No Love, No Tacos

Here’s a simple little story that was a total day-brightener for yours truly. It’s about La Carreta Mexican Grill, a small restaurant in Iowa that mixed politics with business and some of the blowback that resulted. My hat’s off to Alfonso Medina for his clear thinking in these murky days. This guy is the sort of citizen that will help bring us out of the mess we’re in. Someone who believes in the promises of America and acts upon those beliefs.

A man who is closing his place of business on Election Day so that his employees can vote, while he volunteers as an election worker. (BTW, he is also paying those employees their salary on that day.)

I wish we lived closer to Marshalltown IA … how could their tacos not be excellent?

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BTW, about Mexican restaurants. My first visit to a new one is always the same. I order their beef tacos.

I think of my “system” as a sort of biopsy of the kitchen output, if you will pardon the clinical comparison. It tells me what I need to know about the place. If that simple, uncomplicated item is not savory, if the sauces are lacking in interest and authority, if the shells are stale … why bother with the Camarones a la Diabla? They are very likely to be an expensive disappointment.

Oddly, one of my favorite tacos was served up not in a Mexican establishment but at the salad bar in the Bonanza restaurant in Yankton SD. I say “was” because try to find a Bonanza steakhouse anywhere today. There are only a handful left in the U.S., victims not of Covid-19, but of rising beef prices and changing dietary tastes.

We have a number of Mexican-themed dining places here in Paradise, most of which are interchangeable and unremarkable. Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know which one you were in. They have the same offerings, the same plastic menus, the same unadventurous menu items. No one with chiliphobia would be threatened by what what comes out of their kitchens.

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I have lived in Montrose for nearly seven years, and before that in Yankton SD for several decades. In all that time, I have not had what I would consider a thorough physical examination. The kind that I was taught to do in medical school. The kind that picks up problems when they are smaller and potentially more treatable.

Now, for me personally it has not been a disaster. I can fill in a lot of the gaps with my own self-exams, at least of the places I can reach. I can stand in front of a mirror and check probably 90% of my skin surface. In this way I try to avoid nasty surprises. Otherwise the physicians that I have encountered have basically looked at only what I was complaining about, and usually in a more superficial way than I was taught to do.

My present doctor, who seems a capable person, has never asked me to undress, but listens through my clothing to my heart and lungs, a poor second to placing the stethoscope directly on the skin. I could have a skin lesion the size of New Jersey and she wouldn’t know it unless I brought it up. During my very recent brush with a serious problem (and although I am soooo grateful for the excellent care that saved my personal bacon), no one ever did a complete neurologic exam, or looked at the rest of my body for indications of possible reasons I might have had a stroke at the tender age of only 80 years. This in spite of the fact that my disease was of the central nervous system.

On the other hand, I had two CT scans, an MRI, an echocardiogram, and beaucoup lab tests. It would have been hard for any occult disease process to make it past those sentinels, so I am not worried.

My own training was at a very different time, I admit. A time when we were much more dependent on the physical exam to help us come to a diagnosis. The CT scan, the MRI, and the echocardiogram were yet to be discovered. So it would seem that extensive and time-consuming physical examinations are not prized the way they once were, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe they are only artifacts of a dinosaur age of medicine.

But god forbid that these physicians ever have to go to work on a day when the electricity is off. I wonder if they’ll remember what to do?

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In the Humor section of the New Yorker this week was a series of caricatures of “other otuses.” This was one of the most tasteful of the lot.

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Today I will haul myself to Grand Junction for a visit to the Stroke Clinic. I have a few questions for the neurologist, and also wanted to give him the chance to see me with pants on. I am a much more impressive person when fully clothed, and in the name of full disclosure, I think he deserves to know that.

Otherwise I am doing well and the only change in my life is a single new medication. I have no problems that I didn’t have before my adventure of two weeks ago, and those basically come down to remembering where I put my car keys and to zip up before I go out in public.

Yesterday I was on the phone with friend Bill H. and he asked if Robin and I planned to cut back on our explorations and hikes because of this hour-long brush with an alternative reality. The idea being that we might be sometimes hours away from the terrific care that I received this time. And in the case of a stroke, everyone knows that hours is too long.

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I have given that a lot of thought, and decided against making big changes. If I were to push this line of thinking all the way I’d have to rent an apartment across the street from the hospital and have my groceries delivered, just in case … . So we plan to live our lives as before, not out of some false sense of bravado, but because making sure that we’re never more than an hour from a stroke unit doesn’t work out well in real life. We will minimize the risks where we can, but there is really no risk-free existence, is there?

The number of ways that life could catch any of us unawares is infinite. So we all cover the bases we can, and then we lock the door behind us and go out into the that uncertain world, anyway.

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Gallery

It’s Sunday morning, and I decided not to wander into politics or social change today, but only deal with mental comfort food. The door to the New Yorker cartoon vault was left open a crack, and I was in and out before they even knew I was there. I left no prints behind, but probably some bits of DNA.

If they do come for me, I’ll not be taken alive. There’s no way I’m going back to the slammer.

Today’s subject is pets. I offer a gallery of drollery. (Click on one to bring them up in a decent viewing size.)

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More Stuff About Trees And Chicanery

Friday Morning

Daughter Maja will fly back to the Twin Cities later today, after having given us the chance to show her a bit of how Fall arrives here in Paradise. We spent much of our time together chatting on the small deck out back, under an ash tree that somehow managed to contain all of the leaf colors possible in a tree in October, and then Wednesday a wind came up that tore half those leaves loose and distributed them around us as we sat out there lost in conversation. A lovely moment.

Robin and I took our ballots down to the drop box Thursday afternoon, and that little container was a busy place to be at 4:00 P.M. Apparently the flow of completed ballots this year has been much faster than usual. We’re going to assume that this is a good thing. If Republicans hate it when lots of citizens vote, then what we saw must be making some of them uncomfortable. Members of that party deserve a good whaling for their four years of ignoring anything that didn’t make them richer or attempt to cement their power. They should be ashamed of themselves, but of course we have all seen how incapable of shame they are, many times over.

Does this mean that there are no miscreants who are Democrats? That they are incapable of doing embarrassingly self-serving things?

Nope.

In their case, however, it’s usually individuals who are the perps, rather than the entire party giving itself over to their worst impulses, as has happened lately. I look forward to a day when we will see reasonable and fair people once again leading the conservative opposition, people whose advice we could take and combine with progressives’ best ideas to use in the necessary work of America at home and around our planet.

Is that really possible? It’s a question that I ask myself occasionally, one to which I admit I don’t know the answer. It all reminds me of a line from the song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “It’s too much to expect, but not too much to ask.”

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It seemed like a good time of year to play Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album. So I took myself out back and listened to it for perhaps the hundredth time. Here’s the blurb from Apple Music about the album:

There’s never been anything like Astral Weeks—not before or since. Parting with the straightforward, R&B-based rock of his past, a young Van Morrison embraced his love of jazz, blues, folk, and poetry all at once. The thrillingly transcendent journey finds him mixing bittersweet childhood memories and in-the-moment reveries like a folk-rock James Joyce. His soulful voice soars over a constantly shifting, almost impressionistic landscape of fluid, jazzy lines, gentle strumming, and shimmering orchestrations. The magic Morrison created here is as otherworldly as the title suggests.

If you’ve not listened to it for a while, it holds up beautifully. A love letter from 1968.

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After basically spending the summer lounging around our back yard, our old friend Poco has taken up wandering in the neighborhood as he used to do, especially along the irrigation canal that runs behind our property.

To find him all I usually have to do is walk up about 100 yards and call out his name while standing in front of a particular thicket. There will be an answering meow or two, and then out he comes. Above is a pic from September 2007, when he’d just arrived at our home, demanding admission and attention. He easily achieved both.

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I mentioned our first youth poet laureate several months ago, when she first appeared on the national stage. Her name is Amanda Gorman, and her work provides abundant proofs of the revolutionary power of poetry. In the video below she recites her work Fury and Faith.

Now this woman is way too young to be this wise, but there you are. Among these stirring lines there was one that stood out to me, and it was “The point of protest isn’t winning, it’s holding fast to the promise of freedom …”. This so reminded me of words from the last speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave the day before he was assassinated.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I think we haven’t heard the last from Ms. Gorman.

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Potpourri

Robin and I have a guest here at BaseCamp, daughter Maja has rejoined us for a few days. We are employing the package,* as always. Yesterday the weather permitted us to spend the late morning and all of the afternoon outdoors chatting away like blackbirds settling in for the night.

We even completed a project. Coming back from a walk in the park, we stopped at a roadside stand and purchased three pumpkins which were later decorated by carving or painting. The day flew by, and before you know it we were saying goodnight, as Maja returned to her motel to rest up.

BTW, that warty pumpkin that Robin is working with was something new to us all. Its flesh was so hard that she gave up trying to carve it and did a beautiful job of painting it instead. Nice recovery, that.

*The Package = masks, social distancing, hand washing, disinfection

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The rapper Megan Jovon Ruth Pete wrote an op/ed piece about her defense of black women that I thought was awfully good. So what is the opinion of an aged white male worth in such a case? Very little, I admit, but this is my blog and I get to say stuff. The lady’s professional name is Megan Thee Stallion, and what a title that is.

Here is a photo of the lady in performance. She is not a shrinking violet, it would appear. Nor doth she shrink in her writing.

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Lindsey Graham is having a real fight in his bid for reelection, and for many reasons I earnestly hope that he loses. He has publicly moved from one sycophancy to another, a decision forced upon him by John McCain, who was ill-mannered enough to die on him and expose him as a character without character. So when Graham stopped being the anti-Cluck and took his place at the feet of the Grand Posturer, it was no real surprise.

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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I am indebted to friend Caroline (and to Scotland) for this addition to our vocabulary. It’s yet another example of the fact that what we think is all new today has not only happened before, but there is already a word for it. Such a word is cockwomble.

It goes right up there with kakistocracy, or government by the “least suitable or competent citizens of a state.”

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Our ballots arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon. We saved them for later today, when I will open mine with as much eager anticipation as if it were Christmas. I am going to savor every single X that I put in every single box that will help retire the gang of thieves presently in office, up to and including P.Cluck himself.

If ever there was a bunch of politicians that deserved to be put out to pasture it is these people. They forgot long ago what they had been elected to do – the nation’s business.

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Hey, Buddy, I’m Ahead Of You!

Colorado has come up with a draft plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines when they become available. We are told to keep in mind that it’s a draft, and may require some creative tweaking. But at least it reveals active thought processes with regard to this virus, and those are to be treasured wherever they are found.

Of course I immediately searched to see which line I was standing in, and was disappointed to see that I won’t get my dose until you get down to Category 2B. And that, my friends, means that there is a huge number of people in front of me.

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Because those first two phases include about half the population of the state of Colorado. Of course I might be able to bump myself up the line by taking a temp job at an assisted living facility and getting into 1A, but … just joking. I never cut in line. I regard line-budgers as a lower category of humanity than horse thieves. Hanging is way too good for them.

