How To Get Drunker And Poorer Extremely Fast

I don’t write much about the world of ingestable ethanol, as found in wines, beers, and the like, because I am out of that game. My alcohol dance card was filled up way back when, and I am not likely to pick up at the unhappy place where I left off. But that doesn’t mean that occasionally I don’t come across an article on the subject that is interesting.

Such a piece was on the CNN website Monday morning, dealing with a limited edition of a Samuel Adams beer that reaches 28% alcohol, and that costs $240 for a 25 ounce bottle. Both numbers are outrageous in their own way, don’t you think? For one thing, who really needs a beer that will get you drunk 5 times faster than normal? And when you get home and you are asked what you did all evening with your buddies, your saying that you “just had a couple of beers” takes on a whole new meaning. Physically and economically.

Now, in another lifetime and before I decided to hang up my drinking shoes, there were several years when I made my own beers and ales. I thought it was a fine hobby, and unlike someone who made birdhouses, when I was done … well … I could drink the product. And they were excellent brews if I do say so myself, ranging from pale ales to near-stouts. I can say with pride that I never made anything approaching a “lite” beer, a beverage that I put in the category with “lite” coffee and insipid tea. (I was, and am, a beer snob, even if no longer a practicing one).

What I never knew, because I never ran the tests that would have given me the answer, is what the alcohol content of my beers and ales were. I know that they were nowhere close to 28%, but I suspect that they were well north of 6% by the effect that they had upon those who were courageous enough to sample them.

There was one other effect that some of my homemade beverages had on people. They were cathartic in a very real sense of the word. Calls back the next day from friends who had tried them frequently relayed the information that their problems with constipation were at least temporarily over.

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I was out on the backyard deck blaring away with my music, and hoping that if my neighbors were troubled by it that they would let me know. But until that happened, better to apologize later than to ask permission is my mantra. Anyway, I was playing songs by a group that is presently one of my favorites, one that goes by the name of Lord Huron. Suddenly grandson Dakota pops out and says that this is his favorite group, and that he has seen them live on more than one occasion.

Lord Huron

What are the odds? Two generations and a world of experiences apart, and we are presently in synch with each other musically, at least at this single point. After giving it a bit of thought, and without a shred of evidence to prove it, we concluded that our musical tastes must be genetic in origin. Happy with this unscientific answer that we provided ourselves, we went on to talk about other things.

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There are too many of us, and we do too many things to the planet that don’t give it time to recover. Which is something that it will do, when and if our numbers are reduced. We need to stop applauding when anyone admits that they have produced a family of twelve children. That is neither a good thing nor an amusing thing. It is completely selfish procreation. For being the parents of such a sad bunch is like carrying a tote bag that says to all you meet: “I care not at all that the brood I have produced is using up way more than its share of the earth’s resources. BTW, the rest of you can go jump.”

Comedian Bill Burr has a plan that features the sinking of cruise ships. According to him there are two good things that would come out of this – you reduce the population by 3500 at a time, and they are the sort of people that nobody will miss.

My own plan, which I have advanced over several decades now without picking up a single follower, is to put contraceptives in the public drinking water. If someone wants to have a child, they would have to apply to get their water from another source in order for that to happen. There is a problem with this idea, I admit, because it clearly benefits those who are good at filling out forms, and penalizes those who are not.

Thinking it through, should this plan become the modus operandi in the U.S., we might in a couple of generations become a nation consisting entirely of bureaucrats.

I retract my plan. Never mind.

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Our weather has shifted a bit, with high temperatures suddenly no more than 75 degrees or so. Nights are sometimes dropping into the thirties. It’s a welcome relief from those wok-like 90 plus days of this past summer, but could we please have something more gradual in our weather patterns, please? Would that be too much to ask? I know that I am from the generations that have caused all of the upheaval in climate and everything else bad that has ever happened since the Garden of Eden closed its doors, up to and including the development of those plastic tomatoes (had to get my annual tomato rant in somewhere) you see in the grocery stores. So I have no right to hope for better days? Is that it?

Funny, but I don’t think that way. Human history is a series of wonderful discoveries and awful blunders and there has not been a generation so far that didn’t participate in both. Maybe the present youngest group will turn out to be carbon neutral and lead so pure a life that they can tsk tsk the rest of us to death and beyond. We’ll see. In the meantime I am just happy to be cooler for a few days, and living in a place where if I touch the outside of my car I don’t have to go to the emergency room for burn treatment.

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Surface Area

Each summer there is a family that sets up a tent in a vacant lot across the street from Walgreen’s here in Montrose. They sell various items of produce, but there are two things in particular that we go there to buy when their season rolls around. One is peaches from the orchards near Palisade CO, the créme de la créme of that fruit available here in Paradise. The other is Mirai sweet corn which is, to coin a phrase, to die for. Both of these are special enough to be worth committing small crimes to obtain, if there is need.

For instance, if I were in line and I could see that there were only a handful of ears of Mirai left on any given day, and there was a sweet elderly lady using a walker in front of me, I would have no hesitation in telling the lady that the police wanted to talk to her out behind the tent, and while she was processing this information I would sneak around and cut in front of her. And I would have no problem sleeping at night, either.

Yesterday I went to the stand where I bagged up some of their produce and then turned to the young woman behind the cash register. I was not prepared for what I encountered, and nearly dropped my peaches. She was wearing one of those “peasant” blouses that lace up the front, the sort you might see at Renaissance Fairs and festivals. This was a very healthy woman of ample proportions and the garment’s fastenings were straining hard to maintain propriety. I estimate that a good 8% of her body surface area was exposed to view through those laces, and another 8% was threatening to break free at any moment.

I was able to successfully conclude the transaction by focussing firmly on a point between the woman’s eyes. My purchase made, I picked up my treasures and quickly took my leave as I found that a substantial line of gentlemen was forming behind me.

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From The New Yorker

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The roller-coaster that is our pandemic continues on. The Delta variant has made it a new ball game, masks are making a comeback, and even some of the benighted are starting to timidly say Get vaccinated to their gullible flocks.

There are comic aspects, if you look at it from a perspective that is slightly askew. Yesterday the governor of Alabama, who is of the Red Party persuasion, said that it’s time to put the blame for our present mess squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the unvaccinated. She failed to mention how lackluster her administration’s and her party’s performance in promoting vaccinations has been.

(It’s nice to be able to point fingers. I do it all the time. Very satisfying.)

Robin and I were signed up to man a voter registration booth at the local country fair next week, but yesterday received an email from the local Democratic Party chairperson that the drive has been called off. The booths were to be located at an indoor facility, and with the very large contingent of unvaccinated people in Montrose County he deemed it unsafe for us to hang out there. Case levels are rising here, just like everywhere else.

And that Alabama blame-shifter is quite right in one thing she said. The Covid virus is sticking around because it has that big bunch of unvaccinated folks to munch on. This has produced enough time for a group of dandy mutations to occur, with the Delta variant being the leader right now. This is what some viruses do. Mutate all the darn time. Covid-19 is one of those viruses.

If we can’t get more people to do the right thing and get their vaccine doses, there will always be new variants to consider. It’s just about inevitable. We’re certainly not back to Square One, but, if you crane your neck, stand on your tiptoes, and the light is just right, you can see it from here.

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From The New Yorker

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Friday morning we were out the door and trying out a hike that was new to us, the Fall Creek Trail. You get there by going east on Highway 50 to the Little Cimarron Road, turning right, and then going 14 miles up the gravel to a dead end. The trail begins there.

We were planning on taking it easy because Robin’s knees have been troublesome recently, and only went in a couple of miles before turning around. It was one beautiful valley setting after another as we followed the creek upstream.

The hike was mostly gentle walking, which made the 11,000 feet in altitude easier to handle. Along the way we ran into a light rain, which you can see threatening us in the photo.We saw no other hikers this day. It’s really not hard to avoid the crowds when you follow the less “famous” paths. There are lots of those around here.

The Fall Creek valley turned out to be a lovely, special place, and we resolved to return with backpacks next time. Just to hike up a couple of miles and hang out for a day or two. Solitude plus.

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Lastly, this has happened twice in the past week, and no one in town knows what to think of it. You are in the middle of one of those blasting-furnace days that this summer has produced in abundance, and suddenly it cools and water falls from the sky.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? Is this what rain looks like? Let me know. We who dwell in an arid Paradise are puzzled.

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The Buzz

I’ve got a little project going in the back yard that had been going swimmingly until last evening. We have a large and aging wooden deck back there that needs to go away. Time and our pitiless sun have had their way with it, and we now have other plans for the space it occupies.

While waiting for the construction crew to come and build something new and more useful, I decided to take the old one apart. Nothing much to it but removing a few thousand deck screws and stacking the boards to be hauled away later, says I, and I went at it with all the fervor I could muster in our 90+ degree weather. My approach was to take one board off at a time, then take a time-out while sitting in the shade with a glass of cold water. It was all quite pleasant, actually. Like doing actual work, but in slow-motion.

One potential problem was that a population of yellowjackets also claimed ownership of the decking, and had been using its underside to build their nests on for years. So as I began to disassemble the thing, they would come up in squadrons and look around to see who was making all the fuss. For some reason, I wasn’t being picked up on their radar, and was able to keep working for several days without needing to pay them much attention as they buzzed around me.

This is a yellowjacket. While it looks intense, this is not the end of the insect that is most bothersome.

Until last night, that is, when I disturbed a particularly cranky bunch of them, and before you could say ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn, I was stung four times. At that point the Buddhist in me took a seat, and a vengeful Northman came out with a battle-axe in one hand and a can of Raid in the other and I am ashamed to report that those yellowjackets are now in insect paradise. My karma definitely took a hit right there.

So now I will work on the project only in the cool of the day, when these little devils are less active and less aggressive. Of course I knew better from the beginning, but when has that ever stopped me?

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Looking back on the past 18 months, I have a little trouble coming up with a long gratitude list, but toward the top of it is a computer app – Zoom. This bunch of ones and zeroes came into our lives from out of nowhere, it seemed, and suddenly we were “Zooming” as if our lives depended on it, which to some extent was true.

I found it an improvement over FaceTime, principally in its ease of use, and millions of us must have felt the same way because the number of users took off like a rocket. Soon, Zooming had become a verb, and since I was too cheap to pay for even the first level upgrade, I found that it wasn’t too tough limiting my conversations to the 45 minutes or so that I got for free.

Zoom, a 10-year-old company based in San Jose, California, has been one of the pandemic’s biggest success stories.   Just two years ago, the company was valued at almost $16 billion. Its market cap has since swelled to reach about $106.7 billion.

