Petty Larceny

In playing with this thing I call a blog, I rely heavily on theft. I have been getting away with it for more than a decade now only because the journal is a thing of modest circulation, and it is by no means a commercial venture.

I write for fun. Part of that fun is digging around on the internet for images to sprinkle between the words. I could try to contact the sources of those things, but that would change significantly what I was doing. My practice is to write something down today, and you read it in a day or two. There is no way that I could get permission fast enough to make this system work … and so I have become a pilferer of pictures.

But it’s not always an easy thing to do. It does require some effort on my part. Let’s take cartoons, for example. The New Yorker magazine is one of my solid sources for them, but I find that even there, the majority of their cartoons don’t appeal to me. Out of today’s “Cartoons from the issue,” for example, I picked out only one of eighteen to share. The rest … meh. Here is today’s “winner.”

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This morning at around two a.m. the wind came up suddenly and with such ferocity that it sounded like workmen out there in the neighborhood, banging on things and operating machinery. It actually woke me up, which is unusual since I habitually sleep through the most violent soundscapes, only to be wakened later by Robin trying to carefully open a door without disturbing me.

I notice only what I have to notice, even when asleep. You know that there is a part of your brain that never rests, that never takes days off. It’s the part that is in charge, among other things, of making sure that we don’t fall out of bed every night. It knows where the edge of the mattress is and acts accordingly. The part that is continually scanning the sounds in the house and occasionally wakes us to go and check them out, just in case there is a burglar or an axe murderer out there in the kitchen. The part that knows when it is time to empty one’s bladder and sends an alert.

In these cases the brain does its job so well that we don’t even notice or give it credit. We only complain when it fails. It’s been decades since I have fallen out of bed. My tally on axe murderers is zero so far, for which I am sincerely grateful. The bladder thing … still working but the margins are slimmer than twenty years ago. These days it goes off around two in the morning, and I don’t have the luxury of taking time to decide whether I will answer that call or not. I just wake up and hit the ground stepping smartly towards the WC.

The morning’s wind is the predecessor of what is predicted to be a wet and possibly snowy day. That would be very okay with me. Since I moved to Paradise seven years ago, I have never met a rainfall that I didn’t like.

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The Christmas truces were a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of the First World War around Christmas 1914. The image below is a contemporary artist’s interpretation of the event at one location.

“The truce occurred five months after hostilities had begun. Lulls occurred in the fighting as armies ran out of men and munitions and commanders reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs.

There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. Hostilities continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from commanders, prohibiting truces. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after the human losses suffered during the battles of 1915.

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period and reflected a mood of “live and let live,” where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades; in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in view of the enemy.

The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in quiet sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.”

Wikipedia: The Christmas Truce of 1914.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that the powers-that-were found this practice unacceptable, and over the next several years of the war such inspiring goings-on basically disappeared. This morning I found myself wondering why this was such a heart-warming story to me? After all, once the holiday had passed the combatants returned to the business of killing or maiming one another with gusto.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.

Robert Schuman.org

What the stories mean to me today is that it seems to be very difficult to completely erase the decency within human beings, even when they are involved in the hellish endeavor that is war. The Great War went on, of course for four more bloody and nightmarish years after that Christmas of 1914.

Maybe a way to put all of this together can be found in the meaning behind the African proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The gentlemen in the artwork above represent the grass, the governments that put them there being the elephants.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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Yesterday’s trip to the grocery store was interesting in that really for the first time this year, the place was full of Tellurideans. Planes filled with well-to-do visitors land at our airport, the passengers are loaded into “limos,” which are basically big black Chevy Suburbans and other similarly-sized transport vehicles, and they are then driven to the City Market. While there is a grocer in Telluride itself, the store is smaller and the prices are higher, so these folks are given time to stock up before striking out for the 50 minute trip to that village.

So if you go to the store and find yourself suddenly shopping alongside rafts of people who are generally more expensively dressed than the typical Montrosean, and who ooze a sense of entitlement, you know there is snow on the mountain without even looking out the window. You can tell those who are visiting our town for the first time, because they are surprised that we have electricity and indoor plumbing. And to imagine that there is a grocery with a first-rate cheese shop within it … why, will wonders never cease? But, they must wonder, who buys this cheese when they (the Tellurideans) go home? Surely not the natives?

But they are a colorful and pleasantly chatty bunch, these travelers, as long as they are not thwarted in their search for provisions. At the deli area is where you find most of the confrontations occurring, as customers haggle over how thick or thin the slices are, and “why don’t you carry _____, for God’s sake?”

