Family Blotter

Justin and Jenny and their kids are making their first long eastern tour to touch family bases since their move to California earlier this year. First they spend a few days here in Montrose, then on to Steamboat Springs, Durango, Denver, and Sioux Falls. Lots of miles to cover with two children, although the kids do have movies to watch in the back seat of the family SUV.

Yesterday the six of us drove down to Lake Ridgway to hang out at the beach for a few hours, and the weather cooperated by not being so beastly hot, with good cloud cover and light breezes. Since Kaia and Leina had never been to a drive-in movie, we all trooped to the Star Drive-in towards evening and set up camp there for a couple of hours.

By then a light rain had started and the temp cooled down quickly. Our group huddled together on camp chairs set between our two vehicles to watch the show. There we were, layered up with hoodies on and car blankets wrapped around our bodies, slowly becoming hypothermic. After a while Robin and I noticed that everybody but us had moved into their vehicle, and we did the same. “Twas an adventure of sorts for the kids, it was.

There was an amusing happening during the day. After soaking at the beach, we decided to go for ice cream in the town of Ridgway at a fine little shop where the owner occasionally would create his own product using unusual flavors. Unfortunately we found the shop was closed for the day. Robin offered that we could instead to to Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins in Montrose, and off we went confident in our choice of Plan B.

But when we got there we found the store locked and this interesting sign in the window. We’re no experts on the subject, but it seemed to us that there was room for improvement in employee-management relations. We also agreed that it must have been a fresh action because if management had found the posted sign we wouldn’t have been reading it.

At that point we went to Plan C, where we returned home, dug a partially consumed container of ice cream out of the freezer, and were happy as clams.

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The Hurley family joined us for supper Thursday night, so we were ten at table. The table seats eight. So Robin and I took on the roles of our Norwegian grandmothers who never sat and ate with their guests, but sat in chairs away from the rest of the group and met those people’s needs as they arose.

More coffee?

More soup?

Here, I’ll get that.

No, I’m fine. I’ll eat later.

The three girl cousins (Claire, Kaia, Leina) went right at it and got into a gigglefest in Robin’s office area that never seemed to stop, except when they came out to chew on strawberry shortcake. Aiden has become a processing machine for food that requires constant stoking and he never strayed too far, basically locating his body between the table and the refrigerator for most of the night.

All in all the evening was delightful for all concerned except for our two cats, who had problems finding their space between the horde in the house and the canines in the backyard. They survived, however, and Poco got quite a bit of extra attention from Leina, who basically adopted him.

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Daughter Maja will be back on U.S. soil on July 7, to continue her recuperation. For a time she will be staying at her mother’s home, until she is ready to be completely independent. There will be no returning to Peru, a country that right now is up to its nostrils in Covid cases and some serious political unrest.

From her family’s standpoint, we’re glad that she will be at least reachable. Her medical journey is not over, but some speed bumps will now have been removed.

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Elsa and Marc arrive early Saturday afternoon to spend several days with us. We have planned to camp out for three nights starting Sunday, but wonder of wonders … it has been raining now for three days. No downpours, but short rains off and on all day, which can definitely affect the enjoyment one can derive from sitting outdoors in a camp chair in the mountains. Suddenly what was lovely to experience becomes something to be endured.

But, hey! That’s a problem for a day yet to be born. We could also be covered in sunshine the whole trip.

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Had a discussion late Saturday evening with Elsa and Mark. The basic question was: we know that Earth will survive the catastrophes that seem to be rolling down the road toward us, but how long will our species, homo sapiens, be a factor on this planet? We have created some amazing things but destroyed far too much. My own guess was less than a thousand years, maybe way less than half of that.

Once we humans are down to an insignificant number, the planet can get to the job of repair and renewal. A grim before-bedtime talk for sure. But the possibility of a different scenario rests, I think, on a serious and precipitous decrease in the level of dumbass in this beautiful world of ours. It could happen if we might be helped to see that our ‘enemy’ is not some other guy or group, but our collective behaviors. We need to give up the luxury of attacking one another and form a new “band of brothers” once again, as we did in 1941.

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Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, and I’m not even going to tell you when my ignorance about this topic ended, except that it was last year. Yes, I know that it’s hard to believe but I hadn’t heard of Black Independence Day, the Black National Anthem … or many similar important things, and even though I could blame others for those gaps in my knowledge base (blaming others being my go-to move), for a change I’m not going to do that. It’s a case of mea culpa all over the place, I’m afraid. Whenever Black History Month rolled around each year I skipped past most of those stories that were being told. Stories that I realize now that I needed to hear.

Way too often I was just another clueless white boy living in white boy la la land, untouched. So now I’m playing catch-up, and while I know that time is too short to make up for all that I might have learned and done in the past … you gotta start where you are, non?

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From The New Yorker

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In honor of the day here are six fine songs by a group called Our Native Daughters. Songs that touch on the experience of being black, played and sung by four excellent musicians, including (left to right) Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah.

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Moon Meets the Sun

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You put the shackles on our feet
But we’re dancing
You steal our very tongue
But we’re dancing

Brown girl in the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing us solace
Sing us freedom
Hold us steady
Keep us breathing
We’ll endure this
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

You steal our children
But we’re dancing
You make us hate our very skin
But we’re dancing
We’re your sons
We’re your daughters
But you sell us
Down the river
May the God
That you gave us
Forgive you
Your trespasses
We’re survivors
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

Like the rabbit
We won’t bend to your will
Like the spider
The smallest will still prevail
The stories of our elders
We find comfort in these
We smile to the sky
We move to stay alive
And we’re dancing
You steal our work for your profit
But we’re dancing
You think our home we have forgotten
But we’re dancing

Step into the circle
Step into the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing freedom
Sing freedom
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
We’ll be dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)

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Here’s Rhiannon Giddens telling the story behind one of the songs. The tale and the tune are both harrowing and moving.

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Juneteenth. I don’t think I’ll forget that date now. In case I need a reminder, just this week it has become a federal holiday.

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No one ever inquires of me – how it is to get old? Either they are my age and know all about it already, or they aren’t my age and are afraid that I’m going to bore them with a litany of stuff they have no interest in and certainly don’t want to hear about. I understand. One of the cool things about being the hyperannuated guy in the room is that you’ve played on all those other stages during your life. This does provide some perspective.

The teenager can’t even imagine how it is to be seventy while I can remember clearly how it was to be eighteen. Gives you an edge, if you care to use it. What the geezer lacks in energy and flexibility he often makes up for in craftiness. And crafty can often be enough to win the day. (Now, that rare person who is a crafty eighteen year-old, there’s someone that’s scary and nearly unstoppable).

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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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Ground Control

Wednesday Robin had to drive all the way to Grand Junction by herself, even though I was available as traveling companion. It’s an hour’s drive to get there, and her goal is to shop, but she’s given up on taking me along when we are not looking for a particular something and have a focus.

She says that I get a look on my face, in spite of myself, when shopping itself is the intent. I had her describe what I look like to a police portrait artist, and at left is what he came up with. It’s a look usually associated with traumatic wartime experiences, and is called the thousand yard stare.

It seems that watching me spoils the day for her in these instances. “It’s not personal,” she says, “we’re just different.” I do try, and I put on my best smiley face and attitude when I know she’s looking, but as soon as I relax I apparently revert to what you see in the drawing. I guess I’ll have to accept that there is one more thing in this world of which I am incapable.

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E-bike Report:

We’ve now got 150 miles on our machines, not any epic amount, but these are mostly short trips around town. These beasts work really well, and no spot in town is safe from us any longer. I do most of my grocery shopping using the bike with either a rear pannier or the Burley Nomad trailer we’ve had for a dozen years or more. It’s a seven mile trip to City Market and back, without ever having to hit serious automobile traffic.

Did I mention that they are not only practical but fun? When you press that button for pedaling assistance, it’s hard not to smile every time.

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From The New Yorker

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Colorado has a brand new law, making us the second state after Washington to allow composting of human remains. My first reaction was “Whaaaat?” But after reading a bit further I found that it is just another way of breaking down the body, to be added to the already common practices of cremation and chemical dissolution.

Actually, it mimics the process that would occur if we simply buried bodies in the ground without elaborate vaults and hermetically sealed coffins.

Composting a human body means placing the body in a closed container along with natural materials such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw grass. The body is slowly rotated to induce microbial breakdown of the body’s tissues

Montrose Daily Press, May 19, 2021.

Since there is no corner of American life that can avoid rampant commercialization, I can see the brochures now for this new/old choice that families will have:

“Your loved one’s body will be placed upon a bed of roses, surrounded by sandalwood chips that were harvested in a sustainable manner in the highlands of Nepal. You then have your choice of Dakota buffalograss or Carolina switchgrass as the last component of the composting nest. When this gentle and natural process is finished, the resultant soil will be sent to you by UPS in a tasteful container, with a complimentary packet of flower seeds.”

I am totally down with the idea, and would carry it even further by having additives put into the soil produced that would allow special usage. Potting soils, peony mixes … the mind boggles at the possibilities.

