Anyone Need Their Savage Breast Soothed?

A few months ago when I discovered that half my digital music collection had silently and irretrievably gone south forever, I did not lose my mind. Getting the info off the guilty eternal disc drive might have been possible with professional help, but the costs were prohibitive.

And yet I am still nearly sane and quite happy. It’s not the tragedy it would have been a few years ago, because in the digital era, especially with subscription music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music, I can listen to music all day long for a few bucks a month. This includes every tune that I lost, and all for less than the price of one album. So I have let the episode go, decided it was a good lesson learned and joined the millions of people who say: music collection … why would I even need such a thing?

I had a fairly large vinyl collection once upon a time, but when compact discs hit the market I went with them immediately. (I am obviously not a vinyl romanticist, and do not ascribe magical qualities to any recording format.) I will let the purists argue over whether digital music is better or worse than the analog stuff on those old LPs. Arguing either viewpoint is just not interesting to me. Only the music is interesting.

Perhaps if I were younger I would care more. If my hearing were better and I didn’t have any of that blasted tinnitus, I might perceive meaningful differences. But with the ears I have, an mp3 is more than adequate to please me these days.

I have chosen Apple Music as the service to use, but not for any good reason. I would have been happy with any of the others, I am pretty certain. And as time passes I am becoming more skillful in getting out of it what I want. It is really a treat to be able to double down on a particular artist and explore all that they have recorded without needing to purchase anything and then having to store it somewhere.

Of course, if the apocalypse arrives and I don’t have the internet I won’t have any music to listen to. However, I suspect that in any apocalypse worth its name the power would go out and I wouldn’t be able to play what I had on the shelf, either. It’s sort of in the nature of apocalypses to be a drag, it seems.

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It amuses me to listen to the discussions about the wonderfulness of vinyl records. While they were the best music source of their time, they were not without their issues. I had turntables that would apply a stylus weight of just a gram or two so as not to carve away any microbits of plastic with music on them. And yet they still did some of that carving, just more slowly.

And then there was the regular necessary cleaning of the disc surface with products designed just for that job. Heat could warp the discs, they were brittle in cold weather, and even if you did everything exactly right in trying to preserve their contents, there are fungi all about us that eat vinyl for breakfast that were ready to settle on your records as soon as you brought them out. Meaning that even unplayed discs were slowly degrading in their envelopes as these tiny creatures chewed away.

Vinyl albums also had mechanical limitations in their playback. You could only listen to one side and then had to get up and flip the disc over. You could only play the cuts in the order they had been recorded, and this included having to listen to that tune you hated located in the middle of side B (unless, once again, you got out of your chair and walked over to the turntable to move the arm). You could not mix artists, which is why making our own mixtapes became so popular when good quality cassettes and Dolby recording technology finally came along.

Those mixtapes provided us the opportunity to make our first playlists, where we could set up an evening’s listening the way we wanted it. And which we now take for granted, as if they’d always been there, courtesy of ol’Thomas Edison hisself.

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Continuing our raking through the ashes of movies made about those madcap Tudors, Robin and I watched a film from the seventies called Mary, Queen of Scots. It starred Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, two acting powerhouses if ever there were any. The original story itself is quite a dramatic one, with schemings and plottings and beheadings enough to satisfy most people.

But we thought the movie was a dud. Redgrave played the role of the doomed Mary, and she came across as a dimbulb who became infatuated with nearly anyone in pantaloons who came within reach. By the time she was marched to the block and the axe fell, we were ready to be rid of her, truth be told.

But what a story the history books tell. Elizabeth (here played by Jackson), was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, another decapitee of note, and became one of the premier queens of all time. But she had no children, so that James, the son of Mary (whose head Elizabeth had caused to be lopped off) became king of England upon Elizabeth’s death. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. For a movie to take such tantalizing material and make it all seem dull and irritating really took some doing.

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We had friends over Thursday for the evening meal. They have a daughter now living in Lima, Peru, and had made a trip to visit her just a month ago. We insisted that they bring their pictures of the trip with them, since our own visit to that city several years ago had been such a memorable one.

Now, I ask you, how often do you get asked to show pictures of your vacation? For myself, the answer is never. It may be because I was once famous for never throwing any photograph away, no matter how poor it was. Which made the showing of the vacation slides an event to be dreaded and avoided at nearly all costs. Here is what a sample of my voiceover for any slideshow in the past might have sounded like:

So here we are in … wait a minute … where is this? This picture doesn’t even belong here, it’s from another trip, for goodness sake. Here we are. This is a picture of me and Robin on a quaint street in Santa Fe. Can you see us back there … if you look closely … see, over there by the pillar? Here’s another one and I apologize for the blurriness, I tried to take it while driving the car and shooting out the window. This next one … well, you’ll just have to use your imaginations … it’s the entire cast of the movie Dirty Harry. Too bad the only shot I had was of them walking away down the block … there … that tall one … that’s the back of Clint Eastwood’s head.

