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.