Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can’t, Teach

Nope.

First, many of those who can do also can teach. Take a look at the greatest scientists over the past centuries; they did and they taught. Same is true of writers, artists, along with men and women in other areas of expertise.

Now, yes, there are plenty of teachers whose greatness lies in their ability to teach. Most English teachers are not going to become published or famous writers. Most history teachers will probably not be Doris Kearns Goodwin or Will Durant. So what? If these teachers can get across ideas and teach needed skills, they are doing a great service for society.

We are the first (or one of the first) societies that has tried to teach everyone. That is some goal and, sadly, I do not think we will ever really reach it—at least in my lifetime. Still, good intentions count.

I do enjoy the non-teachers who fancy themselves successful in this or that field leaping on the bandwagon that subscribes to the title to this article. Some of these folks shout it out at the top of their lungs.

Here is a fact: It is a bitch to be a teacher. In my limited experience of 33 years in one district, about 25 percent of the teachers were extraordinary; maybe 50 percent were good or competent and another 25 percent should have been marched out in the dead of night, never to return.

For most teachers, kids—even the smart ones—are tough to handle. They are, to put it simply, sharks; swimming in circles waiting for the teacher’s blood. If the teacher drips even a little of the red stuff, the feeding frenzy begins.

Teachers in the bottom 25 percent send an amazingly high number of disciplinary referrals to the principal or dean of students. Trying to get the higher-ups to pull your bloody body out of the water after a kid-attack is way too little, way too late. The great teachers send few (or no) referrals because they can handle the sharks on their own.

I remember one teacher who sent so many referrals that the dean had two piles; one pile for every teacher in the school and one just for this lady. Her pile was more than the combined number for all other teachers put together.

She was a nice lady in the teachers’ lounge, maybe in her mid-50s, although she had a wandering eye that made it difficult to figure out where she was looking.

The kids hated her and she hated them right back. The bad kids hated her. The good kids hated here. She taught business and typing. Her classes had few kids, maybe 10 to 15 students at the time when the average class size was 25 to 30.

The kids lined up to get out of her classes and the parents with the most clout were able to twist the arms of the administrators to free their children from the iron grip of the Cyclops, as the kids called her.

Here is my personal story with her.

It was June, the last week of school, and in New York State students had to take the Regents exams in all the main subjects. These were statewide exams that, if passed, meant you received a Regents diploma. That was a big deal.

My 11th grade classes had to take the exam. Two of these classes were my honors Classics classes as well. These were nice kids; smart kids; well-behaved kids.

I went up to the room on the third floor to say hello and take attendance. There was the Cyclops sitting at the desk, her eyes looking wherever the hell they were looking.

Not a single kid was in the room!

“Where are the students? Did the room change?” I asked.

“They were disobedient and had to be sent to the dean’s office to be punished,” she said.

Oh, crap! An entire honors class? During a Regents exam!

“Ah,” I said. “Ah” is my go-to expression when I have no idea what the hell I should say.

I left the room and zipped down to the dean’s office. There they were, 25 honors students sitting in the three different offices. Some of them looked worried that they might miss their Regents English exam.

I told the dean, “You know who sent all of them down here? I’ll take them.”

“Could you take her too?” he asked.

I led the kids back upstairs but first I told them to apologize to the Cyclops, but I used her formal name. “We need her to let up.” The kids apologized as they entered the room.

She huffed a bit but she didn’t throw herself in front of the door to prevent them from coming in.

“You can take a break,” I said. “I’ll administer the exam.” Some cheers went up from the students. I gave them “the look” and the cheers stopped. She huffed and left the room.

“She’s nuts!” said some of them.

“How can they let her teach?” said others.

“Okay, sit down. She’s been teaching a long time,” I said. “We should have some respect for the service she’s put in over the decades.” I looked at them. They looked at me.

“She should be shot,” said one of them.

“You know,” I said. “We aren’t allowed to bring guns to the school.”

That was that.

She didn’t come back the next year. The school district paid her $55,000 to retire, a princely sum in the mid-1970s for the queen of mean. In short, they paid her off to get rid of her. A good teacher never gets paid off. You retire and get your retirement, but you don’t get a bonus for being good.