But the workers at the checkouts are familiar with handling resorters and keep things moving along quickly so that they can all be loaded into those “limos” and sent on their way. There is lots of smiling and nodding of heads and little scenes of faux commiserating:“Oh no, half of your luggage went to the Ukraine, what a trial that must be! You poor things.” It’s a perennial roadshow drama, with each population group dependent on the other while being slightly contemptuous of them at the same time.

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Each year Robin makes a batch of fudge, usually to share with others. It is always delicious, and no one ever says: “No thank you, I don’t want any this year.”

It may have something to do with the fact that there are three main ingredients … chocolate, sugar, and butter. Enough butter to fry a thousand eggs, in fact. A whole pound of it in each small batch. I strongly suspect that if one were to decide to end it all, eating an entire plateful of the stuff would do the trick, as arteries one by one gave up the ghost while the person’s serum butter level approached 1000.

But that person would be found sitting smiling in their chair with just the trace of chocolate at the corners of their mouth. Not an altogether bad way to go. In smaller doses, however, it is simply excellent.

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Down On The Farm? Ewwwww … Nossir!

So far I’ve not been too excited about the coming electric vehicle “revolution.” The cars are smooth and fairly reliable, and they will carry a person comfortably from one place to another as long as those two places aren’t too far apart. Some of them will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in around three seconds, which is a really useful characteristic for a car to have, especially with many more older drivers on the road whose reflexes may have slowed a bit. Put Grandpa at the wheel of a new Tesla, for instance, and if he gets a cramp in that right leg he can be going 100 mph before he hits that light pole in the parking lot at City Market.

But a vehicle is on the horizon that finally gets my pulse up a few beats. The Rivian pickup truck is the one. It is not a truck meant for serious work on a farm or at the workplace. No, no, there will be none of that. Manure will never touch its bed. It is meant for the well-heeled wanderer, to be used primarily for glamping. If you want to load it up with everything the price is somewhere north of $91,000.

It’s true that the truck can get to 60 mph in a hair over 3 seconds. It can tow 11,000 pounds. It can be configured to have 15 inches of ground clearance. It has a motor on each wheel, which adds up to a total of around 800 horsepower. It can drive through a river that is three feet deep. And to top it all, my friends, it can do this:

Now I admit that there are very few times in my life when I have wanted to do a “tank turn” as in the video. There were those two episodes when I found myself having taken a wrong turn and briefly going down the wrong direction on a busy highway where it would have been handy, but that’s about it.

So I don’t think that I’ll put my order in just yet. For instance, I would like the truck to go quite a bit farther than its 300 mile range before it runs out of electricity. And if they would knock $50,000 off the sticker price it would be a lot more attractive. But I think I may have finally found an electric vehicle that would fit the style in which I imagine myself living, that of the gentleman adventurer.

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Followup photo of Robin in her PT outfit at the Mountain View Therapy center this week.

I think it’s quite stylish, but Robin vehemently disagrees. Whenever I suggest that she wear it out in public I get the look that says “Just shoot me first.”

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve now used up all of our Thanksgiving leftovers, so the day is officially behind us and we can go on to other things. It’s always painful when you look up from licking the last crumbs from the bowl that the decadent marshmallow-encrusted yams were served in and see the look on the face of your spouse which is “Who is this disgusting person?”

But crushed egos recover, as I know mine will, in time. And Robin really should be used to my habits by now if she was paying attention at all over the past 29 1/2 years. Perhaps when we were dating I concealed my tendency toward gluttony from her, but I’ve been open about it ever since. The telltale orange-stained fingertips indicating that an entire bag of Cheetos were now history, or the half-eaten ice cream carton that any knowledgeable archeologist can see was taken down to that point by a man with a spoon in his hand and no sense of decency at all. Oh, and how about that slice of turkey in the Tupperware container that is missing a chunk with a bite radius that exactly matches my own. These are among the telltale signs of a person not to be trusted with your edibles.

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From The New Yorker

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As recently as five years ago, I was taking no prescription medications. When friends would list the several drugs they were taking for this and that I admit that I thought to myself “Poor bastards, they have been afflicted, but I, for reasons quite unknown to me, have not. Perhaps it’s because I have lived such an exemplary and blameless life.”

Those thoughts have come back to haunt me now as I spend part of each morning and evening shoving chemicals down my gullet in order to preserve life and limb. That is, at least statistically because no sensible physician makes guarantees as they hand out prescriptions for the many tablets, caplets, capsules, and powders at their disposal.

At present I take one to calm down that sneaky blood pressure, one because the laboratory tells me that my lipids are slightly out of whack, and one aimed at reducing the likelihood of having another stroke. I also take one to calm my allergies down, a part of my immune system that continues to get more robust with time, while experts tell me that the rest of that same system is going all to hell (life does have a sense of humor).

