Saturday, December 31, 2016

Catching The Rugby Match With Mark

I had dinner and beers with my friend Mark - who as regular Blog readers know works at the University of Denver's Anderson Academic Commons (the library) - last night at The Three Lions, "A World Football Pub," located just down the street from the bookstore where I work as a bookkeeper.  And yes, it is indeed located on East Colfax Avenue, and yes, this is the third post in a row that features a Colfax location.  Colfax Avenue - "America's longest, wickedest street," at least in the 1950s.  In any case, Mark and his family are doing well and he is enjoying a week off from work at DU.  The campus closes between Christmas and New Years Day, giving it's employees a week long holiday.  I remember those happy days.  I worked as the Finance Manager of the University of Denver Bookstore for almost 30 years before DU outsourced the bookstore and laid off all it's employees without an offer of alternative employment.  But as regular Blog readers of course know, I am still not bitter.  Never be bitter on New Year's Eve.  Never.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Valarie And Marilyn

I had dinner with my friend and former University of Denver Bookstore co-worker Valarie (seen in the above photograph with none other than Marilyn Monroe) last night at the Lakewood Grill on West Colfax Avenue, which is located just a few blocks west of Casa Bonita, featured on this Blog yesterday. The Lakewood Grill is Valarie's favorite new dive bar, and has - I must add - really good food.  All in all, I seem to be spending a lot of time on Colfax these days, working at a bookstore on it's east end and dining and taking Blog photos on it's west.  I'm not sure what that means, but I don't intend to dwell on it.  Valarie and her significant other Jake are planning to retire next year, while our friends Darrel and Linda retired last year.  I myself am planning to file for social security in January of 2018, while my friend Stuart is not adverse to retiring any time at all if it decides that is what he wants to do.  I am hoping we can all meet at McDonald's for coffee every morning once we become part of the 47% of Americans who pay no taxes and demand an entitlement (i.e. social security) from the government. We can discuss how much greater America seems to be getting each day under the Trump presidency.  Perhaps a centrally located McDonald's?  On Colfax?  We'll talk...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Casa Bonita Around The Holidays - Still Another Tradition

One of Denver's top tourist attractions - believe it or not - is located in a strip shopping mall on West Colfax Avenue, not too far from beautiful and exotic Lakewood, Colorado, the one time - and not surprisingly, brief - home of Jack Kerouac.  Casa Bonita is a Mexican Restaurant that features tables set around a 30 foot waterfall, from which cliff divers jump at regular intervals.  And it is an "all you can eat" restaurant, too.  As I recall from the last time I was there, which was quite a while ago, to request more food, you simply raise a little flag at your table, and a waiter or waitress comes and brings you a refill. Among locals, the food there has a very so-so reputation, and the cliff diving acts are considered a bit tacky.  On the other hand, it is hard to find a local who had never been there.  And to tell you the truth, the food there tasted just fine to me.  And I am after all a gourmet. It reminds  me of Woody Allen's old story about two elderly Jewish ladies who were complaining about the food at a resort in the Poconos.  The first one said that the food tasted horrible, and the second one replied yes, and such small portions, too.  That, by the way, is Woody Allen's philosophy of life.  Full of trouble and unhappiness, and way too short.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Holiday Tradition...

One of the big holiday traditions here in Denver is to go downtown and see the City & Country Building.  It is decked out in every color of the rainbow this time of year, and always draws a big crowd.  Since I had a little time on my  hands last night, and needed a Blog photo (seen above), I decided to drive down and take a look.  And as usual, people were hanging out in front, taking photos, and just having a good time.  My ex-wife once told me it looked pretty gaudy to her, and just reinforced Denver's "cow-town" image. However, the older I get, the more I am beginning to prefer the "cow-town" aspects of the city - what is left of them, anyway - with Exhibit A being the National Western Stock Show, which begins a 3 week run here in just a few weeks and is just plain fun.  Another old Denver landmark, now gone, was a huge lighted cross that was set into the side of a mountain and could be seen  from all parts of the city.  When I lived on the 11th floor, I could clearly see it all the time, and it just dominated the neighborhoods farther west, along the foothills. When sports writer and resident wise guy Woody Paige moved to town, he shouted out "It's a miracle."  No, his friend replied, it's neon.  This cross was evidently located in a cemetery in the foothills overlooking Denver. When I moved to a lower floor after my building went condo, I could still see it from my balcony, but had to be standing in just the right place.  Eventually I stopped looking and now it has just disappeared. Another part of old time Denver gone.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bay Bridge Vineyards

I had never heard of Bay Bridge Vineyards until I was checking out at the King Sooper's Grocery Store in Glendale (an independent city completely surrounded by Denver, once known for it's nightlife and these days for it's strip clubs) and saw a display of their products near the checkout stand.  The name was what first attracted my attention - not a rural, pastoral sounding name, but a reference to a bridge connecting two densely packed urban areas (the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, California).  And the next thing that attracted my attention was the price -  it was $2.99 a bottle.  And suddenly I had a vision of a winery  located in an abandoned XXX movie theater on South Market Street in San Francisco, in the Tenderloin District, with homeless people standing in huge vats stomping grapes with their bare feet.  As a matter of fact, the last time I was in San Francisco, I did not see all that many homeless people on the streets.  So that's where they went!  Of course, the last time I was in San Francisco, every inch of the city had been gentrified, and so as far as I know, there no longer is a Tenderloin District, and my vision was in fact just the product of a wild and very scary imagination.  And so what else is new?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Boxing Day!

