Take That, Pandemovirus!

We got our Covid vaccine (Moderna) shots Thursday morning. In a large exhibition hall. All in all it went well, without any big snafus and with adequate respect for social distancing. Everyone there had an “appointment” of sorts, so there wasn’t a mob milling around getting cranky. And we were all senior citizens from Colorado, a group of citizens that is renowned worldwide for our politeness and consideration of others.

By Thursday evening our arms had become moderately sore, and I was experiencing a not-quite-ill-but-not-quite-right feeling before I went to bed. I strongly suspect a psychosomatic illness, being fairly susceptible to those, what with my psyche being more than a match for my soma.

In four weeks we will be getting our second injections and then … not sure. I have no intention of declaring victory until the last Confederate-flag-waving and unmasked nincompoop is either vaccinated or transported to an internment camp on a large and mosquito-infested island off the coast of Alaska. One like in in the photo at right.

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My life has just improved by a pleasant notch. Maybe a notch and a half. Somewhere I ran across a review of a comic who has a ton of videos that anyone can watch, for free. Her name is Lilly Singh. Funny, smart, and no f-bombs at all. I’ll start you out with one video, and the rest is up to you.

Remember, all for free.

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How interesting that the FBI has been rounding up miscreants from the January 6 insurrection so quickly. Turns out that it’s much easier to catch crooks when they take the pictures themselves for their Wanted posters. This week this guy was identified and arrested.

It was only a matter of time, really. If I were from his hometown and saw this pic, I would have been dialing 1-800-FBI-GETM before he even got back on the bus to return home.

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And now for a story about electric eels that is a bit creepy. With video. Probably best to not watch it after dark, or just before going in swimming. I know that there are some things that I am not meant to see. And a fish climbing up someone’s arm like a mucus-covered, living taser is one of them.

Therein lies one of the conundrums of life. How to unsee what you’ve seen, or unhear what you’ve heard, when you found whatever it was so disturbing that you reached for your brain’s “Delete” key, only to come up empty-handed. My most recent such moment was just after the recent election, when I learned that so many millions of people had voted for p.cluck even after all we’ve learned about him, and all we’ve gone through because of him.

I am one of those persons whose opinion of the species Homo sapiens is a conflicted one. Buddhism teaches that within all of us is an essential goodness, but I admit that I am not always able to see that shining quality. Let’s forget for a moment about the serial killers and the Hitlers and the handiworks of the seriously maladjusted. On Election Day seventy million people voted for a man so undeserving that this number is literally fantastic. Unbelievable. Deeply depressing to those of us who tend toward the melancholy even on the sunniest of days. In my home district, Montrose County, two-thirds of voters went for a clearly Fascist regime. An administration that is the very definition of corruption.

When Covid finally eases up, and I can leave the house to move about freely and without reservations, I will be out there looking for that essential goodness, one person at a time. To do otherwise, for me, is to give over to cynicism, and I have spent enough time in that soul-destroying neighborhood, thank you very much. I have no need to ever return.

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From The New Yorker

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No Complaints. No, Really.

We’ve been in a meteorologic twilight zone for several weeks now. Not cold enough to really expect that people will sympathize with us if we should complain, and not warm enough to elevate our moods from the Basic Winter setting (and that setting is only two millimeters above mild depression). When Robin and I go for outdoor aerobic walking we are still picking our way past icy patches no matter where we go.

[n.b.: senior citizens hate icy patches. Wherever these are to be found, in a senior’s mind all such hazards bear the symbol at left imprinted upon them. They speak of pain and trips to emergency rooms and x-rays and hospitals and traction apparati and casts and funerals.]

One of those walks of ours takes us past a pasture where about thirty horses are kept, and have been all winter. Yesterday the temperature rose to the point where it thawed two months worth of their droppings all at once. The resulting perfume was a heady one indeed. At first it pleasantly reminded me of boyhood days on my grandfather’s farm, but then it intensified to the point that survival became an issue, and we nearly ran until we were clear of the invisible but highly aromatic cloud.

Just past the toxic zone Robin spied a bald eagle high in a nearby tree. Its white head shone brilliantly in the winter sunshine. While seeing an eagle near the river is not a rarity, they never fail to impress. I don’t really care that some of their eating behaviors might not always be noble and inspiring – a bald eagle is still a grand symbol for a proud nation. Now if we could just get back on the path to fully becoming that nation, that would even be more grand.

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Pressure is being applied to Mike Pence to use the 25th amendment to remove p.cluck from office. Having not been asked to make any decisions at all for four years, he is having trouble imagining getting anything done in the few days he has left in office. He can’t do it by himself, of course, he needs seven cabinet members to go along with him. Think about that for a moment. Getting seven members of the most dysfunctional cabinet in modern times to do something that while it might be good for their country, is potentially bad for them.

I don’t believe I’ll hold my breath.

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Went down to the river on Sunday, not to pray but to fish. I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong because I caught another one. It could be that by some mischance I chose the right fly for the time and place. The part of the Uncompahgre River that I was wading around in was lovely, and the waterway was all mine, at least as far as humans were concerned. My only companions were small birds.

The only imperfection, really, was the footing. Walking on cobblestones in the water is awkward, especially when the stones are the size of grapefruit. And while the river posed no threat to life, running at the low flow levels typical of a mid-winter day, the prospect of falling down and filling my waders with near-freezing water was one that I have resolved to avoid at all costs.

I could only stay out for a couple of hours because as the afternoon began to cool there was ice forming along my fly line, and by then my fingers had lost the ability to tie a knot in anything smaller than a hawser.

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Just to get out in front of the critics, I am going to admit that not everything is perfect here in Paradise. For instance, in this past election Coloradans chose to send Lauren Boebert to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her opponent in that contest had been an intelligent, experienced, and thoughtful woman who would have brought some serious skills to Congress.

Instead, we elected Boebert, and I must now cringe whenever her name comes up on a television screen, wondering what inanity she might be involved in now. But why should I natter further? Here she is. Our very own entry into the one-trick-pony sweepstakes.

(Rep. Boebert is the one in the middle, pointing her weapon at the floor of her restaurant in Rifle, CO. Perhaps to shoot at a cockroach, who knows?)

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Mea Culpa, Already

It is a fact that I pilfer regularly from the archives of cartoonists, principally those who draw for the New Yorker magazine. In my defense, I nearly always attribute them properly, and in a way my larceny is a form of respect. You don’t ordinarily steal what you don’t value.

I wouldn’t have to do this if I were able to draw. But my attempts at even the crudest sketching would have been rejected by the original people in charge of the Lascaux caves as being unworthy. Any child’s sidewalk scribble outshines me. I have a clear memory of art classes in first and second grades where for years I would draw the exact same thing and turn it in. I don’t recall my teachers as ever calling me on it, and I was very happy when by the third grade we no longer had to do this activity.

This was the piece that I drew over and over. Part of a house, part of a tree, and the sun. Occasionally I would add a few blades of grass, but that was it.

No people or animals. The sun, the tree, the house. This was my best work. I look back at it fondly.

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So whenever I have need for something graphic to add life to my blog pages, I must resort to piracy. I am quite sure that you readers would quickly tire of the dismal artistic triad shown in the drawing above, and be less forgiving than my early childhood teachers were. In uncharitable moments you might easily refer to it as pathetic.

But here we go again …

From The New Yorker

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On Thursday I once again sallied forth to do a little stream fishing. In brand new boots. What I failed to mention in a post a few days ago is that I had outgrown my old boots to the point where walking about in them was uncomfortable and gave me insight into the ancient Chinese practice of binding feet. There are so many jokes that Mother Nature has in her repertoire, and one of them that I hadn’t heard of until I experienced it was that while aging shortens so many things, including one’s height and memory, it lengthens one’s feet. Yes, they keep growing. I imagine that if I lived long enough, eventually my baseball cap would rest upon a huge pair of shoes, and inside that cap would basically be me.

