If We Make It Through December …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At last … I am free.”

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

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

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Petty Larceny

In playing with this thing I call a blog, I rely heavily on theft. I have been getting away with it for more than a decade now only because the journal is a thing of modest circulation, and it is by no means a commercial venture.

I write for fun. Part of that fun is digging around on the internet for images to sprinkle between the words. I could try to contact the sources of those things, but that would change significantly what I was doing. My practice is to write something down today, and you read it in a day or two. There is no way that I could get permission fast enough to make this system work … and so I have become a pilferer of pictures.

But it’s not always an easy thing to do. It does require some effort on my part. Let’s take cartoons, for example. The New Yorker magazine is one of my solid sources for them, but I find that even there, the majority of their cartoons don’t appeal to me. Out of today’s “Cartoons from the issue,” for example, I picked out only one of eighteen to share. The rest … meh. Here is today’s “winner.”

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This morning at around two a.m. the wind came up suddenly and with such ferocity that it sounded like workmen out there in the neighborhood, banging on things and operating machinery. It actually woke me up, which is unusual since I habitually sleep through the most violent soundscapes, only to be wakened later by Robin trying to carefully open a door without disturbing me.

I notice only what I have to notice, even when asleep. You know that there is a part of your brain that never rests, that never takes days off. It’s the part that is in charge, among other things, of making sure that we don’t fall out of bed every night. It knows where the edge of the mattress is and acts accordingly. The part that is continually scanning the sounds in the house and occasionally wakes us to go and check them out, just in case there is a burglar or an axe murderer out there in the kitchen. The part that knows when it is time to empty one’s bladder and sends an alert.

In these cases the brain does its job so well that we don’t even notice or give it credit. We only complain when it fails. It’s been decades since I have fallen out of bed. My tally on axe murderers is zero so far, for which I am sincerely grateful. The bladder thing … still working but the margins are slimmer than twenty years ago. These days it goes off around two in the morning, and I don’t have the luxury of taking time to decide whether I will answer that call or not. I just wake up and hit the ground stepping smartly towards the WC.

The morning’s wind is the predecessor of what is predicted to be a wet and possibly snowy day. That would be very okay with me. Since I moved to Paradise seven years ago, I have never met a rainfall that I didn’t like.

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The Christmas truces were a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of the First World War around Christmas 1914. The image below is a contemporary artist’s interpretation of the event at one location.

“The truce occurred five months after hostilities had begun. Lulls occurred in the fighting as armies ran out of men and munitions and commanders reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs.

There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. Hostilities continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from commanders, prohibiting truces. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after the human losses suffered during the battles of 1915.

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period and reflected a mood of “live and let live,” where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades; in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in view of the enemy.

The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in quiet sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.”

Wikipedia: The Christmas Truce of 1914.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that the powers-that-were found this practice unacceptable, and over the next several years of the war such inspiring goings-on basically disappeared. This morning I found myself wondering why this was such a heart-warming story to me? After all, once the holiday had passed the combatants returned to the business of killing or maiming one another with gusto.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.

Robert Schuman.org

What the stories mean to me today is that it seems to be very difficult to completely erase the decency within human beings, even when they are involved in the hellish endeavor that is war. The Great War went on, of course for four more bloody and nightmarish years after that Christmas of 1914.

Maybe a way to put all of this together can be found in the meaning behind the African proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The gentlemen in the artwork above represent the grass, the governments that put them there being the elephants.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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Yesterday’s trip to the grocery store was interesting in that really for the first time this year, the place was full of Tellurideans. Planes filled with well-to-do visitors land at our airport, the passengers are loaded into “limos,” which are basically big black Chevy Suburbans and other similarly-sized transport vehicles, and they are then driven to the City Market. While there is a grocer in Telluride itself, the store is smaller and the prices are higher, so these folks are given time to stock up before striking out for the 50 minute trip to that village.

So if you go to the store and find yourself suddenly shopping alongside rafts of people who are generally more expensively dressed than the typical Montrosean, and who ooze a sense of entitlement, you know there is snow on the mountain without even looking out the window. You can tell those who are visiting our town for the first time, because they are surprised that we have electricity and indoor plumbing. And to imagine that there is a grocery with a first-rate cheese shop within it … why, will wonders never cease? But, they must wonder, who buys this cheese when they (the Tellurideans) go home? Surely not the natives?

But they are a colorful and pleasantly chatty bunch, these travelers, as long as they are not thwarted in their search for provisions. At the deli area is where you find most of the confrontations occurring, as customers haggle over how thick or thin the slices are, and “why don’t you carry _____, for God’s sake?”

But the workers at the checkouts are familiar with handling resorters and keep things moving along quickly so that they can all be loaded into those “limos” and sent on their way. There is lots of smiling and nodding of heads and little scenes of faux commiserating:“Oh no, half of your luggage went to the Ukraine, what a trial that must be! You poor things.” It’s a perennial roadshow drama, with each population group dependent on the other while being slightly contemptuous of them at the same time.

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Each year Robin makes a batch of fudge, usually to share with others. It is always delicious, and no one ever says: “No thank you, I don’t want any this year.”

It may have something to do with the fact that there are three main ingredients … chocolate, sugar, and butter. Enough butter to fry a thousand eggs, in fact. A whole pound of it in each small batch. I strongly suspect that if one were to decide to end it all, eating an entire plateful of the stuff would do the trick, as arteries one by one gave up the ghost while the person’s serum butter level approached 1000.

But that person would be found sitting smiling in their chair with just the trace of chocolate at the corners of their mouth. Not an altogether bad way to go. In smaller doses, however, it is simply excellent.

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Do It Thyself

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

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

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

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

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

Me: There was no conical washer.

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

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

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

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

Plumber: Had to be there

Me: Never was

Plumber: You are a fool!

Me: Imbecile!

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

Plumber: Defend yourself, Sir!

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruelty

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(From the Montrose Daily Press)

There is a herd of elk (the one in the article above) that lives in the valley leading into the town of Telluride. A couple of weeks ago we passed it as we were driving into the village, and what a beautiful group of animals it was. There was a stag in the group who had antlers that were as magnificent as any I’ve seen outside of photographs. We pulled our car over just to watch them for awhile. Because they are accustomed to people and cars, we were within 50 yards of the herd without seemingly bothering them at all.

Some days after our visit, a coward went into the area and killed a bull elk from the herd. It would have been as if one walked up to a group of cows and shot one. No more courage or skill was required than that. What they did was apparently legal but I wonder … how do you boast about shooting a cow?

No matter how one twists logic to justify it, the “sport” of hunting involves the killing of other creatures … for fun. The whole sorry business is despicable.

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Robin continues to mend steadily but at a slower pace than she would like. At least that is how I would think about it if our situations were reversed. But then I have never claimed to be stalwart in the face of discomfort of any kind. When I was a child spending time on Grandpa Jacobson’s farm, I would often get slivers in my hands. Since I had been taught that leaving the splinter in there was going to either bring on the nightmare disease of “lockjaw” or my hand would swell up and fall off, I had to seek help. And the help available was Grandma or Grandpa.

Grandma’s approach was to sterilize a small needle in a flame and then carefully unroof the splinter and extract it with a tweezer. Grandpa, on the other hand, would pull a pocketknife from his overalls and set about carving out a chunk of my flesh that would hopefully contain the bit of offending vegetation. It wasn’t that he was anything but a kind man, but when such a knife is the tool you have to work with, that is what happens.

So whenever I had a choice I would hide the injury until we got back to the house and Grandma could take over. Even then there was an embarrassing amount of grimacing and whining on my part until the thing was done. I’m not sure, but I expect that I might do the same today in similar circumstances. Heroism does not run strong on my side of the family.

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My favorite sort of cartoon is one that surprises me. One that takes me somewhere when I didn’t even know that I was traveling. The drawing above this paragraph is an example. It’s quiet, subtle, but is obviously taking place in some alternative universe. The clearest indicator is the dog being in the operating room in the first place. Such a thing could never happen, at least in the U.S. … or could it? There would be so many barriers to the animal getting in there, so many doors to get by and so many nurses and technicians trying to catch it and expel it from the premises.

Now look again. While the OR staff are all masked, none of their noses are covered, which is a totally unacceptable break in protocol. If we’re going to spread something from human to human, what issues from our noses is an excellent way to do it. Not everyone in the country appreciates this, though. I see it every day in the public square as one of the things our local drizzlewit population does when presented with mask mandates.

Lastly … those naked feet. God knows what microorganisms we carry about on our feet from day to day, but finding a pair of tootsies exposed like that in the operating suite would be enough to horrify any nursing supervisor to the extent that they would surely come down with a variant of PTSD.

No, this cartoon limns a place of fantasy where the beam from the overhead lights cuts sharply through the surrounding darkness and isolates the six characters (I include the dog and the owner of those feet) in their very own world. It’s a great cartoon.

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Even for an operation on one’s knee, there are modifications of the home that are necessary. For instance, we’ve added several useful hardware items to the furnishings – a chair in the shower and a walker, for instance. Also we’ve temporarily retired several area rugs and put them out in the garage to prevent them from causing tripping and falls.

Said rugs are now piled high enough to pose hazards to anyone in that part of the building and may prove an effective burglary deterrent. “Honest, Officer Krupke, I had no idea that a stack of rugs could do that to a person. Do you think a good mortician … ?”

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Krupke, Krupke … now where did I hear that name? Oh, yeah … right here, from 1961 …

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I have a nomination for the best book title of 2021. It is Josh Ritter’s “The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All.” I have it on my list for winter reading. How could I not?

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Doctor Music Is Always In

Looking back I see that I have a habit reserved for times when emotions overwhelm me. For times so sharp that I have no words, when it becomes just me in a room with the pain or sorrow. Everybody eventually runs up against days like this, I think. Of course, how would I know? My troubles are mine … yours are yours … but mine will hang around and bedevil me until I finally sit down with them.

So that habitual way that I have of coping when the world is just too much is to pick out a piece of music and put it on endless repeat so that it becomes a mantra that I hear rather than speak. Doing this somehow opens a door and I am able to let go. I am always alone at such times, and if anyone were to wander in the door they would find a guy pretty much useless for anything for a while. I think the word unstrung is what describes at such moments best.

