly, with the Park overflowing with spring-breakers, I couldn’t imagine having a very pleasant visit anyway.

Nor did I have options. The North Rim was still closed for the winter. The east entrance near Cameron had been closed for months because of a surge in COVID cases on the Navajo reservation.

Thus, sadly, my eagerly anticipated visit to Grand Canyon — it would have been my 28th — didn’t happen.

But it will. I just made reservations at Bright Angel Lodge for early September.


Spring-breakers queued up to enter Grand Canyon National Park on March 28.

Masks and social distancing not much in evidence at the overlook behind Bright Angel Lodge.

Quotes o’ the Day

Government is necessary, not because man is naturally bad, but because man is by nature more individualistic than social.

Thomas Hobbes

###

Those who fear the facts will forever try to discredit the fact-finders.

Denis Diderot

###

Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.

Giordano Bruno

###

Bank robbery is an initiative of amateurs. True professionals establish a bank.

Bertolt Brecht

Hobbes

Brecht

Eugene Bullard

I didn’t learn about Eugene Bullard in school. You probably didn’t, either.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard (1895-1961) was the first African-American combat pilot and the only black pilot who fought in World War I. He flew for the French, not the US, and his story is remarkable.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a Haitian father and a Creek mother. He had an especially troubled childhood. He ran away from home regularly, only to endure beatings by his father when he was caught. In 1906, at age 11, he ran away for good and made his way to Atlanta.

There, he fell in with a band of gypsies and tended their horses as they traveled the South. In 1912, at age 17, he stowed away on a German freighter bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. He went to London, where he worked as a boxer and a slapstick performer in a black entertainment troupe.

Bullard first visited Paris in 1913 for a boxing match. He was captivated by the city and resolved to make Paris his home. He wrote years later, “It seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Bullard was 19 when World War I began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served as a machinegunner in a regiment that fought in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of the war. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded two medals for bravery, including the Croix de Guerre.

His wounds prevented him from further infantry duty, so he applied for, he was accepted into, the French flying service, the Aéronautique Militaire. He attended flight school, got his wings in 1917, and quickly earned a reputation for his courage and skill. He flew 25-plus combat missions, usually with his pet rhesus monkey Jimmy on his shoulder.

The Germans called Bullard “The Black Swallow of Death.” He had two confirmed kills and earned 15 medals.

When the US entered the war, he and other Americans in the Aéronautique Militaire, applied to transfer to the US military. Most were accepted, but Bullard was not because the US did not allow blacks to serve as pilots or aircraft mechanics.

Specifically, US policy was that black soldiers were not intelligent enough to understand aircraft mechanics or to pilot an aircraft. Seriously.

Moreover, under US pressure, the French removed Bullard from aviation duty.

When the war ended and Bullard was discharged from military service, he became part owner of a Paris nightclub, Le Grand Duc. The club became a popular hangout for the rich and famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Picasso, the Prince of Wales, and Ernest Hemingway.

Soon, he opened a second club, and in 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, the daughter of a French countess. They had a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. The Bullards were divorced in 1931.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Bullard quietly joined the French resistance as a spy. By then, he was fluent in German and was able to eavesdrop on unsuspecting German officers, with whom his nightclubs were popular, and who had no idea Bullard spoke German.

Later in 1940, possibly because his ties to the resistance became known, Bullard fled Paris with his two daughters. On the way to Spain, he joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a severe spinal wound. He and his daughters returned to the US, where he recuperated in a New York hospital.

In France, Bullard had been a national hero; in America, he was just another black man. Using a financial grant from the French government, he bought a small apartment in Harlem. Both of his daughters married, and Bullard lived alone.

He never fully recovered from his back injury, and his mobility was restricted. He supported himself by serving as an occasional French interpreter for Louis Armstrong, working as a security guard, and selling perfume. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1960, while in New York, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bullard, named him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and called him a “true French hero.” Bullard’s achievements were never recognized by the US.

