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)

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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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Harvest Moon

Welcome to October, where we start out cool and end up frosty, and here in Paradise right now it is peak time for Fall color. To make today even more special, tonight there will be a harvest moon – natural light to give the farmers additional hours in which to gather their crops. Of course, the headlights on modern harvesting machines and tractors have made this heavenly illumination less crucial, but it’s the thought that counts.

Some of my best personal memories of time spent on my grandfather’s farm have to do with grain harvesting. It was quite a different process when I was a child, a very labor-intensive one. But there were beauties and drama that the modern machines do not provide.

The first step was to pull something called a binder through the field, a machine which cut the grain and tied it into bundles. When I was very young, the power to pull the binder was provided by a team of horses, who were later replaced by a tractor. Next step was for the farmer to gather eight or so of these bundles and form them into a “shock.” The sight of a field of these shocks on a golden fall evening was nothing short of beautiful.

On threshing day, the farmer would drive a wagon through the field and manually collect these bundles, which he would then transport to the the threshing machine and toss into the maw of that mechanical beast. Therein was the drama. As a kid, I fancied the machine was a steel dragon which “ate” the bundles, separating the grain from the chaff and blowing the straw out into a pile.

Here’s a short video, for those who are interested. Notice the man standing on the heaving, bucking threshing machine. Notice all the bare belts and pulleys. Notice the lack of any safety devices anywhere on it. Now picture a ten-year old boy up there. That would have been me.

The hazards of farming were (and still are) very real. But this was a time when children were taught how to stay alive on the beast, rather than kept far away from it. Feel free to judge which was the better way. Thinking back, I wonder that I am still here to type this thing.

Grain was collected into a hopper on the threshing machine, and periodically discharged into a pickup truck or wagon to be hauled away for storage. The very last year that my relatives used the threshing machine, before they purchased a combine which changed the whole process greatly, I was given the honor of filling up a wagon with bundles and pitching them into the thresher. I have never in my life felt more pride than I did on that day. Doing what I thought was truly an adult’s work, among men who I admired.

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Robin and I didn’t watch the first presidential debate because we thought that it should never have happened. We didn’t believe that P.Cluck would observe any rules, act with anything approaching decorum, or tell the truth except in rare moments. Turns out we were right, apparently, in all respects.

There shouldn’t be a second one. Why should there? It will only be a repeat of the first, which was a rehash of the last five years. Let’s stop having these debates right now and give the money that would have been spent to coronavirus research, or prison reform, or any of the other thousand worthy causes that could be helped. Another two such fiascoes will serve no purpose other than Cluck’s own.

This television series deserves to be cancelled. It’s a flop. It could never have been anything else.

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Speaking of television – we’re enjoying the series “Away” which stars Hillary Swank, one of our favorite actors. Great supporting cast as well. For me it could be just a tish less soap-y but the overall story is a gripping one. It’s about the first humans to go to Mars.

I’ve never really thought through what such a mission would be like, and what sacrifices would need to be made. Sailing off to another planet on a flight that would take years. Never mind the hazards, even if everything went as well as it could possibly go, being away from friends, family … completely out of all of those loops … for years. What would that be like? Which of the people that you loved would not be still among the living when you returned? Which of your relationships might not survive such a separation? When you have done something so extraordinary, how do you cope with the mundane? Which people around you could begin to understand what you went through?

I talked a couple of posts ago about the emigrant experience, stepping off the dock onto a ship that would take you to a new land from which you would likely not soon return. Going to Mars would be like that. But the stepping off would be even more dramatic and irreversible.

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I don’t know whether to admire those individuals around the world that are making plans to go to Mars and to live there, or to consider them as not quite right in the head, as my grandmother Ida Jacobson might have said. There is more than a little hubris in the thinking of those very creative individuals, like Elon Musk, who are working on this.

To think that somehow a group of humans could be selected and transplanted to another world and make it work, when very similar creatures haven’t been able to do that on the world we now occupy … do enlightened people exist in numbers adequate to the job?

As for myself, a person who I regard as extremely enlightened (move over, Buddha), I have no plans to join such an expedition, even if I was asked, nay, begged to join the group. I don’t want to live anyplace where I can’t pee in the woods without wearing a special suit.

As I understand it, Mars does not offer such opportunities.