I found some ridiculous aspects to my teaching career. If there were students that a teacher couldn’t control, the knee-jerk administrative reaction was, “Put him (or her) in Scobe’s class.” I’d have 30-35 kids in my non-Regents classes while other English teachers would have 15 to 20. I didn’t get paid any more money.

And hallway monitoring. The men were expected to break up the fights but we didn’t get paid any more money. Only a couple of the women teachers would actually get their hands dirty trying to stop two enraged students from pummeling each other to death. One teacher, a classy woman, would always say she didn’t want to jump in because she didn’t want her high heels to get dirty or break.

But, back to the topic: Are people who think that teaching is for those who “can’t do” actually able to teach? Let’s see.

He was a marine; a big guy, who wanted to teach English after his service to his country in Vietnam. He was hired as a replacement for a pregnant teacher. He was given average classes and one non-Regents class.

One month after he started, he came over to me. “Scobe,” he said. “I can’t do it. I am always losing my temper. At first that scared them; now they hoot and holler at me. I can’t scare them anymore. I’m miserable.”

He quit the next week.

Another was a businessman who had retired to a life of luxury. He thought teaching would be a “breeze.” His children had gone to our schools and he was very critical about most of our teachers.

He made a pronouncement that he would become a teacher and show the rest of us how easy it was. He bragged to the students about how much money he had. They were not impressed; many came from wealthy families. The ones who didn’t come from wealthy families disliked him for his superiority.

Within a week the man was torn to shreds. He was constantly writing disciplinary referrals. It looked as if he was going to give the Cyclops a run for her money.

He loudly claimed in the teachers’ lounge that the principal had given him the toughest kids because of his former criticism of our school district. Not so. He just had regular kids; none with serious problems. He just couldn’t handle them.

Some teachers can control their classes. How they do so is probably a mystery. We had several excellent women teachers who were under five-feet tall. One was an extremely skinny older woman with the most irritating, whiney voice on earth. The kids sat at attention in her class. She rarely needed to send a referral.

We had excellent teachers who were fat; who were giants; who were just plain-looking men and women—and they could teach up a storm.

We had excellent teachers who were funny and the kids loved them. We had excellent teachers who were the exact opposite. Nasty bastards; some of whom I couldn’t stand—all whom could teach and their students learned.

There is no common denominator to explain all their successes.

Yes, there are those who can do. And there are those who can do and teach. And there are those who can simply teach. Teaching is more than enough.

Then there are the ones who spout a disdainful cliché about doing vs. teaching, the ones who would be chopped up in front of a classroom.

Frank Scoblete’s books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, libraries and at bookstores.

Cindy Tackles Craps

It is no longer the 1950s or 60s or 70s or 80s. We are in a new century now. It is truly the modern age.

But is it the modern age in the game of craps? Have women broken the stranglehold that men have had on that game since forever?

Is craps still a male domain?

Indeed, it still is but, as Bob Dylan wrote long ago, “The times they are a-changin.” He should have just added the word “slowly.” Maybe, very slowly.

If you go to the craps tables today, while men still dominate, it is not completely unheard of to see women playing the game – and playing the game not attached to some fellow.

Yes, it has been slow progress but it has been progress nevertheless. One such female craps player is Cindy, a 65-year-old product of New Jersey who “cut her teeth” (as she says) in Atlantic City in “the early days.”

I’ll let her tell her story:

CINDY: “When I first went to the casinos, it was Resorts, and you actually had to wait in line to play. I was a kid and this would be my first trips to the casino. My mother and father thought I was making a big mistake.

“I guess like any novice I went to the slot machines. They were the easiest to play and it didn’t take any knowledge to put your coins in and spin the reels. But I got bored with the slots; there was no strategy and it became somewhat humdrum. What next?

“I tried blackjack and I liked it but still, it was missing something. I tried roulette too. I just wasn’t getting the thrill I thought the casino games should give me.

“Look, I know other players loved all these games and they satisfied many of them. Not me. I always heard cheering and moaning coming from the craps tables – all male voices by the way. What was it about that game that thrilled all those guys? Or made them miserable? Loud miserable too. I didn’t hear any massive cheering at blackjack or roulette. Maybe one voice at a slot machine.

“At craps it could be the whole table!

