It takes a fire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 4, 2020 10:07 PM

Even by trump-error standards the last few months have been trying. The coronavirus, the crash of the economy, the continued killing of black Americans for fill-in-the-blank-while-black. Restrictions were lifted prematurely and now the virus has spiked to ridiculous highs and many who had gone back to work are out of work once again. There is simply not much If anything to celebrate. I know I have a hard time living up to this blog’s motto of “celebrate something.” Most days there is nothing. And so it has been for most of this error in time.


But last night, something happened that made me smile, that was cause for celebration. Let me tell you about it.


In addition to the coronavirus, which is surging here in Arizona (4,433 new cases yesterday, a total of 1,788 deaths out of 91,858 total), we’ve been on fire. Literally. Four weeks ago we had a brief evening storm. By brief, I mean a tiny burst of big ploppy rain drops, the kind that hit the ground and spread into miniscule puddles before immediately evaporating, accompanied by angry, jagged lightning. All lightning is angry but this seemed more irritated than normal. I can relate, what with the state of the world and all. We didn’t think much of it until we heard that the lightning had sparked a small brush fire over on the northwest side of town, near Oro Valley. We watched the local news as it grew and started to ooze east. We figured there was no way it could get all the way over here without being put out.


We figured wrong.


Within a week it was threatening the Catalina Mountains and burning down canyons toward homes. It continued its relentless march, consuming everything in its path as it moved toward Mount Lemmon and the sleepy town of Summerhaven. Summerhaven is nestled into a small space near our even smaller Ski Valley. For a couple of weeks each winter, if we have a good winter, there is skiing. But there are no resorts, and no hotels. It’s a day trip from Tucson, along 26 winding miles of Catalina Highway. One hundred and fifty seven people call Summerhaven home. There are two restaurants and a place where you can get a slice of pizza and a cookie. There is a post office and a general store. That’s it. Many people in Tucson have built weekend cabins, or chalets, up on the mountain, and in 2003, 340 of the homes and businesses, including the general store, burned in the Aspen fire.


On Tuesday, June 16, Summerhaven was evacuated because of the fire that started miles to the west of them. As I write this, they are still evacuated.


The fire, dubbed the Bighorn fire, has consumed 118,897 acres. There have been two team 1 units assigned to it. For days it raged out of control. The smoke was apocalyptic, billowing up and engulfing the Catalinas, a pseudo pyroclastic cloud of destruction threatening the town below, the town in its path, the wildlife, and the saguaros and prickly pear and ocotillo, the mesquite and palo verde trees, the firs and pines on the mountain.


Three days ago, we were a half mile away from the evacuation zone. The winds were 54 mph, the threat imminent. Temperatures were north of 110º.  And then we had another small storm, a splash of rain. The humidity rose, the heat dissipated. The fire fighters were able to get a better handle on it, and while it’s still burning, it is now 73+% contained. Hopefully soon, the people of Summerhaven can return to their homes and businesses. This time, not a single structure was lost.


Last night I went out to grab a pizza for dinner. As I drove down Catalina Highway toward town, I noticed cars gathering on the side of the road. Families poured out; collapsible chairs were set up. I picked up the pizza and started my way back up Cat Highway. More cars, more people, many now holding signs. Thank you firefighters. Our heroes. God bless the firefighters. We love you.





It was shift change, and the trucks were all coming off the mountain as they must do every night around 6:40. They had their red lights flashing without sirens. They drove down slowly, past the cheering crowds, pasts the kids jumping up and down, past the signs. And as they got past, they extinguished their red lights.


It was a sight to see, people cheering the people who had kept the fire away, kept them safe. People expressing gratitude to others. People acknowledging that they needed others. People welcoming strangers, firefighters they would never meet and hopefully never see again. It was amazing, and I was heartened. Maybe there is hope for us. Maybe, sometimes, there is still something to celebrate.


It must have been the corn

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 24, 2018 12:06 PM

One of the downsides of having a husband who can do everything is that he thinks he can. Some of you may recall an incident from years ago, the time when “Auntie Warren didn’t holded the ladder for Uncle Kebin” and he fell from the sky. He was doing some drywall work in the house in Oak Park. The feet of the extension ladder were on the entrance way tile, which was marble. We didn’t realize that there was an invisible layer of drywall dust on said floor, making it slick. He positioned the top of the ladder on the high beam, two stories up (we had vaulted ceilings) and proceeded to climb. I was in the great room working on something else which I no longer remember. The next thing I heard was a crash. The feet of the ladder had slid back on the floor, the top had lost any anchor, and it came crashing down with my husband on top of it.

