On Being A Fifth Wheel

When Robin and I first got together, there were some accommodations required. Her life had been lived in South Dakota up until that point, but mine had been mostly elsewhere. In her case, she was part a group of four couples who had been getting together for years on weekend outings, like renting a common cabin and going skiing, for instance. The process of divorce and remarriage meant deleting one member of the group and replacing him with me, a person that you have come to know as an outstanding chap in every regard. But still … I was the odd duck. The new guy.

Mostly it was a problem after a long day of skiing, when the eight of us would get together in the rented cabin to ease sore muscles and kick back, and the conversation would turn quite naturally to all those past years, when I had been absent. I soon found those conversations, especially those involving her ex, tedious to the extreme, and my nose was often put out of joint as a result. And when my nose is crooked, I definitely become … well … peevish. Don’t believe it? Ask Robin.

Over time, as I acquired history with the group, this changed, but I still remember some of those first evenings as long and mildly dreadful. Let me hasten to add here that the other people in the group were fine folks, and we are friends to this day. It was just me feeling very much the “plug-in” spouse that first year or two.

Eventually one of the other couples dropped out, leaving six stalwarts to carry on. Skiing trips became less frequent, and instead we did more bicycling, all of which was done on the Mickelson Trail. This trail is a gem, following 109 miles of what used to be railroad tracks running north to south through some of the Black Hills’ most scenic territory.

Our group never covered the distance at one time, but would take a portion of the path each year and spend a day pedaling it, while leaving vehicles at each end to get us back to the start. Over the years we covered the entire trail, but only a few miles at a time.

Then there was the year that Robin and I pedaled the whole thing together. That would have been thirteen years ago. We took an easy approach, spending three days on the trail rather than pushing ourselves. This also provided much more time to just enjoy the beauty of where we were at every stage. A Ferdinand the Bull sort of trip.

The leg from Hill City to Custer was memorable in that we started out in a moderate October snowfall which quickly became much heavier and we were moderately hypothermic by the time we neared our destination. Enough so that when we reached the outskirts of Custer we pedaled up to the local hospital and simply sat in the lobby until our body temperatures climbed to somewhere nearer that typically found in living persons. (Did I mention that the day before the snowfall we were bicycling in sunshine and short sleeves? Such is the weather variability in the Black Hills.)

No matter, all in all the trip was a memorable one, and my only lingering question is still: How DO you bury a body which is frozen to a bicycle? Would the process involve an acetylene torch at some point?

(BTW, the music in the video is from the soundtrack to the movie Grizzly Man, and was composed by Richard Thompson.)

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From The New Yorker

You know how there is almost always something positive that comes out of even the worst of events? Some sort of learning that it took an intense fire to forge in you. It is such a regular occurrence for me that I regard it now as a commonplace.

Such is climate change.

What could possibly be the positive, you might well ask, in this slow-motion disaster we are all living through? For me, it is a heightened awareness of the fragility of life on our only home, Earth. Change the average temperature what seems an insignificant number of degrees and suddenly whole ecosystems start to fall apart. A slightly warmer winter and certain insects now survive that did not in harsher weather and before you know it entire forests disappear. Bump it another couple of degrees and coastlines all over the globe are completely re-drawn by rising water.

There is little doubt in my mind that the planet might have been better off if our evolutionary lineage had stopped at Neanderthal, instead of continuing on to Homo sapiens. And also little doubt that our species really doesn’t deserve the name it has been given, which means wise man, or knowledgeable man.

I hereby propose a change in nomenclature, and it is that henceforth our species be called Homo ignoramus. Might as well tell it like it is. How well we do in the next decades depends on whether the body of people who understand what is happening can carry, push, drag, or cajole the rest into doing what is necessary. If this effort succeeds, at some future date we could ask for our old name back, or at least an intermediate one, like Homo notquitesureaboutus.

Tell It Like It Is, by Tracy Chapman

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From The New Yorker

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Our old friend, Ragnar, has been away for an extended period of time. When you are dealing with the long dead, you never know what to expect, really. So whenever he shows up we try to take advantage of the time, as it is always challenging to hear his perspectives.

Hey, Ragnar, good to see you! It’s been ages.

I’ve been busy

What does a Viking who has been deceased for a thousand years do with his time, anyway?

I’ve been going around the world, listening in on conferences at the highest levels.

Conferences of what, may I ask?

You know, governments, scientists, pornographers, weathermen, the usual stuff. I can do that, being dead and all, because unless I want someone to see me, they can’t.

So you’re snooping, is that it?

Poor choice of words, if you want me to keep talking.

Sorry, I meant observing.

Much better.

So what’s your takeaway?

Well, the weather is getting worse.

Okay, got that.

And most of the people who are supposed to be leaders aren’t doing much of a job.

Yes ….

But a few are, and that’s a good thing.

And …

I think that pornography might be the only solid growth industry there is. If it ever issues stock, you should buy some.

Sounds a little unsavory to me.

You shouldn’t take it personally, it’s only business.

But still …

The industry depends on large numbers of people who are totally screwed up about sex, right?

Well, yes

Look at all of recorded history … any sign of improvement in this area?

None that’s easily discernible

There you are.

Were you Vikings any better about s.e.x?

Well … let me put it this way. We were never touchy-feely folks.

And yes?

More like being the pushing-shoving sort

Got it

No Valentines Day … no bouquets

I think that’s enough to give us the picture

You asked

I am beginning to regret it

No ballads … no sonnetsno Hallmark

Been good to see you, don’t be a stranger

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Stranger, by Kris Kristofferson

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Pedal On, Pedal On, Pedal On

The other day as I was straightening up the musty attic that constitutes my brain, trying to keep the cobwebs down and to make some sense of the arrangement of the boxes once again, I found myself remembering the military draft. It came up when I was eavesdropping on some men who were of at least one generation younger than mine and thinking … these guys have no concept of what it was to be an American male before 1975.

To them, trying to imagine stopping your life and putting everything on hold for two years while you had your head shaved and your clothing and location assigned to you would be as impossible as pondering what an alien abduction might really be like (except for the probing … anyone who has ever had their temperature taken rectally can imagine that). Add to this the very real possibility, depending on world politics, that you might be sent to a war zone where your chances of coming back alive might be only 80%, and your chances of coming back unchanged in a significant way would be zero.

The sword that once hung over our heads had been removed, and was no longer a fact of life. And who was the crew that broke the draft? It wasn’t our political leaders, who we all know rarely lead, but have to be forced into constructive activity. It wasn’t the Viet Nam Vets for Peace with their 1000 yard stares, although they made a strong contribution.

It was the moms.

The soccer moms, the middle-of-the-road moms, the housedress moms, who saw how careless our government had been with the lives of the boys they had birthed and raised. When those sensible shoes hit the streets in peaceful demonstrations, even good old President I Am Not A Crook looked out the White House window and said “We’re done here,” and the war and the draft became history.

Of course, the United States now has an all-volunteer army, but it hasn’t abandoned conscription altogether. At the age of eighteen, males are still required to register with the draft, just in case on some bright day in the years ahead we run into a situation where the country thinks it needs more bodies in uniform than have volunteered. So the door is open just a crack, one so small that it is almost invisible. But put the wrong guy in charge, or give a good president a bad idea, and that door could swing wide.

Can you imagine what a hoorah there would be if the government started actually calling up non-volunteers once again? The last several years it couldn’t even get all of us to wear masks or vaccinate ourselves against a very real threat to our health.

I will put the question to you. If you found a draft notice in your mailbox and your presence was demanded in a war zone somewhere in the world, and we were being led by a man as bereft of anything resembling morality or common sense as Donald Cluck, would you answer the call?

Myself, I think that I might take off for one of those extended Canadian vacations. I have a couple of beautiful and serene lakes in mind up there where I could live off the land as long as I was content to eat only lake trout, walleyes, and pine needles. (Of course, by the time the U.S. got themselves around to drafting people of my age, we would be in some serious doo doo for certain, and maybe Canada wouldn’t let me in.)

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Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

Mark Twain

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From The New Yorker

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It is such a treat to go looking for quotations in the Mark Twain section of the digital library. There are good reasons why his words are borrowed so often to employ in speeches and essays. He realized that we (Americans) are a colorful mixture of heroes and villains with a goodly number of b.s. artists in each group. All the keen observer has to do is wait for a day or two and a pomposity balloon will rise up just begging for someone with a hairpin and a strong right arm to pop it.

Someone might say: Well, he could say things like he did because he didn’t live in the toxic atmosphere that we do, where to speak your mind invites attack. But Twain was 26 years old when a little thing called the Civil War broke out, and I suspect that there were some very lively discussions at social gatherings during the years preceding the conflict and for a generation afterward.

After all, when more than 2% of the nation’s population were being killed in a confrontation, I imagine that it got people riled up in a rather forceful way.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are presently watching the series “The Bear” on Hulu. You might like it.

We do.

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This song really belongs in an earlier post, when I gave the month of August a nod. But since 1967 it has been (for me) the essential summer tune. Here’s a clue – if I ever miss a whole season without playing and laying back and just going with it – well, momma, you can take this badge off of me ’cause I won’t need it anymore.

Brown Eyed Girl, by Van Morrison

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Robin is out of town, so yesterday I fired up the e-bike and took what is a long ride for me, close to forty miles. I went from home to the Black Canyon National Park, and then rode the park road to its conclusion. The route is basically one long uphill all the way there, and (why, you guessed, it you clever ducks), downhill all the way back.

