Freedom To Let One’s Face Hang Out

It’s 2 A.M. here in Paradise, and I’m sitting out back listening to the wind chimes. Woke up to use the loo, and couldn’t just drop back to sleep for whatever reason, so here I am. Just for reference, it’s quite dark at this hour, so if there are wild creatures out there with me in view and wondering idly how I’d taste, at least I can’t see them massing. And what you can’t see ain’t real, right?

Official Portrait of Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida

Scanning the news – so far today it’s not too noisy out there. Florida, that state of masterful ostrich-style leadership, which reopened its beaches a few weeks ago and now is being swamped by new cases of Covid-19, is going to try to close some of those same locations for the 4th of July. Naturellement*, the yahoos are out in full force complaining that their freedoms are being curtailed.

Here are those freedoms as outlined in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • Freedom to bring a large cooler to any beach you want to, whenever

So I guess the yahoos are right on this one.

*An unfortunate habit of mine is to drop in a French word from time to time purely to show off and advertise that I had a minor in French as an undergrad.

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Our cats are with me out here in the dark on the deck, wondering:

What the feline ? Can’t he leave us alone even for a moment? Whenever he comes around it’s always Come here kitty and let me pet you? or Sit on my lap, won’t you? or some sort of mooning on how cute we are. He can’t just let us be. There are days when it’s enough to curdle one’s kibble.

I don’t blame them. Usually the night is their human-free time, where they can drop the little charades of polite social interaction and be themselves. Perhaps enjoy a tasty mouse or two and kick back.

Sorry, guys, I’ll stay here in my chair for now, the rest of the yard is yours. But at dawn, all bets are off.

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From The New Yorker

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Love the cartoon.

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I doubt this article shocked or surprised any of you. I’ve eaten chicken nuggets a couple of times, and on each of those occasions I knew that there was more than a little latex in those pneumatic lumps. Once when I attended a summer family picnic and saw them being substituted for shuttlecocks, this feeling was only reinforced.

I’ve read the story over a couple of times now, and am still in the dark as to just what the source of the rubber was. Old farm boots, discarded radial tires, erasers that were supposed to end up atop all those #2 pencils in all those classrooms … what?

The article goes on to tell us that the nuggets in question ” have a best-by date of May 6, 2021.” Apparently after that time you must have them recapped before you serve them.

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Robin and I are experiencing some of the heartaches of gardening this week. Some of our leafy children are being eaten or undermined by uninvited others. We find ourselves googling “diseases of tomatoes,” “diseases of chard,” and “diseases of spinach.” Wilted leaves, tiny beetles, wriggling larvae … all have threatened our small horticultural Eden out back.

What is the source of the impulses that drive us each year to complicate our lives by trying to grow a small portion of our own food? To put ourselves at the mercy of the weather, rainfall, insects, birds … all for a few salads and a BLT or two? If we truly learned from experience, we would toss those seed catalogs as soon as they arrived, get rid of the planters, and use all that time freed up to learn to play blackjack or something else more useful.

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This one is for Jonnie. Blister in the Sun, by Violent Femmes.

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The Chain

There is a Buddhist table prayer that goes like this:

We are grateful for the sun and the rain and the earth
and someone else’s hard work.

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There’s often a lot of “fill” on the CNN website, but once in a while they serve up a really tasty media sandwich of excellent photographs between slices of good whole grain reportage.

One of those caught my eye this morning, and I recommend it to you if you haven’t already read it. It’s all about something that I give little thought to day by day, but which makes life as I know it possible – the food chain.

And the article goes on to relate how we are finding out just how elastic that chain might be and whether it will even hold. The reason, of course, is our friend the pandemic. A farmer plants what he think he can sell at harvest time. If he sells to restaurants … what will that market look like when those lovely plants are ready to sell? The crystal ball hasn’t been made that encompasses the coronavirus’ interruptions and dismantlings.

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From The New Yorker

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On Friday Robin and I broke the Covid laws and traveled, non-essentially, more than 10 miles from home. That morning we had snapped, and were each maniacally laughing at nothing during breakfast, unable to stop ourselves. At one point we paused, breathless, looked across the table and said: “We’ve got to get out of here!”

And so we did.

We drove in our Covid-resistant automobile to Twin Lakes, Colorado, a round trip of about 300 miles. We ate bagel sandwiches on the sidewalk in front of a small deli in Gunnison CO. We walked short distances on two hikes and marked them for future and more thorough exploration. We examined two beautiful rushing mountain rivers.

On the first of those mini-hikes I had a not-so-golden-moment. Foolishly I was wearing my plastic Birkenstocks, thinking … not thinking, really. I was walking on a slippery dirt hummock between two very large mud puddles on that old mining road when the Birkies lost contact with the earth. In less time than it took to type this I was lying on my back in three inches of water in one of those puddles.

I’m not sure what the water temperature was, but somewhere close to 40 degrees, I’m guessing.

At any rate, I was now well and truly soaked from shoulder to bum with a brownish water that added nothing to my appearance and turned my blue and white plaid flannel shirt sort of a rusty color.

I schlepped back to the car where I stripped to the waist and put on a fleece jacket that I had fortunately brought along on the drive. There was no replacement for the wet hiking shorts so they had to dry while being worn.

Robin could only watch and say things to herself about hiking with senior citizens and the vagaries thereof.

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From The New Yorker

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There are moments when I wished that I liked okra. The CNN story with which I opened this blog entry talked about the problems of an okra farmer. As I read it I thought of his product and shuddered.

I remember my first exposure to this vegetable quite clearly. A bunch of okra had been boiled up and placed in a serving dish. When the dish was passed to me and I lifted up a large piece of the stuff and saw the mucoid strings hanging from its limp green body I replaced it in the server and never picked it up again.

Years later I ordered a side dish of fried okra at one of those good ol’ southern cookin’ sort of places, and although there was none of that awful visual with the slime dripping down and all, one bite into the super-slippery innards of the piece on my fork made the words NOT FOOD pop into my mind in a bright neon color.

I fear that I may never try it again, and so cannot help that poor farmer in any way. He’ll have to depend on other customers who are not put off by eating large gobbets of mucus.

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Science: The place where we go to find out how the world is and works, rather than someone’s febrile idea about what He’d like it to be.

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AY AY AY! Two hair stylists in Missouri went to work with respiratory symptoms and exposed more than 140 clients to coronavirus. We don’t know anything as yet about those folks who were sent out the door with those spanking new bobs. Did they catch it? Did they become ill? Did they like their haircut?