Two stories he fell, hitting the wine table we had against the wall on his way down. He could have broken his back (he didn’t); he could have hit his head (he didn’t). What he did do was nearly break his ankle when it slammed into the corner of that table with such force that he broke part of the table completely off. After he took inventory of body parts and realized that he was actually in pretty good shape considering, we proceeded to remove his work book. The ankle was already swelling. I didn’t have an ice pack so we got him to the car and I packed his ankle with a bag of frozen peas and a big bag of frozen shrimp and off we went to the ER.

Fast forward to yesterday and what was then our saguaro situation. We have hundreds if not thousands of these magnificent tree/plants on our nearly four acres of land. They’re tall and green and gorgeous. We watch as they effortless weather any ferocious winds, merely swaying as if in a gentle breeze. Torrential rains and monsoons barely dampen their desert spirits. They’re stoic and strong. 

When we built the house, there was one saguaro in the center of the pad. We didn’t want to move it and we didn’t want to lose it. It was about 22 feet high, straight and tall, reaching into the blue sky. Architect Mike agreed, and promptly informed any contractors that if they damaged the saguaro during the course of building the house to not bother coming back to work. The house was built and the driveway was created, with a center island specifically to house the saguaro. Since we moved in three and a half years ago, we also added two small saguaros and a prickly pear to the island. We lit it up at night with solar lights, giving it a strangely eerie glow that seemed to fit its proper place as elder statescactus. 

But about two weeks ago, I noticed that it seemed to be leaning. I studied it, fixated, and then brought it up to Kevin. Did he see the same thing? He did but he wasn’t worried. Plus he loves these cactus, and that one in particular. It was like part of our extensive plant family. I continued to worry and stew, especially because the direction of the lean was toward the house. If it fell, it could conceivably fall into the soffet above the stairs, or into one of the two stone columns that led down into the portico. I kept bugging him and finally, on Saturday night, he acquiesced and said we’d talk about it Sunday. 

Yesterday, the just mentioned Sunday, we called an arborist. Since saguaros are a protected species in the sonoran, you can’t just cut them down. They have to be moved, or if diseased, taken down by someone who knows what they’re doing. We took photos and sent them to the woman who viewed them, called back, and said that in her estimation and based on the information provided, there was definitely something going on, that it probably was diseased, and that it should be removed. 

This brings us back to the first line of this post. My husband is a bit of a savant. He can do just about anything, especially when it comes to building or creating or crafting. While taking down a saguaro that’s over two stories high is definitely not creating, he figured he could put up a ladder, and start dismantling it from the top. 

You see where this is going.

I raised objections. I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea. I got mad. I lost the argument. He put an extension ladder – the same one from the previous sky-falling incident – up against the saguaro and with his saws-all, proceeded to start cutting. I was standing below, holding onto a rope he’d wrapped around the top so that if he got a piece free I could yank it and hopefully steer it away from the house. 

When he put the ladder against the back side of the saguaro, the side that was leaning, I again raised objections. I suggested maybe we call someone. Perhaps we could get Luis, the landscaper, to take care of it. He started climbing. I said that it wasn’t stable. He climbed one more rung. I shouted, it’s breaking! It’s going down! It snapped at the base, and he managed to get one rung down before the saguaro, all 22 feet of it, fell toward the house, and the ladder, with my savant husband on top, fell, too, but to the side. 

Once again, an inventory of body parts was taken, and once I knew he was OK, I started yelling. Then I loaded him into the Sport, and off we went to Urgent Care. He had banged up his right shin, scraping it deeply and forming a rather large and unsightly hematoma. But he was otherwise OK.  

This time I packed his leg with frozen corn, securing it with a belt. I’m starting to think these bags of veggies can save just about anything, including my sanity.

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live out loud

How's the weather?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 4, 2018 10:16 PM

I spoke with my mother the other night, something I should do more often especially as she regularly informs me that she won’t be around much longer. I know I must do better. 

We talked about the weather, how hot it’s been there in New England (over 100º some recent days). When did talking about the weather become a thing? Is it because we have nothing else to talk about? The weather topic turned somehow to health and the family. One of our family members is currently facing a situation that isn’t grave or life-threatening but scary nonetheless. Because I do so much work in the health industry, I have a rudimentary knowledge of a lot of things and in-depth knowledge of absolutely nothing. Still, it makes for good conversation. My mother said that hearing the word “cancer” is what got her the most upset. I explained that I understood, that I’ve heard it myself twice.

