Sailing To Michigan

People who go ice fishing … they are either the sturdy heroes of fishing or they are the dunces. I lean toward the latter designation. To walk (perhaps even drive your car or snowmobile) far out onto a basically untrustworthy surface, dig a hole through the ice that immediately tries to re-close itself, drop a bait through that hole and sit there hoping that somehow you’re somewhere near a fish … all the while either freezing your tuchus off or huddling around a heater inside a tiny tent … what’s not to love?

But here’s a tale of dunces in danger that has a happy ending. A bunch of Wisconsonians went out to fish a few days ago and suddenly the huge chunk of ice they were all standing on broke loose and started out for Michigan with them aboard.

Someone made the call and soon the local sheriff came to their rescue. All concerned ended up safe and unhurt.

Maybe the good sheriff should have stayed at home. An opportunity to raise the intelligence level in the common gene pool was forever lost … along with a whole raft of Darwin awards for sure.

Authorities told WBAY that ice rescues on the northeast side of the bay occur about once a year. In December 2018, 14 people were rescued from an ice sheet that separated in the same body of water.

Washington Post

Like I said.

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Way back in 1980 when it was obvious that my working in the UP of Michigan wasn’t going to work out the way I planned, I was looking for a place to re-settle my family and start a new practice. Just before Thanksgiving I visited a promising town called Yankton, South Dakota. The “headhunters” who were in the business of matching physicians with locations had paid for my trip and I was flying in a chartered plane. Just me and the pilot.

I had planned to spend a couple of days there learning what I could to help me make up my mind, but late in the afternoon of the first day in Yankton the pilot came to my motel room. He had learned of an unexpected storm front that was coming our way bringing snow and wind and all sorts of good things and it had unsettled the man. As he put it, no matter what we had previously arranged, there was no way he was going to spend the holiday in some place he’d never even heard of before and his plane was heading back to Michigan that very night. I could be on it or not, he was pretty neutral about the whole thing.

I made a decision to join him, and my hosts in Yankton were very understanding. Around 8:00 P.M. it was already starting to sleet-snow when we took off in the twin-engine Cessna, but in my ignorance of things aeronautic I thought that if the man flying the damn thing was okay with it, I would be too.

However, we had no sooner attained cruising altitude when the pilot handed me a flashlight, along with this instruction:

“I want you to keep an eye on the leading edge of that wing. If you see any ice forming you are to let me know immediately.”

“What does it look like, this ice forming?”

“You’ll know it if it happens.”

“What happens if … ?”

“If we ice up I may lose control of the plane. When that happens we are at risk of descending at a highly uncomfortable rate of speed. Do you catch my drift?”

Well, I did catch it. And there was never such an intense and dedicated wing-watcher as I was that night, hoping that the batteries in that flashlight were fresh and would last as long as I needed them. At one point the wing did look a bit odd, and I mentioned that to the pilot. He looked over and then told me that this was a teensy bit of icing, and that I was to let him know if it got worse.

Now this was way more responsibility than I had ever wanted while in an aircraft. I didn’t feel at all confident in my ability to tell a tolerable amount of ice on the wing from the point where (as comedian Billy Connolly once said in a famous routine) we were going to go into the ground like a f*****g dart.

But the situation never got worse, the plane got me back to Hancock MI in one frazzled piece, and the pilot spent his Thanksgiving at home just as he had wanted. Eventually I did settle in Yankton, and stayed there for a good many years without ever having to repeat this stressful experience.

But since that night I never fly without a flashlight packed. Just in case. You never know.

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A bit of South Dakota political news that wasn’t depressing, for a change. Senator Mike Rounds said this:

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Monday he stands by his statement that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, after Trump called his fellow Republican a “jerk” for his comments. Rounds said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Trump’s attack. Since his loss, Trump has made repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, even as courts, audits and recounts have repeatedly confirmed the results as free and fair. “This isn’t new information,” Rounds said in a statement. “If we’re being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election.” Rounds had said in an interview Sunday morning on ABC News’ “This Week” that Republicans need to move forward and focus on winning elections, and added that people “can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair … and that is in every single state that we looked at.”

Associated Press

It’s good to know that there are still honest and clear-thinking Republicans. Not just in South Dakota, but anywhere. Unfortunately sane people have become the fringe of the party, instead of being where they should be, leading it.

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Annie Proulx is in the small pantheon of writers whose stuff appeals to me enough that I have read several of her works. So far I’ve gone through The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes, That Old Ace In The Hole, and Wyoming Stories. Her writing has calluses on its hands – tough, spare, sometimes grim. Not a word of chick-lit anywhere to be found in any one of them.

There was one character in That Old Ace In The Hole that I thought about last night. The older guy who starts up a restaurant in small-town Woolybucket, Texas. He is a bit of a chef as well, and one of his most popular specialties is something that he calls spinach pie because his customer base wouldn’t be caught dead putting a forkful of quiche in their mouths. Quiche was just too damn dandified for his clientele, something better suited to a table in (gasp!) New York, for instance.

I thought about him last night because Robin cooked a spinach quiche for supper. It was outstanding. One of those times when you wished you had several stomachs like a cow does, and could fill each one independently of the others.

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But alas, I have only one stomach, and one which occasionally gives me heartburn to boot, so I had to content myself with a single generous slice. I was so grateful for having lived long enough to claim that trophy last night at supper, and at the end I laid my tools down quietly and reverently. Before leaving the table I picked a final crumb from between the tines of my fork and let it dissolve on my tongue. Best spinach pie ever.

You shoulda been there.

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To Sir, With Love

Once the scales started to fall from my eyes, I had no trouble accepting the fact that I had been swimming in a sea of racism all of my life. It was so ubiquitous that I noticed only the outliers, the most egregious examples.

  • Of course I was revolted by the horrible physical violence of the lynchings and beatings suffered by people of color
  • Of course I believed intellectually that black people should have the same advantages that I enjoyed
  • Of course I was in support of the civil rights movement in the sixties
  • Of course I believed that I had somehow missed being infected by a belief in white superiority, that those evil and moronic cross-burners out there had nothing to do with me
  • Of course …

My extended family of origin were all nice people. About as white as they could be. They would have been hurt if anyone had suggested that they were bigoted. And yet it was routine to describe haggling over prices with tradespeople as “Jewing them down.” The brazil nuts in our Christmas bowls of mixed nuts were more commonly called “niggertoes.” They were upset when a black family purchased a house on a previously all-white street, because they believed that property values were now going to plummet. They were swimming in that same sea that I did, and it has been said that fish do not notice the water around them because it is always there and everywhere. (But what do we really know about what fish think, eh?)

But there were moments when a bit of light would creep into that world. And for me some of those moments were provided by Sidney Poitier, who died this week. Let’s ignore the fact that he was tall, dark, handsome, and a fine actor. What radiated from him in his performances, and what he personified in his public life, was decency and courage. Especially that miles-deep decency.

So as I read this piece written by Charles Blow, I did so with appreciation for what Poitier had meant to me, and I reflected back on my own story. If I am to look for positives there, it is that underneath it all I think that I can see a painfully slow evolution at least in the direction of the sort of decency he represented so fully and seemingly effortlessly. And if I can just live long enough … .

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From The New Yorker

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I haven’t worn a necktie for the longest time. The occasions where such an accessory is needed just don’t come up like they once did. There are still a handful hanging in my closet to remind me of all those years where I was never without one, at least when at work. I don’t miss them, except for the fact that they allowed a guy to toss a bit of color or whimsy onto his person without having to explain it.

Rising each morning and trying to get that knot just right was a pain in the posterior, of course. This frustration once led me down a dark path where I wore those pre-tied things with the plastic wings that hid under your shirt collar. Shame brought me back to the real thing, however, after I had been outed as the pretender that I was and I was subjected to all sorts of verbal indignities by my peers. It was obvious that wearing irregularly knotted ties was easier on my self-image in the long run.

The last bunch of ties that I recall purchasing were some created by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. They looked a lot like those over on the right.

Whimsy and color. That’s all I asked, and these provided both in abundance.

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From The New Yorker

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I didn’t get into personal computing at the dawn of the era, but jumped in happily in 1984 when the first Macintosh came out. At a local Team Electronics store, there was a single Mac sitting on a table, and customers were allowed to mess with it. So I sat down and within five minutes it was obvious that I needed one of those, and what a game-changer it was going to be, at least to the craft of writing.

And what was this epiphany composed of? Why, cut and paste is what, plus the ease with which copies could be made and the intoxicating possibility of endless corrections or changes to an original document. So I bought one and played with it like a kid with a new electric train from Santa.

But its real magic was revealed to me one winter night, perhaps a year later on. It was near midnight, and I had just returned home after spending tense hours with an ill child who still needed a diagnosis. I was tired but wired by the stressful evening’s happenings. So I turned on the machine, booted up the primitive browser of the time, and began searching for answers. Within an hour I had what I needed to ease my mind vis a vis the patient’s problems.

I sat back in my chair and thought about what had just happened. In the middle of a stormy snowy night, in a small town in South Dakota, an ordinary citizen had access to the world’s medical literature, with a gigantic searchable database at my fingertips. My mind was officially blown, and has never recovered.

If you can wade through the dross and the garbage on the present-day internet, that wonderful door to an infinitely larger world is still wide open. Those endless library shelves and digital volumes are out there on tap and all we have to do is flip a switch to get to them.

That’s why the internet was originally created – for scientists to share information across distances. And while you and I may not be working in a laboratory and need to collaborate with a group of physicists in Schenectady, we do have needs. The internet is our 24 hour sandbox to play in.

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Free Market System

As I was opening a box of bobo cereal this morning, I found myself waxing philosophical. “Bobo” is the term that Robin and I have borrowed from Amy and Neil for those products in the grocery store that are less expensive clones of a brand name. You know … Kroger Crispy Rice instead of Kellogg Rice Krispies, for instance. Often what is in the box is just as tasty as in the more expensive package, but that’s where the comparisons stop. At the package level, that is.

We have noticed that getting at the product is sometimes more awkward and difficult in the case of the clone than the brand name. The tear-strips don’t work, the re-sealing feature is impossible, the inner package tears from top to bottom spilling the contents all over the place, etc. It’s as if the manufacturer regretted putting out the cheaper stuff and so made getting at it the very essence of hell. “We’ll allow you to purchase this food, but while you may have paid less money at the checkout counter, you will now pay abundantly in coins of frustration and annoyance.”

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So I called up the head of marketing at the company manufacturing the clone in question, and this is how that went:

Hi There, this is Bob Glitterpants, how can I help you?

Hi There yourself, my name is Jon, and I have some questions for you.

Well, ask away, we are always ecstatic to get feedback from our customer base.

Okay, here’s the first one. Is “Super Flakes” the exact same thing as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, but sold under a different name?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

Jon

Jon, that information is classified. We can’t talk about company marketing practices. I am so sorry. What is your next question?

Let’s say that the two are the same, just for the sake of argument. Why is the package so damned difficult to open properly in the case of the clone?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

I’ve now told you twice – it is Jon

Of course. I must tell you that we absolutely deny that our package is inappropriately difficult to open. It was created by our design department to reflect long-held company values of service to the purchaser. But, as you say, for the sake of argument, if it were more difficult, wouldn’t that be okay somehow?

What do you mean?

Wouldn’t is be immoral to give the bobo customer the exact same food and container as those who buy the premium version? Those who select the brand name should get a little something extra for their money, don’t you think?

Well, perhaps.

And where else could a company make that difference appear? After all, in this case there are only two things involved – the flakes and the box. So might a hypothetical company be perfectly reasonable in making a devilish box that required tools to get into to make those cheap b*****ds suffer just a bit? They still get the food for less money.

I don’t know …

I’m sure that if you think deeply about it, you will come to the same conclusion that this hypothetical company would. Do you have any more questions?

How do I get this particular box open, could you tell me that?

Do you have a pruning shears or an axe handy, Jon?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m going to say something about the elites here. Elite what, you ask? Well, those who are mentioned almost daily in the news, and who are scolded from every speaking platform that any populist worth their salt ever stood on. The elites are therein denounced as responsible for everything bad that ever happened going back to well before language was developed. When we still had visible tails and all.

Even thought the definition of elite is a little nebulous, we all know who they are, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s because we each make up our own definition in our heads whenever the subject comes up. So I can rail against them as the authors of everything I dislike about modern life, and you can nod your head vigorously as I vent my spleen and cover everything within ten feet of me with spittle. Afterward you and I can take up our war clubs and go off together to break something. It doesn’t matter so much what we break … if it looks nice or shiny or expensive, it probably belongs to an elite person and can be broken without guilt or remorse.

My own definition of elite goes like this: those persons who are more wealthy, attractive, humorous, better dressed, smarter, wiser, or more articulate than I am. Oh, I almost forgot the kicker. My definition also includes the deep desire on my part to eventually become part of one or all of those groups. Hypocrisy, you say? Careful … that’s just the sort of word than the elites would use.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Here at the beginning of the non-bicycling season I found myself planning for the upcoming year. I went so far as to actually get up and go out to our cold and drafty garage to retrieve the batteries from our cycles and bring them in for charging. There are hardier souls than I who are still riding theirs but good on them, for me it’s all about the wind chill. Take a nice thirty-degree day and then go off pedaling at 20 mph … you’re into some shivery territory there.

I did have an experience with hypothermia that stuck in my mind. Once when living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I decided to attend a conference in Marquette MI, about an hour and a half drive from my home. It was beautiful fall weather, the daytime temps were in the low 60s and I decided to take my motorcycle as transportation. Off I went and ninety minutes later I got off my bike in the motel parking lot and noticed that I was even stiffer and more uncoordinated than was my usual state.

I strode up to the desk in the motel and in response to the clerk’s cheery “Hi, welcome to the Country Inn, can I help you?” I said: “Bwetouhhbafbnkjg.”

I could not speak. The muscles that were needed to form words were not working. I had to push my ID across the desk and respond to further questions with nods or pointing. Puzzled, I took the key and went to my room and that was when the shivering began. Not your garden variety “Is it drafty in here or is it just me?” sort of shivering, but a very uncomfortable core-deep shaking that could not be stopped. Any sort of movements were awkward, but I managed to get into a swimsuit and dunk myself into the warm water of the motel pool. It took the better part of the next hour before I was warmed and back to normal.

Of course I recognized what had happened to me, but what was instructive was that I was never sensed it while riding, even though I had reached a point where I shouldn’t have been operating that vehicle at all. If anything urgent had come up on the highway I would not have been able to react quickly enough to avoid an accident.

Now, none of this has anything to do with riding a bicycle two miles to the store and back on a sunny December day. It’s just part of my excuse to take the car. Don’t want to get the shivering started again, you know. Nasty business, that.

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Each winter gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the choices that I have in garments. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have a fondness for the traditional in colder weather gear, a fact that I may have mentioned before somewhere. For most of my life wools and flannels were the way to deal with the cold, and despite their deficiencies they worked pretty well. My body welcomed their weight because I knew that it was part of the deal. Heavy meant warm.

The exception to this was down clothing, which was lightweight and we all acknowledged its superiority, while accepting the unfortunate tendency of those tiny feathers to turn into a useless lump the size of your thumb if they ever got wet. When the synthetic fleece barrage began it seemed that we were finally into an era of perfection. Warm even when wet, nearly indestructible, capable of being laundered at home … what was not to like?

But I still have several chamois shirts, a couple of Pendletons, and a loden wool parka that weighs about forty pounds and would probably crush a lesser man. On the first really unpleasant day of each year I put it on just like a medieval knight would don his heavy armor.

Out the door I go, confident that those lovely itchy scratchy fibers will protect me at least as well as they did the sheep they came from.

