A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Real Life in the Desert: The Lizards are Getting Bigger

deserted house in the desert

When I first moved down here in the real desert, the lizards were these teeny little dark shadows that flitted over and around small rocks and pebbles. Now the little fellers are getting bigger and longer, and scrambling over stones and the odd smallish boulder. They must also be that bit slower as I can see them easily.

The tiny shadow lizards moved so quickly that they seemed to be an optical illusion. A lighting fast streak of shade that disappeared before your eyes could focus on the small creature. Now they stay in view long enough that even without glasses they can be seen.

These are not the only desert denizens that are making regular appearances. Something that looks like a rat, but prettier, darts across the roads and can be seen very easily. These bold creatures will stay in the shade of a small bush and watch you pass. Monsieur Rat, or mouse, is around six to eight inches long, not counting his tail, and while not as cute as the chipmunks that scramble over the boulders that line the road, they are not ugly by any means.

After being here for a couple of months, where there has been no previous sign of them,  buzzards are now regularly  circling the hard pan on either side of the road. One persistent chap kept dropping down to the scrub brush along the washes. Presumably the “dead” animal he was going after was not quite ready to be put on the menu. There are, however, a great many new items alongside, and on, the roads  from rats to lizards and the occasional rabbit.

As it is spring, baby bunnies are hopping around the area. The cute creatures are not as numerous as the ones back in Suffolk. In the English countryside, there were always plenty of the tiny things clumsily jumping here and there, wide eyed and (sorry) bushy tailed learning about their world. The desert bunnies are obviously the offspring of the huge jack rabbits that call the hard pan their home as even though they are “babies” they dwarf their British relatives.

The appearance of the buzzards, or vultures, I can never remember which of these huge carrion loving creatures live in this part of the world, is a reminder that death is never too far away for denizens of the real desert.

The little house on the hill..
The mysterious house on the hill…

 

On the way home from town yesterday, as the sun dipped slowly behind the surrounding hills of Quartzsite, I found the police had closed off the only road open to a bicycle. The cars could take the alternate route via the Interstate, but my two-wheel self-propelled vehicle could only take the route in front of me.

One of the on-scene officers explained that the road would be closed for at least another two hours. Looking ahead I could see two motorcycles on the right hand side of the road. One looked as though it had been damaged, the other did not. Pointing to the left side of the pavement, I asked if walking my bike through on that part of the road’s narrow shoulder was acceptable.

It was.

As I pushed my bike up the small grade, the two motorcycles came and went whilst I tried not to be too morbidly curious. Glancing over, once or twice, I could see that one bike had hit the boulders on that side of the road with enough force that it buckled the front wheel and twisted it to the left; until it was almost completely back under the petrol tank.

A lone helmet lay on the small shoulder of the two lane road just in front of the large rocks. On one big boulder in front of the abandoned safety item a blue arrow had been spray painted. It pointed up. At a wild, and most likely over-imaginative, guess? It looked like the rider went airborne at the point of impact.

Later, as I neared my destination, a couple who had been driving pulled up beside me and asked about the blocked road. I explained about the bikes and added that I would not be surprised if the accident had ended in a fatality.

They were not impressed with the thought of a dead biker but then, they were both of an age where impending death is not so much a concern. To this older couple, death looked to be just another all too close step in their own personal journey. Being a sprightly young thing in my late 50s, I still struggle with the inevitable advent of my rapidly approaching mortality.

It may well be that along with the lizards getting bigger in the real desert, that living in this hot and harsh climate is not just about surviving, but also about dying. The manner of death for the creatures that are native to this environment is often a quick visitation under the blazing sun. Cause of death: A speeding car, an ATV, or a hikers boot. After all, living is also about dying. As the late Katherine Hepburn once said, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.”

15 March 2015

Shaun of the Dead: England Revisited

Still from Shaun of the Dead

This 2004 very British Zombie film took the world by storm. Shaun of the Dead was even featured in Scream 4 as part of the film’s beginning – two characters were watching the movie on television while “ghost face” was busy murdering victim number three. Watching the movie on DVD and then listening to the commentary later with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, feels a little like England revisited.

Of course the first thing that anyone will notice while listening to the commentary by Pegg and Wright, is the cleverness of the script and all the ways the film ties into foreshadowing at the start of the movie by Ed. The other thing is how typically English the film and  the commentators are.

Watching the film back when it first came out on DVD, my daughter and I became instant life-long fans of Pegg, Wright, Nick Frost and the movie. It is so English in its depiction of just how your average Brit would react to a zombie apocalypse. So much so that you can smell the tea and scones whilst watching it.

Shaun with tea and Ed with a cornetto
The obligatory cup of tea…and a cornetto

This first offering in the “cornetto trilogy” set the tone for the remaining films. Each very English in nature and featuring the three men who have worked together since Spaced. Sadly of all the commentaries available on the DVD, the trio do not comment together.

