From The Mountains, To The Prairies …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday Scramble

Margaret Atwood is something else, isn’t she? When I went looking for a particular quote of hers that I vaguely remembered, I found no less than six pagesful of them in BrainyQuote. There are some really sharp ones in there. The one that I had originally sought was this:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

The thing that brought this saying to foggy mindedness was a book review in the Times of New York of The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. The book’s theme is violence against women by men, which is as tried and true a theme as ever was. (I used to cringe whenever this subject came up yet one more time, being a lifelong member of the perpetrator gender, but as in so many other areas I found that ignoring it didn’t make it go away.)

This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

margaret atwood

I personally believe that this violence will not stop, or be significantly reduced until the topic has been laid out in front of us, bloody and raw, in a public square where we must walk by it daily and cannot turn our heads away. (How’s that for a metaphor?) Until we men are all absolutely sick to death of hearing about it and decide en masse to do something.

In this it is like the painful awareness of the systemic violence against people of color of that is today confronting Caucasians everywhere and around every corner so that we can only ignore it by complete denial of the nananananana variety. When we males (whites) as a group finally acknowledge the whole ugly mess as one we made and need to clean up all on our lonesome, it will happen.

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.

margaret atwood

I think that I might have to read this book. The sharper among you may have noticed that I am not perfect yet, but I believe that there is still that outlier of a chance that I may still get there one day. No one will ever notice when I do, of course, because I will have become the quiet, flawless, and empathetic listener that I was meant to be.

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Warning! Watch at your own risk! The following short video is known to cause liberals to smile broadly, and even right wingers’ faces to crack in painful ways. It’s all about the shoes. Oh, yes, it’s also about a real person with a sense of humor, something of which the red-right is seriously short.

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I’ve never been a big Martha Stewart fan. Back a few years, when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing her face on television, billboards, or magazines, I chuckled slightly when she went to jail for a few months for cheating. Although I admit that I did respect her for not prolonging things, the way a very wealthy person is able to do seemingly endlessly, when she decided to drop the legal maneuvers and do her short time in the calabozo.

So when I read yesterday that she is bringing out a line of CBD products for both humans and pets, I smiled. Yes, we’ll soon be able to chew our way to health or whatever it is that CBD can do for us and we will know that they are being sold to us by a very reliable ex-con. Because there has never been a question about Martha’s super-reliability.

I smiled again when I read who her partner (and old friend) was in this new venture, because he’s someone we already know as well. It’s Calvin Broadus. Calvin Broadus, you ask? Why, that’s his birth name. You may know him better by his professional name, which is Snoop Dogg. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.)

We will be in very good hands, here. Madame Stewart’s ironclad WASP-y solidity, and Mr. Dogg’s long personal experience with the hemp family. Love it.

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Eggs and tomatoes go together so well, and there are scads of recipes out there of various combinations. Recently I experimented with something so simple and delicious that in the last seven days I had it three times for breakfast. Three times. It’s really only a variation on Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, but I humbly offer it here.

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I ran across this on YouTube and I found it to be helpful and inspirational. I have a well-developed tendency to think in stereotypes because it’s so much easier. After all, that way I can deal with people in large groups, rather than as individuals. So when a bunch of Southerners come out saying that Black Lives Matter, it gives me a chill. Now I actually have to think, which can be quite painful for me, and makes me crabby.

BTW, I should mention that I am not a neutral party, being the proud son of a union man who grew up during a time when that meant sometimes dodging the billyclubs and fists of the goon-armies of the rich.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

When A Heart Is Empty by David Brooks
Trump Wasn’t Oblivious, He Didn’t Care by Paul Krugman

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I am presently re-reading Awakening the Buddha Within, a book that I first came across when I decided to see what the deal was with this thing called Buddhism. The book still interests me in its presentation of the main points of this “religion,” and also irritates in prodding me to accept karma, rebirth, and miraculous ideas that some schools of Buddhism adhere to. I am not a particularly good customer for miracles, it turns out. It’s one of my enduring quirks. Please notice that I said enduring, not endearing. This facet of my personality can be quite maddening to some.

It may well be that I am missing a great deal of the magic and beauty of life by insisting on a less colorful rationality, who knows? Even if this is true, I already find so much to admire out there … the world as I see it is so much more beautiful than it needs to be.

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A translation of the lovely song “Djorolen” goes like this:

“Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
The worried songbird
Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
For those of us who have no father
Her thoughts go out to them”

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Sunday Morning

Zoom-church hasn’t quite been cutting it for many Christians here in Paradise. I overhear their conversations and there is a longing in their voices to come together, to share the words and songs in the way that they love best, in a place that is sacred to them. A virus has taken this away, this ritual assembling that is the beloved focus of the week in normal times.

Oh, they’ve been using video very well, as ministers preach to cameras in empty halls, “coffees” are held on Zoom, and bible studies are planned and conducted by people who are miles apart from one another. But the synod of Robin’s church has not given official permission for their congregations to meet as yet, not in the “old” way. That does not make these parishioners less restive. Indeed, they chafe at the uncertainty as to when religious life will return to something like normal. This month? This year … ?

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My own spiritual life has been a solo one for so long that Covid hasn’t really made a dent in it. Small town America is not filled with Buddhists, and although there is a very small local group that meets in homes, I am reluctant to join it. There are Buddhists that can be just as annoying as any hard-core evangelical Baptist who won’t leave you alone until you are saved three times over. Such followers of the Buddha will natter away on arcane subjects that hold no interest for me. The intricacies of karma and rebirth, for instance. Or the purity of their religious practice. Since I am not required to believe in these things I don’t, and therefore discussing them seems time ill-spent, pour moi.

One of the first books I read on these subjects was Buddhism Without Beliefs, by Jack Kornfeld, and it remains my “gospel.” The title says it all, I think.

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I was about to close this blog post when a headline on CNN caught my eye:

Yellowstone Warns Visitors Not To Get Mixed Up In Elk Mating Season

Now I don’t know about you, but for me this falls into the category of things I never needed to be told but knew instinctively. If you want to read the story, here it is.

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury …

I received a jury summons this week, scheduled for September 9. After never, ever, receiving such a summons for the first 74 years of my existence, I have now been sent three of them since moving to Paradise. The first two came to nothing, with the proceedings being called off the day before I was scheduled to appear. So I was not holding my breath on this one. I am impressed with the power that these people have to compel us ordinary citizens. Should I suggest to the court that they bugger off and leave me alone, I’m pretty sure that they would have a proper bouquet of unpleasant remedies to deal with my behavior.

So imagine my delight when I re-read the fine print on the summons and discovered that if I fell into a high-risk Covid category as defined by the CDC, I could be excused from appearing. It further suggested that I call a telephone number, which I did so quickly that the summons hadn’t hit the desk before I was connected to one of the sweetest telephone voices I had ever heard. She told me that I was indeed in a high-risk group and that I now had two choices. I could opt out for six months, or for forever.

My dear, I responded, we will still be masking up six months from now, so why waste time with Option #1? Just give me the lifetime exclusion and we can be done with this delightful little conversation. And so I am now out of the pool, until and unless the powers that constitute the court system decide to change their minds.

It’s their game, of course. They get to make up the rules as they go along.