At any rate the new footgear performed flawlessly.

There was something odd, however, that happened on this particular Thursday. I hooked two trout. This was completely unexpected, and both times it caught me so off guard that I allowed them to escape. In all of my lifetime of hours spent angling upon the waters of this great land of ours, I am rarely interrupted by fish.

This has been especially true of fly fishing, something that I had barely tried before I moved to Paradise. But the attraction of these beautiful mountain streams was too strong, and so I purchased the basic equipment and now I try to go to places where it is unlikely that I will be observed in my flailing.

Initially I took a few lessons, one of which involved turning over rocks in the streams to see what grotesque creatures were clinging to them, the idea being that this would give me an idea what the local fish had available for eating. I could then choose what flies to tie on, thus greatly improving my chances of catching something. Since those early days I confess that I have not turned over a single stone. I will admit that I am beginning to think that my poor performance in streamside entomology might have something to do with my regularly empty creels.

But hey, this way I don’t have to worry about the size, number, or variety of the fish I don’t catch. If I wish to embellish a story or two, there is no evidence to the contrary. I always practice catch and release wherever I go, even when it is not required, sez I to questioners.

[So here is a photo that I did not take of a fish that I did not catch. No matter.] Landing this behemoth was such a struggle, you wouldn’t believe it . There I was, all alone in the wilderness, when the vicious thing lunged at me even as I stood on the shoreline. The gnashing of its razor-sharp teeth was a horrible thing to hear … its murderous eye enough to strike fear into the heart of the bravest man … .

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From The New Yorker

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I have a plan. After P.Cluck is impeached for the second time, he should then be tried in the civil courts for his numerous offenses against man and God. Once this process is over, his sentence would include lifetime housing for him and his noxious clan in this luxurious but drafty thirty bed bungalow. There would, of course, be no internet access or electricity, and I would give him the new title of Permanent Goatherd and Latrine Orderly.

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Tripping Badly

Robin and I watched the movie Phantom Stitch the other night, a film in which mushrooms play an important role. Now, one of the basic hazards of life (for listeners) is that when a person attains a certain age, nearly everything reminds him or her of something in his or her past. So here’s a personal mushroom story.

I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and had been there for a couple of years. There was a substantial “counterculture” contingent living up there, who enjoyed the natural gorgeousness and lack of close supervision by authorities.

One summer afternoon I was taking my turn covering the Emergency Room, when I was called to see a young man with a beard and shoulder-length hair, attired in well-worn jeans and a faded flannel shirt, and who had ingested some mushrooms that had made him quite ill. He had been vomiting for hours and was moderately dehydrated as a result. I examined him quickly and then turned to the nurse, who happened to be a person who had quite a lot of knowledge of local fungi.

“Did he bring in any of what he ate?” I asked.

“No, but I’ve been saving what he threw up in case we need to send it away for study,”the nurse replied.

“How to find out what it was … ?”

At that point, the patient, who had been lying there motionless but for the rise and fall of his chest with his breathing, eyes closed and looking as completely miserable as you care to imagine, said two words in a low and groaning voice:

Amanita muscaria.”

Amanita Muscaria is not “poisonous” per se, rather it is a hallucinogen/narcotic. When you eat it dried, freshly cooked, or drink water it has been cooked in, you will become intoxicated, or possibly just get sick and vomit all over the place.

Forager Chef.com

Et voila! It turned out that the man had been seeking hallucinations by ingesting that fungus but instead ran headlong into a common effect which was to become extremely nauseous. He was provided with intravenous hydration, moved into a quiet space, and discharged a few hours later in good condition.

Amanita muscaria

So the first and last case of mushroom poisoning I ever saw was diagnosed by the patient himself, and that diagnosis communicated to me in Latin. You might not believe this, but that didn’t happen every day.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Love this song, from 1986. The video is by a group called ‘Til Tuesday, which was fronted by Aimee Mann, a very talented woman who has gone on to do some beautiful things in music.

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Please Pass The Bucket

There is a little story behind the header photograph. Robin and I had met up with her kids for a short skiing vacation over the New Year Holiday. We chose a very small town not far from Winter Park CO, and took rooms for a couple of nights. Skiing during the day, enjoying the company in the evening … that was the plan.

But on New Year’s Eve, one member of our party (whose name is withheld to protect the innocent) became ill with gastroenteritis at midday, and her condition progressed to moderate dehydration over the next several hours. At that time we didn’t know much about the medical care available in Tabernash, so our rooms became the E.R.. Late in the evening her vomiting finally quit, and slow improvement began. But by then we had let go of any ideas of joining the party scene that we could see down at the ski lift area. So we stayed in and celebrated quite modestly instead.

But the party was watchable from our window, and this pic was of a moment in time, when the sounds of retching had subsided and our collective worries began to diminish.

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At one time in my life New Year’s Eves were an excuse for getting sozzled to a degree incompatible with having a pleasant New Year’s Day, if you get my drift. Fortunately for me (and others in the room) I no longer try to pickle myself by midnight on this holiday. In fact, I am no longer awake at midnight at all. Robin and I will pick an hour well before that and call out Happy New Year along with Japan, or some such nation well to the East.

And we have found that no matter how she and I celebrate the evening, quietly or uproariously, the year changes right on schedule.

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In the later years of their time together, my Grandpa and Grandma Jacobson lived in a small house across the farm road from the larger one that they had occupied for most of their married life. It was heated by an oil burner in the living room, and a plain metal pipe ran from the device to the chimney. On New Year’s Eve in 1950 I was their guest, and on the stroke of midnight Grandpa performed his routine which involved picking up a piece of blue carpenter’s chalk and writing the number of the year on the pipe. It was his way of marking the turning of the year. Simple and quiet. And then it was off to bed for all of us.

I do have such a piece of chalk somewhere, because hardware stores have no scruples about selling it to anyone whether they have any carpenter-ic skills or not. But I hesitate to start writing on things in our living room. If I should get started there is no telling where it will stop.

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Found this tune, New Year’s Prayer, by Jeff Buckley, in my library. Strange little thing. Lyrics follow.

Oooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, fall in light.
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
As you now are in your heart
Fall in light
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel it as a water fall
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.
Past the sound within the sound
Past the voice within the voice.
Ah. Ah. Ah.
Leave your office, run past your funeral,
Leave your home, car, leave your pulpit.
Join us in the streets where we
Join us in the streets where we
Don’t belong
Don’t belong
You and the stars
Throwing light
Ooo (repeat)
Fall, fall.
Ooo
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, ooh.
Fall in light, fall in light
Fall in light, grow in light.

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Oh, and yes, may a Happy New Year be there waiting, for all of us.

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Windfall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m looking forward to it.

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The Best Eve Of Them All

Ahhhhh, of course it is Christmas Eve of which I speak. There is no other eve quite like it. Compare it with All Hallows Eve, for instance, which has only a handful of songs and the possibility of a mere bag of candy as a prize. Christmas fair knocks it! Some of my clearest childhood memories are associated with this day. I think that I can recall someof those thoughts verbatim, actually, from one of those December 24ths.

Ohhhhhh, yawnnn, it’s cold in here, wish Dad would turn up the dang furnace … I’m not getting out of bed until …wait! It’s Christmas Eve! Presents! Mixed nuts in a bowl! Presents! Special supper! Presents! Singing around the tree! Presents! Perry Como 78 rpm records on the phonograph. Presents!