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The Old Testament has come to Paradise in the form of a plague of flies. Small houseflies that can apparently pass through walls unimpeded, like ghosts. They showed up Wednesday evening, when they drove Robin and I back indoors from our al fresco dining on the backyard deck. Unfortunately, by the time we gave up and went back inside, there were scores of them to greet us in the dining room. They don’t bite you, but they walk all over your food with their dirty shoes.

They are smallish creatures, stupid and clumsy to boot. So swatting them is no problem, except that I have the definite feeling that for every one I swat, three more have squeezed in somewhere. I made an emergency run to Ace Hardware after supper, and now we have sticky traps in all of the windows. Clear plastic panels with some sort of tanglefoot on them. These devices are working, but they are soooo passive, and at this point I am in favor of something quicker and more murderous.

Patience, patience. All in due time, one of my better angels is whispering.

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While we are talking about such creatures, I offer you a recurring mini-grossout. You are eating outdoors when a small piece of organic stuff floats down from the tree above you onto your food. Just as you are about to pick out the offensive material and flick it away, it wriggles off under its own power. You know that if you hadn’t seen it arrive, it would have been on your next forkful.

Bon appetit.

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No Way

Today is Mother’s Day. I support this holiday 100%. Mothers deserve the recognition, completely. And more.

If the situations were reversed, and I were presented with the option to navigate a pregnancy and go through labor, there wouldn’t have been any kids in my family pictures at all. No way. I simply wouldn’t have put up with the whole business. The nine months of progressive body distortion, the hours and hours of tortuous labor pains, the endless mountains of diapers and of clothing covered with spit-up. Wouldn’t do it. The species could stop right there, as far as I was concerned.

So anyone who is perusing this, it was because you had a mom. If you had depended on good old dad, chances are you would have ended up as simply a disappointed ovum with poor reading skills.

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Thought I’d add a few pictures of my own mother. My tendency has been to forget that she was a girl before her mom-ship took over. She was, of course. Eleanor Ruth Flom (nee Jacobson) was only twenty years old when I came along. How could she have been ready for that?

That’s me in the 1943 photo, the absolutely darling blond boy at Mom’s right side. I think I was a fairly good son to raise until adolescence, but at that point no one could do anything with me at all, because I became omniscient.

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From The New Yorker

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Our friend Poco has done it again. Somewhere in the past week or so, he tangled with another cat, and this week he developed an abscess above his right eye. When the vet saw him he said : “Darn, Poco, we’re going to have to get you an abscess punch card, so you get a free one once in a while.”

What this all meant was anesthesia, surgery, antibiotics, and a sad-looking cat with a bad shave. He does look pathetic. But … it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve had the talk. Over and over.

Our cat Willow never gets into fights. Never needs surgery. She simply turns around when confronted and runs away at just the right speed. But Poco forgets that he’s 100 years old, has fewer teeth than he once did, and charges right at any and all cat intruders into our yard. I would admire his pluck if it weren’t for the veterinary visits and the periods of illness. Sheesh.

It’s like living with Feline Rambo, The Perpetual Sequel.

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Saturday night and I’m holding court on the little front patio in front of our home, Willow the cat is lying nearby as my support animal. Our part of the neighborhood is sleepy and still sunny at nearly 8 PM. Nick Drake is singing from the Great Beyond, his Pink Moon album. He is in remarkably good voice for a guy who passed away in 1974. Couldn’t tell, really, by listening.

It is 56 degrees and windless. Robin is off to Durango while I mind the feline outpatient department. The report is that all are doing well there, and that the mothers are being treated with the respect due them.

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Say What? … She What? … But I Just Talked To Her …

On Monday a friend of Robin’s, a lady of 87 years, was perky and going through her regular routines and looking forward to Zoom Bible Study on Tuesday, but that evening she passed away. Quietly, no fuss, no drawn-out or painful rite of passage. Two eyes closed in the evening and the last chapter in her personal story on Earth was written.

As always the finality of death was shocking, even when it comes to someone at that stage of her life. You can’t shuffle off this mortal coil at 87 without disturbing everybody you know, not even then. Her friends weren’t yet ready to say goodbye. For me it has always been that irreversibility, that complete resistance to petitioning, that refusal to listen to reason that has sometimes greatly pissed me off about death. The absolute lack of recourse.

Along came this piece by Margaret Renkl in Wednesday’s NYTimes, describing the role of poetry in helping people deal with hard places in life. This help comes at those times when we have run out of words to describe what is happening to us or how we feel. It comes when our own store of language fails us. Knowing that the poet could not have written what they did if they hadn’t seen what we are seeing. And if they survived, why, so might we.

I recall as a very young child overhearing my parents having a serious disagreement. Voices were raised and harsh words were exchanged. There were two things that were my takeaway that night. One was the terminally scary thought that mom and dad might separate and then where would I be? The other was that even while I was feeling so small and terrified, the people I could see through my window out there on the street were going about their own busy-ness, without a care for my troubles. How unfeeling they were! How unfair it all was.

If I’d had someone else’s words to lean on, I might not have felt so alone and powerless on that turbulent night. But hey, I was just a kid. Who writes tragic or even thoughtful poetry for six year-olds? Here is the huge advantage in being an adult. There are places to which we can turn for support, if we will. Poetry is one of those.

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From The New Yorker

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The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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Icarus

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We are off later this morning for a four-hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Camping there with the Hurley family. I’ve dusted off the camper, put the proper amount of air in its tires, and checked the supply boxes. The daytime weather is predicted to be good, but the nights are all scheduled to be below freezing so we’ll be wearing our socks to bed and bringing out Mr. Heater for those nights. I look forward to rolling up like a hedgehog in the bottom of my sleeping bag and wearing all of the clothes I brought. It’s one of those recurring situations in life that go like this –

“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

We’ve been to this park a couple of times, and if you’ve never been, it is pretty amazing. You drive along the highway and it is nothing but mountains and the lovely San Luis Valley and then all of a sudden – what the hey? – gigantic sand dunes, hundreds of feet high, piled up against those Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Be prepared … we may take photos.

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Things That Are Better Now

I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.

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Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.

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Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.

Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.

ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.

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Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.

And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.

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From The New Yorker

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Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.

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Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.

Worth every penny.

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Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.

Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.

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Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.

Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.

(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhaps as a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).

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Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?

The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.

I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.

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With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.

I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.

Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.

I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.

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The Old Testament

My son had returned home from college for a few days, and on the second morning of his too-brief stay he came up from his basement bedroom and declared: “And to think that this was a home where rock and roll was once played.”

I blinked like a deer in the headlights, because I had no response. He was right. In my as yet unfamiliar-to-me life as a divorcée, I had drifted waaaay too far from the real stuff, and into New Age music. Without thinking, really, over a period of several months I had effectively replaced Led Zeppelin and Neil Young with the tunes from folks like David Arkenstone and Enya, and that’s what I had playing in the background since the young man’s arrival. Oh, the shame of it all!

No Mas! I cried, as I flew to the turntable with an album by the J.Geils Band in my hand, and tossed whatever dreck was already on there over the loft railing. As the opening notes of “Hard Drivin’ Man” began to fill the room, I felt renewed, cleansed, and oh-so-repentant. I thanked Jonnie for reminding me of who I was and pledged right then and there to never again fall away from the true faith.

He looked over at me and said something like “Rise, father … go and sin no more.” (I think he borrowed that line from somewhere, for it sounded very familiar but it was highly righteous and very much to the point on that special day.)

I have been the truest of disciples since then. I carry a large staff with me everywhere I go and whenever I find a New Age adherent I ply that stick about their head and shoulders until they see the light. It’s a thankless job … but someone’s got to do it. We’re saving souls here!

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I have had so many very wise and urgent things to say recently that I have sorely neglected what it probably the best part of this blog, and that is when I don’t write anything at all but only share a few cartoons from the New Yorker magazine. I do this whenever my personal thoughts are an undecipherable clutter. Today I am going to pass along a murder of cartoons. It’s a lot like a murder of crows, but more fun.

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As I read the headlines for the past two months, and think about the office of POTUS, I wonder all over again – who in hell would want the job? President Cluck left things in an unusually messy state, to be sure, but even if he hadn’t totally mucked things up the world is a certified perpetual bucket o’disorder.

Let’s see … take a sample of the problems that the U.S. faces domestically, for instance. What shall we choose … how about racism, income inequality, gun violence, immigration, and the large number of special interest groups, which at last count was equal to the population? And to accomplish anything in any of these areas POTUS must do something that is much harder than herding cats, he must herd politicians. At least with cats you can fairly easily understand their motives and behavior. They like to be fed, they don’t like to get wet, and they sleep most of the day.

Unfortunately, politicians don’t sleep nearly enough, so that when we go to bed there is always the chance that they will do something so bad during the night that it takes us years to get over it. I refer you to the quotation by Gideon J. Tucker: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Who wants that job? Not a normal person.

