Comparisons

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

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

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

Wikipedia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

**

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

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

Wikipedia: Studs Lonigan

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

**

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

**

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

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

Wikipedia: Lonesome Dove, the novel

**

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

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

Wikipedia: Matterhorn (novel)

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

******

A Dick Guindon cartoon

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

Baby Face by Little Richard

******

A Dick Guindon cartoon

******

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

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

******

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

******

Trust Me

I have never been what you might call a man of my time. For instance, I am too old to be considered a “boomer.” Boomers were born once WWII was over and I was born two years before our participation in that war began. This makes people my age the modern equivalent of the Anasazi.

In the middle Sixties there arose a saying commonly heard – never trust anyone over thirty. That phrase hit a peak in regular usage the year I turned thirty. So while my personal sympathies were definitely on the more youthful side of that artificial line, my less fit corpus and receding hairline definitely put me well into the ranks of the duplicitous ones. It was a schizophrenic time – my fist raised in the air as I shouted anti-establishment and antiwar slogans at rallies while my t-shirt could have read: “Trust me not, I’m thirty-one.”

Little wonder my self-image is a bit bleary and out-of-focus.

Then there was the feeling I had all through my twenties that I would not live to see thirty years old. I had that feeling so strongly that on the eve of my thirtieth birthday I had trouble sleeping. It was the “if I should die before I wake” syndrome. (I thought I was unusual in this but have since learned that having such notions is not a rare thing, especially among persons of a certain nervous temperament.)

So it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that I woke on October 26, 1969 and found that I was not only not dead, but had a wife, four children, and was still a conscript in the United States Air Force. So many roles and responsibilities for a man who had fantasized about living in a caravan, growing his hair out, taking fewer showers, and learning everything there was to be learned about psychedelics.

Since I wasn’t dead, I now had to make plans for a future that I hadn’t thought to be a part of. I knew more what I didn’t want to be than what I did. I didn’t want to be the middle-aged man whose small talk at parties leaned heavily toward what was the best sidewalk edger or foundational planting. I left such a party one night horrified by the conversations I’d overheard. I turned to my (first) wife and said: “I am going to purchase a small-caliber pistol which I will give you as a gift. If you ever hear me start into one of the inane back-and-forths we have witnessed this evening, I want you to take the pistol from your purse and shoot me on the spot. And don’t worry – there’s not a jury in the world that will convict you.”

And now I am a blue-label octogenarian living in a red zone. Mmmmmmm. I think I’ll have a t-shirt printed that reads “Never trust anyone over eighty,” just so I feel comfortably out-of-sync. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.

******

A Dick Guindon cartoon

******

Another Super Bowl has come and gone (Yawn). Apparently Eminem was part of the entertainment and he took a knee (took him a while). There are many of our shared American rituals that I do take part in, so I don’t think that I need to apologize for skipping this particular one. The last time I cared about the outcome of a pro football game was in the early 1960s, so by the time that Super Bowl I began the whole series of overblown spectacles in 1966, I had already gone in other directions.

To me it’s little more than the modern version of the Roman games, without the excitement of having lions present to eat the losers. Instead, we watch as large men gamble with their bodies, many of them hoping in vain that they don’t acquire brains as moth-eaten as an old woolen sweater in the back of your closet.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Each morning I check the online newspapers to see if we are at war yet. I am even concerned enough that recently I actually checked a map to see where the Ukraine is located. I thought it was the least that I could do. The amount of saber-rattling over the past several months has almost made too much noise for a person to go to sleep at night.

You know that definition of insanity? The one that goes like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Wouldn’t that apply to the making of war pretty well? What our world lacks is someone like Zeus to act as a celestial referee. Let’s say that a Vladimir Putin or a George W. Bush gets their underwear all in a bunch and begins to move armies to the borders anywhere. This referee could say “Hold it right there!” They would then step in and gather all the swords, break them over their knee, then send the offenders to their respective rooms without any supper.