What time is it? It’s eight o’clock. If we start opening presents at six o’clock that is … ten hours from now. I can’t stand it. How can a person wait that long? Lunchtime … only six hours to go. I’ve got to think about something else. I’ll go outside and play for a while. That’s it! Play outside. Where there are no presents under the tree to stare at. Supper? Why? Can’t we just skip it? I’m not hungry at all. We can eat any day, but this is CHRISTMAS, for God’s sake! What? I can’t believe what you’re saying. You’re going to wash the dishes before we open presents? That is so dumb. Leave them. Cover them with a towel if you can’t stand the sight of them. Even better, toss them out and get new dishes tomorrow! NOOOOOOOOOO! You can’t be serious. We’re going to sing carols? I hate carols. I hate singing. Where did you go to parent school? This is torture. I want a new family.

Ohhhhhhh, everything is just what I wanted. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

And if you see her, thank Aunt Clothilde for those (bo-ring) socks, would you?

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One day, as I was in a particularly idle frame of mind (one of my more common such frames), I wondered: where is the exact opposite, on the globe, of Montrose CO? And through this remarkable thing called the internet I learned where it was, and what it was called … the antipode. Every single spot on the planet has its antipode.

And there is ours. The red dot represents Port-aux-Français, a tiny town on an island in the South Indian Ocean (actually, the true antipode is a spot in the water a bit north of that, but Port-aux-Français is the closest city).

I learned that it may not be one of the great cities of the world, not if the Wikipedia description is accurate.

The port station is located on the Gulf of Morbihan. The station has about 45 inhabitants in winter; the population can rise to more than 120 in summer. The location was selected in 1949 by the chief of mission Pierre Sicaud because of its sheltered position which was suitable for a runway that was never built.

Wikipedia
Port-aux-Français

So planning for a visit to the Port? … maybe in the summertime when it is really bustling at 120 residents? If you were planning on flying in, remember that the runway was never built. I will suggest that as an alternative you could come visit Robin and I here in the antipode of Port-aux-Français.

Much closer. Runway operating. And we are such nice people. Just bring your vaccination certificate along, would you? There’s a dear.

(BTW – do you know where your antipode is?)

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Tuesday morning I spent a couple of hours sitting in the waiting room at our Subaru dealer, getting some repairs done on our car. My guard was down and as I was looking out their showroom windows at the cars lined up in the parking lot, I caught the fever. The ‘I should really have a different car‘ fever.

I was in a vulnerable state for several reasons. Our little Forester has been making an irritating noise whose source is as yet unknown, and it has just under 100,000 miles on its odometer. I am quite sure that the noise represents something that will completely break down in the middle of the desert somewhere near a sign that says “No services in any direction for 100 miles.” I see us hiking through tumbleweed forests on windswept two-lane roads with buzzards circling and we are passing what used to be diners or gas stations but are now abandoned victims of changing tastes and needs.

I see all this so clearly. So it’s really a matter of life and death, isn’t it? Think I’ll amble over to that salesperson and ask a couple of questions. Couldn’t hurt. He looks harmless enough. What’s that? My car’s ready? I’ll be right there.

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From The New Yorker

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Merry Christmas, Friends. We wish you the very best for this holiday season, and for every season that follows. Although we may be physically celebrating apart from one another, in our hearts we are with you all. And one day with care and good fortune we will be able to do all of that corny and necessary stuff that we could before Covid rearranged all of our agendas. We’ll do it right, next year. I believe it.

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Sacrifice For The Good …

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Country, by Talking Heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, not until my surgery.

Have you proof of this?

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

Well … ?

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

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

Your meaning, sir?

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

So I should be grateful?

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

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

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

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

******

About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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What the … ?

I lost control the other day of a very small part of my life, but these days who wants to lose anything more at all? It happened when the climate control knob on our Forester underwent a psychotic break and began selecting programs all on its own, spontaneously switching from one to the other. Back and forth it would go, and when I became exasperated it took two pushes on the OFF button to stop it.

And then it would turn itself on again to begin the maddening cycling once again.

Now call me a fussbutt, but any device that can turn itself on and by so doing damage my serenity evokes memories of all those movies involving robots that won’t accept orders any longer, or blobs of artificial intelligence taking charge once and for all. In the clip below from 2001: A Space Odyssey, if you substitute me for Keir Dullea and my climate control for Hal you might get a hint of why the situation was freaking me out.

It all seems to have been resolved after a trip to the Subaru service department, but it will take time for the wounds to heal. I may need therapy, actually. I guess that I should be grateful that the control could not talk to me. Think of the nightmares if it suddenly said in that chilling monotone:

I’m sorry, Jon, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

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From The New Yorker. (This one made me actually think for a moment)

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Thursday night we watched for an hour or so while Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and others gave a presentation from the stage of the cathedral in Washington DC. It was a real joy to be presented with the facts as we know them as of that evening about Covid-19, the vaccines on the verge of being deployed, and other more personal matters, like how to deal with the upcoming holidays.

Straight information, no hemming or hawing or tortuous language. No lies, good science. So refreshing that the hour passed very quickly. Maybe life will never be exactly the same even after Covid dies down, but that evening was like the “good old days.”

Here’s Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot waking up from a nightmare.

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I am admiring Mr. Biden’s calm and decidedly un-flashy approach to P.Cluck’s demented rantings since Election Day. Rather than respond to the latest from the tweetmeister, Biden just ignores them and quietly goes about the business of doing what must be done during the transition on his side of the fence. It makes the absence of any such activity on the other side even more glaring.

I like un-flashy soooo much better. It’s easier on the heart.

******

It’s been more than a month now since my aborted stroke, and I thought I’d toss in an update. I am fine, and seem to have no sequelae at all, thanks to Robin’s quick actions and the medical team’s dramatic therapies. I am taking two medications to keep my platelets a healthy distance from one another and so far experiencing no unpleasant side effects.

For a month I wore a monitor to keep track of my heart rhythms, but that month is now behind me and the equipment that I wore constantly has been shipped back to the company. Some time in the next couple of weeks they will send a report to my neurologist. The purpose for the monitoring was to see if there are any occult episodes of something called atrial fibrillation, which can predispose a person to recurrent strokes. (At this point I have no way of knowing what that little monitor said about me, there is no information provided to the patient. For all I know, it could have been hacked and somewhere in the world there is an untidy little man who knows everything I said and did for a month).

I think that I am being a good patient. I’m not entirely passive, of course, I put in my two (and sometimes three) cents whenever I feel the need, but I am perfectly aware that my present good health is because I dodged a fairly large caliber bullet on October 3. I will listen to what the doctors have to say, and unless they get too crazy, I will do what they suggest.

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One of our favorite hikes for years has been a walk up Big Dominguez Canyon, which is about an hour’s drive north of us. It’s a desert walk, and can be brutally hot in July, but on Friday it was perfect. We started out at 9:00 AM in 29 degree weather but it quickly warmed to about 55 degrees by noon. Bright sunshine all the way up and back.

This time we chose to seek the path going to Little Dominguez Canyon, which had eluded us in the past. After crossing a small creek and going around a couple of big deadfalls, we finally located it. Most of the time over the next five hours we were walking on an old road which was sometimes two tracks, sometimes one, and sometimes we had to hunt in the sagebrush and rabbitbrush to stay on it at all. In the map above, the blue line shows our walk, while the yellow line is the track up Big Dominguez Canyon, where we usually had gone in the past.

And a beautiful hike it was, with something really interesting in the middle. That was when we came across an old cabin. The windows were boarded up, but peering between the boards you could see that there were two rooms, an iron cookstove, and what looked like handmade furniture. The cabin itself nestled up against a gigantic boulder that would have protected it from winds out of the west.

Scattered around the property were all of the implements that a small farmer would need. A two-bottom plow, a cultivator, and a harrow. There was a sickle bar and a dump rake for haying, as well as the wheels for what would have been small wagons. All of these would have been horse-drawn. It was interesting that when they decided to abandon the dwelling, they left all of these tools behind. Apparently it wasn’t worth the trouble to haul them back to civilization, which was several miles back down that dirt road.

