Thursday, November 26, 2009

Our Thanksgiving colors were red and black

My greatest Thanksgiving memory was the big football rivalry between the two Flint, Mich. high schools, Central and Northern. They were perennial state powerhouses and they played the last game of the season against each other on Thanksgiving Day before some 20,000 people in Atwood Stadium.

My mother, aunt, uncle and myself all graduated from Central, so there was rarely a Thanksgiving when one of us wasn’t a student there. The big game was so important that it literally determined whether we would be joyously thankful or merely somberly appreciative on Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving d├ęcor wasn’t comprised of shades of orange and brown and yellow. It was red and black, the colors of the Flint Central Indians.

Sometimes we all went to the game, sometimes not. A lot depended on the Michigan weather. But we always listened on the radio and got a firsthand report from whoever was attending Central at the time.

I remember one Thanksgiving when Aunt Elaine, then a student at Central, came home after the big game sobbing. All through dinner, she was absolutely inconsolable.

Aunt Elaine is in her 70s now and in the process of moving to Surprise, Ariz. to retire. We met in Phoenix for breakfast recently. She told me that Flint Central had finally closed, and she had attended a farewell event at the beautiful old school where thousands of former students came to raise their collective voices to sing the alma mater one last time.

Music was important at Central. I went there in the late 50s, the dawn of rock and roll, when the Platters, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and other early black groups were just bringing doo wop to prominence.

Flint has a high black population and there were a host of wannabe doo wop vocal groups that had formed among Central students. It was common for them to perform in various nooks and crannies of the hallways between classes. Some of them were very good.

Being a honky, I ended up playing the trumpet in the 120-member marching band, a band that was one of the best in the state thanks to director Bruce Robart – one of those teachers who demanded nothing less than perfection. Performing at the big Thanksgiving game was obviously the highlight of my musical career.

In my junior year, 1959, Central was en route to becoming the state champion. That Thanksgiving, we beat a good Northern team 51-0.

It was a happy Thanksgiving indeed, marred only by the fact that the Flint Journal was on strike so there would be no story about the game the next day. Also looming just ahead was the fact that a third high school was being built and those of us in its geographical area would be forced to transfer for our senior year.

I doubt that they’d get away with that dictate today.  We'd be given the choice of finishing our senior year at the old school.  But that was 50 years ago, before kids had “rights,” back when we were told what to do and we did it.  A time, by the way, when we never complained about being bored or having nothing to do.

Anyway, the new school, Flint Southwestern, just wasn’t the same. No tradition. No wonderful old brick building. And most important, no Thanksgiving Day football game.

So when The Consort and I went back to Michigan last month, I had to take her to downtown Flint to see if Central High was still there.

It was, and she insisted I pose in front of it.  Of course it was raining, but what a rush of memories. I am standing just feet from where I got my first two traffic tickets – at the same time.

And there was the tower atop the third floor. They would never tell us what was up there, so we, of course, let our imaginations run wild. We were pretty sure it housed a torture chamber lined with skeletons of recalcitrant and intractable students. Or, more likely, just the skulls. You could only fit so many skeletons in there. And that would certainly explain that mystery meat they served in the cafeteria.

Then there was the graffiti. It was such an old school, even when I attended, that every desk (they were made of real wood in those days) was carved with romantic messages, slogans, insults and profanities.

The most frequent message on the desks, I recall, was, “Vera Shrigley is a bitch.” Vera Shrigley was an English teacher who was long gone by the time I got there, but her legacy obviously lived on.

I didn’t know at the time that I would become a high school English teacher, but I never forgot how unforgiving high school kids can be. You have to wonder if someone carved that infamous message into Vera Shrigley’s tombstone.

I vowed to pattern myself as a teacher after Bruce Robart, not Vera Shrigley. I never checked the carvings on the desks at Wayne Memorial High School to see if I succeeded.

But this is about Thanksgiving, a time to count blessings, not skulls. Hopefully, your turkey will not resemble mystery meat in any way, shape or form.

The good news at our house: Flint Central cannot lose the big game this Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can't trust Roundup's reliability, impartiality

There is much confusion and many false rumors about the landscaping being done at the roundabout at the Beeline Highway and Tyler Parkway.

The work is paid for and all the labor is being done by volunteers from the Payson Gateway Committee, a not-for-profit group which has spent two years and a lot of red tape unwinding to get this job done. It is a labor of love given freely to the town and all citizens. It certainly looks far better than the old pile of dirt which sat there for several years.

The true story could have, and should have, been told by the Payson Roundup. They were furnished a complete press release with pictures. They even sent a reporter over to take a look at the project.

Tothis day, however, they have refused to print a single word or show a picture about this splendid civic project. Instead, they have allowed, perhaps encouraged false rumors.

Is this what is expected from a newspaper which recently beat its chest over being awarded a "Best" in its class?

The reason for this outrage lies directly at the feet of the editor. He has a personal bias toward several members of the Gateway Committee, and refuses to allow anything connected with them to appear in HIS newspaper.

Can you imagine this, folks, really?  Does this sound like America to you?  If he can get away with this, then how can you ever trust this newspaper's reliability and impartiality again?

I repeat - one man, who happens to be the editor of the Payson Roundup, is withholding a fine civic story because of his personal bias.

It's been over a month since all the facts were given to the paper; the work has been going on for all to see. There is absolutely no excuse or explanation for the lack of coverage other than the small minded, petty actions of the editor.

Freedom of the press, you chant?