So there is no more feeling superior to my contemporaries for me, as I am right in there in the pharmacy lines with everybody else, munching on yet another slice of humble pie.

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Lastly, here is a short sketch from SNL that you might enjoy.

Jon: This has my nomination for the best Saturday Night Live sketch of the year.

Robin: I don’t know ’bout that.

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Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News …

It’s Monday morning and we’re at the local hospital by 0630. A few minutes in admissions and then up one floor to the surgical suite. At this point Robin is whisked away by a very pleasant masked woman. I will not see my friend again until she is in recovery. I wish her well before she disappears behind a door. The well-being of the person I love most in the world is now completely out of my hands for the next several hours. I will learn what the OR staff wants me to learn when they want me to learn it.

At this point I am going on 99% confidence and trust in the process. Trust that everyone on the OR staff knows their role cold, is in good physical and mental condition, and that Robin’s body will do its part as well. But there is that 1% of me that worries. You can’t have been in this business and not have some reservations, because you have a personal collection of stories of snafus in the operating rooms that go back 50 years.

I did not sleep well last night and I am nodding in the waiting room, in danger of falling off my chair and embarrassing myself. So I am the second person in the line for hot coffee when the cafeteria opens at 0730. The other person looks like they’ve been here all night. It’s a little known fact that spending time in a hospital waiting room in magnifies every defect in your appearance and costume. If you normally look slightly haggard, now you are actually scary-looking and small children clutch at their parents’ clothing as you pass. Creases in shirts and pants appear as if by magic, generally going in an unnatural diagonal direction across your body. The same goes with creases in your face, and bags under eyes that you never had before are now the size of fanny packs.

I don’t know why or how this happens, but I have observed it thousands of times in others before today, and it is starting to show up in my mirror-reflection this morning.

By 1000 hours the orthopedist has stopped by to tell me that all went swimmingly, and that Robin will soon be moving to her room. By 1030 I am talking to her in person. At 1400 the nurses get her up for a short walk in her room. At 1600 she takes another walk down the station corridor before returning to her bed.

Quite a day, actually.

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I have developed an affection for the physical therapist who managed Robin’s treatment after surgery. Not because of his professional skills, which were excellent, but because he laughed at all of my lame attempts at humor. Convincingly. That is not an easy task, since I have heard tapes of myself doing jokes and mostly they just make me want to step into a closet until everyone goes away.

But Fred is neither condescending nor patronizing. He’s the audience of one that you dream about.

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In anticipation of the next several days, which we will call Just What I Kneeded week here at BaseCamp, I present a trio of hospital-based toons stolen from The New Yorker.

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Doctor Music Is Always In

Looking back I see that I have a habit reserved for times when emotions overwhelm me. For times so sharp that I have no words, when it becomes just me in a room with the pain or sorrow. Everybody eventually runs up against days like this, I think. Of course, how would I know? My troubles are mine … yours are yours … but mine will hang around and bedevil me until I finally sit down with them.

So that habitual way that I have of coping when the world is just too much is to pick out a piece of music and put it on endless repeat so that it becomes a mantra that I hear rather than speak. Doing this somehow opens a door and I am able to let go. I am always alone at such times, and if anyone were to wander in the door they would find a guy pretty much useless for anything for a while. I think the word unstrung is what describes at such moments best.

There was the New Year’s Eve when poor old John Lennon had to sing “Imagine” … maybe thirty times in a row … for only me. There was the evening after a kitty of ours named Rosa had died following a terrible two-day illness that neither the vet nor I were able to help. Hours when The Red House Painters song, All Mixed Up, became the background music for the release of emotions that had built up over those 48 hours when we were trying clumsily and ineffectually to save her life.

Many of us have such moments in our lives. Bottling things up is generally not a good long-term strategy, we are told. Finding ways to release those pressures is what therapy does for us, and in situations like these I’ve found music to be oh so therapeutic.

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I would like to call attention to an American hero, Sister Helen Prejean. She is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, an account of her serving as spiritual advisor to a condemned man named Patrick Sonnier. Since then she has been an advisor to six more inmates on death row, all of whom were eventually put to death. To do this sort of work … I would call that heroic.

Sister Prejean wrote a piece in the Times on Wednesday entitled Look At My Face, which I found a very moving read. I recommend it to you.

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From The New Yorker

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An interesting short piece found its way into the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It was an imaginative one about the death of William Holden, the actor. The title of the piece is The Many Deaths of William Holden Taught Me How to Be Anxious.