But what we do know is that they worked for one franchise of the same exclusive chain of salons that I attended here in Paradise in the old days when I left the snipping of hairs to others. Great Clips.

Y’know, it’s really disappointing. You expect more from an upscale establishment. Sloppy work, that.

However, now that I have taught myself the fine art of mowing my own fur, I find that I don’t care quite as much as I would have. My plague haircuts are as pleasing to me as those I received at the hands of a long string of anonymous women over the years. What is missing, though, is the suspense.

Will this be the time that I get exactly what I want? Or will I look at myself in the mirror when she’s done and say once again: In a week it’ll be okay.

I miss that.

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Addendum: On a bicycle ride Saturday, I hit a snag in the sidewalk and the bike and I went in different directions. Small parts of my epidermis were left on the gravel along the path, but that was the extent of my injuries.

Robin, however, added this incident to the one of the day before, where I fell into a mountain puddle, to declare a new policy: No More Accidents. I would have tried to explain that accidents were just that, and could happen to anyone at any time, but there was a look in her eye that said:

Don’t mess with me on this one, Jon. Just wear the suit!

The garment in question is constructed entirely of bubble wrap, is suffocatingly warm in summer, and there is no way at all to deal with perspiration. After a couple of hours in there, the most euphemistic way of describing its occupant is rancid.

It would have prevented my two small traumas of the past week, however, because anything other than a stiff sort of slow-walking is impossible.

She’ll come around, I know she will. If I can just stay out of trouble for a few more days …

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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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Unfair! Unfair!

Dr. Atul Gawande is so smart and thoughtful and charming he makes me feel altogether puny. How could the universe give so much to one person and so little to another? Where’s the justice here?

In the New Yorker this week, he stands back and looks at our journey so far through corona-opolis, and begins to put some things right that have been askew. Straightens the pictures on the wall, so to speak. He puts to rest the feeling that this is all completely new territory and we don’t have any idea how to deal with it.

While that mindset might have had a tinge of truth in it a couple of months ago, it simply isn’t reality today. We are learning rapidly due to reports from around the world, and through shared experiences. Gawande summarizes what we are finding, and it is moderately reassuring. Not complacency-promoting, but reassuring.

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Our village has started senior hours at the grocery stores. Apparently this is happening out there in the rest of the world as well. On M-W-F older citizens can shop from 0700-0800 without having to deal with those pesky youngsters and their runny noses. Theoretically this will reduce the older folks’ chance of exposure to coronavirus and thus prolong some of their lives.

But this system is not without its drawbacks. If you take the store up on their offer, what it would mean is greatly intensified exposure to one of the supreme aggravators of our time – the elderly female grocery shopper.

They clutter the aisles, moving at so slow a pace that one has to paint lines on the floor to be sure they are moving at all. They park their carts on one side of the aisle and their bodies on the other, completely obstructing traffic. And they pay you no attention when you holler at them to get out of the way or you will come through at ramming speed.

But the worst, the absolute worst things happen at the checkout counter. These women have on average about 1500 coupons dating back to 1944, all of which have to be gone through one at a time to see which are valid and which are not. And they do not toss out the rejected ones, but replace them in their purses to be brought out again at the next visit.

The idea that you have to actually purchase a bag of coffee to get the $1.00 credit seems to be a foreign concept to many of these ladies, and there is quite a bit of harrumphing at the inflexibility of the store.

But now comes the coup de grace. The groceries are all rung up, the cashier is waiting for the customer to select method of payment, and after scratching around in a bottomless purse for several minutes out comes the checkbook. They never, n-e-v-e-r, have their checkbook out and are ready with pen in hand when the total is rung up. It apparently comes as a surprise to them every time.

So those senior hours look a lot less attractive when you really think about them. Am I being too harsh? Too sexist? Aren’t old men just as deficient in these areas?

Of course they are. But no one in their right mind would send an old dude to get the groceries. Might as well throw your shopping list into the street, for all the good it would do you. They are so distractible and memory-challenged that they come to the checkouts with nothing in their carts at all and must be sent back into the store to take a second run at it.

So for all these reasons I think I’ll shop with the millennials. Besides, they are so easy and fun to annoy.

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So … yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and saw shagginess. The kind that a haircut can fix. After a few phone calls, I found out that you can’t do that in Montrose these days, because all of the barbers, etc. have shut their doors. Apparently good grooming is yet another casualty of the present plague.

Later in the day I came under fire from our children for even considering going to a salon and risking that exposure, and I accept that criticism as caring and well-intended. Even sensible. Looking in the same mirror, suddenly I didn’t look all that untidy, after all.

And I have come up with a plan of sorts, should the emergency continue for weeks into the future. I will either let my hair grow without interventions or clip it back to the skull by my own hand. Walking around with a botched self-cut somewhere in between has no appeal. My personal appearance standards are low, I admit, but I do have them.

So, unless there is a change in our present situation, a few months from now I will likely have one of these two possible “looks.”

or

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

Okay, I admit that Willie Nelson can basically do no wrong. Drink too much? … he used to do that. Smoke pot by the hundredweight? … continuously until he couldn’t breathe well. Famously forget to pay his income taxes? … you bet. And yet somehow he transformed himself from a man who was (and is) simply a very good songwriter with a couple of bad habits to a national cultural institution and treasure.

I would really like to know how he did that so I can get started on my own monster legacy. I do have a hurdle or two to get past, if I am thinking of following in his footsteps. I can’t play guitar, I can’t read or write music, I can’t sing, and I’m a lifelong sufferer from charisma deficiency syndrome.

But today we’ll look at a new generation of Nelsons as they perform duets with the old man. Here’s a pair of videos, one involving son Lukas and the other daughter Paula.

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The sound that you hear is that of multiple apples falling not far from the tree.

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Friday night we’re going back to St. Mary’s Church for the Fish-Fry once again. I called to see if by chance they were calling it off for viral reasons, and the secretary seemed puzzled that I would even ask such a question. Apparently NOTHING interferes with the fish-fry, other than perhaps an inferno-style grease fire in the kitchen itself.

We’re attending with another couple, and I’ll have to admit that getting together in a public space these days where there will be scores of other people gives one a bit of a frisson. I may wear my Indiana Jones fedora for the occasion. Would packing a bullwhip be too much … ?

Actually, being at a Catholic Church dinner where a killer virus may be lurking doesn’t give me as much pause as attending services at a local Lutheran church would, the one where there is an old dude who openly carries a sidearm on Sunday mornings. The danger is random in both cases, but I don’t think that being 3 feet away from a gun-toting and paranoid septuagenarian provides nearly enough of a safe distance.

