Lamont and Dude Discuss the Big Five

“Well, they’ve ‘found out’ that dinosaurs evolved into birds, that Velociraptors were ‘short’ — that’s relative, isn’t it? — and we laid blue eggs.”

“Amusing isn’t it?”

“Yep. Listen to this, ‘…look at Velociraptors, which are among the most misunderstood “terror lizards” yet. A far cry from the large, scaly pack hunters depicted in Jurassic Park, real Velociraptors were solitary stalkers closer to the size of wolves that were covered in feathers. (sic) ‘”Given the chance, this predator likely wouldn’t have hunted humans, either,” Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever writes…’ Good grief. This guy doesn’t even know what he’s saying.”

“What are you reading from, Lamont?”

“Email from National Geographic. The guy’s pondering whether to eat turkey for Thanksgiving. He says he’s already given up eating ungulates now he’s having second thoughts about birds because — here’s the kicker — they’re descended from dinosaurs.”

“Humans. They’re so clueless and, well, clueless. You’d think from all the animal documentaries they have available, they would have figured out the Big Five.”

“Right. Do you remember when I got thrown of Oprah for explaining the Big Five?”

“Yeah. That was crazy. Everyone knows that’s how things work.”

“I was hurt, Dude. I’d even modernized it for the post-Dinosaur world, just for her show.

1) PROCREATE!!!! Fight for that female! If she acts like she doesn’t want to, ignore it. NO means YES.

2) EAT whenever you can. Vegetarians are food. So are dead carnivores.

3) Stuff dies. Sometimes you have to kill it first. If it’s already dead, you caught a break. Eat it.

4) WATCH OUT for eagles, bears, large cats and gulls.

See Dude? That’s the modern part. Good isn’t it?”


“I thought it was very PC. And, finally,

5) Keep yourself alive so you can procreate, kill things and eat them.”

“Almost poetry, Lamont. Hey, Lamont, we never fought over a mate, did we? I don’t recall that we ever did.”

“No. We didn’t have the chance. The meteor hit us probably just a few days before we would have seen some pretty piece of tail — I mean that literally because, you know, feathers — looked each other in the Velociraptor eye and gone for the jugular.”

“That’s probably why we’re friends now, Lamont. That meteor saved us.”

“You’re way too human, Dude.”


Thank you

Happy Thanksgiving readers of my blog, wherever you are. Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about the year and what we have to be thankful for. She said she was having a hard time with gratitude, but found it — a real triumph in trying times. I thought about my situation and realized that part of me has “enjoyed” the pandemic. No, I don’t like it. I think the government’s handling of it has been inhuman and reprehensible and I’m sad for everyone who’s lost a loved one or a physical ability as a result of Covid-19. It’s horrific, particularly as so much death probably could have been prevented. But, in my tiny life, I’ve enjoyed this year.

There’s something to be said about the clarity of knowing that there is an enemy at the gates and that my job is to survive and to help those around me survive. That imperative is the most basic imperative there is. That right there eliminated a lot of things from my life, some of which I didn’t like in the first place (grocery shopping). Those things I had to “give up” that I do like I realized immediately could be adjusted (social distanced Covid tea parties with my friends, talks in the alley, walks in the golf course with the kids). Otherwise? The pandemic has limited our lives and made us more reliant on those in physical proximity, a life like that before cars, maybe. Anyway, for me it’s been mostly sweet and filled with love.

I’m also very grateful I have a certain income and no need (now) to go to a job. The pandemic threw that beautiful reality in relief early on. I thought of how it would be if I were still in California and teaching. I’d have lost my house by now. I think I’d be living on the street.

I don’t remember ever being more grateful for my life and my world than I am right now, and my life and my world includes all the people who read and comment on my blog. We have also deepened the threads of community over these months. Thank you. ❤


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a while ago. They have the unique ability to remember many of their past incarnations, which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

My Chinese Thanksgiving

We are now all familiar with the historical horror that is Thanksgiving. I’ve tried to counter that by telling the real story of Thanksgiving which has nothing to do with Pilgrims and Native Americans, but it seems there is another “real story” involving George Washington’s proclamation establishing November 26 as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I found the information about the proclamation on the Mt. Vernon homepage. The irony (to me) is that Sarah Josepha Hale is not mentioned on the website. She, through the magazine of which she was the editor (Godey’s Lady’s Book) was involved in founding the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association, which still cares for Mt. Vernon. Sarah Hale happens to be the same person who worked for years to persuade SOME president — any president! — to formally establish a day for national Thanksgiving. She finally persuaded Lincoln and in 1863, Thanksgiving was officially established.

