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.

You only get one question…

…then shut up and let others have a chance.

I was at a delightful one-man storytelling event at the Tempe History Museum the other night. The performer adopted a variety of costumes and facial devices as he related historical commentaries on the parade of Native American tribal customs from the past thousand or so years – Hohokam, Atzlan, Yaqui and Pima to name a few. The Hohokam (“those who are gone”) are considered to be the builders of the original canal system around the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Zarco Guerrero did a great job of keeping the tales lively and brief and after about 40 minutes the crowd of 50 or so enthusiastic attendees of many ethnic backgrounds was invited to ask questions or give comments.

One woman in the front row was quick to raise her hand and was recognized by the moderator. Her comment, about the Pima tribe’s long-staple cotton, was rather detailed and took a couple minutes to explain. Zarco acknowledged the excellent information with good grace and we were ready for more questions.

Three or four people were recognized by the moderator around the room, each offering a quick question or comment.

And then…and then…our first row lady struck again. From my spot at the end of the second row I could see her hand going up, but I could also see seven or eight hands throughout the room.

Alas, the moderator recognized her again and she launched into a second 4-5-minute commentary.

Now, I’ve seen this kind of thing at several different casual public meetings and always wondered at the self-centeredness of people seated toward the front who think they can just keep asking questions. They don’t look around to see who else is trying to get attention. And almost as bad, the lecturer doesn’t either. Even worse is when there’s a moderator or host who doesn’t scan the room, especially the middle and back areas.

So my rule is: You get to ask one question, with maybe a brief follow-up for clarification. Then you get to shut up for a while.

Look around the room. If no hands are raised, go ahead and ask another question. Then, after five or ten minutes you can jump back in…

…or be prepared for a good old-fashioned Salt River dunking.

Zarco performance photo by the author. Poster from Tempe History Museum promotional site.

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.”

Pranks of the Apostles

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear as those whacky Apostles show us a fresh side to their personalities.

Many folks who read my previous post about “The Acts of the Apostles” (Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons) think that the Apostles were all serious and, well, apostolic as they went around raising people from the dead, healing cripples, filibustering, getting stoned, escaping from prison and spreading the Word. As we know, the Acts is a sequel to the Gospel attributed to Luke, written sometime around 80-90 C.E. (possibly a bit later) — well after the fall of Jerusalem.

But newly discovered parchments from Nag Sunnislope offer a completely different view of these loveable “merry pranksters”! The scrolls, discovered near the Dead Salt River in the desert of the Phoenicians, show a heartwarming other side to the disciples of the first century.

Here’s a list of some of the shenanigans, mischief and tomfoolery that was going on in Galilee.

  • Substituting red-colored vinegar for actual wine at seders and marriage fests. Imagine the fun of sitting a new convert down for a Passover dinner and as he lifts up his cup for the first of the four seder toasts you watch him do an involuntary spit take: “Ewwww… This mother hath definitely turned! Get thee down to Joseph the Trader for something drinkable.”


  • Short sheeting each others’ tunics. This never gets old.


  • Cursing fig trees…just for the heck of it. [see Mark 11, Matt 21]

  • Pretending to speak in tongues to strangers…but actually just spewing gibberish. This is strictly a tag team prank since you need a confederate you can talk to who pretends to understand as you spew out “Alacka kalamino aminoacido etgay the eckhay ehindbay emay.” [see Acts 2:4]


  • Making up goofy nicknames and catchphrases for the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Poltergeist,” “Casperius,” “WhoYaGonnaCall.” It is written that the Blessed Mary was particularly fond of walking into a wedding feast and cheerfully calling out, “Where’s that darn Casperius when a virgin needs him?”

Of course, not all the mischief was totally lighthearted:

  • Giving hot foots to gentiles, apostates and synagogue-avoiders: “We’re making it hot for you, sinner!”


  • Pranking local herdsmen by pretending to send demons into their pigs and then spooking the critters into jumping off a cliff. Be prepared for a quick getaway, though, when the pig herdsman or shepherd gets wise to your monkeyshines. [See Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39]


  • Setting up the “Holy Dunk Tank” and telling a prospective convert that this is an “initiation” to see if they’re really prepared for a proper baptism.*


  • The classic “lower him through the tile roof” skit. This takes some teamwork, along with a paralyzed person, but it’s worth all the production when you hear the appreciative giggles from your audience. [see Luke 5:17]

What you do is tell a suffering soul that the healer is inside the house but, unfortunately, the crowd is too thick to take him through the front door. “So we’ll just take you up to the roof and lower you through the tiles, Ok?” But guess what? Turns out the roofs in this province are all thatched/mud construction. Of course the author of Luke, probably from Antioch, may not have known diddly about the architecture of Capernaum, but it’s fun to think that he didn’t mind some high jinks when comic relief from Roman oppressors and laugh-deprived Temple high-priest killjoys was needed.


