The Sex Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

The Necks, Wikipedia

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

Sex, by The Necks

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Some Random Quotations Dealing With Today’s Subject Matter

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

Groucho Marx

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

Roger Waters

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

Ogden Nash

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

Norman Mailer

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

Fran Lebowitz

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

Rodney Dangerfield

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

It would explain so many things.

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I, Robot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reasons I feel optimistic on this Sunday morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.L. Mencken

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Plaisir d’Amour by Nana Mouskouri

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Jerusalema

From The New Yorker

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

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

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

They Call the Wind Mariah, by Harve Presnell

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By Vi-An Nguyen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.L. Mencken

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

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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

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Indigenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can actually be quite fierce when I get disturbed.

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Local Note Department

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s In A Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His answer was chilling:

“I don’t go out to eat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nessun Dorma, from Turandot

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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Mean Ol’ Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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

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

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

Couldn’t hurt.

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

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

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

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The Fungus Amongus

An Ignorant Comment On An Impossible Premise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds, by Neil Young

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Special Edition

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

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

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

Brava, McMorrow. Brava.

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Breakfast At Wimpy’s

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

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

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

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

Jelly Jelly, by Josh White

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some To Lay Down Beside Me, by Linda Ronstadt

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

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Easter Cameth And Wenteth

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

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

So what is that … fifty-one years?

Holy mackerel.

Overture from the movie soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the highlights of that excursion:

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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S*x Ed*c*tion

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

Certain pages I read several times, in silent astonishment.

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

Wilbur and Fanne onstage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FYI Department

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

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

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

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

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

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Talkin’ Iwo Jima Blues

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

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

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia: Code Talkers

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On The Road

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

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

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

Edward Paul Abbey

1927-1989

No comment.

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

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

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

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

Mahk Jchi, from The Native Americans

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

Everyone, that is, but Justin.

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spreading

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

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

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

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

Dirge Without Music 

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indifference of Heaven, by Warren Zevon

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

The Five Remembrances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We gotta go now.

Louie, Louie, by The Kingsmen

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

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Keepin’ It (Something Like) Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fever, by Little Willie John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Expectations, by The Rolling Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a thug move on Smith’s part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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Anyone Need Their Savage Breast Soothed?

A few months ago when I discovered that half my digital music collection had silently and irretrievably gone south forever, I did not lose my mind. Getting the info off the guilty eternal disc drive might have been possible with professional help, but the costs were prohibitive.

And yet I am still nearly sane and quite happy. It’s not the tragedy it would have been a few years ago, because in the digital era, especially with subscription music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music, I can listen to music all day long for a few bucks a month. This includes every tune that I lost, and all for less than the price of one album. So I have let the episode go, decided it was a good lesson learned and joined the millions of people who say: music collection … why would I even need such a thing?

I had a fairly large vinyl collection once upon a time, but when compact discs hit the market I went with them immediately. (I am obviously not a vinyl romanticist, and do not ascribe magical qualities to any recording format.) I will let the purists argue over whether digital music is better or worse than the analog stuff on those old LPs. Arguing either viewpoint is just not interesting to me. Only the music is interesting.

Perhaps if I were younger I would care more. If my hearing were better and I didn’t have any of that blasted tinnitus, I might perceive meaningful differences. But with the ears I have, an mp3 is more than adequate to please me these days.

I have chosen Apple Music as the service to use, but not for any good reason. I would have been happy with any of the others, I am pretty certain. And as time passes I am becoming more skillful in getting out of it what I want. It is really a treat to be able to double down on a particular artist and explore all that they have recorded without needing to purchase anything and then having to store it somewhere.

Of course, if the apocalypse arrives and I don’t have the internet I won’t have any music to listen to. However, I suspect that in any apocalypse worth its name the power would go out and I wouldn’t be able to play what I had on the shelf, either. It’s sort of in the nature of apocalypses to be a drag, it seems.

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It amuses me to listen to the discussions about the wonderfulness of vinyl records. While they were the best music source of their time, they were not without their issues. I had turntables that would apply a stylus weight of just a gram or two so as not to carve away any microbits of plastic with music on them. And yet they still did some of that carving, just more slowly.

And then there was the regular necessary cleaning of the disc surface with products designed just for that job. Heat could warp the discs, they were brittle in cold weather, and even if you did everything exactly right in trying to preserve their contents, there are fungi all about us that eat vinyl for breakfast that were ready to settle on your records as soon as you brought them out. Meaning that even unplayed discs were slowly degrading in their envelopes as these tiny creatures chewed away.

Vinyl albums also had mechanical limitations in their playback. You could only listen to one side and then had to get up and flip the disc over. You could only play the cuts in the order they had been recorded, and this included having to listen to that tune you hated located in the middle of side B (unless, once again, you got out of your chair and walked over to the turntable to move the arm). You could not mix artists, which is why making our own mixtapes became so popular when good quality cassettes and Dolby recording technology finally came along.

Those mixtapes provided us the opportunity to make our first playlists, where we could set up an evening’s listening the way we wanted it. And which we now take for granted, as if they’d always been there, courtesy of ol’Thomas Edison hisself.

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Continuing our raking through the ashes of movies made about those madcap Tudors, Robin and I watched a film from the seventies called Mary, Queen of Scots. It starred Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, two acting powerhouses if ever there were any. The original story itself is quite a dramatic one, with schemings and plottings and beheadings enough to satisfy most people.

But we thought the movie was a dud. Redgrave played the role of the doomed Mary, and she came across as a dimbulb who became infatuated with nearly anyone in pantaloons who came within reach. By the time she was marched to the block and the axe fell, we were ready to be rid of her, truth be told.

But what a story the history books tell. Elizabeth (here played by Jackson), was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, another decapitee of note, and became one of the premier queens of all time. But she had no children, so that James, the son of Mary (whose head Elizabeth had caused to be lopped off) became king of England upon Elizabeth’s death. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. For a movie to take such tantalizing material and make it all seem dull and irritating really took some doing.

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We had friends over Thursday for the evening meal. They have a daughter now living in Lima, Peru, and had made a trip to visit her just a month ago. We insisted that they bring their pictures of the trip with them, since our own visit to that city several years ago had been such a memorable one.

Now, I ask you, how often do you get asked to show pictures of your vacation? For myself, the answer is never. It may be because I was once famous for never throwing any photograph away, no matter how poor it was. Which made the showing of the vacation slides an event to be dreaded and avoided at nearly all costs. Here is what a sample of my voiceover for any slideshow in the past might have sounded like:

So here we are in … wait a minute … where is this? This picture doesn’t even belong here, it’s from another trip, for goodness sake. Here we are. This is a picture of me and Robin on a quaint street in Santa Fe. Can you see us back there … if you look closely … see, over there by the pillar? Here’s another one and I apologize for the blurriness, I tried to take it while driving the car and shooting out the window. This next one … well, you’ll just have to use your imaginations … it’s the entire cast of the movie Dirty Harry. Too bad the only shot I had was of them walking away down the block … there … that tall one … that’s the back of Clint Eastwood’s head.

Now let’s get back to Thursday evening. We decided upon a laid-back country-style meal, and we settled on meatloaf, a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and enough steamed broccoli to have sent that famous brocco-phobe George HW Bush straight to the ICU.

Now, when we decided to feature something as homely and comfort-foodish as meatloaf, we felt we needed to find something a little special in that department. Something out of the ordinary. On the web I ran across a recipe for this dish that had a charming backstory. It was called the Market Street Meatloaf, and if you’re interested you can read that story here.

To be brief, the dish was a roaring success. It was almost embarrassing what with all of us trying to stab yet another slice of the loaf while trying not to become a victim of all those pointy implements converging on it from all directions. Words were exchanged that may require months for the wounds to heal, and Robin saw a side of me that was better kept under wraps. But we finished the meal without serious injuries, and that’s always a good thing.

When the evening was over, and our guests had gone home, what was left over from what had looked at first like a week’s worth of meatloaf was only enough for one sandwich. We’ll try to be civil about it tomorrow, but there is only that one sandwich possible …. .

I will share the recipe with you, but if you ever serve it to a group, make sure that the rules of engagement are clear before the meal begins. Better done that way, I think.

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Saturday was nearly a record warm day for Paradise. So we decided to take one of our old standby hikes up at Black Canyon National Park as the first real test for Robin’s new knee. It turns out that we rushed the season a bit, because the trail was half snow/half mud. But we did two miles of it, puffing as we always do when we first exert ourselves each year at altitudes over 8000 feet.

And the verdict on the rebuilt knee – it worked very well, indeed.

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Places To Go And People To See

When the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh died this past January, he left behind a treasury of writings that touched on just about every aspect of living I can think of. I’ve read at least a dozen of his books, perhaps more, and his gentle and rational voice came through clearly each time. He had the gift of being able to explain the application of Buddhist teachings to our lives in words that were straightforward and uncomplicated without ever being patronizing or proselytizing.

Robin recently gifted me with his latest book, entitled Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. It is different from the others I have read in two respects. The first is that each of his short chapters is followed by excellent commentary by a Buddhist nun, Sister True Dedication. The second is that he writes as someone who knows how little time remains to him, and wants to leave yet something more for those of us who are still floundering about on the surface of Earth. As a dying father who has his children gathered around him and wishes more than anything that he could do more, could have done more, to ease the suffering of those he loved.

Thay, for that is what his friends called him, was a man who never lost hope for us, for our species. He knew that the answers to the wholesale suffering and chaos that we call daily life were already here, in front of us and inside of us. That life need not be as difficult as we make it. That respect, compassion, and love were the tools needed and that we all possessed them. And that is crucial, I think. He never said Come buy another of my books, absorb what I have to tell you, and all will be well.

What he repeated over and over is You know that person of value, of peacefulness, that the planet needs to survive? It’s you and you don’t have to go anywhere and listen to anyone in particular to become that person. You already are. What is needed is that you learn how you can step out of the stream of confusion you are now walking in and gather your wits. What I offer you free of charge is a method that has worked for millions of people and it won’t cost you a dime.

That is the message he repeats in this last book. That each of us already has the tools we need. They are part of our true natures. What Thay offers us is essentially an owner’s manual for our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and lastly for our conduct here in our home on planet Earth.

Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions, we cannot be free.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Life of Illusion, by Joe Walsh

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I was listening to NPR the other day, and a senior New Yorker cartoonist was being interviewed after a long and successful career. He recounted how when he started out he had submitted dozens of examples of his work to the magazine over and over without a single acceptance. What had to happen was that the magazine’s cartoon editor had to die, which he eventually did, and almost overnight his replacement began publishing this man’s work.

One of those many stories that come to me as revelations, when they really shouldn’t have. Give someone a bit of power and they will by god use it wherever they can, whether ’tis for ill or good.