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Report From The Front Lines 2

There are many differences between the adults and young of most species, including humans. Some of those differences allow archeologists to dig up a bone or two and tell us that it was that of the forearm of a twelve year-old girl who was helping make succotash when she temporarily lost her focus and became dinner for a passing predator. However, even if you are not an archeologist, or a scientist of any kind, when you have living examples of both groups in front of you, it is much easier.

For instance, children are often found at the top of things, where they dance and play and take great delight in the simple pleasures of climbing up there.

Adults, on the other hand, are often found at the bottom of things, looking up at those same children. They are quite content with having a more restricted view of the world as the tradeoff for not needing to gasp for breath, nurse a twisted ankle, or otherwise discommode themselves.

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As we began one of our hikes in Goblin Valley , someone mentioned rattlesnakes and I told them not to worry as long as they had me with them on the walk. I had never ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild, I told them, so they could relax because the odds against such an encounter on our present hike were astronomical.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Right in the middle of the path where I positively could not miss it was a small rattlesnake, estimated to be around 15 inches in length, and on a sunny 50 degree day. Why it was not still in its burrow sleeping like a sensible snake should be at this time of year I don’t know, but there it was, shaking its few rattles and looking as menacing as anything can look when it is only a little over a foot long.

I am indebted to Neil Hurley for this photograph of the snake. I took one myself, but since mine was snapped only after I stopped running and was more than 200 yards away, there was some unfortunate loss of detail .

So I was very grateful that Neil kindly allowed me to use his pic here on the blog.

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We treated the creature with the respect that it deserved, warned a group of Asian tourists behind us not to step on it, and went on our way. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to rattlesnakes in the wild. I am not a Crotalovirginal hiker any more.

(Addendum: we identified this as a Hopi Rattlesnake. Are we correct?)

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From The New Yorker

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Rep. Lauren Boebert came to town and addressed a group at a local bar. Apparently when your supporters invite you to come talk to them it pretty much goes well, so the evening was a modest success. Of course she was packing a firearm, that is her raison d’être. If it were not for the imaginary issue of people trying to take all guns away from ordinary citizens she would still be slathering mayonnaise onto BLT sandwiches in her Rifle CO restaurant. (Which to my mind is a perfectly honorable job. I love BLTs.)

Rep. Boebert is an excellent example of why it was wrong to give women the vote and allow them to run for public office. She is a boob, and I am being generous here. I apologize to boobs in general if they feel slighted by my adding her name to their ranks. But, really, she is one of you.

Before anyone gets all fired up and writes me a letter or starts warming up a cauldron of tar, I believe that it was wrong to give men the vote as well. Everything has pretty much gone downhill since the Magna Carta, in my opinion. Back in the day a country might very well find itself with a stupid king, but everybody knew that and kept their counsel (and their heads) by being quiet about it and waiting for the next king down the line for things to get better. Sometimes it might take more than one change of sovereigns for improvement to come about, but being a serf was such a time-consuming and back-breaking sort of life that one barely noticed.

However, embarrassing as Boebert is, we are stuck with her at least until the 2022 elections, and perhaps beyond. After all, we are living in the same part of the world that went for Cluck 2:1 in the last election. And such a sad number, my friends, requires that a gigantic amount of poor judgment be present in a population.

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Finally, a few more photos of people playing in a red desert. It is a spectacular place. It is a wilderness composed entirely of non-fluffy. There is an abundant shortage of soft places. There are few stumps of trees to sit on, but mostly rock to cradle one’s posterior. To a person like myself who grew up in Minnesota, a water-rich and green state if there ever was one, this is another planet. This is Mars. As Peter O’Toole’s character said in Lawrence of Arabia when asked what he liked about the desert: “It’s clean.”

The author Terry Tempest Williams has written beautifully about the Utah desert. She lives a couple of stone’s throws away from where we were.

In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress. On 18 September 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, “This made a difference.

Wikipedia: Terry Tempest Williams

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Report From The Front Lines

We’re on our first official “outing” of the year, spending a couple of days with Amy, Neil and family in southeastern Utah. Believe me when I tell you that there is ample room for humans to social distance in this part of the world. When we arrived on Sunday afternoon our families rendezvoused in Goblin Valley State Park, a surreal landscape if there ever was one. A world of red sandstone carved into fantastic shapes by wind and time. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

But our spirits were in good shape, so there was definitely that.

On Monday we took on exploring two of the many famous slot canyons of the San Rafael Swell nearby. These are new experiences for me, best described as a claustrophobic’s idea of a bassackwards way of spending a vacation. You walk into a maze where the visibility is mostly up and the walls keep crowding in on you until in places you can barely pass through. More red sandstone, more (very) close encounters with the earth. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

Wait … did I just repeat myself?

When we finally exited this bit of amazingness we had been scraping and clambering and trudging over some of the planet’s more interesting and bizarre landscape for about 9 miles. Every movement in any direction was now uncomfortable. Getting into the car required planning. Sitting in one position for more than 5 minutes produced a body that could not be restarted without earnest prodding. But those spirits … somehow, they never flagged.

Our basecamp for these modest expeditions was the hamlet of Hanksville, Utah. Population 219, elevation 4295 feet. It was a half hour’s drive south from Goblin Valley and the other activities described above. If you continued on in a southerly direction further down Highway 24 you would end up in less than an hour in the Lake Powell recreation area.

Hanksville has a couple of places to stay, including our residence which was named the Whispering Sands Motel. It is a basic sort of place, short on frills, definitely not an all-inclusive resort. But the rooms are clean, the beds were comfortable, everything that we needed worked, and the managers were the kind of people you are glad are in charge of your lodging. That is, there are strict and enforced rules about how a guest should behave. For instance, quiet hours start at 9:30, and if you make a nuisance of yourself you will be asked to leave and you will not get your money back, says the little sign on the door. Since Robin and I have mutually agreed to leave behind our days of trashing hotel rooms, we appreciated this concern for our present-day welfare.

The Whispering Sands

Down the road from the Whispering Sands is Duke’s Slickrock Grill, which has some decent food to offer. The cafe is also a shrine to the actor John Wayne, with nearly everything on the menu either carrying the title of one of his movies, or something related. There are a few books for sale in the lobby, all related to Mr. Wayne as well.

A life-sized cutout of the man stands behind the bar.

It was the sort of place where you didn’t feel like mentioning that in general the official ‘Trinity’ was not Father, the “Duke,” and Holy Ghost.

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Here are a handful of representative photos of the footsore survivors. There are many more of these pictures, and I feel that I must warn you that even the slightest evidence on your part of any interest in them may bring on the dreaded: “Here is every single picture that I took on my vacation, including double exposures, out-of-focus pics, stunningly boring repeats of the same scene with only the slightest of differences, et al.”

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At The Store

Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.

Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.

Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.

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From The New Yorker

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The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.

Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”

The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.

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Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.

But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.

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Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent.

What? Plagiarism? Moi? Just as I was congratulating myself on appropriating this well-turned phrase and putting it out there as my very own, people began mentioning Mr. Shakespeare and his play Richard III, and so I guess that particular jig is presently up.

But doesn’t it apply well to today’s headlines? Is there anyone reading this, right now, that is content? Take away the pandemic and we still have a historic chill seemingly everywhere at once. Even worse, when you find that your furnace has died and you turn on your electric space heater the darned thing doesn’t work because when you look out your window the wind turbines on your back forty have frozen up. Who knew that could even happen?

And the Whack-A-Mole character of American racism and bigotry has never been more obvious and blatant. Right now it is Asian-Americans who are being singled out (at least in the headlines) for violence perpetrated by drive-by thugs. Which was preceded by last summer’s rash of violence against black Americans, which was preceded by a serious uptick in anti-semitic nastiness. Of course, brutality leveled against these groups never goes away. Not even close.

There are moments when it seems as if the Ten Plagues of Egypt were happening all over again, but simultaneously rather than sequentially.

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Just in case you’ve forgotten what those plagues were, I list them for your enjoyment and edification:

  • Water turns to blood
  • Frogs everywhere
  • Lice or gnats everywhere
  • Wild animals everywhere
  • A pestilence in one’s domestic animals
  • Boils
  • Thunderstorm of hail and fire
  • Locusts
  • Darkness for three days
  • Deaths of the firstborn

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From The New Yorker

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I’ve been a voracious reader since tot-hood. Books, newspapers, Sears catalogs, milk cartons … anything with print on it was fair game. Usually it was a quiet and personal vice, and the grownups pretty much left me alone in my literary wanderings. They had no idea what was streaming through my eyes and into my little brain. Mostly that worked out well … they got to be left alone and I got to read what I wanted.

But occasionally there were brief dustups, like this one.

I was probably about six or seven years old, and it was evening on my grandparents’ farm. Grandma Ida and Aunt Norma were in the kitchen chatting, and I was alone in the living room which was just off the kitchen. We were out of sight of one another. I don’t know what I was reading, but I came across a word that I didn’t recognize. There was no dictionary handy, so I called out to the adults in the next room:

Grandma, what does rape mean?

My question was met with total silence.