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On Friday morning I read that eight University of Nebraska football players are suing the Big Ten because the fall season has been called off. I can understand the frustration of young athletes who see their chances at professional careers in the game being adversely affected by such a decision. This has to hurt.

While reading the piece, I recalled that when I lived in South Dakota, just across the river from the fine state of Nebraska, there was a standing joke that went around. It went like this:

Question: What does the “N” on the U. of Nebraska flag stand for?
Answer: Nowledge.

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From The New Yorker

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One of our appliances gets very little use in this viral age, and that’s our Weber gas grill. We might have lit it up once in early Spring, but that was all. It’s a medium-sized grill, too wasteful to use it for only two people. And so it sits there lonesomely under cover, probably wondering what it did wrong last year to deserve such shabby treatment.

For us, grilling outdoors is a social occasion more than anything else. People gather around the device and kibitz to their hearts’ content. Why are you doing it that way? Do you use it much? I wouldn’t put so much sauce on, but that’s just me. It’s comments like these that can cement relationships or sour them.

Once upon a time daughter Kari asked me: What it is about men and cooking on a grill? I blinked at her for a second or two and then responded with just the slightest tremble in my voice: Meat and Fire … Meat and Fire.

It doesn’t get more primal than that.

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That Gypsy!

Way back in 1999, Sean Penn showed up in a Woody Allen movie called Sweet and Lowdown, which was about a fictional jazz guitarist in the 30s named Emmet Ray who believed he was the greatest player in the world … except for … that gypsy! And the gypsy in question was Django Reinhardt. Now, Django was a real person, and is still regarded as one of the best guitarists … well … ever.

Django Reinhardt lost use of two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.

At that time, Reinhardt would have been playing with the group that he and a friend had formed up in Paris. One that had what has to be an all-time greatest name for a jazz ensemble: the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Is that great or what?

His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note having a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.

Jerry Garcia

Wikipedia has a long biography of this guy, which makes interesting reading, but what does all this have to do with anything? I’ll you what – Django is who I’m listening to today out on the backyard deck, where the sun’s rays cannot get to me and the yellowjackets seem to have lost interest as well.

This was a man who changed my musical life by giving me a whole new perspective on the guitar and, on an even more profound level, on my relationship with sound…During my formative years, as I listened to Django’s records, especially songs like ‘Nuages’ that I would play for the rest of my life, I studied his technique. Even more, I studied his gentleness. I love the human sound he gave his acoustic guitar.

Willie Nelson

So how could I not share a couple of cuts with you today? Tiger Rag shows how fast he can play, Nuages how soulfully.

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Daughter Maja spent some time with us last evening, and it was so good catching up with her. She may have to return to Peru in the near future, although just how that will happen is uncertain. That country is right now experiencing very hard times re: coronavirus, in spite of a rigorous military-style lockdown from the get-go.

Maja explained the seeming contradiction there, and it directly relates to poverty. Forty per cent of Lima’s population are without refrigeration, and must go to market nearly every day. Plus the poor live in crowded homes, making isolation or quarantine difficult or impossible. Many of these homes are without running water as well.

Peru’s borders are still closed, but the bad guy is already in the house.

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Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece on some of the dilemmas faced by working parents in this time of the plague. Her perspective is that of a working parent worrying about what sort of school situation her own child will be in come this Fall.

How can you not feel for these folks with so many questions about the disease still unanswered, so many different approaches being suggested for try-out, and so little guidance coming on the national level? It is one tough time to be a parent, especially of younger children.

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I received a present from the Times of New York today, and it wasn’t even my birthday. A short piece about a favorite of mine since … dunno … before Time began. That person is Odetta Felious. What a voice. What a talent.

I’ve been collecting her music since I was a teen and I actually heard her sing in person at St. Olaf College in Northfield MN, in a small intimate auditorium. That would have been in the mid-sixties. So why the article today in the Times? I can’t think of any other reason than to please me. I really didn’t know they cared.

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Travelers

I’ve noticed that without any intention at all my musical selections over there in the sidebar have more or less settled into a mellower groove. There is so much noise elsewhere these days, so much shouting over one another – verbal violence to match the more physical variety being played out in the streets. Most mornings I have no wish to add to the tumult. However … I make no promises. I could break into something raucous at any time.

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I’m still making my way through the book White Fragility, page by painstaking page. I believe that I have found my sorry little self in every chapter, if not on every page. It turns out that reading it is akin to having a mental boil lanced, and that is a tender process. But I have confidence that when the probing stops I will be the better for it. Or at least I will understand more than I do today. People of my seasoned years may seem irrelevant to what it happening out there … but perhaps not … as long as we can vote, march, picket, and give aid and comfort to the enemy. My old and dear friend (who has never met me) Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of saying, if you want world peace, be peace. And one can do that at any age.

As long as the barricades aren’t so high they trigger my acrophobia I may be of some use in the struggles ahead of us. Ahhh yes, friends, there are some dandy struggles to come, even if Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are solidly victorious in November. The cruel hearts of those rough beasts that slouched their way into Washington will still be beating, and dealing with them will require our best attention.

And to address systemic racism, troubled economics, a very nasty virus, not to mention climate change and working once more with the rest of the world … I think Joe and Kamala will not want for things to do.

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Poor Mr. Yeats, I keep trotting out his poem (or parts thereof) on so many occasions. When I first read it, the imagery was so striking to me, and it still is. If he is watching us: I apologize, Sir, for overusing, and quite possibly repeatedly misapplying, your bit of verse, but I find that I cannot come up with a better one on my own. Whenever times are troubling it seems such a good fit into matter what the cause …

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, the Second coming

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We’re expecting a guest in a couple of days. Daughter Maja is flying from Minnesota to social distance with us, and has come all the way from Peru just to do it.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. She needed a few weeks away from Peru’s hyper-rigorous lockdown, but the borders were closed. So she had herself crated up and placed in a container ship, the box having been labelled as some of those famous Peruvian textiles. Once in America, she chewed her way out of the box and thumbed rides all the way from San Diego to Mankato, having many adventures along the way. One of them involved a Maltese cat and a sack of onions … but it’s her story, and perhaps she should be the one to tell it.

So we are looking forward to debriefing her when she arrives in Paradise. In these uncertain days, learning new travel skills may come in handy down the road … who knows?

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A recommendation. Midnight Diner, on Netflix. Japanese, with subtitles. It has such … umami.

Each episode is under 30 minutes, so would it hurt you to watch at least one?

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Someone told me that they are not going to vote this year, because they abhor P. Cluck and they don’t like Joe Biden. I hope they rethink their strategy.

It would be great if our choices at the ballot box were as clear as between an awful candidate and a glorious leader, but how often does that happen in life? Sometimes in order to avoid the election of someone particularly distasteful, we must hold our nose with one hand while making our “X” with the other.

P. Cluck’s malfeasance may not yet have risen to the level of a Hitler or a Mussolini, but do we want to take even the most minuscule chance that he will be allowed to remain in office? Really, do we? And that’s exactly what not voting does. It improves his chances by one hair.

That’s not okay.

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Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings, even though, being retired, every day could really be regarded as the same as the one before and the one after. But what fun is that? Sunday is the day for cool, for resting up, for getting repairs done on the body that you’ve been beating up for the previous 144 hours.

