Posts Tagged ‘Tucson’


An awe-struck professor at ASU looking up at the Sagittarius star cloud rising above the Santa Ritas in June 2020. (Check out “The Teapot” asterism  in the exact center of this image, with Scorpius a middle-right.) This is only 45 miles south of my house in central Tucson, and less than an hour away. We took our eyes, binocs, and an 8″ and a 10″ telescope, and were blown away for several hours. For those who the following has meaning, we looked at double stars (Nu Scorpii, Albireo), open clusters (M6, M7, M11, M 25, Coma Berenices), Galaxies (M51, M65, M66, M95, M96, M101, the Sombrero), globular clusters (M4, M10, M13, M22, Omega Centauri), nebulae (the Lagoon, the Triffid, the Eagle), and planets (Jupiter, Saturn). The Milky Way was so bright when it rose that several people thought it was a cloud. The high point was that at high magnification using averted vision we could see the spiral arms in M51, the nearest spiral galaxy where that’s (barely) possible with a 10″ scope.

There’s still a lot of beauty out there, folks. Enjoy! (Photo by Elaine Jones of elainjonespr.com)

And as the song says, “What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?” And appreciation of the beautiful universe we all share?


McCovey Chronicles reports that the best broadcasting team in baseball will be back in 2020: Kruk & Kuip, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, will be back this coming season and probably thereafter. I hope that they’ll go on until they, or I, drop. As Brian Murphy put it on McCovey Chronicles, “we get to enjoy two friends just talking baseball for a little while longer.” Both of them were better-than-average major leaguers with a dry sense of humor, and their friendship is almost palpable. Their broadcasts feel like you’re sitting in your living room talking baseball with two friends who are more knowledgeable than you. Not in a condescending way, but just knowledgeable, and funny.

Probably the best baseball comment I ever heard was one Kuiper (the play-by-play man) made ten or fifteen years ago. The count was 3 and 2, and the batter fouled a ball off the back of the plate. It hit the catcher square in the balls. He went rigid and toppled over, in agony. After maybe 10 or15 seconds of dead air, as the catcher writhed, Kuiper said, deadpan — despite the count — “One strike, two balls.”

The other bit of good news is that the second-best MLB broadcasting team will be back next season, Jon Miller and Mike Flemming, on the radio side of the Giants. They’re well worth listening to.

Even when the Giants are halfway (I hope) through a rebuild, and will almost certainly suck, coming in well under.500.

Tune ’em in and enjoy.

* * *

Sour Grapes Department: There’s no longer Spring Training baseball in Tucson. It’s all up the freeway to the north in the hellhole known as “Phoenix.” Seats there for Spring Training games — yes, Spring Training — commonly go for as much as $50, and they’re often sold out.

Here, the Pecos League (independent — Tucson Saguaros, and other teams in AZ, TX, NM, CA, and Mexico) starts in May, and box seats are $7.50. Yes, $7.50, with dollar-beer nights every Thursday. The ball is roughly somewhere between high A and low AA, and is fun to watch — guys playing for the sheer joy of it or in a last attempt to catch on with an MLB organization.

I know which I’ll pay to see: obscenely high prices for near-meaningless Spring Training games a horrible drive and a hundred miles up I-10 or a couple months later the homegrown product.

Hope to see you at some Saguaros games. I guarantee it’ll be fun. Maybe 105 at game time (just before sunset), but fun nonetheless.

 


“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.

 

 

 


“The only thing hurts now is the pain.

 

My good bud Al Perry will have a new CD out soon, and I’ll be doing the graphic arts design for it, but for the cover graphic by Winston Smith.

As if to prove that Tucson is the smallest million-plus town in the country, one late recent night I met a guy at a Q-T to buy an equipment rack in the parking lot around midnight off craigslist. He stepped out of his truck, and it was Loren Dircks, guitarist from Gila Bend. One of Al’s longtime close friends, and a fantastic guitarist and good guy.

Another thing about another good guy — I wrote to Junior Brown recently and heard back from his wife, Tanya, about the guitar stand he uses in place of a strap. (I could probably use four of ’em — one for a solid body, another for an acoustic-electric, a third for a six-string banjo, a fourth for another acoustic-electric or solid body tuned in open A.)

The guy who built Junior’s stand, Michael Stevens, was good enough to write back and tell me how to build such stands. He didn’t have to do it — it was just out of the goodness of his heart. What a nice guy.

Yeehaw!

This sort of shit happens all the time around here. You think Austin’s cool? It is, but welcome to Tucson.