Now kids are pretty good at reading adults. And so I knew that this unnatural and pregnant pause meant that I had wandered into a taboo area, and I instantly wished to God that I hadn’t brought it up. Because now the adults had a window into my activities and that was not always a good thing. Better to be ignored and left alone was my motto. I could just have waited until I found that absent dictionary and everything would have been fine. But noooooo, I couldn’t wait, I had to know now.

Finally there was a response and it was Aunt Norma’s voice asking “What are you reading?” OMG, I thought, it’s even worse than I imagined. They have answered my question with a question. What sort of can of worms have I opened? And suddenly there was Norma, standing in front of me, with her hand out. “It means hurting someone,” she said. I dutifully passed whatever the written material was along to her, and she disappeared back into the kitchen with it firmly in hand. No more questions tonight, I thought.

That was it. Days later I got my answer, after I had returned home and through a much safer method of research. I looked it up. Sometimes it was just plain awkward being a curious kid. There were minefields everywhere.

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Wrinkles In Time

I admit to having been practicing active denial in a variety of ways. One of these is aging. Whenever I can, I pretend that in spite of the fact that the number of candles on my birthday cake keeps increasing, perhaps I was like Mr. Dorian Gray. Somewhere in a closet there might be a portrait of me that was moldering away, while my actual face and body remained irresistibly attractive (poetic license taken here).

I have maintained this fiction by avoiding confrontation with any mirrors. I dress in the dark, brush my teeth with my eyes closed, and shower in a corner where there are no reflective surfaces. All was going well until this morning, when I rose a little later than I intended and hit the bathroom after the sun was up. My guard was down as I glanced up at myself in the mirror just before climbing into the shower and …. OMG … I saw that the wrinkle fairy has paid me a whole lot of visits.

So many that while I had foolishly hoped to see a plum, what I found in my reflection was decidedly a prune. Maybe all the good stuff was still in there behind the corrugations, but my packaging had definitely made a shift.

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I need to share something with you. Many of you have met my daughter Maja, and may know that she had been working in Lima, Peru for the past several years. After spending much of this past summer here in the States because of Covid problems in that country, she was returning to her South American home last weekend. Unfortunately she became very ill en route, and had to be admitted to hospital the very next morning with what were puzzling symptoms.

She has been in hospital in Lima now for five days, and has been diagnosed as having Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Some of her physical problems involve severe weakness, and it is so pronounced in her arms and hands at the moment that she cannot text or send emails. She can, however, receive both of these communications, and the nursing staff makes sure they get to her.

If you are moved to send something off to her, please keep in mind that there can be no replies until she is stronger.

Her phone number for text messaging is: +51 922 337 994

Her email address is: majaellenflom@gmail.com

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Today’s meteorological menu here in Paradise includes rain and snow. Outdoor activities will be limited due to the damp and dreariness. Hallelujah! Water in any and all forms (except steam, which would be awkward) is welcome in our parched land. Since Robin and I have no travel plans, we can huddle indoors and stare comfortably out the window at whatever happens. We might just stay in our pajamas all day … who knows?

It’s one of those delicious times when you are warm and dry and can look out safely at the contrasts just beyond the windowpane. Another such time is when you are camping and you couldn’t be more snug in your sleeping bag but you know that on the other side of those feathers or fiberfill is a chilly morning indeed. It’s a great feeling.

Which reminds me. One of our family homes, when I was a sprout, had a heating system that consisted of a coal-burner in the kitchen, and the warm air had to get itself around to the rest of the rooms in whatever way it could. My bedroom was above the kitchen, and had a register in the floor to allow the warmth to rise to the second level. Now my father was a practical man, and he knew that young human beings could survive quite a bit of chilling without permanent damage, so in winter he closed off that register to keep the ground floor of the house warmer and to conserve fuel.

All of this meant that from December to March I could see my breath in the air of my bedroom nearly every morning. I would take my clothes into bed with me and dress under the covers as best I could, only emerging when I felt protected against the elements. Every child has to develop his or her own coping strategies to survive, n’est-ce pas?

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Silver Linings

Robin and I consider ourselves among the lucky ones, riding out the pandemic here on the Western Slope of Colorado. We, like so many others, have given up socializing, mingling with friends, and the simple pleasure of just going out for an evening. Robin has had her church involvement and contact with fellow parishioners severely cut back, and it has mostly consisted of Zoom meetings. It’s an arid environment for people who are nourished by the company of other human beings.

But we have been able to double down on our time in the outdoors, and Colorado has a lot of that to offer. It’s only minutes away to walks along the beautiful little Uncompahgre River, an hour away to hiking in the San Juan Mountains or on the Grand Mesa. Spectacular Black Canyon National Park is a twenty-minute drive from our home. Forty minutes from us are Dominguez and Escalante Canyons, where the red desert begins.

There are camping opportunities in every direction. And although these places are more in demand now, we’ve been able to go pretty much where we want so far without being crowded out.

So don’t cry for us, Argentina, we’re doing fine. And while the location of the exact end to all of this coronavirus horsedoodle is not yet clear, our confidence that there will be an end has been increased by the prospect of putting real people in charge in just a few days. Perhaps we can go out to a movie (if there is still a theater to go to) this Fall, without considering it a potential descent into viral hell.

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Ohhhhhhhh man, do I look forward to a post-cluck universe. Tomorrow we move on. At least, most of us will, and for those who don’t? I’ll try to live up to this famous admonition: Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is the most amazing person in many ways, and one of those is her networking with family. Nearly every week she will talk with her kids, the grandchildren on that side of the family, and a slew of others. And many of these calls last close to an hour. And then she joins me on those rare calls that I make to my own children.

I have watched this behavior week after week for more than 25 years, and she flaggeth never in her self-assigned duties.

Part of my amazement is the fact that I can’t talk on the telephone for more than three minutes without wondering how to diplomatically end the conversation. No matter how much I love the person on the other end of the call. It’s just that unsatisfying for me. To really enjoy talking to someone, I need to see their face and watch what their hands are doing. Anything else is at best a halfway measure.

This is off-putting to people who enjoy telephoning, and they find me boorish or rude (which I suppose I am) in this regard. I sometimes lamely try to explain how I feel, but … . If any of you have been on the other end of the line in one of my trademark abbreviated calls, think about this. The last time we were together in the same room, wasn’t there at least one moment when you wished that – dear God – would I please shut up? Of course there was.

Think about this when we next speak on the phone:

Hi, how ya doing?
Are you both well?

That’s good, what’s the weather doing there?
……….
……….

……….
I think there’s someone at the front door, and they appear to be on fire. Gotta go. Talk to ya later. Bye.

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On May 4, 1970 which was … like … only a month ago, there was an antiwar demonstration on the campus of Kent State University, in Ohio. National Guardsmen were there to maintain order, and suddenly shots rang out and four students were dead and nine were wounded. The photograph below was a very well-known one at the time. It was everywhere.

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970. National Guardsmen had fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing four.

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The above photo of the young man waving the flag was also published widely, and the student doing the waving was a man named Alan Canfora, who died this week. When those shots were fired, he was wounded.

That event was a major milestone in the movement against the war in Viet Nam. It even had its own song, Ohio, written by Neil Young.

Graham Nash vividly recounted the circumstances surrounding the creation of “Ohio.” David Crosby, his band mate in CSNY, excitedly called Nash and made an urgent request, which stunned Nash at the time: “Book the (recording) studio right now!” Nash recalled Crosby telling him. “I’m coming down tomorrow. Wait until you hear this song!”
Crosby had shown Young the famous photo of a young woman named Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over a fallen student named Jeffrey Miller during Vietnam War protests on the campus of Kent State University. Miller had been killed by a bullet fired by a member of the Ohio National Guard and the photo ran on the cover of Life magazine. Young saw the picture, and as Crosby told Nash, “I saw Neil walk off with his guitar into the woods. And he comes back an hour later with this song.”

Jon Friedman, Esquire Magazine, June 2020

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There’s A Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

Let’s do this. Let’s get rid of the electoral college once and for all. Let’s shrink the time between the election and the swearing-in of the new President. Let’s make sure we write down the names of everyone who has supported this Frankenstein of a POTUS. We don’t want to forget even one of them. Let’s remember the names of that handful of Republicans who have spoken up along the way and been driven out or into silence by the jeers and threats of today’s modern equivalent of Italy’s good ol’ Black Shirts. They were the good ol’ thugs of their time, waving flags while running around and clubbing people who disagreed with them.

Italian blackshirts, circa 1920

Let’s get a copy of the Constitution and read it, along with its amendments, to embed into our hearts those words that help us all to remain safe. That should keep us busy for at least a couple of days, and it’s something constructive to do during the Great National Confinement , otherwise known as the coronavirus pandemic.

[It might help to remember that the Constitution was not created as the rules for a club consisting entirely of thoughtful gentlepersons. It was designed to help keep a bunch of unruly and often unsavory bastards from killing one another. Ir provided the set of generally agreed-upon rules which enable us to live together as Americans and that is no small thing.]

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I have reached that point in the year when I have the conversation with myself that goes something like this: I am now officially tired of winter and would like it to go away, please. A month of it is really long enough to learn all that one needs to learn about self-discipline, tolerance for meteorologic adversity, and fortifying one’s soul by inserting enforced self-denial into spaces that used to contain pleasures.