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From The New Yorker

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Monday promises to be a drizzly day. It’s three a.m. and the decks are awash already. We’re planning a few days getaway in early April, and just found out that our cat sitter for the past eight years was not available, of all things. As if she had a right to a life of her own. So Sunday morning I met with our new sitter, who I will call Howard, since that is his name. He will fill in if our regular person ever again selfishly insists on her freedom.

Howard is a retired real estate broker, and seems to be a very nice guy, indeed. He is quite a talker, being one of those people where everything reminds him of a story, which he will then relate in detail. (I recognize the type immediately because I am one of them) When all an individual really wants to do is say Good Morning and then pass by, dealing with such a person is like being snagged by a gentle but insistent octopus who will only release you when they are finished with you.

So Howard and I chatted for an hour when all that was required was five minutes mutual consultation. I enjoyed it, however, because his tales were interesting and his sincere interest in animal welfare came through. He is a member of a local organization that raises money for the neutering of domestic animals, principally dogs and cats. He suggested that we watch for a special fund-raiser coming up when one of our better local restaurants offers a spay-ghetti dinner for one night, with a silent auction, etc. His advice was to buy our tickets early.

I might go if there isn’t a lot of spay-talk. Not the thing at dinner, you know. Just isn’t done.

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From The New Yorker

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I missed it completely. Sunday was the first day of Spring and I blew right past it. It’s the kind of thing where you can’t go home again, can’t step in the same river twice … you know the drill. It was Monday morning when I realized that it was too late for this year and I’d have to wait till 2023 and try to do better. Mother Nature puts out this stuff and doesn’t care if I keep up or not. I like her attitude, really, except when I am the laggardly one.

When you walk around Paradise, you can see the trees trying to contain themselves and not bud out prematurely. Do that if you’re a tree and then one really cold day comes along and freezes your blossoms off. There you are, damaged and with reduced hopes for the year. It’s a case where the sexual part of the tree blunders off into escapades when the wiser, older part knows better but can’t hold the process back.

Just like people. All of that life experience and knowledge gathered by parts above the waist can be undone in a fevered twinkling by parts below the waist on a Saturday night in a borrowed Buick. A couple of hours later when control has been returned to the brain, there is little it can do but wait and hope for the best.

It’s a rough system, isn’t it? When the biologic plan for making more humans takes over and sensible thinking is put on hold. I can see why Momma Nature would do that, because if we had time to think things through to their conclusions and weigh consequences pro and con there might be fewer takers. And Nature doesn’t want fewer, not at all. It’s always more with that girl.

Here’s how it might go if common sense and real planning were the order of the day.

It’s Saturday night and she is right here in the car with me and she smells wonderful and her eyes are sparkling and … uh, oh I can feel stirrings. Better get my head straight while I still can. I’ve got college to finish and mountains to climb and traveling to be done and I would very much like to trade the old VW in for a new Miata. So let’s take her home early and maybe we can meet again one day for coffee. In the daytime. In public.

Or it could go like it often does in real life.

It’s Saturday night and she is right here in the car with me and she smells wonderful and her eyes are sparkling and what was that baloney Father O’Reilly was spouting about purity and chastity anyway and I wonder if she is feeling the same about me and … wait, here she is snuggling in closer and oh lord where are my hands going and ………………………………………………….. ………………….. whew, what was that? This is one of those times when I wish that I smoked.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light, by Meatloaf

When I was a teenager and clueless about all this I had a friend who was notorious among us for having (gulp) had sex with several girls while the rest of us were still thinking about it as we would about a trip to Mars. He was a good Catholic boy and told his story like this:

“There I was with all sorts of thoughts about how good those girls looked and wondering what they looked like naked and what it might be like to sleep with them. Every Saturday evening I would go to confession and relate these mental wanderings to the priest and one day I asked him:”

.

Father, I am sorry to keep confessing the same old stuff week after week. But thinking about having sex is always a sin, right?

Yes, my son, it is.

But it’s much worse to actually do it, isn’t it?

No, my son, thinking bad thoughts is the same as acting on them.

Say again?

It is just as much a sin to think about having sex with a girl as it is to actually lie with her.

……………… Father, could we hurry this up a bit and you give me my penance and all? It’s still early on a Saturday night and since I already know that I can’t stop thinking about it … well, I’ve got places to go and people to see.

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Souls On Ice

One morning this past week I had put on a favorite album of mine made by Cuco Sanchez, the great traditional Mexican singer. The passionate spanish-language lyrics were a perfect accompaniment for a Spring-like day … the sun shining, the roots of all the plants out there murmuring to one another: Is it time? Do we do it now? What if we go too soon? What if it freezes?

Plants have lots to worry about this time of year, but that’s their problem and I can’t do a thing about it, so let’s move on. As I was musing on Sanchez’ songs, with titles like Guitars, Cry Guitars and Shout To Me, Stones of the Field, I found myself wondering … where were the songs of Norwegian passion? Surely the breasts of my own ancestors must have swelled with anger or grief or love at one time or another. Why don’t I know a single Norse tune?

Guitarras, Lloren Guitarras

So I did what I always did when I am stuck for an answer. I turn to experts.

I located him through an internet search at his home in Valhalla.com, and set up a Zoom interview which went something like this. Actually, it went exactly like this.

Me: Ho, there, Ragnar and may the fjords always run full of herring for you!

Ragnar: What was that about? I’m not a fisherman, you know, but a warrior. And we don’t talk like that. The Irish, now, they talk like that. But we beat the pants off the Irish.

Me: You’re right, of course, please forgive me. A faux pas, as it were.

Ragnar: We beat the pants off the French, too.

Me: This is not how I hoped our conversation would go after such a long interval, can we get past my initial clumsiness?

Ragnar: Yah, go ahead.

Me: BTW, how’s Valhalla, if you don’t mind my asking?

Ragnar: Pretty much like they told us it would be. All the mead you can drink, good food, very high wench to warrior ratio, and so much fighting to do that it really wears a person out.

Me: Fighting? In heaven?

Ragnar: This isn’t heaven, not by a long shot. We love to fight. It used to be our main reason for getting out of those straw pallets each day. But here … not such a big deal.

Me: Why not?

Ragnar: Because we’re immortal, that’s why. No matter what happens in a battle we know that tomorrow morning we’ll be right as rain. Takes a little off the edge, it does.

Me: And the mead is good?

Ragnar: Well, it’s the best mead ever, for what that’s worth. But I have to admit that while I was hanging around on Earth for that long while, I kind of got to like craft beers. And there is not a single IPA in Valhalla.

Me: Really?

Ragnar: Not a one. Nor a stout, nor an ale, nor a porter. But there is a good side to this … at least no one ever serves us a light beer up here. Pfauuugh!

Me: That’s too bad. Have you asked … ?

Ragnar: You bet, but some of these guys have been here 10,000 years, they don’t want to make changes.

Me: Meeting some resistance, huh?

Ragnar: Yah, they just say “It was good enough for Arvid Longbow, and it’s good enough for me.”

Me: Who was Arvid Longbow?

Ragnar: No clue.

Me: Here’s my question for you today is why are there no Scandinavian love songs of passion and sweat and pores opening up and all that? Like the Spaniards have, for instance?

Ragnar: We beat the pants off the Spaniards, too.

Me: But you are evading my question.

Ragnar: You are much smarter than you look, so here’s the deal. Up among us Northmen it’s always cold, the sun is either up all the time or down all the time, and half of the country is a coast line while the other half is up smack against Sweden. So, it’s not like Spain where the sun will warm you right into a bikini, the food has to be spicy just to last through the meal, and there is always a day and a night. A warm and languid evening to serenade someone you’ve taken a fancy to – not happening in Oslo, and you can make book on that. So our songs are kind of dark, the moods are more on the morose side, and not too many of them are hummable.

Me: Do you know of any examples we could listen to?

Ragnar: Well, here’s a favorite of mine. See what you think.

Ragnar: Not a cuddle in a carload of that, is there? Good for listening to on those weeks in the longboats, though, when you’re off to teach Ireland, France, and Spain a lesson.

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Here’s a day brightener. Robin had heard tales of a little pizza/ice cream shop in Montrose and since I had been a very good boy yesterday she took me out for dessert. Buckaroos is a hole in the wall sort of place next to a liquor store. Not at all promising to look at from the outside. The inside was generic as well, but the ice cream choices were excellent.

While we were eating I noticed a sign that made me curious. It was a drawing of a heart and written within the heart was this phrase: “Not all disabilities are visible.”

There was a pamphlet stand near our table and I scanned in photos of the two sides of a tri-fold pamphlet to share with you.

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What an absolutely heart-warming business model! It beats even Paul Newman’s donations from sales of his salad dressings, which are already a pretty good example of sharing the wealth.

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There’s a fellow who writes an outdoor column in our local paper who does a pretty good job, I think. He picks a topic, shares his experiences, does a bit of research, and writes decent prose.

Saturday morning’s topic was feral pigs, which apparently are a growing problem over much of the United States. Did you know that there are 9 million of them in the U.S.? That they eat everything in sight and can carry diseases that can spread to other species including humans? That they are intelligent, resourceful, fertile, and occasionally, just occasionally, attack and eat a person?

Now that I think back I do remember the story about the caregiver who was killed by a pack of pigs on her way to work. I recall thinking at the time that this was an absolutely uncool way to go. Far better to be done in by a mountain lion or grizzly bear, it seemed to me. I mean … someone asks you what happened to grandma and you have to respond: “Pigs got her.”

Not cool at all.

I’m not too worried yet. I know there is an army of hunters out there who could perhaps be dissuaded from having all that fun killing mourning doves and quail who could have their theriocidal energies directed toward these porkers. After all, it’s bacon on the hoof we’re talking about here.

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(I showed the above cartoon to Robin and she was not amused. I think it was the fact that the woman on the barstool is portrayed as blonde.)

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Last night we watched an old movie that Robin brought home from the public library – Anne Of A Thousand Days. The film tells the story of Anne Boleyn from when King Henry VIII first noticed her at court to her last day on earth as the French executioner brought over especially for the occasion did his job. A good cast, with Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold, and Anthony Quayle as Henry, Anne, and Cardinal Woolsey.

That period of English history … what can I say? I never tire of reading about it or seeing films or plays about it. It is almost unbelievably dramatic when compared to modern political theatre. A time when a misstep at court could find you being a head shorter by the end of the day. It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons.

My favorite three books about this era are still the trilogy written by Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall, Bringing Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light. It’s historical fiction done so well that you might not even care if it is true or not. It’s an awfully good set of tales being told.

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I ran across this while reading about Anne Boleyn. Apparently there were apocryphal stories about her speaking after being decapitated. These rumors are deftly put to rest by a Mr. Kunkel, according to entries in the online version of Scientific American.