“I strolled by the craps tables one evening and watched the game. The layout looked imposing. There were so many bets I couldn’t keep track of them. I had just started my career as a teacher and I had a little money, very little. The minimum for the table was five dollars. I could afford that if I decided to play

“Did I want to just push my way into the game without knowing anything about it? I’d be pushing a bunch of men back. I decided that the better part of bravery was caution. I just spent that evening watching a few tables.

“What does a teacher do when confronted with a mystery and craps was a mystery. I bought several books from the Gamblers Book Club in Las Vegas. These were elementary books that explained the game and the various betting choices players could make. Those betting choices were huge.

“I made a very simple plan. I would make the best bets at the table, the Pass and the Come and put double odds on them. I’d go up on three numbers and cross my fingers.

“I did know that the game was dominated by men. I had not seen a single woman playing it when I spent that evening watching it. Would the men mind a woman entering their game? Well, I was going to play it no matter what. I can be stubborn and I was a feminist. No male world was closed to me. I hoped I was as strong as I pretended to be!

“I guessed I’d have two thrills. One would be playing the game and the other would be how I would be treated when I played the game. Okay, my next trip would let me know if I could handle it all.

“My parents asked me if I really wanted to go to the casino this often. It was once a month. It wasn’t a long drive from our house. My sister Abby, who was in law school during this time, came with me many times in the future but my first trip to the craps table to play meant I was all alone.

“I cashed in for a hundred dollars and I heard it right away. One older guy shook his head and said loudly, ‘Oh, look who is here!’ I guess that was supposed to scare me.

“I got my chips and I placed a come bet. ’Stupid bet,’ he said. Evidently, he hadn’t read the two books I had read. When my bet went on the number, I placed two times odds on it.

“Most of the men just ignored me. One guy told me not to worry about ‘the idiot’ who was making remarks. Have fun playing. That’s why we were all here. We married two years later.

“I guess you could say, I really won at the craps table!”

All the best in and out of the casinos!

 

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, libraries and at bookstores.   

My Rejected Screenplay

I sent in a pitch of my new screenplay in 2018. I had one almost accepted by DreamWorks when that company first opened in the 1990s. I’ve written about that particular ordeal in one of my books.

The new one was going to be a big, whopping, costing countless millions that would attract a gigantic audience. I thought it would be a better seller than Jaws or Star Wars or Titanic.

I was meeting with two top executives, Paul J. and James C.

James started the meeting off. “Good afternoon Frank. What have you got for us?”

Frank: “It’s a big one. A grand one with so many elements in it that will attract people to watching it.”

Paul: “Shoot!”

Frank: “It’s about a pandemic that circles the globe killing about 10 million people, about a million in America. The thought is that the virus, called Viral-18, came from a Chinese laboratory and was accidentally release—or even released on purpose—into China and then was picked up and traveled the world on airplanes and boats, especially cruise ships.”

James: “That’s not much of a death toll.”

Frank: “Ah, but there is more. Whole countries close down because there is no real way to fight the disease.”

Paul: “Doesn’t sound like much.”

Frank: “But doctors recommend wearing masks and then society splits in two on the subject. In America and in Europe. Fights actually start in stores and on the street over whether to wear masks or not. The people who refuse to wear masks think wearing a mask is destroying their freedom.

“People are laid off work. The housing market skyrockets as city people start buying suburban and rural houses. The suburbanites aren’t happy to have these people.

“The President of the United States is a guy who used to do a reality show on television. He refuses to read and is involved in shady dealings. He has an orange face too. And strange hair.”

Paul: “Like John Boehner?”

Frank: “Even more. He won’t wear a mask and his followers do what he does. Many evangelical Christians think this guy was sent from God to destroy the evils of the government. Right wing movements are growing in European countries too. Including Germany.”

James: “So far it is ridiculous.”

Frank: “There is a lot more here. Militias start forming and they join each other all over the country. They talk to each other over social media sites and stockpile weapons. At a certain point these people attack Congress and try to kill the Vice President who is himself an evangelical, who won’t be with a woman in a restaurant unless his wife is with him.”

James: “This isn’t going to be some study of sick men, is it?”

Frank: “No, no, they are just the decorations on the tree of the story.”

Paul: “Continue.”