Our conversation then moved onto health insurance and how awful it has become. She’s retired and on a fixed income. She’s also on Medicare, and has supplemental insurance which this past year she changed to UnitedHealthCare. She’s fairly happy with them. I too have a plan through UHC, but it’s more of a cobbled-together-may-help-a-little-in-case-of-emergency plan because we currently live in a red state and republicans don’t believe people should be allowed to have access to good health insurance, something I simply don’t understand. They’ll talk ad nauseum about health insurance provided by employers as if that’s all anyone could ever need so shut up and be quiet about it. Everyone else, those “welfare queens” who need Obamacare? Well, they’re just losers and aren’t entitled. 

The conversation then drifted, naturally, to politics. We haven’t talked politics much in the last nearly two years. I knew she wasn’t happy with what is going on – my mother is a life-long democrat – but her friend Gregg says some good things have happened and we should give credit where credit is due. I suspect she knows that I think that’s bullshit. She also knows how riled up I get when I talk politics. So we have polite conversations about the weather instead. 

She despises the current orange abomination in the White House. She also thinks, at this point, that he will be re-elected in 2020 because the democrats don’t have anyone who can beat him, anyone who’s a rock star. I pointed out that two years prior to 2008, we didn’t really know much about Barack Obama either. She pondered this and agreed. I could almost see her shaking her head ever so slightly, a grudging nod of acknowledgment. 

I told her who I like. She wasn’t impressed. I asked who she liked, she said Barack Obama, and plans to write his name in. This made me smile. I miss that man and his wife and family every day. Miss their humanity and decency and intelligence. Their complete lack of scandal.

We watched him this weekend, eulogizing John McCain. On Saturday morning, we were being lazy, and turned on the television while in bed. The service at the National Cathedral was just starting, and we ended up watching the whole thing. I was never a fan of John McCain and didn’t agree with his politics. But I know he loved his country, that he believed in foreign policy and our country as a force of good in the world. I hated that he was a war monger; I loved that he voted against Obamacare repeal.

Kevin and I supported Obama in 2008, and actively campaigned for him. I remember election night, thinking he would win, worried that there were too many racists in this country who wouldn’t allow it. We were watching MSNBC. The polls had just closed in California. It was 8 pm. Brian Williams, then the anchor of NBC, came on and said: “The polls have just closed out west and we have news.” I wept. I had never been so proud to be an American.

Now, I have never been so mortified. I hope my mother isn’t right. I hope that perhaps this pathetic aberration is temporary and that there are too many of us to let it continue. I worry that democrats will once again not rise to the occasion. 

But then I remember November 2008, and the joy. And I weep again as I dream of a day, hopefully soon, when something brings our country back to normality. A day where we come together, like Saturday and McCain’s service. A day when tears of relief will run freely. A day when I can celebrate. 

Until then, how’s the weather?

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live out loud

I don’t like Tom Cruise but I like Tom Cruise movies

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 30, 2018 10:06 PM

In my former Los Angeles life, I spent several painful episodes working with various celebrities. Then, as now, many thought their relative success in television or on film made them equally talented when it came to putting their name on the latest skin care goop (apologies to Gwyneth Paltrow). Most of them didn’t have a clue how to create something that wasn’t pre-scripted, or how to interact with people as decent human beings. After I embarked on my freelance career, I was often referred to people who were looking to get into the beauty business. At first I was intrigued, and a little star struck. That quickly turned to disgust. I got to the point where I would cringe when I got a call to work on a celebrity product. As a freelancer, it was hard to turn anything down – still is – but any jobs I took I took with trepidation.

And no, I won’t name names. I don’t write and tell. 

Which leads me to Tom Cruise. I don’t know him, never met him and to my knowledge, he never wanted to get into beauty, skin care, jewelry, or clothing. Based on his near agelessness, perhaps he already has the secret stashed away somewhere in one of his compounds. What I do know of him, however, makes me think I probably wouldn’t like him very much.

I’ve never heard that he’s nasty or rude. But I know he’s odd, and while I tend to like odd, his kind of odd is spooky. I never really gave him much thought until he got weird when describing Katie Holmes, his soon to be third wife. It’s an infamous episode, broadcast to the world from Oprah Winfrey’s couch, and while I only saw snippets of it, it was just too out there. And then he decided that, unlike other celebs dabbling in the exterior, he was an expert on the interior, namely the psyche, condemning Brooke Shields for her post-partum depression and medication. 

Not sure he ever completely recovered from those episodes. It made a lot of people think differently about him. 

People love to idolize celebrities, to ascribe some sort of persona to them that makes them as funny and charming and loving and well-spoken and strong and sentimental and invincible as the characters they play. But the thing is, those characters are created, initially, by a writer. 

