Waiting

It’s been a while since I waited outside an operating suite, and the experience hasn’t improved much. There is still the nervousness, the feeling of insecurity, plus my abundant knowledge of what mishaps can occur even when someone is in capable hands. The practice of surgery is a human enterprise, and perfection eludes us.

I afford myself the luxury of leaving the room when the needles come out, not out of squeamishness, for I have never had a problem performing procedures on patients, but I cringe when it is my people who are being poked or prodded or otherwise invaded. Turns out that if you take away my white coat and stethoscope, as a citizen I become Mr. Squishmallow.

It was 9 degrees Fahrenheit when we left our motel for the drive to Aspen Valley Hospital, and halfway there it began to snow. Nothing epic, just enough to make the road surface slightly slippery and the highway lines invisible. Since we had started out at 4:45 AM, we saw few other vehicles until we got closer to Aspen itself.

We read horror stories about patients having the wrong body part operated upon, and you wonder … how could that happen? Wednesday two different people (including Robin herself) each made large marks on Robin’s left knee with permanent Magic Markers, and at least four others asked “Which knee is it that we’re doing today?” They are dead serious about not adding to those dismal accounts in the newspapers.

The hospital there is a small one, only 25 beds, but with a busy ambulatory surgery department. It has a small cafeteria serving very tasty food at really good prices. This is not always true of hospital food. Things might have changed a lot by now, but long ago at Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton SD when the nuns were running things, the cafeteria output was dismal. Day after day … pfaughhh! I concluded that the nun in charge of the kitchen hated food as much as she hated sex, and that producing platefuls of tasteless beige entrees was her revenge on the concupiscent.

She’s Waiting, by Eric Clapton

******

From The New Yorker

******

Aspen really isn’t the place to spend much time as a tourist unless you are pretty well-heeled. This morning’s fill at the Shell station was $5.14/gallon for 87 octane.

It requires no exhaustive searching to find a $20 hamburger in this modest village.

If you want to spend $2500 a night for your motel, no problemo.

A single day ski lift ticket for an adult which allows you access to the four mountains can cost you $219. That puts you on the lift, you still have to provide the equipment.

The surrounding mountains and valley are beautiful, and looking at them is the only real bargain in town. I think it is instructive that the Aspen city logo is as shown at right.*

.

*I might have made this up

******

I have finally left the Facebook and Instagram universe. Deleted my accounts. Proximate cause: Facebook’s allowing Donald Cluck back on. So I guess that I’m not for freedom of speech after all, nest-ce pas? I’m nothing but a closet censor caught red-handed with my scissors in my hand, or a petulant child taking my baseball bat and glove and going home.

But what of the commonly proferred example of exception to freedom of speech – shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater? Supposedly we are okay with that being a no-no. And that’s what Cluck is doing, in my estimation. Shouting his particular translation of the word “Fire” in a crowded country.

So when we say that the truth will always win if we let everybody have their say without intruding, we are basing that comfortable belief on a model that may no longer be valid. It has worked pretty well, although with definite hiccups, when the only way of disseminating information was the traditional media.

But what happens when a single media outlet has 2.9 billion subscribers, like Facebook? We don’t really know yet what this means in the long-term, but what it means short-term is that we give a megaphone of a size never dreamed of to people who wish to do harm.

So Cluck has his megaphone back in hand, and some think freedom of speech entitles him to it. However, I believe that he is a traitor to his country and wishes to do harm.

So it’s a good thing that I am also free, free to not support the company that provides him with the space and the soapbox. I can withdraw.

Only A Pawn In Their Game, by Bob Dylan

.

******

From The New Yorker

******

It happened that the day we departed the Steadman Clinic in Aspen, the man who started it died. The two events are not connected, no matter what the rumors might say. It’s not our fault. We didn’t know him and never met him. Pinky swear.

Our experiences with the organization that he left behind make this the go-to place for me if I ever need a knee repaired. We found professionalism and a total lack of b.s. to be its hallmarks. We appreciated both.

(BTW, it was interesting that the walls of the waiting room at the clinic were decorated with framed jerseys of various professional athletes. Not bad marketing, there.)

******

A local insurance agent has a sign outside his office where he posts clever (or sometimes not) sayings. One of his best was yesterday when the sign read:

“Dealing with the present shortages of eggs and toilet paper it’s hard to believe that we used to throw them at houses!“

******

And finally. How many times in life do you get to see perfection? Here’s a video of a flawless performance that took place on 1/27/2023. Make you want to look out in the garage for those old skates?

******

… Just Like Bogey and Bacall

We have been in Carbondale CO this week, and today (Wednesday morning) Robin is having a knee restructuring done on the left side. It’s being performed by a physician who is renowned for this particular surgery, and our hopes are high that much of the unpleasantness she has experienced postoperatively when she had the right side done in Montrose will not be repeated.

Carbondale? Where the hell is Carbondale? Well, it’s about 30 miles from Aspen, and offers a motel room for us to stay in that is less than $500 a night, that’s where. The hospital and clinic are located in Aspen, but that particular village is not famous for travel bargains during ski season. It’s a lot like that old story about an encounter in a Rolls-Royce auto dealership.

Salesperson: May I help you, Sir?

Customer: Yes, thank you. I’ve really been quite taken by this cabriolet in front of us. Could you tell me the price?

Salesperson: Sir, If you have to ask the price, you shouldn’t be shopping here.

So we’re in Carbondale. The idea of plunking down that much money for a room I will be spending very little time in seemed bonkers. Like paying for a full meal when you have no intention of eating anything but the okra.

My favorite genre of motels are the little “Mom and Pops” along the highway where you park in the lot right in front of your room and carry your bags about six feet before you put them down again.

A place where you can hang out on a hot summer evening, sitting outside your room on a rusty patio chair wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of old jeans. That’s the motor hotel life for me. It’s like being a character in your own film noir*, waiting for Lauren Bacall to walk her most sinuous self across the parking lot with murder on her mind. Her husband’s murder, not yours.

Next you find yourself being handed a gun by Ms. Bacall even though you are not quite sure which side of the weapon is up and whether you would ever be able to pull the trigger, but she’s sure as anything that you are up to the task.

The two of you speak cooly to one another in clipped phrases, some plans are made, and suddenly you are only a couple of scenes away from becoming another poor sap going to the slammer on account of some dame.

All this good stuff goes with the room.

Compare this with spending a timid and insipid night in an upscale Marriott. Really … why would anyone?

Key Largo, by Bertie Higgins

******

*DEFINITION DEPARTMENT

A common film noir structure goes like this:

It is night, always. The hero enters a labyrinth on a quest. He is alone and off-balance. He may be desperate, in flight, or coldly calculating, imagining he is the pursuer rather than the pursued.

A woman invariably joins him at a critical juncture, when he is most vulnerable. [Her] eventual betrayal of him (or herself) is as ambiguous as her feelings about him.

Nicholas Christopher: Somewhere In The Night

******

******

We are now in the tedious part of Winter. The part where most of the season is past us, but it will still be another month or so before the first signs of Spring. I really want the birds back. While I am grateful for those hardy species that hang around all winter, it is the variety that is available in the Spring and Summer that is so amazing.

For instance, the plantings in the berm out front of our house attract hummingbirds galore, and once blossoms appear these birds put on their show all day long, every day.

Of course, it is not just the birds that make Spring so attractive. It is also the lack of shivering, improved footing on sidewalks, hanging out on the deck, picnics, hikes, wearing shorts once again, and the perfumes given off by blossoming trees. It is the possibility of camping out in some of those gorgeous areas here in Paradise that we can’t even get to during Winter because no one plows those remote roads. It is being able to take a long drive without needing a winter travel kit with its reminders that if you make a mistake out there in the cold it could be your last.

One day at a time … live in the present moment … don’t waste a second … I know and agree with all of those pieces of good advice. And I will do all those good things … but I am me, after all, and know that I will just enjoy everything a little more when my parka is put away and sandals can replace the snow boots.

******

******

The question of the day is: with the new revelations re: Mike Pence and his sloppy housekeeping – who doesn’t have classified documents in their home?

Perhaps in the future instead of being a scandal having them will become a new status symbol.

“How many Top Secret documents do you have at home?”

“Thirty-two.”

“I have fifty-seven.”

“Damn.”

******

Quite a long time ago, while vacationing in northern Minnesota, I was nominated to go to the village for groceries by other members of our party. A few miles from our rented cabin I passed a small motel of about six rooms, just sitting there all by itself in the forest along a rural two-lane. Its sign read: NO-TEL MOTEL. That was its name, that was its claim to fame.

I could see some weaknesses in their bold approach to anonymity, however. At that point on the road there was nothing but pine trees and pine trees and then this little motel sitting in the middle of them. Also, the parking lot was just off the blacktop, meaning that whatever transportation you came in was easily seen, for identification purposes.

So who were the customers? Tourists like myself would find it only by the merest accident on that back road. Also, when you are a tourist almost any motel would fill that sort of clandestine need for you.

Locals … I wondered. If I were feeling like a betrayed spouse that parking lot would be the first place I would check. I would drive out there in the country and if I found my beloved had taken a room I would significantly reduce the air in all four of their tires, take a six-pound sledge to the car windows, and toss a few shovelfuls of manure I’d brought along onto the front seat. You wondered about the availability of manure? We’re talking living in the rural here, where such things are easily obtained.

I finally decided, without any facts to go on at all, that the customer base might consist mostly of entrepreneurs in the sex trade who would now have a reliable location in which to ply their craft.

Somehow I found it jarring, thinking that people might travel all the way Up North for sex, when the fishing was so good there. Sex could be indulged in literally anywhere, but catching northern pike the size of sheep … that was a whole ‘nother thing.

Third Rate Romance, by the Amazing Rhythm Aces

******

Is This The Rope To The Privy?

While the weather bedevils travelers all over rest of the state, it only taps us gently on the shoulder with a dusting of snow and some mildly chilly temperatures here in the Uncompahgre Valley. Now while this might sound pretty good to someone presently stuck sideways across Interstate 70 in a 35 car pileup near Vail Pass, there is a caveat that goes with the Winter Lite we enjoy. It all changes if you try to go anywhere. There are these gigantic piles of rock you have to pass through, and to do so you first go up and then you go down. It’s during the “up” part where most of the excitement lies.

Going east on I-70 you need to cross Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel. Take an alternative route and Monarch Pass stands in the way of your fun travel day. To the south, if you are brave enough to drive the Million Dollar Highway in winter, you need to cross Red Mountain, Molas, and Coal Bank passes.

Go west and you are in southern Utah, an area large in acreage and small in population. If your car should develop problems, waiting for help to come requires patience and I would definitely take lots of blankets and beefsticks with you to assist in staying alive while you wait and pray for help to come.

Going north there is no major geologic obstacle, but who in their right mind wants to go through Wyoming and the Dakota Territory in the winter unless they absolutely have to? This is the sort of country where you string ropes from your home to the outhouse so you can make it there and back safely during whiteouts.

I have many friends who are summertime dwellers in the Territory, but they depart en masse in the winter, only to end up huddling together in migrant camps like this one until Spring brings sanity back to the land and they can return.

.

My point is that we are blessed here in Paradise, as long as we stay right where we are. Doing anything else is problematic.

******

Newly sworn-in Rep. George Santos made headlines again this past week when he declared that he had invented Rubbermaid. “I did it during my freshman year in college,” said Santos, “when I was fooling around in chemistry lab. I was trying to find a container that would keep my stash fresh, and decided to create my own.”

When the reporter pointed out that the Rubbermaid company has been around since 1920, which was 68 years before Santos was born, the plucky congressman blurted out “Yeah, that surprised me, too. I wonder how I did that?”

In the photograph Rep. Santos is shown telling his whoppers directly to God, rather than going through earthly intermediaries. “I hate the idea that I might be misquoted,” said George.

.

******

I know that I’ve mentioned this program before, but what good is it being the godlike creature that I am if I can’t repeat myself? We are just about done with Reservation Dogs’ second season. Robin and I are fans, and if you haven’t watched at least one … how do you know if you aren’t a fan as well?

It is a series with heart, and how many of those are there?

Plus it takes place on an Oklahoma reservation, which is terra incognita to most of us. Plus the four main characters are all interesting people. Plus there is a hilarious spirit-warrior that comes in and out of the narrative.

.

.

******

David Crosby passed this week. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Once for co-founding The Byrds and once for co-founding Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Troubled man, troubled life, with lost opportunities and lost friends littering the road behind him. But he left us some beautiful songs as well. Here’s are some of them.

Laughing
What Are Their Names?
Wooden Ships
Orleans

******

The best summary that I’ve yet read about where President Biden stands today was in Saturday’s Times of New York. I know, I know, there are readers who believe that nothing good can come out of this news organization, but what can I say? Being generally on the side of liberalism (or conservatism) does not make one automatically wrong. All media must be approached with one’s mind open and one’s critical faculties in full employ or one risks becoming nothing more than an extension of the mob. And what sentient being wants to be that?

Anyway, the title of the piece is “Oh, Biden, What Have You Done.” I am among those who earnestly hope that Mr. Biden does not run for re-election. And I don’t want to get caught up in the vagueness and vapidity that is the ongoing discussion about aging and its effects on abilities. A fact of modern life is that there are too few thirty year-old voters who can get excited about eighty year-old candidates, no matter how much of their competency they retain.

I’ve lived with this knowledge for quite a while now. There was an axiom of the counterculture/revolutionaries in the sixties that went like this: Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty! This earnest proclamation was at its peak in 1969, the year that I turned thirty.

******

Don’t Mess With My Wabi-Sabi

In contrast to the generally harmonious relationship that Robin and I enjoy, there is one recurring burr under our respective saddles. I possess a wallet that is of uncertain age. It predates our getting together for certain, so it is thirty or forty years old, at least. To me it is now fully broken in, has an excellent wabi-sabi sort of beauty, confirms perfectly to the curve of my right buttock, and holds no secrets from me.

To Robin it is a disreputable piece of roadkill that deserves only an ignominious burial, conducted far from civilization on a moonless night. If we are eating in a restaurant and I take out the offending accessory to get at my VISA card, it is all she can to keep her stomach from rejecting its contents instanter. Clutching at chairs she will stagger out to the street to put enough distance between herself and me that perhaps no passersby will make the connection that we are a couple.

I offer these unretouched photographs of my treasured pocket doodad for you to judge.

Now, be honest, doesn’t this just scream art more than simple utility?

I thought so.

I will inform Robin that you agree that she is overreacting.

******

Yesterday I was offered the opportunity to buy caps from some website. which All of them had clever slogans stitched on them, but it was this one that captured the feeling I have nearly every morning when I greet my image in the bathroom mirror.

******

A Dick Guindon Cartoon

******

SCENE: The Biden Household

DRAMATIS PERSONAE: President Joseph Biden, First Lady Jill Biden

President: Good morning, Jill, did you sleep well last night?

First Lady: Not really … the floor slants too much in that Lincoln bedroom and I kept rolling to the edge of the bed.

President: Let me take a look at it … you know, if I put something under that rear leg on your side, it would help a lot. There, that should do it.

First Lady: What was that you used, Joe?

President: Just some old papers

First Lady: Joe, it says Top Secret on them! What … ?

President: I really have no idea. They were handed to me when we moved in.

First Lady: Maybe you should check them out or give them to the Secret Service or something.

President: Let’s see … the first page says: “Master Plan For Response Of Entire United States Government To Nuclear Attack Originating In The Former Soviet Union.”

First Lady: Joe … what if the wrong people got hold of those?

President: You’re right as usual, Jill. I better find a new hiding place and get something else for leveling the bed. I know, I’ll put them in the glove compartment of my Corvette. No one will ever think of looking in there. And the garage is locked all the time.

First Lady: But do you think we should keep them, Joe? Shouldn’t they be under guard or something?

President: You know … I’m still not happy with how the bed sits. Would you hand me that little gray book over there?

First Lady: This one?

President: No, the one that says “ICBM Launching Codes.

******

We Have No Secrets, by Carly Simon

******

From The New Yorker

******

“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” 
― André Malraux

“A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” 
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

“When I like people immensely I never tell their names to anyone. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy.” 
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

What is missing so far from the discussions (if you can dignify them by that name) about classified documents being kept in insecure places by both of our last two presidents, is what those papers really contained, and whether they were worth classifying in the first place. Over time I have read enough articles about the arbitrariness and occasional downright silliness of the government’s system of classification – i.e. things being denoted as Top Secret when they are already common knowledge, et al.

So if I’m going to really take umbrage, get my dander up, or be well and truly outraged, I would like to have at least the opinion of someone trustworthy as to what category of sin these episodes represent.

  • sins of omission
  • sins of commission
  • venial sins
  • mortal sins
  • pride
  • envy
  • lust
  • gluttony
  • greed
  • wrath
  • sloth

Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but so far both men seem equally guilty of second degree carelessness and first degree dumbassedness. If it is found that we can’t trust them with anything important, then we shouldn’t tell them anything important.

There is precedent for this. During the Second World War, vice-president Truman was kept completely in the dark about quite a few awfully important things including the Manhattan Project, and had to be brought up to speed very quickly when FDR died.

This last word on secrets was first uttered by Benjamin Franklin, a man of many utterances.

Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

Benjamin Franklin

******

In My Secret Life, by Leonard Cohen

******

Going to the gym these days is always worth a chuckle. First there is the resistance of the flesh, which in my case prefers to be that body at rest you learned about in physics class. It seems that without any planning on my part, all of my systems have gone over to the inertia side of things.

Once I get it moving, there are other issues. My body’s manager, wherever that is located, has figured out that it can almost completely ignore gravity as long as I never lift either of my feet. Even better, it realizes, would be that if I would simply lie down on the floor gravity would become irrelevant altogether. So the manager whispers as a steady refrain … lay down, fool … lay down, fool … lay down.

Today I exercised on the walking/jogging track. There are three lanes, clearly marked as to who should occupy them. The walkers in the left lane, the joggers in the right hand lane, and the center lane for passing. The majority of younger users follow these guidelines very well.

