Smelling of Pickles

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

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

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

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

All we’ve got is this jug of vinegar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My existence is entirely their fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have You Heard, by Joni James

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

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Tonsorial Fables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get A Haircut, by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Blue, by Joan Baez

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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Dally Ho!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look At Miss Ohio, by Gillian Welch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiddling

The passage of time does some strange things. This morning I am grateful to former president Cluck. It is similar to the situation in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, where the rabbi is asked if there is such a thing as a blessing for the Czar.

I am grateful that since he was going to become our bigot-in-chief and a traitor (isn’t that what he is, really?) to our democracy that Cluck wasn’t any better at it than he was. His narcissism prevented him from looking much further ahead than any day’s newscast, and his careless tossing aside of one aide or staffer after another kept him perpetually weaker.

Weaker, say, than another would-be-autocrat of the past, Richard Nixon, who was potentially more dangerous because he aligned himself with two capable lieutenants in Haldeman and Ehrlichman. This trio could have gone on to do even more harm than they did to our Republic if they hadn’t developed the unfortunate habit of telling fibs and being caught at it.

What we are seeing finally on the national stage is the slow unraveling of the noose that Republicans tied around their own necks, where one of them after another is finally finding the drawer where they had put their backbones and the ragged remnants of their integrity and saying “No, that’s absolutely wrong,” to His Perpetual Orangiosity. Gratifying, at long last, to hear.

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As long as I’m tossing video clips at you, here’s another from “Fiddler.” As it begins, the milkman Tevye has just been told that daughter Chava has eloped with a Russian man and married outside of Judaism. What follows is for me one of the most moving passages in any movie I’ve ever seen.

There is much wisdom sprinkled throughout this film. This passage, however, is purest heartbreak. “If I bend that far, I’ll break.”

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The old Washington Avenue bridge across the Mississippi River had no cover and a rather easily scaled guard rail. The “new” one has a plexiglass cover from one end to the other. Walking to campus from the West Bank was much more pleasant using the new one, since the wind and whatever was falling from the sky couldn’t get to you until you were across and on campus, where ducking into warm buildings became a possibility.

There was one added benefit of that cover in that it made jumping off into the frigid waters of the river impossible. Why bring this up now? Because in the old uncovered days February was statistically the month of the jumpers. I never had a problem understanding this, because who isn’t sick of winter in Minnesota by February? If one’s mental health was a bit shaky in November, it was not benefited by seemingly endless gray skies, sooty snow everywhere, cars that wouldn’t start, repeated episodes of frostbite, and having been shut into small spaces by the cold for many weeks. So suicide by freezing leap was somewhere between commonplace and unheard of in frequency.

Sometimes when I was crossing the bridge to campus, collar turned up against the wind that seemed to be forever howling down the river in the winter, I would look over the railing into the dark brown water at that strong current and say to myself no way. To spend my last moments of consciousness even colder than I was at the moment I was peering over the rail … it was never going to be my choice for ending it all. If push came to shove I would always opt for something more genteel and above all, warmer.

Theme Song from the movie M*A*S*H, by Johnny Mandel

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Robin and I just finished watching Women of the Movement, one of Hulu’s offerings for Black History Month. This limited series dealt with the lynching of Emmett Till, and of his mother’s life after that horrific tragedy. Her name was Mamie Till.

I won’t put in any spoilers here except that by the end of the series if you could pass through that television screen and get at the killers and their smarmy protectors … you might be tempted to commit a couple of felonies yourself. The state of Mississippi in general does not come off well as it is portrayed in 1955, when the murder and subsequent trial of the killers took place.

When this incident was front-page news and that news reaching even as far North as Minneapolis, I was fifteen, only one year older than Emmett was when he died. And yet back then for me it was a dark story coming out of what I saw as another country altogether, the South. I had a lot to learn and a long way to go.

Retracing the events in the series, when Till’s damaged body was returned to his mother in Chicago, she declared that there would be no closed casket wake for him. She said “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Tens of thousands of people filed by the casket over several days. Millions of people saw the photographs of the body that journalists were asked by Mamie Till to take. As I relive the whole thing now through this series, it resembles nothing so much as scenes from some ancient play, where a mythic woman accompanies the corpse of her slain soldier-son as his funeral cortege rolls into Rome, or Athens.

About a hundred days after the funeral, Rosa Parks took her stand.

In Montgomery, Rosa Parks attended a rally for Till led by Martin Luther King Jr. Soon after, she refused to give her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. The incident sparked a year-long well-organized boycott of the public bus system. The boycott was designed to force the city to change its segregation policies. Parks later said when she did not get up and move to the rear of the bus, “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.”

Emmett Till, Wikipedia
My Name Is Emmett Till , by Emmylou Harris

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I’m being a good boy with regards to my visits to our local recreation center. Robin gets me moving and we’re out the door in the dark for a cold car ride to the gym. Once there I run the gantlet from machine to machine, sometimes with the numbers on the weights used being embarrassingly small. But hey – I’m moving, just the same.

