By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Aunt BeeI was watching television the other day and up popped an advertisement for a DVD collection of the old “Andy Griffith Show“.  And, yes, you would be correct in assuming that I was not watching MTV.  Clearly the distributors are trying to tap into the sentiment some of us Baby Boomers hold for a show that reflects a much more innocent time and place.  But it was not the bucolic setting or regional twang that made me sit up and take notice.  It was the picture of Frances Bavier, who played the wonderful character of “Aunt Bee”.  She always seemed so comforting and endearing.  She was the “go to” person for problem solving and home-baked apple pie.  I wanted to know a little more about her; more  specifically, I was curious as to how old she was when she played that part.  The wonderful thing about both Google and an iPad is that all those questions we used to ask ourselves somewhat rhetorically can now be answered immediately.  So I looked up Ms. Bavier on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that she was only 58 when she started on the show.  Jeez – I thought she was about 100.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It seems that whenever I’m watching a classic movie or TV show I think about how much older people used to look.  It happens with kim-cattrall-2013both sexes but is perhaps more prominent with women.  Actresses that played middle-aged moms looked plump and matronly.  They wore housedresses, sensible shoes and hats.  They ate saturated fats, tons of sugar and drank bourbon.  And in real life they were only 50 years old.   Gloria Swanson, for example, was 50 when she played the washed up movie star Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”.  Contrast that with today’smovie icons.  Kim Cattrall, pictured right, was 58 when this photo was taken.  A far cry from Aunt Bee at the same age.  Of course, today’s stars have the benefit of hair color, skilled plastic surgeons and fitness trainers.  They wear designer clothes and shoes that could double as railroad spikes.  Instead of girdles they have whole-body Spanx.  This trend toward looking younger has spawned the phrase “60 is the new 40”.  I’m actually beginning to hear that “70 is the new 50”, which I think is a direct reflection of our refusal to grow old.  I’m sure by next year 80 will be the new 60.

hearing lossBut despite our outward appearances for the better, there are some things that can’t be buffed or blown or suctioned away as we age.  Teeth, for one thing.  I don’t know anyone over 60 who hasn’t had crowns, bridges, implants or root canals.  Oh sure, their teeth have been “brightened” by the latest technology but just like horses, teeth always give our age away.  Another seemingly inescapable fact of aging is bad backs.  Despite hours of sit-ups and “focusing on our core”, the back just eventually wears out.  We spent an hour at a cocktail party the other night listening to everyone’s tales about lower back pain and how it has ruined – RUINED! – their golf game.  As if they were par shooters to begin with.  Finally, the aging factor that starts more arguments than any other: hearing loss.  The most frequently uttered sentence in our house is: “What?  I can’t hear you!”  That is only rivaled by “Could you please turn that TV down/up!” (depending on who is speaking).  Sure, they make rather small and unobtrusive hearing aids these days but, like alcoholics, the first step is the hardest – admitting that you have a problem.  Which explains why so many of our friends are now watching TV in separate rooms.  It’s easier than arguing about volume and having to face the fact that we are turning into our grandparents.

But no matter how much we’re decaying on the inside, it’s good to know that if we so choose, we women can sustain a more youthful outward appearance with a little effort and a lot of money.  Or we can put on a jaunty little flowered hat and try to exude the same kindly, well-worn and lovable countenance as Aunt Bee.   The point is – we have options.  Welcome to the new middle ages.


Chap. 2 The Tape – Searching for Xoon

(Writer’s note: if you missed Chapter 1 you can find it in our archives at the right.  Our free subscription will send our blog to your email every Monday morning.)

by Bob Sparrow

shell     With my thumb and forefinger I fished the shell casing out from the bottom of my shirt pocket and held it in the sunlight coming through my windshield as I sped down Interstate 5 on my way home.  It was the last tangible reminder of my now deceased best friend, given to me after the service by his sister.  The crack of the military rifles still echoed in my ear – a resounding period at the end of his life sentence.

“God dammit Don, why didn’t you take better care of yourself?”

He answered, “Didn’t we always say that ‘life was too long’?”

“It was just a joke!”

“Was it?”