Unfortunately, my generation hardly follows them at all, but wanders from lane to lane without ever checking to see whether collisions are imminent. They go from left lane to right lane, willy-nilly, apparently believing those are considerations for mere mortals. Which means that if you are coming up on one of these folks and thinking about passing them you must be hyper-alert to sudden lane changes or you could become involved in an unsightly melee of fractures and dislocations as osteoporotic corpora collide.

This is definitely not in keeping with the mission of the recreation center, whose image of itself is handsome and fit patrons sprinting out the front door. Not a gaggle of stretchers loaded with the wreckage of the golden years.

******

But Mummy, Isn’t That The Servants’ Job?

Time certainly marches on, and the proof arrived in our mailbox yesterday. The first two catalogs of 2023 from nurseries and seed companies. One of the catalogs was interesting in that it offered nothing that would grow, but only the hardware to do it with. The sort of hardware that one might find on an estate, and not a humble homestead like our own. In fact, I could imagine those shelves and garden accessories as backdrops in the television series “The Crown,” as the former Queen wandered with her consort through the barns and sheds of her vast holdings.

Queen Elizabeth : I think those shelves would do nicely for the tomahto plantings, don’t you, Philip?

Prince Philip: Good God, but I’m bored.

Queen Elizabeth : Now, Philip, let’s not be cross again today, shall we? That would make 743 cranky days in a row … not the sort of look royals are going for at all.

Prince Philip: Blast.

I have enjoyed that series, BTW, and will no doubt watch the final season whenever it get to us. It is of course a soap opera, but one of a relatively exalted nature, with characters right out of the Disney canon. All the princes and princesses that a person could ever want, peppered liberally with stiff upper lips and the English language spoken exactly as it should be done.

The only problem for that television series is that Harry and Meghan, the Royal Whiners-In-Exile, are running a set of competitive programs all on their own. Let’s see … when was it precisely that I lost interest in what was happening to that noted pair of pampered persons whose noses have been put out of joint repeatedly by another cohort of pampered persons … wait … I have never been interested in what happened to them.

I have a feeling that Harry and Meghan must be frustrated. No matter how much attention that they have been paid to date, it doesn’t seem to equal their need for it. And some advisor somewhere has no doubt told them that in five years no one, not a single solitary soul on the entire freaking planet will care about them at all. So as the saying goes, they better maketh their hay while the sun shineth their way.

One More Cup of Coffee, by Bob Dylan

******

Let it here be said that I have friends and relatives (and some who are both) in the Midwest. Let it also be said that that they are having a difficult winter, with plenty of cold and snow and icy roads and all of the unpleasantness that living in a refrigerator can bring.

Additionally, I will admit that here in Paradise the snow is but a light dusting, the temperatures are compatible with life, and the worst that has happened so far this Winter is a couple of brief power outages.

Since I have always been told that Winter’s hardships are just the bracing jolt that our souls need for necessary toughening, I will have to accept that it is possible that my own soul is becoming a bit saggy and out of shape. Perhaps even the slightest bit decadent. It certainly is not being tested this year.

Why, on this last New Year’s Eve I was able to bicycle to the grocery store to get a couple of items that I needed. Wheels rolling on dry and ice-free roads. Give me another couple of years of this meteorologic cosseting and I suspect I will spiritually begin to look a lot like Jabba the Hutt.

.

My Viking ancestors are no doubt rolling over in their watery graves on the bottom of the North Sea in shame at what a fragile flower I am becoming. Well, let them roll and please pass the grapes and bonbons, would you? There’s a dear.

Song for a Winter’s Night, by Gordon Lightfoot

******

******

Yesterday I killed our vacuum cleaner. It was a case of second-degree vacu-slaughter, because I didn’t mean to do it. How it happened was only one more repetition of what so often happens when I try to DIM (D0 It Myself). The first time I remember was when I decided that the carburetor on my 1950 Ford needed to be rebuilt. How, in the abysmally ignorant state re: automobile functioning that I was in back then (and still am) that I could possibly come to this conclusion I cannot recall.

But I bought the repair kit, dismounted the carburetor, tore it apart, and began to replace what was worn. Hours later that same day I put the thing back onto the motor where it belonged and climbed into the driver’s seat to see how I’d done. I turned the key and sacre bleu!, the car wouldn’t start at all.

I had no idea where I had wandered off the correct path, so I went in humiliated posture to my father and admitted my failure. He graciously accepted the task of repairing my repair, and soon the motor was purring like a well-fed cat. When I asked him what I had done wrong, he first paused and then mumbled a reply. I caught the phrase “… so many things” in his response, and didn’t press him for further details.

To get back to the vacuum cleaner. The machine was operating poorly, so I went to the gurus on YouTube and found exactly that model cleaner with exactly that problem, and exactly how to repair it. I also learned that the manufacturer had never wanted people to be messing in there, so they had created access screws that required a very special tool to remove them. I ordered the special tool.

I will admit that my removing of an endplate and a gear or two only casually resembled what the guy on YouTube was doing. What he removed easily, I struggled to get off. What he pried loose with a tiny screwdriver required that I use a much larger lever and enough force to move the cornerstones of bank buildings.

But it all eventually went back into place, as I tightened every screw and replaced every plate, and then plugged it into the wall. Echoing that long-ago carburetor episode, the machine now wouldn’t work at all. After several pluggings and unpluggings, many disconnections and reconnections, and a couple of hard kicks to its solar plexus, the device stubbornly refused to suck.

The new vacuum cleaner should be here next Wednesday. It will be half the weight of the old one, which will be a good thing. The dead machine was a heavy brute. I like to think of this whole episode as one of the universe gently guiding me to what I should have done on my own long ago, which was to purchase that much lighter tool, to ease our aching backs.

******

******

I mentioned my father coming to my aid in an entry above. The man could fix things, build things, and create stuff with his hands and a hammer that are probably still functioning somewhere. He was very good at those things.

However, there were moments when he was just the teensiest bit absent- minded. Dad smoked cigarettes heavily all of his adult life. Occasionally he would light one up in one room of the house, walk to another room, forget about the first cigarette and start another. His personal record, achieved one summer afternoon when he was involved in a household remodeling project, was to have four lit cigarettes going in four ashtrays in four different rooms.

On another occasion when he was paying the household bills and writing checks to do it, he forgot to finish the job properly and sent one off with only his first name, “Joe,” in the signature line. The check sailed right through and the bank cashed it without blinking an eye.

“Joe” … lord have mercy.

******

Mean Streets

My son Jonnie came home for a weekend visit on a college break. As he was unpacking I had some music playing … can’t recall exactly what, but it was during my New Age period. This was after my divorce and that time I was playing quite a bit of stuff that promised to bring some order to my disordered thought processes. It didn’t quite deliver, but didn’t require much of me, either.

Anyway, I think that it might have been David Arkenstone and his Valley in the Clouds album. At one point Jonnie raised his head to listen and then he observed: “And to think that this was once a house where rock and roll was played.”

Well, wasn’t a minute before Mr. Arkenstone was retired and the J. Geils Band cranked up as the background music du jour. I had been properly shamed.

I admit that on occasion, when there is no one to hear what I am doing, I will still bring some of this genre of music out for a listen. But I definitely wouldn’t want it to get around that I do. ‘Twould ruin my street cred.

Ancient Legend, by David Arkenstone

******

******

We are just now finishing up our Christmas leftovers. When you plan ahead and precook several entrees, as I did, and then you infect your guests with a disease that involves messing profoundly with their digestive tract, well, you have lots of leftovers. A ton of them.

But … and I say this with some small pride … they were excellent. That beef roast for eight (including one teenager who resembles a machine designed to inhale food without chewing) but which only three people nibbled at … delicious. That may have been the best of them all.

We’ve kept track of the survivors of our holiday miserableness, and all have made full recovery. Some of them have declared that it will be a cold day in Hell before they come back to our casa for another meal, but I take that to be only a temporary posture because their wounds are still so fresh. Allow enough time to pass, I think, and all will be well.

What we have promised them, should they ever feel inclined to return, is the following:

  • a hospital tent set up in the back yard, manned by retired EMTs who have only recently surrendered their licenses
  • an old but serviceable large Dodge van would be available complete with stretchers, for transport to and from the hospital
  • family members who are still conscious would be allowed to play with the siren during van rides
  • a full line of gastrointestinal products will be available in-house, including antacids, Milk of Magnesia, chicken noodle soup, Pepcid, and generic PeptoBismol
  • three full cases of comfortable toilet paper will be stored on the premises to avoid those highly annoying shortages
  • all the orange Gatorade they can handle while rehydrating, available after that as a cash bar

Sounds pretty attractive to me.

******

******

On Sunday last we drove to the outskirts of Delta CO for a little bird-watching. There is a resident population of sandhill cranes which winters over in the area, and can usually be found by following the Uncompahgre River as it passes the town. We were not disappointed, but found perhaps 400 of the birds along tributary creeks north and west of the village.

It is always a thrill to see these creatures, which seem to be something right out of Jurassic Park. The other-worldly cronking sounds they make only add to their uniqueness.

It’s a real privilege to be able to see them basically whenever we choose to make the small effort. It’s only a 20 mile drive to Delta, then add another few miles to search out the birds, and that’s it. As we watched, new additions to the flock were coming in for landings, which was doubly fascinating. These big birds hit the ground running, but oh, so gracefully.

Birds, by Neil Young

******

Do Not Try This At Home. These Are Professionals.

The Republicans in the House of Representatives have been giving us a lesson in civics this past week. The lesson is: Don’t do what we are doing!

It’s what happens when you begin giving in to the worst elements of your party, thinking that you can use them today and ignore them tomorrow. Except that when tomorrow comes and you keep doing it and doing it … well, eventually you get the mess that they are in. Because those fringe-style folks don’t want to run things any other way than theirs. Compromise is re-minted as a four-letter word.

The pundits and the chattering classes have been asking repeatedly: What does Kevin McCarthy stand for and what are his political beliefs? The answers that they have come up with seem to be that he stands for Kevin McCarthy, and has no firmly held beliefs other than that to be re-elected is a good thing.

That’s not enough to whip up much enthusiasm, apparently.

******

******

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I am living proof of the old saw “There’s no fool like an old fool.” This past week I have immersed myself in the music of Tori Amos. Don’t bother to ask why … it’s today’s whim. But her songs are not easy listens, nor are they hummable. So why relive the angst that better belongs to another part of life, a long time past? That’s where the fool part comes in.

I should be leaning up against a bodhi tree in a cow pasture, reveling in the serenity that age is supposed to bring. Focussing on the beauty of the bee in the flower.

Instead I persist in getting myself all worked up about the vagaries of life and the fleeting qualities of past loves.

.

For instance, Marjorie H. never returned the passion that I felt for her. But we were only eight years old, so I forgave her her limitations.

I suspect that Judy M. never noticed how many times I bicycled past her home, going first this way and then that. I lived in hope that she would step out her front door and discover the dashing twelve year old ready to slay dragons and happily toss his cape over puddles for her. But she never did. I forgave her for her ignorance.

When Kathleen T. chose to trade me in on the boring stiff she eventually married, well, that was not a good week for a 16 year-old heart, but … what could I say … I forgave her for her huge lapse in judgment.

(I begin to see a pattern here…)

So Tori sings of fathers and mothers and assaults and many more of the confusions and alienations that being alive packs in your bag. I don’t know whether my rekindled outrages and angsts are appropriate for a man of my years or not. But, as I frequently have to tell myself, if you hurt somewhere it means at the very least that you are still sentient.

China, by Tori Amos

******

George Santos, a newly elected representative from New York has admitted to telling a long list of fibs in order to be elected. Today he admits that he isn’t even George Santos, but part of an alien vanguard sent from the planet Pinocchio VII to reconnoiter our world.

“That’s why I’ve come up with so many croppers … I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ve only been here on Earth for two opteks, so give me a break! How well do you think YOU would do if you washed up on MY home planet?

When pressed, he revealed that his real name is Cfhhhvnxm. Which, roughly translated, means Charmin Plus.

******

******

The Canada geese can’t quite decide what to do. When the bomb cyclone hit up north, they came down as far as Paradise, where they found mellower temperatures and much less snow cover on their food sources. So they stayed. But they still get up every day and mill about making a great squawk, while flying in no particular direction.

I don’t mind. Is there a lovelier sight than a “V” of geese passing overhead following routes that go back a bazillion years? It’s a direct visual connection to a life we don’t live any longer. Where we were much closer to the rhythms of rain and earth and air.

Once in a great while I will smell the faintest hint of that existence, on a chilly November morning when I seriously need to turn up my collar against the wind and there it is. Archetypal memory … why not?

Hunters claim that they are out there to make that connection, but no one needs a gun in their hands to do this. What the hunter is there for is unutterably sad. When all that is necessary is the will to be quiet for a few moments. It may be that humans have evolved as far as they are going to go. That we can never fully divorce ourselves from violence and murder against other creatures and against our own species. But if we could, I think our earth would be the better for it. It’s just my guess, you know, because we’ve never really tried it.

The Cry of the Wild Goose, by The Easy Riders

******

Sears + Roebuck = Da World

Summers on the Jacobson farm, especially before electricity came along, did lead to some sense of isolation. Not so much for us kids, who never ran out of things to explore and invent, but to the woman running the household. There was church on Sunday mornings and the occasional visit to one of the neighbor women “for coffee.” But for daily reminders that you were part of a larger world, it was the mail.

When the U.S. Post Office got around to installing mailboxes in rural America, they weren’t always conveniently located. Grandma Jacobson’s front step was a mile and a half from the mailbox. Too far for a lady of her constitution to walk, especially in hot weather. So she would drive the car.

Picking up the mail was the only time she ever got behind the wheel. But her hands were steady, she fixed her eyes on the road ahead, and off she would go. In first gear.

Grandma never used anything higher. There was little need for speed and she had never learned how to change gears on the fly, so first gear provided everything she needed in a vehicle.

When this was coupled with her very light foot on the accelerator it meant that the car’s velocity rarely exceeded 5 miles per hour.

As kids, we loved it. We could jump off onto the road … get out on the running board and stand in the 5 mph whirlwind … all things were possible. Modern ideas about where a child belonged in a moving vehicle were still to be formulated.

When you reached the mailbox there was that sense of possibility, of expectation. What was behind that big galvanized door? Maybe it would change everything. Maybe … if we were very, very lucky … it was the day for the new Sears Roebuck catalog to be delivered.

******

CANDIDATE FOR POST OF SUPREME PREVARICATOR

Newly elected Rep. George Santos has announced that he will be aiming for the honorary post of Supreme Prevaricator, as soon as former president cluck formally relinquishes it.

“Even though I am a young man, I believe the I have more experience in this area than almost anyone in the country. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall the last time I told the truth. I know that there is a lot of competition for the post, but if you fact check my speeches and writings over the past several years you will surely come to the conclusion that I am a master of poppycock and dissimulation.”

Everybody Lies, by Leo Kottke

******

******

I am by nature a quiet person. Never more so than in the early morning hours when my erratic sleep habits have me awake when more grounded people are sleeping. I pad around the house in stocking feet like a jewel thief, making far less sound than you’d expect of a medium-sized mammal. In fact, with my golden-age hearing acuity, I can’t hear myself at all.

But Poco can.

I will be in the kitchen sneaking a snack from the pantry, trying not to make a sound. I turn around and there he is. Silently staring at me like some stone lion from out in front of a public library … only miniaturized.

Nothing gets by that guy.

.

******

I posted this video on the blog several years ago … time to run it past you one more time. You don’t have to be a psychotherapist to want to give this advice on occasion.

******

In this strange little world my mind occupies, once we hit January it is okay to begin to hope for Spring. Of course I will be disappointed for another three months, but it’s my life and I resent your attitude. I saw that flicker of a sneer at the corner of your mouth, don’t think I didn’t.

When you hit an age that archeologists begin to be interested in you, winter is not your friend. Icy patches do not attract me like they used to. Once while I was still in college I walked out the door of a building, hit a slick, flipped up into the air, and came down hard on the back of my head. After looking around to see if anyone had noticed my uncool move, I got up and walked to my next class.

That would not happen today, not now that I live in Humpty Dumpty land. Someone would need to come by with a large shovel, scoop me into a wheelbarrow, and take me to the Emergency Department for examination. “Here,” they might say to the nurse at the desk, “I found this in the parking lot. I don’t know what it is, but it’s moaning so maybe you’d better take a look.”

Open any of the things I get sent in the mail these days that tell me how to live a better life in my senior years, and avoiding falls is at the top of most of the lists. Practice standing on one foot so you don’t fall, always leave a light on so you don’t fall, don’t throw your dirty laundry on the bedroom floor so you don’t trip yourself up and fall. You get the idea.

A few days ago, while still in my bathrobe, I was carrying out a bag of trash and I missed seeing one of those icy patches that had been covered by a thin dusting of snow. Bang! and down I went hard to one knee in a twinkling. I instantly began a mental checklist:

  • is my leg still there?
  • is it still connected to my body?
  • how about gouts of blood … anything?
  • do I hear angels singing?
  • am I looking down a tunnel toward a white light?

Once I had all the answers I needed and had determined that I was likely to survive, I could then give the pain my full attention and utter the appropriate curse words. I forget which ones I chose, but they were spot on, you can be sure of that.

So today it is January 4, and I am excited that Spring is just around the corner. Can’t come too soon for me.

Jerusalem, by Faces

******

Cheers

Our Christmas snow fell on December 28, when perhaps four inches settled over the village landscape. Ours was nothing like the storm’s ferocity in other areas, but when we get four inches, someone else gets four feet seems to be nearly a truism. Early this morning there are still no cat footprints in the snow on the backyard deck . I can’t say it if is true for the species in general, but our cats are absolutely not the sort who enjoy blazing trail.

I mentioned on the previous post that I was being inconvenienced by an illness, and hoped that this would be the whole story. Monday I became ill, so I with drew from the social contract, emerging only to help with food preparation. I did this while being scrubbed and gloved as one would for heart surgery.

