Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Siberia to Arizona, and the Truck that Tried To Kill Me

It's all Dany Sloan's fault. 

     He forwarded an email to me, asking me if I knew that there was a Baikal Teal in Phoenix.  Arizona?  Are you shitting me?  Wow.  This would make up for the Baikal Teal that I missed in Santa Barbara five years ago.  Herb Clarke spooked it by getting too close with his tripod and lens, and it left half an hour before I got there, then left during the week, while I was working in the hospital.   

 Baikal Teal
December 2010
Gilbert Water Ranch, Gibert, Arizona

     So Dany & I hatched the following plan: he'll go to my house , get in my car, we'll drive to Phoenix, see the Baikal Teal, and head home. 

His car broke down on the way to my house.

So I went without him. 

What a bastard. 

     I do feel like I betrayed him, but hey--I tried to talk him into leaving the car in my drievway, and going with me.  I even offered to let him borrow my Jeep on weekdays, until they fix his Volvo.  Nope, no, no.  He said he needs his car fixed ASAP. so that he can get to work on weekdays.  Sorry, dude!
     When I got to the Gilbert Water Ranch, who did I run into, but Bill Myers, of all people.  Bill moved out there from Pasadena, four years ago.  What a small world.  So Bill escorted me to where the Baikal Teal was (emphasis: was), and we admired it for quite a while.  Then Bill showed me where the Northern Parula is, along with the Ruddy Ground Doves.  Bill noticed a small Myiarchus, which then called.  Fantastic, it was a Dusky-capped Flycatcher.  They breed in Canyons in Arizona, but are unheard of anywhere in the state in the winter.  Small numbers of them do winter in coastal California. 

     Well, I'm sorry that I went without Dany, because now the teal is gone.  Gone, gone, gone.  Whew! 

The real reason I love Arizona:
     I love stopping at Dairy Queen, and getting a large vanilla ice cream cone dipped in melted chocolate.  I love it when the vanilla ice cream is melting, and dripping all over my shirt, despite the fistful of paper napkins that I am using to try to catch the runoff.  The only Dairy Queen around here is inside the mall.  Too much work.

 Curve-billed Thrasher
Gilbert Water Ranch, Gibert, Arizona

Black Phoebe
One of my favorite birds, despite the fact that they're very common.

Saguaro cacti along Highway 10

     Another reason I love Arizona: the desert flora.   Especially the saguaros.  One of the most beautiful places in the world is Saguaro National Park in Tucson.  Here's something that's really weird:  Saguaros do not grow wild in California, but as soon as you cross the Colorado River in to Arizona, you start seeing saguaros.  How does that work???  I can't hink of any ecological i.e. biological reason why they grow on one side of the river, but not the other.  Mind you, they're not as common in western Arizona as they are around Tucson, but still.

A Minor Disaster
     Left Phoenix, made great time (speed limit in Arizona is 75 mph), crossed the river, re-entering California while the sun was still up.  As the 10 climbed up into the desert mountains, the sun dropped, and it got dark.  Everybody is hauling up the hill, and a big rig truck in front of me blows a tire.  Boom!  His tread comes at me like a bat out of hell, and hits the front of the Celica.  Now I've got a truck tire stuck underneath me, and the noise is horrendous, and I don't dare pull over on this pitch-black stretch of highway, for fear of someone doing 80 crashing into me. 

     So I drove all the way to Chiriaco Summit to the service station, surrounded by noise so loud it felt like I'm in the engine room of the Titanic, and found out that it's been closed for years.  I got on my knees to figure out how I'm going to remove that truck tire, and discovered that it was no longer under the car.  Huh?  The noise was caused by the Celica's various plastic plates underneath it that form a coat of armor against road debris.  I had to pull and yank them off, but couldn't get to the last 2 pieces that were right under the car, so I got to enjoy the 747 Jumbo Jet level of noise all the way home, the last 150 miles to Claremont.

That's when the fun started.

     Instead of getting home at 6:00 I got home at 7:30, and the wife and kids weren't home.  On a school night?  That's weird?  Where are they?  So I call her cell phone, and of course, it rings inside the house.  Oh well, where-ever she is, it's got to be close by.  I grab the dog's leash, and head out the door, to take her for a walk.  The wife pulls up in the driveway, and boy is she pissed.

I ask, "Hey, where ya been?"

She fumes, "I hope you had fun birding in Arizona with your friends.  My truck's battery died.  I've been calling you"

"No you haven't.  Your cell phone is home."

"I've been calling the home phone.  YOU SAID YOU'D BE HOME BY THREE."

"Why didn't you call my cell phone?"

"I just told you, I didn't have my cell phone with me."

"Yeah, but you could have asked someone esle to let you call my cell phone."


Wow, we've been married for years, have two kids together, and she doesn't know my cell phone number, so she's mad at me.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Religious Republican Admits Climate Change Is Real

I'm like, so "Oh my god"!

I checked out the most recent episode of  "Science Friday" and found myself hearing a southern conservative, religious Republican Congressman Bob Ingliss talk about his conversion from being a global warming skeptic, to having the science explained to him by Antarctic researchers.

Of course, the Tea-Baggers ran him out of office, so in January he'll be another unemployed American who lost his job due to Republican destruction.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Tooth Fairy Changes My Tire

Walked out the door, and discovered that I wasn't driving the Jeep to the train station: flat tire.  Bad timing.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow, then I'm working in the hospital, Friday, so I can't get to it until I get home. 

Friday afternoon rolls around, and after walking the Basset Hound, it's time to change a tire, while the sun is still up. 

CAVEAT: I have changed flat tires on this Jeep several times, with the same jack that I keep in the back.  The jack that I bought the day I bought the Jeep.  I have used that jack in the the deserts of Arizona, and the jungles of central Mexico.

Well, the jack got tired and old.  It can't get up as high as it used to.  It needs a Tireagra pill.  After struggling with the jack, finally getting the tire off, it was time to stick the new tire on.

That's when the Jeep rolled away.

I jumped up and yelled, "WHOA!!!" so loud that the wife ran out the kitchen door. 

You know those stupid little wedges that come with the car jack, that you're supposed to put under the tires, to keep the car from rolling away while you change a tire?  This is the first time in my life that I didn't bother, so of course, the car rolled.  Fortunately, the Jeep only rolled about one foot. 