To understand why cockroaches—and many other insects—can survive decapitation, it helps to understand why humans cannot, explains physiologist and biochemist Joseph Kunkel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who studies cockroach development. First off, decapitation in humans results in blood loss and a drop in blood pressure hampering transport of oxygen and nutrition to vital tissues. “You’d bleed to death,” Kunkel notes.

In addition, humans breathe through their mouth or nose and the brain controls that critical function, so breathing would stop. Moreover, the human body cannot eat without the head, ensuring a swift death from starvation should it survive the other ill effects of head loss.

Scientific American

Frankly, I never considered “the other ill effects of head loss.” Foolishly I always assumed that being suddenly deprived of that part of the body was pretty much the end of it, without pondering why that might be. It is a failing of mine, that I do tend to oversimplify.

And as for those rumors mentioned above, I feel pity for the poor English folk who were so superstitious and simple that they would believe such a thing. Why, I’ll bet that if you had been back there and told those poor serfs a completely outrageous story, one involving children being sold into slavery from pizza parlors** they would have believed it.

I for one, am overjoyed that we have come so far and are so much more sophisticated now.

(**Of course that couldn’t have happened in 1536, pizza parlors hadn’t been invented yet.)

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You may remember that a week or so ago we were part of an ignominious foursome who managed the difficult feat of playing the game “Clue” through to the end with all four participants making wrong guesses.

This may be why when Robin and I learned that a youth theater group was putting on a performance of the play with the same name, we felt that we had to attend. All we had to do was drive to the town of Ridgway (25 miles) and buy a very reasonably priced ticket to the show.

Maybe the answer to our question: How in the world did we do that? could be found at the theater. At least we hoped so.

Alas and alack, although we were highly entertained by this troupe, we are no wiser in that important regard on this Sunday morning.

Time Trudges On

Ahhhhhh, made it to another first day of daylight saving time. That first day, you really notice it. One night you are eating supper in the dark and the next night you have to turn your chair because the sun is in your eyes. Magic.

There are exactly twelve devices keeping time in our house. Six of them change themselves each year at this time and I don’t need to do a thing but keep them plugged in. The others must be changed by hand, with my making the rounds and checking the numbers on my iPhone at each stop. Most years I overlook the wall clock in Robin’s office, until one day in August when she will find herself an hour off-schedule because of my oversight and then there are all those comments on my genetics, moral fiber, and position in the firmament to deal with.

So this year when I not only changed its display but inserted a fresh battery I admit to feeling pretty smug. Such are my circumstances that I can coast for a day or two on just doing one thing right.

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One personal problem I have with the time change is that Robin and I are involved in a slow transition which involves going to bed earlier with each year’s passage. For instance, this past winter there were days when we could hardly make it to supper without flagging just a bit. And when we retired to the living room to watch some program or another on television I would begin to doze off as soon as my posterior hit the sofa cushion. There I would be, sitting frozen in time and space with the remote in my hand, as if placed there by a taxidermist.

This usually resulted in quite a large amount of elbowing on Robin’s part, trying to keep me alert enough that she might avoid repetitive questions like “What happened in the story?,” or “Where am I and who are you?” Or worse, have to deal with my embarrassed denials: “I wasn’t sleeping, I was testing the reaction time of my eyelids,” or “No, we don’t have to rerun the program, I only missed a second or two, if that.”

But DST throws a wrench into everything.

One simply cannot go to bed here at BaseCamp, no matter what one’s untrustworthy nervous system tells them, when you can still get a sunburn if you wander outdoors. For one thing, it is rare to find both of us being that tired at the same moment on any given day. This results in the would-be-sleeper having to contend with the Concerto for Clatter and Bang in A Minor, usually being played in the kitchen by the still conscious member of the partnership.

Nope … DST takes some getting used to each year.

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A comment on the guy in the cartoon above. For all of the times I have seen this motto on a T-shirt in my lifetime, whatever the legend states after “You can have my …. ” has so far never been something that I wanted in the first place. But if it came to that, I have seen quite a few cold dead fingers along my way, and I would have no qualms about prying them apart if they were holding something that I needed or wanted.

For instance, the teddy bear.

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At the recreation center Monday, I noticed this interesting turnaround. An instructor was giving a private pickleball lesson to a member. It says something about the sport, I think, that the student was the young and supple one while the teacher was the graybeard.

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A Dick Guindon Cartoon

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I think I posted some stuff on the shuffle dance before, but YouTube served this up to me unbidden this morning. Apparently the trend started in Melbourne AU in the 1980s, and has since spread around the globe. The first video is of some impossibly talented performers, “hot” young men and women doing what would send me to hospital within seconds.

The second video is from Sven Otten, a young German with a sense of style and humor who apparently is making a partial career of it.

The third video … well … what is the opposite of “hot” and impossibly fit? (Actually, this is Paul Shelnutt, a champion buck dancer .)

Whenever I see one of these they make me smile. Happy dances take me to my happy place.

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Tuesday Robin and I took our first bicycle ride since her surgery, and it went well. We were using the e-bikes, which I am convinced were one of the better investments I’ve ever made. Now you would know that this isn’t saying much if you had the ability to scan everything that I’ve called an investment over a lifetime. Most of them were purchases that rose out of thinly veiled fictions that were dreamed up to cover my buying something that I wanted anyway.

But the true value of these bikes is that you can adjust the effort needed to ride them by pushing a button. When you are trying out a knee that’s been rebuilt this is no small matter, and it was a morale booster for the two of us for sure.

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Do You Feel A Draft?

After a mostly lah-dee-dah winter, Mother Nature has finally got her thing going now in late February and early March by tossing a bunch of ice and snow at us here in Paradise. It’s not nearly as cold as in Minnesota nor is there nearly as much snow, but hey … enough to count! Last Friday Robin traveled to Durango for their film festival and her original plan was to return on Sunday afternoon. Heavy snowfalls, visibility worries, and icy roads delayed her return so when Monday rolled around she decided that she was going home no matter what.

There are two ways to get to Durango from Montrose. The shortest is across the god-forsaken Million Dollar Highway (three mountain passes to cross) and the longer one through Dolores (one pass to navigate). No one in their right minds chooses the shorter trip when there is ice involved, so Robin wisely chose the safer route home. It’s one that usually takes three hours but took six on that Monday.

<the god-forsaken Million Dollar Highway

Waiting for her to return that day involved much chewing of claws and fingernails (the cats and I) while waiting for text messages at various points along her way, sent whenever she stopped for rests and had cellular service.

Robin and I have very different views on doing this grandparent thing. For instance, hers is that if either of the (undeniably talented) grandkids are in a play she will assume that she will go to see it, no matter what. Blizzards, erupting volcanoes, tsunamis, plagues of locusts and frogs … nothing stands in her way when planning those trips.

My own view is that if it is a sunny day with a zero percent chance of precipitation I might consider it. I have no wish for my tombstone to read: He’d still be alive if it hadn’t been for SpongeBob Squarepants,The Musical.

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From The New Yorker

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From the age of five or six years forward, I was taught that the Russians were the bad guys. Oh, sure, it was officially the Communists, but everybody at Warrington Elementary knew that Communists = Russians so there you were. We were given drills to run where we got under our desks just in case someone decided to drop an atomic bomb on South Minneapolis. Those sturdy desks seemed just the thing to be under to a six year-old, and it wasn’t until I was in my teens and read John Hersey’s book Hiroshima that I thought … wait a minute … what good … ?

There were drills for adults, too, where parents were encouraged to dig holes in the backyards to build bomb shelters whose walls were lined with canned goods just in case … . The Russians, again. In TV show after TV show, the villains had thick accents and wore bad suits and their names all ended in -sky so you would know where they came from even though their origins might not be identified.

And then Nikita Khrushchev came to the United Nations and banged his shoe on the desktop, showing what ill-tempered bullies those Commies were. Next, when we learned that Fidel Castro was a Communist and he was helping the bad guys install some missiles so close to Florida you could almost throw them in, it was a shock. Those Russkies were knocking on our door, so we had to get out there in the back yard and start digging again, we were told. Fortunately for us, President John F. Kennedy, fresh from a successful invasion of Cuba, knew just what to do. Somehow it worked, and we all went back to playing Yahtzee and horseshoes once again, rather than continue digging.

Always there was this vague thing called the Cold War, which few of us completely understood, but it involved being fried to something like chicharrones by nuclear weapons. And who were the culprits? Why, it was our good old constant nemeses, the Russians. So when the USSR fell apart, and all those smaller countries whose location we hadn’t a clue about pulled out of the federation, well, all of us were happy as clams. And just to show there were no hard feelings, we started to get serious about our vodka drinking, eventually inventing all sorts of new flavors to make it even more swell. This, along with the fiction that if you drank vodka no one could smell it on your breath, caused that beverage’s fortunes to soar. It looked like the Russians were on their way to becoming our BFFs.

But that didn’t happen and here we are again. An aging Cold Warrior has decided to inflict more pain and disruption on the world by invading a neighbor. We are told that the Russian media are only telling their public an official line blaming Ukrainian nasties who are being encouraged by worse nasties in The West. For our part, we are being told that Russians are deliberately shelling schools and children’s hospitals and committing atrocities right and left.

Our version seems closer to reality, but being the codger that I am, I try to keep in mind a saying that should be embroidered on every sofa pillow wherever there are sofas in the world: The first casualty in wartime is the truth.

The Russian leaders are being called merciless all over again, and deserve that appellation. It’s sort of strangely reassuring to have them as the heavies once again. But, my friends, when was the last merciful war?

Any war is one bad day after another for all but the guys in the suits who start them. Period.

So, I don’t know about you, but I bought a brand new shovel yesterday at Ace Hardware, and later today I will start digging out in the yard. Eventually my shelter will be well-stocked with canned beans, SPAM and Twinkies (the shelf life of a Twinkie being longer than the lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise). The only thing missing will be a proper desk to get under. Those old-time cast iron and wood beauties are awfully hard to come by.

Wooden Ships, by Crosby Stills Nash & Young

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From The New Yorker

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Prayer flags in the back yard breezes on Thursday

Tibetan prayer flags are rich in symbolic meaning. The practice of stringing them in outdoor areas has spread rapidly in the U.S.. The symbols and mantras on the flags are meant to broadcast blessings to the surrounding countryside. The slightest movement of the wind carries the prayers far and wide, he said, spreading Buddhist teachings on peace and compassion.

The flags are primarily for the benefit of the world, not for the individual who hangs them. It is believed that the sacred texts and symbols printed on them have a vibration that is activated and carried by the wind, so that all who are touched by that wind are blessed.The flags have been described as “blessings spoken on the breath of nature.” Just as a drop of water can permeate the ocean, prayers dissolved in the wind extend to fill all of space.

