Friday, April 30, 2010

Name That Pup: or You Can Love Again

Mickey's new yellow Labrador. But he has no name.

We have a new and very cute no-name Labrador in the neighborhood and it is your job to help this poor pup get himself a handle. To explain my connection:

Over the years in my family's neighborhood, there was a dog called Sunny. She lived across the street from us, and when her owner was ill with cancer, my father volunteered to take the young, gentle, well-mannered Sunny for her walks. The two became friends. Sunny's owner passed away a decade ago, but the owner's son, Mickey, inherited the house and his father's dog, and the friendship between my Dad and Sunny continued.

My father and his friend Sunny the dog, about 1998.

Sunny lived to be thirteen years old or thereabouts (her age wasn't known exactly when she was acquired) and, in fact, she lived long enough to attend my father's 90th birthday party. She died a week before my father did. Having lived almost a decade-and-a-half, she was about 90 years old (in dog years) herself.

At right, Sunny at my father's 90th birthday party, December 2009. You can see that poor old Sunny's body is riddled with tumors.

Sunny went everywhere with her owner Mickey, who has a landscaping business, and when she died he was so struck with grief he just went inside his house for a few days and didn't come out.

I wondered when a new dog would show up in his life to cheer him. And yesterday, I saw a little yellow lab appear on Mickey's front lawn.

Now I've met the little scamp I have learned from Mickey that this young fellow has no name. Any form of Sunny is out, as to Mickey and his wife Donna, Sunny cannot be replaced. But love is not a zero sum game and that's why they can now make room for the No-Name Pup.

I thought perhaps all of you out there might be able to come up with something, and my neighbor said it was okay for me to ask my readers for help. Otherwise he is threatening to call the dog Norbert, and, not being a Harry Potter fan I don't even get that.

Can you help? The puppy still needs some education in housetraining and a name might come in handy for Donna and Mickey, as they work to help him earn that diploma.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Home Remodeling: Ms. Blandings and her Dream House

Cary Grant and Myrna Loy with the plans for their home in Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House. Hilarity ensues.

Don't know if you've ever seen the 1948 classic Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, but the movie has been on my mind of late as I stepped over workmen, appliances, cable cords and paint buckets in my new/old home. Sans the hilarity, my experience has been very similar to the Blandings': suffering through the daily grind of dealing with a phalanx of workmen who are constantly underfoot and are chronically installing everything upside down and backwards.

I was so out of my head from entertaining these dunderheads, I cleared them out late yesterday and indulged in some retail therapy, something I'm pretty much against these days as it generally serves to add stuff to my already too-large collection of same. But it turned out to be a relief--wandering in and out of stores, tears streaming down my cheeks, clerks saying soothing things to me as I bought junk I didn't need and blubbered into my linen handkerchief.

Now that my equanimity has returned--or the meds clicked in, whatever--I thought I would list the best and the worst of the people I've dealt with during my move and retrofit/remodel this past week.

From a neighbor I received a recommendation for Fred Murray of Murray Electric Co. who is an independent contractor. What a terrific worker this guy is! From changing a light fixture to installing the Miele to putting a baby spot on my Dad's flagpole for night flag flying, he turned out to be the best of those I met during this experience. He works quickly, knows what he is doing, installs things and makes sure they work properly. Best of all--besides all those other things--he is neat and tidy and always cleans up any and every mess he makes. Actually, he makes things look better than they looked before he made the mess. His wife has trained him well: she should contract him out for housecleaning services on his off days.

He works out of San Mateo, California. You should Google him.

Alas, Home Depot, with whom I worked on a remodeling project ten years ago to much success, is not the company it used to be. Every single thing I worked on with them followed Murphy's Law--and those were on HD's good days. My clerk was a very nice lady who was misinformed about practically everything--or, and I hate to think this--misinformed me in order to help her make the sale.

My HD delivery guy was Freddie Krueger, only with a lower IQ.

Returning and/or exchanging at HD had a certain quality that can only be said to have originated somewhere back in the SSR days of Roumania.

As soon as possible I'm divesting the family of Dad's stock in HD. As Warren Buffet says--bad product+bad service=bad investment.