When it comes to history, humanity forgets more than it remembers, and when it comes to politics, people like to be angry. As for me, I like Indians more than I like those people who landed on Plymouth Rock, but I guess we can’t really choose sides. The color of our skin has done that for us.

I think there is something to Thanksgiving besides history and outrage, and that is the myth. Myths have a kind of magic and meaning beyond themselves. The myth of the happy Pilgrims and the happy Native Americans sitting down together is an expression of an ideal, a lesson I learned during the year I lived in the People’s Republic of China, 1982-83. That year, for the first time, I saw “my” country through the eyes of people from a very different world. For a Chinese man I came to know, a survivor of the Cultural Revolution, the myth of America’s first Thanksgiving was a story of hope and the overcoming of privation and suffering — even more than that.

Here’s how that transpired (from As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder)…

The Chinese government flew me from San Francisco to Guangzhou, including a flight from Hong Kong, which was only a few hours away by train. I expected a long Hollywood-style interrogation when I landed behind the Iron Curtain, but the only question the People’s Liberation Army customs officer asked when I got off the plane (an Aeroflot) was, “Do you have any religious material?” By then it was an open question for me what constituted religious material. I said no. I didn’t know that there was a large and well-funded mission in Hong Kong that relied on American tourists to smuggle Bibles into China. Anyway, I don’t believe in converting anyone. I’d brought my Bible to help my students understand the Western literature I would be teaching.

I soon met a Chinese woman, a young teacher my own age, with whom I became close friends. She came from Hainan, an island in the South China Sea straight across the Gulf of Tonkin from Vietnam. Looking at its location on the map mesmerized me.

During WWII the Japanese occupied Hainan and established air bases to supply their invasions of French Indochina and the Philippines as well as to coordinate their attack on Pearl Harbor. After years of fighting, Hainanese guerilla fighters from the various mountain tribes succeeded, with the help of the American Army, in pushing out the Japanese. 

Then, during the Cultural Revolution in the ’60s, those so unfortunate as to have learned English during the anti-Japanese War were imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Survivors talked of suicide as if it were a disease. One of these was my friend’s elementary school teacher, Mr. Hu. His first wife, Mr. Hu explained, had “…got the suicide” while he had spent most of five years in a tiger pit.

With the fall of the Gang of Four, Mr. Hu married again and was transferred from Hainan to teach English in a high school in a village near my university outside Guangzhou. English was in; Russian was out. Any Chinese who could speak English was an important government property. He had been my friend’s teacher, and she took me to his house for lunch one day. We talked away the afternoon in American English. To avoid looking as if it might have changed its mind about the United States, China usually hired British teachers as Foreign Experts in English, and I was among the first “wave” of American teachers. I seldom heard a nuance of American speech or an idiom. But Mr. Hu said things like, “Oh boy,” “You bet,” and “Not worth a plug nickel.” Linguistic relics, but American relics.

Finally I asked, “Mr. Hu, where did you learn American English?”

“In the anti-Japanese war. American army. I was a clerk.” Most Chinese would have said, “clark” in the British way. Mr. Hu said “clerk,” just the way I would.

At the end of a wonderful afternoon, I invited him and his wife to the Thanksgiving dinner that I had just at that moment decided to prepare. I thought I could get a chicken.

I invited a few of my own students as well. Mr. Hu arrived with my friend and her husband. From the kitchen, I heard Mr. Hu telling everyone the story of the “Pigrims randing on Prymoth Lock on the Mayfrower.” In his voice I heard exactly what he had done in that tiger pit to keep himself sane and not “get the suicide.” He had told himself the stories he’d learned from the American GIs. It was his way of staying true, of holding onto himself and to a better world. There was more to it, something I didn’t suspect.

Some days later my friend came to my apartment and asked me to take a walk with her. I hadn’t yet realized that many of the walks I took with friends in China were taken so it would be difficult for anyone to listen to our conversation. The irony of Chinese life then was that the more public we were, the more privacy we had. We left the campus, walked across some rice fields, and up a small mountain. 

“Do you have a Bible?” she asked.

“Yes. Why?” I knew she and her husband regarded religion as superstition.

“Mr. Hu,” she answered.


I was to take a bus halfway to Mr. Hu’s village to a very busy stop that connected to many other buses. He would meet me at the stop, and after giving him the Bible, I would return home.