Problem was, the car had collapsed onto the new tire, and now the car was too low for me to get a jack under it, to start over.

Thank god for AAA.  Well, that was emasculating.  Brandon--the AAA dude--was the size of a tow truck.  He whips out a jack that looked like mine, on steroids.  He hefts it, and says, "Five hundred dollars." 

Wow...I want one of those!

To further add to my humiliation, after Brandon lifted the Jeep, he pulled out my spare that was jammed under the Jeep, and asked, "Why'd you want to put this spare on, with no air in it?"

Um...where do I go to hand in my testicles?

On the other hand, my son became a man, today.  Tonight, while doing his homework (can you believe they give kindergarteners math homework?) he suddenly stopped and exclaimed, "Hey!  My tooth fell out!"  and dived under the table to retrieve it.
The wife fell asleep with him and his sister, without putting some money under his pillow.  Tooth Fairy, you're fired.  Now I need to drive to the bank, and get some money from the ATM.  I'm taking his tooth with me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Egy szemet japan siraly, es egy szemet magyar bortonrab.

Hihetetlen. Amikor megjelent ez a siraly egy par hettel ezelott, egy hetfoi napon talaltak meg delben, es pont 11:55kor neztem meg utoljara a drotpostaimat.  Ha megneztem volna barmikor aznap delutan, siman leszaladhattam volna Long Beach-be, es letviccseltem volna a madarat. 

Kinaban lattam beloluk tucatnyit egy mocsaras teruleten, de mindig vagy messze voltak, vagy elrepultek a fejem felett.   Ez a long beachi madar visszont azon szorakozott, hogy akarhanyszor beugrottam a kocsiba, es lehajtottam a 80 kilmetert /egyiranyt/ akkor eppen elrepult a madar, mielott odaerkeztem.

Rohadt szemet japan madar!

Na, tegnap este dolgoztam a mentoosztalyon, es ott volt a mobiltelefonomon az uzenet d.e. 4kor:  tiz nappal azutan, hogy utoljara eszleltek a madarat, ugyan ott ult a kikotoben, ahol eredetileg.  Na, ejfelig dolgoztam, hazamentem, es k.b. 5 ora alvas utan felpattantam az agybol, es irany Long Beach. 

Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris) Long Beach, Kalifornia

Jo, mondjuk eloszor idegesito volt, hogy nem volt sehol a madar, amikor odaerkeztem ma reggel.  Dagaly volt, igy nem is volt hol pihenjen a madar.  Jaj.  ez a negyedik alkalom.   Na, erre fel amikor visszandultam a kocsimhoz akkor kerult elo a madar.   Ott alltunk, es bongesztuk egy ideig.

Tegnap este jo poen volt a mentoosztalyon:  kilott a nyomtato egy papirt, amin kertek rongtenek egy ferfirol, es a ferfinek jo magyar neve volt.  Egeszen izgatott lettem.  Hihetetlenul ritkan latok magyar beteget los angelesi korhazakban.  Nagy buszken odasetaltam ahoz a szobahoz ahol a magyar ferfi fekudt, es egy rikito narancs-szinu borton rab egyenruhaban, bilincsben, ott fekudt a magyar betegem.   Ket fegyveres borton or orizte.  Kurva nagy.  A fazon tetotol-talpig tetovalva volt u.n. "bortoni tetovak"-kal.

Termeszetesen arrol, hogy en is magyar vagyok, hallgattam mint szar a fuben.

Na, befejezem ezt a 400 oldalas konyvet amit olvasok Nixon-nak az 1972-es utjarol Kinaba.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

But I Really Love Technology

Napoleon Dynamite is a hysterically funny movie.  Those of us who had the brains to stay in the movie theater through the closing credits got to see Napoleon's older brother singing, "But I really Love Technology" at his wedding.

Well, I don't really love technology, this week.  This has been the week where reliance on technology has been the (near-) death of me.

Photo credit jomilo 75
Wow, it's a gull that looks like a pigeon, and it eats dead seals!

Sunday I made a successful suicide run for the Ivory Gull at Pismo Beach (After getting home from the hospital Saturday night, listening to Maggie cough all night, and not getting any sleep, I left Claremont at 03:00 a.m., drove 225 miles to Pismo Beach, watched the Ivory Gull for 20 minutes, drove the 225 miles back to Claremont, arrived home at 11:57 a.m., took a one hour nap, took a shower, and went to work at the hospital from 3:00 to 11:30 p.m.  Part way through the shift, at 8:00 p.m. I drove to the local Starbucks, and sat there drinking a grande mocha, muttering "I'm not gonna last four more hours! I'm not gonna last four more hours!").

My wife was pissed at me for chasing the Ivory Gull (she wanted me to babysit the kids so that she could study at the library), but man, it was worth it!  I never thought I'd see an Ivory Gull.  The only other time an Ivory Gull has ever been seen in California was in Orange County 15 years ago, and that bird was around for one afternoon.  Some claim that the bird was sick i.e. dying, so it flew off to sea to die.  I remember what really happened:  some knuckleheads went out onto the beach at midnight with a searchlight, determined to get Ivory Gull for a state bird.  In the process of doing so, they also made sure that the rest of us who were going to go in the morning wouldn't see the bird.  Now people deny that ever happened.  Ah, baloney.

Any way, I stayed home from work, Monday, because Maggie was sick, and couldn't go to school.  I casually checked my emails before lunch, but really, why check my emails?  There couldn't possibly be anything as good as an Ivory Gull around, and I already saw it, yesterday.

That's how I missed the Black-tailed Gull.

Ed Stonick told me about it at 8:00 Monday night, after a herd of birders ran out to Long Beach, and saw it.    There's no honor among thieves, and apparently there is also no reciprocity among birders. I've called lots of birders lots of times when a good bird showed up, but this time nobody called me up.  Nobody.  Well, I've seen Black-tailed Gulls in China, but would have been really to see one in California--and L.A. County, to boot.