The five colors of the flags are symbolic as well. They are always displayed in the same order and each represents a different element: blue for heaven, white for air, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for earth.

The Meaning of Tibetan Prayer Flags: Spiritual Travels.info

We have had strings of these flags flying for a couple of decades now. As each one wears out it is replaced. Even if you don’t believe that everything happens exactly as the legends state, the thoughts behind their display are gentle and positive ones, and the flags themselves are beautiful as they flutter in the slightest movement of air.

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Lastly, I must relate a tale that even now I can scarce credit, even though I was present at the event.

Robin and I were having friends over for supper on Saturday evening. All had gone well and it was so much fun to begin putting the last two years of constant Covid worry aside for an evening. The food turned out well enough to please us all, our conversations picked up right where we had left them off in 2020, and we began catching up on one another’s lives. All in all … it was grand.

And then Robin asked if anyone wanted to play a game. That was a large mistake, it turned out. The second error came right after the first as we all agreed to do it. The game selected was Clue, an old stalwart. All of us knew the game, were familiar with the rules, and were eager to get started.

What I now will tell you will not mean much to anyone who has not played this game, but I will try to set the stage. It starts with someone being murdered, and each of us then tries to guess who the culprit was, what weapon they used, and in what room of the mansion that the dastardly deed occurred. There are six possible villains, six possible weapons, and nine possible rooms.

Through successive rounds of questioning one another, a player discards one possibility after another until they think they know the answer and then they make an accusation which takes the form: “It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the noose.” They then take the answer cards from an envelope and see if they were correct.

One by one we made our accusations until all four of us had done our best and … I still can’t believe it … none of us got it right! That had never happened to us before. We never heard of it happening to anybody else, either. Keep in mind that these were four people who had once held down responsible jobs. Were college graduates. Could still balance their checkbooks and were able to get dressed in the morning without assistance.

Shame gripped our foursome as the enormity of what had happened seeped in. Without actually asking for a pledge, we silently hoped that the secret would never leave that room. That hope was in vain, of course, because it wasn’t long before I knew that I would soon be blabbing it all over the world.

Really, why bother to have a blog if you can’t violate a confidence once in a while?

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Comparisons

It’s not that today’s creative people are not turning out worthy projects, too many to count, really. But I am finding taking a personal journey back through films and writings that once made major impressions on me to be so interesting that I am having trouble finding time for the new stuff.

It’s taking navel gazing to new depths, or heights, whichever way you want to look at it. For instance, back when one needed to have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be considered a person worth talking to in the small area of society that I occupied, I liked it enough that there are still passages that I can remember almost fifty years later. But when I tried to get into it recently it did not move me, and I never finished it. I’ll have to give it another shot, I think.

According to Edward Abbey, the book is a fictionalized autobiography of a 17-day journey that Pirsig made on a motorcycle from Minnesota  to Northern California along with his son Chris. The story of this journey is recounted in a first-person narrative, although the author is not identified. Father and son are also accompanied, for the first nine days of the trip, by close friends John and Sylvia Sutherland, with whom they part ways in Montana. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, referred to as Chautauquas by the author, on topics including epistemology, the history of philosophy, and the of philosophy of science.

Wikipedia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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The Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell lit up my life back when I was a twenty-something. If you haven’t read it, it’s a story of a young tough growing up in Chicago in the Twenties.

Farrell chose to use his own personal knowledge of Irish-American life on the South Side of Chicago to create a portrait of an average American slowly destroyed by the “spiritual poverty” of his environment. Both Chicago and the Catholic Church of that era are described at length and faulted. Farrell describes Studs sympathetically as Studs slowly deteriorates, changing from a tough but fundamentally good-hearted, adventurous teenage boy to an embittered, physically shattered alcoholic.

Wikipedia: Studs Lonigan

When I first read it, I was the same age as the character Studs Lonigan was in the first novel and a young not-too-tough growing up in Minnesota. Now I am older than the character was at the other end of his life. I liked the books both times, but the effect on me reading it as a young man was all enveloping at a time when I had no idea who I was going to be. I could so relate to Studs and his struggles in that first novel.

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Last evening I re-watched the movie Key Largo. A fine film and each time I watch it I notice different things. This time it was that some of the lines they gave to Lauren Bacall and to Lionel Barrymore seemed stilted, forced, not how I think people would really speak at all. The movie was a stage play first before it was made into a film, and those lines would have seemed apropos in that setting, might have been expected, actually. It wasn’t really a distraction, but it’s where the difference between the stage and screen productions shows up.

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The book Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, was published in 1985. I came across it a couple of years later, and have re-read it several times since then. It was one of those books about an era that hit me as how the West might really have been. It seemed real. Of course, how would I know?

McMurtry himself eventually expressed dissatisfaction with the popularity of the novel, particularly after the miniseries adaptation. In the preface to the 2000 edition he wrote: “It’s hard to go wrong if one writes at length about the Old West, still the phantom leg of the American psyche. I thought I had written about a harsh time and some pretty harsh people, but, to the public at large, I had produced something nearer to an idealization; instead of a poor man’s Inferno, filled with violence, faithlessness and betrayal, I had actually delivered a kind of Gone With the Wind of the West, a turnabout I’ll be mulling over for a long, long time.”

Wikipedia: Lonesome Dove, the novel

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Another one that seemed real, even though my wartime service was 8500 miles from any battlefront, was Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes. His story of the experiences of a Marine officer in Viet Nam was unforgettable. Without having any direct knowledge of my own that was in any way similar to his, I got the sense that this was how it was most powerfully. Again, how would I know?

The book is set in Vietnam in 1969 and draws from the experiences of Marlantes, who commanded a Marine rifle platoon. The novel looks at the hardships endured by the Marines who waged the war on behalf of America. It concerns the exploits of second lieutenant Waino Mellas, a recent college graduate, and his compatriots in Bravo Company, most of whom are teenagers. “Matterhorn” is the code name for a fire-support base in Quang Try Province, on the border between Laos and the Vietnamese DMZ. At the beginning of the novel, the Marines build the base, but later they are ordered to abandon it. The latter portions of the novel detail the struggles of Bravo Company to retake the base, which fell into enemy hands after it was abandoned.

Wikipedia: Matterhorn (novel)

Anyway, it’s been an enjoyable exercise so far. BTW, I have read War and Peace three times over the past forty years, and it was a fine journey each time. At each of those readings, when I turned the last page I didn’t want the story to be over. (I wonder if there are any podcasts by Tolstoy out there, I have questions for him … did he make any, do you know?)

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Some years back, I was watching a television news program that contained an obituary of a famous person who had just passed away the day before the program. It was so well done, containing bits of video, quotes from contemporaries etc., that it was obvious to me that it had to have been prepared well in advance of the person’s death. It seemed just too polished to have been done in less than 24 hours.

Looking into the matter, I found that somewhere in the bowels of large media organizations there are workers whose job it is to prepare these things. And to keep them updated in cases where the subject is inconsiderate enough to continue to live on and make more history for themselves. There have been times when the author of an obituary has died before the subject did.

It’s not an important topic, just one of those little weirdnesses of life. If I were such an exalted personage as to have my obit on file somewhere, I think that I might ask the media outlet to let me edit the darned thing, just to get it the way I liked it. Polish it up, add a little rosy glow to the prose. I could pass along a couple of selfies as well.

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I’m not at all certain that the larger world is ready for this photograph, but I can’t always protect you, you know. Sometimes you must take life on life’s terms.

This is me in my intern’s outfit. White for purity, pocket jammed with pens and pencils, and with my oldest daughter Kari being forced to act as ornamentation. You can see how happy she was to be included, poor thing.

This would have been taken in 1966, at which time there were few self-respecting university students who didn’t have a bookcase made of pine boards and bricks in their apartments or homes. They were inexpensive to put together and lent a certain rustic charm to the dwelling. Their only drawback was that they were heavy and unmoored so that the structure could fairly easily tip forward and crush anyone unlucky enough to be standing close by.

Baby Face by Little Richard

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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When Robin was away this past weekend, I went to the web and watched Apocalypse Now: Redux. It’s the version that put back 49 minutes of film that had been edited out the first time around. This made an already long movie way longer (153 versus 202 minutes) and was not to its benefit. What had been a strange and depressing film was now even stranger, more depressing, and right there on the outskirts of depraved.

I won’t be re-watching any versions in the future. I think that I’m finally done with it.

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Finally, this morning’s NYTimes included a stunner. The wreckage of the ship Endurance, which sank 106 years ago in the Antarctic, has been found by some intrepid folks. It’s the latest chapter in one of the best shipwreck stories ever. Following this link will get you to the article and a short video that stirred what scrap of adventurer I still have left in my soul. Might do the same for you.

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Smelling of Pickles

I don’t know if you have noticed it or not, but there is one product that has invaded and taken over the entire spectrum of health, homemaking, and cleaning do-it-yourself tips and therapies on the web. If you google almost any problem you are having this product will very likely be found among the possible solutions.

What is it? Why, Apple Cider Vinegar, that’s what. Has your pet peed on the sofa – use warm water, ACV, and maybe a drop or two of dishwashing liquid. Fungus on your feet – the same solution. Digestive system giving you fits – drinking two tablespoonfuls of ACV every morning may very well put you right. Dry skin or eczema – a little dab will do ya. The list goes on.

We’ve tried a couple of applications where it seemed to work, and several others where the jury is still out. Just to see, you know? So far there have been no reports of genetic breakage in people who use the stuff, no errant strands of DNA out there to cause mischief or cancers. I actually like the repurposing of a homely substance like this, and can easily imagine how all these recommendations came to be.

Good Lord, look at that mess on the stovetop, hand me something to clean it off with, would you?

All we’ve got is this jug of vinegar.

Well, bring it here, it’s probably better than nothing.

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We all know about ear-worms, those times when a pesky tune keeps repeating in your head all day in spite of your attempts to cancel it. While I dislike the term itself, I don’t contest its reality. Most of the time this is benign, except for the times when the tune is one that soundly deserves to be forgotten, like anything recorded by the Starland Vocal Band.

What I’m having trouble with this week is not a song but an equivalent, a memory of an event from a long time ago. A memory that will not be civilized and allow itself to be tucked away. It started as a dream fragment, and now has moved into my waking day. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care much, except that this one is from a horror documentary in which I was a player.

Station 55 at the old University of Minnesota Hospital was where the children were cared for whose ages were between one and five years. This meant that it was where the majority of children hospitalized with acute lymphatic leukemia could be found. This incident took place in 1966, when I was a first-year house officer, and involved a four year-old girl named Emily who had ALL. In 1966 the 5 year life expectancy for ALL was zero percent. Therapies might achieve a brief remission, or even two brief remissions in rare instances, but that was it.