I drove in silence for the next three hours, although it wasn’t exactly silent, in fact my mind was filled with a thousand memories – it was actually quite noisy in there.  I shouldn’t call classical music ‘noise’, but he loved the song Nessun Dorma, we listened to it together as the hair on our arms would stand on end.  Now, as I drive in the vast openness of central California, that melody was haunting me as an ear worm.

Being a rather unsophisticated fan of opera, I would later learn that the song is from the opera, Turandot, by Puccini, Pavarottiwhich ironically, or not, is about solving riddles.  It features an unknown prince, a bitchy princess as well as some torture and beheadings.  Pretty much like operas today, only now they’re prefaced with ‘soap’.  While Nesun Dorma sounds like a beautifully majestic love song, the lyrics and the storyline in the opera are actually quite menacing.  For those not familiar with the song, and even those who are and enjoy a good aria, I’ve attached a link to the 3-minute video of Pavarotti’s offering in 1994 – you may have to copy and paste it into your browser – it’s worth it!

     I wondered what all this had to do with anything (as you may be wondering yourself!).  The Tape was already in the car’s cassette player so I just punched ‘Play’.  No longer trying to figure out what was being said, I listened more broadly to the rhythm, the pulse of it.  What I heard for the first time was what clearly sounded like changes in the language being used.  It was still all  unintelligible, but it now seemed clear that the language being used was changing several time throughout the 90-minute tape.

I heard a number of words and phrases repeated throughout the first several minutes.  One such phrase was Eviatem non Cawhoea. I’m sure the spelling here isn’t correct as I just wrote it down phonetically . . . while I was driving.  Of course it meant nothing to me, but I thought about a colleague, Matt, with whom I used to teach and who now was a professor of language at nearby Chapman University, who just might be able to help.

Matt tilted his head towards the cassette player in his office, narrowed his eyes and was motionless as he listened to The Tape.  As the cassette wheels spun I watched his eyes furtively shift, widen then frown.  I silently pointed to the tape, as if to make him listen harder when the Eviatem non Cawhoea part was coming up for the second time.  After it was spoken I clicked off the tape.

“Those words are repeated several times in the first few minutes” I told him, “Any idea what it is?”

“Maybe”, he responded as he turned to the bookshelf behind him and ran his index finger along a row of old books until he found what he was looking for.  He pulled it from the shelf and gingerly laid it on his desk and turned to the page as noted in the Table of Contents.

Pointing at the page he said, “Yes, here it is right here, it is in fact . . . gibberish.”

“Oh thank you esteemed professor of language, I knew you could solve this mystery.  Seriously, does any of it make any sense to you?”

“Actually some of it does.  The phrase, Iviatim non Cahuilla, which is repeated several time probably refers to the Iviatim or Ivia language of an ancient Indian tribe, related to the Aztecs; they’re actually indigenous to the deserts here in Southern California.  Cahuilla, (pronounced kah-wee-ah) was the name for Iviatim that was used by the missionaries and ranchero owners.  It was the Spanish first, then the Mexicans that took over their land.”

“Why did they change the name?  Can you translate any more of it; do you think it tells us why they changed the name?

“Hold on with the questions for a minute.  I’m afraid I can’t translate anything more, that language is nearly extinct; there are probably less than 50 people in the world that can still speak it.  Fortunately for you most of them are out in the Palm Springs area.  Someone out there may be able to answer your questions.”

“Thanks Matt, any ideas on how I would go about finding any of the 50 people that still speak this language?”

“Well, you’re probably not going to find them sitting around the pool at the Marriott sipping a Pina Colada, but I think I can point you in the right direction.”

I would learn later that Matt actually knew exactly where to send me, and he knew why the name was changed, but he had his reasons for not being the one to give me the answers.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Good citizen

Recently we have been putting Dash the Wonder Dog through his paces at obedience school.  This past weekend he graduated from the Intermediate level and next week begins a six-week journey to become a Canine Good Citizen. Actually, the training is more for me.  I am learning that consistency and discipline are not exactly my strong suits.  More on that later.