When I was an undergraduate student at the U. of Minnesota, there was a humorous piece in the student newspaper that went like this. War is such a horror at least partially because we are doing it all wrong. We draft the young and send them into battle to be slaughtered or maimed or emotionally crippled. So much potential lost.

What we should be doing is getting all nations to agree to draft only their oldest citizens. This would have the following benefits.

  • Since the aged are also a very crafty bunch, they would exert enormous pressures to stop the nonsense, put the guns back into the holsters, and settle things amicably.
  • Should a war actually somehow begin, these same senior citizens would be much more comfortable in a nice warm tent than charging up a hill, and it would be difficult to motivate them to attack things. In fact, charging up anything in large enough numbers to do real harm would probably be impossible due to arthritis, old sports injuries, bladder difficulties, etc.
  • The vision of older citizens is often impaired, thus their ability to hit whatever they’re aiming at would also be impaired, with most of the bullets fired flying off into harmless directions.

I would volunteer for such an army in a heartbeat. Let’s get more eighty year-olds around the truce tables of the world. Men and women who, if they voted for war, would be among the first to be drafted.

Good for all nations to have an army where it is more important to get carloads of Metamucil to the front lines than it is ammunition. There are few things more difficult to deal with than a cranky old soldier without their fiber.

******

Cuppa

This morning, at at time of the day when I am most vulnerable, I was humiliated once again by the words on the package of coffee. You see them, don’t you, down there on the bottom.

“rich and smoky, with cocoa notes punctuated by hints of almonds.”

All I taste is coffee. It can be thin or strong, but it is coffee and that’s it.

No almonds, no cocoa, none of that comes through to my senses. It is obvious that there is something deficient about me, and that there are dimensions out there that you and others know that I never will.

And it’s not just in the world of coffee beans. There are the wines that taste of “vanilla and bee sweat and long slow evenings on the porch, ” cheeses that harbor essences of walnuts, persimmons, and flea markets, and perfumes that evoke nights lying on dock planks with hints of rose attar, turpentine, and wet spaniel.” I am oblivious to these niceties.

I just have to try not to read these things. They make me not want to go out in public for fear that I will hear those small cackles of derision from passersby.

“He looks normal enough, but did you hear that he can’t tell a rhododendrite from a flapdoodle?”

“Yes, yes, I heard that he went to a nuance festival and was denied admission for being an impostor.”

Doomed is what I am. Set apart from the rest of my race by an errant base pair located on the arm of a chromosome ordinarily associated with the ability to smell asparagus in communal bathrooms.

Sometimes life can be too much to bear, really it can.

******

From The New Yorker (one of my all-time favorite cartoons about coffee. I made a print of it several years ago and mounted it on the cupboard near where we do our brewing. Give the guy a beard and it is absolutely me.)

******

At a physical therapy center here in Paradise, there is a coffee machine in the waiting room that dispenses the beverage free of charge and identifies it as the Folger’s brand. You can take your plastic cup to the machine and choose either hot water or something called coffee and that’s it. “The coffee is awful, but it’s free,” said another man in the room as I stood there trying to make up my mind, deciding on whether I wanted to run this gauntlet once again.

Institutional coffee is almost always wretched. Either it is thin and metallic tasting, or the flavors that come through have hints of the Spanish-American War, which is the era when those beans were first placed in the warehouse. Growing up in Lutheran America, I found that while in the homes of the parishioners the brews were generally satisfying, give the same people a chance to make a cup of java in the church basement and you could tell they were all into saving money.

The same thing happens at AA meetings. Now you would think that folks who had just given up their drug of choice to make the switch to caffeine would care, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. At the Yankton club, whenever I would rise from my seat to make a fresh pot, there was no end of eyes that followed me and counted (and commented on) the number of scoops that I put in. I could never put in too few.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Now although I do have some opinions on the subject, I am far from being a coffee snob. I just have minimum standards, is the way I see it. But as insufferable as true coffee snobs can be on occasion, I do feel sorry for them. There are so many ways that they leave themselves open to disappointment. Beans too old, beans roasted the wrong way, beans ground the wrong way, brewing temperatures too hot or too cold … the list goes on. They have locked themselves into a world of brewing perfection that very few others can satisfy, and even those persons may not be enough of a purist to suit them.