More likely control of the press by a tyrant.

Noble Collins

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why is it the good papers that are dying?

Trib's demise follows trend

Another newspaper bites the dust, and this one – like the Gazette – is too close to home for comfort.

On Dec. 31, the East Valley Tribune will close its doors after 118 years in business. In the last few years, it was regarded by most journalists as the best daily newspaper in the state.

Even more significantly, in April two of the Tribune’s reporters won journalism’s ultimate honor – the Pulitzer Prize. Paul Giblin and Ryan Gabrielson earned the coveted award for their series on the impact of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s illegal immigrant crackdown on police protection.

Green bologna and pink underwear Joe. What a colorful guy.

You can like him for being a hard ass, but in the end he sure makes heroes out of a lot of journalists and lawyers who challenge him for abdicating his first responsibility in favor of causes that guarantee his re-election. We are either a nation of law or we are not, and Sheriff Joe, of all people, is supposed to set an example.

But this is about newspapers. Especially dead newspapers.

Why is it that the good ones seem to be the ones that are folding – the ones with the highest journalistic standards, the greatest public conscience?

Maybe that’s a question that answers itself. Maybe it’s because of the dumbing down of our society. The papers with the best chance of making it today are the ones that pander to the public’s basest instincts – to the lowest common denominator.

Right here in River City, we have two papers that appeal to all that is mean in human nature – to our desire to know who got caught doing what, whose marriage didn’t work out, what 13-year-old was able to kill an innocent and unwary animal to prove his or her manhood, and all the fears and prejudices a cowboy columnist can stoke – all the while oblivious to the intentions and motives of those with the power to negatively impact our quality of life.

A mayor with an ego the size of a seven-story building is glorified by a reporter hellbent on building his own stature on a tower of superfluity. Winking, meanwhile, is a bulbous photographer turned editor who doesn’t seem to have a clue. And a rapacious publisher whose sole motive appears to be a return to power and profitability at any cost – even the truth.

In the process, two town councils are allowed to run amok (term limits be damned) and the water problem that divided them, that defines our communities is pronounced “history.” As, by the way, is the drought that may ultimately prove our undoing, as it did of those who occupied this land before us. This past week, when a forecast storm piddled out, offers yet another example of the tenacity of the drought the Roundup pronounced over – twice. Drought is bad for growth, so let’s pretend it’s behind us.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are being duped. By one newspaper that has absolutely no scruples. And by another newspaper that doesn’t have a clue – that can’t even spell a notable citizen's name correctly in a front page headline while accusing him of being a child pornographer (and that better be careful lest it end up with a John Hanna on its hands). Wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic if the Jesus freak, good news publisher from Globe was brought down over a child pornography story?

Now we hear that the ladies who broke off from the Gazette are about to break off again – to found, get this, their own newspaper. Rumor has it the Rim Country News is bleeding big time, and its parent the Copper Country News isn’t in this fight for truth and justice.

But, you ask, aren’t they in it for Jesus? Until, it would appear, they start losing money, and then all bets are off, Jesus be damned. Isn’t it amazing how Jesus and money get intertwined and which one invariably comes out on top?

Mark my words, if the girls start a new paper they will fail miserably because there isn’t a true journalist among them. And in the process, the Roundup will laugh all the way to the bank.

Because a weak and harmless competitor is really better than no competitor at all. Remember The Backbone?

Will the citizens of this community ever rise up again? Not likely without another issue of the magnitude of the Star Valley water heist and another leader with the stature and political savvy of Bob Edwards.

Right now, Kenny is playing it safe – stirring college town visions in our head, and it appears that no one from Edwards’ camp is willing to pick up the bicycle helmet knocked from his head in that mysterious, still unexplained mishap.

These are not happy times for people who value the things that good newspapers stand for.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sparkling wine one of four holiday favorites

En Vino Veritas
Fermented spirits encourage
lifting of emotional spirit

By Noble Collins
Gazette Columnist
The most festive period of the year is upon us: Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day packed together within a few short weeks. Also, reluctant to give up the holiday atmosphere, we more and more stretch it out to include the conclusion of football season, right up to the Super Bowl. Then, another week or so and we have Valentine’s Day. The more intrepid among us make it through without a scratch, but most likely not without a stretch (in our waist size).

Around the world, in the richest and poorest places, folks battle the increasing cold and lengthening darkness with bright lights and their best food and drink. It is during this period when we are most often introduced to new tastes, flavors and especially libations.

The emphasis is on gaiety and celebration.

Four wines, in particular, come into their own during this period – Sparkling wine, Port, Sherry, and Brandy. These are, of course, year-round favorites for many reasons, but more of them are consumed during holiday season than at any other time of year.

Sparkling wine leads the list by a wide margin. Bubbles are the reason. They convey visual fun as much as they are physically pleasing. They encourage a lifting of emotional spirit along with the fermented spirits. The bubbles are trapped CO2 gas which take the express route to our brain, delivering their cargo of ethyl alcohol with a Fred Astaire stylishness.

It most likely originated in France, and the means for storing it within a bottle definitely did. That credit goes to a monk by the name of Dom Perignon. Although some facts are disputed, great contributions were made by this man toward making Champagne the widely heralded wine it has become.

Sparkling wine is made around the world. Only within the Champagne district of France, however, with its chalky soil and cool climate, can it legally be called Champagne. This was always the case, but somewhat ignored until recently when international agreements with the ECU (European Common Union) became recognized and binding. Spain calls their sparkling wine Cava. In Australia, the particular varietal is featured, such as Sparkling Shiraz or Sparkling Grenache. In much of the rest of the world, it is still called Champagne, but that will change rapidly.