He died in Harlem of stomach cancer in 1961. He was buried in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens and was given full military honors by the Federation of French War Officers.

In 1994, the US Air Force finally gave Bullard official recognition of sorts by giving him a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant.

Why did the US pressure the French government to ground Eugene Bullard, and why did the US government fail to recognize and honor his achievements?

Racism. What else?


Bullard’s French military decorations from WWI and WWII, as displayed in his Harlem apartment.

To Read a Book

This 1953 sci-fi short story is a fine example of irony — tragic irony, cosmic irony, situational irony, you name it.

Which probably is why the story was adapted in 1959 as an episode of The Twilight Zone; Rod Serling loved stories like this. It starred Burgess Meredith and stands as one of the most popular episodes The Twilight Zone ever aired.

Even decades later, the plot is so familiar in American culture that it surfaced as an internet meme.

Time Enough At Last

By Lyn Venable
Published in IF Worlds of Science Fiction, January 1953.

For a long time, Henry Bemis had had an ambition. To read a book. Not just the title or the preface, or a page somewhere in the middle. He wanted to read the whole thing, all the way through from beginning to end. A simple ambition perhaps, but in the cluttered life of Henry Bemis, an impossibility.

Henry had no time of his own. There was his wife, Agnes who owned that part of it that his employer, Mr. Carsville, did not buy. Henry was allowed enough to get to and from work — that in itself being quite a concession on Agnes’ part.

Also, nature had conspired against Henry by handing him with a pair of hopelessly myopic eyes. Poor Henry literally couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. For a while, when he was very young, his parents had thought him an idiot. When they realized it was his eyes, they got glasses for him. He was never quite able to catch up. There was never enough time. It looked as though Henry’s ambition would never be realized. Then something happened which changed all that.

Henry was down in the vault of the Eastside Bank & Trust when it happened. He had stolen a few moments from the duties of his teller’s cage to try to read a few pages of the magazine he had bought that morning. He’d made an excuse to Mr. Carsville about needing bills in large denominations for a certain customer, and then, safe inside the dim recesses of the vault he had pulled from inside his coat the pocket size magazine.

He had just started a picture article cheerfully entitled “The New Weapons and What They’ll Do To YOU”, when all the noise in the world crashed in upon his ear-drums. It seemed to be inside of him and outside of him all at once. Then the concrete floor was rising up at him and the ceiling came slanting down toward him, and for a fleeting second Henry thought of a story he had started to read once called “The Pit and The Pendulum”. He regretted in that insane moment that he had never had time to finish that story to see how it came out. Then all was darkness and quiet and unconsciousness.

When Henry came to, he knew that something was desperately wrong with the Eastside Bank & Trust. The heavy steel door of the vault was buckled and twisted and the floor tilted up at a dizzy angle, while the ceiling dipped crazily toward it. Henry gingerly got to his feet, moving arms and legs experimentally. Assured that nothing was broken, he tenderly raised a hand to his eyes. His precious glasses were intact, thank God! He would never have been able to find his way out of the shattered vault without them.

He made a mental note to write Dr. Torrance to have a spare pair made and mailed to him. Blasted nuisance not having his prescription on file locally, but Henry trusted no-one but Dr. Torrance to grind those thick lenses into his own complicated prescription.

Henry removed the heavy glasses from his face. Instantly the room dissolved into a neutral blur. Henry saw a pink splash that he knew was his hand, and a white blob come up to meet the pink as he withdrew his pocket handkerchief and carefully dusted the lenses. As he replaced the glasses, they slipped down on the bridge of his nose a little. He had been meaning to have them tightened for some time.

He suddenly realized, without the realization actually entering his conscious thoughts, that something momentous had happened, something worse than the boiler blowing up, something worse than a gas main exploding, something worse than anything that had ever happened before. He felt that way because it was so quiet. There was no whine of sirens, no shouting, no running, just an ominous and all pervading silence.