Movers: I think they should all be sent to Guantanamo.

Comcast? This company, alas, has very limited technical ability. They know how to plug-in your cable if you are already wired. Anything else that is way beyond their bandwidth, intellectually, technically and otherwise.

I could tell you the long story about trying to "port" over the telephone number my family has had since 1950 to Comcast and how, with the help of Comcast, it turned into a Dali-esque experience.

I could tell how I had visits from three different Comcast's technicians in four days, the last one of which went something like this: "Excuse me, ma'am? Would you mind if I move this big chest here from the living room into the kitchen where you can stumble over it all day while I drill fourteen holes in your wall and leave sawdust everywhere and by the way they don't give us a vacuum so I can't clean up my mess and I won't move the thing back as we are really not supposed to move furniture. That's okay isn't it? Oh, and that number we ported? You can call out on it, but calls can't come in. Okay, we've closed the ticket. Goodbye."

For now, only my cell phone is working.

On the appliances side: GE, as always, makes terrific appliances. But someone ought to tell them not to contract out their deliveries to Chucky.

Miele makes a wonderful oven. But somebody ought to tell them to make a trim kit for retro fitters such as I.

But, looking on the brighter side, my experience was not nearly as trying as, say, the one Cary Grant and Myrna Loy suffered through in Mr. Blandings. But some of it did seem strangely familiar. Especially the exchange between Mrs. Blandings--Myna Loy--and her painters. It goes like this:

Loy:I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin's egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don't let whoever does it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be a sort of grayish-yellow-green. Now, the dining room. I'd like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow. Something bright and sunshine-y. I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you'll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can't go wrong! Now, this is the paper we're going to use in the hall. It's flowered, but I don't want the ceiling to match any of the colors of the flowers. There's some little dots in the background, and it's these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dot near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom. Is that clear? Now the kitchen is to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white. A little warmer, but still, not to suggest any other color but white. Now for the powder room - in here - I want you to match this thread, and don't lose it. It's the only spool I have and I had an awful time finding it! As you can see, it's practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy winesap and an unripened Jonathan. Oh, excuse me... (she has to walk away to deal with another crisis.)
Mr. PeDelford: You got that Charlie?
Charlie the Painter: Red, green, blue, yellow, white.
Mr. PeDelford: Check.

Still, going through a house remodeling with Cary Grant would have had its consolations.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Bye Bye to the 1952 Thermador Oven

The 1952 Thermador oven. Can you believe how contemporary it looks? That's my pal Fred the Electrician, measuring the Thermador for her replacement.

Just a quick note as I have to schlep over to a large Hardware Diaspora to switch the electrical cord for my dryer (three prong) for the correct cord (four prong): another in a series of errors perpetrated by the folks at HD, who have only one solution for everything: "Just come on back to the store and we will exchange that for you." (Fortunately, I have nothing else to do.)

Anyway, the oven that has served my family's home since before it was my family's home, has finally gone the way of all things made by man: it has done gone and been replaced.

The Thermador fit into this cabinet that was slightly under 24" wide, which left us few options on the replacement side. BTW, look at how she was connected: no plug, just a pigtail of wires. That must have been code in 1952, when the house was built. Good thing we didn't set the house on fire, lo these fifty years of dinners.

But it still worked well enough for us to cook a turkey in it for my mother's funeral reception in December. And in March, for my father's funeral reception, my sister stayed at the house and used the old Thermador to cook the food that fed her family. The temperature gauge wasn't correct and the clock had stopped working about twenty years hence, but we did get good service from her since my mother and father bought the home that contained her in 1959.

In her place: the expensive German secret weapon. The Vengeance Oven. We fought them to make the world free for democracy and now we pay them to build our ... ovens, of all things.

It took two men to install it. Fred the Electrician and Raul his helper. Raul seems to have used some form of magic spell on the thing when he took it out of the box, which I managed to catch with my camera.

Actually, I think Raul was just removing the wrapping from the oven's handle, but at this point in my life, an oven with a magic spell has a definite appeal.

