Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Hummingbird Feeder Experiment

Hummingbird wikipediaI am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. Innate curiosity does drive much of what I do and as a young boy I did think that science was the path to be taken. That was overridden by the realization that I would not be the next Brains Benton or even Sherlock Holmes. My brain lacked the essential element necessary to make one an expert in the scientific world.

Logic.

Years later my curiosity and imagination are still here and logic, while it has increased in some aspects, has ceased to be the main reason behind not pursuing a scientific path. It is now brainpower and time that stops me dead in my tracks.

It was the curious part of me that wondered why all of the neighborhood birds flocked around my nectar filled hummingbird feeder. The upside-down bottle is full of a homemade concoction, recipe taken from the good old Internet, and when first filled only the little manic wing flappers supped from my good-natured offering.

When I made a new batch, using slightly different measuring utensils, other feathered friends began stopping by to have a drink. Even the woodpeckers would land awkwardly on the small feeder, using a series of gymnastic maneuvers that can only be described as comical to the extreme, to drink from my tiny well of nectar.

This intrusion on my little hummingbird friends would be acceptable except that a lot of the other birds are actively chasing off my little feathered chums. First there were the yellow, quite pretty birds, then the red headed and red crested ones and now the woodpeckers are all having a go at the original recipients of the nectar.

I left the feeder empty for a couple of days and all of the winged ones were approaching it, landing and dipping a beak in to see if anything was left. I then filled the thing with common tap water, sans boiling and sans sugar.

The idea being that as this is the desert and not a lot of excess water is to be found, perhaps the other birds are just thirsty. Time will tell whether this hypothesis is correct or not.

Thus far, the feeder has not been approached by anything apart from the odd hummingbird. After a day or two, I will boil some water to see if the avoidance is because of “treated” liquid. Apparently the tap stuff needs to be boiled in order to rid it of the chlorine, et al.

It will be interesting to see if all of the winged neighbors in my area return to have a sup of plain old water after the chemicals have been removed. Afterward, I will go back to the original utensils to make the nectar and see if the hummingbirds can partake of the sweet drink undisturbed by the bullying birds that have invaded their feeder.

I wonder if the enormous road runner spied this morning will decide to have a drink in either of the provided fluids in the feeder. While is seems unlikely that this veritable giant could manage it, the woodpecker with gymnastic tendencies is not shrinking violet.

Watch this space…

23 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress

Author photo March 2013
Finishing my first cup of tea and ruminating over the past few days events has left me with an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain: Back in 2012 while I was in Basildon Hospital, in the UK, and recovering from the dual surgery that saved my life, I got a visit from a lovely lady who worked in the medical facility. She warned me that one day, it would all sink in about how close to death I had been. “It is usual for survivors to experience crushing depression,” she said.

Well, it is now over two and a half years since that fateful day; where my universe shrank down to a tiny space of unbelievable pain, and that depression has still not made an appearance. Certainly I do feel down sometimes, these happen at the oddest times as well. Yesterday, for example, had this new desert dweller becoming the recipient of not one, but several acts of kindness. Yet when arriving back home, I was caught up in a blue funk that lasted till sleep.

Most of that was from being overly tired. My only mechanical mode of transport was out of commision for a few days, requiring a back inner tube, so it was two days of attempting to patch said tube and one day of angrily marching a total of 3.5 miles only to realize that by the time I got to the store it would be closed. It was then a much slower trip home as the anger was spent and I was tired, after all the wasted adrenaline drained away.

That walk, although not too hot according to the thermometer, beat the hell out of me and for the next two days I hurt everywhere. Lesson learned: Do not storm off on a moderately hot day in a foul mood.

This pilgrim’s progress has been slow and not just to adjusting to life in the desert here in the southwestern state of Arizona. The reason for this slow acclimation to things since that August day where I should have died not once, but twice, came to me this morning after an odd dream in the wee hours just as the sun was peeping over the mountains in the east.