For the first seven miles or so, I was also pedaling into a headwind which fell like 50 mph but was probably around 25. I mention these numbers because there is a small meter on the bike that tells me how much battery power I have left. By the time I reached the foothills leading to the park entrance, I had only a little more than half-power left to me already, with more uphill to go.

And then the motor quit in the middle of a hill. Just stopped altogether. And the bike’s computer screen flashed an error code – E 26 – which meant nothing to me. I sat there on the road for a couple of minutes and then tried again. The bike caught fire and off I went for another mile or so before it quit again. It was then that I remembered reading a review of this particular bike before I ever bought it and the writer talked about the electrical system protecting itself by a temporary shutoff whenever it felt it was overheating. Although this was a cool morning, I had been asking the machine to carry me uphill and into the wind for an hour straight, and it had finally asked for a break.

Once on top of the mesa I experienced no more shutdowns, but by the time I reached the far end of the park I had only two bars left (battery power) out of the ten that had been on the display at the beginning. And one of those two soon went away. But all praises be to the saints and the power of gravity I made it all the way home without having to get off and walk. All that downhill on the return trip did the trick.

But by that time my body’s own computer screen was flashing its own error message, which went something like this (and which was accompanied by a large amount of rubber-leggedness): Go in the house, you old fool, and don’t ask us to do one freaking thing that requires physical effort for the rest of the day. We’ve had it with you.

And that’s exactly what I did.

The Acoustic Motorbike, by Luka Bloom

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Alma, Tell Us …

In central Colorado there is a town called Alma which the visitor might remember for two reasons. One is that at 10,578 feet it is the highest incorporated municipality in the United States. The second is the presence of a good ol’ general store which a local genius has named Al-Mart.

Now although Alma’s population is only 296 today, in the 1870s it was a bustling 10,000 souls. Mining was what drew people to this place, and today there are 17,452 mining sites in the area around the town. Its climate is such that there is no real growing season, so anyone who has an obsessive itch to garden can finally relax because even a radish wouldn’t make it.

We took a couple of (what else?) beautiful hikes while staying in a BnB outside of town with friends last weekend. As one of those friends once said: Colorado is geologically blessed.

Alma, by Tom Lehrer

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Speaking of BnB’s. I wonder how the name still sticks, when the majority of these offerings don’t offer that second “B” at all? At the place we stayed, not only did they not make us breakfast, there wasn’t even (gasp) a toaster. We made do by hauling out a large electric griddle from the back of the pantry to burn our bread with. It did a fair job, although by the end of each morning there was a strong aroma of singed wheat in the dwelling.

There were ten of us in the cabin, and each had a bed, which was a good thing. Sometimes overzealous promoters of these places might say “sleeps ten” which is technically true if three of the occupants are okay with resting on pine boards stretched across a pair of sawhorses.

And there was a civilized touch in the presence of a dishwasher. Unfortunately the latch on the machine wouldn’t work, so that it couldn’t be closed. Oddly enough, even though the door wouldn’t shut, the washer would start up if you pressed the button. And if you were willing to stand there holding the door closed throughout the several hour cycle, it probably would clean your dishes. We chose to wash ours by hand. Quicker all in all, you know.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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The month of August has a lot of weight to carry, I think. It’s often the hottest month of the year, the mosquitoes are still around (although in shorter supply), plants and humans are drooping a bit under that merciless sun, and let’s face it – who plans an August vacation if they don’t have to? Looming over its shoulder is September, which will be cooler, less buggy, prettier in those areas where the leaves turn color, and in general a more hospitable milieu in which to continue one’s life.

But still, August comes around each year and occupies 31-days of the calendar to boot. It is the Rodney Dangerfield of months, soldiering along without respect.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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I am presently reading the book “Lincoln In The Bardo.” Last night there was a passage that I found awfully moving … here, I’ll quote it for you, rather than natter on.

First, though, I will set the stage with a definition of the word.

Used without qualification, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena.

Wikipedia: Bardo

The voices in this passage are of persons in the bardo.

Please do not misunderstand. We had been mothers, fathers. Had been husbands of many years, men of import, who had come here, that first day, accompanied by crowds so vast and sorrowful that, surging forward to hear the oration, they had damaged fences beyond repair. Had been young wives, diverted here during childbirth, our gentle qualities stripped from us by the naked pain of that circumstance, who left behind husbands so enamored of us, so tormented by the horror of those last moments (the notion that we had gone down that awful black hole pain-sundered from ourselves) that they had never loved again. Had been bulky men, quietly content, who, in our first youth, had come to grasp our own unremarkableness and had, cheerfully (as if bemusedly accepting a heavy burden), shifted our life’s focus; if we would not be great, we would be useful; would be rich, and kind, and thereby able to effect good: smiling, hands in pockets, watching the world we had subtly improved walking past (this empty dowry filled; that education secretly funded). Had been grandmothers, tolerant and frank, recipients of certain dark secrets, who, by the quality of their unjudging listening, granted tacit forgiveness, and thus let in the sun. What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departures caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo

Now that, my friends, is a piece of writing. It is the sort of thing that can be just plain depressing, when I can’t avoid seeing the gulf between prose that can sing like this and my own best efforts which are little more than stuttering in comparison.

Ah, well. Ah, well. If we are given chisels to work with instead of scalpels, it is best we don’t take up brain surgery, no?

(It’s that last line that is the hooker. I think that it might be where our best shot at immortality lies. ‘We had been loved, I say, and remembering, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.At long last, one could hope that people we know are briefly gladdened)

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I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, by Tim Buckley

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Crawdads, et al

Yesterday afternoon Robin and I went to the Wednesday matinee movie to see “Where The Crawdad Sings.” In spite of a few plot holes, like … really … how does a 12 year-old survive completely on her own in the North Carolina marshes, we liked it. Mostly because Daisy Edgar-Jones and David Strathairn are such appealing actors.

I ask you, friends, is this a face or what?

I learned this morning that crawdads don’t sing, because I looked it up. They don’t even hum, although they have been known to move their lips if a lively tune is playing. But the meaningless phrase nevertheless still conjures up visions of the back of beyond in my head.

It was so interesting that the audience on Wednesday was nearly 100% senior citizens, until I thought more about it and realized -what group is most free to go to afternoon film showings and is attracted more strongly by the $5.00 ticket price? Righteous geezers like yours truly, that’s who.

Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it an uninspiring 34%, while the audience came up with a quite different score of 96%. It was that kind of movie.

But there was that one thing. On our recent camping expedition the weather had been warm and humid in the daytime, cool and damp in the evenings. Two days of this stuff without a shower gave me that creepy-crawly feeling, because living in a semi-desert I have grown happily accustomed to a dry epidermis. So the steamy cinematography and seeing all that laying about in the damp Carolina sand made me feel sticky and in need of a rinse-off even though it had only been a few hours since my last shower.

It turns out that I am attracted to movies that have swamps in them. Swamp Thing, Return of the Swamp Thing, Southern Comfort, In The Electric Mist, Beasts of the Southern Wild, et al. There’s just something about all that hanging moss, those gloomy over-arching trees, and all that dark water that could contain all manner of slithery, scaly, toothed things. Yep, give me a good swamp movie over a film shot on the Arctic tundra any day. So many more unseen threats and hazards (at least in the mind).

Born on the Bayou, by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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The header photograph was taken yesterday, during a hike in the Mosquito Range. I thought it was such a friendly gesture on the part of the mountain goat to pose like that while I fumbled for my camera and managed to get it pointed in the right direction.

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From The New Yorker

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I will admit that I haven’t given Kansans their due. It’s a flat land populated by flat people was my usual line of thinking. If it weren’t for the Wizard of Oz, I wouldn’t have thought about Kansas much at all.

But this week those folks surprised us all, by voting 60:40 to protect the rights of women to their own bodies. They cut through all the horse-pucky and voted for sanity over dogma.

Let’s face it. Most of the time it’s just too easy to become pregnant. Absolute dolts can do it just as well as any Rhodes scholar can. Momma Nature set it up that way on purpose, because she is always always in favor of more of the species. (Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem as interested in quality, as we have noted ad nauseam over the past few years.) The whole process follows its own logic. A male sees a female, a female sees a male, their hormones make a calculation for them, the back seat of a car provides a comfortable platform , and voila! Sperm meets egg.

It is at this moment that it gets loony. Some laws are beginning to appear that give full personhood to this single sperm and egg combination. My apologies to any folks who think that way, but that’s just crazy. To think that we should balance this microscopic implant against the rights of the owner of the body in which this is all occurring is a brand new level of bonker-ness, even for members of our tribe. (And which tribe is that? Why, homo not-always-so-sapiens is who us are)

There are days when I despair, but not today. Kansas have turned the light back on.

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From The New Yorker

(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66, by Nat “King” Cole

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This clip of Robin Williams is from a performance in 1986, or thereabouts. When I first saw it back then I was hit with two thoughts. The first was that I’d never seen anything like it in my life (still haven’t). The second was that no one could live with a mind running this fast for very long. Fortunately I was wrong about the second part.