The wine from Champagne is strictly controlled. The rules restrict the types of grapes which can be used to three: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The various batches of juice go through a normal fermentation as usual and are separated into many different “lots.” The winemaker then chooses from among the various lots for the final blend, looking for an individual style and taste. When the blend is finalized, a small amount of “tirage” is added, consisting of yeast, sugar and wine. This is bottled and tightly capped.

As yeasts consume the sugar, a second fermentation occurs creating slightly more alcohol and a resulting carbon dioxide gas trapped within the wine. The bottles are racked at a slight angle and are slowly turned downward until the spent yeast cells and any other sediment is eventually captured in the bottle’s neck. This usually takes at least one year. Once the bottles have finished this “riddling” process, the plug of sediment is removed by flash freezing the neck and disgorging the plug. The small volume of liquid which is lost is replaced by topping off the wine with a “dosage” consisting of reserve wine and sugar. This ultimately determines the level of sweetness in the final product. The various levels of sweetness (or dryness) are classified as Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Doux, etc. Curiously, Extra Dry is sweeter than Brut.

Carbon dioxide gas remains trapped within the wine under enormous pressure, requiring a thick bottle, a wire-bound very tight cork, and usually a heavy foil “cape” to contain it. Great care must always be exercised when opening a bottle. Once the pressure is released, millions of tiny bubbles form as the gas attempts to escape. An old adage states that, “The tinier the bubbles, the better the wine.”

Serving Champagne cold is absolutely necessary in order to slow the bubbling activity. Good Champagne should never be degraded by “exploding” it from the bottle - either from warmth or by shaking it. This is dangerous and it spoils good wine.

The highest rated sparkling wines all use this traditional method or something quite similar in creating their product. It is known as methode champenoise or methode traditionale (fermented in the bottle) and will be indicated as such on the label. A cheaper and widely used method is called the bulk or Charmat process in which CO2 gas is injected into large (usually stainless steel) vats of bulk wine and quickly bottled. They are, perhaps, festive and fun, but they hold no comparison to the elegant champenoise wines. Labels must indicate the process used, and are, thus, one of the first means of selecting the desired product.

The single greatest exception to this rule is found in Italy, where the world’s largest quantity of sparkling wine is produced. The wines are known as Spumante (foaming) and the best come from an area in the Piedmont known as Asti, named for the town and region of Asti. These wines are made by a modified version of the Cremant (bulk) process, but are more controlled by holding the original crush in near freezing conditions which prevents immediate fermentation. As needed, batches are then revived and fermented in a controlled manner which does not allow all the sugar to be converted into alcohol. A wide variety of grapes is allowed in the mix, and those with a degree of sweetness and floral qualities make the best wines.

Many of these wines found their way into the U.S. after WWII. Unfortunately the most popular were the cheap “sweeties” which gave them a lower class designation and still cloud the reputation of some very fine and unique wines. Foaming wine from Asti (Asti Spumante) can be as thrilling and elegant an experience as any sparkling wine, depending upon the care taken to produce it. The bubbles don’t last as long as good Champagne, though.

This brief overview of sparkling wine is certainly not meant to be comprehensive. Many excellent books have been written on the subject and should be mined for a more detailed
investigation. As always, I believe wine “should be enjoyed by the enjoyer,” but it is rarely a one dimensional experience, and the mind can play a definitive role in the enjoyment.

Next - The fortified wines - Brandy, Port and Sherry.


Friday, November 13, 2009

POETRY: Autumn's Gold

Autumn's Gold
By Hubert Herrmann

Oh yes, I've had my hopes for gold,
Like any man whose life's been sold
To doctors, bankers, Master's, Sears,
Whose April tax is in arrears.

Who later on with hand-cupped ear,
In fear says, "Eh, what's that I hear?"
"I said," shouts out the office hack,
"Your Old Age Pension's been cut back."

And sure, I've had my fantasies
Of thumbnail wins on lotteries,
And bought Ed's magazines to win
On sweepstakes tickets I'd send in.

I've rolled three sevens in a row;
The next throw snake eyes took my dough.
I've bet the favorite to place;
The long shot's rump was in its face.

But with all that I have to say,
I never was so in the sway
Of bandit's arm and dealer's choice
That gold but had a passing voice.

It wasn't that my wants were few.
But way down deep, inside, I knew
There was, somewhere, a gold so pure
It brings about confusion's cure.

I found it one vacation day
As I unwound the long highway
Far from the city's murk and mire
In autumn's land of yellow fire.

Luck led me to a treasure trove
Within an ancient aspen grove.
Amidst this amphitheater,
I felt a long lost yearning stir.

Gold leaf-shaped coins were everywhere,
Thrown on the ground, flung in the air,
Then scattered on the molten stream
Beyond my wildest treasure dream.

Slant shafts of gold sprang from the ground;
They glowed and hovered all around
Like Jedi swords prepared to route
The shadow thieves that lurked about.

The coin-hung ceiling's tracery
Threw flecks of gold all over me.
My heart sang out a joyful note
Instead of pounding in my throat.

I stayed until the landslide night
Had buried every coin from sight
And to this day I've never sold
My treasured share of autumn's gold.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Valley Park is Payson's crown jewel

(Editor's note: The following column is reprinted so Noble's two articles about Payson's parks are available on the blog.)