Robin and I have stocked up on different sorts of masks to make their wearing less boring. Yesterday she asked at what point I would stop wearing one, and I answered possibly never. There will be some other demic coming down the road soon enough, even if it’s not a pan, and I might as well keep polishing these new skills I’ve acquired.

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Garry Trudeau has lost none of his talent for skewering over the decades. I’ve generally been a fan of his, but it depends a little on what I find in Doonesbury on any given day. This one I found sad, but ringing all too true. However, without apologizing for P.Cluck, he is not the only one who has treated our servicemen and servicewomen with disrespect and neglect, once they had served their military purpose. You can follow that story going back to the Revolutionary War.

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At least one of the companies presently working on a coronavirus vaccine is testing a product that must be stored at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The problem is that deep freezes that can provide this temperature are at present few and far between. And even if you are the manufacturer and have such storage facilities, how do you get the vaccine from your plant to anywhere else, since it may be even trickier to transport the medication at such low temps?

Somebody recommended packing the vaccine in dry ice, and theoretically that sounds like it would work. Oh wait, it seems that right now we have a national dry ice shortage, so forget about that for the moment.

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I think that we are in for an interesting time as the multiple vaccines being tested come down to being ready for distribution. More than at any period in our history, we consumers will need guidance of a trustworthy kind, because we will all be traversing an unfamiliar landscape together. With all the pressures on to get a vaccine out ASAP, it is almost inevitable that there will be glitches. We can hope that there won’t be debacles.

In the meantime, anyone have a freezer sitting around that will go as low as 94 below zero? Plug it in, it might come in handy.

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Sunday Morning

We’re heading home after a trip to Denver for a child’s violin recital. The event came off beautifully, attended by only ten people beyond Leina’s parents and sister. It was held outdoors, on the patio of the instructor’s parent’s home, which is a large house located on a hill overlooking the city.

Leina played the entire program without an intermission, I think there were nearly twenty short pieces. Each piece was followed by a deep bow, and when she came up there was this lovely little smile on her face. Like she might be thinking I nailed that!, didn’t I?

Under ordinary circumstances, we might not have traveled this distance in Covid times for an hour’s entertainment, no matter how precious, but this was not an ordinary time. Leina and her parents are moving later this month to California, which will quadruple the distance between our families. And no matter what spin one places on this (i.e. It’s only a two-day drive, or We can use our airline miles) it will make in-person visits more complicated than just getting in the car for a few hours.

That’s enough of a change to provoke some grieving, because it is in an unwanted direction. Seven summers ago we moved to Colorado to be closer to Robin’s grandkids, and for the most part, it worked out. That move was also a change. Closer to one side of our blended family, further from the other.

Buddhism talks all the time about change, stressing its constancy and inevitability. It encourages acceptance of that fact, and with that acceptance we are promised some serenity, some peace that can only be achieved by letting go of what it is impossible to hold onto. These blessings do not come without doing a bit of work, however. Often quite a bit.

Well-meaning friends will come up with cheerless statements (in trying to cheer us up) like “Change can be good” and they are both right and wrong at the same time. There is always a flip side. Each step of “progress” means something is left behind. Today I am eighty years old, and maybe, just maybe, I am a little wiser than when I was seventy-nine. I wouldn’t place a very big bet on that, but let’s pretend that I am for a moment. However, I also just dodged a fair-sized bullet a week ago, and now I am wearing a heart monitor and taking two drugs meant to encourage my platelets not to congregate with one another in unacceptable places. And in my own mind, a nice-sized chip was taken off of what remained of that sense of invulnerability that I started out with when I was born. This was change that I didn’t care for at all, no matter how much I accept it as a fait accompli.

So we wish our friends good luck on their move to the West Coast, and we will be happy with the successes they find out there, but the fact remains that they will be there, and not here. So we can be forgiven a few tears, a few chokings-up when telling the story, the moments of sadness in upcoming days and weeks. Letting go is a process.

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A Word From The Wise

While I was enjoying my in-hospital vacation last weekend, I had an ultrasound examination of my heart, looking for places that might produce repeat performances of the stroke I’d had. The technician was a gruff old bird, a seasoned lady built like Jack Black who jammed the probe here and there with a force just shy of what was likely to crack ribs.

Between winces, I told her the story of how I had come to be in that bed, and when I had finished, she said in her take-no-prisoners voice: “Sounds like somebody needs to get somebody some flowers.” Seemed like a great idea … and so I did.

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Many of the folks I know haven’t heard of Gillian Welch,which is too bad for them. She’s an original, hard to classify into one genre. Some of her music is “alternative folk,” some could have been composed and sung in 1930. And then there are tunes that would be right at home in traditional forms of country music.

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Her albums basically consist of music being made by her and her musical partner of 25 years, David Rawlings, and that’s it. We love her stuff, here at Basecamp. Even though you will search in vain for “happy music” in her catalog, we don’t find listening to her depressing at all. More like thoughtful.

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I found out one thing by watching a half-hour of the vice-presidential debate (all that I could tolerate), and that was that Pence can lie with the worst of them. Prior to that evening, I really didn’t have an opinion about the man, and now I do, so I suppose that’s progress.

I was sorry to miss seeing the two minutes of Pence’s fly-on-the-head, though. That must have been hilarious. Wouldn’t it have been great if one of the production crew had rushed the stage with a can of RAID and blasted away? Or walked up calmly and swatted the VP with a rolled-up newspaper? One of those times when you think later about what you should have done, but didn’t follow through.

The thing that was strange was … how many times have you seen a fly stay in one place for two minutes? It’s mostly when they are perched on dead things, in my experience.

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When A. Hitler was in his bunker as the Allies roared into Berlin and overwhelmed what was left of the German army, he blamed everyone around him, including the entire German people, for failing him and his vision. Let them perish in the fire, he said (or words to that effect), they are not worthy of survival.

Does that remind anyone else of what’s going on in Washington DC right now? P.Cluck is not in a subterranean bunker, but he is lashing out in all directions, and seemingly careless of the harm he is causing our country. His attitude seems to be that if he can’t win, he can at least poison the well so badly that it will take years to clean it. Because that’s exactly what he is doing.

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Gravity Is All-Powerful Department

I attempted to purchase a pair of these pants, but my application was rejected by the company. It seems that they thought I might drag the brand down.

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I don’t spend nearly enough time reading poetry. When an American poet wins the Nobel Prize for literature and I’ve never heard of her – something is seriously amiss. That’s what happened just this past month, with regard to Louise Gluck’s receiving the prize.

So this morning I spent a little time reading some of her work. Just the tiniest smattering, of course, since her catalog is huge. But I’ve found that I could easily spend more hours hearing what she has to say. You know how people ask “What kind of music do you like?” and you have to come up with some lame answer but the truth is you like so many different forms you can’t pick just one?

No one asks what sort of poetry you like, but in my case, they well might. Because I like those that contain universality and precision, while I dislike sentimentality and weepiness. Life is hard for all homo sapiens a good deal of the time, and reading someone else’s teary descriptions of their personal mishaps … it might help exorcise their own demons, but it does nothing for me.

I’m also not crazy about poems that contain abundant references to Greek or Roman myths. I will admit it is probably because my education in these areas was so thin that I feel this way. (I could choose to educate myself instead of complaining about it, but that would require work, and there are times when sloth-ness dictates my every move.) Gluck is fond of this practice, so I had to dig around before I found these two:

The Night Migrations

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them –
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures any more;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

and another one …

The Past

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?

Phobia du Jour

I didn’t mention that I had my first MRI during my recent hospitalization. At least I think I did. When my physician told me that he had ordered the study for me I laid out a scenario for him that included my going completely out of my mind with an attack of acute psycho-killer claustrophobia. This is an as yet undescribed medical condition of which I would have been the first example in the universe.

I told the good doctor that if he put me in that tube without medication of some kind that I wouldn’t be responsible for what transpired, but I sensed that it would not be pretty, and that there would be a need for some significant cleaning up of the MRI room after whatever happened had happened.

Dr. Thompson paled, recoiled, and then scribbled “Versed” on the order sheet. As a result, I recall being rolled onto the elevator as we were heading for the radiology department, but I have no memory at all of being rolled off the elevator. What happened during my drug-induced blackout … I have to take people’s word that I actually had the study done.

I’m not particularly afraid of pain, although I will avoid it when I can, but try to confine me in a small space and you will find yourself looking at a different man indeed. My transformation from Dr. Jon to full-bore Mr. Hyde can occur in an eyeblink.

I dimly recall an episode when I was very young where I was rolled up in a small rug, as a joke. I can’t remember who did it or any other particulars, but the absolute sense of helplessness and of not being able to breathe properly were powerful enough to still affect me today. The recent horror stories in the news of the “I Can’t Breathe” variety … I am unable to read them without rousing that deep fear, down there in the sub-basement of my psyche.

Oh, the MRI itself? It showed a tiny area of injury which may slightly impair my ability to order from menus in Albanian restaurants. I can live with that.

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The Science section of the Times of New York had something interesting to say this morning. It’s about a virus – don’t worry, this is a good one – that causes a very destructive plant fungus to become a very nicely behaved fungus indeed. Botanists are trying to figure out why it does this at the same time as they study how.

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We do live in the most interesting world, don’t we? It’s pretty obvious that while our knowledge is impressive, our ignorance is on a much larger scale. But hey, don’t let it get you down. It means that there will always be something new to learn. Like today.

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From The New Yorker

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Memento Mori Department

As my own memory process becomes gradually more creative over time, quite possibly making up stuff when it can’t come up with the true facts, there are interesting little blips here and there that I know, positively know, are true. Maybe.

Johnny Nash (1940-2020)
One of those blips is the attachment of a piece of music to a particular event in my life. It happens all on its own, and those attachments are indelible. In 1974 I packed up my family in Buffalo NY and went west, driving across a good-sized chunk of Canada on our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On one of those travel days the song “I Can See Clearly Now” came over the car radio. The song was not new but was still getting a bit of airplay at the time. Johnny Nash sang it and it was my introduction to reggae music. Nash passed away yesterday, but each time I hear the tune I can vividly revisit a Canadian morning, zipping through what seemed like endless forests in Ontario.

Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
When Mr. Van Halen ran up against the limits of what he’d learned about guitar playing, why, he’d invent new ways to do it. His superpower was fingers that could move faster than those of mere mortals, almost too fast to see. What came out of his art and leadership was a passel of very memorable songs over a career that spanned nearly thirty years. One of my favorites was “Dance The Night Away,” which came out in 1979, as I was preparing to pull up roots and haul that same family to South Dakota. Here is a video of the boys doing their rock and roll thing, with all the excess and theatricality we came to expect of them.

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Well, the world is certainly going to hell in a handbasket, whatever a handbasket is. Here is a pic of two women who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry for using something called Crispr to engineer DNA. (Bravo, I say, and is there any possibility that I might have some of my genetic code re-engineered to make me taller and better-looking? Or has my Crispr moment come and gone?)

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And last night a female candidate for vice-president who is also a person of color did a number on her opponent, who is male and as white as white can be. Women have forgotten their place entirely and the world is upside down as a result.

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And finally, there is the matter of the recent editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine, which all of the journal’s editors signed, and which damns the present administration’s job performance re: the novel coronavirus.