Today is Boxing Day, the day people in the UK and the Commonwealth countries, not to mention Ireland, traditionally give a day off to their servants, since their services were required on Christmas Day.  These employer's usually give them a box filled with gifts, bonuses, and leftover food to take along with them, hence the name Boxing Day. Today is also the feast day of St. Stephen, the patron saint of horses, and so the day is also associated with horse racing and foxhunting.  I just wish I could be at my country estate in England today to hand out gifts to my servants before heading out for the fox hunt, but we can't have everything, after all.  Instead, I am featuring a photograph of my friend Stuart, who I had over yesterday for Christmas dinner. I usually celebrate with my sister and brother-in-law up in Fort Collins, but they had to cancel Christmas at the last minute, possibly due to a schedule conflict with the Denver Broncos football game.  Such is life.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas from The Spirits Of Both Christmas Past And Present.

Merry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!  Joyuex Noel!  Happy Hanukkah!  Happy Kwanzaa!  Happy Start of Baseball Spring Training 2017 (just thought I'd throw that in there to see if you're paying attention) from the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present.  In the photograph above - in living color - are, from left to right, my brother-in-law George, Blackberry the cairn terrier, my sister Susan, Tutu the Yorkie, and me, looking my quizzical and confused self.  And - in black and white - are my mother Mary, sister Susan as a sulky teenager, me when I was at my absolute peak in life, and my father Nelson.  It was taken by I don't know who in the living room of our house in the South Side Brainerd neighborhood of Chicago back in the 1950s. A place and period that will always live on in my memory.  Happy New Year, too, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Will The Spirits Return Tonight?

For a number of years now, I have been visited by 3 spirits every Christmas Eve (not including that damn Marley, seen on the left in the above photo), trying to convince me to change my curmudgeonly ways.  It never works, but they keep trying.  This particular photograph was taken last Christmas Eve by a security camera I had installed so that I would have proof that I was not making all this spirit stuff up.  And yes, that is indeed me on the right in my typical night attire. But this year I think I will finally be able to get a good night's sleep this Christmas Eve.  Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, the spirits will have all they can handle dealing with him, and hopefully no time left for me.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remembering Christmas 1970

Tis the season for memories of Christmases past, and so just deal with it. With that cheerful holiday introduction, I am today featuring a photograph of my family that I took at our home in Country Club Hills, a southern suburb of Chicago, during the Christmas season of 1970.  I found it in a shoe box full of slides and saved it so I could post it around the holidays.  And in case you doubt I was the photographer, if you look closely, you can see my reflection, along with my trusty camera and tripod, in the mirror.  I e-mailed this photo to my sister Susan, and she remarked on what an incredibly glum bunch we seemed to be in that photo.  Even back then nobody was crazy about me taking their photograph.  In any case, in the photograph above are - from left to right - my Grandfather and Grandmother Spillard (my mother's parents), my mother Mary, my father Nelson, my sister Susan, and brother-in-law George.  My Grandmother Spillard would pass away just before the following Christmas, and all three of my remaining grandparents would pass away within the next 4 years, and so the early 1970s would be a watershed period for us all.  Six years after this Christmas, my parents would retire to Stuart, Florida, I would move to a studio apartment in Forest Park, Illinois - right across from the "L" train barn and the Daisy Hill meatpacking plant (a location I really loved, by the way) - and Susan and George would move to a country town called Elburn, west of Geneva, Illinois, which I understand is now just another suburb. Time moves on, whether we want it to or not.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas In Florida

I remember one year I was down in Stuart, Florida for the holidays, and my mother surprised me with a trip to Cypress Gardens via chartered bus.  Cypress Gardens was another of those old time Florida tourist attractions which featured acres of beautiful gardens, water-skiing shows, a little village of shops, and even a boat ride. When you went around a bend in the river on this ride, you would see a Southern Belle, dressed in an old-fashioned white gown, holding a parasol in one hand and waving to us with the other.  The park closed a number of years ago, and as I understand it, Lego Land took over the park and preserved the gardens.  I have no idea what it looks like now, but I imagine it is nothing like it was the day I took the above photograph of my mother in front of the poinsettia display.  After visiting down there for a week or two, my mother and I traveled back to Denver to savor the special joy of a Christmas mostly below zero with my sister Susan and brother-in -law George up in Fort Collins.  And actually, as for Christmas in Florida, it is actually pretty nice.  It can be a bit brisk some days, but nothing like up north, and everyone is in a great mood, especially if the weather is nice down there and extremely miserable back up north.  I also enjoyed the festive Christmas television commercials down there, especially the ones from Publix, the local grocery store chain.  And I dare you to click on the attached link and tell me this ad doesn't melt your heart  just a bit (  Am I a sentimental fool or what?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Winter Solstice