Prospectors came to Rim Country, as to many other places, searching for silver, gold and other valuable minerals.

Their finds were few and rather meager, but there were other attractions holding them here magnetically. The relatively mild weather, breathtaking scenery and abundance of tall timber appealed to early homesteaders, and lush grass valleys were ideal attractions for ranchers looking for suitable spreads for cattle raising.

Before long, a small community developed in spite of the small but lingering presence of indignant Apaches who could never adapt to the White Man's notion of private ownership. Cowboys replaced Indians, and shopkeepers and saloon owners moved in to supply their needs.

Green Valley was the most common name given to the area, but Long Valley, Big Valley and Union Park were also used. Finally, when a post office was made possible through the assistance of a U.S. Senator named Payson, it was decided to give the community the single name, Payson. That has remained the official name of the town ever since, but Green Valley best describes it.

The town was a natural gathering place. Ranchers rode in for supplies. Cowboys rode in for entertainment or perhaps some improvement for their hard, lonely lives. Soon, homesteaders wanted schools, churches, and doctors, and businessmen wanted banks, mills and hotels.

Inevitably, the little settlement began to grow. It was endowed with all the necessary resources but one – water.

Payson is not located on a lake, a river or even a stream of any size. Precious water had to be hauled in or brought up from wells. Fire was a threatening enemy then as now, and destroyed many important and loved dwellings or gathering places.

Water was primarily used for animals and humans to drink. Other uses were pretty much rationed, such as bathing and clothes washing. Sanitation was maintained as well as possible, but this was not Martha Stewart country.

As the town grew, more and more wells were dug, and, fortunately, Payson lies atop a series of large aquifers (areas holding water underground.) Water was obtainable, but ironically its availability just about kept up with the demand, and no more.

More wells were dug, and more water was found, but usually at a deeper and deeper level. It began to be obvious that water was being used at a far greater pace than rains or snows could replace it.

Serious thinkers looked into the future and contemplated a dire dilemma. A number of factors, in play over many years, ultimately contributed to the survival, indeed, the prosperity of Payson and the surrounding area.

A century ago, early Arizona settlers faced harsh desert conditions. Water was scarce and undependable. Moving further west held no great promise. Water was needed. Lots of it, and a bright future seemed assured if it could be obtained.

In 1903, settlers formed The Salt River Valley Water Users Association. They looked toward the Federal Government, which in those days was considered an ally. A massive water storage and delivery system was needed, and “our” government was called upon to help out. No one thought of it as socialism or a government “takeover.”

The year before, the National Reclamation Act had been passed by a largely bi-partisan Congress led by a Republican majority and endorsed fully by the new Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt. The government agreed to loan certain approved parties as much money as needed to construct water storage and reclamation projects.

In this case, the Salt River Association put up 200,000 acres of their land as collateral for a loan. (There is no record of a “government bailout!” accusation.) The ultimate result was Lake Roosevelt and the Roosevelt power dam, which furnished water and electric power to the entire Phoenix area watershed. At this time, water draining into this reservoir became protected.

Later, as more water was needed, a canal was constructed bringing water from the Colorado River all the way to Phoenix. This is known as The Salt River Project (SRP), again government financed. Apparently, some of the early Payson families had no knowledge of this. No opposition is recorded.

Back in Payson, as early as 1970, a possible large reliable source of water was identified. The Phelps Dodge Corporation had captured a river in a deep valley north of Payson, built a dam and used the surging water to create electricity to power its mining efforts. The mines had played out, however, and the water and dam were no longer being used, but promised to SRP.

Over the next 20 years, the town of Payson attempted to find a way to have access to that water. Only recently has the effort found success. (Yes, the federal government is involved, sigh!) By the year 2015, if all goes well, Payson will finally be guaranteed all the water it needs to sustain present life and future growth. Finally!

In the meantime, two paths also converged which brought about a boon for Payson and an intermediate solution to the water problem. In 1984, The Northern Gila County Sanitary District was mandated to build a wastewater treatment plant, capturing and cleaning used water from the Payson area.

The “reclaimed” water was initially intended to be used for irrigation on school or town property or the Payson Golf Course, replacing and enhancing supplies of potable water. As it turned out, however, much more water was being re-claimed than was being used for these purposes. Thousands of gallons were being pumped into the Verde River as excess.

The Payson Water Department, under enlightened leadership, and in response to a mandate from SRP to use the water more efficiently, proposed a water containment area which would hold the effluent excess and distribute it only as needed. Also, the underground percolation from this facility would be cleansed and resupply the water table being rapidly drained by hundreds of wells.

Instead of a mundane water reclamation pond, however, a brilliant proposal came forth to create a beautiful park surrounding the pond. In 1989, a partnership was formed between The Payson Water Department and Northern Gila County Sanitary District , and plans began to create a multi use public park in conjunction with the water reclamation pond.

Three lakes were ultimately proposed - a small one just to capture run-off sediment from storms. The other two would be another small pond and a relatively large lake to contain and regulate water flow. Effluent water would be pumped into the largest lake and ultimately percolate its way back into the regional aquifer. Non-potable water would have a large source from which to draw to irrigate many areas, saving the pure drinking water for public consumption. Land was purchased from The Forest Service to build the facility.

Today, beautiful Green Valley Park is the result. Some original plans had to be changed, but a multi-use public park is in place which is unrivaled by any in small town America. It is a beauty which should be shown to all visitors.