Frank: “As this is happening cities come under fire from the left-wing. Radicals wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Cops are targeted and there is also a big black/white confrontation about racism and the left hates the police and the right loves them except something goes screwy with them when they attack Congress.”

James: “Where’s the sex? We don’t want G or PG.”

Frank: “Plenty of sex. Not all normal either. The President has had many affairs and he has to buy all the women off. The news media plays this up too. He even says he grabs women by their private parts. We can show this too if we go R rated.

“Also, an idea is that whites are inherently racist. This takes place all over the country. Some cities have nightly riots! Stores are looted and burned. This group is often referred to as the ‘Awakes.’ They destroy statues of people they hate like Lincoln.

Paul: “Who the hell could hate Lincoln?”

Frank: “So, you have a new civil war becoming possible.”

James: “I don’t know. Sounds derivative. But weird sex is a good element. Does he have a wife?”

Frank: “A beauty with a great accent. She was a model, even did nudes before she married the President.

“There’s more. While all this is going on, the country and the world is faced with a UFO problem. The government now admits, even a former President admits, that UFOs are real and do things none of our aircraft can do. There are all sorts of tapes from the military showing these craft making our planes look silly. Are we being invaded from space? The world hangs in the balance.

Paul: “I don’t know, The UFOs are kind of old. There have been a lot of movies about UFOs.”

Frank: “Oh, I forgot, Asians are being attacked all over the country because people blame them for the Viral-18 virus. Other minorities are attacking Asians but only one channel shows this.”

James: “But Crazy Rich Asians is making a bundle.”

Frank: “Yeah, but now here is another one to add. The President of the United States runs for reelection and loses the popular vote and the electoral college to some old guy who keeps falling as he walks up the stairs to his plane. This old guy is accused of being a pawn of the Chinese. The ousted President, who is supported by the Russians, claims that the election was rigged. His followers start going berserk. That’s when they try to take over Congress too and even beat up and kill police. They even have a sign saying they are going to kill the Vice President.

“The states certify that the President lost. Scores of cases are brought to the courts and the President is defeated in all of them. Doesn’t matter, a religion has now grown up around this guy. It is called ‘U’ and the President is now looked upon as almost a god that the Christian God has groomed perfectly and, here is really the weird stuff, the opposition party is now believed to be controlled by Satanists who have sex with children and drink their blood. ‘U’ claims that all over the world these Satanists are destroying children and countries and fixing elections.”

James: “Do you really think movie audiences could believe all this?”

Frank: “There is one fake ballot found during the election. One man murdered his wife and then sent in her mail-in vote and the vote was for the President!

“All of this going on with UFOs and the pandemic and an upcoming civil war between the left and the right. People are refusing to be vaccinated too with a new vaccine that was quickly created. They are leaving themselves open to this world-wide disease and some of them are causing trouble on airplanes. They’ll wear seat belts but they won’t wear masks.”

James: “Frank, listen. A worldwide disease, people refusing to be vaccinated against it, a wacky orange President, religious fanatics who think this guy is a god, UFOs, Satanists, pedophiles, a rebellion on the left and the right, a right-wing attempt to take over Congress and a new President who trips up the stairs? Who could believe all of this going on at the same time? Nobody.”

Paul: “I have to agree with James. Nobody would believe this. The story is completely nutty. It’s all over the place. There is no way all this could be happening.”

Frank: “Oh, oh, and hackers are hacking into our oil lines and meat-packing plants. America is in a cyber war too. How’s that?”

Paul: Adding more isn’t helping. The answer is no.

They were right, I guess. These things were just too much for a movie. No one would believe it.

Female Crapshooters

In post war America in the 1950s, men were the crapshooters. You rarely saw a woman at a craps table – at least one who was not accompanied by a man; probably she was not his wife or his beloved girlfriend.

The same was true right up until the 1980s. Women just didn’t take to craps. They dominated the slot machine world. Indeed, their husbands and boyfriends would usher them off to the land of bells and whistles so that the men could play the man’s game.

Most men learned to play craps in the military. It was a city game but the country boys took to it with delight. With the soaring attendance in Las Vegas, craps became the number one game until the mid-1960s when blackjack jumped ahead of it.

It is now 2021. Has anything changed?

Kind of; sort of; well, maybe; somewhat.