So that’s what I am doing. Doing Sunday. Sitting here in the early morning hours with my coffee on my left and Poco snoozing on my right. (Poco is here to see that I keep the faith, baby). My plan for today includes quite a bit of sloth.

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CNN had a story this morning that started sour and ended sweet. About a mom and daughter whose sidewalk writings were being disappeared each night … but I’ll let CNN tell you the tale.

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Want something positive to think about? How about getting our present emergency under control in six weeks? The Times of New York has published a thinkpiece on just that topic, with facts to back it up.

This is without a vaccine, or monoclonal antibody therapy, or any tools other than the ones we have right now. It’s good news, folks, so should we push for it or resign ourselves to months and months of the bass-ackwardness we’ve been living with since February?

I think push is the way forward for yours truly.

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In an earlier post, I included links to a video by the Grateful Dead performing the song Ripple. Good performance from forty years ago, fun to watch. I mentioned that I thought that the words fit our present time so very well.

So here are the lyrics. Take a look and see if they hit you the same way they did me. We are in this together, people say, but we each follow our own path through life, don’t we? Which makes us sort of all alone, together.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

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I, Racist

Usually I try to read as much junk literature as I can, but somehow I’ve started a serious book, one that deals with racism. It is entitled White Fragility. The book is on my Kindle, so I know that I am 15% of the way through, and I can already tell that it’s not a book that’s going to be easy to recommend to others. So far it’s one hard fact to learn after another, but it’s one of those books that shines a needed light into some of those neglected and shady corners of a person’s mind.

It’s been a very long time since the day that I admitted to myself that there was a racist in that mix of personalities that I call Me . What puzzled me at the time was this – how did he get in there? This book begins to answer that question. It’s quite simple, according to the author, who makes the case that the formative influences are subtle, invisible, and universal. I am racist because there is almost no way I could have been anything different.

Good book so far, at least the first 15%.

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Not to worry, folks, there will be a motorcycle rally at Sturgis SD this year after all. Something like 240,000 bikers and gawkers will descend on the town to drink, race their bikes, drink, listen to music, drink, brawl, drink, and have sex. At least what sex all of that drinking will permit.

Here is what Main Street Sturgis looked like in 2015, just to set the scene.

They will not wear masks because it makes drinking awkward, nor will they pay much attention to social distancing because it does the same thing for sex. The governor of the state of South Dakota, one of the dimmer bulbs in that state’s chandelier, is happy as a clam that the bikers are coming, and she hopes that they will bring lots of money to spend. She has difficulty believing in germs … they are so small, you know.

Once bike week is over the participants will return to their home states, some carrying newly acquired coronavirus with them, and many of them will not live to see Christmas. This is the bad news. The good news is that in about two months there will be a lot of well-cared-for used motorcycles on the market, probably at very good prices.

(As long as we’re talking motorcycles and mortal illnesses, I came across this article yesterday. Odd doesn’t do it justice.)

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Robin informed me that someone in Texas is suing the governor because he has mandated mask-wearing. Lord help us. One of the most unhappy things that this pandemic has done is reveal just how many fools there are among us.

And who is us? Why, the straight-shootin’, right-minded, honorable, brave, and intelligent Americans, that’s who. You and me, for starters.

Right?

Right on.

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Wandering this morning I came across this video from 1980. As I listened today, it seems a song so well-suited to our so very confusing and disorienting time.

Ripple in still water … when there is no pebble tossed … nor wind to blow

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Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Governmentally-mandated masking is our reality now here in Colorado, as of a couple of days ago. Depending on the kindness of strangers sounded good, but there were still too many softbrains out there who thought wearing a mask was a Democratic plot to make their faces itch and in so doing drive them mad to the point that they drive their vehicles into the sides of mountains.

So now the proprietor of each business is a sort of hall monitor. If someone refuses to mask up, they are to deny them entry into their place of business. If the miscreant is already in the door and refuses to leave, trespass laws can be invoked and the gendarmerie can be summoned.

Clumsy? Clunky? Absolutely, but then what part of this whole pandemic thing is not?

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Do you know what these few cherry tomatoes that I picked Saturday represent?

VICTORY!

(Cue the music, Maestro – let’s have Happy Days Are Here Again, if you please!)

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As you know, I do not pad this blog with recipes very often, knowing full well that any of you who are doing the cooking already have a recipe library of your very own, and don’t require help from me, thank you very much!

But once in a great while I can’t help myself. The other evening I decided to try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. So I checked out a new recipe and dang it if they weren’t delicious. You can get the recipe here by searching through the excess verbiage that’s so much a part of recipe websites these days but it’s worth it, especially if you are thinking about low carb or paleo/keto eating.

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From The New Yorker

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We’re heading for Denver on Sunday morning, to practice a little social distancing with Justin and Jenny. Lots of outdoor stuff, staying in motels instead of their home, driving in separate cars, that sort of thing. I was thinking about the odds of survival for older senior citizens should they contract the virus. They are very similar to those encountered when playing Russian roulette. Which is another game, along with golf, that I long ago decided never to play.

There’s no real reason to panic, it would seem. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds (especially indoors, where a crowd for me these days is a good deal less than ten), keep your distance, enjoy outdoor activities, etc. Since persons of Norwegian ancestry do not have much of a reputation as huggers, the social distancing thing has come fairly easily.

It’s all a great pain in the butt, and I will be the first in line for a vaccination when one finally arrives. And after I’ve had my shot, I will go right back to doing what I’m doing now until I see how things shake out. In general, rushing vaccine development has in the past not been considered the best way to carry out an immunization program. But these are not ordinary days, are they?

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Sunday Morning

On some Sunday mornings I become wistful, always a dangerous thing for a senior citizen because it can be the gateway drug leading to maudlin sentimentality. I will admit that when I want to, I can out-maudlin anyone in the room, but that’s not where I’m going this particular morning.

The following are all weekend songs. If you lean back with your coffee and let yourself go for a moment, maybe they’ll remind you of a time when you were starved for experience, and wanted more from a Saturday and a Sunday than any two days could provide. Way before you learned how to be sensible and the boundary between love and lust was still a bit fuzzy. When any evening was filled with possibilities you couldn’t even describe because you didn’t have the vocabulary yet.

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Tom Waits is so good at this. You’ve got a girl, you’ve got a car, and the road is open to somewhere you can’t quite imagine … a great something may be waiting for you out there tonight.

Well you gassed her up, behind the wheel, with your arm around your sweet one in your Oldsmobile. Barrelin’ down the boulevard you’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

Tom Waits: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

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Back in the day when I was a working-class kid, and known to tip a bottle or two or three on a Saturday night, Fats Domino could have been singing about any one of my work-weeks.

Sunday mornin’ my head is bad, but it’s worth it for the fun that I’ve had, but I’ve got to get my rest, ’cause Monday is a mess

Fats Domino: Blue Monday

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Etta James … so great. Here’s a wistful lament for you. Looking past the shininess of all the Saturday nights at something more …

I want a Sunday kind of love, a love to last past Saturday night …

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love

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I am the worst kind of fan for a certain kind of musician to have, I think. I want their blood, every time. I want to be stirred. A new singer or group emerges and their music is filled with a passion that you can believe in. Then they become successful and the passion is gradually replaced by professionalism. They still make listenable sound, but the hunger is gone and you can hear where it used to be. I stopped being interested in U2 after their remarkable album The Joshua Tree. But before that they were beautiful banner-carriers and up there on the barricades every time.

