The Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t.

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

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

On a plane.

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

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

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

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

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No Title

Well, whaddya know? Less than 7000 of America’s finest showed up for the Cluckaganza in Oklahoma. The organizers were expecting … six times that number.

Turns out it was all the fault of outside protestors who were nasty radicals armed with unfriendly placards. And then there was the problem of the media that had told people to turn their cars around and stay home, and by golly, tens of thousands of them must have done just that.

All in all it sounds like a disappointing party. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Robin said: Whatever you want to do, we will do. So on Sunday off we went to explore new terrain. First you drive to Norwood, which is 66 miles south of Montrose. Then you turn left and go south-southwest for about 15 miles until you get to a reservoir named Miramonte.

It’s set in the beautiful broad valley that you see in the photo below. We had a picnic, explored the area, people-watched for an hour or two, and then returned home.

For most of this trip we were out of phone contact, which is par for the course in this part of the world. Since the entire drive there and back was through beautiful country, and the destination itself also very cool (in its own spartan way), we counted the day as a complete success.

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Good news and bad news from the garden. Out tomatoes are doing wonderfully, with fruit-laden plants approaching the size of the carnivorous one in Little Shop of Horrors. I never get to close to them for this reason, and water from a respectful social distance. I have also warned the cats repeatedly not to get near the tomato cages.

Which is where the bad news comes in. Tomatoes are awfully thirsty plants to grow. Ours are set in containers, which only increases their demands for water. They require around two inches every few days, and more when the weather is hot. Since we have been blessed with little more than a soupçon of rainfall this summer, nearly all of that moisture must come from the tap.

But those of you who have been forced to read my past rants on the subject of commercially grown tomatoes (which I will mercifully not repeat today) know that my duty is clear. Pay the water bill gratefully and enjoy the fruit when it appears … and don’t go picking them without another person nearby holding a rope that is securely tied around your waist, to pull you out of danger should those plants get frisky.

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Bob Dylan has a new album out, of all original songs. The first such album in ten years. For a change, I’m not going to tell you what to think about them. It’s Dylan, and listening to his music usually asks something of us that is very personal.

I will mention something about the title I Contain Multitudes. The phrase seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. I had to look it up, and found that it’s from Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

Here are the first three bands on the album. They are: I Contain Multitudes, False Prophet, and My Own Version of You. I’ll dribble the rest along later on.

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There are times when I am in danger of being swamped by the examples of the horrors committed by members of our species, as in the litany of murders of black people that we’ve heard read off repeatedly during the past weeks. At such times, I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that brutality is not the all that’s out there.

There is also beauty. Much of it created by other members of our same rough species. Beauty enough to wring the poison out of one’s heart and leave it open again to love and understanding.

For me it is poetry, music, and the natural world that I often turn to at those toxic moments. Or to the memories of everyday acts of heroism that I have personally witnessed. Or when I look deeply at those dearest to me and am warmed and humbled by the love and goodness that I find there.

It serves little purpose for me to turn away from the daily uglinesses – how can I begin to help in the repairs if I don’t see clearly what is broken? But I can’t look at them without using these resources to keep me from drifting into despair and cynicism.

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Paradise Found

(Right where John Milton left it. You can’t tell that guy anything!)

It is four o’clock on a cloudless afternoon with an air temperature of 88 degrees which is tempered by the excellent low humidity that one enjoys when one lives in a near-desert.

I am leaning back in a deck chair with my feet propped on the table, an iced tea at my left hand and an iPod at my right. The iPod is doing its Bluetoothing thing with a small red speaker sitting on the table, and the songs are set to “Shuffle.”

Sweet, sweet summer afternoon. Excuse me, but the song Born To Run just came up and it’s being done by the master himself and I have to pay attention. Talk to you later.

Not every moment during a pandemic is horrible.

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At some point in life I realized that the formula for happiness for a Minnesota boy growing up was very simple. There were only three elements:

  • It wasn’t snowing
  • The mosquitoes weren’t biting
  • You had your tunes handy

What more, I ask of thee?

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Charles Blow is a black man filled with anger which is tempered by hope. It must be hard to maintain both when you are a man with the broad knowledge of American history that he has. The anger is so easy to come by. It is thrust upon you, actually, by daily events.

But the hope … where does he get that from? How does he maintain it? As he outlines in this piece from the Times of New York, it’s not just the awful shootings that are the problem. It’s the everyday stuff of racism.

E.v.e.r.y d.a.y.

We can’t give African-Americans their freedom. On paper they already have that. But whites can help them, at long last, to be able to exercise those freedoms by ceasing to oppose them in the tens of thousands of ways that we do.

So Mr. Blow’s hope must come from pride at seeing what young people are doing in the protest movement today, at watching the power of it as it grows and the almost panicky responses of government and industry as they stumble over themselves trying to redress the most glaring wrongs.

He must have not only faith in the activist young people of color, but also those young white folks who are marching with them. It will take the best efforts of both groups to make it stick.

I most earnestly hope that he is right on all counts.

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Here I have to include an excellent op-ed by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, entitled “How Do We Change America.” Robin sent me the link to the piece which was originally published in The New Yorker magazine.

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I don’t usually comment on the music selections over there on the right, because they change independently of the posts.

But I will today. Dance the Night Away is perfect Van Halen. It features guitar artistry (Eddie Van Halen), a great rock vocal (David Lee Roth-their excellent posturing popinjay of a lead singer), and a lyrically lovely break.

My advice is to crank it or don’t play it at all.

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It’s mid-June up on the mountains, which means that the alpine flowers are starting up their annual show. On our walk today at the Black Canyon (8500 feet elevation) we were surrounded at times by lovely gardens created entirely by nature. Many of the cacti were flowering, which is always special and way too brief a moment.

By July and August the open spaces above treeline will be amazing. If you’ve never … you really should.

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Something new this week …

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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Ah, Wilderness!

Some of you may not yet have had the chance to become Nanci Griffith aficionados, and I take the blame for that. I am a card-carrying fan, and this somewhat smudgy video may show you why.

Griffith is from Texas, but I don’t hold that against her. There are a couple of other good things in Texas, my friend Sid is one and my favorite western writer is another. His name is Larry McMurtry, and he has written beaucoup novels, but the one that first caught my attention and imagination was Lonesome Dove. I have read it … dunno … maybe five times. Could be six. It was a book that said to a midwestern boy (who had no way of knowing for certain) – this is probably how the old west really was.

Then along came the completely great television series made from the book. So good that I watch the series Lonesome Dove about every other year all the way through. A fine story well told. Memorable characters, with Robert Duvall playing his favorite role.

And how did I discover McMurtry in the first place? Why, right here, on the back cover of the Nanci Griffith album “Last of the True Believers.” I figured a woman who could write and sing like she could – well, I’ll take her literary recommendation any day.

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Finished the Edward Abbey book Desert Solitaire. What a guy! I love a person who can get off a good rant with flair and passion. Abbey is one of those folks.

He doesn’t like cars much out in the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they bring roads. He doesn’t care for tourists, either, which is a problem for someone with a summer job in a national monument whose duties include tending to tourist needs.

Toward the end of the book he gets off this flame which I have retyped carefully. The oddities of formatting are his.

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Andy Borowitz of the NYTimes has perfected the art of using the headline to say nearly everything in his short humorous pieces. Here are three examples.

PENCE STARTS WEARING MASK AFTER FAUCI SAYS IT WILL PROTECT HIM FROM WOMEN

CNN TO SHOW PHONE NUMBER OF POISON-CONTROL HOTLINE WHENEVER TRUMP SPEAKS

TRUMP BLAMES PLUMMETING POLL NUMBERS ON PEOPLE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN HE TALKS

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Black Canyon National Park is not open, but it is, sort of. You can drive past the unmanned entry station and go the couple of miles to the shuttered visitor center. There you must leave your car and either walk or bicycle past the closed gates on the single two-lane road that runs the length of the park.

In years past Robin and I have cycled on this highway several times. The views are magnificent and the road is only six miles long until it terminates in a parking lot allowing access to a picnic area and the beginning of a one-mile hike to some killer views of the canyons.

There are only two things that keep this biking journey from being perfect. One is that the road consists entirely of loooooong grades that are steep enough to give a geezer’s heart and lungs a workout. The longest uphill is 2.5 miles, and it’s pitch is enough to get you coasting at 28 mph when you turn around and head back down.

But the real pain is auto traffic. The route is curvy, narrow, and largely shoulderless. Cars are not hurtling past you at 80 mph, but even so, drivers do often behave badly, acting as if you were placed on earth specifically to annoy them, and going by you with inches to spare.

But yesterday … ahhhhhh … no cars at all. Every inch of asphalt was ours. Not even another cyclist or hiker. We owned the park. Every viewpoint, every small flower, every whiff of junipers warming in the sun was ours alone to enjoy. It was like scenes from a disaster movie, where all other humans on earth had been wiped out by fiendish aliens with a death ray that left everything else intact (blessedly including the TP in one of the few privies along the way).

We did the 12 mile round trip, and while those hills had my legs wobbling at the end, I was a happy gasper. A remarkable day on our private highway in our private geologic wonderland.

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Notes From A Fanboy

I don’t actually remember when I got hooked on Lucinda Williams’ music, but it was a healthy number of years back. Thirty, perhaps more. What caught me then was the recognition that, warts and all, what I was hearing was unfiltered honesty.