Tuesday every one else seemed still to be okay, but I maintained my distance. At least as much as you can in a small home.

On Wednesday the hammer fell. Sitting in my chair in the living room, I heard a child retching in the guest bathroom at four a.m.. Next I heard the parents trying to attend the child and clean things up without disturbing the rest of the household. An hour later Robin began vomiting and by the time the sun had risen, counting myself, there were now five people out of the eight of us who were ill.

Hammer To Fall, by Queen

Rummaging through the boxes in the professional part of my brain’s attic, which contains a lot of rubbish and that I really will have to go through and clean out someday, I came to the conclusion that I had almost surely brought something called rotavirus to the party, and that this infection was now running its course through our little group.

As rotavirus often does, it hit the youngest the hardest, and that poor child couldn’t keep anything down for nearly 14 hours.

I have no idea from whom I caught my own infection. Like many senior citizens I take it as safe practice to assume that any germ out there is a bullet with my name carved on it, and will go to great lengths to avoid anyone looking the slightest bit puny. And in a world that seems pathologically hug-seeking I am an outlier of the first magnitude. I hug only under duress.

******

Brothers & Sisters, if I may have your attention. If you were alert this morning while perusing your daily news, you might have run across this paragraph, which was included in an advertisement.

In 2005, a South African man, Marius Els, adopted a baby hippo after rescuing it from a river. Six years later the hippo dragged him into the same river and ate him.

Clickbait item, CNN homepage

Today’s sermon will therefore cover the territory commonly referred to as the viper in one’s bosom. Humans beings are basically gullible creatures that get themselves into all sorts of trouble because they keep assuming that the way they feel about another of the world’s creatures is reciprocated. This most commonly happens in romantic entanglements between humans, and indeed if it did not – imagine what a huge part of the world’s literature would never have been written.

We fall in love and believe that this is the one, our soulmate and life’s companion, and then we find ourselves out on the train platform, our bags having been packed for us, one-way tickets in our hands. Or we think we are raising our children to be responsible and patriotic citizens and then find that things didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped, as did the Hitler family.

The internet seems particularly fond of the bizarre in photography, and loves to show us snapshots of 500 pound pussycats hugging their 110 pound keepers. But they show these pics to us because they know that we want to believe what we see. That the lion really will lie down with the lamb, if only they do it right.

What we choose to forget over and over and over again is that lions just aren’t made to give up eating lambs altogether. All of its bodily systems are tuned to carnivore-ness. A few handfuls of clover hay just doesn’t cut it for them.

Aesop, that wise old Greek, knew about our tendency toward self delusion back in 600 BCE.

The Farmer & the Snake

A Farmer walked through his field one cold winter morning. On the ground lay a Snake, stiff and frozen with the cold. The Farmer knew how deadly the Snake could be, and yet he picked it up and put it in his bosom to warm it back to life.

The Snake soon revived, and when it had enough strength, bit the man who had been so kind to it. The bite was deadly and the Farmer felt that he must die. As he drew his last breath, he said to those standing around:

“Learn from my fate not to take pity on a scoundrel.”

Aesop’s Fables

Returning to the saga of Marius Els, although it seems that he was a great fool to trust a hippo, I think I might have liked him. He was either very kind or very stupid (0r a bit of both), but he was right in there with the rest of us. Trying to get through the territory.

Can I have an Amen?

**

******

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY

It was announced yesterday that newly elected Rep. George Santos still has several bridges he is offering at ridiculously low prices. Among them are the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and … hold on to your hats for this one … London Bridge!!!

“Don’t wait another minute,” says Santos, “I swear on my mother’s grave that there won’t be sales like this again. Trust me on that one.”

******

Ian Tyson passed this week, at his ranch in Canada. He is an old favorite of mine, from when he was married to Sylvia Fricker and they made up the folk duo Ian & Sylvia. He wrote quite a few songs in his lifetime, and a couple of them you might remember – Four Strong Winds and Someday Soon. They epitomize what he sang about most often – the windswept spaces of Canada, the sense of loneliness and loss that so often colors our lives.

But enough of my dithering. They are beautiful songs, often covered.

Four Strong Winds, by Ian & Sylvia
Someday Soon, by Ian & Sylvia

******

First day of our new year. How do we even go forward at all from one New Year’s day to the next? Where is the hope for better times and what pocket do we put that hope into? I have my own coping strategies, which of course I will now share with you because I have the microphone.

Firstly, I do not ignore the shit. Each year is full of it, to the brim, and no one with a heart and a brain can peruse the morning paper without feeling at least a bit of despair at each read.

Second – life is a hard entertainment. Many of us scrabble by without having two nickels to rub together, as Aunt Pearl used to say. Some of us are unbelievable wealthy. Rich or poor, all of us will face sickness, disillusionment, loss, and death. If you’re lucky, there are good spaces in between. If you’re not, one poor measure flows into another.

Third- there are a lot of bad people in the world. Parasites and scavengers, they take without giving back. Always have been, probably always will be.

Fourth – our planet is a gorgeous home which we have not completely destroyed and probably never will. Damage and alter … to be sure … but destroy? My friends, even at our worst we are too puny a species to do that.

Fifth – all but one of the people I know personally are not parasites and scavengers. They are people who take in the stranger, the worn-out, the outcast. They work hard for their families and their communities with whatever talents and energies they were given. If they have two coats and you none they solve that problem easily. They befriend the other animals who cannot speak for themselves. They bring courage, honesty, kindness, and love to the table, and when I stand up finally to walk away from that table I am better for having spent the time with them.

It’s number four and five that carry me through. It’s realizing a while back that cynicism came too easily to me and made me a poisonous person to hang with, so I looked for that new pair of glasses … and found them.

So it’s New Year’s Day and I am going about the business of cleaning up and hitching up my big-boy pants for another 24 hours. You may find me at the grocery store, whistling in the canned goods aisle and trying to decide which can of corn will positively impact my future the most. I’ll let you know how it all goes down.

New Year’s Prayer, by Jeff Buckley

******

Addled Thoughts

Christmas Present is now Christmas Past. Only 364 shopping days left till the next one. Now all I have to do is get past the idea that a newly numbered year demands that I come up with some part of my ample library of faults that I pledge to get rid of. My plan this year is to resist that temptation with all my manly vigor. It has occurred to me that I may need all my faults. Every blessed one of them.

Those that I still have after all this time are such an integral part of my machine that who knows what would happen if I could expunge even one of them?

Let’s see … starting up my own story before the other person has finished theirs because my own is soooo much more interesting. Let’s say I resolved to get rid of that one. Let’s also say (which is so unlikely that I hesitate to even mention it) that I am successful. Suddenly there is a hissing noise and I begin to shrivel like a beach toy with an air-valve problem.

And then there I am, a flat bag upon the beach of life.

Nope. Not going to happen. I’m hanging on to them all, even that one that makes you grind your teeth. Learning to accept me and my horde of horribles will become your opportunity for personal growth. It’s my indelible contribution to society and the world.

I feel really good about this decision. I think it’s the right one for all of us.

******

******

So what sort of world do we live in? Where the chief executives of some of our states are shipping bewildered human beings to other states to make their point. Which is what? That several generations of leaders have failed to come up with a workable plan to deal with the problem of immigration? Leaders of all political stripes and persuasions? That these same outstanding citizens would rather offer grandstand plays than their version of a solution?

I would be much more impressed if Governor Abbott himself showed up carrying a sign on a winter night to demonstrate outside of the vice-president’s home. Instead of slithering around a warm and comfortable Texas governor’s mansion on Christmas Eve while his minions drop poor people off buses onto frigid streets.

In this world we are afforded way too many opportunities to use the challenge issued by Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. This is one of them. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last, have you no sense of decency?”

I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician, by The Byrds

******

Moving right along. Robin and I have developed the excellent habit of giving each other Christmas gifts that we actually use. Shopping in December provides constant reminders to senior citizens of the unpleasantness that occurs when cold weather seeps through worn garments and reaches the skin.

So under the tree there is always something warm to wear. A sweater perhaps, or a fleece hoodie. Slippers with deep pile to protect those poor feet that get so little respect. Something we can remove from the wrapping paper and immediately put to use. We give gifts now that are rarely exciting, but are always welcome. Could be worse.

******

******

One hour after I typed the above entry, and this would be early Monday morning, a minor calamity struck yours truly. At first I became aware that there was a clenched fist in my stomach which was not one of mine. How it got there I’ll never know. An hour later the fist was succeeded by a completely uncalled-for amount of retching. An hour after that, the rest of the wonderful adventure that is gastroenteritis took hold of me.

At that point I placed myself in isolation in my bedroom, hoping that this unwanted gift I had received would not spread to our guests. So far they are all well, and I have no idea where my own illness originated. Perhaps Santa has now switched from leaving lumps of coal in errant children’s stockings to leaving microbes behind as more forceful remembrances.

By five p.m. I am sitting up and taking fluids, so my survival seems to no longer be in question. But I am not much help to Robin as co-host with some variant of the plague. I will owe her when this is all behind us. Big time. Actually, I owed her big time before this happened, so … big big time?

******

The headline on CNN read: Russian sausage magnate dies after hotel fall in India. This caught my eye because I have made it a point to follow the careers of Russian sausage magnates for years. Apparently he was a happy fellow vacationing in India when suddenly it occurred to him to jump from the third floor window to the pavement below.

Things like this have a habit of happening to lots of Russian magnates, not just those in the sausage industry. They have accidents or commit suicides or simply are found dead and no cause of death is ever listed. It makes one wonder what is a safe occupation to have these days in Mother Russia?

Speaking for myself, if I were going to jump from a hotel window, I think I would book a room on a higher floor. In this case, three were enough, but there is always the small chance of survival at this height, and who wants to wake up in the hospital with everything broken?

******

There is a line in this performance by Tori Amos that catches my heart. “When you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do.” Nuff said, I think.

******

To Thee And Thine

I never thought I would say this, but at this time of year I miss Bill O’Reilly a teensy bit. His smarmy programs would reliably trot out the nonexistent War On Christmas each year just to get his viewership enraged. For myself, I never failed to be amused by this. I thought that if there really was such a war, it was being lost as badly as the War On Drugs has been.

In fact, during my lifetime the Christmas season has taken over more of the calendar than it ever did. The advertisements warning us to get out there and shop our little butts off used to begin after Thanksgiving. Now they come out right after Halloween. There’s no reason to suppose that this trend will stop there, and I look forward to the Labor Day Christmas Sales that are undoubtedly in the offing. I’ll bet they will be doozies.

Silver Bells, by Edward Ka’apana

******

******

My advice, my friends, is not to watch this video clip I borrowed from CNN unless you are prepared to have your life upended and your general level of paranoia about things in general doubled. Really … don’t watch it. I did and now I’m not sure what to do with the information.

Perhaps it was this single statistic that was the most alarming. This poisonous cloud expands at the rate of 1-2 meters per second, while I only move at the rate of 0.75 meters per second. My math tells me that every use of a pubic facility (where there are never any lids on commodes), is a bit like playing Russian Roulette when there is a bullet in every chamber.

So if you meet me on the street, and you see that my brow is furrowed and I seem distracted, it is because I am still processing. What to do when traveling?

It may mean that the only safe practice is to go back to what my parents did when I was a small child and I HAD TO GO RIGHT NOW! You stop the car along the highway, get out, and go into the cornfield far enough to have become invisible to passersby.

This approach, of course, would be useless where I now live. In the mountains there is a dearth of cornfields, and to get out of sight might require use of a sturdier four-wheel-drive vehicle than I presently own.

This dramatic research has prompted comments from our leaders around the country.

  • Joseph Biden: No kiddin’?
  • Nancy Pelosi: Who cares? Give me a few more months and I’m outta here.
  • QAnon: We have looked into the matter and found that all of these toilets were installed by Hillary Clinton, and they were manufactured in sweatshops where slave children were forced by pedophiles to build the mechanisms that cause this spray.
  • Anthony Fauci: Begin holding your breath as you reach for the flush lever, and don’t let that breath out until you’ve left the room. Then spray your face with hand cleaner.

******

This week President Zelensky of the Ukraine addressed a joint session of Congress. It was an extraordinary moment … this dramatic nonpartisan cheering for the man whose nation is caught up in a very unequal conflict.

Of course I am cheering the Ukrainians on, from inside a comfortably heated dwelling in a quiet village where the electricity is on, the shops are jammed with things I don’t really need but can’t wait to get my hands on, and I can go anywhere in town without worrying about bombs falling.

It is embarrassingly easy for me to shout “Go for it, Ukrainians, show Putin that he can’t get away with this crap.” Not only am I not suffering, I am not even inconvenienced.

Happy Christmas (War is Over), by John Lennon

******

******

After some prolonged navel-gazing the other day, I realized something about myself and Christmas. Each year, I begin the whole season armed with the full-bore-Dickensian-19th century-tra la la Christmas in my head. The whole thing. I have forgotten any disappointments, tragedies, irritations, faux pas, mistakes, frozen engines, stuck cars, cookie disasters, and miscellaneous maladies from past Christmases.

Gone. As if they never existed or happened. I become Scrooge yelling at the passing urchin to fetch the biggest and best turkey and send it to the Cratchits, if you please. And if you’re quick enough, my lad, there will be an extra farthing in it for you.

I am the kid lusting after the Red Ryder Carbine in spite of the undeniable fact that it is hazardous. (In fact, in real life I did get exactly that air rifle way way back there in the mists of time. And although I did not shoot my eye out, I did need cataract surgery seventy years later, and perhaps the two events were related somehow.)

I am James Stewart at long last realizing that with lovely Donna Reed waiting for me at home, why drown?

I am every error that Clark Griswold ever made in the movie Christmas Vacation, minus the squirrel. I was never involved with a squirrel .. well … except for that one time when I was eight and made a grab for one and it bit right through my thumb just like that.

By the time Christmas Eve finally rolls around, that imaginary English Christmas I begin with has taken a few hits, been chipped a bit, and is not nearly as shiny as it started out. But there is always enough left to charm my soul, to awaken the embarrassing sentimental parts of my brain that I can usually keep tucked away well enough that most folks don’t know about them.

So before I get too moist, Merry Christmas to you all from your neighborhood Buddhist geezer. I make you an offer. If you’re alone and life is getting you down right now, Zoom me and we can hum a tune or two together. Or if humming is out of the question, at least we can talk about how things these days aren’t what they used to be. Never get tired of that.

******

And finally. Got to play this one more time. It’s Little Drummer Boy as might have been envisioned by a marching band instructor at a military academy in 1776.

******

NMP*: Not my photograph. Usually borrowed for the day from the internet.

A Traitor Walks Into A Bar …

I’ve just been alerted that for some parts of the Rockies and the Midwest this will be the coldest Christmas in 40 years. Checking the maps it looks as if Paradise may escape this massive blunder by the gods in charge of such things, but for my friends in Minnesota … be sure you know where your snuggies are located before it hits. There is absolutely no point to ransacking closets looking for warm clothing while your fingers are turning blue.

The meteorologists’ term for all this nastiness is bomb cyclone. Something positively awful ferments in Canada and then makes its way toward US citizens who have never done that country any harm. At least nothing bad enough to warrant such treatment. Over the years whenever I have a passing thought that the USA is turning to merde du poulet, I begin to muse about emigrating to that northern expanse. And then I think … wait … where does all the ugly winter weather come from? And I put down the pen and crumple up my application for Canadian citizenship.

Because as cold as it sometimes gets here … at that same moment … it is always worse there.

******

Every president in our history has defended this orderly transfer of authority, except one.

Liz Cheney

The United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has wrapped it up and sent along their findings to the Justice Department. As far as committee members are concerned, former president cluck is a crook and a traitor, and he and a large number of his cronies deserve being given some special time to reflect and meditate while living in a Federal institution.

Now we’ll see where this all goes. Everything grindeth exceedingly slowly in proceedings with at much at stake as we have here, so taking the time to do it right … I get that. I would be tickled to death to drive the bus carrying His Celestial Orangeness to Leavenworth Prison (or wherever). I hereby officially volunteer for the job, and would accept no salary for doing my patriotic duty.

I will even pack bag lunches for the rest of the transport crew.

******

******

I have a guilty pleasure … a secret vice. No, it’s not pornography, or a cult membership, or even that I dabble in astrology. It’s none of these. But when I awaken early in the morning, plug in my earbuds, and have only myself to entertain … I will sometimes listen to ABBA.

The Name of the Game

Not every day, mind you, but frequently. There, I feel better, having come out.

I know that I may have lost the respect of many of you, but it’s true nevertheless. If you’re going to continue to read this thing, you’ll have to take me as I am.

I listen to pop pap.

.

Fernando

For what they were, and that is pop musical artists, I think that ABBA was close to perfect. Talented songwriters and musicians, beautiful women, and men unafraid to wear stretchy pants in public.

And even the name of the group is a cool acronym for its members – Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, Anna-Frid.

.

Yep, that’s it. Now I have nothing more to hide. Do with the information what you will.

Eagle

******

Had one of those online shopping kerfluffles yesterday. Robin had ordered a Christmas gift from Eddie Bauer for one of the kids. When the package arrived, its contents were not what she had ordered, but consisted of two men’s T-shirts instead.

So we got on the phone with Eddie’s customer service. The lady assigned to help us was a very polite person who was located in some exotic part of the world.

I related the problem, and then asked two things of her. Tell me how to get the items we wanted, and then tell me how to send back those we didn’t. Twenty minutes later, and after being put on hold twice, we had still not resolved these two issues. So finally when she said that our original purchases would be speedily put into the mails on that very day, I accepted the news with gratitude. (I could hear her supervisor in the background dictating what she should say to me.)

When she then asked: “Is there anything else I can do for you?, it was obvious that she had completely forgotten about those T-shirts that Eddie had no record of ever having sent to us. I did not remind her. To be honest, I didn’t have another twenty minutes of my life that I wanted to throw away. I will not keep the shirts, I think, but pass them along through the Salvation Army store.