All these appliances are going to be far more energy efficient than the old ones, at least that is what the paperwork says. And we are supposed to get a tax rebate on most of them, so that should at least pay for, say, the handle on the der Ofen.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to admit that this fancy appliance is a Miele. I chose GE for the rest, because I've always thought GE appliances were so gemütliche. And they cost so many less marks than the Broiler from Berlin.

The fix is in. Now I'll have to learn do something with my oven, other than use it to store my shoes.

The Thermador looking forlorn in Fort Chapman's driveway. What a hip-looking appliance she was. And you could fit a lot of shoeboxes in her interior.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

These Are the Times That Try a Woman's Soul ...

Not much time to write as I'm having to post this piece from the computer at the library. Comcast hasn't figured out how to connect my Internet, phone, and cable service in the six days since I moved to my new place. They won't be able to do so until Monday, which will make it eight days without service.

How difficult could it be do you suppose to make this transfer? And when they finally did show, someone forgot to tell the workman that the house had never had cable before. (But that, as they say, is another story ... )

Anyway, I'm trying to keep it all in perspective since it has been that kind of week. The plumber went to fix the shower that has been bugging my sister for about twenty years, and after he left I noticed he had made three saw cuts through a pipe or something that had come out the back of the shower wall right into my newly painted bathroom wall. Sawdust everywhere and three lovely new holes.

How difficult would it have been for him to check that, do you suppose?

Then there was the fancy dancy oven from Germany, the only one in all the world that would retrofit into my kitchen oven space. Cost a fortune and it practically cooks for you, plus, somewhat curiously for an oven made in GERMANY, it has what is called a "Sabbath Feature." If I were Jewish I'd hesitate to find out what that meant from an oven produced in Berlin.

Anyway, when we put it in we discovered there was a gap at both the top and the bottom between the stove and the cupboard. Not big gaps. Just about an inch or so. The plumber and the electrician and the cabinet man stood around and gave me cheery suggestions about how to overcome this minor flaw.

"Oh you can have a couple of stainless steel pieces fabricated to fix that," said one.

"Oh you can just go to Home Depot and pick up a piece of moulding that will fix that," said another.

"I don't know, that stain color on the wood will be pretty hard to match," said the third.

And then they all went home. Do I look like an expert in fabricating metal or moulding or in finding people to do this?

How difficult would it have been, do you suppose, for this fancy German company to include a trim kit, for such eventualities?

And then the plumber tore out the drywall in the laundry closet so he could re-do all the plumbing for the washer. And the electrician tore out some more so he could re-wire everything for the dryer. Then we had to, of course, install more drywall. But no one wanted to paint it. So I'm on my way to the paint store now.

Do I look like a painter to you? How hard would it have been for one of these many work people to do this for me?

And that wasn't even the best of the week. The best of the week was yesterday when the appliance delivery man arrived at the house two hours late and became the most unpleasant person I'd met all year. He didn't want to bring anything into the kitchen. He didn't want to unpack anything. He started out by giving me all the reasons why he could not do these things. I didn't listen and told him where to he could put it, I mean I told him where he should place the appliances. They ended up mostly in the center of the kitchen but by that time I just wanted him out of there. He was annoying and belligerent and those were his good qualities.

Before he left he stopped and looked at me and told me that I was going to have to answer a phone survey about his work and that he needed a "10" so he could keep his job and continue putting food on the table for his his family.

"Really." I said with a blank face.

He smiled back at me with a sinister smile.

"Really. A ten. You unnnerstand?"

I unnerstood exactly. And now I really wanted him out of there because now I knew he knew where I lived. Thank goodness for Rommel, my German shepherd, who growls at strangers.

On the bright side, the place is gradually coming together. The morning light in the country kitchen is a sort of lavender color and the fire in the fireplace (the one with the copper hood) is comforting on chilly mornings and evenings. I miss my Dad and I wish he were here too. But we don't get everything we want in life.

I did find some letters of his the first night I was back in the house. He'd written them to me during the two years before I moved back to California and they were lots of fun to read.

"We're having a lot of excitement today," he wrote in one. "Our toilet has overflowed and we called the plumber and he gave us instructions over the telephone about how to use it. And all this time, we thought we knew!"