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The Times of New York reviewed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Tuesday’s edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews that I have ever read. Can’t wait to see it (Netflix). So interesting to get Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ takes on how the film came to be. Washington’s statement that he plans to spend whatever career he has left to bring more of playwright August Wilson’s works to life was very moving.

He is one of those actors whose face reflects intelligence while his body says that if you don’t get it the first time, he is fully capable of cracking your head during your continuing instruction.

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Helpful Hardware Man, Yessir!

There’s but one day left of September, which has been a warm and undemanding month. A little hotter than we wanted on some days, but they’re all behind us now. Robin and I have finished our first week of self-quarantine, although we’ve had to break our own rules on occasion.

For instance, on Sunday I noticed that the water in the commode in Robin’s bathroom never stopped running. I removed the tank lid and started to fiddle with the floating ball that is supposed to stop the water flow, when the entire rod and ball broke off in my hand. Age and corrosion had done their work over time, and there was nothing for it but to take a trip to Ace Hardware for a new float valve apparatus.

Stuff like that happens. Otherwise we go out to pick up our groceries using the City Market system where we pick out what we want online, order it, and then stop by the store to have the worker put the food into the back of the car for us. We exercise outdoors instead of at the gym (which is a healthier option anyway), and basically avoid mankind.

BTW, we are sooo fortunate to have this hardware store in our town. It’s not a big one, but there is always someone waiting for me when I walk in the door who asks if they can help. Usually is it some older guy, and when I try (haltingly and incompletely) to explain why I am there, he takes me by the hand to just where I needed to be, hands me what I need to buy, and then leads me back to the front of the store. A real store with real stuff in it, and knowledgeable people to assist us. What a concept!

On Sunday my helper was a stooped elderly gentleman who led me to the plumbing section of the store and pointed at a slender box. There were at least five varieties of toilet tank water valves to choose from, but when he said: “This one is the easiest to install, and one of the most economical as well,” he had me at “easiest.” I fell to the floor on my knees in gratitude, but I think that embarrassed him, because he recoiled and said: “Get up, please, and never do that again.”

It’s also the sort of establishment that has a popcorn popper by the door, and you can help yourself to a bagful anytime you want, for free. All in all, it’s enough to give retail a good name.

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Tonight will offer the first of the “great debates.” Robin and I are pretty sure we won’t watch them, and both have the same reason for doing so. We can’t stand the sight and sound of P. Cluck. We wish Mr. Biden well, hope he’s been practicing, and know that the fact checkers will have their hands full. Cluck simply cannot open his mouth without making s**t up.

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Now that the name “Karen” has become synonymous with a certain type of clueless, white, woman of privilege, I found myself wondering how people who actually bore that name were faring. But in all of Paradise I could find no one who would admit to being named Karen. There were a few who I wasn’t able to talk to because they saw me coming and ducked down alleys and into waiting SUVs that whisked them safely away from my prying eyes and questions. So I suspect there are some out there, although I can’t prove it.

It reminds me of the problems that some Norwegians had with bearing the name “Quisling” during WWII. Now Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian bureaucrat who got along famously well with those pesky Nazis who were occupying his country. So well, in fact, that the word “traitor” became synonymous with his last name. It’s still the case today.

From 1942 to 1945 he served as Prime Minister of Norway, heading the Norwegian state administration jointly with the German civilian administrator Josef Terboven. His pro-Nazi puppet government known as the Quisling regime, was dominated by ministers from Nasjonal Samling. The collaborationist government participated in Germany’s genocidal Final Solution.
Quisling was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II. He was found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder, and high treason against the Norwegian state, and was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress, Oslo, on 24 October 1945. The word “Quisling” became a byword for “collaborator” or “traitor” in several languages, reflecting the contempt with which Quisling’s conduct has been regarded, both at the time and since his death.

Wikipedia: vidkun quisling

One hopes that the Karens of the world will one day be able to re-emerge from their closets and bring out their monogrammed items to wear with pride once again. Remember, folks – Karens are people, too.

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From The New Yorker

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People are covering outdoor plantings at night these days. Our temperatures have been flirting with that magical 32 degrees here in the valley. Each Fall we call on a local company called Rainmaker to service the in-ground sprinkler system that we inherited when we bought the house. And no matter when we call them, each Fall they schedule us after the first freeze happens, so that we have a few nights where we need to provide the above-ground components some protection. Last night was one of those nights.