Oh, there was a report from Philadelphia of a single child who had made it to five years, but our hematologists believed him to have been misdiagnosed. All of the rest had perished in the unquiet ways that childhood cancer afforded them.

Emily had achieved her first remission, but was right then at a very vulnerable stage, with not enough platelets in her bloodstream to stop a bleed if one began, and not enough white blood cells to fight off an infection should one develop. Allow enough time to pass and these necessaries would come back, but right now she was walking a precarious line indeed.

One afternoon, not long after the noon meal, Emily got a nosebleed. First it was a slight trickle that we tried to stop with topical anticoagulation. Then it became a gusher where we packed her nose with cotton, which she absolutely hated and where she fought our efforts. Any four year-old would do the same, as it was a hateful and uncomfortable process. But it seemed to do the trick. We stood back from her bed, and she was able to settle down, while looking awfully pathetic with those cotton plugs in her nostrils.

And then Emily threw up a truly massive amount of blood that she had swallowed. The bleeding that had been prevented from escaping through her nose had not stopped but had been swallowed instead. At that moment everything went into high gear, at a speed fueled by growing desperation. We began repeated transfusions of whole blood to try to keep up with losses. We gave packs of platelets to try to plug the leaks that we could not see. We called in the ENT surgeons to see if packing from behind would be feasible.

But the bleeding would not slow down. The child’s gown would be changed and soon the new one would be completely soaked. The bed was a jumble of bloody sheets littered with empty gauze packages and tape spools from attempts at inserting larger intravenous cannulas to give more fluids more rapidly. A clear memory is the look of terror in Emily’s eyes, staring at us out of her blood-covered face. There was terror on the faces of the staff as well because we knew too much to believe that we could save her life but were too filled with fear to accept any other outcome.

The staff kept working for more than two hours, well beyond the point where there was a child left to save. Emily had long before this lost consciousness and had needed to be resuscitated several times. Finally, when yet another arrest occurred, one of us had the strength to call it quits. I no longer remember which of us it was that had that much presence of mind.

That evening I was at home, sitting at the supper table with my oldest kids, who were ages two and three. They were being their normal messy selves at table, squabbling with each other, playing with their food … the moment was filled with opportunities for me to reprimand them. But I didn’t. At one point I realized that I had completely tuned out everything else and had been staring fixedly at them for several minutes. Just watching two small children being very slightly naughty. But oh my, they were healthy.

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In med school, as I rotated through he various clerkships, I went from wanting to become a general practitioner to thinking that OB-GYN was the place for me, to pediatrics. After the pediatric clerkship experience I no longer wavered and realized that this was what I wanted to do.

Some of my medical school classmates would ask why – why choose this specialty? The kids that we dealt with were so ill and their clinical courses often heartbreaking to watch. My answer was always this question. If we all stopped going into pediatrics, would the children stop needing help?

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Apropos of nothing, this is a favorite photograph of my parents Joseph and Eleanor, taken at a popular Minneapolis dance hall, the Prom Ballroom. This would have been in the early 1940s.

My existence is entirely their fault.

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One of my favorite scenarios in a play or movie is where several strangers are stranded in an isolated location, usually a hotel or a diner. Most often they are sitting out the weather, and in the course of several hours we learn who those people are and how they came to be in this place.

A perfect example is the film Key Largo, where a group of criminals are trapped with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. A tropical storm brings them all together at a small tourist hotel and the drama flows from there.

We watched a variation on that theme this week in a Netflix movie entitled No Exit. A snowstorm gathers several people at a rest stop, where we find that everybody has a backstory, unbelievable coincidences come at you every ten minutes or so, and the off-label uses of a nail gun becomes the story line toward the end.

Key Largo is a great movie, a classic. No Exit comes no closer to greatness than the text on a cereal box rivals War and Peace, but it does achieve serious grisly.

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Along the pathway of your life, I’m certain you have run across the interesting process of imprinting in various species. For instance if when a greylag goose hatches you take care of it and keep it with you in its first days out of the egg, it thinks you are its mother and will follow you about the barnyard from then on.

Well, looking back on my own days here on planet earth, it’s pretty obvious that part of my having a crush on a girl was that I imprinted, just like one of those goslings. All things that person liked became my own favorites, at least for a long while. Sometimes that “long while” outlasted the relationship itself. Music fell into this category of things.

So when I read the obituary of Giovanna Carmella Babbo this morning, there was a twinge. And I turned to my music collection to find that there were quite a few of her songs in there left over from 1956, when I “went steady” for a year with a girl who eventually (figuratively) stopped the car, told me to get out, tossed my class ring out the window and went on to meet another guy while I trudged the weary and desolate miles to home.

Now if you are Giovanna Carmella Babbo, and you want a recording career, someone is bound to tell you that a name change might be a good thing. At least that was true in the fifties. So this singer became known as Joni James, and she was very large through that decade and a few years into the sixties. In my listening this morning I recalled the powerful angstiness of teen-age romance, and the talent of the singer whose work was the soundtrack to my year of going steady.

Have You Heard, by Joni James

The recording is dated, with the lush string arrangements that were so common in that decade. And the lyrics are often a bit over the top. But you know, I still like her voice, and those of you who have ever fallen hard for somebody along your way know that there is no such thing as “over the top” during such times.

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Loose Lips Sink Ships

Once upon a time I had a friend who applied for a position with an intelligence agency. A brilliant person – decisive, thoughtful, athletically gifted … he had it all and was accepted for the job. He was fired within a month. Among his quirks (and who among us doesn’t have them of one kind or another?) was that he couldn’t keep a secret. This was such a part of his personality structure that he didn’t even know it was there.

Of course, if the agency had wanted to know this, they had only to ask me. After being burned a couple of times, and having information of mine broadcast which should have remained “off the record,” I simply adjusted what I would share with this person and we remained friends.

If you spend a professional lifetime keeping things confidential, as all physicians are supposed to do, you become quite sensitive when you bump up against your polar opposites. Working as a doctor in small towns there are quite a few people who would like get into your head, because they already know everybody and would like to know everything as well. So you learn to be cagey, much like a seasoned poker player, and not give away information either by words or by a “tell.”

Now, to be a little Machiavelllian about all this, if you should discover that you are acquainted with such a talebearer, you can use this when you choose. When you have some information you would like to get out there but don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, simply mention it to this friend and swear him to secrecy. Mission accomplished.

I first became aware of the small town gossip chain when I moved to Hancock, Michigan, popuation 4500. One day within my first month working there, I had ordered a laboratory test of a sensitive nature. The next afternoon I was distressed to hear the following conversation in a hospital elevator between a lab technician and another citizen.

Lab Tech: How ya doing, Charlie?

Charlie: Pretty good, a lot better than Fred, from what I hear.

Lab Tech: What do ya mean?

Charlie: That new doctor ordered a test on him for gonorrhea, right?

Lab Tech: Well, yeah.

Charlie: And it came back positive?

Tech: … well, yeah.

Charlie: That’s what I mean. Wonder who gave it to Fred?

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From The New Yorker

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Shortly after beginning my colorful and peripatetic college career, I enrolled in an American history class where the Turner Thesis was an important part of the readings.

The frontier thesis or Turner thesis (also American frontierism) is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that American democracy was formed by the American frontier. He stressed the process—the moving frontier line—and the impact it had on pioneers going through the process. Turner begins the essay by calling to attention the fact that the western frontier line, which had defined the entirety of American history up to the 1880s, had ended.

Wikipedia: Frontier Thesis

Historians and sociologists since then have debated the Thesis but for the most part accept that Turner was onto something, and the fact that there was no more wilderness to invade and subdue (along with the people who were residents thereof) would impact the further development of America in unpredictable ways.

That’s an interesting topic and there’s much material to read on the subject in the libraries if it grabs you. But it strikes me that while the physical frontier might have ended, there are others barely touched.

One frontier, one place to start is for each of us to finally and at long last completely reject violence as a means of resolving debates or disagreements. I know, I know, impossible. But what could almost be called miracles were achieved by the non-violent campaigns of the civil rights era. These heroes offered a complete rejection of the tit-for-tat, the reactivity that has always been our way. And although many of the good things that Gandhi was able to achieve through his sturdy brand of non-violence have been lost or diluted over time there are those which persist, as is our memory of the power of that approach.

So what do we do when a Putin or a Stalin or a Mao or a Tojo or a Mussolini or a Hitler or a Pol Pot or a Duterte comes along? That is where having moved that particular frontier line forward comes into play. When we apply what we already know about living compassionately together we deprive those guys of their oxygen.

The alternative is to do what we have been doing ever since Glog came out of the cave having carved his first war club and gave Blech a resounding rap on the head with it. Of course, Blech’s friends immediately went out and invented the AR-15, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Maybe our species isn’t anywhere near civilizable yet as a whole, but we don’t have to wait for 100% of us to get on board to take steps. Thich Nhat Hanh, that gentle and thoughtful man who recently passed away, said it so well. If you want peace in the world, be peace in your life.

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I’ve set sort of a serious tone so far, but before I leave it behind I wanted to play a song which is definitely in that same melancholy vein. Except that the genius of Bob Dylan and a wonderful arrangement by Daniel Lanois together pose the question: if all is truly hopeless where does a song like this that touches rather than depresses come from?

This morning I watched a video on YouTube of Ed Bradley interviewing Bob Dylan a couple decades ago, and when asked where did songs like Blowing In The Wind or Like A Rolling Stone originate, Dylan admitted that he didn’t know. One day, they were just there.

Not to compare myself with anyone else, especially including Bob Dylan, but there have been many times when I woke in the morning and read over what I had written the night before and thought to myself – where in the hell did that come from? (This happened slightly more often back in the days when I used to play spin the bottle with Mr. Beefeater, but still occurs.) I know that it was me that typed it into the word processor … but where … ?

Occasionally I will take such a piece of writing and run into the next room to show it to poor Robin, who then has to listen to it or to read it. At those times I don’t feel that I am boasting, or saying what a good boy am I. It’s more like I just came across a scrap of paper with these words on it laying there on the sidewalk and I picked it up.

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Looking out the windows in the back of the house I see the planters half-covered with snow that in the spring will contain food growing for our table. A microscopic amount of food compared with the great pile that we need to sustain life throughout the year. But some tomatoes, some greens … more of a reminder of how dependent I am on others. A favorite table prayer of mine is this:

Let us give thanks for the sun and the rain and the earth and someone else’s hard work. Amen.

So even though I tell myself that this year I will give myself a break and not plant anything it will probably not happen that way. Apparently I have not yet suffered the required amount of garden insects, fungi, and pathogenic bacteria that needs to happen to make me abandon the whole enterprise. Not to mention droughts, the blazing suns of global warming, and other pestilences.