Now let’s get back to Thursday evening. We decided upon a laid-back country-style meal, and we settled on meatloaf, a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and enough steamed broccoli to have sent that famous brocco-phobe George HW Bush straight to the ICU.

Now, when we decided to feature something as homely and comfort-foodish as meatloaf, we felt we needed to find something a little special in that department. Something out of the ordinary. On the web I ran across a recipe for this dish that had a charming backstory. It was called the Market Street Meatloaf, and if you’re interested you can read that story here.

To be brief, the dish was a roaring success. It was almost embarrassing what with all of us trying to stab yet another slice of the loaf while trying not to become a victim of all those pointy implements converging on it from all directions. Words were exchanged that may require months for the wounds to heal, and Robin saw a side of me that was better kept under wraps. But we finished the meal without serious injuries, and that’s always a good thing.

When the evening was over, and our guests had gone home, what was left over from what had looked at first like a week’s worth of meatloaf was only enough for one sandwich. We’ll try to be civil about it tomorrow, but there is only that one sandwich possible …. .

I will share the recipe with you, but if you ever serve it to a group, make sure that the rules of engagement are clear before the meal begins. Better done that way, I think.

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Saturday was nearly a record warm day for Paradise. So we decided to take one of our old standby hikes up at Black Canyon National Park as the first real test for Robin’s new knee. It turns out that we rushed the season a bit, because the trail was half snow/half mud. But we did two miles of it, puffing as we always do when we first exert ourselves each year at altitudes over 8000 feet.

And the verdict on the rebuilt knee – it worked very well, indeed.

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Comparisons

It’s not that today’s creative people are not turning out worthy projects, too many to count, really. But I am finding taking a personal journey back through films and writings that once made major impressions on me to be so interesting that I am having trouble finding time for the new stuff.

It’s taking navel gazing to new depths, or heights, whichever way you want to look at it. For instance, back when one needed to have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be considered a person worth talking to in the small area of society that I occupied, I liked it enough that there are still passages that I can remember almost fifty years later. But when I tried to get into it recently it did not move me, and I never finished it. I’ll have to give it another shot, I think.

According to Edward Abbey, the book is a fictionalized autobiography of a 17-day journey that Pirsig made on a motorcycle from Minnesota  to Northern California along with his son Chris. The story of this journey is recounted in a first-person narrative, although the author is not identified. Father and son are also accompanied, for the first nine days of the trip, by close friends John and Sylvia Sutherland, with whom they part ways in Montana. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, referred to as Chautauquas by the author, on topics including epistemology, the history of philosophy, and the of philosophy of science.

Wikipedia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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The Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell lit up my life back when I was a twenty-something. If you haven’t read it, it’s a story of a young tough growing up in Chicago in the Twenties.

Farrell chose to use his own personal knowledge of Irish-American life on the South Side of Chicago to create a portrait of an average American slowly destroyed by the “spiritual poverty” of his environment. Both Chicago and the Catholic Church of that era are described at length and faulted. Farrell describes Studs sympathetically as Studs slowly deteriorates, changing from a tough but fundamentally good-hearted, adventurous teenage boy to an embittered, physically shattered alcoholic.

Wikipedia: Studs Lonigan

When I first read it, I was the same age as the character Studs Lonigan was in the first novel and a young not-too-tough growing up in Minnesota. Now I am older than the character was at the other end of his life. I liked the books both times, but the effect on me reading it as a young man was all enveloping at a time when I had no idea who I was going to be. I could so relate to Studs and his struggles in that first novel.

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Last evening I re-watched the movie Key Largo. A fine film and each time I watch it I notice different things. This time it was that some of the lines they gave to Lauren Bacall and to Lionel Barrymore seemed stilted, forced, not how I think people would really speak at all. The movie was a stage play first before it was made into a film, and those lines would have seemed apropos in that setting, might have been expected, actually. It wasn’t really a distraction, but it’s where the difference between the stage and screen productions shows up.

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The book Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, was published in 1985. I came across it a couple of years later, and have re-read it several times since then. It was one of those books about an era that hit me as how the West might really have been. It seemed real. Of course, how would I know?

McMurtry himself eventually expressed dissatisfaction with the popularity of the novel, particularly after the miniseries adaptation. In the preface to the 2000 edition he wrote: “It’s hard to go wrong if one writes at length about the Old West, still the phantom leg of the American psyche. I thought I had written about a harsh time and some pretty harsh people, but, to the public at large, I had produced something nearer to an idealization; instead of a poor man’s Inferno, filled with violence, faithlessness and betrayal, I had actually delivered a kind of Gone With the Wind of the West, a turnabout I’ll be mulling over for a long, long time.”

Wikipedia: Lonesome Dove, the novel

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Another one that seemed real, even though my wartime service was 8500 miles from any battlefront, was Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes. His story of the experiences of a Marine officer in Viet Nam was unforgettable. Without having any direct knowledge of my own that was in any way similar to his, I got the sense that this was how it was most powerfully. Again, how would I know?