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This morning I am not too hopeful for our tribe. I get that way on occasion. I know that my generation bears its share of blame for the mess that the world is in. But there were a few generations that came before mine that have blood on their hands, and the ones that have come after … are they really doing any better? They continue to make the same mistakes while bemoaning the errors of others. It’s a stance gets our tribe exactly nowhere.

There is such a lot of blaming and finger-pointing going on that there are moments when it seems that the specialty of younger generations is whining. The boomers did that or the boomers did this are repeated refrains, without the speakers showing any insight into the fact that they are the New Boomers and are doing the same damn dumb things over again.

Could it be that they too are using way too much of the world’s resources and paying way too little attention to their own individual roles in the maintenance of this monstrous climatic mess? Could that possibly be the truth?

Well, let’s just perish that thought immediately, they say, and then get back to basics which is finding out which finger is best for pointing.

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Harrumph, balderdash, and humbug! Now where is my afghan and slippers?

In The Boonies

Robin and I were off camping with Allyson and Kyle for the past couple of days. It was our first such outing this year, and we had picked an area between Montrose and Steamboat Springs in which to do it.

Here’s how to get there. Wait, you ask, where is “there?” It’s the North Fork Campground, and from Montrose you drive 157 miles northeast to Meeker, Colorado, where you take a right and then drive 32 miles back into the White River National Forest. By this time you have tried to call somebody or check something on your phone and realized that you have cut a more than a few ties with the civilized world. The facilities’ name derives from its location along the north fork of the White River.

This campground contains 28 sites, has running water, decent privies, and Bob. Bob is the campground host. Many of you who are not accustomed to camping might not know what such a “host” is. He is the custodian of the place. If the area and facilities are clean and in order, it was Bob’s doing. If you need information on what to do now that you are surrounded by all those trees, Bob can provide guidance. If you need wood for the evening fire, Bob’s your man.

We rented one site, and by plunking down a few bucks extra we received permission for a second vehicle, which was Ally’s truck. So for about the price of a movie each we shared a small patch of wild Colorado as our very own for two days.

Robin and I arrived first, and were halfway through setting up our tent camper when we were interrupted by a deluge. A solid rain that lasted for an hour and then cleared off. No more rain that day, though.

When our friends arrived around 2:00 P.M., we four for another drive 12 miles deeper into the forest to a place called Trapper’s Lake. It’s a beautiful lake in a nearly perfect setting, really. So lovely that when Arthur Carhart came by in 1919 well … here’s the story taken from the Forest Service website.

In the summer of 1919, the Forest Service dispatched its first landscape architect to Trappers Lake with instructions to survey 100 planned summer home sites and a road around the lake.  The 27 year old surveyor, Arthur H. Carhart, completed his plan and returned to Denver.  But he closed his report with a strongly-worded recommendation that the area remain roadless and undeveloped. “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people.  They should be preserved for all time for the people of the Nation and the world.  Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.”

In an unprecedented move, the Forest Service set the plans aside for further study and the proposed road was never built.  Mr. Carhart went on to work with conservationist Aldo Leopold. The memorandum detailing their shared approach to preservation became the foundation and heart of the Wilderness concept.

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law. It set aside nine million acres of National Forest lands for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Since then, the system has grown to encompass lands in National Parks, Forests and Wildlife Refuges, as well as properties managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Flat Tops Wilderness, home to Trappers Lake, was designated in 1975.

U.S.Forest Service: Trapper’s Lake

So we peons owe a lot to Art and Aldo for suggesting that the country hold off on making bungalows for billionaires in every beautiful spot in the US, and set some of that aside for use by commoners and corporati alike. Thus, Trapper’s Lake has no road around it, no campground directly on it, and no motorized boating is allowed. You can, however, portage your canoe from the parking lot to the lake and be a very happy man.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Here’s a gallery from the camping trip. Besides Trapper’s Lake, we hiked to Spring Cave, along the trail to Mirror Lake, and sat out another longer rain shower. We dined on Pork Vindaloo, White Lightning Chili, et al. (No, Bob did not provide the food, we’d brought that along with us)

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On the wall of the privy and facing the user was a space that had obviously once contained a sign of some sort. Having nothing in particular to think about at the time and having brought along nothing to read, I started to wonder what it might have said and came up with four possibilities:

  • Do Not Sit Down! The facility has been treated with an arsenic/lead disinfectant solution which can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Please check for snakes before use. The Mountain Privy Rattlesnake nests in the vicinity.
  • Trump/Pence
  • Jimmie – we meant to rendezvous with you and Mrs. Hoffa but don’t know where we are. Hoping you see this note.

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Ends of the Earth, by Lord Huron

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Safe At Last

We can all relax. CNN reports that the Entomological Society of American has decided that the insect Vespa mandarinia. will no longer be called “the murder hornet.” This unfortunate name was deemed unnecessarily fear-provoking and detrimental to rational discourse.

It will now be called the Northern Giant Hornet. I confess that putting the words “giant” and “hornet” together still gives me a slight chill. And the photo that accompanied the news item didn’t help. You can clearly see that the bug had to be run through with a rapier before the person in the photo would come anywhere near it.

This was done, we are left to assume, so that the photographer could avoid being murdered.

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From The New Yorker

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In general, I make a big deal about my Buddhist stoicism, my ability to accept the inevitability of change, and all that. When I have that working for me, it’s kind of my superpower. But it is not a shining coat of mail, this acceptance of mine. It’s more like that moth-eaten old blanket you keep in the trunk of the car for spreading on the ground at picnics, actually. A few polyester fibers stretched around a scattering of holes.

This morning is one of those where the holes are having their moment, but by the time the sun comes up and I’m on my second cup of coffee for the day, I’ll likely be fine. I find that night is the most vulnerable time. Anything and everything can come in, pull up a chair, and sit at my worktable. When that happens, mostly I sit there like Ebenezer Scrooge in a state of mild dread, waiting for what’s coming. An old regret … a sense of the losses that life inevitably brings … a fear for tomorrow … never know where these twilight hours will take me.

Having been through a few unpleasantnesses along this uneven and rocky path, I tell myself that I will be able to handle the next one, using what I’ve learned so far. But isn’t that just me, whistling in the dark?

Could it be that the next one will be exactly as it was with those that came before … me at the bottom of a hole with a child’s sand shovel in my hand, squinting up at the sun far above, and digging steps in the side of the pit to eventually get myself out and back to level ground?

Ah well, perhaps it is enough to be grateful that there are shovels in the world.

Life of Illusion, by Joe Walsh

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From The New Yorker

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Almost nine years ago I had an adventure where in the very early morning hours, as I was sitting in my La-Z-Boy and composing a blog entry, a skunk entered through a pet door, wandered around the house for ten minutes, and then left. As I watched from my chair. I must mention that our home is on a single level, and of only 1200 square feet in area, so the animal and I were in fairly close proximity.

It took me no time at all to decide that I didn’t want a repeat performance if I could avoid it, so the very next morning out I went to purchase a Havahart Trap at a local hardware store. These are devices to capture critters alive and unharmed so they can be transported to wherever they need transporting.

As I was studying how to bait and set it, I was struck by the thought: What if I was to be successful and catch it? What then? I would have a high-strung skunk in a wire cage with a short handle on it. Somehow that cage would need to be moved to a neutral location, and the cage door be opened. All while the animal was watching and perfectly capable of its unique form of retaliation. So I set the trap aside. For nine years. Until now.

About six months ago, we began experiencing a different sort of home invasion, this time by a large black and white cat who would drop by occasionally. He would enter through the pet door late at night, eat food that our own cats hadn’t finished, and then take his leave. Sometimes I would catch him at it, but apparently my blustering and waving my arms frantically weren’t enough to frighten him off permanently.

Until two nights ago it hadn’t physically bothered our own cats, and who cared if it stole a bit of food from time to time. But on this one particular evening he hurt Poco, biting our old friend so severely that he cried out when moved. After returning from a trip to the vet, I resolved to try to do … something, so I dragged out the Havahart, set it with a can of cat food, and this morning I have the invader in the cage.

When 0800 rolls around I will dial the Animal Control number and ask them to carry the trappee to the animal shelter. If the cat has an owner, they will find it there. If not, I hope that the shelter will find a proper home for the wanderer. It is a beautiful and resourceful creature, but an uneasy truce was broken when it hurt Poco. Not okay.

The whole episode makes me sad, though, in a way that I can’t seem to easily shake.

[BTW, the good news is that Poco is recovering nicely for an old gent of 15 years.]

Seems Like A Long Time, by Brewer and Shipley

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No Code

The moment when I realized that my assumptions about what it meant to be an American were just that – assumptions – was when I listened to the debate about using torture in interrogations, after 9/11. It was horrifying to me to hear members of our own government seriously talking about not whether to use torture, but how much.  As if once that door was opened there were any boundaries worthy of the name. 

How naive I had been, I thought, how could I have missed how close we were  to savagery? A government that can see its way to torturing the citizens of another country will not shrink from doing the same thing to its own if it imagines a need exists.

For that reason this Doonesbury cartoon evokes a rueful laugh. On the surface it is about a simple man who has swallowed a line of thinking without thinking.

What he is not wrong about, though, is the need for vigilance on the part of all of us when it comes to our leadership. I learned during the Cluck years how quickly institutions could be corrupted, and during the McConnell tenure that the naked lust for political power could be used to break what I believed could not, would not, be broken.