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About the header photograph. I took this on an idyllic vacation with Robin. At the time, the ranch was no longer a working one, but the original buildings and bunkhouses were where you threw your gear if you wanted to stay and do some amazing Nordic skiing. While we were there we were daily visited by the most beautiful gentle and heavy snowfalls you can imagine, and at night we read books in our tiny cabin still smelling of leather worn and used by cowboys long gone.

Don’t go looking for it now, however. A few years ago some developers gentrified it beyond belief, bulldozing away every structure visible in the photograph and all others present on the ranch as well. It is now just one more shiny, soulless playground for people who already have enough of them.

I suspect that when it snows, however, the magic might still be there if you can get far enough away from the gigantic lodge (in the pic above) that you can’t see the damned thing. Nature goes about her business not caring what crimes we humans commit here on earth.

(And yes, this is a rant certified by the Complete Waste of Time Ranting Services of America)

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Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Former US Senator and senate majority leader Harry Reid passed away last week, and so far the best obituary I’ve read came as part of a longer piece by Garrison Keillor.

My friend Harry Reid who grew up dirt-poor and fought his father to protect his mother and hitchhiked forty miles to go to high school and who wound up marshaling the Affordable Care Act through the U.S. Senate had a luminous faith in this country. I talked to him a couple months before he died last week and he was full of life and quoting Mark Twain — the line about the man who lives fully does not fear death and also, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Harry was the only politician I knew who kept a picture of a humorist on his office wall. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Writing, Garrison Keillor

I didn’t realize that Reid and I had that in common. An appreciation for a humorist dead now these nearly 112 years.

Of course, lots of people love Mark Twain, whose life’s work was to find the sometimes elusive truth in things and show it to us. So perhaps it’s not so unusual to find another kindred soul, really.

Googling “Mark Twain quotes” brings up site after site jammed with sayings that could easily and profitably be stitched into samplers and hung on the walls of almost anywhere you can imagine. And by so doing improve that wall immensely.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

Mark Twain

There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.

Mark Twain

No particular reason that I chose these two, except to illustrate that they will be true as long as there are cats and Congress. Not appreciating this is to court being badly scratched, at a minimum.

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From The New Yorker

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I would like to take a moment to bemoan the unfortunate trend of wearing puffy coats. I will admit that I own one, having been giving it as a gift by my favorite roommate of all time. And I further admit that it is one of the warmest and lightest garments I have ever owned. But, my friends, being warm and traveling light aren’t everything. We have made large strides toward becoming a nation of people who all look like Pillsbury Doughboys. The only variations are in color.

Before this nasty plumping of America came along, things were different. I will only speak for my own gender, and let women decide for themselves (as they would whether or not I let them do so).

In past eras we wore things like the pea coat, the Loden coat, and the flight jacket, just to name a few.

The Loden parka

The pea jacket

The flight jacket

Now, compare the manly and rugged looks above with examples of the men wearing puffers below. I guess if you’d like to look like you are wearing your sleeping bag, such coats might be just thing for you.

I can see where this is all going very clearly. It’s one more sinister attack on the patriarchy, where the object is to make the men appear so peculiar that no one in their right mind will listen to them.

And this, my friends, is where it’s all headed. I present to you 52 year-old Archibald Mountbatten, whose wife purchased a puffy coverall for him for Christmas.

The poor soul can scarcely walk, can’t use his arms at all … can’t even get himself into or out of the garment without assistance.

To top it off, the missus bought him the infamous Anaconda Scarf, which when wrapped securely into place severely inhibits any sort of verbal communication but for unintelligible grunts.

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From The New Yorker

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It’s already the winter of our discontent here at BaseCamp. The icy patches on sidewalks and streets pose fresh hazards for someone who has had knee surgery. The temperature has already dipped below zero, which is unusual for this area. At least we’ve passed that shortest day of the year thing, and there’s a little more daylight today than there was yesterday.

I’ve made the switch from Gold’s Gym to the local recreation center. For the past couple of months I’ve slacked off on my exercising, and that means that I am pretty much back to square one, with a muscle tone and appearance slightly more impressive than that your average ameba. At my present stage of life, conditioning that took six months to acquire is lost if I take the weekend off. It goes away so fast you can hear it doing so if all is quiet. A low-level rumble and whoosh sort of sound. Kind of like listening to the corn grow in Iowa but in reverse.

But it’s pretty obvious that the other attendees at the rec center are more like me. Gold’s is the place where you find the serious muscle-builders here in Paradise. Where the average client has trapezius muscles that start at the shoulders and slope up sharply toward the head.

That is so not me. I can confidently say that there is nothing about any part of my corpus that anyone in their right mind and with normal vision would consider ripped.

The recreation center, in contrast, is full of ordinary folks with ordinary bodies that are not intimidating at all to a slouchmonkey like myself. In fact, if you can attain a vertical posture you are already ahead of many attendees.

I think that these may be my people.

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King of the Cowboys

I used to watch you when I was little
The games I played I learned from you
I kept dreaming, you kept playing
When I awoke you were 62

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

You told the truth, you were always ready
Whether with your gun or with your hand
It was lies but I never knew it
You taught me how to act like a man

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

You lost your health,we lost our courage
In the things we say, the things we do
Early this morning, I woke up crying
Crying for me, praying for you

‘Cause now I know I want to be like you were
Just as long as I’ve got the strength to stand
Don’t stop trying, don’t stop fighting
You taught me how to act like a man

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

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Compañeros

This was our cat Poco’s fourteenth Christmas. I checked and this makes him somewhere around 72 in human years. Not so old, I thought, but the recent years haven’t been kind to him. Arthritis holds him back in many ways from being the active guy he was. But you don’t need good hips to be a good companion, and when he joins me on the futon in the early morning hours as I type these things we are both ageless. When no one is asking us to leap over hedges or scramble over tall fences we are as we have always been.

I have an affection for the word “companion.” It means someone or something that you spend time with or travel with. In general it exists in the same universe as the word “friendship.” To some, friendship implies mutual obligations. If that is true, companionship is the easier pair of shoes to wear. You just hang out together because you like to do so.

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There was a repeated phrase in the historical novel Lord Grizzly, by Frederick Manfred, that has stuck with me in the fifty years that have passed since I first read the book. It is the story of Hugh Glass, a mountain man who was savaged by a grizzly while on a wilderness trek. When the two men he was traveling with found him, they thought him a dead man, and left him behind. He did not die, however, but dragged himself forward on an epic journey to seek vengeance against the two people he believed to have abandoned him. The phrase he kept repeating in his mind was: Oh, them haunt compañeros. Basically, Oh, what poor companions.

As I look back, I can see times where I was both a good and an indifferent companion to others. Maybe even a haunt one a time or two. There is room for a lot of improvement.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Grandson Ethan and his friend Sian spent Sunday night with us on their trip back home after a visit to Durango. Nasty weather in the mountains (heavy snow, limited visibility, icy roads, and wind gusts up to 80 mph) had driven them to us. (It’s an ill wind that blows no good … and all that.) To avoid the passes they had first driven west from Durango and then up through eastern Utah. It made the trip way longer, but safer.

They still had to get to Steamboat Springs from here, and weather in that direction wasn’t much more attractive. More drifting snow and ice. All of this activity around us and not a flake on the ground here in the Grand Valley.

Colorado is really two states – one below 7000-8000 feet and the other one above that. Trouble is, you often have to drive through both of them to get anywhere. Our home is at 5900 feet, and it is no accident that we live here, rather than at those more picturesque altitudes. Choosing where to put down our roots nearly eight years ago involved considering a lot of things. Since we moved to be closer to Robin’s kids and their offspring, being somewhere central to them was our premier criterion. After that it was cost of living, real estate climate, nearness to recreation, and finally – weather patterns.

For instance we were exploring the town of Gunnison which seemed charming and a really good place for us until we learned that through some meteorologic/topographical quirk it was consistently the coldest town in the entire state. Scratch Gunnison, we thought to ourselves. No way. It might seem that we made the wimpier choice, but whenever we choose to experience something other than our moderate climate here in Paradise, we don’t have to go very far. In minutes we can be as miserable as we want to be.

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Colorado’s first avalanche death of the season occurred this past weekend. It occurred in the Front Range, not far from Fort Collins. A backcountry skier was completely buried, and even though his locator beacon was working and his companion dug him out as quickly as possible … it wasn’t quick enough. Chasing those “I am the only one in the world and I have all this to myself” moments has its hazards. The avalanche casualty lists each year are not all composed of only the ignorant and incautious. Even very knowledgeable and careful people perish this way. It seems impossible to get the risks down to zero.

I will never be buried in an avalanche. Let it be a comfort to you knowing that you are never going to have to come into the wilderness to find my frozen corpus. My personal physician, Dr. Amarilla Quarterpounder, has put it quite bluntly: “Unless you are more foolish than I think you are, and you are already at nine on a scale of ten, in wintertime Colorado you should never go near anywhere whose name begins or ends with the letters b.a.c.k.c.o.u.n.t.r.y. If you do, please do not call me as I am not professionally available to nitwits of that degree.”

I trust her judgement in this and plan to follow her advice to the letter.

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Some people have sports heroes … I don’t . I have photography heroes. One man has occupied my personal top spot for decades now, and that is Jim Brandenburg. He takes the kind of pictures that you can stand in front of and marvel, both at content and technique. He took today’s header photograph of the Boundary Waters, for instance. If you turn loose the romance monster in your soul you can look at it and feel the call and wish for spring, a paddle, and a good boat gliding under you.

There are big and little adventures possible in this place called the “BW.” I have had some of both and treasure them all equally.

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Debriefing

We had the quietest of Christmases this year. Our plans to travel to Durango had to be shelved. Turns out that we had been overly optimistic about how quickly Robin’s recovery from surgery would go. So we stayed put in Montrose. It’s not the first Christmas Eve that we spent completely on our own.

In 2015 we had traveled to Yankton to spend the holiday with Robin’s mother and family but were marooned by a blizzard that shut the town solidly down and made even local travel too hazardous to contemplate. We did what we could to maintain a holiday frame of mind while trapped in a small motel room looking out this window at a snowstorm in a parking lot.

We were able to find a few small bags of travel food at a convenience store that was within walkable distance which we brought back to our safe space to nibble on. It was a case of either poor nutrition or no nutrition at all that night. Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a pretzel entrée and a Diet Coke. By the next morning the weather had cleared, the plows were out, and we went on with our original plans.

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On one other Christmas past the weather played a significant role. I would have been perhaps five years old. Dad and Mom loaded my brother and I into our 1937 Chevrolet and struck out for my grandfather’s farm on a snowy night we really should have stayed at home. The trip to the farm was an hour’s drive on a summer day, but much longer in bad weather and when we reached a country church Dad pulled the car into the parking lot and there we sat. The next segment of the trip was two miles on a small gravel road, and that road had not been plowed and was impassable by car.

Dad trudged over to the parsonage and was able to call ahead and tell folks that we were stranded. My uncle Buddy must have said something like “No problem, Joe,” because the next thing I knew he showed up in a sleigh pulled by the two draft horses that were still doing regular work on the farm.

Now this was a working sleigh, like the one in the “borrowed” photograph at right, not one of those beautiful and artistic things with the curvy runners.

This one hauled hay and feed and equipment and whatever needed to be toted on the farm on snowy winter days. But he had brought along some warm robes ( I remember a bearskin model) to snuggle under and that’s what we all did as he hauled us the rest of the way to the Jacobson farm.

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From The New Yorker

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Looking back on my years as an imbiber of fermented and distilled beverages it is some of the New Year’s Eve get-togethers that stand out the clearest. As examples of what not to do with one’s body, that is. The poor defenseless thing had to cope in whatever way it could with what my stomach was sending down the pipe. This would go on until the stomach itself finally revolted, and I would have one of those intensely religious experiences that come with praying to the porcelain god while prostrate on the bathroom floor.

The video below is one of the best personal stories about drinking and sobriety that I have come across so far in my brief life, and I am grateful to Craig Ferguson for this twelve minutes of bare-bones honesty as he tells his tale on national television. It has helped to give me the courage to share my own in snippets here and there. Unlike Ferguson, I have to do short snippets because I can only go so far in emulating him, he is just so damned entertaining about it all.

In the middle of the monologue there is a line … where he wakes up hung over in a strange place, is overcome with confusion and hopelessness and decides to commit suicide. On the way to jumping from the Tower Bridge in London he is offered a drink, and “one thing led to another and I forgot to kill myself that day.”

There are many people in AA who have anecdotes like this, and who realize that while drinking, for them, was ultimately self-defeating, at one particular moment being intoxicated saved their life and bought them the time it took to make it to recovery.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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So here we are at the end of another year, where we try to tot up what the past twelve months have meant to us. At present, we are all singing the same tune here in Paradise:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Omicron is coming to town.

Who would think that being in a pandemic would be so boring? (At least for those of us who don’t work in hospitals, where it is a nightmare. Or for those who have had loved ones die of the disease, where it is a terrible grief to bear.) It’s all the seemingly endless waiting. Yesterday I read the latest update on the sort of mask I should be wearing and I could hardly get through it. I’ve already read so many updates in the past couple of years. Sooo many updates.

Now the Black Death of the middle ages was much worse, I grant you. No comparison. But at least they didn’t have to read about it every day or hear about it constantly on CNN. And they were spared the spectacle of half the country telling them that the idea of killing off the rats being the way out of the plague was nonsense, and what we should be doing is swallowing the potion they are concocting in the next village. Which is largely made of boiled horse urine and pigweed.

Ah, me, what to do? I’m not crazy about the life we are leading, but it is our life and I suppose that I’d better make the best of it that I can. I think I’ll cook something. It makes the whole house smell good while I’m doing it, and then I get to eat what I’ve made.

(Unless I’m cooking cabbage, that is. In that case it makes the whole house smell like I’m serving compost for dinner.)

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If We Make It Through December …

I’ve left that song by Phoebe Bridgers up for another few days. It moves me each time and I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect that it’s that the theme, of barely making it from month to month, was a recurrent one in my own childhood. “If we make it through December “… what a world of hurt and worry a phrase like that holds.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to play the poverty card here. I was never hungry, always clothed decently, always had a roof over my head. But the level of luxury in our family was often too thin to measure.

Dad was what sociologists of the time called an unskilled laborer. I checked this morning to see if there was some new euphemism that had replaced that unflattering term and found none, though I did come across these entries in a thesaurus which were interesting.

It wasn’t that the man didn’t have skills, it was that they weren’t marketable ones. He worked for most of his adult life at Archer-Daniels, a huge conglomerate, at one of their plants that processed linseed oil from flax. (A while back I purchased some linseed oil to do a bit of wood refinishing, and when I opened the tin I was instantly transported back to childhood, because that was what Dad’s work clothing always smelled like, and you know that the brain never forgets a scent.)

He had the kind of job you don’t hear much about any more, one with swing shifts. That meant that the plant never closed, that the 24 hours of any day was divided into three shifts, and you could be assigned to any of the three, in rotation. You might work days for a week, afternoons for another, nights for yet another. This sort of messing with the bodies’ wake/sleep cycles was not taken much into consideration back then. You never worked any shift for enough days in a row to ever become accustomed to the changes. Your body was expected to “handle it.”

Dad was a union man, a member of the United Mine Workers. Which was a part of the AFL/CIO. Which in the forties and fifties meant that periodically there would be a strike, and each strike was a severe family economic stressor. Usually Mom would take some job to fill in during these uncertain times. Sewing stuffed toys at home, selling custom-made foundation garments to overweight women, working in the sausage department at a meat-packing plant, etc. I honestly don’t recall if there was anything like “strike pay” back then, but if there was, it was miniscule at best.

So when my brother and I got our first bicycles one Christmas, they were used ones that Dad had reconditioned. There were homemade gifts in other years as well. But unlike in the song, there was never a year without a Christmas.