CNN Business July 19, 2021

Robin was a lot more creative than I was, and early on she was attending book clubs, church “coffee hours,” grandchild play sessions, and more, and all of these on Zoom. Some of these habits will likely persist into the post-pandemic era, whenever that arrives. It’s just that easy to do.

I am presently reading a history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, and what a scary time that was. The severity of the disease, the rapidity with which it spread, and the obscene mortality rates make our present situation look rather tame by comparison. And those poor folks didn’t have Zoom with which to keep in touch. (Although when the carts are rumbling through the city streets while the drivers call out “Bring out your dead” you probably wouldn’t be conferencing much, anyway.)

A town about an hour’s drive from Montrose, Gunnison CO, had no cases of influenza because they took the disease seriously from the beginning. This is in contrast to our present situation, where a local population of ignoramuses have stood in the way of making proper progress against Covid-19. Look at these numbers and imagine what your town or locality could have done this past year … if it had the collective cojones to do the right thing.

  • Type of Site: Mountain town and county.
  • Population: 1,329 in town; 5,590 in Gunnison County.
  • Pop. Density: 414 pp./sq mi in town; 1.8 ppl./sq. mi in county.
  • Geographical Considerations: Gunnison was a small mountain town, far removed from Colorado’s major population centers, but on a major rail line.
  • Influenza Cases: 0 in town; 2 in county.
  • Influenza Deaths: 0 in town; 1 in county.
  • First Reported Case: Uncertain, but late October/early November.
  • NPI Implemented: protective sequestration with barricades of roads; rail travel restricted; quarantine of arrivals to county; isolation of suspected cases; closure of schools; prohibition on public gatherings (as per state law).

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Taken individually these infernally hot days we’ve been living with since the end of May are beautiful. There has been more than enough sunshine for any outdoor activity to be a success. That is, if it weren’t for the fact that half of the attendees often require medical attention for heat prostration.

For whatever reason thinking about this string of outwardly lovely scorchers a couple of nights ago brought to the surface of the clutter that is my mind the poem title “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” (Translation = the beautiful lady without mercy). It’s a poem about a knight who is seduced by a pale faery and is left to perish of medieval languor, which is by all accounts the worst sort of languor to have. Fortunately, as centuries have gone by there are fewer and fewer cases of this condition, because it is incurable. And boring as well. Really, if a pallid and droopy knight were hanging around and every time he opened his mouth he went on interminably about his encounter with this wonderful faery … well … wouldn’t you lose interest pretty quickly? And pretty soon start faking phone calls from a dying relative who needed you right then? I know I would.

(Of course, I lose interest awfully fast whenever the topic of conversation veers away from talking about me and my fascinating life, no matter who is doing the veering. So there is that.)

I reproduce the poem here for your edification and entertainment. But be careful in your reading … if you notice any signs of mournfulness or lassitude creeping into your soul while going through the stanzas … stop reading immediately, lest you become the latest victim of this ancient femme fatale.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing!

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a fairy’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—’La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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What’s That Smell?

I caught part of an NPR broadcast a couple of weeks ago where the chef from Noma, one of the most famous restaurants in the world, discussed his new book. It was all about fermentation. In the interest of truth and all that, I admit that I never heard of him or his restaurant before listening to him on the radio. That’s not altogether surprising because it is in Copenhagen.

But he made fermentation sound so interesting, and it sounded like it had all the attributes of being a great hobby. One where at the end you can eat your output. That’s what cooking is to me, and why I find it such great fun, even though my skills are still so rudimentary. (For myself, here is where I separate cooking from meal planning. The former is what I enjoy, the latter is a chore that I have to do.)

After the broadcast I thought of the ways that I had already used fermentation without thinking about it. Baking bread, feeding sourdough starters, making kefir, brewing my own beers (which were excellent), and one stab at making my own wine (which produced a horrible beverage).

There was that time when I tried to make unyeasted bread, just like in the Old Testament. I mixed up the dough and then left it uncovered for days, as the recipe directed. Nothing seemed to be going on, with no evident rising of the bread-to-be, and eventually I baked the lump of dough to see what would happen.This produced a rounded, beautifully browned, and totally unyielding flour brick that could not be sliced or torn. I could not even drive an ice pick through it.

I finally gave up thinking of it as a food. What if I did eventually break off a piece? Obviously, I was not able to eat rocks. So I tossed it into the back yard to the two Siberian huskies that I owned at the time, and they were able to gnaw it down to nothing, but it took the two of them a week to do it.

I ordered the book today and look forward to adventures in sauerkraut, kimchi, and other more exotic delights. I will study each recipe carefully, especially the mortality rates that come from eating the foods produced. I want to keep that number on the low side, if I can.

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Nandi Bushell, a 10 year-old Englishwoman, is some sort of drum prodigy, and apparently has a considerable YouTube following, especially in the UK. She challenged a favorite of hers, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, to a drum battle. This is the result.

I’m sorry … she wins the cute part of the duel instantly. Grohl never had a chance. They even dressed alike. Can’t stand it.

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Life is not fair … we pretty much all know that this is not true by the time we’re teenagers. It can be interesting, hard, joy-filled, complicated – but not fair.

But what I read on Thursday morning went so far from fair that I am speechless. Almost. Remember just a couple of weeks ago I reported on studies that showed that alcohol shrinks our gray matter? The stuff that we think with? Researchers have found out some new stuff about coffee, and it seems that in regular drinkers, coffee shrinks the gray matter as well, although it seems to rebound if you quit drinking it. Whaaaaaat? Hello, Great Spirit … what is up with that?

At any AA club, if a fire broke out, the first thing the members would save would be the coffeepot. It is an essential part of the meeting, when we are newly out of the swamp and blinking like bats in a bright light. And now they are telling us that this life-altering beverage may have a dark side of its own? Not fair.

Chalk another one up for the Trickster, that spirit found in many forms in Native American legends and stories. Just when we are feeling we might have a handle on things, he pulls out the rug.

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You may have noticed that I talk very little about the talents and intelligence of my fellow physicians. That is because the garment that is the medical profession is cut from a very big piece of material. For example, some physicians are outright idiots. Here Sanjay Gupta and Jake Tapper are discussing a doc who is in a class of her own. As she speaks, you will find that you understand magnetism much better than the good doctor does. Probably a lot of other things, too.

Oy.

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Once in a great while something peculiar happens, and I suspect that others have had the same experience. Out of nowhere I will be struck with the most intense feeling of longing. Enough to pause me in whatever I am doing in order to give the emotion my full attention.

But it is not longing prompted by anything I can put my finger on, nor is it for anything specific. No golden day of yesteryear or place that I have been or person who has been lost to me. The feeling is not attached to anything that I am conscious of at all. It is always accompanied by a light sense of melancholy. If I were a composer I might write a song that could bring those feelings out where they could be shared, and some of the sharpness of the poignancy eased.

Wait … someone already wrote that song for me, and his name was Francisco Tarrega. The song is Memories of the Alhambra. The yearning for something intangible is right there in this excellent short piece of music.

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From The New Yorker

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For three days now, we’ve been privileged to have Aiden and Claire as house guests. Ages 16 and 11 years, respectively. All in all, I think it’s going pretty well, with the kids being very tolerant of our foibles, and Robin and I returning the favor. They brought their bicycles along, and the four of us have been cruising the neighborhood and the trail along the Uncompahgre River. Later this morning we’re headed for the reservoir at Ridgway, where one can rent paddle boards and small kayaks and such. The temps are right around 90 at the hottest part of the day, so we have definitely been pacing ourselves.

Aiden had it in mind to make a short movie during his stay here, and so we are filming that epic one scene at a time, in between doing other enjoyable things. He’s quite proficient in filmmaking and very serious about the project. Watching him at work has been a lot of fun. He is a very good kid – smart, polite, talented, and self-aware. When I think back on how surly and selfish I was at the same age, I am embarrassed for my teen self.

Claire has revealed a side of herself that I had not noticed before, that of being a wise observer. She’ll be yakking on the phone with friends, turning cartwheels in the living room, singing songs in a language she made up, and then suddenly and quietly she becomes this real-life wise woman and says just exactly what needs to be said at that moment. It’s a startling transformation when it happens, and a delightful thing to behold.

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There is good news from Lima, Peru. Daughter Maja continues to make progress toward independence in her recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome, although slower than she would like. She has also been offered (and accepted) a job at the school in St. Paul where she worked before she took positions first in China and then in South America. Couldn’t happen to a nicer person. She definitely deserves a break or two after the past months. Maybe three breaks, come to think of it.

Speaking as the overprotective old fool that I seem to be at times, I will be glad to have her back in a country that is not in total lockdown, and where the possibility of visiting her exists. There are a lot of foxes out there in the world, and when the sun goes down I like to think that my chicks are safe for the night.

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Daughter Kari alerted me to the fact that one of the most perfect foods in the world is 100 years old this year. Cheez-its. I am talking about the original flavor here, of course. There have been many new ones brought out in the past decade, but that original … my oh my … .

Other companies have tried to imitate this paragon of cheesy crispiness, but they have all fallen way short. That’s not just my opinion, by the way, that’s the honest to god truth.

So I plan on celebrating the centennial of Cheez-its by cracking open several boxes in the coming months. I see it as my sacred duty.

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Oh Canada!

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said … grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope.

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawrence of Montrose

Those who know me well know that my favorite movie of all time is “Lawrence of Arabia.” It jumped to #1 the moment I first saw it in 1962 and has yet to be displaced. I am not shy about sharing my opinion with others, and introduce this fact into the conversation at every opportunity. Sometimes on the most threadbare of pretexts.

Other Person: Man, is is hot today!
Moi: Hoo Boy, if you think this is hot, you should see them sweat in Lawrence of Arabia, it comes off in buckets.

O.P.: Sometimes I wish I didn’t own such a big dog. I swear he’s eating me out of house and home.
Moi: If you think that’s bad, what if he was a camel, like in Lawrence of Arabia? Think of that pet food bill!

O.P.: You seem thoughtful today, is anything the matter?
Moi: I was thinking about the final scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where everything has fallen apart and Lawrence’s work has come to naught.
So sad.

So when I ran across these video comments by two of the larger talents in the movie industry, I had to share them with you. Because you can exist in only three possible states:

  • You never saw the movie. WHAAAAAAAT! Just do it. What kind of mother did you have anyway?
  • You saw the movie, but it was a long time ago. What are you waiting for? It’s time for a re-viewing. Treat yourself. You know you want to.
  • You saw the movie recently. Come over for coffee and we’ll talk about it until you can’t stand it.

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If you’re teetering, be aware that it is available for streaming on Amazon Prime for the measly price of $2.99. Less than three bucks for one of the best films ever! In the safety of your own home! Where the popcorn is so very reasonably priced!