I laughed and laughed and I realized that my Dad was still everywhere around me, and that he was still there to help me with these crazy workmen and stubborn German stoves and plumbers who put holes in walls and then disappear without repairing them.

He's there to make me laugh and to keep it all in perspective. I can still walk, as he could not the last few months of his life, so these things are small when compared with that.

And he has left me so much to remember and smile about. It is all around me in his house.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Thought I Had Downsized But I Must Have Been Dreaming

Don't know if the pine table will remain at this end of the room in my new/old house, but it made a nice place to read the morning paper on a rainy day.

It was 79°F the day I moved from my little place to my parents' home. After an incredibly long and exhausting move, during which I repeatedly cursed the human desire to own things, I managed to locate the bed, fell into same, and slept soundly.

In the night, I heard the sound of the gutters gurgling. And when I finally arose at 7:30 a.m. it was 52°F and raining. I found the coffee pot, made the coffee and built a fire in the fireplace. The fireplace end of the living room was reasonably well-organized and cozy on a rainy morning.

As far as moving goes: I've decided that men should not be allowed near the furniture of a lady. The packing part went reasonably well, but the unloading part involved the same challenges I've seen repeatedly. The moving men bring in a piece of furniture, look at it as if it it something from an alien planet, and then say some version of "Hey lady. Wheredjawant this?"

I'm convinced that a woman would look at the item and if it were, for example, a small chair covered in white damask, say something like: "Do you want this chair in the living room or the bedroom?" Logical! Or, when unloading a box that has the word "office" written in large letters on it, would place the box in a room with filing cabinets, not in the center of the kitchen floor.

Oh well. That is how it went. For seven-and-a-half hours. And it ended with me in a house that looked like it could double as a used furniture store or a jumble sale. How I got all that stuff in my much smaller place, I'm not quite sure.

The movers were interesting. Miguel was the supervisor and he was from Guatemala. He was the brains of the outfit and also a very kind man. When I was outside at one point, he came down to tell me he had accidentally smashed a bookcase into the wall of the place from which I was moving and he was afraid I would tell his boss and he would get into trouble. I went up to look. It was a pretty bad smash which, though it didn't damage my furniture, might cost me some of my security deposit.

Oh, please, let me not see another one of these trucks with anything belonging to me in it for several eons.

So I did what my mother used to do when my sister and I would come home having dented the car. "Was anybody hurt?" She would ask, while our father fumed. If nobody was hurt she would say: "Okay, then it can be repaired."

I did the same with Miguel. I told him if he would arrange to get someone to come and repair the considerable ding in the wall, I'd keep the secret from his employer. He was my new best friend after that. I hope he keeps his end of the bargain.

Antonio, mover number two, was not the brains of the outfit. And though I did not learn where he was from he had the long nose of a Conquistador: so, he was from some Central or South American country where his ancestors wore that mental armor and those half-moon shaped hats with the plumes. The Japanese used to call the Portuguese traders "the men with the long noses" and Mover Number Two fit that description. Put him in 16th century military clothing and he would have frightened the locals. His moving ability frightened me a bit. Delivering boxes to my kitchen, he put them in the small area between the sink and the island stove, so it was impossible to get to the faucet. "No mas," I told him and Miguel had him move the boxes to a more practical locale.

The most interesting of the three was the curiously named Helton from Colombia. He had the almost-Asian face of an indigenous American and though he was about half my size, he could lift about twice what I could. And when he worked he made a curious whistle that sounded like an exotic bird. It was the strangest tweeting kind of whistle and curiouser and curiouser, he didn't move his lips to do it, so it seemed as if it were coming out of the top of his head.

Perhaps it was exhaustion and low blood sugar, but I started imagining him running barefoot through the wilds of Colombia, signaling his indigenous friends with that chirping. It sounded as if it could conjure up the spirits of those long dead and work all kinds of magic. Helton was very mysterious. Like a camel, he subsisted the entire day on one small glass of water.

My German shepherd Rommel sat on the lawn and eyed the men as they worked. He has a nice fenced yard out back, and since he has the manners of a gentleman, I know he will like his new home. My friend Ben arrived carrying takeout and he and Rommel tidied up the place as I limped off to try and find someplace to dispose of my body.

