The Nocebo Effect

Just about everyone knows about the placebo effect, where people given a pill report improvement even when the pill contains only inert material. But you may not have heard as much about its opposite, the nocebo effect, where patients describe negative side effects when they are taking those “sugar pills.”

I bring this up because I was asked about such things by the neurologist at my last appointment. One by one he inquired about my experiences with the several medications I am now taking:

So let’s go through them one at a time. First, the cholesterol medication.

Well, I don’t know for sure, but I think it causes me heartburn, halitosis, and borborygmi.

How about the blood thinner?

I’ve noticed that the cowlick on the back of my head is bigger, my back aches all the time, and I have flatulence that you wouldn’t believe … can’t keep papers on my desk in such a gastrointestinal breeze.

Interesting. What of the blood pressure medication?

Lord, Lord, don’t get me started there. My feet itch, my nose won’t stop running, and every day I have ten new wrinkles on my face.

My, my, Dr. Flom, many of these effects have never been seen with these drugs before. How can you be certain which medication is causing which symptom?

A person just knows these things.

How about the small orange tablet that you chew?

That’s the worst of the lot. It gives me hallucinations. Just yesterday I thought I read that the President was going to pardon all of his children, even though they haven’t been charged with or convicted of anything. Sort of a Get Out of Jail Free Card that’s good anywhere. That couldn’t be happening. It must be the orange pill.

The orange pill is just a baby aspirin.

So you say. But how do you really know what they put in those little bottles? If the government really wanted to mess me up they might put nasty stuff in my pills, wouldn’t they? Stuff that would make me forget what I know about aliens and Area 51. Oh yes they’d love that, wouldn’t they? But, heh heh heh, I still remember everything and one day … what was that noise? I know that I heard a voice coming from behind the bookcase …

Nurse, could you be a dear and give psychiatry a ring for me?

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My old home state of Minnesota is now the worst in the nation re: Covid statistics. I knew it would happen, and I know why. When I was growing up there, I don’t remember ever bumping into a Republican. There were only Democrats, everywhere, and the local version of the party was called the DFL … the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. What a nice, comfy, and inclusive ring that name had.

But then they fluoridated the water, and over time more and more Republicans began to appear until they actually became a major political force in the good ol’ Land of 10,000 Lakes. Residents of the state were faced with a choice – they could have better politics or better teeth, and to my chagrin they chose teeth. That was about the time that I was drafted into the USAF and sent away to another state, and it’s only gotten worse since then.

So when the coronavirus came along, and only one political party started wearing masks and practicing their social distance pas-de-deux, well, it was just a matter of time.

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Here on the Western Slope the Covid numbers are rapidly getting just as unpleasant as they are anywhere else. Our geographic isolation no longer keeps us out of trouble in this department. The combination of tourists passing through town, increased travel out and back by our own citizens, and poorer mask-wearing performance is bringing our numbers up, and up isn’t the direction anyone with a functioning cerebrum wants them to go.

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Friday Robin and I added a chunk to our usual hiking route. It was a steep stretch, maybe only a hundred yards or so in length, but at an angle where your boots slipped backward a little with every step. Without the trekking poles we use I’m not sure I could have made it to the top. At two very brief points the path wandered to the edge of a modest cliff that I could not look down, but just knowing it was there tickled my acrophobia a bit.

I was interested to try it and now I don’t have to do it again. ‘Twas not worth the fright.

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Gotta love this guy. Telling it straight.

Telling Good News & That Ain’t Bad

On Tuesday I went to the neurology clinic in Grand Junction for my last followup visit. The good doctor had just finished a session with a patient where there was only terrible news to share, and for me to be able to tell him only good things was at least some small relief in a trying day.

You remember that I wore a heart monitor for a month after my time in hospital? My neurologist had the results and they were normal but for one interesting feature. When I sleep, my heart rate dips into the low 30s. He asked me if I had noticed this on my own, and I told him that since I was sleeping at the times these low rates occurred … no, I didn’t.

So when I got back to the car and talked with Robin, I mentioned the low heart rate. I suggested that if she ever woke at night and wanted to see if I was still among the living by taking my pulse that she give it a while before calling 911. And we agreed that she would always wake me and ask if I wanted help before starting CPR.

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Covid is ramping up here on the Western Slope. Grand Junction is in the red zone, while Montrose is still on orange status. If the number of bare faces we encounter on our uncommon trips away from home means anything, we’ll be red here soon as well. Merchants in town all have a sign on the door indicating that a mask must be worn before entering, but not one of them enforces it once the person is inside their establishment. The instances of violence around the country when people were admonished to put a mask on appear to have given them pause.

I think that I have a solution for this. If a shopper or store employee sees anyone above the age of consent wandering in the aisles without a mask, they should be allowed to walk up and tase those persons and then call to have their limp forms hauled out the front door. You would hear on the overhead sound system:

Attention WalMart security – please bring a freight cart to the candy aisle for removal of another bozo.

Seeing a stack of stunned persons on the sidewalk outside the store would at least give other potential no-mask miscreants something to think about.

(I’m kidding. I’M KIDDING!)

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From The New Yorker

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There was a piece in the Times of New York on Wednesday about the musical group The Kinks and their most famous and enduring song “Lola.” It might be the first rock and roll tune about a transgender person, and is still in regular play around the world. Ray Davies thinks that it grabbed straight listeners by the ear and they grew to like it before they actually puzzled out the lyrics and realized what it was about.

No matter. Great tune. Ahead of its time.

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Lastly, this is the kind of article that I am inordinately fond of. About a huge collection of rock art discovered in the Amazon and the fascinating story that it tells. For whatever reason the article was in the “Style” section on the CNN website. Go figure.

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

Monday morning I was peacefully reading the Times of New York when I came across an article that mentioned the Democratic Socialists of America. I don’t really know much about those folks and therefore I spent a couple of hours wandering through the website of the organization , and it was interesting.

They are serious people, passionate people, and … well, I’ll let you read a paragraph from their Constitution to get the flavor of what they are about.

Article II. Purpose.

We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.

Constitution, dsusa.org

I won’t claim to have read everything on the site, but what I did go through left me feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t join up, that a group of 70,000 such firebrands weren’t out looking to recruit wishy-washy octogenarians like myself as members (I could be wrong in this). While I agreed with a great many of the points they made, there was a doctrinaire flavor about their prose that reminded me of … Strelnikov.

You remember Strelnikov, don’t you? He was a character in the film Dr. Zhivago who was a true believer. Now, he was also a Communist, not a Socialist, and I do recognize that they are very different entities, so using him as my illustrative example is unfair from the get-go. But that flavor …

But hey, let me introduce (or re-introduce) you to Commander Strelnikov, who I found to be one of the most fascinating characters in a movie filled with them. Here he is in his office in a train car, interviewing Zhivago, a person who his soldiers have just arrested.

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I know that I have talked previously about the book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was a longshoreman who had an amazingly fertile brain and a keen eye for the quaint habits and delusions of human beings. It was published in 1951 and was one of those you have to read this sort of books in that decade, especially for college types who were practicing their intellectual pretensions, as was I.

It’s a book that may help explain Cluck’s populism to those who are still puzzled as to the why? of the past several years. True Believers are not troubled by inconvenient opposing facts, they just run right over them as fables of the other side.

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For a piece of good old-fashioned far-left-wing music, I offer you The Internationale for your listening pleasure. It is played here by ani di franco. Don’t worry about being corrupted by it, it is an instrumental. As to the words, well, it depends on which translation you are following. There is a long article on the song, in Wikipedia, that makes for very interesting reading.

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Monday morning I went back for my last checkup following cataract surgery. You could tell how pleased the clinic staff and the surgeon were that I got such a superb operative result, so I’m glad that I kept the appointment, if only for their sake. I will still need glasses, and still do not have Superman’s X-ray vision, so at this point in life I think that I’ll finally give up on that particular fantasy. It was a much more intriguing concept to a young man … these days I really don’t care to see my friends without their clothes, nor do they, I suspect, have any hankering to see me au naturel.

I may have mentioned that the eye surgeon, whose name is Bennett Oberg, looks to be about twenty years old. He is tall, good-looking, slender, youthful … let me just say that you would have no trouble telling the two of us apart. In fact, he appears to be so young that as I was leaving I leaned over toward him and said in a conspiratorial voice: “Just between the two of us, Oberg, you’re not really a doctor at all, are you?

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You may have noticed in the weather box in the sidebar that some of the outposts of the Empire are becoming quite chilly. This morning, for instance, the Evelethians will be getting dressed while huddled around the woodstove, in their six degree air.

Of course, such an experience can be oddly pleasant, except for the person who has to get out of bed first, to stoke the fire in the stove. To all such stokers in the world, we offer a hearty thank you.

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Hot. Spice. Baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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

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

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Good Morning, Starshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mental Lint

This latest chapter in the nationally televised serial The Cluckshow is surprising even the gaggle of old hands who gather ’round the woodstove of a chilly morning. Yesterday the group, which hardly ever agrees on anything, unanimously came to the conclusion that there are a significant number of Americans who are perfectly daft.

No matter how many sober people come up to the mike and say that the election process wasn’t corrupted these misguided ones continue to believe the opposite and that somehow their champion will pull off a miracle.

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It doesn’t help that they are supported in their delusions by some very corrupt people indeed, people like Senator Turtle, who stand to gain by keeping governmental matters in a continual state of chaos. So much of the public chatter is how Cluck disrespects our traditions and the nation’s best interests (and he does) but Cluck suffers from serious mental disturbances. This gets him exactly one smidgeon of sympathy. Sen. Turtle does the same thing but is completely venal, which qualifies him for no smidgeon at all.

So the members of the hot stove club went home yesterday wondering how things ever got so bad that we all agreed on something. It was unsettling, to say the least.

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A gallery of images of Senator Turtle

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Yesterday as I was listening to NPR I found that I had moved even further down the list of People Who Will Get The COVID Vaccine First. When this all started I felt confident that my age and many infirmities would put me right up there after emergency room physicians. But as each new draft proposal comes out my number gets further from being called.