I’m sure Eddie wouldn’t mind. He’s a great guy when you get to know him.

******

******

Only four more shopping days till Christmas. There are those for whom these words strike terror in their hearts. Cringelings who did not plan properly and must now scrabble through the leavings of more thoughtful shoppers. Forget sizes and color choices. Even if you are shopping online these have long since become limited. Yes, you can order the Saturday Night Delight from Frederick’s of Hollywood for your lady friend, but only if you want it in camouflage pattern and in size nano-petite.

For whatever reason, our cats don’t seem to be excited about the upcoming holiday at all. Of course, it might just be that they are pagans.

******

I’m All Right

I did something yesterday that I rarely do anymore … I listened to a Rod Stewart song. It was on the large iPod playlist that I use to try to escape the pains and boredom of exercising. The sound comes in loud and clear on the headphones as I drag my ancient corpus around the track at the Recreation Center.

Suddenly I was transported to the year 1971, the year that his third solo album came out. Mandolin Wind is the tune in question, which I find to be a delightful folk/rock song. Sometime soon after that the poor man had his operation and his music has never been the same.

What operation, you ask? Well, I answer, the one where he had his rock and roll glands removed, and which turned him into the schmalzmeister that he is today.

I think that it is informative to look at these two photos of the man, one from the early 70s (pre-op), and the other from 2012.

The pic on the left is of the rougher and sneer-ier young rocker, who wouldn’t have cared much what we thought about him. The one on the right is the nose-bobbed and gelded version who might be saying “Look at this swell suit I bought, just for you.”

But let’s listen to Mandolin Wind one more time and think back to a time when juices still flowed and hairdos cost less than $500, shall we?

Mandolin Wind, by Rod Stewart

******

A Dick Guindon cartoon

******

In anticipation of guests coming at Christmas we’ve been cooking up a few entrees and putting them in the freezer, trying to avoid the Grandma Jacobson syndrome, where the host spends most of the time in the kitchen doing meal preps, and then hovers at the periphery during the meal. “No, no, thanks, I’m all right … I’ll eat later,” was Grandma’s mantra.

Here’s a pic of Ida Jacobson and her husband Nels, taken around 1937. They were standing in their front yard, and that building you see on the right was the woodshed, where wood was chopped, tools were stored, and instruction was given when lessons on proper behavior were needed.

(Grandpa Nels was one of my heroes growing up, but for some reason in this photo he reminds me of a mobster in 1930s Chicago … think Tom Hanks in the movie Road To Perdition. I keep looking for the submachine gun.)

But to get back to being the host. Yesterday Robin and I put together what I think is a pretty decent lasagna, and froze it uncooked. The meat sauce, however, had to be cooked beforehand … and I nearly swooned while tasting it. (Those of you who hang around me know that I never come to a full swoon.) Starting with a recipe with the modest title of “World’s Best Lasagna” we weren’t quite sure what to expect, since the names of recipes online tend toward superlatives.

Whether or not it truly is the best lasagna recipe in the whole wide world, it’s about as much perfection as this country boy can handle. Anything more might bring on ecstasy and that could be the end of me.

I’m All Right, by Kenny Loggins

******

Our second Christmas movie to re-watch this year was Elf. It’s all a bunch of warm-hearted mindless nonsense but we like it. Afterward I was thinking how well Will Ferrell plays the buffoon, and that there aren’t many around who do that as well as he does. Robin Williams was a great one, but who else remains? So many of our modern comedians’ personas are too cynical to make it work for them.

Because it’s no small feat to play a simpleton in a way that is acceptable to audiences. If he’s too stupid they groan. If he shows too many signs of intelligence then much of his cavorting becomes infuriating. Ferrell basically plays the same character that he did in skit after skit on Saturday Night Live. He has got the schtick down pat. A master.

******

From The New Yorker

******

When I am forced to seek medical care, for whatever reason, there is something that I dread almost as much as whatever problem brought me through the clinic door, and that is TMI*. Because I have a medical background, sometimes physicians feel compelled to tell me much more than I need or want to know.

Let me give you a case in point.

A couple of years ago I had a by-god stroke that instantly made it nearly impossible to speak and brought on an odd sort of confusion. Fortunately I was riding in a car with Robin (my hero) who made all the right decisions, got me transported to a hospital, and in the ER they gave me the good stuff that dissolved the clot and returned me to my normal state of disrepair.

Here’s where the TMI comes in. When the neurologist came by he couldn’t wait to show me my scans and before I could muster the energy to refuse he demonstrated:

  • Where the clot was, before and after dissolution. (Kind of … interesting.)
  • How many other narrow places there were in the blood vessels in that brain that could plug up in other interesting ways. (Kind of … urk.)
  • How much my brain had shrunk due to aging, leaving enough empty space for a whole new organ to be stored in there if I needed. (Kind of … sheesh.)
  • Evidence of an old stroke that I had sometime in the past, in the cerebellum, which had damaged a part of the system that deals with balance and coordination. I am abashed to admit that my balance and coordination have always been so lackluster that I actually hadn’t noticed much change. Just one more part of getting on, I thought. (Kind of … who knew?)

The neurologist was so pleased to show me all of these things that I was glad for his sake that he’d stopped by. Whenever I can brighten someone’s day I am always glad to do so.

*Too Much Information

******

It’s 1:30 pm, the sun is shining, the temperature is 22 degrees, and Poco is out in the backyard sleeping alongside the fence while lying on a slab of limestone. That is one tough old bird. For myself, even watching him through the window is threatening to bring on chilblains.

A delicate constitution like my own must be protected at all times from meteorologic extremes. Why, the slightest blanching of the tip of one ear when outdoors is enough to trigger 911 calls and ambulance rides. There is no such thing as being too cautious, not in my book.

ERDoctor: But sir, I can find nothing wrong with your ear, nothing at all

ME: That’s because you are trusting your eyes alone, while I must listen to the very cells of that organ screaming in terror. It’s more than I can bear, I tell you!

ERD: Mmmmmm, let me look again (takes a large magnifying glass in hand to do his examination) … you know, there might be something there … don’t know how I could have missed it.

ME: What – what – what do you see?

ERD: There’s an area about 1.0 mm by 0.5 mm that is slightly erythematous and that redness is not present on the opposite ear.

ME: Omigod – erythematous – I had no idea … it’s already advanced to that stage! Have I got here in time, or will I lose the whole thing and have to wear odd-shaped caps for the rest of my life?

ERD: Oh, I believe we can save it, but you’ll have to follow my instructions to the letter. Can you do that?

ME: Doctor, you don’t know this, but when up against terrible odds, I positively shine. You have only to lay out the program and I will take it from there.

ERD: Alright, we will enclose it within a special thermorelief material called ultracotton

ME: Ultracotton, I like the sound of that

ERD: Then Nurse Falmouth, you know, the one whose bosom you have been giving such close attention during your time here in the Emergency Department?

ME: Yes, yes, I know them … her.

ERD: She will wrap your ear and your entire head with the finest gauze that medical science has ever produced, and which is kept in reserve for just such situations as these.

ME: My whole head? Is that necessary?

ERD: You don’t want the wind to flap that tender organ about and further damage it, do you? We must anchor it to something dense, like your cranium.

ME: Of course, don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

ERD: And we would like your wife to drive the car right up into the ambulance bay, an area protected from the weather, where several orderlies will assist you in the transition from hospital to automobile. Nurse Falmouth, of course will oversee the operation.

ME: I am so impressed with your professionalism and efficiency. And the follow-up on my injury?

ERD: Please keep the entire dressing in place for 5 days without disturbing it. At the end of that time you may take the whole thing off and toss it.

ME: When would you like to see me again?

ERD: We positively guarantee 100% recovery, sir, and the good news is that you don’t have to come back to see us. Not now, not ever.

I Don’t Need No Doctor, by Ray Charles

******

Fearsome Panther

NORWEGIAN BACHELOR FARMERS STARVE TO DEATH IN FAD DIET

From Av Gammel Og Ung, December 10, 2022.

The Trosseth Brothers, Ole and Olaus, who lived just outside of Fergus Falls a few miles, were found dead as doornails in the kitchen of their bachelor home on Friday. Their bodies were lying on the kitchen floor in front of the the refrigerator.

I checked with Elsie, a friend of theirs and a waitress who works at the Bluebird Cafe, and she said that she hadn’t seen them for several days. In fact, it was Elsie who asked Herb from the hardware store to stop in and check on them on his way home, which led to the discovery of the unfortunate duo. “I liked those boys,” she said, “but I never thought they were quite right in the head.”

Elsie also said that the brothers had become concerned recently that their Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls were getting a little snug, and rather than get new ones they decided to lose some weight. Too bad for them that they chose a new fad diet that was posted on the bulletin board over to the Sons of Norway clubhouse. It was the Mixed Nut Diet.

In this diet a person is allowed to eat only the sort of unshelled mixed nuts that you put out in a dish around the Christmas holidays. You just crack and eat and crack and eat until you are the weight you want to be, and then go back to what you were doing before all the fuss started.

Apparently the Trosseth Brothers seriously overshot their endpoint, and kept going until they were too weak to change their minds. Sheriff Peterson thinks that’s why they were by the refrigerator when they bought the farm.

I talked with Mabel, the nutritionist over to the Sunset Home and asked about this diet, which I had never heard a darn thing about. She told me that it had been studied at a university and quickly tossed out, when it had been found that it just took too long to shell enough nuts to stay alive. A bunch of university students who volunteered for the study got real sick, and it was touch and go for a couple of them before they shut the darn thing down.

If you know of anyone who is trying this bit of loony-ness, please contact Sheriff Peterson and request that he make a “welfare visit.” If you know the people pretty well, you might take a big bowl of rice pudding over for them to chow down on while they’re waiting for the sheriff to arrive. Couldn’t hurt.

******

Being Mortal, continued from previous post

Atul Gawande writes in Being Mortal that he was impressed by the work of Susan Block, a woman who heads a hospice program at the Massachusetts General Hospital and who has a list of questions that she attempts to cover with sick patients in the time before any decisions have to be made about their future care.

  • What do they understand their prognosis to be? Has someone sat down with them and taken the time to lay out the seriousness of what they are facing?
  • What are their concerns about what lies ahead? Pain, suffering, spouses and children left behind, how long can I continue to work?
  • What kinds of trade-offs are they willing to make? Chemotherapy and/or surgery vs doing nothing. Hospice? At-home care vs hospital? Putting off therapy for specific reason – wedding, graduation, vacation trip, etc?
  • How do they want to spend their time if their health worsens? Doing everything medically possible vs deciding what activities or interests they would especially like to pursue for as long as time allows?
  • Who do they want to make decisions if they can’t? Spouse, children … ?

Being Mortal is not light reading, but while these topics might seem gloomy and best avoided for as long as possible, it’s one of those situations where reality bites a bit at first, but it provides a starting point which is ultimately freeing.

An overriding theme of the book is that we can continue to write our personal story even when time is growing very short for us. Or we can be swallowed up in a system that is centered purely on survival, which is not the same thing at all.

******

I first ran across the song Going Home on a recording by folksinger Odetta. I was captured by its simplicity and beauty at first audition. It is based on a passage from Dvořák’s New World Symphony. I would have played that version for you, but it was one of the songs that was lost when my computer lost its mind two years ago. It was part of an album that is out of print.

Fortunately, YoYoMa’s group has this beautiful recording for us to listen to.

******

******

Did you know that there was such a thing as an American Lion? I didn’t. Not until this morning when I read an account of finding fossils of the animal in at two sites in the same week. The location: the drying-up riverbed of the Mississippi River. This critter has been extinct for 11,000 years, which has something to do with the excitement that these discoveries have produced among fossil-finders.

And this was some special pussycat. Here is a photo showing the American lion femur at left, and compares it with that of other large predators.

This little kitty stood four feet high at the shoulder, and would have weighed up to 800 pounds. It would have been the sort of creature that would have had my undivided attention should our paths have crossed a few thousand years ago. Of course my own thoughts would have turned to how to make my getaway, while the lion’s would probably have simply been = dinner.

Here’s what the experts think it looked like. Like I say … undivided attention.

The scientific name for the cat is Panthera atrox, which is translated as “fearsome panther.”

No kidding.

Wimoweh, by The Weavers

******

Vagaries

You may notice the post’s title has changed from the one in the email you were sent. That’s because I
made an alteration and then published the post without changing the name. Mea culpa.

******

One of the least often used glands in my body is the one responsible for careful planning. I even forget its name. In thinking about what to serve to our upcoming guests, we decided to have beef fondue on Christmas Eve. It’s a nice way for four people to have a leisurely meal and conversation. We’ve done it many times.

So we went looking for our fondue pot and came up empty-handed. Ditto the plates and specialized forks used in the cooking process. It turned out that both of us had forgotten that we donated our fondue set to the Salvation Army Store a couple of years ago as something we used too seldom to keep around.

Of course, now I want to have that fondue dinner more than anything. It takes all of my will power not to sit down at the computer and order gear to replace what we gave away. So why do I resist the impulse? Because there is no certainty that we would not be repeating history in another year or two, imagining once again that we need the space.

******

Old age isn’t a battle: old age is a massacre.

Philip Roth

I love this quotation of Philip Roth’s. Who knows what got him up that day in such a rueful mood, but there is certainly an underlying truth in it. Let’s face it, our bodies were never meant to endure as long as they do now.

Experts keep telling us that we begin our physical decline well before we are thirty. The good thing is that most of us are unaware of this fact until later on, when we find that our body seems to be trying to set new limits. When we find one day that that ankle sprain now takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r to heal.

So while becoming an octogenarian may not be exactly a crime against nature, I accept that it is distinctly unnatural … perhaps a misdemeanor.

******

******

Colorado passed a law regarding single-use plastic bags. There is an outright ban scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Between that date and Jan 1, 2023 there will be a 10 cent charge per bag charged to the customer.

Some local businesses are going right to implementing the full ban, and skipping the annoyances associated with collecting all those dimes. Some are not. Either way it’s a step in the right direction. Those who make the bags have had plenty of warning that laws like this one were on their way to the books eventually.

Perhaps one day we’ll look back fondly on the good old days when roadside ditches looked like this and rural fence lines were the last stopping place for legions of dangling sacks.

I can see possible conflicts arising at the grocery store during the dime per bag phase. Some packers at our local City Market don’t put many items in each sack, and now shoppers will be watching that more closely to cut costs. On the other hand, put too many pieces in and you risk bursting.

Customer: Here there, what are you doing? You can get more in that sack.

Employee: But do you want the bag to bust open on the way out of the store?

Customer: Then double bag it.

Employee: You know that in that case there will be twenty cents added to your bill?

Customer: (Turning to cashier) Is that right?

Cashier: That’s right.

Packer: Just let us do our job, if you would, kind sir.

Customer: But this is larceny! Where is the manager?

Packer: In his office, with a terrible headache.

Customer: Migraine?

Cashier: Bag complaints.

Of course we could avoid all this drama by bringing reusable sacks with us. As we might have done without needing to be legislated into it.

******

******

I just finished a book that I should have read during my pediatric residency. It’s called “Being Mortal,” and is written by Atul Gawande MD. Perhaps I would have taken the time to read it, but the problem is that it wasn’t published until 2014. And you wouldn’t think a pediatrician would need a book that is described in the following way.

Being Mortal is a meditation on how people can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death. Gawande calls for a change in the way that medical professionals treat patients approaching their ends. He recommends that instead of focusing on survival, practitioners should work to improve quality of life and enable well-being. Gawande shares personal stories of his patients’ and his own relatives’ experiences, the realities of old age which involve broken hips and dementia, overwhelmed families and expensive geriatric care, and loneliness and loss of independence.

Wikipedia: Being Mortal

So why should I have read it? Because I was for the longest time such an admirer of the technology of medicine that “going for the gold” in most cases wasn’t seriously questioned. I could have stated my motto in this way: Is there more we could do? Well, then, let’s do it! My attitudes changed after seeing that the technology, the shiny hospital stuff, and the brand new drug or technique led to unhappy endings too often for me to be so cavalier. And it also led to the patient’s increasing dependence on us, the providers, as well as the frustration and anger of family members when things didn’t go as planned, as nearly always happened in complex illnesses.

Through the years, I began to clearly see the flaws in the practice of “doing everything,” all the time. That it was important to press the pause button periodically. My own difficulty was that now I was facing a new motto: If I don’t do everything … then what do I do?

These days I am not applying what the book has to teach us to my clinical practice, but to my life. Because the author isn’t talking about kids, but about doctors and geezers and the trouble we get ourselves into just by keeping on breathing, one day after another.

.

Seems to me that reading these stories would be helpful to everyone who knows (and/or loves) someone who is scheduled to flutter or limp off this mortal coil one day. Wait … that means just about everyone, doesn’t it?

(To be continued)

******

Saturday afternoon the sun shone, the wind did not blow, so I layered up and took a bicycle ride out into the rural. This is what I saw.

******

While making a short run across town yesterday, while Robin was captive in the passenger seat of the Outback, I was pontificating about the changing location of gear shifters in cars over the years. On the floor, on the steering wheel shaft, and on the dashboard as both pushbuttons and levers.

Our present car has the shifter on the center console which is only possible because front bench seats are so out of vogue. When I was a breathless adolescent, nearly all of the sedans had bench seats, which allowed one’s date to slide over and be oh-so-close during the trip to the movie or wherever. It also allowed the driver to assess how the date was going by the position of his passenger’s body.

When your date was right next to you, that was delightful and confidence-building. If she placed a foot or two between your posterior and hers, perhaps you had some work to do on the relationship. But if she was all the way over to the right side, had her window down, and was hanging her head out the opening and shouting “WHY ME?” to an uncaring universe, you might as well take her home because things were not going well at all.