This was a woman who for sure smoked too much, maybe drank too much, and perhaps loved too much. What she didn’t do was skip out on life. Like they say, she suited up and showed up.

The first album of hers that I actually purchased was Sweet Old World, in 1993. I hadn’t even begun to really listen to it when I lost my son to suicide. At that point the song Sweet Old World took on a whole new set of meanings for me.

I’ve picked out a few tunes that are representative of her music. But there’s a world of them out there, and if you were to select your own set, it would likely be quite different. Ms. Williams gives us glimpses of life and we take from that generous offering what we see or need at that moment in time.

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There are times when I wonder whether I’d have made it this far without music. I used to jokingly say that the thing that was seriously missing from “real life” was a soundtrack. Actually, I would still be saying it except that everyone I know has heard it at least twice.

But think about it. If there was one, you could tell when something sinister was approaching, as in that repetitive phrase in Jaws. Maybe you didn’t know what or from what direction, but you’d have a few precious seconds to prepare for fight or flight. Or those strings would rise up to a heart-melting crescendo, and you’d know that something positively momentous had just happened and maybe you should pay attention to it. Or you’d round a corner and find laid out in front of you a scene so beautiful you choked up trying to come up with the words to describe it … and then sweeping and glorious music made words completely unnecessary.

But there were times when with a little planning you got the musical score you needed, because you provided it.

For instance, let’s say you’re an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward teenaged boy. Now, there may have been places in America in 1956 where you could have gotten by with saying “Hi, my name is Jon and I’m an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward boy and I’m pleased to meet you,” but West St. Paul MN wasn’t one of them.

So if you happened to have been born completely without a persona of your very own what you did is make one up. Sometimes on the spot. Often highly flavored by the last song you heard on your car radio before you were called upon to introduce yourself.

  • Cool and nonchalant: Topsy, Part Two by Cozy Cole
  • Rakish and desirable: Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis Presley
  • Mysterious and slightly dangerous: Rumble by Link Wray
  • Etc.

[Some of you might wonder why a person would make themselves dependent on a DJs playlist like this, and I’ll tell you. The ability to play recorded music in one’s automobile didn’t come along until the mid-60s, with the coming of 8-track and cassette tapes. I know it will be painful and disorienting, but try to imagine an adolescence without having the ability to bring your tunes along. ]

So you would step from your vehicle with the last chords of Rumble still reverberating in your ear canals and strike a pose that said to one and all: “I know that I’m way short, I don’t shave yet, and I seem socially awkward, but I am really a mob enforcer in disguise and that suspicious bulge in my shirt in the small of my back is just what you thought it was.”

Then you followed up with this highly original but pithy phrase: “Got any beer?”

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Ducks In A Row

I will go out on a limb here and say that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are awfully poor examples of their professions. This disreputable pair sold their souls to the Devil and Oprah Winfrey long ago, but all they got in the deal was a tawdry sort of celebrity in the world of the suggestible.

(Robert Johnson allegedly made the same trade-off but became a terrific guitar player and bluesman as a result of his own arrangement with Old Nick.)

Phil/Oz have popped up recently on FoxNews weighing in with blatherous pronouncements and opinions about Covid-19. We knew that it was only a matter of time before those lips for hire began their dreadful flapping. It’s a perfect marriage of shoddy network and shoddy professionals.

Lord help us (and thank you again, Oprah, for your hand in getting them started).

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Ran across these on The New Yorker. See ’em, love ’em, share ’em, is my motto.

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When I read of the new Youth Poet Laureate, at first I felt badly because I didn’t know the former one. But then I learned that there wasn’t a former one. Amanda Gorman is the first.

Watching the following video made me somehow proud. Proud to be a tiny part of a country that gives people like Ms. Gorman a chance to have their voices heard.

Here she is on CBS’ Sunday Morning show, reading one of her works. The production is a little schmaltzy, but y’know, I can use a little more schmaltz these days.

Her words are inspirational, and what do you think about her performance? – to me she sounds like Maya Angelou, rapping.

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Almost everybody we know here in Paradise is Zoom-ing these days. All that was needed was a platform that was a little easier to use than its predecessors, and off went America into video-conferencing. Yesterday morning we connected with daughter Maja in Lima, and we were going to catch up later in the day with our grandchildren in Denver but that was postponed, because they were all Zoomed out for the day, having just finished an hour online with some other folks.

Robin meets with her church committees and book clubs in this way, and we both attend virtual AA meetings, all of these using the free version of the app. Pret-ty cool, I’d say, to be able to so easily fill in some of the gaps that geography and Covid-19 create.

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If you look closely, you will see that there is a duck, a mallard to be precise, in our front yard. He showed up Monday morning. This has never happened before, and personally I took it as an omen.

My only problem is that I don’t know what it predicts, or augurs. I have consulted all of my learned books, which are sadly silent on the subject of ducks. But it really bothered me, as who wants to begin any serious enterprise if it’s all for naught because the celestial plug has already been pulled … you just don’t know it yet?

So I turned to the only person I knew who might shed light on the subject – Ragnar the Imperturbable.

Dear Ragnar: Do you know anything about ducks in the yard? Is there any cosmic significance?

Ragnar: Ducks? You wake me up for ducks? By Freja’s golden hair I’ll …

Dear Ragnar: Really, I do apologize, it’s just that we’re all dithering out here, not wanting to do anything to mess with the gods’ plans. But again, anything at all?

Ragnar: Of course we have duck stuff. The only problem is sorting through it, there’s so much. I need to ask a couple questions of my own, first.

Dear Ragnar: Of course. Go right ahead.

Ragnar: Was it just the one … duck, that is?

Dear Ragnar: No, there was a hen, but she isn’t in the picture.

Ragnar: And what sort of bird was it? Could it have been a Mandarin duck? Or a Baikal teal?

Dear Ragnar: I’m sorry, we believe it to have been a common mallard.

Ragnar: And was it wearing anything … like an item of clothing … or spectacles, perhaps?

Dear Ragnar: No, nothing at all. It was very plain.

Ragnar: Was it up to quite a bit of quacking? More than a duck might usually be expected to do?

Dear Ragnar: It was a singularly quiet waterfowl.

Ragnar: Might it have been mute? That would narrow things down considerably.

Dear Ragnar: We really couldn’t say. We heard nothing.

Ragnar: Alright, here we go then. If a person finds a duck (or ducks) in their yard, nude, mute, and not wearing glasses, there is a very good chance that it might rain before twilight of that same day.

Dear Ragnar: That’s it? It might rain?

Ragnar: Well, what do you want? I don’t make this stuff up on my own, you know. It’s all there in the Book of Aqvavit, one of our most important sources to consult on weighty matters.

Dear Ragnar: Who in the world would bother about such an omen?

Ragnar: Well, let’s say you were planning on hanging out some laundry in preparation for pillaging England …

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P.S.A.

It’s the nineteenth of April, and I will now perform a public service by summarizing what we know to date about the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes. As an former medical professional, I believe that I am uniquely suited to this important task.

  • It may have come to the U.S. earlier than we first thought, or maybe it didn’t
  • It might be possible to re-catch it, but probably not
  • There might be a drug that is effective, but maybe it isn’t
  • A vaccine might be coming this year, or maybe not
  • It might be soon time to re-open things … but probably it’s too early
  • Masks might not be helpful for most of us, but we should wear them anyway
  • Unlike STDs, you might be able to catch it from doorknobs and toilet seats … or perhaps this isn’t true, and we should relax and go to a movie

There now, don’t you feel better?

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One of my favorite Buddhist stories came up recently at a recent online AA meeting, one where we were discussing pre-existing attitudes and how they colored what we saw and experienced.

The story goes like this.

A man was walking along a dusty road and saw a village off in the distance. At the side of the road a blind man was sitting peacefully with his begging bowl and bothering no one.

The traveler asked the blind man:

Are you from that village?

Yes, I am

What kind of people live in that village?

What kind of people live in the town you are from?

Oh, they were terrible. Grasping and greedy, gossiping and lazy.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

The first traveler grimaced and continued on his journey. A second pilgrim then came down the road. When he saw the blind man, he asked the same question.

What sort of people live in that village?

The people in the village you are from – how would you describe them?

Oh, they are lovely. Kind and generous of spirit. There are no lengths they wouldn’t go to in order to help a sufferer, even a stranger.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

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I will close today with these observations by Andy Borowitz, a man cursed with an unclouded vision.

Dr. Oz Fears That Coronavirus Comments Could Hurt His Credibility as Expert on MagicBeans

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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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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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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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Have A Nice Day

We haven’t had a single case of a positive coronavirus test in Montrose County.

But.

The public buildings are closed, the restaurants are closing, Gold’s Gym is closed, schools are closing, and the movie theaters are both closed. About the only things that are fully open are the grocery stores (which are nearly empty of some staples) and the tattoo parlors.

Maybe this would be the time to get some ink … perhaps all this hoo-rah is part of a cosmic plan to push me into the Fancy Rooster for some spirited personal decorating. Like the one below, something only a fisherman could love.

My problems with this plan are threefold. First – I dislike pain of any sort or degree. Second – I am just fickle enough that I can’t imagine putting any design on myself that I wouldn’t tire of in less than six months. Third – I dislike pain of any sort or degree.