There was the New Year’s Eve when poor old John Lennon had to sing “Imagine” … maybe thirty times in a row … for only me. There was the evening after a kitty of ours named Rosa had died following a terrible two-day illness that neither the vet nor I were able to help. Hours when The Red House Painters song, All Mixed Up, became the background music for the release of emotions that had built up over those 48 hours when we were trying clumsily and ineffectually to save her life.

Many of us have such moments in our lives. Bottling things up is generally not a good long-term strategy, we are told. Finding ways to release those pressures is what therapy does for us, and in situations like these I’ve found music to be oh so therapeutic.

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I would like to call attention to an American hero, Sister Helen Prejean. She is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, an account of her serving as spiritual advisor to a condemned man named Patrick Sonnier. Since then she has been an advisor to six more inmates on death row, all of whom were eventually put to death. To do this sort of work … I would call that heroic.

Sister Prejean wrote a piece in the Times on Wednesday entitled Look At My Face, which I found a very moving read. I recommend it to you.

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From The New Yorker

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An interesting short piece found its way into the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It was an imaginative one about the death of William Holden, the actor. The title of the piece is The Many Deaths of William Holden Taught Me How to Be Anxious.

It isn’t the first time that I have considered deeply how fragile our bodies are, and felt a little frisson while doing so. When cars meet on the highway and the metal of the machine is distorted and torn apart the injury to the automobiles is nothing compared to what happens to the flesh of the occupants. When you read a story about a tornado roaring through the countryside driving pieces of straw into the bark of trees, remember that humans are caught out in the cloud of missiles that the tornado picks up and distributes. In a courtroom Friday a man told his story of being shot in his upper arm and his bicep being blown away. It was just gone.

The world is filled with hard things, and our bodies are not among them. For eight decades now I have threaded my way through the maze of sharp or stony objects that could have altered my life, or certainly my appearance, and here I am … one of the lucky ones. The bones that cracked, the blisters that formed, the thousand patches of skin left on the pavement in my childhood … all have healed themselves.

So hearing the many versions of the death of William Holden wasn’t necessary to make me a cautious man, or even an anxious one at times. I was able to put together my own scenarios from my own experiences. And when the stresses became too much to bear, there was always the possibility of the geographic cure, as in Ole’s case.

When Ole learned that most accidents, injuries, and deaths occurred within one-half mile of home, he did the only logical thing.

He moved.

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Oh, happy happenstance! One of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, has a new book out entitled The Sentence and there is no doubt that I will read it during the coming blustery months. I will wait for a day when I am looking out the window at weather so nasty that my forebears’ practice of wearing wolfskins wouldn’t keep a man alive and while I am experiencing the guilty pleasures of houses and central heating. So I will put that off for a while, but in a deliberate and not a procrastinative way.

To make things even better, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have made a second album together which will be released fully on November 19. Their first one was the surprising musical duet album of 2007, Raising Sand. It was the answer to the question I had never asked myself: “What do you get when you pair up a princess of bluegrass and a prince of rock and roll?” The answer was a hell of an album.

Plant has continually surprised me. When his former band (a little-known group called Led Zeppelin) folded up, I would have thought he had nothing left to do, being just another pretty band singer whose groin posturings had become less interesting to his followers as age did its thing. But instead he made, and still makes, interesting and intelligent music.

What to say about Krauss? A voice like a drop of dew on an Appalachian morning … as pure and straightforward as is her music with her band, Union Station. A classic. A professional, through and through.

The surprise is that together they become not just another bunch of duets by artists who are getting on in years, but something new.

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From The New Yorker

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Sweet, Sweet Jane

This one is for Lou Reed fans. The introduction to the vocal is several minutes long and is just outstanding. This album gets played often at my home address, and played as loudly as my equipment and neighbors will permit.

It almost goes without saying that the song Sweet Jane is about drugs. After all, this is Lou Reed we’re talking about. In this case the substance is heroin. You might miss that in the lyrics … I did for the longest time … but it’s there. Part of the problem is that the original and longer lyrics to the song were dropped from the most popular recorded versions. So I heard the sadness and longing and missed the rest.

But watch the video, check out the vintage hair and mustaches and clothes, and get in touch with your rock and roll side for a few minutes. You know you want to. That bass player … is he inscrutable or impassive or imperturbable or what?

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The last spate of elections are over, and the Democrats are exhibiting their typical Brownian Motion, running around bumping into one another trying to figure out why they did so poorly this time around. Nobody asked me if I knew the answer. So I will put it out there anyway. Let’s say a political party spends an entire year and can’t come up with the equivalent of a mission statement. Who squabble so much among themselves that they can’t get the things done that they need to do to hold our interest, much less retain our loyalty. Why should we vote for them except for the fact that they aren’t practicing Cluck-ism? That might have been enough in 2020, but it’s not holding up very well as a reason.

If there is such a thing as an average American, their lot hasn’t improved one iota in the last two or three decades, while our “leaders” are enriching themselves so fast the money changing hands never gets a chance to cool off but is always slightly warm to the touch. The one percenters are so bored that they are climbing onto the Musk/Bezos rockets like they were a new ride at Disney World. “Excuse me, Elon, but I’d like an aisle seat if you please, and did I miss the snacks being passed out … I love love your peanuts!”

Once upon a time there was a guy named Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a singularly courageous Russian writer. He dashed off a bunch of books in his lifetime, eventually winning a Nobel Prize for his work. Among the titles were The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. The books were very good and they were very anti-Communist, so when he was kicked out of the Soviet Union and came to America we all thought he might become our new BFF. But then he gave some speeches directed at us that were the literary equivalent of a swift kick in the pants with a hobnail boot. He thought we were weak, effete, and had lost our way in a maze and haze of materialism and secularism. Basically we were doomed unless we saw the light … and he didn’t think we would. Three of those speeches were gathered into a book called A Warning To The West, and some excellent excerpts are published on the Goodreads site. They are well worth reading, and I think their lessons are as applicable now as they were unwelcome news in the 70s.

What we needed then is what we still need now. Different flags to fly, different songs to sing – those that lift our spirits and bring us together in the common work that needs doing rather than focussing on our bottom line, which can only drive us apart.

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The music of Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles album is doing its good work in my morning. That woman … what a talent … and what a fine double album this one is, recorded live in 1974. Music like this is never dated and sounds today as fresh as it did 47 years ago. The recording is clear and excellent as opposed to the mushy sound that live albums sometimes offer up. Here’s a photo of Joni and her backup band for the album, the L.A. Express.

It’s okay with me if you don’t rush out and buy this and listen to it just because I said you should. There is so much good stuff out there to listen to that it boggles the mind. As a matter of fact, I am having quite a bit of trouble getting unboggled this morning … perhaps the next cup of coffee should be intravenously administered rather than orally. I just wanted to let you know that this album was out there, in case you’d missed it the first time around.

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Grandson Dakota took his leave of us Thursday, on his way to the rest of his life. His car contained everything he owned, so off he went in a VW Jetta version of that famous truck in the movie, Grapes of Wrath. He is a fine young man and we are so glad we got the chance to know him better. ‘Twas a gift to us.

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As everybody knows, Paradise is located in Montrose County, Colorado. As of this morning our county is a Covid – 19 hotspot. Such news should not come, unfortunately, as a surprise to anyone. In the 2020 election, 2/3 of the county’s electorate voted for a presidential candidate who was completely unfit for the office, a charlatan of the first water. They knew it and they still voted for him.

Now, did anyone really think that having flunked Elementary Civics that these people would do any better at Preventive Medicine? The fact that we are now in a situation where nearly all of the deaths from this disease are in the unvaccinated segment of our society does not deter them from publicly refusing to be helped.

Denial? Death wish? Dumbassedness? Take your pick.

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Dune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gourds

I have found Garrison Keillor. I had thought that he was done for when he was accused of allowing his fingers to play along the bare back of a woman on his show and when confronted he exited stage left rather than argue about it in public, with cowardly PBS kicking him in the seat of his pants as he walked off. I don’t know whether he actually did what he was accused of or not, nor do I know what the surrounding circumstances were, we never got the chance to fully hear the parties out who were involved. But at that time in our recent history he was not the only man in public life who was being similarly drummed out of the corps without what one might call a proper courts-martial.

I assumed that this might be the end of his humor, insights, and general drollery, so I never looked for it anywhere. Today I stumbled across not one but two web locations where his voice can be heard. If anyone is interested, that is.

The web addresses are:

Please know that my delight in being able to read more of Mr. Keillor’s writing in no way endorses letting one’s hands go roaming around anyone’s back who does not welcome it. That is definitely not okay. So is roaming around their front, for that matter. I just wish there were a better way to deal with these accusations of impropriety, and that when called for we could find penalties that are appropriate to the offenses.

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Yesterday afternoon Poco was overdue for the afternoon meal. He always comes back from his roaming around three o’clock, and now it was four-thirty and there was no sign of him. He’s an old guy, you know, and we worry sometimes. So I went out walking along some of his favorite territory down the irrigation canal that runs behind our home, calling out his name.

I looked back and trotting about thirty yards behind me there was Willow, who had now joined me in the search. As we reached the point where Poco finally answered my call, Willow ran ahead into the thicket and in a very short time out the two of them came. No longer worried, I started back for home, only to find that the two cats had lined up and were now trailing me, and they did so all the way back into our yard.

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The cartoon above is one of those that delight me when I run across them. Just the right amount of surrealism coupled with imagination to brighten a person’s day. And really, where do those damned things come from? Do you personally know anybody who has a gourd garden? I know that I don’t. And yet every autumn … .

There are times when I have a thought that I believe would make into a great cartoon. But we will never know because I can’t draw to save my soul, and whatever illustration I created would only distract from the the caption. Perhaps if I applied myself and got some serious instruction I could remedy this with years and years of practice, but would it be worth the time and trouble? I have my doubts.

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On Monday grandson Tanner joined our growing Colorado family for a few days. Dakota had picked him up at the Denver airport, and they were making their way back to Montrose when they got held up with the ongoing highway construction on Highway 50 for nearly two hours. So they arrived hungry and tired, and after Robin and I finally let them off the hook, they went immediately to their rooms.

Early on Tuesday morning a light rain came through, accompanied by the forceful whooshing sound that the ash tree in the back yard makes whenever a stiff breeze blows. Lovely to listen to, and it’s not unlike that feeling you get when camping by a stream. For the most part, natural sounds like these don’t keep one awake, but have the opposite effect. There are exceptions, however, and one that comes to mind is the freight-train-like announcement of an approaching tornado. That one wakes you up, hopefully before you are airborne.