 


Yep, that’s $155 combined for the guitar and the amp. Both were made in Meridian, Mississippi back in the late ’70s to mid ’80s, and the guitar cost me 75 bucks, and the 55-watt amp $80 off of Craigslist.

And they sound fantastic, proof that you don’t need a $2000 boutique tube amp and a $2000 ultra-high-end boutique guitar to sound good. I think my $155 rig would beat the crap out of any such combo. (Check out the video of tonight’s gig — which should be coming within a day or two, friends willing.)

What are the magic ingredients? A slightly upgraded Peavey Patriot solid body electric guitar, with SuperFerrite pickups (a beginner-level bolt-on solid body with ultra-hot, quiet pickups) and a slightly downgraded Peavey Bandit 65 solid-state amp. (“Downgraded” refers to the speaker.)

Tonight, I played a gig and ran into the guy I bought the Patriot from seven or eight years ago. He did me a huge favor by selling me that guitar for 75 bucks; he wasn’t mercenary, and decided to do some random guitar player — me! — a solid. I love the guitar: it’s fantastic; since then, I replaced the original crappy toggle pickup switch with a high quality knife switch, replaced the scratchy volume pot, and had it professionally set up. That’s all. Another 75 or 80 bucks.

As for the amp, it cost me 80 bucks off of Craigslist about ten years ago. These things originally had very high quality Sheffield Scorpion speakers, with heavy magnets. For no apparent reason — I hadn’t played it above about “5” and no one else had touched it — the speaker started buzzing a couple of years ago. I disassembled it, reassembled the magnet assembly a couple of times (yes, you can do that with these speakers), and the buzz didn’t go away, so I pulled the speaker, checked out what I had on the shelves, and replaced it with the only one that’d fit: a cheap, no-name 12″, 50-watt Chinese speaker (yes, lower wattage than the 55-watt Bandit’s rating) from a complete piece of shit Crate tube amp (but I repeat myself) I’d cannibalized years earlier after the power supply blew up because of construction defects. (As an aside, don’t bother with the more recent Peavey “trans-tube” models.)

Anyway, if you’ve ever heard an old Silvertone Twin from the 1960s, with tiny output transformers that super-saturate very easily, and deliver an incredible blues-distorted tone, this rig with the shitty Chinese Crate speaker essentially delivers the same. This is probably a one-off, so please don’t buy a Bandit and pull the high quality Sheffield and replace it with a random piece of shit speaker — you’ll likely be very disappointed. Bandits typically go on Craigslist for between $75 and $150, and they sound way-good as is.

As for the guitar, the Peavey Patriot comes in two flavors: one with two single-coil pickups, the other with a single bridge pickup, which is as useless as you’d suspect. (Anyone who’d buy such a guitar is forgiven as a 14-year-old moron who might eventually learn better, but it’s useless nonetheless.) Look before you buy. You should be able to find one on Craigslist for somewhere in the $100 – $250 range depending on condition and on whether it has a case.

There’s a near-equivalent model, which should sell for about the same: the Peavey T-15, which has a slightly shorter neck and slightly different body shape. Other than that, they’re identical.

As for the other Peavey “T” models, the Peavey T-60 has become fashionable in recent years, is the most in-demand, and typically sells in the $500 to $600 range. It’s the guitar Jerry Reed used on the “Smokey and Bandit II” album — with the great cut “East Bound and Down.” It has the two SuperFerrite humbucker pickups, but with a split switch to give you a single-coil tone if you want  it. The downside is that these thing play great, sound great, and, unless you’re young, strong, and will learn better by the time you’re 30, they’ll give you major back problems. The weight varies, but they’re far heavier than Les Pauls, with some weighing over 13 pounds. If you have the money and will use it only in the studio, get one. For day-in-day-out bar gigs, get something lighter, unless you have masculinity issues.

As for still other “T” models, I’ve owned Peavy T-25s, T-26s, and T-27s. I didn’t like any of them. The Strat-like T-27 (I believe, could be wrong about the model number) wasn’t good — equivalent action, but noticeably worse tone than my standard Strat. I’m rebuilding the one with SuperFerrite humbuckers (I believe the T-26), and, once I have new tuning machines in it, will set it up for slide (which is about all humbuckers are good for). Sorry for the confusion about the “T” Peaveys — the only ones I like are the 2-pickup Patriot, T-15, and T-60.

Enough for now. Time to pull apart my Peavey Classic 30, see why it’s howling, and fix it.

Cheers, Chaz

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel, and is the author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory. He also was the guitarist in Ass Deep In Hippies (in San Francisco), Pinche Blues Band (In Tucson), and is the guitarist in an upcoming a yet-to-be-named blues/rock/jazz/country band, mostly featuring old bandmates and both originals and covers in Tucson. Should be huge fun. For a sample of the originals, click here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the free mp3s.)