Now, the NEJM almost never takes political positions, which makes this so very unusual. Its attack is based on the fact that our Covid response, as a nation, has been a colossal public health failure. I republish the editorial here:

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China. The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000. Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.

We know that we could have done better. China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation after an initial delay. These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States. Countries that had far more exchange with China, such as Singapore and South Korea, began intensive testing early, along with aggressive contact tracing and appropriate isolation, and have had relatively small outbreaks. And New Zealand has used these same measures, together with its geographic advantages, to come close to eliminating the disease, something that has allowed that country to limit the time of closure and to largely reopen society to a prepandemic level. In general, not only have many democracies done better than the United States, but they have also outperformed us by orders of magnitude.

Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? We have failed at almost every step. We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public. And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing. While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have. Moreover, a lack of emphasis on developing capacity has meant that U.S. test results are often long delayed, rendering the results useless for disease control.

Although we tend to focus on technology, most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated. The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust.

The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.

The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

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The Best Laid Schemes O’ Mice And Men Ganging Aft A-gley

And here’s how the story went. Robin and I had a day completely open and I had heard that the fall colors were at their best right now on the Grand Mesa. So off we went on Saturday morning. We had some apprehensions about what we would find in terms of visibility because the smoke from western fires was heavy down in the valley. But as we drove up that few thousand feet it cleared beautifully, giving us blue skies and long distance viewing.

We hiked up the Crag Crest Trail for several miles and were rewarded with some of the scenes below. After we had come back to our car, we decided to take the long way home, going all the way across the Mesa and down into the valley leading to Grand Junction. There was even more glorious viewing there on the north side of the Grand Mesa. So inspiring.

At one point as we continued towards home and were on our way through the suburb of Clifton, Robin asked me a question and I found that I could not form words. I also had developed a sort of brain fog that left me unable to help her with her question even I had been able to speak. There was no discomfort, no thing sudden or dramatic. I found myself feeling very odd, so dissociated from everything around me and puzzled but about my being unable to talk. At no time did I ever think “stroke.” I didn’t think causation all, I was just disturbed at my loss of abilities.

Robin pulled the car into a gas station/C-store and talked to the attendant, telling him that there was something happening to her husband (that would be me) and could he help? The man had a nursing background and came right out to where I was sitting on the parking lot curb. After asking a very few questions, none of which I could answer, he called for the EMTs who arrived within minutes. They wasted no time in bundling me into the ambulance, starting an IV, and whistling down the road to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. All the while I watched while still in my fog, without any emotion or fear or curiosity. The feeling I had was that of an observer, rather than the person things were happening to.

When we reached St. Mary’s I found that when a suspected stroke victim comes through the ER doors, they go right to the head of the line. Before you could say “middle cerebral artery” I had a CT scan – BAM. Then a CT scan with contrast – BAM. Then into a room where a very fine nurse described what was happening to me. Robin had by then arrived and I was trying to communicate with her, but since speech was impossible I attempted to write things out. Some times the word I wanted appeared on the paper, sometimes I could scratch out only a few letters. The nurse who stayed with us (a man named Jay), put a med into my IV and less than a minute later and while I was trying to say something to Robin, suddenly my garbled vocal growlings became real honest to God words again. In the snap of a finger.

From then on – no problems, mate! Well, not quite. Turns out that a side effect of that miraculous medication was that you could literally bleed yourself right off the planet if you ever got started. So off to the ICU I went, bed-rest and all. The bleeding worries were over in about eight hours, but they wouldn’t let me off that bed for 18 hours.

So tomorrow I go home, at least that is tonight’s plan. My everlasting thanks go out to Robin who immediately recognized a new sort of gibberish from the sort I usually speak, the C-store guy, those EMTs. the ER crew at St Mary’s Hospital, and the excellent nurses who have put up with me for these two days. First class people all the way. (FYI: St. Mary’s Hospital is a Level I Stroke Center. Keep that in mind if you’re traveling through and don’t feel quite yourself.)

I do have one tip for you all, though. If you ever find yourself here in similar circumstances, do not – I repeat – DO NOT order the scrambled eggs for breakfast. ‘Nuff said.

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Taking off my smartass hat here for a moment. I do realize how lucky I was. Any delays along the way and at best I could have been looking at years of rehabilitation. Sunday night as I was making my way toward sleep I had a few moments where some of the fear I might have had earlier came in on me all mixed up with such a sharp sense of gratitude that I was sort of a weepy mess for a few minutes.

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And finally, my hat is off to Robin. She can drive me anywhere, any time. While we were sitting on that C-store curb, I was trying to tell her to take us home where we’d figure out what was going on. Somehow she knew what I was attempting to say and turned me down flat. She is so disobedient sometimes …

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One last thing. At left is a sign above the commode in my ICU room. I have two questions.

  1. Who puts their hand in a toilet?
  2. Who would ever sit on such a stool? “Sharp device that can cause injury?”no thank you very much! No part of my body is going anywhere near this thing!

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Sermonettes In Great Abundance

My Friends, this is being published a little later than usual today, and here’s the reason. This Sunday morning I am in the Neurological ICU at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where I was brought last evening because I was having a stroke. The excellent med staff here gave me something miraculous and as far as I can tell, all of the stroke’s effects vanished in a minute. I will go on forever about it in Tuesday’s post, but just to let you know that I am fine, and probably going home tomorrow. Life is good, and although I continue to have all my bad habits, alas, I cannot play the piano.

(Of course, I could not play the piano before this happened, either.)

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It’s hard, really, to see much positive coming out of the Cluck years. You could describe them basically as a period where our country’s worst instincts, impulses, and ideas came to the fore. With his Imperial Orangeness as the cheerleader-in-chief. And you’d be right.

But he may have accidentally done this America of ours some favors, if we can survive them. We can’t blame him for creating the large body of ugliness that is racism, for instance, he’s just one part of the whole stinking mess. But without meaning to he has shown us how extensive it is, and how widely held those beliefs are. That’s a potentially good thing. It all depends on what we do with the knowledge. (BTW, when I say “us” I mean, of course, white people. Black people already knew)

And it’s not just the MAGA wackos I’m talking about. It’s Americans like me who were willing to let things be because it didn’t directly touch us. It wasn’t our houses that were burning and our children being killed.

We could turn from the front page of the newspaper to the comic section and so avoid truly dealing with the grim news that came to us day after month after year. We could send off a few bucks to the ACLU or the NAACP and get that righteous feeling that comes from performing a small good work. We could go to our clubs and organizations and come away believing that our chatter meant we were actually doing something about the injustices that we knew existed.

But we never got our hands dirty. Marching and waving a banner that said things like We Are Not Free As Long As One Man Is In Chains looked and sounded so good that it allowed us to think we had done our share in the struggle. But it was all so safe. So risk-free.

Now (and again, I speak only for myself and those like me) we johnny-come-latelys have a chance to help and must take it. By helping to rip out any rugs that can be used to sweep these horrors and unfairnesses under. By talking, by writing, by getting dirt and perhaps some blood under our fingernails as we join those who have never stopped working at these problems. As we become fully our own small part of the solution.

Think for a moment how glorious an America would be where there was true equality. No second-class citizens. Where we were finally one people where each member experienced the same degree of “liberty and justice.” We can get there, but not by going back to what was. I may not live to see this beautiful thing , but my children might. And my grandchildren will.

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From The New Yorker

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

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This morning my cats decided to play Let’s Kill Jon. It’s been the longest time since they’ve done this, so I was caught completely unawares, and they almost succeeded. They did it as a sort of tag team.

For those of you who don’t live with cats, it goes like this. You waken in the dark, perhaps because a cat is yowling in your ear or butting you with its head or is employing any one of the many tricks these creatures can use to get you up. You begin to walk toward the bedroom door when an invisible cat in front of you suddenly stops. You sense this as your right foot is swinging forward and encounters fur. At that point you try to do something that the laws of physics won’t allow, and that is to stop completely with only one foot on the floor while your body is out there ahead of it.

So you grab the door frame to halt what would certainly have been a fatal crash, and get another foot down. Then the second cat runs across your path just as you raise your left foot, and you repeat the performance, this time using a chair back in the living room. Repeat again and again , until you can find a light switch.

Next you turn the light on and confront your adversaries, both of whom have adopted “Who, me?” looks by now and are the very picture of innocence. But there is a tiny sound that you can only barely hear, and without being able to identify it 100%, you come to the conclusion that it is kitties chortling under their breath.

It’s a sometimes fractious friendship, this relationship between man and beast.

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Harvest Moon

Welcome to October, where we start out cool and end up frosty, and here in Paradise right now it is peak time for Fall color. To make today even more special, tonight there will be a harvest moon – natural light to give the farmers additional hours in which to gather their crops. Of course, the headlights on modern harvesting machines and tractors have made this heavenly illumination less crucial, but it’s the thought that counts.

Some of my best personal memories of time spent on my grandfather’s farm have to do with grain harvesting. It was quite a different process when I was a child, a very labor-intensive one. But there were beauties and drama that the modern machines do not provide.

The first step was to pull something called a binder through the field, a machine which cut the grain and tied it into bundles. When I was very young, the power to pull the binder was provided by a team of horses, who were later replaced by a tractor. Next step was for the farmer to gather eight or so of these bundles and form them into a “shock.” The sight of a field of these shocks on a golden fall evening was nothing short of beautiful.

On threshing day, the farmer would drive a wagon through the field and manually collect these bundles, which he would then transport to the the threshing machine and toss into the maw of that mechanical beast. Therein was the drama. As a kid, I fancied the machine was a steel dragon which “ate” the bundles, separating the grain from the chaff and blowing the straw out into a pile.

Here’s a short video, for those who are interested. Notice the man standing on the heaving, bucking threshing machine. Notice all the bare belts and pulleys. Notice the lack of any safety devices anywhere on it. Now picture a ten-year old boy up there. That would have been me.

The hazards of farming were (and still are) very real. But this was a time when children were taught how to stay alive on the beast, rather than kept far away from it. Feel free to judge which was the better way. Thinking back, I wonder that I am still here to type this thing.

Grain was collected into a hopper on the threshing machine, and periodically discharged into a pickup truck or wagon to be hauled away for storage. The very last year that my relatives used the threshing machine, before they purchased a combine which changed the whole process greatly, I was given the honor of filling up a wagon with bundles and pitching them into the thresher. I have never in my life felt more pride than I did on that day. Doing what I thought was truly an adult’s work, among men who I admired.

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Robin and I didn’t watch the first presidential debate because we thought that it should never have happened. We didn’t believe that P.Cluck would observe any rules, act with anything approaching decorum, or tell the truth except in rare moments. Turns out we were right, apparently, in all respects.

There shouldn’t be a second one. Why should there? It will only be a repeat of the first, which was a rehash of the last five years. Let’s stop having these debates right now and give the money that would have been spent to coronavirus research, or prison reform, or any of the other thousand worthy causes that could be helped. Another two such fiascoes will serve no purpose other than Cluck’s own.

This television series deserves to be cancelled. It’s a flop. It could never have been anything else.