There is more to this story, but I believe the important facts are covered. Payson should be extremely proud of this accomplishment. It illustrates how a trusted relationship between public and private entities, or even various government agencies, can accomplish great things for the common good.

This country was created to insure justice for the common good. It is OUR government, and the system of checks and balances should insure that no dictatorship will ever rule.

In the past, we have always found a way to work together, even if we disagree. The bond issue funding the Green Valley Project passed on a ratio 65/35. One third voted “NO”

Many people were heard to complain that they were being “forced” to vote too soon by “the government.” Too much money was being spent. More time was needed to study the plan. The majority prevailed.

It's a nice park, and it serves a great purpose. It is well named “Green Valley – Payson’s Crown Jewel.”

Time for Jesus to put a curse on Yankees

With the New York Yankees’ World Series victory, another baseball season is mercifully over.

The moral of this story is easy – the more you can afford to pay your players, the better chance you have of being world champions. The Yankees have, by far, the highest payroll in baseball – just because they can.

A sub-moral also emerges: the baseball season is way too long. When teams start the season with a chance of snow and the World Series ends with a possibility of snow, that’s too long. The Boys of Summer become the Boys of All Seasons.

Actually, baseball offers a lot of morals – at all levels. A Chandler, Ariz. author has just released an inspirational book for kids “using baseball as a fun analogy,” according to a press release.

Titled “Imagine That,” “the book takes youngsters to the ballpark to see a little slugger turn to Jesus in the midst of a nail-biting inning. The author shows children in a fun and exciting story that Jesus is our friend who desires for us to put our trust in him for whatever life pitches.”

Get it? “Whatever life pitches.”

But I’m not sure I’d consider that “a fun analogy. And I would have thought that Jesus might be too busy with important matters to help a “little slugger” succeed in a game of absolutely no consequence to the human race. Or that maybe He would figure that it’s character-building for “little sluggers” to learn to fight their own battles.

Apparently not. Apparently little leaguers can ask
Jesus to help them beat the snot out of other little leaguers, and He’ll do it.

But then I’m also surprised that nations ask Jesus to help them destroy other nations with whom they’re at war. You would think Jesus would just say, “Enough. I don’t condone war so I am not going to help you win. I don’t care if they are Muslims. They still have a right to live.”

But this is about baseball.

Growing up in Michigan, I hated the Yankees. Those were the days when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record. Then there was Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron and Billy Martin and on and on and on. They might as well have all been carrying pitchforks and sporting tails.

That was before the playoff era, and my beloved Detroit Tigers competed in the American League against the Yankees each year. Each year they won and we lost. Back then, like today, the big market Yankees had an unfair advantage.

Of course, it’s not just the Yankees spending the big bucks. The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay Manny Ramirez $20 million next year. Will the Diamondbacks ever be able to pay a player that kind of money? Not likely.

But we adults can deal with it better than kids. As Stephen Colbert pointed out the other night, at least the Yankees World Series victory is proof that the free enterprise system works.

As a kid, it was harder to understand – and to take. But I didn’t realize back then how Jesus might have helped. If I had been able to read “Imagine That” during my childhood, I would most certainly have sicced Jesus on those damn Yankees.

It may be impossible for the Tigers or the Diamondbacks to take out the Yankees (2001 notwithstanding), but I’m willing to bet that Jesus could do it without even working up a sweat.

Not long ago, on a trip back to Michigan, I took The Consort to the ballfield where I played little league baseball 55 years ago. It was behind my really old elementary school, which is still in use.

While the ball field has been replaced by a fancier field right next to it, the old backstop was still standing. I walked over to it, stood right about where home plate used to be, and displayed for her the infamous stance (see photo) I used to blast a total of three home runs during my entire multi-year little league career.

Photo by The Consort
Here I am back on my little league field 55 years later.  Back then, it was all dirt.  Amazing how grass grows in Michigan.

It was great to re-live that modest career, but I couldn’t help feeling cheated. I don’t know what Jesus was doing back when I was playing little league ball, but it never once occurred to me back then to ask him to help me poke a few more out of the park.

I have to wonder if “Imagine That” isn’t yet another example of how adults can’t leave kids to their own devices these days. Our little league games were played during the day when parents were at work.

While my parents never saw me play, that meant they never interfered, argued with the umps, or put extra pressure on me either. And we didn’t have to contend with books written by adults suggesting that we invoke Jesus to help us through that “nail-biting inning.”

But maybe it’s not too late. Maybe, just maybe, I can still make a request. What have I got to lose?

Dear Jesus: would you please put a hex or a curse or something on those damn Yankees?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tyler Prkwy. roundabout finally getting makeover

Photos by Jim Keyworth
The long-awaited Tyler Parkway roundabout landscaping project is underway.  Above, Chris Rothenbach of the Payson Gateway Committee waters some of the new drought tolerant high desert plants.  They include turpentine bushes, angelita daisies and paper flowers.  A solar-powered drip system will be installed.  Nancy Cox, who heads the committee, says much money still needs to be raised to add a brass elk as the crowning touch.  Cox thanks Plant Fair Nursery and Simmons Landscaping for their support of the endeavor.

Rant & Rave -- November 8, 2009

Editor’s note: Each week we print a selection of anonymous rants and raves submitted by our readers. Keep them under 150 words, free of profanity and personal attacks, and have at it. You need not sign your submission, which you may e-mail to or mail to Gazette Editor, 7736 N. Toya Vista Road, Payson, AZ 85541. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Gazette staff.