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


Howdy y’all (as we say in these here parts),

It’s time for spring/early summer planting.

As usual, I grew a ton more starts than I needed so as to give ’em away to friends, neighbors, and other folks in order to encourage their planting gardens. This year, I grew maybe 300 to 400 starts and have used about 75.  The rest have gone to the four winds, to whoever I think (oh please, whomever) will plant them and tend them. This is in deliberate contrast to Home Depot and Lowe’s, who don’t even sell six-packs anymore and charge the gullible $3 to $5 a start. (A fellow gardener, formerly a commercially gardener, who’s getting a new nursery biz up and running, told me yesterday that people buy them so as to have instant gratification, and will ignore them after they inadvertently kill them in a month or so through over or under watering or other sins. Thinking about it, she was right.)

I’ve given away maybe 175 to 200 starts, mostly tomato plants so far; there are about 25 left. Totally cost to me? Counting water, compost (I roll my own) for planting seeds [potting soil is unnecessary], and the bottoms of recycled cut-off plastic bottles (to hold the compost and seeds), and a tiny bit of fish emulsion fertilizer? Maybe two or three cents per start plus daily watering diligence. Not even 1% of what the big-box stores charge.

One of the oddities of producing starts is that they have their own minds as to when they come up. Tomatoes are always the first. Then the squash and melons, and then bell peppers and chiles. Some veggies you just want to plant directly in the ground. For summer, the primary one I’ve found is Yard-long Asian Beans (taste like wax beans, genetically more similar to black-eyed peas).

I’m also preparing to go to the downtown library and give them a ton of seeds for their seed catalog (enough for maybe 500 to 1,000 packets, which will be available to whoever wants seeds): Romaine, Bibb, Yard-Long Asian Beans, Okra, Broccoli, and White Chard. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: they give me seeds for veggies I don’t already have, and I give them a ton of seeds for redistribution to other community gardeners.

Harvesting seeds can be a pain in the ass. It can be extremely difficult, for example, to harvest carrot seeds. So, I concentrate on the easier ones and get carrot seeds etc. from the seed catalog.

The broccoli has been going to seed since late February, and I still haven’t harvested all the seeds. Ditto for the Romaine, which went to seed in April. I won’t be able to replant those beds until I’ve harvested the seeds later this month, by which time summer planting will be marginal. I’ll put in onions in the worst sun-drenched plot, and they might grow. Might.

I’m letting two beds go fallow until the fall, one is smack dab in the middle of the sun-scorched yard, and the other is the best bed in the place, but I’ve been planting it every year for the last quarter century (yes, rotating crops). My goal, pretty close to fruition, is not to use any shade cloth at all, and all of the beds I’ve planted are in at least partial shade from trees.

I’ll be putting in more fruit trees, too. In years past, I did it the hard way: shoveling down the 18 inches or so to the caliche (calcium carbonate mixed with silt, sand, gravel, rocks, and small boulders), and then down another four to five feet through the caliche with a pick axe, shovel, and breaker bar.

This time, in the fall, I’ll rent a jack hammer (neighbor has a compressor) and chip out the concrete slabs on the west side of the house. Then I’ll rent a backhoe and dig a hole in the one remaining spot in the backyard for a fruit tree (a fig), and then dig a couple of pits for fruit trees on the west side of the house with the backhoe. (I’m a lazy sod, and feel a bit guilty about doing things this easy way rather than busting my ass doing it the “right” way as I did in years past with the other fruit trees, manually; did I mention that I’m ex-Catholic? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. To paraphrase the Church, Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.)

So far this year I’ve planted spaghetti squash, golden melons, watermelons, collard greens, and  red cherry and Zacatipan tomatoes (the two types I’ve found that will bear all summer in 105+ heat). Also yard-long Asian beans directly in the ground, the various chiles (Hatch, jalapeños, Cayennes, Japanese, Thai, serranos, Anaheims, Chiles de Arbol) and red and orange bell peppers. (Helpful hint: there ain’t no such thing as green bell peppers — they taste awful and are simply immature red bell peppers; why anyone buys them is beyond me.)

Survivors from last summer’s garden include red cherry and zacatipan tomatoes, plus red bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and black beauty eggplants. The peppers, eggplants, and chiles might last for another year or three. The surviving tomatoes will likely be done by June or July. The basil plants come back year after year, so I never have to replant them.