This scene alone is worth the $2.99 to watch on a bigger screen. Okay, that’s all I have to say today.

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From The New Yorker

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The recent change in recommendations for mask-wearing seems to have sent a lot of people right to the crazy department. In order to put some perspective on the situation, I’ve asked Ragnar to chime in. Wearing facial covering is old hat to this gentleman, he’s been doing it for centuries.

Dear Ragnar: I know that you’ve been paying particular attention to our behavior during the pandemic, and have just finished a fact-finding tour of the U.S. Do you think we should be wearing masks these days or not?

Ragnar: Well, first of all, let me tell you when I wear one. When I go to war. Simple as that. It protects my face from contacting annoying things like swords and clubs. Back in the day we didn’t worry about the kind of stuff you’re dealing with, like viruses, because they hadn’t been discovered yet. Not that it wouldn’t have been handy to know about them. Could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble when we were sacking cities and burning monasteries and all.

Dear Ragnar: But now that you do know about viruses, what do you think?

Ragnar: It’s pretty obvious that my old mask wouldn’t be worth beans today against Covid. Although it was awfully ferocious-looking, and the sight of it would sow fear and confusion into the hardiest of English hearts, the present pesky coronavirus particle would sail right through the holes and get me every time.

Now this mask would be better for what you’re dealing with today, but forget about sowing fear and confusion. No one’s afraid of the Minnesota Vikings. Also you can forget about it guarding against anyone lurking around town with a halberd that has your name on it.

Dear Ragnar: So we should continue to wear masks as we have in the past? Is that what you’re saying?

Ragnar: You know what I think? That the good news and the bad news are the same thing here – I think you are all going to do what you want to do, no matter what anyone says.

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The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming! But not quite yet. Apparently it’s been chilly in the part of the country where Brood X is due to emerge, and the actors in this drama are waiting for that sunny day. I can completely empathize with them.

Think about it. You’ve been looking at nothing but dirt for seventeen years. You are on the brink of your big moment in time – when you will pop out of the ground, shed your old clothes and put on beautiful shiny new ones, sing your “I’m lonely here” song for all the world to hear, mate with the love of your life, and then … die.

Why rush into it? Why not wait for just the right day? I know I would.

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Fogged-Out

One of the powers of books for me has been to occasionally feel less the odd duck in this world. Periodically I will run across a piece of writing that says to me: “Hey, someone else thinks the same weird way that you do.” The sense of alienation doesn’t go away altogether, but eases up. Such a moment came in the opening paragraphs of Stephen King’s book “On Writing.”

Here’s the text that grabbed me:

I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liar’s Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality – she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years. … Mary Karr presents her childhood in an almost unbroken panorama. Mine is a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees … the kind that look as if they might like to grab and eat you.

On Writing, Stephen King, paperback edition p.17.

That’s me. Right out there in that fogged-out landscape with Stephen. There are entire sections of my life that I don’t recall at all. Big sections. Parts of my childhood … young adulthood … last year! Robin will say something like “Remember when we were in Tuscaloosa and ran into the Binghams?” And I will think … have I been to Tuscaloosa? Really? When in the hell was that?

Then there are other sections that I recall in such minute detail that I suspect my brain is making it up all on its own, without any prompting from me. So if I were to honestly characterize my daily thought melange, I think that it would fall somewhere west of non-fiction. What this all comes down to is that while I really don’t trust my collection of memories as being the absolute truth, I do enjoy them as I would any tasty tale.

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Speaking of Liar’s Clubs, can you believe what the GOP has transformed itself into? It goes beyond anything I could have imagined. It is a nasty brew that they are concocting over there, and each sip they take moves them further into the territory of the unhinged. They have let so much craziness in that I wonder how they can ever find their way back to reality.

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From The New Yorker

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Our friend Poco is finally healing, but this last abscess episode has been a tough one for all of us. There is so much edema around his eye and the membranes of the eye itself that it’s hard to look at the poor guy without cringing. Fortunately for him, cats don’t seem to dither and dissolve into self-pity at such times. Examples are provided below of what I think are differences between the two species.

HUMAN: Oh dear oh dear oh dear I think that I may be going blind and the pain the pain it’s just too much to bear. Look at me, do you think it’s getting worse? Please, won’t you call the doctor again … I know that it’s only been ten minutes since you last called him, but I’m going downhill so fast … .

CAT: What in blazes … ? I can hardly see out of my sore eye. Well, I’ve still got the one. Is it time for breakfast? Is it nice outside?

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Lastly for this morning, Margaret Renkl offers her take on the amazing story of the cicadas. The whole thing is mind-blowing, really. And yesterday Robin and I went to the gym for the first time in many months. There were two people there who were masked – myself and the lady I married.

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Size Matters

I am very much a fan of folly … human, that is. A really good piece of silliness can make my whole day. This morning I was picking out a couple of eggs to cook for breakfast from a carton labeled “Large Eggs.” I noticed that they were at least 1/3 smaller than those in the last carton I purchased, which were also called “large.”Obviously the eye of the beholder comes into play here, but there is just too much spread … there is way more egg on the one hand than the other.

It doesn’t make so much difference if you’re scrambling up a breakfast, you can simply make an an adjustment based on how hungry you are and how much egg you’ve tossed into the pan. But how about when you have purchased two cartons of eggs from different suppliers to make deviled eggs for a picnic and one set looks like the tiny bastard children of the other?

***

And how about olives? Here is one chart dealing with a naming system commonly used in the U.S. It is composed entirely of superlatives! There are no medium or small olives at all, instead we have “fine,” or “bullets,” or “brilliant.”

On the other end, outside of the wacky world of olives, how would you ordinarily rank Jumbo, or Colossal, or Mammoth? Which would you say is biggest?

Size apparently matters greatly in the olive business. So much they created extravagant nomenclature for it.

.

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Recently an educated and otherwise sensible-seeming woman here in Paradise was overheard to say that she had done her research and had decided not to receive the Covid vaccine. I had to wonder … where could she possibly have done that research? Fox and Friends? Gilligan’s Island reruns? The National Enquirer? This is folly of the most dangerous, unfunny sort. People like her are the reason that we will still be wearing our masks at this time next year. Perhaps in 2023 as well.

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The Oscars have come and gone and this year we didn’t watch the ceremony at all. But one of our favorite films of the year, Nomadland, did well, which gladdens us. There were no car chases, no shots fired, nor any of the blood-spattered excesses of the Tarantinoid variety in this quiet movie about nearly invisible people.

It is a movie that turned the lights and camera toward a part of America that I knew very little about. In a way, it reminded me of an old story that I have told here before, I think. No matter, repeating myself is an everyday thing.

There was a beloved and wise old man who lived in a small village. He was so poor that he had only a single possession, an earthen jar in which he carried water each morning from the village well to his little hut. The townspeople recognized him as a spiritual being, and loved and respected him very much.

One morning, as he was on his way to get water, he tripped on a pebble and fell. The jar flew from his hands and fell to the street, where it shattered. The other villagers were horrified and rushed to console him, but were amazed to see the most radiant smile upon his face.

“At last, I am free,” he said.

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Right In Front Of Me

It isn’t every day that I feel completely stupid. Oh, 45% stupid is pretty common, that would fit a whole lot of days, but 100%? And it all started a week ago, when I was trying to dig out the last bit of peanut butter from a jar that I had taken from the refrigerator. The PB was the consistency of sun-dried adobe, and I was having my difficulties.

I would say that 99% of the PB that I ingest is done at breakfast, on toast. A time of day when I am only partially conscious and really not ready for serious confrontations. But that last spoonful would not come out of the jar. So I put the container in the microwave and hit “Start”and within a fraction of a second the teeny-tiny bit of metal that must have been on the teeny-tiny bit of the seal which remained atop the jar’s rim began acting like the Fourth of July and throwing off quite a fireworks display.

It was all too much for me, so at that point I changed my mind and dished up some cereal. As I crunched away, my mind would not let the incident go. Finally I retrieved the PB jar from the trash and studied it for several minutes. The answer that has changed my life was right there. Nowhere on the label, not once, did it say that it “Must be refrigerated when opened.”

All those years … all that torn and disfigured toast … all that completely unnecessary cursing on mornings like this one. Robin found me with my head face down on the table, blubbering away. Worried that I might drown in my own tears, she gently turned my head to the side. At first she couldn’t make out what I was saying, but finally it came through clearly as:

(Melodrama and I are old buddies. Old and very fond of one another.)

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Robin and I have been wearing these lapel/hat pins for a while now, and several people have asked where they could get one for themselves. The answer is at wokeface.com. They cost ten bucks each, and “100% of proceeds are donated to the national Black Lives Matter and local social justice and Black-led organizations.”

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Bicycles are blossoming all over Paradise as the weather warms. The hardiest cyclists never put their bikes away at all, but continued to pedal their often fat-tired machines around town throughout the winter. What holds me back from seriously considering cold-weather cycling are those freezing breezes wafting past my unprotected nether regions and up under my jacket.

My unscientific impression is that there are more people mounted on bikes this Spring than ever before. All the way from kids who pedal down to the river to fish, to seniors on bikes of every description, including electric trikes (very useful if you dislike tipping over onto the pavement). Of course there is the Spandex Army that believes the walking/biking path along the river belongs to them alone and who cruise along at 20+ mph without much regard for others. Usually they don’t even signal their approach, but we strollers must depend on the eyes in the back of our heads to avoid having bike-tire tracks all over the back of our nice clean jackets.

As they pass by I frequently indulge a fantasy where I pull out a blowgun and hit them with a dart or two. Not to kill, mind you, but my missiles are coated with a compound that causes temporary loss of bowel control, and which becomes active within thirty seconds of exposure.

There is a newer type of vehicle that is found on the path this year in large numbers, and that is the electric skateboard. They look like they would be a gas to ride if they had come along when I still had a sense of balance. I am not tempted to ask if I could try one out at the present moment, since I have clear visions of being pitched screaming into the shrubbery should I make the attempt.

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I am becoming this guy. Yesterday I had to toss out a pair of sneakers that were only two years old and had many miles left on them but … my feet had grown too big for them in those two years and my toes were being treated harshly.

Oh, I could go on about the sense of humor that Mother Nature has, where she shrinks the body while the feet grow apace, but I will not waste your time here. Except to say that when I was a stripling (ahhh, those lovely stripling years) I wore size 10 shoes. Yesterday the new ones that I purchased were size 12.

WHAT IN THE EVERLOVIN’ WORLD IS FAIR ABOUT THIS, I ASK YOU! SHEEESH … ENOUGH ALREADY!