BTW, I hadn’t heard this tune before Ms. Bridgers brought it out, but I learned that her version is a cover of a Merle Haggard song. Just in case you’re interested, here is ol’ Merle doing his own thing.

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From The New Yorker

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An elderly gentleman like myself has had the opportunity to adjust to a passel of changes. Some of them represented progress, some absolutely didn’t, and there are some that I haven’t made up my mind about as yet. This category includes times when to adopt the new you had to give up something. Perhaps something that you liked or felt was important.

One item on this list is indoor plumbing. Being able to access drinking water safely and comfortably was a definite plus, and trading the privy for a set of well-designed porcelain fixtures seemed a no-brainer. But my spiritual life suffered because of indoor bathrooms. One of the first teachings of Buddhism is that there is suffering in life, and what we can do about it as travelers on this earth. This teaching used to be brought home on each visit to the outhouse in the wintertime. Several times each day I would be forcefully reminded – suffering exists.

Television is another item. What a resource it has been and continues to be as a doorway to learning and entertainment. The problem is that while that door is open quite a bit of swill washes in. Reference the entire Kardashian family saga, or the id-driven and air-headed Real Wives of various places, or one of the most unsavory of all, The Bachelor. Either they have had a negative effect on our collective intellect or they have revealed that our intellects weren’t so great in the first place. Lose-lose on this one.

A third example would be the plethora of appliances available that are designed to make life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable, and they do all that until they don’t work. At that point you find that the manual for the appliance clearly states that “There are no user-serviceable parts.” That means either you mail it back to the company for repair or you throw it away. Typically a toaster that cost $39.95 initially will cost you $25.00 for postage to that service department plus another $35.00 for the repair. So economics dictates that you toss it out.

What you’ve lost is the feeling of accomplishment that came from getting out one’s tools and doing the repair. In the case of a toaster, for instance, after you tinkered with it you could hardly wait to test it out by loading it with a couple of slices of bread. You plugged it in and then had the chance to see a shower of sparks followed quickly by flames shooting out of the device as the innocent bread was converted to pure carbon. Those were the days.

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This year Robin and I have made the move to non-gifting one another. At least not a big deal gift. There will be “stocking stuffers,” of course, we are not Communists after all. We’re taking that money and making donations with it to favorite charities. Maybe some charities that we always wanted to help, but never got around to it.

We can do that because we really don’t need anything. There are lots of things we might want, but need … nope. We are roofed-over, fed, and clothed. We have luxuries, like this computer I am typing upon, but having a smaller home means you look carefully before adding to the pile of possessions already stacked there. Stuff in the garage or shed that you haven’t quite the heart to throw away yet, but that will remain warehoused until molds or insects take care of the problem.

If we decide to buy a new framed photograph or painting for our walls, for instance, something will have to go away to make room for it. A new shirt or sweater … same thing, because closet space is all taken up. If I ever start to feel sorry for myself, in that I would like to go back to bigger and better, I remind myself of a story told by a raconteur on the old (really old) Jack Paar television show. It went like this:

There was a holy man who lived in a small village and who lived so simply that he had only one treasured possession, a jar that he carried each morning to the village well to collect water for the day. The man was loved by all, so it was with horror that villagers saw him trip one morning and fall to the ground, shattering the water jar on the cobblestones.

As others moved to comfort the man, he raised his head from the ground and they were amazed to see the most blissful expression on his face. Seeing that their old friend was about to speak they crowded closer so as not to miss a single word. And this is what they heard him say:

“At last … I am free.”

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[I’ve told the above story before, I know, but this time I told it better.]

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A Very Merry Christmas to Everyone. May you and all those you love be happy and safe.

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Petty Larceny

In playing with this thing I call a blog, I rely heavily on theft. I have been getting away with it for more than a decade now only because the journal is a thing of modest circulation, and it is by no means a commercial venture.

I write for fun. Part of that fun is digging around on the internet for images to sprinkle between the words. I could try to contact the sources of those things, but that would change significantly what I was doing. My practice is to write something down today, and you read it in a day or two. There is no way that I could get permission fast enough to make this system work … and so I have become a pilferer of pictures.

But it’s not always an easy thing to do. It does require some effort on my part. Let’s take cartoons, for example. The New Yorker magazine is one of my solid sources for them, but I find that even there, the majority of their cartoons don’t appeal to me. Out of today’s “Cartoons from the issue,” for example, I picked out only one of eighteen to share. The rest … meh. Here is today’s “winner.”

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This morning at around two a.m. the wind came up suddenly and with such ferocity that it sounded like workmen out there in the neighborhood, banging on things and operating machinery. It actually woke me up, which is unusual since I habitually sleep through the most violent soundscapes, only to be wakened later by Robin trying to carefully open a door without disturbing me.

I notice only what I have to notice, even when asleep. You know that there is a part of your brain that never rests, that never takes days off. It’s the part that is in charge, among other things, of making sure that we don’t fall out of bed every night. It knows where the edge of the mattress is and acts accordingly. The part that is continually scanning the sounds in the house and occasionally wakes us to go and check them out, just in case there is a burglar or an axe murderer out there in the kitchen. The part that knows when it is time to empty one’s bladder and sends an alert.

In these cases the brain does its job so well that we don’t even notice or give it credit. We only complain when it fails. It’s been decades since I have fallen out of bed. My tally on axe murderers is zero so far, for which I am sincerely grateful. The bladder thing … still working but the margins are slimmer than twenty years ago. These days it goes off around two in the morning, and I don’t have the luxury of taking time to decide whether I will answer that call or not. I just wake up and hit the ground stepping smartly towards the WC.

The morning’s wind is the predecessor of what is predicted to be a wet and possibly snowy day. That would be very okay with me. Since I moved to Paradise seven years ago, I have never met a rainfall that I didn’t like.

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The Christmas truces were a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of the First World War around Christmas 1914. The image below is a contemporary artist’s interpretation of the event at one location.

“The truce occurred five months after hostilities had begun. Lulls occurred in the fighting as armies ran out of men and munitions and commanders reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs.

There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. Hostilities continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from commanders, prohibiting truces. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after the human losses suffered during the battles of 1915.

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period and reflected a mood of “live and let live,” where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades; in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in view of the enemy.

The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in quiet sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.”

Wikipedia: The Christmas Truce of 1914.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that the powers-that-were found this practice unacceptable, and over the next several years of the war such inspiring goings-on basically disappeared. This morning I found myself wondering why this was such a heart-warming story to me? After all, once the holiday had passed the combatants returned to the business of killing or maiming one another with gusto.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.

Robert Schuman.org

What the stories mean to me today is that it seems to be very difficult to completely erase the decency within human beings, even when they are involved in the hellish endeavor that is war. The Great War went on, of course for four more bloody and nightmarish years after that Christmas of 1914.

Maybe a way to put all of this together can be found in the meaning behind the African proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The gentlemen in the artwork above represent the grass, the governments that put them there being the elephants.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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Yesterday’s trip to the grocery store was interesting in that really for the first time this year, the place was full of Tellurideans. Planes filled with well-to-do visitors land at our airport, the passengers are loaded into “limos,” which are basically big black Chevy Suburbans and other similarly-sized transport vehicles, and they are then driven to the City Market. While there is a grocer in Telluride itself, the store is smaller and the prices are higher, so these folks are given time to stock up before striking out for the 50 minute trip to that village.

So if you go to the store and find yourself suddenly shopping alongside rafts of people who are generally more expensively dressed than the typical Montrosean, and who ooze a sense of entitlement, you know there is snow on the mountain without even looking out the window. You can tell those who are visiting our town for the first time, because they are surprised that we have electricity and indoor plumbing. And to imagine that there is a grocery with a first-rate cheese shop within it … why, will wonders never cease? But, they must wonder, who buys this cheese when they (the Tellurideans) go home? Surely not the natives?

But they are a colorful and pleasantly chatty bunch, these travelers, as long as they are not thwarted in their search for provisions. At the deli area is where you find most of the confrontations occurring, as customers haggle over how thick or thin the slices are, and “why don’t you carry _____, for God’s sake?”

But the workers at the checkouts are familiar with handling resorters and keep things moving along quickly so that they can all be loaded into those “limos” and sent on their way. There is lots of smiling and nodding of heads and little scenes of faux commiserating:“Oh no, half of your luggage went to the Ukraine, what a trial that must be! You poor things.” It’s a perennial roadshow drama, with each population group dependent on the other while being slightly contemptuous of them at the same time.

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Each year Robin makes a batch of fudge, usually to share with others. It is always delicious, and no one ever says: “No thank you, I don’t want any this year.”

It may have something to do with the fact that there are three main ingredients … chocolate, sugar, and butter. Enough butter to fry a thousand eggs, in fact. A whole pound of it in each small batch. I strongly suspect that if one were to decide to end it all, eating an entire plateful of the stuff would do the trick, as arteries one by one gave up the ghost while the person’s serum butter level approached 1000.

But that person would be found sitting smiling in their chair with just the trace of chocolate at the corners of their mouth. Not an altogether bad way to go. In smaller doses, however, it is simply excellent.

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Where Do You Get This Stuff?

A friend once asked me where I came up with the things that I put on this blog. I don’t recall what I said to her at the time, but it comes out of my everyday life, because every single day that I take a breath I am confronted with either my own ridiculous behaviors or those of other people. Each daily newspaper provides more than enough grist for my small mill. (Some of what I read does make me angry or depressed, and I try to avoid writing about those things. I admit to not being 100% successful in this.)

What I do enjoy writing about is when we are really being preposterous. With our pretensions, our guarded conversations, our raising of our eyebrows. And if nothing is happening in the world, the stream of thoughts that my brain generates produces some really amusing stuff if I just pay attention. Maybe one out of ten thoughts that I have are absurd or laughable (it could even be as frequent as one out of five). I have no control over them popping into consciousness at all. When I really notice them is when I am trying not to think, as in mindfulness mediation sessions. It is at those times that I see that what I have read is true – that the mind never stops going, but jumps from one branch to another continuously, like some monkeys do, giving rise to the phrase “monkey mind.”

And some of what my mind brings up for brief consideration is hilarious. At least to me it is. Occasionally I will stop the flow for a moment and think to myself – that was almost unbelievably arrogant. I must really be that pompous ass that people have called me at times. Robin would be the expert on whether I am or not. One of the most useful things she does for me at times is to gaze deeply into my eyes and repeat: “Pedant, pedant, pedant .. .

But it is exactly those flaws that I often find endearing. Our human sillinesses. Our foibles. Considering those and writing about them is part of my personal plan in order to hang on to the shreds of sanity that I still possess. I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now, and it is still working for me. Truth is, studying a well-executed pratfall does much more for my state of mind than anything I will likely find on CNN today.

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Public Service Announcement

The Surgeon General announced at a press conference yesterday that a food product has been declared so severely addicting that it will be handled as such. That product is Cheetos Popcorn. To quote the good doctor: “This is a snack combining the seductive flavors of regular Cheetos with those of one of the most popular snack foods of all time – popcorn. They potentiate one another so that the combination is much more potent than you might expect.”

It’s one of those cases where 1+1= 3. From now on you can only get this snack by prescription, and there will be severe limitations on quantities dispensed as well.

You may recall that old folk tune, The Blue-Tail Fly, that goes like this:

When I was young, I used to wait
On the master and give him his plate
And pass him the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue tail fly

Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
My master’s gone away

We now believe that this is evidence that the authors of this song had access to something much like Cheetos Popcorn way back in the 19th century. Perhaps they made it themselves out of the homely ingredients they had at hand and kept the recipe secret until now, when it has been unearthed and newly marketed. It is worth noticing in the song’s chorus that when you get some of that crack corn you don’t care. Typical addict behavior.

Fortunately there is an easily observable marker which will help us identify victims of this scourge and get them the therapy they so sorely need – their fingertips are universally stained a bright orange.

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There seems to be quite a buzz about the fact that television journalist Chris Wallace is quitting Fox News and moving to CNN. An interesting choice for him, with CNN being the most anti-Fox of them all. The running thread is that it is bad publicity for Fox News to have one of the rare “legitimate” newsmen on its staff leave off and move on.

That may be true. I have a slightly different take. For seventeen years Wallace cashed those checks while lending his name to what is essentially a journalistic hogsnort. For me, that’s taking an awfully long time to decide that you finally care about the s**t on your shoes at the end of every working day.

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We watched another Christmas story last night where the holiday was really just the subtext. It all started out that morning when I ran across a YouTube video taken from an episode of the series The West Wing. It was intriguing enough that I searched for the original episode and found that I was going to have to pay for it, which usually causes my interest to fall pretty precipitously. For some unfathomable reason I persisted. Good that I did, for Robin and I found ourselves in a story that was funny, intelligent, and so moving at the end that we turned to each other choked up and in tears.

The video was from Season 1, Episode 10, and entitled In Excelsis Deo. Here is the clip running on YouTube that attracted me to spending the considerable sum of $2.99. You can watch the clip if you like but be warned, it may end up costing you.

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I can’t exactly recall the day when I realized that the world was even more complicated than I had previously thought, but it could have been the day that I discovered that Velveeta didn’t require refrigeration. As I stared at that display of variously sized yellow boxes all sitting there on a grocery store end-cap without needing any special environmental care, the thought came to me that all that other cheeses needed to be kept cool … why not this stuff?

There is a list of answers to this and other Velveeta-related questions at delish.com if you wish to pursue your education further.

In the early 1900s, Monroe Cheese Company wanted to salvage its Swiss cheese wheels that were either broken or misshapen. So it enlisted the help of Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant who tinkered with the scraps until discovering he could melt them together and add byproducts like whey until they melded back together in a velvety consistency.

delish.com

If you’ve ever worked with Velveeta, you know that keeping the loaf covered when being stored is supremely important. Else the stuff will turn into something completely inedible, and the now brick-like material is even dangerous. A five-pound chuck of dried-up Velveeta falling from an airplane at 20,000 feet would be traveling at more than 1000 mph when it hit the ground and would leave a crater 100 feet across. (I have no idea why it would be falling from an aircraft, but the point is to look out if it does.)

Another fact is that the knife you used to cut Velveeta into slices must be immediately washed. If this product dries on the blade, you can never get it off, and the tool must regrettably be thrown away.

Originally Velveeta was made from real cheese. Today, it’s mainly whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, milk, fat, and preservatives. By the Food and Drug Administration’s standards, that’s not real cheese—which is why the FDA forced Kraft to change its label from “cheese spread” to “cheese product.”

delish.com

So why do we even buy it? Because it is delicious. Because it melts so very well. Because it makes some of the absolute best mac n’ cheese there is.

Robin and I were discussing this interesting stuff last night at supper, as we ate our non-Velveeta-based mac n’ cheese. We mused that foodies would probably never allow themselves to be seen buying a loaf of Velveeta. If they just couldn’t help themselves and felt they needed a couple of pounds of this liquid gold they would probably have to steal it, sneaking it from the store under their clothing to avoid being seen at the checkout stand as they made their purchase.

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Postscript: the kids in the photo are named Allyson, Justin and Amy. I am their wicked stepfather.

Postpostscript: by way of followup on my do-it-yourself follies discussed in a previous post, I have taken out a protection order against myself so that if I get within 100 yards of a hardware store I am immediately arrested and taken to the calaboose. Robin is the only person who has the authority to arrange my release.

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Do It Thyself

A week or so ago I did what I know better not to do. Something that has been proven to be a bad idea for several decades now. I decided to fix something that was awry with the house, on my own, with nothing but YouTube as my instructor.

The drain on the left side of the kitchen sink had developed some rust, as do many old things, and I deemed it unsightly enough to warrant replacement. So I did my “research,” bought the parts needed, and set to the project

I first unscrewed several things under the sink, and loosening one of them unleashed a small torrent of water from something called the “trap.” Apparently I should have known about this water, but I had missed that on the video. I pulled out the rusty drain and installed the shiny new one. YouTube had suggested using a particular goo around the device, which I applied liberally. I then reconnected all of the plastic pipes, bumped my head on the door frame, and exited the workspace cursing only lightly and under my breath.