So after spending some idle moments reflecting, I have voluntarily assigned myself to a new place in that therapeutic line. I plan on waiting until I see that all serial killers in solitary confinement in maximum security institutions have been protected, and then I will step forward. I believe that in this way I can avoid most disappointments.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

All of us who love movies, we who have been lucky enough to sit in darkened theaters of an evening and were changed by what we saw, can draw up a list of those films that were transformative for us. In my own case, these were films that went beyond being entertaining and taught me something powerful through the artistry of the army of people who contribute their talents to such an enterprise. One of those was Judgement at Nuremberg, which was released in 1961.

The other day I learned a new number, and it was 545. This is the number of children who were separated from their parents by immigration personnel and who have still not been reunited with their parents. As Stephen Colbert said it in the clip I posted on Thursday: “Cruelty was the plan.” It is a shameful number and the size of that number stands out. But the shame and the unnecessary suffering began with the first child who was treated in this way. With the first family that was deliberately divided by policies of our own government.

It called to mind a scene from the movie I mentioned above. Spencer Tracy plays an American judge at the Nuremberg Trials. Burt Lancaster plays a German judge, a man who in his official capacity went along with some of the Nazi injustices. Who believed that by going along over here you could prevent greater harm over there. When I first saw this scene I was stunned, and left the theater not ready to talk about it until I had some time to process what had been presented to me.

It changed the way the 22 year-old man that I was looked at life. As it turned out, that change was permanent. So much for a simple night out at the movies, eh?

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The above is an example of the randomness of how we learn and what we learn. Perhaps I should use a different pronoun, to stop using the “we” and substitute the “I,” but I suspect that many of you might have found it to be true in your own lives as well. A small part of my moral education was acquired in churches and during talks with my parents, but the greatest part of it was from movies, books, and the slogans I read on T-shirts in the Sixties.

My world view was pieced together like a tuna casserole from the ingredients at hand and baked at idiosyncratic temperatures. The result is me. A hodgepodge of ideas and prejudices and pronouncements, both good and bad, that embedded themselves into that pudding I carry around atop my neck. Did I set out to learn about personal responsibility when I bought the ticket to “Nuremberg?” Nope. Was I seeking a lesson on the fragility of life and the importance of childhood relationships as I watched the opening credits roll on Stand By Me? Not on your life. Did I have any idea when I picked up Kazantzakis’ novel Freedom or Death that it would color my landscapes from then on? No way.

In fact, if I had suspected that any of these things were going to happen, I might well have avoided all of these works, and looked harder for something completely mindless. Mindless has always been my default position.

So what lesson? What goes in through our eyes and ears may take root in our brains, whether that’s what we intended or not. That old aphorism in the computing world of Garbage In – Garbage Out! holds as true for people as well as for machines.

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My old home state of South Dakota is out there in front of the pack with regard to new cases of coronavirus. For this you can give Governor Cluckette a lot of the credit. Even as the groans of infected people keeling over on the streets of the capital city of Pierre are keeping folks awake at night, she still insists that all citizens need to do is wash their hands and remember to floss.

She relays the Cluckian message of no-mask to her underlings, and when anyone says “Cluck” to a Republican, as we have abundantly observed, it cancels out normal brain activity and that person will now accept any old basket of horse-apples as a tasty dessert.

I do feel sorry for the innocents in that excellent state, those being the Democrats and Independents who have very little to say in its governance. I also feel sorry for any sensible South Dakota child over the age of eight years, who can look at what is happening and easily see that their lives and fortunes are in the hands of fools.

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When was the last time you worried about polio? Did you ever? The first form of the vaccine came out in 1955, and the oral form in 1962. So if you were a toddler during that period of history or later, you grew up without ever hearing it discussed at the dinner table, nor would your parents have ever had to tell you that there was no more going to the swimming pool at the park this summer. The polio boogey-man had vanished from the Western Hemisphere.

He was on the brink of disappearing from the entire world more than 15 years ago, and would have been but for fears raised by anti-vaccine hysteria in Africa and Asia. Just yesterday an article on CNN brought up the concern that with our focus on Covid we stand to let polio back into the Americas because of declining immunization rates. The wild form of the virus is still out there, and the only thing standing between us and its recurrence is our vigilance.

Yes, dear friends, when it comes to infectious diseases we have to be able to chew gum and walk. Just because we are hunkered down in our homes this year because of Covid worries doesn’t mean that we can ignore our other problems. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we do have people we can turn to for advice and help … they are called ID (Infectious Disease) experts and they use something called science as a powerful tool against such potential plagues.

All we have to do is let them do their job and help them where we can.

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Shots In The Corridors – 1946

Most of my health care as a young child was provided by public clinics. And most of it consisted of being immunized. Well-child visits, if they existed somewhere in the mid-1940s, were not a line in the Family Flom’s budget.

At Warrington Elementary School it went like this. Notices were sent out to parents that a certain upcoming day was immunization day. They were asked to sign permission slips for their kids and that was it. There were no information sheets about what was to be expected in terms of benefits or discussion of possible adverse consequences.

No one needed a reminder of the “why,” only information about the “how.” The only routine immunization available was the DPT (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough). Everyone knew what whooping cough sounded like, and every family tree had people in it who had died from the other two illnesses. The threats were immediate and known. Easy for parents to choose. No anti-vaccine movement back then. Not when these diseases were of more than historical interest.

For the kids, however, it was another matter. We knew that “shot day” was coming and our rumor mills went into high gear. Large syringes with barrels the size of cucumbers were described, with needles as long as #2 pencils. And the needles were blunt on the ends from years and years of hard use to the point where they had to be “shoved in” with great force by strong-armed nurses.

If you were getting your first set of doses, why, you were the lucky ones. It was the older children who were scheduled for that acme of pain, that Mt. Everest of suffering – the booster shot. It was well known among fifth-graders and above that the survival rate from such immunizations was quite poor. “Remember Junior Smith last year … they told us he moved away … not true. It was from the booster shot!”

Then the day came and we all lined up by home rooms in the hallways, filing past white-garbed nursing personnel from the county health department. The closer your place in the line got to the nursing station the higher the incidence of sniffling and trembling. Some children were sobbing quietly to themselves as they accepted the fact that these were probably their last moments on earth and they were doing the very best that a second-grader can do when confronted with their own mortality.

And then it was over for you, and you walked three steps forward into the sunlight of a brand new day, a day filled with joyful promise … until you saw a trickle of blood going down the arm of the kid in front of you in line and you fainted dead away. Just dropped to the wooden floor and had to be carried to a sturdy steel cot for recovery.

But the good news is, that after beating such odds, one became invincible.

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Watched the movie on Netflix: Trial of the Chicago 7. For the most part we enjoyed it, and I gave it a 4 Eyeball score (out of 5). This is a rating of whether the film kept me awake or not, and although this movie was not 100% successful, it did pretty well. The original trial was an amazing piece of theater in itself, and this movie brings us in on quite a bit of that.

The chanting in the background of some scenes of the phrase “The whole world is watching!” would be perfectly appropriate at todays rallies and protests. The whole world has been watching, and has been dismayed by our behavior. They thought better of us … so did we.

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From The New Yorker

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Wednesday morning I had a cataract removed from my right eye. The left one was done a couple of years ago. Because of my recent hospital adventures, the anesthesiologist preferred that I not be sedated, and in spite of my tears, pleading, and threatening to hold my breath until I passed out, that’s how we did it. And it went okay. It got a little creepy as the doctor narrated the procedure while I was fully conscious.

I’m going to be cutting a hole in your eyeball now, and jerking out the bad lens. After that I will shove this piece of plastic into the space where the old lens used to be, and I am crossing my fingers that it will fit. Don’t worry, it almost always does, but if you have unbearable pain in the next few hours, give the guy on call a ring and tell him your story. There’s nothing he can do, really, but whining about it might make you feel better. So here goes nothing … don’t move, don’t move, whatever you do … oops … what the … never mind. **

I’ll be glad to have that eye back in the lineup. I’ve been basically working with monocular vision for about 9 months.

**Never happened. It is my feverish interpretation of what was said. All of the surgical center personnel were very professional and exceedingly pleasant.

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The Lincoln Project has provided an interesting sidebar to this political season. Some of the videos have been more dramatic, but I think that this is my favorite.

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I think that Stephen Colbert is one of the smartest comedians working today. This clip, taken from one of this week’s shows, is comedy going so deep that it choked me up. Just like Colonel Kurtz said all those years ago … the horror … the horror.

No Love, No Tacos

Here’s a simple little story that was a total day-brightener for yours truly. It’s about La Carreta Mexican Grill, a small restaurant in Iowa that mixed politics with business and some of the blowback that resulted. My hat’s off to Alfonso Medina for his clear thinking in these murky days. This guy is the sort of citizen that will help bring us out of the mess we’re in. Someone who believes in the promises of America and acts upon those beliefs.

A man who is closing his place of business on Election Day so that his employees can vote, while he himself volunteers as an election worker. (BTW, he is also paying those employees their salary on that day.)

I wish we lived closer to Marshalltown IA … how could their tacos not be excellent?

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BTW, about Mexican restaurants. My first visit to a new one is always the same. I order their beef tacos.

I think of my “system” as a sort of biopsy of the kitchen output, if you will pardon the clinical comparison. It tells me what I need to know about the place. If that simple, uncomplicated item is not savory, if the sauces are lacking in interest and authority, if the shells are stale … why bother with the Camarones a la Diabla? They are very likely to be an expensive disappointment.

Oddly, one of my favorite tacos was served up not in a Mexican establishment but at the salad bar in the Bonanza restaurant in Yankton SD. I say “was” because try to find a Bonanza steakhouse anywhere today. There are only a handful left in the U.S., victims not of Covid-19, but of rising beef prices and changing dietary tastes.

We have a number of Mexican-themed dining places here in Paradise, most of which are interchangeable and unremarkable. Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know which one you were in. They have the same offerings, the same plastic menus, the same unadventurous menu items. No one with chiliphobia would be threatened by what what comes out of their kitchens.

