Delightful Oddness

If you’ve been watching the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” you know that a certain piece of music plays as background in a couple of scenes in one of this season’s episodes. The song is “Running Up That Hill,” by Kate Bush. It has now reached #1 on the charts.

Here’s why this caught my eye. This is a 37 year old song, which has been resurrected and has caught on strongly with a brand new demographic, one which was not even born when the tune was first released in 1985. What a strange and good thing all on its own. Allegedly Ms. Bush is very pleased about the whole affair.

Here is a clip from the show, and after that, the original recording. Interesting.

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Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush

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From The New Yorker

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Went to see the movie “Elvis” at a matinee on Wednesday. There was a respectable crowd present, mostly of our generation. It was a good movie with a sad ending, just like Elvis’ life was. Tom Hanks played his manager, Col. Tom Parker, a man who the film points out was neither a colonel, a Tom, nor a Parker. In fact, you could easily imagine his face and voice as those of the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Austin Butler, who played Presley, looked remarkably like him and is a very good actor to boot, so we had no problem suspending disbelief for a couple of hours on a Wednesday afternoon. The musical performances could only hint at what Elvis could do with an audience in his day, but the hint was a strong one. The Parker character put it well – these screaming and swooning women were experiencing “feelings that they were not sure they should have.”

BTW, this was one of those movies where although you knew when you walked in the door of the theatre how it would end, midway through you realized that you were now seriously invested in rooting for a new finish to the story. That some miracle would happen and the good guys would win. It didn’t happen this time, either.

Mystery Train, by Elvis Presley

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June 30 was the 53rd anniversary of the birth of my son, Jon Davis Flom. Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency and died the day before he would have been 25 years old.

He was a good kid with a great heart, endowed with more than the usual amount of human kindness. When I think of him I find myself wondering what he would be like now, but of course he will always be twenty-four in those reveries.

In the photo above we are standing on the porch of one of the buildings on a reconstructed military post, Fort Wilkins, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Jonnie’s musical tastes were his own, as was only proper. More than a little into the punk music of the time, he could easily set my teeth on edge whenever he wanted by cranking up the volume on tunes like Blister In The Sun. Times change and now I treasure remembering those annoyances.

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Blister In The Sun, by Violent Femmes

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From The New Yorker

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Really, I have to limit myself to no more than 100 horrible news stories every day. If I read them all and believed everything I read, the most rational response would be to get into a warm tub and open a vein or two. But that seems such a damp ending to it all (and don’t you just hate dampness?) that I look every day for things to be upbeat about. Not Polyanna-style, just something less grim than politics and the economy.

To do that I find that I turn more and more to the “natural world.” Like on that hike up to Black Bear Pass last week. Spending time where the lives of plants and other animals cycle with minimal human interference. I go as an observer, not wanting to change anything at all, but simply to have my spirit nourished.

You know what is saddest about it all? That we humans have squandered the gifts that we could have brought to the table. We are in some ways such intelligent creatures, and yet we spend most of our days in competition with one another … neighbor against neighbor, tribe against tribe, country against country … . How fine it would be if we instead spent our time trying to fit in with the physical nature of the world instead of “defeating” it, in helping one another in our short and arduous time together on earth. As opposed to acting as if this zero-sum game we are playing is the only possible game in town.

BTW, to me there is no more vivid an example of where our mindsets start to go wrong than when I read about yet another person who conquers Mount Everest. Conquers? Good lord. I suspect that Everest is not even aware that we are in competition with it. But when a person with way too much disposable income comes back from a trip to the summit claiming victory over the mountain … poppycock! What they might say instead is “Hey, I know that my hike to the top was basically a meaningless exercise, and that I survived only because I was incredibly lucky in the weather, the skills of my guides, and having the body that I was given.”

I have been fond of saying that the world is a more lovely place than it needs to be. I’m not sure that I always get my point across, but what I mean is that when I stand as I did last week in a place where I am surrounded by wildflowers, and when I raise my eyes there is the magnificence of the mountains in front of me, I am overwhelmed by beauty. There might not be quite enough oxygen up there for the body that I now inhabit, but for the spirit … even a fraction of what I saw would have been enough to fill me up.

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Fire In The Hole

A bit of excitement in our normally quiet neighborhood. I was surprised Sunday morning around 6:30 by a vigorous pounding on the front door. It was one of our neighbors alerting us to the fact that five doors down there was a house afire.

The residents of the home and all of their pets were safe, but the house itself was a total loss, with significant heat damage to the dwellings on either side of it. Robin had to leave for church duties at 7:00, and since the water hose from the hydrant was blocking our only way out by car, off she went on her bicycle with the communion linens safely stowed in a pannier. Ninety minutes after I took this video, the fire had been extinguished and all of the emergency vehicles were gone.

It was almost surreal how quickly it all took place. All the way from quiet neighborhood to danger and emergency to quiet neighborhood once again, but now minus one house.

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Robin and I watched an unusual movie this past week, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande. It has received quite a lot of hype recently because of its treatment of the subject matter and the fact that the venerable actress Emma Thompson appears completely nude.

Plot: a 60+ year-old widow whose sex life until now had been uninspiring, to say the least, hires a sex worker to try to fill in some of the gaps that she is keenly aware of, including the fact that she has never had an orgasm. The film’s treatment of their relationship is the difference here. It is not exploitative, tawdry, or judgmental, but matter-of-fact and sensitive. When the nudity rolls around, it is right for the story. [After all, and I hate to give away personal secrets here, but don’t we all get naked sometimes, with some of those times being less pleasing and more daunting than others?]

So, is the movie therefore 97 minutes of uninterrupted lasciviousness, or to use the film’s word – concupiscence? Nope, not at all. To me, what it is about is acceptance. Acceptance of others, by others, of ourselves, and especially of the body we inhabit. Quite a lot of ground to cover in so short a time.

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From The New Yorker

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I have come across a puzzlement. After being force to listen to a codger relating a handful of his stories last evening, I found myself wondering … why is it that most other folks’ stories can be so tedious, while my own recitations are endlessly fascinating? Last night it was all that I could do to keep from spinning ’round on my heel and making for the car. The alternative, which was homicide, seemed a bit strong as a remedy for the occasion, although the ancient one certainly deserved it and no court in the land (except for the Supreme, perhaps) would convict me once they’d heard the details.

I’m sure you’ve noticed it. I enter a crowded room and all faces turn toward me. Immediately the crowd begins to shift as everyone in the room tries to come closer. If they can’t be in the first rank, at least they might get close enough to pick up the odd phrase or two.

This happens again and again, so much that I fear that I have begun to take it for granted. It seems to be partially genetic, in that my voice has been described as a cross between that of a nightingale and a California Condor. I don’t know why, but my oratory seems to be entrancing to others.

Then there was that great uncle who had practiced the art of embezzlement and was housed at Leavenworth Federal Prison for several years. As the story was told to me in my youth, he was kept away from the general population because he sang so well. To the prosecution. But he must have had a lovely voice to get that special treatment, don’t you think?

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Robin and I went for our first strenuous hike since her knee surgery last Fall. We chose the Black Bear Pass trail and found that we had picked the perfect time to do it. The wildflowers were crazy at 11,500 feet. Positively crazy. While these particular blossoms were not the larger, showier ones seen in some areas around the Western Slope, you can’t complain when you look down at your feet and there are thirty flowers per square foot to marvel at.

We didn’t actually make it the last quarter-mile to the pass for a couple of reasons. One is that I hadn’t paid enough attention to my aerobic conditioning this Spring and was not finding enough oxygen molecules at that altitude. The other was that up high we ran into a steady and quite chilly 25-30 mph wind in our faces. We had layered up enough that hypothermia was no worry, but it wasn’t pleasant any longer, we had nothing to prove to ourselves, and so we descended.

Good outing, all in all.

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In Memoriam, Of Me

I was sitting out front at the small table, waiting for Godot to come by and liven up a summer afternoon, when a very large yellowjacket settled on my mustache. I had not been bothering it as far as I knew, although it is true that near to me was an insect trap containing scores of similar black and yellow corpses. Perhaps some of them were friends or relatives of this particular beast, who knows?

I might have asked several questions of my visitor but I didn’t want to move my lip and perhaps enrage it. Our local yellowjackets are easily disturbed little buzzers, and sometimes will sting you just because you’re there.

But in perhaps less than ten seconds my life – past, present, and future, flashed before my eyes. I thought of how much it would hurt to be stung in that sensitive location, and how grotesque I was going to look with an upper lip the size of a dinner plate. I thought of the little children who would be frightened by my appearance, and of the resultant traumas to their miniature psyches.

I thought of how it is so much worse to be bitten by a poisonous serpent on the face, because it is such a short trip to the brain in those cases, and I wondered if something similar would be operative with regard to wasp venom. That the poison would go right to my gray matter and either scramble it or worse.

I thought of the mourners lined up for blocks to pay their respects and walking past a closed casket (my remains being too horrible to look at ). I could hear the stirring eulogies and see the copious tears flowing behind the long black veils. It was all an impressive sight, and too, too, spiritually uplifting. Without meaning to do it, my lips began to move as I silently mouthed the words to Knocking On Heaven’s Door.

And then the wasp flew off.

Dang.

I was getting a pretty good send-off there. Almost hated to see it end.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door, by Bob Dylan

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When I introduce vignettes taken from my childhood or adolescence, it is only that at this long remove that I find some of them touching. The person I describe was intensely concerned about appearance, status, and trying to avoid at all costs the dreaded not looking cool. Why I find them touching is that the moments of cool in my life turned out to be few and sadly brief. But that young man didn’t know it, along with a raft of other stuff it would have been helpful to have a clue about. I give the kid credit for doing what he could with what he had to work with.

You’d do the same for your inner adolescent, n’est-ce pas?

Not all of my memories are crystal clear, but one of them is of a perfect summer night in 1956. Our community was putting on an open-air dance, with a street barricaded off, some hot dog and beverage booths along the curbs, and recorded music playing loud and proud. It was maybe around eight o’clock, hot and humid, and I was walking down the street in jeans and a red-and-white striped plissé shirt … no, wait, I was swaggering down the street in that same shirt with no particular place to go or be but “Don’t Be Cruel” was blasting from a rudimentary but lusty music system and there was no way in the world that I could have felt more copacetic.

As I am recalling the evening, I am cleaning it up just slightly in honor of our protagonist. The sweat that made that shirt stick to the torso, the ugly mass of Double-Bubble that had to be scraped from the bottom of his shoe, the cowlick that even Wildroot Cream Oil couldn’t tame. I am altering it because I want the kid to have an even better night, this time around.

Don’t Be Cruel, by Elvis Presley

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Sign found on restroom door yesterday in a local restaurant. Realizing that I could neither play the flute nor fly I decided not to enter, but just be uncomfortable.

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Some cool birds seen on our walk this past Thursday included a black-throated hummingbird and a bobolink. Looking for pics I stumbled across a four-minute documentary film devoted to the calls of the bobolink. Say what you will about the state of the world, somewhere there is a person who took the time to put this together. Created something lovely just for you and I to enjoy and learn from. Too often I allow myself to be sidetracked by the ugly and in doing so I miss the beautiful.

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We are angry, even though we clearly saw it coming. That a 2/3 majority of the Supreme Court regards a woman as little more than an incubator for society to use as it wishes. That she has no say about what happens within her own body. That the right to privacy we’ve been told we had for fifty years … well … fageddaboudit.

What cruelty these six are knowingly meting out, especially for women who are unable to leave the backward states where pregnancy terminations will soon be all but illegal in every way. Let’s remember their names and write them in the Book of Ignominy: Roberts, Gorsuch, Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Thomas.

A court majority that will strip away these protections so easily from one group could turn its attentions to you or I in a heartbeat. It is a rogue court and not to be trusted with our freedoms. And to whom do we appeal when we have a court that is now discarding precedents at will?

Shame on the lot of them. The NYTimes editorial on June 25 says so much better than I can the harm that has been done.

Here is a graphic map of the states and their present approaches to abortion access. You can see that Colorado is an “island,” and it is expected that there will be many pregnant women who choose to make the trip to our state in the days to come. We are sorry for those who must make this journey because their state of residence has stripped them of their reproductive freedom of choice, but Colorado’s doors are open and all are welcome.

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The header photograph is not one of mine, but it is so striking that I borrowed it for today. What has happened this week in the courts is that a storm has been kicked off, and at this point we don’t know where the harms will strike or when.

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The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

H.L. Mencken

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

H.L. Mencken

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On The Road To Find Out

I lived and worked for 6 years in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, which is a beautiful part of the United States. That is, if you like fragrant forests, unpolluted streams, and 150 miles of often spectacular Lake Superior shoreline. When I moved there to the town of Hancock, there were 9 physicians working at the local hospital. Well, actually only 8, because one general practitioner had just died as a direct result of his alcoholism and multiple drug addictions. He had finally been removed from the medical staff a short time before his death after he passed out while performing an appendectomy and fell face forward into the operative site. The preceding year another alcoholic G.P. had died when he sailed from an elevated bench seat in his sauna at home and broke his crown on the unyielding floor. Of the remaining eight, three had active substance abuse problems at the time of my arrival.

For some reason, the physician recruitment committee had never mentioned any of the details in the preceding paragraph, and I was left to find that out on my own. As yet I hadn’t developed my own problems with demon rum, and so my basic Protestant indignation and intolerance flowered and I became the crusader-in-residence trying to get the impaired physicians either into rehab or removed from the medical staff. I was supported in this by only one of the other doctors, an internist who had come to town at the same time that I did. No matter, off I went like Jon of Arc to do battle with the forces of evil and inebriation. The only things missing were the horse and suit of armor.

The results after nearly six years of gathering evidence, notifying state agencies, and often tumultuous medical staff meetings were that I achieved exactly nothing. When I left Hancock, the drunks were still practicing and the addict still had those odd-looking pupils. But it was a learning experience for me. For one thing, initially I had thought that surely all I had to do was to tell the sober part of the medical staff what the offender had done, and they would immediately see the necessity for action. That turned out to be nearly 100% wishful thinking.

So when I was thinking of moving my family to South Dakota, one of the things I did was to check out as diplomatically as possible how many addicts there were in the medical community. I got the right answers back, and those answers were proven accurate over the years to come. Later on, when I found that my own use of alcohol had become unhealthy, I received complete support from my colleagues in attending rehab classes while continuing to work.

So if I could go way, way back in my life and be given a list of experiences to choose from for the years ahead, I would absolutely not check the “I’d like to have an addiction” box. But, on the other hand, each of the doors that I would walk through on my way to sobriety took me to good places that I might not otherwise have gone. To knowledge that I might not have otherwise acquired.

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On the Road to Find Out, by Cat Stevens

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From The New Yorker (to Bill H.)

Our home has three bedrooms, two of which are now called our “offices.” Each of these rooms is the province and under the direction of its occupant, although there are times when the boundaries become unclear. An example of this occurred on Friday afternoon, when I found that the vacuum cleaner had been placed in the doorway of my office.

At first I walked around it repeatedly, thinking that Robin had left it there only briefly on its way to the usual parking spot for this appliance. But two hours later it was still there. I walked around it again and was sitting at my table when Robin appeared at the door.

R: I left the vacuum cleaner there for you.

J: Thanks but I don’t have any need for it. You can take it away now.

R: I thought that you might want it because it was looking a little … seedy … in here.

J: Really, to me it was finally acquiring that lived-in look that I have been seeking.

R: Does that require that we not disturb those clumps of cat hair all over the room?

J: Now that you mention …

R: And there is the matter of those bits of straw under your desk, enough for a condor to use as nesting material

J: Hold on there, I like those agricultural touches.

R: Well, of course it’s up to you, it’s your room after all, but …

J: There is such a thing as being too fastidious, you know

R: … did you notice the dust layer on your bookcase? Do you even remember what color that bookcase is? And that shirt tossed in the corner weeks ago, are we now to conclude that it is furniture rather than clothing?

J: Urk. (Sound of vacuum running)

In just these ways a fragile but surprisingly durable peace is maintained.

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From The New Yorker

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Quote du Jour

Some of our younger readers may not remember that Giuliani was Time’s Person of the Year in 2001 for his leadership after the attacks of Sept. 11. His fall from grace has been like a bungee jump minus the bungee.

Mike Pence Was of Two Minds: Bret Stephens, NY Times Op-Ed, June 21

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I alluded earlier in this post to a strong Puritanical streak in my makeup. I wish that I could say that I have swept it out of all the corners of that shrinking gray pudding I was given to think with, but I haven’t. When it is in control I rival good old John Winthrop from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he is considered by historians to have been a downright whiz at being a provincial pain in the posterior.

In its defense, my personal Winthrop hasn’t had an easy time of it, what with my forays into misbehaviors which in 1640 might have got me a day in the stocks, if not at the stake. But I digress.

Where my streak reveals itself is in this very frequent dichotomy that arises: to every question there is a right and a wrong answer. Through some cosmic plan which I thoroughly applaud, the right answer and my own are always the same.

I never joined the debate team because why would I? What a waste of time that would be, facing some earnest loser-to-be who was in trouble even before they opened their mouth and doomed to be soon drowned in a river of unassailable logic.

I have learned to keep my Winthrop under wraps most of the time, to avoid some of those Massachusetts Bay-style penalties which I suspect still linger in the breasts of magistrates across this land. (Why, can you imagine the fun that good ol’ Clarence Thomas would have in sentencing witches to some colorful remedy?)

Here are some phrases that I use instead of what I am actually thinking, which is usually in the nature of: Oh please, Lord, strike this sinner mute and take them to be with you sooner rather than later.

  • That’s very interesting.
  • You know, except for this one little item I basically agree with you entirely.
  • Mmmmmmmm. (accompanied by nodding)
  • I love the way you say intergalactic. I really do.

So beware if we talking and are moving toward differing points of view. Suddenly you look across the table and see something maniacal brewing in my eyes. I will also have drawn myself up to my full height, even as far as hovering an inch or so above the floor. Best at those times to think you hear your momma calling and take off.

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Ever have a moment or a day or a month when you wondered whether you were speaking a forgotten language? Whether anyone else out there felt the way that you do about whatever is on your mind at the time? I think that Jason Isbell must have had some of those days, or he couldn’t have written this wistful song.