[Follow-up note: St. Mary’s is cancelling the rest of the Fish-Frys for this season due to concerns centered on COVID-19. An instance where the virus may actually have saved lives.]

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On Thursday afternoon, it being a lovely sixty-degree day and my having run out of excuses not to do it, we took our bikes out for the first time. The city has recently added 2.5 miles to the riverside bicycle/hiking trail and it is really beautiful now. Slight uphill going upstream, the opposite when you turn around.

It’s a nice workout, and the only problem I have each year on the first few rides is some lower-body discomfort located not where the rubber meets the road, but where the denim meets the saddle. Since we covered about 12 miles Thursday, I am still walking slightly askew today.

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

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A concession to the times we are living in. I truly enjoy shopping for groceries. Part of the fun is getting bargains and part is exploring new foods, some of which I may never have heard of before.

But we’re going to experiment with something called ClickList, at our local City Market. Here you shop for your food online, and then at a designated time, drive to the store and a stockperson delivers your order to your car. The only human contact is with that man or woman, and you avoid the herd inside the store. There is a charge for this service (at least partially offset by the lack of opportunity for impulse buying).

Now, I would much prefer to be in that herd, but will accept that this route may be the one to take until the crisis passes. After all, as Robin gently reminds me, I am in a different risk group these days.

Odd to imagine oneself as situationally fragile, but there you are.

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My Yang Is Acting Up Today, So Where’s My Yin When I Really Need It?

A person with COVID-19 has popped up in Gunnison, which is 50 miles away. Actually, I suspect that there are cases right here in Paradise, we just haven’t identified them as such, and maybe never will because the victims are not all that ill.

What’s the good news in this evolving story? Well, one positive item is that kids don’t seem to get very sick if they catch it. That’s a good thing. Wait, it’s also a bad thing – because if they aren’t very sick they’ll be taken along to grandpa’s house for dinner and run into his arms for that warm and loving hug and … adios, viejo.

It’s the old Yin-Yang thing once again, it seems. Everything contains within itself its opposite. As in this passage from the Tao Te Ching.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I thought this symbol was cool long before I was taught anything about its meaning. Once that little bit of instruction came along, I thought it was even cooler.

Especially the part that teaches that is is difficult if not impossible to be all “bad,” or all “good.” There is always that obverse presence, that little white or black dot. And even then, the size of those dots can grow or recede over time as well.

I was thinking about this at an AA meeting recently as another member was droning on and on in his fingernail-on-the-blackboard voice. What he was saying was just as irritating as his delivery, since he had badly misinterpreted several points of what AA is supposed to be about.

So I mentally pictured him as a six-foot column of yang, and then tried to imagine what that little white dot of yin would be in his case. I eventually settled on this: his mother probably loved him.

(Which might have been completely untrue, and one of the very reasons that he became an addict in the first place.)

Excuse me, but I’ve made myself quite dizzy with this heavy thinking, and will return when I’ve had a chance to compose myself. Don’t wait up.

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Your stomach doesn’t know the difference. It’s what I tell myself when my cooking goes astray and what I have put on our plates borders on appalling.

Like last night at supper, when I had cooked up some hamburger patties that looked just fine on the outside, but were soon found to be quite rare internally. So I dropped them into the microwave, seriously overestimated the time necessary to touch them up, and turned those slightly deficient patties into a beef-flavored material that could profitably be used to plug holes in leaking dikes.

But as we gnawed our way through them, I said under my breath: Your stomach doesn’t know the difference.

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Apparently President Cluck gave another stinker of a speech Wednesday night, the one dealing with the coronavirus. I didn’t watch it, following the orders of my personal physician, Dr. Hippolytus Goodacre. He allots me five seconds of exposure to His Leadership per day, which is the amount of time it takes me to change the channel while moving at my swiftest.

I am not surprised at all that he bombed, since he is up against inconvenient truths that refuse to go away and which call him out as a fool and a liar on a daily basis. I think we should all give thanks to the Republicans for providing us with this serialized amusement.

Thank you, Republican Party members of congress, for bringing us President Cluck, and for forsaking the oaths you took to defend our country by keeping him in office. May you be rewarded with excruciating itching everywhere, hiccups that can’t be stopped, and an awakening of your hemorrhoids to a biblical degree of severity.

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There are some songs that are just perfect for those times when romance goes a bit off on you. When you are making a decision to stop being a soggy mess and give life and love a go once again, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed outcomes.

I rounded up a couple of those this morning, one sung by a lady and the other a gentleman. I give you the Bruce and his anthem – Tougher Than The Rest, and Lady Emmylou with a song from a semi-obscure album – Woman Walk The Line.

You’re welcome.

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No Influence At All

Aha! At last, an article that clears up the puzzle of a lifetime of questionable choices, from television shows to candidates for POTUS. I am an anti-influencer! Who knew? Somehow this label provides me with a ragged sort of legitimacy.

A definition of what that means absolutely nails my situation:

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Some people have a knack for buying products that flop, supporting political candidates who lose and moving to neighborhoods that fail to thrive.

NYTImes, March 7

I plan on submitting my name to the people doing this research, and if they have any sense at all they will leap at the chance to enlist my services. Why, just my selections in presidential races should make me a shoo-in for the job. There was John Anderson, George McGovern, Hilary Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore … the list goes on.

Yes, friends, I am an anti-influencer and proud of it. The kiss of death that I bring to the table is something that you can count on. And not many people can (or want to, I admit) make that statement.

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Special Report
From The Emperor

As of this morning, there have been no cases of Covid 19 in the Empire. This is due to several factors, we believe:

  • An excellent program of screening in place at all border entry points.
  • Travel to the Empire from other countries is presently at zero (and has been so for nearly a year now)
  • The high level of general good health enjoyed by Imperial subjects
  • The fact that we are trained to cough into our sleeves from infancy on
  • Our national habit of eating a large bowlful of clabber at breakfast

Clabber is a type of soured milk. It is produced by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. Over time, the milk thickens or curdles into a yogurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor.  In rural areas of the southern United States, it was commonly eaten for breakfast with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, or molasses added. Some people also eat it with fruit or black pepper and cream. Due to its stability, clabbered milk has been popular in areas without access to steady refrigeration.

Wikipedia

There’s nothing like black-peppered, lumpy soured milk to perk up one’s morning and make a person feel truly alive. Apparently it has the opposite effect on the coronavirus.