  • Circumcision. No! just kidding. This is not one of the pranks.


+ Adapted from photo: Four seder wine cups
+Tunics (adapted from Roman Life/Women’s Hairstyles)
+ Fig tree (adapted from The Cursing of the Fig Tree – Father Melvin)
+ Hot foot photo illustration (adapted from photo at The Health Site)
+ Happy pigs (adapted from cartoon by David Hayward)
+ Dunk tank  (from “Dodgers and Dips – the Dark History of the Dunk Tank”)
*Meanwhile, those irrepressible medieval apostles liked to get into the fun too! (Elizabethan cucking stool)

+ Rooftop gang illustration (from “Assembly – The Paralysed Man” by Paul Hitchcock; illustration by Brian Chalmers).

16 Fun Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Dr. Pussyfoot

Those who follow this blog for its hilarious political commentary, ingenious language notes, intrepid neighborhood travel curiosities. discourteous religious lampoons and trenchant cultural observations may wonder what category this falls into…and why you’ve bothered to follow.

Simply put, I just finished a biography of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and thought you might be intrigued to see some lesser-known aspects of this founding Reformation figure without (much of) the usual droll commentary.

(Page numbers refer to Bainton. Go directly to #12 if you just want to see the Pussyfoot item.)

Now, good luck finding a category for this as you see the other side of the great indulgence denier.

  1. Accomplished lute player (340)
  2. Sung as a tenor
  3. Insomniac
  4. Had 6 children by his wife Katie, adopted 4 more and at one time had as many as 25 people in the household including student boarders (a financial recourse) (294). Katie was one of 12 nuns he helped escape (see ‘Marriage’ section) from a Cistercian convent.
  5. Referred to his wife, Katie, as “my lord.” (290)
  6. Biggest mistake: advised Philip I, Landgrave (sort of like a duke) of Hesse, to commit bigamy (373-5). Biographer Martin Brecht says, “giving confessional advice for Philip of Hesse was one of the worst mistakes Luther made.” (see ‘Bigamy’ section)
  7. Compared choral singing to “square dancing in heaven” (343)
  8. Reduced number of Catholic sacraments from 7 to 2 (137)
  9. Frequently confessed daily, once as long as 6 hours (54)
  10. Dressed as a knight and grew a long beard calling himself “Knight George” during exile—“my Patmos.” (195)
  11. Marriage: pigtails on the pillow. “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.” (290)
  12. Taunted by his religious rival, Müntzer, as “Dr. Pussyfoot” (“Doktor Leisetritt”) for various complicated theological reasons; also, “Dr. Easychair” (262, 277, also Huntson) — and those were the nicer ones!
  13. The famous “Ninety-Five Theses” were actually more like “debate topics” in accord with the common practice of the day (79, 83)
  14. His “Table Talk” — the collection of Luther’s sayings mostly around the dinner table — has more than 6,500 entries. These are based on notes taken by various students of Luther between 1531 and 1544. (295)
  15. Sometimes “stacked his prayers” for up to 3 weeks when he was still a monk and fell in arrears in saying the canonical hours (matins, tierce, nones, vespers, complin). As a university professor, village preacher and director of 11 monasteries, he was simply too busy to keep up. (195)
  16. Appalled by the frivolity of Italian priests who could rattle through 6 or 7 masses while he was saying one. (49)

Now, the less fun side

  1. Undoubtedly, Luther was a manic-depressive, as we now understand the term.

The word he used, though, was Anfechtung – possibly a trial sent by God to test man “comprising all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.” (42, 62, 335, 357, 361). Other words used to translate the term include ‘temptation,’ ‘trial,’ ‘affliction,’ ‘tribulation.’ Scholars are not necessarily in agreement on the ex post facto bipolar diagnosis since he apparently exhibited a prodigious, continuous capacity for work. (28) “Though some have tried to explain Luther’s anfechtungen as clinical depression, such explanations are not satisfactory” (Bucher). However, there is no question that Luther was subject to recurrent periods of exaltation and depression and these oscillations plagued him throughout his life.