So perhaps I’ll quietly wait it out along with the rest of the citizenry. For comic relief I can watch the news and see the people living in Cluckland denying that there is a serious problem at all. That group seems to be continuously searching for new ways to reveal their cerebral density.

Truth is, if we are successful beyond our wildest expectations, and no cases show up in Montrose County, and when these nincompoops begin their mantras of “See, told ya, over-reacting” it would only mean to me that the town leaders did their job and did it well.

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This piece from the Times of New York is simply one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of presenting bad news. The author is a seasoned pediatrician who has had to be the carrier of such unwanted intelligence many times, but now finds herself the recipient of same.

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I love her matter-of-factness, lack of self-pity, and quiet courage. How she notices the details in her doctor’s office even as he tells her that a cancer is back, which is very bad news indeed. Here is a sample:

This week I wonder if I will ever leave the country again. I had hoped to have more adventures. I am confident that my daughters, just on the crest of their adulthood, will travel widely. At the cash register are extra-large chocolate bars. I buy two.

Of course a person should buy two. No doubt in my mind.

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Here’s an absolute treat from 1990. If there had been more music videos like this, the original MTV would still be around and doing its thing.

The word languorous comes to mind. Those pouty lips, those half-lidded eyes, that sweaty and sand-sprinkled body … and that’s just Chris Isaak. There’s a girl* in there, too.

*The girl is Helena Christensen, who went on to become a supermodel

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A Dick Guindon cartoon. A Minnesotan chatting up a tree.

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Remember the classification of different types of fun?

  • Type 1: fun while it is happening, and fun to talk about later
  • Type 2: not enjoyable while you are doing it, but leaves you a good story to tell afterward
  • Type 3: no fun during, and no fun later

Grocery shopping has oh-so-quickly become Type 2, and perhaps might even move down to Type 3 before we are done. These classifications can be fluid over time.

Take yesterday at WalMart, for instance. I had gone there in search of the chicken thighs with which I concoct our homemade cat food. There were none at City Market, but Wally World still held out hope.

And I found some, just a couple of packages, which I snatched away just as an elderly gentleman in a scooter was reaching for them. I did not apologize, for grocery stores have become battlefields, and one does not tell the vanquished that one is sorry. He’ll have to be satisfied with the Spicy Wings that the store had in abundance. My cats won’t eat them.

Then I looked down the aisle that used to contain paper products, and it was completely empty but for a well-dressed woman on her knees in front of the vacant Charmin shelf, sobbing “Why me?” to an uncaring universe.

I looked away, for she deserved her privacy at such a moment. We’ve all been there this week. I quietly moved on to the condiments section where, blissfully, there were no shortages at all.

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So It’s Come To This, Has It? Department

Yesterday we took our exercise outdoors, and went for a ramble up in the hills along the Uncompahgre River. We started from the parking lot in Riverbottom Park, and an hour later returned to the same place with spirits soaring and bladders brimming.

As we approached the bathrooms, a very polite young man holding a skateboard called out:

“The bathrooms are closed.”
“Why is that?” we asked.
“Because they were stealing all the toilet paper.”
Seeing our dismay, he added without a trace of irony:
“Have a nice day.”

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Which Wolf To Feed?

You know things have gotten serious when they close Aspen, Vail, and the other ski resorts where the one-percenters go to play, and that’s just what happened this past weekend here in Colorado. It apparently dawned on our government that these are very efficient distribution centers for a communicable disease.

People fly in, do their turns on the slopes, and then get back in their airplanes to sail off to somewhere else taking their wrinkled ski costumes memories and newly-acquired microbes with them. All over the world.

Folks in Denver, which is the largest village in our beautiful state, are wondering what they are supposed to do with these children of theirs who can’t be sent off to school any longer. Not only have they lost their 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. babysitter, but there’s no easy backup place to send them, what with all the closures of public spaces.

They are facing having to deal with their progeny 24/7, and that can be daunting indeed. A citywide overwhelming of mental health professionals is anticipated.

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Somewhere along the way I began to see that each painful experience in my life was not without some eventual benefit to me. Much was of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” variety. I have been known to bore others with the remark that “I learned so much because of what happened, but it was tuition that I would not have paid.”

What we are being given today is an invaluable opportunity to learn deeply about so many things. Things like interdependence, cooperation, human fragility, the value of science and factual knowledge in general. To bring our innate courage and understanding to the recognition that being a human on this planet is always, every day, a hazardous enterprise. That everything works better when we have something or someone to lean on if and when we are just plain worn out.

The only thing different about the coronavirus threat as opposed to that posed by the pathogens that we are surrounded by every single day is its scope. It is new, it is dramatic (and in many respects America is a nation of drama queens), but when Covid-19 has passed into history most of us will still be here, straightening up the mess it left behind and applying the lessons we are being offered

[To keep perspective, let’s not forget the hazards which are not infectious diseases. The average number of people who will die in the USA today in car accidents is 3,287. Using last year’s numbers, 42 Americans will die today of gun violence and accidents.]

Was Franklin D. Roosevelt correct when he said that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” I think he was, and that he inserted a great truth into a memorable oversimplification. He was encouraging the American public not to fall into a panic which would make their daily lives a hell of useless worry and produce a paralysis that would prevent them from doing the next right thing, the necessary thing.

I love the following story, and you’ve probably all heard one variation or another on this theme.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Folk Tale

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are well into the second season of Manhattan, the series that deals with the lives of the residents of Los Alamos during those intense times in 1943-45 when the first atomic weapon was being developed.

We very occasionally have watched more than one episode at a time of any series we’ve tuned in to, but we routinely sit in for a double feature with this one.

The series’ designers have done a terrific job with the sets, the clothing, cars, and the dust … the dust of New Mexico is everywhere. You can smell it.

[Spoiler alert: Even though this is an excellent and thoughtful series, the wretched public in 2014 didn’t watch it in the numbers that they should have, so it only ran two seasons. Still way worth it.]

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I found some interesting statistics in Wikipedia dealing with the present-day town of Los Alamos.

The median household income in Los Alamos is $98,458, and per capita income is $54,067. Income is significantly higher than the rest of New Mexico. 

Los Alamos has the highest millionaire concentration of any US city, with 12.4 percent of households having at least $1 million in assets. This is a result of chemists, engineers, and physicists working at LANL since the Manhattan Project. 

Only 6.6% of people are below the poverty line; half the rate of the United States, and one-third the rate of New Mexico. As of January 2015, there were zero homeless individuals.

Wikipedia: Los Alamos

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This is a small but great story. Small in the numbers of people affected … great in pointing out a creative way to help out in this unusual time.

A handful of distilleries are using some of their alcohol to make hand sanitizer and are giving it away. Yes, friends, for free!

The companies explicitly and strongly recommend that their free product not be used for making cocktails. They have a line of other bottles for that.

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Reachin’ Out

Our little HOA took some baby steps Friday, when the new board got together for the first time at our house. Before I go any further, let me quickly state that to become a board member only requires that you are able to breathe on your own and that you weren’t paying attention at the annual meeting when someone put up your name for election.

Now, what steps did we take? We have around 45 households in the HOA, and at our meeting we discussed those who are living alone and/or might need support for any of a number of reasons. Support being anything from a periodic phone call to help with grocery shopping, errand-running, etc.

Turns out that between the five of us we knew something about every other resident, and could quickly sort out the very few who we felt might be missing a social connection. Those people were each assigned to one of us to make contact and ask whether they needed or wanted any assistance.

We don’t want to be intrusive, just to put a hand out there*, knowing full well how quickly the tables can turn in this uncertain life we share, and that tomorrow it could be one of us that would benefit from that call.

Like a said, a baby step, but one toward community rather than away.

*[BTW, of course that hand would have been scrubbed vigorously for 20 seconds to the tune of “Another One Bites The Dust”]

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After watching this video, it struck me that coordinating Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe might have been a fairly easy job on any given day. Less is more, and all that.

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Harry Belafonte had his 93rd birthday parties recently. They made a big to-do about him in New York City, and there aren’t that many people more deserving.

I think it might be a bit hard for younger souls to imagine how big this guy was back in the 50s and 60s. It was not a time when black musicians had an easy time reaching broader audiences, but he did it in style. I went to a concert of his held outdoors in the early 60s at the original Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington MN, and it was packed.

When the turmoil of the civil rights era was upon us, there was Harry all over the place, speaking and marching … putting it on the line.

A fine singer, a grand entertainer, a good man.

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

Okay, I admit that Willie Nelson can basically do no wrong. Drink too much? … he used to do that. Smoke pot by the hundredweight? … continuously until he couldn’t breathe well. Famously forget to pay his income taxes? … you bet. And yet somehow he transformed himself from a man who was (and is) simply a very good songwriter with a couple of bad habits to a national cultural institution and treasure.

I would really like to know how he did that so I can get started on my own monster legacy. I do have a hurdle or two to get past, if I am thinking of following in his footsteps. I can’t play guitar, I can’t read or write music, I can’t sing, and I’m a lifelong sufferer from charisma deficiency syndrome.

But today we’ll look at a new generation of Nelsons as they perform duets with the old man. Here’s a pair of videos, one involving son Lukas and the other daughter Paula.

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The sound that you hear is that of multiple apples falling not far from the tree.