As well, I continue to work the compost pile, digging it out from the left, tossing the crap on top to the right, digging out the good compost on the bottom, then adding compost buckets to the top of the crap on the right. There’s no reason on earth to buy expensive composing gear: just rotating it left-to-right and then starting all over again works just fine.

I buy a couple of straw bales per year (about ten bucks apiece), spend nearly nothing on fertilizer (may a buck per year), spend maybe twenty-five bucks per year on manure (about a cubic yard), spend nothing on seeds or starts, and too damn much on water. I have my roof/patio set up to channel rain water to the fruit trees, use about 90% of my water on the garden, and bear about 80% of the Tucson Water bills on “sewer” fees — I recharge water; it does not go down the drain.

More on this later. (Photos to come)

Cheers,

Chaz

 

 


Well, it’s finally happened. My favorite Mexican restaurant, El Torero, closed tonight and won’t reopen. By happenstance, I dropped in for some typically great Mexican chow and some beers with a few friends tonight, had one of the final meals El Torero served, and got to talking with the owner (and chef). He’s been threatening to close the place for a good five years, to which my attitude has always been, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Tonight, I believe it.

El Torero is a South Tucson institution, and has been around as a family place for over 60 years.

(South Tucson incorporated as a 100% Mexican, one-square-mile city in 1939 as a self-defense measure against the virulent racism in the City of Tucson. Things really didn’t begin to change here until the 1970s, and Tucson proper is now the most integrated city of over a million in the country, and the population within the city limits is currently close to 50% Mexican. Racism persists, but it’s a shadow of its former self; Tucson is at times referred to, with some justification [the arts and music scenes], as a “mini-Austin”; and the City of South Tucson [now entirely encircled by the City of Tucson, but still over 90% Mexican] persists as a poverty-stricken monument to resistance to racism.)

Enough with the history lesson.

El Torero is gloriously tacky with formica tables, a chewed-up linoleum floor, flame-throwing salsa, and a stuffed (or fiberglass) swordfish on one wall outlined with Christmas lights. It’s the only restaurant I know in Tucson where during slack periods the owner will sit down uninvited to shoot the shit with you, and during really slack periods the on-duty cook will come out of the kitchen and likewise sit down uninvited to shoot the shit. I love it.

As homey as it is, the food is (or was) great — every bit as good and a bit cheaper than the ultra-trendy Mi Nidito three blocks down the street (the food there is good and reasonably priced), which is the place to go for trendoids who don’t mind waiting an hour to be seated while there’s no waiting at El Torero. (Rigo’s, The Crossroads, Michas, and Guillermo’s are all at least close in quality and equivalent in price, within about a mile, and there’s never a wait at any of them. Mi Nidito became the place to go after Bill Clinton visited the place maybe 25 years ago, did his best impression of a human rotorooter, and consumed mass quantities.)

Anyway, El Torero is gone. When I spoke with him tonight, the owner (in the center in the photo at left) told me, “Just go to Lerua’s” (about two miles away on Broadway) — owned by the same family, with the same recipes. That’s good advice while it applies. Lerua’s will likely be axed when the Broadway “improvement” project kicks in sometime within the next few years.

Damn! but I’ll miss El Torero.

(P.S. For anyone in the area, my blues duo, Cholla Buds, will be playing two jobs downtown tomorrow, Dec. 1: from 1:00 to 4:00 at Crooked Tooth Brewery on 6th Street at Arizona Avenue, and from 5:30 to 6:00 or 6:15 at The Hut on 4th Avenue and 8th Street. Both shows are free. Please come on down and have some free fun.)


Yep, a lot of white folks are scared shitless of losing majority status in this country. Listen to the fear-mongering racist jerks and they’ll have you believing it’s a coming apocalypse.

It’s not. In my neighborhood, where white people are a minority, there are plenty of problems, but they aren’t related to race.

A lot of that has to do with Tucson’s being the most integrated million-plus city in the country, and my high-density neighborhood being the most integrated neighborhood in Tucson. People just get along here. We have to.

I moved here (The Keeling Neighborhood — Official Motto: “It’s not as bad as it looks”) in 1992. At the time, it was probably 55-60% Mexican, 30-35% white, and 5% to 10% black, with a scattering of Yaquis and Tohono O’odhams. When I moved in, in terms of violence it was somewhat like, though not as bad, as what I was used to in the North Mission in San Francisco: being constantly on edge and hypervigilant. (A few weeks before I left there, around dusk walking down Mission Street by the armory, I flattened against the wall as I heard rapid footsteps approaching coming up behind me — it was a guy with eyes wide as plates being chased by an equally crazed motherfucker brandishing a machete.)