You could see remnants of a trench where they would have run water from the Little Dominguez Creek for their crops. As we were leaving we ran into a man coming up the trail, who proved to know quite a bit about the occupants of the cabin. It had been homesteaded in the late 1800s by a family named Rambo, who lived there until 1984, when they donated the building and land to the BLM.

It would have been a life going against the grain, trying to make the desert bloom through sheer force of will. But the location was one where every morning you would get up, walk out the cabin door, and have nothing but starkly beautiful to look at.

Here are some pix from our outing.

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Mental Lint

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

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

.

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

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

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A gallery of images of Senator Turtle

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

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

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Some Perils of Electronic Mail

I just found this email in my inbox, which startled me for about 0.1 second.

And then I remembered what I’d read over the years about internet scams, and decided this must fall into that colorful category. Especially since my name wasn’t even “Landolt.”I did notice that the word “dolt” was in there, perhaps put there as an amusement by the perpetrators of the fraud.

Next I mused how handy 850,000.00 dollars could be in these uncertain times, and allowed myself to idly wish that I’d known Manuel Franco better.

But wait. Did I know him? Was he the quiet guy who sat behind me in chemistry class? The one whose chem notebook slipped from his arms one rainy afternoon on the university quad, spreading his notes over the sidewalk, and who I helped recover those precious papers before they were completely soaked and illegible? Wasn’t his name Franco? I think it was. And of course he was grateful at the time for my help, but could he have vowed all those years ago that he would repay me someday for my great kindness? Deciding only now to seek me out, after making his fortune in the world?

I think that was him. I’m sure that Franco was his surname, and did I ever know his first name? I’ll bet it was Manny, my oldest and dearest friend. Where was he now? Perhaps this bequest was coming out of his estate, and he had recently passed on to glory. Some sort of romantic but fatal illness acquired through all those years on his rubber plantations.

Ahhh, Manny, why didn’t we stay in touch? We were so young and so busy with life’s trivia that we didn’t take proper care of our friendship. Then I wondered about his lovely wife, and those beautiful children that he must have had by now. I was heartbroken for them. To lose such a man. And while not exactly in his prime, he should have had another decade or two to spend surrounded by family and friends and the luxuries he had earned.

And so I hit “Reply” and responded to the note. I told them that my name wasn’t “Landolt,” but that it was an obvious misspelling of Flom, and could they please point me toward my $850,000.00 windfall, so that I might claim it and bother them no more?

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Here are some photographs that I dug out of a shoebox of mi hermano, Manuel. It seems only yesterday … where does the time go?

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What would be at the opposite pole from turmoil, something we all have had quite enough of lately, thank you very much. Well, it might be … lullabies. Check out this science report from the Times of New York. Even reading about it made my heart rate slow down and my pupils become smaller.

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From The Mountains, To The Prairies …

The drive from Montrose to North Platte NE was remarkable only for the unending pall that hung over us. At no time did we see blue sky or an unfiltered sun. Smoke from those awful fires on the West Coast mixed with those of Colorado as we moved further east. Everything we looked at from the windows of our Forester had a look that was drained of color, and the horizon disappeared into the haze. It was all as if the cinematographer in charge of the movie we were in had chosen to provide us a palette common to horror films. One that was chilling and foreboding.

Our lunch stop was in Buena Vista CO, at the House Rock Cafe, a favorite of ours. How many places have you eaten in your life that were consistently good, never failed to satisfy? This is one of those. (Most of our visits to grandchildren in Denver involve passing through Buena Vista.) A warning – if that $13 charge for a burger seems on the high side, wait until you see the plateful of stuff that gets you, including a perfect green salad, some guacamole, fries that hold up through the whole meal, enough excellent sliced (and unusual) veggies to build a truly awesome sandwich … excuse me for a moment, I just drooled all over my keyboard.

We quickly found that the news of Covid 19 has apparently not reached western Nebraska as yet, as evidenced by the near-absence of facial masking. Fortunately our contact with this information-deprived populace was minimal, primarily involving asking for the location of the restroom. A notable exception was a late supper at the Runza restaurant in North Platte. The only masked people present were Robin, myself, and the blonde young woman behind the counter who greeted us. Immediately there was a problem in communication, due to the fact that the woman was masked, behind a plexiglas protector, and spoke at a speed I had thought impossible for human beings. It led to this exchange.

Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
What.would.you.like. to.order? (Words delivered painstakingly slowly, as you might to a person you have judged to be an absolute dunce)
Oh, we’d like two Runzas, please.
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
What’s that?
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
Excuse me, what did you say?
Do.you.want.just.the.sandwich.or.a.meal?
The meal, please.
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
What?
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
Please?
That.will.be.$14.97.
(Pays for food)
Tatreiohohhohoiho;ita. Hasdlgsfbjblnby!
Could you repeat that?
Thank.you.for.choosing.Runza.Have.a.wonderful.day.

******

A lot of the fun that I have in keeping this journal, and subsequently inflicting it upon you, is due to the years I spent reading the essays of S.J. Perelman. He was what used to be called a humorist, a category that has never had enough members to suit me. I remember reading his stuff during long boring shifts as the night orderly on an inpatient psychiatry station at University of Minnesota Hospitals. I used to own a couple of volumes of those pieces, but I think they have gone on to their eternal rewards by now.

So how does this make today’s writing fun? Because, in a very halting way I think I borrow from his style in some of what I put down on the screen. And this piracy, purloining, and pilfering – this clumsy hommage is somehow enjoyable to me. Here are some Perelman quotes for you to look over.

I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.

Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it.

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.

I have no truck with lettuce, cabbage, and similar chlorophyll. Any dietitian will tell you that a running foot of apple strudel contains four times the vitamins of a bushel of beans.

See what I mean? He’s in my head and I couldn’t get rid of him if I wanted to. BTW, if you should ever look up Mr. Perelman and peruse his material, you would find that there’s a bit more acid there than in what I do. He was, at heart, not a happy man, although a very bright one.

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By Friday evening we had landed in Yankton, unpacked our small collection of our stuff we’d brought along, and found ourselves ordering a sackful of Tastee-Treat loose-meat sandwiches, a home-town tradition if ever there was one. We took our treasures to Riverside Park and did some reminiscing there while we ate an al fresco supper. To finish off the evening we walked across the old lift bridge, all the way to Nebraska and back.

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On this Saturday morning, the auspices are good for an outdoor wedding. So many things have to come together for these exercises in blind meteorologic faith to come off with anything approaching grace. A day that’s too warm can wilt the proceedings and bring about an epidemic of the vapors, with the noise of people collapsing near you being a significant distraction from one’s appreciation of the ceremony. Any breeze over 20 mph begins to fray at the edges of the decorations until finally veils are flying and words of betrothal are lost in the roar of the gale.

And rain. What about that blessed water from heaven that can affect the rites more than anything else, and send the assemblage scattering like an nestful of rabbits, holding their wedding programs over their heads? All that effort spent on the bride’s hairdo comes to naught in a soggy instant, and those spiffy rented tuxedos are so far from looking their best in a downpour.

And all this because when the wind does not blow, the sun does not wilt, and the rain does not fall, it can be quite lovely and memorable. You rolls your dice and you takes your chances.

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Burning Perfectly Good Food

We’re having the Manns over for dinner tonight (Wednesday). Grilling outdoors and serving on the deck, where any stray coronavirus particles can be puffed away by the evening breezes before they have a chance to land. All of the distancing stuff will be observed, food preparation is being carefully done, and we earnestly hope not to share anything with our guests but clean vittles and our lovely selves.

It’s our first such social foray since the outbreak began. The Manns live just up the street, and are people who frequently pop into our minds as “We should have those folks over sometime and get to know them better.”

The evening forecast promises that it will be rainless, warm, and almost windless. There will be tunes, of course. What summer night would be complete without them? It’s a touch of the homely at an extraordinary moment in time.