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Speaking of television – we’re enjoying the series “Away” which stars Hillary Swank, one of our favorite actors. Great supporting cast as well. For me it could be just a tish less soap-y but the overall story is a gripping one. It’s about the first humans to go to Mars.

I’ve never really thought through what such a mission would be like, and what sacrifices would need to be made. Sailing off to another planet on a flight that would take years. Never mind the hazards, even if everything went as well as it could possibly go, being away from friends, family … completely out of all of those loops … for years. What would that be like? Which of the people that you loved would not be still among the living when you returned? Which of your relationships might not survive such a separation? When you have done something so extraordinary, how do you cope with the mundane? Which people around you could begin to understand what you went through?

I talked a couple of posts ago about the emigrant experience, stepping off the dock onto a ship that would take you to a new land from which you would likely not soon return. Going to Mars would be like that. But the stepping off would be even more dramatic and irreversible.

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I don’t know whether to admire those individuals around the world that are making plans to go to Mars and to live there, or to consider them as not quite right in the head, as my grandmother Ida Jacobson might have said. There is more than a little hubris in the thinking of those very creative individuals, like Elon Musk, who are working on this.

To think that somehow a group of humans could be selected and transplanted to another world and make it work, when very similar creatures haven’t been able to do that on the world we now occupy … do enlightened people exist in numbers adequate to the job?

As for myself, a person who I regard as extremely enlightened (move over, Buddha), I have no plans to join such an expedition, even if I was asked, nay, begged to join the group. I don’t want to live anyplace where I can’t pee in the woods without wearing a special suit.

As I understand it, Mars does not offer such opportunities.

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The Times of New York reviewed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Tuesday’s edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews that I have ever read. Can’t wait to see it (Netflix). So interesting to get Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ takes on how the film came to be. Washington’s statement that he plans to spend whatever career he has left to bring more of playwright August Wilson’s works to life was very moving.

He is one of those actors whose face reflects intelligence while his body says that if you don’t get it the first time, he is fully capable of cracking your head during your continuing instruction.

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Helpful Hardware Man, Yessir!

There’s but one day left of September, which has been a warm and undemanding month. A little hotter than we wanted on some days, but they’re all behind us now. Robin and I have finished our first week of self-quarantine, although we’ve had to break our own rules on occasion.

For instance, on Sunday I noticed that the water in the commode in Robin’s bathroom never stopped running. I removed the tank lid and started to fiddle with the floating ball that is supposed to stop the water flow, when the entire rod and ball broke off in my hand. Age and corrosion had done their work over time, and there was nothing for it but to take a trip to Ace Hardware for a new float valve apparatus.

Stuff like that happens. Otherwise we go out to pick up our groceries using the City Market system where we pick out what we want online, order it, and then stop by the store to have the worker put the food into the back of the car for us. We exercise outdoors instead of at the gym (which is a healthier option anyway), and basically avoid mankind.

BTW, we are sooo fortunate to have this hardware store in our town. It’s not a big one, but there is always someone waiting for me when I walk in the door who asks if they can help. Usually is it some older guy, and when I try (haltingly and incompletely) to explain why I am there, he takes me by the hand to just where I needed to be, hands me what I need to buy, and then leads me back to the front of the store. A real store with real stuff in it, and knowledgeable people to assist us. What a concept!

On Sunday my helper was a stooped elderly gentleman who led me to the plumbing section of the store and pointed at a slender box. There were at least five varieties of toilet tank water valves to choose from, but when he said: “This one is the easiest to install, and one of the most economical as well,” he had me at “easiest.” I fell to the floor on my knees in gratitude, but I think that embarrassed him, because he recoiled and said: “Get up, please, and never do that again.”

It’s also the sort of establishment that has a popcorn popper by the door, and you can help yourself to a bagful anytime you want, for free. All in all, it’s enough to give retail a good name.

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Tonight will offer the first of the “great debates.” Robin and I are pretty sure we won’t watch them, and both have the same reason for doing so. We can’t stand the sight and sound of P. Cluck. We wish Mr. Biden well, hope he’s been practicing, and know that the fact checkers will have their hands full. Cluck simply cannot open his mouth without making s**t up.

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Now that the name “Karen” has become synonymous with a certain type of clueless, white, woman of privilege, I found myself wondering how people who actually bore that name were faring. But in all of Paradise I could find no one who would admit to being named Karen. There were a few who I wasn’t able to talk to because they saw me coming and ducked down alleys and into waiting SUVs that whisked them safely away from my prying eyes and questions. So I suspect there are some out there, although I can’t prove it.

It reminds me of the problems that some Norwegians had with bearing the name “Quisling” during WWII. Now Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian bureaucrat who got along famously well with those pesky Nazis who were occupying his country. So well, in fact, that the word “traitor” became synonymous with his last name. It’s still the case today.

From 1942 to 1945 he served as Prime Minister of Norway, heading the Norwegian state administration jointly with the German civilian administrator Josef Terboven. His pro-Nazi puppet government known as the Quisling regime, was dominated by ministers from Nasjonal Samling. The collaborationist government participated in Germany’s genocidal Final Solution.
Quisling was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II. He was found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder, and high treason against the Norwegian state, and was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress, Oslo, on 24 October 1945. The word “Quisling” became a byword for “collaborator” or “traitor” in several languages, reflecting the contempt with which Quisling’s conduct has been regarded, both at the time and since his death.

Wikipedia: vidkun quisling

One hopes that the Karens of the world will one day be able to re-emerge from their closets and bring out their monogrammed items to wear with pride once again. Remember, folks – Karens are people, too.

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From The New Yorker

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People are covering outdoor plantings at night these days. Our temperatures have been flirting with that magical 32 degrees here in the valley. Each Fall we call on a local company called Rainmaker to service the in-ground sprinkler system that we inherited when we bought the house. And no matter when we call them, each Fall they schedule us after the first freeze happens, so that we have a few nights where we need to provide the above-ground components some protection. Last night was one of those nights.

However, this inconvenience has its bright side. No matter how lovely and summer-ish the days might be, we know with great confidence that it will freeze a day or two before our scheduled service. That’s helpful to know.

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Sunday Morning

The breeze is peeling off the easy leaves, the handful of yellow ones hiding up in the green canopy that is the ash tree. It’s layering them evenly on the grass, my table, the deck. Piece by piece my sunshade is being removed until there won’t be anything between me and the autumn sun but … me.

On Saturday the smoke cover returned, completely obscuring the San Juans south of us. Pieces of California and of Oregon passing overhead. Parts of homes and forests that used to be. What a basket of sorrows is America this year for so many, more than enough for a full-bore lamentation. Can I have a that’s for damn sure, brothers and sisters?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m presently running a side by side comparison of Spotify and Apple Music, trying to see if one of them suits my warps and woofs better than the other. I think that I’m about done with buying music after three-score plus years of doing just that. The only time I have to own a tune is when I need one to put up on the Jukebox for you folks. Let’s say that I have maybe ten or twenty thousand songs on my hard drive … hey … Apple has 50 MILLION for me to listen to if I want to give them a few bucks each month. I was not a math major but I think that 50 million is way bigger.

Right now I’ve pulled up a Ry Cooder playlist on Spotify that goes on for four hours. I believe I won’t even move from my chair and I’ll have my supper served out here on the deck, s’il vous plait. Jus’ put my plate down over there and do it ever so quietly, there’s a dear.

But the idea of having a record library is so ingrained in me that it is a wrench to make this change. However, there have already been quite a few changes in recorded music that some of us have had to deal with.

  • Going from 78 RPM and 45 RPM records to those lovely 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LPs with all that great artwork on their covers
  • Evolution of tape players, first reel-to-reel, then 8 track, then cassette.
  • Making my own mixtapes – such a great thing for the compulsives among us
  • Advent of the compact disc – no more skips or static, but now that lovely album artwork was tiny and cramped
  • Online selling of music by the album or by single cuts (think iTunes)
  • Death of the music stores. R.I.P. Musicland, R.I.P. Tower Records, etc.
  • Advent of contract digital music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.

As hard as it is to contemplate not owning new music, it was harder back when I realized that if I made a mixtape or burned my own CD (same thing), no one wanted a copy any more. Why would they when they had access to these monster collections online?

[But something was lost when the mixtape went away. You picked out the songs, and then there was the all-important sequencing on the tape. If you made one for a girl you were interested in, you wanted to have her play it and end up thinking warm thoughts about you … it was half gift, half psychological implant.

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A friend reposted this stirring graphic on Facebook. Remembering that scene was a heart-melt for me. Possibly even more because of how well it fits today .

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Here’s the original clip.

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Backing Away From The Fire

The sky above me could not be bluer. The day could not be sweeter. And that’s because I am severely limiting my exposure to that part of politics that I cannot affect. I simply can’t deal with the maelstrom that is out there to the East. It’s too crazy. Too all-absorbing. Too toxic for me.

I have volunteered for phone call duty, perhaps some envelope-licking, and I read the Times in the morning. If anyone needs a ride, I will mask up and be there. If there are banners to hang or signs to stick into the ground, I am game. But for now I am done with watching any of the breathless ones with microphones in their hands. Personally, I don’t need to find another reason to vote for Biden/Harris. I already have hundreds.

You remember this guy, Travis Bickle. He got too close to the flame in a political campaign and you know how that came out. I’m definitely not going where he went, but I do understand how he got there.

When my mail-in ballot shows up it will not spend one night in my home but be filled in and rushed to where it needs to go by suppertime. If by some mischance I am sent two ballots I may do the patriotic thing and vote twice. If I see a ballot hanging out of a trash can I may pluck it loose, brush off the food scraps, and use it to vote straight BLUE. Ordinarily I do have more scruples than this, but 2020 is special. If it takes some creative chicanery to help unseat the Cluckmeister, I am not above doing my share. Perhaps my unmeritorious efforts will cancel out one Russian troll’s mischief.

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The song Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye has become a classic. Leonard Cohen wrote it. Wistful. Poetic. Beautiful. Feist’s version over there in the Jukebox is intimate and gorgeous. Perhaps that’s because she’s Canadian, as was Cohen. Maybe there is a cosmic Canadian consciousness that they shared. How would we ever know, not being from there, and presently not even being allowed to go there?

Feist

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On our recent drive to South Dakota and back we had hours and hours to look out the car windows for the signs of autumn. I would estimate that in the prairie states about 10% of the leaves have turned color, while here in the mountains it is closer to 40%. There were places in both prairie and mountains where instead of becoming colorful, the leaves were just becoming a lusterless brown and shriveling up, presumably due to the dry weather.

Colorado still has a statewide fire ban in place, and it would take a lot of rain to change that. Fortunately, even the drunken yahoos we met a couple of weeks back seem to take this admonition seriously, so our local fires are basically lightning-caused. We’ve not had any burning near us here in Paradise, and over the past couple of days the West Coast hasn’t been nearly as generous with their smoke cloud, allowing our sun and stars to peek through.

One thing we’ve been spared so far is a fire caused by exploding devices at a gender reveal party, unlike what happened in Arizona and California. Ahh … humans … can’t live with ’em, can’t live with ’em.