The book is set in Vietnam in 1969 and draws from the experiences of Marlantes, who commanded a Marine rifle platoon. The novel looks at the hardships endured by the Marines who waged the war on behalf of America. It concerns the exploits of second lieutenant Waino Mellas, a recent college graduate, and his compatriots in Bravo Company, most of whom are teenagers. “Matterhorn” is the code name for a fire-support base in Quang Try Province, on the border between Laos and the Vietnamese DMZ. At the beginning of the novel, the Marines build the base, but later they are ordered to abandon it. The latter portions of the novel detail the struggles of Bravo Company to retake the base, which fell into enemy hands after it was abandoned.

Wikipedia: Matterhorn (novel)

Anyway, it’s been an enjoyable exercise so far. BTW, I have read War and Peace three times over the past forty years, and it was a fine journey each time. At each of those readings, when I turned the last page I didn’t want the story to be over. (I wonder if there are any podcasts by Tolstoy out there, I have questions for him … did he make any, do you know?)

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Some years back, I was watching a television news program that contained an obituary of a famous person who had just passed away the day before the program. It was so well done, containing bits of video, quotes from contemporaries etc., that it was obvious to me that it had to have been prepared well in advance of the person’s death. It seemed just too polished to have been done in less than 24 hours.

Looking into the matter, I found that somewhere in the bowels of large media organizations there are workers whose job it is to prepare these things. And to keep them updated in cases where the subject is inconsiderate enough to continue to live on and make more history for themselves. There have been times when the author of an obituary has died before the subject did.

It’s not an important topic, just one of those little weirdnesses of life. If I were such an exalted personage as to have my obit on file somewhere, I think that I might ask the media outlet to let me edit the darned thing, just to get it the way I liked it. Polish it up, add a little rosy glow to the prose. I could pass along a couple of selfies as well.

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I’m not at all certain that the larger world is ready for this photograph, but I can’t always protect you, you know. Sometimes you must take life on life’s terms.

This is me in my intern’s outfit. White for purity, pocket jammed with pens and pencils, and with my oldest daughter Kari being forced to act as ornamentation. You can see how happy she was to be included, poor thing.

This would have been taken in 1966, at which time there were few self-respecting university students who didn’t have a bookcase made of pine boards and bricks in their apartments or homes. They were inexpensive to put together and lent a certain rustic charm to the dwelling. Their only drawback was that they were heavy and unmoored so that the structure could fairly easily tip forward and crush anyone unlucky enough to be standing close by.

Baby Face by Little Richard

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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When Robin was away this past weekend, I went to the web and watched Apocalypse Now: Redux. It’s the version that put back 49 minutes of film that had been edited out the first time around. This made an already long movie way longer (153 versus 202 minutes) and was not to its benefit. What had been a strange and depressing film was now even stranger, more depressing, and right there on the outskirts of depraved.

I won’t be re-watching any versions in the future. I think that I’m finally done with it.

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Finally, this morning’s NYTimes included a stunner. The wreckage of the ship Endurance, which sank 106 years ago in the Antarctic, has been found by some intrepid folks. It’s the latest chapter in one of the best shipwreck stories ever. Following this link will get you to the article and a short video that stirred what scrap of adventurer I still have left in my soul. Might do the same for you.

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Madness

A couple of definitions here. Paradise is the land, the waters, the mountains … the amazing natural wonders citizens see every day they walk out their front door here in the Grand Valley. But Paradise is presently suffering from an under-abundance of rainfall, and while the natural scientists reassure us that this drought probably won’t last more than another several hundred years, it is easy to worry a bit, especially if your occupation is water-dependent.

I will introduce a new word here today, Pandemia. That is the community of people inhabiting Paradise. A community of which I am, willy-nilly, a member. We are a problematic bunch of citizenry indeed. Pandemia was largely brought into focus by a mischievous virus whose name I will not dignify by mentioning it here, but I will call it La Peste. It passes easily from person to person if you let it, but any sensible person would try to limit their exposure. Because you could just die from it.

The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.

H.L. Mencken

There are four basic principles involved in protecting yourself against La Peste. Principles that under normal circumstances would not even be argued because they are based on facts, science, common sense, and our accumulated knowledge of the behavior of infectious diseases. These four are:

  • Wear a mask
  • Keep a respectable distance between you and your neighbor
  • Don’t go out into large crowds
  • Get vaccinated

Pretty simple, no? Half of the citizens of Pandemia followed these guidelines and have done so from the beginning of this story. When the vaccines became available, they lined up in droves, glad to finally have a material way to strike back against La Peste. The other half of our neighbors have ignored all of the principles from Day 1 right up to the present, with a variety of reasons given that are sometimes laughable and sometimes just make you want to tear your hair out … or their hair, even better.

No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

H.L. Mencken

Part of the problem was our leadership. We had very little of it, at least at the local level. Not from the mayor, nor the city council, nor our medical community. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, trying to educate these folks, many of whom believe that Hilary Clinton runs a chain of pizza parlors where children are captured and farmed out to pedophiles around the nation. Or who are breathlessly waiting for the day that ex-POTUS Cluck will rise from the politically dead in (3, 7, 30, 100, ???? days) and go on to lead the faithful to victory over gays and godless Democrats.