I promised a researcher at USC that I would mail the paperwork--registering his new x-ray machine with the State--by Friday.  If you buy any kind of x-ray machine in California, you have 30 days to register it with the State Radiologic Health Branch, by filling out a form called an RHB 2261.  The idiots at the State put the form on-line as a PDF that you can't save.  You have to sit at a computer with a reliable connection to (a) the internet and (b) a printer.  After you have filled out the form, you have to print it; but you can't save a copy of the PDF on your computer.  Why they decided to lock the form, I have no idea.  It makes no sense, whatsoever.  So I spent some time Friday morning filling the form out, with the intention of going straight to the post office, and mailing it, myself.  My computer couldn't get it to print.  Instead, it kept insisting on first saving the document as a ".xps".   What the hell is a .xps???  Well, whatever a .xps is, since the idiots at the RHB set up their PDF so that you can't save their RHB 2261 form, and my computer refused to cooperate, unless I first saved the RHB 2261 as a .xps, I was dead in the water.

That's when the typhoid hit.  Or cholera.  I'm not sure. 

Feeling better, this weekend, so I pulled another suicide run, and chased the Taiga Bean Goose that showed up at the Salton Sea.  Wow.  That's one of those birds that has flown over from Siberia to the Aleutians a few times.  None of us ever expected one to show up in California.  In 1985 one showed up in Nebraska.  Wow.  Can you imagine flying from Siberia to Nebraska?

Middendorf's i.e.  "Taiga" Bean Goose
Photo Credit: Ed Stonick

I got greedy, and tried driving down the road to find Neotropic Cormorant at Fig Lagoon.  Of course, I failed for the third year in a row.

That was two life birds in less than a week.  That's hard for a world traveler like me to pull off.  Add the Purple Gallinule, and that adds up to three life birds this fall, along with the two Hudsonian Godwits this spring that were California birds.  I don't know the exact number, but I've seen well over 500 species of birds in California, and the occasional appearance of completely unexpected birds like Ivory Gull and Bean Goose leaves me wondering what else could possibly show up?


So I figured, let me drive in to USC, this weekend, and try using somebody else's computer to fill out that RHB 2261 (remember, you have to write everything all over again, every time). I got to the medical school campus, and let myself into the office, there (my office is at the main campus in downtown), where I booted up the shared computer in the conference room.  After two & a half hours of collecting the right data, and carefully figuring out how to phrase everything so that the good people at the RHB won't get confused, it was time to print.

I couldn't print.

The geniuses in my department have the shared computer set up with drivers for a bunch of printers that no longer exist, and no drivers for any of the printers that currently exist in the office.


Hours of work down the drain.

Out of desperation, I typed furiously, copying all of the information onto my laptop, and told it to tell the printers in the room to print the form.  Nothing happened.

Well, I needed to leave, to get to work, on time at the hospital, at my other job.  The USC IT guy called me up while I was on the 10 Freeway, half-way home, and informed me that since I was using my laptop's wireless modem without the VPN turned on, my data wouldn't be authenticated, so the local prnters were refusing to accept and print my work.


So I got to the hospital, and was promptly informed that the entire network was down.  This is why I have grave fears about our over-reliance on digital technology.  Work at the hospital slowed to a trickle.  In the modern American hospital, you can't fart without logging in to a computer system, and using multiple systems, each with a separate log-in and password.  All it takes is a power outage or server crash and everything grounds to a loud, screeching, painful halt.

I don't know who I hate more: Bill Gates, or Neotropic Cormorants.

The coup de grĂ¢ce was the last patient of the day.  I had my suspicions about him.  He claimed to have a screw loose.  He was right.  The screw that he was referring to was a surgical screw holding a broken bone together.  X-rays didn't show anything, but he declared that he was ready for his turkey sandwhich that we have to give him. 

Then he says to me, while I'm taking him back to the ER, "Hey, since I'm getting admitted, make sure I don't have to share a room with no black dudes."

Oh. My. God.

Allow me to state the obvious.  Here's the problem:  I'm a medical professional, and he's a patient, so I can't tell him to shove it up his ass.

Gears started spinning in my brain.  Think, Miko, think!  I need to come up with a clever, strong, articulate response with which to shame this moron who is stuck in the 1950s.

I couldn't.  The best I could come up with (remember, I'm in scrubs, and on the clock) was, "That's illegal!  And...it's not very nice."

I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but in the interest of remaining employed at Little Sisters of the Eternal Biker Tattoo (all of the patients, and some of the employees have tattoos) I kept on rolling.

Then he stated the obvious, "I was in prison with a lot of them."


The real surprise was in store for him:  the ER doc is an African immigrant who speaks fluent French.  I would have given my left testicle to see the look on his eyes when the doc walked up to him and said, "Hello, I am Dr Obuto!  What's going on with your shoulder?"

Friday, November 5, 2010

Law & Order Los Angeles: a surprisingly good TV show

I have a confession to make:  I finally watched "Law and Order Los Angeles" solely for the purpose of seeing how bad it is, so that I could dismiss it as being a superficial, sad resurrection of the original "Law and Order" (New York).

I only know four of the actors' names: Peter Coyote, Alfred Molina, Skeet Ulrich, and Terrence Howard.  Howard was the reason I gave the show a look: I am still stunned by his Oscar-worthy performance in "Crash" as the black husband forced to seethe passively in helpless anger while a white cop gropes his wife.  Crash also forced me to reevaluate Matt Dillon ("Hey!  He can act!") 

As for Ulrich, I decided that he's Robert Ulrich's son, until I remembered that his name was Urich, and not Ulrich.  Whoops.

Enough silliness.  Each episode that I have seen of Law and Order Los Angeles leaves me thinking, "Well, they can't top that.  Now they've shot their screenwriting wad.  They'll never write another episode this good."  Then the following week proves me wrong.  The stories are smart, but not overly-clever; and the acting is intense, but not over-done. 

The thing that I like best about the show is that several of the characters are morally ambiguous--and these are the good guys.  It's like they dragged Tolstoy out of the grave, and told him to write a cop show.  Peter Coyote is the perfect choice for the politically ambitious District Attorney who makes no pretense of caring about the people of Los Angeles County.  His weekly battles with Howard--who keeps forcing him against his wishes to do the right thing--make the show.

As for Howard--wow, what can I say.  I keep waiting for him to either break down in tears, or punch Peter Coyote in the nose.

NBC needs to offer the writers of this show a lot of money to stay on.  I don't want this show to be good the first year, and then sink when they hire less expensive replacements for Season Two.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Chupacabra and Dumb American Voters

    An hour after voting, last night, I walked the Basset Hound, and she suddenly went on the alert.  I knew why: she had detected one of our local suburban coyotes.  The coyote reminded me of one of our previous Basset Hounds, Milhouse, who had the mange, which of course reminded me of a report on NPR's Science Friday about scientists' latest theory on  Chupacabras: they're mangy coyotes.