The Indifference of Heaven, by Warren Zevon

******

Day of Infamy

Today happens to be Pearl Harbor Day. Usually days special enough to be commemorated are good ones, but this one calls us to remember a betrayal, the Japanese attack on U.S. naval installations in Hawaii which occurred on the morning of December 7, 1941. It was the event that brought about an immediate declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. Three days later Germany and Italy, declared war against the United States, and we were off and running into World War Two.

I was only six when that war ended, but seven of my uncles served in the armed forces during the war, and I have memories of them in uniform, the comings and goings of hordes of soldiers and sailors at railway stations, the food rationing that was endured, and the horrible stories that began to come back from the war zones. Even though the adults tried to shield the children, we learned names like Nanking, Dachau, Auschwitz, et al. through the childhood grapevine.

On the news tonight was a report of a dinner that ex-president Cluck gave recently for some holocaust deniers, Hitler sympathizers, and white supremacists. Sickening.

******

******

Way way back in a day when there were things called malls that actually had record stores where you bought and owned (how quaint a notion that was) a music album, I ran across singer/songwriter Chris Whitley.

I was spending my lunch hour going through record bins, looking for something new, when up popped this CD with a drifter-looking guy on the front. I’d never heard of him but it was the photo that sold me. Through the years I have bought a lot of crappy music because of interesting album cover art, so it wasn’t like I have some special powers for divining content through imagery. But this time … I struck it rich.

One listening to the album … no, just listening to the first cut, and I became a Chris Whitley fan for life. That record, Living With The Law, is still in regular play at mi casa. It never wore out its welcome. What would be my word for it? … I don’t know … maybe haunting.

Whitley lived a life, a friend of his said, “where he went to the edge of the world, and looked over.” He smoked too much, drank too much, and died in 2005 of lung cancer, at the age of 45. So far I haven’t seen a single photograph of him where he looked healthy. There is a movie-length documentary of his life on YouTube. If you like his music, it’s a place to go to round out what you know about him. Watching the film, it’s interesting to see the other characters … musicians, producers, friends … trying to describe what they know in their hearts is indescribable.

Sometimes when music comes at you it blows right past all your defenses and leaves your vocabulary behind. That was the case for me, with Chris Whitley.

Living With The Law
Poison Girl
Dust Radio

******

******

The cartoon above tells a truth, doesn’t it? Especially during the summer travel season, one of the most dispiriting scenarios is this: you have driven as far as you can for the moment, and have reached the point where hunger pangs and bladder spasms have hijacked the functions of your mine entirely. Seeing a sign for “FOOD” ahead you pull off at the interstate exit and into the restaurant parking lot, just in time to see a bus containing eighty Australian travelers disgorge its contents into the establishment.

You realize two things. One, that the aims of each of these men and women is the same as yours, to first find a restroom and to next be fed. Two, that it will be a very long time before any waitperson gets to the shabbily improvised table behind the coat rack to which you have been assigned. In fact, the view from that table is of an unswept corridor rather than the dining room.

So you sit listening to a bunch of Outback chatter as orders are taken, painfully slowly: “No, we don’t serve wallaby here, never have.” It’s quaint and amusing and all that, but in your heart of hearts you are wishing for a plague just bad enough to empty a few tables and in so doing move yourselves closer to the front of the line.

On the flip side, what greater pleasure than to enter a nearly empty restaurant, get a very good table, have a waitperson appear instantly to take your order, and then see those eighty folks from Down Under come through the door. Your appreciation of your meal is enhanced as you realize the caliber of the bullet you have just dodged.

Ahhhh … the gap between despair and ecstasy is often such a narrow one.

******

Speaking of ecstasy, an allegedly decorous production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover has come our way, and is now streamable on Netflix.

Having grown up in a household where sex wasn’t so much repressed as unacknowledged, I was eager to read the book, which in 1959 had only then escaped from censorship here in the U.S.. I purchased my paperback copy at a campus bookstore but had to wait until I got home to crack it open and find out finally what all the fuss was. About sex, that is.

I wasn’t disappointed, although it did strike me that there seemed to be a lot more dialogue associated with the act of having sex than I had imagined. Something which, in my experience observing animals on the farm, was largely absent among them, as were foreplay and the post-coital cigarette. In those cases it seemed to be a case of contented grazing followed by a sudden violent obsession followed by the renewal of contented grazing.

I haven’t revisited the book since 1959. I suspect that I might find it less revolutionary now, so I’m going to start by watching the movie to see what the Lady and the good old gamekeeper are up to these days. After that, well, we’ll see about re-reading the book.

.

******

For men of a certain age, the movie Jeremiah Johnson was one of those films that took you to a place where you could so easily fantasize about living a life completely free of any restraints not imposed by nature. Like a man oughta live, you know? Never mind that few of us had the skills necessary to survive more than a fortnight in the wilderness. Any fantasy worth its salt easily dispenses with such trifles.

But there was a line in the film that resonated with me as a younger man, and does so a little more with every year that passes.

“I’ve been to a town, Del.”

******

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This …

J: So glad to see you again, Ragnar. I treasure our little chats, they come around so seldom.

R: Well, being a disembodied spirit is not all fun and games. I’ve got lots of territory to cover.

J: There’s a great demand for your advice?

R: You better believe it.

J: Enlighten me.

R: The problem most people have is perspective. But when you can call on a man with centuries of experience, well, what can I say – it sharpens things up a bit.

J: As in?

R: All this fuss about January 6, 2021, for instance. The whole story just makes my axe-arm itch.

J: Yes?

R: The problem is with the lawyers dragging things out, you know

J: I do, indeed.

R: Back in Kattegat, where there were none of those, we would have had this all settled by January 7. It would have been clip-clop and the whole business would have been behind us. Then we could get back to pillaging as quickly as possible.

J: I see.

R: And for a Viking, pillaging is where it’s at, you know. We’re men of action, not farmers.

J: There is poor soil in Norway?

R: You bet. I’d rather have freezing salt water in my face for a week than scratch in the dirt for one hour.

J: I didn’t realize you felt that strongly about it. But could we get back to the January 6 proceedings? What would be your advice to the United States?

R: Clip-clop. And the sooner the better.

******

******

I have almost reached maturity, and am of an age where I believe that I don’t have to make any accommodation to b.s. any longer. If I am at a public gathering and someone begins to spout nonsense, I grant myself carte blanche to get up and walk briskly to the door. If I see any in print, that page goes to the bottom of the birdcage.

These days it is hard to decide where in our fine country that the greatest amount of b.s. is being produced, but right up there hustling for the #1 slot has to be the state of Texas, which is presently trying to enshrine in law statements that should be a complete embarrassment. That providing evidence-based medical care to children with gender dysphoria is child abuse. The hearings are a circus, where the sputterings of clownish M.D.s with no experience or expertise in the field are being put up against the testimonies of doctors who are actually knowledgeable.

At some point in my long career I began to notice that many of my colleagues were dunces. Oh, they had made it through med school and residencies, but that can require little more than a good memory and a willingness to put in the time. Getting that M.D. degree does not at all guarantee that you are a thoughtful person. Many of these ignorant bozos are now testifying in Texas. There is no reason to give more weight to the utterances of such men and women than to those of somebody you find sleeping it off in an urban doorway. (A problem for M.D.’s especially is that if enough people listen to you, you begin to get the idea that what you have to say is important. Not just on subjects that you know something about, but on everything.)

Who knows how the mess in Texas will come out? It is one more instance of the anti-science and anti-knowledge campaigns that have become so popular on the political right being passed off as truth. It’s not really about the care of children. People are using the issue to press their claims that there are men and there are women and that’s that. No variations allowed. Unless Bobby and Sally have a regular old nuclear mommy and daddy it gives these people such a headache. To try to sort out trans from cis and gay from straight … well that’s just too much trouble.

I confess that I am unsure as to what is the very best way to raise an LGBTQ child. I am also unsure as to what is the very best way to raise a straight child. But in both instances, I have no confidence at all in the ability of a clot of politicians to inform me.

.

The Story, by Brandi Carlile

******

On the well-worn subject of bathroom confusion. Signs like this one that are popping up I find amusing, and perhaps say all there is to say. No matter who wanders into the restroom that I am using, as long as they don’t bother me they are welcome to the next stall. If they need paper because their dispenser is empty, I will help in any way that I can.

******

******

Reading a fluff piece this morning, it was about a man who was described as a soccer player, entrepreneur, and influencer. It came as a sudden shock to me as I read it that I am so far out of the mainstream that I am no longer being influenced. By anyone.

I am basically a shoddily preserved version of my 1950s self. I’ve only changed my haircut, and that had to happen because the amount of scalp hair had thinned to where I was forced to do something different to avoid being snickered at as I passed.

And one absolutely hates being snickered at when one passes.

But here I am wearing the same styles of clothing, listening to the same sorts of music, using the same slang phrases that I did in high school.

Maybe I should be looking into some of the modern alternatives. Tighter pants … looser pants … higher or lower rise jeans … more bling … this scent or that … exploring the world of mascara … it’s exhausting to think about.

But, I ask myself, why bother? Who would even notice or care? To tell the truth, if I were to show up nude in the public square the shopkeepers would probably call animal control.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be locked into the 1950s after all. At least the parts like where Bill Doggett’s most famous composition was drifting over the hot asphalt of the streets of West St. Paul MN on summer evenings in 1956.

Honky Tonk Part 1, by Bill Doggett
Honky Tonk Part 2, by Bill Doggett

******

OFFICIAL NOTICE

The Christmas Village is now up and running on the sofa table, which declares the holiday season open here at BaseCamp. At one point, several dwellings ago, we had around 30 buildings in the set. We’ve given most of them away as our living space has grown smaller, and are now down to the ones you see here.

There are going to be no further reductions. No mas. Even if we moved to a tiny home or a remodeled shipping container, we are bringing these with us.

To us it’s the small stuff of Christmas that we enjoy more and more each year. A little Christmas Village here, a pine garland there, bake a few cookies, you know the drill. No longer are we the prisoners of competitive home decoration, outlandish gift wrappings, and having to bake enough cookies and pastries for the regiment. It’s good riddance to all of that, as far as I’m concerned.

This is going to be an unusual Christmas, since we will actually have several guests over the holiday. On one day or another, we are hosting Ethan, Sian, Justin, Jenny, Kaia, and Leina. That will be lovely, but even when it’s just Robin and I, we happily sit ourselves down and talk over Christmases past with one another. Not only the ones we have shared, but all the way back as far as our individual memories can take us, way before we got together.

It never gets old for me. Of course part of that is because my memory has so many holes in it that I hear every story for the first time. When a friend says “Stop me if I’ve told you this one,” I never stop them. It’s all brand new.

******

Being A Nobody

We’re having another of those wee small hours of the morning snowfalls as I write this. Poco came in a few moments ago with something he just had to talk about right then and he woke me up to discuss it. When I reached over to pet him, hoping he’d go back to sleep, my hand ran through wet fur which meant he’d already checked out the weather and found either rain or snow out there in the beyond. Grumbling to myself, I got up to check.

Pure white flakes, quietly dropping straight down through the beams from the porch light. Pretty mellow thing to see, even at one a.m. .

My most profound experiences with snow came when I lived in the UP of Michigan. Snowfalls there were gorgeous things, usually windless, and amazing to behold. The only drawback was that one snowfall could literally go on for days. That meant that even as you stared in wonder at how lovely weather could be, your delight was marred by knowing that someone (you) was going to eventually have to go out and dig pathways through that stuff in order to escape to the larger world.

It also meant that when you answered a three a.m. call and made a trip down the hill to the hospital you might not be able to get back home when you had dealt with the problem. Because the snowplows only went out in the morning … one time … and you were on your own after that until the next day. There weren’t enough dollars in the local treasuries to cover plowing snow all day long.

The most snow our family saw in the UP was the year that the record was broken. Three hundred and sixty inches that year. By February the only thing you could see from the windows of our one-story house was piled-up precipitation, front and back. Even our snow blower was overwhelmed … where do you blow it to when you are in a narrow canyon that is seven feet high?

But this morning I can watch without worry. When daylight comes I will scrape away the couple of inches that have fallen, the sun will melt away whatever I miss, and life will go on without all that drama.

These few photos below are not mine, but they do show something of the flavor of the area in winter. For some reason during those UP years, I never felt like taking pictures of the stuff. Probably hivernal depression.

.

50 Words for Snow, by Kate Bush

******

******

Granddaughter Elsa shared with me a couple of restaurant reviews to brighten my morning. She is well acquainted with my dry and occasionally twisted sense of humor, as well as my delight whenever I run across particularly heartwarming examples of human quirks and oddnesses. She found two restaurant reviews that dealt with the Cracker Barrel chain.

What is great about both of these is the sort of detail that you might expect in a review of a Michelin three-star establishment. Only here it is applied to a chain that has no stars at all.

I have always loved Cracker Barrel, even since I was a kid. I even happily worked there for several vears and in two different states. But since founder Sam Evans passed away they have been declining and this visit was better than some but still not up to the quality Cracker Barrel standards. I will start with the positive.

First our server was very nice and she kept my tea filled. My husband’s coffee was kept filled and warm as well. The biscuits were like delicious pillows. It’s been a while since I have had them that good. I liked that even after sitting on the table for awhile the gravy and grits didn’t turn thick like paste. Okay now for the not so good parts. When we first walked in even though they were not busy nor was the dining room full by any means but the hostess seemed to be moving in slow motion. We asked for a kids menu and were given 2 but no cravons.

Instead of seating making sure we had space were seated right next to another table which is fine if your busy not when you are half empty.

My bacon came out visibly burnt. The hash brown casserole which is one of my favorites was mushy and had no texture. The dining room was very cold especially for a rainy spring morning. The divider wall next to use didn’t look like it had been wiped down in quite awhile as seen in the photo included. I did not once see a manager enter the dining room.

robandmere

***

I had the grilled rainbow trout with mashed potatoes, green beans, one corn meal muffin and one biscuit. I also had the peach cobbler for dessert with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious. The rainbow trout looked dry, but it was wasn’t. It was moist and perfectly seasoned. The mashed potatoes were also moist. And so were the green beans.

My peach cobbler was mainly several slices of warm peaches in a dessert bowl with a lot of peach juice, and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. There was very little crust. It was very good. The portion sizes of the meals at Cracker Barrel are small in comparison to what they use to be before the economy shut down due to COVID-19. And the prices of their meals have either stayed the same or increased. The price of my meal was $13.09. The price of my dessert was $3.99.

NM

My favorite line might be “the rainbow trout looked dry, but it wasn’t.” This observer most certainly has special fish powers.

******

******

There are days when I rejoice that I am a nobody. A blessed state where absolutely nothing about my life would merit being made into a biopic. Today is one of those days.

Robin and I are watching The Dropout, a limited series streaming on Hulu. It deals with the saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the company she founded. Pieces of this story have been in the news for several years, and she was recently sent off to prison for fraud.

Two thing about this series. I’ve never thought much about Amanda Seyfried as an actress. I just didn’t see what was there. But in this series she displays some serious acting skills, as well as something you don’t find every day – a beautiful woman willing to appear haggard and harrowed for long periods of time.

The other thing is the part that makes me rejoice this morning. If someone made such a film about me, and took the dramatic liberties with my story that must have been taken to create this series, it would drive me mad.

My anal-compulsive nature would rise up until it overwhelmed the fragile behavioral cobweb that I call my sanity. Watching the movie I would be muttering continuously “No, I never said that,” or “That never happened,” or “Yes, I said that but meant something entirely different from the context here.” In short, I would have a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, just like Alexander in the children’s book.

So I can sympathize a bit with Ms. Holmes. Not only does she have to go to jail, but there is this to deal with. Maybe she’s lucky and doesn’t have television viewing privileges where she’s incarcerated. I’ll wish that for her.

Phone Call From Leavenworth, by Chris Whitley

******

Got Them Ol’ Tryptophan Blues

Friday Morning, Two A.M.

I am writing this post from flat on my back on Cot 137 in the Gastric Recovery Unit at Durango General Hospital. It is the place where those who are suffering from eating way more food on Thanksgiving Day than the human stomach was meant to hold are sent. Think of it as hospice for gluttons. You are assigned to a cot, rolled into some sort of gymnasium, and left to either get better or perish. The ER staff could really, I mean really, care less. They are having their own problems with that rarest of medical syndromes, pumpkin-spice burnout.

From my cot I can see the dim outlines of my gymnasium-mates stretching on for a hundred yards, and we are a pathetic sight. I feel sorriest for the kids, the young ‘uns who are here for the first time. Bewildered, disoriented, and wearing what they ate for dinner, many of them are crying out: “Mama, Mama, I didn’t mean it! I didn’t even like their pie, I don’t know what got into me. Please, Mama … come and take me home.”

For myself, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve seen it all, believe me. Today marks my 64th tour. They don’t tell you at the recruitment centers about scenes like this. No one would ever sign up. We all like to think of ourselves as tough and above this sort of behavior, and then somebody … someone who you used to think of as a friend … slides you a slice of pumpkin pie the size of a trashcan lid and in you go, knives and forks blazing. Next thing you know, you wake up in a place like this.

It’s brutal, it’s disgusting, it’s nearly unbelievable. But it is life in the gustatory trenches, and we’re better off facing the truth, I think. Excuse me, they are passing the antacid tray, I’ll catch you later.

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, by Warren Zevon

******

From The New Yorker

******

This morning I read an article about the state of the art in driverless trucks. With all the fuss in recent years about autonomous automobiles cruising around the country and occasionally running into harmless citizens I had never thought about a driverless Kenworth or Mack. How could I have missed these stories?

It gave me a chill.

It all started long ago with a short story* by Stephen King entitled “Trucks,” where a group of people are terrorized by evil semi-trucks operating by themselves. Ever since then, any mention of an 18-wheeler on the road without anyone visible in the driver’s seat is an automatic nightmare for me. There was a film made from this story back in the 1980s which was called “Maximum Overdrive.” I did see the movie (one so poorly done that Stephen King apologized to Emilio Estevez for directing him in it), but it was the original story which is a permanent implant in that pudding between my ears.