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I have lived in Montrose for nearly seven years, and before that in Yankton SD for several decades. In all that time, I have not had what I would consider a thorough physical examination. The kind that I was taught to do in medical school. The kind that picks up problems when they are smaller and potentially more treatable.

Now, for me personally it has not been a disaster. I can fill in a lot of the gaps with my own self-exams, at least of the places I can reach. I can stand in front of a mirror and check probably 90% of my skin surface. In this way I try to avoid nasty surprises. Otherwise the physicians that I have encountered have basically looked at only what I was complaining about, and usually in a more superficial way than I was taught to do.

My present doctor, who seems a capable person, has never asked me to undress, but listens through my clothing to my heart and lungs, a poor second to placing the stethoscope directly on the skin. I could have a skin lesion the size of New Jersey and she wouldn’t know it unless I brought it up. During my very recent brush with a serious problem (and although I am soooo grateful for the excellent care that saved my personal bacon), no one ever did a complete neurologic exam, or looked at the rest of my body for indications of possible reasons I might have had a stroke at the tender age of only 80 years. This in spite of the fact that my disease was of the central nervous system.

On the other hand, I had two CT scans, an MRI, an echocardiogram, and beaucoup lab tests. It would have been hard for any occult disease process to make it past those inquisitors, so I am not too worried.

My own training was at a very different time, I admit. A time when we were much more dependent on the physical exam to help us come to a diagnosis. The CT scan, the MRI, and the echocardiogram were yet to be discovered. So it would seem that extensive and time-consuming physical examinations are not prized the way they once were, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe they are only artifacts of a dinosaur age of medicine.

But god forbid that these physicians ever have to go to work on a day when the electricity is off.

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In the Humor section of the New Yorker this week was a series of caricatures of “other otuses.” This was one of the most tasteful of the lot.

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Today I will haul myself to Grand Junction for a visit to the Stroke Clinic. I have a few questions for the neurologist, and also wanted to give him the chance to see me with pants on. I am a much more impressive person when fully clothed, and in the name of full disclosure, I think he deserves to know that.

Otherwise I am doing well and the only change in my life is a single new medication. I have no problems that I didn’t have before my adventure of two weeks ago, and those basically come down to remembering where I put my car keys and to zip up before I go out in public.

Yesterday I was on the phone with friend Bill H. and he asked if Robin and I planned to cut back on our explorations and hikes because of this hour-long brush with an alternative reality. The idea being that we might be sometimes hours away from the terrific care that I received this time. And in the case of a stroke, everyone knows that hours is too long.

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I have given that a lot of thought, and decided against making big changes. If I were to push this line of thinking all the way I’d have to rent an apartment across the street from the hospital and have my groceries delivered, just in case … . So we plan to live our lives as before, not out of some false sense of bravado, but because making sure that we’re never more than an hour from a stroke unit doesn’t work out well in real life. We will minimize the risks where we can, but there is really no risk-free existence, is there?

The number of ways that life could catch any of us unawares is infinite. So we all cover the bases we can, and then we lock the door behind us and go out into the that uncertain world, anyway.

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Hey, Buddy, I’m Ahead Of You!

Colorado has come up with a draft plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines when they become available. We are told to keep in mind that it’s a draft, and may require some creative tweaking. But at least it reveals active thought processes with regard to this virus, and those are to be treasured wherever they are found.

Of course I immediately searched to see which line I was standing in, and was disappointed to see that I won’t get my dose until you get down to Category 2B. And that, my friends, means that there is a huge number of people in front of me.

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Because those first two phases include about half the population of the state of Colorado. Of course I might be able to bump myself up the line by taking a temp job at an assisted living facility and getting into 1A, but … just joking. I never cut in line. I regard line-budgers as a lower category of humanity than horse thieves. Hanging is way too good for them.

Robin and I have stocked up on different sorts of masks to make their wearing less boring. Yesterday she asked at what point I would stop wearing one, and I answered possibly never. There will be some other demic coming down the road soon enough, even if it’s not a pan, and I might as well keep polishing these new skills I’ve acquired.

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Garry Trudeau has lost none of his talent for skewering over the decades. I’ve generally been a fan of his, but it depends a little on what I find in Doonesbury on any given day. This one I found sad, but ringing all too true. However, without apologizing for P.Cluck, he is not the only one who has treated our servicemen and servicewomen with disrespect and neglect, once they had served their military purpose. You can follow that story going back to the Revolutionary War.

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At least one of the companies presently working on a coronavirus vaccine is testing a product that must be stored at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The problem is that deep freezes that can provide this temperature are at present few and far between. And even if you are the manufacturer and have such storage facilities, how do you get the vaccine from your plant to anywhere else, since it may be even trickier to transport the medication at such low temps?

Somebody recommended packing the vaccine in dry ice, and theoretically that sounds like it would work. Oh wait, it seems that right now we have a national dry ice shortage, so forget about that for the moment.

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I think that we are in for an interesting time as the multiple vaccines being tested come down to being ready for distribution. More than at any period in our history, we consumers will need guidance of a trustworthy kind, because we will all be traversing an unfamiliar landscape together. With all the pressures on to get a vaccine out ASAP, it is almost inevitable that there will be glitches. We can hope that there won’t be debacles.

In the meantime, anyone have a freezer sitting around that will go as low as 94 below zero? Plug it in, it might come in handy.

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A Word From The Wise

While I was enjoying my in-hospital vacation last weekend, I had an ultrasound examination of my heart, looking for places that might produce repeat performances of the stroke I’d had. The technician was a gruff old bird, a seasoned lady built like Jack Black who jammed the probe here and there with a force just shy of what was likely to crack ribs.

Between winces, I told her the story of how I had come to be in that bed, and when I had finished, she said in her take-no-prisoners voice: “Sounds like somebody needs to get somebody some flowers.” Seemed like a great idea … and so I did.

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Many of the folks I know haven’t heard of Gillian Welch,which is too bad for them. She’s an original, hard to classify into one genre. Some of her music is “alternative folk,” some could have been composed and sung in 1930. And then there are tunes that would be right at home in traditional forms of country music.

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Her albums basically consist of music being made by her and her musical partner of 25 years, David Rawlings, and that’s it. We love her stuff, here at Basecamp. Even though you will search in vain for “happy music” in her catalog, we don’t find listening to her depressing at all. More like thoughtful.

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I found out one thing by watching a half-hour of the vice-presidential debate (all that I could tolerate), and that was that Pence can lie with the worst of them. Prior to that evening, I really didn’t have an opinion about the man, and now I do, so I suppose that’s progress.

I was sorry to miss seeing the two minutes of Pence’s fly-on-the-head, though. That must have been hilarious. Wouldn’t it have been great if one of the production crew had rushed the stage with a can of RAID and blasted away? Or walked up calmly and swatted the VP with a rolled-up newspaper? One of those times when you think later about what you should have done, but didn’t follow through.

The thing that was strange was … how many times have you seen a fly stay in one place for two minutes? It’s mostly when they are perched on dead things, in my experience.

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When A. Hitler was in his bunker as the Allies roared into Berlin and overwhelmed what was left of the German army, he blamed everyone around him, including the entire German people, for failing him and his vision. Let them perish in the fire, he said (or words to that effect), they are not worthy of survival.

Does that remind anyone else of what’s going on in Washington DC right now? P.Cluck is not in a subterranean bunker, but he is lashing out in all directions, and seemingly careless of the harm he is causing our country. His attitude seems to be that if he can’t win, he can at least poison the well so badly that it will take years to clean it. Because that’s exactly what he is doing.

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Gravity Is All-Powerful Department

I attempted to purchase a pair of these pants, but my application was rejected by the company. It seems that they thought I might drag the brand down.

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I don’t spend nearly enough time reading poetry. When an American poet wins the Nobel Prize for literature and I’ve never heard of her – something is seriously amiss. That’s what happened just this past month, with regard to Louise Gluck’s receiving the prize.

So this morning I spent a little time reading some of her work. Just the tiniest smattering, of course, since her catalog is huge. But I’ve found that I could easily spend more hours hearing what she has to say. You know how people ask “What kind of music do you like?” and you have to come up with some lame answer but the truth is you like so many different forms you can’t pick just one?

No one asks what sort of poetry you like, but in my case, they well might. Because I like those that contain universality and precision, while I dislike sentimentality and weepiness. Life is hard for all homo sapiens a good deal of the time, and reading someone else’s teary descriptions of their personal mishaps … it might help exorcise their own demons, but it does nothing for me.

I’m also not crazy about poems that contain abundant references to Greek or Roman myths. I will admit it is probably because my education in these areas was so thin that I feel this way. (I could choose to educate myself instead of complaining about it, but that would require work, and there are times when sloth-ness dictates my every move.) Gluck is fond of this practice, so I had to dig around before I found these two:

The Night Migrations

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them –
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures any more;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

and another one …

The Past

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?

Phobia du Jour

I didn’t mention that I had my first MRI during my recent hospitalization. At least I think I did. When my physician told me that he had ordered the study for me I laid out a scenario for him that included my going completely out of my mind with an attack of acute psycho-killer claustrophobia. This is an as yet undescribed medical condition of which I would have been the first example in the universe.

I told the good doctor that if he put me in that tube without medication of some kind that I wouldn’t be responsible for what transpired, but I sensed that it would not be pretty, and that there would be a need for some significant cleaning up of the MRI room after whatever happened had happened.

Dr. Thompson paled, recoiled, and then scribbled “Versed” on the order sheet. As a result, I recall being rolled onto the elevator as we were heading for the radiology department, but I have no memory at all of being rolled off the elevator. What happened during my drug-induced blackout … I have to take people’s word that I actually had the study done.

I’m not particularly afraid of pain, although I will avoid it when I can, but try to confine me in a small space and you will find yourself looking at a different man indeed. My transformation from Dr. Jon to full-bore Mr. Hyde can occur in an eyeblink.