But, for a real feel of England, listen to the the Pegg/Wright track and then the cast commentary. The former is quite amusing, “you love men,” however, with two stand up comedians in the mix, Irish comic Dylan Moran and Pegg the color provided by the actors is very, very funny and very, very British.

While both may confuse non-English fans with references that are as typically tea and scone-ish as Shaun of the Dead, for those who are more familiar with the vernacular and the humor, these commentaries are as enjoyable as the film.

Listening to all the actors doing their impression of the great Bill Nighy is among the many highlights of the running chat during the film. Doing their “luvey” discussions (comically) about why “acting is so tiring” and “don’t talk to me about emoting,” and the chuckles just don’t stop.

If you find that sort of thing funny.

I myself do and admittedly the thing I miss most about my home of almost 32 years is the humor. Perhaps the thing that kept me coming back to work everyday at HMP & YOI Warren Hill (the prison that was my workplace for 10 years) was the ability of my coworkers and colleagues to make me laugh on a very regular basis.

Maybe it is living with the abysmal English weather that makes the average Brit so able to see the funny or sarcastic side of everything. Don’t get me wrong, the British sense of humor can be rough, even sadistic.

Shaun of the Dead: England Revisited Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 01.53.03

Example:

When the shuttle exploded killing all 7 astronauts on board, a popular short joke that made the rounds was, “What do astronauts like to drink? Seven-up.”

That is the least offensive of the jokes that were passed around at the local.

British humor is, for the most part, easily accepted across the pond here in the US.  Although some English gags are so topical that no one apart from a resident of that country can understand them. American humor, for some reason, does not always go over well in the UK.

For me, Shaun of the Dead  is like England revisited. The theme, story and characters in the film are a snapshot of the country and just how your average man or woman on the street would handle a zombie apocalypse.  As the commentators are quick to point out, the film is, at its core, about “getting your life sorted” amidst a zombie invasion.

Or…

That in England the average denizen would carry on regardless despite the apocalypse around them. Regardless of plot and sub-plots the film is hysterically funny.  After having a good laugh at the movie, take the time to listen to the commentaries.

There are a total of four, the last two featuring, the brilliant Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton who play Shaun’s stepfather Philip and Shaun’s mum,  and the very  last commentary is done by the zombies in the film.  Bill sets the tone of number three with wondering what other countries think of the word “bollocks.” Even if you do not normally watch the special features, make this DVD the exception. You will be glad you did.

The wildly talented Bill Nighy
Nighy as Philip…”He’s NOT my dad!”

Dogs in the Desert: Not Just for Retired Folks

dog and three kids statue at Quartzsite

I used to think that the English cornered the market on pets and total devotion to animals. Since living back in the USA and specifically in the desert, it seems that the pet of choice is canine in nature. Man’s best friend is not just for the multitudes of retired folks who live here either. The modern wild west may still have a lot of wildlife, coyotes, mountain lions, et al, but dogs are overflowing in this huge open world litter tray. Australian comedian and actor Paul Hogan used to have a bit in his act where he poked fun at the average Brit for their love of all four legged creatures.

“You have more wildlife preservation societies than any other country, but you’ve got no wildlife!” – Paul Hogan circa 1982.

While the British are barmy about animals in general, they are almost obsessive about training their pets. Dogs in the UK are, for the most part, well behaved. Owners, apart from the odd cretin who refuses to subject his neighbor to the stench, clean up after their pooch.

There are exceptions to this, there were at least one or two areas in Kesgrave, Suffolk, where I lived that reeked of dog poop to the extent that it was unwise to walk down that particular stretch of the pavement (sidewalk) in summer. Certainly this little desert community of older folks share the English people’s love of animals. Walking around town there may just be more four legged mutts roaming the sidewalks than people.

Crossing through the desert, and by the side of the road later the same day, I was accosted by two different types of dogs, both well-known for their savagery. A group of pit bulls, whose owner assured me were harmless although one multicolored one’s teeth could be heard clicking on empty air each time he leapt for my arm, and an Alsatian aka German Shepherd who came bounding up to me so fast I only had time to grab my pepper spray.

The latter incident did feature an animal who seemed glad to see me, the owner was beside himself with annoyance at his dog’s decision to visit me and the chap told me repeatedly that his pet only wanted to play. This was in complete contrast to the pack of pit bulls who appeared to be intent on taking a good sized chomp out of my arm or leg. In that instance, the owner had no effect on their behaviour and had they chosen to attack I’d have become a large portion of Kibbles and Bits.

Pit Bulls

Doggy snacks aside, even the homeless desert rats have pets. These animals all range in size but most are mid to large in size and cannot be cheap to feed. These folks must have a desperate need for company, no matter how smelly or hungry. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, dogs and cats usually like me as well.