Yesterday I visited all but one of my self-assigned torture devices, missing only the abdominal crunch. This was because the apparatus was occupied by an ancient citizen who seemed incapable of movement. Alarmed, I checked him only to find that he was indeed breathing and conscious to boot, but he required the passage of an eon between reps of the exercise. I finally gave up and went home. If I go back today, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is still there, laboring to bend the machine to his will. I gave him a perfect 10 for determination, and a lesser score for execution.

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Let us finish this today with some self-observation. In Tuesday’s Science section of the NYTimes was a piece which began with this paragraph:

It’s a dubious distinction in the fossil record: For the first time, a vertebrate has been found with fecal pellets where its brain once was.

NYTImes, February 8, 2022

I will let this sink in for a moment.

Imagine, if you will, that you have a satiric frame of mind in general, and a sarcastic one on occasion. Imagine that you are served up this savory bit of intelligence one morning, like a bit of meat tossed to a big cat, and are rolling it about in your mind, savoring it and wondering exactly what to do with it. Imagine further, if you can, that you have no journalistic standards or ethics, and are well-known for dipping into areas of bad taste when it suits you. So what are your choices?

Here are mine.

Ignore it … absolutely not.

Clean it up for readers … not today, son.

Exploit it … now we’re cooking, baby.

From my personal perspective, the crucial part of the sentence is “in the fossil record.” Crucial because we likely have scads of examples of just this problem right in front of us, not in fossils, but in humans walking around and going to work and eating and breeding and generally making a mess of things.

Of course we haven’t the luxury of popping open the crania of these men and women to examine the contents of their skulls, but we can certainly make some inferences from their behavior, can’t we? And it’s not as if we’d never suspected that something like this wasn’t happening. There is even a common vulgar phrase that goes: “S**t for brains.”

How can this knowledge be helpful? Perhaps mostly because it explains so much of what is puzzling about modern life, as it answers the questions: How could anyone believe that or act that way? Not having to wonder about this any longer will be a great timesaver for many of us, since we don’t have to waste precious hours trying to think through what seem to otherwise be inexplicable contradictions.

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Our Cup Runneth Over

My friends, and I count all of you among this group, I am saddened to tell you this, but Colorado is apparently full. Last weekend Robin and I went to Silverton for a day trip, and on entering the Bent Elbow restaurant, we were greeted by a sign that told us that we would likely have to wait longer for our food because they couldn’t find enough wait-staff to hire because “people don’t want to work any more.”

That’s a little bit o’whininess on management’s part, to be sure, and may have something to do with the salaries being offered, but who knows? Lots of people all over our sometimes puzzling country are not returning to their old jobs, in droves.

In this part of the state many businesses are having trouble finding workers, especially in the service industries. Help Wanted signs are visible in shop windows everywhere. At the same time, the wildest dreams of the state’s tourism agencies of attracting more people to the mountains have come true, and travelers are flooding the towns, campgrounds, and trails to an extent not seen before. It’s a perfect example of being careful what you wish for.

So we are dealing with more people and more cars, but at the same time there are fewer folks to bring us our food, tuck us in at night and put that little mint on our pillow, or sell us yet another T-shirt guaranteed to shrink at least a size before you get it home.

In other words, we’re full, and while the mountains have not shrunk and (most of) the streams have not run dry, a visitor may not find the serene paradise they were seeking. Maybe next Fall, or next year … you could try then.

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On Wednesday Robin and I attended a Zoom meeting on how to do voter registration. We have volunteered to take a shift in a voter registration kiosk at the local county fair in a couple of weeks, and this session was training for that. Turns out that it’s a bit more complicated than smiling and handing out a form, but we think we can handle the details.

With all the ugly voter-suppressive things that Republicans are doing in many states, whatever we can do to help improve voter turnout seems to us more important than ever. This, even though Colorado is sort of a dream state when it comes to the election ritual. Here every registered voter is sent a ballot which you can either return by mail, or you can carry it to a special ballot box and drop it in, or you can take it with you and stand in a line on election day to vote in person. Most people take the mail-in option. No fuss, no muss, no scandals.

Also this year we can register sixteen year-olds. If they turn seventeen before the next primary, they can then vote in the primary. If they turn eighteen before the next election, they can vote in that. Lastly, if you are a felon and not presently in a lockup, you are allowed to vote now. Robin and I admire the Colorado system, and feel privileged to support it in our small way.

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Here’s a piece that is all about David Brooks being thoughtful, and he does thoughtful better than most people. Title: The American Identity Crisis.

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There are two threads playing out in the media right now that have to do with the Catholic Church. One is the discovery of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unmarked graves of children at former reservation “schools” that were operated by the Church in Canada. These sad and lonely interments represent still more examples of the damage visited upon kids by the representatives of the Church over the past century. In this case, their cooperation with the Canadian government in the ugliness that was the attempt to blot out the cultures of the indigenous peoples in that country.

The second thread is this: Should Joe Biden, or any other Catholic public official who supports women in their struggle for rights over their own bodies, be denied communion? A group of conservative bishops is pushing this as their agenda.

It strains belief, watching these two stories play out. If there is any institution in America with less moral credibility right now than the official Church, I don’t know what it would be. So to watch these bishops thundering about moral rectitude and who is pure enough to be allowed at the altar rail is to watch yet another act in a play that is the very embodiment of cynical.