Regardless, I’m not a Tom Cruise the human fan. I am, however, still a fan of Tom Cruise the movie star. Over the decades that he’s been making films, I have come to count many – hell, most – as just great entertainment. 

I first saw him in The Outsiders and All the Right Moves, when he still had bad teeth. I didn’t think much of him at all. I liked The Outsiders because I’d read the book. Then came the blockbuster Top Gun which is on just about every man’s list of favorite movies of all time. It was my first husband’s favorite; it remains one of my favorite husband’s top picks. It’s a bit sacrilegious to say, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I liked it – didn’t love it. Then came The Color of Money and Rain Man, and I thought both the films and the actor were pretty damn good. It didn’t hurt that he was starring with Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively. 

One of my favorite films remains The Firm. I stop and watch it every time I come across it. Ditto A Few Good Men, and The Last Samurai. I loved the first Mission Impossible and have seen all of the sequels, the most recent of which just this weekend. It was a thrill-ride of a movie. Pass the damn popcorn and keep it coming. 

Looking at his list of films I realize I’ve seen nearly all of them. Some are amazing; some are cotton candy. A guilty pleasure remains the absolutely atrocious Cocktail. And of course, there’s Jerry Maguire, from which our beloved Maguire got his name (“show me the money”). 

It occurred to me on Friday when we were discussing going to see Mission Impossible: Fallout that it’s nice when you can feel some camaraderie with a star of a film. It makes the movie-going experience more intimate, like spending time with a friend. But it’s not necessary, not when you have enough real friends. Sitting in a movie theatre and getting your hair blown back by jaw-dropping stunts and non-stop action is great escapism, and it’s one of the things Tom Cruise movies consistently provide. And it’s why, now, in this outrageous time in which we live, I love Tom Cruise movies.

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live out loud

Surfer puppy

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 12, 2018 4:49 PM

When Maguire was a puppy, he was mostly dark brown, almost black, with white paws. Within a month after he first came to live with us, his coloring started to change and the dark brown became a bit lighter. Over the course of several years, the color of his fur continued to change, becoming lighter, blonder, with dark brown streaks and stripes. He became brindled. During this phase, people asked us even more often what kind of dog he was, and we answered as we always answered: no idea. To the best of our sleuthing and according to our vet, he probably was some mix of Australian shepherd, golden retriever, border collie, German shepherd, akita, Chesapeake Bay retriever. You get the idea. A certified mutt. And the best damned dog on the planet.

He was “the one.” We’ve loved our other dogs completely. We are head over heels over Riley and can’t imagine life without him. But Maguire remains the gold standard of Michel dogs. 

During his brindle phase, when he was young and energetic, when he would prance around the house, and on our walks around the neighborhood, we developed a new way to describe him. Previously he had always been “puppy feet;” he was a hunka hunka puppy luuuvvvv; he was my Honey Bear. We lived in Southern California at the time, so this new name fit perfectly. We just knew, given his coloring and his personality, that he would be perfect on the beach, chasing waves, waiting for the boards to roll in. He never went to the beach, but he became Surfer Puppy.

Today, as part of our sort of training regimen for Riley, we loaded him into the back of the Sport and drove to the park for a walk. Kevin’s knee has been bothering him so he didn’t want to tackle the hills that surround our home. Walking a flat couple of miles rather than a constant incline and decline of road seemed a better idea. Plus, Riley. 

Our boy has some anxiety issues. He’s afraid of, well, just about everything. The good news is that he’s not aggressive. We just need to build his confidence, that according to a trainer we saw on Monday morning. She worked wonders with a friend of mine’s dog, Charlie, who had anxiety issues and was aggressive. This trainer specializes in in-home training meaning you have to give her your dog for several weeks so that she can work her magic and return a dog who is better. Charlie spent a total of nearly 5 weeks with her but he’s a changed dog. He’s great. My friend wants us to be able to bring Riley to their house, have the dogs get along, maybe go swimming. But Riley is afraid. 

Monday morning my friend invited Riley and I to see her trainer who had generously offered to meet Riley and give us some pointers. The dogs got along great, so much so that we were all supposed to meet this morning to get the dogs in the pool. The trainer wanted to be there because Riley hasn’t ever been swimming, and she wanted to teach him how to get in. Unfortunately, my friend needed to cancel. But we still wanted to take the opportunity to take him out to be in a new place, with new smells, maybe see other dogs (though not necessarily to interact with them).

The seats were still down in the back of the Sport. Kevin bought a big moving blanket a couple of weeks ago that we can spread across the back of the car in order to mitigate some of the fur that collects on the carpet. Fur that is nearly impossible to get out. Riley jumped up and in, and proceeded to stand no matter how many times we implored him to lay down. He’d get down and then he’d get up and then we’d say “down” and he would curl up and then he would stand up. 