Sleeping fitfully, I moved between dozing and wakefulness, I thought, all night. As the sky began to light up, I was laying on my left side, half-awake and grumpily cursing the doves and their annoying nest noises; they stomp on the brittle twigs making a sound like people walking on gravel which is very disconcerting when half-asleep.

As the birds settled down and began to make their cooing noises, I felt the cover beside me move. Four little feet made their way to my back and a small warm body then lay carefully next to my upper back. I could “feel” a bushy tail move up near my neck and could “smell” a fusty fur smell. I instantly relaxed, although in the back of my head was the awareness that there are no animals in the place, and felt totally at peace as sleep reclaimed me.

That this was a dream became apparent later when I had an amusing thought that I could well have a wild skunk lying right on top of me and I turned to see what was snuggled against me. I found a rag doll in the shape of pointy nose elf-like creature with a sewn on striped cone hat. We conversed, as one does, with no words but in our heads.

I did actually wake up at that point and found that I was alone and pondered the doll thing that my mind had dredged up. It made no sense, after all why would a two-legged doll walk on all fours to get across my cover. It was a surreal moment and the realization that it was so brought on my epiphany.

Speaking to someone a few days ago, I mentioned the forecast of massive depression from the medical lady in the hospital and said that I was still waiting for that shoe to drop. My “light-bulb” moment this morning was that this will not occur. What has happened instead is a constant state of surrealness, if you will.

I left Basildon Hospital (the cardiac section) four days after one of the most invasive surgeries one can endure, the first surgery should have been so routine that it was boring, and everything, it seems stems from that time. My second surgery took a long time, during which I was “technically dead.”

A machine kept my blood pumping and my lungs breathing while the doc’s stopped my heart to perform the aortic dissection and bypass, this after they whipped a vein out of my right leg, and the estimated time I was “dead” was around eight or more hours. Now, if you had asked me after I recovered from this procedure how long I was “out” or how long I was “dead” no answer would have been available. A lot of remembering had to happen before I could recall and this only happened after I asked my daughter, who had to live through all this.

The point being that from the moment I was moved from ICU to the recovery ward, everything has seemed surreal. You could even argue that my waking up during the first surgery, when they discovered that my aortic arch had been perforated and most of my aorta was split open, and managing to talk around the tube in my throat started the whole thing. This also is the reason, I believe, for the “gravel” in my voice since the surgery.

Sidenote: To the family who were staying in Basildon Hospital with their own medical emergency, “Thank you for the kindness you showed my child who had to deal with all this on her own.”

The epiphany this morning has been that I have never really gotten over the surreal stage of this whole heart attack malarkey. My brain seems to be operating in a sort of fugue state of semi-awareness with small moments of clarity. At times I can almost react to things normally but there is still that feeling of unreality flitting around the edges.

I find myself unable to function properly in social settings. The actor in me puts on a good show, but basic things like exchanging phone numbers while interacting with another person who has just asked for mine go by the wayside. Just trying to remember to thank someone for a good deed or act of kindness is also fraught with inactivity or at least poor responses.

Anyone who has known me well can tell you that I have a radar that can tell when a person is on the level or not to be trusted almost seconds after meeting them. That ability seems to have been left on the operating table along with some of my common sense. How else can I explain being taken in by a con artist so completely that I moved in with the bugger, and his wife, and only woke up after it seemed I was about to be made a patsy? (And upon learning that he was a “wanted” felon.)

There are a long list of things that all point to my mind still existing in this surreal state. A place where my subconscious is attempting to get round surviving back in 2012 and despite my resolute marching forward to this new beat of the drum, I am struggling. Not desperately, but just enough that my thinking is affected.

Everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe this, just as I believe that my “pilgrim’s progress” here in the desert is needed at the point in time. A step back from busy society and a chance for me to get my soldiers back in step. This quiet time is needed to help me get back on an even keel, or at least recognize that moving back to the foreign country I left so long ago is either my new “normality” or just another turn of the screw in my current directionless journey.