When I moved in here, there were shots every night, but they were mostly a good half-mile away, not pleasant background noise, but far enough away to ignore. After living in the North Mission, this neighborhood was a relief in comparison.

Since then, things have gotten progressively more peaceful. The DEA hasn’t busted a meth lab on the block in over 15 years (there was only one such bust); it’s been almost as long since they busted the Hell’s Angels clubhouse three blocks south of here; there hasn’t been a murder within half a mile in over seven years; there hasn’t been a shootout on the corner (a hundred feet away — duplexes owned by slumlords) in well over five years (there have been two while I’ve been here); and the last real excitement was about two or three years ago when some asshole half a block down got busted by the ATF for building pipe bombs. Anymore, it’s rare to hear shots — no more than maybe once a month.

It’s become a safe neighborhood. Poor, but a pretty decent place for kids (but for the shitty, underfunded schools).

And you know? That improvement in the neighborhood has corresponded to a decrease in the white population. Right now the neighborhood is probably 65% Mexican, 10% to 15% black, and only 20% to 25% white.

Guess what, folks — we don’t need to fear our black and brown neighbors. All of the real problems, especially the economic ones, are systemic, not due to race. Let’s worry about those real problems, not made-up ones such as white people losing majority status.

 

 

 


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.

 

 


This evening I did something stupid: I locked myself out of the house. I was doing laundry, put on a clean pair of jeans, took the dirty ones off, took everything out of my pockets, and laid it on my desk. I put my old jeans in the basket, walked outside to put the laundry in the washer, pulled the door shut behind me, and went “Oh shit!” I’d locked myself out of the house wearing only flip flops and a pair of jeans.

Fortunately, my neighbor was home, sitting out on his patio drinking beer and listening to Banda and Norteños blasting from his boom box (or whatever the equivalent is nowadays). I walked over to the fence and yelled, “Hey neighbor! I just did something stupid — locked myself out of the house!” Fortunately, he’s a master mechanic and has every tool under the sun. We tried drilling out the lock first, which didn’t work. Then he hauled out a grinder, ground off the door handle amid a cascade of sparks, and after another ten minutes we managed to get the door open.

I thanked him, walked in, locked the remaining dead bolt, drove up to Home Depot, bought another lock, and then drove to Total Wine, where I bought a 12er of Bud Light, and a bottle of pretty decent tequila.

Upon returning home, I installed the lock, grabbed the bottle of tequila and the 12er of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson), let myself into my neighbor’s yard, walked back to his patio accompanied by his vicious dogs — I’m on their good side due to occasionally feeding them meat scraps — sat down, and we started talking about our lives and families.

We eventually got around to reminiscing about what the ‘hood was like 20 years ago when we were a lot younger and his wife, who died from cancer a year ago, was still around: gun shots a few blocks away most nights, but also parties on the weekend going until 3:00 a.m. with dozens of people drinking to oblivion and trucks parked in the yard booming out Rancheras, Norteños, Rock en Español, and Banda. For my part, I’d sometimes have louder-than-hell band rehearsals going until midnight. Sometimes on week nights. Nobody ever complained. It was a fun time.

But times have changed. My neighbor looked at me and said, “Now? . . . . . Some asshole would call the cops.”

I could only agree.

Before I left, I ended by telling him one of my favorite anecdotes.

About the time this was all happening I had a girlfriend who was a dedicated vegetarian who didn’t speak Spanish, and I was sometimes playing music with Indians (don’t get on me about the term — that’s what they call themselves) — a good Apache friend regularly and for years, and occasionally Yaquis and T’ohono O’odhams.

Well, I got an invitation to a birthday party down by St. Mary’s Hospitals for one of the T.O. musicians, and the girlfriend and I went. We were the only white people there out of 50 or 60 others; almost all them were T.O.s, some of whom didn’t even speak Spanish let alone English.

After we arrived, I hauled my gear out of the truck and went to the backyard where I played music and drank beer with the guys for about an hour.

When we took a break, I walked into the house to grab a bite, walked into the kitchen, and found the GF standing there with a bowl of clear soup in her hand, with garbanzos floating on the surface. She told me that she hadn’t been able to talk to any of the other women, because none of them spoke English. She also told me that the soup was really good, but that she couldn’t figure out what the chewy stuff was on the bottom.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

I still don’t think she’s ever consciously eaten meat since then.

Good times. Damn but I miss ’em.

 


(Well, even 24 in 96 is stretching it a bit — but it sounds better than 24 in 114, which is still pushing it because there are a few of the 24 that I’ve tried previously and that are lurking in the ‘fridge. Anyway . . . )

A few days ago, I got an offer I wouldn’t refuse from TotalWine: 15% off 24 beer singles.