I dimly recall an episode when I was very young where I was rolled up in a small rug, as a joke. I can’t remember who did it or any other particulars, but the absolute sense of helplessness and of not being able to breathe properly were powerful enough to still affect me today. The recent horror stories in the news of the “I Can’t Breathe” variety … I am unable to read them without rousing that deep fear, down there in the sub-basement of my psyche.

Oh, the MRI itself? It showed a tiny area of injury which may slightly impair my ability to order from menus in Albanian restaurants. I can live with that.

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The Science section of the Times of New York had something interesting to say this morning. It’s about a virus – don’t worry, this is a good one – that causes a very destructive plant fungus to become a very nicely behaved fungus indeed. Botanists are trying to figure out why it does this at the same time as they study how.

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We do live in the most interesting world, don’t we? It’s pretty obvious that while our knowledge is impressive, our ignorance is on a much larger scale. But hey, don’t let it get you down. It means that there will always be something new to learn. Like today.

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From The New Yorker

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Memento Mori Department

As my own memory process becomes gradually more creative over time, quite possibly making up stuff when it can’t come up with the true facts, there are interesting little blips here and there that I know, positively know, are true. Maybe.

Johnny Nash (1940-2020)
One of those blips is the attachment of a piece of music to a particular event in my life. It happens all on its own, and those attachments are indelible. In 1974 I packed up my family in Buffalo NY and went west, driving across a good-sized chunk of Canada on our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On one of those travel days the song “I Can See Clearly Now” came over the car radio. The song was not new but was still getting a bit of airplay at the time. Johnny Nash sang it and it was my introduction to reggae music. Nash passed away yesterday, but each time I hear the tune I can vividly revisit a Canadian morning, zipping through what seemed like endless forests in Ontario.

Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
When Mr. Van Halen ran up against the limits of what he’d learned about guitar playing, why, he’d invent new ways to do it. His superpower was fingers that could move faster than those of mere mortals, almost too fast to see. What came out of his art and leadership was a passel of very memorable songs over a career that spanned nearly thirty years. One of my favorites was “Dance The Night Away,” which came out in 1979, as I was preparing to pull up roots and haul that same family to South Dakota. Here is a video of the boys doing their rock and roll thing, with all the excess and theatricality we came to expect of them.

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Well, the world is certainly going to hell in a handbasket, whatever a handbasket is. Here is a pic of two women who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry for using something called Crispr to engineer DNA. (Bravo, I say, and is there any possibility that I might have some of my genetic code re-engineered to make me taller and better-looking? Or has my Crispr moment come and gone?)

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And last night a female candidate for vice-president who is also a person of color did a number on her opponent, who is male and as white as white can be. Women have forgotten their place entirely and the world is upside down as a result.

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And finally, there is the matter of the recent editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine, which all of the journal’s editors signed, and which damns the present administration’s job performance re: the novel coronavirus.

Now, the NEJM almost never takes political positions, which makes this so very unusual. Its attack is based on the fact that our Covid response, as a nation, has been a colossal public health failure. I republish the editorial here:

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China. The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000. Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.

We know that we could have done better. China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation after an initial delay. These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States. Countries that had far more exchange with China, such as Singapore and South Korea, began intensive testing early, along with aggressive contact tracing and appropriate isolation, and have had relatively small outbreaks. And New Zealand has used these same measures, together with its geographic advantages, to come close to eliminating the disease, something that has allowed that country to limit the time of closure and to largely reopen society to a prepandemic level. In general, not only have many democracies done better than the United States, but they have also outperformed us by orders of magnitude.

Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? We have failed at almost every step. We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public. And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing. While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have. Moreover, a lack of emphasis on developing capacity has meant that U.S. test results are often long delayed, rendering the results useless for disease control.

Although we tend to focus on technology, most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated. The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust.

The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.

The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

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The Best Laid Schemes O’ Mice And Men Ganging Aft A-gley

And here’s how the story went. Robin and I had a day completely open and I had heard that the fall colors were at their best right now on the Grand Mesa. So off we went on Saturday morning. We had some apprehensions about what we would find in terms of visibility because the smoke from western fires was heavy down in the valley. But as we drove up that few thousand feet it cleared beautifully, giving us blue skies and long distance viewing.

We hiked up the Crag Crest Trail for several miles and were rewarded with some of the scenes below. After we had come back to our car, we decided to take the long way home, going all the way across the Mesa and down into the valley leading to Grand Junction. There was even more glorious viewing there on the north side of the Grand Mesa. So inspiring.

At one point as we continued towards home and were on our way through the suburb of Clifton, Robin asked me a question and I found that I could not form words. I also had developed a sort of brain fog that left me unable to help her with her question even I had been able to speak. There was no discomfort, no thing sudden or dramatic. I found myself feeling very odd, so dissociated from everything around me and puzzled but about my being unable to talk. At no time did I ever think “stroke.” I didn’t think causation all, I was just disturbed at my loss of abilities.

Robin pulled the car into a gas station/C-store and talked to the attendant, telling him that there was something happening to her husband (that would be me) and could he help? The man had a nursing background and came right out to where I was sitting on the parking lot curb. After asking a very few questions, none of which I could answer, he called for the EMTs who arrived within minutes. They wasted no time in bundling me into the ambulance, starting an IV, and whistling down the road to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. All the while I watched while still in my fog, without any emotion or fear or curiosity. The feeling I had was that of an observer, rather than the person things were happening to.

When we reached St. Mary’s I found that when a suspected stroke victim comes through the ER doors, they go right to the head of the line. Before you could say “middle cerebral artery” I had a CT scan – BAM. Then a CT scan with contrast – BAM. Then into a room where a very fine nurse described what was happening to me. Robin had by then arrived and I was trying to communicate with her, but since speech was impossible I attempted to write things out. Some times the word I wanted appeared on the paper, sometimes I could scratch out only a few letters. The nurse who stayed with us (a man named Jay), put a med into my IV and less than a minute later and while I was trying to say something to Robin, suddenly my garbled vocal growlings became real honest to God words again. In the snap of a finger.

From then on – no problems, mate! Well, not quite. Turns out that a side effect of that miraculous medication was that you could literally bleed yourself right off the planet if you ever got started. So off to the ICU I went, bed-rest and all. The bleeding worries were over in about eight hours, but they wouldn’t let me off that bed for 18 hours.

So tomorrow I go home, at least that is tonight’s plan. My everlasting thanks go out to Robin who immediately recognized a new sort of gibberish from the sort I usually speak, the C-store guy, those EMTs. the ER crew at St Mary’s Hospital, and the excellent nurses who have put up with me for these two days. First class people all the way. (FYI: St. Mary’s Hospital is a Level I Stroke Center. Keep that in mind if you’re traveling through and don’t feel quite yourself.)

I do have one tip for you all, though. If you ever find yourself here in similar circumstances, do not – I repeat – DO NOT order the scrambled eggs for breakfast. ‘Nuff said.

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Taking off my smartass hat here for a moment. I do realize how lucky I was. Any delays along the way and at best I could have been looking at years of rehabilitation. Sunday night as I was making my way toward sleep I had a few moments where some of the fear I might have had earlier came in on me all mixed up with such a sharp sense of gratitude that I was sort of a weepy mess for a few minutes.

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And finally, my hat is off to Robin. She can drive me anywhere, any time. While we were sitting on that C-store curb, I was trying to tell her to take us home where we’d figure out what was going on. Somehow she knew what I was attempting to say and turned me down flat. She is so disobedient sometimes …

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One last thing. At left is a sign above the commode in my ICU room. I have two questions.

  1. Who puts their hand in a toilet?
  2. Who would ever sit on such a stool? “Sharp device that can cause injury?”no thank you very much! No part of my body is going anywhere near this thing!

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Sermonettes In Great Abundance

My Friends, this is being published a little later than usual today, and here’s the reason. This Sunday morning I am in the Neurological ICU at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where I was brought last evening because I was having a stroke. The excellent med staff here gave me something miraculous and as far as I can tell, all of the stroke’s effects vanished in a minute. I will go on forever about it in Tuesday’s post, but just to let you know that I am fine, and probably going home tomorrow. Life is good, and although I continue to have all my bad habits, alas, I cannot play the piano.

(Of course, I could not play the piano before this happened, either.)

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It’s hard, really, to see much positive coming out of the Cluck years. You could describe them basically as a period where our country’s worst instincts, impulses, and ideas came to the fore. With his Imperial Orangeness as the cheerleader-in-chief. And you’d be right.

But he may have accidentally done this America of ours some favors, if we can survive them. We can’t blame him for creating the large body of ugliness that is racism, for instance, he’s just one part of the whole stinking mess. But without meaning to he has shown us how extensive it is, and how widely held those beliefs are. That’s a potentially good thing. It all depends on what we do with the knowledge. (BTW, when I say “us” I mean, of course, white people. Black people already knew)

And it’s not just the MAGA wackos I’m talking about. It’s Americans like me who were willing to let things be because it didn’t directly touch us. It wasn’t our houses that were burning and our children being killed.

We could turn from the front page of the newspaper to the comic section and so avoid truly dealing with the grim news that came to us day after month after year. We could send off a few bucks to the ACLU or the NAACP and get that righteous feeling that comes from performing a small good work. We could go to our clubs and organizations and come away believing that our chatter meant we were actually doing something about the injustices that we knew existed.

But we never got our hands dirty. Marching and waving a banner that said things like We Are Not Free As Long As One Man Is In Chains looked and sounded so good that it allowed us to think we had done our share in the struggle. But it was all so safe. So risk-free.

Now (and again, I speak only for myself and those like me) we johnny-come-latelys have a chance to help and must take it. By helping to rip out any rugs that can be used to sweep these horrors and unfairnesses under. By talking, by writing, by getting dirt and perhaps some blood under our fingernails as we join those who have never stopped working at these problems. As we become fully our own small part of the solution.

Think for a moment how glorious an America would be where there was true equality. No second-class citizens. Where we were finally one people where each member experienced the same degree of “liberty and justice.” We can get there, but not by going back to what was. I may not live to see this beautiful thing , but my children might. And my grandchildren will.