Now I filled the sink … no leaking. Later I ran the dishwasher … no leaking. But my joy was short-lived because over the next few days it began to leak – somewhere – I just couldn’t find where the water was coming from. So I finally gave up and called a plumber. Within two minutes after arrival at our home he made the diagnosis, and asked me:

Plumber: What did you do with the conical washer that came from here (he pointed at a joint)?

Me: There was no conical washer.

Plumber: Of course there was. It hadn’t leaked for the seven years you have been living here, and didn’t start leaking until you messed about with the pipes. There had to have been a washer at that position, or it would have leaked every day you have lived in the house. You just missed it while you were clumsily tearing apart the fixture.

Me: I tell you that there was no such washer, and what you call “clumsily tearing apart” was in my case careful attention to detail.

Plumber: Sure, sure, have it your way. But that washer was as big as a golf ball and you never saw it.

Me: Look here, I am tiring of arguing with a plumber, something which I long ago vowed never to do, and would like you to take your wrenches and cements and opinions and leave my home immediately. My last word on the subject is that there never was a washer.

Plumber: Had to be there

Me: Never was

Plumber: You are a fool!

Me: Imbecile!

(The plumber picks up a hefty wrench for himself, and holds out another to me.)

Plumber: Defend yourself, Sir!

(I grab a can from the pantry behind me which turns out to be PAM. I point the nozzle at the miscreant.)

Me: Drop that hardware, you dimwit, or I will lubricate you within an inch of your life!

At this point I am not sure what would have happened had not Robin entered the room with a look on her face that caused a quick exit by the tradesman. I too slunk away, hoping to avoid a conversation for as long as possible. In this I was to be disappointed, but I won’t bore you with all of the details of what Robin said as she held me by the scruff of my neck. I can, however, say that much of her monologue touched on various sorts of incompetency to be found in certain people who lived at her address.

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From The New Yorker

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From The New Yorker

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Last night we watched a movie called “The Boy Called Christmas.” You never know with modern films created for the yuletide market. Most of them are losers. This one isn’t. It’s a smart fable, with elves, woodcutters, kidnappings, blizzards, and enough beautiful winter photography to make you pull your afghan up around your neck.

There is also excellent CGI stuff throughout the movie, especially a gorgeous reindeer who goes by the name of Blitzen. You get to watch Maggie Smith and Kristen Wiig do their thing, and the kid who plays the title role … where do they get these excellent child actors? He doesn’t miss a beat.

There is some serious stuff in the story, like the loss of a parent, that are dealt with without drowning in either grief or platitudes. There are also some mildly scary episodes that might be better skipped by kids under five. One of them involves a famished troll who comes to a bad end (really, do you recall any time that a troll in a story doesn’t come to a bad end?).

And did I mention the mouse? There is a right smart CGI rodent in this one.

So this movie was a winner for us. And frankly, any film that stars Maggie Smith is granted four stars before we even see it. She is one of those people that dominate the camera’s frame. When I grow up I would love to be able to speak the King’s English like Maggie does. Some of the photography was shot in Lapland and Finland, and as I mentioned before, is outstanding … the ability to use drones in camera work has provided us such beautiful perspectives.

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Friday was the day that Robin and I decided to call the first real day of winter. It snowed about an inch of those tiny icy flakes that as they pile up become instant hazards to walking. A blustery wind blew all day long and the temperature never got above 25 degrees. The sun didn’t make its brief appearance until suppertime. A cloudy day, dark and dank, with substantial wind chills.

So we are finally here in that period of the year that nearly everybody wishes was shorter. We are a spoiled bunch, we humans of the temperate zones. We want four seasons, but we don’t want them to be of equal length. If I were doing the planning, I would grant winter no more than a month before it would be expected to be on it way. In that way I could actually look at it fondly, treasuring each frosty day because I knew that too soon they would be replaced by sunny and warm ones.

For moi, there is really nothing wrong with winter that a little editing wouldn’t fix.

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I haven’t begun my Christmas shopping yet. It’s something that I am usually slow to finish, but this year is setting new records. There has been no shortage of reminders sent to me to get going and get it done. Catalogs fall out of our mailbox as soon as we turn the key, and this has been going on for weeks.

What do you call such procrastination when it reaches heights never achieved before? Hyper-procrastination? Acute procrastination syndrome? Shop-o-phobia? Whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it bad. When you can’t even pick up your laptop and one-click your way to doing what needs to be done, is there any hope at all? Is it an early sign of something coming that is even worse, like trench foot or trichotillomania? Should I be consulting somebody?

Wait a moment. I could turn this whole anxiety-ridden business around right now, because here I sit with the tool I need in my hands. Excuse me, if you will, but I’m going leave off writing and give it a try. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean I love you less.

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Postscript: the children in the header photo are (from left to right) Maja, Kari, & Sarah Flom. No fair calculating how old they would be now.

Sleighbells Ring, Are You Listening?

News from the hinterlands. Kari and Jon, who live in the northernmost outpost of the Empire, were housebound on Sunday due to something I only dimly remember – a blizzard. We don’t get those here in Paradise. Our valley seems to be protected in some way from that particular bit of dramatic meteorology.

internet-acquired (stolen) photo of blizzard in Duluth MN

The old-timers here in Montrose will tell you, if you are unfortunate enough to be trapped in a room with one of them, about the times where it snowed so fast and hard that they had to string ropes between the bars so that tipplers could hang on to them and thus move about safely and not become lost in the storm.

But those days seem to be behind us. Of course, if you are telling weather stories here in Colorado you must state the altitude before you even begin. What’s true here in the Grand Valley at 5900 feet is very definitely not applicable to Silverton, at 9000 feet, and has nothing whatever to do with the scene at Vail Pass, which is at 10,600 feet.

Robin and I are coming up on our eighth winter here in Colorado, and have rarely been inconvenienced by snow. Really, the only time it figures in at all is when we are contemplating travel, when of a sudden it can be a big deal. It’s those mountain passes that pose the hazards. To go east we need to check out what’s happening at Vail Pass, the Eisenhower Tunnel, and Monarch Pass to see if traveling is even a possibility. To go from here south to Durango would mean crossing three passes if we attempted to take the Million Dollar Highway (of course this is only theoretical, since there is no bleeping way that I would travel that road in the wintertime no matter what the weather conditions were).

But we do miss one thing about blizzards. When you are stranded in your own home, and driving anywhere is not an option, there is a unique sort of fun knowing that no matter what, no one expects you anywhere, and you couldn’t go there if you wanted to. So you sit down where it’s warm and look out the window at the chaos, perhaps wrapped up in a blanket while you exult in being safe and alive and warm and in a place where there is no snow drifting down the back of your neck.

And if the storm comes up while you are having people over for dinner and they can’t get home … it’s the best thing ever … a blizzard party! The evening vibe changes completely when we all realize that we are staying over night at someone else’s home and we didn’t bring pajamas, a toothbrush, or a change of clothes.

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Yesterday I dug out the holiday playlist on my computer, which contains somewhere over 300 tunes culled from the world’s holiday musical literature, and started out on my annual listen. I only bring this music out after Thanksgiving, I listen to them for no more than an hour a day, and quit when December 25 rolls around. Discipline is my middle name.

They are a mixture of old and new, some I have there only because my parents used to play them when I was a child. Mom and Dad didn’t own a lot of music, but one set of 78s was of Perry Como doing Christmas his way. I have that same album, I think, but in digital form. There is Johnny Mathis (from my adolescence) singing in his unique voice. Joni James, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, Enya … on and on. It’s all the musical equivalent of comfort food, for me.

I ran into one definite sign of seniority this morning. I was checking at the iTunes store to see if there were any modern holiday songs. I opened up one collection and there was not a single artist that I recognized. Not one. It would appear that keeping the playlist from becoming hopelessly dated is no longer a reasonable thing to attempt.

Ah well, three hundred isn’t a bad number to rummage through, and who knows? Maybe next year Lil’ Nas X will come out with a terrific holiday album. At least I know him.

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The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell slogs on with its sordid tales. I have to admit that I am only scanning headlines and not reading the articles any more, having decided that the justice system doesn’t need my input in this case. There’s really nothing new here, history is full of stories of predators and victims when it comes to sex. The difference here is the wealth of the perps and the scale of the transgressions. The sellers and packages of the “news” long ago learned that the crimes of the rich are way more interesting to their customers than those of we poor schlubs toward the other end of the economic scale.

So if any of us were involved in a Jeffrey Epstein-type operation in Schenectady NY it might make headlines for perhaps a day or two, and then the story would be relegated to the back pages, even of the papers in Schenectady. In places further off, it would quickly disappear altogether.

But isn’t endlessly re-reading the details of the sexual exploitation of these young girls further exploitation? Beyond a certain point, a point we passed long ago in this story, you could think of it as a form of soft-core porn.

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I may have mentioned these guys before, but it’s the Christmas season and they fit in quite nicely. The Smallbone brothers, Luke and Joel, make up a Christian pop group called For King and Country. One of their concert numbers presents the venerable carol “The Little Drummer Boy”in a very dramatic form. Bombastic, even. But stirring, as in musical theater. See what you think.

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The Bar Keeps Gettin’ Lower

I don’t know if Lauren Boebert is the dumbest Representative in Congress, but If there is someone less capable, I’d hate to think about who that might be. She is from western Colorado and makes my head ache whenever I think about her at all, so I had to take a couple of ibuprofen this past week when the two videos started being news. You know, the videos where she tells a bigoted and racist story involving Representative Ilhan Omar to two different small groups of people. In both of them she all but directly accuses Omar of being a terrorist. The thing is, the two stories don’t agree with one another, and apparently describe a meeting that never happened. So she is not only a racist and a bigot and a dumbass, but a liar as well.

It reminds me of an old saying (I am paraphrasing Mark Twain here): If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you say. I would say that she is an embarrassment to the Republican Party, but we all know that this isn’t presently possible. To embarrass that party, that is. It is at a very low ebb indeed. But in another few months we’ll get to see if the GOP can find somebody less offensive and more credible to run in that district. You are free to use Boebert as a sign of the health of the party if you want to. It would be like taking its temperature. If they run her again, shame on them. If she is elected again, shame on us.

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From The New Yorker

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When will these golden days of Fall ever end, and we can get down to the business of shivering and scraping the sleet from our faces? If the trials posed by Winter are good for me because they build character, I am afraid that my character is probably slipping quite a bit this year.

I have become too used to this soft life where my choice of coat to wear when I leave the house doesn’t determine my survival. Why, just this past Wednesday I accompanied Robin to her physical therapy appointment wearing only a pair of shorts (cargo) and a light fleece sweater. And I was fine. And it was December.

I know in my heart that this blissful weather won’t last forever, and that I can once again begin my annual period of kvetching about how cold it is and won’t the wind ever stop blowing and how my back aches when I have to shovel snow. But right now, daily life is no trial at all.

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From The New Yorker

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Since I am definitely in a reverie frame of mind, another medical student story. When I rotated as a junior student to Ramsey County Hospital in St. Paul for the internal medicine clerkship, our group was oriented by the assistant chief of medicine. His speech started out like this:

“In the last group of students we had some problems with a couple of your classmates who were rude and arrogant in their behavior toward members of our nursing staff. Let me be clear on this point. We work hard to attract and retain excellent nurses here on the medicine wards. We have no trouble at all getting medical students. Do you catch my drift?”

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I accompanied Robin on her visit this week to see Dr. Judkins, the orthopedic surgeon who did her knee reconstruction. He took several X-rays to check on things, and as soon as I saw them I asked for copies, which he kindly provided. I thought you might be interested in what a total knee replacement looks like on X-ray.

The first picture is taken from the front, and compares the operated knee with its mate on the left. The second view is from the side.

NB: I had the patient’s permission to share these images with you, of course. To do otherwise would be to court havoc.

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Christmas is upon us. The first flakes of it start falling these days a little before Halloween, followed by flurries leading up to Thanksgiving, but after that … the gloves are off and it’s a by-god blizzard from then on. There are days when I get two different catalogs from the same company.

Our home decorating for the holiday has gradually simplified over the years to where now we purchase a red candle and a green candle and put them on the dining room table and call it a job well done. (Well, maybe just a bit more than that). Gone are the days when one agonized over garlands and which Christmas Village building to add this year and what box did we put those Fitz and Floyd pieces into last year anyway? I don’t miss them much.

My grandparents Jacobson, whose way of life still informs my own in so many ways, decorated for Christmas by bringing out a box from the attic that contained perhaps a dozen small items. Ida would distribute them around her little home each year, never adding new ones, always caring carefully for the old. Each piece had some meaning to her and Nels, and a story that went with it.

There was only one thing that was electrified, nothing that blew up into monstrous size to be maintained by a roaring air pump, nothing that had a famous maker’s label, nothing that said “Look at what special things I have done with my house.”

I remember two garlands, each six feet long, one red and one green, a very small créche, a ceramic wall plaque of Santa’s smiling face, and a pair of candlesticks representing angels. There was only a handful of other treasures, but when you walked in their door and saw these few items out in the living room, it was instantly Christmas.

I almost forgot the tree.

Since their home was too small for a real tree, there was an inexpensive plastic one about a foot and a half high, that stood on an end table and was in no way trying to look realistic.

A placeholder is what it was, indicating where a dramatic Fraser fir or a luxurious Colorado spruce might have stood if there was room for it. Or if Nels and Ida felt it was needed.

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Late Night Rounds

The old Hennepin County General Hospital (formerly Minneapolis City Hospital) was a magnificent hodgepodge of a place, butting a few small modernized areas up against a big 19th century edifice with 30 bed wards where patients were separated only by drawn curtains. When the spaceship Medical School dropped me off there I was to begin my first clinical clerkship, which was surgery. Up until that time I had spent years cramming data into my definitely overcrowded pudding of a brain and I was looking forward with mixed dread and anticipation to what was to come.

The trouble was that I really didn’t know what was to come and ran headlong into my first conflict right away.

The four of us who were starting that clerkship together were issued some green scrub suits that were obviously made for some sort of creatures who were seven feet tall and whose knuckles dragged on the floor as they shuffled along. We four were human-sized and were forced to adapt by rolling up pant legs and pinning down waists.

The resident charged with orienting us took us to the outpatient clinic where he informed us:

  • we would all be working until six pm in the clinics that day
  • one of us would need to be designated as being on call that night, and by tomorrow morning we needed to provide the resident with our call roster for the next month
  • the on-call person would follow the surgical resident all night and do work ups on all admissions
  • instead of going home and going to bed the next morning like any person would do in a sane environment, that same on-call individual would be expected to make rounds with staff, attend clinics and lectures, and finally end the next day around six pm where they would be released to their families.

I couldn’t believe it! Barbaric! Who could function on such a schedule? What had I signed up for, anyway? A life of gloomy servitude loomed before me with no time for friends or anything other than medicine, really.

As I wandered the semi-dark and ancient halls of the old building that night I heard Diana Ross and the Supremes several times on radios around the hospital since this was 1964 and they were just breaking big. I ran errands to the laboratory, blood bank, emergency room, and surgical wards while stopping from time to time to roll up the damned cuffs on those scrubs from hell.

Next day I showed up for morning rounds, and the other three students came up to ask how the night had gone. I leaned back in my chair like the seasoned veteran that I now was and began listing the amazing things I had seen and done. It was a childish performance, looking back, but bloody fun at the time.

However, something had happened beyond my bluster and boasts. The events of that night had sunk a hook into me, and this turned out to be a serious addiction that took years to come to grips with. The addiction to the drama of night-time in a busy general hospital. The bad coffee, the three a.m. meals in the cafeteria, the camaraderie, the blood and the tears. And sometimes, the fear.