Today is of course the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the point where the days will finally start getting longer.  More Sun! More Warmth! Yes! And this past Sunday I drove up to the Lower Highlands neighborhood of Denver after seeing an ad on the internet announcing that a store called Ritual Craft was holding a Winter Solstice celebration.  As I cruised 44th Avenue looking for the store, I thought about the movie Bell, Book, and Candle, specifically the scene where Jimmy Stewart and his then fiance were walking around back alleys on Christmas Eve, looking for the entrance to The Diogenes Club, which was recommended to them by shopkeeper (and unknown to them, white witch) Kim Novak.  I finally located the store in the middle of a recently gentrified residential neighborhood, and took the photograph on the left before going in.

I must say, the place was not exactly hopping, but considering the snow-packed streets and freezing temperatures, this was perfectly understandable.  There was a young guy just to the right of the door, sitting in front of a table advertising tarot readings, and to the left was a bookcase featuring books such as Candle Magick and Witch (an autobiography by self-proclaimed witch Doreen Valiente), some various potions in bottles, and the latest issue of Aphrodisiac Magazine.  Since my subscription had recently run out, I was thinking of buying a copy, but the proprietress of the store was involved in a deep aromatherapy consultation (I think) with a couple at the counter, and I didn't want to interrupt.  And then I had to do a double-take, because - except for being a brunette instead of a blond - she looked exactly as Kim Novak did in Bell, Book and Candle,  fashionable short haircut and all.  And if we South Side Chicago natives know about anything, it is expensive, stylish haircuts.

After visiting the shop (and buying nothing, I might add), I took a walk around the neighborhood, located just south of 44th Avenue and east of Federal Boulevard.  I must say I was quite impressed with it - a combination of homes both old and new, many of them decked out cheerfully for the holidays.  And as I walked around, I thought maybe I would come back to that shop Christmas Eve and see if the owner could direct me to the entrance of The Diogenes Club. It has to be in that neighborhood somewhere.  But I knew in my heart that if I did go back, it would no longer be a shop dabbling in witchcraft, but probably just a medical office, most likely a podiatrist, and when I asked the doctor about witchcraft stores and The Diogenes Club, he would probably smile, back away slowly, and call  911. So ends another Winter Solstice. And next Winter Solstice I hope to be less than a month away from filing for social security.  Unless somebody puts a curse on it.  I am thinking here Donald Trump.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Matchbook Memories

Most restaurants  - not only in Denver, but in much of the world - are now smoke-free.  I certainly don't miss the cigarette smoke, but I do miss the matchbook covers that restaurants used to provide their patrons and which served as free advertising for them. Like my brother-in-law George, I began to collect them wherever I went, and wound up with two large bowls of them, which still sit in the living room of my condo here in Denver.  When I look at them now, I realize that almost every one holds special memories of vacations, family gatherings, and romantic evenings, not to mention youthful disasters.  I put together the matchbook cover collage on the left for one of the photo classes I took at the University of Denver years ago, but decided against using it since it wasn't artistic enough.  But as regular readers know, this Blog is no work of art, and so here it is. When I look at this collage, I remember having dinner with my then wife Lisa at La Plaza, and none other than Father Bob and his posse walking in, intending on having a jolly evening away from St. Thomas Seminary, where they all either taught or studied.  I remember the years when my sister Susan, brother-in-law George, and I would spend Thanksgiving in Santa Fe, New Mexico and have Thanksgiving dinner at La Casa Sena.  I remember having dinner with my parents at Casablanca, right after they first moved to Stuart, Florida, and getting pizza at Two Guys with my parents and then wife Lisa after watching the turtles hatch from nests on Stuart Beach and then make a mad dash for the sea.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  I suspect many of you have your own matchbooks and matchbook memories, too.  And thank God for those memories.

