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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.


******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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?

******

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.

******

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?

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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 …

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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?

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.)

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.]

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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?”]

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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?”

******

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?”

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

P.S.A.

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

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

There now, don’t you feel better?

******

******

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

The story goes like this.

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

The traveler asked the blind man:

Are you from that village?

Yes, I am

What kind of people live in that village?

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

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

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

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

What sort of people live in that village?

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

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]

******

******

Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Age of Coddling is Over by David Brooks
Words for the Class of 2020 by Mark Shields

******

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?

******

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.

.

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.

******

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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?

******

Easter Sunday

Today is obviously the most unusual Easter Sunday ever. There will be no Easter Parade, no choirs belting out Handel’s Greatest Hits, and no eggs rolled in public spaces (impossible to keep those kids 6 feet apart). We will be missing the one day of the year that women of a certain age dust off their hats to wear to church – their Easter bonnets. Here in Paradise the churches are shuttered, so the single most important day on the Christian calendar will be marked by simple observations in homes or on the internet.

Robin and I are having no guests for Easter dinner, and there will be no hiding of candy eggs in the backyard for the grandkids to hunt. Nope, ’twill be a sober Easter for certain. Such is life in the emergency.

But Sunday afternoon we are Zoom-meeting with Robin’s side of our blended family, accepting seeing them in two dimensions instead of the preferred three as way better than not seeing them at all. I’ve learned how to change the background on my Zoom image, so this is what the other participants will see. Like I said, sober.

[Granddaughter Elsa may recognize the view – it’s from our tent camper parked in South Mineral Creek Campground, looking eastward toward the Red Mountains.]

******

Any fisherman looking at the cartoon below will instantly identify with Ernest H.. There are times better left undocumented. To place yourself in a pristine environment, cast your line into a gorgeous river, and then pull out one of these puckered-up mutants is a blow that it might take the rest of the day to recover from.

Now I know that there are fisherman who deliberately go after carp, filling their tackleboxes with putrid baits and heavy lines, and who are delighted when they pull something out of the water that looks like a serious mistake had been made back in Creation times. I also know that there are cooks who work hard to come up with carp recipes that can create a momentary illusion of edibility. Until the person begins to chew, that is.

I know both of these things. What I don’t know is why they bother? A well-cooked carp is still a plate of mud.

******

It could be that the worst of our trial is passing. That’s cold comfort to the families of the tens of thousands worldwide that have passed away from complications of Covid-19, and there are tough economic times to come for many of us. But we are given leave to start thinking about when the masks can come off and when we can begin to walk the streets without dodging one another.

I think that for me personally it will be quite a while before I shake anyone’s hand – I’ll be giving them a sincere Namaste instead with that short bow of the head.

And hugging … don’t even think about it. Come at me with open arms and you’ll send me screeching into a back bedroom to bar the door.

******

Solitaire

Got our taxes done and off in the e-mail. Our preparer is a down-to-earth woman who lives on a very small farm near Delta CO. She’s probably somewhere in her 60s, plain-spoken, always professional. Year before last she had gotten involved in raising sheep, but quit after a single year when “the coyotes got all the lambs.” The way she tells it, that episode broke her heart.

She’s the sort of person I have no problem visualizing on the seat of a Conestoga wagon heading West in the 1800s, reins in her hand and moving steadily toward an uncertain future and away from a grudging past. Her name is Darla Haptonstall and she’s a gem.

This year she doesn’t get to chat with her clients, which is one of her main reasons for getting up and going to work. Because of the emergency we all bring in our contaminated papers and leave them at the door, and she turns them into refunds, which are signed electronically. The work gets done, but is devoid of en face human contact.

I spoke with her briefly on the phone yesterday, and I’m not quite sure what I said but it had to do with toilet paper and it broke her up entirely. The poor lady must be starved for amusement.

******

I don’t mind paying my taxes, because I know that our elected officials will use them prudently. If Pres. Cluck can take my few dollars and funnel them into some needy plutocrat’s pocket, why, isn’t that what he’s there for?

If I were to keep those pesos for my own use, I might squander them on fripperies like food and shelter and music and have nothing to show for them at the end of the day but a smile on my face.

No, it’s better by far that I send my shekels off to Washington D.C., where there are skilled people who know exactly what to do with large quantities of other people’s money.

******

Here’s a touching John Prine story. If you’ve ever in your sweet short life known a 10 year-old girl, I guarantee you’ll like it.