Check out the craps tables in the casinos across the country and you can still see clearly that the game is heavily dominated by men; most of whom have never spent time in a war. Their game was probably learned inside the casinos’ walls.

Yet, you will on occasion see females playing the game. They are the trailblazers.

In the 1980s I wrote an article where I described how the men, mostly World War II and the Korean War vets, looked upon the precious few women who dared to come to the world of men.

But in those days, the way some of these men talked was frowned upon by some of the newspapers and magazines to which I sent this article. Long story short; my article was rejected by all of them.

I am now resurrecting some of the men’s “insights” so we can see how these fellas actually felt about women who dared stand at the tables with them. The reading public has become far more mature than it was so very long ago.

Joey D. from Brooklyn [WWII army vet]: “I do not want a woman at the tables with me. I won’t allow my wife to come near the craps tables. Craps is meant for men. It requires knowledge of the bets and how they are paid off. I think it is too complicated by the woman sex. Your head has to be into the game. I don’t think their heads are capable of understanding the game.

“They belong at the slot machines. That is their place when they are in the casino. Craps ain’t for them.”

Paulie M. from New Jersey [Korean War vet]: “I am not a man who hates women. I have three daughters and a beautiful wife. But I have told all of them that when they are in the casino to not play craps. Craps players look at the game as their domain – meaning a man’s domain. It is men only!

“Do you see women at the craps tables? No, you don’t. They know they don’t belong there and we men know they don’t belong there. That’s the way it is and that is the way it will always be. Some things change in this world and some things don’t. Craps will stay the same at least for my lifetime. I am sure of that.”

David P. from Long Island, New York [WWII vet]: “I like a good cigar. When there are only men at the table, I can take out my stogie and light up. Remember when stogies were bad cigars? Yeah. Well, not anymore.

“I have never had a man tell me to put out my cigar. Never. But twice I had ladies at the table with me and the nerve of them! They told me to put out the cigar. I gave them a look that said, ‘Go jump in the ocean.’ And then they told the box man who told me we couldn’t smoke cigars at the table. You have to be kidding me?

“Craps is a man’s game and we men, most of us, like to smoke. Ladies, go away. You only cause problems at the game. You are slow to take the dice. You do the little girl routine so we feel sorry for you. All of this is a royal waste of everyone’s time.

“Learn your lesson. Okay? Craps belongs to men.”

Marty V. from Pennsylvania [Korean War vet]: “I played in the streets as a kid and I played in the army. I love the game. I’d bank the game in the army and that made me some cash. The casino game is fun too.

“I go to Vegas three times a year and all I want to do is play the game I love. Women at the tables? Nah, you don’t see many of them. Maybe here and there and they don’t stay long. Craps is the only game in the casino that is all men all the time.

“And that’s the way it should be.”

There you have it. Voices from another generation.

All the best in and out of the casinos!

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores and libraries.  

Scobe’s Yay or Nay: Seaspiracy

 

I love documentaries, usually about anything. I have seen the greatest birds in the world on my television screen. I might not get to the top of a real mountain but I’ve been on many a televised mountain including Everest.

I’ve also been under the sea. And that, as of now, has done me in.

Do you love to eat fish? I did. When I was in Alaska, I ate King Salmon for three meals on many days! Now I won’t eat fish, of any kind, anymore. My wife, the Beautiful AP, ate so much fish in her life that she can stay submerged for seemingly hours. She won’t eat fish anymore either.

The documentary, seen on Netflix, titled Seaspiracy has done that to us. Actually, watching this documentary has led us to firmly conclude that our oceans are done in—and not just by plastic straws, plastic garbage bags and take-out containers. No, something bigger is happening. Much, much bigger.

Seaspiracy starts off rather relaxed, like a snowball at first rolling down the hill, and by the end you have a snowball bigger than Mt. Everest. The documentary maker never quit pursuing the topic layer by layer, even when his life was in danger. By the end my wife and I were saying, “Oh, my God!” “Oh, my God!” scene after scene. We looked at each other and nodded and said, “I will never eat fish again.”

I am not going to ruin this documentary for you—if ruin is the right word—but I must tell you that I think you might be saying “Oh, my God!” by the end too.