Finally, we gave up. No it’s not safe. I know that. We know that. But as I was driving, he was standing in the back weaving, adjusting his balance, changing the position of his feet. Surfing. 

Riley Michel. The new iteration of surfer puppy.

Golden Retriever surfing, by Carolyn Gray

I want to know you

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 8, 2018 2:29 PM

Maya Angelou was always a favorite of mine. In college, I read “I know why the caged bird sings,” one of seven of her memoirs recounting her childhood in Missouri. She had a straightforward, eloquent style, even when describing being raped at the age of 8 by her mother’s boyfriend. I also read and absorbed much of her later poetry, including “On the Pulse of the Morning” which was recited at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton. “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” continue to give me inspiration.

One of her more famous quotes has recently been in the news. The oft quoted line came during a discussion with Oprah Winfrey regarding relationships. Oprah, who is known for being rather open and honest about her own life and struggles, was lamenting about how she was being let down by a man she was dating, and was frustrated by his lack of attention and commitment. Angelou said, quite brilliantly: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” She went on to also add: “When a person says to you, ‘I’m selfish,’ or ‘I’m mean’ or ‘I am unkind,’ believe them. They know themselves much better than you do.” The quote used today adds a bit more. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” But it was Oprah who actually added that last part. 

Two strong, smart, life-affirming black women got it exactly right. And yet, it remains human nature to continue to want people to be different than who they are, to hope they’re going to change, that they’re just having a bad day or week or month or lifetime. We want people to live up to the ideals we set for them, especially those we are close to, and definitely those who are in positions of power. Far too many times, people don’t because they are who they are. They’ve shown us. 

I am fascinated by stories in the news – I subscribe to both The Washington Post and The New York Times – where a reporter interviews people all over the country, people who voted for our current president and why, and how they feel about him now, whether they’re happy, whether they’d vote for him again. These are straightforward stories – news, like I said – with no ideological bent, no opinion. Questions asked and conversations relayed to the reader. Mostly I read them because I remain curious, not so much why someone voted for him, but why someone might still support him. It’s a fascinating and discouraging look at my fellow citizens. 

During the last election, and shortly thereafter, I had discussions with my mother where I voiced my incomprehension that so many people could find the snake oil he was peddling to be worthy of their vote. I understood people voting republican; I didn’t understand voting for … this. Perhaps because I am not economically challenged. Perhaps because I’m not a fan of blaming others, and for making those others the enemy. Perhaps simply because I’m not a republican. Still, we talked, and I remember her telling me that I needed to understand what those people were going through, how their lives had changed so drastically, how bad it was for them in rural areas where the steel mills have closed, where the coal mines have been shuttered. I did understand that. But I didn’t understand why I had to be deferential to that thought process. And I didn’t – and don’t – understand how even given all that, it made it ok to support a man so crude and vile, someone who demonized and demonizes minorities and women. A year and a half later, with him having shown us all exactly who he was the first time, I have a hard time with those who still don’t believe him. Who know that, in spite of the fact that their factories are losing business, or their farms have nowhere to ship their soybeans, his trade war is going to be good. Who are fine with polluted skies and drinking water while the planet is, literally, on fire. Who are fine with taking health insurance and care away from people without even knowing who it affects. Who think that it’s ok to fight with our allies and cozy up to dictators. Who want to jail political rivals. Who think it’s ok to rip children from parents’ arms, with no plan for reuniting them; to put babies in jail. Who think that abusing women is OK; ditto the “very fine people” who are white supremacists. Who feign religiosity while supporting a man who thinks of no one and nothing but himself and how it will be a “win” for him. I have a hard time because I fail to see how any of that benefits them, and I have tried, truly.

I don’t want to know people who think what I’ve just listed is great and fine, and I don’t want to understand them because that doesn’t make me sympathetic or empathetic. It makes me complicit. 

I know there are a lot of problems in this country and all over the world. But blaming others for it will do nothing to fix it. And the cruelty and fear and loathing that flows like lava from the people in charge in this country is only going to lead to something even worse. What happens when there is another attack on our country, and all of our allies have been jettisoned? We can’t fight the world alone. What happens when the temperatures continue to rise everywhere and we don’t do anything about it? How does that help anyone? How does it benefit the future? 

