Thursday, March 26, 2009

America! What a Country!

There's hope for guys like my friend Mike Sawyer yet. I'm sure these will sell like hotcakes as Christmas gifts this year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

People watching at the Dallas Zoo

This gorilla hasn't been shot by the cops yet. . .

We headed off to the zoo last week, warily watching the dangerous creatures with bizarre markings on their skin, scary teeth and uncertain behavior--and that was just while riding the DART to Oak Cliff.

It was our first trip to the Dallas Zoo after many trips to Fort Worth's version, and it was nice not to deal with crowds and parking getting there: the light rail drops you off at the front gate. The Dallas Zoo gets a bad rap among the zoological crowd with a string of deaths of several popular residents, including an elephant, a giraffe, a lion, cheetah, and two old gorillas. None of these compared with the death of Jibari the silver-backed gorilla, who somehow escaped by climbing a retaining wall in 2004 and injuring three visitors before the Dallas Police SWAT team shot him dead. Conspiracy theories abound as to how and why Jibari escaped. Wild kingdom, indeed! Since these incidents, the zoo has been remodeling its exhibits, which were largely of an "old-school" animal-in-a-cage variety. The renovations are still on-going; many displays were closed the day we visited. But the animals look sad, and depressed, moreso than at the Fort Worth zoo, where they live in a more natural setting and have more room to roam.

Some sort of colorful bird. Gladly trade our grackles for this one. . .

There's little in a zoo anymore that really impresses me. I rather enjoy watching the people who watch the animals more these days. This got me wondering about zoos and humans: here's a "representative" gathering of animals of each species, all for the entertainment of another single species--the human being. But how can one kangaroo, for instance, represent "all" the 'roos? Or a single rhino? or gorilla? It's silly to think they do; we humans perhaps don't see the variety that exists within a species of other animals, but if you look around at the thousands of humans watching the animals, you'd be hard-pressed to choose just one from the crowd to represent Homo Sapiens.

A wonderful parade of humanity in all its variety. . .

. . in all extremes of dimensions. . .

. . and young moms who don't have the sense to at least throw on some underwear when taking their kid to the zoo. . .

. . species "teenagerum technoligus oblivious". . .

A family which asks "do you hear me now?" more frequently than most. . .

What a show of human diversity! Every race, every religion. Short and tall, fat and thin. Those who need wheelchairs, those who wear glasses. Kids running wild and teenagers with their attention riveted to their cellphones; young couples on a date.

Sure glad I'm not some sort of alien zookeeper who has to decide which two or three of our species is most representative of the rest.
I wonder what the animals think of us?

Every zoo has life-sized bronze statues of chimps, it seems. That's monkey-boy I. up top. .

Riding DART was a treat in itself for the kids. . .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Glen Rose without the Ostriches

Step right up, folks--gift shop inside. Don't worry, that big Dino head is secured by stout guy wires. . .

We decided not to help the U.S. economy this spring break by staying near home. Even that seemed like a pretty bleak decision. There isn't much to do in North Texas in March, besides spending a kazillion bucks going to Six Flags in Arlington (fuck them, anyway, with their elitist rich-asshole "flash pass" that lets those who shell out an additional $40-67 per admission cut into the ride lines ahead of the poor folk").

Even the "cheaper "options have gotten kinda outa hand--such as piling the family into the automobile and drive them through the Fossil Rim wildlife preserve near Glen Rose, about an hour and change southwest of Fort Worth--that used to be a good cheap day trip, but now prices are up over $20 per adult and another $12 per kid. . .no more flat-rate. But, hey, what better way to celebrate nature than to drive a pollution-spewing automobile through a bunch of rare and endangered animals, eh?

I'd been to Fossil Rim once before 10 years ago, and my only word of advise is a warning: If you shell out the $8 for a plastic cup of animal feed, DO NOT put the cup between your legs with the window down and an ostrich anywhere in the vicinity. Don't ask me why this is a bad idea.
Anyway, we thought, since we're not going to Six Flags we'd drop the bucks and visit Fossil Rim. But over lunch at a local bar-b-que joint in Glen Rose, though, one of the diners remarked there was a six-hour wait to get into the place. Screw that! Time for Fun Option #2: Dinosaur World.

What an impressive sight this must've been on the plains of central Texas 6,000 years ago. . .

Only a couple of miles away, Dinosaur World was a whole lot cheaper, and a whole lot tackier, both attributes that friends know I embrace. Right on the doorstep of Dinosaur Valley State Park is a 70-acre landscape of around 100 life-sized fiberglass dinosaur models presented among the Texas fauna in all sorts of threatening poses. There's three nearly-identical such places nationwide, presumably located in places where dinosaur fossils were found, though that's just a guess on my part. Dinosaur World is kitschy, of course, from the steel visitor's center gift shop building with the T. Rex head anchored above the entrance to the "fossil dig" for the kids presented hourly. And it really wasn't cheaper than Fossil Rim, on a bucks-per-hour basis, as the half-mile trail past the dinosaur statues took around 45 minutes or so. And once you've seen a basic large Brotosarus-type dinosaur, a scary T. Rex-type dinosaur, and an armor-plated Stegasarus-type dinosaur, you've seen it all.

The obligatory "screaming four-year-old" photos amid scary fiberglass dinosaurs. . .