I can’t believe the news today, oh I can’t close my eyes and make it go away …

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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To me, this is perhaps the best Sunday morning song of them all, from a master teller of stories. I can see the guy stepping out the door of his apartment and onto the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight and looking scruffy as hell. Hey, he looks a bit like yours truly … nah … but for just a moment there …

On the Sunday morning sidewalks, wishin’ Lord that I was stoned, ’cause there’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone

Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

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Peace, Friend.

Burning Perfectly Good Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You Influenced?

This morning I came to a startling conclusion as I glanced at a headline about a YouTube influencer who is quitting her channel over a controversy about some of her past behavior.

I suddenly realized that I was more backward than I thought. I do not subscribe to any YouTube influencers at all. I wonder that I have the brazenness to even go out the door where others can see me, showing off what must be my monumental ignorance and poor make-up skills.

Behind their masks at the grocery store – what must those people whose eyes meet mine and then shift away – what are they thinking about me? Am I guilty daily of worse gaffes than if I showed up in an emergency room wearing yesterday’s underwear?

Do YouTube influencers aimed at senior citizens even exist? If they do, what are they touting or suggesting to the rest of us? Arthritis aids? Balance exercises? Constipation remedies? Plastic surgeons?

Does Axe have an after shave cream for me? Perhaps one named “Musty,” or “Who Cares?”

Perhaps there is a technique out there that I am failing to use which will make me look 79 again, instead of the 80 year-old who greets me in the mirror each morning. That would be a 1.3% improvement, which is not to be sniffed at.

I think that I’ll stay in today. I’m feeling very insecure at the moment.

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Permit me to repeat a quotation that I used in the blog in May. It’s from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. 

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.

In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

I’m repeating it because I saw a video today on CNN, taken at a public meeting in Florida that was truly stunning. The behaviors exhibited were so bizarre and disheartening that I sat back in wonder … and then I remembered the quote.

Below is the video – the first part is where we leave the planet and are in some sort of angry la la land. The second part is where two more rational human beings shake their heads in wonder.

These are not people who you can sit down and have a conversation with and maybe both of your minds will shift a bit. With these folks you can talk until you are strangled by your killer face mask and you will get nowhere. Their minds don’t live where the rest of us live.

And if Bonhoeffer is correct, some of them may be downright dangerous.

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I miss Jon Stewart. He’s not on my mind everyday, but anytime his name comes up, there is a pang right there under my ribs. Here is a video of Jon talking with Stephen Colbert that brought in a major ache.


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Friday night Robin and I went to the movies. Not just any movie, mind you, but the original Jurassic Park. At our local drive-in theater.

The movie didn’t start until well after 9:00 pm, when we are usually in bed already. We both stayed awake until the end (well, I do admit to a brief lapse just after the T.rex ate the lawyer in the bathroom). You can’t see enough detail in the photo above, but it’s the place where the owner of the park is explaining how they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA found in blood in the belly of a mosquito preserved in amber.

Of course you remember, don’t you? Hey, it was only yesterday (1993) that the film came out. As of today, it has earned just over a billion dollars at the box office. We added our thirteen bucks last night.

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Bedtime Follies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like I was at the time I read them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wildness

I thought the latest New Yorker Magazine cover was so arresting that I had to stop and stare at it for quite a while when it arrived.

Its title is “Say Their Names,”. Clicking the link takes you to a media story about the illustration itself.

The same artist is also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in the July issue. He’s having a good month, wouldn’t you say?

If you’ve a few moments to spare, and Google the artists’ name, Kadir Nelson, you can browse through the many images that come up. Quite a talent. Good stuff.

But I can stop talking now, because here’s the man speaking for himself.

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Do you sometimes feel as I do, that we are suffering a metaphoric death by a thousand cuts? And of course I’m talking about P.Cluck and his traveling circus. Every single day we are assaulted in some way by their words, their actions … their trashing of things we cared about and other worthwhile items that we might not have even known existed before they ended up broken and strewn about the floors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When he is finally shown the door, it will take a while just to do repairs. I don’t think that my psyche has an unbruised spot left on it. But it will be a job worth doing and one that will be truly joy-filled after this long dark season.

Can’t wait.

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Alas, New Yorker Magazine has made it harder for me to steal cartoons to embellish this scanty effort of mine. I used to be able to easily search their archives but this week when I looked for that little magnifying glass icon in the “Archives” section, it was gone.

Oh, I can still page through more than fifty thousand images if I so choose, but they are arranged randomly and so far I can’t find any way to filter them. I’ve written to the magazine as an aggrieved larcenist, but have received no reply so far.

Crime does not pay like it used to.

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know if this news item is the last word on the Christopher McCandless story, but it is a turning point of sorts.

McCandless is the young man who wandered into wilderness Alaska on a personal quest and died there, in an abandoned school bus. His story became the book “Into the Wild,” and a movie of the same name. It was a good tale – personable man of privileged background looking for a place away from consumer America, makes a series of poor choices, becomes very ill and eventually perishes in the wilderness. Dramatic. Romantic.

That old bus had become a touchstone for many other young adults, who traveled far to visit it, even though the way could be difficult and dangerous. Some of those pilgrims died on their trip or had to be rescued.

So this week, to try to put an end to the deaths and injuries, the Alaskan National Guard hoisted the bus below a huge helicopter and took it away. Perhaps we’ll find out where it is later on, when authorities have found a suitable location for it.

End of story?

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Signs of the Times

The people in our neighborhood are not given to posting signs in their yards, with two exceptions. The Trump/Pence Codger three doors down, and us. BTW, the Codger is an unpleasant man whose response when invited to the annual HOA picnic was: “I don’t eat with liberals.” We did not repeat the invitation the next year. Wouldn’t want to harass the old bugger and spoil his appetite.

Yesterday the BIDEN sign Robin had ordered arrived, and is already proudly displayed out on the berm. Unfortunately, we don’t know who his running mate will be, so we’ll need a new placard some months down the road.

In this basically “red” county, anything “blue” comes like a poke in the eye to the Republicans which we are glad to provide.

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Pandemic Puzzlement

As time goes by, it’s harder to understand the empty shelf spaces in grocery stores. Surely most of the hoarders are done by now (God knows they will never have to buy another roll of TP in their miserable lives, and will be able to pass them on to their heirs – “And to my son George, I leave my garageful of Charmin Special with Lotion …”).

But why shortages of canned goods? Frozen vegetables? These items are just sitting somewhere in warehouses … how are all of these supply chains being disrupted?

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From The New Yorker

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It occurred to me that the header photo would be a good visual metaphor for the ferment sweeping through the country right now. A high wind is blowing and sweeping many things before it.

Anyone who sees how much damage racism has done to this land is hopeful that this will be the time … that from this moment on no more knees will be placed on black necks by psychopaths with badges.

The call is out there for those of us who are not black to march, to write, to raise our voices in concert with those of people of color. Our silence has made us the passive accomplices of those brutes who continue to murder black men and women with impunity.