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From The New Yorker

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

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This morning my cats decided to play Let’s Kill Jon. It’s been the longest time since they’ve done this, so I was caught completely unawares, and they almost succeeded. They did it as a sort of tag team.

For those of you who don’t live with cats, it goes like this. You waken in the dark, perhaps because a cat is yowling in your ear or butting you with its head or is employing any one of the many tricks these creatures can use to get you up. You begin to walk toward the bedroom door when an invisible cat in front of you suddenly stops. You sense this as your right foot is swinging forward and encounters fur. At that point you try to do something that the laws of physics won’t allow, and that is to stop completely with only one foot on the floor while your body is out there ahead of it.

So you grab the door frame to halt what would certainly have been a fatal crash, and get another foot down. Then the second cat runs across your path just as you raise your left foot, and you repeat the performance, this time using a chair back in the living room. Repeat again and again , until you can find a light switch.

Next you turn the light on and confront your adversaries, both of whom have adopted “Who, me?” looks by now and are the very picture of innocence. But there is a tiny sound that you can only barely hear, and without being able to identify it 100%, you come to the conclusion that it is kitties chortling under their breath.

It’s a sometimes fractious friendship, this relationship between man and beast.

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I Now Pronounce You …

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastward Ho

This is the week (beginning on Thursday) where we will travel back to South Dakota, to attend the wedding of Robin’s niece. We will be driving, both because of Covid and because that is our preferred manner of travel. Flying is much quicker, for certain, but there is that sense of dissociation when you climb into a tube in one world and step out of that same tube into another. When we drive, we touch all of the places between origin and destination.

For instance. If it were not for driving I would know almost nothing about the entire state of Nebraska. And that would have been a shame, because I like Nebraska. At least I like it when you can get off of Interstate 80 and away from its bumper-to-bumper semi traffic. I especially enjoy traveling in the Sandhills region in the northwestern part of the state. And the butte country west of Chadron contains so much interesting history, including a plaque at the spot in Fort Robinson State Park where the Native American leader, Crazy Horse, was betrayed and killed.

It was in this part of the world that novelist Mari Sandoz grew up, and it is the place that served as the backdrop for her most famous book, Old Jules. If you ever thought your own father was a difficult person to live with when you were a child, you haven’t met Old Jules. To say he was a hard man is to seriously understate the case.

The wedding will be held outside of Yankton SD, which is of some concern, because South Dakota is one of those states with a mentally deficient governor who does not believe in anything she can’t see with her unaided eye. These pesky viruses are nothing but Democratic lies and fake germs to Governor Noem. Science – just more liberal booshwa! As a result, the state is one of the less safe places to be in America. But the wedding is scheduled outdoors, where we should be able to put some distance between us and the other attendees. At least that is the plan.

Ordinarily we would take some time to renew old and treasured friendships, but I would personally rather come back when the clouds have lifted and I can actually shake the hands of those friends, sit in their comfortable chairs, and lean back to safely inhale my share of that sweet prairie air.

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There are quite a few older citizens living in our small development here in Paradise, some even older than myself, if you can believe that. Across the street from us is a gentleman named Bruff, who moved here from North Carolina a few years ago and who lives alone. Bruff has diabetes and some neuropathic complications of that disease, so when no one had seen him for several days, and there was no response to serial knocks at his door, it prompted obvious concern. Add to this that the week before this one an ambulance had stopped at his house, for what reason no one knew.

So Robin and I appointed ourselves the investigators-in-chief, to find out if he was still among the living, and where he might be. Our local newspaper prints out very brief summaries of every police department call, and this is where we started our search. We found that on the 8th of the month the PD had indeed made a call to Bruff’s residence. There was just the notation of “Citizen assist,” whatever that might represent. So on Sunday we drove to the police department, and were fortunate enough to find a patrolman outside of the building, which was locked up.

He was very helpful, and although there were limits to what he could share with us, he did find out that the ambulance call was to pick up some things that Bruff needed, and that he was had been a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction at that time. Of course, when a stranger calls a hospital they are not fountains of information in modern times, what with HIPAA regulations and all. Not like the “old days” when they would tell a stranger on the telephone everything they ever wanted to know about a patient.

But hospital personnel did admit that Bruff was there, and transferred me to the nursing station in the Critical Care Unit. A very pleasant woman said that she would be happy to connect me with the older gentleman by phone, but I should know that he was a “little bit delirious” and she wasn’t sure how well he’d do in holding up his side of the conversation.

Before I could process what “a little bit delirious” meant, and could tell the lady let’s not bother him, I was talking with Bruff on the phone. We spoke briefly, and I passed along our concerns and those of other neighbors here in the cul-de-sac. I wasn’t sure how much he would remember, but at least we know something of where, if not why. It’s enough for now.

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There’s a remarkable op/ed article in the Times of New York dealing with the coronavirus. The text is clear, the extensive graphics and animations are highly instructional, and it puts into perspective what is happening in the U.S. and the rest of the world with regard to viral spread .

The thrust of the article is that setting up a wall is an essential part of controlling the virus. It also states clearly that what Robin and I are about to do, travel to a high-risk state and return home, could put us in the position of being being unwitting vectors for the virus. Unless we put up our own wall, that is. Which means self-quarantine for two weeks. I hadn’t given that part of our plans as much thought as I might, but by doing so we can significantly reduce the chance that we will bring back more than our memories to share with friends here.

So why go at all? Because Robin has only the one niece, and that young woman has only recently finished a course of chemotherapy for breast cancer. All this makes it a rather special set of circumstances, we think, even if it means we must run in place for a while when we return home.

Good article, though.

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We’ve given away tomatoes to anyone whose lapel was near enough to grab, and there were still a bunch that needed to be dealt with before we left on our trip to SD. So yesterday was cut ’em up and boil ’em up and make enough red Italian-seasoned sauce to last the winter. This year there are NO home canning supplies available in our area. No jars, no lids, no rings … so we saw cooking the fruit and freezing the result as our only choice. Tomorrow I’ll probably do another batch and then that’s it for 2020. End of gardening for the year.

The tomato plants look tired. It’s been a tough summer for them. Lots and lots of stress, even though we kept them well-fed and well-watered. About 1/3 of the tomatoes developed something called “sun scald,” which is an injury produced by … well, you know … too much sun.

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That Gypsy!

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

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

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

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

Jerry Garcia

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

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

Willie Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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… Nothing To Fear …

I find that in some ways I’m not a good person to discuss Covid-19 with. My internal sensors regarding exposure and risk are set differently from that of many other people that I know. I am missing some of the fear that they describe. Not all of it, but some. This is not due to courage, since I have no more of that quality than anyone else, but it comes from repeated experiences over a medical lifetime.

On Christmas Eve of 1966 I was a pediatric intern on call. A critically-ill infant had been admitted that day with meningitis, and I was covering for the physician responsible for her care. At around 10:00 P.M. she suffered her first arrest, and I began CPR immediately using an infant-sized bag and mask and chest compressions. At her second arrest an hour later, the bag malfunctioned and became unusable, and someone had to be dispatched to another area of the hospital to retrieve another. In the meantime, I used mouth-to-mouth respiration. We were once again successful in bringing the child around, but by midnight she had died in spite of our efforts.

The next morning the lab reported out the causative infectious agent as meningococcus. The members of the team that had worked with her were prescribed sulfonamide tablets as prophylaxis, and I dutifully took mine for the designated number of days and that was that.

There was no pause when the mask failed, I believed that this is what doctors did, this was part of the “contract” I signed when I decided to become a physician, even if I hadn’t thought it through as fully as I might have.

Over the years there were less dramatic episodes, but the theme was always the same. We (members of the medical team) would protect ourselves as much as was possible, but we entered those sickrooms, gave those treatments, did what was necessary to do. It was our job and we adapted to that reality in our minds.

So I completely understand the concerns and actions of workers in hospitals today who have to work with scanty protective equipment. You don’t prize your own life any less, but you took on the job on a sunnier day and now you are working in a hailstorm.

BTW, not every health care worker I have met feels this way. Some of them begin looking for the exit at the first sign of danger. I recall when Yankton SD’s first AIDS patient showed up at the hospital with appendicitis. It was early in the course of the AIDS epidemic, when information about transmission was still pretty sketchy.

It took a while to round up an OR crew to do the surgery necessary on that Sunday afternoon. Some personnel refused to answer the call. But others did, the operation went well, the young man went on his way, and his caregivers suffered no adverse effects.

So I protect myself, those around me wherever I can, and I limit my exposures. But I am intimately acquainted with the knowledge that there are perils in the world. A viral particle, a frayed bit of electrical wiring, a car being piloted by an intoxicated person. If you think too much about all the hazards that life provides, it could be almost paralyzing, couldn’t it? But we all open those doors and leave those safe spaces when the need arises. We suit up and show up. You and I.

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While I’m talking doctor stuff, I have a true short story for you. On a summer Sunday afternoon in 1967, a very ill six year-old boy was admitted to University of Minnesota Hospitals with fever, lethargy, and a dramatic rash. None of us assigned to this patient recognized the rash, so we stat-paged the chief resident on dermatology to come to the admitting examination room.

Now, for the most part, stat pages are extreme rarities in dermatologists’ lives. It is one of the attractions of the specialty, along with regular hours, weekends off, and freedom to vigorously nag anyone with a suntan. So when the derm chief resident heard the page, he grabbed a piece of equipment to bring with him to what would possibly be the only emergency call he would ever receive.

My question to you is: what did he bring with him? (Answer is below)

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From The New Yorker

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He brought a camera.

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We watched the Democratic convention again on Tuesday and Wednesday night, on ABC live. It’s interesting how the “meeting” is being presented, and of course it is basically all scripted and managed. But still some of the speakers come through those LEDs and LCDs pretty well. So far my favorites have been Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Jill Biden.

ABC has George Stephanopoulos managing a shifting group of commentators sitting at a long and socially-distanced desk. So long that not all of them are in the camera’s view unless one pulls it back a good distance. They jumped into the discussions whenever there were pauses in the “convention” schedule. I found them largely annoying.