A hailstorm is another waker-upper. There’s nothing quite like the symphony produced by tens of thousands of missiles of varying sizes pummeling your roof, your car, and anything else you forgot to bring into the house last night. I will share only one hailstorm story.

Robin and I were bicycling out in the Colorado rural several years ago, when hailstones began smacking us on our helmets and shoulders. We were miles from our car, but started pedaling like crazy to get there as quickly as we could. There was no shelter available anywhere in sight until we came around a corner and – unbelievable – there was a Porta-P0tti a quarter of a mile away, in the middle of nowhere. The storm, seeing we had an option to escape it, now began in earnest to try to kill us off by increasing the size of the hailstones and their numbers as well. (Lord, that was a painful moment). When we reached the little structure we threw our bikes to the ground and rushed inside.

What a din there was in that malodorous space! But it was so much better than the death of a thousand pebbles that we had left behind. When the hail stopped we emerged from our plastic cocoon as two bruised and grateful souls.

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Lastly for today, I will address a topic that is daily on all of our minds, I know. One that has occasionally kept me awake at night, unable to sleep because the answer to the question is so elusive. What is the question, you ask?

Why don’t we have tails?

Researchers think they may have discovered the gene mutation that lopped off the tails that our ancestors surely had, and this has them all a-twitter. I am happy for them, people looking for gene mutations on tail-less animals must live a lonely life. I do not in any way begrudge them this success.

But although this might throw some light on how we became tail-challenged, it does nothing to tell us why. Usually a successful mutation confers some advantage on those who have it. But why in the world did those ancestors of ours do better when what might have been a perfectly beautiful and useful tail suddenly went missing from Cousin Norma?

There are so many times that I have leaned back to rest on that tail before I remember that I don’t have one. And when swinging through the forest canopy I can see where my balance would be better with a good sized prehensile member to employ. So I will follow this research with interest, while I grieve my loss and wonder what life would have been like had this genetic accident not occurred?

It’s all I can do not to take it personally.

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Animated By Animus

I will freely admit that I have an animus towards those people who are eligible but have refused to be vaccinated against Covid. Maybe an animus and a half. For all the right reasons, of course, because almost by definition, my reasons are the correct ones to have.

I think they are being fools in allowing their behavior to be influenced by politicians in this regard.* Double fools for going along with all of the rest of the sack of rubbish being handed out by a malevolent squad of public personages who have no one’s interests in mind but their own.

I think they are being fools in allowing their behavior on anything Covid-related to be influenced by politicians. Double fools for going along with all of the rest of the sack of rubbish being handed out by the Red Squad, a malevolent group of public personages who appear to have no one’s interests in mind but their own.

On the bright side, the Red Squad is doing us all a real service. They are showing us what happens when good men do nothing. I believe that there are good men and women among the Republicans, but they have silenced themselves for expedient reasons, thinking they might wait out the aberrancy that is cluckism. Instead they have found themselves with chicken poo all over their nice suits and reputations.

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BTW, I learned this morning that although Edmund Burke is often credited with the aphorism “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” he never said it.

The closest attribution might be from an address by John Stuart Mill, in 1867. Still just as true as ever more than 250 years later.

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

John Stuart Mill

Johnny Mill hit the old nail there, didn’t he? “Allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply … .” Kind of makes me squirm just a tish. When might I have done just that, is my question to myself?

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This t-shirt’s message could well be applied to many of my endeavors in this short life. Love it.

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Robin and I are planning a three-day getaway this coming week, starting Tuesday. We’re traveling to Fort Collins CO to revisit old stomping grounds. Amy, Ally, and Neil lived and worked in Fort Collins for a time, and we have a tote-ful of good memories associated with our visits to them. Since it has been well over a decade since our last time in F.C., we anticipate some of the stuff that we liked won’t be there any longer, change being inevitable and all that. Will let you know what we find.

It’s a college town, so there are some givens. There will be pizza, there will be taco joints and buffalo wing palaces, and there will be many places where a young man or woman can slake their thirst. The more generous-minded of these emporia may also allow senior citizens to come in as long as they behave themselves and sit over there in the corner where passersby don’t notice them. Get too many of the ancient ones in a place and they can be a bit of a drag on the revelry.

For instance, you will probably never hear someone in a group of hardbodies saying: “Let’s go down to the Sunset Home and get wasted.”

I just don’t see that happening.

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The weather app on my phone had a hissie fit this afternoon. Out of my pocket arose the sound ordinarily reserved for announcing that Armageddon is upon us (It is an app put out by the Gideons, who had noticed that last year’s restricted travel had cut down severely on the need for New Testaments in motel rooms. Ergo, the app. Wouldn’t want anyone to miss the end-times because they hadn’t been notified). A severe weather warning had been issued, and damage to life and property was to be expected. I had barely adjusted to that disturbing intelligence when the second notice came along which basically said “Oops, never mind.”

I rushed outside to see for myself, and found nothing but a skyful of grey clouds drifting along in a perfectly peaceful manner. No different from yesterday or the day before. No threats to be seen in any direction.

Well, we’ll let this one go since it is their first app, but the Gideons better sharpen things up or it will never be the hit those New Testaments have been.

[My apologies to the Gideon Society. They’ve never done me harm and here I am poking fun at them while making awfully free with the truth at the same time. It’s almost as if I had no scruples at all. Heh, heh, heh.]

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From The New Yorker

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There is a habit that develops in some older citizens where they start to say things like “This is the last car I will ever buy.” I humbly suggest that this is not a good habit to acquire. It may be that the statement turns out to be true, but if you think about it, that could also have been true of the very first car you ever bought, had things gone differently in your life.

We have never known at any point in our lives when and what our final act would be like, and we don’t become any wiser in this regard just because we’ve added a few decades. At some point each of us will take our leave and that’s the only surety in this ride we’re all on. But thinking about that “last car” seems to me to be closing doors that don’t need closing. What fun is there in reading about a seductive new automobile if you only end up saying to yourself “Whatever I’m looking at is not for me. I won’t be around that long.” Bumming yourself out unnecessarily? I think so!

I had a forceful reminder of mortality’s possibilities last October when a blood clot not much large than a grain of rice took the powers of clear thinking and of speech away from me for an hour. Only an hour, thanks to Robin and her gang of helpers.(The speech came back for certain, but I suspect that you may not accept the clear thinking part, and who could blame you?). But even that short time was instructive.

However, I am still reading auto reviews in Car and Driver magazine, still buying shirts that will last a very long time even though they may be slightly more expensive, and still think that anything offering a “lifetime supply” is a good deal. Call me a loon … you won’t be the first to do so. And I have no idea if you will be the last.

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Simple Tools

One of the most common misconceptions about electric bicycling that I run into is that the cyclist sits there and the motor does all the work. Many people are surprised that I pedal at all. What they have missed along the way is that the point of e-biking is to assist, rather than replace, the effort you make in getting from Point A to Point B.

The best description that I’ve come up with so far is that I do the same amount of work in a given amount of time but go faster and further with the electrical assistance. Now, it is true that if I dialed the assist level up to 5 that I wouldn’t be getting much exercise at all. It’s all in what you want out of it. It’s only a simple machine, after all. One simple tool riding upon another.

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I ran across this music video recently that I found intriguing. It’s of a song by the Chemical Brothers collaborating with Beck. Once you start watching you can’t stop until the end, just to see how it all comes out.

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I had suspected for a long time that I might be underestimating the level of thick-headedness in the good old US of A, but today’s situation … what the hell! To have nearly half the country, including many people who should definitely know better, abandon their wits en masse and refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is a situation that a year ago I would not have thought possible. C’est incroyable!

Here are some quotes from my favorite cranky S.O.B., H.L. Mencken. He would have loved the opportunity to comment on today’s news. I think that even he might be amazed at today’s goings-on. It’s all I can do to keep my inner cynic in check, and it causes me to wonder anew about the long-term future of the species homo sapiens.

H.L. Mencken

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

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

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My friend Joe sent these along to me. I don’t know who to credit, but to whoever painted these … Bravo! There is a great deal of obvious skill involved in doing the painting, but what is even more impressive is the imagination that saw the possibilities present in an ordinary hand.

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Tuesday afternoon was one of those perfect times to be out on the deck with an iced tea in one hand and a word processor in the other. I listened to new music on Apple and to some old music from my library, all the while being caressed lightly by a breeze that never got too rowdy. The contrast between sitting here under a shady ash tree and doing any kind of work out there twenty feet away in the brilliant sunshine is striking. I can do the ash-tree bit for hours. I can do working in the sun for perhaps 20 minutes before I fade. Kinda pathetic, actually, this weather-wimpiness. When, exactly, did that happen?

Oh, well.

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There are some musical groups that stand out for me, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is one of them. Maybe the premier one, actually. My appreciation of their music began when I was wearing a USAF uniform and listening to a San Francisco radio station playing “Four Way Street.” I wore out the original vinyl of that album decades ago. Their musical and social sensibilities meshed with my own in a way that has withstood multiple breakups and reunions of the group without flinching. At present it doesn’t exist as a functioning and touring unit, but no matter. Over these forty-plus years they have created a body of music that I can turn to whenever.

So when I ran across this album named CSNY 1974 (Live), what could I do? The album was put together recently, culled from many concerts played in that year, when they were young men and their future unclear.

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Surface Area

Each summer there is a family that sets up a tent in a vacant lot across the street from Walgreen’s here in Montrose. They sell various items of produce, but there are two things in particular that we go there to buy when their season rolls around. One is peaches from the orchards near Palisade CO, the créme de la créme of that fruit available here in Paradise. The other is Mirai sweet corn which is, to coin a phrase, to die for. Both of these are special enough to be worth committing small crimes to obtain, if there is need.

For instance, if I were in line and I could see that there were only a handful of ears of Mirai left on any given day, and there was a sweet elderly lady using a walker in front of me, I would have no hesitation in telling the lady that the police wanted to talk to her out behind the tent, and while she was processing this information I would sneak around and cut in front of her. And I would have no problem sleeping at night, either.

Yesterday I went to the stand where I bagged up some of their produce and then turned to the young woman behind the cash register. I was not prepared for what I encountered, and nearly dropped my peaches. She was wearing one of those “peasant” blouses that lace up the front, the sort you might see at Renaissance Fairs and festivals. This was a very healthy woman of ample proportions and the garment’s fastenings were straining hard to maintain propriety. I estimate that a good 8% of her body surface area was exposed to view through those laces, and another 8% was threatening to break free at any moment.