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Friday night we’re going back to St. Mary’s Church for the Fish-Fry once again. I called to see if by chance they were calling it off for viral reasons, and the secretary seemed puzzled that I would even ask such a question. Apparently NOTHING interferes with the fish-fry, other than perhaps an inferno-style grease fire in the kitchen itself.

We’re attending with another couple, and I’ll have to admit that getting together in a public space these days where there will be scores of other people gives one a bit of a frisson. I may wear my Indiana Jones fedora for the occasion. Would packing a bullwhip be too much … ?

Actually, being at a Catholic Church dinner where a killer virus may be lurking doesn’t give me as much pause as attending services at a local Lutheran church would, the one where there is an old dude who openly carries a sidearm on Sunday mornings. The danger is random in both cases, but I don’t think that being 3 feet away from a gun-toting and paranoid septuagenarian provides nearly enough of a safe distance.

[Follow-up note: St. Mary’s is cancelling the rest of the Fish-Frys for this season due to concerns centered on COVID-19. An instance where the virus may actually have saved lives.]

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On Thursday afternoon, it being a lovely sixty-degree day and my having run out of excuses not to do it, we took our bikes out for the first time. The city has recently added 2.5 miles to the riverside bicycle/hiking trail and it is really beautiful now. Slight uphill going upstream, the opposite when you turn around.

It’s a nice workout, and the only problem I have each year on the first few rides is some lower-body discomfort located not where the rubber meets the road, but where the denim meets the saddle. Since we covered about 12 miles Thursday, I am still walking slightly askew today.

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

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A concession to the times we are living in. I truly enjoy shopping for groceries. Part of the fun is getting bargains and part is exploring new foods, some of which I may never have heard of before.

But we’re going to experiment with something called ClickList, at our local City Market. Here you shop for your food online, and then at a designated time, drive to the store and a stockperson delivers your order to your car. The only human contact is with that man or woman, and you avoid the herd inside the store. There is a charge for this service (at least partially offset by the lack of opportunity for impulse buying).

Now, I would much prefer to be in that herd, but will accept that this route may be the one to take until the crisis passes. After all, as Robin gently reminds me, I am in a different risk group these days.

Odd to imagine oneself as situationally fragile, but there you are.

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My Yang Is Acting Up Today, So Where’s My Yin When I Really Need It?

A person with COVID-19 has popped up in Gunnison, which is 50 miles away. Actually, I suspect that there are cases right here in Paradise, we just haven’t identified them as such, and maybe never will because the victims are not all that ill.

What’s the good news in this evolving story? Well, one positive item is that kids don’t seem to get very sick if they catch it. That’s a good thing. Wait, it’s also a bad thing – because if they aren’t very sick they’ll be taken along to grandpa’s house for dinner and run into his arms for that warm and loving hug and … adios, viejo.

It’s the old Yin-Yang thing once again, it seems. Everything contains within itself its opposite. As in this passage from the Tao Te Ching.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I thought this symbol was cool long before I was taught anything about its meaning. Once that little bit of instruction came along, I thought it was even cooler.

Especially the part that teaches that is is difficult if not impossible to be all “bad,” or all “good.” There is always that obverse presence, that little white or black dot. And even then, the size of those dots can grow or recede over time as well.

I was thinking about this at an AA meeting recently as another member was droning on and on in his fingernail-on-the-blackboard voice. What he was saying was just as irritating as his delivery, since he had badly misinterpreted several points of what AA is supposed to be about.

So I mentally pictured him as a six-foot column of yang, and then tried to imagine what that little white dot of yin would be in his case. I eventually settled on this: his mother probably loved him.

(Which might have been completely untrue, and one of the very reasons that he became an addict in the first place.)

Excuse me, but I’ve made myself quite dizzy with this heavy thinking, and will return when I’ve had a chance to compose myself. Don’t wait up.

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Your stomach doesn’t know the difference. It’s what I tell myself when my cooking goes astray and what I have put on our plates borders on appalling.

Like last night at supper, when I had cooked up some hamburger patties that looked just fine on the outside, but were soon found to be quite rare internally. So I dropped them into the microwave, seriously overestimated the time necessary to touch them up, and turned those slightly deficient patties into a beef-flavored material that could profitably be used to plug holes in leaking dikes.

But as we gnawed our way through them, I said under my breath: Your stomach doesn’t know the difference.

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Apparently President Cluck gave another stinker of a speech Wednesday night, the one dealing with the coronavirus. I didn’t watch it, following the orders of my personal physician, Dr. Hippolytus Goodacre. He allots me five seconds of exposure to His Leadership per day, which is the amount of time it takes me to change the channel while moving at my swiftest.

I am not surprised at all that he bombed, since he is up against inconvenient truths that refuse to go away and which call him out as a fool and a liar on a daily basis. I think we should all give thanks to the Republicans for providing us with this serialized amusement.

Thank you, Republican Party members of congress, for bringing us President Cluck, and for forsaking the oaths you took to defend our country by keeping him in office. May you be rewarded with excruciating itching everywhere, hiccups that can’t be stopped, and an awakening of your hemorrhoids to a biblical degree of severity.

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There are some songs that are just perfect for those times when romance goes a bit off on you. When you are making a decision to stop being a soggy mess and give life and love a go once again, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed outcomes.

I rounded up a couple of those this morning, one sung by a lady and the other a gentleman. I give you the Bruce and his anthem – Tougher Than The Rest, and Lady Emmylou with a song from a semi-obscure album – Woman Walk The Line.

You’re welcome.

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Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sunrise in the Northwoods

This lovely hymn has crossed over into popular music and has been covered by many, many artists.

Sunrise on the prairie

For me there have been countless mornings when I’ve risen early and stepped out barefoot onto wet grass and had that exact feeling … like the first morning.

Sunrise in the mountains

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Well, here I am stamping my feet like an impatient child on December 23, waiting for Christmas FINALLY to arrive. And it’s all the fault of Karl Marlantes and Hilary Mantel.

Mr. Marlantes wrote what was to me one of the best books about the VietNam War, Matterhorn. It told the story of a young Marine Lieutenant during a relatively brief interval in that conflict. To me it smacked the most of reality, but of course how would I know, a man who never left our comfortable shores during my time in the armed forces?

But still, we read books every day that touch us, even though they are written about times and places that we did not experience in person, don’t we? And picking out the ones that seem the most real is part of our obligation. Our unsigned contract with ourselves.

So now he has a new novel that I am anticipating reading, Deep River.

Marlantes’s novel Deep River (2019) was published in July 2019. It follows a Finnish family which flees Finland and settles in the Pacific Northwest in a logging community. The story looks into the logging industry and labor movements of the early 1900s, and rebuilding a family in America while balancing family tradition.

Wikipedia

*

But it is Mantel who now disturbs my days the most. Because she has already written two wholly excellent novels about the era of Oliver Cromwell and Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. And now her promised trilogy is complete, with the publication of The Mirror and the Light.

The first two were the kind of book that made you hate it when you reached the last page and there were no more pages to look forward to. The sort of unhappiness that would make one fling the dog-eared paperback against the wall in frustration.

So I have certainly set myself up to either have a grand time reading this book, or a major disappointment. Either way will probably involve some flinging.

Stay tuned.

******

Walken Rules!

Ahem. My friends, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting to you perhaps the best commercial ever for a product of this genre. It’s worth watching for the philosophy expressed regarding friendship, even if you have no need for the last thirty seconds or so.

Plus, it stars Christopher Walken, who has somehow come to possess a brand of cool that other mere mortals can only dream of acquiring.

Now, hey, did I steer you wrong?

(P.S.: that lovely bicycle, called the YT Jeffsy, can be purchased online for the puny sum of only $4000. My modest cycling skills do not warrant my owning such an excellent machine, )

******

Robin and I attended a fish-fry at a local Catholic church Friday evening at the invitation of another couple. The food was a really good example of its genre, and all of us went back for seconds. We are not the sort of people who quail before a little bit of lipid.

It is, after all, called a fish-fry, not a fish-poach.

The other guy, let’s call him Ron since that’s his name, is a licensed pilot who rarely flies these days. Although I have never been licensed to fly them, I have had an interest in aircraft since a time when they were called aeroplanes. During WWII there were little cutout paper airplanes tucked into cereal boxes and I recall assembling many of those before I was five years old.

So off we went on tangents involving aircraft. Each of us could hardly wait for the other to finish telling their tale so that we could get into telling ours. But we were polite enough not to interrupt one another, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

I told a story of the first time I was in the US Air Force, at age 19, and since any story about me is by definition endlessly fascinating, I will repeat it here.

I had arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio TX) in the middle of July. Along with a group of young men I was escorted to the base barber shop where our hair was amputated. Then we were taken to a large barn-like building where we were issued our clothing, which we stuffed into a big green duffle bag.

Our group then marched in an irregular fashion across the base where we were instructed to place those duffles in a pile while we trekked off to somewhere else to do some other important thing the nature of which I have long ago forgotten.

At any rate, one of our number was assigned to guard that pile of duffles, and he stood there at parade rest under a blazing July sun while the rest of went off whistling the Colonel Bogey March. I should add that we had been issued pith helmets to wear as protection from the sun.

(At left is a photograph of a British officer in 1918 wearing a pith helmet. He looks quite a bit more dashing than I or any of my compatriots did on the day in question. In fact, the most complimentary thing you could have said about us is that we were a motley-appearing crew).