I use the rhetorical “us” in the above paragraph and that may be too general a pronoun. What I have written certainly applies to me, and that is all I truly know.

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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Our gym (Gold’s) has re-opened, and we attended a couple of days ago for the first time. Their response to the emergency is to provide more materials (and encourage their employment) to disinfect each machine immediately after use. These were previously available but their usage was irregular to say the least.

The other major change, at least in the case of the treadmills, ellipticals, etc. was to retire every other station, creating a proper social distancing. Mask-wearing is left up to the client’s discretion.

At first I was disappointed in not being required to mask up, but then I thought more about it and realized that there were special considerations for some of us.

For instance, were I to wear a mask while exercising, there would always be the chance that I might inhale the entire contraption during some of the gasping that occurs. And I’m pretty sure that would not be a good thing for me.

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The Chain

There is a Buddhist table prayer that goes like this:

We are grateful for the sun and the rain and the earth
and someone else’s hard work.

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There’s often a lot of “fill” on the CNN website, but once in a while they serve up a really tasty media sandwich of excellent photographs between slices of good whole grain reportage.

One of those caught my eye this morning, and I recommend it to you if you haven’t already read it. It’s all about something that I give little thought to day by day, but which makes life as I know it possible – the food chain.

And the article goes on to relate how we are finding out just how elastic that chain might be and whether it will even hold. The reason, of course, is our friend the pandemic. A farmer plants what he think he can sell at harvest time. If he sells to restaurants … what will that market look like when those lovely plants are ready to sell? The crystal ball hasn’t been made that encompasses the coronavirus’ interruptions and dismantlings.

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From The New Yorker

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On Friday Robin and I broke the Covid laws and traveled, non-essentially, more than 10 miles from home. That morning we had snapped, and were each maniacally laughing at nothing during breakfast, unable to stop ourselves. At one point we paused, breathless, looked across the table and said: “We’ve got to get out of here!”

And so we did.

We drove in our Covid-resistant automobile to Twin Lakes, Colorado, a round trip of about 300 miles. We ate bagel sandwiches on the sidewalk in front of a small deli in Gunnison CO. We walked short distances on two hikes and marked them for future and more thorough exploration. We examined two beautiful rushing mountain rivers.

On the first of those mini-hikes I had a not-so-golden-moment. Foolishly I was wearing my plastic Birkenstocks, thinking … not thinking, really. I was walking on a slippery dirt hummock between two very large mud puddles on that old mining road when the Birkies lost contact with the earth. In less time than it took to type this I was lying on my back in three inches of water in one of those puddles.

I’m not sure what the water temperature was, but somewhere close to 40 degrees, I’m guessing.

At any rate, I was now well and truly soaked from shoulder to bum with a brownish water that added nothing to my appearance and turned my blue and white plaid flannel shirt sort of a rusty color.

I schlepped back to the car where I stripped to the waist and put on a fleece jacket that I had fortunately brought along on the drive. There was no replacement for the wet hiking shorts so they had to dry while being worn.

Robin could only watch and say things to herself about hiking with senior citizens and the vagaries thereof.

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From The New Yorker

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There are moments when I wished that I liked okra. The CNN story with which I opened this blog entry talked about the problems of an okra farmer. As I read it I thought of his product and shuddered.

I remember my first exposure to this vegetable quite clearly. A bunch of okra had been boiled up and placed in a serving dish. When the dish was passed to me and I lifted up a large piece of the stuff and saw the mucoid strings hanging from its limp green body I replaced it in the server and never picked it up again.

Years later I ordered a side dish of fried okra at one of those good ol’ southern cookin’ sort of places, and although there was none of that awful visual with the slime dripping down and all, one bite into the super-slippery innards of the piece on my fork made the words NOT FOOD pop into my mind in a bright neon color.

I fear that I may never try it again, and so cannot help that poor farmer in any way. He’ll have to depend on other customers who are not put off by eating large gobbets of mucus.

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Science: The place where we go to find out how the world is and works, rather than someone’s febrile idea about what He’d like it to be.

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AY AY AY! Two hair stylists in Missouri went to work with respiratory symptoms and exposed more than 140 clients to coronavirus. We don’t know anything as yet about those folks who were sent out the door with those spanking new bobs. Did they catch it? Did they become ill? Did they like their haircut?

But what we do know is that they worked for one franchise of the same exclusive chain of salons that I attended here in Paradise in the old days when I left the snipping of hairs to others. Great Clips.

Y’know, it’s really disappointing. You expect more from an upscale establishment. Sloppy work, that.

However, now that I have taught myself the fine art of mowing my own fur, I find that I don’t care quite as much as I would have. My plague haircuts are as pleasing to me as those I received at the hands of a long string of anonymous women over the years. What is missing, though, is the suspense.

Will this be the time that I get exactly what I want? Or will I look at myself in the mirror when she’s done and say once again: In a week it’ll be okay.

I miss that.

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Addendum: On a bicycle ride Saturday, I hit a snag in the sidewalk and the bike and I went in different directions. Small parts of my epidermis were left on the gravel along the path, but that was the extent of my injuries.

Robin, however, added this incident to the one of the day before, where I fell into a mountain puddle, to declare a new policy: No More Accidents. I would have tried to explain that accidents were just that, and could happen to anyone at any time, but there was a look in her eye that said:

Don’t mess with me on this one, Jon. Just wear the suit!

The garment in question is constructed entirely of bubble wrap, is suffocatingly warm in summer, and there is no way at all to deal with perspiration. After a couple of hours in there, the most euphemistic way of describing its occupant is rancid.

It would have prevented my two small traumas of the past week, however, because anything other than a stiff sort of slow-walking is impossible.

She’ll come around, I know she will. If I can just stay out of trouble for a few more days …

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Born or Thrust?

It had to happen. When you are destined for greatness, eventually the world discovers you, and everything you do is history-making from then on. Robin and I had our photos taken without our knowledge when we were out on a bicycle ride this past week, and the pic was published a couple of days ago in our local paper.

Not some little image tucked away somewhere near the public notices, mind you, but a huuuuuuge one on the back page.

The calls haven’t started coming in yet, but I’m sure that’s because all the talk shows are being broadcast from the stars’ basements. Yet come they will, you can be certain of that. The ball is now in play.

Rest assured that even when I have become an exalted personage that I will not forget all the little people who helped me along my way. You will still be able to contact me through my chief of staff, as soon as I get one.

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From The New Yorker

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On Monday afternoon it was 89 degrees here in Paradise. But there was a fine breeze out on the deck and it was all so pleasant that I checked the relative humidity. It was 6%. At the same moment it was 11% in Phoenix, and 21% in Death Valley!

Ay Ay Ay! Six percent! Madre de Dios!

If you looked carefully you could see the water molecules being sucked from our bodies and rising like heat ripples off an asphalt pavement in August. I then did what any sane person would do having been given this information. I went back inside and got a much bigger glass of iced tea.

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From The New Yorker

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You may have noticed that I don’t comment nearly as much these days on what P.Cluck is doing, even though he provides daily provocations.

That fool would like us all to waste our time parsing him, when we could be doing something much more useful, like finding where we put the Ouija board after the last time we used it, which was in 1969.