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Since Robin was to be engaged in not one, but two Zoomed book club meetings on Wednesday evening, I had made tentative plans to haul myself down to the river and attempt fish-catching. But as we nibbled on our supper, I glanced out the window and saw the Buddhist prayer flags standing straight out and fluttering madly toward the West.

Now when this occurs, and mind you I am still relatively new to the sport of fishing with flies, I have found that casting my lure becomes more than awkward. Perhaps it is my technique but the fly simply does not obey me when the wind blows at more than 20 mph. I can manage my wrist and forearm movements perfectly but instead of settling on the river the fly suddenly appears in the skin between my nose and eye with the point of the hook looking to embed itself in my brain. So I abandoned that plan and took up watching television for the evening, an activity which is wind-independent.

When viewing on my own, I typically will choose something without any redeeming qualities at all. The television equivalent of those mindless books you buy in an airport to take your mind off the fact that airplanes are simply not meant to fly and that the rivets on the one you are scheduled to board are very likely falling off even as you relax in the waiting area.

So I watched a pair of episodes of The Serpent. Apparently back in the seventies I missed the news stories about a French-speaking couple who were making a career out of murdering backpacking hippies in Thailand and pocketing their valuables. Because I never heard of these people. In this series they were very attractive looking psychopaths, though, and you could understand that if the real pair resembled the actors in this program that their victims might have willingly gone astray.

The series turns on the fact that a dweeby fellow at the Dutch Embassy catches onto the fact that a few citizens of the Netherlands have come to untimely and horrible ends while visiting Bangkok, and decides to investigate. Of course he receives little support – his superiors think he’s barmy, the local police think he’s a pain in the posterior, and even his girlfriend wants to push him into the lily pond now and again. But the man is obsessed.

So the deal is – how many more young and trusting travelers will perish at the hands of The Serpent, and will the Dutchman ever catch up with them?

I’ll never know.

Because even I have standards as to how I will squander the handful of remaining hours I have on earth, although they are very low standards indeed. Is it enough to say that The Serpent does not meet them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

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

***

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

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


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

***

Icarus

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

“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

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

Be prepared … we may take photos.

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Autotomy Is Where It’s At

Okay, I have become pretty accustomed to being amazed by the things found in the natural world, but this one is in a class of its own. There is a sea slug that takes its own head off, leaving its old body behind, and then regenerates a completely new one. The article showed up in the NYTimes Science section Tuesday.

The idea of being able to leave your physical problems behind you and start anew is certainly an attractive one. Speaking only for myself, if humans were capable of autotomy I would do what I could to grow a taller body the next time. I might even go for a six-pack while I was at it.

The problem that I see is that this new buff corpus would still have my old face on it.

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Montrose County is presently at blue as far as Covid 19 cases are concerned, and is on the brink of going green. I would say more, but I’m not sure what this means to any of us as far as what behaviors we can safely change. There have been a few bad blips along the way during this past year, so perhaps this is just a good blip, one to be looked at and enjoyed while it’s here, but from the safety of being behind our masks and in our fortress houses.

For our part, we are having friends over for brunch on Easter Sunday. Friends in our age group who are vaccinated, that is. And unless the day is absolutely gloriously warm, we will be eating our meal indoors, rather than shivering on the deck while bravely smiling as we chew our rapidly cooling food. It will seem strange participating in this simple form of social engagement, just sharing a meal with others in one’s own home.

Perhaps to ease the transition we should all bring our computers to the table where we could Zoom-conference with each other during the meal instead of being fully en face.

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From The New Yorker

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Frankenmuth MI is apparently a nice place to live, and offers the visitor lots of Bavarian-style architecture, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, and a tiny possibility of bumping into members of the hometown band Greta Van Fleet.

Bronner’s looks like the sort of place that would send me screaming into the forest within minutes. I am a fan of Christmas, but the idea of extending its commercialization into a 365 day operation seems … well … more than the world really needs.

But Greta Van Fleet? I would skip the perma-Santa and walk across the street to hear these guys. They are three brothers and a buddy. The band doesn’t play quietly, but they do play well. Talented, theatric, flamboyant … who was it said rock was dead? These boys didn’t get the message. Here they are, playing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of Colorado’s premier venues and an amazing place to listen to music.

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Really glad to see the country’s infrastructure finally on a front burner. As an example, the most recent estimate of bridges I was able to find that need work or replacement was 231,000, spread all across the U.S. It was already 13 years ago that a chunk of Interstate 35W fell on Minneapolis, taking quite a few citizens with it. Speaking personally, I would really hate to be on one of those bridges that are failing at the moment when it decides to give up the ghost altogether. The only thing worse, to a claustrophobic like myself, would be the collapse of a tunnel with me inside.

So this will be a jobs program like none other in recent memory. And Amazon (along with other large corporations and one-percenters) is going to pay for it. I watch for my Prime membership cost to climb significantly, since I suspect Mr. Bezos would rather bill that bridge repair to me than cut back on household expenses. And there is that divorce settlement of his, in which he pays each month to his ex-wife an amount equal to the entire budget of the state of Rhode Island.

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Flight of Ideas

We are all chattering like actors in Waiting For Godot here in Paradise. Put any two people within earshot of one another and the conversation turns inexorably to Spring. Is it imminent? How close? If a tree foolishly begins to bud in February (like the big maple across the way) is it a stupid tree? Is it showing off and heading for a fall?

If it weren’t such a serious moment in time, it would be more fun watching and listening to my age-contemporaries try to make sense of the planet’s odd weather and climatic happenings, using their life experiences as a guide. I hear phrases all the time like:

  • Did you ever …?
  • Have you ever … ?
  • This is the first time …
  • I can’t make sense of it …
  • When I was a (girl) boy …
  • WTF?

It turns out that when climate change steps in, much of our personal meteorological lore becomes a lot less valuable. Yardsticks have to be continually reset as one after another of those “hundred year events” roars past us.

What yours truly has noted, without ascribing any meaning at all to the observations, is that I no longer look for the peonies to be in full bloom on Memorial Day. In fact, that notable moment keeps inching each year toward April Fool’s Day. While I admit that it still has a ways to go, the direction is pretty clear.

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Here’s an observation about how serious we are as a species about one of the larger issues of our time. The one-percenters are rushing to showrooms to purchase electric vehicles that bear increasingly bigger price tags. And bigger engines. Electric cars of nearly 2000 horsepower are in production that can go from zero to sixty mph in less than two seconds. The planet’s need for cars like these is so obvious that I even hate to bring it up.

But they are zero emission vehicles, correct? Not totally. Not if you live in a country where fossil fuels are still big players in the production of electricity. There are lots of emissions involved in building those cars and in making the batteries for them, and also in producing what comes out of all those shiny new charging stations.

Lotus Evija

A scenario popped into my mind. A geronto-adolescent daydream. Somehow I acquire a couple of million dollars that I really have no special need for and I take myself down to a Lotus dealer and buy one of their 1973 horsepower Evija cars. I drive the vehicle very carefully to a deserted chunk of highway somewhere in rural America and pause the automobile. I look both ways for other cars and for people of the law enforcement persuasion, tighten my seat belt, and then tromp down fully on the accelerator, propelling myself way past my capabilities as an operator and into the nearest boulder, where I produce a mixed carbon-fiber and hemoglobin smear on the rock to mark my passage into eternity.

If that should ever happen, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I will not deserve it.

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The Thursday morning AA meeting at the Anglican church has become really interesting. Four years ago it was a larger group, with average attendance of perhaps 16-20 members. But in this pandemic year it really shrunk, to only four regular members. Other meetings in town have remained unchanged in number, but many of them are seriously flawed in that they ignore Covid precautions.

On our Thursday mornings one is required to be masked and to keep proper distancing in mind. Only four of the original group accepted these restrictions and continued to attend. Two men, two women, all seniors. None of us new to AA. Each week we dutifully follow the prescriptions and proscriptions as to how an AA meeting is to be conducted. Very gradually we have become more comfortable with one another, and new levels of trust have appeared.

It seems that we have done away with many of our pretenses, our usual shape-shifting, and we take part in a leaner and meaner dialog. Cutting to the chase, so to speak. All of this makes the sessions more valuable, at least they do to me.

And it’s not just learning about the others, but about oneself as well. Have you ever had the experience of telling one of your own stories when suddenly a bulb flashes and you your tale in a completely new and different light? An auto-epiphany, if you will. Fascinating when that happens.

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Robin and I are off later this morning for a day’s XC skiing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is good up there (six feet deep), the sun will be shining, and we are rendezvousing with Allyson and Kyle for some pretty safe and much needed socializing. We’ll stay the night in a cabin and come back on Sunday afternoon.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with. Tie them around your waist? Hang them on bushes and come back for them later? Donate them to passersby? It’s a good problem to have, actually, in a winter activity.

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Sweat Equity

I’ve been holding off writing about one of my present exercise practices. Mostly because I’m not sure that you will find me credible, and I wouldn’t blame you at all. But here goes – three times a week I do something called H.I.I.T. That’s High Intensity Interval Training, for those who aren’t familiar with the shorter spelling. It’s all a part of my quest to find the perfect program that will allow me to maintain my present amazing level of physical fitness while working out for the shortest possible time.

Why, you ask? Why would a person do such a thing to themselves? It all started, like so many things these days, with Covid. Our local Gold’s Gym took an early proactive stance where they posted a firm notice on the door saying that all who entered had to mask. Once inside the door, however, they could care less. Robin and I found that the majority of people working out were either not masked at all, or were wearing it on their chin or backside or some other useless place. So each of three times we walked in we spun about and left the establishment, deeming it an unsafe space to be in.

And then what to do? Sure, I know that you are saying now that we have these awesome bodies and how much you admire our lithe and feline movements, but they weren’t going to stay that way unless we found a substitute for the gym that wasn’t also a deathtrap for seniors. Therefore, we have been walking and walking and walking this winter, and we recently added a Schwinn AirDyne stationary bike to our regimen.

Fortunately for me, research on this subject is all over the place these days. Apparently if one does things correctly, doing HIIT for only a handful of seconds does the trick for improving and maintaining aerobic capacity. I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue. Though there is no universal HIIT session duration, these intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes, with times varying based on a participant’s current fitness level. The intensity of HIIT also depends on the duration of the session.

Wikipedia

Here is a video of a very fit woman doing HIIT using 10 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of relative rest. See her face toward the end of the video? That is my expression at the beginning of each session, and it goes downhill from there, ending up in photos that should not be displayed where sensitive children can see them .

Since there is no agreed-upon set of times, etc. for intervals, I have picked out my own set and will describe them below. Key to understanding the whole process is the phrase in the description above “until too exhausted to continue.” I reach that point in about … five seconds. That is on the first rep. In each succeeding repetition I reach exhaustion in a shorter amount of time until by the sixth such interval I actually hit that pooped-out mark before I start.