Because why? Because, I thought – Americans don’t do that s**t. Naiveté again.

So here I am in my golden years trying to figure out just how many “bad guys” are really out there? How to do what I can to help contain our country’s worst impulses so that the best ones can get the chance to be expressed?

I think that if I’m going to save the world I better get cracking.

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From The New Yorker

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Continuing on in this light-hearted mode, I would like to talk about the problem of doing CPR in dinosaurs like myself. If you watch enough medical shows on television, you could easily get the idea that resuscitation after a full arrest is a pretty cool thing with good results almost to be expected.

The reality is not so cool. When an 80+ year-old person’s arrest happens in a hospital, their chances of being brought back are around 12%. There is a very good chance that they will re-arrest, depending on why it happened the first time. Among that initial 12% of survivors there are patients who will have lifelong neurologic handicaps of varying severities. Many will not be able to take care of themselves, and will be discharged to nursing homes. Some will be in a vegetative state.

In short, a small fraction of persons my age who arrest will go home fairly intact. To me, that fraction is too small. Way too small.

When I had my stroke a couple of years ago and was being transferred from the ER to the ICU after I had regained the power of speech, the admitting nurse asked about my choices for critical care. I told her that I was to be considered a DNR patient (Do Not Resuscitate), which means that if I suffered a complete cardiorespiratory arrest nothing was to be done.

The nurse dutifully wrote down my wishes, my chart was so labelled, and a DNR sign was placed in my room. The R.N. did not gasp or faint or try to talk me out of my decision, but accepted it matter-of-factly and went on with her other questions. Having DNR put on my chart doesn’t mean that I will be ignored by staff from that moment forward. And it certainly doesn’t limit my freedom to be a total pain in the ass as a patient if I want to be.

It simply means that if all my lights go out, don’t go looking for a switch.

Others may make very different choices. It’s not a right or wrong situation. But for myself, I don’t like those odds, and I abhor the idea of being brought back to “life” in pieces. (And BTW, those dismal statistics are for in-hospital CPR. If the arrest occurs elsewhere, the odds are worse.)

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From The New Yorker

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One of the most beautiful songs/performances that I’ve heard. Written by my favorite poet of them all, Leonard Cohen. Unlike a lot of other musicians and groups that I have fancied over the years, my appreciation for this man’s work has grown steadily and shows no signs of flagging. Even though the troubadour himself left the building six years ago.

He’s been my man all the way from the soooooo romantic Suzanne, which was a perfect anthem for a 60s dreamer, to tender hymns like this one.

You know, maybe we should pick some tea and oranges that come all the way from China, then sit down and watch this together. All we need’s a bunch of cushions and a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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I was ready for quite a few of the things that come along with being a senior citizen. Physical capacities lessening a bit, forgetfulness up a notch or two … I anticipated these and more.

But what I wasn’t ready for was this unholy trio:

  • Basic irrelevance
  • Performing ordinary tasks is regarded as amazing
  • I have become “cute”

Let me take them one at a time. Irrelevance first. A friend of mine put it very well when he said sadly: “I just spent nearly a week with my children and no one asked me my opinion about anything.” That’s when you realize that you’ve been assigned to a new category which is: people who come from just too far back down the road to have anything useful to say. Like you were King Tut, a leftover from another era.

Performing ordinary tasks is next. What … you tie your own shoes? Cook your own food? Turn the computer on all by yourself? That’s amazing.

I don’t know exactly at what age this happens, but it’s closely associated with retirement.

The horrible “cute” thing. This is the worst. You spend your whole life creating and living in the fiction that you are a dangerous and fascinating person. And then one day you hear a young woman’s voice behind you saying “Look at that old guy … isn’t he cute? A crushing blow. James Bond was never cute. You realize that you and a Capuchin monkey at the zoo are now looked at in the same way.

Wearing a new shirt? Cute.

Wearing a new pair of slacks? Cute.

Wearing any clothes at all? Cute.

Dance a couple of steps? Cute.

No need to go on. All of us, if we last long enough, will eventually face these indignities. Part of the human condition, and all that. But no one says we have to like it.

In my head, I am still dangerous, but there are differences today. While I used to overcome adversaries with physical prowess, now I do it by being crafty. And since I have become so disarmingly cute, finding out that I’ve outwitted them often comes as an unwelcome surprise.

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Plus ça change …

My friends, I don’t know if you’ll recognize me or not the next time we meet. I have been to the opera and my cultural battery (which was on low ebb) has been recharged. I am fully me once again. I don’t know how the word got out that I was attending that night, but it did.

It started in the parking lot at the Santa Fe Opera House, where our car was singled out for special treatment. All of the vehicles in front of ours were shunted to the side, some actually into ditches to make room for us. We were directed by people in uniform saluting as we passed until we were parked at the point closest to the performance hall. Several of these attendants fought one another to open our car doors for us and walked alongside us as we went through the gates . Since the evening was uncomfortably warm, they carried large fans to waft us along.

At some point we were encouraged to accept a ride in the sedan chairs which were offered, that our heels may not be bruised on the rough pavement. Out of modesty I refused at first, but soon relented when I realized that each chair came with a complimentary bag of jalapeño-flavored Cheetos.

The performance of Falstaff was exciting, the costumes inventive, and the voices were uniformly excellent, especially the young soprano who had the role of Nannetta. Her name is Elena Villalon.

It is of no matter that she was young enough to be a grand-daughter (perhaps a great grand-daughter). She warbled her way into the part of my heart that doesn’t acknowledge age at all. Both Robin and I were smitten by her.

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While we’re on the subject of smiting, I must relate the tale of Robin and the waiter. Our journey from Paradise to Santa Fe went like this. First we drove to Durango and picked up grandson Aiden. The four hour drive from there passed through country that was uniformly and constantly beautiful. Through towns with names like Abiquiu, Española, Cebolla, Tierra Amarilla, and Chama. Looking out the window of the car was like watching a travelogue where only the very best scenes had been saved in the editing.

We stopped for lunch in the nearly dried-up village of Chama, to take our chances at the Boxcar Cafe. You never know. But the food turned out to be good diner food, with some kitchen creativity. For instance, there were the french fries cooked in duck fat and sprinkled with cayenne pepper. On the menu they were listed as Duck Fat/Togarashi. Interesting.

But it was our waiter, a slender man of about eighteen years who was topped with a pile of unruly curly hair, who had Robin’s full attention from the get-go. I think that if he had recommended the dustmop with a side of cactus thorns she might have ordered a double helping. When our meal was over and we were driving away from the restaurant, Robin was on her knees on the rear seat and gazing longingly out the rear window as the Boxcar Restaurant faded from view. Plucky girl that she is though, an hour later she had fully composed herself and was looking forward to the rest of the day.

Aaahhhhh, such is life … there are times when loves come and go with so little ceremony.

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I thought that although the January 6 hearings have been going on for quite a while, so many of the characters are only names, and we don’t have pictures to go with them. Why, a person could bump into Josh Hawley on the street, have a perfectly good opportunity to give him a piece of your mind, but miss the opportunity because you had no idea what this particular toady looked like.

Therefore I offer this modest gallery of some of the players on the Republican side of things.

Donald Cluck

Kevin McCarthy

Mitch McConnell

Josh Hawley

Steve Bannon

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Lindsey Graham (I include him here even though he is really not a proper Fascist at all, but only a minor bootlick without any obvious character, backbone, or principle.)

Although he’s been dead for 77 years, I have included Benito Mussolini’s photograph here because … perhaps it’s just me … but there is more than a passing resemblance between him and some of our present-day players.

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The French have a phrase for all of this in plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (the more things change, the more they are the same).

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The Americans have a couple of phrases for all of this as well, at least to Woody Guthrie’s way of thinking.

All You Fascists, by Billy Bragg and Wilco

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The Sane Person As An Endangered Species

Anti-choice and anti-abortion fanaticism is running rampant through the land right now, and we are beginning to see outcomes, some predictable and some unforeseen. An op/ed in the New York Times takes one case and opens it to show how these present-day Torquemadas are yet one more version of the crazed mob we have seen portrayed in movies, running up and down the cobblestone streets with their torches while looking for witches to burn.

The photo below is either that of a horde in Texas out looking for abortion providers or a group in Europe trying to smoke out the Frankenstein monster, I can’t remember which.

The author of the op/ed is a pediatrician who tells the story of an obstetrician-colleague who is being pilloried right now for performing a legal abortion on a ten year-old rape victim. Ten years old … my god! It makes chilling reading. The concluding paragraph of the piece is reproduced below.

Our medical and ethical responsibility as clinicians is grounded in delivering comprehensive, safe and evidence-based health care. If providing that care results in threats to professional and personal safety, patients will suffer. Doctors have sworn to do no harm. Clearly, many of those in power have not.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard Was Meant to Write This With Me Before She Was Attacked for Doing Her Job; Dr. Tracey A. Wilkinson, New York Times July 16, 2022

But the fanatics don’t really care who gets burned in the relentless crusade to inflict their personal version of moral perfection on all of us. To them, it is acceptable collateral damage. It is okay to force ten year-old children to carry pregnancies caused by rape to term, to make their point.

If we needed it, and apparently we sorely do, this is one of those teaching moments where the reasons for the separation of church and state are plainly visible. Even though the world’s religions are very capable of doing good works, each one of them harbors men and women who are zealots and love nothing better than to see the tendrils of smoke rising from a fresh immolation.