Speaking of my body, it has mentioned to me several times that it absolutely won't do this again for quite some time. All I can say is that I should certainly hope not.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Moving Day Minus One

Up the garden path to the front door of Fort Chapman.

A year ago this April, my father was still on his feet, walking daily with the supervision of a caregiver, living at home, spending his afternoons dozing in his back garden. Mom was making breakfast, lunch and dinner--of a sorts--for them both, paying the bills, balancing the checkbook and doing all the grocery shopping and gardening.

Now, they are both gone and I'm getting ready to move into their house. That part still feels strange. Though I've worked hard in the three months since my mother died, to transform the house and make it feel like my own, there are still many reminders to be found of both my parents.

At the bottom of a rag bag, I found this layette cover someone had embroidered with a large A.C. for Ashley Chapman, my father. His grandmother was from Scotland and the elaborate needlework makes me think it was done by one of the women in his family from the Old World. But he also had an Uncle Ashley Chapman, born near the turn of the 20th century in Goodwater, Alabama, so it might have been his and thus is even older than my father, who was born almost 91 years ago now. I've rescued it from the rag bag, and it is now tucked in the linen closet at Fort Chapman.

Ashley Chapman's layette cover, with those tiny pleats, takes almost an hour to iron. If you had one of these, it would help to have a maid.

I only live 9/10ths of a mile away and since January, when my sister and I decided we should keep the house for a while, I've been transporting my things, a wicker basket at a time, to Fort Chapman. Though I still have boxes to pack and I'm dawdling by writing this blog post, I keep telling myself this will be an easy moving day, if there is such a thing. I still have my little place for another ten days. I think it will take me that long to get it clean! And if anything (other than large pieces of furniture) is left behind I can always transport it in my car.

Today I moved my two best rugs over to the living room at FC. You have to get the rugs down and vacuumed before the movers come, or you'll never be able to figure out where things are going to fit. That is the fireplace there at the end of the room, and yes it is huge. Very nice on a chilly Pacific day.

Trying to lay out the layout in the LR at FC.

That love seat at the right side of the photo is an old piece of my mother's I had recovered in a cheery check and I've moved it from the living room to the kitchen and back to the living room again, in the hope I'll find the right place for it. It is one of the few large pieces of furniture I've added to my things. All of the rest will nestle nicely in the house.

I hope I will. But I better get packing, or I'll never know.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Decorating With Pots--and Flying the Flag at Ft. Chapman

A sunny, breezy California day and the flag at Ft. Chapman unfurls.

The flag is still flying at half staff at my father's house. The week he was dying I had an electrician install a light on the flag so we could honorably fly it at night, and I had the nearby tree trimmed so we could bring the flag down to half staff without entangling it in the branches of the walnut tree.

It has been just three weeks since he died and the neighbors still walk by with their children and dogs in tow and point at the flag and speak to each other softly. So many people in the neighborhood knew my father. He was always out of doors--working in the yard, washing his cars, or playing with his toy planes.

Inside, I'm getting ready for my move back into the family home we long ago nicknamed Ft. Chapman. There has been so much work to do, clearing out closets and drawers, and sorting through almost endless boxes of stuff. During many of the days I have worked to clean the place, I have found one or perhaps two hand thrown pots. In a box. In a bag. In a closet. In the garden. I think Mom found them at garage sales and used them for her geraniums, or planned to do so. Once I had washed them, I discovered each one was a little work of art. They were good pots for plants, but in my opinion they were far too pretty to waste solely on geraniums. They were all the earthen colors of my mother's kitchen.

Since I have the collecting-gene-defect in my DNA: once I found two of them, I began to get the feeling I was developing a collection. After about the sixth one, I began to wonder what to do with them all.

Today, I got up on the ladder to clean away the enormous piles of dust the painters warned me were lurking above the kitchen cupboards. Once I got up there, I noticed how the tops of the cupboards were just the right size to display all those hand thrown clay pots. So, after I used a large snow shovel to remove the dust piles, up went the pots. And here is the result.