Here is how a typical HIIT session goes for me. Each repetition is 10 seconds of maximum effort following by 20 seconds of much less intensity.

  • First rep: I am now out of breath entirely. Are we done yet?
  • Second rep: hey, twenty seconds is not near enough time to recover, I’m gasping here!
  • Third rep: glad I put that waste basket nearby, I going to hurl any minute now
  • Fourth rep: my chest hurts … surely this is the big one? Arrgggghhhh. I’m not ready!
  • Fifth rep: no, no, no, no, no
  • Sixth rep: help me, help me, everything is going blurry … I see a light … at the end of a tunnel … someone in a white robe is beckoning … I’m a-comin’, Lord …

And then I’m done.

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We’ve started a small remodel project here at BaseCamp. The bathroom off the master bedroom needed a refreshment, and yesterday our contractor-neighbor tore it apart. We can only hope that he knows how to put it back together again, and better than it was. But it’s really an exercise in faith, isn’t it?

Robin and I have a lot of histories with remodels, both before we were married and since. The most common theme seems to be that a project is begun and then the workers disappear for the longest period of time, before returning without apology or explanation. During one such episode we had almost given up hope when we found our contractor’s picture on a milk carton on the breakfast table. Have You Seen This Person?, was the legend beneath the photo, and another frustrated customer’s number to call if you had.

But when it is done we will have a walk-in shower instead of the present tub/shower unit. That will make cleaning up so much easier, not having to lift my legs that high and all.

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The subject of electric bikes has come up once again, and this time we might even go through with getting a couple of them. Our knees and other body parts are showing signs of wear, and making bicycling a tish easier would be a welcome change, especially on the uphill stretches. The number of choices now are a little overwhelming, and in some cases, the prices are as well. If you want to spend more than $15,000 on a supremo electric mountain bike, you will have no trouble finding vendors, and will probably have to wait six months for delivery. The demand for them is way up in this Year of the Virus.

We are window-shopping in a completely different price range, and even then have trouble sorting through the scads of options available. Robin and I are pretty much okay with mountain-walking but done with mountain-biking. At least the kind where you are leaping over roots and rocks while going downhill at a blistering rate of speed. Nice tame fire roads or paved bike trails are more our cup of tea. We keep in mind that a basic principle of the senior citizen is that you get hurt quicker and you heal slower. Go ahead, call me a wuss, I can’t hear you.

I SAID: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

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Deep In The Heart Of Texas

As the latest Texas disaster follows its course, leaving millions of those intrepid folk finding out just how intrepid they are without heat or electricity at a very nasty time weather-wise, I follow the story at a comfortable, warm, and well-lighted distance. In this way I am like Texas senator Ted Cruz, who has been watching his state suffer from the safety of the beaches and hotels of Cancun, where he was vacationing. That is yet another level of comfortable distance from the fray.

And I thought – you know what? Texas needs very badly to bring back Molly Ivins, who was, apparently, the last clear-thinking public figure in that state when she passed away in 2007. It was a serious mistake to let her do so, and I think that Texas ought to see what can be done about resurrecting her.

For those whose memories have even larger black holes in them than mine, Molly was a liberally-inclined columnist from the Lone Star State who found enough targets there for her deadly wit that after a brief flirtation with the New York Times she never felt the need to live anywhere else.

Molly was unusual in many respects. Six feet tall and regularly outrageous in her writing and speeches, she occasionally showed us that beneath a colorful and outsize persona beat a very wise heart. Here is one such moment.

Yep, she is sorely missed in the part of the world that admired her. Which was always way bigger than just Texas.

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My friend Joe spoke an interesting truth yesterday. We hadn’t seen one another much during these pandemic months, and were doing some rapid catching up through an open car window. He had recently gone through some problems with a knee injury, and his observation was that apparently the warranty had expired on some of his body’s parts. We laughed when he said it, and the recollection still brings a smile.

A somewhat rueful smile.

When I was twenty-five I could break a leg, walk home on it, have a serious debate with myself as to whether I should consult a physician about my injury, and no matter what I did within a week the leg would have healed. Such was the wonder of the recuperative powers of a twenty-five year old corpus. But even back then I remember reading (in that era of personal bullet-proofedness) that supposedly most of my body’s parts and systems had peaked, and it was all downhill from that moment on. Of course I scoffed. That is, until the fateful day that I had to admit that my hairline seemed to have receded … so could those prophets of biological doom be right about the rest of the stuff as well?

Turns out they were.

So now I inhabit a body that was never supposed to still be walking around on the planet at this age. Humans evolved at a time when life expectancy was measured as extending to the very day that you forgot how quietly a saber-toothed cat could move as it came up behind you. When being a “senior” probably meant you were twenty-nine years old.

So if there were such a thing as a freshness label on humans, mine would read something like “Best If Used Before 1964.” To put this in perspective, that was the year these four gentlemen landed in New York on their first world tour.

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News of the World

Twenty-four hours after receiving our second dose of Covid vaccine Wednesday forenoon, we felt normal. Twenty-eight hours after receiving the shot we were achy everywhere. At twenty-nine hours we cancelled supper since neither of us were hungry. By thirty hours we were ibuprofenized and in bed, where Robin had an excellent case of chills going. By forty hours post-injection we felt well once again.

Not a bad trip, all in all. Shows that our bodies knew something had happened and were reacting to it.

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Sweet Jesus, it is presently 37 degrees below zero in Eveleth MN, where daughter Kari and her husband Jon reside! That it not a wind chill number!

Oh, my friends in the Midwest … you who are still dealing with that pesky polar vortex and those sub-zero temperatures, I feel your pain. Well, not really … that’s a bit of an exaggeration … but I do wish you well in the version of the third Ice Age you are experiencing. Not that I would trade places or anything. I kind of prefer the thirty degrees Fahrenheit that is outside my window at present.

If I were in your place, I would purchase a small electric heater, take it home, then drop it into my pajamas and turn it on. I would then climb into bed and not come out until life was once again bearable.

What I would not do, if I were a Minnesotan, is to go and stand on any of the bridges over the Mississippi River. January and February were always the months for jumpers. People who took their troubles with them and looked down into those dark waters. Waters that promised oblivion … at moments when oblivion seemed a good choice for the day. The poet John Berryman did just that, on January 7, 1972. He leapt from the old Washington Avenue Bridge, which no longer exists.

So stay home, turn up the heat, and order pizza delivered. Avoid bridges. And remember … this, too, shall pass.

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Finished the novella “The Body,” by Stephen King. Spoiler alert: the kids find the dead boy, have a conflict with some young sociopaths, and then return home. What? You knew?

It was a good short read, especially since the movie has become such a thing. It did add some material, like what occurs in the boys’ lives when they first return home and in their next couple of decades.

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Friday was a darn dank day, damp and drippy. Robin and I were a disconsolate duo, dreaming of drier, dandier summer days.

So she retired to her woman-cave to practice singing French children’s songs, and I made soup while listening to Mozart. It turned out to be just the right thing to do. Making soup is one of the more creative acts that one can do in a kitchen. At its heart is the need to feed oneself with whatever is at hand, and to make a little bit of food go around. But you don’t have to spend too much time in a recipe book to find that soups can also be very complex and decidedly costly, involving ingredients unavailable on the Western Slope except by mail or special courier.

My chosen soup was one of the endless variations using butternut squash. It allows one to whack away at a large assortment of vegetables, bring out the big ol’ dutch oven/soup kettle, and simmer until the house is full of an aroma that makes you healthier just sniffing it.

So where does Mozart come in? He popped into my head for no apparent reason. Perhaps my brain was doing some early spring cleaning and stirred up an old bit of mental lint. Anyway, I reminded myself of the first album of classical music I ever purchased, and that would have been when I was fifteen. I had decided that I was going to become a cultured individual, and learning about classical music was to be the initial step.

So, I knew something of Mozart, and looking around town in 1955 I found a recording in a local music shop of his horn concertos which were touted as being the best ever. The artist was a man called Dennis Brain, an Englishman.

Among members of my family of origin Englishmen in general were not highly prized. For one thing they all drank tea instead of coffee, which everyone knew was God’s beverage. And they were all so utterly posh and spoke the language so intimidatingly well. But I was on a quest, so I bought the album anyway.

If it meant putting on airs I was perfectly ready to do just that.

‘Twas a very good buy, as it turned out, and good accompaniment Friday for fiddling with a soup kettle on a drizzly winter afternoon, to boot.

[BTW: I never did become that cultured personality that I was aiming for. Rock and roll came through town and off I went to join the circus.]

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Nincompoopery

Robin and I went to the Friendship Hall on Wednesday morning to get our second dose of Covid vaccine. Everybody there was getting their second dose as well, and our age group was well represented. In fact, there was no one there who was not eligible for Social Security, and I suspect there were a few attendees who were actually present when the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.

So, this was a seasoned bunch, not generally given to much drama. No one jumped the line, no one indulged in Karen-istic behavior, everyone seemed grateful to be this much closer to being protected against you-know-what. In addition, there was not a single “Owee” uttered all during the time we were in the room. Those of us who were to be of The Greatest Generation tried to behave at least as well as those who were.

I have heard of seniors who have decided not to get the vaccine. To me this is almost unbelievably foolish, but since Covid is no respecter of nincompoopery, it’s all but certain that a year down the road there will be significantly fewer of them around than there are now.

Sadly, since they are well past their breeding years, these turbid-thinking persons will not be eligible for the Darwin Awards.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool through dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions.

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve been lucky here in Colorado to have a sensible man for governor, Jared Polis. From the beginning of the pandemic he has steadfastly followed the advice of knowledgeable people and helped us to avoid stepping in the stream of claptrap issuing from the White House. Each week he is on public radio for an hour bringing residents up to date on Covid and other matters. His style is not showy or self-aggrandizing, but informative.

Of course we have our non-masked brigades here in Paradise just like everywhere else, but we have been presented with rational choices if we cared to make them ours. Like I said, lucky.

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A couple of years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Murdoch’s, our local farm and home store, and found myself holding a pair of button-fly Levi’s 501’s. I was replacing them on the rack when I had the thought “Why not buy them? It’ll be fun. A direct line back into Levi’s history before those foppish zippers came along and replaced good, honest buttons.”

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Such was my internal conversation. And that misbegotten idea of getting back to those good ol’ nineteenth century days won out. I am, at heart, a romantic. It does not always work for me.