However, this inconvenience has its bright side. No matter how lovely and summer-ish the days might be, we know with great confidence that it will freeze a day or two before our scheduled service. That’s helpful to know.

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Passages

A week. We’ve been gone a week and are more than ready to rejoin the rest of our clothes and to eat a meal we’ve prepared ourselves using something other than a microwave. Since we’ve not heard from our cat-sitter we ordinarily assume that the furry pair have been doing well. Yesterday we saw the first few patches of blue sky we’ve seen in all of that time, as the smoke blanket began to develop holes big enough to matter. We actually saw a few stars last night as well.

On our way home we passed through Denver and stopped for a few hours to connect with the Johnson family. It’s almost a certainty that they will take off on the first phase of their move to California by the end of October. Grandma ain’t happy about that. Philosophical, resigned, but not happy. Those grandchildren are among the loves of her life, and no matter what sort of narrative we construct, they will be farther away when this process is done. There are only two saving graces here, airlines and FaceTime.

Every once in a great while, something happens that prompts me to imagine what it must have been like in the late 1800s for my great-grandparents. Stepping onto boats in Norwegian harbors and bound for an America they could only wonder about. What painful goodbyes those must have been. Even if you could try to fool yourself into believing that you’d see those friends and relatives again, you would know in your heart that the chances were slim. That this was probably well and truly it.

Oh, there would be letters occasionally. Letters that took months to reach you. Until finally even the letters stopped coming, and your only connection was through others like you who had made this same journey, and who could sit around with you and talk about “the old country.” But stepping onto those boats, and looking back into those beloved faces on the docks. That would have been a hard doing.

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Today I will receive at least five emails telling me that unless I send in another $10.00 to (fill in the blank) ‘s campaign that Western civilization as I know it will be lost forever. That P.Cluck and his army of trolls and orcs will come to my home, tear up my lawn, break my windows, and shoot my cats with their Second Amendment AR-15s. That without my ten bucks there is absolutely no hope of the sun ever shining again, and no chance that the leaves will turn color this Fall.

These emails are coming at me from all directions, from folks like Nancy Pelosi, James Carville, Barack Obama … there’s quite a list of names of very important people who now correspond with me. I wonder that they can get anything else done, what with all the writing they are doing.

I have become resentful of the whole process. I know that campaigns need cash, but this electronic fear-mongering has gone from being amusing to annoying to distasteful. If one party collects more donations than the other in September, is that really all there is to it? Is money the only thing? Are we that easily manipulated? I’d rather not believe that, thank you very much.

So to Nancy and Jim and Barack – put a fork in it. Stop the hand-wringing over those dollars and spend your time reminding us what is really at stake here. Cluck may not be a Hitler, he may not even be up to being a Mussolini. But he’s a bad guy in the tyrant mold, and we need him out of there. America has work to do in this world and he and his cronies are standing in the way.

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An old friend declared the other day she that this political season has caused her to have occasional violent, even murderous, thoughts, which she found shocking.  I reassured her that she was not the only one to do so.  As a matter of fact, H.L. Mencken voiced those feelings very well back in the 1930s when he said:

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

Around this discussion table there were both men and women and no one under 65 years of age.  We also decided that if there was to be a revolutionary group taking up arms against those oppressors, it made a great deal of sense to use citizens much like the group we represented.

First of all, in the matter of assassin-ship, who better than a bunch of gray haired grandmothers to get past security and close to a target?  And if any of us were to be caught, well, how many years do we really have left? Might as well spend them in a righteous cause. The only problems that I could see were that our aim is probably not what it used to be. Also, because we’d all lost some hearing acuity we couldn’t depend on auditory commands and instructions, and when you start standing up and waving flags to get your co-conspirators’ attention, it’s quite possible that the Secret Service and the FBI might notice.

(Note to Homeland Security.  Before you load a couple of vans and come for us with those same thugs you sent to Portland, look up the word “satire.”  You might save some time.)