The inmates are truly running the asylum when the churches who still won’t accept full responsibility for their enabling role in the rape of children all over the world are leading today’s charge against giving women full say over their own bodies.

The Days That Used To Be, by Neil Young

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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I don’t often provide recipes here, because I know that many of you are better cooks by far than I am. (I also don’t take photographs of what I am eating because I suspect that you could care less.) However, I thought I’d share something with you about Paprika, a recipe organizing software that Robin and I have been using for maybe eight or nine years. It works with iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. We have found it the best of the three such organizers we have used over the years. Here is what Paprika does for us:

  • It can download recipes from most sites on the internet with ease, saving much typing and cursing about typos. This is a big deal.
  • “Can I get this recipe from you?” is a common question asked by friends, and with Paprika the answer is always Yes. Just email it from your phone or computer to that person.
  • There is no limit to the number of recipes it will hold, and you can sort them by using your own keywords
  • Want to make half a recipe or a double recipe? Just a click and the program does the calculation for you.
  • It syncs between laptops and iOS devices
  • You’re at the grocery store and you forgot your list of ingredients for something that you were going to make for supper? Bring up the recipe on your phone and you’ve got the information!

We use the program nearly daily and although you can live a life that is happy, joyous, and free without it, for us it is a good and reliable worker who helps us with the daily chore of feeding ourselves.

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Periodically someone will mention to me that their physician, their spouse, or the checkout person at the grocery store is in the habit of lecturing them on the evils of eating bacon. I recoil in horror at these stories. Why, a world without fried and crispy slabs of hog fat is unimaginable and I would not want to live in it. If push came to shove I would ask for transport on the first Musk-A-Plane to Mars that had seats available.

These do-gooders will natter on about their belief that bacon fat doesn’t need to be digested but passes right through the stomach to the bloodstream in large lumps that you can see with the naked eye. These chunks then wedge themselves in blood vessels everywhere in the body. If a chunk lands in someone’s brain that person may not be able to talk, drive a car, or take care of themselves any longer, but the good news is they will still be able to legally carry an Uzi at the movies in the state of Texas, so there is that.

Another annoyance is the fact that these same folks say that there are so many cancer-causing agents in a piece of cured bacon that it should only be available by prescription, and that only for people already on death row.

I say poof and piffle on their science. This is America and I can be as ignorant as I want to be even if it makes those around me tear the hair from their heads.

There are two great morning smells in the world – coffee cooking and bacon frying. These aromas are essential to a civilized life. End of story.

Bacon, by Jim Gaffigan

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A George Booth cartoon

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Golf is a silly game. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good games are silly, like the kids’ card game of Going to the Dump. It’s part of what makes them fun to play. What’s different about golf is that its adherents have almost covered up its aspects of childhood fun-ness and have instead dressed it up to make it look like it’s important, almost a religion.

It has its temples like Augusta National and St. Andrews. It has its priests and heroic figures like Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. It has its dogmas and its vestments and its commandments. [Those vestments often take the form of clothing more suitable to that of students at a clown college.]

All the game really is about is to take a stick and strike a small ball toward a small hole and try to roll it in. All the rest is pretty much overblown twaddle.

Here in Paradise, which is a small town of 19,000 souls, we have not one, not two, but three golf courses. Two of them sit right in the middle of town and are impediments to any sort of logical street planning, since all roads must go around them. This also happens in communities with large parks, which are open areas where you can go to rest up and heal life’s wounds. Roads have to go around these as well.

But the particular parklands that golf courses represent are for members only, an “elite” composed of people who dress oddly and have convinced themselves that knocking balls into holes gives them an insight into the meaning of life.

Every few years I replay these clips from performances by Robin Williams and George Carlin on the subject of this game. They are full of f-bombs, so don’t watch them if you are offended by coarse language. Also don’t watch them if you are one of golf’s true believers. It won’t improve your day.

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I can hear some of you saying – But what sort of hypocrisy is this? A rant from a man whose home is on a street named Country Club Way? I offer this as an example of how the pretentiousness of the “sport”seeps out into the community. There is a golf course nearby, a good two blocks away, but the people who built the houses in our little subdivision thought it would dress up the place to put in a reference to such a club. In spite of the fact that there is not a single square foot of Country Club Way from which any golf course is visible.

You might as well call our street Lagoon Avenue, we can’t see a lagoon from here, either.

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I am publishing this edition one day early because later today (Tuesday) Robin and I are taking off on a two-day mini-vacation that involves taking grandson Aiden to the Santa Fe Opera. Aiden has a love for all sorts of musical theater. In addition, he has an excellent voice and an eagerness to learn. How could we not take him?

And what better guide than myself for such an experience? I am positively loaded with culture. My credentials are that I have actually attended an opera twice in my life, both times being disappointed that they were done in a foreign language. I thought that the least they could do when performing in America was to sing in American. Call me fussy.

The opera we are going to see is Falstaff, which I understand is Mr. Verdi’s idea of what Shakespeare’s character would have been like had he been born under an Italian grape arbor and with a plate of pasta before him. Aiden will be very fortunate to have me to explain the nuances of the production. This is doubly important because once again they have stubbornly decided to perform the entire opera in Italian, in spite of the fact that I wrote them about my previous unhappinesses.

Ah me … well … maybe they will at least be selling popcorn at the intermissions.

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The first song by the Rolling Stones that really caught me was “The Last Time.” I heard it issuing from a boombox in 1965 which was being carried on the shoulders of a kid in Minneapolis who was walking past the run-down tri-plex that I called home. This was way back at their beginning, when the group was young and hungry and interesting to me. It is rock and roll stripped down to essentials, with a hook that is instantly recognizable.

The song’s refrain is similar to “This May Be the Last Time”, a traditional gospel song recorded in 1954 by the Staple Singers. In 2003, Richards acknowledged this, saying, “We came up with ‘The Last Time’, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers, but luckily the song itself goes back into the mists of time.”

The Last Time, Wikipedia

Even now, that hook will stop me and I will listen to the rest of the song all the way through, every time. I don’t know if any rock and roll tune should be called “perfect,” because an essential part of the genre is a certain amount of raggedy-assedness, but for me this song is about as close as it gets.

The Last Time, by The Rolling Stones

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O, Pioneers!

[Note: I know many of my readers personally, and occasionally conversation gets around to some subject in this blog (doesn’t blog sound like some horrible substance sucking at the wheel of an oxcart?). From time to time they will sheepishly admit that they haven’t read an entry since the Harding administration. There is absolutely no need be shy about such an admission. For one thing it shows that you have good taste and a high degree of discernment, and that you have much better things to do. To be perfectly frank, everyone has better things to do, or at least they should.]

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It was a few years back that there was a small local celebration of Montrose’s pioneers, specifically ranchers whose families had been on the same piece of land for more than 100 years. My brain was on idle at the time but something was clanking around in there and then I realized what it was.

The brave European pioneers (and they were brave) that were being honored that day … some of them either stole the land by driving off its previous inhabitants, or they bought it from the guy who did. Not as much to brag about when you look at it that way, is it?

Growing up as a child in Minnesota I was told scads of pioneer stories, there were pioneer exhibits at the fairs, pioneer crafts to learn in school, etc. A St. Paul newspaper is still called The Pioneer Press. The word pioneer had nothing but good connotations.

Native Americans were mentioned in those stories, of course, but somehow my teachers managed to obscure the fact that those courageous Natives and those courageous settlers were parts of a very large pattern of fraud, deceit, and rapaciousness. Those same teachers glossed over the fact that the deceivers universally had rather pale complexions.

My Antonia, by Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews

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A George Booth cartoon

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Sometimes Nature is just too … unbelievable to be believable. Take the Monarch butterfly, for instance. Each year swarms of Monarchs migrate to somewhere in Mexico, returning the next year to where they came from. So what’s the big deal? There are birds that do things like that all the time.

But individual Monarchs don’t live a year.

So a butterfly that takes off from … oh, let’s say Minneapolis … dies four months later, not having yet come anywhere near Mexico. Its children continue the journey, but like their parents, they only live a few months. In fact, the entomologists have figured out that the butterflies that “return” to Minneapolis are members of the fifth generation since the beginning of the journey for that insect family. They are the great-great-grandbugs of the ones that started the trip!

(Pause while reader parses out what they’ve just read.)

So how does that lovely creature with the tiny little brain do this? How does it find its way to Mexico, to Minneapolis? It couldn’t ask its mother-bug, because she’s never been there. Nor its grandmother-bug, for the same reason. A precise journey of thousands of miles without an external guide of any kind. Whoah! Pardon me while I un-boggle my mind here.

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Where do these travelers keep their map and where did they get it are the questions I’d like answers to, please, and the quicker the better. I haven’t got all day, you know.

Here’s the thing. You and I have very large brains, with all sorts of nooks and crannies for information to be stuffed into. How much of our behavior is as unconscious and programmed as is the Monarch’s? Is that why whenever I have an opportunity to stick my foot into my own mouth I can’t pass it up no matter how hard I try? And if a group of insects can fly all the way to Mexico and back using ancestral memory patterns, why do I ever, EVER get lost if I am the superior being I keep telling myself that I am?