Imagine for a moment that you are seeing this in your rear-view mirror. Imagine that you have just realized that they are purposefully threatening you. Imagine that when the sun is just right that you see that there is no one at the wheel. Imagine that it is dark out.

Now go have your own nightmares.

So I am not kidding when I say that if it takes another twenty years to get these self-driving monsters on the road, that will be just fine with me, thank you very much. By that time I would hope that those I love have wrenched the car keys from my withered grasp and I am off the roads for good. I care not a whit how much commercial sense driverless trucks might make.

And BTW – when all of us are replaced at our jobs by robots and computer programs, who will buy the crap that the machines are making and the trucks are hauling? Moneyless people?

* The story is in the book Night Shift, King’s first published collection of short stories.

**

Below is a graphic from an advertisement for the movie, Maximum Overdrive. Perhaps you can get the feeling for why reading the short story might be a better use of your time.

Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man, by The Byrds

******

Last evening I spent an hour talking with a friend who is a devotee of Quentin Tarantino and of his movies. At the end of it all I felt like the small child in the fable who says “… but the Emperor has no clothes on.”

As far as I can see this director made one or two movies that were interesting in a way (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), but even they were marred by an obvious adolescent infatuation of the director with gore, torture, and rampant profanity. The next seven are copies of the first two in those same regards. It was blood for the sake of blood and the N-word for the sake of saying the N-word, along with f-bombs for those moments when he couldn’t come up with something more original. And this means a ton of f-bombs in each film.

Not one of his movies has a heart or a moral sense, which makes them little more than repetitious and uninteresting splatterfests. But, like I said, maybe it’s just me, and Tarantino really is wearing those beautiful robes that get so much print notice. But all I see is this middle-aged schlockmeister in the buff.

Wait … there’s at least one more of us who feels this way, the other being the author of a piece in the National Review entitled: “Quentin Tarantino is the Most Overrated Director in Hollywood.”

Recently Tarantino announced that he will be making only one more movie, and then he is going to quit. The choruses of “Oh Dear God, Quentin, say it isn’t so,”are making entertainment news these days. His fans wonder why … why?

I’m going to make a guess, and this is probably not the case, but I can imagine him waking up one morning last month, looking in the mirror and saying to himself : “Wait a minute! I just realized that I have spent my whole creative life making dreck! Well, it’s off to the monastery for me! I need to do some serious penance and to beg the forgiveness of the moviegoing public.”

Like I said, probably not the case.

******

From The New Yorker

******

I came home from the gym feeling decidedly overweight and unfit. Mocking myself, I turned to Robin with my arms akimbo and said: “What you may not realize is that beneath this jiggly layer is the body of a Greek God!”

Without missing a beat or cracking a smile she said: “I know that. I’ve always thought so.”

How many times can a guy be smitten?

******

Gracias Por Todo

Doppelgänger
noun
a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

Dictionary.com

I think that I found my doppelgänger in today’s Sunday New York Times, and it is the actor Charlie Hunnam. I don’t usually read articles about celebrities, but something drew me to this one.

The first thing you might notice is the obvious physical resemblance … chiseled body … devilish good looks … but here is a list of some other things he and I have in common:

  • Favorites in music include Tom Waits, Van Morrison, and Leonard Cohen
  • Loved the book Shantaram
  • Appalled by the nature of modern journalism
  • Thinks that Apple dropping the iPod from its line was a serious mistake
  • Admires Joseph Campbell and his writings
  • Prefers being out in the natural world to urban settings
  • Appreciates the virtues of cats

You can see why I might have been mildly stunned to learn all this at once. What with all those similarities, I can only hope that he doesn’t move to Colorado. People would be confusing us all the time.

******

As we watch (unable to avoid it) the Twitter debacle, keep in mind that the man in the picture is the same guy whose company puts out the Tesla automobile and who wants a select few to accompany him to the planet Mars.

The car, perhaps. The Mars trip, fageddaboudid. Too small a craft to share it with just anyone.

.

Life’s Been Good, by Joe Walsh

******

A Dick Guindon cartoon. It’s a Minnesota thing.

******

Tomorrow is our only national holiday devoted to eating too much. Oh, there will be lip service paid to gratitude said at tables around the country, but we’re really there to stuff ourselves, aren’t we?

Hey, could you please send the turkey down this way … please?

Maybe that’s exactly how it should be. Someone like myself doesn’t respond well to being told how they should feel on just one day in November. What I need would be a smartphone app that pops up every day and says: Here’s a reason to be appreciative, you ungrateful bozo!

Would someone wake up Dad, he’s face down in the gravy boat

I’m not going to reveal my personal gratitude list, it is way too long for casual perusal. And actually, it’s not important that you read it, but it is essential that I am aware of what’s on there.

You’re kidding. We’re already out of whipped cream? Who can eat pumpkin pie without whipped cream?

Why? For one thing, to cut down on my whiny days, when I go off wishing I had more stuff, or more people liked me, or that I was taller, or that I wasn’t so creaky in the mornings. I can tell by the expressions on the faces of my disappointed listeners that my whinges are often too petty to be believed.

Does anybody hear us? We need the stuffing here. Don’t make me come over there!

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that there has never been a day that there wasn’t something that I should have/could have been grateful for, even if it was just the strength to get through a rough patch.

Look out, will you? I’ll never get that cranberry stain off this shirt. Oaf!

So thanks to all of you for your gifts to me. If I can’t pay you back directly, I do promise to pay it forward.

Everybody look at the camera … George, have a care, there’s broccoli all over your teeth … Josh, sit still or I’ll have to slap you … seriously, are those the best smiles you have? … whose feral child is this, for god’s sake? … here we go … eyes all open now … CHEESE!

Thanks For The Dance, by Leonard Cohen

******

From The New Yorker

******

How about a dose of pure delight. Sharing the joy of a couple of scientists in the New Guinea bush who found the bird they were looking for . The video tells its own story.

******

(It is not a simple thing to find a short prayer of thanksgiving on the internet. So many of them go on and on, stanza after stanza. But I did find one that seemed modest and humble. There was no author listed.)

*

All that we have is a gift.
May we be thankful.
May we celebrate.
May we share.

*

Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly and the Family Stone

M. S. F.

(I am pretty sure that I am repeating myself with this post, but no matter … I will boldly go where I have gone before).

Now this will definitely give some of you a chill, but I actually used to teach medical students. In fact, I did so at some level during my entire time in the trenches. During my last few working years, I was heavily involved in the pediatric junior clerkship at the USD School of Medicine, where every eight weeks or so a group of innocents were ushered into my presence, and then from on high I would pass along one imperishable dictum after another, some of which I had made up only that morning.

There was, however, one story that I told nearly every group, and it involved a recitation of the first few lines of the poem by Rumi, “Cry Out In Your Weakness.”

A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.
A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world,
who rush to save anyone who cries out.
Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would tell the students that since they had deliberately chosen to be among the helpers who run toward the screaming, that they could give themselves a pat on the back for making that choice. That the best of them would spend their careers running to help those who were bleeding, vomiting, seizing, or losing it in ten thousand other creative ways. Events that many people might cross the street to avoid.

(Of course, not all physicians are noble souls, but in my lecturing I was addressing the better angels of the students’ natures).

There is one entire group of physicians that I have long admired greatly, those working in Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). These folks not only run forward to try to save the bear, but they go right into the dragon’s mouth to do it. In my tiny way I have supported this organization ever since I first became aware of its existence. Whenever money became available for charitable donations, MSF was at the top of my list of good places to send that dinero along.

Where does MSF do their good works? In more than 70 countries, as this 2021 graphic shows. If you are curious to learn more about them, clicking on this link to their website may be of help.

If you look closely at the graphic you will see that there are no MSF clinics or outposts here in Paradise. Of course not. This is Paradise.

******

******

We all know that the human population world is divided into two major groups, and those are morning people and evening people. I have always been in the former group. I personally think that this is the better of the two, but if you were to poll my own children, you might get different results. When they were growing up and too young to defend themselves, all four of them were evening people. To hear them tell it, living with me was therefore by definition a form of Hell.

One day one of my daughters let me know that having to answer such probing questions as How’s school? How are things going? What are you doing today? before breakfast was just too much to ask. Hunched over her beverage she looked up at me and said: Dad … get a life.

During her last two years in high school, I had admired what seemed to be another daughter’s industriousness. She would rise early, get herself dressed, and be off to school often even before I took my place seated at the kitchen counter. But years later I learned that she did this to avoid having to encounter me in my role as Mr. Smileyface, waiting like a garrulous spider at the center of my web.

Since then I have learned to temper my approach to the early hours of the day. I am no longer annoyingly exuberant, but quietly composed. Inside, however, I am churning with all sorts of cringe-inducing salutations and subjects that just have to be explored right this minute. If you ever stay overnight with us, be careful what you say to me anywhere near the coffeepot at dawn. I am easily triggered.

One More Cup of Coffee, by Bob Dylan

******

Former president Cluck has surprised … no one … with his announcement that he is once again a candidate for our highest office. On Tuesday he spit out a mouthful of embalming fluid and spoke at an event where he shared the astounding and completely unexpected news with a number of his followers.

Now those among us who still have some of our critical faculties in working order realize that this man’s previous performance as POTUS should disqualify him from running for anything but commissioner of cucarachas. But we live in a time where a narcissistic huckster can hijack a major political party. However, it was that same party of political masochists who opened the door and invited him to come in and beat them up … please. A party that now can’t get him to gather his cronies and thugs and go home. Cluck is one of those bad companions that their mothers warned them about.

I have little sympathy for the Red Party in all this. They collectively forgot what their job descriptions were. Something to do with supporting the Constitution and serving their country, I think it was.

******

******

One afternoon, after an exhausting session of trying to chew gum and walk which ended up with my going in circles in my own garage, I resolved to answer once and for all – do I have any chance of acquiring multitasking abilities? Because up until this time I have been a consistent failure at doing what many others seem to take for granted.

So I sent away a blood sample, specifically asking: Do I have any genetic material that would suggest that multitasking is something that I might learn, given enough time?

The answer came back almost indecently swiftly: NO. In fact, Mr. Flom, you have almost no such material at all. This is quite amazing, with your levels being about the same as the average axolotl, an amphibian so dim that it never learns to breathe on land.”

“In fact, we at the laboratory were wondering how you managed to type the letter accompanying your sample. Did you have help? Are you quite recovered from the effort it must have been for you?”

.

I prepared a lengthy reply to the sarcasm that was so obvious in the lab report, but while walking to the mailbox to post it I forgot what I was there to do, and so the envelope remained in my rear pants pocket until it had gone through the wash. At that point I abandoned the whole project.

******

And finally, if you have the sneaking suspicion that your doctor is ruder these days, you might be (gasp, cough, choke) correct. Medscape performs an online survey where they ask physicians if they have witnessed certain behaviors in their colleagues, and this year there was a small uptick. Here are the numbers from this years’s survey.

(Now keep in mind that the numbers below do not mean, for example, that 86% of physicians were bullies, but that 86% of physicians surveyed reported seeing such behavior during the year.)

  • 86% Bullying or harassing staff
  • 84% Making fun of patients
  • 55% Using racist language
  • 44% Being physically aggressive with patients
  • 43% Inebriation at work
  • 34% Lying about credentials
  • 30% Trying to date a patient
  • 27% Embezzling or stealing

When I looked over the list I thought back over my own professional lifetime and realized that I had seen all of these but embezzlement. In fact, when I was working in northern Michigan there was a situation where a small-town doctor was unmasked as an impostor. He had never gone to medical school at all, but had falsified the documents he was asked to produce. He had been working in this community for nearly ten years when he was exposed.

The most interesting part of the story was that while the medical societies and the legal authorities were going about prosecuting the man, the town itself wanted him back. They thought he was doing a terrific job. They went so far as to present a petition asking for his release and allowing him to return to the community.

Apparently a good bedside manner goes a long way. Sadly for the village, their petition was denied.

Vaseline Machine Gun, by Leo Kottke

******

A Word From Betty Crocker

I don’t know how many of you know the song Miss Otis Regrets. It is a tune about a lady who last evening down in lovers lane she strayed. When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone she decided to take things into her own hands. She ran to the man who had led her so far astray and from under her velvet gown she drew a gun and shot her lover down.

Later a mob came and took her and dragged her from the jail only to string her up on that old willow across the way. Being a woman of gentle birth and elevated social standing, the moment before she died, she lifted up her lovely head and cried, Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

It’s a durable song, composed by Cole Porter in 1934. Its exact origins are a bit obscure, and the curious among you can read varying accounts of how it came to be written here.

There are scads of covers available, but the one I chose for you is by an Englishman, Lonnie Donnegan. I’ve been a fan of his since 1957, when he brought out an album entitled An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs. I literally wore that record out.

.

Miss Otis Regrets, by Lonnie Donnegan

******

From The New Yorker

******

Just yesterday, while I was out puttering in the garage, I heard a large flock of sandhill cranes flying over, making their dinosaur noises. They were so high that I could only see them when the sun reflecting from their bodies was just right. ‘Tis always a wonder to see and to hear them, even at such distances.

Sandhill Cranes flying by

******

Last night we had a baked potatoes with our supper. Those with the requisite flaky insides and an outer skin so crispy and leathery that you could make handbags out of them. They were great. The reason for that success was that I finally gave up on decades of trying to divine how to do it properly, and followed a recipe. That simple. Truly a “doh” moment.

But while I was blissfully chewing away my brain chose to remind me that this was how all of the baked potatoes were served in my family of origin. Mom was not a gourmet cook, but she was a good cook. Everything she made tasted delicious, even if it did not break any new ground in the kitchen.

Her mainstay was the Betty Crocker cookbook, a looseleaf contraption in a ring binder with traces of food and/or vegetable oil on nearly every page.

My spice rack contains perhaps sixty little bottles of herbs and seasonings, but Mom did what she did with a much smaller armamentarium, less than a quarter of that. Condiments included ketchup, mustard, Heinz 57, A-1, and soy sauce. No gochujang, no tamari, no duck sauce, no hot sauce of any stripe, no chili-garlic sauce, no oyster sauce … you get the picture.

One of the reasons that so few seasonings worked that casserole recipes don’t generally call for much more than salt and pepper. And it was the casserole section of the cookbook that took the brunt of the wear, while the “how to cook the juiciest tenderloin” section was still pristine when she retired from cooking.

When you are feeding a very hungry family on a very limited budget, the casserole comes in awfully handy. There were mushroom casseroles, tuna casseroles, hamburger casseroles, salmon casseroles, SPAM casseroles, chicken casseroles, mac n’ cheese casseroles … the list has no end, being the product of whatever was in the refrigerator and how many cans of cream of mushroom soup were available.

And when we went out to eat (basically in Lutheran church basements rather than restaurants) there would be new casseroles galore to choose from. When my own children were small, I didn’t do much of the cooking, but I distinctly remember making a liver casserole one day that nobody would try. The five of them refused to even consider it as food. The dog and I were fine with it, although we did not take seconds.

So being one of the two cooks in my present family, I have a new appreciation for what Mom did with so much less than I have to work with. More respect.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Poco (cat) and I (human) are age-mates as well as old compañeros. Next year we will be exactly the same age, according to the calendar on the Purina website. Even though our lineage and DNA profiles are quite different, it seems we share more and more of life’s pleasures as time passes.

For one thing we are both increasingly scruffy with the passage of each new year. Our fur has become finer and can’t be brushed to anything close to the luster of the past. It also has developed the unfortunate habit of sticking out in directions that are completely uncalled for.

We both often walk into a room and then stop stock-still, knowing that we came in there for a reason but no longer having a clue as to what that was. At that point we invent something else to do now that we’ve made the trip. This strategy works pretty well except on the occasions when we have walked ourselves into a closet.

We both like very much to lie about in warm spots in the house, especially now that the colder weather has set in. The south-facing windows let in way enough sunshine for the two of us, making squabbling and competition unnecessary.

.

Sometimes when Poco looks directly at me he seems startled, with wide eyes and dilated pupils. I was putting this off onto being a symptom of feline dementia when it occurred to me that there was another possible explanation. He could be thinking to himself: “… and I am dependent on this guy for food and shelter? May the saints preserve us!”

******

How ’bout one more cut from An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs? For those who still think of themselves romantically as ramblers (although they might have forgotten how they used to do pull that off).

I’m A Ramblin’ Man, by Lonnie Donnegan

******

Talking Heads

To anyone who is bewildered by the hyper-nationalism, anti-immigrant stances, and vicious sexual politics of our present-day ultra right-wing politicians, I have a suggestion.

There is a book by William L. Shiner that was published in 1960 and is entitled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Now before you go all nubba on me with cries of “There he goes with the Nazi comparisons again,” that is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that the book details excellent examples of what political extremists of all stripes routinely do to get and retain power.

Their programs are completely predictable. You can almost write their speeches for them.

  • Find a group to demonize, and blame them for whatever serves your purpose (Jews, people of any color but white, gays, immigrants, etc.)
  • Attack the media as a pack of dishonest and unpatriotic jackals
  • Tell one lie after another until the public gets so confused they can no longer tie their own shoes
  • Claim that Armageddon will be here before we know it unless we elect their candidates
  • Enlist the aid of aimless knots of sociopaths to beat up opponents when all else fails
  • Wrap yourself in the flag and religion whenever possible; and for good measure always refer to your opponents as traitors, pedophiles, or pedophilic traitors

Shirer focusses on what happened in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s , but this process has been repeated all around the globe for seemingly forever. It is always the same story. And while it may work for a while eventually this house of cards tumbles, often to be followed by yet another house of cards from the other side of the political spectrum.

It is up to us ordinary folk to keep our heads when those “leading” us seem to be losing their minds. To realize that the extreme wings of any of our political parties are really never on anyone’s side but their own. It is in the boring middle ground, the unexciting centrist wad, where the important but unsensational work of true governance gets done.

Shirer was not a historian but a newspaperman. What this means is that the book is readable and rarely drags. It is amply annotated and referenced, and even though it is now a 62 year-old publication, it gives truth to the words of the song telling us that “everything old is new again.”