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Another woman that I loved has passed away. I first encountered Juliette Greco when I was seventeen and an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. My minor was French and one of my professors was Monsieur Renaud, a small but fiery man who turned me into an avid (and lifelong) Francophile. I practiced my accent for hours on end, I shopped in bookstores for French language titles, and I looked around in music stores for examples of what a real French person might listen to.

And it was there that I discovered Juliette. She was beautiful, she sang with passion, she hung around with Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, and she had been in the French resistance during WWII. What perfection!

Of course, she was nearly twice as old as I was at the time, but that was never an obstacle to infatuation, which is a toxic and febrile state that sniffs at realities like those.

So now she’s left us. But I still have some of her music, saved from the time of that long ago and very one-sided love affair. Today I will indulge myself and listen to some of it. And share a piece or two with you as well.

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I Now Pronounce You …

Although the wind blew and the smoke hid the sun, Amanda and Lee were married on the grounds of a South Dakota hunting outfitter in a very well planned ceremony. Bride and groom were cool as the proverbial cucumbers, while the bride’s parents were somewhere on the other side of the vegetable spectrum. Being a parent can occasionally be tough, and a wedding is one of those instances where you are called upon to exercise skills you were not given at birth, learned in school, or picked up at the coffee shop. In short, you are flying somewhere near blind.

Unless you can afford to hire a wedding planner, and even then there are hundreds of questions to answer and so very many checks to write

But it all went down so well. It was a lovely time, and Robin and I are very happy for the couple and wish them long and happy years together. They have already been through more trials than most newly marrieds and deserve a break. A good, long one.

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To bring things back to the ground a bit. We left the grounds shortly after the ceremony, skipping the reception and wedding dinner, which were to be held indoors. This had been our plan from the beginning and we stuck to it. There were only three attendees who were masked, and we were two of them. Our plan also includes self-quarantine when we get back to Paradise.

I don’t know about you, but we really don’t love this era of the coronavirus. It’s like a big paintball battle, but one where the opponents are invisible and the paint is poisonous. Sheeesh.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

First of all, I didn’t take this photograph. I could have, if I hadn’t been cowering indoors away from the heat. What it shows is a magical sunset, a Star Wars sunset, that happened last week as the sun shone through the gray smoke which filled our sky for several days. The fire was a hundred miles away, but its effects reached a long way down the valley.

Here in Paradise we coughed more often, our air quality suffered in any way you cared to measure it, and experts told us (and rightly so) how unhealthy it all was. But, child, we did have some sunsets, didn’t we?

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Just a hundred yards from our home a couple of evenings ago Robin and I saw something special. Six buck mule deer in a group crossing Sunnyside Street. We see does frequently, but not the males. Not in groups like this. They were beautiful to behold. A bunch of graceful bachelors hanging out on a Saturday night.

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Sunday afternoon the weather was unsettled, but Robin and I decided to take our exercise hike anyway. It wasn’t long before we plucked our rain shells out of the daypacks and put them on as drizzle protection. It never rained hard, but just enough to provoke the gumbo gods and a thick coating of mud built up on the bottoms of our boots. But we persevered and were glad we did. Some of the joys of walking in the rain are experiencing the aromas of the plant communities, like the sage and rabbitbrush. Aromas that may be there on drier days, but our limited sense of smell doesn’t pick them up.

We took off our mud-encrusted boots before we got back in the car and placed them carefully in the cargo bay of the Forester, driving home in our stocking feet. Once back at la casa del Floms, I hosed the boots down and put them in the garage to dry. That gumbo becomes semi-concrete if you give it half a chance.

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This summer I have really come to love the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar. I was formerly ignorant of the entire genre, but now prefer it to any of the more familiar sounds from those islands. The music has an interesting history, starting with a bunch of 19th century Mexican cowboys … but I’ll stop there, you might want to read more on your own. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

It is all in the tuning, apparently, and I have to trust those who know about such things, because the only musical instrument I ever learned to play was the stereo. The effect is to mellow me out so thoroughly that I am in danger of slipping right out of my chair and cracking my head on the way down.

But this sweet music fits perfectly into the languor of these hot summer afternoons and evenings.

Here’s a couple by Ledward Ka’apana: Pua Hana and Slack Key Lullaby.