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. 

H.L. Mencken

It appears that there are a substantial number of people who are unreachable through information. Many refuse to learn even from the most powerful experience, as in the case of those who perish from La Peste while denying its existence with their last breaths.

I will work in a word or two about myself here. I can speak with the authority of age, which along with a dollar and a half might get you a cup of coffee from a convenience store. Over time I have succumbed to self-delusion more than once. There was my infatuation with Marjorie Heath in the second grade and my abject misery when I learned that not only did she not return my affections, but didn’t even know I was in her class.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

H.L. Mencken

Then there was the hope that sprung in my breast when John Kennedy was elected president. Because I knew that he would bring our country further along the highway to perfection. And it didn’t hurt that he and his wife were the perfect handsome fronts for our ever- renewing and shining democracy. Learning after his passing that he might have achieved a lot more had he spent less time in the intimate company of women other than his wife and more time at the conference tables was not a tonic for yours truly. Not a tonic at all.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

H.L. Mencken

More recently, there was my derisive laughter when a certain Mr. Cluck was nominated to run for the office of president the first time. I thought “Well, here’s a gift for the Democrats, with Cluck running they could nominate an armadillo and win in a landslide.” That delusion lasted right up to late in the evening of election day.

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken

As you can see, I have had my problems with keeping my feet on the ground from time to time, and I have swallowed a version of The Kool-Aid more than once. Trying to keep your wits together when so many around you have lost theirs is a full-time job. A person can only hope that they are up to the task.

[My thanks to H.L. Mencken, a delightfully sarcastic dude if there ever was one, for his help in writing this post. He is hands down my favorite codger.]

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On Thursday the NYTimes did a really interesting piece on the movie “The Godfather.” Apparently the original prints are decaying and the costly restoration process is well underway. The article includes an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, the movie’s director. Although I have seen the film several times, what I still remember most is the feeling when I walked out of the theater after that first viewing. That the makers of that film had taken characters who were very, very bad men indeed and made me care about what happened to them. Had made them sympathetic. It was an epiphany of sorts.

I realized that I had been hornswoggled and gained more respect for what a powerful tool movies could be, both for good and not so good.

I also realized that I was definitely a susceptible and had better watch myself in the future, lest I be led seriously astray one day.

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This past Tuesday we finally received a welcome dose of moisture in the form of beautiful snow. Several inches in the valley … much more in the mountains.

South of Montrose about 40 miles, the DOT had to close Red Mountain Pass because of what you see in the photograph. Now this is the road that I wouldn’t drive on for the first year we lived in Paradise because of its hazards (and my acrophobia).

What is not obvious in the picture’s frame is that about ten feet to the right of what you see here is a cliff that goes straight down with your eternal reward waiting for you at the bottom. Looking at pictures like this, I ask myself: for all the money in the world, would I pilot that snowplow?

It’s a rhetorical question.

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Former pres. Cluck thinks that Mr. Putin, Russia’s psychopath-in-chief, is a hell of a guy and wouldn’t it be nice if more countries had such strong leadership?

He is “pretty smart,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday at a Florida fund-raiser, assessing the impending invasion like a real estate deal. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” he said, “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in.”

NYTImes February 24, 2022

Whatta guy. Just when you think he’s already at the bottom of history’s latrine trench, Putin hands him a fresh shovel and he goes right to work and digs even deeper.

So we have another example of political failures in front of us in the present invasion of the Ukraine. The world’s leaders puff and strut, armies are set in motion, and the suffering begins in a new location. That old African proverb about the elephants fighting has unfortunately never ceased to be relevant.

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. This ancient proverb of the Kikuyu people, a tribal group in Kenya, Africa, is as true today as when the words were first spoken, perhaps thousands of years ago. Its essence is simplicity—when the large fight, it is the small who suffer most. And when it comes to war, the smallest, the most vulnerable, are the children.

Orca Books.com

It’s all madness.

War, by Edwin Starr
And I Am Still Searching, by Pete Seeger

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Dally Ho!

I’ve decided that if I can’t live under a patriarchy, I don’t want to live under any system whose title has the letters “-archy” in it at all. Certainly not a matriarchy, although that may be what is coming soon. I am afraid that the paybacks that would follow such a seismic turnover would consume the remainder of my time on earth, ending up with my spending my last days wearing a babushka and disguised as a woman while hiding in bombed-out basements and supporting myself by selling baked potatoes on street corners. “Get your nice hot Murphys here.”

I’d rather not have an oligarchy, either, although it’s possible that we may be there already and I’m just too oblivious to notice. Nope … no “archies” at all, thank you very much. Here is a short list of some others I would rather avoid at all costs:

  • Ecclestiarchy
  • Heresiarchy
  • Plutarchy
  • Anarchy
  • Monarchy
  • Nanarchy
  • Futarchy
  • et al

I don’t trust the –archies because there isn’t a single one of them other than patriarchy that would have me as a member, and I am highly suspect even there because I don’t hunt, drink, or watch football. The ecclesiasts would be after me because I wasn’t religious enough, the heretics because I hid Easter eggs for my kids when they were very young, the monarchists wouldn’t take my plebeian calls at all, and the plutarchists couldn’t be bothered with anyone driving such a modest car as a Subaru.