The afternoon was cold with pouring rain. I wrapped my Bible in newspapers and tied it with pink string exactly like those Chinese were always carrying. To keep it dry, I slipped it into the plastic envelope that usually held the poncho I was wearing. If anyone noticed — which was doubtful — it would look as if I had given Mr. Hu a poncho. I was conspicuous, but well-known. My package wasn’t.

Twilight turned to night. I waited beside dripping palm trees, holding my umbrella and my bundle. Finally, a bus stopped, and the crowd rushed up the street. Someone pushed me. I looked up. Mr. Hu. I opened my mouth to speak; he shook his head very slightly. I passed him the bundle as if it were a football hand-off.

I never saw him again, but on Christmas morning I awoke to find four Mao buttons had been slid under my apartment door along with two small publications from the Cultural Revolution and a hand-painted Christmas card, unsigned.

Mr. Hu.


Twenty years ago yesterday, Molly, my Malamute/Aussie mix, and I took off from San Diego to go to Denver to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha. We got to Cedar City, to a Super 8 I think. It was dark, cold, beginning to snow. We were BLISSFUL. We both loved snow and we liked traveling.

We also liked Colonel Chicken (only on road trips) so we went through the drive thru and shared it in our room. Molly got some white meat, no skin. After eating, we both wanted a walk in the snow, so we wandered around town, finding Southern Utah University with its Old Globe style theater and a little monument to great thinkers, statues, of philosophers, scientists and poets.

The snow continued to fall in wet, fat flakes and we were happy. We walked back to the motel, went to sleep and the next morning learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel — which is on I-70 between us and Denver — was closed due to an immense dump of snow. No idea when it would be opened. We had planned — well, I had planned since Molly was a dog — to get to Denver that day, Tuesday, turning south at Frisco/Dillon Lake, going over the mountains on the 24, and stopping in Colorado Springs to see my brother. That wasn’t going to happen.

We headed south through Zion then dropped down through Monument Valley and hit the 40 toward Albuquerque. It was a breathtaking, beautiful drive. We spent the night at Albuquerque then headed to Denver the next day. I stopped to see my brother, my niece and her grandmother with whom my brother was then living. Then I got to Denver.

My Aunt Martha and I had the most wonderful time together. When I got to her place, she was all ready to cook her favorite dinner — T-bone steaks, fried potatoes and onions, and salad. We ate and stayed up late talking. It was a conversation I feel privileged to have aged into. My aunt talked candidly about her life as a single professional woman, not about work, but about her life. That conversation was a huge gift to me. The next day she sent me shopping with $50 (why?) and I bought a sweater I never liked but kept because she bought it for me. We had Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. I don’t know why but that’s what we did. It was good, but most of all, we enjoyed ourselves; we enjoyed each other.

My aunt had a beautiful cat named Amiga, and I had brought this big dog. We didn’t know what would happen when we were gone, but we were sure Amiga would take care of herself, even if it meant climbing to the top of a closet. When we got home, Amiga was sleeping on my bed with one paw hanging over the side, resting on Molly who slept on the floor beside her.

Molly sleeping in my Aunt Martha’s garden a couple of years earlier…

The next day I went back to the Springs to spend a little time with my brother, but returned to Denver for the night. When I left on Friday I didn’t imagine that would be the last time I visited my Aunt Martha at her house, a house we’d picked out together.

I also never imagined that in the ten years between 1999 and 2010 when I next returned to Colorado that Colorado would have changed so dramatically, that Denver would have grown like a MF. In 1999, I drove home on I-70. It was still the relatively uncrowded four-lane highway I’d always known with the large, friendly rest stops with their hiking trails along the rivers and shady spots for picnics. Molly and I probably hiked three miles at rest-stops that trip, still made good time, and spent the night in St. George

All this hit me today when I was driving to the museum in Del Norte. We’re not always conscious of the passing of time and at first I thought, “It’s been ten years!” and then my brain said, “No, idiot. It’s been TWENTY years. Aunt Martha died eleven years ago.”

On my way to Denver from Albuquerque on that journey, dropping down the hill from Trinidad, this song came on Mohammed’s Radio. It’s amazing how resonant it is tonight. I am so grateful for every moment of that journey. I’d relive it if that were possible, but the important thing is that I DID live it.