Yep, a month of it would really be enough. After all, that would be 8.33333333% of the year. Do we really need more?

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday the temperature soared to 43 degrees here in Paradise, so of course I went fishing. I rounded up the necessaries and trucked myself down the hill to the Uncompahgre River. I was dressed in more layers than I needed, expecting to feel chilled walking around in that icy water. But I didn’t, not at all. It was an altogether excellent couple of hours that I passed, flailing the bejabbers out of the poor fly I’d selected.

With my Tenkara equipment I found out two things right away. When you are a beginner, and the rod is twelve feet long, it is very easy to hit things overhead, like trees and bushes. It is also quite easy to hit one’s target in the stream, as long as the target is at least six feet in diameter.

The sun was shining and the water was clear and fast. A group of four mallard ducks was dabbling away just twenty yards from me, apparently not too concerned about the clumsy beast upstream with the stick in his hand.

I was far from alone out there, I counted three other men who were similarly engaged on that stretch of the river. I also counted the number of fish that the four of us hauled in, cumulatively. None. But the number of contented faces was the true measure of the day. And there were four of those.

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For those of you who fish, the Davy knot may be a new one for you, as it was for me. I can attest that it holds very well, and is as easy to tie as any of them. I like the lack of bulk in the finished knot, which should be helpful in other types of fishing as well when deception is especially important.

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This gallery may be of no interest to any but my kids, but here are a few scenes from a trip to Cape Hatteras, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which took place in 1972.

Please Pass The Bucket

There is a little story behind the header photograph. Robin and I had met up with her kids for a short skiing vacation over the New Year Holiday. We chose a very small town not far from Winter Park CO, and took rooms for a couple of nights. Skiing during the day, enjoying the company in the evening … that was the plan.

But on New Year’s Eve, one member of our party (whose name is withheld to protect the innocent) became ill with gastroenteritis at midday, and her condition progressed to moderate dehydration over the next several hours. At that time we didn’t know much about the medical care available in Tabernash, so our rooms became the E.R.. Late in the evening her vomiting finally quit, and slow improvement began. But by then we had let go of any ideas of joining the party scene that we could see down at the ski lift area. So we stayed in and celebrated quite modestly instead.

But the party was watchable from our window, and this pic was of a moment in time, when the sounds of retching had subsided and our collective worries began to diminish.

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At one time in my life New Year’s Eves were an excuse for getting sozzled to a degree incompatible with having a pleasant New Year’s Day, if you get my drift. Fortunately for me (and others in the room) I no longer try to pickle myself by midnight on this holiday. In fact, I am no longer awake at midnight at all. Robin and I will pick an hour well before that and call out Happy New Year along with Japan, or some such nation well to the East.

And we have found that no matter how she and I celebrate the evening, quietly or uproariously, the year changes right on schedule.

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In the later years of their time together, my Grandpa and Grandma Jacobson lived in a small house across the farm road from the larger one that they had occupied for most of their married life. It was heated by an oil burner in the living room, and a plain metal pipe ran from the device to the chimney. On New Year’s Eve in 1950 I was their guest, and on the stroke of midnight Grandpa performed his routine which involved picking up a piece of blue carpenter’s chalk and writing the number of the year on the pipe. It was his way of marking the turning of the year. Simple and quiet. And then it was off to bed for all of us.

I do have such a piece of chalk somewhere, because hardware stores have no scruples about selling it to anyone whether they have any carpenter-ic skills or not. But I hesitate to start writing on things in our living room. If I should get started there is no telling where it will stop.

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Found this tune, New Year’s Prayer, by Jeff Buckley, in my library. Strange little thing. Lyrics follow.

Oooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, fall in light.
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
As you now are in your heart
Fall in light
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel it as a water fall
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Past the sound within the sound
Past the voice within the voice.
Ah. Ah. Ah.
Leave your office, run past your funeral,
Leave your home, car, leave your pulpit.
Join us in the streets where we
Join us in the streets where we
Don’t belong
Don’t belong
You and the stars
Throwing light
Ooo (repeat)
Fall, fall.
Ooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.

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Oh, and yes, may a Happy New Year be there waiting, for all of us.

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The Best Eve Of Them All

Ahhhhh, of course it is Christmas Eve of which I speak. There is no other eve quite like it. Compare it with All Hallows Eve, for instance, which has only a handful of songs and the possibility of a mere bag of candy as a prize. Christmas fair knocks it! Some of my clearest childhood memories are associated with this day. I think that I can recall someof those thoughts verbatim, actually, from one of those December 24ths.

Ohhhhhh, yawnnn, it’s cold in here, wish Dad would turn up the dang furnace … I’m not getting out of bed until …wait! It’s Christmas Eve! Presents! Mixed nuts in a bowl! Presents! Special supper! Presents! Singing around the tree! Presents! Perry Como 78 rpm records on the phonograph. Presents!

What time is it? It’s eight o’clock. If we start opening presents at six o’clock that is … ten hours from now. I can’t stand it. How can a person wait that long? Lunchtime … only six hours to go. I’ve got to think about something else. I’ll go outside and play for a while. That’s it! Play outside. Where there are no presents under the tree to stare at. Supper? Why? Can’t we just skip it? I’m not hungry at all. We can eat any day, but this is CHRISTMAS, for God’s sake! What? I can’t believe what you’re saying. You’re going to wash the dishes before we open presents? That is so dumb. Leave them. Cover them with a towel if you can’t stand the sight of them. Even better, toss them out and get new dishes tomorrow! NOOOOOOOOOO! You can’t be serious. We’re going to sing carols? I hate carols. I hate singing. Where did you go to parent school? This is torture. I want a new family.

Ohhhhhhh, everything is just what I wanted. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

And if you see her, thank Aunt Clothilde for those (bo-ring) socks, would you?

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One day, as I was in a particularly idle frame of mind (one of my more common such frames), I wondered: where is the exact opposite, on the globe, of Montrose CO? And through this remarkable thing called the internet I learned where it was, and what it was called … the antipode. Every single spot on the planet has its antipode.

And there is ours. The red dot represents Port-aux-Français, a tiny town on an island in the South Indian Ocean (actually, the true antipode is a spot in the water a bit north of that, but Port-aux-Français is the closest city).

I learned that it may not be one of the great cities of the world, not if the Wikipedia description is accurate.

The port station is located on the Gulf of Morbihan. The station has about 45 inhabitants in winter; the population can rise to more than 120 in summer. The location was selected in 1949 by the chief of mission Pierre Sicaud because of its sheltered position which was suitable for a runway that was never built.

Wikipedia
Port-aux-Français

So planning for a visit to the Port? … maybe in the summertime when it is really bustling at 120 residents? If you were planning on flying in, remember that the runway was never built. I will suggest that as an alternative you could come visit Robin and I here in the antipode of Port-aux-Français.

Much closer. Runway operating. And we are such nice people. Just bring your vaccination certificate along, would you? There’s a dear.

(BTW – do you know where your antipode is?)

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Tuesday morning I spent a couple of hours sitting in the waiting room at our Subaru dealer, getting some repairs done on our car. My guard was down and as I was looking out their showroom windows at the cars lined up in the parking lot, I caught the fever. The ‘I should really have a different car‘ fever.

I was in a vulnerable state for several reasons. Our little Forester has been making an irritating noise whose source is as yet unknown, and it has just under 100,000 miles on its odometer. I am quite sure that the noise represents something that will completely break down in the middle of the desert somewhere near a sign that says “No services in any direction for 100 miles.” I see us hiking through tumbleweed forests on windswept two-lane roads with buzzards circling and we are passing what used to be diners or gas stations but are now abandoned victims of changing tastes and needs.

I see all this so clearly. So it’s really a matter of life and death, isn’t it? Think I’ll amble over to that salesperson and ask a couple of questions. Couldn’t hurt. He looks harmless enough. What’s that? My car’s ready? I’ll be right there.

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From The New Yorker

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Merry Christmas, Friends. We wish you the very best for this holiday season, and for every season that follows. Although we may be physically celebrating apart from one another, in our hearts we are with you all. And one day with care and good fortune we will be able to do all of that corny and necessary stuff that we could before Covid rearranged all of our agendas. We’ll do it right, next year. I believe it.

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It’s The Myth That Matters

Ok, time for truth-telling. I am totally a Christmas guy. On the outside I’m slightly Bah Humbug, but on the inside I am a gooey tower of sentimentality and memories which reach back before the last ice age. I love the lights, the trees, the carols, the Silver Bells sort of feeling I get when shopping on Main Street in a light snowfall.

A sucker for Yuletide. C’est moi.