For instance, at this point in the history of the republic, I don’t really care what Chris Christie thinks – about anything at all.

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Smoke is in the air this morning, so heavy that we can barely see the silhouettes of the San Juan Mountains to the south and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west. And the closest fire (below) is a hundred miles away from us, north of Grand Junction.

Another large fire near Glenwood Springs has closed Interstate 70 for about a week now, with no predictions as to when that vital highway will be open again. East-west traffic is being rerouted in several directions, one of them being through Montrose along Highway 50. When we returned from Leadville a couple of days ago, there was heavy traffic both ways on a road that is usually lonesome traveling.

It is truly crispy here in Paradise. The amount of rain we’ve received at mi casa this year wouldn’t make two pots of good coffee.

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Made up a quart of ghee yesterday. Got into it while learning something about Indian cuisine a while back. It’s a simple chore that produces something which is priced akin to liquid gold in grocery stores. All you need is some unsalted butter, a saucepan, and about twenty minutes of your time. Ghee is great for cooking, since it provides buttery flavor but does not brown or smoke at ordinary cooking temps. And it keeps for months at room temperatures.

There’s a decent tutorial at this website if you’re interested.

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Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings, even though, being retired, every day could really be regarded as the same as the one before and the one after. But what fun is that? Sunday is the day for cool, for resting up, for getting repairs done on the body that you’ve been beating up for the previous 144 hours.

So that’s what I am doing. Doing Sunday. Sitting here in the early morning hours with my coffee on my left and Poco snoozing on my right. (Poco is here to see that I keep the faith, baby). My plan for today includes quite a bit of sloth.

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CNN had a story this morning that started sour and ended sweet. About a mom and daughter whose sidewalk writings were being disappeared each night … but I’ll let CNN tell you the tale.

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Want something positive to think about? How about getting our present emergency under control in six weeks? The Times of New York has published a thinkpiece on just that topic, with facts to back it up.

This is without a vaccine, or monoclonal antibody therapy, or any tools other than the ones we have right now. It’s good news, folks, so should we push for it or resign ourselves to months and months of the bass-ackwardness we’ve been living with since February?

I think push is the way forward for yours truly.

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In an earlier post, I included links to a video by the Grateful Dead performing the song Ripple. Good performance from forty years ago, fun to watch. I mentioned that I thought that the words fit our present time so very well.

So here are the lyrics. Take a look and see if they hit you the same way they did me. We are in this together, people say, but we each follow our own path through life, don’t we? Which makes us sort of all alone, together.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

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I, Racist

Usually I try to read as much junk literature as I can, but somehow I’ve started a serious book, one that deals with racism. It is entitled White Fragility. The book is on my Kindle, so I know that I am 15% of the way through, and I can already tell that it’s not a book that’s going to be easy to recommend to others. So far it’s one hard fact to learn after another, but it’s one of those books that shines a needed light into some of those neglected and shady corners of a person’s mind.

It’s been a very long time since the day that I admitted to myself that there was a racist in that mix of personalities that I call Me . What puzzled me at the time was this – how did he get in there? This book begins to answer that question. It’s quite simple, according to the author, who makes the case that the formative influences are subtle, invisible, and universal. I am racist because there is almost no way I could have been anything different.

Good book so far, at least the first 15%.

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Not to worry, folks, there will be a motorcycle rally at Sturgis SD this year after all. Something like 240,000 bikers and gawkers will descend on the town to drink, race their bikes, drink, listen to music, drink, brawl, drink, and have sex. At least what sex all of that drinking will permit.

Here is what Main Street Sturgis looked like in 2015, just to set the scene.

They will not wear masks because it makes drinking awkward, nor will they pay much attention to social distancing because it does the same thing for sex. The governor of the state of South Dakota, one of the dimmer bulbs in that state’s chandelier, is happy as a clam that the bikers are coming, and she hopes that they will bring lots of money to spend. She has difficulty believing in germs … they are so small, you know.

Once bike week is over the participants will return to their home states, some carrying newly acquired coronavirus with them, and many of them will not live to see Christmas. This is the bad news. The good news is that in about two months there will be a lot of well-cared-for used motorcycles on the market, probably at very good prices.

(As long as we’re talking motorcycles and mortal illnesses, I came across this article yesterday. Odd doesn’t do it justice.)

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Robin informed me that someone in Texas is suing the governor because he has mandated mask-wearing. Lord help us. One of the most unhappy things that this pandemic has done is reveal just how many fools there are among us.

And who is us? Why, the straight-shootin’, right-minded, honorable, brave, and intelligent Americans, that’s who. You and me, for starters.

Right?

Right on.

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Wandering this morning I came across this video from 1980. As I listened today, it seems a song so well-suited to our so very confusing and disorienting time.

Ripple in still water … when there is no pebble tossed … nor wind to blow

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Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Governmentally-mandated masking is our reality now here in Colorado, as of a couple of days ago. Depending on the kindness of strangers sounded good, but there were still too many softbrains out there who thought wearing a mask was a Democratic plot to make their faces itch and in so doing drive them mad to the point that they drive their vehicles into the sides of mountains.

So now the proprietor of each business is a sort of hall monitor. If someone refuses to mask up, they are to deny them entry into their place of business. If the miscreant is already in the door and refuses to leave, trespass laws can be invoked and the gendarmerie can be summoned.

Clumsy? Clunky? Absolutely, but then what part of this whole pandemic thing is not?

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Do you know what these few cherry tomatoes that I picked Saturday represent?

VICTORY!

(Cue the music, Maestro – let’s have Happy Days Are Here Again, if you please!)

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As you know, I do not pad this blog with recipes very often, knowing full well that any of you who are doing the cooking already have a recipe library of your very own, and don’t require help from me, thank you very much!

But once in a great while I can’t help myself. The other evening I decided to try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. So I checked out a new recipe and dang it if they weren’t delicious. You can get the recipe here by searching through the excess verbiage that’s so much a part of recipe websites these days but it’s worth it, especially if you are thinking about low carb or paleo/keto eating.

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From The New Yorker

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We’re heading for Denver on Sunday morning, to practice a little social distancing with Justin and Jenny. Lots of outdoor stuff, staying in motels instead of their home, driving in separate cars, that sort of thing. I was thinking about the odds of survival for older senior citizens should they contract the virus. They are very similar to those encountered when playing Russian roulette. Which is another game, along with golf, that I long ago decided never to play.

There’s no real reason to panic, it would seem. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds (especially indoors, where a crowd for me these days is a good deal less than ten), keep your distance, enjoy outdoor activities, etc. Since persons of Norwegian ancestry do not have much of a reputation as huggers, the social distancing thing has come fairly easily.

It’s all a great pain in the butt, and I will be the first in line for a vaccination when one finally arrives. And after I’ve had my shot, I will go right back to doing what I’m doing now until I see how things shake out. In general, rushing vaccine development has in the past not been considered the best way to carry out an immunization program. But these are not ordinary days, are they?

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The Buzz

You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about being stung by the yellowjackets that have terrorized us in our yard each summer that we’ve lived here in Paradise. The reason is that I think I’ve found the way, finally, to live an outdoor life at home without being annoyed by these aggressive bugs. I go for the queens.

In past years I’ve waited until the swarms arise in the warmth of the day and fly in malignant squadrons back and forth looking for innocent flesh into which to plunge their barbs. I never caught up, and was always two steps and a swollen forehead or finger behind the beasts.

But this year I put out the traps I have always used, but I put them out in March … before the little darlings even showed up for their summers’ target practice. These traps attract the insects and do them in, and I believe that in 2020 I got the devices out early enough to catch the queens wandering by with their retinues. Much more efficient to catch one queen than a thousand soldiers, I always say, or at least I will from now on.

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Here are three more cuts from Bob Dylan’s latest album:
I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You
Black Rider
Goodbye Jimmy Reed

For those of you of tender years out there … try to imagine your life without Dylan songs playing all through it … putting words to thoughts and emotions you were carrying around but were having trouble expressing … imagine it, if you can.

I can’t.

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Hey, friends, did you ever think that OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY would be regarded as so pestilential that we couldn’t go visit foreign countries any time we wanted to? That’s where we are today. Even Canada doesn’t want us bringing our stuff up there. And really, who can blame them? We’re a soggy, highly infectious mess that can’t follow common sense rules.

There was even an incident where an American airline traveler refused to wear a mask.

On a plane.

In that crabbed and crowded passenger cabin which is a microorganisms paradise.

[I heard that the problem was solved by relocating the gentleman to a new seat in Aisle 13z, which was on the wing, while the plane was over Wyoming. With the low population density that that state enjoys it was thought unlikely that he would hit anyone on his way down. I must emphasize that this is only a rumor, and hasn’t been independently verified.]

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These are the elements of my new office-on-the-deck this summer of the plague. Robin has begun to mock me gently by saying that the only one who spends more time in the backyard than me is our senior cat, Poco. But he does it quietly, sleeping over behind the tomato planters in the shade, while I create more of a disturbance.

I don’t have much to say in my defense. I can be quite a bother, sometimes. If I wasn’t so damned charming I’m pretty certain she would have shown me the door long ago.

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Bedtime Follies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like I was at the time I read them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

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I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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Signs of the Times

The people in our neighborhood are not given to posting signs in their yards, with two exceptions. The Trump/Pence Codger three doors down, and us. BTW, the Codger is an unpleasant man whose response when invited to the annual HOA picnic was: “I don’t eat with liberals.” We did not repeat the invitation the next year. Wouldn’t want to harass the old bugger and spoil his appetite.

Yesterday the BIDEN sign Robin had ordered arrived, and is already proudly displayed out on the berm. Unfortunately, we don’t know who his running mate will be, so we’ll need a new placard some months down the road.

In this basically “red” county, anything “blue” comes like a poke in the eye to the Republicans which we are glad to provide.