I was able to successfully conclude the transaction by focussing firmly on a point between the woman’s eyes. My purchase made, I picked up my treasures and quickly took my leave as I found that a substantial line of gentlemen was forming behind me.

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From The New Yorker

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The roller-coaster that is our pandemic continues on. The Delta variant has made it a new ball game, masks are making a comeback, and even some of the benighted are starting to timidly say Get vaccinated to their gullible flocks.

There are comic aspects, if you look at it from a perspective that is slightly askew. Yesterday the governor of Alabama, who is of the Red Party persuasion, said that it’s time to put the blame for our present mess squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the unvaccinated. She failed to mention how lackluster her administration’s and her party’s performance in promoting vaccinations has been.

(It’s nice to be able to point fingers. I do it all the time. Very satisfying.)

Robin and I were signed up to man a voter registration booth at the local country fair next week, but yesterday received an email from the local Democratic Party chairperson that the drive has been called off. The booths were to be located at an indoor facility, and with the very large contingent of unvaccinated people in Montrose County he deemed it unsafe for us to hang out there. Case levels are rising here, just like everywhere else.

And that Alabama blame-shifter is quite right in one thing she said. The Covid virus is sticking around because it has that big bunch of unvaccinated folks to munch on. This has produced enough time for a group of dandy mutations to occur, with the Delta variant being the leader right now. This is what some viruses do. Mutate all the darn time. Covid-19 is one of those viruses.

If we can’t get more people to do the right thing and get their vaccine doses, there will always be new variants to consider. It’s just about inevitable. We’re certainly not back to Square One, but, if you crane your neck, stand on your tiptoes, and the light is just right, you can see it from here.

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From The New Yorker

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Friday morning we were out the door and trying out a hike that was new to us, the Fall Creek Trail. You get there by going east on Highway 50 to the Little Cimarron Road, turning right, and then going 14 miles up the gravel to a dead end. The trail begins there.

We were planning on taking it easy because Robin’s knees have been troublesome recently, and only went in a couple of miles before turning around. It was one beautiful valley setting after another as we followed the creek upstream.

The hike was mostly gentle walking, which made the 11,000 feet in altitude easier to handle. Along the way we ran into a light rain, which you can see threatening us in the photo.We saw no other hikers this day. It’s really not hard to avoid the crowds when you follow the less “famous” paths. There are lots of those around here.

The Fall Creek valley turned out to be a lovely, special place, and we resolved to return with backpacks next time. Just to hike up a couple of miles and hang out for a day or two. Solitude plus.

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Lastly, this has happened twice in the past week, and no one in town knows what to think of it. You are in the middle of one of those blasting-furnace days that this summer has produced in abundance, and suddenly it cools and water falls from the sky.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? Is this what rain looks like? Let me know. We who dwell in an arid Paradise are puzzled.

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Our Cup Runneth Over

My friends, and I count all of you among this group, I am saddened to tell you this, but Colorado is apparently full. Last weekend Robin and I went to Silverton for a day trip, and on entering the Bent Elbow restaurant, we were greeted by a sign that told us that we would likely have to wait longer for our food because they couldn’t find enough wait-staff to hire because “people don’t want to work any more.”

That’s a little bit o’whininess on management’s part, to be sure, and may have something to do with the salaries being offered, but who knows? Lots of people all over our sometimes puzzling country are not returning to their old jobs, in droves.

In this part of the state many businesses are having trouble finding workers, especially in the service industries. Help Wanted signs are visible in shop windows everywhere. At the same time, the wildest dreams of the state’s tourism agencies of attracting more people to the mountains have come true, and travelers are flooding the towns, campgrounds, and trails to an extent not seen before. It’s a perfect example of being careful what you wish for.

So we are dealing with more people and more cars, but at the same time there are fewer folks to bring us our food, tuck us in at night and put that little mint on our pillow, or sell us yet another T-shirt guaranteed to shrink at least a size before you get it home.

In other words, we’re full, and while the mountains have not shrunk and (most of) the streams have not run dry, a visitor may not find the serene paradise they were seeking. Maybe next Fall, or next year … you could try then.

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On Wednesday Robin and I attended a Zoom meeting on how to do voter registration. We have volunteered to take a shift in a voter registration kiosk at the local county fair in a couple of weeks, and this session was training for that. Turns out that it’s a bit more complicated than smiling and handing out a form, but we think we can handle the details.

With all the ugly voter-suppressive things that Republicans are doing in many states, whatever we can do to help improve voter turnout seems to us more important than ever. This, even though Colorado is sort of a dream state when it comes to the election ritual. Here every registered voter is sent a ballot which you can either return by mail, or you can carry it to a special ballot box and drop it in, or you can take it with you and stand in a line on election day to vote in person. Most people take the mail-in option. No fuss, no muss, no scandals.

Also this year we can register sixteen year-olds. If they turn seventeen before the next primary, they can then vote in the primary. If they turn eighteen before the next election, they can vote in that. Lastly, if you are a felon and not presently in a lockup, you are allowed to vote now. Robin and I admire the Colorado system, and feel privileged to support it in our small way.

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Here’s a piece that is all about David Brooks being thoughtful, and he does thoughtful better than most people. Title: The American Identity Crisis.

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There are two threads playing out in the media right now that have to do with the Catholic Church. One is the discovery of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unmarked graves of children at former reservation “schools” that were operated by the Church in Canada. These sad and lonely interments represent still more examples of the damage visited upon kids by the representatives of the Church over the past century. In this case, their cooperation with the Canadian government in the ugliness that was the attempt to blot out the cultures of the indigenous peoples in that country.

The second thread is this: Should Joe Biden, or any other Catholic public official who supports women in their struggle for rights over their own bodies, be denied communion? A group of conservative bishops is pushing this as their agenda.

It strains belief, watching these two stories play out. If there is any institution in America with less moral credibility right now than the official Church, I don’t know what it would be. So to watch these bishops thundering about moral rectitude and who is pure enough to be allowed at the altar rail is to watch yet another act in a play that is the very embodiment of cynical.

Children at the Kamloops residential school in Canada in 1931, where 215 unmarked graves have been found.

There are other venues where Mr. Biden could take communion, perhaps he should explore one of these.

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Because I watch the world of fashion as closely as I do, it has been obvious for a long time that one of my favorite garments of all time is held in very low regard. A garment that I had waited for all my life without knowing it until I owned my first pair and discovered how eminently useful they were.

Of course I am speaking of cargo shorts. Here are examples of the scorn that has been heaped upon this item of clothing and its wearers. (BTW, I said that I watch fashion, I didn’t say that I wore it)

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On our Saturday morning bike ride, I saw a bird species that was new to me, Gambel’s Quail. It was standing in the middle of the road up ahead of me, and at first I thought it was a mourning dove, it being slender and about that size. But when I got closer, that feather in its cap and its coloration identified it as a quail of some sort, but making a real ID meant getting home where my field manuals were.

The quail are only 10 inches long when fully mature, and as you can see in the photo (not mine), they are beautiful birds. They like the kind of desert scrub we were pedaling through when we saw them.

I say “them” because about a quarter-mile further along the same road there was a hen with a dozen chicks, each no bigger than a marshmallow.

So, two sightings on the same day. SCORE!

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Uniform = Homogeneous

When I went into the U.S. Air Force in the summer of 1969, I was assigned to Offutt AFB near Omaha NE. At the base I took the place of a physician who had been my chief resident when I was in pediatric training. I also bought his uniforms at a significantly reduced price, since we wore the same size and he couldn’t wait to get out of town. Wearing a uniform was one of the things that I enjoyed about Air Force life. It was much like having a valet who picked out each day what I was going to wear, relieving me of that tedious duty. I would simply get up and put on clothing exactly like what I wore the day before.

Twice yearly this outfit (summer/winter) changed, and I was told when that happened as well. There were never any worries when I got to work that I would not be dressed appropriately, or that somebody else would outshine me in the couture department. We all had the same valet.

I don’t think that I need to tell you that I looked magnificent in my blue uniform, with its single decoration, which was a Viet Nam service ribbon on my chest that indicated that there was a war going on somewhere in the world, even though I wasn’t in it. Rumor has it that our enemies quailed, yes, quailed, whenever they were shown my photograph during the time that I was on active duty. Such a powerful adversary as this, they were told … was typical of the U.S. armed forces.

Viet Nam service ribbon

I quickly learned all of the military courtesies needed when walking about outdoors. If I met someone who outranked me I would whip out a snappy salute and say “Good day, sir.” If that person was of the same rank that I was, a salute and “Good morning” were all that was needed. If they were subordinates, I would return their salute with a firm “Good morning, underling.” No undue familiarity here. I was an officer, and there were distances to maintain. After all, one day in the future in our Pediatric Clinic I might have to send one of those people into a room where they would face a furious two year-old with a mouthful of new and razor-sharp teeth. Without proper discipline being maintained, they might very well just tell me to take the proverbial hike.

The other thing that I liked about being in the service was lunchtime. There were 42 physicians stationed at the base hospital. Thirty-nine of them were draftees like myself. The other three were Air Force careerists. Each weekday at noon we draftees brought our bag lunches to the lunchroom, where between bites of tuna and egg salad sandwiches we complained steadily for the entire hour about being in the armed forces. Every weekday. What a joy those sessions were, 39 malcontents kvetching to their heart’s content. I’d never been so happy, nor felt such kinship with such a large group.

One day a family doctor named Merritt wasn’t there for lunch, and I asked if anyone had seen him. Merritt was the only black physician in our group, and one of the most creative of all of us in describing his disenchantments with military life. Several of the others present developed troubled looks on their faces, and finally George the neurologist related this tale.

Merritt was working a shift in the Emergency Room the night before, when a master sergeant brought in his wife to be seen, a woman who was ill with complaints of a gynecologic nature. The couple was ushered into a room, and Merritt took a careful history. Then he said that he would leave the room so that the patient could undress for an examination.

At that point the lady’s husband rose from his chair, obviously angry, and announced to all present that “No black bastard is going to touch …” He never finished his sentence due to the fact that Merritt hit him with what was described by onlookers as a first class right cross.

Now this set off a kerfuffle, to be sure. While an officer may be able to order a man into battle, where any number of bad things could happen to him, that same officer is not allowed to punch out that subordinate. Not in an emergency room. Not in Nebraska. Merritt was now eligible for a court-martial.