******

******

I am rereading Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. This will be the third time I’ve gone through the book, and this time promises to be the best of all.

I was a twenty-something living in Minnesota when I first read it, and had to try to imagine through Abbey’s descriptions what it was like living in Arches National Monument for those seasons. I read it the second time as a middle-aged South Dakotan when I visited Moab UT for a couple of days on a swing through the southern part of the state. I understood his book on a different level then, having actually seen some of the places he had written about.

But this time I know so much better all of those locales, especially Arches (which is now a national park) and the Moab area. I’ve spent an accumulation of weeks wandering about the red slickrock of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado and have a deeper appreciation for that desert landscape and what it does for my spirit to be there.

To be there and to take the time to do nothing at all. To walk without any agenda that the land itself does not provide.

[Wikipedia has a particularly good review of the book that I can recommend to you.]

******

Kalsarikännit

On Sunday we tried Zoom videoconferencing with daughters Sarah and Kari and their spouses ( who also have perfectly good names and they are DJ and Jon). I think I made all the rookie mistakes in hosting the get-together, but after a few minutes had everyone settled in fairly well.

It went well enough that we’ll certainly try it again, with a couple of changes. Sarah and DJ attempted to enter the meeting from their car which was located in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant, but Mickey D didn’t have the network bandwidth to make it run smoothly for them. It did come through, but was jerky-jerky at times.

So it was a learning experience for us, and we’ll all be pros the next time. The star of the show was Kari and Jon’s new puppy, who was on screen for only a few seconds but that was way long enough to win our hearts and minds. He’s a baby malamute with fur twelve inches deep and feet like snowshoes. He apparently also pees, somewhere, every 40 minutes.

******

Ahhhhh, there’s good news today! The Finns have done it again. They’ve come up with a word to describe an activity wherein the isolation of these coronavirus days could be an advantage (at least for part of the populace), and that’s kalsarikännit.

The translation is “getting drunk at home, alone, in your underwear.”

No less a publication than the Times of New York has reported on this practice. (I will add that it is not restricted to those of Finnish ancestry.)

Being inspired by this story, I began experiments with being at home in my underwear but not drunk, for reasons that I need not go into. Obviously, I am also not alone, since pushing Robin out the door for hours at this time of the emergency when there is nowhere for her to go would be cruel. It would also be impossible, since she is much stronger than you would suspect of a 62 inch-high person.

The interesting thing is that Robin hasn’t even noticed that I am experimenting, since over the years I have apparently achieved a level of everyday slovenliness that has numbed her to my physical appearance.

When I pushed the envelope even further and went without clothing at all one day … nothing. Nothing, that is, for several hours until when I was going to fry up some bacon for lunch and she silently held out an apron for me to wear. Something she has never done before.

It warmed my heart.

She had noticed.

******

******

Fighting the Good Fight Department

Trump’s Narcissism Could Cost Us Our Lives by Jennifer Senior
Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone? by Frank Bruni

******

Yesterday we went to do our taxes, at the HR Block office in Delta CO. Don’t ask why we drive 20 miles to do what could be done easily 2 miles away from home, but we got started with a woman we like and we’re sticking with her.

We had a 3:00 appointment, but when we arrived, we found they had adopted a “drop-off only” policy, where I simply stepped inside the door and handed them our papers. The receptionist received them into her latex-gloved hands, all the while looking like I’d just handed her a cow-pie, and told me that the file would be kept in quarantine for a day before our tax preparer even started on it.

No problem-o, said I, and off Robin and I went to Confluence Park, located on the outskirts of Delta. It’s a lovely little 265 acre chunk of naturalness that is located where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers come together.

We wandered the trails in the park for more than a hour, and even though there were other people around, social distancing was easily accomplished. We were rarely closer than 25 yards from the next human being.

Spring is soooo underway out there. Even though this is truly the season of our discontent, the rest of the natural world cares not a fig for the coronavirus. We are the only species that is dithering about it – for everything else it’s just another spring.

Of course, the rest of the natural world has its problems here and there, too. Ask an American Elm how it’s doing if you can find one, or check out some of the forests here in Colorado where the pines are reddish-brown instead of green because of bark beetle infestation, or consider the wasting disease that is reducing deer populations all over the country even now.

But yesterday afternoon everything was as beautiful as it could be. The sky … impossible that it could be more blue than it was.