But animals smell when they are not bathed regularly. I’ve heard claims that the desert rats are also a bit on the “rank” side, as well as possibly dangerous, but I’ve yet to meet one whose odor registered with my senses and most seem friendly enough. Granted, I’ve not met one on the desert away from civilization but if they did decide to be aggressive, they might be in for a surprise.

Since moving out here, I’ve been caught out after dark several times on the journey back from town. Each time I walk the streets of the tiny community outside the town limits, dogs can be heard barking or at least growling as I pass each house.

Last night, and a couple a nights before, coyotes were yipping in the street. They travel in packs around the area, although most locals reckon “not as much as they used to.” There is nothing quite like being woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of every pooch in the neighborhood howling in sympathy to the chorus of coyotes serenading the night.

The wild animals sound as though they are right outside the RV and are loud enough that they can be heard over their domestic cousins. At this point in my stay here in the Arizona desert, it seems the barren yet beautiful wasteland is full of dogs. Man’s best friends, barring the pit bulls, are not limited to the plethora of retired folk who gravitate to this location. I believe that there are enough of these four legged creatures, wild and domestic, that I have no business in increasing the population.

On a brief side note before signing off, I have not forgotten about the hippie population in Quartzsite and will be adding them to my short catalogue of desert life.

3 February 2015

Quartzsite: A Mecca of Retail, Rocks and Rebels

Quartzsite: A Mecca of Retail, Rocks and RebelsHaving travelled to parts of the world where some pretty odd things were available for purchase if the price was right, Quartzsite feels like a homegrown desert version of these places where “retail” is king. While this small Arizona town may specialize in rocks and older rebels, the feeling is the same as in those black markets and flea markets across the world, everything is for sale in this mecca of older entrepreneurs and retired couples out to make a few bucks in the sun.

While heading down to one of the flea markets along Main Street, I met a young lady and her male friend who had, until moments before, been standing by the road trying to hitch a ride to Tucson. The blonde dread-locked beauty turned out to be a writer of poetry, fan of Mark Twain and a “lone wolf” who liked travelling the back roads for inspiration as part of a search for self.

Her companion carried a bedroll, backpack, guitar and two very dark circles under his eyes. The pair knew one another from the road and according to her; they were two of a kind. Natural loners who were enough alike that they could travel together with little trouble, they paired up to move on down the trail and leave Quartzsite.

“I don’t like it here,” she said. The poet went on to explain that she’s stood up for an older lady who was being mistreated at the local food bank. Apparently she got so angry that the food collected for her and her friend was left behind as she accompanied the other woman off the premises.

“People are too banded together,” she explained. Yet, despite this annoyance with the local population, the writer went on to say that she comes back, strangely drawn to this small retail conscious burg.

Quartzsite: A Mecca of Retail, Rocks and Rebels

Quartzsite itself feels like a throwback to another decade…or two. The Internet is dodgy and one bit of useful advice for the writer, or anyone who wants to connect via the net in the tiny town; do not pay out for the Wi-Fi in Love’s Truck Stop.

Before the hoards arrive, the signal is not too bad, but Pilot’s Truck Stop is slightly better and offers a bit more of secluded area to work. Although both had the air conditioning on during the coldest part of the year and hypothermia was a serious possibility for those who sat there too long.

There are other places, as mentioned in a prior article, and these are strong enough that most anything can be done on the net while having a burger or a coffee. Burger King does now provide free Wi-Fi for its customers and advertises the fact on the side of the establishment. I sat in BK for well over two hours and was not bothered once by staff or other customers.

I did, however meet another writer. She sat in the table adjacent to mine and we talked, and exchanged business cards, mine being a little out of date as I do not work for that publication any more, and discussed this little desert mecca of rocks, retail and rebels.

While the scenic vista of this historic little town, which sprang up from the stage stop of Tyson Wells, evokes images of the old west with battles between the ever encroaching hoards of white and the indigenous Apache, and other, Native American tribes the truth of the place is very different.

Modern Quartzsite is all about selling and buying…exactly in that order. There are other factions in the town, prospectors dry panning for gold, or a variation of that theme, can make a little money. One story is that an enterprising and persistent individual made just over $400 in one day this way.

This repeated event also serves as a bit of a cautionary tale. The amount made is impressive, but was made in one day, not every day or an average of $400 per day. Just “one day.” In other words, “Don’t give up your day job.”

Regardless of just what each faction or sub faction does in the town to earn a dollar or two, this Never-Never Land in reverse is full to the brim with older members of society. The average age looks to be between 70 and 80, if not older. One old dear parked in the entrance to the car park of the local Post Office thinking it was a parking slot. When she got out of the vehicle the oldster looked to be around 90 at least.