On the other hand, a sergeant is not allowed to call an officer a “black bastard,” either. Just think of what might happen if servicemen and women were allowed to express themselves this freely toward their superiors. It’s pretty much a certainty that discipline would collapse, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have generals needing to get their own damn cars from the damn motor pool. No, no, couldn’t have that.

The exact details of what compromise was eventually worked out were never revealed, but Merritt was never court-martialed, and he finished the rest of his two years in the USAF without knocking any more people to the floor.

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From The New Yorker

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Last Friday evening was the first time since Covid hit the country running that Robin and I had gone out to a theater, actually a community playhouse. The Evans’ had graciously invited us to have dinner at their home and then go with them to a performance of “Mash.” Dinner was delicious and the performance … well … how can you go wrong with rehashing a story so well known and so beloved. It was like looking at family videos.

“Hey there’s Hawkeye, and Trapper, and Hot Lips, and Col. Blake, and what the heck is Radar doing over there?”

The actors did a fine job, the audience laughed when they were meant to laugh, and there was just the right amount of coolness in that auditorium on an 85 degree night outside.

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If you own a cat, sooner or later someone will refer to you as “a cat person.” This doesn’t happen with canine owners. They just own dogs. I have no idea why there is this difference in terminology, or what it means. Not knowing what I am talking about, however, has never stopped me from giving my opinions on a subject.

It is as if appreciating what interesting creatures members of the cat family can be automatically makes one a member of a suspicious subset of humans. This because the “normal,” of course, is to prefer the company of animals that slaver on carpets and floors, eat the arms from your sofa, try to have intercourse with your legs, and have such poor toilet habits that their owners cannot walk them about town without carrying the paraphernalia needed to pick up their poop. Which they then have to carry home.

I will mention here that I have owned several dogs in my lifetime, many of which had an unfortunate genetic trait that caused them to ignore the reality of automobiles, thus shortening their lives considerably. I have also owned gerbils, hamsters, turtles, lizards, mice, several species of tropical fish, parakeets, a horse … but no one has ever named me after one of these creatures.

It happens only with cats. Personally I suspect that people who use this phrase may have a variant of ailurophobia, or fear of felines. Since it’s an irrational thing (except in the case of uncaged lions, tigers, leopards, and the like when they are in the room with you) such people would not be able to understand why those who don’t have the fear would keep them around at all.

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Tried something that was new to me in the food department, and loved it. I saw the recipe in the NYTimes one morning, and had it for lunch that same day. It is an Afghan cold soup, made from a mixture of buttermilk and yogurt to which you add just a few ingredients. We always have kefir around the house, so I used that instead of buttermilk, and since one of the ingredients called for was Persian cucumbers, we had to substitute another variety. (although later I discovered that the “mini” cucumbers sold at City Market were called “Persian” elsewhere.)

But here is the original recipe, in case your interest has been piqued. Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

(I know that a recipe entitled “Afghan cold soup” doesn’t sound attractive to many in the Norwegian-American contingent of Minnesota, my beloved home state. I am talking about the people who have only two seasonings – salt and pepper – in their cupboards and think that Tabasco sauce is something you use to play tricks on others, where you pour it onto their food unobserved and then sit back gleefully to watch them suffer. Some of these folks are developing more venturesome palates these days. At least that is what I hear.)

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One Hour Over Berlin

I have had a continuing fantasy for exactly as long as I have been driving a car. It came into being the first time I confronted a truly bad driver on the road. Someone who either endangered me or just plain p****d me off. I imagined that two 50-caliber machine guns were mounted on my car at bumper level, and that I could fire them with a button near the steering wheel. These were the same sort of armaments found on the P-51 Mustang aircraft in WWII.

By pushing that button I would never hit anyone in the cabin of the offending car in front of me, but the guns would be aimed so that a burst of fire would obliterate a tire and a rear wheel, forcing the vehicle to unceremoniously screech to the side of the road as I passed it nonchalantly. Perhaps I might even wear a leather flight jacket on these missions, with a scarf streaming behind me as I flew down the road. I was pretty sure that guns capable of bringing down a Messerschmitt 109 would have no trouble at all blowing the tire on a Chevvy Camaro to smithereens.

With the passage of time, my fantasy has become more civilized and less violent until nowadays I envision paintball guns mounted in the same place, and a sophisticated video control system that allows pinpoint aiming at whatever I want to mess up. When the offending driver reaches their destination, they discover that some serious clean-up is in order, perhaps even a complete re-painting of the rear of the car. Or I coat the rear window with something in a nice fuchsia to get their attention and make my point.

The theme is still the same, however. Someone has to punish these miscreants, and since one can’t always count on the highway patrol or local gendarmes to be on the scene, that someone might as well be me. It’s garden variety vigilante justice. As American as black powder and apple pie.

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My favorite musical instrument that I don’t play is the guitar.* Whether it’s Andres Segovia playing classical, Eddie Van Halen doing superhuman things in rock and roll, or Johnny Smith cruising along with his jazz quintet … the guitar is what I go there for. So when The New Yorker had an article on a jazz guitarist new to me, I whisked myself off to find recordings he had made. BTW, his name is Julian Lage.

It was well worth the trip. His playing is aimed more for the cerebrum than the hormonal system, I think. The man’s feeling for his instrument is a lovely thing to hear.

*Actually, I play no instrument at all. I have briefly owned several guitars in my lifetime, but always quit the lessons when my fingertips became sore. (What is the opposite of dedication?) I am glad, however, that Mr. Lage persisted in his studies.

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We recently bought some new panniers for our bicycles. They are the sort that are meant for carrying groceries, and I used them last evening for the first time. It went well. Driving the e-bike, I didn’t hesitate to take the four mile roundtrip in 98 degree weather to do the shopping. Hardly raised a sweat (relative humidity was in the single digits).

Each bag will carry the equivalent of what a paper grocery bag would hold, perhaps 20 pounds on each side. They are made by the Banjo Brothers, and this particular model is called the “market pannier.” The reviews were good, the price was not horrible (for bicycle equipment, that is), and they seem quite durable. I’ve put just short of 300 miles on my bike since purchasing it, about half of those were in exercise sessions, and the other half running the sort of errands where panniers come in handy.

All in all, this cycle project is working out better than I thought it might. My usual story is that I come up with an exuberantly positive rationale for a purchase like the e-bikes and associated paraphernalia, a rationale which is quickly forgotten once the item is in the garage and the rosy glow has worn off. For instance, when I discover that there is still work to do when one pedals the things.

But this one may have legs.

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Ahem. I’d like you to know that at the present moment I am playing Beethoven in the back yard. I have decided to try to elevate the musical conversation along the neighborhood’s back fences, and am sending out the strains of the “Pastorale” Symphony for all to hear and to wonder – who in blazes is playing this stuff? They might well be thinking: George, isn’t that the same guy who was playing that damned rock and roll when we were trying to take a nap yesterday? What is the matter with him? Why don’t you take this broom and go next door and smack him a couple of times?

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Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, and I’m not even going to tell you when my ignorance about this topic ended, except that it was last year. Yes, I know that it’s hard to believe but I hadn’t heard of Black Independence Day, the Black National Anthem … or many similar important things, and even though I could blame others for those gaps in my knowledge base (blaming others being my go-to move), for a change I’m not going to do that. It’s a case of mea culpa all over the place, I’m afraid. Whenever Black History Month rolled around each year I skipped past most of those stories that were being told. Stories that I realize now that I needed to hear.

Way too often I was just another clueless white boy living in white boy la la land, untouched. So now I’m playing catch-up, and while I know that time is too short to make up for all that I might have learned and done in the past … you gotta start where you are, non?

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From The New Yorker

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In honor of the day here are six fine songs by a group called Our Native Daughters. Songs that touch on the experience of being black, played and sung by four excellent musicians, including (left to right) Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah.

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Moon Meets the Sun

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You put the shackles on our feet
But we’re dancing
You steal our very tongue
But we’re dancing

Brown girl in the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing us solace
Sing us freedom
Hold us steady
Keep us breathing
We’ll endure this
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

You steal our children
But we’re dancing
You make us hate our very skin
But we’re dancing
We’re your sons
We’re your daughters
But you sell us
Down the river
May the God
That you gave us
Forgive you
Your trespasses
We’re survivors
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

Like the rabbit
We won’t bend to your will
Like the spider
The smallest will still prevail
The stories of our elders
We find comfort in these
We smile to the sky
We move to stay alive
And we’re dancing
You steal our work for your profit
But we’re dancing
You think our home we have forgotten
But we’re dancing

Step into the circle
Step into the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing freedom
Sing freedom
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
We’ll be dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)

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Here’s Rhiannon Giddens telling the story behind one of the songs. The tale and the tune are both harrowing and moving.

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Juneteenth. I don’t think I’ll forget that date now. In case I need a reminder, just this week it has become a federal holiday.

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No one ever inquires of me – how it is to get old? Either they are my age and know all about it already, or they aren’t my age and are afraid that I’m going to bore them with a litany of stuff they have no interest in and certainly don’t want to hear about. I understand. One of the cool things about being the hyperannuated guy in the room is that you’ve played on all those other stages during your life. This does provide some perspective.

The teenager can’t even imagine how it is to be seventy while I can remember clearly how it was to be eighteen. Gives you an edge, if you care to use it. What the geezer lacks in energy and flexibility he often makes up for in craftiness. And crafty can often be enough to win the day. (Now, that rare person who is a crafty eighteen year-old, there’s someone that’s scary and nearly unstoppable).

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End of Mud Season

Spring was declared officially complete for Robin and I as of Sunday. For the first time this year we were able to take our hike on the Oak Flat Loop/Uplands/Rimrock Trail at the Black Canyon National Park, a walk that undulates along the sides of a mesa. Two weeks ago we tried this same route but had to turn back because there was still too much mud and ice on the shady side of the mesa wall. That may be okay when you’re walking on level ground, but there is precious little of that here.

But Sunday everything was cool. On our way we met three twenty-somethings, two women and a man, who had spent the night down on the Gunnison River. Which meant that they had clambered down 1800 feet to the gorge and were now clambering back up. We congratulated them on their achievement and made a big deal about it all because … well, because it is IS a big deal. Strictly for the sturdy, it is.

I believe that I might be able to make it down, but that would be as far as the adventure went. I would need to arrange ahead of time for a lumber drop so that I might build myself some sort of shelter at the bottom of the gorge, because that would be my address from that day forward.