So bring on the seed catalogs, the bags of soil guaranteed to grow tomatoes that taste like ambrosia and are the size of basketballs. I will suspend my disbeliefs for one more growing season and give it a shot. Once more unto the breach, dear friends and all that.

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From The New Yorker

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It is already Spring to the meteorologists and Tuesday morning promised a sunny and warm day. I was on laundry detail, so early on I ran the clothes through the washing machine and then chose to hang them outside. Out the door I went in Birkenstocks, pajamas, and a barn coat. The warm wet clothes were steaming in the 24 degree air. Somehow it seemed just the right thing to do today. I know that many of my friends don’t have this option because it is still so cold in the Midwest, although I do remember my mother hanging out laundry on days when the items froze stiff on the line.

We have one of those umbrella-type lines that don’t take up the entire yard. It was installed, believe it or not, by me. And it is still standing, even though setting it up required the actual mixing of a small amount of cement and keeping the center post at a 90 degree vertical while it set.

Who knew? Sometimes I surprise even me.

Mom’s lines were more like those in the photo at right. They would sag in the middle to the point where longer items could touch the ground. When that happened she put a wooden pole in the middle of the line, one with a “Y” on the end to catch the line.

This would all work well unless the wind or a passing dog bumped the pole and it fell down. On rainy days this could cause quite a maternal stir as the clean clothes now swung back and forth through mud puddles.

But we have no dog, it is not raining, and the breezes are gentle ones. Expectations are high that the garments will be warm, dry, and unsullied this afternoon when we come to gather them.

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Madness

A couple of definitions here. Paradise is the land, the waters, the mountains … the amazing natural wonders citizens see every day they walk out their front door here in the Grand Valley. But Paradise is presently suffering from an under-abundance of rainfall, and while the natural scientists reassure us that this drought probably won’t last more than another several hundred years, it is easy to worry a bit, especially if your occupation is water-dependent.

I will introduce a new word here today, Pandemia. That is the community of people inhabiting Paradise. A community of which I am, willy-nilly, a member. We are a problematic bunch of citizenry indeed. Pandemia was largely brought into focus by a mischievous virus whose name I will not dignify by mentioning it here, but I will call it La Peste. It passes easily from person to person if you let it, but any sensible person would try to limit their exposure. Because you could just die from it.

The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.

H.L. Mencken

There are four basic principles involved in protecting yourself against La Peste. Principles that under normal circumstances would not even be argued because they are based on facts, science, common sense, and our accumulated knowledge of the behavior of infectious diseases. These four are:

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep a respectable distance between you and your neighbor
  • Don’t go out into large crowds
  • Get vaccinated

Pretty simple, no? Half of the citizens of Pandemia followed these guidelines and have done so from the beginning of this story. When the vaccines became available, they lined up in droves, glad to finally have a material way to strike back against La Peste. The other half of our neighbors have ignored all of the principles from Day 1 right up to the present, with a variety of reasons given that are sometimes laughable and sometimes just make you want to tear your hair out … or their hair, even better.

No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

H.L. Mencken

Part of the problem was our leadership. We had very little of it, at least at the local level. Not from the mayor, nor the city council, nor our medical community. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, trying to educate these folks, many of whom believe that Hilary Clinton runs a chain of pizza parlors where children are captured and farmed out to pedophiles around the nation. Or who are breathlessly waiting for the day that ex-POTUS Cluck will rise from the politically dead in (3, 7, 30, 100, ???? days) and go on to lead the faithful to victory over gays and godless Democrats.

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. 

H.L. Mencken

It appears that there are a substantial number of people who are unreachable through information. Many refuse to learn even from the most powerful experience, as in the case of those who perish from La Peste while denying its existence with their last breaths.

I will work in a word or two about myself here. I can speak with the authority of age, which along with a dollar and a half might get you a cup of coffee from a convenience store. Over time I have succumbed to self-delusion more than once. There was my infatuation with Marjorie Heath in the second grade and my abject misery when I learned that not only did she not return my affections, but didn’t even know I was in her class.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

H.L. Mencken

Then there was the hope that sprung in my breast when John Kennedy was elected president. Because I knew that he would bring our country further along the highway to perfection. And it didn’t hurt that he and his wife were the perfect handsome fronts for our ever- renewing and shining democracy. Learning after his passing that he might have achieved a lot more had he spent less time in the intimate company of women other than his wife and more time at the conference tables was not a tonic for yours truly. Not a tonic at all.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

H.L. Mencken

More recently, there was my derisive laughter when a certain Mr. Cluck was nominated to run for the office of president the first time. I thought “Well, here’s a gift for the Democrats, with Cluck running they could nominate an armadillo and win in a landslide.” That delusion lasted right up to late in the evening of election day.

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken

As you can see, I have had my problems with keeping my feet on the ground from time to time, and I have swallowed a version of The Kool-Aid more than once. Trying to keep your wits together when so many around you have lost theirs is a full-time job. A person can only hope that they are up to the task.

[My thanks to H.L. Mencken, a delightfully sarcastic dude if there ever was one, for his help in writing this post. He is hands down my favorite codger.]

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On Thursday the NYTimes did a really interesting piece on the movie “The Godfather.” Apparently the original prints are decaying and the costly restoration process is well underway. The article includes an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, the movie’s director. Although I have seen the film several times, what I still remember most is the feeling when I walked out of the theater after that first viewing. That the makers of that film had taken characters who were very, very bad men indeed and made me care about what happened to them. Had made them sympathetic. It was an epiphany of sorts.

I realized that I had been hornswoggled and gained more respect for what a powerful tool movies could be, both for good and not so good.

I also realized that I was definitely a susceptible and had better watch myself in the future, lest I be led seriously astray one day.

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This past Tuesday we finally received a welcome dose of moisture in the form of beautiful snow. Several inches in the valley … much more in the mountains.

South of Montrose about 40 miles, the DOT had to close Red Mountain Pass because of what you see in the photograph. Now this is the road that I wouldn’t drive on for the first year we lived in Paradise because of its hazards (and my acrophobia).

What is not obvious in the picture’s frame is that about ten feet to the right of what you see here is a cliff that goes straight down with your eternal reward waiting for you at the bottom. Looking at pictures like this, I ask myself: for all the money in the world, would I pilot that snowplow?

It’s a rhetorical question.

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Former pres. Cluck thinks that Mr. Putin, Russia’s psychopath-in-chief, is a hell of a guy and wouldn’t it be nice if more countries had such strong leadership?

He is “pretty smart,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday at a Florida fund-raiser, assessing the impending invasion like a real estate deal. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” he said, “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in.”

NYTImes February 24, 2022

Whatta guy. Just when you think he’s already at the bottom of history’s latrine trench, Putin hands him a fresh shovel and he goes right to work and digs even deeper.

So we have another example of political failures in front of us in the present invasion of the Ukraine. The world’s leaders puff and strut, armies are set in motion, and the suffering begins in a new location. That old African proverb about the elephants fighting has unfortunately never ceased to be relevant.

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. This ancient proverb of the Kikuyu people, a tribal group in Kenya, Africa, is as true today as when the words were first spoken, perhaps thousands of years ago. Its essence is simplicity—when the large fight, it is the small who suffer most. And when it comes to war, the smallest, the most vulnerable, are the children.

Orca Books.com

It’s all madness.

War, by Edwin Starr
And I Am Still Searching, by Pete Seeger

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Tonsorial Fables

When the pandemic first came to town, we had no idea where this was all going. For all I knew, within days we were all going to be boarded up in our homes, while the sheriff’s men patrolled the streets, shooting anyone who ventured out. I laid in a few sacks of beans and rice and hoped for the best.

Within short weeks, however, two problems emerged that I hadn’t counted on. One was that I couldn’t get my hair cut, and the other was that there was no toilet paper left in the grocery stores. The first could have conceivably been solved by simply letting my thinning hair grow out to my shoulders and beyond. But there was no simple remedy for the other.

Having spent months on my grandfather’s farm as a lad, I knew that if one was away from the house when Nature called, you could use a variety of plants to accomplish a clean-up. With time you learned which plants scratched, which were fragile, which caused intolerable rashes, etc. Highly unpopular was any plant that had the word “thistle” as part of its name. Each child was an amateur botanist because they had to be. In the outdoor privies back at the homestead they used magazines, catalogs, telephone directories and other printed materials to fill in for TP shortages. So no big deal in the early pandemic days. After all it was springtime and foliage was coming on plentiful. But the prospect of an autumn and (God forbid) a winter without proper paper products was not a comforting one. That, however is another story.

Upon learning that the salons of the area were shutdown, I made some enquiries. I found that a brisk black market business in men’s haircuts had sprung up under a bridge outside of town where an enterprising and sturdily-built woman named Gertrudis brought her tools, expertise, and a pair of Carhartt overalls . The lady accepted any customer with a $20.00 bill in their hand. There was no choice of styles, however, you had to take what Gertrudis had to sell or be off with you and bother her no more.

This is where I might mention that this enterprising woman’s day job was as a sheep-shearer. What with the Honda generator to power her clippers, and a leaf blower to blast away the severed hairs from your clothing, it was all very intimidating. Many customers might have bolted at the last minute, but they found that those strong forearms that Gertrudis had developed from years of restraining Shropshires were a match for most men, and you were restrained as in a vise by one arm while the other did the necessary work on your locks.

I don’t have any photos of actual customers, as they were quite alarmed at the prospect of having their picture taken in such challenging circumstances. I did find, however, a pic of a newly shorn Shropshire, and I can tell you that the human clients looked pretty much the same.

As for me, I couldn’t handle the situation. I was standing in line waiting for my first Gertrudis haircut when the customer in the chair let out a scream and ran away bleeding profusely. He had moved at exactly the wrong time, the big clipper had its way, and he now had only half a right earlobe as a result. That was all it took for me to reconsider my options, which I did while doing a full-tilt boogie away from the bridge and back into the sunlight.

Next day I studied a few YouTube instructional videos, dropped by a local emporium, and was soon the proud owner of a Wahl hair cutting set for the amazingly low price of $24.99. Combs, a clipper, a tiny booklet … everything I needed. That same day I gave myself my first haircut and have been doing so ever since. As opposed to what happened when I used to go to that exclusive salon called Great Clips where my appearance would swing back and forth between shorn and shaggy, I now give myself a trim every week and always look the same. Mediocre, perhaps, but the same.

The price has gone up a bit, but just for interest, the kit looks like this. Bulletproof, cheap, and my own earlobes are still intact. (Notice that the box claims that the guards provide “goof-proof haircuts.” This is not exactly the case. Any goof worth their salt can still mess things up)

There was a learning curve, however, I will admit to that. The front always looked okay, but the back was another matter for quite a while. Not being able to see what I was doing behind me, the rear of my head looked pretty much like I was recovering from various sorts of haphazard neurosurgery for about two months as I acquired necessary skills.