It isn’t the first time that I have considered deeply how fragile our bodies are, and felt a little frisson while doing so. When cars meet on the highway and the metal of the machine is distorted and torn apart the injury to the automobiles is nothing compared to what happens to the flesh of the occupants. When you read a story about a tornado roaring through the countryside driving pieces of straw into the bark of trees, remember that humans are caught out in the cloud of missiles that the tornado picks up and distributes. In a courtroom Friday a man told his story of being shot in his upper arm and his bicep being blown away. It was just gone.

The world is filled with hard things, and our bodies are not among them. For eight decades now I have threaded my way through the maze of sharp or stony objects that could have altered my life, or certainly my appearance, and here I am … one of the lucky ones. The bones that cracked, the blisters that formed, the thousand patches of skin left on the pavement in my childhood … all have healed themselves.

So hearing the many versions of the death of William Holden wasn’t necessary to make me a cautious man, or even an anxious one at times. I was able to put together my own scenarios from my own experiences. And when the stresses became too much to bear, there was always the possibility of the geographic cure, as in Ole’s case.

When Ole learned that most accidents, injuries, and deaths occurred within one-half mile of home, he did the only logical thing.

He moved.

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Oh, happy happenstance! One of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, has a new book out entitled The Sentence and there is no doubt that I will read it during the coming blustery months. I will wait for a day when I am looking out the window at weather so nasty that my forebears’ practice of wearing wolfskins wouldn’t keep a man alive and while I am experiencing the guilty pleasures of houses and central heating. So I will put that off for a while, but in a deliberate and not a procrastinative way.

To make things even better, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have made a second album together which will be released fully on November 19. Their first one was the surprising musical duet album of 2007, Raising Sand. It was the answer to the question I had never asked myself: “What do you get when you pair up a princess of bluegrass and a prince of rock and roll?” The answer was a hell of an album.

Plant has continually surprised me. When his former band (a little-known group called Led Zeppelin) folded up, I would have thought he had nothing left to do, being just another pretty band singer whose groin posturings had become less interesting to his followers as age did its thing. But instead he made, and still makes, interesting and intelligent music.

What to say about Krauss? A voice like a drop of dew on an Appalachian morning … as pure and straightforward as is her music with her band, Union Station. A classic. A professional, through and through.

The surprise is that together they become not just another bunch of duets by artists who are getting on in years, but something new.

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From The New Yorker

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Sweet, Sweet Jane

This one is for Lou Reed fans. The introduction to the vocal is several minutes long and is just outstanding. This album gets played often at my home address, and played as loudly as my equipment and neighbors will permit.

It almost goes without saying that the song Sweet Jane is about drugs. After all, this is Lou Reed we’re talking about. In this case the substance is heroin. You might miss that in the lyrics … I did for the longest time … but it’s there. Part of the problem is that the original and longer lyrics to the song were dropped from the most popular recorded versions. So I heard the sadness and longing and missed the rest.

But watch the video, check out the vintage hair and mustaches and clothes, and get in touch with your rock and roll side for a few minutes. You know you want to. That bass player … is he inscrutable or impassive or imperturbable or what?

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The last spate of elections are over, and the Democrats are exhibiting their typical Brownian Motion, running around bumping into one another trying to figure out why they did so poorly this time around. Nobody asked me if I knew the answer. So I will put it out there anyway. Let’s say a political party spends an entire year and can’t come up with the equivalent of a mission statement. Who squabble so much among themselves that they can’t get the things done that they need to do to hold our interest, much less retain our loyalty. Why should we vote for them except for the fact that they aren’t practicing Cluck-ism? That might have been enough in 2020, but it’s not holding up very well as a reason.

If there is such a thing as an average American, their lot hasn’t improved one iota in the last two or three decades, while our “leaders” are enriching themselves so fast the money changing hands never gets a chance to cool off but is always slightly warm to the touch. The one percenters are so bored that they are climbing onto the Musk/Bezos rockets like they were a new ride at Disney World. “Excuse me, Elon, but I’d like an aisle seat if you please, and did I miss the snacks being passed out … I love love your peanuts!”

Once upon a time there was a guy named Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a singularly courageous Russian writer. He dashed off a bunch of books in his lifetime, eventually winning a Nobel Prize for his work. Among the titles were The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. The books were very good and they were very anti-Communist, so when he was kicked out of the Soviet Union and came to America we all thought he might become our new BFF. But then he gave some speeches directed at us that were the literary equivalent of a swift kick in the pants with a hobnail boot. He thought we were weak, effete, and had lost our way in a maze and haze of materialism and secularism. Basically we were doomed unless we saw the light … and he didn’t think we would. Three of those speeches were gathered into a book called A Warning To The West, and some excellent excerpts are published on the Goodreads site. They are well worth reading, and I think their lessons are as applicable now as they were unwelcome news in the 70s.