Last Of My Kind, by Jason Isbell

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Roots

(The subtitle for this blogpost is: Sometimes I swear … what kind of basket do I have over my head that I can miss so many things as time goes by?)

It’s undoubtedly not kosher to start out with a big fat quote from what so many thoughtful and erudite people regard as such a trash source that you can’t even cite it as a reference in your college essay. But that’s me all over, ain’t it? I am indebted to Wikipedia enough that every time they ask me for a dollar I send one along to them. It’s doubtful that without this irregular resource to lean on that this blog could have survived. (Is that hand clapping and cheering that I hear in the background? Now that, my friends, is unseemly).

Americana (also known as American roots music)is an amalgam of American music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States, specifically those sounds that are emerged from the Southern United States such as folk, gospel, blues, country, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, bluegrass, and other external influences.Americana, as defined by the Americana Music Association (AMA), is “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

Americana as a radio format had its origins in 1984 on KCSN in Northridge, California. Mark Humphrey, a contributor to country/folk Frets magazine, hosted a weekly radio show called “Honky Tonk Amnesia” which played “country, folk, honky tonk, cajun, dawg, blues, and old-time music”, a combination that the country music station KCSN advertised as “Americana”. The format came into its own in the mid-1990s as a descriptive phrase used by radio promoters and music industry figures for traditionally-oriented songwriters and performers.

Wikipedia: Americana

There is a purpose in my using this quote in that even before I knew that there was such a genre or had heard its name spoken, it was the kind of music that I had joyfully been listening to forever. It was country music without the tedious references to pickup trucks, gettin’ blitzed, and don’t my girl look great in those cut-off jeans. It was a folk music playlist that included artists like Bob Dylan and Warren Zevon and Emmylou Harris and Pete Seeger and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Leonard Cohen. What they had in common was intelligence, respect for themselves and their material, humor, and sympathy for just how difficult being a relatively sane human being on the planet could be. And they were great storytellers.

A couple of days ago I put up a YouTube video here starring Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, who operate in that seemingly boundary-less area called Americana. They show pretty clearly how really fine artists will often outgrow their initial narrow classification (country) and what they do becomes something bigger than that.

Here’s one more video by Isbell and Shires. Is it country, rock and roll, or a psychedelic folk song? Or is it simply a story that might have been about you or I, one being told in an interesting manner and that has no need of such pigeonholing at all.

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I realized something about myself this past week. In the matter of feeding our two pets, I have become the caricature of a Jewish mother. I insist that they eat everything that I put out for them to show me that they are not dying of some as yet invisible malady.

Eat, eat, you’re nothing but skin and bones

There that’s the boy, one more bite of the salmon/tuna paté and we’re there.

No, we’re not going outside until we finish what’s in our bowl, are we?

Omigod, look at how much is left in that dish. Two more pawfuls and you can go out and play

It’s bad enough that over time I have become my own mother and father, now I am also taking on characteristics of someone else’s parent as well. There came a time along the course of my own development when I realized that I was not always going to be twelve years old and I might possibly turn into one of those decrepit and uninteresting creatures in front of me – an adult. From that point onward I tried to escape my destiny by doing the opposite of what I thought adults might do whenever possible.

It didn’t work. I have become my mother, my father, and a yenta that I never met.

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From The New Yorker

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Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie as you know who

I do not know if I want to live in a universe that contains myself and a Ken and Barbie movie, which I learned only this morning is coming our way. What must the aliens who visit us from time to time think about all this? Why would they bother to send observers to a planet filled with creatures who are capable of this sort of dreck? Wouldn’t they rather study one that featured intelligent life?

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From The New Yorker

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Jamelle Bouie wrote in the Times of New York on Friday about a group that was new to me. The gerontocracy. Of the Democratic Party. That they were seriously out of touch. I think that he’s on the right track here, it’s just that I hadn’t heard the term “gerontocracy” before. I sorta like the word. It’s much better than old fart for instance, the term that it replaces.

What’s missing from party leaders, an absence that is endlessly frustrating to younger liberals, is any sense of urgency and crisis — any sense that our system is on the brink. Despite mounting threats to the right to vote, the right to an abortion and the ability of the federal government to act proactively in the public interest, senior Democrats continue to act as if American politics is back to business as usual.

The Gerontocracy of the Democratic Party Doesn’t Understand That We’re at the Brink: New York Times, June 17, 2o22

Some older citizens get dotty. Some forget their way home. Some shouldn’t be carrying the water any longer. It has been the arrangement in wiser societies around the globe that senior citizens were prized for the long view of life that they had, and were turned to for counsel. Many of these older people had indeed become seasoned and wise, and sometimes this is exactly what is needed. But not all the time … not at all. Sometimes a bit of rashness is the appropriate remedy for an ill.

One of the quotes that Bouie includes in the piece is from Dianne Feinstein, a worthy lady who might better have quit the Senate a long time ago.

“Some things take longer than others, and you can only do what you can do at a given time,” she said in an interview with Rebecca Traister of New York magazine. “That does not mean you can’t do it at another time,” she continued, “and so one of the things you develop is a certain kind of memory for progress: when you can do something in terms of legislation and have a chance of getting it through, and when the odds are against it, meaning the votes and that kind of thing.”

The Institutionalist: New York Magazine, June 6, 2022

Feinstein’s words in the above quote would have been perfectly in sync with much that was written in the 1960s when black citizens in America were advised to take it slowly, not rush things, everything would be fine if we didn’t move too fast. This advice ignores the fact that for the person being mistreated the only proper time to eliminate injustice is now.

Here’s another quote (almost unbelievable), this time from President Biden.

Earlier this year at the National Prayer Breakfast, to give another example, President Biden praised Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, as a “man of your word” and a “man of honor.”

“Thank you for being my friend,” Biden said to a man who is almost singularly responsible for the destruction of the Senate as a functional lawmaking body and whose chief accomplishment in public life is the creation of a far-right Supreme Court majority that is now poised to roll American jurisprudence back to the 19th century.

The Gerontocracy of the Democratic Party Doesn’t Understand That We’re at the Brink: New York Times, June 17, 2o22

How in the world … ? Come ON, Joe.

Anyway, as a card-carrying gerontocrat, I am not advocating shoving everybody on the AARP mailing list over a cliff, and I certainly don’t want to be like the old Eskimo dude who is given a couple of dried fish and a cupful of blubber and waved goodbye as the village moves on without him. But having a governing body so age-skewed may not be healthy for our fine republic. My generation could serve more usefully as advisors, and less as warriors.

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Finishing up, today is Father’s Day, one of those Hallmark “holidays” that are exuberantly oversentimentalized but despite all my efforts are still being celebrated. However, I am a father, and I became one way before I realized what a responsibility it really was, or had the maturity to do a decent job of it. For my many failures I apologize to my children. For any successes … well … what can I say? I’m a hell of a guy.

Here are my submissions for Father’s Day songs this year.

Daddys Need To Grow Up Too, by the O’Kanes
Father and Son, by Cat Stevens

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Ask My Opinion … Please!

Influencers in social media are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views. Brands love social media influencers because they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote.

What is an influencer? : InfluencerMarketingHub.com

As I was reading yet another short piece about yet another 17 year-old person who had made a bazillion dollars as an “influencer” on social media, I was struck by a string of questions in this order:

  • Who IS this person?
  • Why would anyone take their advice?
  • Why are all of them seventeen?
  • Where are the influencers for other age groups?
  • Why in the world am I not getting in on this apparently limitless and lucrative market?

Yes, by damn, we senior citizens deserve our influencers as much as any group does. After all, who uses more products than we do? We need all the things that a teenager needs plus a whole raft of others just to sustain life.

You can see just a hint of this sort of marketing in every issue of the AARP magazine. All of the cover photos are of people who are or were celebrities and have managed to do little more than stay alive at least until the publication of the latest issue. There are no covers involving ordinary citizens at all. Inside these magazines will be accompanying articles about pressing issues like coping with the problems of being handsome and/or beautiful at age sixty, how to eke out a retirement on ten million dollars, and where can you find a good decorator for an eight-car garage?

But products and endorsements … missing entirely.

I could change all that. The only question, really, would be where to begin? First I would need to get on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, I suppose. Then I would need to acquire the equipment and skills necessary to put out a vlog. Next would be the room … teen influencers often broadcast from their bedrooms, giving the illusion of intimacy and privacy … I’m only doing this for you, you know. So Robin and I would have to take one of the rooms in our modest home and decorate it in a way that conveyed those feelings to the viewer.

I’m beginning to visualize the room … all of the posters on the wall would be of celebrities or literary figures who have perished. This would do two things at once – let the viewer know how cool our entertainment choices are and also to give them the encouragement of being able to think: “Hey, how bad can things be, at least I’m still here to watch this thing, while Humphrey Bogart isn’t.”

My mind is teeming with ideas tumbling over one another too quickly to be written down. I know exactly which sponsor I will target first. A product without which the entire cohort of senior citizens would not be here at all. Metamucil.

All I need now is 500,000 followers.

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[The following poem was featured in The Writer’s Almanac for June 12. I think I like it because it fits a recurring fantasy I have of just climbing onto a motorcycle with Robin behind me and taking off any time that we want to. Surprising everyone by going off the grid for a while while encountering fascinating and possibly dangerous characters along the way. Like a pair of well-seasoned Jack Kerouacs]

Bandito

by Eleanor Lerman

What gets you up in the morning?

For me it is the thought
that someday, I will be
as far away from here
as I can get

Watch me
rubbing out the lines behind me
I recommend it

I recommend 
fooling everyone into thinking
that you have settled down
and then heading for the hills

The dog will bare his teeth
if instructed and meet up
with you later. It’s good
you named him Bandito:
he’ll watch your back

This, by the way, this is not a fantasy
It is page 69 (ha ha!) of the manual
I read when we were planning 
the takeover

So it didn’t happen–so what?
This is better
Wait until I tell you
what’s on the next page

******

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This music video is really not apropos of anything else in today’s post. But I ran across it a couple of days ago and it absolutely nailed me. A beautiful song written by Warren Zevon and sung by two talented people I knew very little about until I read up on them just this morning. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires are husband and wife, with solo careers as well as times when they perform and record together. My oh my.

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This week we’ve had several 90 plus days, but it’s not all bad news. For sure, once the temperature climbs past 80 I begin to wilt like a lettuce leaf in a stewpot. That goes without saying. So I go out in the mornings, and then hide behind drawn drapes all afternoon, waiting for the evening cool-down. The one thing that makes a heat wave like this bearable is that the relative humidity has been in the single digits. Yes, dear hearts, yesterday the number was 6%. At that level, if a sweat gland manages to put forth a single tiny droplet the air sucks it up so fast you don’t even notice it. What you do notice as the hours pass is that this is how beef must feel in the process of becoming jerky.

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On our riverside walks this week we saw two beautiful small birds. They were:

A Western Tanager

A Bullock’s Oriole.

Neither of these is particularly rare, but Robin and I don’t often see them in the places we frequent, so sighting them was a treat for us.

We have come to appreciate another bird more and more each year, and this time it’s one we see nearly every day … the Raven. Not dainty at all, with plumage as black as black can be, a massive beak, and the ability to soar like raptors.

Ravens are not gifted in the song department, but do have a decent croak to offer. Experts tell us that they are very intelligent creatures. That may well be, and sometimes I suspect that most creatures are much smarter than we give them credit for, it’s only the incautious ones that give their secret away to humans.

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Wild Blue Yonder

At Eastertime, Robin hard-boiled a bunch of eggs for the grandkids to decorate. Then she hid them all over the backyard for those same kids to look for, along with candy, money, a spliff here and there, you know, things children like. Yesterday on a very warm afternoon, I found one of those boiled and painted eggs still hidden out there, the shell intact.

I did not crack it, nor drop it, nor do anything but carry it carefully to the trash. I have no personal knowledge of what happens to a forgotten boiled egg, but I feared the worst. I do know what the contents of a neglected un-boiled egg looks and smells like, and the memory of that episode is unpleasant enough to make me careful forever.

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Robin and I went to an honest-to-God movie theater Wednesday and saw Top Gun: Maverick. We enjoyed it. It has some of the flavor of the first one, with a story line that is halfway believable, and aerial photography nothing short of terrific. Rumor is, and I have no way of documenting this, that there is no CGI stuff in the sequences involving aircraft.

I will admit that I don’t look forward to a Tom Cruise performance as much as I did before the gazillion stories over the years about the role of the Church of Scientology in his personal story. Somehow a bit of that negative reportage got past my radar and implanted itself in my brain at vulnerable moments. But Tom did a creditable job here, playing one of those doomed cowboys of the world where the nature of the job is changing but the man refuses to do so.

My second confession is that I really go to these sorts of movies because of the airplanes. It’s an ongoing love affair that started when I was five years old and putting together little cardboard models that came in boxes of Kellogg’s Pep cereal during the WWII years. The infatuation continued as jet fighters replaced the propellor-driven ones, and has not abated much since then.

I built small plastic models from kits, larger versions that were powered by small motors, and in 1959 I enlisted in the Air Force with hopes of becoming a pilot. That didn’t work out as planned, and when the USAF told me that they weren’t going to give me (and more than half the men in my group) that opportunity, but would give me instead the option to choose between becoming a navigator or going back to being a civilian, I chose the latter. Please know that I have nothing against navigators, who I’m sure are all fine people and deserving of our respect and admiration, but I wanted to fly fighters. Period. End of story.

I left to return home with the first of what would eventually be two Honorable Discharge certificates from that branch of the military services. I would get the next one in 1971, when I finished my two-year stint as an Air Force pediatrician.

So when our town has its Tribute to Aircraft out at the local airport each year, and the various military branches send in a handful of planes and pilots, there is a tiny sense of wistfulness when I see the young men and women in their flight suits standing out on the tarmac by the plane they rode in on. I am still smitten. To me they have one of the coolest jobs on the planet, where the government gives them the best airplanes in the world to fly, and actually pays them to do it.

(I know, I know … those splendid aircraft and their dashing pilots are weapons systems capable of inflicting enormous damage, especially on things made of flesh and bone, like human beings. But it’s my fantasy and in my fantasy we never shoot anybody but just point the aircraft’s nose straight up and pour it on.)

***

Once upon a time, some of you readers will remember, television stations did not broadcast for 24 hours a day. Late in the evening they would sign off, and when that was done you had only static to look at until the next morning. Often the sign-off was a video featuring The Star Spangled Banner, but in the sixties some stations used this one, a dramatization of the poem High Flight. I thought you might like to see it one more time, even though the video quality leaves much to be desired.

**

Perhaps I was being a bit hard on myself after my discharge from the Air Force, but I would watch that video late at night and think:

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Robin has been having some dental work, and Wednesday afternoon I had driven her to the office and was sitting in the waiting room. When she was done with her appointment, our next stop was to be the movie theater. She was the last patient of the dentist’s day, and was a work-in. The clinic receptionist wanted to leave, so she turned the cardboard sign in the window to read Closed and said to me: “I’m leaving you in charge. If someone comes, just tell them we’re closed for the day.” And off she went, my loud protests at being suddenly placed in a position of responsibility without authority still echoing as she drove away.

So there I was alone in the waiting room, everyone else is busy back in the surgery, and in walks an elderly woman, who was ignoring the cardboard sign as not applying to her.

Jon: We’re closed, I say awkwardly, while watching the woman’s face register puzzlement: If that is so, her face said, what are you doing there? (Notice my adoption of the word “we”)

Stranger: I think I have an appointment at 3:00, she says.

Jon: My wife is in the back, she was a work-in.

Stranger: So you’re a “special?

Jon: Yes.

Stranger: I’ll wait … or maybe not … I’ll give them a call.

Jon: Sounds good.

Stranger: I was sure … but then I know the office always closes early on Wednesday …

Jon: We’re “special.

Stranger: That must be it. My memory …

Jon: I have the same problem.

Out the door she goes. We are relieved.

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[In his Writer’s Almanac for June 10th, Garrison Keillor passed along this poem. It describes the feeling Robin and I had about the town on our recent visit to New Mexico.

PASSING THROUGH ALBUQUERQUE

by John Balaban

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch
gurgling past backyards near the highway,
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods.

A Spanish girl in a white party dress
strolls the levee by the muddy water
where her small sister plunks in stones.

Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot.
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer.

Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm,
rocking the immense trees and whipping up
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool.

In the moment when the locusts pause and the girl
presses her up-fluttering dress to her bony knees
you can hear a banjo, guitar, and fiddle

playing “The Mississippi Sawyer” inside a shack.
Moments like that, you can love this country.

***

Mississippi Sawyer, by Tom Adams

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Robin and I received our ballots in the mail for the upcoming Republican primary. Most of Colorado’s voting is done by mail, and is done very well. We chose to change our registration from Democrat to Independent to be able to vote in the Republican primary for the opponent of Lauren Boebert, a representative to Congress. Changing registration is simple to do and undo, using online resources available to everyone. In Colorado unaffiliated voters can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but not both. In the general election, you can vote for whoever you choose, regardless of party affiliation.

Boebert should be an embarrassment to the Republican Party for her ignorance, showboating, and dismally obvious unfitness for the job. But, as I have mentioned ad nauseam, the modern incarnation of that party is a malignant zombie version of what it once was. So we have joined a nationwide mini-trend (not sure that is the best word here, but whatever) of voters who are doing what they can to help defeat extremist candidates.

I had been an Independent for years and years before moving to Colorado, having given up on the Democrats in the 80s as a party whose heart was in the right place but whose members couldn’t pull in a coordinated direction if they had to. I have some of the same feelings today that I did back then. If only we could all pull together and do what I tell us.

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No Mas!

Just in case the daily headlines are getting you down, especially you younger readers, I have a modest history lesson for you. Not to try to convince you that your assessment of the wretched state of world affairs isn’t accurate, but only to point out that the worst case scenarios you might be imagining do not necessarily have to come true. There have actually been moments when we, the citizenry, the unwashed, have stood up and said in a ringing and clear voice – NO MAS!

There was a time … yesterday, I think … when a 19 year old youth had a very good chance of getting offered an all-expense paid vacation in sunny Viet Nam. Some of those 19 year-olds were reluctant to accept that Asian trip, however, and they joined up with a large group of colorfully dressed VW microbus drivers who were touring the country looking for, I don’t know, whatever could be found in the bowl of a hash pipe.