So how many uninhabited islands are there on the planet? I wouldn’t need much. A clean and abundant fresh water supply, pleasant climate, good soil for growing things, no Komodo dragons, and high-speed internet. That would do it for me. Oh, and regular visits by a supply boat for incidentals.

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The latest news from CNN has been awkward, to say the least. Apparently a couple of years ago, responding to rumors of hanky and panky among upper echelon management, investigators placed spy/janitors on each floor of the headquarters building in Atlanta. These men and women worked in shifts round the clock and were instructed to watch for anything suspicious. They were equipped with camera mops, periscopes, poison pills to swallow should they be detected, guns disguised as cans of Lemon Pledge, and devices that were sensitive to traces of latex and lubricants in the air. Turns out that most of these janitors were former Mafia in a witness protection program operating out of Bayonne, New Jersey.

Almost immediately the alarms started going off, the cameras started clicking, and before long massive dossiers were collected on basically everyone above the level of the runners who rounded up the coffees for morning staff meetings.

So far there have been only a couple of resignations, but it is anticipated that before long all of the occupants of the 23rd and 24th floors will have to be let go. The official line is that there has been a sharp drop in rectitude and a drastic increase in turpitude among these personnel.

There is a problem which surfaces in situations like these, and that is determining the acceptable level of adultery and other sexual wanderings in the journalistic professions. Purists say that the level should be zero, but there is a sense that this stringent standard would severely impact future hirings and a more moderate position will have to be taken.

It’s all reminiscent of the FDA deciding what levels of rodent hairs and insect parts were acceptable in cereals. There was no way to get the level down to zero, not when dealing with natural products such as grains, so they had to make choices. How much was okay, and what was just too ugly? It’s a reality I choose to ignore each day at breakfast, and I take the same approach with who is dallying with who at CNN.

Look At Miss Ohio, by Gillian Welch

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Well, we did it. On Wednesday we experienced on of our rare snowfalls of the season. One of those beauties with flakes as big as dinner plates slipping toward earth and covering everything you see while clinging to the branches of the plants and trees making the world magical. Robin and I turned to one another and said as one: Zhivago.

Such an evening was perfect for our triennial re-watching of a movie that features snow and ice and visible breath at least half the time. And the running time is a generous 200 minutes. So if you pick the right moment you can get a snowfall looking out the window and the same thing on the screen in the living room. This double dose could conceivably give you hypothermia even while sitting on your own couch.

There is this, however. We can’t stay up late enough to watch the whole thing at one sitting. To attempt this would be to miss most of the second half, even if our eyelids were propped open with toothpicks. So Wednesday night our viewing took us to the intermission, and Thursday evening we finished it off.

The interesting thing for me was that I remembered nearly everything that happened on screen. But then I thought … well, sure … I first saw it when I still had a memory worthy of the name. Back when what my eyes took in was actually recorded in those little electrochemical packets somewhere in my nervous system. If I saw it for the first time today, in two months if anyone asked me if I’d seen the film, I would have to turn to Robin and ask her if we had. And her response would be – “was that the one with the Russians?”

But oh … the movie, you ask … what about the movie? It was splendid, as usual.

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Here’s a Sunday morning treat. thirty photographs from around the world of children playing. Different photographers coming up with expressions of the joy that children are fully able to find for themselves. Often the best gift we adults can give our kids is to stand back, take our hands off, and let them do their very own thing.

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Pardon My Dribble

On Saturday afternoons, I am finding out, there are often scheduled basketball tourneys for middle school players in the field house section of the recreation center. If I am unwise enough to choose one of those afternoons as the time for my exercise session, I need to wade through a great number of newly formed adolescents to get to the places I need to be.

Sometimes I take a moment to watch and I am pleasantly surprised by the ball-handling skills these younger players already have developed. Dribbling behind the back, through the legs, blind passes … these were rarities when I went to high school, and none of the players on the Sibley Warriors (my HS team) did any of that stuff. In fact, among the eight teams in our conference there was really only one player who did.

His name was Dale and he played guard for South Saint Paul High School. His dribbling and passing were way beyond anything the rest of the players could aspire to. In fact his passes were so sharp and quick that often a teammate found himself quite unexpectedly in possession of the ball as if by magic, and then had to decide what to do with the gift he’d received.

Now Dale might have been one heck of a basketball player, but he was not an honor student. He was also not an honor citizen. Dale was twenty years old and this was his senior year. Rumors had it that he used (gasp) more than one variety of what we now call recreational chemicals, that he’d crossed a few lines when it came to private property ownership, and that a major reason for his advanced age in high school were the months spent in juvenile correctional facilities.