Perhaps an hour later we returned to find our clothing still being guarded by our lonely fellow-at-arms, but when the sergeant in charge addressed the young man, he did not respond. Peering under his pith helmet, it was determined that although he was still standing he was quite unconscious and well on his way to a heat stroke.

The youth was quickly carted off to the base hospital, and did not rejoin our group of recruits for several days. I recall filing away what I had learned that morning as follows: while sergeants can order you to do most anything they want to, not all of those orders are in your best interest, and you will do well to keep this in mind.

******

Although there are times that we citizens of Paradise seem isolated from our fellows in more populous cities, the slow but inexorable spread of this new virus has shown how we truly are all connected, and share vulnerability to this threat.

Our local police department is taking things very seriously, and their emergency preparedness unit is ready for whatever comes, they believe. Yesterday they were photographed practicing what to do if someone shows up at a City Market grocery store with a bad cough and suspicious behavior.

It was all very impressive, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks, who are our first line of defense against criminals, people in favor of gun control, and errant microbes.

******

Robin and I have made it a habit to visit the town of Telluride at least once each winter season, just to see what the one-percenters are doing. On our ride up the mountain on the gondola we could not avoid listening to one lady’s story about how she had just won a half-million dollar condo in some sort of restricted lottery that none of the rest of us in the conveyance would even qualify to enter.

I tried to muster a “congratulations” but failed in the attempt, due to an extremely heavy fog of entitlement that had popped up within the car and which was distracting me.

Later on we treated ourselves to a pizza at the Brown Dog, which has become a part of nearly every visit to Telluride. It is officially my favorite pizza of all time. They call it Detroit-style, and what that means is it is a rectangular pie with a pillowy crust that has perfectly crisped edges. Whoever adds the sauce and the toppings is not riding in their first rodeo, either, as they are balanced exactly the way you yourself would have done if you had been in the kitchen.

Please excuse me for a moment, I seem to have drooled all over my computer keyboard.

******

We started out this post by watching Mr. Walken do a commercial … let’s waste a little more of our time watching him do that great music video for a tune by Fatboy Slim. It is a classic.

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Control Issues

One of the problems with being my age is that people stepping out of the frame of that big picture of who I think I am becomes such a common occurrence that I don’t always give each one the credit, the space that they deserve.

Then comes that day when I realize that everybody … everybody … from that generation before mine … has quietly and with little ceremony left the photograph, or the stage, or whatever metaphor seems most apt to you.

This morning it was when I was listening to an Emmylou Harris song that those individual departures came all together and the effect, as always, is nearly overwhelming. Feelings sneaked up on me when my defenses were down and became an hour where I missed all those people together and individually. An hour of the most exquisite heartache where I just let go and let it happen.

I’ve obviously recovered my senses now, because I can talk about it. Episodes like this are uncommon for me, my nature is to avoid them if I see one coming. Even though I always feel cleansed when they have passed, and the grieving is the real-est thing there is, I don’t like feeling so much out of control.

(If you could see my face right now, you would see me smiling at what I’ve typed. As if I ever once, even for a moment in this sweet short life, really had control. Hubris.)

I’ll let Emmylou take it from here.

Bang The Drum Slowly
My Antonia

Rockin’ In The Free World

It’s drizzling here in Paradise on this Sunday morning. The temperature is 37 degrees, and all is well with yours truly, since we had no plans for outdoor activity. Yesterday we attended a local home and garden show at our event center. There was very little about gardening, but a lot of vendors hawking solar panels. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we signed up for a visit by one of the companies to see what going that route might mean for us.

There was an enthusiastic and very elderly gentleman in full Boy Scout regalia manning a booth on scouting. I found myself hoping that no one would give him a bad time because of this past week’s tawdry headlines of child sexual abuse in the BSA. He didn’t look like a perp to me.

There was a lady representing a company that made patio furniture out of the same plastic material that you build synthetic decks from. The stuff looked like it would last two lifetimes, but each chair weighed sixty pounds, and the table would require a gantry to put it into position on one’s deck.

And for this hernia-producing set of four chairs and a table you would need to shell out $2000 (and rethink the deductible on your health insurance).

******

The pic above was borrowed (yes, borrowed, as I have every intention of returning it at some future and unspecified date) from a webpage containing an open letter to President Cluck.

The author of the letter? Why, it’s Neil Young, one of my favorite people on the planet. Just in case his name is unknown to you, he also writes music and plays guitar. In fact, to thank him for writing this letter and adding his voice to the chorus of clear-headed folks who can’t wait to see the door to the White House hit Cluck in the ass on his way out I am filling the JukeBox with an all-Neil program of music to kick off the day.

Maybe you’re not ready to hear rock n’roll before breakfast. But, friend, did you ever think that maybe you should be?

******

I am waaaay to eager for Spring. At least too eager for this point in the month of February. I am certainly old enough to know better, and I have lived my entire life in places where Winter exists. I have no excuses for indulging in this unhealthy line of thinking.

But, come on, I can’t wait this year. Maybe it’s that now-blooming crocus that Robin received as a gift a couple of weeks ago; maybe it was tripping over the bikes in our garage last week and thinking I should put some air in those tires; maybe it was that taking of a nippy walk along the Uncompahgre River and thinking … this would look really nice … in green.

Either way I’m afraid that I’m lost this year. Can’t get my stoic attitude back now, too late to regain control. So for me it will be alternating moments of joy and despair until that unmistakable sign of Spring arrives. The scent of thawing dog poop. An eagerly anticipated and completely welcome bit of effluvium.

******

In the book club at which I’ve been a guest recently, we were discussing the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, one at a time.

There was one story where an older gentleman would take himself down to the river, set up his chair, and cast out his line … without putting any bait on his hook.

I understood him completely. Of all the elements that are present in fishing from the bank of a river on a summer day, actually catching a fish may be the least important. It may even be disruptive to one’s carefully cultivated and mellow frame of mind.

Because now you have to find someplace to put that fish so that the heat doesn’t spoil it.

You have to clean it.

Cook it.

Eat it, watching carefully for bones that could spell the end of you.

It’s exhausting, really, and so easily avoided. Just don’t bait your hook.

******

Maybe some of you cook with ghee, as Robin and I do. It’s basically clarified butter heated for a little longer. It’s nice stuff to cook with because it doesn’t brown or burn, but still adds some of that buttery flavor. It’s also stable at room temperatures for months on the countertop, and for years in the fridge.

When I have made ghee on the stove, I found that I had to stay right there with it until it was done, which does consume a chunk of time. I recently ran across this video where the lady cooks the butter in a low temperature oven for 1 1/2 hours, and it so easy and so much less demanding that it has become my method of choice.

I am now in a position to make gallons of the stuff, should the need arise. For instance: picture yourself, on a hot summer day, greasing down a Slip N’ Slide with a gallon of ghee.

Just imagine how fast and how far you could go … like a rocket, I would think.

******

Our Friend Oscar

Watched the entire Oscar ceremonies Sunday night. Three-plus hours. Was it worth it? Who’s to say?

There is some pleasure in watching beautiful, famous people having a good time. And a couple of the musical numbers were exciting, especially the opening one where Janelle Monae and a score of dancers really put on a spectacular show.

This year we hadn’t seen a few of the movies that were competing for best film. We totally missed Parasite, for instance. which only played here in Paradise once, at noon on the day of the Oscar ceremonies, when I was under the weather and could not attend.

For somebody who has cut the cable cord and only streams their video, tuning in to the Oscar ceremonies is a bit of a shuffle each year. What you have to do is find a service, like Hulu, and take advantage of their “two weeks for free” offer for the night and then cancel the next day.

But when you come back next year, Hulu remembers that you took them up on that offer in 2019, and won’t let you do it again. I think that we are now out of options, having been through Hulu, SlingTV, YouTubeTV and others, unless something happens to change this picture. I have no idea why we “streamers” have to play this game, surely our numbers by now must qualify us for something better than third-class status.

******

Over the years there have been all too frequent reports of nutritional injury to pets who are fed commercial foods of one kind or another. As example, a couple of years ago, there were warnings issued after many dogs died or developed heart damage through deficient foods. Last summer the FDA issued alerts regarding 16 different commercial dog foods that put pets at risk.

So where is this going? I don’t even have a dog! But I have been feeding a mixture of commercial dry and wet foods for the life of our pets, and I have taken to reading their labels. (There are almost none that don’t have vegetables and /or grains and soy as part of their makeup.) I have not fed any one of them as an only food because I have learned that in the veterinary world no one knows if there is one perfect food that a cat can eat exclusively without developing disease.

Except the cat. If they are out there running around, they eat no vegetables at all, but mice-y creatures (mice, gophers, voles, etc.) and small birds. Now, no one knows if soy, veggies, and grains are bad for cats, they have just not been tested over centuries. We don’t know about them.

What we do know is that cats in the wild are are pure carnivores. They have been that way for at least 10,000 years, and their digestive and biological systems are tuned to those food sources.

So, the upshot of all this blather is that I am making my own cat food. It’s a mixture of barn swallows, hummingbirds, and meadow voles … naw, not true, I lied. Each batch I make starts out with three pounds of chicken thighs and goes on from there.

The additions are some vitamins, oils, minerals, and taurine, an essential amino acid. The recipe comes from a level-headed veterinarian’s website.