When the rules loosened up and salons began to open up once again, Gertrudis packed up her equipment and disappeared. I hear that she is still working sheep ranches in our area, living in a caravan with one of her old customers, a man called Harry Feldenfelden. Harry was a man of rare temperament who found that he enjoyed being handled roughly by Gertrudis, had several repeat shearings from her over that first spring and summer of the pandemic, and eventually joined her on her travels.

Harry took up the fiddle as a pastime, as you can see from the picture at left. ‘Tis a couple well met.

Get A Haircut, by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

(The story told above is 50% falsehoods, 20% true, and 30% polyester.)

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday Robin and I were out for a constitutional, walking on the path along the Uncompahgre River, and I was paying particular attention to the human/dog combinations who were sharing the path with us. Somewhere there must have been a class named How To Be A Proper Coloradan which I missed attending when I first came to this fine state. Dog ownership must have been stressed in that class, because I swear there were 2.4 dogs per human on the walkway today.

Most of the canines were very small breeds of the sort that you must often remove from your ankles where they have attached their tiny teeth in a vain attempt to appear ferocious. This afternoon they were on their best behavior, however, and there were no such incidents. I have owned several dogs in my life, but was never tempted to acquire one of the “toy” breeds. There was just not enough dog there to be attractive to me.

Let me tell you about Lady, a sweet creature who lived with us when my kids were quite young. One fine Sunday morning during my stint in the Air Force, my former wife and children returned from attending Unitarian services in Omaha (I was on call) with a largish cardboard box. A parishioner with a devious mindset had brought a bunch of mixed-breed puppies to church to share with anyone who wished to complicate their life, and he caught my wife at a weak moment.

Lady was so fluffy that it was difficult to tell which end was which, you had to keep turning her until you saw the eyes to know for sure. She had a fine temperament, the kids loved her, and she instantly became the seventh member of the family. She eventually grew to be a medium-sized animal, long-haired and with one of those curly Siberian Husky sort of tails.

She was not a biter, tolerated the good-hearted abuse that young children always dish out to pets, and except for one quirk, was pretty easy to have around. The quirk was that Lady became furious when in the presence of anyone of color. When the black meter-reader would come by our house in Buffalo NY, there was so much savage growling and tooth-baring that we had to restrain her and shove her into a room until he left the premises. A youngster named Peter who lived just down the street was unfortunate enough to have a disease that made him perpetually jaundiced, with a pronounced gray-green color to his skin. Lady could not be in the back yard playing with the kids whenever Peter was around.

One day we had gone to a nearby state park for an outing and were returning home. We were all tooling along in our VW microbus, with me driving and Lady riding shotgun with her window nearly all the way down due to it being a hot day and the fact that VW microbuses were not air conditioned. We were cruising at around sixty mph when Lady saw a large butterfly going by and out the window she flew to try to catch it. We were all horrified when we saw her leave the car, and in the rearview mirror I saw her hit the ground tumbling over and over in a cloud of dust.

I pulled the bus to a quick stop and ran back to where Lady was lying on the side of the road, fearing the worst and hoping to avoid having the kids see their friend all bloody and awful. But by the time I reached her she was sitting up looking a bit dazed and except for missing a patch of fur under her chin, she seemed none the worse for her vain attempt at flight. No broken bones … no bloody hide … nothing, although she was very quiet for an hour or so. By the time we had reached home she seemed completely back to her old self.

Lady was never allowed to use that seat again. From then on she was banished to the back of the bus whenever it was moving. Once was enough.

Old Blue, by Joan Baez

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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The Doonesbury cartoon this week was particularly informative, I think. A no-nonsense guide to becoming involved in social media.

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We finally have some wintry weather this week. Oh, nothing really to complain about, compared with what our Midwestern friends have suffered, but when it’s cold, damp, windy, and the sleet is flying by … that counts for something. It merits at least a four on the nasty scale, I think.

What would a ten be? I think that an Old Testament-style blizzard* would fit the bill. Heavy snowfall, wind over 45 mph, visibility down to a few feet in front of you. The kind where farmers would leave the house to go to the barn and lose their way, their bodies found days later when the skies finally cleared. Where children in one-room prairie schoolhouses were marooned with their teachers, burning the furniture for warmth until help arrived. Where livestock might freeze to death standing up in the snowdrifts. Those would be a ten.

On reflection … maybe today’s is just a three.

*I know, I know, there are no blizzards in the Old Testament. There’s not even any snow. But given the rest of what’s in those stories, if it did snow it’d be a blizzard. And a doozie at that.

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Dally Ho!

I’ve decided that if I can’t live under a patriarchy, I don’t want to live under any system whose title has the letters “-archy” in it at all. Certainly not a matriarchy, although that may be what is coming soon. I am afraid that the paybacks that would follow such a seismic turnover would consume the remainder of my time on earth, ending up with my spending my last days wearing a babushka and disguised as a woman while hiding in bombed-out basements and supporting myself by selling baked potatoes on street corners. “Get your nice hot Murphys here.”

I’d rather not have an oligarchy, either, although it’s possible that we may be there already and I’m just too oblivious to notice. Nope … no “archies” at all, thank you very much. Here is a short list of some others I would rather avoid at all costs:

  • Ecclestiarchy
  • Heresiarchy
  • Plutarchy
  • Anarchy
  • Monarchy
  • Nanarchy
  • Futarchy
  • et al

I don’t trust the –archies because there isn’t a single one of them other than patriarchy that would have me as a member, and I am highly suspect even there because I don’t hunt, drink, or watch football. The ecclesiasts would be after me because I wasn’t religious enough, the heretics because I hid Easter eggs for my kids when they were very young, the monarchists wouldn’t take my plebeian calls at all, and the plutarchists couldn’t be bothered with anyone driving such a modest car as a Subaru.

So how many uninhabited islands are there on the planet? I wouldn’t need much. A clean and abundant fresh water supply, pleasant climate, good soil for growing things, no Komodo dragons, and high-speed internet. That would do it for me. Oh, and regular visits by a supply boat for incidentals.

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The latest news from CNN has been awkward, to say the least. Apparently a couple of years ago, responding to rumors of hanky and panky among upper echelon management, investigators placed spy/janitors on each floor of the headquarters building in Atlanta. These men and women worked in shifts round the clock and were instructed to watch for anything suspicious. They were equipped with camera mops, periscopes, poison pills to swallow should they be detected, guns disguised as cans of Lemon Pledge, and devices that were sensitive to traces of latex and lubricants in the air. Turns out that most of these janitors were former Mafia in a witness protection program operating out of Bayonne, New Jersey.

Almost immediately the alarms started going off, the cameras started clicking, and before long massive dossiers were collected on basically everyone above the level of the runners who rounded up the coffees for morning staff meetings.

So far there have been only a couple of resignations, but it is anticipated that before long all of the occupants of the 23rd and 24th floors will have to be let go. The official line is that there has been a sharp drop in rectitude and a drastic increase in turpitude among these personnel.

There is a problem which surfaces in situations like these, and that is determining the acceptable level of adultery and other sexual wanderings in the journalistic professions. Purists say that the level should be zero, but there is a sense that this stringent standard would severely impact future hirings and a more moderate position will have to be taken.

It’s all reminiscent of the FDA deciding what levels of rodent hairs and insect parts were acceptable in cereals. There was no way to get the level down to zero, not when dealing with natural products such as grains, so they had to make choices. How much was okay, and what was just too ugly? It’s a reality I choose to ignore each day at breakfast, and I take the same approach with who is dallying with who at CNN.

Look At Miss Ohio, by Gillian Welch

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Well, we did it. On Wednesday we experienced on of our rare snowfalls of the season. One of those beauties with flakes as big as dinner plates slipping toward earth and covering everything you see while clinging to the branches of the plants and trees making the world magical. Robin and I turned to one another and said as one: Zhivago.

Such an evening was perfect for our triennial re-watching of a movie that features snow and ice and visible breath at least half the time. And the running time is a generous 200 minutes. So if you pick the right moment you can get a snowfall looking out the window and the same thing on the screen in the living room. This double dose could conceivably give you hypothermia even while sitting on your own couch.

There is this, however. We can’t stay up late enough to watch the whole thing at one sitting. To attempt this would be to miss most of the second half, even if our eyelids were propped open with toothpicks. So Wednesday night our viewing took us to the intermission, and Thursday evening we finished it off.

The interesting thing for me was that I remembered nearly everything that happened on screen. But then I thought … well, sure … I first saw it when I still had a memory worthy of the name. Back when what my eyes took in was actually recorded in those little electrochemical packets somewhere in my nervous system. If I saw it for the first time today, in two months if anyone asked me if I’d seen the film, I would have to turn to Robin and ask her if we had. And her response would be – “was that the one with the Russians?”

But oh … the movie, you ask … what about the movie? It was splendid, as usual.

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Here’s a Sunday morning treat. thirty photographs from around the world of children playing. Different photographers coming up with expressions of the joy that children are fully able to find for themselves. Often the best gift we adults can give our kids is to stand back, take our hands off, and let them do their very own thing.

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Trust Me

I have never been what you might call a man of my time. For instance, I am too old to be considered a “boomer.” Boomers were born once WWII was over and I was born two years before our participation in that war began. This makes people my age the modern equivalent of the Anasazi.

In the middle Sixties there arose a saying commonly heard – never trust anyone over thirty. That phrase hit a peak in regular usage the year I turned thirty. So while my personal sympathies were definitely on the more youthful side of that artificial line, my less fit corpus and receding hairline definitely put me well into the ranks of the duplicitous ones. It was a schizophrenic time – my fist raised in the air as I shouted anti-establishment and antiwar slogans at rallies while my t-shirt could have read: “Trust me not, I’m thirty-one.”

Little wonder my self-image is a bit bleary and out-of-focus.

Then there was the feeling I had all through my twenties that I would not live to see thirty years old. I had that feeling so strongly that on the eve of my thirtieth birthday I had trouble sleeping. It was the “if I should die before I wake” syndrome. (I thought I was unusual in this but have since learned that having such notions is not a rare thing, especially among persons of a certain nervous temperament.)

So it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that I woke on October 26, 1969 and found that I was not only not dead, but had a wife, four children, and was still a conscript in the United States Air Force. So many roles and responsibilities for a man who had fantasized about living in a caravan, growing his hair out, taking fewer showers, and learning everything there was to be learned about psychedelics.