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It would seem that the universe is punishing cruise ships at last. They’ve been deserving some sort of cosmic response for a long time now, carrying their huge loads of diner/drinkers from dock to dock at various locations around the world so the ship’s occupants can claim countries on their resumés and buy their branded t-shirts without ever really having to offer up the sweat and time formerly required of a traveler. All this while the cruise lines themselves are repeatedly guilty of environmental offenses.

First Traveler: You say you’ve been to Martinique? When was that?Second Traveler: On April 14th, from two to four p.m.
First Traveler: Really? I was there on the 14th too, but from seven to nine … isn’t that amazing … we just missed each other.
Second Traveler: I have to admit something – I didn’t really go ashore. I had only just staggered from lunch when our time for shopping arrived, and chose to stare at Martinique from the rail instead. Much more comfortable that way, and so much easier to refresh my drink.
First Traveler: Honestly, that’s even more amazing – I didn’t go ashore, either.

At any rate, they are paying their dues now. The stories are filtering back one at a time. The one that caught my eye last week was a family who wanted to get their 96 year-old father off an infected cruise ship that was being quarantined offshore. They feared for his life, which is understandable.

But the disease was already gaining momentum around the world when they put dear old Dad on the boat in the first place, and perhaps that was the time to be cautious. As far as the authorities were concerned, the family had already rolled those dice, and now there was nothing for it but to wait it out and hope for the best.

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Here’s something new-ish. A comic book about coronavirus designed for kids and put out by NPR. Doesn’t take long to read, and contains some real nuggets of information.

The article goes even further by linking to a video on how to create and fold a zine, and thereby empowering you forever. Did you get that? Forever.

You can now create your own zines on any topic that you know eight pages worth of information about. What’s that? You don’t know eight pages worth of information about anything? Where did you go to school?

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When Robin and I went to the gym yesterday, we talked about having a strategy to reduce our chances of contracting the coronavirus. Lots of hand washing, lots of wiping down machines, etc. For the first time, I really paid attention to what the person ahead of me on the apparatus did once he/she was finished. At least half the time they did nothing.

Of course it makes a difference which machine we’re talking about. A treadmill poses less threat than a barbell, because it’s the hands, baby, the hands.

This morning I ran across a paper studying germiness in gyms that was not reassuring.

The overall prevalence of S. aureus on environmental surfaces in the fitness facilities was 38.2% (110/288). The most commonly colonized surfaces were the weight ball (62.5%), cable driven curl bar, and CrossFit box (62.5%), as well as the weight plates (56.3%) and treadmill handle (50%). Interestingly, the bathroom levers and door handles were the least contaminated surfaces in both male and female restroom facilities (18.8%). Community gyms (40.0%) had the highest contamination prevalence among sampled surfaces with CrossFit (38.9%), traditional gyms (38.9%), and hospital associated (33.3%) contaminated less frequently … Our pilot study indicates that all facility types were contaminated by S. aureus and MRSA

And this was years before COVID 19 became an issue. But … I think I might have found the solution to our problem. Bring enough heat to the equipment and those germs just fade away.

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Walken Rules!

Ahem. My friends, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting to you perhaps the best commercial ever for a product of this genre. It’s worth watching for the philosophy expressed regarding friendship, even if you have no need for the last thirty seconds or so.

Plus, it stars Christopher Walken, who has somehow come to possess a brand of cool that other mere mortals can only dream of acquiring.

Now, hey, did I steer you wrong?

(P.S.: that lovely bicycle, called the YT Jeffsy, can be purchased online for the puny sum of only $4000. My modest cycling skills do not warrant my owning such an excellent machine, )

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Robin and I attended a fish-fry at a local Catholic church Friday evening at the invitation of another couple. The food was a really good example of its genre, and all of us went back for seconds. We are not the sort of people who quail before a little bit of lipid.

It is, after all, called a fish-fry, not a fish-poach.

The other guy, let’s call him Ron since that’s his name, is a licensed pilot who rarely flies these days. Although I have never been licensed to fly them, I have had an interest in aircraft since a time when they were called aeroplanes. During WWII there were little cutout paper airplanes tucked into cereal boxes and I recall assembling many of those before I was five years old.

So off we went on tangents involving aircraft. Each of us could hardly wait for the other to finish telling their tale so that we could get into telling ours. But we were polite enough not to interrupt one another, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

I told a story of the first time I was in the US Air Force, at age 19, and since any story about me is by definition endlessly fascinating, I will repeat it here.

I had arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio TX) in the middle of July. Along with a group of young men I was escorted to the base barber shop where our hair was amputated. Then we were taken to a large barn-like building where we were issued our clothing, which we stuffed into a big green duffle bag.

Our group then marched in an irregular fashion across the base where we were instructed to place those duffles in a pile while we trekked off to somewhere else to do some other important thing the nature of which I have long ago forgotten.

At any rate, one of our number was assigned to guard that pile of duffles, and he stood there at parade rest under a blazing July sun while the rest of went off whistling the Colonel Bogey March. I should add that we had been issued pith helmets to wear as protection from the sun.

(At left is a photograph of a British officer in 1918 wearing a pith helmet. He looks quite a bit more dashing than I or any of my compatriots did on the day in question. In fact, the most complimentary thing you could have said about us is that we were a motley-appearing crew).

Perhaps an hour later we returned to find our clothing still being guarded by our lonely fellow-at-arms, but when the sergeant in charge addressed the young man, he did not respond. Peering under his pith helmet, it was determined that although he was still standing he was quite unconscious and well on his way to a heat stroke.

The youth was quickly carted off to the base hospital, and did not rejoin our group of recruits for several days. I recall filing away what I had learned that morning as follows: while sergeants can order you to do most anything they want to, not all of those orders are in your best interest, and you will do well to keep this in mind.

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Although there are times that we citizens of Paradise seem isolated from our fellows in more populous cities, the slow but inexorable spread of this new virus has shown how we truly are all connected, and share vulnerability to this threat.

Our local police department is taking things very seriously, and their emergency preparedness unit is ready for whatever comes, they believe. Yesterday they were photographed practicing what to do if someone shows up at a City Market grocery store with a bad cough and suspicious behavior.

It was all very impressive, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks, who are our first line of defense against criminals, people in favor of gun control, and errant microbes.

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Robin and I have made it a habit to visit the town of Telluride at least once each winter season, just to see what the one-percenters are doing. On our ride up the mountain on the gondola we could not avoid listening to one lady’s story about how she had just won a half-million dollar condo in some sort of restricted lottery that none of the rest of us in the conveyance would even qualify to enter.

I tried to muster a “congratulations” but failed in the attempt, due to an extremely heavy fog of entitlement that had popped up within the car and which was distracting me.