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Pandemic Puzzlement

As time goes by, it’s harder to understand the empty shelf spaces in grocery stores. Surely most of the hoarders are done by now (God knows they will never have to buy another roll of TP in their miserable lives, and will be able to pass them on to their heirs – “And to my son George, I leave my garageful of Charmin Special with Lotion …”).

But why shortages of canned goods? Frozen vegetables? These items are just sitting somewhere in warehouses … how are all of these supply chains being disrupted?

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From The New Yorker

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It occurred to me that the header photo would be a good visual metaphor for the ferment sweeping through the country right now. A high wind is blowing and sweeping many things before it.

Anyone who sees how much damage racism has done to this land is hopeful that this will be the time … that from this moment on no more knees will be placed on black necks by psychopaths with badges.

The call is out there for those of us who are not black to march, to write, to raise our voices in concert with those of people of color. Our silence has made us the passive accomplices of those brutes who continue to murder black men and women with impunity.

I use the rhetorical “us” in the above paragraph and that may be too general a pronoun. What I have written certainly applies to me, and that is all I truly know.

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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Our gym (Gold’s) has re-opened, and we attended a couple of days ago for the first time. Their response to the emergency is to provide more materials (and encourage their employment) to disinfect each machine immediately after use. These were previously available but their usage was irregular to say the least.

The other major change, at least in the case of the treadmills, ellipticals, etc. was to retire every other station, creating a proper social distancing. Mask-wearing is left up to the client’s discretion.

At first I was disappointed in not being required to mask up, but then I thought more about it and realized that there were special considerations for some of us.

For instance, were I to wear a mask while exercising, there would always be the chance that I might inhale the entire contraption during some of the gasping that occurs. And I’m pretty sure that would not be a good thing for me.

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… Not The Motorcycle

Among all the stories and articles dealing with Covid-19 there are sprinkled individual reports of a disease in young children who’ve developed inflammation of blood vessels in locations all around the body. Some of these kids have died of heart-related problems, and many of them are Covid-19 positive.

There is mention of the disease Kawasaki syndrome in some of these articles, because of many similarities between the two conditions. The pic below is of a child with Kawasaki syndrome, and he is obviously displeased with his diagnosis.

This disease was first described in 1967 in Japan, later spread across the globe, and as of today we still don’t know its cause. Which is what is so intriguing about the newer syndrome and its relationship to a specific virus.

I have a Kawasaki story. Well, two of them, really.

The first one is very short. My first motorcycle was a 400cc Kawasaki street bike. I loved it and would have kept it forever but one day I saw a Honda Gold Wing on the dealership sales floor and she twisted my mind and I followed her and left that marvelous KZ400 behind. I wonder whatever became of her.

.

The second story follows.

I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I first read about Kawasaki syndrome. That was in 1974, and the article was in the journal Pediatrics. Part of the disease’s presentation was a fairly dramatic rash, and the idea that babies with this condition were dying of “heart attacks” was alarming. I looked at the color plates accompanying the reports, and mentally filed them away.

Initially all of the cases were in Japan, but then there were reports from the Philippines, later Hawaii, and finally in 1976 there were kids on the west coast with the disease. It had traveled and been tracked making its way across the Pacific Ocean, and behaved much as an infection would.

And then there came a day in 1977 when I walked into an exam room in my office in remote Hancock MI and saw a child who had presented with a florid skin rash and a fever. My first reaction was “What the hell is this? I’ve not seen anything like … wait … yes, I have seen that rash somewhere before.” So I dug out the articles and yep, this child turned out to be the first case of Kawasaki syndrome diagnosed in the Upper Peninsula, sitting right there in a small room in the middle of the continent.*

By then several things were known about the syndrome. First, that unless you had heart involvement you were going to be miserable for a week or two but would most likely make a complete recovery. And second, if the vessels in the patient’s heart were inflamed, treatment with intravenous gamma globulin was very effective in reversing these lesions.

Since the UP was a pediatric cardiologic desert, I immediately sent the boy downstate to Ann Arbor, where they found that his heart was involved and the child was soon treated with IVGG, with a happy outcome.

So I will watch the present situation with both old and new interest.

*[This story is not told to point out how wonderful a clinician I was, although that is certainly true and I will be the first to admit it, but that the information necessary to make such a diagnosis was available to physicians even in remote and unlikely locations.]

*

When I was a pediatric resident, on Saturday mornings we attended Dr. Good’s Rounds. Dr. Robert A. Good was one of the few true geniuses that I’ve met, and each week we would present him a case as an unknown and try to stump him. We never did.

On one occasion, after the resident had laid out the clinical aspects of a case, Dr. Good began: “Well, the most interesting part of this child’s problems is the presence of those vascular lesions …” and he stopped to look around at our group. He began again: “By the way, you do know that eventually all diseases will be found to be infectious in origin, don’t you?” We nodded dutifully, even though of course we’d never heard such a statement before.

Kawasaki syndrome reeks of being infectious in origin, and the recent Covid experience only adds to that odor. So why haven’t we found the cause of Kawasaki syndrome after all this time? Because we need a new flashlight, obviously.

Let’s say that at some time in your life you went camping. Exactly an hour after everyone has settled down and is sleeping, you wake to find that you require the sort of comfort that a privy can provide. You reluctantly leave your warm sleeping bag and turn on that little easy-to-carry flashlight with the anemic amount of light that it provides and make your way to the outhouse, tripping over every root and rock in the path because you can’t see them clearly.

But you learned something from that negative experience.

So when you return to civilization, you make a trip to a hardware store and buy the biggest, brightest flashlight you can afford, and the next time you make that chilly trip to the toilet you see everything. The roots, the rocks, the raccoons, something ominous that slithered away into the underbrush – it’s all out there. Technological progress has improved your life.

*

It’s the same in medicine.

As a junior medical student I was required to attend a series of lectures on physical diagnosis. We were learning the art of eliciting information through touching patients’ bodies, listening to their hearts and lungs, and asking them to perform certain tasks. All terribly important stuff. Skills and knowledge that had been basically unchanged for a hundred years.

One day, after an hour of talking to us about stethoscopes and the alteration of the sounds you hear caused by diseases of the lungs, and of the art of percussion of the chest (the tapping while listening), the lecturing pulmonologist paused.

“Now,” he said, “I must tell you that everything I have talked about so far this morning is not worth the diagnostic value of a single chest x-ray.” And he closed his notebook and left the room.

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The discovery of x-rays was a revolutionary thing. It was the newest and best flashlight of 1913. But what amazing ones were to follow – the CT scan, brain scan, PET scan, MRI, etc. And that was just in the radiology department.

Each time there is a technical advance, we learn new stuff. Not just about what we might have been studying at the time, but other things as well. We’re unfortunately accustomed to the term collateral damage, as when a weapon kills innocents along with the intended target.

Well, there is such a thing as collateral learning as well. This occurs when a tool is developed and all of a sudden uses are found for it far from the original plans.** As an example, all of the diagnostic testing now being done for Covid-19 uses technology that didn’t exist when I started out in medicine.

Each time we get one of those new flashlights, people begin immediately shining them everywhere and oh, what things we learn. But so far, no new beam to shine on Kawasaki syndrome, not yet.

**[Steve Jobs was particularly conscious of this phenomenon. When he first presented the iPhone, he knew that it was a remarkable technical achievement, but that neither he nor anyone else could know how it would eventually be used. That was where we came in. And who could have imagined how useful it has become?]

*

BTW, as long as we’re on the subject, you do know what the world’s most powerful diagnostic instrument is, don’t you? And it’s been around for a thousand years?

It’s the retrospectoscope. With it you can look backward in time, and declare “I knew it all along!” to everyone who is within earshot and you believe may be susceptible to your unmerited self-praise.

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Of Earth

Our weather this Spring has been marked by sunshine and a dry wind that comes up mid-morning. It’s been a striking change for us, after six years here in Paradise where we largely were able to forget about those breezy prairie days back in South Dakota. It’s been this way for at least a month.

The wind blows hard enough that we’ve shifted some of our outdoor exercising from midday to earlier in the morning to avoid it. We love bicycling, but both of us find a 20+ mph headwind distracting. Plus, in this arid country any stiff breeze always carries a bit of the topography with it, and rubbing bits of Colorado out of one’s eyes quickly becomes tiresome.

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Out tiny garden is doing well so far. Blossoms on tomatoes and all that. Of course, if we didn’t follow the admonition “Just add water” nothing would survive at all. What the heavens don’t provide, we do.

Here are the plantings we’ve done this year, and I know these tender seedlings would appreciate your thoughts and prayers. When they see me come to tend them they must shudder inside, knowing the risks they are being exposed to.

  • leaf lettuce
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • basil (already died off of a chill)
  • kale

As you can see, we’ve focused heavily on plants containing lots of anti-oxidants. I think Robin and I need all of those we can get, since there are days when I think I am oxidizing way too rapidly for my own good.

It’s all for fun, since we basically eat the output as fast as it comes to maturity. Gardening the way we do it is much like fishing is for me. You don’t want to calculate the price of those fish per pound or you’d never get in the boat.

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The best gardener that I’ve personally known was Ida Jacobson, my maternal grandmother. Her husband Nels took care of the rest of the farm, but the garden was Ida’s baby. And it was not a hobby, not for Grandma J.

She used the garden to feed her family, and her small home on their farm had a “root cellar” below it for storage. (Like the one in Wizard of Oz where the family took shelter from the tornado.)

Rough board shelves lined the smallish space, and they were filled with cans and bottles containing pickles of various sorts, corn, squashes, peas, string beans, etc. Since there were several apple trees on the farmstead, many many jars of the most excellent applesauce were up there as well.

The floor of the cellar was earthen, as were the walls. When you went down into the dim cellar you shared the room with the creepy crawly things that called it home, and selected the jar or can you wanted paying close attention that you didn’t grab something that grabbed you back.

Grandma Jacobson’s gardens did not fail. They weren’t allowed to. They were luxuriant examples of how it could be, for me to remember and in my small way try to emulate today. Of course, she had access to all of the premier fertilizer one could ever want, gathered from barns and chicken coops, and she put those homely substances to doing serious work for those she loved and cared for.

