I’m reaching out to all my churchified friends here to explain what kind of operation this is.

Ok, we know it’s a Methodist operation, presumably the first one, or at least the first united one. And, located as it is in a gentrified north-central Phoenix neighborhood (Central Ave & Bethany Home), it’s not like they’re some kind of wratched religious enterprise that can’t afford a proper sign. After all, they’ve got the unleavened dough for this imposing bell tower.

But the wording of the sign here has me ready to call out the Vicar-General of Grammar* for a ruling.

So is the place a sort of churchy church? Or do parishioners go to the “first church” at 9am and then do a sort of follow-up booster-shot service that’s just “church.” Frankly, we’re out of theories but before we throw ourselves at the mercy of the Judicial Council, perhaps some kindly blog follower can shed some holy light** on this.

* If it was a mosque, we’ll call for the chief grammarian, known as the Sharm El Sheikh, and if it was a temple, I believe the Rosh Meshuggana is the authority of choice.
** heiligenschein to you.
(We may have made up some of the stuff in the first footnote but the 2nd note is for-reals.)
All photos ©2018 by the author




Ask the Witch-Answer Guy

 A civil servant who wishes to remain anonymous has submitted the following question:


Q: How can I avoid a witch hunt?

A: Don’t have witches around.



Though a witchety bush might be OK

…or a rare Canadian blue witch

Witchety bush photo taken at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near the historic copper mining town of Superior, Ariz., 55 miles east of Phoenix.
Blue witch photo taken in Hamilton, Ontario.

Safeway vs Customers

My neighborhood Safeway recently did some remodeling.

Unfortunately, they apparently didn’t bother doing any customer consultations and, assuming they used a professional design firm for their new layout, the designers apparently didn’t do any customer focus groups either.

So what they did was re-do the entire store product layout which not only meant several weeks of construction nuisance for shoppers, but more importantly: none of us could find anything.

Yes, I’m sure we mostly eventually found our usual items but I’m guessing my own shopping expedition time increased by 25 percent…and that’s not for buying more things; that’s time wasted wandering up and down aisles to see where they’ve now got my frozen pretzels, hash browns—even orange juice (which took me literally 5 minutes to find and only because I interrupted a stockperson who was yakking on the phone.)

Frankly, I spent several weeks avoiding the Safeway in favor of my other venues: Trader Joe’s, Fry’s and the neighborhood WalMart food store (save your snarky comments for someone who cares).

Because: not only could I not find things, the Safeway design geniuses decided to hang aisle signs that can only be read from a very narrow angle. Thus, if you’re coming out of the coffee products aisle and turning your cart into the next aisle, it’s really really difficult to read the list on the board.

Other grocery venues have solved this by either having a triangular sign, readable from either side as you approach the aisle, or by having a straightforward outward-facing sign.

Now, I think I know what happened. They wanted to add some aisles (two, I’m told) and this caused them to have to narrow-down existing aisles. Maybe they figured the new narrow aisles required a narrower signage configuration. But they never field-tested this with customers.

The remodeling also involved massive relocation of nearly all the products. Bread, for example, moved completely across the store and OJ was moved from a back wall to an interior aisle. And god-only-knows where my hash browns are.

But Monopoly game adherents will be glad to know they can still waste their time endlessly pasting in those pointless tiles.

Deep State Wine

A new wine purveyor seems to have entered the oenology scene recently. We say “seems” since it’s not entirely clear what the provenance of this “purveyor” is. And by provenance we don’t just mean “where” but “who” and “what” as well. In fact, “purveyor” is as close as we can come to describing the nature of this super-secret organization.

[click on photo to view]

The wine itself is simply labeled “DSW”—if you can find the marking at all. (Hint: you have to hold the bottle up to a light source to see the subtle engraving in the bottle.) In fact, it took sources deep inside the industry who spoke on condition of anonymity to find out that this apparently stands for something called “Deep State Wineries.”

From what we can discern, no one knows precisely who these winemakers are or where their vineyards are located. Some say that the vineyards actually are moved around the globe, season by season, possibly perched in corner acres of otherwise respectable terroirs. For this reason, these sources have dubbed the shadowy vintners “wine terroiristes,” though it’s not clear if this is simply an insider joke.

All that seems to be known is that the group is some kind alphabet organization — CIA? FBI? NATO? UNICEF? — much like the name of the wine itself.

As to what’s in the wine, we can only go to “memos” from admittedly shady sources:

“If you’re looking for bright, fruity and approachable acidity…keep looking,” said one aficionado.

“Hints of tobacco and damp oak,” said another.

“Complete absence of mango, lemon, buttery almond and Fuji apple,” yet another shadowy figure said.

“Definitely not gluten-free. Indeed, it seems like the vignerons have gone out of their way to add extra gluten!”

The bottle is notoriously stingy with details. The label appears to have been redacted of any useful information and the initials DSW, as noted, are visible only when the bottle is held at a certain angle under a black light.

One oddity about the distribution: for some reason the product, while not readily available in general, is specifically not available within the boundaries of the District of Columbia. As a result, a lively black market has arisen in Alexandria, Arlington and Bethesda, along with the inner sanctum of Great Falls National Park.

One “Deep Stater” sums up the tasting profile thus:

“It has a foresty mouthfeel…but not that amusing golf-course-kick-your-ball-back-onto-the-fairway-type woods. No, this is more of a dusky, heavy-timber woodland terroir where large-footed creatures dare their prey to show themselves and would be happy to have your eyeballs for breakfast. Salut!