     What does this have to do with the Republicans?  Everything.  The long and the short of it is this: we live in a country where people believe in the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, UFOs, and Chupacabras.  We imported the Chupacabra from Latin America, and added it to our pantheon of embarrassing beliefs. 

     So, I've been shaking my head, depressed about the Republican tidal wave, and how they're going to go out of their way over the next two years to not allow Obama to do anything, so that they can then scream about how he hasn't done anything.  The thing that has been bothering me is this:  Obama has only been president for two years, voters are jumping up and down screaming about the decifict, jobs & the economy, and they think that the solution is to hand back the reins to the same crooks and idiots who drove us over the cliff's edge?


     Then it hit me:  These are the same voters who re-elected* W after it was clearly established that there were no MWD, and he and Tricky Dick lied to get us into Iraq. These are the same voters who believe that Elvis is working as a bag boy at the Piggly Wiggly in Ashland, because they read about it in the World News. 

*If you want to quibble and say that he was never elected the first time, and that Gore should have become the president, my response is this:  Gore should have won that election in a landslide.  I mean, come on:  an educated intellectual policy wonk interested in science ran against an aw-shucks dummy from Texas.  The fact that the voters of this country didn't look at W and say, "Wow, what a moron," is a poor reflection of the populace.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Breakfast with Barack

See the sky above Stonier Hall's parking lot?  That's where POTUS--the Secret Service's designation for The President of the United States--flew overhead, in Marine One.  He came to USC, today, for a political rally. 

We only found out about it last week, and the whole thing was arranged by the White House.  Well, the White House, and somebody at USC, but not USC's Protocol & Events people.  They were just as much in the dark about the specifics as the rest of us.  All we knew was that Obama was going to talk at at 1:30 in the middle of campus, so if we wanted to see him, we had to get in line by 10:00 at the latest.

Because I donated to his presidential campaign, I got an email RSVP.

So did 5 billion other people.

So I got to campus at 10:00, and wore my USC i.d., so that I could make my way to my office, and dump my backpack.

Oh wait, let me backtrack:  I've been sick for the last 4 weeks.  First I had a cold, then I got strep throat (unbelieveable body aches, fever, throat felt like a horse had kicked me in the neck) and took antibiotics for 10 days, and then I came down with the same "cold" that Tommy and Maggie have.  Took Maggie to the pediatrician last week, and he swabbed her throat.  Test results came back this week: she also has strep throat.  Pediatrician didn't even bother to culture Tommy.  He said that if two of us have it, and Tommy is currently sick, then he's going on antibiotics, too.

So when the alarm clock went off this morning, I felt so crappy, that I decided to call in sick.  Oh, wait.  I have to tyake the kids to school, then I can go back to bed.  But Obama is coming, today, and I'll be pissed at myself, if I don't go. 

So I dragged myself in to work.

I arrived on campus, and saw an unbelieveable line of people--four abreast--snaking out of campus, and all the way down Jefferson.  I thought to myself, "Wow, this is going to suck.  I don't feel good, and I can't drink water, because I won't be able to pee until we're inside the secure zone, where they set up the porta-potties."

I marched into the middle of campus, where Obama was going to talk, and got to my office.  Right outside of my office, there was a short line of people waiting to get in, and they had signs from the Democratic Party that gave me the impression that this was the line for people who RSVPd.  I went up to some of the people in charge, and asked, and they said, "Yes."

Wow, that's great.  I'll just go get something to eat, and then come back.  I don't have to stand in line for hours with all those other people out there on Jefferson.  Cool.

I did exactly that.  There was no internet in our building, so I literally couldn't get any work done.  My boss and I went out for an early lunch.  We mosied back to the office, and I went and got in line.  After standing in line for 20 minutes, this incredibly unattractive young man in a suit tells us, "Take all metal objects out of your pockets to make it easier for the metal detectors."

Cool.  I'll be inside in a couple of minutes.

Then somebody asks Quasimodo something, and he says something that raises my suspicions, and like and idiot, I ask him if I'm in the right line, and he says, "No," and my RSVP is the same as the other 50 trillion people who RSVPd, and I have to leave i.e. go stand out on Jefferson with the rest of the sheep.

When I told my wife this story, tonight, she said, "You shouldn't have said anything. You would have gotten in."

You know what?  She's right.

Man, I am stupid.

In my own defense, I really didn't feel well.

So I walked back off campus, and tried to find the end of the line, to go stand in line with everybody else.  I figured that I'll wind up way in the back, and with my middle-aged eyes I won't see Obama clearly, even if I squint. 

There was no end of the line.  I'm serious.  The line went on forever

Part of Einstein's theories is that the way the Universe and the laws of physics work, if you could shoot a laser beam in some direction, and the beam went on and on forever and ever, eventually the beam of light would arrive at the back of your laser.

That was the line waiting to see Obama.

I called my boss, and told him what happened.  After he finished laughing, he drove me home.  I coughed non-stop on the whole drive to Claremont.  I just woke up from a 3 hour nap, and I think I'm going to go back to bed after "Medium".

A gaggle of Highway Patrol officers waiting for Obama outside Hedco Neuroscience Building. 
If only they knew about the freaky brain research that goes on inside there. 
They would all scream, and run home. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guard, a Little More Heroin, Please!

Okay, now I've seen this in the movies, but seeing this in real life just completely pissed me off.

Last week, under unusual circumstances, I met 2 California State prison guards who were transporting a prisoner who was flying high on heroin.

Exsqueeze me???

The guy is a prisoner, behind 10 foot tall walls--walls that are topped with razor wire--and he's getting access to enough heroin to where he is having problems???

Um...I thought that prison was where we send the criminals, to reduce the danger to society (???)

Okay, I'm sorry, but this is absolutely unacceptable:  My fucking tax dollars are paying for (1) bad guys to be in prison, and (2) good guys with guns to keep an eye on them.

I am seriously pissed off about this. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Somebody Please Kill Me, Before It's Too Late

Okay, now before I rip into the State for being a bunch of idiots, I’m going to clarify: I am 100% against the death penalty. Yes, yes, I know—the old George Bush Sr/Mike Dukakis question: would I still be against the death penalty if the murderer raped and killed my wife or daughter? The answer is emphatically, yes.