Later on we treated ourselves to a pizza at the Brown Dog, which has become a part of nearly every visit to Telluride. It is officially my favorite pizza of all time. They call it Detroit-style, and what that means is it is a rectangular pie with a pillowy crust that has perfectly crisped edges. Whoever adds the sauce and the toppings is not riding in their first rodeo, either, as they are balanced exactly the way you yourself would have done if you had been in the kitchen.

Please excuse me for a moment, I seem to have drooled all over my computer keyboard.

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We started out this post by watching Mr. Walken do a commercial … let’s waste a little more of our time watching him do that great music video for a tune by Fatboy Slim. It is a classic.

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Rockin’ In The Free World

It’s drizzling here in Paradise on this Sunday morning. The temperature is 37 degrees, and all is well with yours truly, since we had no plans for outdoor activity. Yesterday we attended a local home and garden show at our event center. There was very little about gardening, but a lot of vendors hawking solar panels. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we signed up for a visit by one of the companies to see what going that route might mean for us.

There was an enthusiastic and very elderly gentleman in full Boy Scout regalia manning a booth on scouting. I found myself hoping that no one would give him a bad time because of this past week’s tawdry headlines of child sexual abuse in the BSA. He didn’t look like a perp to me.

There was a lady representing a company that made patio furniture out of the same plastic material that you build synthetic decks from. The stuff looked like it would last two lifetimes, but each chair weighed sixty pounds, and the table would require a gantry to put it into position on one’s deck.

And for this hernia-producing set of four chairs and a table you would need to shell out $2000 (and rethink the deductible on your health insurance).

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The pic above was borrowed (yes, borrowed, as I have every intention of returning it at some future and unspecified date) from a webpage containing an open letter to President Cluck.

The author of the letter? Why, it’s Neil Young, one of my favorite people on the planet. Just in case his name is unknown to you, he also writes music and plays guitar. In fact, to thank him for writing this letter and adding his voice to the chorus of clear-headed folks who can’t wait to see the door to the White House hit Cluck in the ass on his way out I am filling the JukeBox with an all-Neil program of music to kick off the day.

Maybe you’re not ready to hear rock n’roll before breakfast. But, friend, did you ever think that maybe you should be?

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I am waaaay to eager for Spring. At least too eager for this point in the month of February. I am certainly old enough to know better, and I have lived my entire life in places where Winter exists. I have no excuses for indulging in this unhealthy line of thinking.

But, come on, I can’t wait this year. Maybe it’s that now-blooming crocus that Robin received as a gift a couple of weeks ago; maybe it was tripping over the bikes in our garage last week and thinking I should put some air in those tires; maybe it was that taking of a nippy walk along the Uncompahgre River and thinking … this would look really nice … in green.

Either way I’m afraid that I’m lost this year. Can’t get my stoic attitude back now, too late to regain control. So for me it will be alternating moments of joy and despair until that unmistakable sign of Spring arrives. The scent of thawing dog poop. An eagerly anticipated and completely welcome bit of effluvium.

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In the book club at which I’ve been a guest recently, we were discussing the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, one at a time.

There was one story where an older gentleman would take himself down to the river, set up his chair, and cast out his line … without putting any bait on his hook.

I understood him completely. Of all the elements that are present in fishing from the bank of a river on a summer day, actually catching a fish may be the least important. It may even be disruptive to one’s carefully cultivated and mellow frame of mind.

Because now you have to find someplace to put that fish so that the heat doesn’t spoil it.

You have to clean it.

Cook it.

Eat it, watching carefully for bones that could spell the end of you.

It’s exhausting, really, and so easily avoided. Just don’t bait your hook.

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Maybe some of you cook with ghee, as Robin and I do. It’s basically clarified butter heated for a little longer. It’s nice stuff to cook with because it doesn’t brown or burn, but still adds some of that buttery flavor. It’s also stable at room temperatures for months on the countertop, and for years in the fridge.

When I have made ghee on the stove, I found that I had to stay right there with it until it was done, which does consume a chunk of time. I recently ran across this video where the lady cooks the butter in a low temperature oven for 1 1/2 hours, and it so easy and so much less demanding that it has become my method of choice.

I am now in a position to make gallons of the stuff, should the need arise. For instance: picture yourself, on a hot summer day, greasing down a Slip N’ Slide with a gallon of ghee.

Just imagine how fast and how far you could go … like a rocket, I would think.

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The Doctor Will See You Now

My hypochondria knows no bounds. I am the avatar for the phrase a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

When I was a medical student, it was not at all rare for me to find that I had each new disease that I was studying, and in its most intriguing and unusual form. Reading about inflammation of the gall bladder? – why, there it was, that slight tenderness just under the ribs on my right side, exactly where the textbook said it would be.

Fortunately for me the student health service was just across the street from the University of Minnesota Hospital, and my feet wore a path that led straight to it. The front desk had been alerted to my visits, and would not rush me to the front of the line no matter how incendiary my complaints might be. It was always – have a seat, Jon, we’ll get to you in a moment – even as one organ after another failed while I languished on that hard plastic chair behind the potted plant.

So a month or two ago when I noticed that I had a “bruise” under my toenail, I didn’t give it much thought. Must have stubbed that toe somehow, was my assessment. But when it did not properly disappear by the time that I thought it should, my diagnosis went in a single leap from harmless hematoma to end-stage cancer and I presented myself at the reception desk in a local dermatologist’s office.

I have an extremely malignant toe, can I see the doctor, please?

Sir, if you will just fill out this paperwork and return it to me, I will help you get that appointment you desire.

But I may not have that long … how about putting me in an examination room while I work on the papers, and having a nurse stand by taking my vital signs every few minutes?

Sir, take the forms, sit over there behind the potted plant, and fill them out. Then come back when you are done.

All of which I did faithfully, even as I could feel my toe entering advanced stages of pre-mortem nastiness.

There, now can I see the doctor?

Certainly, Sir, how would next Tuesday work for you?

I could barely contain my panic.

But there is an excellent chance that I will not make it until next Tuesday …

I’m sorry, Sir, it’s the best I can do on such short notice.

I take the appointment. Against all odds, I am still alive on Tuesday, and manage to walk under my own power into an exam room, where I am handed a gown appropriately sized for someone weighing eighteen pounds and who is 24 inches tall.

The young doctor enters with a broad smile on his face (obviously he had not been alerted to the terminality of my condition) and he bounds over to the table where I sit shivering in the napkin they have given me to wear.

Well, let’s take a look at that toe, shall we?

He is almost unbearably cheerful.

