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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