******

Battlefield Dispatch

On Wednesday morning I showed up at the City Market at 0700, to take advantage of the advertised “senior shopping hours.” There were already 60-70 people in a shapeless and meandering line reaching back into the parking lot. I examined each face in the line closely to see if there were any younger shoppers sneaking in on our senior dime. If I had found one, I had plans to publicly shame them right back to the time period where they belonged, the hours from 0800 onward.

I am using military time here, because in many ways what I found in the store resembled a military operation. Once through the doors, most of the shoppers pointed their carts toward the paper products aisle, like LSTs heading into Omaha Beach on D-Day. I can only imagine what violations of the Geneva Convention were perpetrated there by those fearful-faced older citizens grabbing at the four-paks of Charmin. There are lengths that I will go for a roll of TP, but battering my way through forty members of the shuffleboard set is not one of them. So I went there last.

Some of the workers in the produce department were wearing Kevlar vests. and I asked why this was the case. Apparently on one drizzly morning earlier in the week, there were some incidents involving angry shoppers stabbing at employees with their umbrellas, inflicting small round bruises on their chests. One man had had to defend himself with a vegetable sprayer when a gaggle cornered him between the turnips and the artichokes.

Another worker was wearing a therapeutic boot on his right foot. On the previous day, an irate customer driven mad when he learned that the store was entirely out of cilantro deliberately piloted his electric scooter over the employee’s foot. He did this not once, but went back and forth repeatedly until a passerby switched off the machine, saving the worker’s metatarsals, if not his life.

But I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to quote the great Muhammad Ali. My shopping technique is more akin to lightning commando raids rather than frontal assaults. I will slip around a large knot of carts wedged together and dart down an aisle, grab what I came for, and off I go in one fluid maneuver. It’s basically drive-by shopping. By the time the knot realizes what I’ve done, and goes en masse to the spot I just left, I am somewhere entirely else.

So at the end of an hour I had 95% of what I’d come for, which is an excellent result. As I checked out, I could still hear small-arms fire near the canned fish department, and I counted among my many blessings that I was done for the day.

******

******

I am indebted to Andy Borowitz for this thoughtful report. The title of his piece is New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious, and it couldn’t be more timely.

I will admit that I had noticed this ongoing public experiment myself, but could not find the words to describe it properly.

******

There was a time when I used to teach medical students. I no longer remember exactly what it was that I was teaching them, but no matter. For the most part they were juniors on their pediatric rotations, which is in general a fine group to work with.

On days when I was feeling positive about physicians as a class, I would relate this quote to them, taken from a longer poem by Rumi.

A dragon was pulling a bear into hits terrible mouth. A courageous man went and rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.

Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would relate the quotation, then say to the students: “That is what you have signed up for, to be one of those who run toward the screaming, rather than away. You may all take a bow.”

Of course, not all of them would grow up to be as courageous as the man in the story. Physicians are made from the same clay as everybody else. Some sinners sprinkled in among the saints. A few who run, but to hide, not to help.

But right now, there is an army of medical personnel of all classifications who deserve our admiration and praise and help. They are those on the front lines of this pandemic, way too often going to work without the tools they need to protect themselves properly, walking into rooms that most of us would avoid, in some cases isolating themselves from their own families in order not to chance bringing this new plague home to loved ones.

I salute these men and women working in hospitals and offices and clinics around the country. Doctors, nurses, laboratory and radiology techs, physician’s assistants, orderlies, receptionists, security officers … the list goes on. Their courage and personal sacrifice are the antidote to the cynicism about our species that I sometimes feel.

When you compare their quiet everyday heroism with the behavior of our President, for instance, you can see so clearly what billions of dollars cannot buy.

******

Light snow this Saturday morning. We took our constitutionals yesterday walking in the bluffs along the Uncompahgre, and whenever our heads peeked up over the crest of the hills we were met with a 30 mph wind, which was refreshing to say the least.

it was not hazardous hiking, although there were a few spots where if you would stumble and fall down the hill, you wouldn’t come to rest for quite a way, and at that point you would begin a long hour of picking cactus spines out of your epidermis.

I was reminded of a time past when I was (really, I was) considering hiking up Long’s Peak, which is a fourteener that tens of thousands of people who don’t share my phobias have climbed. In doing my research, I bought a book describing how all of the people who had died on that climb had perished.