That said, I can’t believe it: the State may postpone Allen Greenwood Brown’s execution because the medicine that they are going to use for the lethal injection will expire this week.

Wind back the clock 12 hours, to when I was getting the kids ready for school, this morning: my knee has been hurting for the last few days, because I hauled all of my stuff—including 2 heavy boxes of books—up to the third floor of the oldest building at USC, Stonier Hall. While the kids were eating breakfast, I rummaged through the cabinet, and found a bottle of 200 mg Motrin tablets that expired in November 2009. I took 4 of them.

I’m telling you; my knee hurts.

Now, I took that expired medicine because it was the only bottle of Motrin in the house, and I was taking it to get better.

And the State of California doesn’t want to use a bottle of poison, because it expires this week?

Let me axe you this, Bubba: what’s the worst thing that could go wrong, if you use this expired bottle of poison?

Just curious…

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Purple Haze Has Cleared, and I Look to the East(ern) Kingbird

So I'm walking the dog Tuesday night, and checking my emails on the (new) Blackberry, and I can't friggin' believe it: that crazy guy Norm found another Purple Gallinule, and this time it's an adult. 

Talk about bad timing!  I had family obligations, and I had promised to take a birder visiting from Indiana out birding some time within the next week, in order for her to get West Coast birds that would all be life-birds for her.  She said, "Any bird whose name starts with California would be a new bird for me." 

I got home with the dog, and discovered that the boy has been puking his guts out.  This continued every 20 minutes for the rest of the night.  We watched the season premiere of NCIS on the TIVO, pausing it every time Tomi's abdomen started doing involuntary flip-flops.  We kept him sitting up (don't want him to aspirate any fluids), and shoving his face into a red plastic bucket from Hungary, that was part of his beach toys.  Some time around 01:45 I couldn't stay awake any longer, and threw myself onto the bed, clothes and all.  The wife brought him into bed with us, and we slept.  In the morning, she told me thathe kept hurling until 03:00.  Ouch.

The wife stayed home with him (obviously, he didn't go to school), and before picking Maggie up, I drove my birding friend to the cemetery, where she got a ton of life birds while I drove around Claremont.  After picking her up at pre-school, Maggie and I went to In & Out, and got burgers & fries for everybody (except Tomi).  Left Maggie at home, and took off with my friend for Mount Baldy.

On the road up there, right before the first tunnel, a large raptor sat on a telephone pole.  Hm...too big for a Red-tailed Hawk.  Its head is relatively small--compared to its body--so it could be a Turkey Vul--holy shit, it's a Golden Eagle.  Must have been a female, because she was gigantic.  Her talons were bigger than my hands. 

A Townsend's Solitaire watched us and the Golden Eagle, amused by it all.  Neither it, nor the eagle cooperated for pictures.  Oh well.  The pictures are inside my head.

We continued up the steep mountain road, taking the curves aggressively, then screeching to a halt at all of the known American Dipper locations.  Dippers are these weird birds that look like (and are) song birds, but they only live in rushing, violent mountain streams, where they dive into the roiling water, and swim to the bottom of the stream for caddisfly larvae.  Each one of them will have a home territory that is 2 yards wide (the width of the stream) and 2 miles long; and they only occur in the American Mountain West.  (There are 4 other species of dippers on other continents: all shaped the same exact shape, only with differently colored plumage patterns). 

     You'll never see a Dipper sitting in a tree, or on the ground.  They are that specialized.  Struck out at Bear Drive, the bridge next to Baldy Lodge, etc.  Had to hike way up the rocky, dirt trail in Ice House Canyon, and finally found a Dipper, who was wiggling his butt, doing the dipper dance.  He then jumped into the water, and swam like a duck. 

Awsome.  Next stop, Claremont Wilderness Park, where 3 Swainson's Hawks were the best we came up with.  Well, okay.  For her, Lesser Goldfinch was a prize catch. 

She says she's tired.  Isn't worried about seeing the Purple Gallinule with me; she's seen plenty in Texas.  I dropped her off, stopped at home for the Bassett Hound, and raced off to Whittier, where I found a crowd of birders, their scopes pointed at the same spot.  The dog plopped down in the dust, just happy to be with me.  Finally, an hour later, the Purple Gallinule came out of the reeds, and first walked--then swam--out in the open.  Wow, that purple color was something to behold. 

Norm Vargas, I worship the ground you walk on.

Interestingly, none of the field guides show this plumage of the bird.  It looks like an adult, but the frontal shield on the head doesn't have any of the pretty colors, yet (see the photo of a bird Back East in my previous post).

Ah...the weekend!  Well, I gotta work in the ER at night, but it's fall migration, and all work and no play makes...

Walked up to the kids and said, "How would you like to go to the beach???"

They grinned and shouted, "YEAH!!!"

Off we went to Malibu Lagoon, where only the 2nd Eastern Kingbird that I have ever seen waited patiently for us to arrive.  Wow.  The other one was around 15 years ago.

     Well, thanks to the hard work of Dick Barth, I also got a Black & White Warbler a couple of days ago, so now there are only 2 more birds that I really, really, really want for 2010:  American Redstart, and Sabine's Gull.  If I get those two, I'll call it quits, until January 1st, 2011.

     After watching the Eastern Kingbird perch and flycatch for a while, it was the kids' turn.  Like all children, they love chasing the surf as it rolls in and out, and shrieked with delight at every wave that tried to catch them.  I just enjoyed watching them have fun.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Ridicule the Gallinule

My apologies to Edgar Allen Poe:

Once upon an evening dreary, while I pondered, weak and birding,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my Jeep’s front door.

"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my Jeep’s front door -

Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak September,

And each separate dying ember wrought no coot upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow

From my field guides cease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Gallinule -

For the rare and purple swamphen whom the angels now ridicule -

Stupid Purple Gallinule.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,

"'Tis some marsh bird entreating entrance at my Jeep’s front door -

Some lost migrant skulking out there, somewhere out there on that moor; -

This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was texting, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my Jeep’s front door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door; -

Common Coots there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, in the stillness ridicule,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Gallinule?"