I don’t have freezer space to make this the only thing my kitties get to eat, so I’ve compromised by feeding the home-made product in the morning, and commercial foods at night.

Poco loves the stuff, and has gained a good (and needed) amount of weight since we started feeding it.

Willow … can take it or leave it.

******

Heard a song on the radio that made me want to run right home and look it up, so I did. It is Willow, by Joan Armatrading. From 1977. Lord, the music that’s out there is an endless treasure chest, just waiting for anyone to stir it around and find something new.

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Robin has discovered the joys of listening to podcasts. She also owns a pair of wireless earphones.

These two facts have led to a new scenario at BaseCamp. One where Robin and I are sitting in adjoining chairs, me jabbering away as she quietly knits. It’s only when I pose a question and there is no response that I realize she hasn’t heard a word I said. Looking closely I spy the tiny pieces of hardware in her ears.

But am I affronted by this? Nay, nay, say I. I am way too centered and mellow a person for such petty piques. Often, I am actually happy about the situation, because now I get to tell my story all over again, to a fresh audience.

******

Awright – we all have some Neanderthal DNA in our genome. No matter where we came from on the planet. This news is making scientists around the world buzz. My take on this particular part of ancient biology is what’s the big surprise?

We all know how it could have happened. Let’s say there’s a party thrown by a bunch of homo sapiens. They’ve already discovered fermented foods, some of which produce alcohol and are being served in gourds around the cave. Everyone gets a little tipsy and late at night the guests wander away into the darkness.

Next morning, some of them look over at the spruce bough next to theirs and – whuh? – oh no, really? Is she from the village across the creek? Now how do I get out of this one? Maybe if I tiptoe quietly away, no one will ever know?

That’s it. I’ll sneak out into the savannah. Jeez Louise**, if any of my friends ever find out, I am so dead. Gotta cut back on my drinking … .

(**Yes, friends, the phrase Jeez Louise dates that far back.)

******

Paul Simon’s wonderful album, Graceland, introduced many of us to the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from South Africa. Beautiful voices and harmonies.

1987: Joseph Shabalala at left, baby Paul Simon third from left.

The leader of that group, Joseph Shabalala, passed away this past week, and his obituary was in the NYTimes. The song Homeless is from that album, and displays the group’s distinctive style.

******

80 Verses, 300 Covers

Yesterday it snowed off and on nearly all day. Those big flakes that are mesmerizing to watch, tumbling in the wind and blowing up along our street. But because it was around 40 degrees out there, each flake melted nearly as soon as it touched down, so the ultimate effect was that of a light rain falling.

And you don’t have to shovel rain. Can I have a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters?

******

Speaking of Hallelujah, has that song been done too many times, for you? As for me, I haven’t tired as yet. Doubt I ever will. The Wikipedia entry for the song says that Leonard Cohen originally wrote 80+ verses for it, and it has been covered by more than 300 artists.

Three hundred covers! That’s amazing. That’s as if every single person in Pukwana, SD recorded their own version. And then some.

I’ve not heard them all, but there are a few that stand out. One is this live performance at Cohen’s induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2006, as sung by k.d. lang with that gift of a voice she has.

(If you do watch it, carry through to the end, there’s a sweet moment there.)

Aaaaaahhhh, take me now, Lord.

******

There’s a piece in this month’s issue of Consumer Reports that deals with leafy green vegetables and the problems of bacterial contamination. The perennial bad guys are E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter. The usual suspects, eh?

There’s some good news and some bad news. Which would you rather read first?

Okay, the bad news. If you want to eat greens raw, no matter what you do, there is a risk to eating them. While proper cooking will kill the pathogens, a nice plateful of iceberg lettuce/mush doesn’t hold much appeal for most people, although I wouldn’t presume to speak for thee.

All the washing in the world can get the dirt and sand off of the vegetables, but not all of the bacteria.

Our food distribution system needs some tuning up, but I don’t believe that any supplier of salad greens wants to see their name in the paper as having provided the food that caused illness and/or deaths. However, if a bird flying over your romaine field and pooping pathogens onto it can sink a batch, what’s a grower to do?

The takeaway from the CR tale seems to be, these foods are so nutritious that let’s all take our chances and have a salad for lunch, shall we? Think of it as high adventure, for the gourmandic adrenaline-junkies that we are.

******

When I was a sophomore med student Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born. He was a premature infant of 34 weeks gestation and he weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Patrick immediately developed respiratory problems, and died 39 hours later of what was then called by several names, hyaline membrane disease, or idiopathic respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) being among them. In that year of his birth, 1963, all that could be done for premature babies, even the son of the President of the United States, was to keep them warm in an incubator, pipe in some supplemental oxygen, and drip IV fluids into small veins.

By 1968, when I was a second year resident in pediatrics, there was only a single neonatologist in all of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. She practiced at St. Paul Children’s Hospital, where they had primitive intravenous fluid infusion pumps and ventilators that could be used for premature infants, though they were machines built for adults, not babies. But even with their clunkiness these tools made possible a few hard-won survivals in small infants.

Without going into the physiology, something is missing from the lungs of preemies who develop RDS, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the first commercial product became available which could replace that missing substance (surfactant), at which point you would have seen a graph of the survival rate for infants with this disease rising nearly straight up.

At any rate, my professional lifetime included all of these stages, and it was a fascinating story along the way. So it occurred to me that it might be worth writing it up for the general public to read, since for that the last sixty years there has never been shortage of interest in anything that happens to a Kennedy, big or small.

I began to do the research, and after spending a few weeks collecting information I ran into something horrible. In 2015 a neonatal respiratory therapist had written exactly that story and published it as a small book. And worst of all, it’s well done.

So if any of you are interested, the author is Michael S. Ryan, and the title of the book is: Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, A Brief Life That Changed the History of Newborn Care.

I can recommend the damned thing wholeheartedly.

******

This piece from Wednesday’s NYTimes brought back memories and tears to my ears. It is about the Indian government’s attempts to cut down on honking. Yes, of all the problems that the country might have, there is presently a focus on the bedlam produced by thousands of cars honking together.

Two years ago Robin and I spent a lovely few days visiting daughter Maja in Lima, Peru. Maja doesn’t drive her own car, much preferring using Uber, and letting somebody else get the nervous tics that piloting automobiles in that nation’s capital produces.

What Robin and I noticed is that every car in downtown Lima seemed to be honking at the same time. Including our driver.

Think about this for a moment. If there are warning sounds going off constantly in a 360 degree pattern around you, do you pay attention to them? Or do you tune them all out?

As a passenger, I found myself tuning them out, which meant they were nothing but useless noise. Like a bad song on the radio that you can’t turn off.

So I found the attempts to cut down on the use of horns as outlined in this article to be pretty funny. At some intersections in India, until the cars stop honking while everyone is waiting at a red light, the light stays red. Sensors do the job. It’s ingenious, but I wonder … if it happened everywhere in India (or any country, for that matter), how long would it take for the psychopaths out there behind the wheel (and honey, you just know that they’re there) to start ignoring those signal lights?

******

The Doctor Will See You Now

My hypochondria knows no bounds. I am the avatar for the phrase a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

When I was a medical student, it was not at all rare for me to find that I had each new disease that I was studying, and in its most intriguing and unusual form. Reading about inflammation of the gall bladder? – why, there it was, that slight tenderness just under the ribs on my right side, exactly where the textbook said it would be.

Fortunately for me the student health service was just across the street from the University of Minnesota Hospital, and my feet wore a path that led straight to it. The front desk had been alerted to my visits, and would not rush me to the front of the line no matter how incendiary my complaints might be. It was always – have a seat, Jon, we’ll get to you in a moment – even as one organ after another failed while I languished on that hard plastic chair behind the potted plant.

So a month or two ago when I noticed that I had a “bruise” under my toenail, I didn’t give it much thought. Must have stubbed that toe somehow, was my assessment. But when it did not properly disappear by the time that I thought it should, my diagnosis went in a single leap from harmless hematoma to end-stage cancer and I presented myself at the reception desk in a local dermatologist’s office.

I have an extremely malignant toe, can I see the doctor, please?

Sir, if you will just fill out this paperwork and return it to me, I will help you get that appointment you desire.

But I may not have that long … how about putting me in an examination room while I work on the papers, and having a nurse stand by taking my vital signs every few minutes?

Sir, take the forms, sit over there behind the potted plant, and fill them out. Then come back when you are done.

All of which I did faithfully, even as I could feel my toe entering advanced stages of pre-mortem nastiness.

There, now can I see the doctor?

Certainly, Sir, how would next Tuesday work for you?

I could barely contain my panic.

But there is an excellent chance that I will not make it until next Tuesday …

I’m sorry, Sir, it’s the best I can do on such short notice.

I take the appointment. Against all odds, I am still alive on Tuesday, and manage to walk under my own power into an exam room, where I am handed a gown appropriately sized for someone weighing eighteen pounds and who is 24 inches tall.

The young doctor enters with a broad smile on his face (obviously he had not been alerted to the terminality of my condition) and he bounds over to the table where I sit shivering in the napkin they have given me to wear.

Well, let’s take a look at that toe, shall we?

He is almost unbearably cheerful.

Hmmmm … looks like you’ve bruised that nail for certain. Do you recall the injury?