Monday, December 19, 2016

James Rollins Appears At The Tattered Cover Bookstore

Friday night I drove down to the Tattered Cover Bookstore at the Aspen Grove Shopping Center in Littleton, Colorado to hear adventure novelist James Rollins discuss and sign his new book The Seventh Plague.  Rollin's books are very similar to those of his friend and fellow author Steve Berry and also author Dan Brown.  They always involve some ancient secret from the past that will destroy the world as we know know it unless something isn't done.  For example, a secret message might be discovered inside the lining of Marie Antoinette's intimate apparel, and Steve Handsome and his team from The Strike Force must carefully investigate these petticoats and find the solution that will save the world before it is too late.  Rollin's latest book, The Seventh Plague, takes place in Cairo, and involves an ancient plague that is spreading fast and will destroy the world unless The Sigma Force can stop it.  A huge crowd showed up for the signing, despite the prediction for bitter cold and heavy snow.  I myself did not buy a copy of the book, even though Rollins - who is a veterinarian and had a successful vet practice before he became a full time writer - is a very funny and engaging speaker.  When his previous book, The Bone Labyrinth, came out last year, I was able to get my hands on a free advanced reading copy (an ARC), and enjoyed it thoroughly.  However, I was not able to snag one this time, and so I will be going the library route.  Am I getting spoiled, or what?  Don't answer that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Snow Doubt About It, It's Cold...

I awoke yesterday morning here in Denver to the the scene in the photograph on the left - a veritable Winter Wonderland - and if you are a regular Blog Reader, you know how I feel about Winter Wonderlands. Before I went to bed the night before, it was snowing like hell outside, and if it kept up like that, I knew I wouldn't be going anywhere Saturday morning. The weather  bunnies had predicted 7 inches of snow and a high of seven degrees for Saturday.  As it turns out, they were completely wrong - it only got up to 3 degrees for the high and we actually had 7.7 inches of snow.  Fire them all, I say.

In any case, since the snow didn't close down the city, I had to get to the bookstore where I am the bookkeeper by 9:00 A.M. for my final 4 hour floor shift (all employees must work 16 hours on the sales floor during the Christmas rush to help out the cause). When I arrived (five minutes late, but what the heck - the roads were snow-covered, after all), I was happy to see I was scheduled to work the cash register instead of the sales floor.  No taking phone orders for 2,000 children's books, some on hand and some to be ordered - and then shipped to God knows where by Christmas - at least for today.  As you can imagine, it was not too busy in the morning, and the crowds did not begin to appear until once the roads were cleared, happily after my floor shift had ended. After working a few more hours on bookkeeping related duties, I drove home past Washington Park and decided to take some Winter Wonderland style photographs, like the one on the right.

As I spent a few minutes in the balmy 3 degree temperatures, taking photographs, I noticed the idyllic setting in the photograph on the left.  A truly wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the winter season, if it wasn't near sunset and the temperature was soon to head below zero.  And for all you record freaks out there, the high temperature of 3 degrees Fahrenheit (and God knows what Celsius) was a record for Denver, and last night it got down to a record low of 15 below zero.  And as we like to say in Denver, the climate here is very dry, and so although it might be 15 degrees below zero outside, it only feels like zero. Time to put on that bikini and head for the pool.

By the time I got home, the sun was setting, at which time I took (for probably the 10,000th time in the past 16 years I have been living in this place) the photograph on the right.  And of course I now feel obligated to mention that it was only 4:45 P.M.on a Saturday afternoon, and it was already getting dark out.  And also - as I have rhetorically asked on this Blog many times - how do the people of Iceland stand this for probably half the year? Why don't they all just throw themselves into the nearest active volcano, which as I understand it is just on the outskirts of downtown Reykjavik? By then it was 5:00 P.M. and totally dark out on a Saturday night. And then it hit me.  The Answer! Happy Hour!  I suddenly realized it was happy hour at Spanky's Urban Roadhouse until 6:00. I immediately headed over there, had a few pints, and joined in a lively conversation about the weather.  But only a few pints.  Even though I was walking, and especially so, you do not want to be wandering aimlessly outside when the temperature is minus 15.  Just another helpful tip on this public service Blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Neighborhood Tales...

When the weather is nice, I like to get out at lunch and walk around the neighborhood where the bookstore I work as a bookkeeper is located.  It is mostly made up of Victorian homes, has been quite gentrified, and literally taken over by ex-Californians.  Sometimes when I don't have much time, I just walk around the block for a brief bit of fresh air, which is what I was doing when I took the alley photograph seen above (I work in a windowless basement, for God's sake).  In the background you can see the Sie Film Center, which is located just across the patio from our store and is where the Denver International Film Festival is held.