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Gallinule!" -

Merely this, and that’s not cool.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

"Surely," said I, "surely purple swamp hen at my window lattice:

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery of the cesspool -

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery Gal’nule; -

'Tis a Coot you silly fool."

Open here I flung the tripod, when, while I listened on the iPod,

In there stepped a young Gallinule of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my Jeep’s front door -

Perched upon an Obama sticker just above my Jeep’s front door -

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this violet bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.

"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "are not a Coot,

Ghastly grim and ancient swam phen wandering from thy Nightly roost -

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"

Quoth the swamphen, "What a dork."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blest with seeing Coot above his Jeep’s front door -

Bird or beast upon the Swarowski, above his Jeep’s front door,

Purple Gallinule of the moor."

But the swamp hen, sitting lonely on the spotting scope, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered -

Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before -

On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."

Then the bird said, "Gallinule."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster birders out upon the moor -

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Purple Gallinule of the moor."

But the swamp hen still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and open door;

Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of cesspool -

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of ridicule

Meant in croaking "Gallinule."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;

This and more I sat divining, with my Jeep’s front door opening

On the cushion's velvet lining that the swamp hen gloated o'er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the headlights shining o'er,

She shall press, bird, purple moor!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the food-stained door.

"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite - respite and nepenthe, from my desires for Gallinule:

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe forget this Purple Gallinule!"

Quoth the swamp hen, "Hola, Raul!"

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -

On this home by horror haunted- tell me stupid Gallinule -

Is there - is there balm in Whittier? - tell me - tell me, purple fool!"

Quoth the swamp hen, "stubborn mule."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil - prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both ignore -

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within San Gabriel River,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the Gallinule named Purple -

Clasp a rare and vagrant swamp hen seen by birders named Abernathy."

Quoth the swamp hen, "You're just unlucky."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting -

"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!

Leave no blue plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the dusty S.G. River!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form while here I shiver!"

Quoth the swamp hen, "What a loser."

And the swamp hen, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

In the pallid dust of river, out there on the S.G. floor;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,

And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on my Jeep’s door;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the moor

Crazy birders; so hardcore!

photo credit: Brennan Mulroney from http://sofia.usgs.gov/virtual_tour/enp/index.html

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Some days, it might be a better idea to stay home in bed. This was one of those days. Knowing that the Basset Hound won’t get her walk, tonight, because I’ll be at work, I took her for a big walk this morning. Walked her to the cemetery. No birds. Could have left the binoculars at home. Well, let’s be honest: the odds of me deliberately leaving home without binoculars between August 15th and October 15th—also known as fall migration—are slim to none. Looked around for birds, and headed home.

Almost made it. It was that last 100 yards that got me. My worn-out old Birkenstocks caught a plate in the street that isn’t flush with the sidewalk—like it’s supposed to be. I did a Steve Martinesque ballet, wobbling, skipping, dancing madly, arms flailing in the air as if I was on fire, and finally landed face-down the way you’re not supposed to (because you can break your wrists), with my arms out straight in front of me. Bam! My wrists hurt! Whump! My right knee skidded down the street like the #7 Budapest bus on a snowy February evening. After doing a jellyfish’s version of a push-up, I sat on the sidewalk, embarrassed by the thought of all the cars on Indian Hill Blvd that are driving by some fat dude in shorts who is sitting on the sidewalk:

“Het, Martha! Look at that drunk bastard! It’s not even ten o’clock, yet!”

After I found my testicles—which were cowering under an oleander—and pushing the dog away from the shiny pool of blood forming on my knee, I stood up, and hobbled home. Got the dog inside the house, and realized that my cell phone is missing.

Somebody shoot me down.*

Twelve days ago I decided that until USC gives me a new Blackberry, I’m going to buy one of those “disposable” cell phones they sell at Target [and Walmart, but I have been boycotting Walmart for years, because of how they (mis)treat their employees]. When I said disposable, I didn’t mean it literally.

From elementary school in the 70s to college, from the army in the 80s to my return to college in the late 1990s, I had the same phone number for around 25 years. I had this cell phone number for 12 days.

Well, the good news is that I already emailed people a couple of days ago; telling them that I got my USC phone back, and to go back to that being my primary number.

Here’s the part that pisses me off: somebody out there found that phone, they said, “Hey, look! A pay-as-you-go phone with over 300 minutes on it!” and they aren’t making any effort to give it back. When I found an iPhone at Legoland this year (on the day of the Calexico 7.1 earthquake), I marched straight to the nearest employee and said, “Here, someone dropped this.” Whoever dropped that phone was at Legoland with their kids or grandchildren, and when you have kids, having a cell phone makes such a difference. I knew that person needed his/her phone back. I wish the jerk who found my phone today would think of that. Probably a kid.

Speaking of kids, we took ours to the annual Bataan Death March Re-enactment in Pomona, last weekend. Most people refer to this ritual as the L.A. County Fair.


1) They hold it in September, the hottest part of the year.

2) The fair grounds are asphalt and concrete.

3) I don’t like crowds

When you have flat feet like I do, and are overweight, standing around in the hot sun in a teeming crowd of tattooed, pierced people in tank tops is far from the definition of fun. That, and the frightening collection of—ahem—surgically augmented women who have arrived to take advantage of the opportunity to share their implants with the world. Geez, lady, you could poke somebody’s eyes out! I swear L.A. is the only place in the country where breast implants are a competitive sport.

As for the tattoos, let me put it this way: when I make love to a woman, I don’t want to read the stock market report.


1) I spend a whole day with my wife and kids

2) I get to throw darts at balloons, winning stuffed animals for my kids. This is the 21st Century equivalent of spearing a wooly rhinoceros to feed the tribe. Lean closer. Can you hear the rustling sound of hairs growing on my chest?

Deadly accuracy with darts is one of my ninja skills that my wife never knew about, until we went to the fair, one year. Why this skill still amazes her, I just don’t understand.

*My niece in Hungary wrote me that she uses Google Translator to translate this blog from English into Hungarian, but it’s a bloody disaster. I tried it, and it translates “Somebody shoot me” as “Somebody fire!” So, to trick it into accurately translating “Somebody shoot me” I have to write “Somebody shoot me down, in order to get “Valaki lojjon le”. I worked my way through the Hungarian translation of my blog, and laughed my ass off for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So you don't believe in Friday the 13th, huh?