Hmmmm … looks like you’ve bruised that nail for certain. Do you recall the injury?

No, I don’t. But Doctor, look more closely, please. Do you see those linear striations, that unhealthy purplish color …

Yes, yes, of course I do. Exactly what a bit of blood under the toenail should look like. I tell you what. Let’s give you a return appointment in, say, six months and we’ll reassess the whole thing. How does that sound?

Like my death knell, I think. But what I say is –

That would be fine, Doctor, whatever you feel is best.

I put my clothes back on and leave the clinic. They will be sorry when they read my obituary a month from now, I know they will. They will be inconsolable, and if I find that it is at all possible, I plan to return to haunt them.

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How can you not love Brandi Carlisle? She gives country/folk music such a good name. Here she is doing a beautiful Crosby, Stills, & Nash tune. No artifice. No gimmicks. No posturing.

A song like this … I don’t know how it affects others … but for a few minutes it arranges my too-often chaotic thoughts into something unified and mellow and compassionate. Too bad the effect doesn’t last all day, but it’s still a good start for a morning.

Here she is with the Hanseroth twins, her longtime backup band, showing us all how harmony works.

(Seriously, if you want to spend some time exploring an artist’s work, you could do worse than taking up with Carlile for a fortnight or two. She’s real.)

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Vegetables Never Served In My Family Of Origin But That Aren’t Horrible Department

I don’t believe that anyone named Flom had ever eaten a brussels sprout until the 1990s. Before that they were regarded with suspicion as tiny cabbages that were stunted from birth, either through witchcraft or the mischief of the god Loki, and therefore likely to be poisonous.

But now Robin and I have them as a side dish at least monthly. Mostly we roast or sautée them to a fare-thee-well, and then take them from the stove just before they become charcoal. At this point they are crispy and delicious.

Speaking only for ourselves, we are not that concerned about the Norse gods, and we have suffered no ill effects from consuming this vegetable.

Except for the gas, and I blame that squarely on Loki.

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This is the time of year, right around the first of February, that I allow myself to begin thinking past Winter. From Thanksgiving till this moment I resolutely do not let my mind drift into a warmer future filled with sunshine and short-sleeved garments.

Let’s face it, it is so much easier to leave one’s home without having to first round up long underwear, scarves, heavy or puffy coats/jackets, snow boots, gloves, knit caps, parkas, neck gaiters, and a good attitude.

Now, the two of us dogo XC skiing and snowshoeing, Robin is pondering taking up ice skating once again, and we go on bundled-up walks when the snow isn’t too deep. In short, we do get out. But it requires some planning to avoid frostbite, chilblains, snow-blindness, hypothermia, boredom, and death. [Reference: photograph of man who started to ruminate on Spring too early and ignored the basics of cold-weather strategizing.]

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and I will allow myself, let’s say, five minutes of Spring-think. More than that, well, it could be dangerous.

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I’m not letting the coronavirus get to me, not at all. Even though the daily numbers on incidence and mortality are expanding geometrically, I say “Piffle.” Yesterday I read that there are now 8 cases in Boston, but why should I let that trouble me? Boston is 2200 miles from Paradise. That’s a long trip, especially if you are feeling funky.

Yesterday I was completing the purchase of a few groceries, and coughed ever so slightly for whatever reason. The eyebrows of the checkout person went skyward as she asked me “Have you been to China?” I couldn’t resist answering “How did you know? I only returned from Wuhan yesterday and last night I had this fever and chills. Is there something going around?”

But even though I bravely resist panicking, I am nothing if not a prudent man. So I left the store with several hundred dollars worth of dried beans, cases of canned vegetables, and other foods that store easily. In fact, my garage is now completely filled with what you might call survival food. I call it sensible planning. I figure I could last six months before I had to return to City Market if worst came to worst.

I’ve begun to wonder if I should acquire a firearm to be able to defend my stash of beans against wandering bands of improvident and hungry Coloradans. Something large and impressive enough that I might not even have to purchase ammunition for it – just looking at the thing would impress upon any intruder the wisdom of going elsewhere.

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Pantry Hazards

Every once in a while you come across something that is just plain startling. Out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Such was the case this morning when I was shopping online for some additional pieces for the set of Fiesta Ware dishes we use every day. In my Google search this question popped up:

Is Fiesta Ware radioactive?

Huh? Radioactive? What the … ?

So I clicked on the question and received this answer:

Homer Laughlin, the maker of Fiesta, resumed using the red glaze in the 1950s, using depleted uranium. The use of depleted uranium oxide ceased in 1972. Fiesta Ware manufactured after this date is not radioactive. Fiesta dinnerware made from 1936-1972 may be radioactive.

Amazing. My head was spinning. How would we ever have suspected that our dinnerware was the reason that our family now glowed in the dark? Oh sure, it was handy sometimes, like when you entered a darkened house and were looking for the light switch. Or if you wanted to read late at night but didn’t have a lamp near the chair you were sitting in. But overall, it mightn’t have been that healthy for us to be walking night-lights.

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Once again the Grammys have come and gone without me. Except for “Old Town Road” I knew none of the tunes that won awards. I barely recognize the performers.

In fact, I am so far out of that loop that the Grammy committee now calls me and asks that I not watch the show. Apparently my profound ignorance and indifference leak backwards through my television screen and are off-putting to the people who are on stage.

So out of respect for the music I don’t tune in. It’s better this way.

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From The New Yorker

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The commedia dell’politico that is playing in Washington DC at the moment is bringing back John Bolton for encores. You remember him from the “W” administration, n’est-ce pas?

He’s the guy who has parlayed a large mustache and a cranky disposition into a long and undistinguished career.

Can’t wait to hear what he has to say, can you? The squeaking of yet one more rattus norvegicus who has left the listing ship of state.

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Monday it snowed lightly all the livelong day, and we ended up with about three inches of perfect whiteness in the village. Robin and I had planned to go to the Grand Mesa for a bit of XC skiing, but we turned back when the road up the mountain was too icy for comfort. It’s one thing to go up an icy mountain road, it’s quite another to come down one.

So we took a snowday. All four of us (kitties and humans). We’ve worked out a truce with the next-door neighbors who own an unprincipled cat that is bullying felines up and down our street. I’ve tried to tell these poor souls that their pet is a spawn from hell, but they remain unpersuaded.

Since they are reluctant to do the right thing and call in an exorcist, we’ve worked out a schedule with them: they can let their monster outdoors only on odd-numbered days, and ours can then enjoy a demon-free environment on the evens. Monday being an odd-numbered day, we were a quartet of shut-ins.