Around that time we had a government consisting basically of a bunch of crooks named Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell. These men happened to be all from the Elephant Party, which the sharper among you will recognize is still largely up to no good. They were very adept at telling scary stories to our citizenry about hippies, commies, socialisties, and any drug that they themselves were not using at the time. As a matter of fact, they were so mad at drugs that they started a War on them which was very successful in putting tens of thousands of Americans in jail, but not very good at getting us to Just Say No.

After years and years of peace marches and demonstrations by patriots, democrats, socialists, college students, Army veterans, political parties, Martin Luther King, celebrities of all sorts, and about a bazillion people from the back of nowhere … our leaders simply continued to do their nails and hair and wonder if their suits were all pressed, and to ship out more draftees. But suddenly there appeared a new group of folks out there in the streets, and this time the government ran for cover, hiding in outhouses and corncribs all over Maryland and Virginia. That new element which finally brought everything to a halt was moms.

Moms from New York, Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota, even Kansas, for God’s sake. Middle aged women, some of them parents of dead soldiers, some with draft-aged sons, some who were just plain fed up with the diet of lies we had been given to chew on for years. They took to the streets and Washington surrendered. The war was over.

What’s my point? That the world has rarely been a settled and peaceful place to live in, that disaster has often been just a button’s press away, and that it is possible that we will muddle through our latest challenges. As a species we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot over and over again through one era after another. So much so that it’s a wonder we can walk at all.

Maybe in the future what we should be doing instead is holding street dances for a little R & R after a long day’s marching to visit politician’s homes. There’s a new crop of moms out there, and they’re rolling up their sleeves.

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know if a man as white as I am is allowed to have a homeboy, but if I did it might be the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes. Gotta love the guy! He put this book together that has endured for millennia, and yet we still haven’t figured out who he was or when he wrote it. And he is one of the most quotable of men, that is for certain. Here are a handful of his happy thoughts.

  • For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
  • I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
  • However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many.
  • Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

In another part of the book he describes how he tried a bit of everything along his way. Wine, women, palaces, wealth, the acquisition of knowledge … but none of it lasted or was worth a Hebrew hoot. Thus thought my man Ecclesiastes.

At first glance he seems a bit of a downer, I admit, but I’ll bet that if we knew the man he probably was a prince of a guy.

But he could write a lyric. Oh, yes he could. He put down the words (in whatever century he lived in) and they lay there on the desk until Pete Seeger noticed them and came up with a melody to show them off. But Pete’s version still didn’t grab the public by the ear in large numbers, and the song never made the charts until The Byrds got hold of it and the rest is history.

Ecclesiastes 3 (excerpt)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to tear, and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace.

Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds

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When I entered military service as a medical officer, I first had to spend several weeks being oriented to military life at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls TX. It was late July and the temperatures were over 100 every day and the humidity was so high that paint would not dry. I have never yearned to go back to Wichita Falls to relive old memories. Not once.

Our large class of several hundred inductees were all professionals of one sort or another: physicians, nurses, dentists, lab and surgery techs, etc. The Air Force had wisely decided that we were incapable of close order drill and that giving us rifles to practice with was a dangerous thing to do. However, the USAF did insist that we all go camping together. So we got into our fatigues which were heavy cotton canvas of a dark green color which guaranteed that no heat energy that came our way would escape. Long pants and long sleeved shirts made our misery complete. Oh, and pith helmets … don’t forget the pith helmets.

There we were, out there in the boonies for three hot and sultry days and nights. The training sessions were boring, at least partly because we couldn’t see the demonstrations due to the sweat running into our eyes. On the last night a group of the male campers decided to relieve their boredom and reveal their mental ages to anyone who cared to look by carrying out a panty raid at the women’s tent. Yes, dear hearts, your country was being defended at least partially by a bunch of frat boys who were masquerading as adults. If the #MeToo movement had been around I would have written those jackasses up without blinking an eye. The rest of the country had been done with the juvenile fad that these raids represented by 1961, but in 1969 A.D. our heroes still had their heads stuck up somewhere where they hadn’t heard the news.

Thinking back, it was just such a strange fad. Sort of like a series of sorties by the forces of Attila the Tepid. Instead of carrying the women off into captivity, these modern marauders were content with stealing their underwear.

But it was still an act rooted in hostility. Very much loaded with sexual symbolism, and never the harmless activity that it was painted back then – “Oh them college boys … ain’t they a caution?” Gaaack, I say, gaaack.

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From The New Yorker

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A couple of days ago I was tipped back in a chair out in the summer sun, listening to music streaming magically from the heavens. At some point in my life I decided that there were certain things I preferred remain a mystery to me, and I refused to learn more about them. Radio was one of these and so it is still a miracle, pure and simple.

A beautiful love song by Emmylou Harris was playing, one I had heard many times before, but this time I began thinking about it and was curious as to where those cryptic words had come from. So I looked them up and found this story.

The title of the song is May This Be Love, and it was originally written and performed by none other than Jimi Hendrix in 1967, on the album Are You Experienced?

Emmylou included her version of the song on a 1995 album, Wrecking Ball, which was produced by Daniel Lanois and which is an excellent example of his trademark soundscape. The lyrics this time were quite different from the original, although the feeling behind them remained the same.

In 2014 Harris released an acoustic version of the song, and included it on the deluxe version of “Wrecking Ball.”

All of this might be more than you wanted to know about a single tune. But come on … tracking it from Jimi Hendrix to Emmylou Harris … that’s a musical trip with way cool on both ends.

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Surprise!

Every once in a great while, someone truly surprises you and punches big holes in your mental image of them. My Dad did this for me in 1958. I thought I had the old man pegged pretty well, and then he went and messed it all up.

In several previous posts I have alluded to a … let’s say … a checkered college career. I graduated from high school at 16, but without the social skillset usually acquired by a young man at that point in his life. Off to college I went, in the pre-veterinary medicine curriculum at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. I began to do poorly almost immediately in all of my agriculture classes, while getting way more respectable grades in math, English, the sciences, etc. I dropped out in the middle of Spring Quarter, directionless and embarrassed.

The next year was almost a carbon copy of the first one. Uneven grades, wasting time, going nowhere slowly. And then in the Spring I received notice that the Dean of the College of Agriculture wanted to see me. I was filled with dread at having to face him, because while I could make up stories to tell my parents about why I was doing this or that, this was a man who would have my records in front of him, making my standard smoke screens and subterfuges useless. I thought of emigrating to Patagonia to avoid the conference, but couldn’t figure out the logistics of such a trip fast enough, so on a Wednesday afternoon I dutifully showed up at the Dean’s office.

Instead of caning me, which was what I richly deserved, he told me something that I could scarcely believe. That my father had visited with him, in person, in this very office, only a few days before. He had come because he was worried about me, and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help change the downward career arc I seemed locked into.

I couldn’t believe it. My dad? That reticent man of few words, with only a high school education, coming to talk to THE DEAN. I didn’t have the phrase WTF in my armamentarium back then, but if I had I am pretty sure I would have employed it. If you had told me that Jesus Christ was right behind me in the waiting room and wanted to clarify a few details with the Dean about the Second Coming, I could not have been more astonished.

The Dean next told me that what I needed to do was “re-evaluate my educational objectives”- his exact words. Now if this story had gone the way any proper storyteller might have narrated it, I would have turned my academic life around and been a model student from then on. But no, I was a hardhead and had to fail more courses in two more quarters before I changed my track to pre-med. There were no more educational dramas from then on.

Even at this distant remove, I remember my problems reconciling the private man I thought my dad to be with his trip to the University. At seventeen I had arrogantly believed that there was nothing more that my parents could teach me.

Wrong, again.

[Some of you might have noticed that although I was obviously not cut out to be a veterinarian, I went on to enjoy a long career as a pediatrician. You might have also thought … isn’t that almost the same thing?]

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From The New Yorker

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There are some phrases in the areas of mental health and recovery that I have grown to dislike. A lot. One of them is the piece of AA flapdoodle that says we have “character defects”that we must be rid of. Although I have used these words in the distant past, they are no longer part of my recovery vocabulary. I much prefer a Buddhist attitude, which basically runs like this: everything that happened to us and all of our actions in our entire lives have brought us to where we are. Made us who we are.

Humans have beautiful parts that carry with them the scent of flowers. They also have muddy, gooshy parts that smell more like … well … manure. We all contain both kinds , and even if we’ve been taught to admire the first group more than the second, manure and mud are where those lovely flowers come from.

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Whenever I have been really screwed up I have turned to advisors that I knew had themselves been screwed up at some time in their life. Why would I go to some person who had yet to be really tried by circumstance? Whose knowledge was learned, rather than experienced? Whose practice was carried on basically by rote because they hadn’t lived enough to allow them to move on to the art that therapy can be.

Nossir, I wanted to talk to people who had been where I was, and who had not only survived but had become strong enough to reach out to others. If someone had been to the Gates of Hell and made it back they had something to teach me, if no more than to draw me a crude map on the back of an envelope as to where those gates might be.

Yessir, I looked for the seasoned sinner who, even if they didn’t know all the answers, knew at least one. Because at those moments when you have zero answers, one looks pretty good.

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From The New Yorker

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I had a letter to the editor accepted! Instead of immediately consigning it to the trash folder, our local paper actually used real ink and real paper to print it … along with the rest of the news as well, of course.

Here’s the link: https://www.montrosepress.com/eedition/page-a06/page_7aa110d5-4b49-5bb6-929e-ebfce8c5d4db.html

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Us

from Idiot Poems, by John Snowdon

Our personalities are like sweaters
Which are never finished

For as we add a row or two
Of length, to fit where we are now
A cuff or collar may unravel just a bit
And need repair

I think that illness is a time
When rows are dropped too fast to be replaced
The wind blows cold through holes 
That others can appreciate.

We stop, pull back
Repair enough to make the garment wearable
Then go on as before

All knitting
And unraveling
Together

Graceland, by Paul Simon

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Poco and I were relaxing out on the backyard deck. The refinishing and staining project was done, and even thought one would never confuse the work with that of a professional, it didn’t look too bad, really. The sun was at midday and it was suitably warm and comfortable and we were just sitting there blowing smoke, a favorite pastime of sentient beings of our vintage.

J: How’s it goin’?

P: Okay, I guess. Sun feels good on the fur, doesn’t it?

J: Take your word for it

P: Y’know, being fifteen wouldn’t be too bad, if it weren’t for the aches and pains

J: You’ve got aches?

P: Why do you think I’ve stopped jumping over the fence? Sheesh! Get out of yourself once in a while.

J: I’m listening

P: It’s the hips. Running and jumping just ain’t in the cards these days

J: Sorry about that. I mean, I have noticed …

P: Fageddaboudit.

J: I’m about 60:40 cranky myself, most days

P: Ahhh well, it goes with the territory. But hey … that sun does feel good …

******

There is a routine that has evolved at bedtime here at BaseCamp. Both cats will be outdoors lounging somewhere enjoying every last bit of the summer evening. Robin and I will go to bed, open our books and get back into our respective nighttime reading.

Once we have extinguished the lights everywhere else in the house, about five minutes pass before Poco comes indoors, jumps up on our bed, and curls up down at my feet, draped across my lower legs.

He sleeps there while we read, but when we put our books away and turn out our lamps he will wait for about another five minutes before he quietly gets up, drops to the floor, and goes back outdoors.

I believe the old fellow is tucking us in.

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Good Rockin’ Tonight

The Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial is over. Having not watched a moment of the trial nor read much of what it was all about in the first place, all I can say that it seems to have been a first-rate example of the he said/she said genre. Is that about it, those of you who might know more?

What comes across is that when two spoiled adults can tie up a courtroom for six weeks when other cases must have been delayed, something in our legal system stinks to high heaven (those last four words are my mother’s phrase). This was a circus consisting of wealthy monkeys being represented by hireling monkeys and taking up time that those same courts might have been spending on more worthy endeavors.

Six weeks. What an absolute shambles our courts can be.

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The old saw that says all one has to do to make it rain is to wash one’s car was once again proven true this weekend. Robin is away, the weather promised was sunny (and of course, dry) so I began to refinish the backyard deck. I got four hours in before the first drops fell, and then came the thunder and the wind and an inch of rainfall.

It wouldn’t have been too remarkable except that we haven’t had that kind of rain for weeks, if not months. Ah well, what’s a delay in my little project? It’s all in a good cause, for certain. I don’t know if you are following the news about the big reservoirs out here in the West, but what I find intriguing is what things are being revealed by the shrinking water levels. The dead bodies, the sunken boats, the archaeologic ruins that had been covered by the water now breathing air once again. It’s too bad that Edward Abbey wasn’t still around to observe all of this. As a man who decried building the dams in the first place he might been elated, while hoping that the body in that barrel was a dam builder.

We’re in year 22 of a mega-drought here in the American west, and I do feel for the working people whose livelihoods are being impacted as the recreational opportunities afforded by those at Lake Powell and Lake Mead are becoming reduced. It’s the longest drought in 1200 years, the experts tell us. A statistic that makes the region #1 in a category no one wants to be in. The residents of places like Page AZ, located by the dam that creates Lake Powell, must be looking ahead and wondering … is this the time to pull up stakes?

As Bruce Springsteen said when he was singing about the troubled economy of New Jersey in the sixties, “Those jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back.” This may also be true for the people whose economic lives depend on the dams on the Colorado River.

My Hometown, by Bruce Springsteen

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A new Elvis Presley biopic is coming to town in June, one that shows promise, at least if the trailer represents the film. It stars someone unknown to me, and I think that’s a very good way to tell the story.

I’ve found that trying to explain to a younger person why I still have such affection for Elvis’ early music after more than sixty years is impossible. Back then it was like suddenly being given oxygen to breathe after (in my case) sixteen years of inhaling pure carbon dioxide. He was an explosion, his music like nothing a little white boy from Minnesota had ever heard.

And to make things even better, just mentioning his name in the presence of adults drove them crazy and sent them off into rants against rock and roll, “pelvic gyrations,” and teenaged sin of all types.

We of tender years heard their entreaties but thought that if Elvis was holding the door open to Hell he was also providing the most amazing soundtrack imaginable for our journey to that somber land.

I loved the whole chaotic mess of it. I waited for each new piece of music to be released, saving my money for those precious 45 rpm records to play on my low-fi (it would be many years before I could afford a hi-fi). I loved the panic in the eyes of the ministers, priests, and chiefs of police when Elvis came to Minneapolis and St. Paul for concerts in 1956. One after another these dignitaries appeared on local television, eyes dilated wide in horror as they described how we teenagers would be debauched by attendance at his concerts, and what sort of breakdown in society was surely to follow.

Speaking for myself, I could hardly wait to be debauched, and if Elvis was to be the instrument, I thought, let’s get on with it.

Something went out of his music when he went into the Army in 1958, and for the remainder of his professional life I had much less interest in what he did. From time to time I would see photos of him as an ill-appearing man encased in rhinestones and I felt only sorrow. This former dangerous person, this one-time threat to society, had come very low indeed.

But from 1956 to 1958, Elvis Presley was the pole star in my teenaged musical world. I cannot wait for the movie.

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Good Rockin’ Tonight
Heartbreak Hotel
I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine
Mystery Train
Blue Moon
I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone
How’s the World Treating You?

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These days my music system consists of an iPhone and a small portable Bose bluetooth speaker. I love it. At one time in the past I had assembled a rather elaborate stereo system consisting of Bose 901 speakers, a receiver that put out so many watts per channel that it produced brownouts in Omaha NE, and a Technics turntable with a tone arm that floated like a moth above my carefully cleaned and curated vinyl LPs. I loved that, too.

Oddly, I think that I prefer the more modest system today. Maybe that’s because it reminds me more of the record players that I used back in those days when I was truly bonding with music. And you can put the speaker on the roof of your car when you are washing it on a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Try that with any surround system you might name.

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The Smack of Snacks

I have always enjoyed munching on pretzels, at least the kind in the small bags that you buy in gas stations. Brittle, a little salt here and there, you know, like the brand Rold Gold. I thought of them as relatively harmless nutritionally, and except for the saline granules that piled up on your clothing, acceptable in society. All of that came crashing down when a North Dakotan named Dot came up with her version of a gas station pretzel. ‘Twas then that I realized that Rold Gold had been the gateway snack to my newest addiction.

Suddenly I was presented with a pretzel that overloaded my body with salt, that sold at twice the price of the normal variety, and that I couldn’t stop eating. It was the smack of the pretzel world. I know exactly when I became addicted. It was in the summer of 2019, in a dusty little town named Hanksville Utah, when I stopped at a convenience store to use their bathroom. The “pusher” was a kindly middle-aged lady who kept pictures of her grandchildren near the cash register.

I guess the only clue that I might have had to the true nature of the contents of the package I was buying was the rapid shifting of her eyes back and forth as she took my money. At the time I took it for an unfortunate neurologic condition, but looking back she was undoubtedly watching for signs of the local gendarmerie.

So here I am three years later taking blood pressure meds to offset the effects of these dreadful things on my body, tossing the pills in with my left hand while my right hand is dipping in the bag for more. Worse, they now come in three flavors, and last year Hershey’s bought Dot out so they will go national (and therefore unavoidable) before you know it.

All I can hope for now is that my friends will remember me as I was before the fateful day I opened my first bag, and not the drooling degenerate that I have become.

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From The New Yorker

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As some of you know, I am an observer of highway signs. I think it goes back to childhood when I was smitten by those Burma-Shave signs and their little rhymes. But as I grew older what I most appreciated were the inane ones. Those not meant to be silly, but were.

For instance, at the marina on Lewis and Clark Lake near Yankton SD, there was a breakwater which created a harbor for the boats at anchor. You could drive your car out along the breakwater until near its end you came to a sign that read “Lake Ahead.” To be able to read the sign you had to drive a couple of hundred yards along a narrow berm with water on both sides. I always wondered who could do that without being aware that there was a lake somewhere, but decided that perhaps this sign was necessary in this heavily Republican state with its necessarily high nitwit to normal ratio.

At any rate, on our recent trip to New Mexico, we encountered signs on several occasions as we neared the crest of a hill that read: “Hill Obscures View of Road.” Once again, I found myself wondering … who could be old enough to drive a car who didn’t know that you couldn’t see over a hill until you reached the top? And if you were actually that dim, would a sign like this make up for your shortcomings?

