Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Flowers and Recovery

Flowers in the Desert
Whilst recovering from my altercation with a dark blue sedan and the curbside of Love’s Truck Stop, the real desert has been full of life and a profusion of flowers have surrounded me. Just on the property alone a wealth of pink and white flowers are sprinkled along the edges of the hardpan plot.

Blooms are sprouting from cactuses or cacti, along with the more traditional plant type bushes. The mesquite trees, which protect their yellow drooping flowers with thorny guardians, are filled with the sound of bees. These little pollinators are of such a number that their businesslike drone is almost deafening. Amazingly, despite the impressive decibel level that they emit, it is difficult to spy one.

The temperature in the local area has dipped, it initially became cooler around Easter and has not risen too much since. Handy if one is biking to and from town, but a bit chilly at night. Of course, as I am still recuperating from my accident, I’m not doing a lot of biking and most certainly not taking the 12 mile plus round trip to town and back.

Riding around the neighborhood and averaging about three miles per trip, I am pleased to note that in terms of control and exertion, my recovery is going very well. Unfortunately, the right leg still has a knot the size of Texas on the shin and at night, after a day of “limited” activity, both legs are painful enough that sleep becomes impossible despite pain pills.

Regardless of the amount of time spent getting better, and the lack of Internet access, life is limping along. Meeting lovely people who populate neighborhood, even as the general number of residents is in decline as it’s time for the snowbirds to migrate back home, and discovering that people can be kind and thoughtful and generous.

Tyson Wells Visitor Office winding down
Tyson Wells Visitor Office, winding down and soon out?

It has been an interesting time. Returning to the land of my birth has been…different. Moving from Las Vegas to Arizona has been almost foreboding. In terms of losing bits of myself, it has been frustrating and not a little annoying.

One week after arriving I lost my late father-in-law’s sweater. A favorite “in-between” garment that was a comfortable as an old glove. Taking a tumble, my first in the real desert, down a small wash, the thing went awol and I’ve never found it. Despite backtracking on the day it happened and searching the area repeatedly, the sweater has apparently departed to parts unknown and by now has most likely fallen to pieces.

Thus far, in a short three month time period, I’ve lost: A favorite sweater, hat, pocket knife, my prescription glasses, and my “cheap” reading glasses. Twice, not counting being forced off the car park surface by a car which would make it three times, I have fallen over while traversing the hardpan desert floor. Each time personal injuries were increased exponentially.

In terms of loss, television has become another missing component along with proper Internet. As someone who has spent a lot of time and effort increasing their profile on the net as a writer, both personally and professionally, this loss is the most devastating. Due to sporadic web access regular contact with my daughter has also been, temporarily, lost.

Entering the world of the self employed while relocating to a remote area of the Southwest has been an interesting move. Picking a part of the desert where there are no cinemas locally or nearby was not planned for and having no vehicle to attend screenings has been another “setback.” Rather annoyingly, most, if not all, the screenings from one studio rep are all over two hours away via car.

These “setbacks” are a bother but not overly so. Obstacles are made to be overcome. Time spent watching and writing about films and television is now spent writing the book I’ve promised myself for years. There are other books impatiently queuing up for their turn so I am still working. The biggest difference in this change of circumstance is the change in financial status.

Flowers in the desert, taken outside Quartzsite, AZ
Cactus flowers, which make me think of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and John Wayne’s character.

This too shall pass and until then I will keep plodding along, writing, doing chores and healing and I will stop and enjoy the real desert flowers, while they last, on my road to recovery.

9 April 2015

True Haunting by Edwin F Becker: Hair Raising Experience

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As Author Edwin F Becker points out, there were no Ghost Hunters a la TAPS in 1970. There was also no Amityville horror; at least not until 1977 when Jay Anson put pen to paper and wrote about the “alleged” ghostly problems of the Lutz family in the house where an entire family sans one was murdered.

It would not surprise me to learn that Jay Anson was not already aware of the ghostly events that plagued the Becker family via a NBC newscast that was aired both locally (where Becker and his wife lived) and nationally. Where else could he have gotten the idea? And  where Anson, admittedly, stretched the truth to breaking and beyond in search of a fast buck; Becker did not profit one cent from his haunted house experience until years later when he self-published his story.

I’d bet a pretty penny myself to say that he’s not profiting much from the sales of his story; his e-book is very affordable.

In 1970, Becker and his new wife and baby, wanted to buy a house. Finding a two-story house with two ready-made apartments already under one roof, he thought he’d found a bargain. Sure the house needed work and they needed to get rid of the “crazy” woman who lived in the downstairs apartment, but Edwin was not afraid of hard work and the “crazy tenant” was on her way out.

So what could go wrong?

Apparently, everything.

Becker recounts what happened when he and his young family moved into the house in the suburbs of 1970 Chicago and the traumatic affect the property had on friends and family. He tells of the Church’s refusal to get involved and of seeking help from two (the only two in the Yellow Pages) paranormal investigative societies available.