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From The New Yorker

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Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent piece this week about tyrants, starring guess who? Sullivan’s a smart guy, and this article brings conflicting things together so well I highly recommend it. Unless your blood pressure is worrisome or your mind is about to snap with what you’ve already taken in. The piece is called “The Face of a Tyrant.”

And if your brain is not worn to a nubbin and you are still wanting more to think about, click on David Brooks’ name over in the Links list on the right. His latest piece is How Faith Shapes My Politics. A thoughtful op/ed about one man’s journey from atheism to belief and what that did to his political convictions. It’s pertinent to today where a candidate’s fitness for the SCOTUS is being at least partially based on answers to these same questions.

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Passages

A week. We’ve been gone a week and are more than ready to rejoin the rest of our clothes and to eat a meal we’ve prepared ourselves using something other than a microwave. Since we’ve not heard from our cat-sitter we ordinarily assume that the furry pair have been doing well. Yesterday we saw the first few patches of blue sky we’ve seen in all of that time, as the smoke blanket began to develop holes big enough to matter. We actually saw a few stars last night as well.

On our way home we passed through Denver and stopped for a few hours to connect with the Johnson family. It’s almost a certainty that they will take off on the first phase of their move to California by the end of October. Grandma ain’t happy about that. Philosophical, resigned, but not happy. Those grandchildren are among the loves of her life, and no matter what sort of narrative we construct, they will be farther away when this process is done. There are only two saving graces here, airlines and FaceTime.

Every once in a great while, something happens that prompts me to imagine what it must have been like in the late 1800s for my great-grandparents. Stepping onto boats in Norwegian harbors and bound for an America they could only wonder about. What painful goodbyes those must have been. Even if you could try to fool yourself into believing that you’d see those friends and relatives again, you would know in your heart that the chances were slim. That this was probably well and truly it.

Oh, there would be letters occasionally. Letters that took months to reach you. Until finally even the letters stopped coming, and your only connection was through others like you who had made this same journey, and who could sit around with you and talk about “the old country.” But stepping onto those boats, and looking back into those beloved faces on the docks. That would have been a hard doing.

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Today I will receive at least five emails telling me that unless I send in another $10.00 to (fill in the blank) ‘s campaign that Western civilization as I know it will be lost forever. That P.Cluck and his army of trolls and orcs will come to my home, tear up my lawn, break my windows, and shoot my cats with their Second Amendment AR-15s. That without my ten bucks there is absolutely no hope of the sun ever shining again, and no chance that the leaves will turn color this Fall.

These emails are coming at me from all directions, from folks like Nancy Pelosi, James Carville, Barack Obama … there’s quite a list of names of very important people who now correspond with me. I wonder that they can get anything else done, what with all the writing they are doing.

I have become resentful of the whole process. I know that campaigns need cash, but this electronic fear-mongering has gone from being amusing to annoying to distasteful. If one party collects more donations than the other in September, is that really all there is to it? Is money the only thing? Are we that easily manipulated? I’d rather not believe that, thank you very much.

So to Nancy and Jim and Barack – put a fork in it. Stop the hand-wringing over those dollars and spend your time reminding us what is really at stake here. Cluck may not be a Hitler, he may not even be up to being a Mussolini. But he’s a bad guy in the tyrant mold, and we need him out of there. America has work to do in this world and he and his cronies are standing in the way.

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An old friend declared the other day she that this political season has caused her to have occasional violent, even murderous, thoughts, which she found shocking.  I reassured her that she was not the only one to do so.  As a matter of fact, H.L. Mencken voiced those feelings very well back in the 1930s when he said:

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

Around this discussion table there were both men and women and no one under 65 years of age.  We also decided that if there was to be a revolutionary group taking up arms against those oppressors, it made a great deal of sense to use citizens much like the group we represented.

First of all, in the matter of assassin-ship, who better than a bunch of gray haired grandmothers to get past security and close to a target?  And if any of us were to be caught, well, how many years do we really have left? Might as well spend them in a righteous cause. The only problems that I could see were that our aim is probably not what it used to be. Also, because we’d all lost some hearing acuity we couldn’t depend on auditory commands and instructions, and when you start standing up and waving flags to get your co-conspirators’ attention, it’s quite possible that the Secret Service and the FBI might notice.

(Note to Homeland Security.  Before you load a couple of vans and come for us with those same thugs you sent to Portland, look up the word “satire.”  You might save some time.)

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Another woman that I loved has passed away. I first encountered Juliette Greco when I was seventeen and an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. My minor was French and one of my professors was Monsieur Renaud, a small but fiery man who turned me into an avid (and lifelong) Francophile. I practiced my accent for hours on end, I shopped in bookstores for French language titles, and I looked around in music stores for examples of what a real French person might listen to.

And it was there that I discovered Juliette. She was beautiful, she sang with passion, she hung around with Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, and she had been in the French resistance during WWII. What perfection!

Of course, she was nearly twice as old as I was at the time, but that was never an obstacle to infatuation, which is a toxic and febrile state that sniffs at realities like those.

So now she’s left us. But I still have some of her music, saved from the time of that long ago and very one-sided love affair. Today I will indulge myself and listen to some of it. And share a piece or two with you as well.

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A Brief Posting

Sunday night I couldn’t sleep, and a motel room is just too small when that happens. There is no good place to go. Even the light from a computer screen is enough to wake a sleeper and that wasn’t going to work out. So I left the room and went driving at 2 AM. Out in the countryside, along the lake road. I pretty much had the territory to myself, and it was all familiar. The wall by the Gavin’s Point Dam, the dark Missouri River reflecting any lights in the neighborhood, the quiet place that is Lake Yankton. I knew every turnoff and turnout.

I wasn’t alone. I saw two young raccoons at the side of the road and slowed so that they could cross safely. I saw a white cat streaking across the highway in front of me, and right behind it was a red fox. The fox screeched to a halt before entering the road, having made the calculation that my car was too close and coming up too fast to take a chance, and so lost its opportunity for a feline breakfast.

Around 5:00 I returned to the lobby of the motel, where the coffee pots had already been put out for us, and settled back in a comfortable overstuffed chair. Then two Yankton policemen came in. Somebody had begun to phone in a 911 call and then hung up. Their system could tell that the call had originated in the vicinity of the motel, so they were checking what they could check. I had to tell them twice that I was fine and had not called them, but they still looked at me like I might explode at any moment. They then put a question or two to the woman at the desk before they left the building.

So I felt reassured, having people care about my welfare, even when they were armed and wearing Kevlar vests and didn’t know me from Adam. Life is good.

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We did get in a supper at Charlie’s Pizza, and although the personnel were unknown to us, and Covid had rearranged the seating somewhat, the pizza was every bit as good as we remembered.

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I Now Pronounce You …

Although the wind blew and the smoke hid the sun, Amanda and Lee were married on the grounds of a South Dakota hunting outfitter in a very well planned ceremony. Bride and groom were cool as the proverbial cucumbers, while the bride’s parents were somewhere on the other side of the vegetable spectrum. Being a parent can occasionally be tough, and a wedding is one of those instances where you are called upon to exercise skills you were not given at birth, learned in school, or picked up at the coffee shop. In short, you are flying somewhere near blind.

Unless you can afford to hire a wedding planner, and even then there are hundreds of questions to answer and so very many checks to write

But it all went down so well. It was a lovely time, and Robin and I are very happy for the couple and wish them long and happy years together. They have already been through more trials than most newly marrieds and deserve a break. A good, long one.

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To bring things back to the ground a bit. We left the grounds shortly after the ceremony, skipping the reception and wedding dinner, which were to be held indoors. This had been our plan from the beginning and we stuck to it. There were only three attendees who were masked, and we were two of them. Our plan also includes self-quarantine when we get back to Paradise.

I don’t know about you, but we really don’t love this era of the coronavirus. It’s like a big paintball battle, but one where the opponents are invisible and the paint is poisonous. Sheeesh.

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From The Mountains, To The Prairies …

The drive from Montrose to North Platte NE was remarkable only for the unending pall that hung over us. At no time did we see blue sky or an unfiltered sun. Smoke from those awful fires on the West Coast mixed with those of Colorado as we moved further east. Everything we looked at from the windows of our Forester had a look that was drained of color, and the horizon disappeared into the haze. It was all as if the cinematographer in charge of the movie we were in had chosen to provide us a palette common to horror films. One that was chilling and foreboding.

Our lunch stop was in Buena Vista CO, at the House Rock Cafe, a favorite of ours. How many places have you eaten in your life that were consistently good, never failed to satisfy? This is one of those. (Most of our visits to grandchildren in Denver involve passing through Buena Vista.) A warning – if that $13 charge for a burger seems on the high side, wait until you see the plateful of stuff that gets you, including a perfect green salad, some guacamole, fries that hold up through the whole meal, enough excellent sliced (and unusual) veggies to build a truly awesome sandwich … excuse me for a moment, I just drooled all over my keyboard.

We quickly found that the news of Covid 19 has apparently not reached western Nebraska as yet, as evidenced by the near-absence of facial masking. Fortunately our contact with this information-deprived populace was minimal, primarily involving asking for the location of the restroom. A notable exception was a late supper at the Runza restaurant in North Platte. The only masked people present were Robin, myself, and the blonde young woman behind the counter who greeted us. Immediately there was a problem in communication, due to the fact that the woman was masked, behind a plexiglas protector, and spoke at a speed I had thought impossible for human beings. It led to this exchange.

Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
What.would.you.like. to.order? (Words delivered painstakingly slowly, as you might to a person you have judged to be an absolute dunce)
Oh, we’d like two Runzas, please.
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
What’s that?
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
Excuse me, what did you say?
Do.you.want.just.the.sandwich.or.a.meal?
The meal, please.
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
What?
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
Please?
That.will.be.$14.97.
(Pays for food)
Tatreiohohhohoiho;ita. Hasdlgsfbjblnby!
Could you repeat that?
Thank.you.for.choosing.Runza.Have.a.wonderful.day.

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A lot of the fun that I have in keeping this journal, and subsequently inflicting it upon you, is due to the years I spent reading the essays of S.J. Perelman. He was what used to be called a humorist, a category that has never had enough members to suit me. I remember reading his stuff during long boring shifts as the night orderly on an inpatient psychiatry station at University of Minnesota Hospitals. I used to own a couple of volumes of those pieces, but I think they have gone on to their eternal rewards by now.

So how does this make today’s writing fun? Because, in a very halting way I think I borrow from his style in some of what I put down on the screen. And this piracy, purloining, and pilfering – this clumsy hommage is somehow enjoyable to me. Here are some Perelman quotes for you to look over.

I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.

Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it.

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.

I have no truck with lettuce, cabbage, and similar chlorophyll. Any dietitian will tell you that a running foot of apple strudel contains four times the vitamins of a bushel of beans.

See what I mean? He’s in my head and I couldn’t get rid of him if I wanted to. BTW, if you should ever look up Mr. Perelman and peruse his material, you would find that there’s a bit more acid there than in what I do. He was, at heart, not a happy man, although a very bright one.

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By Friday evening we had landed in Yankton, unpacked our small collection of our stuff we’d brought along, and found ourselves ordering a sackful of Tastee-Treat loose-meat sandwiches, a home-town tradition if ever there was one. We took our treasures to Riverside Park and did some reminiscing there while we ate an al fresco supper. To finish off the evening we walked across the old lift bridge, all the way to Nebraska and back.