While I, on the other hand, will be content if you just put enough scoops in the machine. Brew me a cup of something dark brown and of pedestrian origins if you will, but make it strong.

One More Cup of Coffee by Bob Dylan

******

A handful of coffee memes …

******

It will not surprise me in the slightest if we don’t start seeing the practice of book-burning revived. There are just too many books that actually challenge the reader or contain material meant for adults (a category of reader which is always in short supply). Our nation’s hefty population of supremacist thinkers is concerned that white people are being unfairly singled out for too much negative publicity.

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s take the colonization of America, for example. Europeans are portrayed as greedy, inhumane, murderous, and deceitful in their dealings with the original occupants of this land. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My great-grandparents came over on the boats, having no doubt left successful careers in Norway behind them, and approached the Native Americans in Wisconsin and Minnesota asking where they could put up their rustic dwellings.

Colonist: Hey, you guys, anybody know where we might find some land to set up our farm?

Native: Farm? What might that be?

Colonist: Well, a house and a barn and a few livestock to start with. Then we dig up the soil and plant crops and either eat them or feed them to our animals.

Native: You need a lot of our land for that?

Colonist: Naw, just a patch or two. You’ll never miss it.

Native: And you won’t ask for more?

Colonist: Why would we? We are by nature a peaceful and easily satisfied people.

Native: Then welcome, lads, you sound like good neighbors and we are happy to share our abundance with you. Take what you need, you’ll get no arguments from us.

Colonist: Excellent, now how about we sit down and have a cup of coffee to seal the bargain?

Native: Never heard of it, but we’re game to try anything. After that we could have a nice smoke.

Now, where in that narrative do you see anything violent or genocidal? Just two very different peoples working things out amicably. The rabble-rousers who write these books … I’m pretty sure they are outsiders coming in to stir things up, and just when everything is going so smoothly, too.

Before You Came by Jesse Colin Young

******

If We Make It Through December …

I’ve left that song by Phoebe Bridgers up for another few days. It moves me each time and I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect that it’s that the theme, of barely making it from month to month, was a recurrent one in my own childhood. “If we make it through December “… what a world of hurt and worry a phrase like that holds.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to play the poverty card here. I was never hungry, always clothed decently, always had a roof over my head. But the level of luxury in our family was often too thin to measure.

Dad was what sociologists of the time called an unskilled laborer. I checked this morning to see if there was some new euphemism that had replaced that unflattering term and found none, though I did come across these entries in a thesaurus which were interesting.

It wasn’t that the man didn’t have skills, it was that they weren’t marketable ones. He worked for most of his adult life at Archer-Daniels, a huge conglomerate, at one of their plants that processed linseed oil from flax. (A while back I purchased some linseed oil to do a bit of wood refinishing, and when I opened the tin I was instantly transported back to childhood, because that was what Dad’s work clothing always smelled like, and you know that the brain never forgets a scent.)

He had the kind of job you don’t hear much about any more, one with swing shifts. That meant that the plant never closed, that the 24 hours of any day was divided into three shifts, and you could be assigned to any of the three, in rotation. You might work days for a week, afternoons for another, nights for yet another. This sort of messing with the bodies’ wake/sleep cycles was not taken much into consideration back then. You never worked any shift for enough days in a row to ever become accustomed to the changes. Your body was expected to “handle it.”

Dad was a union man, a member of the United Mine Workers. Which was a part of the AFL/CIO. Which in the forties and fifties meant that periodically there would be a strike, and each strike was a severe family economic stressor. Usually Mom would take some job to fill in during these uncertain times. Sewing stuffed toys at home, selling custom-made foundation garments to overweight women, working in the sausage department at a meat-packing plant, etc. I honestly don’t recall if there was anything like “strike pay” back then, but if there was, it was miniscule at best.