Henry walked across the slanting floor. Slipping and stumbling on the uneven surface, he made his way to the elevator. The car lay crumpled at the foot of the shaft like a discarded accordion. There was something inside of it that Henry could not look at, something that had once been a person, or perhaps several people, it was impossible to tell now.

Feeling sick, Henry staggered toward the stairway. The steps were still there, but so jumbled and piled back upon one another that it was more like climbing the side of a mountain than mounting a stairway. It was quiet in the huge chamber that had been the lobby of the bank.

It looked strangely cheerful with the sunlight shining through the girders where the ceiling had fallen. The dappled sunlight glinted across the silent lobby, and everywhere there were huddled lumps of unpleasantness that made Henry sick as he tried not to look at them.

“Mr. Carsville,” he called. It was very quiet. Something had to be done, of course. This was terrible, right in the middle of a Monday, too. Mr. Carsville would know what to do. He called again, more loudly, and his voice cracked hoarsely, “Mr. Carrrrsville!” And then he saw an arm and shoulder extending out from under a huge fallen block of marble ceiling. In the buttonhole was the white carnation Mr. Carsville had worn to work that morning, and on the third finger of that hand was a massive signet ring, also belonging to Mr. Carsville. Numbly, Henry realized that the rest of Mr. Carsville was under that block of marble.

Henry felt a pang of real sorrow. Mr. Carsville was gone, and so was the rest of the staff — Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Emory and Mr. Prithard, and the same with Pete and Ralph and Jenkins and Hunter and Pat the guard and Willie the doorman. There was no one to say what was to be done about the Eastside Bank & Trust except Henry Bemis, and Henry wasn’t worried about the bank, there was something he wanted to do.

He climbed carefully over piles of fallen masonry. Once he stepped down into something that crunched and squashed beneath his feet and he set his teeth on edge to keep from retching. The street was not much different from the inside, bright sunlight and so much concrete to crawl over, but the unpleasantness was much, much worse. Everywhere there were strange, motionless lumps that Henry could not look at.

Suddenly, he remembered Agnes. He should be trying to get to Agnes, shouldn’t he? He remembered a poster he had seen that said, “In event of emergency do not use the telephone, your loved ones are as safe as you.” He wondered about Agnes. He looked at the smashed automobiles, some with their four wheels pointing skyward like the stiffened legs of dead animals. He couldn’t get to Agnes now anyway, if she was safe, then, she was safe, otherwise… of course, Henry knew Agnes wasn’t safe.

He had a feeling that there wasn’t anyone safe for a long, long way, maybe not in the whole state or the whole country, or the whole world. No, that was a thought Henry didn’t want to think, he forced it from his mind and turned his thoughts back to Agnes.

She had been a pretty good wife, now that it was all said and done. It wasn’t exactly her fault if people didn’t have time to read nowadays. It was just that there was the house, and the bank, and the yard. There were the Jones’ for bridge and the Graysons for canasta and charades with the Bryants.

And the television, the television Agnes loved to watch, but would never watch alone. He never had time to read even a newspaper. He started thinking about last night, that business about the newspaper.

Henry had settled into his chair, quietly, afraid that a creaking spring might call to Agnes’ attention the fact that he was momentarily unoccupied. He had unfolded the newspaper slowly and carefully, the sharp crackle of the paper would have been a clarion call to Agnes. He had glanced at the headlines of the first page. “Collapse Of Conference Imminent.” He didn’t have time to read the article.

He turned to the second page. “Solon Predicts War Only Days Away.” He flipped through the pages faster, reading brief snatches here and there, afraid to spend too much time on any one item. On a back page was a brief article entitled, “Prehistoric Artifacts Unearthed In Yucatan.” Henry smiled to himself and carefully folded the sheet of paper into fourths. That would be interesting, he would read all of it.