A couple of random recollections:

The Christmas Eve two families slept on the Jacobson farm in Grandpa and Grandma’s very small home. I would have been about 4 or 5 years old. Every flat space had a body sleeping on it after gifts had been exchanged and we all bedded down. My brother and I had each been gifted with lambswool slippers a few hours earlier. The floor was filled with dormant bodies. I awoke with the need to use the bathroom. In grandpa’s house the toilet facilities were either the pail under the bed on the second floor bedroom or the out-of-doors. It was cold out there. I was awfully young. I couldn’t face the weather and having to step across all those people on the floor so I did the next best thing (in my mind) and used my brother’s furry slipper. He discovered it right away in the morning, of course, when he found himself sloshing around the farmhouse.

( There is a version of this story where I am the victim instead of the perp. Truthfully, it was so long ago that I don’t know which is the more accurate, but myths will endure)

*

I was seventeen and had been nominated to make the trip to buy the Christmas tree, on a Saturday night when I had a date and my mind was completely elsewhere. I bought one and brought it home, then left to pursue my romantic ambitions. When I got back around midnight, I found that a tree had indeed been put up and decorated, but not the one I had purchased. When shown the one I’d selected earlier … a sorrier tree there never was.

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Monday the first doses of Covid vaccine were administered in the US. We’ll be hearing a lot about the ups and downs of the various vaccination programs around the country for a while. We’re a big country, and there’s room for endless variations on the story. It’s huge news, of course, and coming just when a wave of illnesses is still rising up ahead of us like a virologic tsunami – well, let’s just say we needed a morale boost.

I don’t know if President Cluck will ever realize what an opportunity he missed to go down with some measure of greatness attached to his legacy. He seems to be lacking in a lot of normal human reactions and emotions. But if he’d empathized with us instead of lied continuously, if he’d taken rather than opposed the common-sense measures that needed to be adopted, if he’d ever said to us: “This is something extraordinary, folks, it’s way out of politicians’ areas of expertise but we’ve got some of the best minds on the planet working on the problem and you can count on my administration to follow their suggestions.”

If he’d done these things, maybe he still would have lost the election, but how many fewer empty chairs at family tables would there have been this Christmas? I might even feel a bit sorry for him. But he has richly earned every gram of ignominy that will be forever attached to his name.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song  written by the lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent and recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song. Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.
The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him, and requests snow, mistletoe, and presents on the tree. The song ends on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”.

Wikipedia

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I’ve read quite a lot about becoming a senior citizen, in order to prepare myself for some future date when that title applies to me. And one of the things that those geezers seem to have trouble with is balance. As a result they fall down way more than it good for them. Things get broken. Sometimes they stay that way.

This article by Jane Brody in the Times of New York is one that I will add to my files labeled: What I Might Need To Know When I Become An Old Person. It’s all about postural training as a way to stay afoot. Good reading.

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Oxymoron Department

The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. One that I think appropriate as a monument to a person who does not read.

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Ending on a sweet note. A certain person living in this household follows the evolution of the Oreo Cookie very closely. For myself, I was never able to figure out how these new flavors came and went, nor was I motivated to investigate. This morning that information fell into my lap and I pass it along to you. The answer to the question: why is the Oreo not always the Oreo you knew.

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Sunday Morning

I don’t know who picks the Poet Laureate, but they did an awfully good job this last time when they selected Joy Harjo. Spirituality, earthiness, magic, and reality have all found a home in her work.
Each one of her poems is like a prose work condensed to its absolute core. The one I reproduce here is a novel in which we already know all of the characters.

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Perhaps the World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo is the present Poet Laureate of the United States.

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It seems that there is no escaping the fact that Neanderthals and modern humans dated way back when, and occasionally went all the way. DNA archeology has shown some small amount of neanderthal DNA to be present in most of us, and if a person is curious a few dollars spent on a lab test would show them just how much they owe to these folks. For myself, I think I’ll skip that step.

This is a scientific reconstruction of what a neanderthal man looked like, as found in a diorama.

This is a photograph of my great-great-uncle Trygve Einar Flom, taken on his 35th birthday.

It may be my imagination, but there are some subtle similarities here, enough that I don’t think that I need to spend the money on lab work.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Hot. Spice. Baby.

Well, darn if my present favorite hot sauce company hasn’t gone and been acquired, and made the news by doing so. Just as the article in CNN online relates, I began to see Cholula’s distinctive bottles in restaurants several years ago. I tried them there, liked them, then added them to the condiments on our dinner table and never looked back. So far I’ve sampled five of the flavors offered, and they have all been excellent.

But in case you are looking for something to sear your palate and fry your tongue, I suggest that you don’t go to Cholula. It’s spicy but not a blast furnace by any means. What I find attractive are more the subtleties in its flavor, rather than the heat, which is modest. You won’t be able to brag about how many Scoville units you just ingested, not if you ask for the bottle with the wooden top (although I have not tried the “sweet habanero,” so cannot vouch for that one).

(No payment was offered or accepted in return for this endorsement. However, that does not not mean that it wouldn’t have been welcome. I can be bought so easily and cheaply it would make your head swim … )

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Thanksgiving Day arrived and went away on schedule. We entertained a single guest, the gentleman across the street who is a near-shut-in due to health issues. He lives alone and we felt would be a safe person to share a space and a meal with us. We also thought that we would be safe for him. In both cases there was some very small risk, of course, but probably less than we experience when grocery shopping.

The meal was a testament to tradition. No side journeys into the wide world of gastronomy for us, not on T-day. At a time when the rest of life is upside-down, who needs more variety than that?

Our menu was this: a large roasted bird symbolic of a large symbolic Thanksgiving feast hundreds of years ago, mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing crammed with the legal limit of butter, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, and all the while I carried a gigantic can of Reddi-Wip at my side, holstered. I do have a permit to legally carry such a can, and want you all to know that I am a responsible Reddi-Wip owner, and would only use it for nutritional purposes.

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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A little bit about the song “Thanks For The Dance,” from the album of the same name by Leonard Cohen. It is his last album, finished after his death through the efforts of his son.

The songs on the album comprise “sketches” left over from the sessions for Cohen’s last previous studio album You Want It Darker that were finished by Cohen’s son Adam Cohen in a “garage near his father’s old house”.  Regarding the tracks, Cohen noted: “Had we had more time and had [Leonard] been more robust, we would have gotten to them. [We had] conversations about what instrumentation and what feelings he wanted the completed work to evoke – sadly, the fact that I would be completing them without him was a given.”

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

I played the song while Robin and I were preparing dinner yesterday, and Robin said that it made her feel so sweetly sad, and how could it not? The song itself is a meditation on aging and life which is all made even more poignant because Leonard never got to hear the beautiful tune he wrote. At least not in its final form. The man spun gold from the straw of life, and left all of that treasure behind, for us.

Thanks for the dance
I’m sorry you’re tired
The evening has hardly begun
Thanks for the dance
Try to look inspired
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

There’s a rose in your hair
Your shoulders are bare
You’ve been wearing this costume forever

So turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don’t need to go any deeper

Thanks for the dance
I hear that we’re married
One, two, three, one, two, three, one
Thanks for the dance
And the baby you carried
It was almost a daughter or a son

And there’s nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent

We’re joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
Wondering
If we’ve come to some sort of agreement

It was fine, it was fast
We were first, we were last
In line at the Temple of Pleasure
But the green was so green
And the blue was so blue
I was so I
And you were so you
The crisis was light
As a feather

Thanks for the dance
It was hell, it was swell
It was fun
Thanks for all the dances
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

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From The New Yorker

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Gratitude List

I have had a pretty lucky life, with a dash of adversity tossed in now and again to keep me on my toes. There was enough of that particular seasoning along the way to teach me that there was knowledge to be gained during those harder times that I might otherwise not have acquired.

For what I learned during those trials, I am now grateful (although I fully admit that I wasn’t when I was in the middle of them).

The last four years, seeing my idea of what America was being disassembled one piece at a time was so disheartening … but what a lot I learned about the workings of government and about my countrymen. Some of that knowledge I would rather not have, but my takeaway is I will never again take for granted that what I love about this country couldn’t be lost if we are not vigilant.

I am grateful for the several people who last October 3 took a confused and speechless older gentleman (yes, that’s me … please let’s not quibble about the gentleman part) and did all the right things so quickly that a frightening situation was turned around in something only slightly longer than a moment. In fact, if they hadn’t done exactly what they did, it’s likely that if I were typing at all today it would be gibberish. (A different sort of gibberish than what I put out there day by day. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes).

I am grateful that there may soon be an end to this long and difficult struggle with Covid-19. I recognize that it has been much more difficult for millions upon millions of others than for me personally, but being in a higher risk group does tend to make one suspicious and antisocial. Neither are pleasant states to be in.

I am grateful for family, for friendships, for music, and to whoever invented love.

Amen.

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P.S.: I am also grateful for mysteries, and this is a dandy.

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Here’s a personal gallery of things and places. I hope that you have a beautiful day, wherever and with whomever.

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

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About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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Good Morning, Starshine

Help! I’m being buried in a tsunami of wistfulness and I am not a strong swimmer! And it all started with an obituary in the Times of New York about an actress and singer named Lynn Kellogg.