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

Against all odds and common sense we are planning a campout for the Labor Day weekend, most likely with Amy, Neil, and family. Since everything is pretty much buttoned up down here, we’re thinking about going up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau, a largely uninhabited and wild place where only the weakest minds venture to go and only the hardiest survive (definite hyperbole, there).

This time we’re planning on bringing sleeping bags, just for variety, and the sorts of food that if any of it drops on the ground you can pick it up and blow the dirt off and it’s good as new. Our camper has also been repaired and all of the poles work as they should.

There’s a small campground up on the plateau containing 8 sites of the first-come/first-served kind. It has a vault toilet, but no water. The daily camping fee is zero dollars, because they don’t patrol or pick up trash or much of anything, actually. But we’ve seen it, and it’s surprisingly tidy. It is also located close to some hiking/biking trails that are appealing.

But spill one’s chicken chili out there and it’s a long way back to Montrose for provisions.

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That Gypsy!

Way back in 1999, Sean Penn showed up in a Woody Allen movie called Sweet and Lowdown, which was about a fictional jazz guitarist in the 30s named Emmet Ray who believed he was the greatest player in the world … except for … that gypsy! And the gypsy in question was Django Reinhardt. Now, Django was a real person, and is still regarded as one of the best guitarists … well … ever.

Django Reinhardt lost use of two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.

At that time, Reinhardt would have been playing with the group that he and a friend had formed up in Paris. One that had what has to be an all-time greatest name for a jazz ensemble: the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Is that great or what?

His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note having a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.

Jerry Garcia

Wikipedia has a long biography of this guy, which makes interesting reading, but what does all this have to do with anything? I’ll you what – Django is who I’m listening to today out on the backyard deck, where the sun’s rays cannot get to me and the yellowjackets seem to have lost interest as well.

This was a man who changed my musical life by giving me a whole new perspective on the guitar and, on an even more profound level, on my relationship with sound…During my formative years, as I listened to Django’s records, especially songs like ‘Nuages’ that I would play for the rest of my life, I studied his technique. Even more, I studied his gentleness. I love the human sound he gave his acoustic guitar.

Willie Nelson

So how could I not share a couple of cuts with you today? Tiger Rag shows how fast he can play, Nuages how soulfully.

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Daughter Maja spent some time with us last evening, and it was so good catching up with her. She may have to return to Peru in the near future, although just how that will happen is uncertain. That country is right now experiencing very hard times re: coronavirus, in spite of a rigorous military-style lockdown from the get-go.

Maja explained the seeming contradiction there, and it directly relates to poverty. Forty per cent of Lima’s population are without refrigeration, and must go to market nearly every day. Plus the poor live in crowded homes, making isolation or quarantine difficult or impossible. Many of these homes are without running water as well.

Peru’s borders are still closed, but the bad guy is already in the house.

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Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece on some of the dilemmas faced by working parents in this time of the plague. Her perspective is that of a working parent worrying about what sort of school situation her own child will be in come this Fall.

How can you not feel for these folks with so many questions about the disease still unanswered, so many different approaches being suggested for try-out, and so little guidance coming on the national level? It is one tough time to be a parent, especially of younger children.

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I received a present from the Times of New York today, and it wasn’t even my birthday. A short piece about a favorite of mine since … dunno … before Time began. That person is Odetta Felious. What a voice. What a talent.

I’ve been collecting her music since I was a teen and I actually heard her sing in person at St. Olaf College in Northfield MN, in a small intimate auditorium. That would have been in the mid-sixties. So why the article today in the Times? I can’t think of any other reason than to please me. I really didn’t know they cared.

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Saddle Up!

Saturday morning we took our first bicycle ride since Robin’s fall a couple of months ago. Down to the Farmer’s Market we rolled to round up some of the finest peaches and sweet corn on the planet. Rode back home extra-carefully so as to bruise neither the fruit nor Robin.

All went well, and that’s a good thing because we’d both love to add those regular rides back to our exercise/fun schedule. Especially with the promise of cooler days in September. This summer of consistent high temperatures has definitely required some coping strategies. A lot more time indoors than we’re accustomed to.

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The Democrats have put away the party hats they never got to use, and are going about the everyday business of working toward getting their people elected. The Cluckian Party, which replaced the Republicans somewhere along the way, is gearing up for something of their own next week.