Time will tell and at least now I can realize where my “head is at.” Even if it took a two-legged dream doll to point me in the right direction.

19 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

David Carradine: The Eye of My Tornado: A Portrait by Marina Anderson

Book cover of Marina Anderson's autobiographical taleAfter spying this biographical tale in the second-hand section of the local thrift shop last year, I grabbed it on a whim. I was still in shock at Carradine’s death by “autoerotic asphyxiation” as determined by a coroner back when his body was discovered in a Bangkok, Thailand hotel closet in 2009.

The reason that his death stuck in my mind so firmly was two-fold. One, the news of his death came literally on the same day that SyFy’s “Celebrity Ghost Stories” had advertised a segment by Carradine where he talked of a haunting. I remember being stunned at the news and the timing of it. Secondly, his death was eerily similar to another actor’s whose dead body was discovered after the dead man’s fiancee raised concern for her missing fella. Albert Dekker, whose last role was that of the railroad man Harrigan, an agent for the company intent upon hunting down and killing the gang in “The Wild Bunch.”

Dekker had been found in ladies lingerie with obscenities scrawled on his near-naked body and hanging from the shower rail in his apartment. The death is recounted in the “underground classic” “Hollywood Babylon” by Kenneth Anger. The similarities are remarkable, especially as both women whom the men were attached to, were adamant that foul play was involved.

In this book, Marian Anderson writes, as a sort of catharsis, about her time with Carradine and the side less known. Her recounting of their affair shows just how much she did to rejuvenate his career and her work to get he and Tarantino together before “Kill Bill.”

That David Carradine was a very talented actor is undeniable. Watching him in “Night of the Templar” in what was, except for the 2016 film “Mata Hari” which is still in post production, his last role is an example of his effortless style of delivery in an otherwise poorly executed film.

Marina tells of David’s attempt to stay sober during their six year relationship and his going back to booze afterward, along with what appears to have been opiate abuse throughout, and one marvels at the amount of talent that still shone through in his performances.

Sadly, it seems that Carradine was not an overly pleasant man when dealing with his fans and he was at the forefront of autographs for money. Reading the book, which is very well written, Carradine comes across as romantic, controlling, narcissistic, passive-aggressive, and wildly talented. He was a musician, singer, and writer on top of his acting and Marina is not hesitant to point out the creative sides of her ex-husband.

There are things about David that are shocking, incest on top of the alcohol abuse, and his sexual practices sound like something out of “50 Shades of Grey.” Anderson does not flinch at showing all the sides of her relationship with Carradine, warts and all. Her cleansing act of revelation is entertaining and one leaves the book with a feeling that Carradine never realized what he had in his grasp.

Sadly, it seems to be a trait which he was doomed to repeat regardless of whatever partner he was with. After buying this book, written in 2010, it took me over a year to get past the first chapter. Not because it was “hard reading” but because of my business schedule. I picked the book up yesterday and once started, it was impossible to put down. Finishing this morning, I realized that this was one of the best celeb biographies I’d read in a long time.

Kudos to Marina Anderson for her portrait of David Carradine, “the eye of her tornado” and the times spent living with him and getting over him. She also tells of her own personal investigation into his suspicious death in Thailand and her conclusions. This is a 4 out of 5 star read, fascinating and difficult to put down.

Dogs in the Desert: Not Just for Retired Folks

dog and three kids statue at Quartzsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pit Bulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 February 2015

The Arizona Desert: Old West Revisited…Sort Of

Old Tucson Studios Western Town SetSince heading down to the Arizona desert, it does feel sort of like I’ve revisited the old west. Of course a lot of that feeling is down to the fact that if I’m not bicycling or traveling “shank’s mare” to make the 13 mile round trip (plus) to town and back, I’ve no satellite for television. [Or Internet that works well enough to watch anything else.]