And all of this with a soundtrack that at least on that first night starred Diana Ross and the Supremes.

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From The New Yorker

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The singer Tony Bennett gave his last performances in New York in August of this year, in concert with Lady Gaga. The venues were sellouts. This, in spite of the fact that he has advanced Alzheimers’ disease, and often doesn’t know where he is or even who he is. But put him in front of an orchestra, and he didn’t miss a beat. There was an article about the concert on the CNN website recently.

Bennett is one of the true craftsmen of popular singing. His technique was so good he was one of the few that Frank Sinatra looked up to as a singer. High praise from another master.

What an interesting organ is our brain. Somehow the complex business of performing is still possible, even when daily life is often a washout. Those old paths must be worn so deep that they are the last to be erased by dementia. Remember that line in the chorus of “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell? Where she sings: “You pave Paradise and put up a parking lot?” Isn’t that what happens to people as dementia runs its course?

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From The New Yorker

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There is a variation on the theme of telling lies that occurs in some mental illnesses. The true memory of an event is gone, has been erased somehow, and the person’s brain goes into a sort of anxiety mode and fills in the gaps with new material. Material which is not true but is believed to be so by the patient. In this way the state of their disability is masked or obscured from them. The name for this is confabulation.

We were taught this as medical students during our psychiatry clerkship, that we might understand how we could be led astray in taking a patient’s history. No malice or harm was intended by the patient, but what we had been fed in our conversation with such a person was, well, little more than flapdoodle.

I suspect that my own brain is occasionally serving me up a plateful of this stuff, and how would I know the difference? I have a reference person who lives with me who can correct my recollections when I stray too far, but that covers just the last thirty years … how about all of the time before I met her?

Fortunately, no one’s life, property, or reputation depends on what I remember and how I remember it. So if my brain is from time to time making up parts of my story, my best hope is that the new tale is at least interesting.

(Wouldn’t that be a sort of hell on earth – to be forever telling one’s stories but they are so irredeemably boring that no one can stand to listen to them? A never-ending view of people’s backs as they hustle away from you. )

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Down On The Farm? Ewwwww … Nossir!

So far I’ve not been too excited about the coming electric vehicle “revolution.” The cars are smooth and fairly reliable, and they will carry a person comfortably from one place to another as long as those two places aren’t too far apart. Some of them will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in around three seconds, which is a really useful characteristic for a car to have, especially with many more older drivers on the road whose reflexes may have slowed a bit. Put Grandpa at the wheel of a new Tesla, for instance, and if he gets a cramp in that right leg he can be going 100 mph before he hits that light pole in the parking lot at City Market.

But a vehicle is on the horizon that finally gets my pulse up a few beats. The Rivian pickup truck is the one. It is not a truck meant for serious work on a farm or at the workplace. No, no, there will be none of that. Manure will never touch its bed. It is meant for the well-heeled wanderer, to be used primarily for glamping. If you want to load it up with everything the price is somewhere north of $91,000.

It’s true that the truck can get to 60 mph in a hair over 3 seconds. It can tow 11,000 pounds. It can be configured to have 15 inches of ground clearance. It has a motor on each wheel, which adds up to a total of around 800 horsepower. It can drive through a river that is three feet deep. And to top it all, my friends, it can do this:

Now I admit that there are very few times in my life when I have wanted to do a “tank turn” as in the video. There were those two episodes when I found myself having taken a wrong turn and briefly going down the wrong direction on a busy highway where it would have been handy, but that’s about it.

So I don’t think that I’ll put my order in just yet. For instance, I would like the truck to go quite a bit farther than its 300 mile range before it runs out of electricity. And if they would knock $50,000 off the sticker price it would be a lot more attractive. But I think I may have finally found an electric vehicle that would fit the style in which I imagine myself living, that of the gentleman adventurer.

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Followup photo of Robin in her PT outfit at the Mountain View Therapy center this week.

I think it’s quite stylish, but Robin vehemently disagrees. Whenever I suggest that she wear it out in public I get the look that says “Just shoot me first.”

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve now used up all of our Thanksgiving leftovers, so the day is officially behind us and we can go on to other things. It’s always painful when you look up from licking the last crumbs from the bowl that the decadent marshmallow-encrusted yams were served in and see the look on the face of your spouse which is “Who is this disgusting person?”

But crushed egos recover, as I know mine will, in time. And Robin really should be used to my habits by now if she was paying attention at all over the past 29 1/2 years. Perhaps when we were dating I concealed my tendency toward gluttony from her, but I’ve been open about it ever since. The telltale orange-stained fingertips indicating that an entire bag of Cheetos were now history, or the half-eaten ice cream carton that any knowledgeable archeologist can see was taken down to that point by a man with a spoon in his hand and no sense of decency at all. Oh, and how about that slice of turkey in the Tupperware container that is missing a chunk with a bite radius that exactly matches my own. These are among the telltale signs of a person not to be trusted with your edibles.

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From The New Yorker

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As recently as five years ago, I was taking no prescription medications. When friends would list the several drugs they were taking for this and that I admit that I thought to myself “Poor bastards, they have been afflicted, but I, for reasons quite unknown to me, have not. Perhaps it’s because I have lived such an exemplary and blameless life.”

Those thoughts have come back to haunt me now as I spend part of each morning and evening shoving chemicals down my gullet in order to preserve life and limb. That is, at least statistically because no sensible physician makes guarantees as they hand out prescriptions for the many tablets, caplets, capsules, and powders at their disposal.

At present I take one to calm down that sneaky blood pressure, one because the laboratory tells me that my lipids are slightly out of whack, and one aimed at reducing the likelihood of having another stroke. I also take one to calm my allergies down, a part of my immune system that continues to get more robust with time, while experts tell me that the rest of that same system is going all to hell (life does have a sense of humor).

So there is no more feeling superior to my contemporaries for me, as I am right in there in the pharmacy lines with everybody else, munching on yet another slice of humble pie.

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Lastly, here is a short sketch from SNL that you might enjoy.

Jon: This has my nomination for the best Saturday Night Live sketch of the year.

Robin: I don’t know ’bout that.

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Meleagris gallopavo Rides Again

Robin and I are in complete agreement … this has been a perfect autumn. Low and slow and drawn-out. As the leaves turned they remained on the trees for the longest time, giving us multiple opportunities to drive around in the rural and check them out. The temperatures have uncommonly dropped below 50 in the daytime, so far. And the sun shines nearly always.

What has been completely missing are freezing drizzle, early blizzards, ice storms, typhoons, hazardous sidewalks, plagues of frogs, power outages, and the endless leaden skies that drag one’s spirit down. So the winter solstice is only a month away and we haven’t even had to break out the SADD light yet.

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From The New Yorker

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Thanksgiving looms. We’re not going anywhere and no one is coming here. Being in fresh post-op mode for us means staying in and not even trying to be entertaining. Yesterday Robin walked to the mailbox and back, but these exercise periods are always followed by an increase in discomforts, although they are important for recovery.

Pain and swelling are still big issues a week out from surgery. At this point a person could be understandably wondering if this is the new normal, but then you realize that if it were, no one would ever have the operation. Robin is the poster girl for postoperative bravery, but even that stiffest of upper lips might quiver for an occasional second here and there if you look very closely.

For myself, I have taken on the position of UPN (unlicensed practical nurse) with my customary flair. My skillset expands daily. I don’t know if there has ever been a better bearer of ice bags than I am, or a finer fluffer of pillows. The dietary department here at BaseCamp has responded to the slightly changeable appetite of the recovering patient with flexibility and aplomb. When yesterday morning Robin said that good old hamburger soup seemed the right thing for supper, within a short while enough of the stuff for twelve persons was ready to eat. Overshot that one a bit.

We are doing a traditional menu for the day, even if each part is scaled back considerably. Our guiding principle is that there is no Thanksgiving dinner leftover that is not tasty and delicious. So a turkey breast, some mashed potatoes, a bit of stuffing … all are in the works for Thursday. There may even be a yam with a melted marshmallow on top … who knows?

One difference this year is that the pumpkin pie will have come out of the grocer’s freezer. I have no skills when it comes to baking. Cakes fall or fail to rise, piecrusts are suitable only for use as coasters, cookies become hapless scorched discs. I am willing to attempt almost anything else, but please don’t ask me to bake. It makes me nervous to think about it.

When I was playing around and learning more about cooking after my divorce, I tried a few desserts. There were three failures in a row of pineapple upside-down cake before one came out that was inelegant but edible. Then there was that cherry pie which never set up on the inside, so that the filling simply ran out like water when you cut it. And lastly more than one chocolate cake that had the general slope of a ski hill from one end of the pan to the other.

You can see what fun I had before I gave up on the whole enterprise!

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Our gratitude list is something that we pay attention to pretty much throughout the year, although especially in November. This year I am grateful that since I was unable to avoid becoming an older gentleman, that there are repairs available that were absent 50 years ago.

Robin and I both can see beautifully because someone figured out how to address the problem of cataracts (otherwise we’d be going around bumping into things all the livelong day). Medications can relieve blockages in arteries for stroke victims if they get to the emergency room quickly enough, or I probably wouldn’t be putting together this mess of poppycock each week. Crippling arthritis can be relieved for some people, even though the getting to that relief can be an ordeal.

And that is on top of all the rest of our blessings, which are countless.

To top it off, some of my wishes came true with regard to former president cluck. He was ushered out of office, just as I’d hoped. But he didn’t get that incurable rash with the Old Testament grade of itching that I was sort of counting on. I guess you can’t have everything.

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While typing the above I was playing the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack in the background. As usual, when the tune “The Wings” came up, at a certain point tears formed, even though I was not consciously thinking about the movie. Such is the skill of the composer.

I can just see Gustavo Santaolalla sitting at his desk there back in 2005, writing the film score, pointing to a group of notes and saying to himself – now right there is where everybody cries.

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From The New Yorker

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The other day I purchased a small jar of jam. It was called “Willamette Raspberry Preserves.” I thought well, cool, maybe it’s from somewhere near where grandson Dakota is out there in Oregon. And then today I read the rest of the label, where it says “Product of Belgium.”

Robin’s observation when I indignantly reported this misleading labelling to her was “Maybe that’s why it tastes so good. Because it’s Belgian.” I thought about that for a minute, and realized that I didn’t personally know a single person who was Belgian, and I knew only three Belgians by name.

The first one was King Leopold II, who I learned was guilty of instigating policies that led to countless atrocities against the natives of the Congo. So this is not a “good” Belgian reference at all, and is perhaps one of the reasons that raspberry growers in that country have not brought out a King Leopold Brand of jam.

The second one is Hercule Poirot, an exasperatingly fussy detective who solves crimes that stump lesser minds. But here’s the thing – Poirot is not real but a character of fiction so can hardly be used as an example of typical Belgian-ness. I’ve seen at least three movies in which he was portrayed and I don’t recall raspberries being mentioned in any of them. If there were, I suspect he’d complain about the seeds.

The third one is a horse. They are very strong, have awfully large hooves, and that is all I know about them. They have nothing to do with raspberries at all.

Therefore one could say that my ignorance of things Belgian is nearly encyclopedic. But, you know … their jam is darned tasty.

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To All of Thee: Happy Meleagris gallopavo Day!

Cruelty

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(From the Montrose Daily Press)

There is a herd of elk (the one in the article above) that lives in the valley leading into the town of Telluride. A couple of weeks ago we passed it as we were driving into the village, and what a beautiful group of animals it was. There was a stag in the group who had antlers that were as magnificent as any I’ve seen outside of photographs. We pulled our car over just to watch them for awhile. Because they are accustomed to people and cars, we were within 50 yards of the herd without seemingly bothering them at all.

Some days after our visit, a coward went into the area and killed a bull elk from the herd. It would have been as if one walked up to a group of cows and shot one. No more courage or skill was required than that. What they did was apparently legal but I wonder … how do you boast about shooting a cow?

No matter how one twists logic to justify it, the “sport” of hunting involves the killing of other creatures … for fun. The whole sorry business is despicable.

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Robin continues to mend steadily but at a slower pace than she would like. At least that is how I would think about it if our situations were reversed. But then I have never claimed to be stalwart in the face of discomfort of any kind. When I was a child spending time on Grandpa Jacobson’s farm, I would often get slivers in my hands. Since I had been taught that leaving the splinter in there was going to either bring on the nightmare disease of “lockjaw” or my hand would swell up and fall off, I had to seek help. And the help available was Grandma or Grandpa.

Grandma’s approach was to sterilize a small needle in a flame and then carefully unroof the splinter and extract it with a tweezer. Grandpa, on the other hand, would pull a pocketknife from his overalls and set about carving out a chunk of my flesh that would hopefully contain the bit of offending vegetation. It wasn’t that he was anything but a kind man, but when such a knife is the tool you have to work with, that is what happens.

So whenever I had a choice I would hide the injury until we got back to the house and Grandma could take over. Even then there was an embarrassing amount of grimacing and whining on my part until the thing was done. I’m not sure, but I expect that I might do the same today in similar circumstances. Heroism does not run strong on my side of the family.

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My favorite sort of cartoon is one that surprises me. One that takes me somewhere when I didn’t even know that I was traveling. The drawing above this paragraph is an example. It’s quiet, subtle, but is obviously taking place in some alternative universe. The clearest indicator is the dog being in the operating room in the first place. Such a thing could never happen, at least in the U.S. … or could it? There would be so many barriers to the animal getting in there, so many doors to get by and so many nurses and technicians trying to catch it and expel it from the premises.

Now look again. While the OR staff are all masked, none of their noses are covered, which is a totally unacceptable break in protocol. If we’re going to spread something from human to human, what issues from our noses is an excellent way to do it. Not everyone in the country appreciates this, though. I see it every day in the public square as one of the things our local drizzlewit population does when presented with mask mandates.

Lastly … those naked feet. God knows what microorganisms we carry about on our feet from day to day, but finding a pair of tootsies exposed like that in the operating suite would be enough to horrify any nursing supervisor to the extent that they would surely come down with a variant of PTSD.

No, this cartoon limns a place of fantasy where the beam from the overhead lights cuts sharply through the surrounding darkness and isolates the six characters (I include the dog and the owner of those feet) in their very own world. It’s a great cartoon.

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Even for an operation on one’s knee, there are modifications of the home that are necessary. For instance, we’ve added several useful hardware items to the furnishings – a chair in the shower and a walker, for instance. Also we’ve temporarily retired several area rugs and put them out in the garage to prevent them from causing tripping and falls.

Said rugs are now piled high enough to pose hazards to anyone in that part of the building and may prove an effective burglary deterrent. “Honest, Officer Krupke, I had no idea that a stack of rugs could do that to a person. Do you think a good mortician … ?”

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Krupke, Krupke … now where did I hear that name? Oh, yeah … right here, from 1961 …

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I have a nomination for the best book title of 2021. It is Josh Ritter’s “The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All.” I have it on my list for winter reading. How could I not?

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I Know How You Feel and Other Fables

The journey that Robin is on involves giant dollops of pain in the early days after surgery. We should have known that by the insistence of her therapists that we have the Big Gun pain meds in our hands before she left the hospital, and that we don’t even think about skipping a dose in the first few days. All of the bad press that the opiates have received in the past several years certainly does make a person wary. But this sort of adventure is among those for which they were created. In using them a person has to remember to grab the knife by the hilt and not by the blade.

So yesterday was not a day we will probably choose to remember. Robin is extraordinarily game, and forced herself to do what she was supposed to do, take short walks etc., but it wore her out. Presently there is apparently no such thing as a comfortable position.

I’m pretty sure that this is the reason that late yesterday afternoon I found her on the phone checking my references as a caregiver. I didn’t think that I’d done that badly, but then … the patient would be the expert, wouldn’t they?