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On this Saturday morning, the auspices are good for an outdoor wedding. So many things have to come together for these exercises in blind meteorologic faith to come off with anything approaching grace. A day that’s too warm can wilt the proceedings and bring about an epidemic of the vapors, with the noise of people collapsing near you being a significant distraction from one’s appreciation of the ceremony. Any breeze over 20 mph begins to fray at the edges of the decorations until finally veils are flying and words of betrothal are lost in the roar of the gale.

And rain. What about that blessed water from heaven that can affect the rites more than anything else, and send the assemblage scattering like an nestful of rabbits, holding their wedding programs over their heads? All that effort spent on the bride’s hairdo comes to naught in a soggy instant, and those spiffy rented tuxedos are so far from looking their best in a downpour.

And all this because when the wind does not blow, the sun does not wilt, and the rain does not fall, it can be quite lovely and memorable. You rolls your dice and you takes your chances.

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Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

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The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

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I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

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From The New Yorker

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On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

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I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

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Eastward Ho

This is the week (beginning on Thursday) where we will travel back to South Dakota, to attend the wedding of Robin’s niece. We will be driving, both because of Covid and because that is our preferred manner of travel. Flying is much quicker, for certain, but there is that sense of dissociation when you climb into a tube in one world and step out of that same tube into another. When we drive, we touch all of the places between origin and destination.

For instance. If it were not for driving I would know almost nothing about the entire state of Nebraska. And that would have been a shame, because I like Nebraska. At least I like it when you can get off of Interstate 80 and away from its bumper-to-bumper semi traffic. I especially enjoy traveling in the Sandhills region in the northwestern part of the state. And the butte country west of Chadron contains so much interesting history, including a plaque at the spot in Fort Robinson State Park where the Native American leader, Crazy Horse, was betrayed and killed.

It was in this part of the world that novelist Mari Sandoz grew up, and it is the place that served as the backdrop for her most famous book, Old Jules. If you ever thought your own father was a difficult person to live with when you were a child, you haven’t met Old Jules. To say he was a hard man is to seriously understate the case.

The wedding will be held outside of Yankton SD, which is of some concern, because South Dakota is one of those states with a mentally deficient governor who does not believe in anything she can’t see with her unaided eye. These pesky viruses are nothing but Democratic lies and fake germs to Governor Noem. Science – just more liberal booshwa! As a result, the state is one of the less safe places to be in America. But the wedding is scheduled outdoors, where we should be able to put some distance between us and the other attendees. At least that is the plan.

Ordinarily we would take some time to renew old and treasured friendships, but I would personally rather come back when the clouds have lifted and I can actually shake the hands of those friends, sit in their comfortable chairs, and lean back to safely inhale my share of that sweet prairie air.

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There are quite a few older citizens living in our small development here in Paradise, some even older than myself, if you can believe that. Across the street from us is a gentleman named Bruff, who moved here from North Carolina a few years ago and who lives alone. Bruff has diabetes and some neuropathic complications of that disease, so when no one had seen him for several days, and there was no response to serial knocks at his door, it prompted obvious concern. Add to this that the week before this one an ambulance had stopped at his house, for what reason no one knew.

So Robin and I appointed ourselves the investigators-in-chief, to find out if he was still among the living, and where he might be. Our local newspaper prints out very brief summaries of every police department call, and this is where we started our search. We found that on the 8th of the month the PD had indeed made a call to Bruff’s residence. There was just the notation of “Citizen assist,” whatever that might represent. So on Sunday we drove to the police department, and were fortunate enough to find a patrolman outside of the building, which was locked up.

He was very helpful, and although there were limits to what he could share with us, he did find out that the ambulance call was to pick up some things that Bruff needed, and that he was had been a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction at that time. Of course, when a stranger calls a hospital they are not fountains of information in modern times, what with HIPAA regulations and all. Not like the “old days” when they would tell a stranger on the telephone everything they ever wanted to know about a patient.

But hospital personnel did admit that Bruff was there, and transferred me to the nursing station in the Critical Care Unit. A very pleasant woman said that she would be happy to connect me with the older gentleman by phone, but I should know that he was a “little bit delirious” and she wasn’t sure how well he’d do in holding up his side of the conversation.

Before I could process what “a little bit delirious” meant, and could tell the lady let’s not bother him, I was talking with Bruff on the phone. We spoke briefly, and I passed along our concerns and those of other neighbors here in the cul-de-sac. I wasn’t sure how much he would remember, but at least we know something of where, if not why. It’s enough for now.

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There’s a remarkable op/ed article in the Times of New York dealing with the coronavirus. The text is clear, the extensive graphics and animations are highly instructional, and it puts into perspective what is happening in the U.S. and the rest of the world with regard to viral spread .

The thrust of the article is that setting up a wall is an essential part of controlling the virus. It also states clearly that what Robin and I are about to do, travel to a high-risk state and return home, could put us in the position of being being unwitting vectors for the virus. Unless we put up our own wall, that is. Which means self-quarantine for two weeks. I hadn’t given that part of our plans as much thought as I might, but by doing so we can significantly reduce the chance that we will bring back more than our memories to share with friends here.

So why go at all? Because Robin has only the one niece, and that young woman has only recently finished a course of chemotherapy for breast cancer. All this makes it a rather special set of circumstances, we think, even if it means we must run in place for a while when we return home.

Good article, though.

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We’ve given away tomatoes to anyone whose lapel was near enough to grab, and there were still a bunch that needed to be dealt with before we left on our trip to SD. So yesterday was cut ’em up and boil ’em up and make enough red Italian-seasoned sauce to last the winter. This year there are NO home canning supplies available in our area. No jars, no lids, no rings … so we saw cooking the fruit and freezing the result as our only choice. Tomorrow I’ll probably do another batch and then that’s it for 2020. End of gardening for the year.

The tomato plants look tired. It’s been a tough summer for them. Lots and lots of stress, even though we kept them well-fed and well-watered. About 1/3 of the tomatoes developed something called “sun scald,” which is an injury produced by … well, you know … too much sun.

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Sunday Morning

I hereby promise not to complain about our piddly weather variations here on the Western Slope. Not as long as the West Coast is on fire. That is a problem, a heartache, a series of disasters. Our cold rains, too-hot days, dust blown in our eyes, early frosts … these are annoyances.

I may mention local meteorology, but I will not complain. Not that this will be a difficult thing to do, because I have a naturally sunny and forgiving disposition and a discourteous word rarely drops from these lips.

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From The New Yorker

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I know that I’ve told this story before, but no matter. If I were not to allow myself repetition this journal would grind to a halt very quickly. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we? (No answer required. A rhetorical question, that)

I first heard Recuerdos de la Alhambra at a concert when I was an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. I was a callow youth … actually I might have been the callowest of the freshman class, to be honest. But I had grand ideas of self-improvement, and one of those was that I would learn something about classical music.

So I coughed up the shekels necessary to attend a concert of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia in Northrop Auditorium, which at the time was the premier performance space at the U, or in all of the Twin Cities, for that matter. I was in my seat early, because why would I take a chance on missing a single note that I had paid so dearly to hear? The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:00 P.M. There was a single plain wooden chair in the center of the stage, out in front of the gigantic maroon velvet curtain.

At precisely 8:00 Andres Segovia walked out to the chair, looked out into the audience, and saw people still streaming in through all of the doors. Without saying a word, he walked off the stage. The ushers looked puzzled, but they continued to seat attendees and the huge leather-accented doors to the hall remained open.

At 8:10 Mr. Segovia walked back onto the state and again stood by the chair. A few stragglers were still entering, and he silently walked off the stage into the wings. Again.

This time, everybody got it. The ushers slammed those big doors shut and if you weren’t already inside it was too bad for you. The seated audience realized what was happening and were ready to strangle the next trespassers with a thousand willing hands if they had to, in order to hear the music they had come for.

At 8:20 Andres Segovia walked onto the stage in an absolutely silent hall, sat down on that lone chair, and proceeded to play Recuerdos de la Alhambra. I never forgot the moment, and the piece has been a favorite ever since that night.

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Saturday Scramble

Margaret Atwood is something else, isn’t she? When I went looking for a particular quote of hers that I vaguely remembered, I found no less than six pagesful of them in BrainyQuote. There are some really sharp ones in there. The one that I had originally sought was this:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

The thing that brought this saying to foggy mindedness was a book review in the Times of New York of The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. The book’s theme is violence against women by men, which is as tried and true a theme as ever was. (I used to cringe whenever this subject came up yet one more time, being a lifelong member of the perpetrator gender, but as in so many other areas I found that ignoring it didn’t make it go away.)

This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

margaret atwood

I personally believe that this violence will not stop, or be significantly reduced until the topic has been laid out in front of us, bloody and raw, in a public square where we must walk by it daily and cannot turn our heads away. (How’s that for a metaphor?) Until we men are all absolutely sick to death of hearing about it and decide en masse to do something.

In this it is like the painful awareness of the systemic violence against people of color of that is today confronting Caucasians everywhere and around every corner so that we can only ignore it by complete denial of the nananananana variety. When we males (whites) as a group finally acknowledge the whole ugly mess as one we made and need to clean up all on our lonesome, it will happen.

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.

margaret atwood

I think that I might have to read this book. The sharper among you may have noticed that I am not perfect yet, but I believe that there is still that outlier of a chance that I may still get there one day. No one will ever notice when I do, of course, because I will have become the quiet, flawless, and empathetic listener that I was meant to be.

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Warning! Watch at your own risk! The following short video is known to cause liberals to smile broadly, and even right wingers’ faces to crack in painful ways. It’s all about the shoes. Oh, yes, it’s also about a real person with a sense of humor, something of which the red-right is seriously short.

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I’ve never been a big Martha Stewart fan. Back a few years, when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing her face on television, billboards, or magazines, I chuckled slightly when she went to jail for a few months for cheating. Although I admit that I did respect her for not prolonging things, the way a very wealthy person is able to do seemingly endlessly, when she decided to drop the legal maneuvers and do her short time in the calabozo.

So when I read yesterday that she is bringing out a line of CBD products for both humans and pets, I smiled. Yes, we’ll soon be able to chew our way to health or whatever it is that CBD can do for us and we will know that they are being sold to us by a very reliable ex-con. Because there has never been a question about Martha’s super-reliability.

I smiled again when I read who her partner (and old friend) was in this new venture, because he’s someone we already know as well. It’s Calvin Broadus. Calvin Broadus, you ask? Why, that’s his birth name. You may know him better by his professional name, which is Snoop Dogg. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.)

We will be in very good hands, here. Madame Stewart’s ironclad WASP-y solidity, and Mr. Dogg’s long personal experience with the hemp family. Love it.

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Eggs and tomatoes go together so well, and there are scads of recipes out there of various combinations. Recently I experimented with something so simple and delicious that in the last seven days I had it three times for breakfast. Three times. It’s really only a variation on Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, but I humbly offer it here.