Then it came, Agnes’ voice. “Henrrreee!” And then she was upon him. She lightly flicked the paper out of his hands and into the fireplace. He saw the flames lick up and curl possessively around the unread article. Agnes continued, “Henry, tonight is the Jones’ bridge night. They’ll be here in thirty minutes and I’m not dressed yet, and here you are… reading.”

She had emphasized the last word as though it were an unclean act. “Hurry and shave, you know how smooth Jasper Jones’ chin always looks, and then straighten up this room.” She glanced regretfully toward the fireplace. “Oh dear, that paper, the television schedule… oh well, after the Jones leave there won’t be time for anything but the late-late movie and… Don’t just sit there, Henry, hurrreeee!”

Henry was hurrying now, but hurrying too much. He cut his leg on a twisted piece of metal that had once been an automobile fender. He thought about things like lock-jaw and gangrene and his hand trembled as he tied his pocket-handkerchief around the wound.

In his mind, he saw the fire again, licking across the face of last night’s newspaper. He thought that now he would have time to read all the newspapers he wanted to, only now there wouldn’t be any more. That heap of rubble across the street had been the Gazette Building. It was terrible to think there would never be another up to date newspaper.

Agnes would have been very upset, no television schedule. But then, of course, no television. He wanted to laugh but he didn’t. That wouldn’t have been fitting, not at all.

He could see the building he was looking for now, but the silhouette was strangely changed. The great circular dome was now a ragged semi-circle, half of it gone, and one of the great wings of the building had fallen in upon itself.

A sudden panic gripped Henry Bemis. What if they were all ruined, destroyed, every one of them? What if there wasn’t a single one left? Tears of helplessness welled in his eyes as he painfully fought his way over and through the twisted fragments of the city.

He thought of the building when it had been whole. He remembered the many nights he had paused outside its wide and welcoming doors. He thought of the warm nights when the doors had been thrown open and he could see the people inside, see them sitting at the plain wooden tables with the stacks of books beside them. He used to think then, what a wonderful thing a public library was, a place where anybody, anybody at all could go in and read.

He had been tempted to enter many times. He had watched the people through the open doors, the man in greasy work clothes who sat near the door, night after night, laboriously studying, a technical journal perhaps, difficult for him, but promising a brighter future.

There had been an aged, scholarly gentleman who sat on the other side of the door, leisurely paging, moving his lips a little as he did so, a man having little time left, but rich in time because he could do with it as he chose.

Henry had never gone in. He had started up the steps once, got almost to the door, but then he remembered Agnes, her questions and shouting, and he had turned away.

He was going in now though, almost crawling, his breath coming in stabbing gasps, his hands torn and bleeding. His trouser leg was sticky red where the wound in his leg had soaked through the handkerchief. It was throbbing badly but Henry didn’t care. He had reached his destination.

Part of the inscription was still there, over the now doorless entrance. P-U-B—C L-I-B-R—-. The rest had been torn away. The place was in shambles. The shelves were overturned, broken, smashed, tilted, their precious contents spilled in disorder upon the floor.

A lot of the books, Henry noted gleefully, were still intact, still whole, still readable. He was literally knee deep in them, he wallowed in books. He picked one up. The title was “Collected Works of William Shakespeare.” Yes, he must read that, sometime. He laid it aside carefully. He picked up another. Spinoza. He tossed it away, seized another, and another, and still another. Which to read first… there were so many.

He had been conducting himself a little like a starving man in a delicatessen — grabbing a little of this and a little of that in a frenzy of enjoyment.

But now he steadied away. From the pile about him, he selected one volume, sat comfortably down on an overturned shelf, and opened the book.

Henry Bemis smiled.

There was the rumble of complaining stone. Minute in comparison which the epic complaints following the fall of the bomb. This one occurred under one corner of the shelf upon which Henry sat. The shelf moved; threw him off balance. The glasses slipped from his nose and fell with a tinkle.