I will file these in the Duh! category. Along with the fine print on the tube of glue in front of me that says Do Not Eat.

Detour, by Spade Cooley

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It has occurred to me that liberals are having a bad time of it in recent years. I think that they would benefit from having more places to get together and decompress, to allow the wounds of daily life to heal in sympathetic company. So, why aren’t there campgrounds that unashamedly cater only to them, and are advertised as such?

That way, you could walk around the campground loop and know that everyone you saw felt just as you did about women’s health care, rainforests, and recycling. You could be confident that none of the other campers were QAnonists or Cluckists or any other variety of fascists, and that no one was packing anything more sinister than a water bottle.

Every tree in the area could be clearly labeled “Hug Me,” with instructions posted nearby as to how to do that without damaging the bark. The bathrooms could drop the obsolete designations of “Men” and “Women” and be labeled simply – “Whomever.” There would be a Kumbaya Amphitheater where campfire talks on clean water and child care were the order of every evening.

Now in case you are thinking … wait a minute … what’s with this guy? Is he poking fun at liberals? Guilty as charged. But surely you know that at the present time only liberals are able do that. The modern version of political conservatives seems to have no sense of humor at all, as if it has been completely bred away. What a cheerless lot of bozos they are, and about as much fun to be around as a case of athlete’s foot.

But to get back to the original premise, if on some future day I can get the thing going, you will all be welcome to pull your tent or RV into Camp Namaste, where the divinity in each of us recognizes the divinity in the other.

But no loud chanting after 10:00 P.M.

Kumbaya, by Rhythm Child

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Robin flew off to Sioux Falls on Friday, attending her sister’s sixtieth birthday celebration and very much looking forward to hanging with many of her South Dakota friends. She will be there for about a week, and I have a honey-do list as long as my arm to attend to here at home. A list, however, that I made up for myself.

One of my major problems is that I have a personality that would be perfectly matched to the lifestyle of the idle rich, but without the wealth that makes that possible. I can easily picture myself lolling about a pool tanning my torpid torso and languidly reaching for another pretzel … all the while sipping on an iced tea that was being constantly refreshed by a servant who lacked proper documentation.

So my list is a grudging acceptance of the status quo, and my fervent hope is that by the time Robin returns I will have accomplished at least one of the items on it. But you know how it is in this life … there are no guarantees.

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Special Edition

If you can get past the frequent f-bombs, there is much truth in what this man has to say.

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The outrages continue. The pro-gun forces come out with the same posturing after every one of them. First they hide behind the second amendment, and then they begin to shout out these slogans, which are little more than lies they tell themselves.

  1. What we need to do is get better mental health resources so that these lunatics can be found before they do their damage. When, in the entire history of the United States, have there been adequate mental health resources? The answer is – never. And as far as the definition of what mental incapacity would disqualify someone from gun ownership, I would suggest that if you think you absolutely need a gun to be a proper citizen you have already demonstrated enough paranoia that perhaps we should start with worrying about you.
  2. We need all of these guns and we need them without any restrictions so that we can resist a tyrannical government if one appears. That might have been sounder reasoning when the worst either side could do was to acquire more and better muskets, but it hardly holds true when our government has tanks, attack helicopters, drones, enormous listening capabilities, tactical missiles … the list goes on. You can try bringing an AR-15 to a drone fight, but how many times will that work for you? Our true remedies are and always must be political, however maddening and frustrating this is at times. Barbarism is the alternative.
  3. We need these weapons for personal protection, so that our families and homes can be safe. What gun owners don’t seem to get is that the rest of us are more worried about them and the guns they are carrying around than we are of some hypothetical prowler in the night. To us, all those who carry firearms in public are the bad guys, because there is no way for us to tell the safe ones from the psychopaths.

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Certain Kind of Fool, by The Eagles

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Whut?

The image above is one that was presented to my class in Philosophy 101. It’s one of the reasons I did not become a philosophy major. The second reason was Descartes’ famous statement which he felt proved that he existed: I think, therefore I am.

I was at a point in my young life where there were enough problems that beset me that I was not prepared to take on yet another one and try to figure out if I existed or not. So I labelled it all poppycock and dropped the class. Actually, I dropped all my other classes at the same time so as to be able to devote more hours to wandering the banks of the Mississippi River as it meandered past the University of Minnesota campus. My full-time occupation became pretending to be a poet and attempting to acquire a sophisticated air of mystery that would be devastating in my attempts to impress female students. (At that time there were 17,000 female students on campus, so I thought my odds might be pretty good.)

As result of all this, I got an incomplete in Philosophy 101, an “F” in impersonating a poet and and I was drummed out of the corps for “acting like a sophisticate without a license.”

All this and not a single coed even glanced my way. Maybe there wasn’t enough world-weariness in my posturing, I don’t know.

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In the same department as the famous phrase “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” my rusting fishing skills at long last netted two small rainbow trout Wednesday evening. Robin was hosting book club, so I took off for a quiet little lake of 23 acres on the southern edge of town. It is not deep, greens up a bit in August, but is fed by springs and drains into the Uncompahgre River so the water remains reasonably fresh and cool. It is named Lake Chipeta, after a famous Ute woman of the 19th century.

Was I classy enough to catch them with a fly rod, gracefully tossing an almost weightless lure to land precisely in front of a doomed trout ? No.

Did I catch them on small spinners or plugs, deftly placing the lure in exactly the areas of the lake that I wanted to hit? No.What, then?

Well ……………….. I loaded up a small hook with fluorescent green imitation corn kernels of the Gulp! brand, and tossed them out there a few inches below a small red and white bobber.

Now if you tell anyone that I went bobber-fishing I will deny it forcefully, all the while impugning your honor, your mother’s honor, etc. There is no photographic or video evidence, and I am sharing this information with you only to help, perhaps, one day when you are doing all the good stuff and your creel is still empty. I will say no more.

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The thin air of mountain Colorado has its charms. Statistically, however, the incidence of depression, alcoholism, and suicide increases with the altitude. This is not just Colorado’s problem, but exists all through the mountain states. Various theories are put forth, but for now you can make up your own until someone comes up with better data.

Notice on the map how Nebraska has such a low incidence. There are no mountains in Nebraska at all, unless you count that huge pile of manure at a feedlot operation which is visible from Interstate 80 as you drive across the western part of the state. And Oklahoma hasn’t any mountains to speak of, but apparently is just a very depressing place to live for other reasons.

I’ve noticed that I get a little down in the dumps when I hike above 10,000 feet, but always laid it off to the fact that hypoxia was causing me to stagger gasping from rock to rock and needing to lie down every 100 paces. Maybe I wasn’t exhausted after all, but depressed.

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Lee Ann Rimes was gifted with a voice that is remarkable. This performance of “The Rose” is so unusual and so moving that it stands out even in her already glowing musical portfolio.

She is accompanied here by the Gay Men’s Choir of Los Angeles, in the year 2010.

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On our recent trip to Albuquerque we actually made two pilgrimages. The first was to Sadie’s Restaurant – the mothership for the salsa that has become a favorite of mine, and the second was to the Breaking Bad Store. For those of you who have not watched the television series, it takes place in the Albuquerque area. The store was delightful, actually. A triumph of silliness . More coffee mugs, buttons, t-shirts, and bric-a-brac than the world really needs, but all in fun. There is a quite large book (which we did not purchase) containing locations in and around town where the series was filmed. If you lived here you could eventually visit them all … but what exactly would it mean if your life had come down to that?

Robin and I started out with the series, made it through a few episodes, and then there was a particular scene where we said … nope … too much for us. And we went away from it for a year. But for whatever reason we decided to give it another shot. This time we paid more attention to the story and the performances, and less on the violence. Now we were hooked and remained so until the very last second of the very last scene.

Here is one moment that I found memorable. One out of so many. Walter White has transitioned from being an innocuous high school chemistry professor with cancer and a family to support to a major figure in the New Mexico methamphetamine scene, putting his knowledge to work for, let’s say, ignoble causes. His wife has learned that he is involved in some highly illegal stuff and confronts him, begging him to give himself up and save his own life. In this scene, Walter brings her up to date.

“I am the one who knocks.” Now that is chillin.’

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From The New Yorker

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I’ve heard a Spanish word in movies and television quite a few times over the years, but never bothered to check out exactly what the meaning of it was. Oh, I knew it wasn’t a “nice” word since it was usually spoke contemptuously and hurled at another character in whatever I was watching. So yesterday, while waiting for our food in Cucina Azul, a very good family sort of New Mexican restaurant, I looked it up.

What a treasure! And I could have been using it all these years! What opportunities to savage and humiliate the person in front of me were missed! I weep.

The word is cabrón. Its translations are mostly too inelegant for this high-minded blog.

So, is cabrón bad or good? Well, if you’re an English speaker, you can tell the difference just fine between calling something shit as opposed to calling something the shit. Spanish speakers do this for cabrón.

Context is everything with cabrón, as it can be a bastard, something awesome, someone very skilled, or a term of endearment among bros. It’s widespread in the Spanish-speaking word, including Latin America and especially in Mexico, where it enjoys especial “badassery.” In Nicaragua, a cabrón can more specifically refer to a man who has been cheated on, or cuckold.

So, if your buddy does something great, you might call them cabrón. If you’re looking to pick a fight with a stranger, though, call them cabrón. 

Dictionary.com

The moment that I saw the coarser and more negative meanings of the word, a person exemplifying them came immediately to mind. A particularly wretched human of my acquaintance. The sort of person that if I learned that he had Covid, I would probably wish (to myself) that he had something with more gusto, like Ebola.

But now, whenever his name crosses my awareness, I will think: el cabrón! I think it will be psychotherapeutic.

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Thirty

Sunday afternoon a week ago Robin and I received our fourth COVID immunization. As a result, the following Monday turned out to be a lost day. We woke with headaches, muscle aches, lassitude, and a generally rundown feeling. All this has happened before, just not as soon after the shot. So we did what our hearts told us to do … nothing. We ate a little, read a little, napped a little. Our snack food of the day was ibuprofen. The world had to run entirely without our help for 24 hours.

We’re coming up on a million dead in the U.S. One million. Estimates are that if we had (as a populace) worn our masks, stayed away from large gatherings, and been fully immunized, half of those people would still be alive. That would be 500,000 Americans going to school, work, and happily making a nuisance of themselves in nursing homes across the land.

I don’t suppose that those (censored) who refused to do any of these simple things feel guilty at all. I don’t give them much credit, I’m afraid, for common sense. They were basically looking out for Number One, and doing a very poor job of that. When you have someone on their last gasp who refuses to accept that they are dying of Covid, because some (censored) on television said it was a hoax … what can you say but (censored).

The Covid story is not over by far, but it has been instructional in ways that I could not have imagined. Who knew that there were so many (censored)(censored) in such a small town as Montrose?

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On May 23, 1992, Robin made an honest man of me. (To be truthful, that’s more of a metaphor than an actual fact. I am still the big fat liar that I have alway been). I’m sure that she had misgivings, because getting married can be quite daunting. When the words of the service talk about forevers and eternities – that’s serious business. But for both of us, our wedding was a total delight. A time when we could gather our friends together to celebrate the happiness we were learning to trust as real.

A story. When we were selecting music for the ceremony, we sat down with the church organist and told her that one of the pieces we wanted to include was Amazing Grace. She paused at hearing that, and made the observation that she usually only played that at funerals. But as we sat there you could see her going through the verses of the song in her mind and at the end she said “Yes … you know … that will work just fine.”

Then came the actual day, and the point in the service where the people assembled were to sing this song together. It all started out ordinarily enough, but with each verse the power of the voices in the audience grew until it absolutely filled the church. By the time we reached this verse, those assembled were declaring along with us that the time for grieving had come to a close, and that given half a chance, joy would take its place.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

Amazing Grace, by Anne Murray

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I present a small gallery from the event.

And then there came the time at the reception when the bride and groom were to have the first dance. I had picked these two songs for the band to play as the opening tunes. The first one came as a small surprise to the guests, and the second was more what they had expected. To me, both were just right.

#1
#2

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As you read this on a Sunday Morning, we are driving to Albuquerque NM. We’ve got a little AirBNB casita set aside for us, have perused maps of bikeways and walkways, and we’ve scanned through lists of museums and cultural offerings. In other words, we’ve done our homework. After that it’s up to the New Mexicans.

Oh, and we plan to take at least one of our meals at Sadie’s of New Mexico, the home of one of my favorite salsas which comes in two strengths: HOT and NOT AS HOT. I figure that if they can make a salsa that tasty, I’d like a shot at the restaurant’s menu. (Heartburn, I can’t HEAR you!)

We’ll let you know.

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So here we are thirty years after the ceremonies. I’ve had the good fortune to have found a remarkable friend in this remarkable woman who has dealt somehow with my many shortcomings as a husband. Shortcomings I freely admit (not because I want to, mind you, but because they are obvious enough that I might as well confess them).

Recently we’ve begun to notice how many rings there are on our individual trees. Our long period of physical invincibility is over, it would seem. Cataracts grow, strokes happen, joints need tuning-up … those sorts of things. But tomorrow is our 30th anniversary, and I will repeat here what I have said numberless times over these three decades, usually when Robin and I are settling in for the night.

Thank you for marrying me.

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The Sex Issue

Now before you young and tender readers run for the exits screaming EEEWWWWWWW all the way, let me reassure you that this blogpost is not going to mention anything about the sex lives of senior citizens. Not one disconcerting whisper. I will only say that if you pass Grandma and Grandpa’s closed bedroom door and hear moaning, it is more likely to be a flareup of arthritis than anything else you might imagine.

But as an academic subject, sex has proven to be a perpetually interesting topic to members of nearly all age groups. In fact, the havoc the passage of time wreaks on the body’s hormones does not necessarily make the viewpoint of an elder citizen less valuable when it comes to sex. In fact, it may be even more so, having been cleansed of much the foolishness, blind romanticism, heavy breathing, and general mindlessness that often accompanies the sexual encounters of younger generations.

But here is an odd truth. As long as an aging man has at least one eye that is still working, and the two halves of his brain can communicate with one another in at least a rudimentary fashion, he may forget his age when rounding a corner and coming upon a comely lass in a well-fitted outfit. At that point the body leaps way ahead of the brain and the senior suddenly wonders if his hair looks okay and if he’s remembered to zip up after the last trip to the men’s room. His posture improves and what he fancies to be a provocative smile begins to play at the corners of his mouth.

All the while this reflexive mental primping is put into play by the older dude, the sweet young thing regards him with the interest she might show in a deceased woodchuck at the natural history museum. At some point the elder realizes this and slinks away to nurse his wounded pride, hoping that he hasn’t made too big of an ass of himself this time.

No, friends, there are very few periods in our lives where sex leaves us completely alone. Where it lets us be. Even dementia patients who don’t know who they are any longer will sometimes go through a hypersexualized stage where they begin fantasizing about that good looking nurse on the evening shift, and start leaving one or two buttons open on their pajama top, to catch the wandering eye … .

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A good example is the film The Blue Angel, from 1930. A stuffy and pedantic older professor in Germany becomes completely undone when his head is enveloped in a cloud of lust encouraged by a young Marlene Dietrich. Loss of job? Piffle. Loss of reputation? Who gives a pfennig? Family? Who are those people to me, anyway?

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He plunges blindly ahead while Ms. Dietrich spends much of the movie showing us how one-sided this infatuation really is. It’s a morality play set up to show two things. One is that there is no fool like an old fool. The other is that one’s organs of procreation are not to be depended upon to provide good leadership.

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From The New Yorker

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There is an abundance of music that deals with today’s subject, if not by name at least by innuendo. One that comes right out and says it is an album entitled Sex, by The Necks. I purchased the album during the monastic period that followed my divorce, and was deeply disappointed when I got home and found that it wasn’t one of those slightly shady DVDs at all, but a Compact Disc containing 56 minutes of instrumental jazz. (A lot of my thinking during that same period could be described as fuzzy). For some reason, I did not sail the CD right out the window in frustration, but kept it and added it to my collection.

The Necks are an Australian avant-garde jazz trio formed in 1987 by founding mainstays Chris Abrahams on piano and Hammond organ, Tony Buck on drums, percussion and electric guitar, and Lloyd Swanton on bass guitar and double bass. They play improvisational  pieces of up to an hour in length that explore the development and demise of repeating musical figures.

The group issued their debut album, Sex, on the Spiral Scratch label in 1989. It consists of a single track of the same name, which is just under an hour long. Couture noticed that “The difference between Sex and the many other CDs they would record afterwards is the purity: The trio’s hypnotic repetitive piece relies only on piano, bass, and drums; no electronics, extra keyboards, samples, or lengthy introduction.”

The Necks, Wikipedia

No matter, here it is all these years later, as if it was meant to be brought out on just this occasion …

Sex, by The Necks

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Some Random Quotations Dealing With Today’s Subject Matter

I remember the first time I had sex – I kept the receipt.

Groucho Marx

I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty.

Roger Waters

I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm the man she was preparing to overwhelm.

Ogden Nash

There is nothing safe about sex. There never will be.

Norman Mailer

Don’t bother discussing sex with small children. They rarely have anything to add.

Fran Lebowitz

My wife wants sex in the back of the car and she wants me to drive.

Rodney Dangerfield

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From The New Yorker

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I think that’s enough for now, about sex, that is. How about we move on to ghost surgery? This is where once the patient is put to sleep the surgeon may turn the operation over to a less qualified person. Apparently this is happening often enough in Korea that video cams are being installed in operating suites all over that country to keep things on the up and up. I think this might be interpreted by the physicians using those hospitals as a lack of trust, don’t you?

But on reflection, I may have been the victim of this unscrupulous practice myself. When I was about to retire from clinical practice, I decided to attend to some medical issues of my own, and have those hernia surgeries that I had been putting off. I turned out to have three of these mildly annoying conditions, and the surgeon planned to repair all three at one sitting (or one lying-down, as in my case).

They were to be done under local anesthesia, but of course I was given a drug that took me to la-la land and I have no recollection of the proceedings. It was when the dressings came off that I noticed that not everything was as it should have been. My navel was now off from the midline about one centimeter to the left. Prior to surgery, it had been where navels are supposed to be, center stage. I chose not to make an issue of the matter, and did not take it up with my surgeon. But it did have an effect on my life … you may have noticed that I never wear a crop-top.