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From The New Yorker

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I have very little personal experience with pain, relatively speaking. Oh, there’ve been drawn-out episodes of emotional distress that each seemed overwhelming at its time, but physical pain … not much. There has been the odd broken rib here and there, the fractured thumb when I was trying to render my brother unconscious during a fistfight that popped up in a basketball contest, the time when my “back went out” when I was trying to field a ground ball in a baseball game and for two weeks I couldn’t stand up straight, but that’s about it. Nothing like what I see in front of me these days. So I don’t even try to say anything like “I know how you feel” because truth is, I don’t know and Robin is aware of that.

Actually, I think we could safely retire the phrase “I know how you feel.” It’s probably never true, and how would we know if it was or wasn’t? I know that when I have heard people address me with those words, the only thing it did was make me wish they would gather up their blather and take it somewhere else.

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Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News …

It’s Monday morning and we’re at the local hospital by 0630. A few minutes in admissions and then up one floor to the surgical suite. At this point Robin is whisked away by a very pleasant masked woman. I will not see my friend again until she is in recovery. I wish her well before she disappears behind a door. The well-being of the person I love most in the world is now completely out of my hands for the next several hours. I will learn what the OR staff wants me to learn when they want me to learn it.

At this point I am going on 99% confidence and trust in the process. Trust that everyone on the OR staff knows their role cold, is in good physical and mental condition, and that Robin’s body will do its part as well. But there is that 1% of me that worries. You can’t have been in this business and not have some reservations, because you have a personal collection of stories of snafus in the operating rooms that go back 50 years.

I did not sleep well last night and I am nodding in the waiting room, in danger of falling off my chair and embarrassing myself. So I am the second person in the line for hot coffee when the cafeteria opens at 0730. The other person looks like they’ve been here all night. It’s a little known fact that spending time in a hospital waiting room in magnifies every defect in your appearance and costume. If you normally look slightly haggard, now you are actually scary-looking and small children clutch at their parents’ clothing as you pass. Creases in shirts and pants appear as if by magic, generally going in an unnatural diagonal direction across your body. The same goes with creases in your face, and bags under eyes that you never had before are now the size of fanny packs.

I don’t know why or how this happens, but I have observed it thousands of times in others before today, and it is starting to show up in my mirror-reflection this morning.

By 1000 hours the orthopedist has stopped by to tell me that all went swimmingly, and that Robin will soon be moving to her room. By 1030 I am talking to her in person. At 1400 the nurses get her up for a short walk in her room. At 1600 she takes another walk down the station corridor before returning to her bed.

Quite a day, actually.

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I have developed an affection for the physical therapist who managed Robin’s treatment after surgery. Not because of his professional skills, which were excellent, but because he laughed at all of my lame attempts at humor. Convincingly. That is not an easy task, since I have heard tapes of myself doing jokes and mostly they just make me want to step into a closet until everyone goes away.

But Fred is neither condescending nor patronizing. He’s the audience of one that you dream about.

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In anticipation of the next several days, which we will call Just What I Kneeded week here at BaseCamp, I present a trio of hospital-based toons stolen from The New Yorker.

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Doctor Music Is Always In

Looking back I see that I have a habit reserved for times when emotions overwhelm me. For times so sharp that I have no words, when it becomes just me in a room with the pain or sorrow. Everybody eventually runs up against days like this, I think. Of course, how would I know? My troubles are mine … yours are yours … but mine will hang around and bedevil me until I finally sit down with them.

So that habitual way that I have of coping when the world is just too much is to pick out a piece of music and put it on endless repeat so that it becomes a mantra that I hear rather than speak. Doing this somehow opens a door and I am able to let go. I am always alone at such times, and if anyone were to wander in the door they would find a guy pretty much useless for anything for a while. I think the word unstrung is what describes at such moments best.

There was the New Year’s Eve when poor old John Lennon had to sing “Imagine” … maybe thirty times in a row … for only me. There was the evening after a kitty of ours named Rosa had died following a terrible two-day illness that neither the vet nor I were able to help. Hours when The Red House Painters song, All Mixed Up, became the background music for the release of emotions that had built up over those 48 hours when we were trying clumsily and ineffectually to save her life.

Many of us have such moments in our lives. Bottling things up is generally not a good long-term strategy, we are told. Finding ways to release those pressures is what therapy does for us, and in situations like these I’ve found music to be oh so therapeutic.

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I would like to call attention to an American hero, Sister Helen Prejean. She is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, an account of her serving as spiritual advisor to a condemned man named Patrick Sonnier. Since then she has been an advisor to six more inmates on death row, all of whom were eventually put to death. To do this sort of work … I would call that heroic.

Sister Prejean wrote a piece in the Times on Wednesday entitled Look At My Face, which I found a very moving read. I recommend it to you.

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From The New Yorker

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An interesting short piece found its way into the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It was an imaginative one about the death of William Holden, the actor. The title of the piece is The Many Deaths of William Holden Taught Me How to Be Anxious.

It isn’t the first time that I have considered deeply how fragile our bodies are, and felt a little frisson while doing so. When cars meet on the highway and the metal of the machine is distorted and torn apart the injury to the automobiles is nothing compared to what happens to the flesh of the occupants. When you read a story about a tornado roaring through the countryside driving pieces of straw into the bark of trees, remember that humans are caught out in the cloud of missiles that the tornado picks up and distributes. In a courtroom Friday a man told his story of being shot in his upper arm and his bicep being blown away. It was just gone.

The world is filled with hard things, and our bodies are not among them. For eight decades now I have threaded my way through the maze of sharp or stony objects that could have altered my life, or certainly my appearance, and here I am … one of the lucky ones. The bones that cracked, the blisters that formed, the thousand patches of skin left on the pavement in my childhood … all have healed themselves.

So hearing the many versions of the death of William Holden wasn’t necessary to make me a cautious man, or even an anxious one at times. I was able to put together my own scenarios from my own experiences. And when the stresses became too much to bear, there was always the possibility of the geographic cure, as in Ole’s case.

When Ole learned that most accidents, injuries, and deaths occurred within one-half mile of home, he did the only logical thing.

He moved.

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Oh, happy happenstance! One of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, has a new book out entitled The Sentence and there is no doubt that I will read it during the coming blustery months. I will wait for a day when I am looking out the window at weather so nasty that my forebears’ practice of wearing wolfskins wouldn’t keep a man alive and while I am experiencing the guilty pleasures of houses and central heating. So I will put that off for a while, but in a deliberate and not a procrastinative way.

To make things even better, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have made a second album together which will be released fully on November 19. Their first one was the surprising musical duet album of 2007, Raising Sand. It was the answer to the question I had never asked myself: “What do you get when you pair up a princess of bluegrass and a prince of rock and roll?” The answer was a hell of an album.

Plant has continually surprised me. When his former band (a little-known group called Led Zeppelin) folded up, I would have thought he had nothing left to do, being just another pretty band singer whose groin posturings had become less interesting to his followers as age did its thing. But instead he made, and still makes, interesting and intelligent music.

What to say about Krauss? A voice like a drop of dew on an Appalachian morning … as pure and straightforward as is her music with her band, Union Station. A classic. A professional, through and through.

The surprise is that together they become not just another bunch of duets by artists who are getting on in years, but something new.

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From The New Yorker

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The Neverending Conflict

When we have overnight guests, we cede the use of one of our two bathrooms to them, so that after these very welcome folks have gone home I take it back over as my primary facility. (The other bath is off the master bedroom, which doesn’t work out well with visitors coming through at all hours of the night.)

This morning I re-entered that hallowed place and found to my horror that the toilet paper roll was improperly hung, with the tag end on the outside. This never happens when under my supervision. It never happens because the practice of putting the tag on the inside was firmly established millennia ago. I long suspected that the Deity himself had given clear instruction to Adam and Eve on the subject and have found confirmation in the Bible Of The Church Of What’s Happenin’ Now.

In that translation God says to the lovely couple: “Now there’s two things you should not be doing. One of those things is eating the apples of that tree over there and the other is hanging the TP roll the wrong way. If you eat the apples you get banished from Eden, which I should tell you is the best gig on earth. And if you keep puttin’ that loose end of the toilet paper on the outside for the rest of your natural lives you will be pulling off too much paper and have to be rolling it back up and the whole thing will appear forever a mess.”

So it’s not only a practical necessity, but an ethical one as well. Else why would we get the orders from on high? It has been suggested that we adopt a TP holder such as the one in the photograph here where we can’t see the orientation of the roll. But while this might stop the arguments, I find the proposition morally murky.

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We are playing around with our air fryer, a tool that we bought a few months back. My research into the subject prior to purchasing this item had led me to an inescapable conclusion and that was that nobody needs one. Nearly every review on the subject went like this: “If you have an oven you don’t need an air fryer! But if you are determined to waste your money on fripperies and humbuggeries, here are those we think are the best of the bunch.” And our usage confirms those opinions.

However … if you want something that will take frozen Arby’s Curly Fries to heights you have never known before, even in Arby’s restaurants, an air fryer is the ticket. You can fine-tune the crispiness by fractions of a degree. Of course they are still nutritional nightmares, but that’s another question entirely. ‘Nuff said.

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Next Monday morning Robin is scheduled for surgery, a total knee replacement. This will be performed at our local hospital. The program here has a very good reputation, and we’ve been impressed with all of the prep work that the staff does for the patient and the patient’s support person. Robin has had a bad bunch of months this year because of a combination of a torn meniscus and osteoarthritis. Both knees are giving her trouble but the surgeon prefers to do one at a time.

At the present time hiking and bicycling are not tolerated well at all. Walking on level surfaces for shorter distances is less of a struggle, but there is still considerable pain involved in the course of life’s normal activities. Other treatment modalities have not been helpful, so the need for surgical relief seems quite clear to us.

We are both looking forward to the time that she can resume her usual practice of blowing me away on hikes … shouting back over her shoulder as she streaks by that she will be waiting for me somewhere up ahead on the trail.

You know, aging is aging. I am not attracted to books or programs that try to tart it up with phrases like “The Golden Years.” Every stage of life has its challenges, it just turns out that at our stage the challenges are primarily physical ones. Fortunately some of them can be repaired or at least ameliorated. If it weren’t for cataract surgery both Robin and I would be walking around the house bumping into things all the time, and someone would be driving us to and from the bingo parlor.** This now commonplace surgery made all the difference in our ability to care for ourselves.

When I had that stroke a year ago, if it hadn’t been for the scientific advances of clot-dissolving IV infusions and quick actions on the part of a handful of people I might not be communicating very well with you at all. God forbid … this blog might have been abandoned! (Please, no cheering. It’s unseemly)

So we are grateful that help is available to folks with the problems we’ve had so far. But I will admit that there are days when it seems like one pain in the posterior after another needs attention.

** Poetic license taken here: I have never been to a bingo parlor and have no plans to visit one. Should you ever see me going in the door of such an establishment, just shoot me.

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Sweet, Sweet Jane

This one is for Lou Reed fans. The introduction to the vocal is several minutes long and is just outstanding. This album gets played often at my home address, and played as loudly as my equipment and neighbors will permit.

It almost goes without saying that the song Sweet Jane is about drugs. After all, this is Lou Reed we’re talking about. In this case the substance is heroin. You might miss that in the lyrics … I did for the longest time … but it’s there. Part of the problem is that the original and longer lyrics to the song were dropped from the most popular recorded versions. So I heard the sadness and longing and missed the rest.

But watch the video, check out the vintage hair and mustaches and clothes, and get in touch with your rock and roll side for a few minutes. You know you want to. That bass player … is he inscrutable or impassive or imperturbable or what?

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The last spate of elections are over, and the Democrats are exhibiting their typical Brownian Motion, running around bumping into one another trying to figure out why they did so poorly this time around. Nobody asked me if I knew the answer. So I will put it out there anyway. Let’s say a political party spends an entire year and can’t come up with the equivalent of a mission statement. Who squabble so much among themselves that they can’t get the things done that they need to do to hold our interest, much less retain our loyalty. Why should we vote for them except for the fact that they aren’t practicing Cluck-ism? That might have been enough in 2020, but it’s not holding up very well as a reason.

If there is such a thing as an average American, their lot hasn’t improved one iota in the last two or three decades, while our “leaders” are enriching themselves so fast the money changing hands never gets a chance to cool off but is always slightly warm to the touch. The one percenters are so bored that they are climbing onto the Musk/Bezos rockets like they were a new ride at Disney World. “Excuse me, Elon, but I’d like an aisle seat if you please, and did I miss the snacks being passed out … I love love your peanuts!”

Once upon a time there was a guy named Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a singularly courageous Russian writer. He dashed off a bunch of books in his lifetime, eventually winning a Nobel Prize for his work. Among the titles were The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. The books were very good and they were very anti-Communist, so when he was kicked out of the Soviet Union and came to America we all thought he might become our new BFF. But then he gave some speeches directed at us that were the literary equivalent of a swift kick in the pants with a hobnail boot. He thought we were weak, effete, and had lost our way in a maze and haze of materialism and secularism. Basically we were doomed unless we saw the light … and he didn’t think we would. Three of those speeches were gathered into a book called A Warning To The West, and some excellent excerpts are published on the Goodreads site. They are well worth reading, and I think their lessons are as applicable now as they were unwelcome news in the 70s.

What we needed then is what we still need now. Different flags to fly, different songs to sing – those that lift our spirits and bring us together in the common work that needs doing rather than focussing on our bottom line, which can only drive us apart.

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The music of Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles album is doing its good work in my morning. That woman … what a talent … and what a fine double album this one is, recorded live in 1974. Music like this is never dated and sounds today as fresh as it did 47 years ago. The recording is clear and excellent as opposed to the mushy sound that live albums sometimes offer up. Here’s a photo of Joni and her backup band for the album, the L.A. Express.

It’s okay with me if you don’t rush out and buy this and listen to it just because I said you should. There is so much good stuff out there to listen to that it boggles the mind. As a matter of fact, I am having quite a bit of trouble getting unboggled this morning … perhaps the next cup of coffee should be intravenously administered rather than orally. I just wanted to let you know that this album was out there, in case you’d missed it the first time around.

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Grandson Dakota took his leave of us Thursday, on his way to the rest of his life. His car contained everything he owned, so off he went in a VW Jetta version of that famous truck in the movie, Grapes of Wrath. He is a fine young man and we are so glad we got the chance to know him better. ‘Twas a gift to us.

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As everybody knows, Paradise is located in Montrose County, Colorado. As of this morning our county is a Covid – 19 hotspot. Such news should not come, unfortunately, as a surprise to anyone. In the 2020 election, 2/3 of the county’s electorate voted for a presidential candidate who was completely unfit for the office, a charlatan of the first water. They knew it and they still voted for him.

Now, did anyone really think that having flunked Elementary Civics that these people would do any better at Preventive Medicine? The fact that we are now in a situation where nearly all of the deaths from this disease are in the unvaccinated segment of our society does not deter them from publicly refusing to be helped.

Denial? Death wish? Dumbassedness? Take your pick.

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Dune

We went to our first movie in a theater in two years this past week. The film was “Dune,” and it did not disappoint. Well, it would have if we hadn’t been forewarned that the story sort of stops in mid-sentence and where we are promised a second episode. That’s a good thing, because the good guys are certainly having a rough time of it in the first go-round. I wasn’t sure how Timothée Chalamet would do as an action hero, but he is better than I thought he’d be. And there is something very hopeful in his performance for people like myself.

In recent years the heroes in movies have all been impossibly buff, possessing pectorals the size of watermelons and twelve-pack abs. This contrasted with actors in the more distant past, who had regular physiques. They were good strong bodies, but nothing dramatically different from yours or mine.