Seaspiracy is the most powerful documentary about the oceans that I have ever seen. It gets as many “yays” as I can give it.

Seaspiracy is currently playing on Netflix.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is wwwfrankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, libraries, e-books and at bookstores.

 

 

 

 

Oh, Boy! It’s a Girl!

 

My wife, the Beautiful AP and I have two parrots. Our oldest is a Quaker Parrot, Augustus, about 25 (give or take), and our youngest Mr. Squeaky, a Green-Cheeked Conure, is about 10 years old. We’ve had Squeaky for seven years. He’s a rescue.

Mr. Squeaky, named by his original owners, took about three years to get the hang of living with us. He didn’t like stepping up on our fingers; instead, he preferred to jump onto our arms. You also couldn’t hug and kiss him as you could with Augustus, a feathered sponge, lapping up affection by the gallon. It took years for my wife to teach him to give individual kisses without drawing blood.

I just chat with them since they reside in my office where I spend most of my day. I think of them as my “little birds Fauntleroy.” They have the good life for sure— Gourmet-level food, open cages, ahum, Daddy as company, while Mommy works outside the home.

We’re one big happy flock.

Augustus is madly in love with the Beautiful AP. Mr. Squeaky is in love with me. But Mr. Squeaky is even more in love with Augustus.

From Mr. Squeaky’s first day with us, he had his eyes on Augustus. He’d sidle over to Augustus and perch next to him. Augustus ignored him. Augustus was secure in  his place as the Alpha Bird…the Alpha Being, so this young bird was nothing to him.

Through days, weeks, and months—two years to be exact—Squeaky would actively court Augustus. Augustus was unmoved.

When the Beautiful AP would feed the birds in the morning, Squeaky would go into Augustus’s cage and gobble his food—but Augustus retaliated by simply waltzing into Mr. Squeaky’s cage to polish off Mr. Squeaky’s food. The food is exactly the same.

The only thing Mr. Squeaky did that did not require any attention from anyone was to have sex with everything in and around him: his cage, top, left, right, bottom; his food dish; Augustus’s food dish; the perches, the handles to the cages and his various toys and bells. A horny young fella, he had sex through the day and night.

Then Mr. Squeaky finally caught Augustus’ attention and Augustus realized that he could spend his days being groomed by this new servant. No reciprocation necessary.  Augustus learned to simply bend his head to signal Mr. Squeaky to start grooming. Augustus sparkled more and more each day.

Now these two guys rub against each other, kiss (yes, full beak kisses!) and stay close all day long. Except, that is, when Mr. Squeaky goes off to have sex with some inanimate object—or when they fly onto my head to bask in my  bushy birds’-nest Covid-19 hair.

And so, there they are, our two beloved gay birds.

This morning the Beautiful AP said to me. “I have a big surprise for you. It’s in the refrigerator.”

“A chocolate-pudding pie?” I asked.

“Guess again,” she said.

“Is it something to eat?”

She thought a second, “Technically yes, but probably not.”

I laughed. “Augustus laid an egg?”

Silence.

“Not Augustus,” she said.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

She opened the refrigerator. A shot glass held a little white egg with a sign above it “OMG!”

“Mr. Squeaky is a girl,” we said simultaneously. At the age of 10, he, meaning she, laid her first egg.

Now, everything makes sense. The sex we thought Mr. Squeaky was having was not that of a male fertilizing an egg, it was of a female receiving fertilization! The hours of grooming Augustus is probably a wifely duty.

All these years, Mr. Squeaky knew she was a girl. We were the ones who saw him as male…and still think of him as male, despite the evidence before our eyes. Perhaps in the future, we’ll adjust to the news and call him, or rather, her… Ms. Squeaky.

Scobe’s Yay or Nay: The Zoo

This is my “review” section where I will publicly take a look at various things that I usually take a look at without telling anyone I have taken a look at them. These can be books, articles, documentaries, short stories, or films. Maybe even comments by politicians that are for the birds.

Today, most people have wider tastes than in the past. In fact, our tastes have become so wide that we, as a population, have become rather wide too, but that’s probably from addictive junk food.

Yay stands for good. Nay stands for not-so-good.