Because the stuttering young man who had been befriended by Joe Biden made such a favorable impression this past week, the Clucksters are trying hard to find someone (outside his immediate family) whose life has been bettered by contact with his Serene Orange-itude, but they are not having any success at all.

Word has it that they are willing to settle for hiring a few shills if they can find some that are convincing enough. So look next week for a line of suspicious-looking people throwing down their crutches and declaring I Can Walk! I Can Walk! after coming into the presence of P.Cluck hisself.

As for myself, I am allowed to watch only one political convention per year by order of my personal physician, Dr. Imperviosa Sanguinaria. Between us we selected the Democrats’ get-together as this year’s winner. It’s a matter of my blood pressure, she says. So whatever the Cluckians do, I’ll have to wait for the summaries a day later to find out. Or perhaps a week. Or two.

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From The New Yorker

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Several years ago I scanned some ancient photographs that Robin’s mother, Dorothy, had been keeping around in various shoeboxes. You know, the way everybody did before digital cameras came on the scene. Now I have them in our library, even though I know very few of the people in the pix, and that goes for Robin as well. I don’t quite understand it, but I enjoy studying antique photos, even when they are of people I don’t know.

Believing that everybody deserves their one day of fame and exposure, I will share a few of these vintage photographs with you.

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And lastly, this Sunday morning, something fierce. One woman’s poem chosen by another poet, and all purloined by me from the Times of New York.

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Some Girls

By Alison Luterman and Naomi Shihab Nye

This poem had already been selected when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed on the House floor her unforgettably powerful response to misogynistic insult. Now I read it with pride for brave people who speak out publicly for respect and justice, for passionate poets like Alison Luterman, for the people who live through “every kind of exile” … for all the awkwardness of trying on “new wings.” And for a country that has prided itself on being so forward-thinking without ever electing one of those girls to be even vice president, much less president. This poem feels like an anthem for “ferocious mercy” to come. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

Some Girls

By Alison Luterman

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,
hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,
tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their
fury.
I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor
showers.
And shadowed their secret rendezvous,
walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins
through the deep body of the forest
where they are trying on their new wings,
rising to power with a ferocious mercy
not seen before in the cities of men.
Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,
they’re swooping down even now
from treetops where they were roosting,
wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon
feathers.
They have pulled the living child out of the flames
and are prepared to take charge through the coming
apocalypse.
I have learned that some girls are boys; some are birds,
some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,
I cannot even name them,
although one of them is looking out through my eyes
right now,
one of them
is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

A River Runs Through It

Relentless. The sun is just that. It really requires that we don’t miss a beat, that we inject some discipline into those lazy, hazy, crazy days of sum-mer, those days of peanuts, and pretzels, and beer.

If I don’t water my patch of garden every 24 hours, it will begin to die. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we will sauté. If we don’t carry water whenever we go for a walk, even a short one, we will wither until we either find water or pass on to our great reward. There’s no laying about the porch and sucking on a grass stem this year. This is serious sunshine.

Our cars are air-conditioned and Covid-free pods (we hope) that we use to move about the landscape to avoid stir-craziness. Yesterday we moved our bubble to Ouray, where we found other humans getting out of their bubbles to buy necessary things. Like beef jerky, T-shirts, and portobello wraps with fries.

Everybody in our own bubble is masked, even though we all like each other. We can’t trust each other, however. Not completely.

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Monday afternoon we rented inflatable kayaks and ran down the Uncompahgre River from Lake Chipeta and through the rapids in the city water park. Robin and I were in one tandem boat, with DJ and Cheyenne in the other. It’s basically a Class II river run. The only problem was that I have Class I river skills. And so I managed to crash into the branches of an evil Russian Olive tree that sought my life, wedge our boat so firmly against a stump in the current that it took a small army to free us, and run at least half the river either backwards or sideways.

Somehow we ended up unharmed at the take-out place near the Main Street Bridge. The equipment was all in one piece as well so I guess it was a success, but I’m glad there isn’t any video anywhere of my performance.

Granddaughter Cheyenne loved it! So score one for Colorado!

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Here are Cheyenne and DJ coming through the Water Park section that runs through a park here in Montrose.

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Tuesday morning our guests are leaving to return to Minnesota. It has been an excellent visit, and we wish them a complete bon voyage apiece. Traveling these days has some similarities to that popular parlor game, Russian Roulette. Your odds are undoubtedly better than one in six, but the problem is you don’t know exactly how much better.