I know they, too, will collect dust. But the tops of the cupboards are going to collect dust anyway. And once, long ago, I saw the library at Hearst Castle, and it had Grecian urns covering the tops of the cabinets all around the room and I've always wanted to try something like that. Not having Grecian urns, I've now done it with pots.

I also moved that chandelier from the center of the room to that spot over the stove. It had always irritated me in the center of the room because it was hanging in the one place in the kitchen that didn't have a beamed ceiling--essentially the lowest point in the room and thus was always a hazard for one's head.

That is the kitchen before I moved the chandelier and put up the pots. You can just get a glimpse of the chandelier over the table, right front.

Over the stove it will, I know, collect grease rising from the stove top, but at least it is up high enough so I won't be able to see it very well. And I won't be able to hit my head on it if someone accidentally moves the table, as has been the case for fifty years.

The cleaning and the decorating and the preparations for moving have been healthy distractions from grieving. And something so sweet has happened to the house. Something about the colors and the light in the house seemed to have changed. I didn't used to like this house. And now it seems so beautiful. I don't think this can entirely be attributed to my excellent taste and decorating skills.

It just feels good to be there now. The things within the house are reminders of the two interesting people who once lived there. And they are finally, both, at peace.

The foyer of Ft. Chapman with Dad's flag on display.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Polish Chain of Coincidence

I believe there is more to the story of the recent crash of the Polish presidential jet in the Katyn forest that killed the key leadership of Poland. I have nothing to base this on except a reporter's intuition. But here is what we know:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a known murderer of journalists and anybody else who dares disagree with him, was meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Moscow to honor the victims of the Katyn massacre--a World War II atrocity in which Stalin had twenty thousand Polish military and civilian leaders slaughtered.

It is the kind of thing a guy like Putin doesn't like to apologize for. Even though he wasn't there at the time.

He is Prime Minister now, no longer Russian president. The Prime Minister's job is, in both Poland and Russia, to serve as head of state, as apposed to the head of government. In theory, the head of state does the ceremonies and the head of government runs the country. In Russia it is believed Vladimir Putin still runs the place.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski is the head of Poland's government and his opposite number in Russia is President Dmitry Medvedev--a Putin lackey.

President Lech Kaczynski, a longtime critic of Russian policy toward Poland, wasn't invited to the ceremonies in Moscow. Putin invited the milder Prime Minister Donald Tusk and held the ceremonies away from the site of the notorious slaughter.

President Lech Kaczynski thus organized a pilgrimage to the Katyn forest with other Polish leaders who had not been invited to the sanitized commemoration.

And, as it turns out, they were flying in a Russian-built jet, a Tupolev Tu-154, that had recently been serviced in Russia. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (that must be a busy place) will investigate.

It is all an amazing series of unlikely coincidences, and for me, the coincidences are just too amazing to be believed.

We know Putin had Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko poisoned in London with polonium-210. The British say the trail leads straight to a former Russian agent who, in another amazing coincidence, was elected to the Russian Duma shortly after it was announced he was wanted for murder, thus giving him immunity from extradition. During the Communist era, Putin was in the leadership of the Russian security services.

According to Wikipedia: "Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) and his public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady resulted in worldwide media coverage." But there has not been an arrest of the alleged murderer.

The list of journalists, who have been critics of Putin and who have been murdered, is a long one and, because anyone looking into it is subject to murder as well, a difficult list to investigate. At the end of this piece is an article you can click on to learn more about the International Federation of Journalists work in Russia. They believe Russia is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Following the 2006 death of prominent Putin critic, journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a lot of sources clammed up. Her murder remains unsolved. As do the deaths of several hundred other journalists who tried to write the truth about Putin.

So he doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would shy away from whacking a whole planeload of Poles who wanted the world to see the true nature of Russian evil--even though it was evil done by Putin's paranoid political predecessor.

I don't know if we'll ever hear the truth about this story--the second time the flower of Polish leadership has died in the Katyn forest--but I hope so.