I guess a politician is a politician -- no matter what level of government.  Star Valley Councilor George Binney tried to get the SV council to impose term limits on its members.  But guess what?  The SV council opted to stay in power as long as it can.  Is it time for the voters to throw the bums out?


Congratulations to the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District and also to us people in Pine and Strawberry. We now own our own water business, owe the bank more than $6 million with a $50,000/month payment, have just as many leaks as before, have brought no new water to the communities (Pugel and Peterson aren't cooperating), and have a contract manager running the show. Somewhere (Brooke Utilities President Robert) Hardcastle must be smiling, having a cold beer, smoking a cigar, and asking himself, "What were they thinking?" He did it again!


Why does everyone keep wanting to change Payson? Why do we need a big airport? Why do we need a 4 year college? Why do we want 7 story buildings? If people want to live in a city with a large airport and a big college and tall buildings, there are plenty to choose from. True Paysonites like living in Payson because of its small town charm, its surrounding forests and clean air. It is nice going to Safeway or Bashas’ and running into your neighbors whom you know by name, waving to your friends as you walk down the street, knowing who is at the movies by the cars you see in the parking lot. So if you don't like Payson as it is, don't try to change it...move!


Funny, The Arizona Republic did a huge story on ASU and other state colleges’ plans to expand to rural areas and not a single mention of Payson (“Economy delaying lower-cost colleges,” Nov. 2 edition). In part, the story says it now looks like nothing will happen before 2012. It also says that “participating community colleges have not yet been determined.” And it says that besides some possible sites in the Valley, “ASU officials also have received interest from Show Low, Lake Havasu City and Florence, as well as the Central Arizona College system in Pinal County.” What, no Payson? How can this be when the Roundup says Mayor Kenny has all but locked up an ASU campus for Payson? Could it be yet another example of the Roundup shilling for the mayor? Or maybe the mayor shilling for himself and the Roundup taking him at his word and not checking the facts? So many questions. Come on (Roundup reporter) Pete (Aleshire). Quit blowing all those words up our butts and start giving us the truth. And Kenny Who claims ASU won’t come here unless he is reelected mayor. What a scam.


Stop it Forest Service! Stop fouling my air! Stop contributing to global warming! Stop burning what could be put to better use. Read the latest research on prescribed burning and JUST STOP IT!


Forget the bronze elk. Judging by how many hours it took umpteen Town of Payson streets employees to spread a little granite and place rocks in a circle at the Tyler Parkway roundabout, I vote for a giant doughnut to be the centerpiece. Talk about government bureaucracy in action. The difference this time: they were screwing off in a very public place where we could all see them. I never saw so much shovel-leaning in my life.


(Editor’s note: The following is a response to my “Off the Rim” column about growing up Methodist in Michigan, which also contained a diatribe about Christians needing to be more tolerant of other religions.)

Well said, Jim. However it does appear that our government wants to shut out all reference to Christianity while allowing others to freely express theirs. I am a firm believer that our Churches of today are unintentionally misinforming their followers. I can see where some of their teachings are hurting society as a whole, but no faiths are free of this opinion in my belief. We are no longer teaching the values of a good society. I believe the least they should teach is the "Golden Rule." In fact I would like for us to have the "Golden Law". We will do unto you as you have done unto others; and your neighbors will be your judge. I believe that this would cure a lot of troublemakers in all the communities, because any hate you built up in your neighbors against you would come out when they are your judge.


Judging from the great turnout for First Friday on Main Street, there is plenty of interest in making it once again the heart of Rim Country. The Payson Town Council needs to get with the program and show a little support for a change.  Payson needs Main Street, now more than ever.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh no, Jinx was right about those two

Photo by Bill Huddleston
Che Guevara and Dracula (aka Jim Keyworth and Noble Collins) at the Norman's Halloween Party last Saturday.  As Jinx always suspected, these two radicals are not to be trusted -- especially with a good bottle of wine.  The only character missing was Hitler, who, as we all know, has a lot in common with a certain president.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Carrie Backe, Noble Collins win poetry awards

Carrie Backe and Noble Collins, two local poets, recently won prestigious awards for their work.

Backe, 67, a retired teacher and bookstore owner who now lives in Payson, has won the 2009 Arizona Senior Poet Laureate Award for her poem "The Pact."  The 17th annual national Senior Poets Laureate Poetry Competition for American poets age 50 and older was sponsored by Amy Kitchener's Angels Without Wings Foundation of Monterey, Calif.

Patricia Frolander, 66, a rancher from Sundance, Wyo., won the National Senior Poet Laureate Award for her poem "Father when You call."  Details about the contest and all winners' poems appear in the online anthology GOLDEN WORDS currently on the sponsor's website at

Backe's winning poem also appears in a following post and under the tab POETRY in the right hand column of this blog.

Collins, a popular Gazette columnist who writes "Rimshots" and "En Vino Veritas," won a "Most Highly Commended Prize" of $100 in the 2009 Margaret Reid Poetry Contest for Traditional Verse for his poem "The Falcon."

"It's a prestigious contest, so I'm elated," Collins told the Gazette.  "This is an international contest that usually draws more than 1,000 entries.

"One year, I actually won second place overall with a poem entitled 'Old Hawk.'  Ironically, this poem was entitled 'The Falcon.'

"I guess I have a thing for old birds.  'The Falcon' is based upon W.B. Yeats poem 'The Second Coming,' which has always been a favorite."