It was over 90º in Siberia this week. Blood rain – red precipitation caused by fire and ash – fell. Nuclear war remains a very real possibility since Pyongyang described this week’s meeting as “robber-like” and said “cancerous issues” were raised. China is not going to back down on tariffs. Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain without power more than a year after last year’s storm. Three years after the Flint, Michigan crisis, much of the water remains undrinkable. As of the end of June, there had been 154 mass shootings in the United States this year. Close to 3,000 children remain in detention centers because we have no way to reunite them with their parents. The US Army is discharging immigrants who want to serve and fight for this country.

It’s not enough to blame and demonize. It leaves you hollow inside. If you want proof, look at the man in the white house. He shows us daily who he is. I’ve never doubted it once.

I want to know people who are hopeful and kind, who laugh and empathize and cry at the plight of others, who think education is good and necessary, who work hard and love freely; who have no desire to go back to some nebulous time when America was supposedly great. Who want to make life better now, in this time, and for the future.

I want to know people who live it out loud.

The Batman theory

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 11, 2018 8:08 PM

Indulge me for a minute while I set the scene. It was Sunday night. The desert had grown quiet and calm after the raging winds of the afternoon and early evening. The lights from the city, so far and incredibly close all at once, danced. Riley was on the floor, sleeping against the wall underneath the window that looks out onto the deck, and Kevin was yawning. It was about 10:15. We had watched the first episode of the second season of Cardinal, a Hulu series that we find mildly enjoyable without being too taxing. We were both tired and rather than even start the second episode, we decided it was time for bed. I got up from the couch and just then, I heard it. 

Fluttering, scratching. Paws or feet or claws tramping across the ceiling out toward the deck. The house creaked. Kevin stopped yawning. Riley immediately sat up and started to growl.

Me: “What the fuck is that?” 

Kevin shhhh’d me as we waited for it to happen again, which it did, louder and more insistent. If someone told me a pterodactyl was on the roof, I would have believed them. 

The desert is the land of many odd, majestic, scary, and prehistoric creatures. It’s not unusual to see Gila monsters and desert tortoises, snakes, lizards, and tarantulas. Last summer I watched a tarantula climb up the front stone of the house, but what was on the roof was either the biggest spider in history or something far more menacing.

“Whatever it is had to have crawled, climbed or scaled up the side of the house,” I said. I don’t know if I was trying to be logical and find reason in what was happening or if I was just proffering some sort of explanation. Either way, the visual was not comforting. 

Kevin was on his feet, at the window, looking up and out. He went into his office and, grabbing a flashlight, started toward the front door. 

“You’re not going out there,” I said and asked all at once.

“I was,” he said. 

“Not without shoes,” I said and he dutifully slipped on his flip flops to avoid any scorpions or centipedes that might be lurking in the portico. I bravely stood in the doorway with my hand on the door as he went out and flashed his light up toward the roofline. He moved along the house, illuminating the stucco and the scuppers. This went on for about five minutes, five minutes that seemed like an hour. 

He turned off the light and shrugged his shoulders. The light from inside the house and from above the garage doors bathed the driveway in an eerie light. An owl hooted from somewhere in the hill above, but the noise on the roof was gone. 

“Maybe a ring-tailed cat,” I suggested. 

“Sounded too big for a ring-tail,” he said. “Maybe it was the owl.” 

“An owl couldn’t possibly make that kind of noise.”

“Maybe the osprey?” We have one osprey that appears occasionally, sitting atop a saguaro up above. The first time I saw it, I was convinced it was an eagle. But the markings were different, and when it finally took flight, the wing span rivaled a small commuter plane.

“The problem with the osprey is that most birds don’t fly at night,” I said before adding, sheepishly, “do they?”

He shrugged again. “Whatever it is appears to either be playing possum or it’s gone.” 

He came in the house and we both took Riley out to pee, just in case there was something lurking on the side of the house. Strength in numbers and all that. When we brought the dog back in, who happily trotted toward the bedroom, Kevin stopped, listening again. Silence. 

“Maybe … it was Batman.” 

That’s our current theory for last night’s roof disruption. I’m just hoping for the Michael Keaton version.

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live out loud

The curious case of Lorin’s fixation with travel trailers

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 4, 2018 10:46 PM

This weekend we were at it again. It was hot and dusty, and after a relatively pleasant May when we could still sleep with the windows open, June arrived in full Armageddon. For those of you unversed in the ways of the desert, June is the hottest month of the year. It is unrelenting. Every morning by 7, the temps are already in the 80s. By noon, it hovers between 95 and 100. Last year, up here on the hill, we had two days that hit 117º. It gets that hot because of where our weather station is positioned, against the hill behind us, without shade. But still, even with that caveat, it was ridiculously hot, and not all that uncommon lately. On June 19, 2016, the official temperature in Tucson hit 115º. On June 20, 2017, we officially recorded a temp of 116º. Brutal.