It’s probably in the box with the electric fondue pot, wherever that is. I strongly suspect that most of the treasures we can’t locate rest on the mildewy shelves at the Salvation Army store. Beginning when we left Sioux Falls, life has been one continuous divestment, and the thrift stores, Habitat shops, and landfills are the richer for it.

Once upon a time we had criteria for what to get rid of, but even those have changed. Now we are down to this: If tomorrow we were to both be wiped out in an auto accident, what might our children take home with them, and what would go instantly into the dumpster? We’ve decided to save them the dumpster trip and do it ourselves.

My own personal goal is to eventually keep only what could be carried by a reasonably healthy llama, and deep six the rest. It’s all in keeping with a story told by a man named Alexander King, who was a frequent guest on an ancient version of the Tonight Show which was overseen by Jack Paar.

There was a small village, and in the center of town was the community well, where everyone would come each morning to fill their jars with water for the day.

A very old, very wise, and much-loved monk lived alone in a cell just off the town square. He had a single possession in addition to the robe he wore – his water jar.

One morning as he was going to the well, he tripped and the jar flew from his hands, shattering on the cobblestones. The villagers were horrified, and they rushed forward to provide aid and comfort but instead found the monk sitting on the stones with the most rapturous expression on his face.

At last, he said, I’m free.

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Boundaries

Even that premier outpost of serenity and beauty and timelessness is caught up in the plague. It’s been closed up until now, and the details of just how it will open are being worked out as we speak. I’m talking about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, of course. The “BW.”

What it looks like is that all of the forest service campgrounds on its periphery will remain closed for the time being, but the wilderness campsites will be opened up. So if you can get your canoe into the water, you’ll be okay.

Out there fits pretty well with the rules of social distancing, since most sites are a rather long swim apart from one another.

It’s just another reason to be glad that we took our trip there with Aiden last year rather than this one. Adding such confusion to all of the other considerations would have been most irritating and/or anxiety-provoking.

Let’s toss in a BWCA gallery here, shall we? It covers nearly 50 years of visits to this evocative place.

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For Robin, there is a paradox in our present pestilence-based predicament. The days fly by, but the months seem to pass glacially slowly. She thought the past April would never end. For her, it was the longest one ever.

I get it.

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Living in coronaland … it’s all about boundaries, isn’t it? Since the enemy is invisible, we depend upon the measuring tape to keep us safe. Six feet apart is enough to reduce (but not eliminate) contagion, so that’s what we keep. My personal space now has a number, whereas it used to only exist in my mind. That number is the area of a circle with a six foot radius, or about 113 square feet.

I’m pretty sure that last week at City Market somebody trod in my space several times. Each of these intrusions happened behind me so I can’t be sure, but you sense these things, don’t you?

Yesterday I went to the market, and as I was filling my cart I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to put my mask on before entering the store, that it was still in the car and hanging uselessly from the rearview mirror. It was like finding that I was naked in public. An archetypal nightmare come to life. My face hanging out there for all to see.

I quickly paid for the groceries and fled the store. I didn’t meet anyone that I knew, but for certain the whole shameful episode is recorded on the store’s CCTV, and what if that got out?

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This month’s issue of Consumer Reports has a puzzling headline – How To Eat Less Plastic. Puzzling because my own outlook on the subject is to eat none at all.

Apparently that choice has been taken from me by the packaging industry. Unless I grow all my own food and throw away all our Tupperware and SaranWrap, I will be nibbling on polystyrene et al for the time being.

Then for no reason at all this morning I decided to read up on sous vide cooking, which is the new/old method that obsessive/compulsives are employing these days when they take to food preparation. One cooks meats at a precise and quite low temperature, in a water bath, and according to the gushing literature you ain’t tasted nothing until you have bitten into one of these things.

There are putative advantages to this method, including that each steak you ever cook will allegedly taste just like the previous one because you leave nothing to chance. I have not given it a try, but to me one of the interesting things in life is variability. When I go to cooking on the grill I really have no no clear idea whether I will be serving perfection or a sort of charcoal jerky.

Oh, I fuss about it and all, but it’s the gamble that’s all part of the fun of it for me.

And you probably caught that the meat is cooked in a constant temperature water bath – so how do you keep it from becoming a gray and tasteless blob? Why, you seal it in plastic, of course. Which brings us round to Consumer Reports, where we started out.

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Update on plague haircuts.

In these days of insecurity and more questions than answers, one of the interesting things is that getting a haircut at a salon is considered slightly dangerous. Here in Montrose, you go to the salon by appointment only, wait in your car to be called in, fill out a medical questionnaire, and cleanse your hands with Purell. You then to back to a sink where you wash your hands in the Happy Birthday manner.

Only then is it into the chair and on with the snipping.

But this only began again this week. Prior to this week, this has been the Spring where you either cut your own hair or went unshorn. As you know, I chose the former path, and am happy enough with the results than I may continue the practice out of a combination of sloth, a shortage of vanity, and cheapskatedness.

Even when getting a haircut becomes once again just that, and is not on the level of playing Russian roulette.

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Angst Galore

I was in my twenties when I read the Studs Lonigan trilogy, written by James T. Farrell. For me it was a turbulent read, one that left me not-the-same when I had finished.

Along the way I found that I had identified with the main character way more than I realized. He was an ordinary guy with good intentions, and that was how I saw myself. So when his life came to a too-young and unhappy end, I clearly saw that it was one of the directions that my own life might take. In fact, might be taking right then and there.

Studs could be me. I could be Studs.

.

A result was that I was truly shaken by the death of a fictional character for the first time in my life. The author had made him more real to me than most of the actual people that I knew. To this day I greatly admire the writing skills that could do that, without really knowing exactly how it was done. A sorcery.

So it is with some misgivings that I’ve decided to go back through the trilogy. At the time of the first read, life was a universe of unknowns in front of me, a time both scary and exciting. Reading the books now will not be the same … but wait … life is still scary and exciting. There is still a broad universe of unknowns ahead. I’m really little more than an older version of that boy still trying to figure things out.

So I guess I’ll just read ’em and let ‘er rip.

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With all of the new books being published every day … why read some of the old stuff again? I can’t remember exactly when I realized that no matter what I did, I could never read all the books or listen to all the music that I wanted to. It wasn’t just the fact that I was starting to run short on time, it was that it always had been an impossible task.

After that epiphany I found that whatever I read or listened to no longer had that desperateness attached to it. I could fully enjoy each book, listen carefully to each tune, without the oppressive thought “I better get cracking, there is so much more to see and do.”

Now when I see something at a bookseller with a title like “500 Books to Read Before You Die” I am not moved to open it. I don’t need somebody else’s list, I’m pleased to be working on my very own, thank you very much. And the list consists of the book in front of me and open to the page.

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From The New Yorker

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In our daily lives today we are witnessing a kind of resistance to truth, to facts, to science, that are puzzling to some of us. How can they think that? is a phrase often heard and one that rattles around this cranium of mine like seeds in a castanet.

We see pictures of men with guns standing guard outside a bar in Texas so that the owner can open his business without regard for the public health. They’re standing up for the constitution, they say. How can they think that?

I read letters to the editor in our local paper which are nothing but rehashes of lies and gibberish extracted from Fox News, without evidence of any original thought on the part of the writer. How can they think that?