******

There is a form of cancer called a pheochromocytoma. It originates in the adrenal gland, which normally produces several hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), which is a fight or flight hormone. A “pheo” can over-produce these hormones, and occasionally if one unwisely presses too hard on the tumor during a physical exam there can be a dangerous flood of these substances into the patient’s bloodstream.

So where am I going with this? The P. Cluck gang seems to me to be the political equivalent of a pheochromocytoma. They are a cancer on our body politic for certain, but not just any old tumor. If it is squeezed or threatened in any way out comes all manner of violent and unhealthy behaviors and pronouncements which do further harm to our citizenry and our country. When the moment comes in November this neoplasm needs to be cut away ruthlessly from the corridors of power.

Too overblown a comparison? Perhaps. I do tend to overblow. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

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******

The cookout went very well. First of all, the gods of weather cooperated by providing one of those soft summer evenings you dream of in February. And the company was excellent. Zoom has been a boon and we are grateful for it, but there is nothing like face to face conversation. For me, all substitutes pale before it.

Unfortunately and eventually twilight turned to dusk turned to darkness and our guests had to go home, where they feared to find that their new puppy had probably reduced some rugs to shreds. It’s the difference between puppies and kittens. (Although a kitten can take a nice couch and turn it into a ratty-looking mess pretty quickly.)

I had a friend while in the Air Force who told stories about raising a St. Bernard from puppy-hood. One day he and his wife returned home to find that their new charge had chewed the entire arm from their couch. And when describing paper training, he grimly volunteered that when your puppy weighs fifty pounds, its toilet habits present an emergency.

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Heroism comes in all flavors and sizes. My own experiences have taught me that over and over. I will explain.

When I was working in Buffalo NY in the late 70s, it was at a hospital that was transitioning from an old-line private institution to a county hospital. Which led to a disconnect. The buildings themselves were located in an older and genteel part of town, while the populations that it served were elsewhere. At the pediatric clinic, I worked every day with a succession of grandmothers who were bringing in their children’s children for well-child care.

These women saw to it that those babies received their immunizations and examinations even when it required taking city buses and transferring two and sometimes three times, through the toughest part of town, to get there. Summer and winter. Rain or shine, they suited up and showed up. My own children were still small back then, and whenever it was my turn to bring them to their pediatrician for the same care, I generally regarded it as a chore eating into my precious day and would whine about the time spent.

But not these women. They saw the same visits as important enough to the lives of their charges to spend most of a day in transit just to get them done. To me their actions were heroism, of a very quiet and uncomplaining sort.

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The Buzz

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

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

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

******

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

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

I can’t.

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

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

On a plane.

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

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

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

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

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Bedtime Follies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like I was at the time I read them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hills Are Alive …

Friday we left town to take a longer hike, and this one started out a few miles south of Ouray, at a place called Spirit Gulch. We’d done this one before, and found it to be a moderately strenuous walk over largely rocky terrain. Lots of those small stones that roll under your feet and try to upend you.

(Oh, yes, I am at heart an animist, and there are no rocks in this world that don’t have a mind of their own, and aren’t fond of their little jokes.)

But add to Friday’s excursion the following: dark skies, occasional rain, several bouts of sleet falling, and temperatures that never got above 60 degrees.

So why go? Because some of the views are spectacular and well worth the effort.

And when it comes right down to it why, what’s a little bit of sleet driven into your face, really? Think of it as an exfoliation, for free.

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From The New Yorker

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It looks like Robin will not be deterred from being nice to me today, Father’s Day 2020. She really is impossible that way.

Apparently we all have a gift-giving center in our brains that can be seen to glow increasingly brighter on PET scans as holidays approach. In Robin’s case, however, you don’t need any electronic hardware to observe this, as her entire body develops a sort of fluorescence. It is brightest at Christmastime, of course, when the light she gives off approximates the output of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Those last few days of Advent I can’t even sleep in the same room with her as a result.

So a little while back when I was starting to go into my spoilsport spiel about the relevance of a holiday devoted to the (quite variable) virtues of male parents, and I noticed that her aura was already firmly in place, I gave it up as a lost cause.

Today I know that I will be celebrated. And just between you and me, and completely apart from whether I deserve it or not, I admit that I will very much enjoy it.

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From The New Yorker

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Never Have I Ever …

We finished up the first season of Never Have I Ever, on Netflix, and get this – there were no bad people on the screen in this series. Not one. The parents weren’t unbelievably stupid and the teenagers weren’t unbearably smart. There were minority characters galore, but nobody made fun of them or resorted to stereotypes.

Sexuality is a big topic in this show. The main characters are adolescents, after all. But no one is exploiting or abusing anyone else. So is it a too-nice universe? Not to Robin and me. This is a light-hearted comedy, yet one that touches on many serious topics, including the death of a parent, expectations of mothers vs. those of daughters, coming out as gay, the confusion of being an adolescent, cross-cultural rough spots, et al.

It never preached at us, grossed us out, made us depressed, or patronized us. Pretty darn good for 2020.

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So far using Zoom has been refreshingly free from melodrama. Until Tuesday, that is. The service underwent a major update a couple of days ago, and friends Bill, Sid, and I bumped up against some significant confusion in our third shot at videoconferencing.

We finally gave it up for the day after a trying 45 minutes, and went back to our drawing boards to prepare for a future session. Too bad we didn’t have a video recording of what went on, it was a classic demonstration of three senior amigos doing their best to pry open the doors of the electronic age one more crack. And finding this face peering back at us.

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When I saw this photo on the CNN website this morning, I immediately knew I was going to steal it. It’s a full frontal of a cassowary. You know, that large flightless bird with the enormous claws on its feet? That highly dangerous feathered friend? The article went on to discuss interesting things about its feather structure, but it was the picture that nailed me.

It’s a mad, mad, mad gaze if there ever was one. Merciless. If you could choose what the last thing you’d ever see in this life would be, what image to carry with you into eternity, I doubt many would pick the cassowary’s face.

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I’m so confused. Somewhere in my past I received the instruction that one should place two spaces after a period and before the next sentence. My right thumb does that automatically. Double tap.

A few months ago I read an article that discussed the origins of that practice and its uselessness in modern writing. I ignored it, and kept on with what I’d always done. Double tap.

But now no less an expert on things typographic than Microsoft has decreed that if I do it while using their product, it will be flagged as an error. One space is all that any self-respecting writer should need, and there’s no need to continue with this nonsense, says the software giant. You must follow their lead if you want to avoid that squiggly correction line appearing on your page.

Regard the above three paragraphs. I’ve used two spaces on the first two, and a single space on the third. Which looks best?

I’m was going to stick with two. Squiggly lines be damned. A guy can only be pushed so far before a stand must be taken. Besides, we Macintosh people have always known that Microsoft was The Evil Empire, and instinctually avoid them whenever possible.

But then I ran across this graphic, strongly suggesting that I was not only wrong, but that I was a cliché.

I wonder if the rest of my day can be salvaged? Quite a setback, this is.

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Piping Away

When I first went off to college, at the half-ripe age of sixteen years, I was baby-faced and completely un-collegiate in my appearance. I decided that I should do something about that, and so I took up pipe-smoking. In my mind, this made me appear more like this gentleman, a rugged-looking individual who might have interesting tales to tell.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Any photos of me during those early years with the pipe in my mouth were so un-cool that I tore them up and burned the negatives, pledging whoever had taken the pictures to secrecy. Here is one that somehow survived.

As you can see, I did not achieve the result that I was going for.

But I kept at it, and eventually graduated with what would equate to a master’s degree in the black art of pipery. Along the way I burned holes in hundreds of shirts caused by sparks blowing back on windy days. I actually enjoyed the smoking part very much, but eventually I developed a cough that simply would not go away, and I began to experience the rumblings of a conscience about all those folks who traveled through the cloud of secondary smoke that trailed behind me.