I decided to use the offer to sample a bunch of brews I’ve never tried before — almost all microbrews, and mostly regional (Western US, and especially Arizona) microbrews. Here are the results, which were nowhere near as good as I’d hoped, but there were some bright spots.

I’ve omitted a lot of brews I’m familiar with and that I think are very good but overpriced (Rogue, Anderson Valley, Dogfish Head, Stone), and am sticking here with the ones I tried for the first time, and, from memory, a number of the good local beers available in bottles at a reasonable price. I’ve put the states or countries of origin after the beers.

First, what I consider the really good:

  • Breckenridge Brewery amber ale (Colorado)
  • Breckenridge Brewery vanilla porter (Colorado)
  • Nimbus Monkey Shines (extremely high octane brown ale — overpriced, but very good) (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Boulder Shake chocolate porter (Colorado)
  • Moose Drool brown ale (Montana)

Next, what I consider the good:

  • Alaskan amber (Alaska — duh!)
  • Full Sail amber (Oregon)
  • Left Hand milk stout (Colorado)
  • Foster’s Extra Special Bitter — labeled as just “Foster’s Ale” — a great buy (Australia)
  • Nimbus red (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Barrio rojo (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Nimbus brown (Tucson, Arizona)
  • San Tan Devil’s Ale (an over-hopped but good pale ale) (Arizona)
  • Lost Coast Stout (California)
  • Nimbus pale ale (this used to be a great beer, but the yeast mutated about 20 years ago, and now I’d only rank it as good) (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Alien amber ale (brewed in — where else? — Roswell, NM)

After that, what I consider only okay:

  • More than half of them

Now, two that I consider bad:

  • Grand Canyon amber ale (I find it sour) (Arizona)
  • Barrio Blonde (I find it bland and skunky, almost as bad as Corona) (Tucson, Arizona)

Now, two that I consider horrendous:

  • Magic Hat not quite pale ale (I find it like drinking perfume mixed with vinegar) (Vermont)
  • Estrella Jalisco (I had a few sips from one several weeks ago and poured out the rest of the bottle) (Mexico)

As for the best buys, I’d have to go with the Foster’s ESB ($2.29 for a 25.4-oz. can), Full Sail Amber ($6.99 a sixer). Moose Drool Brown ($7.99 a sixer), and Boulder Shake chocolate porter ($7.99 a sixer).

Enough beer snobbery. What’s your favorite brew?

 

 


Since I had nothing better to do, I bought a 12-er of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson)  and toddled on over to one of my neighbor’s places tonight.

His two 80-or-90 pound  mutts threatened me when I walked through the gate, until I said, “Knock off the shit, motherfuckers” and put my hand down toward them, fingers curled back, so they could sniff me. They were fine after that.

There were only the three of us tonight — yours truly, my neighbor, and his gay nephew — a really nice guy I’ve known for years.

This is how much things have been changing: my neighbor’s nephew (early 40s) is very open about being gay, and that ain’t all that unusual around here anymore. It’s “fine, whatever…” Nobody gives a shit.

But his boyfriend, from Hermosillo, keeps it all a secret. Up here, not so much. Down there, yeah, a secret. A shameful secret.

One hopes that the more tolerant attitudes up here along the border will seep down. Maybe. Probably.

One other really weird thing we talked about was one of my ex-GFs, a Texan from Houston. She’s a barely disguised racist — against Mexicans — not that she’ll admit it — but is fine with black people.

Weird, yeah. I know.

I think my neighbors were kind of disgusted that I’d have anything to do with — let alone have sex with — such an asshole, but didn’t want to say anything about it.

Go figure. Needless to say, that’s over with.

And this is over with for now: another tale from the hood.

Stay tuned.

(More utterly depressing pictures from out my front door shortly.)

 


Things have gotten more sedate. I’m not happy about that. Neither are most of my neighbors.

On the positive side, since I moved here 25 years ago, it’s extremely rare to hear gun shots. A quarter of a century ago, it was a nightly occurrence. For the most part, they were a good quarter to half mile away so I paid them little attention, other than thinking, “that ain’t good — but it’s south of Grant, so screw it.”

Now, it’s been months since I’ve heard shots. This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there’s way less partying than a couple of decades ago, which is a bad thing.

Then, we’d have band practice in my living room, playing pretty loud, and no one ever called the cops. Even when we played until midnight.

And the neighbors would have parties on weekends going until 2:00 or 3:00 am, with pickups parked in the front yard, doors open, blasting rancheros, banda, and norteños. It was glorious. No one gave a shit, or at least no one would call the cops.