But then, come the beginning of July, the monsoon rains finally start and even though it can be hot during the day, when those storms roll up from the south, bringing thunder and lightning and wind, and when they unleash torrential rains, the temps can drop 30º in 20 minutes. It makes summer in the desert bearable. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. Being at it again this weekend. By “at it again,” I mean looking at travel trailers. Airstream has finally released its long awaited (at least by me) Nest fiberglass trailer, and I wanted to see it. Being a retirement destination, Tucson, like Phoenix and other parts of the desert southwest, has a number of RV dealerships. The Airstream dealer is called Lazy Days, and it’s down by the airport. We climbed down into the Z, put the top up and the A/C on, and took a ride.

I ended up being disappointed by the Nest for a number of the reasons. It was supposed to be light because of the fiberglass but it’s heavier than the smallest Bambi Sport. It was also supposed to be cheaper but it’s not, not really. Its tiny self clocks in at about $46,000. For a trailer. 

But while we were there and walking around on the blistering pavement under the unforgiving sun, we happened upon another interesting travel trailer that I decided I liked even better. It’s the Forest River R-Pod, a kind of teardrop shaped trailer that’s also made of fiberglass. It’s several pounds lighter than the Nest. It’s also less than $20,000. Used they’re around $15,000 or less. I was hooked. I got brochures. We came home and I promptly sat down at the computer to learn everything I could about the brand and specifically the RP 180 model. I started looking on to find used ones. I was ready to buy. 

Except that I really wasn’t. I knew somewhere deep in the corner of my brain that this whole fixation was and is a sham. I was never going to buy a travel trailer for a number of reasons. I work too many days and too many weeks to take enough time to travel the country by road. But the main reason is more simple: I don’t camp. I don’t like to camp. I don’t have any desire to camp. I don’t have some hidden desire to frequent KOA campgrounds. I am an avowed hotel snob. Something that’s four stars isn’t always good enough. 

“So then what’s the deal?” Kevin asked, unsurprised. He has lived with me for twenty-two years. He has heard me rant about subpar hotels. He has never once heard the words “let’s go camping” come out of my mouth. 

I thought about it. And here’s what occurred to me: I am fascinated by the idea of tiny houses, of being able to live in a space the size of my closet that contains a kitchen, a dinette, a bed, and a bathroom. And the idea of being able to travel and pull along my own small version of my big house, is intriguing; to know exactly what the place we’d be staying in after a road trip was going to be. Completely ours, decorated the way we like, with all of the stuff we use, albeit on a smaller basis. My version of “wherever you go, there you are.” And that, I finally decided, is why I thought I wanted a travel trailer. I’m a home body.

My fascination will continue. But my flirtation with actually buying something is officially over. To that I say, bring on the five-star hotel rooms.  

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The thing about greatness

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 28, 2018 12:15 PM

I am a fan of open-wheel racing. I became a fan in 1995 when Kevin and I started dating and he took me to the Long Beach Grand Prix. It was my first adventure with Indy cars and open wheels but it wasn’t my future husband’s. He’s been a fan forever, and regularly made the journey to Road America in Wisconsin. At the time, he was a huge fan of Al Unser, Jr, who happened to win the Grand Prix the year we went.

The Long Beach Grand Prix, whose official name is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, takes place over the course of several days. At that time, there was a Celebrity Grand Prix on Friday, something on Saturday that had to do with the pits, with the actual race on Sunday. Kevin had gone down on Saturday and called me from the pits to see if I wanted to come back with him on Sunday. I had no affinity for car racing – though I’ve always loved fast cars – but I already had a great affinity for him, so I said yes. 

It was a glorious day, as is usual at the beginning of April in Southern California. Because it was in Long Beach, there was a lovely breeze coming in off of the water. He had bought me a t-shirt the day before and I was wearing it proudly, even though I had no idea what I was about to encounter. From the moment the command was given to “start your engines” and those amazing machines roared to life, I was smitten. The incredible power, the growl as they raced through the streets at speeds of 90 plus miles an hour, the disgusting food, the crowd. By the end of the day, my skin felt grimy, I had dirt under my fingernails from the oil and gasoline in the air, and I couldn’t remember having so much fun.

That was the last time we went to a race, but we watch them regularly on television. Over the years, I’ve had favorite drivers – Jimmy Vasser (who won the Grand Prix in 1996), Dario Franchitti. And Danica Patrick. I used to always root for the women who drove, but mostly they were awful. Then along came this 5’2” fireball. She had attitude, she spoke her mind, and she could drive. She raced Indy cars from 2005 until 2010, and she brought some needed life to a sport that had been in decline. She was a competitor, she was fierce inside and outside the car. She led laps at Indianapolis, the granddaddy of open wheel racing, and placed as high as 3rd in that crown jewel. Yesterday, after 8 years in NASCAR, she came back to Indy. She qualified in 7th place, but she crashed on the 68th lap. It was her last race; she retired. Will Power went on to win in what was a pretty good finish. 