But rumors aside, when he came down the court he did so with a cool nonchalance that said it all – that he knew this was only a game and about as unimportant as anything could be in the scheme of things and that nothing in his future depended on what happened tonight but By Damn he loved basketball and he was the best man on the court and we were all invited to watch and see how the game could be played.

Dale did not suit up every time that South St. Paul came to play us. His particular personality brought him into fairly frequent conflict with coaches and school authorities. Suspensions and expulsions were all a part of everyday life for him. But I loved to watch him when I could, even though in the zero-sum game that was high-school sports – when everything went well for Dale it meant that my Warriors lost.

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From The New Yorker

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In the wintertime … especially at night … when those big snowflakes are falling … if I wanted to fantasize it would be that I am this guy. Dr. Yuri Zhivago.

And the fantasy would always be the same – face wreathed in a cloud of one’s own breath, gloves cut off so that fingertips are exposed, wolves howling outside the completely frosted-over windows … sitting in an icy room and scribbling away about Lara or Tonya or the war … so many topics to fire the imagination of a freezing poet.

Ahhh, that’s the life my alter ego, the doomed romantic artist, might live. Holed up in an abandoned and ice-festooned dacha, burning the furniture in vain attempts to stay warm, hiding from the many warring parties in the Russian Revolution, scrabbling for what was left of last year’s harvest (tonight we’re having carrots and potatoes, and for variety tomorrow’s supper will be potatoes and carrots). Trying to figure out why it is that although I have a lover in each of two adjoining villages, I can’t seem to make either one of them happy.

We own a copy of the movie Dr. Zhivago, and every few years will sit down and watch it over again. It’s a thing of beauty. A great cast, grand cinematography, beautiful musical soundtrack, and a story told against the background of one of modern civilization’s truly convulsive heaves. What’s not to like?

Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago

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From The New Yorker

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The year that Robin and I moved to Paradise there was a local scandal that erupted (I hasten to add that it had nothing to do with us). One of the two funeral parlors in Montrose had been indulging in some hanky-panky involving sale of body parts and careless handling of the clients’ remains. To the point where if you received an urnful of ashes from their crematorium, they might very well be a strangers’ remains. In fact, they might not be human ashes at all, but plaster dust.

For whatever reason, this situation has still not been resolved in the courts. Every few months there will be yet another piece in our local paper showing some dejected-looking citizen holding an urn whose contents are being disputed. Families all across the Western Slope are still looking for that unicorn of emotional health … closure.

Now there are some spoilsports and ne’er-do-wells who point to this seeming impasse as a perfect example of why we should really give up the notion of looking to the justice system for justice. If it can take more than seven years to decide whether a crime has been committed and who did it in the case of Where Are Grandpa’s Ashes, Anyway, what hope is there for the rest of the mess?

Prosecutors often don’t even pursue the death penalty against the rich — think O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, and John du Pont (of the chemical du Ponts). You needn’t hire a Johnnie Cochran or a Clarence Darrow to get the treatment. An analysis of Georgia cases showed that prosecutors were almost twice as likely to ask for the death penalty when the defendant couldn’t afford a lawyer. Nationwide an estimated 90-plus percent of those arrested for capital crimes are too poor to retain experienced private counsel. In Kentucky, a quarter of death row inmates were defended by lawyers who were later disbarred (or resigned to avoid disbarment); other states are similar. A few states have offices dedicated to providing a proper defense for capital defendants, but a Texas jurist summed up the attitude elsewhere: “The Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake.” 

Cecil Adams, The June 30, 2006.

When the doors of a courthouse clang together behind you after you’ve entered, you find that you are a hapless player in a game where all of the rules are made up by the attorneys themselves in a system so obtuse and convoluted that only they can find their way in it. This has led to a rich trove of jokes and puns describing the relationships of ordinary humans to members of the legal profession. I will reproduce three of them here. The first one fits our problem of the funeral home awfully well. The other two are … well … delicious.

What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer might let a case drag on for several years. A good lawyer knows how to make it last even longer.

An attorney was working late one night in his office when, suddenly, Satan appeared before him. The Devil made him an offer. “I will make it so you win every case that you try for the rest of your life. Your clients will worship you, your colleagues will be in awe, and you will make enormous amounts of money. But, in return, you must give me your soul, your wife’s soul, the souls of your children, your parents, grandparents, and those of all of your friends.” The lawyer thought about it for a moment, then asked, “But what’s the catch?”

What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

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The music of Warren Zevon popped into my head as my earworm this morning, music which is always welcome no matter what the circumstances.

His live album Stand In The Fire (which still absolutely slams) was in constant rotation back when I was saving up tuition money for my admission to AA University. Zevon was a smart songwriter in a sometimes crude industry and one of his biggest fans was another smart man, David Letterman.

When he was near the end of his life, a victim of mesothelioma, he made his last appearance on Letterman’s show.

On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness.

Warren had been a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since  Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.”He also thanked Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”.

For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”

The day after Zevon’s death, Letterman paid tribute to him by replaying his performance of “Mutineer” from his last appearance. The Late Show band played Zevon’s songs throughout the night.