It was with some small grieving that I gave up the habit and all of its attendant rituals. Rituals that included studying catalogs of beautiful briar creations, sniffing of hundreds (thousands?) of lovely aromas, cleaning the bowls of the pipes with special tools from London, and purchasing exotic varieties of tobacco with which to mix my custom blends.

Oh, yes, I was a snob when it came to tobacco. Just short of insufferable, I was.

Looking back, quitting was worth it, I know. My respiratory symptoms vanished and my shirts certainly look better. But … there are blue-skied autumn days when the air is crisp and the setting cries out for the pungent aroma of shreds of latakia smoldering in a briar bowl … .

(‘Scuse me while I cough into my elbow at just the thought.)

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I wonder what would happen if Cluck & Pence, our national pandemic comedy team, were rewarded for refusing to wear any sort of mask by catching the coronavirus. I’m not sure that even that would elicit anything like empathy from this ice-blooded pair, but there is the remote possibility.

They are the perfect examples of the let them eat cake approach of our plutocracy. Protected by wealth and position from any of the bad things that are happening out there among the hoi polloi, they pose and preen and posture and declare that they are put upon by life in a way that mere mortals can only guess at.

I think a proper bout of Covid-19 might be good for them. Oh, I don’t mean the awful variety where intensive care and ventilators are necessary. I just mean enough to scare them to death for a few days. To share the pain of tens of thousands of Americans in a decidedly non-metaphoric way for once.

I suppose it’s unworthy of me to think about such things. But there you are.

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From The New Yorker

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David Brooks has gone through a long period of navel-gazing recently, looking for the answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of U.S. society. So whenever he comes back to earth for a day or two I appreciate his insights. In the Times of New York recently, he posted this editorial: We Need National Service – Now.

Thoughtful and well-written, it goes over some familiar territory, and reiterates the fact that most Americans think that voluntary national service would be a good, perhaps a great, thing for our society. So the question always becomes – why hasn’t it happened?

I will own up to my personal prejudices here, in that I never thought that the military draft should have been stopped. In spite of the fact that the system was riddled with abuses, I thought that its benefits – those feelings of a shared experience that the majority of American men had – were worth it. And I also thought that having short-time soldiers like myself in the mix had a restraining effect on those in power. Not as easy to start a war when you know that you will receive some serious blowback from all those soldiers’ mothers out there, as happened in the Viet Nam war experience.

Instead of dropping it in 1973, I would have broadened it to include women, and done what was possible to reduce those abuses (most of which were due to people of various kinds of influence evading their responsibilities) and truly democratize the armed services.

But that’s neither here nor there, to coin a phrase. Wait … somebody already said that?

This new kind of national service could bring back some of that feeling of sacrifice and brotherhood/sisterhood that has been lost. Real, down-to-earth, tangible. Soooo valuable.

I’m for it. And if there was a branch of these new programs that made better use of the legion of wasted geezers out there as well … put me in, coach – I’m ready to play. Just make that obstacle course a little milder, and I’m your man.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice those shoulder boards. Not American GIs, are they? Nope, they are Russian recruits on the obstacle course … but I loved the mud. And when you cover a man with mud, we all look about the same.]

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From The New Yorker

At The General

At the old Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis there was a nurse on the surgical wards whose last name I have forgotten, but whose appearance I have not. She was an exuberantly attractive woman, single, who showed up every day for work dressed in the mandatory starched white nurses’ uniform and cap, and with the most amazing tan I’ve ever seen on a human being.

Now the house staff at the HCGH were a bunch of overworked and frazzled young men whose long working hours and tense hospital duties often stood in the way of a normal social life, so many of them made one up that included Mary (for that was the lady’s first name). Each one had their own private fantasy.

Mary treated all of us as a large group of well-meaning but learning-disabled dolts who were not particularly interesting to her. Pleasant but aloof, she was the consummate professional.

She ignored. We obsessed.

The rumor perpetually circulated that there was a member of the house staff who lived in the same building that Mary did, in a set of rooms two stories above hers. Each apartment had a small balcony, and allegedly Mary could be spotted on her balcony tanning on a padded lounge au naturel on every sunny day. At least so went the apocryphal reports from this anonymous house officer.

No matter. All that was necessary for we beleaguered ones was the belief that somewhere in Minneapolis there was such an apartment, and that there was such a balcony, and that on any given sunny day … well … .

We really were a pathetic lot, looking back.

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One of the things that happens when you blog on WordPress is that you acquire followers you don’t know. They just show up on a list. So far, most of them have been the equivalent of SPAM, and I pick them off one by one, like ticks.

But I don’t edit all of them out willy-nilly because some link you to lovely places, like the photography/literary blog maintained by a Scottish woman named Ailish Sinclair.

Beautiful photographs like the one below. And an expressive use of language that is notches above the burblage you find here in the Little Home.

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In my haste to garden where no man has gardened before, I set out a bunch of plants this past week. While it did not technically freeze at any time, the night before last the temp dipped into the thirties and we have our first plant mortalities of the year.

RIP: one Greek basil, two common basil, and three marigolds. Although we barely got to know one another, I feel that we would have become friends with the passage of only a little more time.

The full names of the deceased are being withheld until we can contact their nursery of origin. Memento mori and all that.

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Gotta Love Amendment #1

Above is a photograph of a group from an Ohio chapter of FoxNews watchers exercising their first amendment right to display their ignorance. They are protesting that the state government is doing a bad thing by trying to help save their lives and the lives of their neighbors. I halfway concur. I think the governor should focus on helping those neighbors and let these folks go their own way.

The governor could go even further by offering these stalwarts the use of an empty football stadium (lots of them available these days) where they could march around and shout at a television camera to their hearts’ content. Of course, this might mean that they all come down with Covid-19, but since the rest of us are sooo overreacting, where’s the harm?

I find it interesting that their mouths are all gaping at the same time. Like Christmas carolers caught in the midst of a rousing “deck the halls...” .

[I do have some views on the intelligence and/or mental stability of men who wear Trump hats, but this is a family blog]

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Age of Coddling is Over by David Brooks
Words for the Class of 2020 by Mark Shields

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There’s the slightest of drizzles once again this morning. Almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention. This week has been chilly, but that’s okay because in April we keep our expectations low, remember?

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For years, Robin has wondered out loud whether she would ever have a clothesline of her very own outdoors. She already uses a pair of those folding metal racks, but they are cheaply made, tip over easily, and do not last forever. Robin prefers natural drying to that infernal machine available in our laundry room.

What she was longing for was a grandma-style set of lines straight out of the olden times when a nice dinner of passenger pigeon was still a possibility. Something that involved clothespins and breezes blowing and patterned house-dresses. Well … maybe not the house-dresses.

Now, after all these decades of suffering in near-silence, she has such a clothesline. A sturdy one made of wood and metal and with its foot firmly implanted in concrete. A line which can turn with the slightest of breezes, like a weathervane. And how did this happen? I’ll tell you how. I set it up while being assailed by a fear I’ve dealt with all my life, the fear of construction.

I was born without any of the carpentry talents of my father and grandfather before him, the sorts of skills that allow homemade things to appear on one’s property. Things like homes, garages, bookcases, birdhouses, cabinets, etc, etc.

At one point I consulted a famous neurologist, Dr. Myron Synapse, who did a PET scan and found that while most people have a small group of neurons in the hippocampus that are responsible for handiness, I completely lacked that group. There was, instead, a fluid-filled vacancy.

If you could retrace my steps through this vale of tears you would easily find the evidence of my deficiencies. There was the simple little walnut box in 9th grade shop class that never got finished. Not in an entire school year.