Timothée is a throwback to those lovely days of yore. He is shirtless in one scene, and is shown to be a pleasantly skinny young man. My earnest hope is that this will catch on, and I can once again leave the theater without feeling that somewhere along the physical development road I went completely astray. There are days when I’m not entirely sure where my abs are to be found, and it’s pretty certain that I have less than six in my pack.

In this movie one has no trouble telling the bad guys from the good. All of the evil people are ugly, I mean break-the-mirror sort of ugly. At the opposite pole, everyone is handsome and beautiful. This is not quite like real life, but the movie’s story line is pretty complex, and anything that simplifies even a small part is welcome. Oh, and you will definitely have an easier time understanding what the film all about if you have read the book, and I highly recommend doing just that. But here’s a word to the wise – you’d best get a move on because the paperback edition is 740 pages long.

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‘Twas a mild Halloween this year. Outdoor temperatures were compatible with life and there was no sleet pelting the small petitioners as they dragged their bags of non-nutritious substances from house to house. Most of the kids came by before dark, but the last ones arrived around 7:30. All in all it was a pleasant evening for the little pagans and the parents who accompanied them.

Robin held court in a chair early on, but had to leave for a meeting, and after that it was my turn to face the horde. I was impressed by one kid who was about 10 years old and who was wearing a mask based on Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream and knew its origins. I doubled his handful of candy as a reward.

As the kids came through and I looked into their bags of stuff, I could see that every single item was securely wrapped or boxed and I thought how much work it was going to be to get the tiny candy morsels out of their coverings later on. And I recalled how much easier it had been in 1949 when everything was loose and unpackaged and you could actually eat some of what you’d collected as you walked along. There were people that gave out actual apples with no razor blades in them. Some (gasp) doled out cookies or brownies that they had made in their own kitchens and who knows what awfulness was baked into those things. Cookies that their fingers had touched … it makes me shiver all over to think about it.

Somehow we all survived back then. If there were rumors of evil people doing evil things in dispensing their “treats,” parents of the time had the good sense not to believe the stories. They just sent their kids out into the night with empty pillowcases and kept the porch light on. Each year all the children returned and were perfectly fine until they started eating what they’d collected and epidemic nausea set in.

So we’re safer now and everyone is protected from mostly non-existent horribleness and it’s a much better world, isn’t it … ? But our collective anxieties are on full display each Halloween. Kids pile out of and back into cars, parents walk them all the way to our doors, everything is super-sanitized. But there was something missing from the evening. There was nothing scary – anywhere … .

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Today, November 3, is Robin’s birthday. Of course I will not disclose the number involved … what gentleman would? Last night at supper I asked for details of her birth (which she does know!). This is quite unlike my own case, that of a dullard who knows only the date and the place of his own emergence.

Robin was born prematurely at under five pounds, and in the wee hours of the morning. She must have been a tough little thing, though, because she went home from the hospital with her mom at the regular time and was promptly installed in a dresser drawer that served for a while as her bed and bassinet.

So we will celebrate her birthday by doing whatever she desires … within reason. No arrests are to be expected, no front page bits of notorious behavior to be published in the local paper. It’s a simple case of everybody who knows her being glad that they do. She’s that kind of girl.

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The Many Pleasures of Nitpicking

It’s four in the morning and I am trying to edit a post on my blog and there is a fly in the house. Just one. In the entire place. And it has obviously taken annoying me as it’s life’s work. It can’t bite me, and there is no uncovered food to worry about being contaminated. But what it does do is walk on my head at random intervals. When I make a swipe at it it easily evades my primitive defenses and disappears into the murkiness that is the house at this time of day. Then suddenly there it is back again, traipsing across my scalp without a care in the world.

I am distracted beyond measure. I know that flies don’t laugh out loud, but I swear that I hear tiny chuckling noises. Such is my state of mind. Serenity is lost. Creative writing is impossible because my mental processes have been commandeered by this winged pestilence. There is a single word flashing across the marquee of my thought-stream.

REDRUM! REDRUM! REDRUM!

But now the fly has gone … somewhere. It’s been fifteen minutes or longer since I felt its presence. I know it hasn’t left the house, there is no exit available to it. It’s only waiting for me to relax and to begin to think that I can reclaim my day. Even though its life is (on the average) only 28 days long, it is very patient and probably is now reclining in a closet against one of my sweaters, filing its clacky little nails and waiting for just the right moment to come out and take one more hike …

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I am thinking that Senator Joseph Manchin is the Democrat’s equivalent of Senator McConnell. He seems to care less about doing the right thing than increasing his personal power, and is willing to wield that power widely for as long as he has it. If it were not for the slender margin of the Democratic majority, who would care what Manchin thought? He’s a backward-looking man who is still selling bags of coal to anyone who will buy, even as the earth begins to burn around his feet.

Reading about politics is a good way to spoil a good morning. My grandson who is spending some time with us is 29 years old. Here is the list of people who have been POTUS since he was born:

  • Bill Clinton (president fellatio)
  • George W. Bush (president Iraq/Afghanistan or bust)
  • Barack Obama (president who cares if I didn’t do squat – I’m rich, rich!)
  • Donald Cluck (president disaster)
  • Joe Biden (president wake me up when it’s over)

Now is that a lackluster list to contemplate or what? Keep in mind that these are the presidents, the holders of the highest office, and at least theoretically our best and brightest. God help that grandson if he starts looking at the sorry state of members of Congress during this same period. (I would never suggest that he do so unless a competent psychotherapist was right there in the room with him to ease him over the depression that would inevitably result).

A worm blob

I recently read an article about a blob of worms and its fascinating behavior. As I was reading I realized that without even trying my mind had made that squirming ball into a metaphor for American politicians and politics. Read the piece, watch the video, see if you don’t come to a similar conclusion. If not, please tell me why. There are days when my spirit could certainly use a boost.

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Our cats are already settling into winter behavior patterns. Basically this means more time spent indoors and less time in the back yard. They are eating more, sleeping more, and occasionally looking about as bored as any critter can look.

It has become apparent over the years that Robin and I are not stimulating company for a cat. At our best we are the providers of food, the openers of cans, and minions who deal with kitty litter in all of its delightful forms.

At worst we are poor conversationalists and don’t seem to know on our own when the best times are for the brushing of fur and for scratching behind the ears, and need to be reminded (sometimes forcibly) about doing our duty in these areas. In addition, we often let the weather get completely out of control, allowing wind, rain, and cold to run rampant on the other side of the cat door. Year after year we humans never seem to get any better at this. It’s enough to make a feline weep in frustration.

I know for a fact that Willow is thinking that if she had opposable thumbs and the keys to the car life would be a completely different story at our house.

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Robin and I got our booster shots of Covid vaccine this week. Just as before, it took 24 hours before we started to feel mildly lousy, but within another six hours our bodies were returned to us in fine shape but for sore arms. We are now armored as well as is possible here as players in the ongoing Montrosian soap opera I will call Days of the Numbnuts. The theme of this show is that over the first several episodes half of the town’s occupants are revealed to be mindless drones who get their instruction and misinformation from foxy television screens.

It isn’t long, however, before we find out that the drones are dying off one by one from a mysterious illness that results in their exploding at social gatherings. One cup of punch and they go blooey, leaving quite a mess behind for the host and hostess to clean up. By Episode Six no one is inviting them to anything any more, and they have only themselves to talk to. This is a state of affairs that they bitterly resent, but those TV screens are not providing them any help at all.

Not sure where this will all go from here, but the drama is mildly entertaining if you can just distance yourself and watch it as if you were an anthropological observer from Neptune. At least that’s how I am handling it these days. It makes me less crazy.

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Braindust

Each day I turn to my laptop to tell me the temp outside, the projected weather for the day, what time it is, and what day of the week it might be. On the morning of October 23, when I was told by my machine that it was Saturday, I felt that sense of relief that used to come when a workweek actually meant something. Monday through Friday were days for sweating and straining, but Saturday was the beginning of 48 hours of … whatever I wanted. A whole different set of emotions and possibilities were now open.

So when I recently learned that it was a Saturday morning, I felt a little pop of joy, which is not logical at all. It’s a vestigial element left over from my days in the mines. A meaningless fragment of a former existence. But hey, a guy can always use a pop of joy, n’est-ce pas? There is no such thing as too many of those.

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Observations on this Covid vaccine insanity that we are going through. The resisters, the non-vaccinators, have been behaving abominably, and fully deserve whatever guilt they might feel. That is, those among them who are capable of feeling guilty. Because tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of American citizens have died as a result of their non-benign form of stupidity. Their deliberate ignorance and laziness of thought have been infuriating to observe.

However, if they would tomorrow line up and do the right thing, to finally get their immunizations, I would probably eventually stop thinking about the harm that they have done, and life would go on. But I couldn’t forgive them because it’s not up to me to do that. It’s up to the tens of thousands of survivors of those who have died unnecessarily to do that. The empty chairs that will be at Thanksgiving tables all over this land speak volumes about what logic and citizenship and common sense have asked of us, things which those people have so far disregarded.

Any one of that very large contingent could, if they wished, stop their part of this madness tomorrow. They could step up and be counted and loosen one more of the hooks that Covid has in all of us. And they could do it by rolling up their sleeves and helping themselves in the bargain.

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In the past year I have had two interesting (at least to me) events which were brain things. First there was that stroke a year ago which was fixed by some marvelous people within an hour after it started, and then earlier this fall I saw double for a day, which fixed itself. Later this week I am returning to see my favorite neurologist to talk about these things. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

So, what can I do for you, Jon? You are still walking and talking, and for someone your age, that’s pretty good. What more could you ask for? What questions might you have?

I am interested in comparing the results of the two MRIs that I’ve had this past year. Do you see anything there that is alarming?

Not really, pretty much everyday stuff. Blockages there, atrophy here … nope, nothing remarkable.

Atrophy?

Why, yes, with age the brain gets smaller and fluid takes up the space left behind.

Holy shrinkage, Dr. Belk. Could you clarify that a bit?

Well let me put it this way. Forty years age you had mostly brain up top, with maybe a juice-glassful of fluid. Now at eighty-two you’ve got a brain the size of an avocado and enough liquid to fill a Camelback.

That’s certainly not welcome news. Is there anything I can do about it?

My advice would be to always wear something with your address printed on it. Or better yet, have it tattooed someplace … somewhere there’s a nice broad uncluttered area … on your behind, perhaps.

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Drosophila melanogaster – the fruit fly

I must be getting jaded. This morning I read an article in the Times Science section about one of my favorite creatures (I bet it’s one of yours as well) – Drosophila melanogaster. On top of that, the article introduced me to a branch of science that I had never even heard about. Does the word connectomics mean anything to you? It didn’t to me.

But I read the entire piece, put the laptop down, and went to the kitchen to make a second cup of coffee. I noticed that there was no increased spring in my step and that the world seemed much the same as it had when I got out of bed. In other words, I had not been moved by what I had just learned. I had mentally filed the information away for possible future reference (or for possibly completely forgetting I had ever read it) and that was that.

It’s unlikely that I will find the opportunity to talk about connectomics with any of my acquaintances in the days to come, we just don’t go there as often as we did in former days. Now when I encounter one of those people on the street, and after we have exchanged opinions about the weather, we’re pretty much done with our conversation. Everything but Drosophila stories seems to have become controversial, and should I inadvertently stumble into a hot topic that to me hadn’t even seemed lukewarm, I may find the front of my shirt covered in angry bits of spittle as the person in front of me delivers their diatribe.

I never seem to get it. To sense the location of those minefields before I step into them. It might not change my behavior if I did, but at least I wouldn’t be so surprised when they come up, and that could be a helpful thing. For instance, I could take a step back to protect my clothing. Or I could deliver what I knew was going to be an inflammatory statement with something approaching panache instead of just plopping it out there. I like that idea a lot.

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[Joe Dator is now my favorite cartoonist. He is not quite right in the head, as my grandmother
used to say, and I am totally in synch with where his head has gone.]

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Tuesday was moist from start to finish. It started lightly but steadily raining before dawn and this pattern continued all day. After lunch we decided to take a drive in the countryside and headed out for Silver Jack reservoir. This lake is a gem situated in a mountain valley and well worth the 90 minutes of driving that it takes to get there. We never did … get there, that is.

The reason is that about three miles short of our goal it was snowing hard and the road was becoming slipperier and slipperier and I flat chickened out. The tracks ahead of us showed that only a single car had traveled that way since the snow began falling. I could see getting myself sideways in that stuff, and who would bail us out? Both of my passengers were nursing injuries and asking them to push was out of the question. And when you are down to the point where the only person who is certified to push the car out of a ditch is in his 80s you are in trouble, friends.

Therefore instead of Silver Jack we accepted where we were as our destination, and that was at Big Cimmaron, a small campground situated right on the Cimarron River. It was beautiful there, with the clear dark rushing water, the total absence of any human activity but us, and the snow falling. Robin and I made a note to return and camp there some day when the weather allowed, but it would never be prettier than it was on this Tuesday.

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Images

Today is my birthday. I mention that only to in relationship to two pix which I thought I’d share. I had no hand in my actual birth, it was one of those times when being a passive recipient of attention seemed the better choice.

The first image is a radar weather scan taken at 0600 today. The black teardrop symbol is the location of Montrose, so you can see what Mother Nature has in store for my day.

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The second is a scan of my birthday card from Robin. Love it!

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Taking To The Roads

I had no idea (except for the machine’s own advertising) how far my electric bike would go on a single charge. Robin and I have hazily-formed plans to repeat our 2009 cycle trip on the Mickelson Bike Trail in South Dakota next year, and the way we do it one of the legs of that 114-mile journey is around 50 miles long. So yesterday I took the bike out for a longer spin, traveling from our home all the way to the end of the park road at Black Canyon National Park, a round-trip of 38 miles with lots of uphills and downhills.

There was still some juice left in the battery when I returned home, enough to make me think that 50 miles is a real possibility. What I neglected to take into account was although the battery and the bike were tip-top at the end of the ride, my body wasn’t accustomed to 3.5 hours of steady riding on sometimes bumpy roads. Somewhere around 25 miles my nether regions began to complain loudly, at thirty miles I was certain that with that much pain I must surely be sitting on a blister the size of a watermelon, and by 35 miles I was standing on the pedals rather than sitting down whenever that was a practical thing to do.

But time heals all things, including bruised anatomies, and as Scarlett O’Hara always said: “Tomorrow is another day!” Girl after my own heart, that Scarlett was. Wonder whatever became of her?

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I am having a few problems with my bloghost,Wordpress, at the present moment. It appears that the theme of this site is being retired by that company, and this means the likelihood of glitches arising is to be expected. My site’s theme is now in the “legacy” category, and a word you never want to hear in computer land is “legacy.” It can be roughly translated as: you’re on your own, buddy and if something goes wrong don’t call us.

So I am simplifying the blog (and my life) by reducing the things over in the sidebar for now that aren’t working well. Gone are the multiple weather reports (which have always been inaccurate anyway), the music player (who wants to hear what music I like when they can pick out their own?), and the list of web addresses of various columnists, etc. If this doesn’t do it for the theme, I may have to choose another and maybe that’ll be a good thing.

I must say over and over today as my mantra – the only thing guaranteed in life is change.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin, Dakota, and I did some serious messing with pumpkins Wednesday afternoon. The weather was pleasant enough that we were able to take our artistic skills to the back yard and work on a table there. As you can see, our approaches were quite different, Robin used paints to make something special. Dakota carved this tiny face on his … somehow it was more frightening than mine. My carving was awfully traditional, but I don’t care. My clumsy carving skills allowed me to make something that was at least recognizable as a Jack-o-lantern and that’s the best I could hope for.

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An excerpt from a piece of Garrison Keillor’s writing, to whet your appetite for reading the whole thing.