Kevin and I watched, of course, me cheering for Danica, him just thrilled to be watching. After the race, we talked about it, and about Danica in particular. I told him that the thing that made me root for her was simple: she had the potential to actually win. Other than Janet Guthrie, who raced at Indy in the 1970s, no other women ever came close. Their names were hardly mentioned. But Danica’s was, and often. It was fun to have a female race car driver to root for, more fun because she always had the chance for greatness. The potential for greatness. 

Wikipedia defines greatness like this: “a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object in a particular place or area. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others.”

Sounds about right. I wonder how many people feel that they ever achieve greatness. I wonder if those people who do actually are great, or just perceive themselves to be. Some greatness is easily understood. Meryl Streep has achieved greatness. Like him or hate him, Tom Brady has achieved greatness. I believe Barack Obama achieved greatness. I suppose the current occupant of the White House has to, if we use the narrow definition above. 

I think, though, that greatness is also about selflessness, about character and grace, humility and humor. For most there is ego involved in achieving greatness but it is matched and perhaps tempered by candor and honesty and dignity.

On this Memorial Day, a day when we celebrate, among others, the men and women who fought and served in World War II – the greatest generation – I wonder what they think greatness means. I wonder if they believe they achieved it or if it was simply conveyed upon them by Tom Brokaw. That generation, the first of the 20th century, grew up during the depression, and enlisted to fight after our country was attacked in December 1941. There was a common purpose, a coming together, a desire to defend our country in any way they could. They didn’t choose to be great – they simply did their duty.   

I wonder when we will come together again to achieve what once made us great. I wonder if we will. 

I wonder.

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A long distance bromance

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2018 10:16 PM

Kevin’s friend Tony died on May 5. 5/5 at 5:55 according to his fiancé. He had been sick for a long time with an illness that some of the best doctors’ in the country couldn’t seem to diagnose. At first they thought it was complication from a shoulder surgery. Then they moved onto something call Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS. CRPS is a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg. It’s very uncommon and often develops after an injury, a surgery, a stroke or a heart attack. Tony’s symptoms started not long after his surgery. His hand swelled, and he had trouble using it. It traveled up is arm. 

This went on for several years. He tried ketamine treatments, he tried some sort of spinal treatment, he tried shocking his system but nothing worked, and meanwhile, he continued to deteriorate. Eventually the entire right side of his body was affected. He lost his hearing. He started having trouble walking. Still, those best doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. He sold his townhouse on the beach and moved in with his longtime girlfriend in Orange County. He lost his ability to stand and walk. He couldn’t speak on the phone or even respond to emails. His whole body was becoming useless. 

Kevin officially met Tony back in 1985 when Kevin started working for Sebastian. Kevin was still in Chicago at the time and Tony was in Southern California. He worked in finance but they spoke on the phone about the Sales and Marketing job that Kevin was interviewing for and what it entailed and hit it off without ever having met.

The other night I asked Kevin about Tony. He hadn’t said much since we got the word that he was gone. I also knew that Kevin had long considered Tony one of his best friends. When he and his first wife were dissolving their relationship, Tony was there. When Kevin had issues with a company he was working for (after Sebastian), Tony was there. Whenever the Auto Show parked itself at the convention center, Tony was there, along with his good friend, Kevin. One year, Kevin took Justin and the three of them had a great time.

They would go for a while without speaking, but then they’d reconnect and it was as if no time had gone by. The truest sign of a great friendship. Once Tony could no longer talk on the phone or even answer emails, it was harder. Our lives continued as always, as usual, while his deteriorated.

Then came the phone call. “Tony’s in the hospital and not expected to make it through the weekend.” He did. He lasted another week. He had finally been diagnosed correctly, with Corticobasal Degeneration, a progressive neurological disorder where the brain shrinks and impedes its ability to communicate with the rest of the body. It’s progressive. And fatal. There is no treatment.

When I asked, Kevin was quiet at first. He sipped his wine and stared ahead into nothing. Then he started to talk and continued to talk for over an hour. I asked questions where appropriate, but mostly I just listened to him tell me about his good friend, a man he’d met some 30 plus years ago on the phone, and their long distance friendship. 

Their long distance bromance that became something infinitely more lasting, something that bridges even this permanent distance.

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