No, I don’t. But Doctor, look more closely, please. Do you see those linear striations, that unhealthy purplish color …

Yes, yes, of course I do. Exactly what a bit of blood under the toenail should look like. I tell you what. Let’s give you a return appointment in, say, six months and we’ll reassess the whole thing. How does that sound?

Like my death knell, I think. But what I say is –

That would be fine, Doctor, whatever you feel is best.

I put my clothes back on and leave the clinic. They will be sorry when they read my obituary a month from now, I know they will. They will be inconsolable, and if I find that it is at all possible, I plan to return to haunt them.

******

How can you not love Brandi Carlisle? She gives country/folk music such a good name. Here she is doing a beautiful Crosby, Stills, & Nash tune. No artifice. No gimmicks. No posturing.

A song like this … I don’t know how it affects others … but for a few minutes it arranges my too-often chaotic thoughts into something unified and mellow and compassionate. Too bad the effect doesn’t last all day, but it’s still a good start for a morning.

Here she is with the Hanseroth twins, her longtime backup band, showing us all how harmony works.

(Seriously, if you want to spend some time exploring an artist’s work, you could do worse than taking up with Carlile for a fortnight or two. She’s real.)

******

Vegetables Never Served In My Family Of Origin But That Aren’t Horrible Department

I don’t believe that anyone named Flom had ever eaten a brussels sprout until the 1990s. Before that they were regarded with suspicion as tiny cabbages that were stunted from birth, either through witchcraft or the mischief of the god Loki, and therefore likely to be poisonous.

But now Robin and I have them as a side dish at least monthly. Mostly we roast or sautée them to a fare-thee-well, and then take them from the stove just before they become charcoal. At this point they are crispy and delicious.

Speaking only for ourselves, we are not that concerned about the Norse gods, and we have suffered no ill effects from consuming this vegetable.

Except for the gas, and I blame that squarely on Loki.

******

This is the time of year, right around the first of February, that I allow myself to begin thinking past Winter. From Thanksgiving till this moment I resolutely do not let my mind drift into a warmer future filled with sunshine and short-sleeved garments.

Let’s face it, it is so much easier to leave one’s home without having to first round up long underwear, scarves, heavy or puffy coats/jackets, snow boots, gloves, knit caps, parkas, neck gaiters, and a good attitude.

Now, the two of us dogo XC skiing and snowshoeing, Robin is pondering taking up ice skating once again, and we go on bundled-up walks when the snow isn’t too deep. In short, we do get out. But it requires some planning to avoid frostbite, chilblains, snow-blindness, hypothermia, boredom, and death. [Reference: photograph of man who started to ruminate on Spring too early and ignored the basics of cold-weather strategizing.]

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and I will allow myself, let’s say, five minutes of Spring-think. More than that, well, it could be dangerous.

******

I’m not letting the coronavirus get to me, not at all. Even though the daily numbers on incidence and mortality are expanding geometrically, I say “Piffle.” Yesterday I read that there are now 8 cases in Boston, but why should I let that trouble me? Boston is 2200 miles from Paradise. That’s a long trip, especially if you are feeling funky.

Yesterday I was completing the purchase of a few groceries, and coughed ever so slightly for whatever reason. The eyebrows of the checkout person went skyward as she asked me “Have you been to China?” I couldn’t resist answering “How did you know? I only returned from Wuhan yesterday and last night I had this fever and chills. Is there something going around?”

But even though I bravely resist panicking, I am nothing if not a prudent man. So I left the store with several hundred dollars worth of dried beans, cases of canned vegetables, and other foods that store easily. In fact, my garage is now completely filled with what you might call survival food. I call it sensible planning. I figure I could last six months before I had to return to City Market if worst came to worst.

I’ve begun to wonder if I should acquire a firearm to be able to defend my stash of beans against wandering bands of improvident and hungry Coloradans. Something large and impressive enough that I might not even have to purchase ammunition for it – just looking at the thing would impress upon any intruder the wisdom of going elsewhere.

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Pantry Hazards

Every once in a while you come across something that is just plain startling. Out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Such was the case this morning when I was shopping online for some additional pieces for the set of Fiesta Ware dishes we use every day. In my Google search this question popped up:

Is Fiesta Ware radioactive?

Huh? Radioactive? What the … ?

So I clicked on the question and received this answer:

Homer Laughlin, the maker of Fiesta, resumed using the red glaze in the 1950s, using depleted uranium. The use of depleted uranium oxide ceased in 1972. Fiesta Ware manufactured after this date is not radioactive. Fiesta dinnerware made from 1936-1972 may be radioactive.

Amazing. My head was spinning. How would we ever have suspected that our dinnerware was the reason that our family now glowed in the dark? Oh sure, it was handy sometimes, like when you entered a darkened house and were looking for the light switch. Or if you wanted to read late at night but didn’t have a lamp near the chair you were sitting in. But overall, it mightn’t have been that healthy for us to be walking night-lights.

******

Once again the Grammys have come and gone without me. Except for “Old Town Road” I knew none of the tunes that won awards. I barely recognize the performers.

In fact, I am so far out of that loop that the Grammy committee now calls me and asks that I not watch the show. Apparently my profound ignorance and indifference leak backwards through my television screen and are off-putting to the people who are on stage.

So out of respect for the music I don’t tune in. It’s better this way.

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From The New Yorker

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The commedia dell’politico that is playing in Washington DC at the moment is bringing back John Bolton for encores. You remember him from the “W” administration, n’est-ce pas?

He’s the guy who has parlayed a large mustache and a cranky disposition into a long and undistinguished career.

Can’t wait to hear what he has to say, can you? The squeaking of yet one more rattus norvegicus who has left the listing ship of state.

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Monday it snowed lightly all the livelong day, and we ended up with about three inches of perfect whiteness in the village. Robin and I had planned to go to the Grand Mesa for a bit of XC skiing, but we turned back when the road up the mountain was too icy for comfort. It’s one thing to go up an icy mountain road, it’s quite another to come down one.

So we took a snowday. All four of us (kitties and humans). We’ve worked out a truce with the next-door neighbors who own an unprincipled cat that is bullying felines up and down our street. I’ve tried to tell these poor souls that their pet is a spawn from hell, but they remain unpersuaded.

Since they are reluctant to do the right thing and call in an exorcist, we’ve worked out a schedule with them: they can let their monster outdoors only on odd-numbered days, and ours can then enjoy a demon-free environment on the evens. Monday being an odd-numbered day, we were a quartet of shut-ins.

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Okay, here’s something that will make reading all the way to the bottom of this page worth your while. It’s Amy Klobuchar’s recipe for a hot dish, as reported in the NYTimes on Wednesday.

Having grown up in a home where the question “What are we having for supper?” was met 50% of the time with the reply “Hot Dish,” I can completely relate to this story.

Of course, “hot dish” could mean almost anything, since all you had to do was to add some protein to some starch and blend cream of mushroom soup into the mixture and you had supper. If you wanted to get frilly, toss in some frozen vegetables. Green peas were especially popular at our house.

All of this just gives me one more reason to consider Amy’s candidacy. Anyone that can serve this much melted cheese with a straight face deserves my vote.

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Memento Mori Department

Bob Shane, the last surviving member of the musical group The Kingston Trio, passed away this week. Younger readers might say “Who?,” and who can blame them, but at one time this trio was probably the most popular such group in the world.

Here are a couple of their early hits, Tom Dooley, and Scotch and Soda, both featuring Mr. Shane. In the photo, Bob is the guy on the left.

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Sunday Morning

Sunday morning and we’re in Denver, catching up with Kaia and Leina and their parents. They are busy, what with school and athletics and music lessons and playdates and lord knows what else.

Denver is an okay city, with a lot of the good stuff that only a large population can support. But I wouldn’t live there. Traffic is bad, the air quality is poor, and living costs are high. There are just too many tradeoffs you have to make for that occasional visit to a museum or concert or trendy part of town.

Of course a Denverite would look at our lives here in Paradise and say the same thing in reverse. What a backward village Montrose is, they’d say. A population with way too many yahoos in it, gun-toting would-be heroes packing their iron into the churches on mornings like this one.

Sure, the air is fresh, but why bother to breathe at all if there is nothing to do but look at rabbitbrush all day?

Ah me, to each their own.

But one thing Denver does have is an REI store, a dream factory if there ever was one. More great tools than you could use in several lifetimes, and all designed to take you outdoors into whatever adventure you feel has your name on it. I know … we came for the kids, but would it hurt to go shopping for a minute or two?

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This morning Willow is curled up in my lap, a thing that she does only early in the morning, and only when she wants to. Try to pick her up and plonk her there is way more likely to get you a growl than a lap-companion, and you might even come away with a scratch or two.

She is very much her own creature, and does not suffer fools well.

I admire that quality in her, showing me how close she is to the wild, and how thin the layer of civilization really is in her case. If she could state her feelings, I fancy this would be what she’d say:

I like the trappings that come with living with humans – warm rooms, shelter from the wind, safe places to sleep, food when I am feeling too lazy to catch my own. I am even fond of the particular humans who share this space with me, as long as they behave themselves. But I am not their ornament or plaything. I have my own life to live, as do they. Things work out best when we all remember this.

(Anthropomorphizing is one of my deepest and most persistent traits.)

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Love it when I find a story like this, the tale of Bill Fay. Where the musician records a couple of albums as young man, they don’t sell, he then makes his way at unglamorous jobs, but never stops writing new songs. Then thirty years later someone “discovers” him and brings in the world’s attention.