The featured photo is my Aunt Martha and me Christmas Eve 1964

P.S. I guess a blogging break means you get three at one time. 😀


This time of year (in America) people are pondering the gathering together of family to celebrate a holiday that was made up in 1863 as a way to (symbolically) bring a divided nation together. It would be good if that’s what it still meant, because we have a divided country now.

Very vivid in my memory is my family’s first Thanksgiving back in Colorado after living for six years in Nebraska where my dad worked for Strategic Air Command as a wargamer. It was 1966. We’d moved to Colorado Springs and dad went to work at NORAD. We’d been in Colorado Springs maybe six weeks.

My dad hadn’t wanted to move back to Colorado. He knew his physical abilities were deteriorating rapidly. With MS back then, before there was really any treatment, stress could have a yugely deleterious effect. My mom, facing my dad’s deterioration, didn’t want to be alone. Her closest sisters lived in Denver.

So we moved, rented a house and hosted Thanksgiving which involved buying a fancy new turkey roaster.


I think we used it once…

I was homesick for the small town in Nebraska where we’d lived. I was 14, almost 15. I had had my first boyfriend in Nebraska meaning my first kiss and hand-holding. I was very occupied with YEARNING and listening to The Association sing Cherish. My brother was a kid. I didn’t have friends in the Springs. I sat in the basement watching college football, rooting for the Cornhuskers and trying to care about the outcome because, damn, that was NEBRASKA.

As my mom tried to orchestrate a small family reunion (Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly, Cousin Linda, me, Kirk and dad) I just wanted it to be over. I wanted the radio to go back to playing the top 40 Rock Hits of the Week (that mattered a lot to me when I was 14). I didn’t even want the days off from school. I wanted normalcy, but it was not to be.

The turkey roaster cooked the turkey OK, but it wasn’t the same as an oven. The skin wasn’t golden and the meat fell off the bones. The dressing was tasty, the gravy had giblets in it (ew), the green bean-mushroom-soup-canned-onion-ring casserole (Aunt Kelly’s, “Bless her heart, Kelly could never cook.” True that), all of it was beige and brown except Aunt Martha’s Jell-o salad. It was the best part of the meal (I made it for a family Thanksgiving a few years ago and it surprised everyone — yeah it’s old-fashioned but it’s really good and refreshing, and so everyone agreed after trying it, though the young’uns initially laughed at it — whether in fear, ridicule or surprise, I don’t know).


Kinda, sorta. Cream cheese and walnuts (should be on the bottom). Lime Jell-o and pineapple, raspberry jello and cranberries on top. No idea what the mint leaves are doing…

We were all seated around the table (“Martha Ann, made the centerpiece,”) set with the “best china” and the silver-plate and the crystal stemware and the grownups had champagne and my dad had muscle spasms and I yearned for my boyfriend in Nebraska and my brother just wanted to get back to his drawing table in the corner of the basement and continue drawing cartoons.

It didn’t really occur to me until this morning that people who resist the way holidays interrupt their normal lives might have the most to be thankful for. It’s no small thing to like your life.  ❤

It’s Not about Indians and Pilgrims

Every Thanksgiving I remember Sarah Josepha Hale for good reason — not only because she is one of my heroes and the person who inspired my masters thesis — in fact, she was the reason I went to grad school –but because SHE is the founder of Thanksgiving. 

Who was she? She was — for more than 30 years (in the 19th century) — the editor of the most successful popular periodical in the world at the time: Godey’s Lady’s Book. She had a clear, tactful yet insistent voice and was able to gather popular support for many of her ideas and projects — including Vassar College, the Bunker Hill Monument, Mount Vernon National Monument, and helping Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the US, get into medical school. She employed Edgar Allen Poe as her literary editor, and her magazine was the first to publish literature ONLY by American writers. She wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for her own little girl who was named Mary and who did have a little lamb that went to school with her. She wrote an anti-slavery novel long before Harriet Beecher Stowe came out with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

For YEARS she had pushed for a national day of thanksgiving, but it was not until 1863, when the US was in the middle of a civil war, that she was able to get the President to take the idea seriously. Her argument to Lincoln was that the people on this continent needed a reason to stop what they were doing and reflect on what brought Americans together.

From Sarah Josepha Hale, “Editor’s Table,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858


“All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn’s rich, o’erflowing stores,
Peace, prosperity and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion’s holier beams —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.”

We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States — as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all — that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY Of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of wordliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year on the twenty fifth day of this month.

Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the “feast of fat things,” and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.

More interesting reading about Sarah Josepha Hale here, on The Gad About Town.