Most of them had been struck by lightning, which I learned could largely be avoided by not being on top when the afternoon storms rolled in. Then there was the guy who went all the way up only to do what he came for, which was to jump off and end it all.

And then there was the guy whose story cancelled my plans. He was traversing a stretch where one walks along a rather narrow ledge. A gust of wind came by and blew him off the ledge. Blew him off the ledge was all I had to read. There was no amount of psychological training for my acrophobia or knowing that I needed to be getting down from the peak before the storms that could neutralize such a threat.

Long’s Peak is still there, and I am still here. We’ve never met.

.

******

Inoffensive Care Unit

Well, it had to happen. The number of cases of Covid-19 quadrupled over the last two days in Montrose County. From 1 to 4.

All of the patients were taken to a remote line camp on a ranch in an undisclosed location up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, along with 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, a good Coleman stove and lantern, four excellent (zero degrees-rated) down sleeping bags, and enough back issues of True West magazine to last them at least a month.

Some of the boys who rode up with them chopped enough wood to last the unfortunates for a solid week, and set the pile up right against the cabin where they could get at it easy. We don’t pamper our patients here in Paradise like they do in some other places. We sympathize, but by God, iffen you can’t take care of yourself in this world of trials and troubles, we don’t think you’re much of a cowboy.

We’ll check on them every couple of days …

******

You could see it coming. This morning (Thursday) at 0600, by decree of Governor Polis, we are officially under a Stay At Home policy. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, it will not be much different for Robin and I, except it will be even harder to get a haircut than it was, and it was already impossible.

Details as to how it will be enforced aren’t clear at all. Probably not as vigorously as in daughter Maja’s situation in Lima, where she would be stopped and asked to show her papers on her way to a bodega. And where she saw people being hustled into military vehicles and carted away.

******

David Brooks is not given to emotional outbursts. He is the very soul of responsible and thoughtful conservatism, and wouldn’t be caught dead with an epithet in his eminently sober mouth. No way. Too cool for that.

So when I saw the title of his latest piece in the Times of New York, I just had to read it, and I offer it to you here. Click on: Screw This Virus!

*

And while we’re citing op/eds, this essay by Leonard Pitts was so beautifully written … a small but humbling story. Click on: Coronavirus crisis reveals the depth of our grace — and our greed 

******

Robin has discovered a new (to us) communications software called Zoom. (As if senior citizens needed more than FaceTime and Skype.)

But this one seems a little easier to use, and is very straightforward in its rules and regulations. It is cross-platform and allows conference calls of up to 100 participants, which in the era of social distancing is not to be sniffed at. Robin used it a couple of days ago for a meeting of her book club, and those who participated thought it fun and very workable.

The amazing thing for all three of these programs is how much utility they provide the occasional user like ourselves, for free. Yes, friends, for the low low introductory price of only zero dollars, that’s zero down and zero per month, you too can start your own communications empire.

If this interests you at all, you can start your journey at zoom.us.

[Disclosure: we received no funds from Zoom.us for this endorsement. We tried like hell to get some, but failed miserably.]

******

******

The music today is definitely not cool. I started to pick out a couple of tunes to go along with the first item in today’s post, but as I listened to them it became more than that.

They are from the pre-rock and roll part of my existence. From the Saturday movie matinees where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and all of their buddies did improbably brave things while wearing fancy outfits that never got dirty. Whose silver-plated guns glistened enough to blind adversaries, but which never ever killed anyone. And these songs, corny as they might seem now, were played straight in all of those films.

They were the background music for a time when I believed in everything. The world was fair, courage and honor always won the day, and tragedy – why, what was that? If a guy knew he was about to pass into that great pasture in the sky, there was nothing for it but to smile bravely as you saddled up ol’ Buckskin, or ol’ Paint, or ol’ Trigger or Champion and rode out into the sunset.

I’ve had to temper some of those ideas since that uncomplicated time, but listening this morning I could remember exactly how it was when I first heard these songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Like uncorking a wine bottled in 1948.

Still tastes good, actually.

******

This week Colorado abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. In the graphic below, which is now obsolete, our state’s color has gone from blue to green.

There were three men on our death row, whose sentences were commuted to life without parole. Looking at the graphic, in general it would seem that the closer a state is to Canada the more likely it is to be enlightened on this issue.