So today I wish to inform you of a television show titled Zoo based on a James Patterson novel titled Zoo. I like science fiction and even before our COVID-19 pandemic I would read novels and watch movies about pandemics. Of course, my intelligent and insightful self never thought any of that nonsense would actually happen in real life.

The premise of Zoo is terrific. The animals, including all the birds, decide to kill all the human beings on earth. Correct. Little Chihuahua from down the block wants to eat your face off. (Actually, I think all those barking, scratching annoyances want to do that anyway.) Hummingbirds would go for the eyes, of course.

The first season was a Yay. The leader of the human group was a pretty blonde French woman with a normal face. They killed her off quickly and introduced a new attractive woman in the second season. Then, as the show progressed, something really weird happened. The lips of all the women on the show went from normal, to puffy, to puffier, to puffiest. From normal to pouty to poutier, to poutiest. Just like that!

Those of you old enough might remember those huge red wax lips from long ago. Like that. Some producer or director or who knows who must have told the actresses that the men who watch the show really like puffiest, poutiest lips. And so puffiest and poutiest they became.

It got to the point where I was constantly shouting out to my wife, the Beautiful AP, “Oh, God, they puffed up the lips of another actress! Her lips look closer to the Blob than to a human!”

It got to the point where I lost track of the story line. Birds attacking people? Who knows? I couldn’t follow the story; I could only follow the lips.

Finally, my wife came into the room, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, “This show is driving you crazy. Stop watching it. Read a book about a pandemic or something.”

I stopped watching it. Yet my sleep has now been disturbed by lip-mares.

The Zoo deserves a huge, lip-glossed Nay!

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. If you want to 

The Meaning of Cardinals

People are always looking for the meaning of life.

 

Indeed, people are usually looking for the meaning of everything. Brilliant people such as Einstein and Stephen Hawking are looking; stupid people such as conspiracy theorists are also looking. Conspiracy theorists think they have found it in some powerful plotting person or some powerful plotting group of people.

 

I’m looking too. I am looking and I have been looking since I was 17 years old which was long, long ago. Have I found it? No.

 

Many people have looked to birds to find such meaning. Birds fly not only in the sky but in our dreams, fantasies and desires. In our fears too. Many human beings look to birds for omens and information about everyday things.

 

We all know the dire meaning from the arrival of a Blackbird, Raven or Crow into our lives. In short, make sure you have your funeral expenses paid for yourself and perhaps for grandma, if you see one of these birds.

 

In stories, poems and friendly gossip you can see the strength of the bird superstition in the world from the distant past right up until the present; when your neighbor found one of those black birds dead on his stoop that could be a frightening moment. Much of bird mythology is upsetting but some bird myths are quite nice.

 

Many religious Christians love the story of the White Dove descending above Jesus’ head as a symbol of peace between God and man. In Judaism, the Eagle protecting her young was a symbol of God’s love and protection of his people.

 

While the Owl is often thought as the symbol for wisdom, it is also associated with the evils of ancient witchcraft. It was also associated with the devil. I love Owls so I am a little afraid of throwing my lot with them.

 

My favorite small bird is the colorful Cardinal, a family of which resides in the bushes in my Japanese garden. I see them every day, even in the coldest winters.

 

There is a strong myth connecting Cardinals and death—a good myth thank heavens, because it’s bad enough that I love Owls. I don’t want to become too popular with Satan.

 

If someone you loved, admired or simply liked recently passed away, the visitation of a Cardinal is thought to not only symbolize that person but for many believers it is thought to be a short-term reincarnation of that deceased person sending the message that he or she is all right and is thinking about you.

 

I do not know how many birders believe any of these myths but the good myths, meaning the ones that are uplifting as opposed to horrifying, could be comforting for them.

 

My Cardinals visit me every day. At this stage of my life, I have many relatives, friends and acquaintances who have passed on.  Maybe all those visits are in fact loving messages for me.

 

 

The Shoebill

Some birds are staggeringly beautiful, mostly songbirds. Some birds are fierce and alluring, mostly raptors. And some birds are completely, thoroughly weird.

The weird birds can be ugly weird or beautiful weird or just weird-weird. The Shoebill, a stork that resides in a dense forest along the Congo River, the deepest river in the world at 720 feet, is weird-weird.

At first, I thought of the Shoebill as a truly ugly weird. Now I am not so sure. The Shoebill’s image has grown on me the more I’ve looked at it.