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I spoke of fishing a few moments ago. Although I’ve purchased a 2020 Colorado license, the winds have kept me from doing much in this regard. I’m still a newbie to fly fishing, but have already learned that you catch no fish unless the fly hits the water, and when the air goes by at turnpike speeds that doesn’t happen.

Also, the fly will only go in the direction of the breeze, and that may not even be where the water is located. So until wind velocities come down a bit, I will not bother cluttering up the car with rods and reels. Patience is one hallmark of the true angler and I am well supplied with that. (Of course, skill is another hallmark, but you can’t have everything, can you?)

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This was Wednesday’s Google doodle. Lovely bit. From all accounts, a lovely man.

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Our governor said in his radio message Wednesday that he believes 50% of Coloradans are walking around carrying the novel coronavirus. Most of them (us?) are not ill.

He’s not a man given to rash statements, so his health advisers must have data that suggest this number is close to a true one. Let’s say that he is correct. Now the question is – how long does it persist on that healthy human being to the point that he or she could infect another person? How long before it fades away?

It’s like living in one of those old movie serials I attended as a kid, where the hero falls off a cliff in Episode 2 (he’s dead for sure now!), and then at the beginning of Episode 3 is shown clinging to a shrub until rescuers arrive (it’s a miracle!). It’s best that we don’t get too elated or depressed by news reports as each day passes. It will be some time before we know the whole story.

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Boundaries

Even that premier outpost of serenity and beauty and timelessness is caught up in the plague. It’s been closed up until now, and the details of just how it will open are being worked out as we speak. I’m talking about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, of course. The “BW.”

What it looks like is that all of the forest service campgrounds on its periphery will remain closed for the time being, but the wilderness campsites will be opened up. So if you can get your canoe into the water, you’ll be okay.

Out there fits pretty well with the rules of social distancing, since most sites are a rather long swim apart from one another.

It’s just another reason to be glad that we took our trip there with Aiden last year rather than this one. Adding such confusion to all of the other considerations would have been most irritating and/or anxiety-provoking.

Let’s toss in a BWCA gallery here, shall we? It covers nearly 50 years of visits to this evocative place.

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For Robin, there is a paradox in our present pestilence-based predicament. The days fly by, but the months seem to pass glacially slowly. She thought the past April would never end. For her, it was the longest one ever.

I get it.

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Living in coronaland … it’s all about boundaries, isn’t it? Since the enemy is invisible, we depend upon the measuring tape to keep us safe. Six feet apart is enough to reduce (but not eliminate) contagion, so that’s what we keep. My personal space now has a number, whereas it used to only exist in my mind. That number is the area of a circle with a six foot radius, or about 113 square feet.

I’m pretty sure that last week at City Market somebody trod in my space several times. Each of these intrusions happened behind me so I can’t be sure, but you sense these things, don’t you?

Yesterday I went to the market, and as I was filling my cart I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to put my mask on before entering the store, that it was still in the car and hanging uselessly from the rearview mirror. It was like finding that I was naked in public. An archetypal nightmare come to life. My face hanging out there for all to see.

I quickly paid for the groceries and fled the store. I didn’t meet anyone that I knew, but for certain the whole shameful episode is recorded on the store’s CCTV, and what if that got out?

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This month’s issue of Consumer Reports has a puzzling headline – How To Eat Less Plastic. Puzzling because my own outlook on the subject is to eat none at all.

Apparently that choice has been taken from me by the packaging industry. Unless I grow all my own food and throw away all our Tupperware and SaranWrap, I will be nibbling on polystyrene et al for the time being.

Then for no reason at all this morning I decided to read up on sous vide cooking, which is the new/old method that obsessive/compulsives are employing these days when they take to food preparation. One cooks meats at a precise and quite low temperature, in a water bath, and according to the gushing literature you ain’t tasted nothing until you have bitten into one of these things.

There are putative advantages to this method, including that each steak you ever cook will allegedly taste just like the previous one because you leave nothing to chance. I have not given it a try, but to me one of the interesting things in life is variability. When I go to cooking on the grill I really have no no clear idea whether I will be serving perfection or a sort of charcoal jerky.

Oh, I fuss about it and all, but it’s the gamble that’s all part of the fun of it for me.

And you probably caught that the meat is cooked in a constant temperature water bath – so how do you keep it from becoming a gray and tasteless blob? Why, you seal it in plastic, of course. Which brings us round to Consumer Reports, where we started out.

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Update on plague haircuts.

In these days of insecurity and more questions than answers, one of the interesting things is that getting a haircut at a salon is considered slightly dangerous. Here in Montrose, you go to the salon by appointment only, wait in your car to be called in, fill out a medical questionnaire, and cleanse your hands with Purell. You then to back to a sink where you wash your hands in the Happy Birthday manner.

Only then is it into the chair and on with the snipping.

But this only began again this week. Prior to this week, this has been the Spring where you either cut your own hair or went unshorn. As you know, I chose the former path, and am happy enough with the results than I may continue the practice out of a combination of sloth, a shortage of vanity, and cheapskatedness.

Even when getting a haircut becomes once again just that, and is not on the level of playing Russian roulette.

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Out & About in Coronaland

For the first time since the emergency began, Robin and I went out with our friends, the Evanses. Cautiously.

We chose an outdoor activity – bicycling – along the bike trail that runs from Ridgway State Park into the town of Ridgway itself. An eight-mile really lovely pedal along the river. On a golden sunny day in the 70s. Mostly we were safe distances apart, even though we relaxed our mask-wearing a bit.

At the end of the ride we had prepared a picnic lunch … actually … two picnic lunches. Each couple made and ate their own food, without sharing. Not quite as much fun as “you bring this and I’ll bring that” but it worked out okay, and guidelines were pretty much observed.

Interesting, though, was our table conversation. We’d all separately come to the conclusion from all we’d read and seen that we were all going to contract the coronavirus eventually. That it was inevitable, what with its silent spread through the population, lack of anything protective being presently offered, and the demonstrated infectiousness of the beast.

It was only a matter of when. We agreed that of the two choices – go ahead and catch it and get it over with vs. putting it off as long as circumstances allowed, we were all choosing the put-off strategy. There was always some small chance for a vaccine or an antiviral chemotherapeutic being developed.

And although the four of us are in the high-risk group, that still meant that as far as the statistics provided so far, we have an 88% chance of survival if we do come down with the disease.

It may not seem like cheerful table conversation, but at least there was no denial, no “it won’t happen to me as long as I keep on doing these magical things.” And facing what can’t be run from is liberating and requires much less energy than stuffing it away does.

So … four happy non-campers pedaling from country to town and back again. Good conversations. Great fun.

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On Sunday, we traveled to the Purgatory ski area near Durango and rendezvoused with Amy, Neil, & the kids. We repeated the social distancing picnic of Saturday and added a hike down the mountain (and back up) to the Animas River gorge this time.

Weather was excellent, the trail was strenuous and led us to beautiful overlooks, and the company was cheerful and energetic. The Hurley family are always good hosts, even under the present awkward circumstances.

There were no hugs on Mother’s Day for Robin, but she was still in the physical presence of some of her favorite people on the planet. Turns out that counts for quite a bit.

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From The New Yorker

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The standoff between the governor of South Dakota and Native American tribes over who gets to control access to reservation lands continues. The governor says the tribes don’t get to have their own checkpoints on highways running through the reservation, the tribes say it’s their only way to protect their vulnerable people.

The above photograph of the Republican caucus at a recent session of the SD legislature may go a long way in explaining why the tribes have lost confidence and taken matters into their own hands.

Governor Noem has also been in the news recently for having decided to let the coronavirus burn a swath through her own state rather have her office take a stand and interfere. As a result, SD has moved considerably up the list of new Covid-19 cases per capita.

Rumor has it that many people have tried to explain the germ theory of disease causation to her without success.

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The NYTimes has tried to help us out in our social distancing by reviewing stuff we could profitably watch on television. Monday morning one of the recommendations that newspaper made will make most of my family nod their heads and exclaim: “Yes, yes, there you go, New York Times.”

The author of the piece tells us all why re-watching Little House on the Prairie episodes could be a good thing for a person. Of course, I am about the only one in my extended household who needs such a reminder.

One of my problems, and I admit that it is a petty one, is that I could never get past Michael Landon’s hair. I knew that there never had been a pioneer Minnesotan/South Dakotan farmer with such a coiffure. So what other less obvious stuff was baloney as well, I would ask myself?

I know, I missed the point entirely, didn’t I?

But out Michael would come in his un-pioneer shirt and his big hair and my hands would instinctively reach for the remote.

.

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Living in this very awkward and tense time has very few positives … unless you’re a bit strange. Like myself. Speaking as a guy who dealt with infectious diseases for 35 years on a very basic clinical level, these are fascinating times.

This mindless microscopic bit of RNA has changed the course of life around the world for several months now. It popped up in Wuhan but quickly hitched rides on planes to places everywhere. Usually a new viral disease is of more local interest. The CDC gets a call and the experts get cracking while you and I learn about it only if we read the “science” sections of the newspaper.

But this time we’re all in the middle of it. There is no safe and dispassionate sanctuary to go to. We are all the guinea pigs. Social distancing, quarantines, “shutting down,” the quest for a vaccine and/or a therapeutic drug – the lot of us are darting around in a very big laboratory while scientists try to find where the light-switch is located.

And the variations in the clinical picture – the loss of sense of smell and taste in some folks, the “covid toes,” the widespread inflammatory disease that arises in some children who test positive, the people who don’t even know they are positive, the people who seem to be doing okay and then the bottom falls out and they move from one statistical column to another. These are all parts of a puzzle that Nature created and that brilliant minds are working overtime to solve. Watching that effort is elevating and fascinating.

For some reason this reminded me of that scene from the first Jurassic Park movie, where the hired hunter is stalking a trio of velociraptors and is drawing a bead on one of them when … well, watch the clip.

The analytic part of this man’s brain went into play immediately and he fully appreciated the drama of which he was a part. Even if not for long.

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