For the answers to these and other such questions of importance, you must look elsewhere. This blog is, after all, only a trifle and not an oracle.

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From The New Yorker

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Hooahhh! We have a new poet laureate and her name is Ada Limon. There was a piece in the Times of New York about her on Wednesday. It was a quotation from one of her works, Dead Stars, that caught my eye.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.

Dead Stars, by Ada Limon

So of course off I went swinging through the trees to learn what I could about Ms. Limon. I have a soft spot for poets, at least the ones that don’t use phrases like “alas, fair Endymion.” They work very hard, share views of the world that may be quite novel and good for our souls, open their minds and hearts for us to plunder, never become wealthy, and none of their work is made into movies.

I have even written a few lines of doggerel myself along my path, mostly when life was way crazier than I could handle and I needed a way to deal with emotions that were becoming hazardous to my health. Most of those literary efforts were written late at night and deleted with extreme prejudice from my computer the next morning as terrible excuses for literature.

But I did keep a few, and occasionally look back on them from this safe distance and think … that one isn’t too horrible, really. Anyway, here’s a link to Ms. Limon’s Dead Stars, which is definitely a keeper. That line What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No is starting to haunt me. What if we did, indeed?

BTW, I once had a friend who described poets as the last truth-tellers. He may have been right. And for those of you who are not “into” poetry, if you listened to the song My Antonia earlier in this post and you were touched by its haunting lyrics … why, what were they but a poem set to music? And Bob Dylan didn’t win the Nobel Prize for folk music, but for literature … his poetry.

The Poet Game, by Greg Brown

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One of the good things about these blazing hot summer afternoons is that they don’t last. The classic joke: “Why are you hitting yourself? Because it feels so good when I stop” comes to mind. But each night the temperature drops at least into the low seventies, sometimes further. And we are revived.

Some of those early mornings I can be found sitting out on the backyard deck and typing in the dark, the only light provided by the computer screen, and it always feels special. Ours is not a very noisy town, but at three a.m. you can pick out the sounds of individual vehicles going past on the highway, which is two miles away. Occasionally there will be a jarring blast of sound as someone hits the gas on a vehicle with a cutout muffler and demonstrates to whoever is awake that here I am, by God, and I can create a racket whenever I choose. I make the assumption that these are testosterone-fueled outbursts, but have no way of knowing, really.

I love the feel of the rough deckboards on bare feet, the cool movement of the air – not enough to even be called a breeze – just movement.

I have no idea what’s going on out there in the dark, but at least once every couple of weeks there is the obvious aroma provided by a disturbed skunk, and I wonder – who is bothering those critters, anyway? There’s no sound, no barking of a repentant dog, nothing to indicate why this particular perfume at this particular moment.

It’s now four a.m. and the eastern sky is starting to light up. We are warned that there may be thunderstorms in our future this afternoon, but the weathermen cry wolf so often that I will one day surely be swallowed up by one of these disturbances because I largely ignore their alerts. If I am going to hike in the mountains, it is a given that I should be heading back down the trail by noon or thereabouts to avoid being caught out in open terrain when the lightning walks the world.

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Thursday last Robin and I rendezvoused with Amy and Claire at Little Molas Lake, a few miles from Silverton CO. Our purpose for getting together was to take a hike. The trailhead parking lot was just off a small campground at the lake, and at the end of a mile of road characterized by potholes that could hold large mammals.

It turned out to be one of the more beautiful walks we’d ever taken, with 99% of it above treeline. Robin and I left Montrose at 7 a.m. to get to the trailhead by 9:00. We wanted to be off the trail by noon to avoid those pesky lighting bolts, and in this we succeeded. After the walking we ate a picnic lunch in the parking lot while dark clouds were filling up the western sky. When we climbed into our vehicles for the return trip a light rain began, one with a sprinkling of small hailstones. What a fine outing it had turned out to be!

The trail we had walked was a tiny piece of the Colorado Trail, which begins near Denver and ends in Durango. Doing that walk would be one of those epic journeys, right up there with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe I will do it and maybe I won’t.

The seventeen year-old who uses my eyes says “Let me at it!” The octogenaric body, however, says “If you make me do that I will punish you with great blisters and aches the nature of which you cannot even conceive. It would be a deluge of discomforts, a tsunami of soreness, an endless succession of walking in places where only goats are meant to go, and all this wrapped up with a glorious opportunity to sail off of a precipice whose name you might have learned but which cares not a whig or farthing for you.”

This blurb from the Colorado Trail website gives a bit more balanced information.

The journey that you are about to embark upon follows a portion, or perhaps the entire 485 miles of recreational trail that crosses Colorado from Denver to Durango. The Trail passes through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. The Colorado Trail is administered and maintained by Colorado Trail Foundation volunteers in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. What makes The Colorado Trail unique is that it was developed with the efforts of thousands of volunteers, all interested in the conservation and recreational exploration of Colorado’s stunning mountainous areas.

Colorado Trail Foundation
Colorado Song, by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils

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Storms Never Last

Another story of trouble on the water. Different location, same idea.

It was 1993, and our second vacation together in Mexico. We had chosen to go to Isla Mujeres, an island 22 miles (and an entire universe) off the coast where Cancun rested in the sun during the day and took off in sinful decadence at night. Our guidebook told of a trip by small boat to Isla Contoy, a bird and wildlife sanctuary where we would have a chance to snorkel on a reef about half-way to the island, and later swim with small rays in some of the clearest water in the Caribbean.

We were ten people on the open boat, with a short Mayan captain and a 15 year-old boy as first mate. The trip out was idyllic, and along the way the men in the group were each handed a rod and reel with baited line. As soon as you tossed in the line you had a hit, and very shortly we had caught a half dozen small barracuda which were to be turned into our shore lunch later on.

On the return journey we could see a storm brewing to our west. Dimly visible in the distance was the mainland of Mexico. It seemed no time at all until we were in the middle of something really terrifying. The sky turned green-black, a drenching rain began and the winds blew hard enough that all of the passengers held their hats firmly in their hands, as well as anything else that might blow away.

The sea grew rough and our captain adeptly steered us into waves that towered above our boat and broke over us as he tried to make headway. A man sitting next to Robin asked her with a shaky voice if she thought we were going to die out there and her response was a truthful “I don’t know.”

If we were to capsize it was a long long way to the only visible land, and none of us aboard knew anything about what our chances were in the sea in such a storm, even with life vests on.

Instead of panicking, which is what I would have predicted my behavior would have been, I became completely calm. I remember thinking that if these were the last scenes that I would see in my life they were strikingly beautiful ones, and I was going to give them all my attention. The dramatic colors, the looming and gigantic waves, the taste of the salt water as we were repeatedly drenched, the shrieking of the wind drowning out our voices … it was all thrilling and an experience I was never to forget.

This surprising serenity that I describe, by the way, is in no way meant to be portrayed as courage. Courage is quite a different matter, where a person has a choice between easier and more difficult options, and then knowingly chooses the harder one. What I felt here was more a sense of utter acceptance. Everything, and I mean everything, was out of my hands. The only thing that I could do was to clutch at the wooden plank beneath me to keep from being tossed into the sea, and this I did with enough vigor to leave a mark, I’m sure. But no fretting or worrying, no quickness of thought, no physical effort of any kind was going to change whatever outcome was on its way. And the scene in front of us was fearful and spectacular.

In less than half an hour it was obvious that the front was passing and we were through the worst of it. Soon after that we were back in full sunshine, riding on a calm sea. Fortunately, even though he had provided such a memorable experience for all of us, the captain didn’t charge us extra for all the added thrills.

Storms Never Last, by Waylon Jennings and Jessie Colter

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

Our morning bicycle rides into the rural have become even more agreeable with the increasing profusion of birdsong that cheers us on our sweaty way. I’m no expert on bird calls, but there are some easy ones here, the red-winged blackbirds, the Western Meadowlarks, and the Gambel’s quail just to name a few.

Last Wednesday we saw a pair of these pretty little things run across the road in front of us. The quail are not much bigger than a pigeon, can run like crazy, and have beautiful coloration. A designer bird if there ever was one.

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I’ve had one of those now I can’t unsee it experiences this week. If you’ve been reading this column for awhile, you know that I often use quotes by H.L. Mencken. I’ve used his stuff because of his intelligence, his wit and sometimes his delicious sarcasm. Usually there was some truth in each one along with a dollop of wisdom.

This week I decided to go further and read the whole list of Mencken quotations found at Goodreads.com and suddenly I found myself in a very different place indeed.

First, let me show you why I have admired his writing with a series of Mencken quotes:

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

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will make a better soup.

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

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean … and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.

Pretty good stuff, I think. But this week on Goodreads.com I came across these:

The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered they lack any of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.

How far the gentlemen of dark complexion will get with their independence, now that they have declared it, I don’t know. There are serious difficulties in their way. The vast majority of people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops and bootleg gin.

So I investigated and learned that Mencken had kept a diary which was sealed at his request for 25 years after his death. When it was opened a good deal of this repellent thinking was revealed. Bigoted statements … yep, fer sure. I found myself in one of those classic situations – what do I do with an artist whose work I have admired who I now learn was a very imperfect person? Toss out everything they did or wrote and thus “purify” myself? Or do I accept that it might be possible to learn something even from men and women who might have (or once had) a darker side?