So when my brother and I got our first bicycles one Christmas, they were used ones that Dad had reconditioned. There were homemade gifts in other years as well. But unlike in the song, there was never a year without a Christmas.

BTW, I hadn’t heard this tune before Ms. Bridgers brought it out, but I learned that her version is a cover of a Merle Haggard song. Just in case you’re interested, here is ol’ Merle doing his own thing.

******

From The New Yorker

******

An elderly gentleman like myself has had the opportunity to adjust to a passel of changes. Some of them represented progress, some absolutely didn’t, and there are some that I haven’t made up my mind about as yet. This category includes times when to adopt the new you had to give up something. Perhaps something that you liked or felt was important.

One item on this list is indoor plumbing. Being able to access drinking water safely and comfortably was a definite plus, and trading the privy for a set of well-designed porcelain fixtures seemed a no-brainer. But my spiritual life suffered because of indoor bathrooms. One of the first teachings of Buddhism is that there is suffering in life, and what we can do about it as travelers on this earth. This teaching used to be brought home on each visit to the outhouse in the wintertime. Several times each day I would be forcefully reminded – suffering exists.

Television is another item. What a resource it has been and continues to be as a doorway to learning and entertainment. The problem is that while that door is open quite a bit of swill washes in. Reference the entire Kardashian family saga, or the id-driven and air-headed Real Wives of various places, or one of the most unsavory of all, The Bachelor. Either they have had a negative effect on our collective intellect or they have revealed that our intellects weren’t so great in the first place. Lose-lose on this one.

A third example would be the plethora of appliances available that are designed to make life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable, and they do all that until they don’t work. At that point you find that the manual for the appliance clearly states that “There are no user-serviceable parts.” That means either you mail it back to the company for repair or you throw it away. Typically a toaster that cost $39.95 initially will cost you $25.00 for postage to that service department plus another $35.00 for the repair. So economics dictates that you toss it out.

What you’ve lost is the feeling of accomplishment that came from getting out one’s tools and doing the repair. In the case of a toaster, for instance, after you tinkered with it you could hardly wait to test it out by loading it with a couple of slices of bread. You plugged it in and then had the chance to see a shower of sparks followed quickly by flames shooting out of the device as the innocent bread was converted to pure carbon. Those were the days.

******

******

This year Robin and I have made the move to non-gifting one another. At least not a big deal gift. There will be “stocking stuffers,” of course, we are not Communists after all. We’re taking that money and making donations with it to favorite charities. Maybe some charities that we always wanted to help, but never got around to it.

We can do that because we really don’t need anything. There are lots of things we might want, but need … nope. We are roofed-over, fed, and clothed. We have luxuries, like this computer I am typing upon, but having a smaller home means you look carefully before adding to the pile of possessions already stacked there. Stuff in the garage or shed that you haven’t quite the heart to throw away yet, but that will remain warehoused until molds or insects take care of the problem.

If we decide to buy a new framed photograph or painting for our walls, for instance, something will have to go away to make room for it. A new shirt or sweater … same thing, because closet space is all taken up. If I ever start to feel sorry for myself, in that I would like to go back to bigger and better, I remind myself of a story told by a raconteur on the old (really old) Jack Paar television show. It went like this:

There was a holy man who lived in a small village and who lived so simply that he had only one treasured possession, a jar that he carried each morning to the village well to collect water for the day. The man was loved by all, so it was with horror that villagers saw him trip one morning and fall to the ground, shattering the water jar on the cobblestones.

As others moved to comfort the man, he raised his head from the ground and they were amazed to see the most blissful expression on his face. Seeing that their old friend was about to speak they crowded closer so as not to miss a single word. And this is what they heard him say:

“At last … I am free.”

******

[I’ve told the above story before, I know, but this time I told it better.]

******

A Very Merry Christmas to Everyone. May you and all those you love be happy and safe.