But after reading the article in the Times, I now wonder … was my surgery ghosted? Perhaps the doctor came in after an all-nighter and called the janitor over to ask: “Hey Walter, would you like to do an operation? It’s easy … here … let me show you.” And when the personnel substitution had been made, the surgeon went off to take a needed nap.

It would explain so many things.

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I, Robot

I was talking with Robin the other night, and I don’t remember exactly what we were discussing, but I remember wanting to express myself very clearly. When I had finished, she turned to me and said: “You used your doctor voice.” And she was right. I had slipped into it without even being aware of what I was doing.

What is my “doctor voice?” It is me speaking slowly, measuredly, in a flat tone without any attempt at humor or “goofing around,” and doing so while looking directly at the patient.

I fell into it whenever I wished to give instructions that needed close attention on the patient’s part, and when I needed to be both accurate and clearly understood. In some situations I would ask the patient to repeat back to me what they had taken as the message. Following that I might also send a written handout home with them, which repeated much of what I had already said.

The doctor voice evolved out of my witnessing a great many miscommunications when I was in training, either between doctors and patients or between doctors and nurses. Some of these mistakes had led to problems for patients, occasionally severe ones. I gradually honed my delivery into something resembling that of a concerned robot. Like the one in Lost in Space, over there talking to Will Robinson. Put a white coat on it and there I am.

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Following up on those children in that Jerusalema video last Wednesday, the film below allegedly is the one that started what has become an online craze – dancing competitions involving the song. There are even instructional videos for those lucky enough to have a right and a left foot, as opposed to unfortunates like myself who have two lefts.

But, and I say this with all modesty, I am as talented in one respect as the beautiful people you see here in that I can use a fork and a plate with the best of them. With panache, even.

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Reasons I feel optimistic on this Sunday morning

  • The wind velocity is projected to be below 60 mph.
  • I have discovered a back door to the New Yorker cartoon archive.
  • The health of the basil plant we brought back from Steamboat Springs had been upgraded from comatose to critical.
  • Knowing that if I should happen to go to a doctor any time soon that the use of leeches is currently out of fashion.

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We have added a banner to the berm in front of our home as part of our ongoing efforts to show that there actually are a handful of progressives here in Paradise and to induce some serious angst in any of the local QAnon members who happen to pass by. I can hear them muttering to themselves:

“Look there … not only are they liberal, but they don’t have the decency to be ashamed of it.”

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Robin and I just finished watching the series Outer Range, which ran for only eight episodes. The star was Josh Brolin, and he turned in a decent job of playing a Wyoming rancher with a one-note emotional range. Overall, the series was confusing to us, and when it was over we had to admit that we had only the slightest of clues as to what it had been about.

Looking back, I now realize that the door was left open for another season. But we already gave them eight weeks to draw some of those bewildering plot lines together and if they did we missed it. I don’t think I’m willing to give them another eight.

BTW, if you do watch the series, you can’t help but notice an epidemic of product placement involving Carhartt clothing. Apparently that’s most of what they wear in this imaginary part of Wyoming. Sensible folk.

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A short time ago a passel of Democratic “leaders” made a pilgrimage to Ukraine, and this week a handful of Republicans did the same thing. This is supposed to be evidence of bipartisanship, although if they had all been on the same airplane that might have made an even better show.

Spending bills to support the present government of that embattled country pass through Congress with almost unseemly haste, and whenever that happens you can bet than an audit done a year from now will reveal that half of the money disappeared somewhere along the way and no one will know where it went. But I digress.

You can almost hear the sighs of relief among our elected representatives these days when they discuss the Ukraine. For this is like the good old days when there was a bad guy, a bad war, and lots of tanks to shoot at. Not like in the Middle East where people wire themselves to explosives and try their darnedest to get to Heaven by flicking a switch located just above their navels. No, the Ukraine fighting is good old-fashioned war. It requires only the simplest kind of thinking to support those sorts of heroes.

It also allows us to be distracted from the bad old stuff going on here at home, where we have examples of governance at its worst. This whole sorry mess about abortion and the Supreme Court gets so entangled that it is sometimes very hard to keep in mind … what is the major point here? And it’s not whether the fetus is a person or not, nor the exact day when life begins, nor whether we should pay bounties to ugly people in our neighborhoods for turning in our fellow citizens because they made a trip to a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The point is that this is not a proper arena for government at all. What is at stake is who do our bodies belong to, if not to us? That’s what Roe v. Wade affirmed – the right of a person to privacy. And this right to privacy includes freedom from interference with our bodily integrity by any individual or group.

I was going to write here “If I were a woman … ” but stopped myself. Right now the focus is on whether women should be able to end an undesired pregnancy or not. But those whose state of mind says it is okay to force those women to carry those pregnancies to term could one day turn their laser beam of religious zealotry on any aspect of our lives that they choose. (It wasn’t so long ago that police could break into homes to enforce anti-sodomy laws, which targeted gay citizens. They might still be doing so if it weren’t for the assertion of the right to privacy.)

Nope. If I were a woman I would be very angry at what is happening today. I know this for a certainty because I am not a woman, and I am very angry at what is happening today. Once again, I call on one of my favorite cranky people to clarify my feelings. (I have changed the pronouns of the quote to better fit today’s diatribe.)

Every normal person must be tempted at times to spit on their hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

H.L. Mencken

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Plaisir d’Amour by Nana Mouskouri

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Jerusalema

From The New Yorker

The wind bloweth daily and nightly here in Paradise. It gusteth forcefully. Forsooth, I sickeneth of its howling.

While it is possible to walk from place to place out of doors, you do it only by tacking into the wind while continually adjusting the angle of your body. Sitting down anywhere is difficult, what with being pelted by sand particles, rubbing dust from one’s eyes, and being assaulted by tumbleweeds.

The temperatures would be nice enough to allow one to eat al fresco, but you do so only if you are amused by seeing half the food on your plate become airborne and sail over the backyard fence to the waiting maws of the neighbor’s dogs.

They Call the Wind Mariah, by Harve Presnell

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By Vi-An Nguyen

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Robin and I spent last weekend in Steamboat Springs, attending grandson Ethan’s graduation ceremonies from Colorado Mountain College. Our hero looked awfully adult in cap and gown, but in his face you could see more than a trace of the troublemaker in the picture at right.

The ceremony was more laid back than many others I’ve been to, and was all the more enjoyable for it. There were lots of hoots, hollers, and air horns being fired off as graduates were introduced, and when one of the speakers mentioned that in one outdoor class he had “frozen his a** off,” you got the sense that this wasn’t one of the more pretentious proceedings in academia.

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But graduate he did, and in a short while Ethan will be off for a summer in Boston with friend Sian before they relocate to Chapel Hill NC. He’s a good man and we wish him awfully well.

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While in Routt County, we had numerous opportunities to see both of those excellent predators, the bald eagle and the osprey. I have been a fan of ospreys since I was an eighth-grade student looking for a topic for an essay in biology class. I had meant to write about bald eagles, but in researching them came across references to these beautiful creatures. Until then I had not been aware of their existence.

On my very first Boundary Waters trip, with a young Kari and Sarah aboard, we had not traveled more than three hundred yards from the put-in point when an osprey swooped down and grabbed a large fish less than thirty feet in front of our canoe. Being a naturally superstitious man at the time, I immediately pronounced the bird’s appearance as a good omen for the voyage. It did turn out to be a very fine trip, whether the bird had anything to do with it or not.

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My political dilemma these days. The Republican leaders are not fit to govern us, and the Democrats cannot figure out how to do it. Sigghhhhhh. At moments like these, I turn to more astute observers … like Mr. Mencken, for example.

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Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

H.L. Mencken

Here’s something to ponder. If President Obama had been willing to get his hands even slightly dirty and go to the mats for Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, we might not be in the ugly situation that we are in now. And he wouldn’t have Sen. McConnell’s footprints all over the back of his nice tuxedo.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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I must warn you that if you are in one of your best bad moods and would like to nurse it along for a while, don’t watch this video. It may totally ruin it for you. YouTube is full of video versions of people dancing to the song Jerusalema, which has become very popular worldwide. This is one of the more interesting. It is also hugely cute.

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Indigenes

The local high school was forced to change its sports team’s name recently, along with many other such schools across the state that had originally taken themes related to Native Americans. You couldn’t really try to claim that our team’s moniker was being misinterpreted. We were the Montrose Indians.

This past weekend there was an auction of memorabilia from the old teams. The totem pole went for $5100, the big sign in the gym brought in $750, etc.

For whatever reason the uniforms worn by past team members didn’t sell as well, with the girls’ C-team soccer jerseys receiving no bids at all.

C-Team? My old high school wasn’t big enough to have a C-team. In fact, it could barely round up enough students or enthusiasm to field a B-team in basketball and football, and they were the most popular sports.

But sports were never a big deal at Sibley HS. Oh, the attendance at events was very good, and we certainly had our sports heroes, but our teams … let’s just say there was no dynasty there to be upheld. And soccer? Lacrosse? Volleyball? What were they?

On a personal note, my high school track coach took one look at the lackluster bunch trying out for the track team (100% of students who came out made the team), and from then on focussed on the three kids who actually had a bit of talent. This trio did not include yours truly. The rest of us were left on our own. We did a few calisthenics, jogged a few miles in the rural, and then went into the gym and shot baskets, just messing around. As you might guess, track team morale and performance levels were on the low side.

But here in Paradise we are now officially represented by the Red Hawks. If any birds are offended, they have been silent so far about the matter.

The whole business is sad, no? After centuries where the Europeans robbed, poisoned, infected, displaced, and killed an estimated 90% of the indigenous peoples of what is now the United States, to exploit their images as symbols of bravery and courage … well, what can I say, brothers and sisters?

Symbols count for something, even if replacing them doesn’t restore one acre of land stolen or one life taken.

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Our local Penney’s store went under a couple of years back. The building stood empty until it was purchased by the Hobby Lobby people. A mixed blessing that, for Robin. On the one hand, the company sells many of the things she loves working with to mark holidays, the passing of the seasons, etc.

On the other hand, it was the owner of Hobby Lobby who in 2014 refused to add certain contraceptive coverages to the employees’ health insurance, claiming religious exemptions. This all led to a Supreme Court ruling supporting that company.

And now the flaming red conservatives are on the brink of gaining a major victory in their attacks on women’s rights by reversing Roe v. Wade. It’s all a package, with the Christian right taking a big step forward on their overriding mission to force all of us to accommodate to their way of thinking. Such behavior is not unusual, it’s what theocrats do.

So deciding whether to shop at Hobby Lobby can be more complicated than one would think. After all, where’s the harm in buying a few picture frames and some decorative styrofoam from them?

When my friend Rich Kaplan was alive, and we would go on long drives together, usually ending up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness, I would receive instruction in which businesses to patronize and which not to visit. Lunchtime would roll around and I would see a sign for _____ Pizza and mention it, bringing an instant “owned by an Anti-Semite bastard” from Rich. Or another potential stop would be declared to be fronted by a “fascist bastard” and we would drive past it. Checking into some of these later on showed that Kaplan was nearly always correct in his assessments. He had much longer antennae than I did.

The point being that if we have choices, why not employ them and shop in places whose owners support the kind of America we want to live in? There were always other pizza parlors in which we could get our slice on, we could easily avoid the one that an A.S.B. profited from.

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Last weekend I was once again, and without my permission or acquiescence, called a “cat person.” Never mind that the statement came from someone whose opinion matters little to me on other subjects … the problem is that I have grown weary of such labels.

I live with cats, two of them, because I admire them and have learned to appreciate their adaptations to humans and the modern world. I used to do the same thing when I owned dogs, and there have been several over the years. But it is a fact that older people tend to gravitate toward having smaller pets. Cats are popular because they require so little of you. Feed them, provide shelter, and they largely tend to their own needs. It’s like living with a small adult.

If older citizens choose to own a dog, you will find that it is often one of the very small breeds. As a group we tend not to choose canines who can knock us over, something which we dislike intensely, and which becomes increasingly easy for them to do as we continue our slow advance toward tottering. So on the walking trail Robin and I can see from our window, the retirees passing by are walking dogs so small it is often difficult to see them unless you follow the leash down carefully to its tip, and there it will be – a tiny fuzzball spinning like a dervish and vulnerable to being snatched up by any bird of prey larger than a starling if their owner isn’t watchful.

Unlike cats, these animals require daily exercise by their owners, cannot be trusted to place their urine and feces conveniently into a box designed for the purpose, and often yap constantly without regard for the sensibilities of others. It’s like having a baby that never grows up.

When I was a younger person I did own dogs, mostly larger ones. They were excellent companions, and admirable in every respect. I accepted the drawbacks to living with them as part of the bargain. Now that I am increasingly fussy, creaky, and cranky, having cats around suits me better. But the next individual who calls me a “cat person” better be prepared for a proper thwacking.

I can actually be quite fierce when I get disturbed.

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Local Note Department

When we were in Durango this past weekend, we stopped on our way out of town at what has become our go-to place for breakfast – Oscar’s Diner. The decor gives a big nod to the thirties, which I find appealing. Just walking in the door sets my salivary glands a-flowing.

The food is excellent, the service unfailingly pleasant, and the overall experience is a highly positive one. You can’t miss it, it’s right on highway 550, next to the big ACE Hardware store. It’s the sort of place that makes you glad you’ve got a functioning gastrointestinal tract.

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This morning it is Mother’s Day. I’m sorry, but to me it and its companion in Hallmark infamy, Father’s Day, are two of those manufactured “special days”that are so seriously over-sentimentalized I get diabetes just thinking about them. Anne Lamott summarizes how I feel about these “holidays” very well, and did it in her Facebook post this week.

We could have Survivors Day instead, where we applaud those humans who get up each morning resolving to do good that day for their fellow creatures, in spite of what hammer blows life might have dealt them. This group will include some mothers and fathers, but for certain it will not include all of them.

But, hey, so as not to seem entirely Scrooge-y on this Sunday morning, here’s the original recorded version of M.O.T.H.E.R. – A Word That Means The World To Me. Recorded by Henry Burr in 1915. Be sure to have your insulin handy.

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What’s In A Name?

I sometimes get confused when reading articles that starts with generation names. Articles like “Gen Z Found To Contain Twice as Many Nincompoops As Millenials.” My problem is remembering who is in which. So when I went looking for definitions and found this swell graphic I was a happy man. For instance, this way I can tell who is a nincompoop without needing to listen to them at all. This saves me an enormous amount of time.

A couple of evenings ago when a man who according to the table is clearly in Gen X was complaining about “boomers” … if I’d had this graphic handy I could have asked him to clarify … are you talking about Boomers I or Boomers II as being the cause of all the misfortunes of the world going back to the Pleistocene and beyond?

The particular rant that my friend was on had to do with two things, the creation of the phenomenon we refer to as “the suburbs” and the huge mega-homes build by “boomers” that sucked up too much of the world’s resources when they were built and may now be headed for the real estate dust-heap.

I could have mentioned to him that those McMansions he was incensed about were built by the the five percenters and above, and those folks really have historically never been members of any generation but themselves. They were neither “Boomers” nor “Gen Z-ers” but very wealthy people doing their own unconscious thing, as always. But I didn’t. I know how much I hate to be interrupted by someone with facts in their hand when I am enjoying a good rant.

The creation of the suburbs may have been one of the worst ideas of the past hundred years, I don’t know. They made necessary the profusion of cars which now contribute so much to climate change. Necessary in that when we began to live farther from where we worked and shopped than we could get to easily by walking or bicycle or mass transit, we set ourselves up for many of the problems we are living with today.

Personally I don’t see so much difference between a person born in 1980 and 1981. Or 1946, for that matter. Oh there are huge differences in mores and fashions and familiarity with technology. But underlying it all we are still the same species that seems incapable of making constructive long-term decisions that will allow Earth, our only home, time to recover from our egregious mistakes. Succeeding generations keep on making their own errors all the while bemoaning what their elders have done.

I fully admit that writing this blog-thing is in some ways my substitute for being on a perpetual rant. I’ve been enabled in this by members of my species who come up to me from time to time and imply that what I have to say on any subject at all is more valuable because I can legally append the letters M.D. after my name if I choose. Each time this happens I think – of course you are right in my case, but if you only knew the number of dimbulbs that there are in medicine … .

Whenever I have to shop personally for medical care, I am reminded of an acquaintance who used to inspect restaurants for the Department of Health of the City of Minneapolis. One evening after he had shared some horror stories dealing with kitchens in eating establishments, I asked him:

“Walter, knowing what you do, where do you go out to eat?”

His answer was chilling:

“I don’t go out to eat.”

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Something very ominous happened this morning. When I went to the New Yorker to browse their cartoon archive, they had removed the link to it from their website. Searching through this excellent storehouse of drawings has provided so many gems over the years that now to be denied access … what to do?

I suspect strongly that there is a multitude of petty criminals like myself that have been pilfering from the New Yorker over the years, and that the magazine is trying at long last to find a way to monetize this.

In the meantime, I must keep calm and carry on. Frankly, if it weren’t for the cartoons, I’m not sure that even I would read this blog.

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Recently a friend asked me why I so rarely put any classical musical selections on my blog. The answer is quite simple, actually. Ignorance.

First of all, I am a musical parasite. I don’t play an instrument, don’t read music, and have no skills in this area than those required to turn knobs and flick switches. But at least in genres like pop music, rock, and the blues I have a rudimentary knowledge of the subject.

When it comes to classical music, there is only the most pathetic handful of pieces that I recognize, mostly those on the dramatic side. I know that Beethoven went deaf, that Bach could have used some help from a family planning clinic, and that Mozart was writing concertos with one hand while still breast feeding with the other. Other than that … a vacuum.

Keeping this disclaimer in mind, here is one of those classical musical pieces that I enjoy. From an opera, no less.

Nessun Dorma, from Turandot

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From The New Yorker

I live with the Queen of Peeps. When I saw the following cartoon I had to post it.

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The wind continues to dominate our local weather picture. That, and the drought. We lost a few shingles from our home a few days back to a gust, and yesterday the air was a sort of light tan color because of the dust it contained. Last night some raindrops fell, so little moisture that if you were writing a letter outdoors you could easily have shielded it with your hand until the “storm” passed.