Warren Zevon, Wikipedia

So in deference to today’s ear worm, I will share with you two of my personal favorites. Lawyers, Guns, and Money is from the live album I mentioned a moment ago, and Keep Me In Your Heart is from his last album, The Wind. It’s a lovely goodbye.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Keep Me In Your Heart

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Several years back I put together a stream of photos with a soundtrack. Many of you have seen it. But over time and after posting back and forth with the old YouTube algorithms, the quality had deteriorated badly. So here is a new version of the same video, with a few added slides. If you think you recognize anyone in the video, it’s your imagination. These are all paid actors.

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Do It Thyself

A week or so ago I did what I know better not to do. Something that has been proven to be a bad idea for several decades now. I decided to fix something that was awry with the house, on my own, with nothing but YouTube as my instructor.

The drain on the left side of the kitchen sink had developed some rust, as do many old things, and I deemed it unsightly enough to warrant replacement. So I did my “research,” bought the parts needed, and set to the project

I first unscrewed several things under the sink, and loosening one of them unleashed a small torrent of water from something called the “trap.” Apparently I should have known about this water, but I had missed that on the video. I pulled out the rusty drain and installed the shiny new one. YouTube had suggested using a particular goo around the device, which I applied liberally. I then reconnected all of the plastic pipes, bumped my head on the door frame, and exited the workspace cursing only lightly and under my breath.

Now I filled the sink … no leaking. Later I ran the dishwasher … no leaking. But my joy was short-lived because over the next few days it began to leak – somewhere – I just couldn’t find where the water was coming from. So I finally gave up and called a plumber. Within two minutes after arrival at our home he made the diagnosis, and asked me:

Plumber: What did you do with the conical washer that came from here (he pointed at a joint)?

Me: There was no conical washer.

Plumber: Of course there was. It hadn’t leaked for the seven years you have been living here, and didn’t start leaking until you messed about with the pipes. There had to have been a washer at that position, or it would have leaked every day you have lived in the house. You just missed it while you were clumsily tearing apart the fixture.

Me: I tell you that there was no such washer, and what you call “clumsily tearing apart” was in my case careful attention to detail.

Plumber: Sure, sure, have it your way. But that washer was as big as a golf ball and you never saw it.

Me: Look here, I am tiring of arguing with a plumber, something which I long ago vowed never to do, and would like you to take your wrenches and cements and opinions and leave my home immediately. My last word on the subject is that there never was a washer.

Plumber: Had to be there

Me: Never was

Plumber: You are a fool!

Me: Imbecile!

(The plumber picks up a hefty wrench for himself, and holds out another to me.)

Plumber: Defend yourself, Sir!

(I grab a can from the pantry behind me which turns out to be PAM. I point the nozzle at the miscreant.)

Me: Drop that hardware, you dimwit, or I will lubricate you within an inch of your life!

At this point I am not sure what would have happened had not Robin entered the room with a look on her face that caused a quick exit by the tradesman. I too slunk away, hoping to avoid a conversation for as long as possible. In this I was to be disappointed, but I won’t bore you with all of the details of what Robin said as she held me by the scruff of my neck. I can, however, say that much of her monologue touched on various sorts of incompetency to be found in certain people who lived at her address.

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From The New Yorker

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From The New Yorker

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Last night we watched a movie called “The Boy Called Christmas.” You never know with modern films created for the yuletide market. Most of them are losers. This one isn’t. It’s a smart fable, with elves, woodcutters, kidnappings, blizzards, and enough beautiful winter photography to make you pull your afghan up around your neck.

There is also excellent CGI stuff throughout the movie, especially a gorgeous reindeer who goes by the name of Blitzen. You get to watch Maggie Smith and Kristen Wiig do their thing, and the kid who plays the title role … where do they get these excellent child actors? He doesn’t miss a beat.

There is some serious stuff in the story, like the loss of a parent, that are dealt with without drowning in either grief or platitudes. There are also some mildly scary episodes that might be better skipped by kids under five. One of them involves a famished troll who comes to a bad end (really, do you recall any time that a troll in a story doesn’t come to a bad end?).

And did I mention the mouse? There is a right smart CGI rodent in this one.

So this movie was a winner for us. And frankly, any film that stars Maggie Smith is granted four stars before we even see it. She is one of those people that dominate the camera’s frame. When I grow up I would love to be able to speak the King’s English like Maggie does. Some of the photography was shot in Lapland and Finland, and as I mentioned before, is outstanding … the ability to use drones in camera work has provided us such beautiful perspectives.

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Friday was the day that Robin and I decided to call the first real day of winter. It snowed about an inch of those tiny icy flakes that as they pile up become instant hazards to walking. A blustery wind blew all day long and the temperature never got above 25 degrees. The sun didn’t make its brief appearance until suppertime. A cloudy day, dark and dank, with substantial wind chills.

So we are finally here in that period of the year that nearly everybody wishes was shorter. We are a spoiled bunch, we humans of the temperate zones. We want four seasons, but we don’t want them to be of equal length. If I were doing the planning, I would grant winter no more than a month before it would be expected to be on it way. In that way I could actually look at it fondly, treasuring each frosty day because I knew that too soon they would be replaced by sunny and warm ones.