******

Someone Else’s Hard Work

After listening to a few Bob Dylan songs this afternoon on a perfect backyard 80 degree day with the cats swatting at the insects buzzing within range, I found myself wondering. What would be the appropriate recognition for a man whose music was the background for most of one’s life? A man whose lyrics … what did they do … they didn’t so much tell you the next right thing to do as they indicated the territory where you might profitably look for it.

It’s a legitimate question to ask myself, I think … what sort of person would I have been if Mr. Dylan hadn’t been gifted in the way he was? If I hadn’t internalized the lyrics to songs like Blowing in the Wind or A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall or Mr. Tambourine Man or Masters of War or Things Have Changed or Shelter From The Storm … the list does go on. When you put that stuff into your head it changes you. Perhaps each song molded me only a little, but many hundreds of songs and their repetition … that had to make a sizable dent, for sure.

So add Bob Dylan to the list of folks who I would happily invite in for coffee and a warm-up if they showed up late at night on my doorstep during a snowstorm.* (There is a second list, those to whom I would say Begone, Wretch!).

*I would ask Bob in even though I have heard that he can be a cranky S.O.B. at times.

******

******

What do you know about Critical Race Theory? Before I read Andrew Sullivan’s piece I knew absolutely nothing. After reading it, I know a tiny bit. But the piece is interesting in its summary of what Western liberalism consists of and the fact that what I take for granted today could very easily be lost.

In his forth coming book, “The Constitution of Knowledge,” Jonathan Rauch lays out some core principles that liberal societies rely upon. These are not optional if liberal society is to survive. And they are not easy, which is why we have created many institutions and practices to keep them alive. Rauch lists some of them: fallibilism, the belief that anyone, especially you, can always be wrong; objectivity, a rejection of any theory that cannot be proven or disproven by reality; accountability, the openness to conceding and correcting error; and pluralism, the maintenance of intellectual diversity so we maximize our chances of finding the truth.

Andrew Sullivan, Removing the Bedrock of Liberalism

Those four principles are so basic to my own view of the world that I don’t even notice them. They are the air I breathe, the sea I swim in. They are what is and what always will be, I thought. Apparently that is not the case, according to Mr. Sullivan. A very different universe could come to exist, and the other possibilities look pretty damned ugly.

******

My land, but this is a performance. Mr. Cash took this song from Nine Inch Nails and made it his, cell by cell. I play it once a year for the benefit of my soul.

******

Once again Robin and I have challenged the fates and started our garden. It’s only a tiny one, a few tomato plants, some greens, a pot of basil. But it gives us something to fret about and chores to do, just as a larger one would. In this droughty country, watering is the constant duty. For the past couple of years, there has been very little rain to help us out, so the plants’ survival comes from the end of a hose.

Our garden is a small thing, but it is a strong reminder of how our survival depends on somebody out there growing the food that keeps us alive. Those people are doing their own fretting, their chores, and worrying about the rains coming. We never get to thank them in person.

There is a table prayer that I learned at a Buddhist gathering that says it for me.

We give thanks to the sun and the rain and the earth, and to someone else’s hard work.

******

Fogged-Out

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

Here’s the text that grabbed me:

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

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

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

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

******

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

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

******

******

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

******

Something of Value

In 1955 I was sixteen and OMG was I impressionable. There were many things that made dents in my psyche that year, dents which still show if the light is right and if I turn my head just so … . One of them was the book Something of Value, by Robert Ruark.

It was a novel about the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, which was very much in the headlines in the middle 50s. Lots of killing. More atrocities than you could shake a lion’s tail at. Colonials versus natives and all that. A very juicy set of horrors better viewed safely from several thousand miles away, which is exactly where I was.

Mr. Ruark was a White Hunter. Which means he was a member of a highly privileged group who traveled regularly to Africa to kill large animals for the fun of it. They would then take the heads, bring them back to the U.S. and build rooms in their homes to display them in, as evidence of their prowess. Ruark would write about his exploits, and publish these stories in magazines like Sports Afield and such. He was quite a good writer, actually.