He bent down, clawing blindly and found, finally, their smashed remains. A minor, indirect destruction stemming from the sudden, wholesale smashing of a city. But the only one that greatly interested Henry Bemis.

He stared down at the blurred page before him.

He began to cry.

Illustration by Jason Copland

The Traveling Onion

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye (B. 1952)

It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship — why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
disappear.

———

Dust of Snow

By Robert Frost

Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963).

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

———

on paper

By Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Amanda Woodson (B. 1963)

The first time I write my full name

Jacqueline Amanda Woodson

without anybody’s help
on a clean white page in my composition notebook,
I know

if I wanted to

I could write anything.

Letters becoming words, words gathering meaning,
becoming
thoughts outside my head

becoming sentences

written by

Jacqueline Amanda Woodson

———

My Life Has Been the Poem

By Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

———

Miscegenation

By Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey (B. 1966)

In 1965 my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;
they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi.

They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name
begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong — mis in Mississippi.

A year later they moved to Canada, followed a route the same
as slaves, the train slicing the white glaze of winter, leaving Mississippi.

Faulkner’s Joe Christmas was born in winter, like Jesus, given his name
for the day he was left at the orphanage, his race unknown in Mississippi.

My father was reading War and Peace when he gave me my name.
I was born near Easter, 1966, in Mississippi.

When I turned 33 my father said, It’s your Jesus year — you’re the same
age he was when he died. It was spring, the hills green in Mississippi.

I know more than Joe Christmas did. Natasha is a Russian name —
though I’m not; it means Christmas child, even in Mississippi.

Superheroes

Is it un-American of me that I have no use for — that I avoid watching — superhero movies?

To me, the concept of having supernatural powers, wearing a natty costume, and fighting for truth and justice or whatever, worked fine for Superman when he surfaced in 1938. But all these decades later, why are we still recycling the same idea, over and over, using different characters and costumes?

Excuse me, but that is the very definition of clichéd. It’s unoriginal, juvenile, and tacky.

Even as a kid, I considered the genre to be silly. As I got older, and more and more cookie-cutter superheroes appeared, it became both embarrassing and annoying.

Oddly enough, I’m a big fan of science fiction. I adore the “what if” factor that sci-fi represents. I have no problem with spaceships, or aliens, or Terminators, or Yoda levitating an X-Wing fighter.

That being so, you’d think I could tolerate the likes of Iron Man and Spiderman and Wonder Woman — and Ant-Man and Hulk and ad infinitum— and cut them some slack. But I just can’t. It’s all so banal.

I realize this puts me in a definite minority. The public loves superhero movies, comics, TV programs, and games. The market for superheroes has been booming for a long time and clearly is a huge money-maker. Were it not, the genre would have been discarded long ago.

One consequence of being an anti-superhero person is that I haven’t seen most of the superhero movies made in the last few decades. Which means I’m not familiar with all the heroes, villains, and arch-enemies. I don’t know their backstories or to which superhero “universe” they belong.

Over time, unavoidably, I’ve picked up random bits of information about the various characters through advertising, social media, and elsewhere. But I can’t identify the Marvel superheroes, or differentiate them from the DC Comics types. I don’t know the X-Men from the Fantastic Four.

I know that Iron Man is a rich guy named Tony Stark, and he wears a special suit and flies around. But I have no idea why, or even why he is called Iron Man.

Another example: in Norse mythology, Thor was the god of thunder who resided in Asgard, the equivalent of the ancient Greeks’ Mount Olympus. Thor was bad-tempered, and he carried a magic hammer only he could lift.

As for Thor the superhero, I know he carries a big hammer, and he hangs out with other superheroes for… reasons, but that’s all I know.

One Sunday recently, I noticed that a big-name superhero movie, something made about 10 years ago, was about to begin on TV. I decided I would watch it in the name of fairness. Sort of an experiment.

I don’t remember the title of the movie, but it featured Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and a bunch of others. An Avengers movie, maybe?