Beer, bacanora, mota, and the occasional blast. Such fun. We were mostly in our 20s, 30s, and 40s then.

Now, we’re in our 50s and 60s, and the kids — who I’ve known since they were actually kids — on the east side have taken over the house.

My neighbor on the west side, a good friend who I’ve known for over 20 years, is by himself now. His wife, Angie, of decades died a few months ago, and he wanted to talk tonight so we buried the better part of a case of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson) over a couple of hours.

I found out something touching while talking with him tonight: she actually liked me. I thought she hated me. Over the years, I had a string of (literally and unfortunately) crazy girlfriends, which they found quite amusing (“Charles has another one!”). About 15 years ago, after Angie’s younger sister got divorced, she and I looked at each other and went “Oh yes!” until Angie told me, and presumably the equivalent to her sister, “Stay away from her!”

At the time, I was really offended and thought she said that simply because I was white. I was wrong. She was trying to protect her sister. The awful part is that if things had worked out I’d have happily married her sister.

C’est la vie.

After returning home, I went over to a party with my neighbors on the east side of the house. They were celebrating the upcoming birth of their daughter, due in November.

More beer, more mota, and good Mexican food.

Of late, life is more sedate, but still pretty good.

¡Salud!

 


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, one of my band mates, and mentioned that the (Tucson) cops had beaten my neighbor across the street, arrested him, and charged him with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. (Why, yes, how did you guess? I don’t live in a gated community.)

My friend then mentioned that Tucson cops had beaten one of his coworkers so badly a few weeks ago that the guy ended up with traumatic brain injury and a speech impediment. (And, yes, now that you ask, the coworker is Mexican.)

He lived in an apartment on the south side, and heard his next door neighbor beating his girlfriend. He intervened and got in a fight with the neighbor. At that point, the cops arrived, and the beaten neighbor woman claimed my friend’s coworker had assaulted her and her boyfriend. This enraged my friend’s coworker, he went verbally ballistic, and out came the truncheons. Following the beating the cops gave him, they charged him with assaulting an officer (no cops were injured, of course) and resisting arrest.

Because of the brain injury he sustained, my pal’s beaten coworker is now suing the police and the city. This incident could cost the city (meaning the city’s taxpayers) hundreds of thousands and perhaps over a million bucks.

But this is nothing new. Back in the 1970s, eight Tucson cops beat a political-activist friend of mine and charged him with — ta-da — assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault. (None of the cops were injured, of course, and the only evidence was the testimony of the cops.) The county attorney brought the case to trial, and all of the cops perjured themselves. Fortunately, the victim had a good attorney who picked apart the cops’ testimony revealing numerous irreconcilable inconsistencies, and he was acquitted. The victim never received any compensation, and none of the cops were ever charged with perjury or conspiracy.

While I lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, a friend of mine who was carrying her one-year-old baby encountered two SF cops beating a guy, who was down on the ground, with truncheons near the entrance to the 24th Street BART station. She yelled at them to stop, and they maced her and the baby. You can guess what they charged her with.

In the same city in 1992, another friend of mine–Keith McHenry, a well known activist, who was under surveillance by the cops–was beaten so badly at a demonstration that he needed reconstructive facial surgery. Again, it’s not hard to guess who got charged–my friend or the cop who smashed in his face–and with what.

How do cops get away with such brutal crap? There are several reasons. The first is that they have all the resources of the state behind them, while their victims are usually poor. The second is that the cops are normally buddy-buddy with prosecutors. The third is that witnesses are often afraid of the cops and reluctant to come forward. (Here in Tucson, some witnesses and victims are undocumented immigrants, who for good reason rarely come forward.) The fourth reason is related to the third–that the only witnesses to beating incidents who testify are very often only the cops themselves. A fifth reason is that police routinely perjure themselves. (Nobody has less respect for the law than cops. Even “good cops” routinely perjure themselves to protect their brutal colleagues, because of peer pressure.) And a sixth reason is that juries tend to skew toward older white people — in other words, people who are likely to believe cops and are not likely to be sympathetic to black, brown, or poor white beating victims — and the state’s attorneys always do their best to get such juries. As a defense attorney once told a friend, prosecutors always try to get “Mormons and morons” seated on juries in police beating cases–people gullible enough to believe the testimony of cops.

Because of all this, it’s very difficult for victims to win police brutality cases. A few years ago an attorney who sometimes handles such cases showed me a large blow-up photo he had used in court. It showed the swollen, battered face of one of his clients. The police had beaten him with a long (D-cell) metal flashlight so badly that they caved in one of the victim’s eye sockets and then charged him with (Do I even need to mention this?) assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. The victim lost the brutality case.