When he decided to write about the Mau Mau, his informants were most often white people like himself. In spite of this handicap, he wrote a compelling novel that was very popular and which was my first little peek into the joys of colonialism. I learned that those brave and stiff upper-lipped British settlers could be quite awful at times in the way they treated indigenous populations. I learned that cruelty begets more cruelty, and that there seems to be no end to the creativity that can be brought to beat when doing harm to others.

It was a grim book, but had to be so if it were to accurately report the time and the events. The title comes from an African proverb which translates into something like: When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with
something of value
.”

It was that thought that stuck with me from then on. I remembered it when I began to be more aware, as a young man, of the true history in my own country of European settlers and Native Americans. (I say true as opposed to the heavily laundered version found in movies, which were my first source of information on the subject.) More cruelty, more horrors, more taking away without replacing.

They made a so-so movie out of the book which starred Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as the friends turned antagonists. If you think it might be hard to imagine the dignified and righteous Poitier doing very bad things, you are right. It was.

*

Which brings me to Easter Sunday. I can almost hear you saying “Huh? What fool sort of segue was that?”

My personal spiritual journeys have taken me on a zig-zag sort of route, and some of those directions have disappointed people I loved. So far I have caromed from Lutheran to Catholic to Lutheran to agnostic to Lutheran to Buddhist. If I live long enough, I might add yet another category to the list. Two things stand out for me. One is that you never know where your studies and thinking might be going until you find yourself there, and then what do you do?

The second is that I have never felt so rock-steady at any of these stages that I was tempted to proselytize. When I would leave one tradition behind for another, I have always been cognizant of the fact that … well … I could be wrong. That what I was leaving behind could be closer to the truth than where I was going. To debate with friends about religions has been something that I have avoided for these reasons. And to a large degree, it went back to that phrase from the book long ago:

When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value.

Something of Value, by Robert Ruark

So … if I were to argue religion with another person, and if I were successful in converting that person to my belief system, and if it turned out that my beliefs were wrong, what would that make me? What sort of friend would I have been?

******

From The New Yorker

*

******

All of the predictions are in place, the stars are aligned, and this Easter Sunday promises to be one of purely gorgeous Spring weather. It will be in the 70s here in Paradise, and there will be sunshine all over the place. Nor any drop of rain to fall. What will we do with this fine day?

We will have friends for brunch later this morning, for one thing. It will be our first indoor socializing since the onset of The Plague. Hopefully this is a true turning point in this disease’s dreary history, and a good first step back toward whatever normalcy will be.

I see myself lying back in the grass by a riverbank somewhere later on today, listening to the water and letting the unquiet air pass me by as I do the water in the river. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on the aching places that I seem to have accumulated over time. And all of this in the company of my good and tolerant friend, Robin.

What a lucky man am I.

******

Let It Be

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

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

******

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

It’s a numbers game, to be certain.

******

Take That, Pandemovirus!

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

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

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

******

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

Remember, all for free.

******

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

Resistance

Robin gave me a small book by Pema Chodron for Christmas, which I am finally in the process of reading. Sister Pema is a Buddhist nun who writes simply and clearly on matters of the mind and spirit, all from a Buddhist perspective. I enjoy her books because I am very fond of simplicity. I dote on it. It suits me. Early in Chapter Four I ran across this passage:

The Buddha spoke a lot about the importance of working with one’s ego. But what did he mean by “ego”? There are various ways to talk about this word, but one definition I particularly like is “that which resists what is.” Ego struggles against reality, against the open-mindedness and natural movement of life. It is very uncomfortable with vulnerability and ambiguity, with not being quite sure how to pin things down.

Welcoming the Unwelcome, by Pema Chodron, pp 30-31.