What we needed then is what we still need now. Different flags to fly, different songs to sing – those that lift our spirits and bring us together in the common work that needs doing rather than focussing on our bottom line, which can only drive us apart.

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The music of Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles album is doing its good work in my morning. That woman … what a talent … and what a fine double album this one is, recorded live in 1974. Music like this is never dated and sounds today as fresh as it did 47 years ago. The recording is clear and excellent as opposed to the mushy sound that live albums sometimes offer up. Here’s a photo of Joni and her backup band for the album, the L.A. Express.

It’s okay with me if you don’t rush out and buy this and listen to it just because I said you should. There is so much good stuff out there to listen to that it boggles the mind. As a matter of fact, I am having quite a bit of trouble getting unboggled this morning … perhaps the next cup of coffee should be intravenously administered rather than orally. I just wanted to let you know that this album was out there, in case you’d missed it the first time around.

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Grandson Dakota took his leave of us Thursday, on his way to the rest of his life. His car contained everything he owned, so off he went in a VW Jetta version of that famous truck in the movie, Grapes of Wrath. He is a fine young man and we are so glad we got the chance to know him better. ‘Twas a gift to us.

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As everybody knows, Paradise is located in Montrose County, Colorado. As of this morning our county is a Covid – 19 hotspot. Such news should not come, unfortunately, as a surprise to anyone. In the 2020 election, 2/3 of the county’s electorate voted for a presidential candidate who was completely unfit for the office, a charlatan of the first water. They knew it and they still voted for him.

Now, did anyone really think that having flunked Elementary Civics that these people would do any better at Preventive Medicine? The fact that we are now in a situation where nearly all of the deaths from this disease are in the unvaccinated segment of our society does not deter them from publicly refusing to be helped.

Denial? Death wish? Dumbassedness? Take your pick.

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The Many Pleasures of Nitpicking

It’s four in the morning and I am trying to edit a post on my blog and there is a fly in the house. Just one. In the entire place. And it has obviously taken annoying me as it’s life’s work. It can’t bite me, and there is no uncovered food to worry about being contaminated. But what it does do is walk on my head at random intervals. When I make a swipe at it it easily evades my primitive defenses and disappears into the murkiness that is the house at this time of day. Then suddenly there it is back again, traipsing across my scalp without a care in the world.

I am distracted beyond measure. I know that flies don’t laugh out loud, but I swear that I hear tiny chuckling noises. Such is my state of mind. Serenity is lost. Creative writing is impossible because my mental processes have been commandeered by this winged pestilence. There is a single word flashing across the marquee of my thought-stream.

REDRUM! REDRUM! REDRUM!

But now the fly has gone … somewhere. It’s been fifteen minutes or longer since I felt its presence. I know it hasn’t left the house, there is no exit available to it. It’s only waiting for me to relax and to begin to think that I can reclaim my day. Even though its life is (on the average) only 28 days long, it is very patient and probably is now reclining in a closet against one of my sweaters, filing its clacky little nails and waiting for just the right moment to come out and take one more hike …

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I am thinking that Senator Joseph Manchin is the Democrat’s equivalent of Senator McConnell. He seems to care less about doing the right thing than increasing his personal power, and is willing to wield that power widely for as long as he has it. If it were not for the slender margin of the Democratic majority, who would care what Manchin thought? He’s a backward-looking man who is still selling bags of coal to anyone who will buy, even as the earth begins to burn around his feet.

Reading about politics is a good way to spoil a good morning. My grandson who is spending some time with us is 29 years old. Here is the list of people who have been POTUS since he was born:

  • Bill Clinton (president fellatio)
  • George W. Bush (president Iraq/Afghanistan or bust)
  • Barack Obama (president who cares if I didn’t do squat – I’m rich, rich!)
  • Donald Cluck (president disaster)
  • Joe Biden (president wake me up when it’s over)

Now is that a lackluster list to contemplate or what? Keep in mind that these are the presidents, the holders of the highest office, and at least theoretically our best and brightest. God help that grandson if he starts looking at the sorry state of members of Congress during this same period. (I would never suggest that he do so unless a competent psychotherapist was right there in the room with him to ease him over the depression that would inevitably result).

A worm blob

I recently read an article about a blob of worms and its fascinating behavior. As I was reading I realized that without even trying my mind had made that squirming ball into a metaphor for American politicians and politics. Read the piece, watch the video, see if you don’t come to a similar conclusion. If not, please tell me why. There are days when my spirit could certainly use a boost.