Right next to this alley, along a busy one way street, is a sign in memory of a man named Kent Roper, who I imagine was killed at that spot while trying to cross the street.  When I see that sign, I think of my Uncle Jack's story of the girl who lived next door when he was growing up around 88th and Racine, in the South Side Brainerd neighborhood of Chicago.  Her name was Rita Roper, and his and her parents were encouraging the two of them to become a couple.  Rita was quite attractive and had big ambitions, and neither she nor my Uncle were crazy about the idea.  Rita, as it turned out, became an actress and a dancer, and toured with Bob Hope overseas when he entertained the troupes.  After Hollywood, Rita came back to the South Side of Chicago and opened a dance studio in Oak Lawn, a suburb just a few miles to the west of Brainerd.  Every time I walk past that sign I wonder if that poor guy was any relation.  Probably not, but I can't help wondering.  The scary mind of an old guy at work.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Back To The Future

My friend Stuart and I had dinner and beers at the Old Chicago in Lakewood, Colorado last night and spent most of the evening discussing what future changes the new Trump Administration - just a little over a month away - might bring.  The rumor that the administration will draft only people between 60 and 80, both men and women - which would not only help make America great again but also put social security and medicare back in the black - might not be true, but Stuart still wishes we could build a time machine and go back to the past.  Stuart put me in charge of that project, but I would need a Delorian automobile for that, not to mention a flux capacitor. Stuart would like to go back to the 1980s, which ironically is when the movie Back to the Future was made. It was also the time when super conservative Ronald Reagan was president, but I was too polite to point that out.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Christkindl Market

Denver's Christkindl Market is being promoted big time this year.  It is a European style Christmas market featuring handmade crafts, traditional German foods, and even a German beer garden.  I took the above photo of the market last week on my way to see Denver's Parade of Lights.   I didn't think much of it until I heard it's praises sung by the local morning radio team of Winston and Mel.  Both talked it up after a previous day's visit, but Winston was extremely enthusiastic, especially about the beer garden.  My suspicion is that he was bribed with free beer to promote the place.  And when you factor in the fact that the Christkindl Market is advertising on that same station, you have to believe the fix is in.  As for me, there is just something about going to a beer garden in the middle of winter, especially once the sun sets and the temperature drops like a rock, that is just not appealing.  Now, if they were offering free beer to me...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Where Is The Tree? Where Are The Colorful Lights?

This time of year I find myself trying to get in touch with my inner Grinch.  For example, I heard on the television a few weeks ago that downtown Denver would be lite up with trees and colorful lights starting that weekend, "from Denver's City and County Building to Lower Downtown's Union Station," and decided to head down to Union Station to take a look.  And I must say I was disappointed to see there was no tree and no colorful (to me) lights in sight.  I went back the following weekend and still no tree or colorful lights. What's the deal with that?  Perhaps Union station is not paying it's electric bill.

As a matter of fact, the most colorful lights in the area were coming from a new, trendy espresso shop just down the block (as seen if the photo on the right).  The previous tenant, by the way, was a Russian art gallery.  I used to pass by it pretty often, and for years it featured 2 very large paintings in the window - one of Stalin with Marilyn Monroe (I didn't even know they knew each other, let alone posed for a painting) and of Lenin, standing in front of a Coca Cola sign, holding a bottle of Coke, and titled "The Real Thing."  I guess when you aren't able to sell your two top paintings over a twenty year period, it is definitely time to review your business plan.  Hell, for all I know, it's the same owners, and Lenin is now hanging back in the kitchen.  Perhaps I'll sneak in there one of these days and take a look.  Wish me luck and a low bail to post.  Das vi danya!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Judgmental Maps

A few weeks ago, while crossing the sales floor of the Denver bookstore where I work as the bookkeeper to get a cup of coffee, I saw a book on display called Judgmental Maps by blogger Trent Gillaspie and had to take a look.  Gillaspie is a native Denverite who for some strange reason now lives in Austin, Texas, and recently gave a talk at the store.  The book is a series of city maps with smart alec remarks about each neighborhood.  I immediately looked up my old South Side neighborhood of Brainerd, which, by the way,  I featured on yesterday's Blog.  It was described as a "Cosby sweater" area, which I assume refers to the middle and upper-middle class, mostly black population that now lives there, which I feel is spot on.  It also had several smart ass references to the large Irish population that lives in the neighboring Beverly neighborhood, where my family also spent a lot of time when we lived back there.  I was immediately hooked, and purchased the book, even though it was a bit of an extravagance.  Each book even had a different, humorous inscription in it, so how could I go wrong?  Just call me a sentimental fool.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mary Poppins And The Power Of Nostalgia

Saturday night I was astounded to see the ABC television network was showing the classic Walt Disney film Mary Poppins.  A major television network showing a movie instead of reality television shows - the world turned upside down!  The last time I had seen Mary Poppins was at the Beverly Theater in the South Side Brainerd neighborhood of Chicago - back when I was a mere slip of a lad.  I was so overcome by a fit of nostalgia that I immediately called my sister Susan to tell her the happy news.  After a lengthy telephone call, she was going to check with her husband George to see if he could do without watching Fox Television News for just one night.  And as I watched that happy movie, I went searching for a photograph taken around that time to feature on today's Blog, which wound up being the photograph on the left of my father Nelson and myself in the backyard of our Brainerd home at 9314 South Aberdeen Street.