All these dinosaurs disappeared millions of years ago, of course, so no one really knows EXACTLY what they looked like. Well, maybe not a million years ago, according to the folks at the Creation Evidence Museum, between the main highway and the Dinosaur Land. It appeared closed on the day or our trip to Glen Rose, but it looks like it'd be a fun visit: the place sets forth a belief that dinosaurs and humans coexisted! And it's got footprints and fossils to prove it! So, we missed out on sharing these wonderful discoveries with our kids, but we fear not, as the museum has a wonderful kids page that lays it all out for them on-line. Hey, no wonder the moon wasn't covered in more than a couple of inches of dust when the Astronauts landed: it was only 6,000 years old! Personally, I really missed out on hearing about the Crystalline Canopy Theory.

Splashing in the mighty Paluxy River. . .

After seeing us some fake dinosaurs (and wondering if it was just a coincidence most of them, like our children, had "thicks skulls with incredibly small brains"), we had the most fun of the day at Big Rocks Park, right along the Paluxy River near old downtown Glen Rose. A bunch of limestone boulders are strewn along the sandy river bank, making it a tempting place or kids to either splash around in the barely-running river or climb up on the big rocks. They had a blast, and got soaked in the process. But it was a gorgeous 82-degree early spring day, and surely worth the wet clothes. The whole idea behind Spring Break in the first place.

. . and playing among the "big rocks". . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Visiting Dad.

I LOVE how this portrait of Dad and the boys, E. (left) and I. turned out. I'm sure a print of it will soon be atop Dad's dresser.

We went over to Plano Tuesday afternoon to visit Dad. I've been horrible in keeping this blog up to date with "family items" over the past five months, so I guess I've been remiss in updating what's been happening with Dad since then.

Soon after his visit in October to our place, Dad had a bad weekend in which he was disoriented and hallucinating about visitors in his home. My sister R. and I took him to visit his doctor, and her diagnosis, while expected, was uncomfortable nonetheless: Dad's Alzheimer's--dementia--was getting worse, and we should really think about moving him out of his house.

Dad had never given us too much cause to worry about his ability to take care of himself. We trusted his judgement and ability in driving around town to take care of his errands and not getting lost or scaring the hell out of anyone on the road. But over the breadth of 2008, he was "getting behind" in keeping up with things. His house--always immaculate--was becoming a mess. His kitchen table was piling up with mail--junk mail and bills--which needed to be taken care of. His taxes and business dealings were falling into disarray, and he was becoming more and more forgetful and at times irrational in his actions and assumptions about others. It's what's to be expected for most men of 83 years of age.

Dad has been alone for the past ten years since mom died. . .he relied on her for everything, for his meals to his laundry, and their marriage lasted nearly fifty years. I know he suffered terribly without her, but he was never one to show it--or at least he tried his best not to. But I know he's been lost.

Me and dad--a rare time when I get my photo made. Good one, M.!

Dad's life, I hate to say it, was pretty much wrapped up in his work. It took him out of town three weeks a month in most cases, and home on weekends, during which he'd catch up on what he'd missed while on the road: the yardwork, paying bills, repairing what needed to be repaired, packing for the next trip. I don't really recall any deep friendships he'd developed (that was Mom's responsibility, I guess), and while he tried to build a bridge with me in common interests--railroads and photography, mainly--I can't really say were were exceptionally close. The times we just went out to "do stuff" together were pretty few and far between. Same with my sisters; I'm sure they wish they'd had a deeper relationship with him as well.

It's one of the curses in the life of an elderly man when they foil the actuarial tables and outlive their wives. Often, they're left with no real close friendships once they retire, and their reason for living--work--and their deepest relationship--their wife--are both gone. While living alone in a nice, big house, much of dad's days were taken up with drinking coffee on the porch, watching CNBC and seeing how the stock market was doing, and shuffling and reshuffling the papers that covered his desk in a back bedroom office.

We moved dad to an assisted living place specializing in Alzheimer's care not too far from sister R.'s home last November. The first few weeks were a struggle for all of us. Dad clearly didn't want to be there--he wanted to be home. He missed the freedom to just get in his car and drive off to Burger King for lunch. He missed his stuff. And he damn well didn't like being in a place "waiting to die" surrounded by a bunch of "old people." R. and her husband rented a truck and some movers and decorated his new apartment with familiar furniture and photographs.

Gradually, he's adapted. He's made some friends in his new home (more in four months than he had in the previous eight years), and while he occasionally plots ways to get out, move back to his old home and buy a new convertable sports car, I think he's realized that he doesn't have too bad a situation. The worst part, apart from having to extend himself and be social and engaged with the rest of the population, has been the women. "They're all just a bunch of old broads," he'd say. "And they're horny, to boot!" He's living in the world of the Beach Boys: Two girls for every boy.

He's looked after in his new place. Nurses check on him daily, make sure he takes the medicine he needs, and he's well fed (though I'm sure he craves a big greasy cheeseburger now and then, something I'm always happy to come over and treat him to). He has good days and bad days, but the staff there is used to dealing with it. I wish I could visit him with the kids more often, but my work schedule and the kids' school precludes that.

On the first free day we had of the kids' spring break, we headed over. We had a great time, though dad's stories tended once more to not make a lot of sense, but the kids were happy to see him, and he, of course, was delighted that the little ones were there.

Dad and a couple of his "girlfriends."