Anyway, I watched the entire film (taking advantage of the frightfully long commercial breaks to take out the trash, feed the dog, and so on). The movie was wild and furious — scene after scene of mayhem, destruction, and over-the-top CGI. But I tried to lighten up and give it a chance.

My conclusion: clearly, it had a huge budget to cover the special effects and pay all those big-name actors. But my negative opinion of superhero movies is unchanged; I found the film clichéd, unoriginal, juvenile, and tacky.

Having said that — having declared my scorn for superheroes because the very idea is tiresome and dopey — I now make a small confession.

When Guardians of the Galaxy was released, I heard that it was clever and highly entertaining — much better than most movies of that ilk. Having no idea who the Guardians were or what was going on, I took a chance and went to see it.

I loved it. I loved both Guardians movies. I’m anxious for Vol. 3 to get here.

In my defense, the Guardians are not garden-variety superheroes. All but one are aliens, and they are endowed not so much with superpowers as with special abilities.

That, and the writing and acting were good, and nobody involved took themselves too seriously.

I’m vaguely aware that the Guardians characters originated years ago in a comic book. But other than what I learned about them from the films, that’s all I know.

Or care to know, actually.

The Questions…

1. According to power companies, what is the most frequent cause of power outages on the electrical grid?

2. Who was the first actor to portray James Bond? (Hint: it was not Sean Connery in “Dr. No” in 1962.)

3. What is a moonbow?

4. What’s the difference between apes and monkeys?

5. What neat trick does the State of Ohio use to identify motorists who have been cited more than once for DUI?

The Answers…

1. Squirrels — soon to be deceased squirrels — chewing through insulation.

2. American actor Barry Nelson played Bond in a live TV drama in 1954. The program was an adaptation of “Casino Real” in which Bond was an American spy, not British.

3. A rainbow that occurs at night, often around a waterfall and in the presence of mist. They are difficult to see unless the moon is bright.

4. Apes and monkeys are primates, like you, but apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and gibbons) are higher on the evolutionary scale and thus more intelligent. Whereas monkeys prefer the safety of the treetops, apes spend as much time on the ground as in trees. Apes are larger than monkeys. Monkeys have tails, and apes do not.

5. Repeat DUI offenders are issued a yellow license plate with red characters instead of the standard Ohio plate, which is red, white, and blue. The special plates are a way for police to identify the offenders and, of course, are a form of public shaming.

Tune o’ the Day

In 1989, guns killed about 35,000 Americans, and the band Concrete Blonde releases a song that called out the plague of gun deaths in the United States.

Not much has changed. In 2020, guns killed 41,000 of us. We probably shouldn’t be considered a civilized country.

Concrete Blonde spoke up about problems in society regularly, and I admire them for it. Sad that “God is a Bullet” is still so topical and powerful.

God is a Bullet

By Concrete Blonde, 1989
Written by Johnette Napolitano and James Mankey

There’s a green plaid jacket on the back of the chair.
It’s like a moment frozen forever there.
Mom and Dad had a lot of big plans for their little man.
So proud.
Mama’s gone crazy ’cause her baby’s cut down
By some teenage car chase, war out of bounds.
It was the wrong place, wrong time, wrong end of a gun.
Sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill, yeah.
Blame each other. Well, blame yourself.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

They’re gonna call me sir. They’ll all stop picking on me.
Well, I’m a high school grad. I’m over five-foot-three.
I’ll get a badge and a gun, and I’ll join the P.D.
They’ll see.
He didn’t have to use the gun they put in his hand.
But when the guy came at him, well, he panicked and ran.
And it’s 30 long years ‘fore they’ll give him another chance.
And it’s sad, sad. Yes, sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
It’s all gone in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill.
You blame each other. Let’s blame ourselves.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
John Lennon.
Shoot.
Dr. King, yeah,
And Harvey Milk died, and all for goddamn nothing.
God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/god-is-a-bullet.mp3