I look with shame and horror at our present government’s actions and policies, but my neighbor three doors down looks at the same steaming pile of horseapples and calls it beautiful. How can he think that?

So when I ran across these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer they rang instantly true to me, and provide an explanation for what we see. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and an anti-Nazi dissident at a time in Germany when both were very dangerous things to be. He was talking about Nazis in 1940s Germany, but they apply awfully well to our President and his followers today.

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in April of 1943 and hanged in April of 1945. He was a prolific writer, and his Letters And Papers From Prison may be his best known work. The following is from that book.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters And Papers From Prison.

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From The New Yorker

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Piping Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

Read All About It!

As if there weren’t enough things … . Our small-town six-days-a-week morning paper announced yesterday that they will henceforth be a five-days-a-week afternoon paper. How much must we bear, is all I have to say?

I’m not even sure what I will do with an afternoon paper. Will the “news” come to me half a day earlier or half a day later?

Most importantly, I don’t drink coffee in the afternoons. But coffee and newspaper-reading are linked so firmly in my habits … can I face each day’s tidings without caffeine at the ready? Do other people do that? But if I try a cuppa joe at 3:00 p.m., I might as well plan for being up until the succeeding 2:00 a.m., and start some quiet project that won’t disturb the sleeper in the next room.

Maybe I’ll find another small-town daily that still puts out its stuff in the morning and subscribe to that one. Most of what I read in the Montrose Daily News is not of the Holy Cow! variety, anyway. Let me get incensed about what they are doing about the potholes in the roadways of a village in Scotland or Wales. It might be instructive.

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The Times of New York published a piece Tuesday entitled “The Leader We Wish We All Had.” It was all about Dr. Amy Acton’s approach to the coronavirus emergency. (She is the director of the Department of Health for the state of Ohio.) It sounds like she’s doing a remarkable job, and deserves much credit.

But what was most interesting to me was the analytic approach that the article took, parsing out Dr. Acton’s usage of pronouns and what that might have meant to Ohioans listening to her briefings. It’s worth a read.

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On our last walk up at the Black Canyon we saw a weasel. Only for a moment, before he dove between the metal tubes in a cattle grate and disappeared.

Why even mention this? Okay, when was the last time you saw a weasel? See! It’s not an everyday thing, and every viewing is special.

Weasels are not at all like cows, who will stand there stolidly in front of you for hours while you study them in detail. These small creatures are a flash of color and then they are gone. It’s one of the ways you can tell them from cows. If you see something brown, you look away, and when you look back it’s still standing there chewing, it’s not very likely to be a weasel.

Other ways to tell them from cattle are the size differences, wherein a cow might weigh 1300 pounds while the average weasel tips the scales at 2-3 ounces.

And then there is the bit about the mooing.

[One note about the photo above. There is little doubt that the short-tailed weasel is darned cute. But not so cute if you could read his thoughts. He is wondering while looking at you: “Could I drag that thing home if I did bite it?”]

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Naw … really?

Something unusual yesterday. Robin and I had barely started out bicycling on the path along the river. Up ahead was a group of bare trees, several of them containing each a single large empty nest way up high. Maybe thirty feet in the air.

In one of those nests sat a pair of Canada geese.

All along the rest of the ride I wondered … were they trying an abandoned nest on for size or were they just taking a break from flapping? I thought about the goslings that would hatch in such an aerie, and how would they make the transition from nest to the water, since they were not supposed to be that high off the ground?

I had worked myself into quite a lather on those babies’ behalf by the time we passed the trees a second time on our way back to where we’d parked the car. It was with much relief that I saw that the pair was no longer there. Empty nest. The world was back to the way it should be.

But later on, since I do have a bit of free time here in my Covid-19 hermitage, I Googled geese nesting in trees and found that there were many case reports of the same phenomenon, with a load of photographs to prove it (including the one up above, which I did not take).

So much to learn … so little time.

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While wearing a mask when one goes out in public is considered de rigueur these days, there are limits to even this thoughtful act.

Here are a couple of masks that are justifiably considered not acceptable here in Paradise.

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As society goes along on its merry way, there’s a trend that I’ve found I really dislike. It’s where we are being divided into yet another set of groups in order to pit us against each other. Twenty years ago, calling people “boomers,” or “millennials,” or Generation X” seemed harmless enough, even though the divisions were artificial and arbitrary.

But that was before blatherers and bloviators et al started to write about how the boomers were stealing the future from the millennials, etc. Angry young writers complained that older citizens were basically taking up too much of the oxygen. They never went so far as to suggest that those older people be put to sleep, but left that open to our imaginations.

Now in the days of Covid-19, this attitude comes up once again. Those loud-voiced folks who want us all to come out and go to work and play because their personal risks are way lower than that of their aging neighbors. So what if a few extra senior citizens are wiped out … there are already so many of the darn things.

There is a certain nasty logic to what they say, but only if you don’t step back and take a longer look. Such a view of the world works for those individuals as long as they can find a way to avoid aging. Because when and if they do, they will eventually have someone coming up behind them saying the same cold things.

These attitudes are antithetical to the idea of shared risks and blessings that I learned growing up. The belief that we really are all in this together. Not just in the Covid times, but always. Not seeing this is a sad and mean-spirited kind of blindness.

I am old enough to have moss on the north side of my trunk, but I still care as fervently as I ever did about the problems facing children. Doing what I can to help them along is to me akin to the old man in the Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Notice it’s not the oldster that is great, but rather the society around him that is enriched by each small act of selflessness.

If we don’t keep ideas like this in mind, we can find ourselves saying and doing all sorts of ugly things. We were all babies once, and with luck most will become graybeards. If we look after one another, that is.

Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and the hatchlings toss the other eggs out of the nest to have more of everything for themselves. I have to believe that we’re better than cuckoos.

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Yesterday when Robin and I returned from our outdoor exercise we were greeted by an excited Willow, who rubbed against our legs, purred loudly when we petted her, and followed us about the room. Usually this quick greeting is all there is, but on this occasion she would not calm down but kept on meowing and running up to us repeatedly, until Robin thought it through and wondered … .

Robin walked over to the hide-a-bed sofa in the living room, and pulled it open partway, whereupon Willow dove into its workings and quickly came up with a disappointed but very much alive mouse that had escaped from her and hidden in the furniture. (This is not our first rodeo when it comes to Willow and mice hiding in the sofa.)

When we think of animals who use tools, like chimpanzees and a handful of others, no one ever says anything about cats. But here was Willow, at first thwarted, but finally succeeding by using the simple tools she had at hand.

Us.

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Olio

One of the outstanding features of living in Yankton SD was this time of the year, when the Missouri River town came alive in blossoming trees. More than anywhere I’d lived before. Questioning the old-timers as to how this might have happened frequently elicited “Gurney’s” as the reason.

The once-famous Gurney’s Seed & Nursery was located in Yankton, and was the source of one of the better gardening catalogs I would go through each year looking for plants that could survive the tactical nuclear blasts I was destined to send their way. Such were the criteria that one uses when one gardens with the polar opposite of a green thumb, the dreadful Thumb O’Death.

Shopping at Gurney’s was a fine experience. It was a big dusty barn-like store that smelled like earth, and featured ancient creaking wooden floors throughout. Wandering through the rooms you would find all of those plants, seeds, and devices that seemed almost magical when you read about them in the catalog.