You probably read that this past week the water level in Lake Mead fell so low that barrel containing a murder victim was revealed. The interesting thing was that an official was quoted as saying that they expected more of these unfortunates to surface as the lake continues to decline. Not the sort of thing you want to find on the beach when you’re on vacation, n’est-ce pas?

Mother shouting to children from her cabana: “Kids, don’t play with that barrel. You don’t know where it’s been … or who might be in there.”

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Mean Ol’ Wind

Last evening would have been a perfect one to drop down to the Uncompahgre River and throw tiny bits of feather and of yarn at the water, which is my inelegant version of fly-fishing. It would have been but for the fact that the air was moving past us in 40 mph gusts.

Breezes like this don’t rattle a fisherman who uses jigs, because the lures are heavy and gravity is your friend. All you need do is attach a large lump of metal to your line and drop it straight down from your boat . Thus the attraction of fishing for walleyed pike back in the Midwest. It ain’t art, but those fish are still delectable.

However, fly fishing depends on control that you simply don’t have when the wind is blowing hard. So I stayed at home and mowed the lawn. Urk. I fear that my former feral nature grows weaker and weaker as time goes by. I can begin to restore it a bit by getting outdoors and away from houses and couches and anything requiring electricity, but I will probably never get it back to its primacy, where I ate my food raw, slept on rocks, and resisted being clothed.

Yes, I have to admit that I am nearly completely domesticated. If I get any tamer, Robin may one day feel safe when we have people over for dinner, and not have to worry that I will stand at the charcoal grill garbed only in a bearskin loincloth. And as to the matter of my gnashing my teeth and growling at table … that will have to go as well, I suppose.

Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down, by the North Mississippi Allstars

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A couple of weeks ago a friend in AA died unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpectedly, I guess. After all, the reaper comes for even the best of us eventually. It was the timing and the suddenness that caught us off guard. One day here and feeling fine, the next day an empty chair at table.

It happened that Phil was the treasurer of our small AA group, and there was the matter of where had our dues gone? So last evening Robin and I drove to his house and found his old Volvo still parked outside. We rang the bell and were greeted by his son Jeff and daughter-in-law Katrina who graciously invited us in, hunted through the mountain of stuff that Phil had left behind, and came up with the small lockable steel box containing the AA group’s wealth.

But that wasn’t the end of it. We stayed and chatted for nearly an hour. Robin and I learned much more about Phil’s life that we did not know, and his children learned something about what he had meant to us, which was considerable. Phil had a lifelong interest in photography, and Jeff was now going through thousands of pictures, negatives, and slides in an effort to catalog them and place digital images up on Phil’s personal website for his friends all over the country to share. Quite a task, but Robin and I agreed that his taking on this duty would have made our friend proud.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Friday’s NYTimes had a review of a film entitled “Vortex.” It is about an old couple going steadily and depressingly downhill. The review starts out with a Philip Roth quotation: “Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.” Apparently the director of the movie has the same opinion, and after reading the review I think I’ll skip it. Not out of denial, but because I am in my own version of that movie (as are we all), and don’t need to spend two hours being artfully reminded that there are days when aging seems an endless series of compromises, downscalings, subtractions, and confrontations.

Od course there are good days, or it would hardly be worth getting out of bed in the morning and the phone at the Hemlock Society’s office would never stop ringing. There are such mornings as today, when I appreciate that I have the time to appreciate, and am amazed at how extraordinarily wise the passing of the decades has made me. If only I could get others to see that … there would be a long line of people waiting at the door for the chance to meet me and hear my opinion on their life situations.

There I would be, wearing simple cotton garments and sitting on a homely cushion, my words enriching the existences of all those pilgrims coming through the door. There would be no fee for this, but … I might set out a tip jar.

Couldn’t hurt.

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This Sunday morning Robin and I are in a motel in Durango, and will head home later this afternoon. We drove over because both Aiden and Claire were in separate school plays being presented on Saturday and there was no question of our not attending. Command performances indeed.

The cast put on the musical Into The Woods, and did a remarkable job. One of those times when you become aware of how much talent there can be in a single high school in a single small town. Humbling.

Grandson Aiden … what can I say … when and where did he get that voice?

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The Fungus Amongus

An Ignorant Comment On An Impossible Premise

Once again I hear someone asking me: What if you could go back in time and have the chance to get to visit the Hitler family, and you find yourself alone with Baby Adolf? Knowing what you know, would you kill the baby?

The whole premise seems contrived, time travel still having so many bumps to be ironed out and all, but if you say – Wait a minute, I’ve never killed a baby in my life, why would I start now? – you are almost by definition a wimp.

Perhaps we should look at it another way. If something had happened to Baby Adolf way back then, would everything after that have been just swell? Remember, Germany was a complete and total mess – economically, socially, politically. If Adolf hadn’t been around to step in and tell his particular brand of lies, there were many other men at that time that might have taken his place. In fact, there were some very awful people that we know Adolf caused to be murdered along his own path to prominence.

And here’s the reason that the premise seems to me to be a weak one – those other guys might have done even worse things. The world never seems to have a shortage of diabolicals.

For instance, Hitler was so unbalanced that he trusted no one’s judgement but his own. If he had listened to some of his military advisers, especially before he made that small mistake and invaded Russia, the war could have gone very differently. If a smarter but just as evil man had come to power, a man who didn’t have Hitler’s paranoia, Nazi Germany might right now be running Europe and the rest of the world would be the worse for it. So to answer the question, the idea of killing Child Adolf to improve the world is based on a too-shaky premise to turn us all into potential infanticides.

(Personally, I hope that time travel never becomes a reality. Can you imagine the mischief that we humans might cause? Our species is not advanced enough to be trusted with such an opportunity.)

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Reading the New York Times has many benefits. You get an authoritative (if occasionally imperfect) voice on the news, some excellent cooking advice, and introduction to interesting people you might never have heard of otherwise. Today’s person I never might have heard otherwise of is Randy Rainbow (his real name). The Times reports that he is a YouTube star from making videos like this one.

All I can say is Thank you New York Times, and bless you Randy Rainbow.

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The first viewing point you come to when you enter the Black Canyon National Park is Tomichi Point. It offers a spectacular view of the amazing geology you will find at the other viewing points along the canyon route. Ordinarily it looks like this.

But on Sunday when I set out to do a hike up at the park, I found the sunny 56 degree climate in the valley was transformed into one with 34 degrees and a light snowfall where the flakes weren’t flakes at all, but the tiniest of snow pellets, almost like a fog. I happen to find fogs very interesting, and they offer unique photographic opportunities if you are fortunate to come across one in a place like this, where it sets each ridge apart the others in its own special way.

Here is what Tomichi Point looked like on Sunday afternoon. Both shots reveal the geologic drama that is the Canyon. What the snow/fog adds (for me) is a sense of the mysterious. See what you think.

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The Times of New York ran an article on Tuesday in the Science section about morel mushrooms and the success that some people have begun to have in growing them in the laboratory. You hardly know what to root for here. On the one hand, if they are eventually commercially successful, there will be more morels around to eat, and perhaps they won’t be as expensive as they are today.

But it would throw the world of morel-gathering into chaos. Up to the present day, if you would happen to come across a few morels in the Spring, you gathered them, brought them home for cooking, and never, never, ever revealed to anyone where you found them.

When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I was taught what I know about mushroom collecting by a talented woman whose day job was as a nurse, but whose passion was fungi. She shared everything she knew about them with me except for where to find morels. I learned from her how to identify them and cook them, but it was up to me to find where they were. Which I never did.

Sheepishly I have to admit that in the matter of my eating morels so far, I have always been dependent upon the kindness of strangers.

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I never tire of watching films of the murmurations of starlings. One of the truly awesome spectacles of our planet, I think. Personally I have seen a handful of way smaller and much less majestic flocks when I was living in South Dakota, but even those required of me that I pull my car to the edge of the road, step out into the open air, and stand there amazed.

There is a certain irony here, for me. I am able to share in what others have photographed in Nature all over the world. Their talents and the extraordinary machinery that is a modern camera has made this possible. But I watch these events indoors where the sun and the rain and the wind cannot get to me. I really ought to take my computer outside on a blustery and cold evening, turn up my collar and watch the video until my fingers become numb and I can no longer trust them on the keyboard. In this way I could better approximate the true flavor of a murmuration.

Birds, by Neil Young

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Special Edition

I have a new by-god hero. Her name is Mallory McMorrow and she is seriously pissed. The story of what made her angry is in today’s NYTimes and you might want to read it as back ground before watching the video.

Her speech given to the Michigan legislature in response was … thrilling! Sit down and watch it a couple of times. Your heart, which most days has to swim through a ton of awful crap in the news, may soar as mine did. A new warrior in the Anti-BS Brigade, and a politician to boot!

I would not want Ms. McMorrow angry with me. Hell, I wouldn’t even want her piqued.

Brava, McMorrow. Brava.

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Breakfast At Wimpy’s

My lord what a perfect day is Tuesday! The sky is blue, temperature 71 degrees, I did some piddly amount of household work this forenoon to allow me to shut that nagging protestant work ethic away for a couple of hours, and have moved to the front patio.

My frivolousness is out there for all to see, where anyone that wants to walk the bike path has to trudge past me. A pair just went past shaking their heads and although I couldn’t hear what they said their lips clearly formed the word “Democrat,” said with a slight curl of the lip. In my mind I bless them on their walk, and wish them only a small harm, nothing greater than the awakening of a latent hemorrhoid.

I can see four grassy yards from my chair, and three of the four have a robin working the lawn. Surely there aren’t any worms anywhere near the surface. There’s been too little rain. The birds must be eating seeds and bugs. The one in my own yard always keeps one eye firmly on me, but that bird has nothing to fear for I am the purest of innocent bystanders. Also, my inertia is overwhelming.

Today’s patio tunes are all blues, which go very well with sloth, I have found, and with a puckish frame of mind as well. Jelly Jelly just finished playing … it’s a little naughty but hey, we’re all grownups here. Great Godamighty!

Jelly Jelly, by Josh White

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know much about politics, but I know what I like. I am a nominal Democrat, but have found little about the local party to get excited about. It seems to be basically a group of well-meaning and liberally-bent older Caucasian citizens. They frequently have an outdoor BBQ in the fall and those that I have attended have revealed a startlingly low percentage of young people and people of any other color than white in the membership.

This does not bode well for a party’s future here in this politically red county. This is really odd because the other party (the elephantine one) is something more on the reprehensible side. This would seem to leave a whole lot of room available for improvement.

I looked up the definition of firebrand, and found these two in an online dictionary:

  • a person who is passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action.
  • a piece of burning wood

Our local gaggle of liberals fits the latter definition better than the first, if you exchange the word smoldering for the word burning. Let me hasten to add that I include myself in this group of ineffectuals. The problem for me personally is that I am not, nor have I ever been, a leader. My gifts run much more strongly to those of supporter, spear-carrier, and gadfly. But leader … I can only wish. (If anyone requires references supporting my claim to bootlessness in this area I will be happy to provide them.)

Way back when I still lived in Minneapolis and had not a single gray hair, I attended services at a Unitarian church for a few months prior to being conscripted by the Air Force. The “minister” was really a lecturer on ethics and morality, without a smidge of dogma about him. I totally looked forward to sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings during that short part of my life. It was while sitting on that wooden bench that I heard the first notes of what was to become the feminist concerto. (What … women aren’t happy with the world as it is? What a concept!)

I recall one morning that he described the membership of the Unitarian church as wanting to do good, but that they were like a person having a generalized seizure. A lot of energy being expended but jerking in all directions without the coordination needed to be effective at anything. His statement got a laugh at the time, and its memory has stayed with me for half a century. I keep finding new places to apply that metaphor, and being a Democrat in Montrose County is one of those places.

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From The New Yorker

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To my mind, the above drawing should be in the Cartoonist Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing. I laugh every time I look at it. So many details … the darts everywhere … the door off its hinges … the bare bulb … the chicken … and is that an old-line coffee mill over on the left? Even that final word – fled.

I may not have lived in such a house, but I have definitely visited it.

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My dad had a high school friend named Wimpy. Wimpy had never married and lived on a small farm near Barrett MN with his mother. One pheasant hunting season Dad somehow got the idea that we should ask this friend for permission to hunt on his farm, so we went to do just that. At the time we knocked on his door, Wimpy would have been around fifty years old and his mom in her early seventies.

I might have been warned by the external appearance of the farm house, which was not so much in need of a coat of paint as it was a bulldozer. Inside was a revelation. There was no part of the floor in the living room that was not covered with several layers of news paper. Magazines were stacked here and there. The dining table was covered with newsprint as well. There were perhaps four cats in view, but who knows how many lurked in other rooms? There was no litterbox visible anywhere, and my sense of smell told me that there probably had never been one.

Wimpy was a pleasant man in his crudely patched and creatively stained bib overalls, and his mom couldn’t have been more “Minnesota nice.” They graciously gave us permission to hunt their fields the next day, and went so far to make us feel welcome that they insisted we come for breakfast that morning before heading out with our shotguns.

And before we could stop him, my Dad accepted their offer.

Now one of my brothers-in-law was with our group that day, and he was a supremely fastidious man. The idea of breaking bread anywhere near this house made him nauseous. As soon as we had said our goodbyes, he began to plan how to avoid the need to return without hurting anyone’s feelings. However, it was also plain that he would walk the two hundred miles back to Minneapolis if he had to, because there was no way any food prepared in that kitchen was finding its way to his mouth. I joined him in his revolt, and our absence at breakfast the next day was explained away as that we were chronic late sleepers and worthless ne’er-do-wells, and would only have been unpleasant company at the early morning meal.

Except for the darts, and swapping the dogs for cats, the room in the cartoon could have been at Wimpy’s farm.

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My earworm this entire week has been a song of Linda Ronstadt’s that I really never paid much attention to in the past. It is Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, from the album Hasten Down the Wind. A story of coping with loneliness. I found this blogpost that says it better than I could.

It’s a Karla Bonoff song, and she’s actually got a really nice version of it herself, but the Linda Ronstadt is the one that got enough radio airplay to catch my attention, somehow only late at night as I recall, so here we are. I only needed to hear it once. It felt like dying inside, like one of those dreams where you’re caught naked somewhere you’re not supposed to be. It’s one obviously for all the lonely people, and if I’m giving away too much about myself with this—which I may or may not be—I’m also pretty sure that everybody out there has to know what this song feels like in some way. At some Dark Night of the Soul level. Has felt the yearning ache alone in bed in the middle of the night. The planet is overcrowded, everybody on TV is coupled up and happy as hell, so are half the people walking around in the songs and movies, and all the rest are having dramatic breakups and quickly moving on to next partners. This song … speaks for the rest of us: Can’t I just please get some just a little bit of that for myself, once in awhile, maybe? Is it so much to ask? “People all over the world are starvin’ just for affection,” as Jonathan Richman reminded us earlier. The immediacy of that starvation lives in every measure of this song, desperately. It occupies a kind of miraculous hushed space of fragile piano and human voice and swelling sound. It’s a bummer, it’s haunting, it’s depressing—it might even be depressed itself. But you know how true it is too.

Some To Lay Down Beside Me, by Linda Ronstadt

I thought that maybe sharing my earworm here might allow that cerebral pudding I carry around above my shoulders to go on to other tunes, we’ll see it that’s true. I like the song very much, but it does put one in a mood.

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Easter Cameth And Wenteth

Amy, Neil and family were here for an Easter visit. It was the first planned visit for them here in Paradise since the pandemic began. I say scheduled because there was that time a year or so ago when we were camping with them on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Some local yahoos driving pickup trucks came roaring through the small campground as their idea of midnight fun, but it was when they started discharging firearms just down the road from us that they really put a big dent in our composure. We broke camp immediately when the guns started going off. The idea of remaining in a remote area with armed and irresponsible drunks-in-trucks did not compute, and our friends spent the rest of that night at our home before returning to Durango later in the morning.

During Easter Sunday we played a couple of songs from Jesus Christ Superstar for old time’s sake. Beginning in the year when I first heard the music in 1971, when it was all a brand new thing, listening to at least a song or two every year somehow evolved into a tradition on its own.

So what is that … fifty-one years?

Holy mackerel.

Overture from the movie soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar

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We are waiting once again for new credit cards to arrive in the mail. Five days ago VISA sent us a message asking if we’d charged $19.60 at *********, and when we told them we hadn’t they immediately went into the cut-up-your-old-card-and-we’ll-send-you-a-new-0ne loop. The last time this happened was less than a year ago. Each time there was some small charge against our names caught by the VISA algorithms, and each time we were forced to try to remember with which companies we have arranged for standing withdrawals using that account.

Otherwise we get that dreaded message: On April 7 we tried to charge your newspaper subscription to your VISA account and it didn’t go through, you pathetic loser. Either get this fixed or we’re sending Benito and Adolf to talk to you, and believe us when we tell you that you don’t want to meet them.

It’s actually not hard to see how this might occur. It seems that every hour or two I read about yet another data breach at a company I have done online business with. Or the clerk at the motel takes my card and does something with it where I can’t see his hands. Or … the possibilities are varied and endless. Maybe I should be surprised that it happens only once a year.

When those hackers broke into the National Security Agency files and stole our nation’s secrets a few years back, I finally fully realized that individual internet security was a fiction. They hacked the NSA, for cripes sake! Possibly the most secure site in the country/world! And here I am complaining about a $19.60 charge that I didn’t even have to pay.

But … you know what? It still ticks me off something fierce.

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I have another mouse story. From thirty-plus years ago.

I had talked my friend Bill into joining me on a weekend camping and fishing on a northern Minnesota lake. The weather was promised to be three perfect October days. We took off on Friday afternoon, and the first intimation that the weatherman was possibly unbalanced was the sleet on our windshield, which started to appear even before we got to Fargo ND. Next morning dawned cold and cloudy, but since there was nothing falling from the sky we went on to Mantrap Lake and set up our tent in forty-degree drizzly weather, with beaucoup misgivings.

To shorten the story, it started to snow/sleet, and we froze for two nights and days before we gave up and headed home. Saturday morning we cooked bacon and eggs which cooled the second they left the pan, but were delicious anyway. Because it was so nasty, we did not wash the cookware, but left it out while we went fishing.