Since I wasn’t dead, I now had to make plans for a future that I hadn’t thought to be a part of. I knew more what I didn’t want to be than what I did. I didn’t want to be the middle-aged man whose small talk at parties leaned heavily toward what was the best sidewalk edger or foundational planting. I left such a party one night horrified by the conversations I’d overheard. I turned to my (first) wife and said: “I am going to purchase a small-caliber pistol which I will give you as a gift. If you ever hear me start into one of the inane back-and-forths we have witnessed this evening, I want you to take the pistol from your purse and shoot me on the spot. And don’t worry – there’s not a jury in the world that will convict you.”

And now I am a blue-label octogenarian living in a red zone. Mmmmmmm. I think I’ll have a t-shirt printed that reads “Never trust anyone over eighty,” just so I feel comfortably out-of-sync. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Another Super Bowl has come and gone (Yawn). Apparently Eminem was part of the entertainment and he took a knee (took him a while). There are many of our shared American rituals that I do take part in, so I don’t think that I need to apologize for skipping this particular one. The last time I cared about the outcome of a pro football game was in the early 1960s, so by the time that Super Bowl I began the whole series of overblown spectacles in 1966, I had already gone in other directions.

To me it’s little more than the modern version of the Roman games, without the excitement of having lions present to eat the losers. Instead, we watch as large men gamble with their bodies, many of them hoping in vain that they don’t acquire brains as moth-eaten as an old woolen sweater in the back of your closet.

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From The New Yorker

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Each morning I check the online newspapers to see if we are at war yet. I am even concerned enough that recently I actually checked a map to see where the Ukraine is located. I thought it was the least that I could do. The amount of saber-rattling over the past several months has almost made too much noise for a person to go to sleep at night.

You know that definition of insanity? The one that goes like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Wouldn’t that apply to the making of war pretty well? What our world lacks is someone like Zeus to act as a celestial referee. Let’s say that a Vladimir Putin or a George W. Bush gets their underwear all in a bunch and begins to move armies to the borders anywhere. This referee could say “Hold it right there!” They would then step in and gather all the swords, break them over their knee, then send the offenders to their respective rooms without any supper.

When I was an undergraduate student at the U. of Minnesota, there was a humorous piece in the student newspaper that went like this. War is such a horror at least partially because we are doing it all wrong. We draft the young and send them into battle to be slaughtered or maimed or emotionally crippled. So much potential lost.

What we should be doing is getting all nations to agree to draft only their oldest citizens. This would have the following benefits.

  • Since the aged are also a very crafty bunch, they would exert enormous pressures to stop the nonsense, put the guns back into the holsters, and settle things amicably.
  • Should a war actually somehow begin, these same senior citizens would be much more comfortable in a nice warm tent than charging up a hill, and it would be difficult to motivate them to attack things. In fact, charging up anything in large enough numbers to do real harm would probably be impossible due to arthritis, old sports injuries, bladder difficulties, etc.
  • The vision of older citizens is often impaired, thus their ability to hit whatever they’re aiming at would also be impaired, with most of the bullets fired flying off into harmless directions.

I would volunteer for such an army in a heartbeat. Let’s get more eighty year-olds around the truce tables of the world. Men and women who, if they voted for war, would be among the first to be drafted.

Good for all nations to have an army where it is more important to get carloads of Metamucil to the front lines than it is ammunition. There are few things more difficult to deal with than a cranky old soldier without their fiber.

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Valentine’s Day Vignette

I am waiting in the car for Robin, who is in City Market picking up some strawberries to adorn with chocolate later this morning. Across the parking lot lane from me is a white pickup truck. An ancient citizen pulls up next to the truck in an electric grocery handicapped-cart.

He slowly disembarks from the cart, awkwardly moves to the truck and opens the pickup door. He is wearing worn plaid pajama bottoms instead of pants, and they have slipped far enough down that when he leans forward he displays an exuberant case of plumber’s butt. I am amused, thinking “the poor old dude … can hardly walk … needs someone to help him with his costume … and other patronizing twaddle. Then he turns back to the cart, reaches in and pulls out a bouquet of flowers newly purchased at the market. With difficulty he climbs back into the truck with his treasure, and slowly drives away. On his way to brighten someone’s morning.

Sweet, I think.

When I Fall In Love, by Jeri Southern

Pardon My Dribble

On Saturday afternoons, I am finding out, there are often scheduled basketball tourneys for middle school players in the field house section of the recreation center. If I am unwise enough to choose one of those afternoons as the time for my exercise session, I need to wade through a great number of newly formed adolescents to get to the places I need to be.

Sometimes I take a moment to watch and I am pleasantly surprised by the ball-handling skills these younger players already have developed. Dribbling behind the back, through the legs, blind passes … these were rarities when I went to high school, and none of the players on the Sibley Warriors (my HS team) did any of that stuff. In fact, among the eight teams in our conference there was really only one player who did.

His name was Dale and he played guard for South Saint Paul High School. His dribbling and passing were way beyond anything the rest of the players could aspire to. In fact his passes were so sharp and quick that often a teammate found himself quite unexpectedly in possession of the ball as if by magic, and then had to decide what to do with the gift he’d received.

Now Dale might have been one heck of a basketball player, but he was not an honor student. He was also not an honor citizen. Dale was twenty years old and this was his senior year. Rumors had it that he used (gasp) more than one variety of what we now call recreational chemicals, that he’d crossed a few lines when it came to private property ownership, and that a major reason for his advanced age in high school were the months spent in juvenile correctional facilities.

But rumors aside, when he came down the court he did so with a cool nonchalance that said it all – that he knew this was only a game and about as unimportant as anything could be in the scheme of things and that nothing in his future depended on what happened tonight but By Damn he loved basketball and he was the best man on the court and we were all invited to watch and see how the game could be played.

Dale did not suit up every time that South St. Paul came to play us. His particular personality brought him into fairly frequent conflict with coaches and school authorities. Suspensions and expulsions were all a part of everyday life for him. But I loved to watch him when I could, even though in the zero-sum game that was high-school sports – when everything went well for Dale it meant that my Warriors lost.

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From The New Yorker

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In the wintertime … especially at night … when those big snowflakes are falling … if I wanted to fantasize it would be that I am this guy. Dr. Yuri Zhivago.

And the fantasy would always be the same – face wreathed in a cloud of one’s own breath, gloves cut off so that fingertips are exposed, wolves howling outside the completely frosted-over windows … sitting in an icy room and scribbling away about Lara or Tonya or the war … so many topics to fire the imagination of a freezing poet.

Ahhh, that’s the life my alter ego, the doomed romantic artist, might live. Holed up in an abandoned and ice-festooned dacha, burning the furniture in vain attempts to stay warm, hiding from the many warring parties in the Russian Revolution, scrabbling for what was left of last year’s harvest (tonight we’re having carrots and potatoes, and for variety tomorrow’s supper will be potatoes and carrots). Trying to figure out why it is that although I have a lover in each of two adjoining villages, I can’t seem to make either one of them happy.

We own a copy of the movie Dr. Zhivago, and every few years will sit down and watch it over again. It’s a thing of beauty. A great cast, grand cinematography, beautiful musical soundtrack, and a story told against the background of one of modern civilization’s truly convulsive heaves. What’s not to like?

Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago

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From The New Yorker

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The year that Robin and I moved to Paradise there was a local scandal that erupted (I hasten to add that it had nothing to do with us). One of the two funeral parlors in Montrose had been indulging in some hanky-panky involving sale of body parts and careless handling of the clients’ remains. To the point where if you received an urnful of ashes from their crematorium, they might very well be a strangers’ remains. In fact, they might not be human ashes at all, but plaster dust.

For whatever reason, this situation has still not been resolved in the courts. Every few months there will be yet another piece in our local paper showing some dejected-looking citizen holding an urn whose contents are being disputed. Families all across the Western Slope are still looking for that unicorn of emotional health … closure.

Now there are some spoilsports and ne’er-do-wells who point to this seeming impasse as a perfect example of why we should really give up the notion of looking to the justice system for justice. If it can take more than seven years to decide whether a crime has been committed and who did it in the case of Where Are Grandpa’s Ashes, Anyway, what hope is there for the rest of the mess?

Prosecutors often don’t even pursue the death penalty against the rich — think O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, and John du Pont (of the chemical du Ponts). You needn’t hire a Johnnie Cochran or a Clarence Darrow to get the treatment. An analysis of Georgia cases showed that prosecutors were almost twice as likely to ask for the death penalty when the defendant couldn’t afford a lawyer. Nationwide an estimated 90-plus percent of those arrested for capital crimes are too poor to retain experienced private counsel. In Kentucky, a quarter of death row inmates were defended by lawyers who were later disbarred (or resigned to avoid disbarment); other states are similar. A few states have offices dedicated to providing a proper defense for capital defendants, but a Texas jurist summed up the attitude elsewhere: “The Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake.” 

Cecil Adams, The June 30, 2006.

When the doors of a courthouse clang together behind you after you’ve entered, you find that you are a hapless player in a game where all of the rules are made up by the attorneys themselves in a system so obtuse and convoluted that only they can find their way in it. This has led to a rich trove of jokes and puns describing the relationships of ordinary humans to members of the legal profession. I will reproduce three of them here. The first one fits our problem of the funeral home awfully well. The other two are … well … delicious.

What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer might let a case drag on for several years. A good lawyer knows how to make it last even longer.

An attorney was working late one night in his office when, suddenly, Satan appeared before him. The Devil made him an offer. “I will make it so you win every case that you try for the rest of your life. Your clients will worship you, your colleagues will be in awe, and you will make enormous amounts of money. But, in return, you must give me your soul, your wife’s soul, the souls of your children, your parents, grandparents, and those of all of your friends.” The lawyer thought about it for a moment, then asked, “But what’s the catch?”

What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

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The music of Warren Zevon popped into my head as my earworm this morning, music which is always welcome no matter what the circumstances.

His live album Stand In The Fire (which still absolutely slams) was in constant rotation back when I was saving up tuition money for my admission to AA University. Zevon was a smart songwriter in a sometimes crude industry and one of his biggest fans was another smart man, David Letterman.

When he was near the end of his life, a victim of mesothelioma, he made his last appearance on Letterman’s show.

On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness.

Warren had been a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since  Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.”He also thanked Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”.

For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”

The day after Zevon’s death, Letterman paid tribute to him by replaying his performance of “Mutineer” from his last appearance. The Late Show band played Zevon’s songs throughout the night.

Warren Zevon, Wikipedia

So in deference to today’s ear worm, I will share with you two of my personal favorites. Lawyers, Guns, and Money is from the live album I mentioned a moment ago, and Keep Me In Your Heart is from his last album, The Wind. It’s a lovely goodbye.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Keep Me In Your Heart

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Several years back I put together a stream of photos with a soundtrack. Many of you have seen it. But over time and after posting back and forth with the old YouTube algorithms, the quality had deteriorated badly. So here is a new version of the same video, with a few added slides. If you think you recognize anyone in the video, it’s your imagination. These are all paid actors.

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