What an interesting definition for “ego.” It was one of those times when I read something that rang so true that I can’t believe that I hadn’t seen it for myself. Then I remind my self that original thinking is not a strong suit for me, I am much better at being the enthusiastic follower. But “that which resists what is” …. yep, yep, yep, yep, that’s how my own ego busies itself. Rarely for better, occasionally for worse.

******

[Continuing this thread, below is a sort of “present moment” piece by our Poet Laureate.]

Praise the Rain

by Joy Harjo

Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

I particularly like that next-to-last stanza. Put me in the group that praises both crazy and sad. My tendency is to praise happy and joyful, giving the crazy/sad category shorter shrift than it deserves. Life presents all these to me, why should I promote one set and resist another?

******

You may not have thought about the fact that there is a Buddhist theme running through rock music. My particular favorite is by Joe Walsh, and it is Life of Illusion. But how about Lennon’s Instant Karma, or the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time? Or a group calling itself Nirvana, for goodness’ sake? I found a light-hearted article on the Rolling Stones’ contributions which I pass along to you.

******

Grateful for the little things. Our local paper, right here in the middle of Cluck County, prints the Doonesbury comic strip. Go figure.

******

Things Are People, Too

From time to time I will make some small mention in this space about my growing belief that the inanimate world isn’t. Inanimate, that is. Let’s say, for instance that you have been struggling to open a jar for twenty minutes. Blood vessels are bursting in the palms of your hands from the effort, and just before you consign that infernal glass to the garbage heap your wife quietly asks “Mind if I try?”

You hand her the object with a curl in your lip and wait for her to fail just as you have when … she hands you the open jar. She has not even broken a sweat. Now there is no way in hell that this could happen unless the jar itself was a participant, and had a bias toward your wife.

Here is today’s example. In my email inbox this morning I received this message:

I had to grab my right hand with my left to keep it from clicking on the link, a la Dr. Strangelove. Who in the world wants their motoring license to be terminated? And because of irregularities in my profile? What’s in there that could have such an effect on my driving freedom? And then I saw that the note was addressed to akillaly@icloud.com. I don’t know who that is, but I am fairly certain that it isn’t me.

The whole thing reeks of scam-ness, but what’s important is that somebody sent akillaly a message in the UK and I received it here in Paradise. A piece of hardware between the scammer and myself is probably quite pleased with itself for its contribution to the befuddlement of mankind.

So … that shoe that you stumbled over this morning before dawn … you know that you put it away last night … you are sure of it. But, my friend, once you put it down that shoe had choices to make.

BTW: I would strongly suggest that no reader copy or click on the above link. It is likely that there is something noxious waiting there for you including a pack of viruses, some ransomware, and a phone call from an aluminum siding salesperson.

******

Bob Dylan just sold the rights to all of his songs in one big package. The buyer had to come up with a bundle, rumors are that it was around 300 million dollars. And what do I say about this? Whew and God bless is what. Now I can stop worrying about Mr. Dylan’s well-being, since 300 million dollars should be enough to carry him through, even if his life proves to be very, very long.

So here he is in 1961, before becoming famous. One has to wonder if that grin says that he knew all the time how this story was going to turn out.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Stolen Moments

Since October 2020 is all about the moon, what with the Harvest Moon (October 1st), Hunter’s Moon (October 31st), and Blue Moon (also October 31st), I rounded up a handful of lunar-related cartoons. To get them I had to mug the gatekeeper at the New Yorker website, but I was careful and he will make a full recovery with only the slightest of headaches for a day or two.

******

If you were to have recommended to me The Queen’s Gambit, a miniseries about life and the game of chess, I would probably have smiled politely and told you that I would run right home and watch it. But inwardly I would be thinking that watching paint dry might be a better way to spend a few hours.

And I would have been wrong, so wrong. Here’s a review from Vox that includes a trailer for the series. We were caught within the first moments of Episode 1.

On Netflix.

******

Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

******

The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

******

I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

******

From The New Yorker

******

On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

******

I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

******

Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

******

Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

******

******

It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

******

We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

******

Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

******

******

I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

******

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?

******

******

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.

******

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

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******