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen

******

From The New Yorker

******

I am doing a small amount of indoor painting. I put it off for as long as possible, but when I finally found Robin packing her bags to go look for a husband who was more responsive to our home’s needs, I relented.

I submit that this is a classic case of misdirection of resources. At the art of house painting I am awkward, distractible, and just the littlest bit untidy. I can without batting an eye cause dripless paint to drip. On the other hand, I excel at supervising others who are doing the work for me.

Me: look over there in the corner, I think a bit more paint is called for

Painter: Why, yes, thank you for pointing that out

Me: And have a care there, but you almost dripped on the carpet

Painter: Please pardon my almost-carelessness, I will be even more careful, if that is possible

Me: Is that quite the proper brush to use with latex paint? I thought something in a synthetic bristle was called for to avoid those ugly stroke marks

Painter: Do you see this brush in my hand? Not only is it perfect for using with this material, but it is also good for stuffing into gaping apertures, if you get my meaning.

Me: Taking umbrage, are we? You know that you are not the only contractor in town. Many others would be happy for the chance to do this job

Painter: Could you please retrieve my estimate for this work? That’s the ticket. Now would you cross out the final total, and write in a new one that is 50% higher? That is what I am adding on for all this help you are providing. And I advise you to take care … it could go much higher.

******

From The New Yorker

******

A tale of a father and a son, containing two tragedies and two memorable songs.

Tim Buckley was a talented singer/songwriter who had many failings, one being that he was not much of a family man. He left his first wife shortly before the birth of his son Jeff, and had very little contact with the boy after that. When Jeff was 8 years old his father died of a heroin and alcohol overdose. Along the way Tim may have recognized some of his shortcomings when he wrote the song I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, which referred to his first wife and his son.

I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, by Tim Buckley

**

Jeff Buckley also grew up to become a musician and a singer/songwriter and went on to have a distinguished career of his own in music, releasing his first album in 1994, which was entitled Grace.

Grace won appreciation from a host of revered musicians and artists, including members of Buckley’s biggest influence, Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page considered Grace close to being his “favorite album of the decade”. Robert Plant was also complimentary, as was Brad Pitt, saying of Buckley’s work, “There’s an undercurrent to his music, there’s something you can’t pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there’s something going on underneath, and there’s a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just … it’s under my skin.” Others who had influenced Buckley’s music lauded him:  Bob Dylan named Buckley “one of the great songwriters of this decade”,  and, in an interview with The Village Voice, David Bowie named Grace as one of 10 albums he’d bring with him to a desert island.

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley

One of the cuts on Grace was a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.

 His rendition of “Hallelujah” has been called “Buckley’s best” and “one of the great songs”  by Time, and is included on Happy Mag’s list of “The 10 Best Covers Of All Time”,  and Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Wikipedia: Jeff Buckley
Hallelujah, by Jeff Buckley

In 1997 Jeff went night swimming in the Mississippi River near Memphis when he was caught up in the wake of a tugboat. He was swept out into the river channel and drowned, dying at the age of 31 years. His father, Tim, had passed away at the age of 28 years.

Two young men gone too soon. Two fine performances left to remember them by.

******

It turns out that democracy did not come apart at the seams during this past election. The galloping herd of people who get paid to talk about things have now veered off toward shouting that the Republicans are so despairing that they might be willing to accept a replacement blowhard named de Santis as their standard-bearer.

There is way too much breathlessness in all of this.

I can begin to understand what a problem it is to come up with fresh stuff while serving the 24 hour news gods. I get it. For instance, if I were a newsworthy individual, my chores yesterday might have sounded like this on CNN:

Alan: Well, it has all come down to this moment. Jon has opened the paint can, assembled his tools, and masked off the areas he wants to protect. It looks like we’re finally going to get some movement on this project. What do you think, Buffy?

Buffy: Alan, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we? Remember only this past June when he promised to shore up those uprights in the backyard fence and then quietly put everything away and we haven’t heard from him since? Well, until he actually puts the brush to the wall, it could go either way.

Spencer: Let me jump in here for a second, if you will permit me. We may be missing the larger picture here. Have you looked at the color of the paint? It’s white all over again. Even when he’s done, it will be nothing more revolutionary than white on white. The rest of the world seems to think that mauve’s time has come, and yet this guy still doesn’t get it, does he? His color palette is firmly stuck in the 90s.

Buffy: I couldn’t agree with you more, Spencer. Time has definitely passed him by. Back to you, Alan.

Alan: Will you look at that … while we were talking he put way too much paint on the brush and now there’s a gob on the floor. What’s he going to do about this? Does he even notice?

Spencer: He seems to be oblivious to the facts on the ground, Alan. This paint dries so quickly that he might now have a major clean-up job staring him in the face. Only time will tell.

Buffy: Look at that! He forgot himself and scratched an itch without thinking, and now there’s paint in his hair! I can’t watch … could somebody please help him? Somebody?

Ad nauseam.

One of the things that older citizens like myself miss about the news reporting we experienced in “the good old days” was the dearth of drama queens among the newscasters themselves. Walter Cronkite, who was once described as “the most trusted man in America,” had a style of reporting that was like having your uncle sitting in that chair by the window look up from reading his newspaper to tell you something, then going back to reading his paper.

.

Flames did not shoot from his ears, he did not shove his microphone into the face of whoever he was interviewing, and Walter had obviously never taken a single acting class in his life so that was almost no Dramatic Posturing to be seen anywhere.

To me the shift came when the Tom Brokaws and the Dan Rathers of the news world began to think that their opinions were what we had tuned in for. They were much like the Kardashians of their time, where developing their personal brand was what it was really all about.

Empty suits and talking heads. Lord, have mercy.

******

I Swoon, Therefore I Am

This past weekend we spent on a quick visit to Durango to catch grandson Aiden in his high school’s performance of the musical “Anastasia.” It is a reworking of that durable romantic notion that somehow one person survived the massacre of the Romanov family in 1918. It’s been pretty conclusively proven that no one did survive, so we can be done with that now, I hope. Even the Russian Communists finally admitted to the slaughter, although apparently there is still some finger-pointing going on as to who was ultimately to blame in the whole nasty episode.

But the show was thoroughly enjoyable.

We chose to take the less hazardous route to Durango, passing through the towns of Rico, Dolores, and Mancos. Lovely drive … all canyons and mountains and clearwater streams … and the wildlife sighting was also very good en route. The roadkill sighting, while considerably less inspirational, included a cow.

But it was the Steller’s Jay which stole the show. We saw them everywhere. A beautiful bird, flashing an iridescent blue in the sunshine as they flew by.

These creatures are not rare, but we saw sooo many on this trip, almost to the exclusion of other bird species.

.

******

******

Watched the Netflix production of All Quiet On The Western Front last night. Since it was a story taking place in the trenches of World War I, it was grim and bloody, with no happy ending for anyone. But as a film, it is that well done.

Way way back in the mists of time my Grandfather Jacobson took a small boy (moi) to the movies at the Time Theater in Kenyon MN. Going to movies with him was not a common occurrence, and making it even more rare was that Grandma Jacobson went along. Afterward I remember her talking about the last movie that she’d attended before that night, and it was the original production of All Quiet On The Western Front. She shook her head in telling her story, saying that the film had not been quiet at all.

Later when I was a college freshman I found a used copy of the book by Erich Maria Remarque that had been the basis for the film. It impressed me enough that I sought and found a used copy of another of his books, Three Comrades.

I should mention here that although both books had a strong effect on me, I was at a supremely impressionable stage of life, and could often be brought to epiphanies by the Burma-Shave signs along the highways of Minnesota. Also, I read these two books at a time when I was supposed to be reading about chicken raising and other sorts of animal husbandry, which no doubt contributed to my washing out of pre-veterinary medicine school.

But if you want to take a long good look at the glories of war, this is an excellent way to do it. I don’t know how we keep forgetting the madness that war really is. The flags fly, the martial music plays, the old men come out and clap on the back the young people whose bodies and minds are about to be sacrificed. One solution is offered in this clip from the original version of All Quiet … , from 1930.

War always represents abject failure. Failure of diplomacy and failure of memory. Failure to realize how small and crowded our planet is, how intertwined our lives are with those of people ten thousands of miles away who we have never met and never will. Mankind to date has operated on the principle that if I want something and you have it I must take it from you, no matter the cost. In this system, there have to be winners and losers.

There is a different game to be played, one where we all win. Recognizing that our personal best future lies in that world where all boats rise. It sounds trite and soft and not martial at all. But we’ve been doing the alternative for all of our existence and the suffering never stops. What’s to lose by trying something new?

War, by Edwin Starr

******

******

Earlier this week Mimi Parker passed away. She was drummer and vocalist with the unique rock group Low. They made slow and thoughtful music by lowering tempos and egos. I was introduced to Low’s music several years ago by daughter Kari and became an instant fan. At certain moments in life, it is just the thing.

.

Here are three of their songs, featuring the vocals of Ms. Parker.

Especially Me, by Low
To Our Knees, by Low
Laser Beam, by Low

******

It is only relatively recently that I realized how many people are out there who can be told the earth is flat and whose response is “Everyone knows that.” If you had told me this before the 2016 election I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have probably laid it off to a streak of pessimism that I hadn’t noticed in you previously.

But here we are in some version of la-la land where half the folks out there on our streets actively seek out nonsense to use as their credo. It appears that you can tell them almost anything you want as long as it isn’t true and they will clap and ask for more. In fact, the more preposterous, the better.

  • Landing on the moon was faked? Everyone knows that.
  • Democrats have a chain of pedophilic pizza parlors? Everyone knows that.
  • An entire election involving more than 100 million people was stolen, in an age where an amorous couple can’t even have a proper affair in a rented shed without the world finding out about it? Everyone knows that.

There are moments when I quite get a case of the vapors thinking about this situation. At such times I look ’round me and honestly, can you ever find a fainting couch when you need it?

I haven’t a single friend or acquaintance who owns one. Even as vaporous a man as myself has no such couch in their home. One has to lie on a futon, or a sofa, or some other make-do piece of furniture whenever a swoon is in the offing.

I’m pretty sure that it is all a plot. That there is a cabal of right-wing furniture makers in North Carolina who decided that the way to sap the strength of the political left is to sell them futons impregnated with hormones that weaken their resolve and cause them to lose the ability to balance their checkbooks and make other important decisions. So when you go shopping for living room furnishings be sure to check the tag. On safe sofas they contain the secret symbol.

I know that this sounds far-fetched, but “Q” told me himself that it was all true just the other day. And if you can’t trust “Q,” well, I just don’t know.

******

Time

We’re coming up on that moment that arrives with great precision each year … the end of daylight savings time. We did our “spring ahead” thing last March, and now we get our reward … the hour that we lost is returned to us. This means that I will be an hour early for any appointment that I have on the days of November 6-7, since it usually takes me two days to get it together.

During the years that immediately followed my divorce, a time when I clearly couldn’t blame anyone else for snafus in my scheduling, there were two events which transpired each year. The first occurred on a Sunday in March when I would arrive at church just in time to see everyone else leaving. And the second event was in November when I would arrive at the same place on yet another Sunday and find the door locked because nobody else would be coming for another hour. I never got it squared away.

This two-act farce only ended when I stopped going to church. Maybe I’ll be oriented to time when I awaken on November 6, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Time, by Tom Waits

**

Possible ER Scenario on November 6

Mr. Flom, you’ve had a nasty bump on your head and I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that would be okay?

Sure, go ahead.

Do you know what time it is?

Haven’t a clue. Next question.

Do you know what day it is?

Let’s see, hmmmmmm … feels like a Tuesday

The month?

It comes after Halloween, I know that.

Do you know who’s president of the United States?

I know who isn’t, and that’s Donald Cluck. Good enough?

Do you know who and where you are?

Now we’re getting somewhere. Which of us, and I ask you this sincerely, really knows the answer to that question?

Nurse, I think we’re going to admit Mr. Flom for observation. And could you arrange for a room with a lockable door until psychiatry has a chance to look him over?

******

From The New Yorker

******

Robin had a birthday this past Thursday, on a cold and rainy day, which is nothing special for November, I’m afraid. We were supposed to have traveled on that day to Durango, to attend a performance of a musical that Aiden acts and sings in. But the weather (sleet and heavy snow at altitudes) brought out the latent chicken in us and we remained at home.

I think that at some point in their lives, if a person’s birthday falls in a chilly and transitional month like November, they should be allowed to choose a new date. Perhaps something of the May, June, or July variety. The new birthdate wouldn’t have any legal bearing, of course, changing that would be … is impossible the right word here?

But we could call it a new social birthday without too much fuss, eh? An email to friends and family and it’s a done deal. This would also help out those friends and family, because it would open up new choices for gifting. For instance, if I wanted to give Robin a new pair of sandals let’s face it, November is a lousy time to do it. The things would sit in a closet until all the sleet had melted away in March or April, and by then some of their special-ness would have worn off for certain.

This exact thing happened this year. Robin had wanted a new non-electric bicycle, so we found an excellent one available locally, and her conditions were that this would be her birthday gift for 2022. I think that she was able to ride it only three times, and now it is stored away in the corner of the garage until Spring.

But if her social birthday had been in June … if I have any point at all, have I made it?

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot

******

******

This past week I had the unusual experience of having a new problem solving an old one. A local group is collecting warm clothing to be sent to Ukraine, where the coming winter promises much hardship. The sponsors requested no cotton garments, but only those made of wool (personally I think that they should have added fleece garments, which are almost as warm, easier to keep clean, and dry much faster when wet, but, hey, it’s not my party).

My old problem was that I had more lovely sweaters and heavy shirts than I needed, accumulated as gifts over many years. At the end of the last winter season I realized there were several that I hadn’t worn at all, because my go-to garments were so often made of fleece. So the folks in Ukraine who are my size will be receiving those sweaters and shirts that were causing me to feel guilty. Those people will be warmer, and I still have more than enough to cover my corpus when the winds howl about the homestead this December.

Win, win.

******

Can Sheep Be Trusted?

One day this past week we set out to drive across the Uncompahgre Plateau from east to west, eventually to end up in the hamlet of Nucla. We were defeated by snowy and muddy roads that threatened to turn our outing into a “Now what do we do!” sort of situation. We made a wise decision, I think, when we turned the car around and returned to Montrose.

On the way out, however, we had a moment.

A group of sheepherders were moving a flock from one pasture to another, using the road we were on. There were two herders walking, two herders in trucks, two dogs, and a couple of hundred sheep involved in the maneuver. When you encounter a flock like this there is nothing for it but to sit and wait. Unless you happen to have a video camera, that is.

At no time, being safely enclosed in the car, did Robin and I feel more than mildly threatened by these beasts. They streamed around the vehicle without incident, and when they were finally behind us, we continued on. I know that sheep seem docile enough, and that fatal encounters are unheard of, but there is always the threat of being masticated as long as they are close by and in large numbers.

And, really, no matter how infinitesimal the risk, would you want this to be the last thing you see at the end of your life?

******

From The New Yorker

******

Speaking of unpleasantness, how grateful we will all be when the present election cycle is over. Even though we know that it will be only seconds before the next one begins.

When you see articles with the following titles in the same issue of a publication, you know that the reporters haven’t a clue what the results of the election will be, and have reached the stage of making stuff up.

Democrats fear Republican landslide over price of chicken thighs.

Republicans can’t sleep at night without their blankies since former Pres. Cluck yawned at political meeting.

We’ve had a small kerfuffle here in Paradise, where one candidate has accused her opponent of having an affair, and then using his position on a municipal board to change his vote to avoid being blackmailed over it. The vote-shaving turned out not to be true, but one of the features of the affair was that the lovers were alleged to have conducted their trysts in a rented storage shed.

Having rented quite a few storage sheds in my life, I really have trouble visualizing the whole thing. Let’s see, a guy approaches a shed, unlocks it, then pushes up the overhead door to enter. He then closes it and sits there in the darkness until his inamorata comes along to hoist up the same door to join him. There are no windows, a few boxes, and nothing clean to sit or lie upon.

I would have thought that staying in cheesy motels would be the low point in having an affair. That is, until this story came along. It made me wonder if there is a whole world of luxurious sheds out there of which I am not aware? If not, what can a person really do in the way of decorating a tin box with no insulation? One could only be unfaithful in at most three seasons under these conditions, I would think. Winter would be out of the question.

And then there is the matter of that overhead door. For a few seconds you are pretty vulnerable to discovery when it is up, unless you raise it only a few inches and then crawl under. Whereupon you would be all dusty and how attractive is that?

My take on this story is that if one is tempted to have an affair that they should at least save up until they can afford a proper NoTell Motel in which to conduct it. Standards must be upheld.

We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning, by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris

******

******

From The New Yorker

******

Thursday Evening

We’ve had a snowfall today, about four inches. A very civilized weather event which did not inconvenience travel or commerce, but which did play hob with outdoor recreation.

There’s not enough of it to play on, and too much of it to play at anything else. The cats are quite put out, as am I. The three of us spent the day staring out the window and grinding our teeth, hoping that the weather would gather its wits and bring those lovely autumn days back once again.

I know that these days of cold and austere living are supposed to build character, but at my age how much more character do I really need, anyway? I’m practically brimming with the stuff and it affords me little comfort when the wind blows chill.

Poco and Willow are even more grumpy than I am. Sitting in the windowsills and looking out at a landscape that only yesterday was everything a cat could want, their eyes wide as owls, with facial expressions that could only be interpreted as: “Don’t mess with me!”

.

Snow, by Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain soundtrack)

******

Just a note. I know that many of you regard me as a fashion icon and influencer, and I completely understand that. I rarely am seen with a single thread out of place, and as for being avant garde … well … in my case it is pretty much a given.