He tells his story in a straight forward, no-nonsense manner that convinces and disturbs and (for me anyway) made the hair on the back of my neck stand-up which resulted in my deciding  to read the rest of the book in the daylight. What he does not do is embellish the events to “sell” his story. He steadfastly refused to sensationalize any of the occurrences that he and his family experienced. Hence the self publishing.

When he and his family encountered what, at the outset, seemed like odd events: a kitchen door that refused to stay shut, a mixer that refused to hang on the wall, a phone that kept taking itself off the hook and countless other things, that he found  “logical” explanations for. Or so he thought.

As the haunting began to escalate, he and his wife (who to be fair, sensed this a lot earlier than her skeptic husband) realised that the house was haunted by not one, but several ghosts.

It was Mr Becker’s sincere and plain retelling that both convinced me of the truth of his story combined with “strange” experiences that I myself have encountered that sold me on the validity of his tale.

This is a very understated book when compared with Jay Anson’s nefarious tale of the Amityville “hauntings.” You’ll find no oozing black stuff pouring out of the sockets; no overabundance of flies; no voice telling anyone to, “Get Out!” and no pigs floating outside a second story window.

What you will find is a simply written(not in a negative sense)  tale of growing fear and financial difficulties. Your heart will go out to his (then) young family and the fact that they had so few avenues of help. Before the modern “ghost busting” equipment of today and the digital revolution that enables ghost hunters to track down “spirits and demons” you had psychics and clairvoyants and the odd paranormal scientist. Oh and the clergy, if you could get them to acknowledge the problem. This was a time of real “hit and miss” ghost hunting and something that not many of the main populace knew about.

This was a great read and, as I said before, one that literally “creeped” me out. I will warn you, this is not a book for the overly imaginative. I slept with the light on after reading this book.

I’d give this a full 5 out of 5 stars for no-nonsense reporting of one family’s experience with a haunted house. Do not miss reading this book, it is a great story, even if you don’t believe in ghosts.

Author Edwin F Becker.
Author Edwin F Becker.

My Near Death Experience Six Months On

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It’s been just over six months since my close brush with the grim reaper in the form of a heart attack. I have referred to it as a life changing event and it was. It’s amazing how quickly your life can change so much in such an incredibly short span of time. If I owned a crystal ball, I don’t think even then I’d have believed what was in store for me.

In case you missed the event (or the blog-post I wrote about it) I’ll do a recap of what transpired last year. Don’t worry it won’t take long.

February of last year, the thirteenth to be exact, I was injured at work. I sustained nerve damage in my lower back and was off work just under six months. I had just started back to work (in a return-to-work scheme that allowed me to gradually increase my hours) and had taken two weeks leave to get a steroidal injection in my lower back.

On the 24th of August I had my injections (they gave me two) and on the 27th I got Freshly Pressed. On the 30th, I had a heart attack. I actually had the “attack” for over five hours. I was rushed to one Hospital Emergency Room where they verified that, yes indeed, I was having a heart attack. The ambulance then rushed me to another Hospital for surgery.

While having stents put in, the surgeons realised that my aorta was shot and had to stop mid-surgery, bring me back to full consciousness to tell me that they were going to have to perform an emergency aortic dissection. My daughter was told (and so was I but I do not remember it) that things were going to be very “dicey” and that I might not make it, but, if I did not have it I was going to die.

I almost did anyway.

After my surgeries, I recovered incredibly fast. I was out of the Hospital after only four days. I then started the very slow process of recovery that I am still in, truth be told. Despite my quick recovery, the second surgery kicked my ass. On top of that, the surgeons tore my aorta in the arch close to the heart and it is so damaged that they can’t repair it.

Well, to be more accurate, they could try, but they think that it would cause more damage than what they could fix.

In the preceding time period between the heart attack and now, I’ve been ill-health retired from my Prison Officer job and I still haven’t been assessed for rehabilitation because the folks who do the test are concerned that they could kill me, or at the very least, mess my aorta up considerably and hasten the damage along considerably.

With the absence of proper rehabilitation, I’ve been walking. When I first got out of the hospital, I could literally take about 10 to 15 steps and then I had to stop. Not so much because of my heart, but because of the combination of my surgery and my back which was still playing up. As I got better, the rest stops got further and further apart. I can now walk a fairly good distance without stopping and at quite a snappy pace.

I received my pension “payout” and my last ever pay check from the Prison Service. I also got my first pension payment.

I will admit to being a bit lost during these last six months. The payout, the pay check and the pension payment helped me find my way. At least, it made the whole thing real. I was bordering on depression and the reality of the money and my avenues of options suddenly became clear.

I didn't really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.
I didn’t really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.

Before I left the Hospital, they told me that I would have a moment where the enormity of what happened to me would sink in. My too close for comfort brush with death would, in essence, overwhelm me. I was urged to seek help when that pivotal “epiphany” occurred.