Ever since then, including yesterday, I have cursed them. It turns out that there was a very good reason that zippers took over way back in the day. They are quick and easy to use. Whenever nature called, it was a case of zip down-zip up and that was that. But with this older-fashioned item of clothing, it was now a matter of button-button-button-button-button down and then button-button-button-button-button up. Every day that I wore them, several minutes of my life flew away from me and were lost forever just unfastening and fastening the things.

So if I feel this way, why haven’t I simply washed them up and donated them to Goodwill or some such agency? This gets us to another of my characteristics. While it is undeniably true that I tend to romanticize things, it is also true that I am almost unbearably cheap. Like the character Joshua Deets in the movie Lonesome Dove, I am “not quick to give up on a garment.”

I do feel a little sorry for the the jeans. They are doomed to be worn by a man who doesn’t appreciate them until they completely fall apart. And I will always begrudge them their existence … they are so sturdy that it is entirely possible that I will be buried in them. Is that irony? I am never sure.

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Peter Piper Picked A Peck … et al

I tried a new recipe this past week for potato soup, and the soup itself was just okay. What was a pleasant surprise was a sub-recipe for making pickled jalapeños, which you then used as a topping when serving the soup. Those jalapeños were v.e.r.y tasty, and could be used on other soups, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc. Here’s how you do it:

Thinly slice two jalapeños, discarding the seeds if you like. Put slices in a bowl and squeeze in enough lime juice (2 limes) to cover them. Add a pinch each of salt and sugar. Let sit at room temperature while you make the soup. (The jalapeños can be prepared up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator; they get softer and more pickle-y as they sit.)

I mean, you can just sit there and eat the darn things right out of the bowl.

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On Saturday I was talking to my brother Bill on the phone as he described how absolutely miserable he was in the sub-zero wind chills of his day there in Faribault MN. Snow was swirling on the highways, discouraging traveling more than necessary distances. Just before we terminated our conversation, he made the mistake of asking how my weather was at that moment.

I told him it was 48 degrees and blue skies here in Paradise, and the closest we ever get to a polar vortex is reading about it in the papers. I swear you could hear his face fall. I wasn’t going to bring it up, not being a man given to gloating, but … he asked.

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Our second dose of Covid vaccine is coming up on Wednesday. Some of the folks who received their first immunization at the same time that we did a month ago are starting to natter about possible side effects of the “booster shot.” Listening to them, it’s like being back in elementary school, where the rumors of what that “booster shot” was going to do to you were rampant. Up to and including your arm falling right off in the classroom, so that you had to pack it home at the close of the school day.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to offer my right arm (I’m left-handed) this time as the injection site, just in case … you know … it falls off.

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Our new Subaru has some technological stuff going on that is amusing. It knows when you are crossing a lane divider and beeps at you unless you have clearly signaled a lane change. It also will not allow you to tailgate, but maintains a safe and predetermined distance between you and the car in front of you.

Now if you put these two together, it means that on the highway you can put the car on cruise control, take your hands off the wheel, and it will drive itself. Now it’s not a “self-driving” car in any real sense. It doesn’t know where you’re going, for instance, and will just keep cruising down that traffic lane forever.

However, when you do take your hands completely off the wheel, the car knows it, and sends you a message to put those damned hands back where they belong. But, like I said, it’s amusing.

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One night a long time ago, during my single period, I was up late watching television when an entertainer came on and stole the show with his performance of I Go To Rio. I hadn’t heard of Peter Allen before that night, and after watching his routine I was a fan. I didn’t know that he was gay at the time, but I do remember thinking that this was a guy who really knew how to wear orange.

Here’s a video of a real showman, from 1978. Died in 1992 of AIDS-related cancer.

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A Little To The Left … Ahhh … That’s It …

I realize that there are those among my readers who think that I am making it up when I complain about my confrontations with the physical world. Perhaps you don’t share my animistic beliefs, or think that I am taking life all too personally, and that my small existence is of little matter to the gods. But only listen a moment to an ongoing complaint before you pass judgment.

There is a place between my shoulder blades that is absolutely unreachable with my bare hands. If a major blood vessel were there and opened up I would positively bleed to death in moments, not having the ability to put my finger on the leak. But the Fates didn’t put a big artery there, what they did locate in this completely unattainable space is an itch. Not just any itch, mind you, but the kind that makes one want to scratch it with garden implements or an orbital sander.

My life is now divided into two parts. One is when that spot acts up and drives me mad, and the other is when it is perfectly quiescent. It never flares up when Robin is around to come to my aid. It never blooms when I have access to the tool below, which I call the Brass Defender.

If the itch comes upon me when I am outdoors I must seek out a rough-barked tree and rub against it like any hoary bull in a pasture would do. Or the corner of a building. Or a flagpole. Or a mailbox. Or sometimes a passer-by, which has its own set of risks, as you might imagine. I would think that this all happened by chance but for two things. The almost imperceptible chuckle I can hear at the worst of these times, and the simultaneous soft rustle of one god’s elbow nudging the ribs of another nearby deity.

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On Friday we attended a film opening while sitting in our living room. The Dig, a new Netflix movie, was screened that day for the first time. Whether the rest of the audience liked the movie or not, we don’t know yet, as they were all at home as well. But we loved it. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re lucky, you get to see once a year.

A film without car crashes, explosions, overacting, or tedious explanations of everything that’s happening. Instead you get acting lessons from two of the best professors out there, Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. You also get thoughtfulness, honesty, subtlety, beautiful cinematography, and a movie that trusts the viewers intelligence, with a fascinating true story at its heart.

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On Friday we retired our Subaru Forester with full honors, trading it in on a Subaru Outback. The Forester had served us well, but it had reached a point only a handful of miles short of 100,000 on the odometer, was making a clanking noise in the steering that boded ill, and we were facing some unavoidable statistics. Even though the newest of vehicles can break down on occasion, the facts are that the higher the mileage on a car the more likely you are to spend some time stranded by the side of the road.

And at this point in life, I would like to do what I can to avoid being put afoot in these mountains in bad (or good, for that matter) weather.

So we have made the leap, and this is what the new vehicle looks like.

Of course it’s blue. We’re Democrats.

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Memento Mori Department

Cicely Tyson’s passing at age 96 reminded me of the debt I owed her for her part in the movie “Sounder.” Here’s a portion of Roger Ebert’s review.

“Sounder” is a story simply told and universally moving. It is one of the most compassionate and truthful of movies, and there’s not a level where it doesn’t succeed completely. It’s one of those rare films that can communicate fully to a child of nine or ten, and yet contains depths and subtleties to engross any adult. The story is so simple because it involves, not so much what people do, but how they change and grow. Not a lot happens on the action level, but there’s tremendous psychological movement in “Sounder,” and hardly ever do movies create characters who are so full and real, and relationships that are so loving.

Roger Ebert.com

If you missed it back in 1972 when it made the rounds, the entire film is available on YouTube, right now, for your viewing pleasure.

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Wow. This nightmare view of California’s Highway 1 near Big Sur could give a person a chill. Friday it washed out during a rainstorm. Whole highway. Gone. Apparently no one was driving on the section at the time that it went where all good roads go when they die.

My, my, that would have been a ride, though.

In this photo provided by Caltrans, a section of Highway 1 is collapsed following a heavy rainstorm near Big Sur, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. A drenching storm that brought California much-needed rain in what had been a dry winter wound down Friday after washing out Highway 1 near Big Sur, burying the Sierra Nevada in snow and causing muddy flows from slopes burned bare by wildfires. (Caltrans via AP)

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Up To Our Ears In Those Accursed Interesting Times

Tuesday was a day of light snowfalls. Stop … start … stop … start … all day long. It made our mid-day walk special, with those big near-weightless flakes caught up in the rabbitbrush and sagebrush along the way. And the colder air had a snap to it we hadn’t seen much of so far this season. The snow did make it harder to find safe footing, though, covering completely those little patches of ice on the path that were each one of them small threats to a pain-free life. A minefield of sorts for the more fragile of our citizens.

There were very few people in the park that day, and except for Robin and me, each person was connected to at least one dog. Coloradans hate being outdoors without a canine companion. One such person had a pitbull on a leash whose face was awfully fierce-looking, and he pulled the dog several yards off the trail as we passed him. He must have noticed the worried faces of others before us who upon seeing the animal noticed how much of themselves was within easy reach of those teeth.

Whenever I look into a doggy face like that I think back to the movie Stand By Me, and the scene with the junkyard dog, Chopper. The reality is not always as nasty as the mythology would suggest.

The truth is, I have never been bitten by a large dog, while my ankles bear the memory of multiple attacks by the sort of fluffy small creatures where you can’t tell which end is which. Dogs of the dust-mop variety.

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Robin and I watched a movie the other night, White Tiger, that was disturbing in many ways. It was a film made in India that dealt with class dynamics involving servants and masters in that country. I won’t go into the plot more than that, as I have no wish to insert spoilers. But on two occasions the main character made the point that the era of the white man was over, and the era of the brown and yellow man was upon us and would soon make Europeans irrelevant.

Caucasians have held sway in so much of the world for so long … when I think about pushing for an end to all the forms of racism, in my own mind the new society that would come from that is always a more benign one, with everyone truly on an equal footing. A brave new world of mutual respect, a band of brothers and sisters once and for all. Waaaayyy too many expectations, I know.

It is possible, though, that we could shoot right past that to a new reality where we simply trade colors, but keep the engines of oppressor and oppressed intact, but now with whites on the bottom. That would be a bad thing for all concerned. No one ultimately ‘wins’ in a master/slave relationship. It poisons the souls on both sides.

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One of the ways Mr. Biden cannot please all. At present there are not enough doses of Covid vaccine to treat all Americans that want one. People are complaining: Get us our shots! The lackluster distribution network that he inherited is trying to come up to speed, with spotty success.

At the same time those who take a broader look see that the wealthier nations are buying up the available vaccine supplies at a rate that would make it difficult for poorer nations to find any even if money was not an issue. Money, of course, is an issue. So the cry goes up that once again the poor suffer while the rich nations have the best seat at the table. Ethics and morality and a pandemic and politics and production limitations … what a fervent stew this is! No matter which way Biden looks there’s someone with an angry face and a brick in their hand.

Beyond this set of facts is that world economies, including our own, are tottering along on a duct-taped crutch and looking for at least a sturdy walker to steady themselves. If those economies should fail, who suffers most? The poor nations again.

Perhaps one spin would be that it’s like the situation in an airplane cabin where when the oxygen masks drop down, we are told to put the mask on our own faces first so that we are then capable of helping others. I freely admit that I don’t know the answer. But no worries, friends, because I’m not the president. (If I were to wake up tomorrow and find through some horrible mischance that I was, I would resign before my feet hit the bedroom floor.)