I do believe that if we cleared our libraries of the writings of anyone who had at any time expressed bigoted thinking anywhere in their corpus those library shelves would be much more thinly stocked than they are. And if we only allowed the purest of heart among us to be admitted to the library as members, there would be very few patrons in the aisles involved in searching through those half-empty shelves. I freely admit that I would certainly be denied entry if my entire life were to be carefully examined. And if I couldn’t have gained entrance, making my way out of my ignorance would have been that much harder.

The author William Manchester had been a good friend of Mencken’s, and wrote a piece for the Times of New York addressing these problems and the legitimate concerns the diary raises. It makes good reading.

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A George Booth cartoon

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I’d like to take a moment here to quash some rumors making the rounds. I am not going for the hoochie daddy look this summer. Spending so little time on social media meant that I was completely unaware of the term until listening to NPR a couple of days ago.

The last time I checked out my look in the mirror, it was obvious that my hoochie daddy moment had come and gone at some time in the past, perhaps when I was sleeping. Even though this five-inch inseam length was what I wore all the time in a universe far, far away. At that time, which would have been in the fifties, they weren’t considered hoochie at all, but simply shorts. Also at that time, the skin was clearer, the muscles more toned, and the vibe going out was very close to “Here I am, baby … I believe that I am just what you’re looking for!”

If I were to try it today, I would be besieged by Boy Scouts trying to help me across the street, assuming that if I dressed that way I must have lost my mind (or at least my fashion sense) completely.

BTW, read the legend carefully on the above graphic and you see that there is no Hoochie Grandpa category. That is not a typo. Put a 5 inch inseam on an octogenarian and you get no vibe at all, but a silence as profound as any encountered in outer space.

Short Shorts, by the Royal Teens

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Monkey Mind

There have been many times that I have wished for a steady-on sort of brain. One that would grab a thought and stick with it until I (emphasis on I) wanted to quit. This was especially true when I was studying mindfulness meditation.

Let’s see, you sit on the cushion like this … that’s good, comfortable … then you begin to pay attention to your breathinghere’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath … here’s – I wonder where I put that book that I bought yesterday … wait … I’ve gone off track … here’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath – I bet it’s still in the back of the car, probably fell behind the seat, I’ll go see … no … wait … off track again …here’s an in-breath … etc. etc. etc.

But in the great body-part distribution I got what the Buddhists like to call a monkey brain, one that swings through the trees from one branch to another with no more thought for the moment than the next piece of fruit. If those same Buddhist sages are right, well, some of you have probably got one, too.

So anyway I went out to the backyard deck because it was so lovely out there with the dappled sunshine and the low humidity and the gentlest movement of the air and all. I turned on my music and the first tune up was Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. This has been a fave since 1985, when I first heard it in the movie Mask. It was a melancholy song which made it figure so well in a melancholy story. But hearing the tune today set me off to find out where I could see the film one more time. This was what I did instead of staying with the project I had brought with me to the porch. Classic monkey-brain-ness.

The film starred a young Cher and a young Sam Elliott and a younger man who turned out to be a fine actor in his first big role, Eric Stoltz. It’s one of those “based on a true story” movies – this one about a special boy and his strong bond with a strong woman, his mother. Sounds all good except that the boy had an illness that was both severely disfiguring and life-shortening to boot.

Back in the day film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up, and this glowing review. I wasn’t able to find that the movie was streaming anywhere or I would have watched it last night. Instead I give you the review.

The Review

Ripple is one of those songs that move me quietly at each listening. Here’s a piece from American Songwriter:

For “Ripple,” Garcia constructed a melody that was pure and humble, tinged with a bit of sadness. Hunter recalled to Rolling Stone when his old friend came up with the music to match his lyrics: “We were in Canada on that train trip [the Festival Express, 1970] and one morning the train stopped and Jerry was sitting out on the tracks not too far off, in the sunrise, setting “Ripple” to music. That’s a good memory.”

In the studio, the band caressed the song with the gentleness of a lover. Garcia’s acoustic guitar is the song’s tender heart, while the rhythm section of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann nudge the song forward. By the time they got to “Ripple” on American Beauty, the Dead had darn near perfected the harmonies they used heavily on Workingman’s Dead. The ensemble voices on “Ripple” provide comfort when the words evoke hardship.

Hunter delivers lyrics that evoke cosmic wisdom and serenity without ignoring the darkness on the fringes of even the most blessed lives. The song nods at different religions and philosophies, from the Christian overtones of the lines about cups both empty and filled, which recall the 23rd Psalm, to the Buddhist koan feel of the refrain. The chorus even breaks off from the relatively straightforward rhyme scheme of the verses to form a haiku, another example of East meeting West in the song.

The song opens up with Garcia opining on the power of music, or perhaps it’s better to say the lack thereof. Even if his words glowed and were majestically propelled through the air on a “harp unstrung,” he has no certainty that they’ll have any positive impact on the listener. Still, ineffectuality aside, he also concedes that the world is better for having music: “I don’t know, don’t really care/ Let there be songs to fill the air.”

American Songwriter: The craft of music

As the man says, let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple, by The Grateful Dead

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From The New Yorker

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The weather app on my phone went off on an alert Wednesday afternoon, warning of a strong thunderstorm headed our way. I didn’t panic, mostly because the app sends these alerts fairly often and then nothing materializes. But I clicked on it to find that the storm was less than an hour away and at that moment was delivering quarter-sized hailstones along with high winds and drenching rains. It was those hailstones that got my attention, and I made sure the car was in the garage and the door was shut. I have this thing in that I think an automobile with a thousand dents in it lacks a certain something.

When the front finally hit us there was no hail left to worry about, but the light dimmed as the temperature fell nearly twenty degrees. Powerful winds and heavy rains followed. Robin and I were all smiles and enjoying the drama, because rain in this country is so very, very welcome. This stormfront was the kind of stuff that on the prairie might have raised a tornado or two, but that particular annoyance happens here vanishingly rarely. That’s a good thing for many reasons, one of which that most of the houses in town don’t have a basement to duck into, including our own.

I know that I’ve said it many times before, but I am one of those weirdos who enjoy storms and are energized by them. There’s something about being exposed to that awe-inspiring power which emerges seemingly out of thin air .

You’re fishing in a small boat on a Minnesota lake on a bluebird day and not paying full attention when you turn around and become aware that the sky behind you has turned green-black and has a murderous look about it. The shore that you must reach for safety now seems a god-awful distance away but you crank up that five-horsepower outboard motor and off you go full tilt, knowing that being the tallest thing on a lake is a poor location when the lightning comes. Now the wind begins and the goosepimples erupt as the temperature drops. You are fully alive and trying your best to keep things that way as all hell breaks loose, then at long last you tie up the boat at the dock as the rain lashes and nearly blinds you. One more safe harbor gained in the knick o’ time.

Safe and dry later in the cabin you muse, do you have nine lives like the proverbial cat and was that one of them that you just used up?

Storm, by the North Mississippi All-Stars

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From The New Yorker

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Those books whose aggressive titles go something like this seem foolish to me, and the person buying them a special type of fool as well.

100 Places You Absolutely, Positively Have To Visit Before You Die Or You’re A Schmuck

First of all, if you have to buy one of these books to tell you where you should go you are not much of an adventurer to begin with, are you? And since none of us knows the day and time that we will leave this planet behind, it would be impossible to properly plan such an ambitious itinerary. So why begin at all if you aren’t going to finish the job? How about if you get to only 99 of these required destinations and then blow the whole project by kicking the bucket … what an utter bummer. To leave this vale of tears a failure in one’s final lap is just too sad an ending to contemplate.

A guidebook like this introduces a feeling of desperation into one’s life. An unnecessary race against an invisible clock. Pfaugh! Who needs it? The authors of these things are usually someone you never heard of and why would you ever follow their advice over that of any other stranger?

Better to buy a book with this title:

If You’ve Got Nothing To Do Next Tuesday And You Are Still Breathing Here’s A Nice Place To Go

See … no pressure. I would totally buy this one.

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When the former POTUS Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace I remember reading at the time in more than one op-ed that there was no need to prosecute him for his criminality because the “poor fellow had already suffered so much” in not being POTUS any more. This eventually led to a pardon issued by his replacement, Gerald Ford. I disagreed vehemently with that line of thinking at the time.

If we as a society have decided that the best thing we can think of to do with crooks is to put them in prison, then why not a bozo whose misdeeds had already been laid out in front of us so clearly in the televised Watergate hearings?

So when the same sort of murmurings begin to be heard with regard to former POTUS Donald Cluck, I lose patience quickly. This country will eventually recover from the harm that he has done, but not in my lifetime, so if there is justice in the world, I would like to see him at least be given at least … let’s say … 200 hours of community service. Perhaps with a canvas shoulder bag and a pointed stick to pick up litter on the White House grounds. Or better yet, cleaning cages at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Something suited to the man’s true talents.

I am vindictive enough that if this happened, I would drive all the way across the country just to take a picture of him serving out his sentence. Gloating is unseemly, you say? Perhaps you’re right … how about a few moments of smug, would that be okay?

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Swamped

Every once in a while I come across something so good that I can’t wait to share it with you all. Such was the case this past week with Pat Boone. Older readers will remember Mr. Boone from the 50s when he had a string of hits and was really on top of the heap until rock and roll came along and blew out his candle.