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I will admit to having a streak of misanthropy buried in the affable and perennially charming person that I am. But even those who are more generous in their approach to our species have to admit one thing … there are too many of us. We overwhelm.

One evening in the late sixties, my former wife and I went to a meeting of a newly formed organization called Zero Population Growth. It was dedicated to informing society of the benefits that would accrue if our population numbers didn’t continue to mushroom. Unfortunately, we never attended a second meeting when we learned that the fact that we had four children at the time would put us into a sub-group of one in the organization, and we might be vulnerable to being labeled hypocrites.

I checked this morning, and ZPG is still around, although it has renamed itself Population Connection. The message is still the same. There are too many of us, and life would be better if that could be changed. The next time you read about what food might become in the future for our growing numbers, with all sorts of unappetizing sounding things like bug smoothies and earthworm pancakes, think of this: it wouldn’t be necessary if we bred less and thought more.

If Elon Musk is successful in building his ships to take a select few to colonize Mars as Earth collapses, the new pioneers would have to deal with the knotty subject of human fertility up front, way before anyone gets aboard that first rocket. Because that new world would be lacking in the flexibility that Earth afforded in the “old days.” You build a station on Mars for 1000 people, and that’s what it would have to remain.

Of course, since most of us won’t be asked to join Elon on his new/old planet, we might have to pay more attention to folks like Bill Burr, who has his own ideas about population control.

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Robin and I are watching the limited series “Underground Railroad.”

Some amazingly beautiful cinematography. Confusing at times. Strong performances. Brutal. All in all, it may be what some critics say it is – mandatory viewing for Americans.

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Roosters

Tuesday night we had people over for dinner. Just a simple get-together composed of comfort foods with no attempt at elegance or haute cuisine or anything other than what it was. A conversation with just enough food provided to keep you alive through the end of the evening. If there is anything that the Plague has shown us, it has been that what was most important about nights like these in the pre-viral days was always the connection with other humans, face to face and jabbering away. What a treat these social re-openings are!

The night’s menu included coney islands, cole slaw, a fruit salad, and roasted potatoes. I’ve mentioned this coney sauce before, I think. It is a highly seasoned ground beef mixture that you drape around a hot dog, add a few chopped onions and then squirt some yellow mustard on the whole mess. Unlike a chili dog, there is no tomato anything in this concoction. (Not to diminish the chili dog at all. Those are delicious in their own way, but this coney is a different thing altogether.)

So at the end of it all we counted the evening as a success, although we didn’t allow our guests to vote. We’ve found it better this way. Too many opinions and it all gets confusing.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I have returned to Gold’s Gym in an attempt to maintain something resembling muscle tone, and there are quite a few senior citizens who appear to be there for the same highly focussed reason that I am. They come in with serious faces, go quickly through their routines, then exit the building. We are a nondescript bunch, stepping into the ring with time and losing most of the rounds.

There is another group that is much more fun to watch. These are the guys who finish an exercise and then walk slowly about the room in their sleeveless t-shirts, chests out, nodding when they meet others like themselves, before returning to the machines for more “reps.” It is not as obvious behavior as in the case of the roosters below, but if you listen very carefully … it’s nearly subliminal … the crowing is there.

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Yesterday at the gym I decided that I was glad to be a guy for yet one more reason. Spandex. Or rather, the lack of it in a gentleman’s wardrobe. Although I was supposed to be concentrating on my grunting and straining, I was also watching the others in that space. Nearly all of the people that I could identify as male were wearing floppy clothes. Big shorts down to the knee and loose-fitting t-shirts, for the most part. Nearly all of the females were wearing Spandex either from the waist down or all over.

I marveled at the body confidence that it must take to wear such a material, where passersby could count the freckles on your posterior, if they so chose. Occasionally as I make my way to the shower I inadvertently see my nude self in the mirror and … there is no way that I would trade my formless garments for something more revealing of this lifetime’s worth of acquired defects. As far my own case is concerned, what is visible in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.

There is so much to observe and to think about on a visit to Gold’s Gym. Our human frailties and peculiarities are there for anyone with a quick eye to see. First of all, would we even be there if we were content with who we were? Secondly, the mating behaviors of the younger attendees are also right out in front – usually in a reversal of what is found in other species, where the males are the ones who provide colorful displays to attract attention.

I wear my mask during my workouts for two reasons. One is that there is the tiniest chance that I am still at risk from Covid. The other reason is that I think that my mask is annoying to the yahoos in the building … those who have taken the position that things like masks and vaccines and working toward the greater good are for lesser beings. If I can annoy those folks, even for a moment, it makes me happy. (Of course that is a petty attitude … have I ever claimed to be more?)

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Size Matters

I am very much a fan of folly … human, that is. A really good piece of silliness can make my whole day. This morning I was picking out a couple of eggs to cook for breakfast from a carton labeled “Large Eggs.” I noticed that they were at least 1/3 smaller than those in the last carton I purchased, which were also called “large.”Obviously the eye of the beholder comes into play here, but there is just too much spread … there is way more egg on the one hand than the other.

It doesn’t make so much difference if you’re scrambling up a breakfast, you can simply make an an adjustment based on how hungry you are and how much egg you’ve tossed into the pan. But how about when you have purchased two cartons of eggs from different suppliers to make deviled eggs for a picnic and one set looks like the tiny bastard children of the other?

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And how about olives? Here is one chart dealing with a naming system commonly used in the U.S. It is composed entirely of superlatives! There are no medium or small olives at all, instead we have “fine,” or “bullets,” or “brilliant.”

On the other end, outside of the wacky world of olives, how would you ordinarily rank Jumbo, or Colossal, or Mammoth? Which would you say is biggest?

Size apparently matters greatly in the olive business. So much they created extravagant nomenclature for it.

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Recently an educated and otherwise sensible-seeming woman here in Paradise was overheard to say that she had done her research and had decided not to receive the Covid vaccine. I had to wonder … where could she possibly have done that research? Fox and Friends? Gilligan’s Island reruns? The National Enquirer? This is folly of the most dangerous, unfunny sort. People like her are the reason that we will still be wearing our masks at this time next year. Perhaps in 2023 as well.

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The Oscars have come and gone and this year we didn’t watch the ceremony at all. But one of our favorite films of the year, Nomadland, did well, which gladdens us. There were no car chases, no shots fired, nor any of the blood-spattered excesses of the Tarantinoid variety in this quiet movie about nearly invisible people.

It is a movie that turned the lights and camera toward a part of America that I knew very little about. In a way, it reminded me of an old story that I have told here before, I think. No matter, repeating myself is an everyday thing.

There was a beloved and wise old man who lived in a small village. He was so poor that he had only a single possession, an earthen jar in which he carried water each morning from the village well to his little hut. The townspeople recognized him as a spiritual being, and loved and respected him very much.

One morning, as he was on his way to get water, he tripped on a pebble and fell. The jar flew from his hands and fell to the street, where it shattered. The other villagers were horrified and rushed to console him, but were amazed to see the most radiant smile upon his face.

“At last, I am free,” he said.

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Johannes Was Such A Caution

That little Google illustration yesterday was entitled “celebrating Johannes Gutenberg.” He was the guy who invented the printing press, right? First books and all, right?

Well, wrong. He was the first European to do this. You all probably already knew this stuff, but I didn’t until recently. The Chinese were at printing for quite a while before Johannes got into the act.

No one knows when the first printing press was invented or who invented it, but the oldest known printed text originated in China during the first millennium A.D. The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist book from Dunhuang, China from around 868 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, is said to be the oldest known printed book.

History Channel

That famous Gutenberg Bible didn’t roll off the press until 1452. What Johannes did that was special was to make type out of metal, and to develop inks that would cling to it. Previous types were made of wood or fired clay. So the Chinese beat the pants off everybody else way back then, much like today in that regard. Superficially it seems like so many instances in history where nothing really existed until a white person did it. The truth may be more complicated than this, but … seems like.

Johannes had some problems along the way to making that Bible. One of them was that the Church was basically opposed to it. Putting the Bible in the hands of lay persons didn’t seem to religious officialdom to be a good plan. Such proceedings would allow ordinary persons to make up their own minds about the Bible’s contents, and this was considered to be a very poor idea indeed. The Church was much happier telling people what to think. Kind of like today.

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We’re still involved in doing some limited remodeling here at BaseCamp, while a gentleman rips out the old carpeting from the living room and replaces it with planks that look like wood, but are clever imitations that require almost no maintenance. All of the L.R. furniture is piled up in other rooms, and life is mildly disrupted as a result. For me, it is a pleasure watching a skilled artisan at work. Total concentration, deft hand movements, years of experience being brought to bear at each step. All of those things that are so different when compared with my own haphazard approach to such projects. And completely absent is the application of colorful language that I would bring.

Our cats, who are quite unhappy creatures when their lives are being changed in any way, are letting us know that they are opposed to the project completely. Lots of complaining-style meowing being voiced right now, and threats of “we might just forget where the litterbox is located.” That last one is met with “well, we might just forget where the kibbles are kept,” or “what if that pet door got nailed shut with you on the outside … how would you like that?”

Such bickering, of course, gets nobody anywhere. When both parties are using their nuclear options, thoughtful discussion is the victim. It will look lovely when the installer is done, and once the furniture is replaced, I think serenity and good manners will eventually return to our humble dwelling.

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The George Floyd murder trial goes on. Yesterday the defense lawyers tried to assert that standing on people’s necks was appropriate police procedure. Perhaps if someone knelt on the necks of the defense team for, let’s say, twenty seconds, it might change their perspective.

No one has to compress any of my body parts to let me know that doing this is wrong from the get-go. Turns out that I have a pretty good imagination where suffocation is concerned.

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Human beings have the power of the gods, a fact of which I am periodically being reminded. The only problem is that we don’t always know what words to use to achieve our goals.

For instance, if it hasn’t rained for months, and the vegetation has all turned brown and crispy, you would think that all a god would have to say was something like, well, “RAIN!” But that’s not how it works. What you do have to say is “Okay, we’re going to have an outdoor wedding even though we have no backup plan in case of inclemency.”

Rain is almost 100% assured in instances like this. It’s finding the effective phrase that makes all the difference. Now in a more immediate case, yesterday mid-day it was so beautiful that Robin and I wheeled our bikes out onto the driveway to go for a couple of enjoyable miles. A light breeze played about our faces as we selected our itinerary. “Let’s go all the way to the Black Canyon National Park turn-off!”