This bird is big, standing five-feet tall and has a beak that looks just like the wooden shoes worn by the Dutch of old. The Shoebill’s beak comes straight down its face as he waits to hunt, much like a roadway over flat earth. It almost looks flat there.

The Shoebill is a carnivore, eating birds (especially baby birds), lizards (including crocodile babies and crocodile youngsters), some insects of the large variety, and sundry fish, including the truly disgusting lung fish. Some of those lung fish are close to three feet long, but the Shoebill gobbles them down.

When Shoebills eat, they chew in a way that brings forth the head of the meal to the tip of its bill where it is unceremoniously severed off. The head then drops to the ground where it stays, since the Shoebill only enjoys the body. How it gets the head to the front of its bill is amazing since the rest of the meal’s body is safely lodged in its throat.

Now, that’s weird-weird eating from a weird-weird bird isn’t it? Even a very large human would find it hard to eat a three-foot fish, especially in one long gulp.

The Shoebill’s favorite treat seems to be baby birds. It can stand along the banks of the Congo River and watch a nest up in a tree for hours without moving a muscle. It shows no movement whatsoever and in that stillness—even with the presence of its strange beak—the shoebill could be mistaken for a small boulder.

Sooner or later a baby bird comes falling out of one of the trees to be immediately devoured by the swift and hungry Shoebill.

Unlike the friendly stork of mythology, you wouldn’t want the Shoebill to be in charge of delivering human infants to their mothers and fathers; not if you didn’t want those infants gulped down with only the head remaining for people to identify.

Adult humans do not seem to interest the Shoebill but still—that beak is awfully scary and the fact that it couldn’t bite our heads off is of little comfort.

The sad part about the Shoebills’ story is the fact that, due to encroachment and poaching, the bird is designated as an endangered species. Seems some people think of them as trophies, despite the illegality of killing them or making them pets.

Despite its weirdness, I have come to think of it as a beautifully weird bird and I’d hate to see it disappear forever.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. 

The Big Birds

I will admit that songbirds can be lovely, quick-flighted and spectacularly colorful, but I have to tell the truth: I love the big birds—the predators, the raptors. There is something truly wonderful watching an eagle or hawk eye its prey and then descend from the clouds at lightning speed to nail his or her breakfast, lunch or dinner at that very moment.

As we were being driven up a Norwegian mountain, my wife, the Beautiful AP, and I saw a Golden Eagle soar high above us. He wasn’t flapping his wings; he was being driven by an airshaft. His speed was impressive.

His descent was awesome. We couldn’t see what animal he was hunting because the valley below was so deep, but I am guessing he enjoyed his meal.

Now many readers are aware that the latest theory of bird evolution traces birds back to the dinosaurs. That’s correct, that little Blue Jay in your backyard eating the food you’ve laid out for him could be a direct evolutionary offshoot of the Tyrannosaurus Rex; after all Blue Jays have been known to sever other birds’ heads! They take no prisoners.

The largest flying birds on our planet at the moment belong to the Albatross family. Their wing span can reach 12 feet. That’s impressive. The best eagles can reach is somewhere between six to seven feet. Still quite impressive.

Still these modern birds cannot match the prehistoric pterosaurs. These flying beasts had wing spans at times over 34 feet. These aerial brutes could weigh up to 500 pounds!  Think of the power required to launch and maneuver 500 pounds.

The pterosaur could descend from the skies and eat animals that weighed close to 100 pounds. That correct, an entire class of grade schoolers would be in trouble if these monsters still existed today.

Both cadaverous and full-figured fashion models gliding down runways would be easy pickings for these monsters.

In my mind’s eye I see the pterosaurs hurtling to earth like a comic book antagonist that Stan Lee created. These brutes would thud, crash, boom onto terrified victims, until a superhero could save the day.

There is one little wrinkle in the pterosaur family, one fact I must now disclose—winged as they were, they were not birds! Thus, our modern birds have no evolutionary relationship to them. They were more like bats than birds and scientists believe they were wiped out in the great meteor disaster some 66 million years ago.

But I do like to look at pictures of them; the great giants of the past. And perhaps one day, they will show up in a comic book.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, and at bookstores.