Well, let me tell you about my Friday the 13th.  And my Saturday the 14th.  And my Sunday the 15th:

Friday August 13th at 4:20 p.m. the phone rings in the office.  A researcher has spilled a carcinogenic chemical all over herself.  It's in her clothes, on the floor, etc.  A collective groan rises from cubicles throughout our department.  Really?  On a Friday?  One hour before we go home?  We printed out an MSDS for that chemical, grabbed our gear, and ran over to her building.  All of my lab coats are missing from the rack, so I have to wear my boss' lab coat.  I arrive wearing a coat that says "Dave."

Fortunately, things went smoothly.  We took care of her, and the room, and I left the office on time.  Whew, no big deal.  Walked up the hill to the bus stop, got on the bus to Union Station, so that I can catch my train to Claremont.  Bus pulls up to Union Station, and I start walking off the bus.  As I step off the bus, my belt goes on vacation without me, and my pants fall off, with a bus full of USC employees standing behind me.

Saturday August 14th.  Go to the local credit union in Claremont to use their ATM.  The machine eats my ATM card.  Now I have to wait until Monday to get my card back.  That ATM machine pisses me off: they actually have a ring binder full of peoples' debit cards that their machine ate, and a log book for when people like me show up, and get our card back.  How about you guys blow some bucks, and get a new ATM, one that doesn't eat peoples' debit cards???

Saturday August 14th, the Emergency Room.  Crazy busy shift.  I x-ray 19 people in 4 hours.  All of them difficult.  The collimator light goes out in the big x-ray room where we x-ray trauma patients.  I shoot this guy's lateral c-spine with him in c-spine precautions, while he's still taped to a backboard.  I have to line up the tube and the wall bucky by line-of-sight.  Fortunately, I'm a kick-ass x-ray tech, and I nail it on the first try.  They should give me a Nobel Prize in Radiography.

Second to last patient of the night:  2 year old boy who fell and hurt his arm.  Happens all the time.  The ER is so packed, that all the beds inside are full, as are all of the chairs in the waiting room, and there are people sitting on the floor.  I stand in the doorway, call the little boy's name.  A young woman sits up, and picks up her son.  I see a dopey tough guy sitting next to her, and ask, "Are you dad?" 

He says, "Yes."

I motion him towards me and say, "Come on."

He indignantly asks, "Me?  Why do you need me?'

Before I go on, let me explain:  I get guys from this particular country--one that is outside the U.S.--where they speak a different language--and they all have his reaction.  Some of them will come out and say it:  "But, I am not a woman!"  or "That's woman's work!"  (I am not making this up: they have said this to me many a shift).

So let me see if I understand this: if you stand in an x-ray room wearing a lead apron, and hold your child still in order to make sure that his/her x-ray comes out okay e.g. I do't have to re-shoot the x-ray, because of motion blur, the fact that you have been forced to do this will immediately convert you into a sissy-boy who sings show-tunes, only watches the Bravo Channel, and has an Edward poster in his bedroom?  Really?

You don't understand how freaked out this guys get.  They act like I'm demanding that they take off their underwear, and...

Deal with it.

Last patient of the day.  Radiology request says abdomen series for a 35 year old female.  I go into the little side-room they've got her in, and the lab tech is muttering about how she has to put the i.d. bracelet (that cheap white plastic thingie) onto the patient's wrist, because the nurse refuses to do it.  Boy, did I miss that clue that something was wrong!  The lady is lying there on the gurney, sobbing.  Tears pour down her cheeks, and she is holding a cell phone to her ear. 

At this point, I feel really sorry for her husband or boyfriend, who is at home, listening to his woman sob, and he cannot console her.  All he can do is hold the phone to his ear, and listen.  After I've been standing there for a minute, I say, "Hi, I'm from the x-ray department."

During the whole time that I stand there, I never hear anybody's voice on the other end of the cell phone. Is anybody even on the phone with her? I have pretty good hearing, and this seems weird.

She doesn't answer, just keeps on crying.

I wait another minute, and say, "Um...the doctor ordered some x-rays of your abdomen...your tummy."

She doesn't answer, just keeps on crying.

I wait another minute, and say, "Um...the doctor wants x-rays so that he can know why you're in pain, so he can do something about it."

I'm standing there looking at her, thinking, "Wow, she's in so much pain, she must have cancer.  I feel so sorry for her.  She's so young, and dying of cancer.  Wow, that sucks."  I don't know anything about her medical history: this is her myth that I have constructed in my head, by spending 4 unproductive minutes in a room with her.

In one millionth of a second her face changes from "Somebody please make the pain stop" to "I ordered these potatoes au gratin, you cretin!"  She stares at me and hisses, "I am not playing, mother fucker!"

Boy was I pissed.  So I said, "I'll tell you what, sweetheart.  When you're ready for your x-ray, why don't you give me a call on that phone of yours?" 

I walked out.

Sunday August 15th:  Take the kids and the dog for a big walk.  It's hot and humid, and I start bugging the kids to keep up on their water consumption.  Do I follow suit?  Of course not. 

I'm soaking in sweat.  I am sticky and stinky.  Definitely need a nice long shower before I go to work.  Arrive home with the dog and kids, and the wife tells me there's no hot water.  I go out there, and try to light the pilot light.  The water heater is under warranty, so we call Home Depot.  I will never buy a big-ticket item from Home Depot, again: they flat-out do not have their act together.  Morons can't find us on their computer system.  After multiple  phone calls to various numbers, GE tells us that after a year, only the parts are under warranty, we'll have to pay for the labor.  So, we'll have to get our own plumber to do the work.

Time to call Csaba (pronounced "Chuh-buh") the Hungarian plumber.  His American name is Andy.  I forgot to mention that, last week.  There is no English/German/French/Italian equivalent of Csaba.

I pack a travel bag, arrive at the hospital in shorts, sandals, and t-shirt, and take a shower in the O.R.

When I get to work at 3:00 I realize that today's shift will be the opposite of yesterday's debacle (remarkably, despite x-raying 23 people on that shift, I also wrote 368 words in chapter 27 of Roadside Rest).  Great, maybe I'll get 700 words written, today.  I need to write the part where the heroine tells her best friend that she needs to change her life, and do something different (No, this is not a rip-off of "Eat, Pray, Fart".  My heroine can't afford to get divorced, and wander around Bali, barefoot).