November ushers us into a season of colorlessness and Thanksgiving, an awkward day when people who don’t like each other anymore sit down and practice politeness, a day that reminds us why “turkey” is a synonym for Flop. Anything you do to turkey is an improvement: stuff it with jellybeans, pour brandy on it and light it on fire — better yet, put some cherry bombs in it and blow it up.

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I happen to like Thanksgiving, as opposed to Mr. Keillor. For one thing, there isn’t as yet a tradition of buying things that has sprung up associated with it. There are no Turkey Day gifts to frantically purchase and no obligatory ornamentation required for the house. Preparation for the holiday is blissfully simple.

All you have to do is just get together with some friends or family and eat food. It is the national eating extravaganza. Keillor isn’t tickled to death by turkey, and I will admit that I have swallowed quite a few bites of overdone birds that needed to be washed down with copious gouts of water lest they remain permanently mounted in my mid-esophagus. But when that massive golden thing comes out of the oven all of the past failures are forgotten, and I know in my heart that this is the time at long last that I will tear into so much juiciness that I can’t stand it, and where there is so much meat that I can eat myself into perhaps the only coma from which full recovery is expected.

This won’t happen, of course. The bird is just too big for that to happen, and there is always that white meat/dark meat thing where cooking one is wrong for the other and so on. We try our damnedest, though, to overcome the drawbacks, and it’s kind of touching, really. We roast them slowly and sometimes put the creatures into large plastic bags to do it. We dip them into cauldrons of hot oil and swear that this is the only way that makes sense. We smoke them over applewood, or hickory, or mesquite, and in so doing turn them into 25 pound snacks. I love it. I love all the fussing and the equipment and the technology and the inevitable but soon forgotten disappointments. There’s always next year could be the permanent motto of Thanksgiving.

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The best movie version of the rite of carving the turkey is still the one in “Christmas Vacation,” I think. Wrong holiday, but right idea.

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People love stories about sharks. At least I do, and the odds are that you do too. The Times of New York has a doozy of an article this week, a long-ish piece about one of the densest populations of great white sharks in the world – the one just off Cape Cod. Reading it is a little like reading the script for “Jaws.”There are still the folks who want to let Nature be, and accept that there will be more seals and more sharks. And then there are those who live or vacation on the Cape and would really like to swim safely and would prefer to have the populations of these animals reduced, perhaps by hunting them.

Swimmers and shark off Cape Cod

For myself the calculation is an easy one. I assume that there are sharks or their equivalent in every large body of water, whether freshwater or saltwater, and avoid swimming in any of them as much as possible. Have you ever seen those huge northern pike that are as big as sheep? Or snapping turtles so large that a person could use the back of their shells as a paddleboard?

Alligator snapping turtle direct from Hell

Oh, sure, the reports aren’t coming in in anything like serious numbers on the attacks of these critters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. For instance, a giant snapping turtle would just tow you down to the bottom of the lake and dine on you without anyone being the wiser. And while a great white shark is a beautiful animal to be eaten by, a snapper is the very picture of a nightmare. I really can’t handle the idea of becoming lunch for such a beast.

So I will continue to paddle about in the shallows, or in a kiddie pool when one is available, and by so doing avoid this class of catastrophes altogether. You may scoff as is your right. But that doesn’t mean that I am wrong. After all, they laughed at the Wright Brothers, too.

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First Flake

We’ve had our first snow, a few flakes mixed into the light rain that was falling on a 34 degree morning. They hit the ground and melted instantly. But the San Juans got a more extensive covering at the higher altitudes. We can follow the progress from here in Paradise as the white creeps down from the peaks to the shoulders over the next several weeks. Just put your car on Townsend Avenue facing south and it’s all there in front of you even though they are 50 miles away.

Whether they come rapidly or slowly, changes are on their way that involve long sleeves, long underwear, and the occasional short temper. I am often heard to say that I prefer living in a part of the country that has four seasons. However, I almost never say this in February, when my conversations on the subject usually consist of a series of sighs and grunts.

But the fellow in the purloined cartoon above is happy as a clam with his wagon and his wood, as is evident from the big smile on his beak. Possibly that’s because there is no wind to whip those flakes up his feathers and against his tender skin. Snow falling straight down can be a beautiful thing … walking about on a moonlit night at such times can be almost a spiritual experience. Snow falling sideways, on the other hand, is quite another matter, and it is best viewed through a window when one is safely indoors.

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This whole business of sending billionaires into space for a few minutes is drawing a bit of comment from the media. It is an obvious distraction from the awkward aspects of life here on planet Earth, and … let’s just say it is a bit of showing off by people who simply are so wealthy that they don’t know what to to with their fortunes. My only real complaint about these self-congratulatory performances is that the spacecraft eventually returns.

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On Monday morning I found something on CNN that made me smile. This is unique, since CNN usually makes me frown, occasionally nauseous. Spencer Tunick is at it again. He’s the guy who has been doing mass nude photo shoots in famous places for more than a quarter-century now. He always has an artistic explanation to offer for what he is doing but for me it is the amazing playfulness of the entire enterprise.

For instance, this time he took around 200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, which is disappearing (who knew?). He painted them white and then posed them variously. You might, upon hearing about the project, think that eroticism is part of his plan, but take a look at this photo and tell me, does it stir you in that way? Or does it make you wonder instead how they all avoided colossal sunburns?

Look again for a moment – over on the right there’s even a stooped-over guy who is using a hiking staff to get around in that desert, just so he can participate. Giving it his all, for art. While just looking at the picture is giving me a rash.

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Ran across an interesting article in the Times of New York about aging drivers. New research showing that they are safer in their driving habits than people much younger than themselves is slightly reassuring.  

Although there are now more older drivers than ever before on American roads, it seems there’s never been a safer time for those in the upper decades of life to drive a car. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers aged 70 and older were less likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than those 35 to 54.

Jane Brody: Keeping Older Drivers Protected On The Road, NYT October 19, 2021

I say “slightly reassuring” because we superannuated operators of automobiles still have to share the roads with those multitasking, distracted, overreacting, and overconfident younger drivers. They, as we already really knew, are the dangerous ones. We, on the other hand, are merely annoying as we chug along at legal speed limits and wait interminably at roundabouts for our turn to come.

Yesterday I was behind a Buick at a roundabout and I swear that the driver had time to knit a small sweater before the stars and planets were enough in alignment to for them to move forward. Everyone knows that there are certain vehicles that are notorious for being piloted by older folks, and Buicks are right at the top of the list. I will go blocks out of my way to avoid being behind one of those cars whenever I have a choice of doing so.

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But, I digress.

We never really had to “take the keys away” from my own parents, who had become so infirm in their later years that the question really didn’t come up. Illness sidelined them before we even had to think about it. And I am living so far away from my own children that they have no idea what my driving habits are and are insulated from the decision.

Robin is the one that I have to worry about, and I have hidden a set of keys away just in case she gets any ideas in that direction. Of course, the chance that I will remember where I have hidden those keys should I ever need them is completely another matter.

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Header Photo

Grandmothering in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2005

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Got Them Ol’ Pre-Halloween Blues 2

As I was struggling with my cowlick this morning, a gift from hell which is located at the back of my head and which is resistant to any strategies but the thick application of library paste with subsequent pressure on the area until the paste sets up. Since I had no such material on this particular day, I tried the various greases and waxes that I could find around the house with no more than partial success.

This started me wondering where the term came from in the first place. Do farmers have problems with cows licking their heads? I resolved to find out and turned to my most reliable but mute friend, Wikipedia.

The term “cowlick” originates from the domestic bovine’s habit of licking its young, which results in a swirling pattern in the hair. The most common site of a human cowlick is in the crown, but they can show up anywhere.

Wikipedia: Cowlick

I don’t like that last phrase much. For 81 years I have had one on my crown, and no others that I know about. But could new ones spring up with further aging? Wikipedia leaves that question open. And could they be located anywhere? Certainly the last two decades have been marked by many odd happenings in the hair department, and I really don’t look forward to dealing with new management problems, especially with cowlicks anywhere they want to be.

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This week I bought pumpkins for carving. I do this every year at this time, even though in my entire carving lifetime not a single one has ever turned out the way that I wanted it to look. I see those masterpieces on porches and in doorways around town and I weep.

Last year I purchased one of those cheap sets of pumpkin carving tools, which turned out to be six bucks tossed away. What was I thinking? They were exactly what I had the right to expect at that price … useless. The knives included were a little stiffer than aluminum foil, but not much. But I will go forward later today with my kitchen cutlery in hand and the highest of hopes that somehow, with no reason at all to believe that it could happen, and against all odds, my 2021 Jack-o-lantern will look like one of these:

Instead of this (which would actually be an improvement over last year’s edition):

Perhaps I am too hasty when I carve. Or lack the imagination to see what cuts will be necessary to achieve interesting-ness. Or is it that I have the manual dexterity of a wombat? Any or all of these are possibilities. No matter. The day promises to be cold and bright and I will take filet knife in hand and once again cause the ruination of a large vegetable that never did me harm. It’s Halloween, after all.

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The smoke from those fires in California and Arizona has largely vanished from our skies. We can see both the San Juan mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau clearly now, see the colors changing on the Plateau and the new snow on the mountaintops. Awfully pretty. It means that the sunsets are not quite as spectacular as they were, but they are still way good enough for me.

Our cats are not meeting the colder weather with anything like equanimity. They perch grumpily on the sofa and chairs, ask to be fed on an hourly basis because they are bored, and in general are not presently sunbeams in the lives of Robin and myself. I am doing much the same, when I think of it. We’ll all acclimate with time, we do it every year. Stages of grief and all that, you know.

  • Denial: hard freeze this week? Naw, it’s way too early
  • Anger: we had the smoke, we had the blazing hot mid-days, we had the yellowjackets … dammit,we deserve a dad-blamed warm Fall!
  • Bargaining: I know it doesn’t work that way, but if I improve my behavior, think spiritual thoughts more often, and …
  • Depression: how long did you say it will be until Spring? That many days? Jeez. I’m sleeping in till noon.
  • Acceptance: hey, it’s not so bad. We can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski …

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Grandson Dakota was talking about clothing fashions for us regular folks, as opposed what suits the couture gods in New York and Paris. As an example he talked about how cargo shorts and pants have gone the way of the corset, and no self-respecting man will wear either of them any longer. I didn’t respond, because my casual wardrobe contains no shorts other than the cargo variety. I wish we hadn’t had that conversation because now I imagine that the people in the grocery store are all looking at me and thinking: “Did they dig that guy out of a Siberian glacier and thaw him out or something? Did you see those shorts he’s wearing?”

Yesterday I was holding my cap in front of me at City Market and an elderly woman dropped a dollar in it, saying: “There, my good man, now go and get yourself something decent to wear.” I thanked her politely and when she was out of sight I was so shaken that I used that dollar to buy a bag of M&Ms and wolfed it down. A guy can only take so much.

My brushes with fashions have always been painful. Wearing something that is clearly out of date is one thing, but there have been far worse times. Occasionally there comes a day when I realize that I dress hopelessly behind the times, and out I go to buy something trendy. But you know how there are always garments on the periphery of a trend that are not chic but ridiculous? Those are the ones that I am drawn to every time. I may wear them once or twice until a day arrives when a nearby toddler clutches at their mother’s skirts and cries: “Don’t let the clown get me!”

After each encounter like this I may not leave the house for days, only venturing out to obtain food.

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Special Edition

[Some thoughts that popped into my head too late to be included in Wednesday morning’s edition of the blog]

At the present time, it would seem that we have two countries. One that recognizes the threat that Covid-19 poses, and has followed the scientifically sound preventative and therapeutic strategies proposed by recognized authorities. The second country is made up of citizens who … let’s just say they follow the beat of other drummers.

The problem is that the two countries intermingle, and this poses a persistent chance of injury to those who are at least trying to do the right thing. Since the two countries share a common language and all wear the same sorts of clothes, it is impossible to tell who is in which group.

I have a modest proposal. We ask the members of the unvaccinated herd to wear a simple button that identifies them. No risks, no body invasions, no infringement on their freedoms. I have even picked out what I think is the perfect button, borrowing it from a magazine that is out of print.

The button should be at least this large, so that it can be seen from more than six feet away, thus giving us time to get out of their way and avoid contaminating ourselves.

We could even come up with a prize to the button-wearer who comes up with the most cockamamie sign or slogan, in order to make the program more palatable.

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Examples might be: “Viruses are hoaxes – have you ever seen one?” Or perhaps we could sell t-shirts that read: “My parents went to the ER and all I got was COVID-19.”

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Soothing the Savage Breast

Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself. What would the cupboard in the world of music look like if we took away all those genres that were created or influenced by black musicians and composers?

Most of classical music would still be in the cupboard. All of those old English ballads would still be there. Much of the folk music of the European and Asian countries would still be there. A fair amount of what is called “pop”music would survive, but not all by any means.

And that’s about it. No rock, no R&B, no soul music, no jazz, no hip-hop, no reggae, no ska, none of those rousing spirituals coming out through the doors of the black church, much of what we consider Caribbean music, etc. etc. While you may be able to shoot holes in my analysis above pretty easily, I hope I make my point. And if you ask whether I would rather take the black-inspired stuff rather than the other to listen to when marooned on a desert isle, well it’s sorry to see you go Beethoven and hello Ray Charles.

My introduction to the world of music that was outside of the one that contained pop artists like Perry Como and Doris Day was that single R&B station that I ran across in Minneapolis when I was in my mid-teens. And the song that ran through me like a knife was Fever, by Little Willie John. I never recovered from the wound, BTW. The scar still itches when it rains. I had never heard anything like that song, because a young white Minnesota boy in 1956 lived in such a tight little musical enclave that he didn’t even know it.

Little Willie opened the door to that other world for me personally and then Elvis Presley just smashed the door down entirely for all of us in my high school that same year. It was pretty exciting time to be a teen-ager as far as music was concerned … overwhelming, actually. Like going from a steady diet of chicken noodle soup to some serious gumbo overnight.

Here is a little gallery of just some of the musicians that corrupted me musically in 1956 .

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Another question that I have for myself is this one. I learned in Biology 101 that when the egg that was half of what eventually became me was fertilized, there was a fair amount of competition for that honor. I do not vouch for the numbers, but here are some from an article in Idaho Fertility. (Why Idaho, you ask. Why not, is my answer).

There are about 40 million to 1.2 billion sperm cells released with every ejaculation, yet only around 2 million of these persistent swimmers actually reach the cervix. For the 2 million sperm that enter a woman’s cervix, around 1 million actually make it to the uterus. For the 1 million sperm that reach the uterus, about 10,000 make it to the top of the uterus.

-For the 10,000 sperm that make it to this point, around half of them actually go in the right direction heading to the egg cell. For the nearly 5,000 sperm that make it into the utero-tubal junction, around 1,000 of these reach the inside of the Fallopian tube. For the 1,000 sperm entering the tube, only around 200 actually reach the egg. In the end, only 1 sperm out of this group of 200 actually penetrates and fertilizes the egg

Idaho Fertility.Com

So my question is this: Who would be typing this if another sperm had been the successful one? If getting to be born wasn’t a total crapshoot, I don’t know what one is. Only one out of the at least 40 million that started out became the other half of the fertilized egg that is now me.

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If another sperm had done the penetrating, I wouldn’t have been the same person, although I might have been a lot taller, with a way better jumpshot. There’s always that.

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Our weather here in Paradise has turned on us. Presently outside my window there is a 32 degree day. I want a different one, if you please. Someone goofed up my order.

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BTW. The original phrase is “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,” not soothe the savage beast.

If you have your smartphone in hand and are counting on playing music to stop the charge of a buffalo or change the mind of a rapidly approaching grizzly, you will likely be disappointed, or worse.

(The photo at left was taken from Duncan Schmeltzbarger’s camera after recovery of his body. Investigation showed that the tune he was counting on to save himself was Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X.)

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