What about that woman in the window seat? Is she okay? She looks peaked. I think I can sense she has a fever from way over here on the aisle. Good God, is she going to cough? I’m heading for the bathroom if she does, until that droplet cloud settles. Poor b****rd next to her. He’s a goner, I’m thinking. That’s it, I’m outta here as soon as the wheels hit the ground.

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Mr. Cool

I have not been one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans, more of a medium-strength enthusiast, I’d say. Of course, comparing him to the present occupant of the office of POTUS, he looks like a positive god sent to live among us mortals. But IMHO Mr. Obama liked the trappings of office a little too much to take the risks that might have moved America further along, and that was disappointing.

But he had heart and honesty, with style and charisma enough for two men. If only he had … but those are stories to tell and discussions to have around political campfires late into the night. This week he delivered a eulogy for John Lewis and it was a strong one, delivered in his best Baptist-preacher voice, one that the deceased might well have wished he’d stuck around another day or two just to hear.

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We have guests arriving tonight by airship from Minnesota – daughter Sarah, husband D.J., and granddaughter Cheyenne. We’re putting them up at a local hostelry, and we will spend the days trying to find things to do here in Paradise when the temperature promises nothing less than well above ninety degrees Fahrenheit each day.

But I think we’ll manage nicely, thank you very much, even though entertaining in the Covid era takes a bit more planning than it did in the good old days … way way back there … before February. Most of our time together will be outdoors, and even though the temps are going to be on the high side, our lower humidity makes them more tolerable, and we always have the option of doing some of the sight-seeing up at 10,000 feet, where it’s often a good deal cooler.

It will be so good to see them, making their first trip out to visit us. We have a great resource to use as hosts, in that Colorado is often a visually stunning state, and we live smack-dab in the middle of quite a lot of that.

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From The New Yorker

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Our guests arrived, all three with that odd sort of dull tiredness that one gets from sitting in an airplane. We forced them to stay up and talk to us but had to finally send them off to their motel when their heads started smacking one by one into the iron table on the deck. Fearing brain damage or worse we released them from their social obligations and off they went.

Today we’ll probably visit the Black Canyon, since it’s only 20 minutes from our home, and is always a good way to begin the Colorado conversation. In this state you’re either looking up at something very tall, or looking down into something that is scary deep. A trip to the Canyon affords opportunities for both.

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Now here’s something you don’t read every day. Scientists have found microbes in a deep part of the sea floor that may have lived there dormant for, let’s say, 100 million years! When they fed them a little bit of carbon and talked nicely to them, they woke up and began to reproduce.

This is all pretty fascinating, and we don’t know the end of the story yet, but here’s something to think about.

How many times have you seen a low-budget sci-fi movie where humans disturbed something at the bottom of the sea, and it woke to rampage through New York or Tokyo? Usually it’s a huge reptile or slug or something. But what if it’s really something very tiny, let’s say, like a microbe?

What is it isn’t Godzilla we should have been worrying about all this time? What if it’s really Bactilla that is going to knock down all those buildings and send the inhabitants scurrying in terror? So tomorrow those scientists will open the door to their labs and there will be these empty broken test tubes all over the floor …

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Last night, Robin and I had just settled into bed and begun our night-time reading when suddenly the most powerful aroma of skunk assailed us. So strong it was almost as if the animal were in the house spraying everything in sight. I cautiously went back out and did an interior inspection, then took a flashlight to the back yard and … nothing. Nothing but enough skunk scent to make you wonder where and what.

None of this would probably have bothered someone who hadn’t already briefly entertained one of these creatures in his living room, but there you are.

Once threatened, twice shy.

Monumental

The Colorado National Monument is a piece of work. You get to it by leaving Grand Junction CO and skipping down the road to Fruita CO, then turning left. A few miles further on and you begin to climb on the switchback-y road for a gain in altitude of a couple of thousand feet and you are there. And where is “there?”

Well, here.