We’d gone only two miles when a gale hit, nearly unhorsing us. The 30 mph plus wind that now smote us hip and thigh caused us to turn around immediately and head for home, half-blinded by the dirt and dust being blown into our unprotected faces. Mother Nature was only waiting for our cry to go “all the way” to unleash a bit of her forces.

It’s all in the words. The unfortunate part is that you only learn it by making one mis-decision at a time. To really acquire facility with the language of the immortals takes a lifetime, and this knowledge leaves the planet when you do.

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BTW. The electric bikes that we recently acquired are a gas. It’s like having a tailwind whenever you want one. Robin and I have very different styles when out riding. She tries to use the power as little as possible, getting the maximum aerobic work out of every cycling opportunity. I, on the other hand, punch the power up to legal limits just to see what the machine will do. My thinking on the matter is perfectly simple: why would I have it and not use it?

A hazy sort of plan is forming up that may or may not come to fruition in the Fall. More than a decade ago, Robin and I cycled the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, a beautiful 109 mile trail that runs through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont. We took it slow and stopped to smell every rose along the way.

The idea of doing it once again, but this time on E-bikes, is a very appealing one. Lots of things to think about, but September can be a terrific time to be in the “Hills” no matter what the excuse.

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The Year Of Ernest Hemingway

Last night Robin and I began the three-part Ken Burns series on PBS about Ernest Hemingway. As we watched the first nearly two-hour segment, it triggered an avalanche of memories involving those books and stories.

The year that I turned nine was the year that my parents bought an encyclopedia. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I suspect that a traveling salesman came to the house and caught them at a weak moment. That was a periodic occurrence in our household, where vacuum cleaners, Watkins products, and other ingredients of life were brought to their doorstep by men with good smiles and better sales pitches.

At any rate, one day boxes and boxes of books showed up at La Casa Flom, and it was like Christmas. We gathered round as a family and first unloaded the National Encyclopedia, which I’m pretty sure you never heard of. It was a less expensive alternative to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and published by Colliers. Next to be unpacked was the Book of Knowledge, a series of books much like the “National,” but printed on better paper, and organized to be more interesting to younger readers.

As an inducement to buy these two excellent collections, my parents also received a ten volume set of novels by an author named Kathleen ?????? (can’t recall her last name), a large set of westerns by Zane Grey, and a similar extensive collection of the writings of Ernest Hemingway. It was a literary bonanza, and since I was at an age where I devoured anything in print that I could get my hands on, I started in that very evening.

I quickly tired of Kathleen ??????, and never finished the first novel, which seemed to me to have been written for girls. At nine I was a horrible sexist, and so I set these aside. But Zane Grey was amazing. The characters were brave men and women, the settings all in the Wild West, and the tales involved things like wagon trains, indomitable settlers, and landscapes described in ways to make a boy want to go there immediately – to walk those canyons, climb those mountains, and yes, take the land from those who were already there.

So not only was I a sexist at nine years old, but I had no problems with the Europeans invading and settling lands belonging to the Native Americans. That made me a racist colonialist as well. Quite the little beast, I was.

But it was when I reached the Hemingway books that I became a man. As reader, that is. Now I was in a literary world containing some of the most adult themes I had ever been exposed to, and I swallowed those books entire. Of course I didn’t really understand everything I read, but there was still a story in each that could hold my interest. The real kicker was the short stories, though.

There was a guy named Nick Adams, who lived in a country up north where there was nothing but forests and lakes. Where doctors paddled across lakes to attend deliveries of babies and where trout fishing could begin to heal a lad with PTSD. And there was one story called Up In Michigan. A story which I later learned that no less a personage than Gertrude Stein had pronounced unpublishable.

I read it one day, and at first I didn’t get it, but I knew that there was something about it that was illicit and therefore awfully attractive there. Then I read it again, and this time I got it. It was about s.e.x. What we would today call date-rape, actually. I remember being chilled and frightened by what I had learned about human beings through reading that story. Of course I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, especially my parents. They would have been appalled at where my reading had taken me. My peer group had little interest in discussing Hemingway, so I could expect no help there, either.

No, it was my first exposure to knowledge that I wasn’t ready to process, and had stumbled upon way too soon. The only thing that I could see to do was to get older, and that was what I did.

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From The New Yorker

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This is something called a radio-photograph, and is of a black hole which is out there 55 million light years away. I was interested in black holes until one day when I was listening to PBS that I learned some facts which turned me off completely.

It was when I became aware that if I were ever to approach one of these things, that my body would begin to accelerate to enormous speeds. The problem was that the acceleration would be uneven.

For example, if I were entering the black hole feet first, at some point my feet would be going so much faster than my head that my molecules would come totally apart.

The astronomer who was discussing these awful things right there in broad daylight said not to worry, our vaporization would all be over so quickly we wouldn’t even feel what was going on. I didn’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that if my feet started going faster than the rest of me that I’d notice. And I’d be extremely unhappy about the whole process, to boot.

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Things That Are Better Now

I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.

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Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.

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Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.

Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.

ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.

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Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.

And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.

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From The New Yorker

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Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.

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Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.

Worth every penny.

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Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.

Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.

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Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.

Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.

(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhaps as a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).

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Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?

The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.

I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.

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With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.

I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.

Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.

I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.

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At The Store

Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.

Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.

Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.

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From The New Yorker

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The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.

Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”

The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.

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Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.

But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.

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Wanderers

It’s not all that often that I watch a movie that makes me feel that I am a better person for having viewed it. Of course, that isn’t really true, I am pretty much the same schlemiel today that I was before Robin and I streamed “Nomadland” Tuesday night, but my view of the world is just that much wider, more inclusive … maybe that is some small progress.

It’s a beautiful movie, starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and an interesting bunch of normal people (non-professional actors, that is). McDormand is soooo good, as always. It’s a small thing, but if there were an Olympic event called “smiling,” I believe that she would take home the gold every year.

The film is available on Hulu.

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There is presently a small dustup in the world, one that can’t really compete with the big ones that rage all around us 24/7, but it’s interesting. A half-dozen of Dr. Seuss’ books are being quietly un-promoted, because they contain images that could, without too much imagination being required, be interpreted as racist.

There seems little doubt that Theodor Geisel (Seuss’ real name) harbored racist thoughts back in the early 1940s, and there is also quite a bit of evidence that he rejected those thoughts and writings later in life. This almost surgical excision of a part of his catalogue seems to recognize that even flawed people can produce worthwhile things, and throwing away everything that he’d written for those old errors would be a loss to us all. It also gives one hope that the belief in the possibility of redemption hasn’t gone away altogether.

We’re living in a time when figurative dunk tanks, burnings, and witch-hunts on social media are all over the place. Make a mistake sometime twenty years ago … fageddaboudit, you’re toast. This is not o.k. When there is only a single space between effusive acceptance and outraged rejection it is a hazardous time for those in the spotlights of the world.

It makes me so very glad that I am unimportant. No one is going through those old steamer trunks where my life’s words and actions are stored, looking for something to be furious about.

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Writing the above reminded me of a scene from a movie that I saw as a child, when my grandfather Nels took me to the Time Theater in Kenyon, MN.

The film was Stars In My Crown. The main character was a small town minister in the Old West, whose congregation included the owner of a saloon. When one of his congregation’s elite confronted the preacher about accepting contributions from the saloonkeeper … it was the Devil’s money, said the concerned member.

“Yes, it is,” admitted the minister, “but just think of all God’s work that I am going to do with it.”

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One of the most reliable signs of Spring has always been the aroma of tens of thousands of pieces of dog poop that have been deposited around the town during the previous winter, thawing all at once. It’s unmistakable, the day when that happens. No matter how blue the sky or how warm the gentle breeze might be, the cloud of scent can be overwhelming, often driving one back indoors.

But we’ve kind of lost it, that day. And the culprit is the people who insist that dog owners carry those little plastic bags with them and pick up every single dropping within seconds of its being dropped. It is estimated that in Colorado, if it were not for people picking up after their beloved canines, the entire state would be covered in pup-doo to a depth of six inches within a single year. Such is the pervasiveness of dog ownership here in Paradise.

So one more piece of my life’s acquired knowledge has become useless to me, and I must consult calendars just like everybody else, to know when Spring has finally arrived. Bah.

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Playing In The Freezer

When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.

Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.

When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.

But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.

The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.

Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.

If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.

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Cabin # 15 Review

The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:

You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.

Guest Notebook

There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.

We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.

Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.

To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.

The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.

I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.

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We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.

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Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.

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Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.

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Flight of Ideas

We are all chattering like actors in Waiting For Godot here in Paradise. Put any two people within earshot of one another and the conversation turns inexorably to Spring. Is it imminent? How close? If a tree foolishly begins to bud in February (like the big maple across the way) is it a stupid tree? Is it showing off and heading for a fall?

If it weren’t such a serious moment in time, it would be more fun watching and listening to my age-contemporaries try to make sense of the planet’s odd weather and climatic happenings, using their life experiences as a guide. I hear phrases all the time like:

  • Did you ever …?
  • Have you ever … ?
  • This is the first time …
  • I can’t make sense of it …
  • When I was a (girl) boy …
  • WTF?

It turns out that when climate change steps in, much of our personal meteorological lore becomes a lot less valuable. Yardsticks have to be continually reset as one after another of those “hundred year events” roars past us.

What yours truly has noted, without ascribing any meaning at all to the observations, is that I no longer look for the peonies to be in full bloom on Memorial Day. In fact, that notable moment keeps inching each year toward April Fool’s Day. While I admit that it still has a ways to go, the direction is pretty clear.

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Here’s an observation about how serious we are as a species about one of the larger issues of our time. The one-percenters are rushing to showrooms to purchase electric vehicles that bear increasingly bigger price tags. And bigger engines. Electric cars of nearly 2000 horsepower are in production that can go from zero to sixty mph in less than two seconds. The planet’s need for cars like these is so obvious that I even hate to bring it up.

But they are zero emission vehicles, correct? Not totally. Not if you live in a country where fossil fuels are still big players in the production of electricity. There are lots of emissions involved in building those cars and in making the batteries for them, and also in producing what comes out of all those shiny new charging stations.