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Our cats are already settling into winter behavior patterns. Basically this means more time spent indoors and less time in the back yard. They are eating more, sleeping more, and occasionally looking about as bored as any critter can look.

It has become apparent over the years that Robin and I are not stimulating company for a cat. At our best we are the providers of food, the openers of cans, and minions who deal with kitty litter in all of its delightful forms.

At worst we are poor conversationalists and don’t seem to know on our own when the best times are for the brushing of fur and for scratching behind the ears, and need to be reminded (sometimes forcibly) about doing our duty in these areas. In addition, we often let the weather get completely out of control, allowing wind, rain, and cold to run rampant on the other side of the cat door. Year after year we humans never seem to get any better at this. It’s enough to make a feline weep in frustration.

I know for a fact that Willow is thinking that if she had opposable thumbs and the keys to the car life would be a completely different story at our house.

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Robin and I got our booster shots of Covid vaccine this week. Just as before, it took 24 hours before we started to feel mildly lousy, but within another six hours our bodies were returned to us in fine shape but for sore arms. We are now armored as well as is possible here as players in the ongoing Montrosian soap opera I will call Days of the Numbnuts. The theme of this show is that over the first several episodes half of the town’s occupants are revealed to be mindless drones who get their instruction and misinformation from foxy television screens.

It isn’t long, however, before we find out that the drones are dying off one by one from a mysterious illness that results in their exploding at social gatherings. One cup of punch and they go blooey, leaving quite a mess behind for the host and hostess to clean up. By Episode Six no one is inviting them to anything any more, and they have only themselves to talk to. This is a state of affairs that they bitterly resent, but those TV screens are not providing them any help at all.

Not sure where this will all go from here, but the drama is mildly entertaining if you can just distance yourself and watch it as if you were an anthropological observer from Neptune. At least that’s how I am handling it these days. It makes me less crazy.

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Saving Graces

I’ve been reading a few of Garrison Keillor’s posts on the Writer’s Almanac this past week and they made me morose. It turns out that my own writing could easily be called a thin imitation of his, even though I didn’t realize it when I put fingers to keyboard and typed away in the early morning hours of any day you care to choose in the past decade. The major difference is his skill in arranging the exact same set of words that I have access to. Ah, me. Why didn’t I use that phrase … would have been so much clearer … or that one … or that one?

But we do what we can with what we have, as anyone who lived through the Great Depression will tell you if you give them half an opportunity. I try not to do that if I find myself across from someone who survived the Thirties, because the stories are pretty much the same and if I haven’t heard them all yet I lack curiosity about those I might have missed. Being born in the very last days of the Thirties I missed that excellent decade when what is now called recycling was then referred to as everyday life. You threw nothing away unless you absolutely couldn’t find a use for it, even if what you planned for it wasn’t anything close to its original employ.

Got a leftover anvil? Why just look at what a swell paperweight it makes. It would take a hurricane to blow those papers off your desk now. And those old jeans that you’ve been using for paint rags because they are full of holes and rips? Wash them until you can’t smell the turpentine any longer and then slap them onto your body. They are now called vintage clothing. And if parts of your anatomy are illegally revealed by those gaps in the material, why, you have only to wear attractive underwear, perhaps something in a cunning polka dot or stripe.

When we cleaned out the basement of my parents’ home, at the point where neither of them was ever going to be able to go down to there any longer because of infirmity, there was a virtual museum of old iron things that my dad had accumulated. Enough nuts and bolts to repair any fallen-down freeway bridge in Minneapolis, I would think. Angle irons, broken pocket knives, screwdrivers of all sorts, chisels without handles … everything was the same color due to being completely covered with rust. I doubt that Dad ever threw any part of any tool he’d ever owned away, just put it in a box to store because who knew it might be just the thing you needed? And when you moved to a different house it all came along with you.

There wasn’t as much of Mom’s stuff in that basement. It turns out that except for kitchen implements much of what she used from day to day wore out. A broom without bristles isn’t kept for some rainy day in the future, but is as useless as anything you care to imagine and is junked. All of her pots and pans and dinnerware were still in daily use, so they hadn’t made the trip to the basement yet. And that included a very old aluminum kettle with so many dents in it that was impossible to keep it level on the stove burner. Clothing? It either had fallen apart or was cut into pieces that became patches on some other aging garment.