It still hasn’t happened. I have come close I think. One night as I lay in bed just starting to doze off, I could hear and feel my heart beating. Everything stopped for a split-second and then as I became aware of the silence my heart started pounding 90 beats to the bar. My chest muscles loosened and tightened in an instant. I had a flash of a thought about almost dying and for that split second I was scared.

But as quickly as all that happened (in the blink of an eye, really) it was over. Everything went back to what passes for normal every night now as I approach sleep. I lay there and feel my heart thudding against my chest and think, ever so briefly, I hope it doesn’t stop just yet.

It is only now, just over six months after the event, that I have realised my own mortality fully. Before, even in the ambulance on the way to the Hospitals, I never thought once of dying. If I could think at all (and it was difficult to think of anything but the pain) I thought of getting to the Hospital and the doctors fixing me up and sending me home. Death did not feel close or even real.

Even after the doctors told me how close it really was and how lucky I was to pull through, it didn’t seem real.

It does now.

And as I said in a previous post about second chances, I acknowledge that Ive been given a second chance at living. God or whoever (if anyone) is in charge of things, has given me another go on the merry-go-round.

So while I decide which carousel horse to ride, I’ll make sure that I try like hell to appreciate this little bit of longevity that’s been passed my way. I think that I’ve had my “epiphany” that they warned me about or at least I hope I have. I don’t want to waste any more time pondering the why’s and where-for’s of my continued existence.

I just hope that the second time that I come face-to-face with my own mortality, I can do it as calmly as I did the first time.

Death
Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

Dear Me Peter Ustinov 1977: Vintage Ustinov

I was very excited when I found this book in the charity shop near where I live. I’ve been an ardent Ustinov fan ever since I first saw him in Viva Max on Saturday Night at the Movies when I was younger. Then came Logan’s Run in 1976 where Ustinov played the world’s oldest man. I became a fan for life and deeply mourned this great man’s passing in 2004.

For the record, Ustinov was not just an actor. He was also a writer. Plays principally; films and books, one book was the autobiography  Dear Me. It was one of those books that I had always wanted to read. There were only a few books about the entertainment world, that for whatever reason, I’d never read. They just refused to be found.

At least two of the books surfaced a few years ago in a second-hand book store in Felixstowe. This wonderful shop, called Treasure Chest Books, searched tirelessly for the book Everybody loves somebody sometimes (especially himself): The story of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis by Arthur Marx (son of Groucho). I had seen the book in the Pasadena California Public Library in 1977 and spent years searching for the book afterwards so I could buy it.

The Treasure Chest Books shop found a copy and held it for me. I have been indebted to them ever since. They also had, no searching required, a copy of Sheridan Morley‘s brilliant Tales from the Hollywood Raj: The British Film Colony On Screen and Off: The British in California. Another book that I had been searching for years, ever since I first read an excerpt from it telling of one ex-patriot English actor calling out to Dame Gladys Cooper (Morley’s grandmother), “Darling! There is an American in your front garden!”

But Ustinov’s 1977 autobiography stayed stubbornly out of my reach. Not necessarily because I could not find it, but, because I had stopped looking quite some time ago. Of course now if you hop onto your laptop or home pc you can type the book’s title in the search engine of your choice and find a regular cornucopia of Dear Me’s out there for purchase. Or any other book title for that matter.

Ustinov had a fascinating life and an equally fascinating family tree. With Dear Me, he uses the device of an internal dialogue with himself at choice points through the book. He questions the validity of his story (or stories) and the feelings that he relays about his life and the events that shaped him.

It is interesting to hear his side of the story when he was writing a WWII propaganda film and had to be assigned as Lt Col David Niven‘s Bat man (personal aide). Peter would be writing away at the script and whenever a “real” officer would approach the room, Niven would yell, “Cave!” Ustinov would then start furiously polishing brass. It was in this way that the 1944 film The Way Ahead was written and to some extent filmed. Ustinov, despite his education and intelligence, never rose above the rank of Private. His co-workers in the British Army were all officers and in the ever class and rank conscious military it caused some problems; a lot of them quite funny.

If you ever had a chance to see him on a television talk show, it was obvious that Peter was a brilliant raconteur; charming, funny and often erudite in his stories. Dear Me recounts some of these stories, but it also recounts the plays he wrote, the people he worked with, and his relationships; relationships with his wives, children and his parents.

Peter wrote 35 plays and novels (including Dear Me). He could speak four languages fluently and was able to communicate in even more. He was an infinitely fascinating  and talented man.

It may be a little difficult to “get into” the book as it is written the same way that Ustinov spoke. But hang in there, once you find the cadence and the pattern, the book will entertain you and surprise you.

Thankfully you will not have to trudge down to your local charity shop or second-hand book seller to get a copy. Just go to Amazon.com and type the title and author in the search bar and you can find copies of the book for a cheap as a penny and as expensive as 36 dollars and some change.

Or failing that, just hop down to your Library, they might just have a copy; but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

So yes, it is a difficult book to start, but one that if you persevere will reward your efforts with new knowledge about a very talented individual and a man whose humour is most certainly self-evident

Peter as Agatha Christie’s Poirot.