Kellogg came into prominence as a performer in the musical Hair, which was definitely a “thing” when it appeared in 1968 on Broadway. Although Hair was an ensemble work, her songs were among the most memorable, at least for me. Listening to them this morning … all I can say is that it would have been better to take that trip in small doses rather than one big gulp.

By the time the music from Hair had drifted from Broadway all the way out to the Minnesota prairie it was 1969, which was kind of a big year for yours truly. It was the year that I participated in my last anti-war march in Minneapolis that year, accompanied by a pregnant wife, pushing a baby in a stroller, and trying to keep two pre-schoolers from wandering off and into trouble.

My son Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency, June 30. In mid-July I was inducted into the US Air Force, and later moved my family to Bellevue NE, which would be our home for the next two years. And although I never saw the stage musical, the music from Hair was playing in the background for these events and pretty much all others during that year.

So over on the right are some of Kellogg’s songs, and in the video here is the cast singing “Let the Sunshine In.” Lynn is the blonde woman who begins the number.

Unfortunately Lynn Kellogg died of Covid-19 this past week, at the age of 77 years. Who knows if hers, and how many of the other 247,000 Covid deaths have been unnecessary, and for which we have P.Cluck and his minions to thank?

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Of course, reminiscing is tempting for a lot of people, not just we dotards. Here is an article from CBS Sunday Morning on the 50th anniversary of Hair, along with another video clip which was taken from the Tony Awards show in 1969.

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Our lovely fall weather continues here in Paradise. Geese are beginning to gather on the local ponds, but so far I’ve seen none of those majestic vees passing overhead while pointed south. Their watchword must be why should we leave when we have it so good where we are, I guess?

Thanksgiving is now just 9 days away, but we are not panicked. We’re having it at our home this year, and are making plans for a crowd of two. It makes it so easy to pick just the right sized turkey, so today I am going to the deli and getting “one pound of that torn-apart and then glued-back-together sliced turkey, if you please.” It doesn’t require roasting at all, and if one wants to serve it warm, why, a few seconds in the microwave and you’re good to go. We do love our mashed potatoes, so I will purchase a single Yukon Gold, which should suffice. For stuffing, how about Stove Top mix, where you can measure out exactly what you want?

We will, however, not skimp on pie. We may make two of them, because why not? And we’ll have at least two full cans of Reddi-Wip ready to blast away, maybe more.

(All of the above is facetious, except for the observations on pie. While we will scale back a bit from previous years, there is no reason to let coronavirus spoil all of the fun, is there?)

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“The Problem We All Live With”

[An article Saturday on CNN online was prompted by the 60th anniversary of a little girl’s walk to school. It is both a description of some horrible behavior and a testament to personal courage. I reprint it here.]

60 years ago today, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked to school and showed how even first graders can be trailblazers

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

 Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

(CNN)Sixty years ago, Ruby Bridges walked to school escorted by four federal marshals as a White mob hurled insults at her.Bridges, just 6 years old on November 14, 1960, was set to begin first grade at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As the first Black student to attend the school, Bridges carried integration on her small shoulders.Her first day at William Frantz came four years after Black parents in New Orleans filed a lawsuitagainst the Orleans Parish School Board for not desegregating the school system in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined in 1954 that state laws establishing segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. The year Bridges walked into the school, Judge. J. Skelly Wright had ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, however, had convinced the judge to require Black students to apply for transfer to all-White schools, thus limiting desegregation, according to the Equal Justice Initiative

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. 

That year, only five of the 137 Black first graders who applied to transfer were accepted, and only four agreed to attend, according to EJI. Bridges was among them. “For me, being 6 years old, I really wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Bridges, now 66, told NPR in 2010. “I mean the only thing that I was ever told by my parents that I was going to attend a new school and that I should behave.”

Once Bridges entered the school and arrived at her classroom, all the other students had withdrawn. The rest of the school year, it was just her and the teacher, she said. And crowds continued to show up, at one point bringing a small baby’s coffin with a Black doll inside.”I used to have nightmares about the box,” Bridges said. “Those are the days that I distinctly remember being really, really frightened.”But Bridges stayed at the school despite retaliation against her family. Grocery stores refused to sell to her mother, Lucille. And her father, Abon, lost his job, according to the National Park Service. The toll was so hard on their marriage that by the time Bridges graduated from sixth grade, they had separated, she told NPR.Eventually, though, Bridges made it to second grade. And when she did, the school’s incoming first grade class had eight Black students, the EJI said. 

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour's 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York.

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour’s 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York. CNN reached out to Bridges for comment but did not receive a response.

Bridges continues to be an inspiration for many. In 2011, she was invited to the Oval Office, where the painting commemorating her walk by Norman Rockwell — criticized when it first appeared on a magazine cover in 1964 — was on display.”I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today,” then President Barack Obama told Bridges during her visit, according to the White House archives. Lucille, who Ruby says pushed her to attend the school, died this week at age 86. In an Instagram post, Ruby called her mother a “champion for change,” adding that her actions altered the course of many lives.

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This is the Look magazine cover referred to in the article. It is of Ruby Bridges and her journey to school, and was painted by Norman Rockwell. Its title is “The Problem We All Live With.”

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Poco came to us as an outdoor kitten that we coaxed into our home. Later on, when we would attempt to retrain him and deny him access to the outdoors, he was so unhappy that it was a difficult time for all concerned, and we eventually stopped trying.

Case in point. In this pic, the outdoor temperature is a chilly 38 degrees, the wind is a blustery 20-25 mph, and here he is, sleeping out along the backyard fence. Even though the pet door is wide open to him, and only 25 feet away. Inside that pet door is warmth and loads of comfortable furniture to lie about on. But you see where he chooses to be.

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Can I Have A Hallelujah, Brothers & Sisters!

Our national Disgrace-in-Chief is being shown the door, at long last. This time he lost the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Of course he’ll still be in the White House for another couple of months, but in January he will walk that last long stretch to the podium and be forced to turn the keys over to rational and compassionate beings. And our nation can get on with all of the important work that was put on hold for the past four years while Nero fiddled.

We are rejoicing here in Paradise, or at least a minority of us are doing so. Montrose County went for Cluck more than 2:1 over Mr. Biden. How sweet is is to see those wilted campaign signs out there, those pickups still festooned with gigantic but impotent flags promoting the loser-guy. Out of consideration for those of our benighted neighbors who are Cluckians, we have now taken our own signs off the lawn. But I have a confession to make. What I really want to do is find the biggest freaking Biden/Harris banner available and put it up like a Buddhist prayer flag, where it stays for years as the sun and weather slowly break it down.

However, that would be shabby behavior, wouldn’t it? Gloating. And I am totally a class act.

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But, Dr. Frankenstein, what if you are successful? What if this … thing … does come to life? What will happen then?

Following the principle that everything in life has two sides, two faces, we now have some hints that the crazy interesting laboratory tool called Crispr-cas9 might not be an exception. After one paper after another over the past several years about the positive potential for an instrument that can go into a genome and replace defective genetic material with a previously unheard-of surgical precision, we get a paper that has an un-smiley-face sticker on it.

When researchers began applying Crispr-cas9 techniques to embryos those embryos did not appear to take it kindly, tossing out large chunks of the chromosomal material in soberingly large numbers. A commentary on this paper was in the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It adds to an ongoing discussion of the ethical implications of working with embryos versus completed human beings.

For example, If I am born and I have a genetic disease, replacing the bad part of my genes affects only me. But if you tinker with those genes much earlier in development and I grow up to beget children, my children are potentially affected, and their posterity as well.

Interesting paper.

In general, the body public has a say in what research will or will not be done through our elected representatives. Funding can be advanced or withdrawn. Regulations can be drawn up or not. Sometimes just because you can doesn’t mean that you should is a useful watchword in scientific communities. But whether we do have a stake in this research, and articles like this one help us stay informed.

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Friday evening we welcomed a whole lot of very nice people to our home for a celebration of Robin’s birthday via the Zoom app. For a short two hours friends and relatives entered and left the group and I thought it all went very smoothly. Grandson Ethan brought along a bunch of custom backgrounds for his image that went from the pastoral to the macabre and back again.

By the time the group was assembled, we had participants in all four time zones across the U.S. You know, it was definitely not the same as all of us being in the room together, physically. But when you consider that in-person was impossible, it is hard to call a video conference second-best. What it turned out to be was a creation all its own, made possible by technology, which resulted in a very enjoyable evening. I’m liking it.

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I am indebted to Sister Caroline for sending me this video link. It’s a rousing Sunday morning piece of music cleverly updated. Have a great day, my friends.

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Halloween De-briefing

Last Halloween we had … I don’t know, perhaps 40 trick-or-treaters at our door. This year we had one. One hardy soul who received way more candy than she had ever hoped for and staggered away under her sugar load. Unless her parents step in and limit her intake, she could end up in the ER with severe sucrose poisoning. Not our problem. We did our part to sabotage her proper nutritional habits.