I'm sitting in an office chair, telling Marcy the front desk clerk about how crazy it was, last night.  I've been at work for 2 hours, and still haven't filled my gigantic plastic cup with drinking water.  All of a sudden, the room starts spinning, I can't talk, and Marcy is shouting, "Tom?  Tom?  Tom!  You're really red!  Tom?"

Next thing you know, I'm a patient in the ER. 

Well, that's ironic: yours truly--The Radioactive Birdwatcher, who makes fun of guys who pass out while mowing their lawn at noon on a hot summer day--got dehydrated, and passed out in an airconditioned room. That's just wrong!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead

     I should have heeded the bad omen Friday night: on the Metrolink train my laptop lapsed into the Blue Screen of Death. Only got up at 04:30 a.m. on Saturday, armed with Tom Benson's cell phone number. Brilliant plan: Yeah, yeah, I'll get there hours after the rest of the birders at the Salton Sea have located all the good birds, and glean their information.

     Arrived at the Mecca Arco station at 07:00 a.m., and only bought 3 gallons--the plan being that having to stop for gas on the drive home will give me a chance to stop at Starbucks, drink coffee, and cool off. After buying a tuna sub at Subway, carefully placed my wallet, Blackberry, and car keys on the roof of the Jeep. Had the following conversation with myself:

     "Dude, don't put your things up there, you'll forget them."

     "Dude, that's not possible. I put the keys on TOP of the wallet on purpose. Can't drive off without the keys, and that will force me to grab everything. No problem, Dude!"

      Got in the Jeep, and drove off with the wallet and Blackberry on the roof.

       Got to Wister Unit, where I enjoyed the Lesser Nighthawks, White-winged Doves, Verdins, Gambel's Quail, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Didn't see the Barn Owl. Headed for the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge HQ. Got there, didn't see any Abert's Towhees, headed off for Red Hill Marina, where I saw some Yellow-footed Gulls, and lots of pelicans. The water level in this whole region has retreated dramatically.

     Standing there, missing my wife and kids, I decided to call home. Where's my cell phone? Oh My God. I have to go back to Mecca. Ran across a fisherman and local resident named Ronnie, who let me use his cell phone to call my wife, and asked her to call the Arco Station. Ron stood by, sipping beer from a can the size of an 88 mm mortar round. Couple minutes later the wife calls back, and says the guy at the Arco station says "Nobody turned them in, and if one of the locals found your wallet & phone, they're enjoying them, now." Images of somebody running home with my wallet and buying donkey porno with my American Express card float through my head. I look at the gas needle: I have no money, no cell phone, and EXACTLY enough gas to drive home to Claremont, if I drive 55 mph with no air conditioning.

     Said goodbye to Ronnie and his kids (they caught 3 catfish in the short time I spent with them), and drove east on Schrimpf Road, where I saw several Stilt Sandpipers, one in breeding plumage, and a Solitary Sandpiper in the ditch further east on Schrimpf. Drove back to Mecca doing 55, annoying everybody on the highway. A hundred yards before I got to the Arco station, I saw it: my wallet, and all of its contents were spread out along the highway. Parked the car, and found EVERYTHING. The AmEx card, the credit union Visa Card, the USC Master Card, my health insurance card, CPR card, library card, and everything else were lying there, waiting for me to collect them. Tire marks from hundreds of cars all over the cards and wallet, which now looks like a Doberman spent an hour chewing on it.

     Never found the Blackberry. Walked over to the Arco, and saw two old guys get out of an SUV, and head for the door. I could tell they're birders, and walked up to them. At first they were startled by the manic stranger walking up to them, but then they recognized The Uniform: my tan shorts with cargo pockets, camouflage t-shirt, 5 o'clock shadow, and bags under the eyes. The look in their eyes said, "Oh, he's one of us!"

     It was Chet McGaugh. He let me use his cell phone to tell the wife the 50% good news (my boss' boss is gonna kill me: this is the 2nd USC cell phone I have lost in the desert). After another hour of walking/driving up and down the highway, gave up on the Blackberry, and headed for Highway 10.

     Hey, I'm already in the desert. Might as well stop by Morongo, and pick up Rufous Hummingbird for a year bird. There were none. Lots of Black chins, and Anna's. Nothing else. Got back into the Jeep, and headed home. While driving, I noticed that they were starting the news on NPR at 6:17 p.m., which I thought odd. Checked the Jeep's dashboard clock, and it disagreed with my Seiko Orange Monster--a manly dive watch with a screw-down crown and high visibility in the dark. Oh man, how much is it gonna cost to fix the watch?

     Ten minutes later, I noticed a "dragonfly" perched inside the Jeep, hanging from the ceiling, all the way in the back. I decided that when I got home, I'd open the hatchback, and shoo him out. No problem. Dragonflies don't bite people; they eat insects! Ten minutes later--keep in mind, I'm wearing shorts, and driving 80 mph--this big, gray, vicious insect landed on my inner thigh, and bent his abdomen, pointing his piercer at my femoral artery, I realized that (1) this is the "dragonfly" from the back of my car, and (2) I don't know what that is, but it ain't no dragonfly!

     So I did the only sensible thing you can do at a time like this: I let go of the steering wheel, waved my hands frantically, and emitted the sound of Frankenstein's monster having an orgasm. The Jeep veered first to the left, then to the right. Luckily, the drivers around me reacted in time.  The murderous invertebrate flew up, and found refuge in the corner between the dashboard, and the windshield.   Since the front license plate broke off months ago, I have been driving around with it on the dashboard--so I grabbed it, and started stabbing at the bloodthirsty fiend, screaming, "Die, motherfucker!  Die!"  Spineless bastard cowered in the corner, refusing to come out and fight.  Now I had time to study him for the restof the drive home, and realized that he was only a Robber Fly. Well, why did he pose like a mosquito on steroids?

     Got home, and confirmed that the Jeep was right: my Seiko needs to go to the shop. Ugh. Walked the dog, took an awsome shower, laid down with the kids in their room, for an early night.

     The wife walks in and says, "Oh, I wanted to ask you about this hummingbird that came to the feeders, today. It was like a male Allen's but it was all rufousy."  (Her Palinism, not mine)

     I ask a trick question, "What about the green on his back?"

     "No, no green. I'm telling you: he was red ALL OVER."

Somebody shoot me.