Now before folks start thrusting fingers and shouting at me to stop whining, let me explain.

I’ve spent most of the last year watching television shows and doing recaps/reviews each and every week. There was a long list of shows that I covered. From new ones like” Gotham” and “Scorpion,” to older popular ones like “The Walking Dead,” I covered as many as I could. Since many came on at the same time, I used the DVR and Hulu Plus to the maximum extent possible to catch-all that were available.

Now, I’ve only my DVD collection to watch, and write on occasionally, to keep me amused. I’ve discovered that free WiFi, while not strong enough for the screeners sent by Sony/SyFy for “Helix”, work (just barely) for Hulu and Netflix. I’ve not tried Amazon Prime just yet to see if this works at Carl Jr’s or Burger King.

Oddly enough, I had gotten out of the habit of watching telly while living in England. Oh, I had a few favorites. I spent a pretty exciting and very entertaining time binge watching Breaking Bad after finally discovering what all the fuss was about. The Walking Dead was another instant addiction as was American Horror Story.  But other shows on the box were ignored. My biggest passion was playing video games, doing the odd YouTube video on films and writing for this blog.

I am slowly trying to sort out the Internet situation and getting back on the television teat so I can write about shows I like, or in the case of Gracepoint, dislike…a lot. Funds are low and eating, along with paying off bills and medication are the highpoint of my existence at this moment so the problems with reviewing will have to stay unsolved for the time being.

Desert Mountain

Apart from discovering that walking the desert on the way to town (and WiFi) and back feels like revisiting the old west when one strays from the road and crosses the hardpan, I’ve learned that 56 year-old legs, knees, ankles and the back take a pounding. I’ve even gotten the odd blister… Granted, I do tend to powerwalk where I can, after all I was a Prison Officer for 10 years and passed my fitness test each and every year, but my body, since the very invasive operations in 2012, is complaining.

Loudly.

Aches, cramps and bruising aside, the walks are brilliant. The landscape is breathtaking, inspiring and addictive.  This is during the day of course. After dark is another matter. Dusk is interesting, but hazardous. (Dusk was when I did  my faceplant in the dusty desert floor.) There are animals roaming the desert when the sun goes down; most of which are better equipped than I at survival if we should meet.

Listening this evening to a couple of coyotes yipping, yowling and howling just around the corner from my temporary home, goose-flesh marching up and down my entire body while doing so, reminded me that these pack roaming creatures will attack a singleton wandering across the hardpan.

Then there is the mountain lion that is hanging around the area, I have seen his (or her) prints and the thing is huge. Neither of these would have anything to fear from me. Like any unarmed red-blooded male, I would most likely scream in terror and might just get a couple of steps away before getting nom-nommed for their tea.

Still, in the moments where I am walking the desert floor and the 4X4’s, Quads and motorbikes are nowhere too near, I can hear my footsteps. Crunching through the crusty sand and gravel as well as puffing through the dust.  The birds, one who sounds just like he/she is whistling to get your attention, dart and flitter by to have a quick look at the desert newcomer.

Brief glimpses of jack-rabbits bounding away and, just recently, baby jack-rabbits scurrying clumsily to hide are another delightful occurence. These walks, although pretty damned painful at the moment (not to mention slow) are the preferred  way to cross the desert, rather than riding the bike with the dodgy gears. For one thing, who ever heard of biking through the old west? For another,  this rider cannot power the bike across the hardpan. Too much sand, deep dust and gravel make it difficult to keep pedalling. And of course these is the lack of silence connected with the mechanical means of travel. Ruins the desert aesthetic, doesn’t it.

3 February 2015

Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As a Ramone By Marky Ramone with Rich Herschlag – Review

This glimpse behind the punk curtain of the Ramones is one that even folks who aren’t fans of the “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” group will enjoy. This trip down memory lane by Marc Bell, aka Marky Ramone, a fantastic tale a drummer and his journey through the music world…

Read the rest of the article at Viral Global News