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I ran across this on YouTube and I found it to be helpful and inspirational. I have a well-developed tendency to think in stereotypes because it’s so much easier. After all, that way I can deal with people in large groups, rather than as individuals. So when a bunch of Southerners come out saying that Black Lives Matter, it gives me a chill. Now I actually have to think, which can be quite painful for me, and makes me crabby.

BTW, I should mention that I am not a neutral party, being the proud son of a union man who grew up during a time when that meant sometimes dodging the billyclubs and fists of the goon-armies of the rich.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

When A Heart Is Empty by David Brooks
Trump Wasn’t Oblivious, He Didn’t Care by Paul Krugman

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I am presently re-reading Awakening the Buddha Within, a book that I first came across when I decided to see what the deal was with this thing called Buddhism. The book still interests me in its presentation of the main points of this “religion,” and also irritates in prodding me to accept karma, rebirth, and miraculous ideas that some schools of Buddhism adhere to. I am not a particularly good customer for miracles, it turns out. It’s one of my enduring quirks. Please notice that I said enduring, not endearing. This facet of my personality can be quite maddening to some.

It may well be that I am missing a great deal of the magic and beauty of life by insisting on a less colorful rationality, who knows? Even if this is true, I already find so much to admire out there … the world as I see it is so much more beautiful than it needs to be.

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A translation of the lovely song “Djorolen” goes like this:

“Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
The worried songbird
Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
For those of us who have no father
Her thoughts go out to them”

Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

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Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

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It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

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We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

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Open Carry

We returned to the Uncompahgre Plateau on Sunday afternoon and found all of our gear intact and undisturbed. Packing up took less than half an hour and the camper is now safely stowed at home, our stuff cleaned and put away. End of story, right? Not quite.

Robin has stated that she’s done with camping for the year, maybe for good. Who can blame her? This year alone she has been buffeted by gales that wrecked tents and forced us to huddle behind trees. She has been chilled in a car with no blankets or sleeping bag to protect her. Her husband has plopped her evening meal into the dirt, and now a drunken mob made sleep impossible and created serious concerns about safety.

Perhaps as time passes these fresh scars will heal and she will see the positive side of this sort of activity once again, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a game girl for going along with me all of these years without plunging a dagger into my sleeping form and being done with the whole enterprise.

As for myself, I have been dealing with some odd thoughts that popped into my head. For the briefest of moments while packing up on Sunday, I wished that I had been armed on that Saturday night. This was the internal dialogue:

What sort of insanity is this? You think to bring yet another handgun into a world that already brims with them?

But if I’d had one, perhaps we would have felt more safe, more comfortable.

And what would you have done differently? Stood in the road leading into the campground in your fleece pajamas like a version of Walter White daring a bunch of drunken hoodlums to pass?

What if they’d taken up your challenge? What then?

.

I don’t know, I just …

You would have been a fool, that’s what. There could have been only a very few outcomes. That this sodden sorry group of miscreants would have run right over you in a fit of intoxicated bravado is the more likely. Another is that you might right now be sitting in some hoosegow staring out at a world forever changed for you because you did have a firearm and you used it.

Way less likely is that the mob would have been instantly chastened and would have sent a delegation to beg your forgiveness, then packed up their pickups and driven off into the darkness to spend the rest of the evening sobering up and pondering their misdeeds, pledging never to do such loutish things ever again.

And so it goes.

Most of my life I’ve not been a physically imposing person, and since I possess the martial arts skills of an amoeba my planned strategies for dangerous confrontations included first trying to talk myself out of the situation, and if that failed, I planned to run. I realized that this would work better against knives than bullets, but there you are.

Then the years started to pile up and eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that running wasn’t going to cut it any longer. The knees, you know.

So then what? By age eighty I had never come up against a life-threatening confrontation, not really, so what was I worried about? Well, all those articles that are published describing how certain unscrupulous persons prey on seniors preferentially, that’s what. That’s when the handgun fantasies first started creeping into my daydreams.

Like so many other unwanted mental safaris that my mind goes on, I put this recurring one aside each time with a rueful smile. As I will with this last episode. But I fully understand the pull that fear can produce, and why others might choose differently.

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A good story here. Seeds that were 2000 years old have borne fruit. And delicious fruit at that.

Happy news.

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Saturday the skies were the most beautiful shade of intense blue. Sunday they were hazy and the blue much less vibrant. Monday that hue was completely obscured by smoke, and our sunrise was a red one. This time they tell us that the smoke has traveled all the way from California. All day long the San Juan Mountains south of us were invisible, and on our drive up to the Black Canyon for a hike, the viewing was transformed.

In the photo Robin is walking on the Upland Trail and you can see the reddish/chocolate color of the sky. What smoke does do well is to reveal layers of hills in the distance, setting off each one from the one behind it in a striking fashion. A lovely effect, that.

Poor California. Each year the blazes seem worse. Even though we are not without our problems with wildfires here in Colorado, it is not on California’s scale.

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Are We There Yet?

Friday morning we are off to the Uncompahgre Plateau for a Labor Day campout. There is a single small campground on the south end of the Plateau, with only 8 sites, and we hope to be able to snag one of those. Otherwise it’s dispersed camping for us, and for the Hurley family who will be joining us on Saturday.

We have prepared for dispersed camping with the following necessary items in addition to what we normally carry with us on such forays:
1. lots of water, since there is none available where we will be
2. a portable toilet which is very stylish, compact, and discreet
3. a small privacy tent within which to use the stylish, compact, and discreet toilet
4. the usual prayers to the weather gods that we not freeze our tuchuses off

(We decided that pooping in the woods using a small trowel and a tree for privacy was okay when we were daypacking and nature caught us out, but on a three-day outing like this … something else was required. Ergo the portable commode. We’re getting soft.)

For the Hurleys there will be many opportunities for mountain biking, something that 3/4 of their family enjoys. For the Floms, there are endless places to hike, sit, or recline. Robin and I gave up on mountain biking after we discovered how unyielding the ground was this Spring when we each took a fall from our cycles. And that was in the heart of civilization! The idea of careening down a root- and rock-infested trail, wrenching our bikes into one turn after another in locations far from orthopedic care has less appeal than it once did.

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We are back, early, from our latest camping outing. Friday and Saturday were beautiful days. We found a roomy campsite in Iron Springs Campground, our friends Amy, Neil, Aiden, and Claire had joined us, and everything was going swimmingly. Until the sun went down on Saturday night.

Hours after we had retired, we were brought to unwanted consciousness by the roar of engines, banshee laughter, and shots being fired. All this coming from a group that had chosen a dispersed spot across the road from our campground for their party. Judging by their behavior, chemicals had been applied liberally to their central nervous systems during the preceding hours. The manic engines we heard were those of dirt bikes, ATVs’, and pickup trucks with cut-out mufflers.

In short, a large group of yahoos from Montrose County were having their fun, they had picked our part of the world to do it in, and one of the things they seemed to enjoy was driving around the loop of our campground in order to wake up and sow confusion among the ordinary citizens resting there.

Now we were 26 miles from civilization, and out of telephone contact with the rest of the world, including that of law enforcement. We therefore puzzled briefly over what to do? Robin was understandably not going to get back to sleep in this environment, and I was at the point where I was hoping that the shots we heard were at the very least reducing their number slightly. What we did do was withdraw from the situation. We got in our car and drove home in our pajamas, leaving our camper and gear behind. Later this morning we will return to the scene of the crime and recover our stuff. Hopefully it will be undisturbed. But that’s out of our hands. We are all safe.

Perhaps they would have continued with their stupid, drunken, and aggressive behavior for a short while and then left us all alone. Or perhaps they would have invented new things to do with us to brighten their early morning revels. We will never know. But it will be a long time before we spend another Saturday night out on the Uncompahgre Plateau, of that I am fairly certain.

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We do have a few photos, taken from happier moments on Friday and Saturday in what is a beautiful semi-wilderness area, that we will share with you.

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The Abominable Showman

The vicious, immoral, psychopathic, lying, draft-dodging, oath-breaking, woman-abusing, racist, bigoted, rotten barrel of apples that we call a president is at his best/worst these days.

Like any tinpot dictator desperately trying to hang onto power he’s attempting to create a national fear of “them” being on the way to the suburbs where they will wreak all sorts of havoc.

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We are told that our wives, husbands, children, property are all at risk if the Democrats take over. But look there in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane … no, it’s P.Cluck and he is the only one who can save us from “their” grasping hands! Look out, white people, “they” are coming for you, is his repeated and thinly coded message.

Guess who “they” are? Well, I’ll give you a clue, they’re not Norwegians, Cluck likes Norwegians. He probably even wishes he could find Norway on a map.

It’s a tactic as old as our species. Create the dragon in people’s minds that only you can slay. What a pile. What an unworthy person. Time to wall him up in Mar-El-Lago with his poisonous brood and be done with them.

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One of my favorite things is to find a new version of a song, only a cover, but one that brings out something new about the lyrics, or the music itself. I’ve got one for you this morning.

A few days back I compared two interpretations of the Paul Simon song, Graceland. The first was by Simon himself, and the second by a woman named Kina Grannis. Grannis does a lot of covers (she also writes her own songs) and has a ton of material on YouTube.

When I ran across this one it surprised even jaded old me. It’s the old Nirvana tune, Smells Like Teen Spirit. First, we’ll give you a video of Nirvana doing it, and on the second one you can see how Ms. Grannis handles the material . (BTW, if Nirvana is not your thing, just watch a bit of it to see the contrasts. Humor me, okay?)

Soft and sweet, a Nirvana trademark.

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I know the differences are subtle, but you readers are a very discerning lot and I am certain you will see them.

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Tuesday was a day of blessed relief from the heat! The temperature never got above 75 degrees and the populace of Paradise walked about staring into the heavens and wondering what had happened. The other sweet thing about Tuesday was that our sky was back to a gorgeous shade of blue because the smoke had dissipated.

Sometimes it’s the littlest things …

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You know what makes me almost want to cry? The fact the the Clucksters have probed the CDC and found some weak ones in there who could be pushed into making unsound statements to the press. Even if they later retract or amend them, the damage to public confidence has been done.

I confess that I shouldn’t be surprised at all. Among my own former colleagues there were always (uncommon) individuals who were just waiting for their fascist moment to arrive. They were all ready with the slogans, the dogmas, their repetition of far-right nonsense phrases. I even suspect that some of them had black shirts in their closets to put on when the great day came and the latest reincarnation of Il Duce showed up.

So I guess that it shouldn’t come as a shock that there are some physicians within the CDC who were looking forward to being singled out by P.Cluck for bigger things. Bah! Shame on them.

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And last for today, just when you thought there was nothing more that you could possibly find to worry about, we are presented with a new danger to our health – the toilet plume! Yes, you heard me, the plume! I would actually advise you not to read the article … it’s one of those things than once learned you can never un-learn.  Even when the coronavirus is only an unpleasant memory, the plume will be with us.

This bit of information is provided by the AARP and they should be embarrassed for having done so.  Sometimes in life, ignorance is a thing to be treasured.  This would have been one of those times.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

First of all, I didn’t take this photograph. I could have, if I hadn’t been cowering indoors away from the heat. What it shows is a magical sunset, a Star Wars sunset, that happened last week as the sun shone through the gray smoke which filled our sky for several days. The fire was a hundred miles away, but its effects reached a long way down the valley.