Here are the highlights of that excursion:

  1. In the whole lake, there was a single metal sign out in the middle, identifying a spawning bed where fishing was illegal. One sign in the entire lake and we hit it with our small boat. Why? Because it was sleeting hard and the wind was blowing fiercely in our faces and no one was looking where we were going.
  2. One night we went into Park Rapids to find some warmth and decided to go to a movie. At first we were the only patrons in the theater, but then a group of developmentally disabled adults were brought in to see the show. They laughed at all the wrong places but we didn’t care. We came for warmth, not conversation.
  3. Midday on Sunday we drove to town for another indoor break. First stop was a bait and tackle shop. I bounced up to the counter and said Hi, there. What sort of things do you use to fish with in weather like this? The man’s response was perfect: We don’t go fishing in weather like this.
  4. At that tackle shop, I purchased two large plugs suitable for musky fishing, because the clerk had told us about a “submerged island” in the lake where these fish were wont to hang out. We trolled around that “island” for about an hour and suddenly I hooked a fish which turned out (amazingly) to be a musky after all. It was 35 inches long, but the regulations were that only fish 36 inches or longer could be kept. The irony of it all was almost too much. The biggest fish I’d ever caught was too small to keep.
  5. Bill is under normal circumstances one of the most fastidious of people. But remember that cookware we didn’t wash? The next morning he picked up the pan to cook the bacon and there were hundreds of mouse tracks in the congealed bacon fat from the previous day. There were also numerous droppings in the pan. Shivering in the gray morning light he simply wiped away the evidence with a paper towel and cooked the morning’s meal. (Gross, right? But I ate the bacon that he cooked …gratefully, as I recall.) Since that trip, Bill has refused to ever go camping with me again. I don’t know if he does with other people or not, but I am definitely on his no-fly list when it comes to this sort of outdoor entertainment.

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From The New Yorker

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Awright, I don’t need it. And if the guesses about what it is going to cost are correct, I might not be able to afford it, either. But as the previous owner of not one but two Volkswagen microbuses, I seem not to be able to help myself … I lust after this thing.

It’s the newest iteration of the VW bus, called the ID Buzz. It is all-electric and in just about every way you might imagine is technologically superior to the old ones. For example, it has 201 horsepower, which is four times as many as either of mine did. It has all wheel drive, while mine had two in the rear. It is rumored that it actually has a heater worthy of the name, which mine only pretended to have.

The only question for me is … does it have a soul? We forgave those older busses their too-obvious deficiencies because we created the myth that they had something spiritual going on. Our feet froze on the floorboards in a cruel Michigan winter – no matter. The lawn-mower-sized engines couldn’t pass anything on the road but other vehicles like themselves – piffle. No possibility of air conditioning – faggedaboudit.

None of that mattered in 1974, though. And an elevated price tag might not matter as much in 2024 or whenever we can finally buy one, if VW pulls off the remarkable sleight of hand tour de force that it once did. Selling us the idea that whatever was lacking here was unimportant. What mattered was that the bus reflected who we were, which was someone both countercultural and inoffensive at the same time. Quite a trick.

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On our bicycle ride in the rural on Monday we were treated to:

  • the songs of Western Meadowlarks
  • the sight of hundreds of new lambs in a very large flock of sheep, so young their tails had not yet been docked
  • a BIG red-tailed hawk that cut across the road in front of us, not fifteen feet away and little more than a man’s height above the ground. Magnificent bird! I’d never seen one that close and on the wing. I didn’t take the photo below, but the bird looked just like this as it passed right in front of us. At that moment I was entirely glad that the hawk and I are the relative sizes that we are. If it were bigger and I were smaller I wouldn’t have been out there in the country riding that bike, that’s for certain. Nossir. I would have nothing to do with cycling as prey.
The Eagle and the Hawk, by John Denver

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S*x Ed*c*tion

You know how back a thousand years, adolescent boys were told that if they indulged in a certain forbidden pastime, they might very well go blind. There they would be – a cohort of sightless teenage boys with the hairiest palms you ever saw, lounging around the neighborhood. (Nothing was ever said about the teenaged girls, I guess the working hypothesis was that they would never …, so why worry?)

I thought about this when I read this piece about ED drugs doubling the incidence of conditions leading to severe visual impairment. Really, it was that old link between sex and going blind coming ’round again, but in a new form. And one with better documentation.

Just to review, here are the big seven examples of what we were taught happens if we … you know … too often.

  • blindness
  • loss of hair
  • hairy palms
  • shrunken genitals
  • mental illness
  • you become a total perv

I never did a formal poll, but I seriously doubt that fear of any of these outcomes was ever an effective deterrent.

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From The New Yorker

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My own sexual education consisted of information gathered from three principal sources. The first two often led to more questions than they answered:

  • Words written on sidewalks and the sides of vacant buildings (often misspelled)
  • The salacious tales related by a childhood peer of what he witnessed by peeping through the keyhole of his older sister’s bedroom door

The third and most valuable was my slow reading of a copy of Dutch physician Theodore van de Velde’s book entitled Ideal Marriage, Its Physiology and Technique. The book was for sale in the student bookstore at the University of Minnesota, and although I could not afford it, I would stop by regularly and read a few pages, masquerading as an actual customer.

Certain pages I read several times, in silent astonishment.

The image shows how the dust cover might have looked when I had finished going through its contents for free. I am afraid that at that point the bookstore could no longer sell it as new, with all of those sweaty fingerprints on the pages.

The book was first published in 1926, so when I committed it to memory in 1956 I was at that point only thirty years behind in my education on this important subject. I have judiciously maintained that position ever since then as a sort of point of honor.

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From The New Yorker

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I think that the point at which I finally realized that s*x was responsible for an amazing amount of the wackiness of the world as well as a good deal of the misery, was when Wilbur Mills, a powerful congressman, was arrested one night near the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C.. He was drunk as the proverbial skunk and in the company of an exotic dancer named Fanne Foxe.

Wilbur and Fanne onstage

A the time Mr. Mills was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a respected husband and father, and a moderately frumpy gentleman in his sixties.

The first whiff of trouble broke about 2 a.m. on Oct. 7, 1974, when two United States Park Service police officers spotted Mr. Mills’s car speeding with lights off near the Jefferson Memorial and pulled it over. Apparently panicking, Ms. Foxe bolted from the car and, yelling in English and Spanish, tried to escape by jumping into the Tidal Basin, a Potomac estuary with an average depth of 10 feet.

The officers pulled her out, handcuffed her when she tried to jump in again and returned her to the car, where they found Mr. Mills and several other occupants intoxicated. Mr. Mills was bleeding from his nose and facial scratches, and Ms. Foxe had two black eyes. An officer drove her to a hospital and the others to their homes.

The incident might have gone unnoticed, but a television cameraman came upon the scene and recorded it. The police filed no charges, and Mr. Mills issued a statement that cast events in an innocent light. But within days the outlines of a political sex scandal began to emerge. Mr. Mills, facing voters in November, returned home to campaign and was narrowly re-elected to his 19th term.

But under withering publicity detailing his alcoholism and peccadilloes with Ms. Foxe, including an impromptu appearance at a Boston burlesque stage where she was performing, Mr. Mills checked into an alcoholic-treatment center, resigned as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and did not run for re-election in 1976, ending a 38-year congressional career.

New York Times: Fanne Foxe, Who Plunged Into the Tidal Basin and Emerged Famous, Dies at 84, February 24, 2o21.

As this scandal unfolded back in 1974 it dawned on me that if this old dude’s hormones could get him caught up in such an adventure, what hope was there for anybody? My question for myself was what portion of the world’s misfortunes could be blamed on s*x and its various permutations. I am still gathering data, but all of my information so far indicates that it is ginormous.

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The forsythia in our neighborhood have had their shot for the year, but the trees have yet to start flowering. To me, that’s when I know that Spring has really arrived. Those trees are cautious creatures, and don’t risk their reproductive moments if they can possibly avoid it. Most years we have lived in Paradise there have been a few fruit trees that were not wise (sometimes a lot of fruit trees) and were caught out by a hard freeze.

When the growers of Palisade peaches are hit hard by a freeze, we get out our black armbands and go into mourning right away, not waiting for late summer. Because we know two things: that the supply of these delectables will be limited, and that those that do make it to market will cost an arm and a leg. We will still buy them, of course, neither one of us is strong enough to resist the joy of having that peach juice run down their chin on that first bite. But we may have to give up something else like taking vacations, or healthcare.

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The singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson does loss and sorrow awfully well. Too well to have had only a casual acquaintance with them, I think. I have called upon his talents on painful periods in my own life quite often. To sense that here is a person who has been through fear and/or heartache and come out solid on the other side makes one feel less alone when it is exactly those feelings that threaten to overwhelm.

Most people eventually earn the right to wear the I’ve Got Troubles So Bad patch on their jackets at least once in their lives. Some more than once. Thompson’s beautiful poetry and muscular playing are on display in the songs that follow, which I offer to any readers who are struggling at this moment.

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My Rock, My Rope by Richard Thompson
Beat the Retreat by Richard Thompson
How I Wanted To by Richard Thompson

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FYI Department

Last summer several of the short nylon straps on my six year-old Osprey daypack simply started dissolving and falling apart. As if I’d poured acid on them (I hadn’t). Robin and I have a total of six Osprey packs between us and never experienced anything like this before. But … it was now an unusable tool.

I went to the Osprey website to see if there was any relief there to be had and lo and behold I found that there is a life time guarantee on all of their packs of which I was unaware. The following text is from their website.

If something goes awry, you contact them, get a repair number, and then ship it to their repair center. Here’s the only hooker – you must pay for the return to the factory. They will look it over and either do a repair or replace it with the same pack or one of similar style, capacity, etc. Osprey pays for the shipping back to you.

So I have a brand-new daypack coming my way later this month. It’s refreshing to find so generous a warranty.

(BTW: Not only do I not receive any material benefits from mentioning Osprey’s name, but outside of one person in their repair department, they are completely unaware of my existence.)

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Talkin’ Iwo Jima Blues

In preparing for our trip to Arizona, I had my memory refreshed regarding the Navajo code talkers and their important work during the Pacific campaigns in World War II. It started when a travel guide mentioned there was a museum exhibit dealing specifically with this group of men located within the Burger King restaurant in Kayenta AZ. Burger King, says I? What’s the story there?

code talker was a person employed by the military during wartime to use a little-known language as a means of secret communication. The term is now usually associated with United States service members during the world wars who used their knowledge of Native American languages as a basis to transmit coded messages. In particular, there were approximately 400 to 500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was to transmit secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formally or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. The code talkers improved the speed of encryption and decryption of communications in front line operations during World War II. 

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

So on Friday evening, when we arrived in Kayenta, of course we went immediately to that restaurant where we each ordered a Whopper and sat down across from the exhibit. It turned out that the father of the restaurant’s owner had been one of those code talkers, which explained the location of this collection of mementos.

On returning home, Robin and I tried to watch the movie Windtalkers, which dealt with these men and their work. I say “tried” because the movie was so violent that we gave up about 2/3 of the way through. But the dramatic thread of the film was that each Navajo code talker in was assigned a bodyguard, ostensibly to protect them from harm from other Americans, who thought they looked too much like the Japanese to be trusted. But there were secrets within secrets in this program.

The Navajo code talkers were commended for the skill, speed, and accuracy they demonstrated throughout the war. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. Connor later said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

After incidents where Navajo code talkers were mistaken for ethnic Japanese and were captured by other American soldiers, several were assigned a personal bodyguard whose principal duty was to protect them from their own side. According to Bill Toledo, one of the second group after the original 29, they had a secret secondary duty: if their charge was at risk of being captured, they were to shoot him to protect the code. Fortunately, none was ever called upon to do so.

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

So Nicolas Cage played a man whose orders were to shoot Adam Beach’s character if the possibility of capture seemed real and imminent. All to protect the code. Good story that, even better because it was true.

The code talkers received no official recognition for their highly dangerous service until the program was de-classified in 1968. Another several decades had to pass before President Bill Clinton finally presented the remaining living members with medals, in the year 2000.

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From The New Yorker

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You might notice, but probably haven’t, that I am a thief with some discernment. This is with regard to the cartoons that I regularly insert in the blog entries. I don’t have permission to use them, and I try to salve my conscience by citing the source each time. If I could draw worth a damn I wouldn’t have to steal, I tell myself, so I cope with my handicap in this illicit way.

Anyway, the discernment comes in when I select those to use. The overwhelming majority come from the New Yorker archives. Not from the present-day issues. Why? Because I don’t think that the present-day cartoons are nearly as good as the old ones. So many of them in recent issues seem more self-important posturing than funny, at least to me. I blame the cartoon editor for this (a person whose name I do not know and do not wish to know) because they are doing the choosing for each issue.

Should I complain to the magazine … ask them please to try to return to the styles of the past in this area? I’m afraid that would require more chutzpah than I possess, being only a mild-mannered larcenist and a self-confessed one at that. I suppose that there is the small chance that I would be clapped in irons and sent to some throwback dungeon for petty criminals where the ceiling drips fetid water constantly and rats as big as javelinas play about one’s feet.

Truth is I can’t take that chance. I have a rather delicate constitution that doesn’t do well with dampness, and my appreciation for the intimate company of rodents of any size is extremely limited. But should you find that one day in the future the blog suddenly stops without explanation, well … you are encouraged to use your imaginations freely.

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From The New Yorker

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The wind has been whistling … nay, roaring … about our ears ever since our return from Arizona, gusting frequently to 40 mph and beyond. Yesterday Robin peered out of our front window and said “There goes somebody’s garbage can.” I turned to look and realized that it was one of ours and it was now headed for the New Mexico border. A quick interception and a repositioning of the wanderer to a less vulnerable spot followed.

The air is filled with a fine dust, forming a beige-colored haze over the entire valley. It’s not the best look for Paradise, but what can you do? It turns out that all those masks we were thinking of putting into storage are just the thing if you have to spend any amount of time outside.

Now if you are a cat, there are several conditions you hate in terms of weather. Rain is one, bitter cold is another, and wind is a third. Our two felines are in quite a pout because they can see a very pleasant day waiting for them when they look out any window, but when they stick their heads through the pet door they are met with all that fresh air moving at an undesirable velocity. They then turn back with a disgusted meow and look at me as if to say “Are you in charge or what?” I don’t know how it all gets to be my fault, but there you are.

I understand, though. It’s bad enough when you are human and your face is more than five feet off the ground, but think how it must feel when that distance is less than five inches, and the wind picks up particles and whisks them into your face, repeatedly. I get it.

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As I typed these words the day got even worse, in cat terms. It started to snow heavily, with the strong shoulders of that wind to stand on.

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I mentioned rodents a moment ago, which reminds me of the time … no, don’t leave … you sit yourself down right now and resign yourself to listening. You came here of your own free will and this is a blog written by an octogenarian and EVERYTHING reminds such a person of a story.

We were a foursome on a fly-in trip to a lake in Ontario, staying in a primitive cabin in the back end of nowhere. We knew we were in a bit of trouble when we first entered and every horizontal surface was littered with mouse droppings. This prompted a brisk clean-up involving much scrubbing and liberal use of the disinfectants provided by our hosts.

That first night I was wakened by a mouse who was busily nibbling on my hair. This was at a time in my life when I had more hair than I do these days, and my response was simply to sweep the offender off into the dark and go back to sleep. Today, when scalp hair is way more precious, I would have risen, found a lantern, and hunted the thief down. Extreme prejudice would have been the order of the day.

The next day we had a council of war, searched the property, and were lucky enough to find a half dozen traps. After supper we baited them with peanut butter and set them in various locations about the cabin. When bedtime rolled around we said our goodnights and turned out the lights. Only a very few minutes passed before we heard the all of the traps snap, one after another.

Over our five days in the cabin we caught enough mice to have made the pelts into a fur jacket, if not a full-length coat. We didn’t, though. Who, we asked ourselves, would wear it?

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We finally watched the movie Belfast. Loved it. It’s a feel-good movie that never got treacly, for us. The young lead actor, Jude Hill, is excellent. You can see why W.C. Fields famously didn’t like playing in films with children. They steal the rug right out from under you.

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On The Road

Wednesday: We are taking off for a few days to rendezvous with Justin and his crew near Page, Arizona. The purpose of the trip, beyond just getting out of town, is to put Robin and two delightful grandchildren together for two days. Of course we will not completely ignore their parents, but … you know. Zoom is just not where it’s at when it comes to keeping tabs on rapidly changing organisms. It’s a problem of scale.

Page is at the western end of Lake Powell, which was the reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam and against Edward Abbey’s will. Mr. Abbey even wrote a book about how what a good thing it would be to blow up the dam, a book that was called The Monkey Wrench Gang. Did I mention that he could be cranky at times?

When Abbey died, he left instructions for his friends to bear his body out into the Arizona desert somewhere, wrap it in his old sleeping bag, and to bury it there. Allegedly the only marker is a stone with these words written on it:

Edward Paul Abbey

1927-1989

No comment.

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It may well be that climate change will achieve Abbey’s goals. Right now the water levels are at record lows with no real hope that they will improve, as the western mega-drought continues. There are serious discussions about taking the dam out of service altogether, and allowing what water is stored in the reservoir to flow downstream to Lake Mead. I can’t say whether that would make Abbey’s spirit happy, that might not be possible. But it probably wouldn’t hurt his feelings any.

Notes: In our first hour of driving today we passed numerous small herds of elk, which taken together probably numbered close to 300 animals. In the small reservation town of Kayenta we went to lunch at Amigo restaurant, which had the most pleasant wait-staff we’d ever encountered. And they were deadly serious about Covid! You signed in when you entered with your name, address and phone number, and then you were ushered back outside. When they called you back in, a woman sprayed your hands with disinfectant and then seated you. Masking was required outdoors and in.

Much of the country we’ll be traveling through in Arizona is tribally owned, and they control access to many of the prime hiking and viewing opportunities. To get to these places now requires getting a permit and hiring a guide, which seems okay until you get to the price tag. It can cost from $65 per person to take a 90 minute walk all the way to $2200 each for a whole day and a chance to visit with one of the few remaining code talkers.

I hate seeing fees this high. There is no denying that the tribes have the right to charge what they will. After all, we’re all happy capitalists, aren’t we? But what it does yet one more time is deny most Americans, people who can’t fork out this much money for a brief walk in the desert, access to some of this country’s most spectacular scenery. That’s not okay.