But I am hereby publicly severing any connection with the Yeezy brand, having little enthusiasm for contributing to the enrichment of antisemites. While it may cause me the loss of tens of dollars in income, at some point you have to say enough. To announce to the world that Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!**

******

* The header photograph was not taken by me, and I didn’t want you to think that it was. Therefore, I put the letters NMP (Not My Photo) in its description as a way of indicating its origins. I will try to always do this, but as a guideline, if you look at a photo and it is absolutely superb, it probably wasn’t taken by me.

**Actually it was Martin Luther who originally said that, and I’ve always admired his turn of phrase.

Ghosts in the Headlights

Saturday

A weather shift is underway and announcing itself by gusts of wind that are strong enough to rock the house ever so slightly. The time is not long after midnight, and I have the sounds of that wind to listen to all by myself. Robin and the cats are all fast asleep. It’s just yours truly listening to some fast-moving air. It’s a grand feeling to be in a place where the wind can blow all it wants out there, as long as I am in here where it is warm.

Snow is expected later today, quite a pile of it above 7000 feet, but we will likely have rain here in Paradise. Robin and I took advantage of the dry days last week and went for a hike on the Uncompahgre Plateau. We walked down an old dirt track past an abandoned cow camp, where the bunkhouse still stands as well as a shed where cut wood was stored.

There was an ancient gate at that shed which was closed through an ingenious use of what was available to these isolated cowhands. An old horseshoe fastened to a length of chain. The shoe would be looped over one of the gate poles to hold it closed.

.

******

Robin and I went to a movie matinee on Saturday last, where we watched what we think is the worst film we’ve ever seen. It’s called Halloween Ends. It’s no more than a confused mishmash of a gross-out/slasher. Save your money.

Here’s a part of Richard Roeper’s review.

Despite the iconic presence of Final Grandmother Jamie Lee Curtis and a few attempts to frame the saga of Michael Myers into some sort of big-picture analysis about society’s need for a villain and the tendency of some to blame the victims for crimes, this is a cheap-looking slashfest that asks returning characters to behave in ways that make no sense, while adding the usual array of obnoxious nitwits who exist only to annoy us before they’re sliced and diced like entrées at Benihana.

Richard Roeper: Halloween Ends
Piece of Crap, by Neil Young

******

From The New Yorker

******

[Intercepted email found during ongoing FBI search for Jimmie Hoffa’s body]

To: God

From: Jon

Dear God,

I think that I am finally ready for adolescence now, if you’d care to send it along and give me a second chance. I would understand if you don’t because I pretty well muffed it the first time, but hey … which of us got an “A” in that course?

I was not able to handle the inflammatory combination of: growing several inches in two weeks, a brand new voice entirely, a penis which became erect whenever it felt like it (as when giving book reports in front of class), and an interest in the female gender that drowned out nearly every other sort of intellectual curiosity. I think that at long last I’ve rounded up enough wisdom and common sense to weather those storms.

Now I know that there are countless examples of elders of our tribe who seem to be repeating parts of their adolescence, and ending up embarrassing themselves as a result because their hormones have derailed them, but I think you can count on me not to follow in their footsteps. I’m a Buddhist now, and if there is anything that Buddhists have lots of it is perspective. We simply reek of it.

So if it’s okay with you, I could use a couple of additional inches in height, I could deal with being a baritone at long last, and I don’t need the whole schmear but just the smallest boost in my testosterone level. That would be lovely.

No matter what you decide, I thank you in advance for your consideration.

Jon

P.S. If you could also stop the hair from growing out of my ears and nose, I’d appreciate that as well

******

From The New Yorker

******

I would like to offer a correction to something President Biden said this summer, when he called out the MAGA crowd as “semi-fascists.” Seems to me that being semi-fascist is a little like being semi-pregnant. A difficult feat in either case.

******

This song is for my children. Listening is mandatory for them. The rest of you can skip it without penalty.

That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, by the Everly Brothers

******

Robin and I had some business to attend to in Aspen on Monday morning, so we drove most of the way the night before and caught a motel in Glenwood Springs for the evening. The trip was a refreshment course in winter driving, with either snow, hail, fog, or rain to deal with along the entire route.

It was our first snow of the year. Big flakes coming at you by the zillions.

I was reminded of times sitting in the back seat of a ’42 Pontiac and watching the snow in the headlights as my father would drive us back home from visits to relatives in the rural.

.

Seeing those ghostly flakes enter the lightbeam and then sweep left, right, and overhead as they were pushed aside by the cushion of air that the car created was hypnotic to a backseat kid. Still is.

******

Periodically I will have a Warren Zevon moment, even though he passed away in 2003, having been carried off the planet by a cancer in his lungs, mesothelioma. I was having one of those moments this morning, and went looking for a song from his last album, The Wind. It’s a beautiful song and many excellent covers exist, but I was attracted by this one today, performed by the group Trampled By Turtles.

Here is their official video of the tune, perhaps the simplest music video I’ve ever seen.

******

Blowin’ in the Wind

The two ash trees in our backyard were absolutely gorgeous this Fall, after shading us all summer like the botanic troupers they are. With our mild weather, the leaves remained in place for weeks. But the honeymoon is over. Those leaves are now on the ground. They cannot stay.

If I leave them there, the breezes will not move them onto my neighbor’s property (I have always liked the sound of that) because our yard is enclosed by a five-foot tall fence. What they will do is congregate along the fence on the eastern side in unsightly and mouldering piles. So that was out.

There have been years when raking and bagging them was the thing to do. Until my back started aching just thinking about rakes as a species, and I began to look for other solutions.

Next I tried mulching them with the lawn mower, which was fine as long as you didn’t mind stopping and emptying that collection bag every twelve feet. Also, it seemed that everything I am allergic to was contained in that bag, so that each emptying was accompanied by a tsunami of sneezes.

Finally I came ’round to using a leaf blower. I purchased an electric version and it works very well. In fact, blasting those leaves into piles is almost (not quite … I have not completely lost my mind) fun. Just slapping that battery on, pulling the trigger, and wading into them has been my go-to method for three years now.

My next step will be to find some slightly dim but strapping young lad walking on the path that goes by the house and try to pull off the Tom Sawyer Gambit. That’s the one where I regale him with the joys of using a leaf blower and offer to let him take a turn if he is careful. Then I could sit back and supervise, which is where my strengths really lie.

Tom Sawyer, by Rush

******

From The New Yorker

******

At last we have it. The electric car that will expose the gasbags, the drugstore cowboys, the sitters on the fence once and for all. There is no longer any excuse to not drive an electric car. How can I make such a bald statement? Because on Wednesday, dear readers, Rolls-Royce unveiled the Spectre. The first all-electric vehicle from that company.

It is said that the starting price is only $413,ooo, but by the time you add the tea tables, modify the walnut dash to suit you, and finish decorating the servant’s quarters in the boot, it will undoubtedly be a bit more than that. But if you were avoiding going electric, and have been using as an excuse that the previously available models just didn’t do it for you, you are now outed. Exposed. You have nowhere to hide.

Pony up the 500 grand or be revealed for the poser that you are.

******

Over a lifetime I have made numerous contributions to the Make Stephen King Even Wealthier campaign by purchasing and reading his books. I’ve lost track of just how many. Mostly they are not what you might call great literature, but also mostly they are entertaining, can be read on any longish airplane flight, and each one contains handfuls of astute observations on the human condition. What I have also found charming is King himself, and his lack of pretentiousness.

I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.

Stephen king

This past month I went back to the extensive list of novels he has written and read The Green Mile for the first time. I had seen the movie back in the 90s somewhere, but never picked up the book. For myself, I think it is the best thing he’s done. A mixture of horror and magical thinking that also evokes a time and place that is completely foreign to me. Think: death row in a small southern prison during the Great Depression.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.

Stephen King

As long as Mr. King keeps writing books I’ll probably keep reading them. I’m not proud, either. I even forgive him the gross-outs, although they are not my favorite parts.

But if you want your mind boggled, here’s a stat for you. As of today there have been 51 movies made from short stories or novels he has written. Fifty-one, including Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, and one of my flat-out favorite films of them all – Stand By Me.

Fifty-one … gawd.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Daughter Kari sent along a link to a longer video recorded of Richard and Linda Thompson, which must have been done shortly before their marriage fell apart. The video quality is not of the best, but the performances come through beautifully. Of course this pair should have stayed together if for no other reason than I wanted them to, but they didn’t and that’s all there is to that.

Music is such an interesting thing. I play no instrument, know nothing of music theory, could not tell a glissando from a turkey leg even if I was threatened with defenestration. But I am one of what I suspect is a large cohort of people whose life is punctuated by times that music helped get me through.

Music can make me cry for no apparent reason, stir up hormones that might be better left unstirred, and if for some cosmically inexplicable reason I were ever sent into battle I would do it if I could have a bagpipe player to walk behind me to fire up what specks of courage I might muster.

As when the tune Highland Laddie was played by Private Bill Millin on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy. There is a statue of him there now, kilt and all, to commemorate his deed.

.

Legend has it that the German snipers didn’t shoot at Millin even as his comrades fell all around him. They thought he was crazy.

Highland Laddie, by The Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders

******

Follow the Red Brick Road

It’s five o’clock on a Monday morning, I am first one up as usual, which is my curse for not buying that old and gnarled woman’s wares along that dusty road all those years ago. Each year I rise earlier, and if this keeps up, before long I will meet myself getting up as I am going to bed. No matter. It’s five a.m. in Omaha and I am looking out the window at Howard Street in the Old Market area of town.

Robin and I are sharing a third-floor loft with daughter Kari and Jon, a space which AirBnB has graciously supplied to us in return for our sending them a shekel or two. Our plans for the day include a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo, which is a great place to spend a sunny day. We will be here in Omaha for the next two days, then the four of us will return to our respective homes and the routines of life.

The garbage trucks are now making their way through this part of town, and getting mixed reviews. It’s a good idea to pick up the trash when streets are not jammed with people and cars, but the robotic method of collection creates a perfect symphony of din while mortals are trying to sleep.

It’s all so urban. Living in the provinces as we do, one forgets the delights of cities at night. It’s not only the garbage collectors at 5:00 a.m., but the intoxicated passersby at 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., and even 4:00 a.m. who take the streets as their own, talk in very loud voices, and in so doing add large dollops of local color to our otherwise drab existences.

Life is good.

Monday Monday, by The Mamas and the Papas

******

******

I’ve lived half my life in large cities, and half in smaller towns. I found that I am much more suited to the village than the metropolis. Primarily because it takes so little time to get out and away from the smaller venues. From my home in Paradise it is a matter of a five minute walk and I am in the countryside. Out where the birds sing, there are the sounds of cows lowing and of sheep bleating, and where you must clean the bottoms of your shoes before you re-enter your house.

It’s all part of a package, isn’t it? Like when you buy a new car these days. Let’s say you want heated seats to take the shock off getting in the car when temperatures are nearing absolute zero. You can’t get just heated seats, but must purchase a package that includes a sunroof (rarely used), faux-gold license plate brackets, and lighted mirrors on the visors to apply the lipstick that you could have put on before you left the house.

So you move to the rural to get the ease of moving across town, the decrease in annoying and sometimes life-threatening traffic, and if you’re lucky, the lessened chances of being accosted by footpads, highwaymen, and pickpockets.

In return for these benefits, you must accept reduced opportunities for shopping, fewer art galleries, smaller symphony orchestras, and the aromas of the countryside which range from the sublime (new-mown hay, wildflowers) to the ridiculous (manure in its seemingly infinite variety).

Citiest People, by Melanie

******

******

The Old Market area of Omaha is easy to like. It is a small area of only a few blocks square where sleazy and stylish rub noses without coming to blows. The building that our BnB is located in dates back to 1887. There are horse and carriages rides to take, violinists on street corners, brick streets galore, and an interesting mixture of tourists and locals.

Buildings within the Old Market have served a variety of purposes, and were built during various eras. Originally built to sell groceries wholesale and retail to the city of Omaha and beyond, the Old Market district was preceded by the Market House in Omaha’s Jefferson Square.

Old Market, Wikipedia

After supper last night, we wandered in and out of shops that were … eclectic might be the best word. The Hollywood Candy Shop was a museum of schlock, with chipped statues of Elvis Presley and the Blues Brothers hanging around dented pink Cadillacs and circa 1936 popcorn-vending Model T truck. I knocked over a yellow sign that read: Danger: Wet Floor and even though I immediately set it back up I was rewarded with the best stink-eye I’ve received in decades, aimed at me by the guy with the mop in his hands.

There was one shop seemingly entirely devoted to decks of cards, plates, fridge magnets, dishtowels and other bric-a brac that had one common thread. Each has something written on it that you wouldn’t want to be seen on your coffee table when the bishop came for tea. For instance, we found an entire table of varied items that all had an F-bomb in their name or slogan. I think the name of the shop might have been Tawdry R Us.

******

Color My World

Robin and I are presently traveling to outposts of the Empire to visit some of our children. We’ve chosen to travel by car, even though gas prices are unpleasant most everywhere we go. For those of you who are new to this outstanding literary effort of mine, ours is a blended family. Robin brought three children into the new mix, as did I. Her kids live in Colorado and California, while mine have found Minnesota to be irresistible, and occupy dwellings in Mankato, St. Paul, and Eveleth.

We started out on Monday Oct. 3 by traveling to the Denver area, where we rendezvoused with son Justin for supper. It started to rain while we were eating, and that continued as an off/on drizzle for the next 36 hours.

Next stop was Mankato, where we bunked with daughter Sarah, husband DJ, two dogs, and a cat. Congenial company all, and excellent hosts.The 1100 mile drive to this point was outstanding. Autumn’s colors everywhere and either at their peak or two days from it. So far it has been a gentle Fall, without windstorms, ice storms, snowstorms, or any other climatic mischiefs, so the foliage has been allowed to slowly gather its reds, oranges, golds, and browns without being disturbed. The leaves are 99% still still hanging in place, and we gawk at them as we do each year. Somehow each autumn comes as a brilliant surprise, taking our breath away at the beauty Nature can provide, if we are wise enough to let it do so.

Robin, Sarah, DJ and I took a walk Wednesday afternoon, on a footpath that ran along the Le Sueur River. When you drive past forests you get the larger picture, but for me it is perpetually fascinating to take individual leaves and study them up close. Pick up a sumac leaf and realize that if you could take that home and preserve it as it was you could look at it for years and still be filled each time with a sense of the magic that is at work here.

Autumn Leaves, by Eva Cassidy

******

******

A trip like the one that Robin and I are on puts me in a reflective mood, a dangerous one for a senior citizen to be in. I am visiting my three daughters, one at a time, and there are occasionally waves of memory that come along, some big enough to carry me off if I forget to set my anchors properly.

In AA there is much talk about not regretting our past, but using it to remind us where we can improve, where we might help others who are still drowning. While I accept that using my mistakes as father, husband, friend, physician, citizen (you pick the category) can be helpful, I have never found that phrases like “we don’t regret the past” to be anything but poppycockery of the first order.

Of course I regret parts of my past. Great chunks of it, to be honest. In all of the categories I listed in the previous paragraph I have made serious mistakes and the ones where I fell shortest were the personal ones. The ones where being a good husband and father called for someone who had a very different skillset than I was granted. That’s not a proper alibi nor is it an excuse, but simply an observation.

Let me provide an example. A recurring stressful situation for any pediatrician is during a “code,” or cardiorespiratory arrest. The stakes are high and the possibilities for error are everywhere. For the healthcare workers present in the room, working in a coordinated fashion is mandatory. My emotional makeup was such that I could enter that room, join the hastily assembled team, constantly reassess what was happening and what was needed, and do this without any sense of panic. In other words, I rarely “lost my cool.”

And in those situations it was a kind of behavior that worked well, so if everyday life was one code after another I might have done better. But there were so many times when that clinical and analytic approach, that keeping of an emotional distance that served me so well in the ER or delivery room was ill-suited to what was called for at home. Where I provided logical (to me) but often useless suggestions instead of the caring hugs and expressions of concern that might have been better choices. My strength in one place was my handicap in another.

But like Popeye the Sailor, I yam what I yam. Try as I might over the years to become a more thoughtful human being, I realize that my default positions haven’t changed as much as I had hoped.

Cat’s In The Cradle, by Harry Chapin Jr.

******

Question for the Day, October 6, 2022

On CNN today, a panel of three talking heads were discussing the fact that an open mike had caught President Biden uttering an F-bomb. The context was not clear.

My question for the panel is: Is this news? Really? With half the world under water and the other half parched and withering, with all the things that are seriously amiss in American life, with the cost of Cheetos rising almost daily, does his use of a coarse word in a private conversation need three experts to discuss it to absolute death?

Holy s***! There go my political aspirations right out the f****** window!

******

******

I don’t know if you all are ready for Amythyst Kiah, in fact I’m not sure that I am. But the lady doth bring the news.

******

On Thursday we moved on to St. Paul which is where daughter Maja now lives. We were able to get together with her for an excellent lunch on Saturday afternoon. The weather had changed for the chillier and the windier. We are staying in a BnB on the north side of town in a very small older home. We have the entire house, but I’m guessing it is no more than 600 square feet in area. It’s a one-bedroom that would have worked better as a studio-style cabin, I think. What it didn’t have was laundry facilities, which by this time we needed. The first laundromat we checked out was in a dismal part of town, appeared not to have been swept since the Roosevelt administration (Teddy’s), and the change machine was broken. Exeunt Robin and Jon.

The next one was its opposite in nearly every way. Change was available, machines would operate with credit cards, and it was obvious that someone with a broom and dustpan in their hands had come by … say … in the 70s sometime. The name of the place was “All Washed Up Laundromat.” That’s a reassuringly modest name, non?

There was an Indian restaurant nearby, where we had supper. I tried a dish that was new to me, aloo matar, which was potatoes and peas in a thick sauce. Pretty delicious. Robin was happy with her palak paneer, which is a favorite dish of hers.

.

We have suffered many disappointments in restaurants, but both agreed that, to date, no Indian establishment we’ve visited has ever let us down.

Famous last words, eh? Having now uttered that which was better un-uttered, I suppose I can look forward to a plateful of gutpunch vindaloo somewhere down the road.

******