Here in Paradise we coughed more often, our air quality suffered in any way you cared to measure it, and experts told us (and rightly so) how unhealthy it all was. But, child, we did have some sunsets, didn’t we?

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Just a hundred yards from our home a couple of evenings ago Robin and I saw something special. Six buck mule deer in a group crossing Sunnyside Street. We see does frequently, but not the males. Not in groups like this. They were beautiful to behold. A bunch of graceful bachelors hanging out on a Saturday night.

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Sunday afternoon the weather was unsettled, but Robin and I decided to take our exercise hike anyway. It wasn’t long before we plucked our rain shells out of the daypacks and put them on as drizzle protection. It never rained hard, but just enough to provoke the gumbo gods and a thick coating of mud built up on the bottoms of our boots. But we persevered and were glad we did. Some of the joys of walking in the rain are experiencing the aromas of the plant communities, like the sage and rabbitbrush. Aromas that may be there on drier days, but our limited sense of smell doesn’t pick them up.

We took off our mud-encrusted boots before we got back in the car and placed them carefully in the cargo bay of the Forester, driving home in our stocking feet. Once back at la casa del Floms, I hosed the boots down and put them in the garage to dry. That gumbo becomes semi-concrete if you give it half a chance.

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This summer I have really come to love the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar. I was formerly ignorant of the entire genre, but now prefer it to any of the more familiar sounds from those islands. The music has an interesting history, starting with a bunch of 19th century Mexican cowboys … but I’ll stop there, you might want to read more on your own. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

It is all in the tuning, apparently, and I have to trust those who know about such things, because the only musical instrument I ever learned to play was the stereo. The effect is to mellow me out so thoroughly that I am in danger of slipping right out of my chair and cracking my head on the way down.

But this sweet music fits perfectly into the languor of these hot summer afternoons and evenings.

Here’s a couple by Ledward Ka’apana: Pua Hana and Slack Key Lullaby.

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

Against all odds and common sense we are planning a campout for the Labor Day weekend, most likely with Amy, Neil, and family. Since everything is pretty much buttoned up down here, we’re thinking about going up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau, a largely uninhabited and wild place where only the weakest minds venture to go and only the hardiest survive (definite hyperbole, there).

This time we’re planning on bringing sleeping bags, just for variety, and the sorts of food that if any of it drops on the ground you can pick it up and blow the dirt off and it’s good as new. Our camper has also been repaired and all of the poles work as they should.

There’s a small campground up on the plateau containing 8 sites of the first-come/first-served kind. It has a vault toilet, but no water. The daily camping fee is zero dollars, because they don’t patrol or pick up trash or much of anything, actually. But we’ve seen it, and it’s surprisingly tidy. It is also located close to some hiking/biking trails that are appealing.

But spill one’s chicken chili out there and it’s a long way back to Montrose for provisions.

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Sunday Morning

Zoom-church hasn’t quite been cutting it for many Christians here in Paradise. I overhear their conversations and there is a longing in their voices to come together, to share the words and songs in the way that they love best, in a place that is sacred to them. A virus has taken this away, this ritual assembling that is the beloved focus of the week in normal times.

Oh, they’ve been using video very well, as ministers preach to cameras in empty halls, “coffees” are held on Zoom, and bible studies are planned and conducted by people who are miles apart from one another. But the synod of Robin’s church has not given official permission for their congregations to meet as yet, not in the “old” way. That does not make these parishioners less restive. Indeed, they chafe at the uncertainty as to when religious life will return to something like normal. This month? This year … ?

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My own spiritual life has been a solo one for so long that Covid hasn’t really made a dent in it. Small town America is not filled with Buddhists, and although there is a very small local group that meets in homes, I am reluctant to join it. There are Buddhists that can be just as annoying as any hard-core evangelical Baptist who won’t leave you alone until you are saved three times over. Such followers of the Buddha will natter away on arcane subjects that hold no interest for me. The intricacies of karma and rebirth, for instance. Or the purity of their religious practice. Since I am not required to believe in these things I don’t, and therefore discussing them seems time ill-spent, pour moi.

One of the first books I read on these subjects was Buddhism Without Beliefs, by Jack Kornfeld, and it remains my “gospel.” The title says it all, I think.

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I was about to close this blog post when a headline on CNN caught my eye:

Yellowstone Warns Visitors Not To Get Mixed Up In Elk Mating Season

Now I don’t know about you, but for me this falls into the category of things I never needed to be told but knew instinctively. If you want to read the story, here it is.

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury …

I received a jury summons this week, scheduled for September 9. After never, ever, receiving such a summons for the first 74 years of my existence, I have now been sent three of them since moving to Paradise. The first two came to nothing, with the proceedings being called off the day before I was scheduled to appear. So I was not holding my breath on this one. I am impressed with the power that these people have to compel us ordinary citizens. Should I suggest to the court that they bugger off and leave me alone, I’m pretty sure that they would have a proper bouquet of unpleasant remedies to deal with my behavior.

So imagine my delight when I re-read the fine print on the summons and discovered that if I fell into a high-risk Covid category as defined by the CDC, I could be excused from appearing. It further suggested that I call a telephone number, which I did so quickly that the summons hadn’t hit the desk before I was connected to one of the sweetest telephone voices I had ever heard. She told me that I was indeed in a high-risk group and that I now had two choices. I could opt out for six months, or for forever.

My dear, I responded, we will still be masking up six months from now, so why waste time with Option #1? Just give me the lifetime exclusion and we can be done with this delightful little conversation. And so I am now out of the pool, until and unless the powers that constitute the court system decide to change their minds.

It’s their game, of course. They get to make up the rules as they go along.

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On Friday morning I read that eight University of Nebraska football players are suing the Big Ten because the fall season has been called off. I can understand the frustration of young athletes who see their chances at professional careers in the game being adversely affected by such a decision. This has to hurt.

While reading the piece, I recalled that when I lived in South Dakota, just across the river from the fine state of Nebraska, there was a standing joke that went around. It went like this:

Question: What does the “N” on the U. of Nebraska flag stand for?
Answer: Nowledge.

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From The New Yorker

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One of our appliances gets very little use in this viral age, and that’s our Weber gas grill. We might have lit it up once in early Spring, but that was all. It’s a medium-sized grill, too wasteful to use it for only two people. And so it sits there lonesomely under cover, probably wondering what it did wrong last year to deserve such shabby treatment.

For us, grilling outdoors is a social occasion more than anything else. People gather around the device and kibitz to their hearts’ content. Why are you doing it that way? Do you use it much? I wouldn’t put so much sauce on, but that’s just me. It’s comments like these that can cement relationships or sour them.

Once upon a time daughter Kari asked me: What it is about men and cooking on a grill? I blinked at her for a second or two and then responded with just the slightest tremble in my voice: Meat and Fire … Meat and Fire.

It doesn’t get more primal than that.

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From the Skies

I don’t know if you missed it or not, but a couple of days ago there was a news item that stated there had been more than 12,000 lightning strikes in California in one week, which seemed to me to be an astoundingly high number. Especially since lightning strikes and wildfires go together. And there is no state that knows more about wildfires than California.

Then I thought … how do they know that there were 12,000? A couple of computer clicks and a phone call or two and I had my answer. There is a small office at the state capitol in Sacramento with lettering on the door that says Department of Revolting Environmental Developments, and yesterday I had a Zoom conference with the man who sits behind that door. His name is Arthur Schwarzenegger, who is a third cousin to the more famous Arnold, and is a holdover from that administration.

Mr. S. (we’ll call him that because Schwarzenegger takes way too long to type out each time) is a small balding man in his late fifties. His remaining wispy hair mostly sticks out from his head, forming a gray halo of sorts (and this is unnerving) and the hairs seem to almost writhe as we converse. His eyes dart constantly about the room, and he taps with a pencil on the desktop rapidly and without interruption. The muscles of his face twitch throughout the interview, independently of one another.

His shirt is badly buttoned and his cravat is tied poorly, which gives him a decidedly untidy appearance. We spoke under the condition that I not publish a word of the conversation, a promise that I fully intended to break at the time I made it, and this is the result.

Interviewer: Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. S, I know that you must be busy at this time of year. Am I correct in assuming this?

Mr. S.: Yes, yes, terrible busy. I can only give you five minutes.

Interviewer: Well, let’s get to it, then. I read that your state recently had 12,ooo lightning strikes in the space of a week. Is that number accurate?

Mr. S.: Yes, it is.

Interviewer: How do you know that?

Mr. S.: I count them.

Interviewer: You mean your office counts them?

Mr. S.: No, I do. Me. I count all of them.

Interviewer: Do you not have office staff to help out? Some sort of technology to assist you in this endeavor?

Mr. S.: No … it’s just me and a clicker.

Interviewer: But how … ?

Mr. S.: I sit out in thunderstorms at the place in our state that has the most strikes and click each time one comes.

Interviewer: And this is accurate?

Mr. S.: Very. I am warned of each upcoming blast by the fact that my hair sticks straight out from my head. So I never miss a one.

Interviewer: But, sir, you can only certify the lightning you can see around you, and California is a very large state. How can you …

Mr. S.: I extrapolate. Whatever number of bolts I see, I multiply by a factor to get the total for the entire state.

Interviewer: Is this factor a scientifically derived value?

Mr. S.: No. I made it up. Whole cloth and all that.

Interviewer: So this is a very soft number indeed.

Mr. S.: The softest.

Interviewer: Aren’t you worried about this? Your job, for instance, is that secure with you making things up as you go along?

Mr. S.: Look, I work out of this crummy office, by myself, with an ancient computer running Windows 95. When I am in the field, and I mean literally in the field, I wear rubber clothing, rubber shoes, rubber underwear, run wires from my hat to the ground as a precaution, and still I have been knocked down by lightning 37 times as of yesterday. What are they going to do to me?

At that, there was a crashing noise in the hallway outside his door, and Mr.S. dove under his desk with surprising alacrity for a man of middle years. He would not come out from under, and so we terminated the interview.

Even though my confidence had been shaken quite a bit, I was still impressed … 12,000 … that’s a lot of lightning, soft count or not.

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Paul Simon is one of those artists whose music has been part of my personal soundtrack, always playing there somewhere in the background, and coming up louder whenever needed. This has been so since the day Sound of Silence flowed out of my car radio, and when Bridge Over Troubled Water was released … Hoo Boy … he and I were off and we never looked back.

Then the Graceland album – totally excellent, nest-ce pas? – yes it was and the title tune was so upbeat and all that it was perhaps a year before I really listened to the lyrics. And then, I thought Paul – you really suckered me there, didn’t you? That’s a darned sad song with words to make you think about your own … but, hey … so I waited for someone to slow the tune down and let us in on the feelings held in those naked words.

And I found someone who did just that, and did it beautifully as well. Her name is Kina Grannis and I put her version up there with Paul’s.

Might as well add the lyrics, here … you can’t tell the players without a program

The Mississippi Delta
was shining like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said, “losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
“Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Well, everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

Ooh, ooh, ooh
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, oh, oh
In Graceland, in Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland

******