For moi, there is really nothing wrong with winter that a little editing wouldn’t fix.

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I haven’t begun my Christmas shopping yet. It’s something that I am usually slow to finish, but this year is setting new records. There has been no shortage of reminders sent to me to get going and get it done. Catalogs fall out of our mailbox as soon as we turn the key, and this has been going on for weeks.

What do you call such procrastination when it reaches heights never achieved before? Hyper-procrastination? Acute procrastination syndrome? Shop-o-phobia? Whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it bad. When you can’t even pick up your laptop and one-click your way to doing what needs to be done, is there any hope at all? Is it an early sign of something coming that is even worse, like trench foot or trichotillomania? Should I be consulting somebody?

Wait a moment. I could turn this whole anxiety-ridden business around right now, because here I sit with the tool I need in my hands. Excuse me, if you will, but I’m going leave off writing and give it a try. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean I love you less.

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Postscript: the children in the header photo are (from left to right) Maja, Kari, & Sarah Flom. No fair calculating how old they would be now.

Dune

We went to our first movie in a theater in two years this past week. The film was “Dune,” and it did not disappoint. Well, it would have if we hadn’t been forewarned that the story sort of stops in mid-sentence and where we are promised a second episode. That’s a good thing, because the good guys are certainly having a rough time of it in the first go-round. I wasn’t sure how Timothée Chalamet would do as an action hero, but he is better than I thought he’d be. And there is something very hopeful in his performance for people like myself.

In recent years the heroes in movies have all been impossibly buff, possessing pectorals the size of watermelons and twelve-pack abs. This contrasted with actors in the more distant past, who had regular physiques. They were good strong bodies, but nothing dramatically different from yours or mine.

Timothée is a throwback to those lovely days of yore. He is shirtless in one scene, and is shown to be a pleasantly skinny young man. My earnest hope is that this will catch on, and I can once again leave the theater without feeling that somewhere along the physical development road I went completely astray. There are days when I’m not entirely sure where my abs are to be found, and it’s pretty certain that I have less than six in my pack.

In this movie one has no trouble telling the bad guys from the good. All of the evil people are ugly, I mean break-the-mirror sort of ugly. At the opposite pole, everyone is handsome and beautiful. This is not quite like real life, but the movie’s story line is pretty complex, and anything that simplifies even a small part is welcome. Oh, and you will definitely have an easier time understanding what the film all about if you have read the book, and I highly recommend doing just that. But here’s a word to the wise – you’d best get a move on because the paperback edition is 740 pages long.

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‘Twas a mild Halloween this year. Outdoor temperatures were compatible with life and there was no sleet pelting the small petitioners as they dragged their bags of non-nutritious substances from house to house. Most of the kids came by before dark, but the last ones arrived around 7:30. All in all it was a pleasant evening for the little pagans and the parents who accompanied them.

Robin held court in a chair early on, but had to leave for a meeting, and after that it was my turn to face the horde. I was impressed by one kid who was about 10 years old and who was wearing a mask based on Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream and knew its origins. I doubled his handful of candy as a reward.

As the kids came through and I looked into their bags of stuff, I could see that every single item was securely wrapped or boxed and I thought how much work it was going to be to get the tiny candy morsels out of their coverings later on. And I recalled how much easier it had been in 1949 when everything was loose and unpackaged and you could actually eat some of what you’d collected as you walked along. There were people that gave out actual apples with no razor blades in them. Some (gasp) doled out cookies or brownies that they had made in their own kitchens and who knows what awfulness was baked into those things. Cookies that their fingers had touched … it makes me shiver all over to think about it.

Somehow we all survived back then. If there were rumors of evil people doing evil things in dispensing their “treats,” parents of the time had the good sense not to believe the stories. They just sent their kids out into the night with empty pillowcases and kept the porch light on. Each year all the children returned and were perfectly fine until they started eating what they’d collected and epidemic nausea set in.

So we’re safer now and everyone is protected from mostly non-existent horribleness and it’s a much better world, isn’t it … ? But our collective anxieties are on full display each Halloween. Kids pile out of and back into cars, parents walk them all the way to our doors, everything is super-sanitized. But there was something missing from the evening. There was nothing scary – anywhere … .

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Today, November 3, is Robin’s birthday. Of course I will not disclose the number involved … what gentleman would? Last night at supper I asked for details of her birth (which she does know!). This is quite unlike my own case, that of a dullard who knows only the date and the place of his own emergence.

Robin was born prematurely at under five pounds, and in the wee hours of the morning. She must have been a tough little thing, though, because she went home from the hospital with her mom at the regular time and was promptly installed in a dresser drawer that served for a while as her bed and bassinet.

So we will celebrate her birthday by doing whatever she desires … within reason. No arrests are to be expected, no front page bits of notorious behavior to be published in the local paper. It’s a simple case of everybody who knows her being glad that they do. She’s that kind of girl.

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