If the pix make it look slightly spectacular, that’s because it is. Even the driving on the single road through the park is awesome for me, in this meaning of the word: fear-inspiring. You all know that I have acrophobia, and that I deplore the Colorado habit of creating two-lane roads with a mountain on one side and a terrible cliff on the other … and then providing nothing like a guard rail or anything to keep you from driving off the skinny road into eternity should your hand slip just a bit on the steering wheel, or your foot twitch on the accelerator pedal. And this road through the monument is full of those opportunities for fright for those who share my affliction.

The trouble is, in Colorado such places are two things at once: unavoidable and scenically amazing. As they are here at the CNM. So I gather what shreds of courage that I still possess and turn the driving over to Robin while I sweatily grip the handles on the car door and think of the tens of thousands of people who must have made this same journey without any plummeting involved at all.

At any rate, Saturday we rendezvoused with the Hurley family at the Monument, where they were camping for a couple of nights. We broke bread with them, hiked a couple of short hikes with them, and jabbered together about everything and nothing in particular, the way friends do.

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For me, Dr. Fauci is still someone to look to for honest and valid advice in this time of rampant obfuscation. Why do I say “still?” Well, here he is throwing out the first ball of the major league baseball season.

Just goes to show that there are few of us who are good at everything. By all reports he is planning to keep his day job.

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Bedtime Follies

Need help explaining why Black Lives Matter fits the moment better than All Lives Matter? Perhaps these young ladies can be of some assistance.

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I’m still making my way through the Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell. I’m about half-way through, but that’s not bad for a book on my nighttime reading stack.

My usual routine is to climb into bed with every intention of reading for an hour or so, as Robin does. I arrange the pillows, adjust the light on my nightstand, fluff the comforter and look about the room to see if there is anything left undone which would require me to leave this sweet nest I’ve created. Seeing no problems, I then begin to read.

Since my resting pulse is in the low 50s, I estimate that 37 heartbeats from the moment I open the book I have fallen asleep.

Becoming rapidly unconscious is never my plan, but there is nothing, believe me, that can stop this comatose juggernaut once it gets going.

But to get back to Studs. I mentioned that this series of books had such a powerful effect on the boy I was when I first read it, and was hoping that I would find out how and why that happened in the re-reading.

And finally, I think, I have it figured out. Studs was a tough kid from a working-class family growing up in Chicago in early 20th century. If you were to have met him in person you might have thought him supremely self-possessed. But the story is basically 95% told as his train of thought, and those thoughts are nearly completely fear-filled and insecure.

Fear of not being tough enough, of not being attractive to girls, of being thought soft by his gang, of being stifled by his parents’ wishes for him, of the Catholic Church and its many commandments (way more than the ten that were good enough for Moses), of not being handsome enough, not having enough money, etc. There are very few moments in the books where he has a self-confident thought.

Just like I was at the time I read them.

That was my connection with the character, and why it was so powerful a read. And why Studs’ premature death moved me in the way that it did.

Now, I don’t suppose that any of you are going to run out and get the books from the library, but if you do I hasten to add that there were quite a few differences between Studs and myself. For one thing, he curses way more than I do … really. And he is a blatant racist/bigot for all seasons.

Except for Irish Catholics, pretty much every other nationality or religion is described with words taken from the same lexicon where the N-word, the C-word, and the K-word et al can be found. Black, Jews, Protestants – some of you might have passing acquaintance with the words yourselves, although I know without question that you would never utter them.

So the identification of the young man in the photo below with Studs was not complete, but it was still a strong and a forceful one.

I get it now, I really do. I see what he saw.

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Occasionally when I am watching an old movie, I will wonder … what does those actors think when they see themselves walking and talking as a fifty-year-younger version of themselves? Sadness? Poignancy? Embarrassment?

I had a flash of an inkling on the subject when I included the old photo above, of myself reclining on a blanket sixty years ago. I had none of those feelings while looking at the picture. Instead, I wished him well.

Because I know his entire future, right up to this moment. And I have inside information that tells me he’s just flat out not ready for it.

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Guests are coming for lunch today! Amy, Neil and family are passing through Montrose on their way to an isolated cabin-vacation in the Black Hills and will be here around noon. They will be our first visitors since the plague began.

We’re going to serve the food as if we knew for a fact that we were both named Typhoid Mary. Lots of separateness, sanitizers, and plastic gloves. It’s awkward but do-able.

A small bit of quasi-normalcy in an unquiet time.

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