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Okay, here’s something that will make reading all the way to the bottom of this page worth your while. It’s Amy Klobuchar’s recipe for a hot dish, as reported in the NYTimes on Wednesday.

Having grown up in a home where the question “What are we having for supper?” was met 50% of the time with the reply “Hot Dish,” I can completely relate to this story.

Of course, “hot dish” could mean almost anything, since all you had to do was to add some protein to some starch and blend cream of mushroom soup into the mixture and you had supper. If you wanted to get frilly, toss in some frozen vegetables. Green peas were especially popular at our house.

All of this just gives me one more reason to consider Amy’s candidacy. Anyone that can serve this much melted cheese with a straight face deserves my vote.

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Memento Mori Department

Bob Shane, the last surviving member of the musical group The Kingston Trio, passed away this week. Younger readers might say “Who?,” and who can blame them, but at one time this trio was probably the most popular such group in the world.

Here are a couple of their early hits, Tom Dooley, and Scotch and Soda, both featuring Mr. Shane. In the photo, Bob is the guy on the left.

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An Apple A Day …

Thursday CNN posted an article on some behaviors by Apple that have annoyed me over the past decades, even thought I am a great fan of their technology in general. That behavior is an idiosyncratic one, whereby the company decides when they are done with something and then just take it away. Forever, in most cases.

My new laptop, purchased just under a year ago, still has a headphone jack. That’s gone in some newer models. But my computer has no regular USB terminal, no MagSafe charging cord (loved it), no hard drive of its own, and who knows what else I don’t have that I don’t even know about yet.

It’s what Apple does, and they don’t apologize for themselves. So I now have had to purchase a portable hard drive for more storage, a superdrive that can read/burn CDs and DVDs, and a pair of dongles so that I can use them with the basic machine.

The computer itself is slimmer and sleeker, but the bag of stuff that I need to carry along with me keeps growing in size.

But what do I know? Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world. Ever. And I am just one lonely fan that they can poke in the eye with impunity. One day they may poke me in both eyes at the same time, and then I’ll finally go over to the dark side and enter the world of PCs, but … not yet.

I love it when they hurt me.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I have a favorite Indian dish, saag paneer. Basically it is stewed greens containing chunks of a fresh cheese that doesn’t melt away. We’ve been successful in making the greens at home, and I’ve mentioned that recently, but the paneer (the cheese) was another matter. No one sells the stuff here in Paradise, and even though there are recipes on the web that tell me how easy it is to make for myself, so far my efforts had only produced a rubbery substance that wouldn’t hold together to save its life, but crumbled away at the touch.

Turns out I wasn’t squeezing it hard enough in the process of making it. Yesterday I made some passable paneer here in our kitchen using my tofu press to get that last little bit of fluid out and it worked.

Little victories, as the great philosopher Robert Seger has observed, can be among the most satisfying of all.

.

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Robin and I have been watching the series “Outlander” for the past couple of weeks. If you haven’t, it’s a costume drama about a woman who touches a special stone and through some strange magic finds herself transported back through time to Scotland in 1743 A.D.

Now she’s a resourceful lass, and after having a bit of a shock at the change in her circumstances, begins to make plans to return to her own time. That is, if she can figure out how she got there in the first place.

In the meantime she is regarded with suspicion by the highlanders who have taken her in, and suspicion also by the British who are occupiers of Scotland. Apparently people don’t just drop out of the sky (while wearing only a shift) into clan Mackenzie’s lands on a routine basis, and her explanations as to where she came from are vague, to say the least.

But even so, there are lots of bonnie laddies and brave lassies, enough kilts that each man has at least one to his name, and some exploration of the time and place that highland Scotland was way back when. And all was going well until last night, when nearly the entire episode was about a wedding and a bedding. A whole hour with little swordplay other than that which took place in the bedroom, if you take my meaning.

I felt betrayed! I’d been soap opera-ed once again! So I checked and there it was, the clue I’d missed, that the series was taken from a group of novels written by … a woman named Diana Gabaldon.

So now I suppose there will be more of this sensitivity and gentleness that I saw last evening. Where characters take each other’s feelings into consideration.

And I thought it was going so well … so burly and plaid and all.

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Ordinarily I am pretty lukewarm on the subject of mountaineering, not breathlessly following the exploits of climbers up one peak after another. It’s a very hazardous undertaking, lots of people die doing it, and in my parochial view, those deaths are very close to pointless.

Who cares, I say to myself, if yet another climber is swept away by avalanches or perishes in yet another storm? They were there by their own choice. And all this talk about “conquering” the mountain? Poppycock. All of those immense piles of rock are standing as they have always been, while tiny humans clamber up and down about them over the decades and are mostly forgotten.

But then I come upon a story like this one, told in a very visual way, and I am caught up in it. CNN took some pains with tale-telling-technology in informing us about a group of Russian women who died while climbing a peak I never heard of, in 1974. For a few minutes I care about those women, as I learn the details of their semi-suicidal struggles.

They were young, they were strong, and they were brave. Were there better places to apply that youth and courage and energy? For me, the answer is yes. But that story would not be nearly as dramatic. And perhaps that hunger for drama is the point that I keep missing about this whole enterprise.

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GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT

Well, here’s a couple of interesting pieces. The first one poses the question: Is Anybody but Trump a valid way to decide how we cast our votes? It’s a mildly shocking perspective.

Anyone But Trump? Not So Fast by Bret Stephens

And next, does being middle-class mean that you’re also liberal in your thinking? Turns out that it’s not a given at all.

The Myth of Middle-Class Liberalism by David Motadel

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Follow Me …

We couldn’t quite make it all the way through Tuesday night’s debate. By now the candidates’ soundbite strategies were pretty well established, and the 90 minutes that we did watch didn’t move my opinions much at all.

Except that Joe Biden’s age seemed to wear on him more than on previous evenings. He did make one strong point, though, when he said that of all the people on that stage he was the best at building the kind of coalitions that will be needed in November. And I think he may be right on that.

One thing. I really disliked how the questioners framed their questions this time. It was all “Why are you the best one to be Commander-in-chief,” or the best one to do this or that. We Minnesota Norsk-people are not brought up this way – to toot our own horns in public – so that approach didn’t sit well.

Let them tell us what they’d do if given the chance, and we’ll make up our own darn minds who’s best.

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Dear Ragnar: Do you have an opinion on this latest controversy? As to whether President Cluck had justification for killing that Iranian general?

Ragnar: What controversy? He killed him. End of story. Anybody who bothers to listen to Cluck tell us why he did it should have his belt taken away and somebody cutting up his food for him.