No matter what a person’s feelings are about the morality of the death penalty, there are two facts that stand out. One is that it is basically a penalty reserved for the poor. If you can afford Alan Dershowitz’ services (and others of his high-billing breed), you are not going to be hung, gassed, shot, guillotined, drawn, quartered, or given a lethal injection. Period. Never, ever happen.

The second is that it is not a rare thing for a person to be wrongfully convicted and executed. Anyone who labors under the delusion that our justice system is completely trustworthy and that everybody on death row deserves to be there … lord have mercy, I just don’t know what to say!

******

Unfair! Unfair!

Dr. Atul Gawande is so smart and thoughtful and charming he makes me feel altogether puny. How could the universe give so much to one person and so little to another? Where’s the justice here?

In the New Yorker this week, he stands back and looks at our journey so far through corona-opolis, and begins to put some things right that have been askew. Straightens the pictures on the wall, so to speak. He puts to rest the feeling that this is all completely new territory and we don’t have any idea how to deal with it.

While that mindset might have had a tinge of truth in it a couple of months ago, it simply isn’t reality today. We are learning rapidly due to reports from around the world, and through shared experiences. Gawande summarizes what we are finding, and it is moderately reassuring. Not complacency-promoting, but reassuring.

******

******

Our village has started senior hours at the grocery stores. Apparently this is happening out there in the rest of the world as well. On M-W-F older citizens can shop from 0700-0800 without having to deal with those pesky youngsters and their runny noses. Theoretically this will reduce the older folks’ chance of exposure to coronavirus and thus prolong some of their lives.

But this system is not without its drawbacks. If you take the store up on their offer, what it would mean is greatly intensified exposure to one of the supreme aggravators of our time – the elderly female grocery shopper.

They clutter the aisles, moving at so slow a pace that one has to paint lines on the floor to be sure they are moving at all. They park their carts on one side of the aisle and their bodies on the other, completely obstructing traffic. And they pay you no attention when you holler at them to get out of the way or you will come through at ramming speed.

But the worst, the absolute worst things happen at the checkout counter. These women have on average about 1500 coupons dating back to 1944, all of which have to be gone through one at a time to see which are valid and which are not. And they do not toss out the rejected ones, but replace them in their purses to be brought out again at the next visit.

The idea that you have to actually purchase a bag of coffee to get the $1.00 credit seems to be a foreign concept to many of these ladies, and there is quite a bit of harrumphing at the inflexibility of the store.

But now comes the coup de grace. The groceries are all rung up, the cashier is waiting for the customer to select method of payment, and after scratching around in a bottomless purse for several minutes out comes the checkbook. They never, n-e-v-e-r, have their checkbook out and are ready with pen in hand when the total is rung up. It apparently comes as a surprise to them every time.

So those senior hours look a lot less attractive when you really think about them. Am I being too harsh? Too sexist? Aren’t old men just as deficient in these areas?

Of course they are. But no one in their right mind would send an old dude to get the groceries. Might as well throw your shopping list into the street, for all the good it would do you. They are so distractible and memory-challenged that they come to the checkouts with nothing in their carts at all and must be sent back into the store to take a second run at it.

So for all these reasons I think I’ll shop with the millennials. Besides, they are so easy and fun to annoy.

******

So … yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and saw shagginess. The kind that a haircut can fix. After a few phone calls, I found out that you can’t do that in Montrose these days, because all of the barbers, etc. have shut their doors. Apparently good grooming is yet another casualty of the present plague.

Later in the day I came under fire from our children for even considering going to a salon and risking that exposure, and I accept that criticism as caring and well-intended. Even sensible. Looking in the same mirror, suddenly I didn’t look all that untidy, after all.

And I have come up with a plan of sorts, should the emergency continue for weeks into the future. I will either let my hair grow without interventions or clip it back to the skull by my own hand. Walking around with a botched self-cut somewhere in between has no appeal. My personal appearance standards are low, I admit, but I do have them.

So, unless there is a change in our present situation, a few months from now I will likely have one of these two possible “looks.”

or

******

Have A Nice Day

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

.

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

******

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

******

Remember the classification of different types of fun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

Reachin’ Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

A Fine Kettle of Fish

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

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

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

*

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

******

******

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

******

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

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

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

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

******

No Influence At All

Aha! At last, an article that clears up the puzzle of a lifetime of questionable choices, from television shows to candidates for POTUS. I am an anti-influencer! Who knew? Somehow this label provides me with a ragged sort of legitimacy.

A definition of what that means absolutely nails my situation:

.