Collins' winning poem and "Old Hawk" appear in following posts and under the tab POETRY in the right hand column of this blog.

POEM: The Falcon

The Falcon
By Noble Collins

Slowly descending in a narrowing gyre,
a large grey-brown falcon appears
under low clouds in the late afternoon.

Hungry, thirsty, tired from a long flight,
his cautious calculated circles
conceal a quiet urgency.
Stretched tendons and burning muscles
are barely able to hold the wings outright and taut.

A small outcropping of granite will have to do -
somewhat higher that the surrounding terrain -
a nice little overhang -
a good vantage point from which to hunt -
safe haven from predators -
some blessed rest at last.

The landing will be tight,
but a commitment is made,
and down he comes.

He is in desperate need of a place to rest -
to eat and drink - and to ponder.


Oh, he heard the falconer very well.
The shrill call came and hand motions were part of the agreement.
"I display my amazing skill and you keep me in comfort."
Only, one time, he no longer wanted to be kept.

Higher and higher he soared.
A vast world appeared - expanding beyond each horizon -
more green - more blue - sweeter air.

All warnings ignored.

Left behind, much lower -
indignant desert birds squawked,
but could not escapt their shadows.


He wanted only to be free
to swoop into green pastures, and drink from still waters -
not to disturb the world but to engage it -

He would eat fresh grain,
and carry seeds to far-off places.

More and more, however
each horizon was a mirage - the air more rank -
the land below devastated and desolate -
burnt stubble where there had been crops -
dead fish on the banks of still water.

He dared not land - could not land, in fact -
each scene more threatening than the last -
strange clouds off to one side near Jerusalem -
broken seals lying on bloodied rocks
near the isle of Patmos.

There were no shrill whistles to return -
only wails and moans.

So, on he flew -
on and on, until now.


Now, at last
in stony sleep, he rests,
but there are distant rumblings even here -
on Ararat.

POEM: Old Hawk

Old Hawk
By Noble Collins

It had been easy once -
a dozen effortless strokes - just the right attitude of wings,
climbing the wind as a child climbs a wave,
floating upward, just catching the crest,
then turning downwind
for the easy glide.
conserving every measure of energy,
(a small movement below worth investigating)
Old Hawk turns back, once again, into the wind,
and struggles to gain altitude.
Worn tendons and weary muscles struggle.
Nothing is easy anymore.
instinct is intact,
eyesight is pretty good,
and he is hungry.


Field mouse emerges, warily,
from the cool safety of his den
beneath an abandoned wall.
Life, of a different kind, has been here.
It is his inheritance now.
He switches his way a brief distance
into the fading afternoon,
whiskers twitching,
little ripples of skin moving up and down his back,
nose up,
all energy,
feinting here - darting there,
checking for any sign of danger.
It is a little early for him
and he knows the grain is gone,
but maybe there is something,
and he is hungry.


The tiny movement keenly spotted,
(surprised by its audacity,
but fine-tuned to its possibility),
the old hawk
marshals aging resources.
Lately he has been settling
for defenseless bugs,
a small snake, perhaps,
but even they are dwindling.
The pickings are lean for an old hawk,
and the seven-year drought
is everyone's enemy.


A slow calculated turn -
Downwind glide now -
easy -
easy -
not too fast,
timing has to be perfect -
flare the wings a touch -
tail feathers down just so,
legs down -
just enough drag -
talons ready -
closer -
perfect angle -
glide path skimming over the old piled stones -
he hasn't sensed me yet -
six more feet -


Field mouse knows something is wrong.
He checks and re-checks
sniffing the air,
whiskers at full sensitivity,
trembling body attuned to every possible threat.
but ONE!


Generations of spontaneous reaction
whisk him four inches to the left
feathers and fur
a vortex of dust and tiny pebbles


Each takes a moment to evaluate the scene.
One takes longer than the other.
Field mouse zips back under the piled stones.
Old Hawk limps away a few yards
and hungry still -
flaps weary wings,
and ponders:
How many tomorrows will there be?


The Anasazi left sometime before,
when they still could.

POEM: The Pact

The Pact
By Carrie Backe

They made a pact,

This great group of friends,

To stay together

Until the end.

If together they stayed,

The past they could keep.

All their fun times together,

The memories run deep.

They’d move to a complex

With a card room and gym.

They’d remind each other

Of the way things had been.

Now the dancing is over,

The traveling is done,

They walk and play cards

For just a little fun.

But one couldn’t stay,

He forgot his wife’s name,

And in the place he lived,

It couldn’t be the same.

One son left town,

And built a new place,

With rooms for his mom,

And plenty of space.

Two stayed in their home,

They’d been there so long,

To leave it all now,

Just seemed so wrong.

One went to hospice,

When the pain was too sharp.

The last thing she knew

Was the song of the harp.

Now there are four,

Old, funny fools.

They keep playing cards,

But they’ve forgotten the rules.

POEM: Moving Mom

Moving Mom
By Jim Keyworth

(On the occasion of moving mom to a nearby new cemetery 10 years after her death.)