Dear Ragnar: I don’t think I quite understand.

Ragnar: Maybe this will help. I was reading some of your history the other day, the part where little Georgie Washington said: “I cannot tell a lie.” Now that may have been embellished slightly, but it made a nice story for the kiddies. This other guy, now, when the Golden Book about him comes out it will read: “I cannot tell the truth, so help me God.”

Dear Ragnar: So aside from that, you have no opinion as to the morality of this situation? Whether we should accept assassination as a legitimate political tool?

Ragnar: Really. You’re asking a Viking warrior’s opinion on slaughter?

Dear Ragnar: Okay. Last question today. Recently a member of our family made his own lutefisk. Went to all the trouble involved, but when the final product hit the dinner table, no one would eat it. Do you have a comment?

Ragnar: I’ll just say this about that. As soon as I was dead and had more choices, I gave up lutefisk as a bad idea. These days? Give me a big plate of butter chicken and I’m a happy Norseman.

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From The New Yorker

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More on the continuing and rapidly evolving saga of electric bikes and trikes. If they are not the wave of the future, they are at least a healthy ripple.

First, here’s the prettiest ebike I’ve seen yet, and it comes from the French.

It’s called the Angell, and hides its battery in the luggage rack. Its range is 70 miles, but if you bought one of these beauties, would you really want to get it dirty? I think not.

The second one is something truly remarkable. It is the Danish VELOKS MK3. It’s a recumbent tricycle that costs a bit over $6000, which exceeds my trike budget by about $5900, but here’s the deal. It’s top speed is 37 mph and it will go more than 400 miles before it needs recharging.

That’s 400 Miles!!

F-o-u-r-h-u-n-d-r-e-d-m-i-l-e-s!!

Of course, at the end of such an epic trike ride you might need to roll yourself straight to a chiropractor’s office to be extracted from the cycle and adjusted back into a standing posture. But what an achievement this is.

The one shown in the photo is a rear-wheel drive trike, but the company has front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive models in the works. Amazing.

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Last night Robin and I watched A Marriage Story on Netflix. It was one of those well-acted, wrenching films that I never wish to see again. To watch two characters who had been in love, but now were less so, crack open the door to divorce and discover that they had no idea what things could be lurking behind that door … . The movie brought that scary territory into full view and did it very well .

My own divorce happened more than thirty years ago, and what a learning experience it was. This picture tapped into some of those old feelings, and even though its particulars were different in very many ways from my own story, I strolled through some old neighborhoods last night that I hadn’t planned on revisiting.

Good movie, though.

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On The 12th Day Of …

Melissa Clark is a food writer for the NYTimes, and a favorite of mine because of her lack of pretentiousness and her excellent sense of humor. But for her first New Year piece she took a slightly different tack, based on a statistic that alarmed her.

The results were crystal clear and deeply depressing. Meat and dairy production alone account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — as much each year as from all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. It’s a staggering statistic.

NYTimes January 2020

She described how logically this should push her into total vegetarianism, but … there were too many foods in these categories that she loved to give them up altogether. So she plans on giving “flexitarianism” a go in 2020.

That’s basically where Robin and I are as of today. Our teensy meat intake, especially of beef, is enough to make a cattle rancher weep bitter tears. But we do have some dairy every day in our glass of kefir (which has those magical probiotic properties, you know), and cheeses seem to me a gift from heaven.

Lastly, I’m afraid that unwillingness to give up bacon has been largely responsible for my remaining a carnivore. What can I say? I embarrass myself sometimes.

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On Friday morning the NYTimes printed an article about the death of a New Jersey couple that tapped into some conversations I’ve been a part of in the past few years.

The story isn’t unique in any of its particulars, really. Young man and young woman fall in love, get married, raise children, and grow older. Then the wife develops dementia and rapidly goes down the path to where the person she was is replaced by someone who is basically helpless and fearful, living in a world where she recognizes no one and no place.

Then the story takes a turn and goes its own sad way. The loving husband takes his wife’s life and then his own. Murder-suicide is how it is recorded. Such grim words. Such a grim situation.

It’s actually a well-written piece. Robin and I have direct experience, as do millions of others, with a loved one who develops dementia, and the long slow slide the rest of her life became. We’ve declared to each other that this drawn-out process will not be repeated in our own cases, without having a clear idea of exactly what we would do if it happened to one of us. Or both of us.

America in 2020 has a very few states in which a terminally ill person can choose to end their own life. There are many hoops to run through in these states, but in the end there is a packet of pills to take and no one goes to prison.

But none of those states allows someone who has dementia to get that packet of pills for themselves. So if someone decides they would rather take matters into their own hands they are left with only awkward alternatives. They can drive their cars into trees, employ firearms, lie about their health and try to stockpile the drugs they are given, attempt to starve themselves … it’s not a pretty landscape, that.

Of course, there is an additional aspect to the story in the Times. It is that the husband makes the choice for his wife, who had lost the power to make decisions of any kind. At that point he entered a zone where there were no self-help books, no support groups, no family ties or religion to fall back on. A space where he was utterly and completely alone.

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Just in case anyone is alarmed by the post above, neither Robin nor myself has dementia. We’ll let you know if that ever changes.

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The story of the bullying cat next door continues. Twice this past week he drove Willow screeching into our house and would have come in after her but for my presence. On another occasion he stood between her and the cat entrance until I chased him away.

I’ve spoken with the cat’s owners on two occasions, but I may not have expressed our unhappiness clearly enough. So when they were away for the holidays and an issue arose, I sent them a letter. Nothing nasty, just a written document expressing our frustration and our concern for the safety of the pets we love.

They love their cat as well, a fact which has come across in our conversations, but I think that they haven’t fully accepted how poorly he plays with others. At this point, none of their choices are happy ones. They would have to confine him to an indoor existence or farm him out to another family, perhaps one living in a rural setting. Or do nothing and live next door to an increasingly cranky man with poor impulse control.

I wish them well in their deliberations.

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Sunday morning’s NYTimes carried an interview with the actor John Malkovich, which ranged over several different topics. Near the end of the piece was this exchange:

Has playing the pope and also a Harvey Weinstein-type figure in David Mamet’s recent play “Bitter Wheat” led you to any new insights about men in power?

A few years ago, I was touring in an opera-hybrid theater thingy in Europe, “Just Call Me God.” I played a Saddam Hussein-like figure, but a line I wrote in that was “the one thing I know about power is the good never seek it.” And that’s not wholly inaccurate.

Amen, brother.

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