And since it is the Christmas season - Or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever religious holiday your family celebrates this time of year via major retail purchases (a line I stole from humorist Dave Barry, I might add), I am also featuring a photograph of that same backyard during a snowstorm that I took from my bedroom window at the age of 9, back in March of 1962 - a photographic genius even then.  This is the same bedroom that my sister Susan forfeited to me after she went away to college, with the result that she had to sleep on the back porch, the roof of which is also seen in the photo.  She still hasn't forgiven me for that one, and I am sure I will hear about it once again when I head up to Fort Collins for Christmas dinner.  But I am old now, and so I say tough toenails.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A DAM Fine Time

After working a morning shift on the sales floor at the bookstore where I work on East Colfax here in Denver, I headed over to the the Denver Art Museum (The DAM) to spend a few hours of "quiet time."  Three people called in sick to the bookstore Saturday morning, and so it was quite an exciting time.  I was forced to answer the phone quite a bit, and those phone calls can get hairy.  I spend a great deal of time talking to a woman in Casper, Wyoming, who wanted to purchase a zillion children's books (not my specialty by any means), order a bunch of others, and have them shipped to Wyoming as they arrived.  After collecting what I could in the hell they call the children's section, I was able to successfully pass off the more complex details to others.  Better to be old and crafty than young and capable, I say.  In any case, after dining well at a local bistro called Taco Bell, I snagged a free two hour parking spot and walked to the museum.  The museum, and several others, by the way, are located in the "Golden Triangle" neighborhood, now exploding with high rise condos and apartments and one of Denver's priciest.

I had visited the museum a few weeks earlier, and so most of the exhibits hadn't changed, but that was okay.  I revisited the Glory of Venice: Masterworks of the Renaissance" and enjoyed it just as much as last time. And I need to state that the last time I was here, I took a photograph of a room-sized depiction of a Venice locale, photo-shopped  the figures from a Titian masterpiece onto it, and remarked that the background was of a Venetian piazza.  As I looked at the scene again yesterday, I saw that the floor of the museum was shiny and painted to make it look like water, and so the buildings were actually supposed to front a Venetian canal. In any case, as far as I am concerned, the photo I produced (as seen on my Tuesday, November 29th post) was far better than anything Titian ever produced.  Does that sound like an ego problem?  Nah.  I don't think so either.  In any case, I also went up to the 4th floor of the Contemporary wing to see if anything was on exhibit there. Last time the entire floor was closed off.  This time, you were allowed to go up there and walk around while the new exhibit - titled Mi Tierra -  was being installed.  It will be an exhibit featuring Hispanic artists from the American West depicting their relationships to the land.  And I must say, it is going to take a long time to install.  The space was mostly bare, except for the fellow working away in the photo on the right, and the exhibit is not scheduled to open until February 19th.  I suspect they will actually be creating the art more than installing it, but that's just me - a cynic till the end.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Visiting With Darrel And Linda

I visited Darrel (my friend and former University of Denver Bookstore colleague) and his wife Linda after work last night to see their new apartment and hear all about their trip to Europe.  Darrel and Linda are now retired, and decided to sell their home and move into an apartment overlooking the Denver Botanic Gardens. The place is great, with a corner balcony overlooking the gardens, which this month are lite up for the holidays.  Darrel and Linda very graciously allowed me to take their photograph out there, and didn't even let on that they were freezing to death.  And their trip to Spain and Portugal sounded wonderful.  The only downside was that they stayed 4 nights in a run down hotel in Lisbon's old town (recommended by Rick Steves, no less), that seemed to be a little questionable, not to mention surrounded by derelict buildings.  The place smelled everywhere of bleach, so at least they knew the place was clean.  Looking at their photographs, I personally thought the place looked kind of quaint, and that they learned about some great fixer uppers if they ever decide to move there.  As for the bleach, I suspect that it must have been needed to clean up after some sort of horrific killing.  Nothing to worry about, guys. And thanks for the beer and the delicious soup!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Viet Thanh Nguyen Appears At The Tattered Cover

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizer, appeared at the Tattered Cover Bookstore here in Denver this past Wednesday night to read from his book, answer questions, and autograph copies for his many fans.  The novel is about a refugee who comes to Southern California after the fall of Saigon in April of 1975 and spies on his fellow refugees for the communist regime back in Vietnam. Nguyen himself was a Vietnamese refugee, coming to California - at the age of 4 - with his parents and brother after Vietnam fell.  He says that his book - described as darkly humorous with a very dark ending - has something to offend everyone, and participated in a lively give and take with the audience.  It sounds like an interesting, not to mention intense, book.  I definitely intend to put in a request at the Denver Public Library for it and check it out.  I'll let you know what I think.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Winter Wonderland - Not!