We did the deed
We dug up mom
Then buried her

We did it once
Ten years ago
But that was
Way back when

It's no bid deal
To yank her
Out the ground

And move her
To a better
Place that's just
The corner round

You might think
It would be best
To just let
Dead mom's lie

Tempting fate
Was not my choice
Though I didn't
Question why

And when you
Think about it
It makes a
Sort of sense

To let her
Steal a whiff of
Air -- although
In the past tense

A decade
In the darkness
Has been brought
To an end

And now it's done
She's in the crypt
She's laid to rest

Monday, November 2, 2009

Close encounter of the furry kind

Photo by Mitzi Brabb
The cover photo on our Sept. 23 print edition, and one of our favorite photos of all time.  That's why we're running it again and making it a permanent part of our PHOTO GALLERY.  It's Haley Brabb, daughter of Gazette Correspondent Mitzi Brabb.  Mitzi, as many of you know, is also a wildlife rehabber -- hence the close encounter between child and beast.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catholic girls hotter, but who needs all that guilt

My 92-year-old father attends Swartz Creek Methodist Church on a pretty regular basis. It wasn’t always that way.

Growing up in Flint, I remember hoping against hope that we wouldn’t have to get up and go to church on Sunday. Usually we didn’t.

But when we did, it was just an awful way to end the weekend. Getting dressed up. Being bored silly for a couple hours.

Little boys who want to spend every waking hour playing baseball or football or basketball are not a good mix with church – at least back then we weren’t.

We wanted to not go so bad, we wouldn’t even bring up the subject in hopes they somehow wouldn’t remember that every weekend contained a Sunday. When I say we, I mean my brother Denny and I. Although we have never really discussed the subject, I’m pretty sure he felt the same way I did.

My parents were first Methodists, and then Presbyterians – but never very seriously in those days.

I couldn’t much tell the difference between the two. To this day I can’t. Near as I can figure out, Methodists and Presbyterians are on the “liberal” end of the protestant scale. There are no restrictions on dancing, the little lady doesn’t have to walk respectfully behind the man of the house, and we weren’t literal interpreters of the Bible.

In fact, Methodist and Presbyterian services were pretty bland. We’d sing a few hymns, pass the collection plate, listen to a sermon about walking a mile in your brother’s moccasins or some such, say a couple prayers including the big one, and file out, shaking hands with the minister – and then, in the words of Martin Luther King…

“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

There was none of the fire and brimstone stuff and none of those calls to the congregation to come forward, fall on your knees, and declare Jesus your savior. We were pretty much a white bread religion.

I think I’ve told you about mom’s ability to fall asleep during the service with her head erect and her eyes open. What a gift, but she could only pull it off at a passive, white bread church.

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood, very close to Holy Redeemer church and school, so a lot of my best friends were Catholics. They got a lot more days off than us public schoolers, but otherwise there wasn’t much difference – as near as I could tell.

I always thought the Catholic girls were hotter, but that was probably a statistically insignificant aberration – or an example of how the grass is always greener.

Speaking of babes, The Consort was a Catholic in her formative years and she talks often about the guilt that went with her religion. She was about to have exploratory surgery for a stomach problem when her father discovered it was caused by the stress of growing up a Catholic.

She says it was really hard as a kid to go to confession and make up something you had done wrong because that was expected of you.

My best friend Jim Cote’s parents were a bit more religious than mine, and when we were 11 or 12 they made him go to classes of some sort so he could officially “join the church.” Rather than miss out on spending time with my buddy, I agreed to go with him.

That was Lincoln Park Methodist Church in our south Flint neighborhood. It’s a beautiful old stone church with a circular stained glass window featuring Jesus praying that is still in use today.

To this day, that’s how Jesus looks in my mind. Complete with his Zebra robe and all.

I took The Consort to see the church and Jesus during our recent trip back to Michigan, and she took these photos. She thought it was pretty funny that the signboard that day read, “LORD PLEASE HEAR MY COMPLAINT.” Something about how I’m always complaining, so that’s exactly how I would put it to the Big Guy. I humored her and posed appropriately.

Anyway, Jim Cote and I joined the church. My parents continued their erratic attendance, although they came the day I joined and then we all went on a picnic and played baseball. I eventually grew up and went my own way.

Dad says his greatest failing as a parent was to not set a better example regarding churchgoing. I disagree. I appreciate the fact that I was never brainwashed in some dogmatic religion like some people I know – never having the chance to make up my own mind.

I don’t go to church much these days. An occasional funeral is about it. The once-Catholic Consort and I got married in a mine instead of a church. Probably closer to the direction we’re headed when it’s all said and done.

But I don’t have a problem with anybody’s religion or religiousness – as long as they don’t try to spread it on me. I do have a real problem with self righteous Christians who claim this is their country and anybody who doesn’t like it can just leave.

How can they forget that our forefathers came here to get away from the very attitude they are now espousing. Do we believe in religious freedom or don’t we?

There is no half way here. Just because the vast majority in this country call themselves Christians (living like Christians is a whole nother matter) doesn’t make it OK to tell other people they have to somehow believe or behave like us.

It just doesn’t compute. Is the Christian god so small that he doesn’t respect the differences in all of us?

I doubt it. I suspect rather that it’s the way people interpret the way He thinks.

Because if we weren’t human and fallible, we wouldn’t need a God in the first place. We just need to realize that we’re stupid, and that we should really follow the 10 Commandments we profess to believe – especially the one about treating others the way you’d like to be treated.

I didn’t grow with up all the guilt The Consort experienced. But if there’s one thing I learned growing up in Flint, Mich., it’s that I’m wrong a lot more often than I’m right.

For me, therefore, to tell others what they should believe is preposterous. It’s all about tolerance and humility.

Last time I checked, those were still supposed to be Christian virtues.