12 Days of Aggravation

Male Call}*

…in which the Male Call Advisory Board™ attempts to relieve some of your holiday season stress by declaring a moratorium on 12 Kinds of Aggravation. Presumably, the powers that be, who are known to be avid followers of Male Call (after a morning of CNN, Fox & Friends and Morning Joe), are paying heed.


All that many of us really want for the holiday gifting season is less aggravation. Here are a few empirical guidelines for you singletons.

  1.  No use of the word “gifting.”

Ok, but seriously…

  1. No matter how much holiday fun you’re having, don’t plan an extended vacation together until you’ve endured a road trip.

Picacho Peak — on the road from TUC to PHX

Oh, wait, you already made that mistake. Let’s start over:

  1. No matter what else you’ve done, you’re not a couple until you’ve taken a vexatious road trip together. (Over the river and through the woods to Granma’s does not count.)
  2. Men: In your dating profiles, stop writing what you think people want to hear and write about the true you. You know, like your alleged love of cuddling, chilling a Netflix night, and how laid-back and drama-free you are. The women see through this nettlesome subterfuge.
  3. Women: Stop fake-complimenting yourself: “My friends say I’m funny, adventurous, and look younger than my age.” In fact, leave all those tiresome adjectives out. If you’re funny…be. If you’re adventurous, describe an adventure. In short, use the screenwriter’s maxim: Show Don’t Tell.
  4. Men: You need to know that women are aggravated by your crappy-looking shoes…and apparently they especially hate the socks-with-sandals thing unless you’re a sand volleyball player. (Same goes for “flooders,” aka “high-water” pants).
  5. Women: Take it easy on the garish pink club-going outfits unless your name is Paris Hilton. Same with capris — the “soccer mom” of fashion — unless your name is Alessandra Ambrosio (However, the Male Call Advisory Board tells us there’s such a thing as a “cropped ankle pant” that isn’t too bad.)
  6. Everyone: You don’t get to tell everyone how fair or honest you are (“I guess I’m just too honest for my own good!”). Factitious.
  7. Men: Stop lying about your height. This is women’s number one peeve when they finally do meet you.
  8. Women: Stop posting pictures of your cat, dog or flowers as your Meetup profile pic. Exasperating.
  9. Oh, and stop no-showing at Meetup events: über-exasperating.
  10. And when you do have to cancel going to an event with your friends, you don’t need to add “You guys have fun!” Irksome. Just cancel the RSVP and go to the party you really wanted to in the first place.
  11. Everyone: Don’t give someone driving directions to your meeting place by referencing all the landmarks you and your bothersome besties are familiar with: “Take Via Linda to the Sprouts then turn left at Home Depot and keep going past Trader Joe’s. It’s next to the new Starbucks.” In Arizona, this is known as “Scottsdale navigation.”
  12. Advertisers: Give us all a break and retire the galling phrase “Give the gift of…” as in “the gift of Amazon Prime / adventure / a calmer mind / Master Class / productivity” etc. when you know it’s not a real gift category.










So there you are: Enough pointers for the 12 Days of Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day and Festivus (for the rest of us) to get you through to National Fruitcake Toss Day (Jan. 3).

Originally published by the author in City Sun Times (an excellent metro Phoenix community newspaper), Dec. 4, 2017.
Picacho Peak photo (c) copyright 2012 by James Veihdeffer

It’s all about the angle

I was whiling away 20 minutes in McDonald’s the other night with an Americano caffé when I looked up and saw the most gruesome visage staring back. I wasn’t sure if it was some kind of McDonald’s whimsy or an alien that didn’t hide itself away quickly enough.  I checked my caffé in case it was drugged but it was still too hot to drink so I felt safe on that count.

Fortunately, it turned out to be an optical illusion (in the broadest sense): What you see depends on where you’re looking from–and maybe what you’re pre-disposed to see.

Here’s the scene that someone not hyped up on coffee and an impending tennis match might have readily seen.

It’s still a bit eerie…

But obvious non-alien…

…at least that’s what they want you to think.

Pizza Puzzle: Landfill or Recycle?

I was walking to my class at a certain community college the other morning at 6:45 a.m.  I mention this not to try to shamelessly wheedle sympathy out of you for my early rising, but to point out that the display in the first photo must have taken place in the oh-dark-hundred hours.

Yes, there is a third of a pizza resting blissfully on the ledge of one of the trash receptacles. Since I had 23 rhetoric-hungry students waiting for me I didn’t take the pic right then but did remember to look for it an hour later and, sure enough, it hadn’t moved.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the original owner, I figured they* simply couldn’t decide whether a used pizza is considered “landfill” or “recyclable” and so they left it for some other food savant to decide.

Two hours later I was returning from nourishing a different group of MLA Style-starved scholars and could hardly believe what had happened:

Uh huh…the pizza slice had moved itself over to the Recycle side, as though to taunt the by-now-hundreds of shredded-jean passers-by to make a final decision.

Honest…I hadn’t touched it. And though all I had to eat by 11 a.m. was a banana and several cups of coffee, I was still not tempted to scarf it down.

By 1 p.m. the slice had inched a bit closer to the slot. Here’s a close up, just to get your mouth juices flowing.

So whattya say? Which slot does a used pizza go in? My students voted for “landfill” since it’s not technically something you can recycle. And really…who just leaves a pizza and paper plate on the side of a trash receptacle, as though to say, “Hey, I’ll be right back for this, but feel free to nosh on it if you get there first.”

Just as important: Why does “Landfill” get a square opening but “Recycle” gets a keyhole slot?

* yes…we’re now allowed to say “they” instead of the annoying and space-consuming “he or she” or other klugey abominations such as “he/she,” “s/he” that have been proposed, including the “whiplash grammar” solution of alternating “he” and “she.”