The older I get, the harder it is for me to deal with winter weather, and this year is no exception.  Denver had it's first real snowfall of the season yesterday.  It was just a few inches, but it made commuting to work a bit of an adventure.  However, the cold is what made the day so miserable.  It got down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday morning, and this very A.M. the low was 9 below.  Now to me that's damn cold, but on the local television news the other night there was a segment filmed in a bar in Nederland, a mountain town west of Boulder, where the general consensus was that it has to get well below zero before they would consider it cold outside. Of course, they seemed to be drinking a lot of beer up there, and Nederland - a hippy outpost back in the 1960s - has always had an eccentric reputation.  It is, after all, the home of the frozen dead guy races.  Enough said.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pearl Harbor Day

Today is December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and in honor of this I am featuring a photograph of my father Nelson (on the left) and my Uncle Jack (my mother Mary's brother and on the right), probably taken in the Philippines toward the end of World War II. My father, a dentist, was drafted in his mid-thirties and was sent to Okinawa.  My Uncle Jack, however, tried to enlist and was rejected because of a hernia.  He actually had an operation so that he would be accepted into the air force, and after training here in Denver at Lowry Air Force Base (now a trendy housing development), he spent the war slogging through the Pacific.  In New Guinea he contracted malaria, and his health suffered for the rest of his life.  He felt he had to fight for our country after Pearl Harbor, and wound up paying for that the rest of his life.  One of America's unsung heros.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Zoo In December

This past Sunday I spent part of the morning at the Denver Zoo.  It was a very pleasant fall day - temperatures were in the mid-50s - with just enough chill in the air that the animals wanted to stay in the warmth of the sunshine. In other words, perfect conditions for animal portraits.  Plus, most of animals actually seemed to want to pose for the camera, as opposed to some people I shall not name, like my sister Susan.

As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, it was all happening at the Denver Zoo Sunday morning.  However, the temperature is predicted to dip below zero for the first time in two years in the next 24 hours, and up to five inches of snow is predicted, so I think that for at least the next week or two our animal friends will be more in the mood for hibernating  than posing. And who can blame them?  I myself am sorely tempted to go hibernate in South Florida for a while. To hell with Winter Wonderlands.  But that's just me.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Something New At The Zoo

I went to the Denver Zoo Sunday morning to take a few photographs and was told by one of the attendants that a baby zebra was born the previous night, and to be sure to check it out.  That is exactly what I did, and I was surprised to see the newborn was up and about, walking around the compound with it's mother.  And I was also amazed at the size of this baby zebra, which is less that 24 hours old. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, you see very few zebras, not to mention horses, being born.  The mother must have been pretty crabby carrying that thing around.

In addition to zoo staff and patrons, the teenage lions just across the way from the zebra compound were also very interested in the new baby giraffe.  I am not sure how they knew a baby giraffe had been born, but they did.  All eyes were focused on the zebra compound. Not even the child in the photograph on the right could distract this particular lion.  Obviously instinct takes over.  Do the lions realize that a vulnerable - and tasty - creature is in range, or do they just want to play?  An if they just want to play, I'll bet they play rough.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Parade Of Lights

This past Friday and Saturday The Parade of Lights took place in downtown Denver.  The parade starts at 8:00 in the evening and 6:00 on Saturday, and features floats, marching bands, mounted horses, etc, all lite up with colored lights.  The participants include businesses, schools, charitable organizations, and even city departments.  For example, the sanitation department featured a dump truck covered with Christmas lights, and Denver Water featured a dancing, colorfully lite toilet.  Yes! Really!  But despite the dancing toilet, it is always a lot of fun, except,  of course, for the fact it is always held when the temperature is well below freezing.

This parade is wildly popular in Denver, and to get a good view you have to arrive very early.  I found a spot behind an older couple, sitting in chairs, about an hour before the parade began, and passed the time people-watching.  Crowds lined each side of the street and were so thick that people trying to cross the street couldn't get through to the other side, and immediately became part of the parade.  And as you would expect, there were a huge number of children in the crowd, their parents holding them up so they could see all the action.  That is why I picked an elderly couple to stand in front of - no blocked views once the parade began, which is usually what happens.  In any case, the parade lasted about 45 minutes or so, and the crowd quickly dispersed afterwards, with all the children no doubt dropping off to sleep that night with visions of colorfully lighted, dancing toilets in their heads.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dinner At 730 South

I had dinner with my friend and former University of Denver Bookstore co-worker Wally (in the photo on the left) and my friend Mark, who works at DU's library (on the right), last night at 730 South.  This is a popular and rather upscale restaurant in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood of Denver, just a few blocks east of Washington Park.  Although it is upscale, they have a great happy hour in the bar area, with $3.00 beers and $5.00 entrees.  You almost can't afford not to go there.  In any case, Wally told us about his and his wife Linda's trip to San Francisco and stay at a bed and breakfast while visiting their son Peter (a high tech guy, nach), while Mark regaled us with tales of his trip to the UK.  Mark's brother Mike - who works at Denver's Botanical Gardens - attended a conference in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Mark went along for the ride. Mark's brother is obsessed with plants, while Mark is obsessed with soccer, and so to me it seems like it was a botanical garden and soccer stadium tour, but that's just me.  Neither of these trips could possibly compare with getting a condo ready to rent in South Florida, of course.  Now that's pure fun.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Burgers, Beer, & Politics At Old Chicago