And all this reminded me of a time in Washington D.C. when I interviewed a Russian dissident who had managed to get out of Russia and write a book about his experiences. My face must have registered horror as the man told me tales of what happened to people who tried to speak freely in his native land. When the interview ended and our news program was in a break, he leaned over and said to me in a low voice: "You must remember, Russia is a place where the Renaissance and the Reformation never happened. It is still--morally, artistically, and legally--thousands of years behind the West."

I've never forgotten his words. Nor should we forget the words of Alexander Litvinenko who, as he lay dying, said these words:

"...this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition. You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life."

A nation built on terror won't last, as we've seen several times before in Russia. But it can do a lot of damage before it dies, as we've also seen at least once--and perhaps more than once--in the Katyn forest.

Journalists Killed in Russia

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Earthquake! The Lamps are Swingin' in LA

My friend Phyllis and I were just reminiscing, after Easter Sunday services, about the earthquake we felt the year we lived together when I was in graduate school at UCLA. Phyllis' church is now right around the corner from our old apartment.

It was so long ago, on that earthquake morning of our youth, that we were actually reading the morning newspaper as we drank our coffee. People don't do that much anymore, I hear, especially college age people.

Then the lamp above our kitchen table started to swing back and forth.

"Earthquake!" Shouted Phyllis, a native Angelina. "Doorway!"

In our jammies, we headed for the front door of the apartment, which was supposed to be a safe place, though now that is much disputed by emergency crews. She flung open the door and we stood there watching the room shake.

Then the door to the apartment next door opened, and the Air France pilot who lived there and whom we had never seen before gave us a big smile and tipped his pilot cap. He had just, apparently, come in from an overnight flight from Paree.

As he ogled us in our nighties, Phyllis and I looked at each other and, choosing the safer of the two options, re-entered our apartment and closed the door. Neither of us felt inclined to get to know the pilot all that well.

So now, mucho years later, we've returned from Easter church and from visiting Phyllis' ailing mother. Phyllis' husband John (who way back when was her beau, Ensign John) was at Home Depot in husband heaven, and I had just settled in for a long spring day's nap. As I set my glasses down on the copy of Ellery Queen Magazine I was reading, and closed my eyes, the bed beneath me began to shake. The 1920s-era Mediterranean Revival home around me began to make curious noises as all the lamps in the house rattled.

"Earthquake!" I shouted.

And the rumbling continued for a few more seconds.

"Earthquake!" I shouted again.

And the rumbling continued.

Finally, I leaped out of bed and ran into the living room where Phyllis had been napping. The chandelier in the dining room, and the one over her head were swinging like a square dance club.

"That was a big one," said Catherine, Phyllis' daughter.

"Yeah," said I, non-plussed like the native Californian I am. "Still, not big enough to knock down any books or anything. So I guess a 5 or so."

In California, everyone is familiar with the Richter Scale, and every television station has one in its newsroom. We switched on the news.

Turns out it was a doozie down in Mexicali. A 6.9 down there and a 6.9 will knock down your grandfather clock and smash it up quite a bit. It can take down your brick chimney and send your books flying across the room. If you are in a wood frame house on the first floor you probably won't be hurt. But a 6.9. can sometimes pancake several stories of a weak building and kill people.

But not today in Los Angeles. It was one of the longer earthquakes I've felt in my lifetime: a reporter timed it at about 45 seconds.

But we didn't suffer the fate of Haiti and all around me are safe. That's good news in Southern California, and we all hope the news is also good from our neighbors in Mexico.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Handsome and Talented: The Wow Career of Nice Guy John Forsythe

Robin interviewing John Forsythe on a location shoot with the cast of the ABC-TV series "Dynasty".

Sorry to hear about the recent death of John Forsythe. He died of cancer at the age of 92. He had been a working actor for a long time, and he didn't get nearly enough credit for his talent nor for his success in a range of media. I read an entire obituary of him, in what I believe is known as a reputable newspaper, that didn't even mention his best film role, nor his very early success in television.

Memories are so short (and newspaper staffers so poorly paid?) the obit mentioned only his years as the voice on Charlie's Angles, and his role as Blake Carrington on the TV series Dynasty.