I’ve seen proposals recently that cops wear helmet cameras to record everything they do. This is being sold as a crime-fighting move. It’s a good idea, but I doubt that it will have any effect on crime other than  reducing crime committed by the cops themselves. And then only if there’s no way for the cops to turn the cameras off. But even if supposedly constant-recording helmet cams become standard, how much do you want to bet that they won’t many, many times “malfunction” in assaulting-an-officer / resisting-arrest cases?


Howdy from Tucson, where the final day of Spring came in at (depending  on which forecast you believe) somewhere between 112 and 114 degrees F (45 degrees C for you furriners). (Update: it was actually 115 F.)

It’s supposed to be even warmer tomorrow (make that in a few hours). (Update: It was warmer: 116 (47 C) ; in Phoenix it was 119. As I write, the high today was a mere 115, and we’re in for a major cooling spell this weekend, where the highs won’t get much above 110.)

About three weeks ago, after our first string of 100+ degree days, one of the local weathermen (Kevin Jeanes on KOLD — and sorry for the political incorrectness, that should be “weatherperson” or “person of weather”) with, shall we say a dry sense of humor, commented that the temperature was “all the way down to 99, and it’ll be even cooler tomorrow at 97.” (Again, for those of you who use a rational temperature scale, that translates to 37 C and 36 C.)

For those who haven’t been paying attention to U.S. climate models, they predict that this region, the desert Southwest, will be the hardest hit of the “lower 48.” And indeed it has been. We’ve been in a prolonged drought for nearly 20 years (broken last year by “normal” rainfall), and two of the last three years, 2014 and 2016, were the hottest on record. We just experienced the second warmest Spring ever, with the hottest March (high and mid 90s temperatures starting around March 1).

So, yeah, global warming is a “hoax.” We need to burn more coal. Donald Trump is an intelligent, honest, compassionate human being. And the unfettered greed inherent in capitalism isn’t a death sentence for the planet.

Things seem bleak, but we’re not totally screwed. There are things we can do individually and collectively to adapt and to counter global warming.

One thing damn near everyone can do is to plant trees. If done on a mass scale, this can reverse desertification. Even on an individual scale, it’s one of the best things we can do.

Gardening is another individual approach that makes sense. It involves far less expense than transporting food for thousands of miles, and involves far less waste. It also yields health benefits via relaxation, if nothing else.

Another individual approach, in arid regions, is to use xeriscaping, using native plants and a carpeting of rocks in place of lawns and non-native plants. This saves water — a lot of it, and it looks better than lawns.

Then there’s water harvesting — again, something damn near everyone (at least every property owner) can do at reasonable cost that will be amortized in a relatively few years. Even if you’re just channeling rain water from your roof and patio into wells for your fruit trees (as I am), it helps.

And then there’s passive solar heating (just think big picture windows facing south with an overhang that cuts off the sun in the summer months) and solar hot water heating (ultra easy — I built a solar hot water heater out of two old hot water heaters painted flat black [stripped of their external metal jacket and insulation], plumbing fittings, an old window, and scrap plywood and 2X4s about 20 years ago — a friend is still using it).

Then there’s ultra-insulation. Think straw bale and rammed earth construction. These energy-saving approaches can be used almost anywhere, and will often result in extremely energy-efficient dwellings.

To go even further on the individual scale, basements make a hell of a lot of sense in desert areas. Temperatures in them are a good 25 degrees F below surface temperatures, and there aren’t even seepage problems in deserts. The only reason they haven’t been adopted on a mass scale in the sprawlopalises  of the Southwest is that land, historically, has been so damn cheap that builders have foregone them in place of slab construction, which yields better short-term profits. If you’re having a place built in this area, think about adding a basement.

As for societal approaches, they’re so obvious that I’ll mention them only in passing. First and foremost, a direct tax on carbon emissions — screw carbon “offsets”: they’re a recipe for fraud; massive public investment in clean energy; energy-efficient transport and appliances; mass investment in public transit, including bicycle projects; tree planting on a mass scale; and subsidies for individual clean energy projects, passive-solar retrofits, water harvesting,  and energy-efficient construction.

Why do I think all of this is important? There are a couple of reasons.

One is that if adopted widely all of this would help save the planet (or at least make the lives of our children and their children better). The other is that it would keep people involved, and at least marginally hopeful. People without hope are easy to control and manipulate. Real, positive change is possible only when people have hope.

If you haven’t already done so — even on the smallest individual scale — please join those of us trying to create real change, please join those of us creating hope.