Pat was a member of some conservative religious community whose name I have forgotten, didn’t drink or smoke, never played around, and became famous for singing the kind of song that you would warble at your girlfriend’s window if you had that voice. Songs with titles like April Love, Love Letters in the Sand, Friendly Persuasion, etc. He had good teeth, good skin, and didn’t threaten a single parent of the Eisenhower generation.

Pat was safe.

I Almost Lost My Mind, by Pat Boone

I had looked him up because I wanted to play his version of a particular spiritual for Robin, and found not only his old stuff (I can still sing the lyrics), but one that was new to me, and something of a surprise.

Here is a sampling of album covers for the guy. I think you can see how squeaky-clean his image was.

But then came 1997, when he made the album below. Wot! I could not believe my eyes, and with some trepidation I sought it out on Apple music and listened to the songs. I could stand none of them all the way through. Because they were awful! It it right up there for the worst album I have ever listened to.

Song titles on the album include covers of rock classics like:

  • Panama (Van Halen)
  • Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)
  • Love hurts (Nazareth)
  • Paradise City (Guns n’ Roses)
  • Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)

It is painfully obvious that someone is trying to pry a few more dollars out of a fading career. But “In A Metal Mood?” “No more Mr. Nice Guy?”

Pfaugh! Unforgivable!

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I can hardly decide which cut to play for you from this bit of ghastliness, but let’s do Panama, just for kicks. Listen in whatever order you choose, you will get the same result. One is rock and roll gold, one is purest dreck. I trust you to figure out which is which.

Panama, by Pat Boone
Panama, by Van Halen

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Some of you might be wondering about the name of this blog, while most of you couldn’t care less (which is by far the more appropriate stance to take). When I started it something like 15 years ago, I was living on the prairies of South Dakota. I wanted to name it Little House On The Prairie for that reason, but changed it slightly to avoid confusion with the entire gigantic ball of schtick that is the books and television shows of the name “Little House … .” I didn’t want all those wholesome people being ticked off at me for blurring boundaries. Even though this enterprise is infinitesimally small potatoes, entertainment successes are continuously watching their trademarks and copyrights and can be quite ruthless in defending them.

When I moved to Colorado, changing the name seemed the right thing to do, and since I hate to give up on anything no matter how trivial, the blog became “Little Home In The Mountains.” I could have been a lot more creative in the naming, but in the continuing internal personal battle between creativity and sloth, sloth won once again. (The lifetime score in this regard is Sloth 10067, Creativity 0)

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From The New Yorker


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A sad day for me yesterday. I was putting on a sport shirt which is one of my favorites when I inadvertently poked a large hole right through the material in simply buttoning a button. At that point I realized that the passage of years had reduced the entire garment to something that was tissue-thin and more imaginary than real, and that any wind at all could strip it from me and leave me half-nude in the public square. So I sadly retired it from active duty.

Now at one point in my life having my shirt dissolve and fall from my torso would not have bothered me in the slightest. Going topless did not pose the challenges to good taste and propriety fifty years ago that it does today. In fact, my physical appearance is behaving much like the painting in the story A Picture of Dorian Gray. Except that in my case it is me that is becoming wizened and misshapen while somewhere in the world there is my doppelgänger who never seems to age at all, with a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

But to get back to the shirt – it was far from the oldest shirt in my closet. That honor belongs to a hot pink number that I wore on my first date with Robin 36 years ago. While I may have changed, that shirt still looks as good as ever. Even if it should one day become unwearable, I will keep it as a talisman. I have never owned anything that brought me more good fortune.

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The Hurley family came for a brief visit this past weekend. On a whim I had rented four small packboats to run down the Uncompahgre River for a couple of miles. There is still a fair amount of flow and it looked entirely do-able, even for someone of my vintage. A lazy trip, no problem. What I found was more water than I bargained for, less boating skill than I needed, and an altogether exhilarating experience.

The boats we were using were made by the Kokopelli company and designed to be carried into exotic locations. They were tough, lightweight (10 pounds), and easily inflated.

In the photo you can see a perfectly excellent sprayskirt, meant to keep the river on the outside. Deciding that for such a tranquil float I didn’t need the skirt was my first mistake of the day. Because halfway through the trip my boat was completely full of water. It may be due to my lack of skill in whitewater paddling, but I found that a drowned boat is not nearly as maneuverable as one that is dry.

The river was swift and by some strange chance a dozen trees had sprung up along the banks that had one thought on their leafy minds – to entrap me, spill me from the craft, and if all went well, to drown me in the process. I would be swung from one bank to another and thrown into yet another Russian Olive tree with its thousand thorns.

It went something like this:

omigod the water is much faster here than I thought it would be and the only thing to do is to forget about the whole thing but then what would I look like an ass who is afraid of a few riffles well here goes nothing and wait is that a boulder i’ll go around it well maybe i’ll go over it and oof i’m looking backward and i think i swallowed a minnow i am out of control and i will not miss that tree my life is flashing before my eyes wait only one eye is flashing what’s in the other eye – a tree branch-crap another boulder and another tree and i’m in the shallows and my rear is scraping along the gravel and ayayay the river is narrowing and running much faster and now i can hardly paddle with all the water in the boat and is this how it will all end and where will they fish out my carcass at the end of the day i hope it’s not where anyone i know will see me hanging from a branch like a drowned rat but hey there’s the landing and I MADE IT!

Somehow I did make it all the way downstream, found the designated landing area, and beached the thing. Looking up, I saw that Robin was was on the wrong side of the river and was not going to be able to cross in time and off she went down the stream and out of sight. We caught up with her a couple of blocks further on where her boat had become tangled in the branches of yet another one of those Satanic trees. We extracted her and the craft with no serious damage to either one.

At the end of it all, we decided that this would be enough of watersports for the day, thank you very much, so we folded up the four Kokopellis and stowed them in the car.

By the way, it was all in all, a blast.

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Delightful Oddness

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

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

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

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Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

Mystery Train, by Elvis Presley

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

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

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

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

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Blister In The Sun, by Violent Femmes

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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Fire In The Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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

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

Good outing, all in all.

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In Memoriam, Of Me

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

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

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

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

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

And then the wasp flew off.

Dang.

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

Knocking On Heaven’s Door, by Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

Don’t Be Cruel, by Elvis Presley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.L. Mencken

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

H.L. Mencken

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On The Road To Find Out

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

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

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

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

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

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On the Road to Find Out, by Cat Stevens

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From The New Yorker (to Bill H.)

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

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

R: I left the vacuum cleaner there for you.

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

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

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

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

J: Now that you mention …

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

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

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

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

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

J: Urk. (Sound of vacuum running)

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

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From The New Yorker

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Quote du Jour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Of My Kind, by Jason Isbell

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Roots

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia: Americana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie as you know who

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Institutionalist: New York Magazine, June 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

How in the world … ? Come ON, Joe.

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

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

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

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

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Ask My Opinion … Please!

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

What is an influencer? : InfluencerMarketingHub.com

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

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

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

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

But products and endorsements … missing entirely.

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

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

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

All I need now is 500,000 followers.

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

Bandito

by Eleanor Lerman

What gets you up in the morning?

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

Watch me
rubbing out the lines behind me
I recommend it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Western Tanager

A Bullock’s Oriole.

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

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

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

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Wild Blue Yonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

**

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

Stranger: So you’re a “special?

Jon: Yes.

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

Jon: Sounds good.

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

Jon: We’re “special.

Stranger: That must be it. My memory …

Jon: I have the same problem.

Out the door she goes. We are relieved.

******

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

PASSING THROUGH ALBUQUERQUE

by John Balaban

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Mississippi Sawyer, by Tom Adams

******

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

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

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

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No Mas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

Ecclesiastes 3 (excerpt)

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

A time to be born, and a time to die;

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

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

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

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

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

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

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

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

A time to tear, and a time to sew;

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

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace.

Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds

******

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Surprise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong, again.

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

******

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

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Us

from Idiot Poems, by John Snowdon

Our personalities are like sweaters
Which are never finished

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

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

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

All knitting
And unraveling
Together

Graceland, by Paul Simon

******

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

J: How’s it goin’?

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

J: Take your word for it

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

J: You’ve got aches?

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

J: I’m listening

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

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

P: Fageddaboudit.

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

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

******

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

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

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

I believe the old fellow is tucking us in.

******

Good Rockin’ Tonight

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

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

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

******

******

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

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

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

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

My Hometown, by Bruce Springsteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

******

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

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

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The Smack of Snacks

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

Detour, by Spade Cooley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kumbaya, by Rhythm Child

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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

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

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

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Special Edition

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

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

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

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Certain Kind of Fool, by The Eagles

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Whut?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dictionary.com

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

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

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Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Grace, by Anne Murray

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I present a small gallery from the event.

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

#1
#2

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

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

We’ll let you know.

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

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

Thank you for marrying me.

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The Sex Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

The Necks, Wikipedia

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

Sex, by The Necks

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Some Random Quotations Dealing With Today’s Subject Matter

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

Groucho Marx

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

Roger Waters

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

Ogden Nash

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

Norman Mailer

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

Fran Lebowitz

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

Rodney Dangerfield

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

It would explain so many things.

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I, Robot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reasons I feel optimistic on this Sunday morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.L. Mencken

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Plaisir d’Amour by Nana Mouskouri

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