After we decided that one visitor was all we were going to get this year, we settled in to watch our annual blast from the past, and we’d selected the movie Poltergeist, from 1982. It held up pretty well. One of the problems with re-watching a film from 38 years ago is that you are 38 years older and may have developed more of an awareness of holes in the plot that you would have back then. This family was waaaay not worried enough about things moving about the house in the first place, and waaaaay too slow to get the hell out of there when things turned nasty.

But it provided the spooky movie ambiance that we were looking for that night, and that’s all a persons can ask, really. I learned an interesting sidelight when I looked for info on the film this week, and that was this. The movie basically dealt with the problems of the Freeling family, which consisted of Mom, Dad, and two girls. The actress who played the older daughter was strangled by her boyfriend the same year the film was released, and the one who played the younger daughter died six years later (at age 12) of a bowel obstruction.

That’s sort of macabre all by itself.

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Tomorrow is Election Day. With the pre-election hype predicting everything from minor disturbances to outright civil insurrection as the results become known, one can hope that this is all overheated rhetoric. As happened in the year 2000, when we were told to fear that all of our computers were going to crash along with Western Civilization, as a result. Remember Y2K?

While there seems to be a significant concentration of crazies on the P.Cluck side of the ledger, not all of those who vote for him are completely nuts. Deluded for sure, suckers to the max, but not people who are violent in nature. We can hope that they will be the leavening if Biden/Harris are declared the eventual victors.

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All Hallows Eve

Today is Halloween and I’m not ready for it. Not in any way. Some cherubs will show up this afternoon with their bags open looking for us to drop safe treats into. In our part of town all of the costumed kiddos are quite young, so their raids occur in the afternoon and once the sun goes down everything is quiet.

When they do show up I will take my masked self to the door and hand them something with either a gloved hand or a thoroughly sanitized one. It’s like the trick-or-treating is happening on an infectious disease ward, where we are the patient in isolation and the staff parade through our sickroom looking for sterile handouts.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Halloween could be setting something up frightening outside the door. A disembodied voice moaning and chains rattling from a hidden speaker, perhaps. Or a scarecrow that comes to life and reaches out a bony finger to tap the child on the shoulder. But, it’s daylight! Nothing is scary in daylight! And even if I could pull it off, these are really young kids and who wants to send them screaming into their parents’ arms and then have to face those same parents’ anger at their darling ones being scarred for life by my insensitivity?

So it’s bite the bullet and pass out the packages of Skittles for me. Later, when we are safe from further visits, Robin and I will watch our carefully selected Frightening Film of the Year. We haven’t chosen one yet, but there are so many classics to pick from, aren’t there? Let’s see … Halloween … The Exorcist … Poltergeist … The Shining … Haunting of Hill House … Dracula … etc. etc. It’s one of the great things about the streaming movie era we are presently living in. Most of these will be available somewhere, even if there’s a small fee to pay. And we can watch them whenever we want, pause them whenever nature makes demands on bladders, and replay passages where we find the dialog hard to understand.

Life is techno-good.

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BTW, I should mention that I am a sort of Halloween version of Scrooge. Dressing up and masking has always seemed a silly business to me. By careful planning and artful refusals throughout my life I have avoided all but one of the costume parties that I was invited to attend. And that one only confirmed me in my apostasy.

It could be because on the other 364 days of the year I am already continuously playing roles, and don’t feel further need to play-act at a new one just because demons are up and about. What roles, you ask? Well, how about conscientious citizen, son, father, student, physician, etc. Perhaps is is enough to say that however I may appear to others (and to myself?), I suspect that there is a full-fledged Dr. Hyde running around in my internal community and looking for a way out. I have no wish to encourage him, not in the slightest.

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Here is a sampling of how movies and television have seen Mr. Hyde throughout the years.

For most people, when their Mr. Hyde comes out, he looks a good deal more ordinary than this. In fact, it’s often hard to tell by appearances when he’s in the room.

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Yesterday P.Cluck took on the medical professions as eager to profit from the suffering brought on by Covid-19. It was only a matter of time before he got to them/us. Now, not every doctor in the U.S. has had to sacrifice because of this disease. My ophthalmologist, for instance, does everything he can to avoid being exposed to the infected. As does my neurologist. Even my family doctor makes me wait in the hallway until I answer a few questions and then have my temperature taken. Only then can I enter the waiting room. If I don’t pass her quiz, it’s go home and we’ll call you.

But if I were one of those, like ER physicians, who cannot avoid working with the afflicted, I would be so pissed off reading today’s headlines. Because they are taken from a speech delivered by a man who cannot understand people who would take such risks because it that is what they do. Because that is what they signed up for. And the unworthy things that he is saying are not only undeserved but will make their job harder.

Whatta guy. His spot in Hell is prepped and ready.

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Now here is something that for me is as Halloween-y as it gets. Gave me nightmares when I was a child … doesn’t get any better than that.

Potpourri

Robin and I have a guest here at BaseCamp, daughter Maja has rejoined us for a few days. We are employing the package,* as always. Yesterday the weather permitted us to spend the late morning and all of the afternoon outdoors chatting away like blackbirds settling in for the night.

We even completed a project. Coming back from a walk in the park, we stopped at a roadside stand and purchased three pumpkins which were later decorated by carving or painting. The day flew by, and before you know it we were saying goodnight, as Maja returned to her motel to rest up.

BTW, that warty pumpkin that Robin is working with was something new to us all. Its flesh was so hard that she gave up trying to carve it and did a beautiful job of painting it instead. Nice recovery, that.

*The Package = masks, social distancing, hand washing, disinfection

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The rapper Megan Jovon Ruth Pete wrote an op/ed piece about her defense of black women that I thought was awfully good. So what is the opinion of an aged white male worth in such a case? Very little, I admit, but this is my blog and I get to say stuff. The lady’s professional name is Megan Thee Stallion, and what a title that is.

Here is a photo of the lady in performance. She is not a shrinking violet, it would appear. Nor doth she shrink in her writing.

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Lindsey Graham is having a real fight in his bid for reelection, and for many reasons I earnestly hope that he loses. He has publicly moved from one sycophancy to another, a decision forced upon him by John McCain, who was ill-mannered enough to die on him and expose him as a character without character. So when Graham stopped being the anti-Cluck and took his place at the feet of the Grand Posturer, it was no real surprise.

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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I am indebted to friend Caroline (and to Scotland) for this addition to our vocabulary. It’s yet another example of the fact that what we think is all new today has not only happened before, but there is already a word for it. Such a word is cockwomble.

It goes right up there with kakistocracy, or government by the “least suitable or competent citizens of a state.”

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Our ballots arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon. We saved them for later today, when I will open mine with as much eager anticipation as if it were Christmas. I am going to savor every single X that I put in every single box that will help retire the gang of thieves presently in office, up to and including P.Cluck himself.

If ever there was a bunch of politicians that deserved to be put out to pasture it is these people. They forgot long ago what they had been elected to do – the nation’s business.

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Sunday Morning

We’re heading home after a trip to Denver for a child’s violin recital. The event came off beautifully, attended by only ten people beyond Leina’s parents and sister. It was held outdoors, on the patio of the instructor’s parent’s home, which is a large house located on a hill overlooking the city.

Leina played the entire program without an intermission, I think there were nearly twenty short pieces. Each piece was followed by a deep bow, and when she came up there was this lovely little smile on her face. Like she might be thinking I nailed that!, didn’t I?

Under ordinary circumstances, we might not have traveled this distance in Covid times for an hour’s entertainment, no matter how precious, but this was not an ordinary time. Leina and her parents are moving later this month to California, which will quadruple the distance between our families. And no matter what spin one places on this (i.e. It’s only a two-day drive, or We can use our airline miles) it will make in-person visits more complicated than just getting in the car for a few hours.

That’s enough of a change to provoke some grieving, because it is in an unwanted direction. Seven summers ago we moved to Colorado to be closer to Robin’s grandkids, and for the most part, it worked out. That move was also a change. Closer to one side of our blended family, further from the other.

Buddhism talks all the time about change, stressing its constancy and inevitability. It encourages acceptance of that fact, and with that acceptance we are promised some serenity, some peace that can only be achieved by letting go of what it is impossible to hold onto. These blessings do not come without doing a bit of work, however. Often quite a bit.

Well-meaning friends will come up with cheerless statements (in trying to cheer us up) like “Change can be good” and they are both right and wrong at the same time. There is always a flip side. Each step of “progress” means something is left behind. Today I am eighty years old, and maybe, just maybe, I am a little wiser than when I was seventy-nine. I wouldn’t place a very big bet on that, but let’s pretend that I am for a moment. However, I also just dodged a fair-sized bullet a week ago, and now I am wearing a heart monitor and taking two drugs meant to encourage my platelets not to congregate with one another in unacceptable places. And in my own mind, a nice-sized chip was taken off of what remained of that sense of invulnerability that I started out with when I was born. This was change that I didn’t care for at all, no matter how much I accept it as a fait accompli.

So we wish our friends good luck on their move to the West Coast, and we will be happy with the successes they find out there, but the fact remains that they will be there, and not here. So we can be forgiven a few tears, a few chokings-up when telling the story, the moments of sadness in upcoming days and weeks. Letting go is a process.

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