Today I want to write about the brilliant idea I had during Dash’s training – Obedience School for People!  Don’t laugh – think about how much less annoying life would be if everybody had to attain their Good Citizen certificate.  One of the major complaints we hear, either in person or on TV,  is  how rude and inconsiderate people are these days.  “Honkers” in traffic, people with full carts in the Express Check-out line, someone in front of you at Starbucks ordering Cappacinos for their entire office.  But imagine a world where people were actually trained as well as our dogs!  To prove my point, here are some examples:

1.  Fetch – with canines the dogs are taught to go get something that you’ve thrown and bring it right back to you.  Oh, if only this had applied to some of my friends over Ice Skating Bookthe years.  I have loaned – and not gotten back – clothing, utensils, garden equipment and various other household items.  As an example, a friend “borrowed” my book on figure skating written by the great sportswriter Christine Brennan.  That was in 1997.  For the first year I hinted to her that I wanted to refresh my memory about some skaters and would sure like to re-read the book.  Nothing. Several other hints were also met with inaction. Finally, when we were moving out of state and I was pretty sure that I would never see her again I came right out and reminded her that the book was about two years overdue at my personal lending library.  Still…to this day the book resides on her bookshelf, permanently “borrowed” from me.   But – and here’s where the brilliance of my plan comes in – if my friend had been through training I could have said “fetch” and my book would have been promptly returned.  


Angry Mob2.  Wait – dogs are not generally long on patience or attention spans.  Sort of like husbands.  So the “wait” command teaches them to pause before entering or exiting a room or to stop doing whatever they’re doing (like bugging you to throw the ball for the 1,000th time).  I was thinking about the “wait” training trick when I was standing outside Costco the other morning.  I was there about five minutes before they opened and joined a crowd of about 20 people.  It was not particularly cold – it’s Scottsdale for Heaven’s sake – nor was it the morning before a holiday.  In other words, there should have been no overriding sense of urgency.  But at 9:03 when the big steel door still had not opened, not one but two (!) people called the store demanding that they open up.  And in rather harsh terms, I might add.  Now I have to admit, I love Costco.  I own stock in the company, I think they treat their employees well, and best of all, if you time it just right you can get a free meal by swerving through the aisles picking up all the free samples.  So when people are so impatient and rude that they are yelling at the nice Costco people for being THREE MINUTES late, I think that is a call to action.  If ever there was a need for people to  heed the “wait” command, it is apparently at the Scottsdale Costco.

3.  Heel – this is actually a technical term for when the dog is facing forward with its shoulder at your calf.  It is called their “positional space”.  Boy oh boy, based solely on Personal Spacemy observations, “heel” is a concept where we humans fall woefully short. We’ve all experienced the personal space invasion – the drunk at the cocktail party who stands so close that you could critique their dental work, the oaf at the movies who hogs the armrest, or the dunderhead at the Little League game who has to sit thisclose to you on the bleachers when three rows stand empty in front of you.  The worst violators seem to be on airplanes.  There are the Droolers, the Seat Tilters who leave you no leg room, and of course, the Sleepers.  I once had the misfortune to be in the window seat next to a rather large man who not only spread out all over the empty middle seat, but apparently suffered from narcolepsy.  Despite several attempts to wake him, he slumbered on.  My gyrations to crawl over him to get to the restroom would make a call girl blush.  If everyone was required by the rules set down in my Good Citizen requirements we could confidently enter the public square and – this is critical – airplanes, knowing that everyone would stay in their own darn “positional space”.


I’m sure there are other examples of how we might “train” people  I’d love to hear your ideas.  In the mean time, I’m sticking with the dogs.  I think my success rate will be better.




‘The Tape’

(Author’s note: I have many interesting places to go this year and I thought I would add the following ‘search’ to my adventures.  I’d be interested in your feedback of this episodic allegory – good, bad or indifferent.  If you don’t like it, Suzanne will be back next week with something more normal I’m sure.)

by Bob Sparrow

The Tape

‘The Tape’

     I turned The Tape over in my hands several times; examining it like it was a rare gem – which, in fact, it might be.  The title written on the plastic cassette case was ‘In Search of Xoon’.  Xoon was my dog in Japan in 1968.  Titles, I must tell you, were always non-sequiturs of sorts, never really pertaining to anything on the tapes – ‘Music to Slit Your Wrists Over’, ‘Zsa Zsa Sing Bob Dylan’ and ‘Garbage Soup’ to name a few.