  1. In his later years, health impairments made him “an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained and at times positively coarse.” (373)

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Abingdon Press, 1950 (All woodcut illustrations are from this book).
Brecht, Martin, Martin Luther, tr. James L. Schaaf, Fortress Press, 1985–93, 3:214
Bucher, Richard. Luther’s Anfechtungen: Setting for the Reformation. Undated blog post. Bucher is pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Lexington, KY. “This was the Law of God accusing and condemning Luther, not some delusional imaginations of Luther himself. For Luther, these afflictions were spiritual not psychological.”
Scaer, David P.  “The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought.” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 1, Jan. 1983
Williams, George Huntson. The Radical Reformation. Truman State University, 1992. Third edition. (Discussion of “Dr. Pussyfoot” on p. 133)

Trippin’ along the Arizona Canal

In previous posts (July 13 and Nov. 2015) I’ve mentioned a number of oddities along the Arizona Canal that runs past my house. As I’ve said, my early morning bike ride down the canal often reveals surprises, sometimes in the form of amusing graffiti but just as often in the form of abandoned or otherwise unheralded public art—such as the rather mysterious sandstone sculpture below.

There’s no sign or other indication of why or how it appeared on the raised berm between the paved pathway and gravel path adjoining the canal itself.

I decided to get to the bottom of this and found more than I expected.

The primary reference that Google turned up was a brief essay titled, Arizona Canal Demonstration Project Sunnyslope Community” crediting M. Paul Friedberg – Landscape Architecture and Jackie Ferrara – Artist.

This is apparently part of a “multi-room” landscape art project from 2001 and the sandstone design turned out to be the fourth “room.” Each room supposedly illuminates one or more of the environmental characteristics that contribute to the uniqueness of this area.

I gather the sculpture above is an artistic interpretation of either the Salt River or an ancient Hohokam tribe drawing of the 2,000 year old canal system. The Hohokam flourished in the Phoenix valley from 300-1450 CE.

A close look at the sculpture reveals two sets of openings, one of which appears to be a dual nozzle which may have been intended to create a water/stream effect. Or it could simply be an alien!

The canals are operated by the Salt River Project (SRP) and while the canals are technically a utility corridor, meant to deliver water to this desert metropolis, they’ve historically been associated with recreation.



Recently, a longtime Sunnyslope resident told me that maintenance of the various artwork installations—the sequence of five outdoor “rooms” at intervals of approximately 500 to 700 yards carved into the berm—was abandoned for budgetary reasons when a different authority took over management of the berms and paths.

Now, here’s a rundown of the various “rooms,” in sequence starting from the Central Ave and heading southeast toward 7th St. It’s not entirely clear which rooms are which from the write-up but I think my guesses are reasonably on target.

First room: the “circle room”







Now, here’s an amazing little peculiarity of the Circle Room: if you stand dead center, you can create a strange auditory “echo” effect — much like those so-called “whispering galleries” where your voice is amplified beneath a dome or a vault. Except that here, a person standing outside the very limited circle, more than 2 or 3 feet, just hears your normal voice. But you hear your voice as though it’s being piped into a microphone. Everyone who has seen this acts blasé at first, like, “OK what’s the big deal?” But when they step into the small circle and try it out, it’s “Whoa! What just happened?”

I have no idea whether the designers intended to create this effect or if it’s just an unintended artifact of the circle. You’d really have no idea to even try it unless you came upon it by chance or someone told you about it…like I just did.

Second room: the “water room”

Third Room: the “time room” —  yes…it’s an actual sun dial!

The fourth room, seen at the top of this posting, is called the “map room”

Fifth room: the “grass room”?

This is described as a rectangular space outlined on three sides by a stone seating wall. “A planting bed of tall exotic desert grass creates a spatial frame around the sitting area, thus focusing the visitor’s view toward the top of the grass and the canal.”

Obviously the “planting bed” was a budget victim. And, oddly, one can only wonder what force of nature caused part of this very solid-looking wall to break away in two places (one shown here).


I’m putting my money on ancient aliens as seen from these artifacts, with characteristic beady eyes, metallic, hook-ended legs and strangely bicycle-like form.









All photos, except Hohokam illustration and canal map are copyright (c) 2017 Jim Veihdeffer.
In case you’re interested in exploring this mile-long stretch, you can start at Central Ave. just south of Dunlap and head southeast along the left side of the canal. The first room is about 2/10ths of a mile from the overpass, with subsequent rooms at more or less regular intervals. Most bikers are not even aware of the installations, but they’re pretty obvious if you take a moment to just observe.The nine canals that make up the Valley’s canal system were developed over the past 100 years. Each canal has a unique history and service area. Work on the Arizona Canal that runs past my house began in May 1883