Lotus Evija

A scenario popped into my mind. A geronto-adolescent daydream. Somehow I acquire a couple of million dollars that I really have no special need for and I take myself down to a Lotus dealer and buy one of their 1973 horsepower Evija cars. I drive the vehicle very carefully to a deserted chunk of highway somewhere in rural America and pause the automobile. I look both ways for other cars and for people of the law enforcement persuasion, tighten my seat belt, and then tromp down fully on the accelerator, propelling myself way past my capabilities as an operator and into the nearest boulder, where I produce a mixed carbon-fiber and hemoglobin smear on the rock to mark my passage into eternity.

If that should ever happen, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I will not deserve it.

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The Thursday morning AA meeting at the Anglican church has become really interesting. Four years ago it was a larger group, with average attendance of perhaps 16-20 members. But in this pandemic year it really shrunk, to only four regular members. Other meetings in town have remained unchanged in number, but many of them are seriously flawed in that they ignore Covid precautions.

On our Thursday mornings one is required to be masked and to keep proper distancing in mind. Only four of the original group accepted these restrictions and continued to attend. Two men, two women, all seniors. None of us new to AA. Each week we dutifully follow the prescriptions and proscriptions as to how an AA meeting is to be conducted. Very gradually we have become more comfortable with one another, and new levels of trust have appeared.

It seems that we have done away with many of our pretenses, our usual shape-shifting, and we take part in a leaner and meaner dialog. Cutting to the chase, so to speak. All of this makes the sessions more valuable, at least they do to me.

And it’s not just learning about the others, but about oneself as well. Have you ever had the experience of telling one of your own stories when suddenly a bulb flashes and you your tale in a completely new and different light? An auto-epiphany, if you will. Fascinating when that happens.

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Robin and I are off later this morning for a day’s XC skiing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is good up there (six feet deep), the sun will be shining, and we are rendezvousing with Allyson and Kyle for some pretty safe and much needed socializing. We’ll stay the night in a cabin and come back on Sunday afternoon.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with. Tie them around your waist? Hang them on bushes and come back for them later? Donate them to passersby? It’s a good problem to have, actually, in a winter activity.

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Nincompoopery

Robin and I went to the Friendship Hall on Wednesday morning to get our second dose of Covid vaccine. Everybody there was getting their second dose as well, and our age group was well represented. In fact, there was no one there who was not eligible for Social Security, and I suspect there were a few attendees who were actually present when the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.

So, this was a seasoned bunch, not generally given to much drama. No one jumped the line, no one indulged in Karen-istic behavior, everyone seemed grateful to be this much closer to being protected against you-know-what. In addition, there was not a single “Owee” uttered all during the time we were in the room. Those of us who were to be of The Greatest Generation tried to behave at least as well as those who were.

I have heard of seniors who have decided not to get the vaccine. To me this is almost unbelievably foolish, but since Covid is no respecter of nincompoopery, it’s all but certain that a year down the road there will be significantly fewer of them around than there are now.

Sadly, since they are well past their breeding years, these turbid-thinking persons will not be eligible for the Darwin Awards.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool through dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions.

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve been lucky here in Colorado to have a sensible man for governor, Jared Polis. From the beginning of the pandemic he has steadfastly followed the advice of knowledgeable people and helped us to avoid stepping in the stream of claptrap issuing from the White House. Each week he is on public radio for an hour bringing residents up to date on Covid and other matters. His style is not showy or self-aggrandizing, but informative.

Of course we have our non-masked brigades here in Paradise just like everywhere else, but we have been presented with rational choices if we cared to make them ours. Like I said, lucky.

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A couple of years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Murdoch’s, our local farm and home store, and found myself holding a pair of button-fly Levi’s 501’s. I was replacing them on the rack when I had the thought “Why not buy them? It’ll be fun. A direct line back into Levi’s history before those foppish zippers came along and replaced good, honest buttons.”

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Such was my internal conversation. And that misbegotten idea of getting back to those good ol’ nineteenth century days won out. I am, at heart, a romantic. It does not always work for me.

Ever since then, including yesterday, I have cursed them. It turns out that there was a very good reason that zippers took over way back in the day. They are quick and easy to use. Whenever nature called, it was a case of zip down-zip up and that was that. But with this older-fashioned item of clothing, it was now a matter of button-button-button-button-button down and then button-button-button-button-button up. Every day that I wore them, several minutes of my life flew away from me and were lost forever just unfastening and fastening the things.

So if I feel this way, why haven’t I simply washed them up and donated them to Goodwill or some such agency? This gets us to another of my characteristics. While it is undeniably true that I tend to romanticize things, it is also true that I am almost unbearably cheap. Like the character Joshua Deets in the movie Lonesome Dove, I am “not quick to give up on a garment.”

I do feel a little sorry for the the jeans. They are doomed to be worn by a man who doesn’t appreciate them until they completely fall apart. And I will always begrudge them their existence … they are so sturdy that it is entirely possible that I will be buried in them. Is that irony? I am never sure.

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Year of the Zoom

I wasn’t planning on posting today, but when I ran across this Doonesbury strip in our local paper I couldn’t pass it up. It so encapsulates the recurring mini-dramas of our (yours and mine) first Year of the Zoom.

It’s because we are (most of us) amateurs in this new common endeavor, and I find all of the errors both frustrating at the time and endearing in the aggregate.

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Okay, since you asked, one more.

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Lord, what fools these mortals be.

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Up To Our Ears In Those Accursed Interesting Times

Tuesday was a day of light snowfalls. Stop … start … stop … start … all day long. It made our mid-day walk special, with those big near-weightless flakes caught up in the rabbitbrush and sagebrush along the way. And the colder air had a snap to it we hadn’t seen much of so far this season. The snow did make it harder to find safe footing, though, covering completely those little patches of ice on the path that were each one of them small threats to a pain-free life. A minefield of sorts for the more fragile of our citizens.

There were very few people in the park that day, and except for Robin and me, each person was connected to at least one dog. Coloradans hate being outdoors without a canine companion. One such person had a pitbull on a leash whose face was awfully fierce-looking, and he pulled the dog several yards off the trail as we passed him. He must have noticed the worried faces of others before us who upon seeing the animal noticed how much of themselves was within easy reach of those teeth.

Whenever I look into a doggy face like that I think back to the movie Stand By Me, and the scene with the junkyard dog, Chopper. The reality is not always as nasty as the mythology would suggest.

The truth is, I have never been bitten by a large dog, while my ankles bear the memory of multiple attacks by the sort of fluffy small creatures where you can’t tell which end is which. Dogs of the dust-mop variety.

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Robin and I watched a movie the other night, White Tiger, that was disturbing in many ways. It was a film made in India that dealt with class dynamics involving servants and masters in that country. I won’t go into the plot more than that, as I have no wish to insert spoilers. But on two occasions the main character made the point that the era of the white man was over, and the era of the brown and yellow man was upon us and would soon make Europeans irrelevant.

Caucasians have held sway in so much of the world for so long … when I think about pushing for an end to all the forms of racism, in my own mind the new society that would come from that is always a more benign one, with everyone truly on an equal footing. A brave new world of mutual respect, a band of brothers and sisters once and for all. Waaaayyy too many expectations, I know.

It is possible, though, that we could shoot right past that to a new reality where we simply trade colors, but keep the engines of oppressor and oppressed intact, but now with whites on the bottom. That would be a bad thing for all concerned. No one ultimately ‘wins’ in a master/slave relationship. It poisons the souls on both sides.

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One of the ways Mr. Biden cannot please all. At present there are not enough doses of Covid vaccine to treat all Americans that want one. People are complaining: Get us our shots! The lackluster distribution network that he inherited is trying to come up to speed, with spotty success.

At the same time those who take a broader look see that the wealthier nations are buying up the available vaccine supplies at a rate that would make it difficult for poorer nations to find any even if money was not an issue. Money, of course, is an issue. So the cry goes up that once again the poor suffer while the rich nations have the best seat at the table. Ethics and morality and a pandemic and politics and production limitations … what a fervent stew this is! No matter which way Biden looks there’s someone with an angry face and a brick in their hand.

Beyond this set of facts is that world economies, including our own, are tottering along on a duct-taped crutch and looking for at least a sturdy walker to steady themselves. If those economies should fail, who suffers most? The poor nations again.

Perhaps one spin would be that it’s like the situation in an airplane cabin where when the oxygen masks drop down, we are told to put the mask on our own faces first so that we are then capable of helping others. I freely admit that I don’t know the answer. But no worries, friends, because I’m not the president. (If I were to wake up tomorrow and find through some horrible mischance that I was, I would resign before my feet hit the bedroom floor.)

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Have you watched the series Peaky Blinders, on Netflix? We’ve finished the available five seasons, and await release of what promises to be the last one. We found that it drew us in very early on. Basically it’s a gangster story, but it is told so very well and photographed soooo beautifully. The ratings posted before each episode warn us that we might see nudity, gore, and smoking. As things move along we see a little of the first item, a good deal of the second, and the only way we could see more smoking was if the characters put cigarettes in their mouths, noses, and ears all at the same time. It was apparently a tobacconist’s paradise in Birmingham of the 1920s.

And, finally, Peaky Blinders just looks amazing. Beautiful production design can only carry something so far if the storytelling and filmmaking lag, but any lulls in the course of Peaky Blinders are more than accounted for by just getting to look at how wonderfully the series has resurrected Birmingham in the 1920s. Images like a woman walking away from the camera, snow drifting around her, or Tommy riding cockily through town atop his horse give the series a slightly ethereal feeling that makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a particularly involving dream. It’s hypnotic.

Vox.com

Although the Reilly family are criminals, and might have been no matter what their prior history was, there is a strong thread running through the series about what serving in World War I did to the men. A very believable and powerful thread.

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You know, I wasn’t going to put in this photo from the New York Times “Styles” section this week. But then I thought … what the hell?

I sometimes make fun of the pretentiousness of the world of fashion, and the often outlandish creations that make the news. But this look … I could really get behind this one. And I think that I could carry it off really well.

It’s basically a red-orange hoodie that doesn’t know when to quit, isn’t it? It might be a one size fits all sort of garment, it’s hard to tell exactly. And there would be no worries about inseam lengths here because there isn’t one. Also, the quilted material would be great for packing around furniture on your next transcontinental move.

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I don’t think I would keep the huge lapel rose, though. It’s a bit over the top for me. But the hat! It’s a direct throwback to headgear of The Flying Nun, from 1960s television.

Makes me feel guilty for all the bad things I’ve said and thought about the fashion industry in the past. These are serious people.

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Take That, Pandemovirus!

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

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

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

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

Remember, all for free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

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The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

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The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

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Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

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I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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