So I’ve heard enough Great Depression stories, I think. If you are older than I am and want to tell your tales one more time before the Reaper stops by your house, I might not be the audience you are seeking. One of my problems these days is that I don’t always make the effort to look interested when I’m not. That faraway look comes into my eyes as … wait a darned moment! I saw that look just yesterday afternoon when I was sharing one of my vast collection of tales with grandson Dakota. He is so polite that he didn’t run away screaming when I came at him with yet another fascinating yarn, but you could see in his eyes that the man was off sailing in the Outer Hebrides even as I was nattering on about some random element of my past.

I better watch it. It’s so easy to wear out an audience, and damned hard to get them back once they’ve strayed.

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From The New Yorker

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I have returned to the backyard deck after a few week’s absence. After having that moderate but annoying illness for nearly a month my enthusiasm for sitting outdoors had waned, since any little breeze set me to shivering whether it was a warm day or no. An odd month, but behind me now. The body has such amazingly fine-tuned and really very adaptable systems, but put the wrong virus in the wrong place and nearly anything you can imagine can happen. There are a thousand things that can go wrong in a situation like that, but all I did was see double for a few hours and that was pretty much all she wrote.

So yesterday I returned to the gym for the first time in a month. Everything was going well until I encountered this seriously crazy-eyed woman who was flitting from machine to machine and never cleaning the ones she had used. (There is a gym policy that we do that, and a small sign at each station reminding us to do so.)

So I told her to please clean up after herself, and of course she completely ignored me because who in blazes am I to give her instruction? But the next time I see her, if she is still being a gym slob, I will ask the staff to talk to her. Even if we can’t change her behavior, maybe we can get her back on her meds. Those eyes … unsettling, to say the least.

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An article in the Science section of the Times gave me an entrepreneurial idea. Researchers have evidence that ancient peoples in New Guinea raised cassowaries for food. Cassowaries are largish birds, weighing up to nearly 60 pounds in adulthood, and were a potentially large source of protein – probably seen as a good thing back there a thousand years ago. The only problem was that you had to pay close attention to their growth, since an adult cassowary is considered by some to be the most dangerous bird on earth.

The problem is those feet. That large talon is several inches long, and can quickly create openings in the body that were never meant to be there. Persons messing with adult birds are thus occasionally converted to dead people instantly.

Thus, my idea of starting a cassowary farm poses issues that raising ordinary poultry doesn’t. Almost never do you read of fowl/human confrontations that end in fatalities. However, if you can get past that wrinkle, the sky is the limit because of the novelty of being able to sell cassowary burgers and cassowary nuggets to adventurous clients. I do not have any information on the flavor of the meat, but until more information comes in, I will assume that it tastes like chicken. Nearly everything does.

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The weather this past week here in Paradise has been, well, heavenly. Daytime temperatures in the 70s, enough sunshine to satisfy anybody, and breezes so gentle that they barely ruffle the prayer flags in the back yard. Out in the mountains the trees are peaked or peaking in color, although here in town our foliage change is a couple of weeks behind them.

We’ve adopted the pleasant habit of taking our meals outdoors on the deck, unless it is raining or some of those damned yellowjackets choose to rise up from hell to bedevil us. It is somehow disconcerting to bring one’s fork toward one’s face and find oneself staring at the countenance of a stinging insect perched right there on one’s casserole. Try as I might, I have not been able to love all of Nature’s creatures, and these wasps top my personal list of persona non grata.

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Don’t Forget To Take Your Snake Oil, Dear

A growing probiotics market has led to the need for stricter requirements for scientific substantiation  of putative benefits conferred by microorganisms claimed to be probiotic. Although numerous claimed benefits are marketed towards using consumer probiotic products, such as reducing gastrointestinal discomfort, improving immune health, relieving  constipation, or avoiding the common cold, such claims are not supported by scientific evidence , and are prohibited as deceptive advertising in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission. As of 2019, numerous applications for approval of health claims by European manufacturers of probiotic dietary supplements have been rejected by the European Food Safety Authority for insufficient evidence of beneficial mechanism or efficacy.” Wikipedia.

I know, I know, Wikipedia isn’t the oracle that I might seem to be claiming it is, but if you do a much more thorough and way more time-consuming review of the literature you come up with the same result. There is a slowly growing suspicion that some gut micro-organisms might actually be beneficial to us. Perhaps. We don’t know which ones, for the most part. It wouldn’t be that far-fetched, actually, since we know that there is a whole army of them that are harmful. But the positive doesn’t prove the negative, etc. etc.

On the other hand, a trip to our local City Market you will find a medium-sized display of what are called “probiotics.” In addition, there are scads of labels around the store stating that there are probiotics in this or that product. This, my friends, is the modern equivalent of selling snake oil from the back of a wagon in 1858.