I interviewed him during his Dynasty years, and found him bemused to be rediscovered and a hot property at the age of ... well, he didn't say his age but I looked him up and he was 67 the year I met him. He was still very handsome with his white hair (and artfully glued on supplement), and he was articulate, self-effacing, and kind about talking with reporters. (Joan Collins didn't do any interviews that day, while he made time for all of us.)

The location shoot was at the old estate of silent movie star Harold Lloyd, and Forsythe told me; "I go back so far I actually attended a party here when Harold Lloyd was still alive!"

I remember watching him on a television series called Bachelor Father (1957-1962) in which he played a sort of single-parent obverse to the Donna Reed Show. Noreen Corcoran played his oprhaned niece and Sammee Tong was his houseboy. The LA Times quoted him as saying of the show: "The real joke is not that I, a bachelor, am the girl's father. The funny part is that Sammee Tong behaves in all our family crises as if he were her mother."

I think his best role was as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent in In Cold Blood (1967). He was a low key and quiet antidote to the absolute creepiness of the criminals he was hunting in this strange tale of murder from the pen of Truman Capote. The psychopathic killers, played by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, were so dark, the film itself needed John Forsythe at its center to play the role of conscience. His square, intelligent, handsome face--representing the world of values and sunlight--became the heart of the film. The film received four Oscar nominations and won many awards for director Richard Brooks. It is a terrific film, and Forsythe was a big part of it.

His range was amazing: he starred with Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo(1943), worked for Hitchcock in The Trouble with Harry (1955), got kinky with Ann Margaret in the unwatchable but nevertheless memorable Kitten with a Whip (1964), starred on Broadway in Arthur Miller's All My Sons, and as late as 1980 had a memorable part in the movie ... And Justice for All, playing an unpleasant judge, with Al Pacino. Oh and I almost forgot: he was so good in Scrooged (1984) with Bill Murray! This guy could pretty much do it all.

And, unusual in Hollywood, he had a good marriage too. He and Julie Warren were together for fifty years, until her death in 1994.

Like the talent he was, he made it all look so easy. But I wonder if there is an actor today who will have his longevity and versatility, and be able to pull it off with such class?

I'm glad I got to meet him.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Red Sky in Mourning

"I don't remember yesterday. Today it rained."
Three Days of the Condor

The sky was red this morning and that portends rain, they say. When there is a funeral or someone is sad it is a cliche to say the sky is crying, so I won't do that. But a misty California day full of clouds and glimpses of sky, with the green hills in the background of it all, does seem appropriate for the day of my father's funeral.

We will be saying Psalm 121--"I lift up mine eyes to the hills"--because those hills will always seem to me to be a part of my father's life. He was always climbing them to see what was on the other side.

He loved weather of all kinds and kept a temperature and rainfall chart in little ledger books for years and years. Why? It just interested him.

When I was in the news business he asked if he could be a weather reporting station and I asked my weather friends to put him on their call list. He loved reporting in. And the weather guys would always mention his name when I was in town. ("Ashley Chapman out in Los Altos says there was an inch of rain there today ...") He thought that part was very silly.

His father taught him about the sky, he said, and took him out and showed him the stars falling in the Alabama night. When my sister and I were children, he would do the same with us and once, when we were toddlers, he awoke us in the middle of the night to see the first satellite go flying across the sky. He told us to remember it and, of course, I always have.

He said the same thing about another star one day, though this star was on a baseball diamond. He took me to see the San Francisco Giants play at Candlestick Park and pointed to a guy standing on the field in a St. Louis uniform.

"That is Stan Musial," he said. "He's getting ready to retire. But he is one of the world's best baseball players. Remember that you saw him play." And so I did.

I have come to believe that time travel is possible and that we do it through these memories of those we love. Everything in life is ephemeral. But memories remain. For my father, the memories he loved best were of his own childhood, and in the last year he spoke often of his own father.

Now I have the means of time travel too. As King David said, he cannot come to me, but I will one day go to him. And in the meantime I will keep all these memories for the days I want to travel back and see him. In these memories he is young, and walking, and his hair is dark and he is kind and funny. To a little tow-headed girl he is very tall. And to see him, I must lift up my eyes to the hills.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay
Forever young.

Bob Dylan

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