I got together with my friend Stuart at the Old Chicago on South Colorado Boulevard here in Denver for burgers, beers, and a healthy dose of political talk last night.  As expected, Stuart is still stunned by the surprising victory of Donald Trump, and worried about what the future will bring.  As for me, nothing is a surprise, and I am expecting nothing less than 4 years of politics as usual.  A few scandals, another major recession / depression, and I suspect a Democrat will be in the Oval Office in 4 years.  The problem, of course, is getting through the next 4 years.  With only one year until filing for social security, I am of course very sensitive to the stability of that particular program.  My recurring nightmare is Donald Trump saying that people who depend on social security are losers, and unilaterally disbanding the program.  But that can't happen, right?  Right?  Right?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Boss" Appears At The Tattered Cover

Bruce Springsteen made an appearance at the Tattered Cover Bookstore here in Denver yesterday afternoon, drawing well over 1000 fans who had come to buy his new book, Born to Run, and to pose for photographs with him.  It was a very strictly managed event, and I was not able to get close enough to get a good photograph.  Even if I had wanted to buy a book, thus being able to meet him up close, all 1050 tickets to the event sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale.  Fans started to line up at 8:30 A.M, almost three and a half hours before the event was scheduled to begin.  I decided to take a photograph of the spot where Springsteen would be greeting his fans, and lo and behold the ghost of a young Bruce Springsteen appeared in the lens...

Later in the day, I was able to take a photograph of the older Bruce, posing with his fans, from a great distance away.  There were three bodyguards on either side of him, and three Denver police officers wandering the building, too.  If I tried to get any closer, I would have been toast. Springsteen is 67 years old now (even older than me, if you can believe it), but still goes on tour.  And I must say, he doesn't look too bad either, especially compared to rock stars like Mick Jagger.  On the other hand, the Portrait of Dorian Gray, in in all it's macabre horror, looks better than Mick Jagger these days, so I guess that is not much of a compliment.  In any case, glad you stopped by, Bruce.  Thanks for the memories!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Moscow Rules

I just finished reading Daniel Silva's spy novel Moscow Rules, and as usual, it was an exciting and absorbing tale.  It once again features Israeli spy Gabriel Allon and the usual cast of characters, this time trying to stop an unscrupulous Russian oligarch from selling sophisticated missiles to al-Qaeda.  The novel finishes with a harrowing escape from Russia.  As I mentioned in a previous Blog, I accidentally read the sequel to this story -The Defector - first by mistake, which at least allowed me to know beforehand that the story would have a happy ending, of sorts.  And after reading quite a few of Silva's books, I think I would advise younger readers to avoid a career as a spy. The tension will kill you, if the Russians and terrorists don't.  Perhaps law might be a better, but much more boring choice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Glory Of Venice At The DAM

I visited the Denver Art Museum (The DAM) Sunday afternoon and toured it's latest exhibit, "The Glory of Venice: Masterworks of the Renaissance,"  and I must say I really enjoyed it, too.  The Denver Art Museum does a great job with these special exhibits, which in this case featured  floor to ceiling photographs of Venice, soft, appropriately Italian background music, and of course well displayed artworks.  It made for a pleasant Sunday afternoon and a bit of an escape from a sunny but brisk and windy fall day.

The artwork consisted, as you might suspect, of Italian Renaissance masters, including Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and Giorgione.  I took the liberty of taking the figures from one of Titian's masterpieces and combining it with one of the exhibit's floor to ceiling photographs of a Venetian piazza - a much more agreeable composition, if I say so myself (see photo at right). Bellini, by the way, was - according to the museum placards - one of the "stylistic and technical innovators of the later 1400s."  His pupils included Titian, the older Giorgione, and - much later, of course - Andy Warhol.

There were several other special exhibits at the museum, too.  One, titled "What It Meant To Be Modern, 1910-1965" featured American works on paper by 5 artists (Charles Sheeler, John Marin, Charles Burchfield, Oscar Bluemner, and Stuart Davis).  All were colorful, interesting, and wonderful.  The other special exhibit was titled "Start Wars And The Power Of Costume."  As you can see from the photo on the left, museum patrons were lining up in droves to see this one. You had to pay extra to see it, and so for me it was a skip.  But I ask you - are Star Wars costumes really art?  Or just a way to earn enough revenue to pay for the stuff that really is.  But what do I know - I'm just a simple kid from the South Side of Chicago.  That's where I learned about the Bellini - Warhol connection, by the way.