Some people have a knack for buying products that flop, supporting political candidates who lose and moving to neighborhoods that fail to thrive.

NYTImes, March 7

I plan on submitting my name to the people doing this research, and if they have any sense at all they will leap at the chance to enlist my services. Why, just my selections in presidential races should make me a shoo-in for the job. There was John Anderson, George McGovern, Hilary Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore … the list goes on.

Yes, friends, I am an anti-influencer and proud of it. The kiss of death that I bring to the table is something that you can count on. And not many people can (or want to, I admit) make that statement.

******

Special Report
From The Emperor

As of this morning, there have been no cases of Covid 19 in the Empire. This is due to several factors, we believe:

  • An excellent program of screening in place at all border entry points.
  • Travel to the Empire from other countries is presently at zero (and has been so for nearly a year now)
  • The high level of general good health enjoyed by Imperial subjects
  • The fact that we are trained to cough into our sleeves from infancy on
  • Our national habit of eating a large bowlful of clabber at breakfast

Clabber is a type of soured milk. It is produced by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. Over time, the milk thickens or curdles into a yogurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor.  In rural areas of the southern United States, it was commonly eaten for breakfast with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, or molasses added. Some people also eat it with fruit or black pepper and cream. Due to its stability, clabbered milk has been popular in areas without access to steady refrigeration.

Wikipedia

There’s nothing like black-peppered, lumpy soured milk to perk up one’s morning and make a person feel truly alive. Apparently it has the opposite effect on the coronavirus.

******

******

It would seem that the universe is punishing cruise ships at last. They’ve been deserving some sort of cosmic response for a long time now, carrying their huge loads of diner/drinkers from dock to dock at various locations around the world so the ship’s occupants can claim countries on their resumés and buy their branded t-shirts without ever really having to offer up the sweat and time formerly required of a traveler. All this while the cruise lines themselves are repeatedly guilty of environmental offenses.

First Traveler: You say you’ve been to Martinique? When was that?Second Traveler: On April 14th, from two to four p.m.
First Traveler: Really? I was there on the 14th too, but from seven to nine … isn’t that amazing … we just missed each other.
Second Traveler: I have to admit something – I didn’t really go ashore. I had only just staggered from lunch when our time for shopping arrived, and chose to stare at Martinique from the rail instead. Much more comfortable that way, and so much easier to refresh my drink.
First Traveler: Honestly, that’s even more amazing – I didn’t go ashore, either.

At any rate, they are paying their dues now. The stories are filtering back one at a time. The one that caught my eye last week was a family who wanted to get their 96 year-old father off an infected cruise ship that was being quarantined offshore. They feared for his life, which is understandable.

But the disease was already gaining momentum around the world when they put dear old Dad on the boat in the first place, and perhaps that was the time to be cautious. As far as the authorities were concerned, the family had already rolled those dice, and now there was nothing for it but to wait it out and hope for the best.

******

Here’s something new-ish. A comic book about coronavirus designed for kids and put out by NPR. Doesn’t take long to read, and contains some real nuggets of information.

The article goes even further by linking to a video on how to create and fold a zine, and thereby empowering you forever. Did you get that? Forever.

You can now create your own zines on any topic that you know eight pages worth of information about. What’s that? You don’t know eight pages worth of information about anything? Where did you go to school?

******

When Robin and I went to the gym yesterday, we talked about having a strategy to reduce our chances of contracting the coronavirus. Lots of hand washing, lots of wiping down machines, etc. For the first time, I really paid attention to what the person ahead of me on the apparatus did once he/she was finished. At least half the time they did nothing.

Of course it makes a difference which machine we’re talking about. A treadmill poses less threat than a barbell, because it’s the hands, baby, the hands.

This morning I ran across a paper studying germiness in gyms that was not reassuring.

The overall prevalence of S. aureus on environmental surfaces in the fitness facilities was 38.2% (110/288). The most commonly colonized surfaces were the weight ball (62.5%), cable driven curl bar, and CrossFit box (62.5%), as well as the weight plates (56.3%) and treadmill handle (50%). Interestingly, the bathroom levers and door handles were the least contaminated surfaces in both male and female restroom facilities (18.8%). Community gyms (40.0%) had the highest contamination prevalence among sampled surfaces with CrossFit (38.9%), traditional gyms (38.9%), and hospital associated (33.3%) contaminated less frequently … Our pilot study indicates that all facility types were contaminated by S. aureus and MRSA

And this was years before COVID 19 became an issue. But … I think I might have found the solution to our problem. Bring enough heat to the equipment and those germs just fade away.