Children at the Kamloops residential school in Canada in 1931, where 215 unmarked graves have been found.

There are other venues where Mr. Biden could take communion, perhaps he should explore one of these.

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Because I watch the world of fashion as closely as I do, it has been obvious for a long time that one of my favorite garments of all time is held in very low regard. A garment that I had waited for all my life without knowing it until I owned my first pair and discovered how eminently useful they were.

Of course I am speaking of cargo shorts. Here are examples of the scorn that has been heaped upon this item of clothing and its wearers. (BTW, I said that I watch fashion, I didn’t say that I wore it)

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On our Saturday morning bike ride, I saw a bird species that was new to me, Gambel’s Quail. It was standing in the middle of the road up ahead of me, and at first I thought it was a mourning dove, it being slender and about that size. But when I got closer, that feather in its cap and its coloration identified it as a quail of some sort, but making a real ID meant getting home where my field manuals were.

The quail are only 10 inches long when fully mature, and as you can see in the photo (not mine), they are beautiful birds. They like the kind of desert scrub we were pedaling through when we saw them.

I say “them” because about a quarter-mile further along the same road there was a hen with a dozen chicks, each no bigger than a marshmallow.

So, two sightings on the same day. SCORE!

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Oh Canada!

Robin took off for Durango on Wednesday to attend Claire’s 5th grade graduation. I took a pass on this one. I am not quite sure where all these micro-ceremonies have come from. Nursery school graduation, kindergarten graduation, fifth grade graduation, being able to drink from the corridor water fountain without dribbling all down your front certification, having the cleanest shoes in home room awards. I don’t get them and whenever possible I try not to attend them.

Call me a grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope … I don’t care. Any hour that a kid spends in these ceremonies is an hour that they could have been playing or creating some wonderful piece of ephemera that made use of their imagination. (The same is true for the adults present.)

Here is a child who decided not to go to his 5th grade graduation, and do something way more creative.

As you can see, it’s only a short step from what seems to be aimless swinging to understanding both the principles behind Foucault’s pendulum and the best way of dealing with an annoying cowlick.

As far as I can see, these rites serve mostly as a moment for the teachers to congratulate themselves and say: “Look what wonders that I have been able to achieve with the rough clay that you sent me.”

Like I said … grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope.

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Arthur Staats passed away this week. I didn’t know his name until I read the obituary in the Times of New York, but I have made frequent use of his work for many years. He was the guy who popularized what we know as the “time-out” as an aid to raising children. You know, what to do in the situation where your kid has just dumped his porridge on the floor for the fifth time and you are beginning to have thoughts that rise perilously close to the level of manslaughter.

The time-out gave us an alternative, a structured moment when we could separate ourselves and our child from the scene of confrontation and allow us all, parents and progeny, time to collect ourselves and start that part of the day anew. There is a large body of research that has supported its use and established its effectiveness in training and education. Especially when compared with what parents might have previously been employing in their discipline, some of which involved willow switches and dark closets.

Thanks to Arthur S. for handing us that gentler tool, something to use while we continue to search for the perfect way to parent.

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From The New Yorker

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At an AA meeting Thursday morning, a friend and I were musing on the irony of now being offered free beer for getting our Covid vaccinations. Where were these programs when we could have made use of them? Drat.

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Friday the temperature hit 90 degrees, with more of such days promised. Zero percent chance of precipitation. The saving grace here is the low humidity. And as my mother always said, it’s not the heat it’s the … oh, you’ve heard that too, eh? Sitting out on the backyard deck Friday afternoon was still a very pleasant thing to do, as long as you had some shade and a glass of cool water handy. In fact, it was so mellow and comfortable doing nothing in that way that the only thing missing was having someone to refresh my beverage once in a while. Had to do that myself.

Looking at the national meteorological map there aren’t many who will escape this early hot spell. In fact, for a change we’re apparently sending some of our steaming weather all the way up to Canada. There is no need for us to feel guilty about this. They have been sending us nasty cold waves for-ever. Think of it as payback for those polar vortexes of last winter.

And while we’re on the subject of Canada, they still won’t let Americans into their fine country. Bully for them. Why would they want a bunch of clodhoppers wandering about their cities and forests who are too chuckleheaded to protect themselves (and others) against the Covid-19 virus? I’m a little surprised that the Canadians aren’t openly discussing building a wall to keep the U.S. citizens out on a more permanent basis.

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And I saved the best for last. Architects with nothing better to do created a masterpiece called the sky pool, which is certainly eye-catching.

Especially when you realize that it is suspended more than 100 feet in the air, stretching between two apartment buildings. Never mind that the first question that pops into the inquiring mind is “WHY?” Here’s a short video giving you the grand tour, just in case you were moving to London and hadn’t settled on living quarters as yet.

At first I thought about the view from the pool as a swimmer looks down through the water. I’m not sure whether that would rattle an acrophobe like myself or not. But it would seem that the view from the street below would be nothing but soles of feet and bottoms. This might appeal to certain categories of fetishists, who would then make nuisances of themselves by blocking sidewalks and streets as they gaze raptly upward.

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