Mahk Jchi, from The Native Americans

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From The New Yorker

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Thursday: The Glen Canyon gorge is absolutely beautiful. Perhaps even more so now that features formerly under water are emerging as the lake level declines.

I find myself feeling sorry for all those whose livelihoods will disappear as the lake draws down. In the sixty or so years since the dam was built a whole ecosystem grew up that depended on a large body of water. Boating, fishing, luxury homes, tourist lodging … basically the entire town of Page AZ. If this area returns to being the Colorado River there will still be rafting and canyon explorations for the adventurous, but not in the numbers supported by the more passive recreation that a lake provides.

Even if history decides that building the dam was in hindsight a mistake, it was not a mistake made by these working people. The owners of those triple-decker houseboats will pack up and move their toys somewhere else, but a job gone is just … gone. And a home that can’t be sold is a sadness and a burden .

Later today we will seek an area to do some modest hiking, since our crew is a modest bunch. Except for Justin, however, who is immodest in that regard. Thirty years ago I took Robin and her family, along with boyfriend Neil, on a backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area of the Rockies. On our first day we pushed it a little hard, and we were not altitude-adjusted as yet. When we reached the place we were going to set up camp, everyone quite literally collapsed on the ground, cradling their heads on their packs.

Everyone, that is, but Justin.

He wanted to continue on, go over to that ridge a mile or so away and look down on the other side. He was very insistent, but eventually disgustedly resigned himself to our overwhelming horizontalness. I think it dawned on him that if he did get the group up there, he would probably have had to shoot a couple of us, like horses pushed past their limits.

But today we will hike, as one does when in such a group, to the pace of the one person who really would rather not go hiking at all. Today that person is Leina. Our youngest and smallest. But she is also the possessor of one of the loveliest smiles in all of Christendom, and when all is said and done, the smile triumphs over any mere inconveniences encountered while walking together in the out of doors.

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From The New Yorker

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Friday: We moved on today as a convoy to the Grand Canyon area. At midday we will separate, as Justin and company drive south to the Phoenix airport to fly back to California, and Robin and I begin our return trip home.

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon only once before, and truthfully had no particular wish to see it again. You know how you go there with your camera the first time, snap dozens of photos, and then you go back home to rummage through the pics and find nothing worth keeping? Your camera couldn’t begin to capture the immensity of the thing. The canyon is amazing, but not nearly as interesting to me as something smaller in scale. Something more approachable. It’s as if a friend took me to the edge of a cliff and said: “There it is … Indiana!” And all I could respond was: “Are there any towns there we could look at?”

I have now been to the Grand Canyon twice. I have been to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison a hundred times or more. I much prefer the latter. In mid-afternoon we said goodbye to our friends and drove to our motel in Kayenta.

Saturday: Up early and a short drive up to Monument Valley Tribal Park. There is a 17 mile red dirt road that travels through the park and exposes one to some of the most inspiring scenery I’ve even seen. Much more moving than the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t take much more than an hour to do the tour, or you can linger as long as you like. The valley has been used in several western movies, so in a way it was like not my first visit. If you’re interested, here’s a Wikipedia list of times Monument Valley has been used in the media.

In terms of trip planning, we wouldn’t call it a destination, but if you are traveling within a two-hour drive of the Park, it would be shame to miss it. This following gallery contains some professional photos as well as a few of mine. Just didn’t get many “keepers” this time.

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When we returned to Kayenta we went to lunch at Amigo Cafe. Our unfailingly polite waiter brought us chips and salsa as we waited for our entrees. Robin and I each took a chip and dug out a scoopful of the salsa, which will be thought of from this day forward as The Green Death.

Within a millisecond of my hand placing the chip into my mouth I knew that I had a serious mistake. It was as if a blowtorch had been applied to my oral cavity. Gasping, I looked up to warn Robin but I was too late, as I watched her sliding down the banquette and disappearing beneath the table.

All of my extremities began to tremble, my eyes lost focus, and the next thing I knew I was being dragged by my heels to the outdoor patio and laid in a resting position prone against an adobe wall. As I looked about me I saw other patrons, including Robin, who had been lined up along the same wall to recover. Apparently this sauce is locally famous, and even among hardy Navajo citizens there have been one or two who had been similarly afflicted in the past.

In an hour or two we were able to sit up, brush ourselves off, and dazedly finish our lunches. Even though we have temporarily lost the ability to taste, and our upper and lower lips no longer match one another, we have been reassured that given enough time all will be well. If that doesn’t happen, the proprietor has promised that we can come back and have another lunch … on him.

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Our new cat-sitter, Howard, texts us each day to let us know how the cats are doing without us. It’s a nice touch and we appreciate it. Yesterday’s message is reproduced below. (He calls our kitties “the kids” and Howard is a man in love with emojis.)

Jon – kids are doing real well this morning! They are sooo sweet! Hope your trips going well! Your trash was picked up, put trash can back👍alls good here!😻😻👍😀😀

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Spreading

This past week I was trying to shove my feet into my sturdiest pair of hiking boots, a pair I hadn’t worn since last Fall, and when I got them on it was only by curling my toes under slightly. They obviously no longer fit, and trying to make them make do would be only to regret it later as one’s feet slowly reddened and blistered and bled.

At first I thought … there it is again, my feet growing as I age. I had been told this in the past, and kept repeating it mindlessly. But this particular morning I thought “Wait a minute! All of our bones stop growing in length by age eighteen years!” That is when the growth centers, the epiphyses, close for good. The bones can become slightly thicker or more dense, but not longer. What was the deal?

So I looked it up and found that the culprit was that the ligamentous tissues of my feet were softening, and therefore my arches were relaxing and stretching out. Now because of the flat feet Mother Nature endowed me with in the first place, I would have thought there would be very little increasing that could possibly occur with time. And yet my shoe size has gone from 10 1/2 to size 12 in the past six years. I suppose I am not done yet, and these canoe paddles now at the end of my legs could continue to grow even bigger. At that point they will be quite near to clown feet slapping on the pavement.

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On Sunday last I posted an observation on the passing of two friends. Sarah C. commented and added a quote from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that looked promising, so I dug around in cyberspace and here it is:

Dirge Without Music 

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Now that’s a brave approach, one that I can get fully behind. “I do not approve. I am not resigned.” The thing is, though, that while you and I might opt for the stalwart approach, death doesn’t care much whether any of us approves or not. If the grim reaper can be said to have any human quality at all, it is indifference. Indifference as to timing, personal goodness or badness, socioeconomic status, height, gender, age … anything criterion you care to name. We ask the question “Why me?” and the answer comes back from the void “Why not you?”

Oh, there are some rules. If you smoke three packs a day and gorge yourself on red meats it will likely call out your number much earlier than in the case of a non-smoking vegan. If you are 90 years old, your number is statistically ahead of that of a young child. If your gin intake in any given month would be enough to pickle and preserve the carcass of a large goat, you may as well put your affairs in what order you can with the short time you have left.

The Indifference of Heaven, by Warren Zevon

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I had barely begun my investigations into Buddhism when I ran across The Five Remembrances. The first time I read them I thought how interesting it was that so few words could be so depressing. I also thought: “Well, wouldn’t this be a cheerful bunch to hang around with.”As I went through the statements one by one, I paused at the end of each and silently reacted with a “Yes, but … .” It was too much reality, you know? Bummer with a capital B.

The Five Remembrances

  1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
  3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
  4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

But as they ricocheted around in the growing empty spaces inside my skull, I began to see the reason for such bold statements. Their purpose was to toss a pail of cold water on whatever remnants of my thinking were still in Pollyanna mode. Here are some truths, they said, what are you going to do about them? The answer for me eventually was to begin to come around toward healthier consumption, toward kindness and compassion, toward trying to be of some small use to others.

Of course even to the glummest of Buddhists the Big Five are not all there is to life. They make no mention of mountain sunrises, children’s laughter, the joy you feel when a loved one comes home after a long journey. How many moments of wonderful does our life on earth hold? None of these things are in The Five.

But those statements’ purpose is to focus our attention very sharply. Don’t waste a minute, they say, not a single one. The present moment is all you ever have.

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Daughter Kari sent me the link to this video in response to Sunday’s mention of the animated video “Souvenirs.” The humorist Will Rogers famously said that he had never met a man he didn’t like. I haven’t been so lucky, and have met a few stinkers along the way, but I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like John Prine. A fine performance here. Just three guys in nice suits making a whole lot of music.

If the only bad thing that Covid-19 had done was to carry John Prine out of this world two years ago this April, that would have been enough to damn its nasty little viral soul to hell right there. Of course, it was not the only bad thing it did, this monstrosity we couldn’t see, not the only thing at all.

I’m going to double up today on Prine, with another tune from the same video album, Live from Sessions At West 54th Street. It’s a good way to close up this post, it seems to me. (In the song he refers to yet another tune, Louie Louie. I append that as well.)

We gotta go now.

Louie, Louie, by The Kingsmen

(BTW, the DVD containing this concert is still available but in short supply. You can find one in the iTunes Store for $299.00. That is not a misprint.)

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Keepin’ It (Something Like) Real

Let’s begin with something that touches the heart. A story of shared memories … father and daughter … in stop-motion animation. I know, I know, it’s nearly fourteen minutes long, and you are too busy to waste fourteen minutes.

But are you … really … too busy, that is? For nearly a quarter of an hour of imagination and thoughtfulness? This might be one of those moments when your inner child meets up with your adult and the two of you have a great time together.

That’s all I’m going to say about it. I don’t want to come across as brow-beating you into doing something that you don’t want to do. To quote that eminent philosopher Will Smith, that’s just “not indicative of the man I want to be.”

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For those of you who haven’t looked up the location of Montrose CO, we are on the eastern edge of a really vast desert-y area of prehistoric native American ruins. This area includes parts of the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. If any one of these ruins were in my state of origin, which is Minnesota, they would be centerpieces of intense tourist activity. Because there isn’t anything like them in Minnesota.

But out here there are spots like Hovenweep, miles and miles from any major highway and only a couple of hours from our home, that are amazing and haunting and uncrowded. The visitor can approach the structures, walk between them, try to imagine what life was like here eight hundred years ago.

(To save time, I’ll tell you part of how it was. There was no running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, or fast internet. Nor were there any convenience stores. Just imagine … no C-stores. That means no Cheetos or beef jerky!)

For the incurable romantic that I seem to be at times, visiting Hovenweep was a pilgrimage. It was one of those going back to somewhere I’d never been before sort of times.

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From here on in, when people ask me where my ancestors were from, I am going to answer more truthfully and completely than I’ve done before. Instead of telling such a questioner “Norway,” I am going to say “Africa.” It is true that there are plenty of Floms in Norway, there is even a town with that name. But if you keep probing and going further back in time – we are all of us Africans. Norway was just one of many stopping places that those ancient wanderers came upon and where they set up cave-keeping .

Interesting how different we all look from one another today, when 200,000 years ago we might have had pretty much the same appearance. By the time my ancient forebears got to Norway, they had lost all the color in their skins and become the pale people who inhabit that country today. They had also adopted the habit of eating pallid food, like milk and codfish and herring and white bread, which probably didn’t help any.

Along that epic route from Southern Africa to the Norwegian Sea they also first ran out of spices for their food, and then later forgot that those substances ever existed.

This meant that when you asked a Minnesota homemaker of my mother’s generation whether she had any cumin to add to what you were cooking, the response was likely to be “Whuh?”

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Since Robin’s knee surgery I have noticed a new little swing when she’s walking in front of me.  I plan to have a talk with her surgeon to make him aware that this has occurred, and to tell him that this winsome way of walking had better still be there after she has the other knee done, or there will be consequences.  

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Fever, by Little Willie John

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The first R&B song I ever heard in my sweet short life was “Fever,” by Little Willie John.  It was on a day in 1956 when I had been twirling the radio dial and suddenly – there it was. A door opening into a whole new world of music of which I had been unaware until that day.  A bit later that year along came rock and roll and I was a goner. 

Willie’s own life had its definite ups and downs.  He had a string of hits in the 50s and was acknowledged to be a superb showman. But by the 60s his career was in decline and one night in 1964 he stabbed a man to death in an altercation. John went to prison for manslaughter, where he died in 1968 of pneumonia. 

Posthumously he was elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the R&B Hall of Fame, and the Blues Hall of Fame. 

For me personally, he was the man who started it all.  Put my feet smack dab on the Devil’s highway that is rock n’ roll.

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The second man was somebody I saw every week at the AA meeting I regularly attend. Over the past several years we grew to be friends, and I enjoyed hearing his opinions on life in general, not just about the world of recovery. I only learned of his passing when I went to the meeting this past Thursday morning, and when I asked if anyone knew where Phil was, the answer came back “Oh, didn’t you know … he died.”

Death called on two of my friends this past week. One was somebody I hadn’t seen for a very long time, a good man from my past. One of those rare people of whom I had never heard a negative word, not a single one. I wish his family well in coping with their loss.

Stunning, that bit of news. Unexpected, even though he was an older guy, like most of my friends are. There had been no warning, no premonitory tremblings in the Force. A few days before he had been present, and now he wasn’t.

It is the awesome irrevocability of death that hits me every time. There are no second chances, there is no recourse, there are no acts to follow after a brief intermission.

Rationally, little has changed in my life. I saw Phil regularly each week only for an hour or two on Thursday mornings. The rest of the week, or the remaining 166 hours, he was somewhere else. That’s the rational part. But … there was always the possibility of getting together for coffee or for lunch, or there was always the chance that an email message was waiting the next time I turned on my computer. Death has erased those possibilities.

I don’t feel sorry for either of these two friends. They lived long lives and were loved and will be missed by many. Each of us owes the universe one death, and which of us knows what day that debt is to be collected? I do feel for those left behind. It is a commonplace that though the elderly shuffle off this mortal coil every moment of every day, their sudden absence is noted by the rest of us with dismay, as we grieve for what we have lost.

No Expectations, by The Rolling Stones

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Hey, Listen To What I Say … Not What I Said

Joe Biden has been around American politics a long, long time. He is famous for making gaffes, sometimes talks like he’s eating a peanut butter sandwich at the same time, and no one has ever (to my knowledge) referred to him as an intellectual or a scholar. But the other day when he declared that Putin must not remain in power … I understood him clearly. No matter what disclaimers are coming out of Washington DC trying to explain those words away. He now says “I didn’t mean regime change, folks, really I didn’t.” I don’t buy it.

Of course my own understanding is that of a know-nothing yahoo from the prairies without a political credential to his name. And of course world leaders don’t want anyone suggesting that forcibly removing world leaders from office is a good habit to develop. But when Biden said For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power, I heard – take him out. Period.

There were moments in history when disagreements between tribes were settled by having the leader of each group square off in combat. If your guy won, that was a great day, but even if he lost … at least both villages were still standing and there was always hope for a better result down the road.

The evolution of warfare that we see on display in Ukraine finds instead the Russian armies destroying cities, non-combatants, and children. It’s not new, just the latest iteration of the horror that is war. All this to achieve goals that are not completely obvious to those of us in the yokel-universe. Reverting to having one-on-one combat would be so much better than this.

Perhaps Russia would put up Putin as their champion, perhaps not, but I definitely wouldn’t use President Joe to carry our colors. Why, the man’s almost as old as I am! And I wouldn’t suggest having any warrior that superannuated defending anyone’s honor or any country’s borders. Nope. Who I would want as our champion would be someone who was strong, unscrupulous, dumb as a bunch of rocks, and who could hold only one thought at a time in their head and that was winning the duel.

I would send Marjorie Taylor-Greene. If she won we could give her a pat on the back, a medal, a pension, and send her back to to where she came from. A win.

If she lost, at least we wouldn’t have to deal with her particular brand of idiocy any longer. A win.

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We didn’t watch the Oscar ceremonies this year. Our television usage is strictly streaming and non-cable, and all of the choices available to us involved signing up for a free introductory week on some service and then dropping out later in the week. It’s legitimate but a tiresome dodge.

Last year I tried to do this end-around with Hulu Plus but their computer found me out and I received the message “Hey, you did this last year and what good did it do us? So get on out of here, you deadbeat. No more free lunches at this bar.”

I read, though, that I missed something a bit out of the ordinary Sunday night, when Will Smith punched Chris Rock onstage. Usually the attacks in situations like this are verbal ones, small daggers slipped so deftly between the ribs that hours might pass before you even knew you were dead. To have a direct physical confrontation so publicly … .

Rock may have made a thoughtless joke at Smith’s wife’s expense (after all, he makes his living as a smart-ass) but Will Smith … for cripes sakeuse your words! And aren’t we past the time when powerful women need men to protect them from comedians at the Oscars? Jada Pinkett Smith is smart, not socially inhibited, and could have spoken up very well for herself.

It was a thug move on Smith’s part.

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Parker Palmer is an educator, lecturer, activist, author of several books, and a Quaker. Every once in a while I will come across a snippet taken from one of his books, or a short video on YouTube and I think “That is one thoughtful man, I should get busy and learn more about what he has to say.”

And then I am distracted, forget all about him, and go on with life in the maelstrom.

So I have no idea why I picked up his book A Hidden Wholeness this morning and started in reading it. In fact, I had no idea we owned the darn thing in the first place. But I ran into these paragraphs right there in the preface and I was hooked.

This seems such a great analogy, to me. The deadly confusion of a blizzard. The sometimes fatal consequences of being lost in one. I will admit to letting go of the rope at moments in my life, and to not always doing proper maintenance on those good old moral bearings.

This time … I will read Palmer’s book. Maybe there’s more good stuff on the inside. But, you know, at least I’ve read the preface.

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I have joined the Carhartt Universe. In fourscore plus years I have not owned so much as a bandanna manufactured by this venerable manufacturer of clothing for working men and women. Oh there were reasons … everything was this red dirt color, was constructed of the same material that they make heavy duty tarps with, and when wet the garments weighed enough to cause profusions of hernias to bloom.

Then there was always the potential for ridicule by people who actually worked with their hands and who might murmur “Impostor” under their breath as I walked by.

But Carhartt has broadened their lineup of products quite a bit in recent years – more colors, more styles, more sizes. So when we were at Murdoch’s yesterday I took the plunge and bought a T-shirt. It is sturdy, seems durable, and there is not one red-dirt thread in it. One small step for man … .

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