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Have you watched the series Peaky Blinders, on Netflix? We’ve finished the available five seasons, and await release of what promises to be the last one. We found that it drew us in very early on. Basically it’s a gangster story, but it is told so very well and photographed soooo beautifully. The ratings posted before each episode warn us that we might see nudity, gore, and smoking. As things move along we see a little of the first item, a good deal of the second, and the only way we could see more smoking was if the characters put cigarettes in their mouths, noses, and ears all at the same time. It was apparently a tobacconist’s paradise in Birmingham of the 1920s.

And, finally, Peaky Blinders just looks amazing. Beautiful production design can only carry something so far if the storytelling and filmmaking lag, but any lulls in the course of Peaky Blinders are more than accounted for by just getting to look at how wonderfully the series has resurrected Birmingham in the 1920s. Images like a woman walking away from the camera, snow drifting around her, or Tommy riding cockily through town atop his horse give the series a slightly ethereal feeling that makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a particularly involving dream. It’s hypnotic.

Vox.com

Although the Reilly family are criminals, and might have been no matter what their prior history was, there is a strong thread running through the series about what serving in World War I did to the men. A very believable and powerful thread.

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You know, I wasn’t going to put in this photo from the New York Times “Styles” section this week. But then I thought … what the hell?

I sometimes make fun of the pretentiousness of the world of fashion, and the often outlandish creations that make the news. But this look … I could really get behind this one. And I think that I could carry it off really well.

It’s basically a red-orange hoodie that doesn’t know when to quit, isn’t it? It might be a one size fits all sort of garment, it’s hard to tell exactly. And there would be no worries about inseam lengths here because there isn’t one. Also, the quilted material would be great for packing around furniture on your next transcontinental move.

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I don’t think I would keep the huge lapel rose, though. It’s a bit over the top for me. But the hat! It’s a direct throwback to headgear of The Flying Nun, from 1960s television.

Makes me feel guilty for all the bad things I’ve said and thought about the fashion industry in the past. These are serious people.

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Let It Be

It’s been an emotional week here in Paradise. The Pema Chodron book that am in the middle of reading is so applicable to recent events in our lives that it’s uncanny. Each evening I finish one short chapter before retiring, and it helps me to clarify and to center myself. To be present with what is, rather than resisting it sounds so dry unless you are actively practicing it. Until you really need it.

Of course I ‘need’ it all the time, but I feel that poverty most strongly in harder times. I’ve heard said more than once in AA meetings that “he’s not the first person to find God in the back seat of a police cruiser.” Those hard moments are the ‘foxhole’ sort of events, where the supplicant tries to make his deal with the Universe for a specific purpose. When we realize that our ideas of control in our lives were mostly fictions. Stuff we made up.

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We’re already in the beginning of mud season here in Paradise. Yesterday Robin and I took our regular 4-mile walk on asphalt exclusively, with exuberant gumbo on both sides of the trail. On one occasion I saw footprints in the mud that suddenly vanished, as if the person had simply been swallowed by the muck. Is there such a thing as quick-mud?

Yesterday was the sort of day that our cats just gave up on. Not so cold, not so windy, not so rainy, but a little bit of all of these. So they became part of the furniture, changing their sleeping stations every couple of hours or so. Whenever they did step out for three seconds, they would come back indoors indignant, giving us an angry Rrrowwwrrr as if we were to blame.

I just hate being judged by animals, don’t you? And it’s so frustrating that they won’t listen to your explanation that humans are not in charge of the weather. They walk away even as you are talking to them, tail in the air, the picture of disdain. So rude.

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There are interesting little dialogues that are happening between people who are receiving the Covid vaccine. What they all come down to is: When you’ve had both doses, are you going to manage your life differently?

So far my answer has been: Nope. When most of the rest of the Coloradans have had their vaccines, then I will walk out the door without a care. But a new category of entertaining does open itself up. We have several friends up and down the street in our little part of town, all of whom are senior citizens, and all of whom will have been immunized within the next month or so. From my standpoint, I think that they would be safe to have over for dinner and a chat. Like in the good old days when I was blissfully unaware of the novel coronavirus’ existence.

The reason for persistent caution in approaching the general population is that the vaccine we received is 95% effective in protecting us, not 100%. That means that 5 out of every 100 people who receive their two doses are not protected, but they don’t know who they are, since no post-vaccine blood testing is being done. If I am one of those 5 people, it’s like I never got the shot.

It’s a numbers game, to be certain.

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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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Fleurs du Mal

Here is how the Covid vaccine process is shaking out in Greater Paradise (otherwise known as the state of Colorado). Phase Ia vaccinations are underway, and Phase Ib will be upon us when … well, we don’t exactly know. What is happening is that people in Phase Ib are asked to sign up to establish themselves as part of the group (we did ours online), and then one day we will receive some sort of notification as to when and where we can be vaccinated.

Robin and I are in group Ib by virtue of age, as you can see in the diagram below.

After reading about the mentally unstable Wisconsin pharmacist who deliberately left 500 doses of the vaccine out to spoil, and someone else’s idea that to make the supplies go further we reduce the amount of vaccine given, I am not quite sure what to expect. It could conceivably go like this:

Policeman: Awright, keep the line straight, you guys, stay on the north side of the rope. And stop moving about back there.
Vaccinee: But it’s cold out here, good lord, the wind chill is zero degrees.
Policeman: You don’t like it, Mr. TenderBody, well, you can just go home if you want to.
Vaccinee: Naw, naw, never mind, I’m stayin’.
Policeman: Here’s the nurse now.
Nurse: Would everyone from the man with the lavender beret to the woman with the decorative layer of cowpoop on her boots take one step forward. Okay, now roll up your sleeves, if you will. Well now, sir, let’s just draw up your medicine.
Vaccinee: Is it supposed to be green?
Nurse: The color is immaterial, good sir, just relax and all this will soon be over.
Vaccinee: What’s that funny odor?
Nurse: I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary.
Vaccinee: It’s coming from the green stuff.
Nurse: Sir, could you please stop with the comments? You are making the people in line behind you nervous.
Vaccinee: I think I’d like to go home and think about it.
Nurse: Too late for that. We have quotas to fill, you know. Barney and Vito, will you grab him?
Vaccinee: But I don’t want the shot any more.
Nurse: Is that all this is about? Don’t worry, sir, all you have to do is sniff the vial. There will be no injection at all.
Vaccinee: Sniff it? Does that work?
Nurse: Not quite sure, but we’re all learning together, aren’t we? Now if you’ll just let me wipe off your nose with this alcohol swab …

(Just to be clear, when my dose becomes available, no matter what its physical characteristics may be, I’m taking it. Enough, already!)

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On Monday morning there was an earthquake in Tyndall SD, which is about twenty-eight miles from our former place of residence in Yankton. It was only 3.1 on the Richter scale, but already the insurance claims are coming in, claiming substantial damages. Earl Putz says that fifty-two of his prize-winning steers fell into a huge crack that opened up and then closed again. Mabel Pergola says that her mental health has been permanently altered by the event, and that aftershocks are occurring on the hour in the middle of her abdomen, one centimeter to the left of the navel.

Ms. Pergola is also claiming loss of consortium with her husband, Elbert. When our reporter asked how she could ever have noticed this, since the earthquake had occurred only two hours prior to this conversation, her reply was: “You don’t know Elbert.”

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I will mention the events of Wednesday only briefly. They are at the point of being dissected minutely, and we may all be feeling even more ill by the time this process is over. Or we may feel exultation.

The first is the riots, encouraged by P.Cluck himself and his Republican enablers. A merry band of traitors they are, and they deserve anything unpleasant that may happen to them in the days to come. At supper last evening the title of a book of poetry by Baudelaire came to mind. It was Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil). Cluck and the boys have been planting the seeds of those flowers all along, and you know what – I told me so. The part of my brain that never sleeps, that keeps me breathing and my internal organs churning away, knew that this moment was coming. Even while the part that reads and writes and signs checks said: “No, not even they would go that far.” I will have to give my gut more credit and listen to it more carefully in the future.

The second is the Democratic wins in Georgia. It makes it possible to finally get past the McConnell roadblock that has held America back for so many years. Imagine how long it might have taken to achieve something as straightforward and necessary as the assembling of a cabinet by Mr. Biden, had this not happened. Bless everyone who had a hand in these victories, because they were victories for us all.

It is sunrise in America, mes amis. What kind of day will it be?

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Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

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The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

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The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

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Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

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I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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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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Windfall

I received wonderful news this morning, and it came just in time to take care of those pesky Christmas bills and quite a bit more. I’m thinking new car, home remodel, trip to some country that will accept Americans … . It all started with this message in my inbox. It’s the second such note that I’ve received, but instead of just deleting it, I pondered.

At first I thought “scam.” And then I thought, how lucky for Mr. Landolt (if it isn’t a fraud). And then I thought … maybe I am Mr. Landolt. There are seven letters in his last name, and there are seven letters if you combine my first and last and name. Perhaps it’s a code. That’s it! It’s possible that I am now 850,000 dollars wealthier than I was at breakfast.

I can hardly wait to hear back from the folks at financialtrustfunds024 about how the funds are to be transferred to my personal accounts. So if I owe any of you a debt that I have somehow forgotten, this would be the time to remind me. Otherwise I can be found online later today trying to spend 850,000 dollars in the most imaginative way. Let’s see … is foreign travel even a possibility yet … ?

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Well, I have a new car ordered to be paid for through my windfall. I wanted something reliable, economical to operate, good-looking, and comfortable. This is what I chose.

It’s a Rolls-Royce Phantom, which gets surprisingly good mileage, comes with pretty much everything you could imagine as standard equipment, and they even send a small British man to live with you who can adjust anything that goes amiss. On long drives you keep him in the boot. The only problem is that I think it’s a foot longer than my garage.

The runner-up was this thing in the pic below, which the salesman guaranteed could just about get me anywhere I wanted to go, and came in an armored, bullet-proof version. It also has enough ground clearance that it could run over a medium-sized cow (a recumbent one) without hurting the animal. But it was seriously deficient in the cupholder department, so I went with the Rolls.

And after all, how many times a week do you need the capacity to drive over livestock?

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Next I plan to turn to my physical appearance. Imagine my delight when I found that I could purchase six-pack abs! Here is a before and after of a patient who had such a plastic procedure done. The process is called abdominal etching. And you don’t need to do a single sit-up or plank to get them. Just be appropriately wealthy and slightly nuts.

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I see no reason to stop with the abs, if you can afford it, and can have your entire body “etched”all over. My only problem is that all of the “before and after” shots that I found are of men who are fifty years younger than myself, and I’m not sure what the surgeon would do about that. Maybe better think about it for a while longer … .