There was the carburetor that I rebuilt as a teenager, because my Ford coupe was running roughly and family experts told me that this was the problem. After my rebuild, the engine would not function at all. Eventually a real mechanic had to throw away the piece that I had rendered useless (he said that there is never a need for a five-pound sledgehammer in doing carburetor work – fancy that!) and install a brand-new one.

Oh, and the privacy fence I built in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that required a series of holes to be dug in the earth, each one a given distance from the previous one. If memory serves, I dug forty such holes, and hit water in twenty-two of them.

The cartoonist Al Capp created a character that used to grace his strips who was named Joe Btfsplk, the “world’s worst jinx.” Wherever he went ladders collapsed, tires blew out, and cars ran straight into one another.

Whenever I would start a project, Joe would stop by out of curiosity and we’d chat. I never drew the line that connected those brief visits with the inevitable failures that awaited me in a day or two.

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But this clothesline stands straight and true, and rotates just like it is supposed to do. I find myself staring at it in wonder, waiting for the hammer to fall. But so far, nothing.

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Easter Sunday

Today is obviously the most unusual Easter Sunday ever. There will be no Easter Parade, no choirs belting out Handel’s Greatest Hits, and no eggs rolled in public spaces (impossible to keep those kids 6 feet apart). We will be missing the one day of the year that women of a certain age dust off their hats to wear to church – their Easter bonnets. Here in Paradise the churches are shuttered, so the single most important day on the Christian calendar will be marked by simple observations in homes or on the internet.

Robin and I are having no guests for Easter dinner, and there will be no hiding of candy eggs in the backyard for the grandkids to hunt. Nope, ’twill be a sober Easter for certain. Such is life in the emergency.

But Sunday afternoon we are Zoom-meeting with Robin’s side of our blended family, accepting seeing them in two dimensions instead of the preferred three as way better than not seeing them at all. I’ve learned how to change the background on my Zoom image, so this is what the other participants will see. Like I said, sober.

[Granddaughter Elsa may recognize the view – it’s from our tent camper parked in South Mineral Creek Campground, looking eastward toward the Red Mountains.]

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Any fisherman looking at the cartoon below will instantly identify with Ernest H.. There are times better left undocumented. To place yourself in a pristine environment, cast your line into a gorgeous river, and then pull out one of these puckered-up mutants is a blow that it might take the rest of the day to recover from.

Now I know that there are fisherman who deliberately go after carp, filling their tackleboxes with putrid baits and heavy lines, and who are delighted when they pull something out of the water that looks like a serious mistake had been made back in Creation times. I also know that there are cooks who work hard to come up with carp recipes that can create a momentary illusion of edibility. Until the person begins to chew, that is.

I know both of these things. What I don’t know is why they bother? A well-cooked carp is still a plate of mud.

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It could be that the worst of our trial is passing. That’s cold comfort to the families of the tens of thousands worldwide that have passed away from complications of Covid-19, and there are tough economic times to come for many of us. But we are given leave to start thinking about when the masks can come off and when we can begin to walk the streets without dodging one another.

I think that for me personally it will be quite a while before I shake anyone’s hand – I’ll be giving them a sincere Namaste instead with that short bow of the head.

And hugging … don’t even think about it. Come at me with open arms and you’ll send me screeching into a back bedroom to bar the door.

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No Longer Virgins, We Are

Apparently Robin and I were the last two Americans to learn about the existence of “Zoom,” a platform for sound and video conferencing. I might be exaggerating just a little, because I’ve learned that there is a pocket of non-electrified citizens living far back in the Florida Everglades who share our ignorance on the subject.

At any rate, we’ve only come into the light during the past month. Regular users of Zoom seem to think it’s better than FaceTime or Skype, the only other free platforms I’d known about until now. I will reserve judgment for a while. It does seem easier to get started with, but my past experience has been that early simplicity can be deceptive, and before long I find myself wondering if that codger up the street who used to work for Hewlett-Packard still remembers anything that might help me.

Furthermore, like many other such enterprises before it, Zoom has been caught collecting and selling data on users without their permission. Those mental pictures of executives with their hand in our till while we’re sleeping are never flattering.

Anyway, Robin and I have both Zoomed now and can never look back to that purer state of unawareness we once enjoyed. Friday noon I’m attending my first AA meeting using the app. Chats with other family and friends can probably not be far away …

[The photo at top is from 1999, from the children’s TV show, Zoom. No connection.]

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The black and white cat-beast next door has bothered enough people in our neighborhood that its owners have had to shut it away indoors for the past couple of weeks. They are considering placement for the vicious critter on a farm somewhere, and I only hope that time comes soon. If they can’t find a farm, I might suggest an urn.

It’s been so pleasant seeing our pets without new injuries that he’s caused. Just a week ago at 0300 hours he had slipped his bonds and tried to gain entrance to our house by ripping his way through the pet portal, which was fortunately firmly shuttered at the time. I have no idea who or what he was after, since he and I have a really bad vibe going. (In my dreams his claws are at my throat … )

I had reached the point where I was about to invoke city ordinances when I learned that the cat was being kept in. Glad that didn’t have to happen. I would have disliked dealing with the couple next door on a persistently hostile basis.

I actually like the couple. My read is that they’ve had trouble realizing and accepting that the big fluffy purr-y guy living with them is a killer, and does not play well with others.

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It is my friend Bill’s birthday today, and Bill is 119 years old. His recipe for living this long is simple … don’t die, whatever else you may do. He looks really good for his age, I think, and while I don’t have a more recent photo, here’s one from last summer.

Bill has a daily regimen that may be contributing to his longevity. He rises regularly at 4:00 AM, takes a shower with the water temperature set at precisely 37 degrees, then jumps on his road bike, a Trek Domane SLR 9, and off he goes for 30 miles of hard pumping. Once a week, just to make it a real workout, he will tie a rope to the bike and drag the wheel ( with tire) of a 1952 Chevvy pickup behind him.

Another shower and it’s time for calisthenics. His workout varies but usually includes 100 bent-knee situps and 50 one-handed pushups on each side.

By now it’s 8:00 and time for breakfast, where large helpings of toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and pomegranate juice are chewed, swished, and swallowed. He wipes his chin, picks up all the food fragments that have fallen into his lap, and walks to his bedroom, where he collapses onto the bed and doesn’t get out until 4:00 the next morning.

Works for him.

So … here’s hoping that I catch him during that short interval between pushups and breakfast and that this Happy Birthday wish can help make his day a bright one.

Onward … to 120!

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Bill Withers, man.

There were those hot summers when his music was like sweet salve on a burn. It is still here to soothe and inspire us all over again, nearly fifty years on.

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Battlefield Dispatch

On Wednesday morning I showed up at the City Market at 0700, to take advantage of the advertised “senior shopping hours.” There were already 60-70 people in a shapeless and meandering line reaching back into the parking lot. I examined each face in the line closely to see if there were any younger shoppers sneaking in on our senior dime. If I had found one, I had plans to publicly shame them right back to the time period where they belonged, the hours from 0800 onward.

I am using military time here, because in many ways what I found in the store resembled a military operation. Once through the doors, most of the shoppers pointed their carts toward the paper products aisle, like LSTs heading into Omaha Beach on D-Day. I can only imagine what violations of the Geneva Convention were perpetrated there by those fearful-faced older citizens grabbing at the four-paks of Charmin. There are lengths that I will go for a roll of TP, but battering my way through forty members of the shuffleboard set is not one of them. So I went there last.

Some of the workers in the produce department were wearing Kevlar vests. and I asked why this was the case. Apparently on one drizzly morning earlier in the week, there were some incidents involving angry shoppers stabbing at employees with their umbrellas, inflicting small round bruises on their chests. One man had had to defend himself with a vegetable sprayer when a gaggle cornered him between the turnips and the artichokes.