But the guy is so grounded … he has long ago realized that it is only the music that is real, and fame is ephemeral. Read the story, from the NYTimes.

If you’re interested, here’s a couple of examples of what he’s written. The second song, Filled With Wonder … , is from his latest album, which releases later this week.

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A word from Mr. Guy Fawkes
I don’t know what you may have already read about me, but I imagine it is composed of equal parts falsehoods, innuendos, and claptrap.

To set the record straight, I was arrested while guarding a number of barrels full of gunpowder located in a room directly beneath the House of Lords. The authorities took this all very badly and they quickly scheduled a day and time for my soul to be released from my body in a public and uncomfortable manner. But that’s another story.

Since then I have languished, without any application for my fervent spirit, so I am happy to be promised occasional opportunities to express myself in this column.

For today just let me say that I sense that there is a revolutionary mood alive in the land. But I realize that my old methods may not be applicable to the times, and where would one find big barrels of gunpowder anyway in 2020?

Perhaps there are other, less explosive ways to achieve the same goals, eh? So I’ve taken over the “Fighting the Good Fight Department” section while renaming it. And this makes it easy to skip if you’re tired of these topics. You’ve gotta know that if it were up to me, this whole blog would be about these articles or op-ed pieces.

But then, I’m a detonative sorta guy. It’s in my nature.

GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT
Why Does America Hate Its Children? by Paul Krugman. (The problem is that children don’t run for office to represent themselves. And the adults that are supposed to do that never adequately stand up for them)
Trump’s Evil Is Contagious by Timothy Egan. (The lesson here is that if you stand too close to a manure pile you will still stink if you step away)
Senate Republicans Are Bathed In Shame by Frank Bruni. (These people are exploring new depths of dishonor and degradation- lower than you ever thought possible on such a large scale)

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The story of Evelyn Yang makes me nauseous in so many ways. It is a tale of betrayal in every way possible as she sought justice for herself and other women. It involves:

  • The physician who abused her and dozens of other women who is no more than a serial predator deserving of much harsher punishment.
  • The Columbia University staff who worked hard at hushing the matter up rather than at helping the victims.
  • The state attorney general who decided that taking a plea deal was the best way to go and then was surprised that the victims felt betrayed is a clueless individual indeed.

Personally, the most visceral response for me comes from reading about the doctor who violated his oath and the law. There are many things that physicians owe to our patients, but providing for their safety while in our care is the minimum they have the right to expect from our profession.

The absolute minimum.

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Story of Tito and Amanda

My friend Bill sent along a news clipping from Florida. I include it below:

The article speaks eloquently for itself, and I only have a couple of comments to make. First, some mental aberrations are much funnier than others. Apparently Tito and Amanda believed in their product, and they might make a case for police harassment of an innocent vendor. Maybe. And since it’s pretty common knowledge that when Jesus wants to meet up with someone he often does it behind a KFC, there is that.

Secondly, the article doesn’t mention it, but I strongly suspect that the purchasers of those golden tickets were some of those barmy evangelicals who support President Cluck so strongly. If they’ll buy him, they’ll buy anything.

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Let’s play with this a little longer. If there were planets made entirely of drugs, what would they be called? I have four suggestions to offer. Perhaps you have others.

  • Crackitopia
  • Morphinia I
  • Cocainatus Prime
  • Methamphorian

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The critics are not quite unanimous, but almost, in panning the new movie Cats. I think the Rotten Tomatoes rating was down below 20% at one time. But Robin wanted to see it no matter what and off we went.

We really liked it.

Not that there weren’t flaws, but there was also a lot of music and energy and some really appealing characters. Who cares if the cinematography looked like it was shot through a lens of strong coffee when you get to see Judy Dench strut her stuff, and watch Ian McKellen in cat-drag?

There were excellent dance numbers, especially a tap-dance number along a railroad track that was terrific.

Forget about plot. The original musical’s plot was always pretty hare-brained but you were able to forget about it most of the time, because … it was forever about the music and it still is!

Songs like Memory, Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, and Mr. Mistoffelees, f’rinstance.

So nya-nya-nya and pish-tush to those critics who are unable to find the fun.

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Our fearless leader may have finally gone and done it this time. Those of us who have worked at keeping our wits in a witless era have known that when you have an immoral and foolish person as your president, eventually he will do something irretrievably stupid on a grand scale.

Ergo – assassinating a general and then threatening to blow up cultural sites if the Other Side does anything about it.

The Day After War Begins in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Congress, Stop the Rush to War by the NYTimes Editorial Board

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The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions Department

We had an old Canon photo printer that we hadn’t used for several years because it would no longer play with our computer’s OS. I thought: Rather than throw away something that had been working, we’ll take it to Goodwill and maybe there’s someone out there using an older PC or Mac that can make the thing fly again.

So I stuffed the printer’s power cords into a plastic bag that I thought already contained some unused ink cartridges for the machine, and went to the Restore where they gratefully accepted the donation.

After returning home I was dismayed to find the bag of ink cartridges still in the car … what in blazes was in the bag I left at the Restore? I asked Robin and after checking the car she told me that I had given away a brand new pair of exercise pants that she had purchased only yesterday.

Back I went to the Restore, where the I found that the administrative person who screens donations had decided that they couldn’t use the Canon after all, and it had been trashed. The young man who had helped me at my earlier visit then showed up and told me he knew where the cords were. Together we went outside to a gigantic dumpster, whereupon he climbed up to a precarious perch on the side of the beast, leaned way in, and retrieved the bag and its contents from the top of the pile.

I thanked him profusely and then drove back home, where I returned Robin’s pants, which seemed none the worse for their brief visit to the dumpster.

Memo to Myself: Always check the derned bag.

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Yet Another Time I Erred …

Those conversations on long car trips with my friend Rich Kaplan sometimes wandered into discussions of anti-semitism. Rich was very sensitive to words or attitudes that he regarded as anti-semitic, and he did not hold back in expressing his feelings.

Sometimes this made me wonder, because I didn’t interpret what he had heard in the same way he did. I would think at those times, god forbid, that he might be overreacting. To me the Holocaust had been a horrible aberration, the pogroms were artifacts of a distant age. And if a few dim-bulb yahoos continued to use the occasional anti-Jewish slur, why, we lived in the enlightened US of A, after all. Who would listen to them?

Rich saw it differently. To him, anti-semitism was a monster thousands of years old, one that was at that moment merely nibbling at the world, but only biding its time. To him, no instance of a racist comment could go unchallenged lest it encourage the appetite of that creature.

Now it is way too clear that he was right all along. The past several years have seen an increase in anti-semitic events in this country, some of them terribly violent. And the slope of this ugly trend is ever upward.

I can almost hear him telling me as I write: “I told you so, you ignorant f**ckstick!”

(When Rich chose to use profanity, he often employed a rich verbal palette that he created all by himself.)

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The New York Times ran a piece in the Science section this week about women who want to be both surgeons and mothers, and the conflicts that inevitably arise. The very first paragraph rankled, and I will repeat it here:

As a health care professional, Dr. Erika Rangel is trained to know when things are going wrong. That alarm went off one day in her fourth year of surgical residency. Her son, just 3 months old, had developed a fever. She couldn’t be late for her operating shift, but his day care wouldn’t accept him if he was sick. So she did what desperate mothers do and got inventive: She slipped liquid Tylenol into his bottle, in the hopes of lowering his temperature, and dropped him off.

NYTImes, December 31

Anybody see anything wrong here? First of all, keep in mind that early on in their course, serious diseases and trivial ones are routinely indistinguishable from one another in infants. But this mother tried to conceal her baby’s illness from the day care center staff, thus exposing them and the other children at the center to whatever her child was suffering from.

In the next line the reporter seems to applaud this surgeon-in-training, who “did what desperate mothers do and got inventive.” How about substituting “devious” or “dishonest” for the word inventive?

(As an aside, in this story, we know nothing of the child’s father, who may or may not have been available. But if he was around to potentially help, then this was a case of folie a deux.)

While I have empathy for any parents who try to “balance” jobs and careers, they lose me completely when they roll the dice with their kids’ health or well-being. Being on call to your family so often loses out to being on call for your patients, that having a Plan B which does not require irresponsibility has to be a part of one’s game. Children do get sick. It will happen on a workday. Plan for it.

So where do I get off with making such judgments? From years of being a physician/parent who made just about all the mistakes possible.

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Who knew I had a soft spot for angels? I was playing a tune for Robin over breakfast one morning this week when I realized something about myself. (Since by definition everything about me is fascinating, I thought I would share it with you all.)

The song was Calling All Angels, by k.d. lang and Jane Siberry. And even as I was talking about it to Robin, I recalled other “angel” songs that were favorites of mine. Did I have a thing for these celestial personages, I wondered?

My conclusion was that I did. Even if I have some problems believing in their existence, it’s obvious that I wish there could be a few of them hanging around, and I take some odd comfort in songs that suggest that it may be true.

Some of those other songs that came to mind:

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I think I shared this recipe once before, but no matter – I repeat myself daily and have got quite used to it. Robin and I made this Hungarian mushroom soup again last week and … well … it’s just too good for mortals.

Usually you can look at a list of ingredients and have a pretty good idea how it all will taste. But not in this case. This soup is greater than the sum of its parts.

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