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The Covid vaccination programs are, of course, being reported on minutely, and there are screwups galore in who gets one and who doesn’t, plus the ethical problem of rich countries buying up all the doses and leaving poorer nations scrambling for help. I said “of course” because this is a never before type of massive human endeavor and how could we not be clumsy at it? The important part is that they are getting the vaccine out there, people are being immunized, and if it takes longer than was originally planned that’s unfortunate, but the direction is clear. At some point during 2021 we will be able to walk out our front doors, unmasked, and greet our fellow humans with handshakes and hugs and in so doing catch influenza just like in the good old days.

I’m looking forward to it.

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Jockeying For Position

We’ve learned (or at least it has been alleged) that Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny was poisoned. By his underwear. Vladimir Putin, who by the merest of coincidences has the Jockey Shorts franchise in Moscow, firmly denies having anything to do with it, claiming that if he wanted to poison someone they’d be dead, especially if they were wearing a well-constructed brief in a tasteful plaid print.

I, for one, have no trouble at all believing the Navalny story. In fact, I’ve never met a conspiracy story that I didn’t like. But this one rings true, and we all know it. Is there anyone reading this who has never been attacked in some way by their underclothing (you need not raise your hands)?

As for myself, I have nearly been cut in two by underwear that aggressively “rode up.” I have been given rashes whose discomfort rivaled being covered with fire ants by wearing shorts that had been washed in toxic detergents. And the first time I saw someone wearing a thong at the beach I called the police to come rescue her from what looked to be a murder in progress. In short, I am well acquainted with the potential uses of underpants as tools by homicidally inclined persons.

.

So my advice to Mr. Navalny from here on in is to go commando, for God’s sake, whether you return to Russia or not.

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Sign O’ The Times Department

Robin and I were enjoying lunch in a local restaurant (we felt safe as there was only one other patron in the entire room) when I noticed this instruction and thought it worthy of bringing to your attention. I can’t recall ever seeing anything like this before, but then this has been a year of “firsts.”

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The states of this country may be united politically, but in many ways they are quite a ways apart from one another. For example, in Florida a geezer like myself would be right at the front of the Covid vaccination line, while in Colorado I am more toward the middle of the pack. Florida isn’t following any guidelines put out by infectious disease experts on this planet, but then Florida’s Republican governor De Santis has one of the more shameful records in this regard.

I briefly considered moving to the Sunshine State until I realized that even if I were to get my two doses of meds and survive the particular hazard that the novel coronavirus poses, I would then be in … Florida … with summer coming on and mosquitoes heading for me in stabby phalanxes. So I think I’ll stay here in Paradise and wait my turn rather than suffer the death of a million micro-punctures, way off there in a strange land.

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Each year I allow myself to dig into Christmas-themed music for one month, turning off the sentimental tap on the 25th of December. Each year I also allow myself to purchase the equivalent of one album of such music, which means I’ve piled up a few holiday tunes. I say “equivalent” because I now pick and choose from among several artists rather than just one person or group, as it was in the days before streamed music.

Since I now have way more than enough versions of the stalwarts, like The Christmas Song, or I’ll Be Home For Christmas, or Adeste Fideles, I now tend to look for music that gazes at the Christmas story or the season itself from a slightly different vantage point. They may be old or new recordings, but they are all new to me. This year two that I added were Phoebe Bridger’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Patti Smith’s We Three Kings. One soft and dreamy and the other sort of harrowing.

I know, I know, it’s horribly old-fashioned to think of owning music, rather than renting it, but hey, what am I if not an old-fashioned person? That’s what it says on my name badge. OFP.

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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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Cold Hard Facts

I don’t know what went wrong, but we’re having a wee bit of Winter already here in Paradise. Saturday night it got down to 2 degrees F. Over the past few days several inches of snow have fallen and I actually had to shovel it away twice. Shovel. Me.

When Robin and I took our walks over the weekend we dressed in so many layers we looked like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story.

Even thought we might have looked a bit ridiculous, there’s no point in challenging the elements, is there? There are only two possible outcomes in such an endeavor … survival or frostbite.

We go for survival every time.

Sunday was cold enough that the cats were presented with a feline dilemma. Every instinct said “Go outside and do your thing!” And so they went through the flap on the pet door and were hit in their furry faces with the frigid reality that waited for them out there. They would try repeatedly but in less than a minute they were back each time.

Now, right next to the pet door is a bigger door meant for humans. Poco will make a run through the cat-flap, come back inside all disappointed, and then go stand in front of the big door meowing to be let out. Apparently he thinks that each portal leads to a different world, and maybe the next one will be nicer.

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I had only one experience with frostbite, but it was enough. At seventeen I was working part-time at a Red Owl grocery store in West St. Paul MN. I lived about a mile from the store, and walked to work rain or shine.

One snowy Saturday morning it was cold and windy and off I went to work, leaving the house at 5:00 AM and underdressed as usual. No hat, no protection for my ears, not enough jacket … you know the teenaged drill. When I reached the store my right ear was an unusual dead white color and felt quite firm when compared with its mate on the other side of my head. In the warm indoor air it now came back to life with a vengeance.

The appendage went from white and numb to red and painful in no time at all, but it wasn’t done with me yet. Within two hours it had swollen to twice its size. So here I was dealing with my duties and the general public looking all unbalanced … normal on the left and a crimson Dumbo on the right. By the end of my shift the thing was blistering and altogether nasty-looking.

It took a week for that ear to get back to normal. I guess that I was fortunate that it didn’t blacken and drop off, since it was sort of useful to have around, especially when it came to wearing glasses later in life. I did learn something, however, and never repeated my performance.

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The first Covid vaccine doses are on the trucks and planes and headed for everywhere. I am not too worked up about it, however. Each article that I read about who gets it first seems to move my personal category further down the list. As far as I can tell, if there are any doses left over in January 2025 I can apply for one and see where that gets me.

It’s starting to remind me of what the U.S. Air Force taught me about military triage. In civilian life, the person with the worst injuries, where survival is seriously in question, moves to the front of the line. In combat situations, they are placed in a category named “expectant,” and moved to an area where they are given pain relief but are out of view while resources are focussed on the more obviously salvageable. The idea being to get soldiers back to the front wherever possible in the shortest amount of time.

The ultimate goals of combat medicine are the return of the greatest possible number of soldiers to combat and the preservation of life, limb, and eyesight in those who must be evacuated.

https://ke.army.mil/bordeninstitute/other_pub/ews/Chp3Triage.pdf

So even though people like myself are in a high-risk category should we become infected, the medical powers-that-be have decided that since we can still walk ourselves right back into our homes we should just stay there until it is safe to come out, end of story.

I get it. I may not love the implications, but I get it.

I can wait until Hell itself freezes over. That’s another thing the military taught me.

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Sacrifice For The Good …

There are a lot of frustrating moments involved in reading the Times of New York on a regular basis. It’s worth it, of course, because then you are able to say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” a phrase that immediately stamps one as a person of culture, discernment, and general superiorness (at least to one’s own way of thinking).

But you have to wade through quite a lot of dross to sort out what you came there for. You have to read about hundreds of plays that you will never see, poetry readings that you will never attend, restaurants where you will never be seated, and excellent-looking movies that will never make it across the Rockies.

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You end up reading all-too-frequent love letters to NYCity written by residents of NYCity who really can’t imagine why the rest of the country has to exist at all and what kind of dullards would ever live anywhere but NYCity? There are the stories about weddings that you missed where the couple was too charming for words, real estate that only the 1% could aspire to owning, and a food column that is at least one-third about the intricacies of which wine you should be buying at which shop (wine may be a lot of things, but it isn’t food).

So when I say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” I hope you all realize the sacrifices that I make in reading this newspaper just to be able to name-drop an article or two each week.

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There is a song by the group Talking Heads that deals with those of us who don’t live in NYCity. It’s called “The Big Country,” and the chorus goes like this:

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I wouldn’t live like that, no siree!
I wouldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

The Big Country, by Talking Heads

I have liked the song since first I heard it, snobbish little ditty that it is. It is almost perfect in its attitude, and helps keep my sense of humor honed.

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I saw in the NYTimes this morning that there are people lining up to be upset about Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. Of course they are. They should be. We really aren’t simply divided into red and blue factions, but to all shades of those two colors, each with its advocates for a point of view.

So when Biden picks a retired four-star general for Secretary of Defense, he stirs up any shade of blue that thinks the man is not as civilian as he should be to hold this post. After all, we have a long-established principle involved here, the control of the military by civilian authority. I think personally that this principle is a good thing, and find it helpful to be reminded of it through the present controversy.

Whoever Biden picks for whatever cabinet post will not please all of us. It’s possible that when they have all been selected that each will be a disappointment to you, or to me, in some way. From then on, we will watch to see what they do, won’t we? I wasn’t happy when Robert Kennedy was chosen by his brother as Attorney General, even though I liked JFK. I thought – NEPOTISM – in all caps. But in his abbreviated career his actions pleased me in too many ways to count.

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It’s not common knowledge but my navel is off slightly more than one centimeter to the right. And I lay it all off onto the medical/industrial complex.

When I was retiring from practice, I had excellent health insurance, so I decided that before I left for parts unknown that I would have as many of my defects repaired as time would allow and my insurance would cover. It turned out that I had a hernia in many of the places that a person can have one, and they totaled three. So I visited a surgeon of good repute and we made the required arrangements. One of those defects was at my umbilicus, where during the repair the physician would tunnel in and patch the problem area with … I don’t know … some burlap or pieces of recycled radial tire belts.

The surgeries were all small ones, and I went home a happy man. Until I took a shower later on, and noticed that I was no longer symmetric. Either my navel had shifted to the right or my entire body had shifted to the left, but something unplanned had happened. At my first post-op followup visit, I brought this up to the surgeon.

I don’t know if you noticed, doctor, but my umbilicus is askew.

Why, so it is. Has it always been that way?

No, not until my surgery.

Have you proof of this?

Yes, many photos in my family albums show an admirable centering.

Well … ?

I didn’t want to talk bout legal action, but I remember reading about a woman who had a similar problem after plastic surgery, and she received a handsome settlement.

I know of the case. Of course, she was an attractive woman in her forties, while you are a rather plain man in your sixties.

Your meaning, sir?

There’s not a jury in the country that will think that the proposition that you are less attractive than you were holds any water. In fact, the case could be made that you are now more interesting than ever.

So I should be grateful?

Indeed you should, especially since there will be no additional professional fees involved.

Thank you so much, doctor, you are exceptionally kind and considerate.

Don’t mention it. On your way out, could you send in the next post-op patient? He’ll be the one whose right ear flops about something terrible.

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