     I exchanged a number of cassette tapes with Don while he was living in the Middle East in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.  We’d affect our DJ voices and ‘do a show’ for each other; I’d send him the latest hits from the US, he’d send me off-the-wall songs from his vast collection of eclectic music – we’d separate the music with talk about the news of the day as well as the personal issues going on in our lives – 90 minutes, commercial-free.  It kept us close at a time when the Internet was not available to the common man, or even two uncommon men like ourselves.  I think there were 39 tapes in all, plus the one I was holding, the one he sent toward the end of his stay there; the one in a strange language, a very strange language.  When I first listened to it I thought it was going to confirm that ‘Paul was dead’.  It was just gibberish, backwards or forward.  I fast-forwarded it to see if the gibberish stopped and he started talking in English, it didn’t and he didn’t.  B-side was the same, ninety minutes of gibberish, but it was commercial-free . . . I think.  I concluded that he had spent too much time wandering in the desert sun or had been captured by a herd of Bedouin camels and was forced to confess something.  I think it was he talking on the cassette, although it sounded a bit altered or perhaps addled.  No, I’m sure it was his voice – now that I think about it, it was unmistakable – I could hear the humor in his voice even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  But after 50 years of companionship with this eccentric genius, I was used to not understanding a good deal of what he was saying.

     He lived 13 years in Ta’if, which is in the Sarawat Mountains of Saudi Arabia, so he spoke some Arabic, but The Tape was not in any form of Arabic, it had a much more euphonious, even a melodic lilt to it.  He had lived in Sicily in the shadow of Mt. Etna at Sigonella Navel Air Station and spoke Italian.  He spent several years in Caracas, Venezuela  at the foot of the Maritime Andes, so he knew several dialects of Spanish and Portuguese.  The language on The Tape was none of these.  It didn’t sound like he was reading from something, it sounded very improvisational.      What the hell was he saying and why had he sent this to me?  In subsequent tapes and years later in face-to-face conversations with him when he came back to the states, I’d ask him about The Tape.

I said, “OK, are you going to tell me what was on that crazy tape?”

“Did you destroy it?”


“So do you mean what is on the tape?”

“Yes!  Were you drinking when you made it?”

“Don’t you have to be drinking to spend 13 years in Saudi Arabia?”

     I got so frustrated with his answering a question with a question that I stopped asking him about it altogether – I’d show him!  Who cares about this stupid, nonsensical tape anyway?  I forgot all about it.

The case

Cassette carrying case

     Every few years, particularly on a long, solitary drive, I’d put my cassette carrying case in my car and pop in tape after tape – it was always great to hear his voice.  I did just that when I drove up to his funeral service following his death in February 2012.  While driving up Interstate 5 and fumbling through the cassettes, I inevitably pulled out The Tape, laughed to myself, shook my head and put it back in the case.  But this time, perhaps because he was now gone, I stopped before I put in another tape and starting thinking about The Tape, what it could possible say, what it could mean and why did he send it to me.  So I ask him to help me solve the mysteries of The Tape.

He said, “Yes, but you do understand about my ‘condition’ don’t you?

“Your condition?”

“Yes, do you think I’m as sharp as I used to be now that I’ve been dead for several weeks?

     For the next 90 minutes I listened to The Tape in its entirety.  I asked him, “What language is that, I don’t understand any of it”

“Do you understand the song Nessun Dorma?” he said.


“Do you know it?  Do you like it?

“Yes, I think it’s maybe the most beautiful song ever as Pavarotti sings it.”

“But you don’t understand it?”

     I popped it in the car’s cassette player and spent the next 90 minutes listening to The Tape, more carefully this time, and I did hear it a bit differently; I heard more of the rhythm of the tape and . . . perhaps I picked up what might be some small clues as to where to begin my search for the translation and thus the meaning of The Tape.