Our scientific knowledge on the subject is at the embryonic stage while these unscrupulous companies have geared up to fleece the gullible among us by pretending that they know what they are talking about.

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Periodically there are diseases that become quite modish. So much so that not having the problem can make one feel inadequate at parties or other social gatherings, where the room seems to be filled with people discussing their symptoms at length. One of these conditions is “gluten sensitivity.” Grocery stores today are filled with products proudly stating that they are “gluten free.”

Now if you check medical texts on the subject of gluten, you find that there is an uncommon problem called gluten enteropathy (celiac disease), which, once considered, is fairly easily diagnosed with lab studies of the bowel, and which is treated by taking the patient off gluten entirely. The problem with “gluten sensitivity” is that there are only symptoms and no physical or laboratory findings to study. In fact, there are some researchers who doubt that it is a disease at all, but is instead a sort of fad. So the subject of gluten sensitivity is presently muddled, to say the least.

I won’t get between those two camps, I value my life far too much to do that. Mentioning this controversy to someone who believes that they have this disease could result in my being beaten about the head and neck with a loaf of Rudi’s, and really, who needs that?

***

Now, I am an eminently rational being if there ever was one, I have noticed that whenever I ingest a large plateful of pinto beans, there follows an evening of rumblings, hissings, and vapors like you wouldn’t believe. I think that I must be bean-sensitive, and will press my legislators to improve the laws regarding the food labeling process so that I never have to inadvertently have a trace of this poisonous foodstuff pass my lips. Why, only last night I became so distended after a dinner of beans and rice that I nearly took flight like some octogenaric dirigible.

It occurs to me that coming up with a line of bean-free products might be a good idea for the public health. It might also be profitable for yours truly. I will start with bottling legume-free spring water, which I will call Flatunot. Test marketing starts next Tuesday.

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It’s been a while, but David Brooks has come up with a good one, in Friday’s NYTimes. The title of the piece is This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion, which alerts you to the territory he’s taking us through. He does spend time discussing our present dilemma where he sees it as a case of a vicious populism versus (the just as vicious) elitist insularity.

Read again Robert Kagan’s foreboding Washington Post essay on how close we are to a democratic disaster. He’s talking about a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them. 

David Brooks, New York Times October 1.

I know that it sounds as dry as day-old toast, but it may be the best description of where we are as a nation that I’ve read.

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Today, Sunday, Robin and grandson Dakota and I are heading for Cedaredge CO, a small town about an hour’s drive north from Paradise. The reason was the Applefest, which has returned after a year’s absence.

Applefest is a three-day celebration that is marked by the greatest set of smells in Christendom, as applegrowers in one booth after another put out their wares for the aroma-hypnotized citizens walking by. Apples, apple pies, apple crisps, etc. etc. You may make it past one or three of them without giving in, but there is no doubt where it all will end.

You and a plastic fork and a plateful of some baked apple creation all together sprawled on the grass of the town park.

It is a grand mass surrender to the not-so-nutritious-but-my-god-how-delicious part of life. You set aside everything you know about what’s good for you, block out the small voice in your ear that is your mother telling you you’ll get diabetes for sure if you eat that thing, and just go for it.

If we don’t get back, check with the local emergency room which I know will be jammed with cases of pie overdose and fritter poisoning. We’ll be the comatose trio on gurneys in the back, hanging to life by a thread, but with these gigantic smiles on our faces.

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How To Get Drunker And Poorer Extremely Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Huron

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

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

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

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

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

I retract my plan. Never mind.

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

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

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Surface Area

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNN Business July 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s That Smell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oy.

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh Canada!

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said … grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope.

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawrence of Montrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fogged-Out

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

Here’s the text that grabbed me:

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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Size Matters

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

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

***

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

“At last, I am free,” he said.

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Right In Front Of Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll never know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

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

***

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

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


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

***

Icarus

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

“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

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

Be prepared … we may take photos.

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Autotomy Is Where It’s At

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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Flight of Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus Evija

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sweat Equity

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

And then I’m done.

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

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

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

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

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

I SAID: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

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Deep In The Heart Of Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

A somewhat rueful smile.

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

Turns out they were.

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

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

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News of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nincompoopery

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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Peter Piper Picked A Peck … et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course it’s blue. We’re Democrats.

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Memento Mori Department

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

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

Roger Ebert.com

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

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

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

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

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Up To Our Ears In Those Accursed Interesting Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vox.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let It Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a numbers game, to be certain.

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Wrinkles In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her email address is: majaellenflom@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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Silver Linings

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

Think about this when we next speak on the phone:

Hi, how ya doing?
Are you both well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Friedman, Esquire Magazine, June 2020

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