Items like the 3-tined cultivator which was described as something that would make plowing up the garden be so much fun and go so quickly that you’d better have someone making your iced tea for your work-break before you even started out.

Of course, when you actually put it to use you found that it was a ***** to push and exhausting to walk behind.

But setbacks like this never put anybody off entirely, and each Spring I would return to the store and to the catalog, looking for the thing that would change my gardening life.

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America’s Four-year-olds Warn Against Following Trump’s Medical Advice by Andy Borowitz

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On yesterday’s river-walk we ended up at Riverbottom Park, where we bumped into two couples we knew who were already talking together. For the next half hour we joined them. What an odd thing it was – six people talking to one another each at least six feet from everybody else.

What transpired was that there were three conversations being conducted at any given time, with shifting personnel. To try to bring all six of us together would have been awkward. We would have had to create a large circle with a half-dozen people shouting from the circumference.

Of course at least half of what was being said dealt with the present emergency. How can you not, even though we are all becoming repetitious? When reasonably intelligent adults find themselves discussing when will the cutters of hair will be able to open their doors once again? And how well-supplied the paper products aisle at City Market was this week? Lord help us all.

I look at the pictures in the news of crowds flooding the beaches in Florida and California and think: Is our species worth saving? I force myself to remember that the people in the photos are a minority, even though they are capable of such dangerously moronic behavior and pose a risk to the rest of us.

Perhaps we should let those schnooks have one giant picnic in the middle of the country (we could let them have Kansas) where they could pass around the pulled pork sandwiches, beer, beans, and coronavirus and be done with it.

It goes without saying that we would put a fence around them for two weeks while this drama played out, so those of us who wisely didn’t attend the party could stay safe.

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Our governor has been giving regular radio messages to the citizens of Colorado since the beginning of the present emergency. They are marked by civility, common sense, attention to what the scientific community has to say, and by respect for his audience.

Each talk is about us, the problems we are facing, and the uncertain path to resolution. They are never about him. I wish the rest of the USA were as fortunate in their governance as we are.

His name is Jared Polis. If, God forbid, he ever leaves Colorado and moves to your state, I strongly advise that you vote for him. Even if he isn’t running for office.

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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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Holding The Baby

This Sunday evening Colorado’s version of shelter-at-home expires, and some official loosening-up is expected. We’re not entirely sure which establishments will be allowed to open and which will remain shuttered, but we’ll be taking a small step toward … what? Normal?

I’m not sure that “normal” will be allowed us for a good long time to come. All of what’s happened the past several months has been too big a hit to just say “Well, that’s that. I’m going out for a haircut, dinner, and a movie. Maybe we’ll play Twister afterward. See y’all later.”

There are the restrictions that our governments have wisely put in place, and there are those that we added on for ourselves. What we’ve been so forcefully reminded of recently is something that was always true, we just chose to play it down, to ignore it.

We live in a world of hazards. Some of them are big, like automobiles and crazed moose. Some of them are so small as to be invisible. A car and a novel coronavirus can both hurt us, but you can at least see a car coming (sometimes) and try to get out of its way. If we were to take all of the possible threats that exist into consideration every day I don’t know who would have the courage to step outside their front door.

But how do we go from wondering whether we need to wash our cans of tuna or not, to happily sitting elbow to elbow in the bleachers at a baseball game holding our plastic cup of soda that’s been well-handled by many people? In one big step or thirty small ones?

How long will it take before a new mom can easily say to a friend or relative: “Would you like to hold the baby?”

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is going to be teaching a class on the Montrose campus of Colorado Mesa U this fall, and is already doing what thoughtful teachers do – the grunt work of prepping for the class. In her search for materials she bought a copy of Greta Thunberg’s small book, and has already nearly finished it.

Thunberg is such an interesting person. Even more interesting is the outsize effect one small individual has had on how we talk about climate change, at least those of us who think that Sir Isaac Newton really put his finger on something there with the falling apples and everything. Those of us who still kinda like science.

We can ignore climate science. We really can. Millions of Americans are doing it as I write this. What we can’t do is ignore it without causing harm. The teeth of the beast don’t become less sharp when we turn our back on it. All that happens is that the bite comes from behind.

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I read yesterday that two cats have been diagnosed recently with coronavirus infection. The cats had the sniffles. Don’t ask why the vets tested them, I don’t know. Don’t ask if it’s the same strain we humans are having so much trouble with, I don’t know.

The cats were in different states out East, and are allegedly making a good recovery. There are no worries about transmission to or from people, the article stipulated.

While I was reading the piece, there was a sudden sneeze and cough behind me and I whirled around, startled, to see Poco sitting there on the couch at my shoulder with a mischievous grin on his face. He then raised his eyebrows as if to say “What?,” before he jumped to the floor and walked away. He has not coughed since.

I think I’ve been punked. I had no idea he could read.

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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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Questions Raised

On a hike recently, we noticed a small herd of horses standing around in their pasture, looking beautiful. I thought more about it and realized that horses always looked that way. Beautiful. They never take a bad picture. They are always emblems of grace and strength. Somehow, they also seem … I dunno … thoughtful.

In this they are not at all like cows, which always look a bit dim. Now, I like cows. Nothing looks more peaceful and pleasantly pastoral than a herd of Holsteins standing in tall grass up to their udders in a June that has enjoyed good rains. But they can’t quite pull off majestic or graceful, especially when running.

A cow runs like it was never meant to do that. Like a rocking chair come to life. On a personal note, I have unfortunately found that over the decades my own running style has been regrettably evolving from equine to bovine.

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I only recently discovered that there is a third fly-fishing shop in town, located definitely off the beaten track. The other two are somewhat lacking in dedication to the art. Oddly, one of them never has anyone working in it. It’s in a small part of a much larger space which is mostly given over to curios, antiques, and such.

The other shop is half fishing gear and half sewing and crafts materials, because the owner is sharing the space with his wife’s business.

One of the joys of the sport of fishing is browsing in tackle shops, and presently I’ve had to make the 30 minute drive to Ridgway to find a good one whenever I need a fix. It would be nice to have a local venue where I can waste my time.

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From The New Yorker

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Now that we’re pretty sure that we aren’t all going to Valhalla this month in the arms of Covid-19, some interesting questions are beginning to be raised.

  • When will we feel comfortable shaking hands with … anyone?
  • When will we feel ready to have people over for dinner once again? Who will be brave enough to accept our invitation?
  • If grandkids come for a visit, when will their parents stop holding their breath if one of them makes a dash for our lap?
  • We’re being trained right now to treat much of our environment as a potential threat. Our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, the stuff we buy in the grocery store, the air we breathe, etc. Long term avoidance (years) is really not a reasonable strategy. How long will it take for this fear to subside?
  • Right now if there were a vaccination against Covid-19 I suspect the line to get the shot would reach a long way down the street and around several corners. But only yesterday physicians were having trouble getting many of their patients to accept vaccinations at all. What about those “deniers?” Will facing a more immediate threat change their minds?
  • When the kids come home from college, will they need a negative viral screen before you let them back in the house?
  • If a young person asks another for a date, will exchanging health certificates be part of the new ritual?
  • And, ultimately, the question we are all asking is: what about Naomi?

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