Another worker was wearing a therapeutic boot on his right foot. On the previous day, an irate customer driven mad when he learned that the store was entirely out of cilantro deliberately piloted his electric scooter over the employee’s foot. He did this not once, but went back and forth repeatedly until a passerby switched off the machine, saving the worker’s metatarsals, if not his life.

But I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to quote the great Muhammad Ali. My shopping technique is more akin to lightning commando raids rather than frontal assaults. I will slip around a large knot of carts wedged together and dart down an aisle, grab what I came for, and off I go in one fluid maneuver. It’s basically drive-by shopping. By the time the knot realizes what I’ve done, and goes en masse to the spot I just left, I am somewhere entirely else.

So at the end of an hour I had 95% of what I’d come for, which is an excellent result. As I checked out, I could still hear small-arms fire near the canned fish department, and I counted among my many blessings that I was done for the day.

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I am indebted to Andy Borowitz for this thoughtful report. The title of his piece is New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious, and it couldn’t be more timely.

I will admit that I had noticed this ongoing public experiment myself, but could not find the words to describe it properly.

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There was a time when I used to teach medical students. I no longer remember exactly what it was that I was teaching them, but no matter. For the most part they were juniors on their pediatric rotations, which is in general a fine group to work with.

On days when I was feeling positive about physicians as a class, I would relate this quote to them, taken from a longer poem by Rumi.

A dragon was pulling a bear into hits terrible mouth. A courageous man went and rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.

Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would relate the quotation, then say to the students: “That is what you have signed up for, to be one of those who run toward the screaming, rather than away. You may all take a bow.”

Of course, not all of them would grow up to be as courageous as the man in the story. Physicians are made from the same clay as everybody else. Some sinners sprinkled in among the saints. A few who run, but to hide, not to help.

But right now, there is an army of medical personnel of all classifications who deserve our admiration and praise and help. They are those on the front lines of this pandemic, way too often going to work without the tools they need to protect themselves properly, walking into rooms that most of us would avoid, in some cases isolating themselves from their own families in order not to chance bringing this new plague home to loved ones.

I salute these men and women working in hospitals and offices and clinics around the country. Doctors, nurses, laboratory and radiology techs, physician’s assistants, orderlies, receptionists, security officers … the list goes on. Their courage and personal sacrifice are the antidote to the cynicism about our species that I sometimes feel.

When you compare their quiet everyday heroism with the behavior of our President, for instance, you can see so clearly what billions of dollars cannot buy.

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Light snow this Saturday morning. We took our constitutionals yesterday walking in the bluffs along the Uncompahgre, and whenever our heads peeked up over the crest of the hills we were met with a 30 mph wind, which was refreshing to say the least.

it was not hazardous hiking, although there were a few spots where if you would stumble and fall down the hill, you wouldn’t come to rest for quite a way, and at that point you would begin a long hour of picking cactus spines out of your epidermis.

I was reminded of a time past when I was (really, I was) considering hiking up Long’s Peak, which is a fourteener that tens of thousands of people who don’t share my phobias have climbed. In doing my research, I bought a book describing how all of the people who had died on that climb had perished.

Most of them had been struck by lightning, which I learned could largely be avoided by not being on top when the afternoon storms rolled in. Then there was the guy who went all the way up only to do what he came for, which was to jump off and end it all.

And then there was the guy whose story cancelled my plans. He was traversing a stretch where one walks along a rather narrow ledge. A gust of wind came by and blew him off the ledge. Blew him off the ledge was all I had to read. There was no amount of psychological training for my acrophobia or knowing that I needed to be getting down from the peak before the storms that could neutralize such a threat.

Long’s Peak is still there, and I am still here. We’ve never met.

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Inoffensive Care Unit

Well, it had to happen. The number of cases of Covid-19 quadrupled over the last two days in Montrose County. From 1 to 4.

All of the patients were taken to a remote line camp on a ranch in an undisclosed location up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, along with 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, a good Coleman stove and lantern, four excellent (zero degrees-rated) down sleeping bags, and enough back issues of True West magazine to last them at least a month.

Some of the boys who rode up with them chopped enough wood to last the unfortunates for a solid week, and set the pile up right against the cabin where they could get at it easy. We don’t pamper our patients here in Paradise like they do in some other places. We sympathize, but by God, iffen you can’t take care of yourself in this world of trials and troubles, we don’t think you’re much of a cowboy.

We’ll check on them every couple of days …

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You could see it coming. This morning (Thursday) at 0600, by decree of Governor Polis, we are officially under a Stay At Home policy. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, it will not be much different for Robin and I, except it will be even harder to get a haircut than it was, and it was already impossible.

Details as to how it will be enforced aren’t clear at all. Probably not as vigorously as in daughter Maja’s situation in Lima, where she would be stopped and asked to show her papers on her way to a bodega. And where she saw people being hustled into military vehicles and carted away.

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David Brooks is not given to emotional outbursts. He is the very soul of responsible and thoughtful conservatism, and wouldn’t be caught dead with an epithet in his eminently sober mouth. No way. Too cool for that.

So when I saw the title of his latest piece in the Times of New York, I just had to read it, and I offer it to you here. Click on: Screw This Virus!

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And while we’re citing op/eds, this essay by Leonard Pitts was so beautifully written … a small but humbling story. Click on: Coronavirus crisis reveals the depth of our grace — and our greed 

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Robin has discovered a new (to us) communications software called Zoom. (As if senior citizens needed more than FaceTime and Skype.)

But this one seems a little easier to use, and is very straightforward in its rules and regulations. It is cross-platform and allows conference calls of up to 100 participants, which in the era of social distancing is not to be sniffed at. Robin used it a couple of days ago for a meeting of her book club, and those who participated thought it fun and very workable.

The amazing thing for all three of these programs is how much utility they provide the occasional user like ourselves, for free. Yes, friends, for the low low introductory price of only zero dollars, that’s zero down and zero per month, you too can start your own communications empire.

If this interests you at all, you can start your journey at zoom.us.

[Disclosure: we received no funds from Zoom.us for this endorsement. We tried like hell to get some, but failed miserably.]

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The music today is definitely not cool. I started to pick out a couple of tunes to go along with the first item in today’s post, but as I listened to them it became more than that.

They are from the pre-rock and roll part of my existence. From the Saturday movie matinees where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and all of their buddies did improbably brave things while wearing fancy outfits that never got dirty. Whose silver-plated guns glistened enough to blind adversaries, but which never ever killed anyone. And these songs, corny as they might seem now, were played straight in all of those films.

They were the background music for a time when I believed in everything. The world was fair, courage and honor always won the day, and tragedy – why, what was that? If a guy knew he was about to pass into that great pasture in the sky, there was nothing for it but to smile bravely as you saddled up ol’ Buckskin, or ol’ Paint, or ol’ Trigger or Champion and rode out into the sunset.

I’ve had to temper some of those ideas since that uncomplicated time, but listening this morning I could remember exactly how it was when I first heard these songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Like uncorking a wine bottled in 1948.

Still tastes good, actually.

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This week Colorado abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. In the graphic below, which is now obsolete, our state’s color has gone from blue to green.

There were three men on our death row, whose sentences were commuted to life without parole. Looking at the graphic, in general it would seem that the closer a state is to Canada the more likely it is to be enlightened on this issue.

No matter what a person’s feelings are about the morality of the death penalty, there are two facts that stand out. One is that it is basically a penalty reserved for the poor. If you can afford Alan Dershowitz’ services (and others of his high-billing breed), you are not going to be hung, gassed, shot, guillotined, drawn, quartered, or given a lethal injection. Period. Never, ever happen.

The second is that it is not a rare thing for a person to be wrongfully convicted and executed. Anyone who labors under the delusion that our justice system is completely trustworthy and that everybody on death row deserves to be there … lord have mercy, I just don’t know what to say!

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