Quartzsite: A Mecca of Retail, Rocks and Rebels

Of course appearances can be deceiving. Most of the geriatric community seems to be made up of sun worshipers who have all the sags and wrinkles associated with a lifetime spent tanning with, or without, sunscreen. There is also an aged attitude. Grimly defiant and slightly grumpy, again it needs to be pointed out that not all the denizens suffer from this attitude…just a significant proportion.

For example, when one enters a tent or booth, or cordoned off area, where wares are on sale, no one will approach you. (It should be noted that the chaps who sell the maple syrup, sorghum, and pickled produce all speak to you and are very friendly.) They will not acknowledge your presence and if an object is found that strikes your fancy, it will be difficult to figure out whom the seller actually is.

These vendors seem interested only in setting up their goods, sitting and visiting with others who have things for sale and in talking about how much money they could make from certain items. At no time do they actively attempt to sell anything. The aged salesmen, and women, apparently could care less if anyone buys anything at all.

Some of their clients are what seem to be regulars. Men and women who either live locally “year-round” or come back each season to either buy specific things, prospect, mine or hunt for geodes and other geological items.

I have personally witnessed one vendor treat a prospective customer with something like hostility. Under one tented area, a number of handguns were on sale inside wire-topped wooden boxes. These were the real deal, not facsimiles or working replicas, but deadly weapons. An elderly man went to inquire about price and the vendor asked if he was an Arizona resident.

The elderly visitor said that he was not, but he was visiting a friend who was. Before the old chap could continue, the proprietor said, “Don’t waste my time. If you aren’t a resident you can’t buy them. Quoting you prices for guns you can’t buy are a waste of my time and yours.”

Blunt to the point of being rude, any possible sale by the “friend” was lost. This attitude of “I could care less whether you buy anything or not,” seems to be pretty standard.

It should be pointed out that this rebellious attitude seems to be most prevalent in the flea markets. Other business owners are friendly and most of the staff in many of the shops and fast food places are approachable. Even the blunt ones will smile and react well if spoken to in a friendly manner. There are, of course, exceptions.

The whole feeling around the flea market stalls with their “antiques,” curiosities, second hand books, battered videos, rocks, minerals, “split your own geodes,” grocery items, hardware and tool vendors, et al is similar to the old fashioned “carny” atmosphere.

Quartzsite: A Mecca of Retail, Rocks and Rebels

According to the writer I was speaking to in Burger King, who was experiencing Quartzsite for the first time, the town is known as “The Big Tent.” While this is presumably because of the flea markets and the rock stalls, the entire area does emote a sort of county fair atmosphere sans barkers.

There are no stalls where the rubes can “take their chances” at the ring toss or those type of huckster games, but there are an amount of things on sale that have no real place here.

And others that belong as surely as the cotton candy stalls at the fair. Over priced BBQ stalls where a bowl of nachos will set the visitor back a cool $9. Pulled pork sandwiches will cost from $8 to $12, depending on the vendor, or type of BBQ. Wood-fired pizza is another “specialty” eatery set up for the flea markets.

Many places sell, beads, blankets and Navajo jewelry. Walking sticks, some of which look suspiciously like broom handles as well as canes, and something called a “Bubba Stick” are sold everywhere. As are different types of knives such as combat, hunting or self-defense and one place where a plethora of samurai and katana swords were on offer.

Ammunition, knives and rifles are sold at the same place visitors can purchase camouflaged hats, purses and clothing, along with nail clippers and wind up radios. This same establishment, a more permanent type of facility than a tent, sells a huge selection of books, DVDs and various other things which are as mundane as folding canvas chairs and paper towels and as exotic as military vehicles and memorabilia. As well as a number of accessories for rifles, pistols, tools and a large selection of what appeared to be airsoft replica weapons.

On top of all this fascination with retail, from the customers only it seems, and rocks, the other common factor in the town is a sort of rebel without a cause, or with too many, attitude. These aged residents, whether temporary or more permanent, all exude a sort of middle finger to the rest of the world.

It should be pointed out that there are friendly people here, even the rebels will give out a smile and a “hi.” But the main difference is that they do not care if you like them or not; just as they do not care if you are interested in buying any of their wares.

The only thing that these fierce individuals seem to be in sync on is their distinct dislike of the “hippies,” beggars, drifters, and desert rats. (Although it should be pointed out that the attitude of not caring whether you purchase their goods or not even filters down to the various “yard” sales held in various communities of the town.) While there is a temptation to write of these objects of scorn and avid dislike here, they will be discussed in another article.

It will not be too difficult to write quite a bit more about Quartzsite. This mecca of rocks, rebels and retail is like the desert that surrounds it; full of sand (the human kind) and also full of layers. A lot happens here, festivals and the like, which still need to be covered. And…the historical aspects of the area are still to be explored, with many experts on all things military, a pretty interesting crime or two and, rather amazingly, a movie star who came from these parts.