******

Moving On Up …

The story of Covid 19 continues. Colorado finally officially has its first two cases as of Thursday, so now we can see what kind of mettle the mountain-dwellers have. Colorado’s Governor Polis was given a passel of emergency powers by the legislature on Thursday as well, just in case he needs them. One of those was interesting to me personally.

If things really heated up out here, and the number of available medical personnel were insufficient, he has the authority to grant people like myself a temporary license to practice during the emergency, as long as we are under supervision of someone who has proper credentials.

Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918

I shudder to think of the poor patients in such an extremity. First they are struck down by this nasty microbe, and just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse, in totters a doctor they have never seen before who is pushing a walker and wearing an expression of the purest befuddlement.

Which could lead to the following scenario:

(Ring, ring, ring)

You can stop shaking that bell now, sir, because as you can see, I am here.

Who are you?

Why, I’m Doctor Jon, and I’ve been assigned to your case.

But you’re … ancient. Are you really a doctor?

Of course I am … or was … but the Governor says I am again so there you are. Now, what can I do for you?

I need to know how sick I am. Am I going to make it?

Well, let’s begin with this. How do you feel?

I feel terrible, I ache all over, I can’t stop coughing, and I have a constant fever of 104 degrees.

That’s not a good start at all. Have you seen a doctor?

I thought that’s what I was doing now … why are you standing way over there in the corner?

Can’t be too careful, now, can we? Catch a cough like yours and I could blow myself to smithereens.

Can I get another physician?

Of course you can, sir, this is America, after all.

Then I’d like one who is under ninety years old, please.

(Pause)

There aren’t any.

Any what?

Any working physicians who are younger than I am. All the younger doctors are out sick.

So you are the best I can get?

‘Fraid so. Can you hear me if I talk to you from the hallway?

******

******

Curiosity finally got the best of me and I took my first ride on an e-bike this past week. Our local bicycle shop had a dozen models on hand, and I chose the lowest-priced one to take for a spin. My thinking was that if I liked the cheaper model, then I would love the shiny blue one over there that looked like a rocket. But if I wrecked El Cheapo in this test drive, it was nothing special and who would miss it?

So the salesman wheels the machine out the door, I climb aboard, turn it on, and I’m off. What it feels like is starting out on a normal bicycle for a pedal or two and then someone places a gentle hand in the small of your back and gives you the most wonderful push that doesn’t stop until you cease pedaling.

Now the sharp-eyed among you will speak up and tell me that I was riding a “girl’s bike.” And that will instantly mark you as so far behind the times that you are hardly worth talking to because they are not boy’s and girl’s models anymore, but step-over and step-thru.

It’s a new naming system that I support wholeheartedly, especially since my personal stepping-through is working a whole lot better than my stepping-over these days. I don’t know exactly when that right leg of mine lost its desire to swing high in the air but it did and it shows no sign of wanting to go back to its old ways.

The short of it all is that I have become a customer for one of these. All that remains is to resolve the conflict between the bike that I desperately want -the one that will make my life a better life and me a better (taller, handsomer, infinitely more charming) person – and the model that more realistically suits my budget and my needs.

When fantasy and getting real have worked out their differences, make no mistake, I will be electrified!

******

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Anonymous

A piece of writing on CNN details how shoppers are stocking up on certain items, trying to avoid shopping among diseased neighbors should Covid 19 come to town.

A curious situation is that shortages of toilet paper are developing in some communities as hoarders selfishly buy up the good stuff and leave the less desirable brands behind.

Why, just last night as we wedged another twenty rolls of Charmin into the back of our Forester, we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune as those were the last twenty rolls of that homely but reliable product on the shelf. And we had beaten out that elderly gentleman to the punch as he reached haltingly for the packages that we snatched away from his outstretched hand.

I know, I know, I should feel guilty, but I don’t. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and the meek do not inherit the earth or the best toilet tissue, not when push comes to shove. (Tried to get another cliché in there but ran out of room).

It’s a sad state of affairs, but if you come to visit us during the pandemic, we don’t want to have to hand you a corncob or a handful of switchgrass on your way to the bathroom. Our standards as far as being a proper host may be modest ones, but there are depths to which we simply will not sink.

******