Pardon My Dribble

On Saturday afternoons, I am finding out, there are often scheduled basketball tourneys for middle school players in the field house section of the recreation center. If I am unwise enough to choose one of those afternoons as the time for my exercise session, I need to wade through a great number of newly formed adolescents to get to the places I need to be.

Sometimes I take a moment to watch and I am pleasantly surprised by the ball-handling skills these younger players already have developed. Dribbling behind the back, through the legs, blind passes … these were rarities when I went to high school, and none of the players on the Sibley Warriors (my HS team) did any of that stuff. In fact, among the eight teams in our conference there was really only one player who did.

His name was Dale and he played guard for South Saint Paul High School. His dribbling and passing were way beyond anything the rest of the players could aspire to. In fact his passes were so sharp and quick that often a teammate found himself quite unexpectedly in possession of the ball as if by magic, and then had to decide what to do with the gift he’d received.

Now Dale might have been one heck of a basketball player, but he was not an honor student. He was also not an honor citizen. Dale was twenty years old and this was his senior year. Rumors had it that he used (gasp) more than one variety of what we now call recreational chemicals, that he’d crossed a few lines when it came to private property ownership, and that a major reason for his advanced age in high school were the months spent in juvenile correctional facilities.

But rumors aside, when he came down the court he did so with a cool nonchalance that said it all – that he knew this was only a game and about as unimportant as anything could be in the scheme of things and that nothing in his future depended on what happened tonight but By Damn he loved basketball and he was the best man on the court and we were all invited to watch and see how the game could be played.

Dale did not suit up every time that South St. Paul came to play us. His particular personality brought him into fairly frequent conflict with coaches and school authorities. Suspensions and expulsions were all a part of everyday life for him. But I loved to watch him when I could, even though in the zero-sum game that was high-school sports – when everything went well for Dale it meant that my Warriors lost.

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From The New Yorker

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In the wintertime … especially at night … when those big snowflakes are falling … if I wanted to fantasize it would be that I am this guy. Dr. Yuri Zhivago.

And the fantasy would always be the same – face wreathed in a cloud of one’s own breath, gloves cut off so that fingertips are exposed, wolves howling outside the completely frosted-over windows … sitting in an icy room and scribbling away about Lara or Tonya or the war … so many topics to fire the imagination of a freezing poet.

Ahhh, that’s the life my alter ego, the doomed romantic artist, might live. Holed up in an abandoned and ice-festooned dacha, burning the furniture in vain attempts to stay warm, hiding from the many warring parties in the Russian Revolution, scrabbling for what was left of last year’s harvest (tonight we’re having carrots and potatoes, and for variety tomorrow’s supper will be potatoes and carrots). Trying to figure out why it is that although I have a lover in each of two adjoining villages, I can’t seem to make either one of them happy.

We own a copy of the movie Dr. Zhivago, and every few years will sit down and watch it over again. It’s a thing of beauty. A great cast, grand cinematography, beautiful musical soundtrack, and a story told against the background of one of modern civilization’s truly convulsive heaves. What’s not to like?

Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago

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From The New Yorker

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The year that Robin and I moved to Paradise there was a local scandal that erupted (I hasten to add that it had nothing to do with us). One of the two funeral parlors in Montrose had been indulging in some hanky-panky involving sale of body parts and careless handling of the clients’ remains. To the point where if you received an urnful of ashes from their crematorium, they might very well be a strangers’ remains. In fact, they might not be human ashes at all, but plaster dust.

For whatever reason, this situation has still not been resolved in the courts. Every few months there will be yet another piece in our local paper showing some dejected-looking citizen holding an urn whose contents are being disputed. Families all across the Western Slope are still looking for that unicorn of emotional health … closure.

Now there are some spoilsports and ne’er-do-wells who point to this seeming impasse as a perfect example of why we should really give up the notion of looking to the justice system for justice. If it can take more than seven years to decide whether a crime has been committed and who did it in the case of Where Are Grandpa’s Ashes, Anyway, what hope is there for the rest of the mess?

Prosecutors often don’t even pursue the death penalty against the rich — think O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, and John du Pont (of the chemical du Ponts). You needn’t hire a Johnnie Cochran or a Clarence Darrow to get the treatment. An analysis of Georgia cases showed that prosecutors were almost twice as likely to ask for the death penalty when the defendant couldn’t afford a lawyer. Nationwide an estimated 90-plus percent of those arrested for capital crimes are too poor to retain experienced private counsel. In Kentucky, a quarter of death row inmates were defended by lawyers who were later disbarred (or resigned to avoid disbarment); other states are similar. A few states have offices dedicated to providing a proper defense for capital defendants, but a Texas jurist summed up the attitude elsewhere: “The Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake.” 

Cecil Adams, The June 30, 2006.

When the doors of a courthouse clang together behind you after you’ve entered, you find that you are a hapless player in a game where all of the rules are made up by the attorneys themselves in a system so obtuse and convoluted that only they can find their way in it. This has led to a rich trove of jokes and puns describing the relationships of ordinary humans to members of the legal profession. I will reproduce three of them here. The first one fits our problem of the funeral home awfully well. The other two are … well … delicious.

What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer might let a case drag on for several years. A good lawyer knows how to make it last even longer.

An attorney was working late one night in his office when, suddenly, Satan appeared before him. The Devil made him an offer. “I will make it so you win every case that you try for the rest of your life. Your clients will worship you, your colleagues will be in awe, and you will make enormous amounts of money. But, in return, you must give me your soul, your wife’s soul, the souls of your children, your parents, grandparents, and those of all of your friends.” The lawyer thought about it for a moment, then asked, “But what’s the catch?”

What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

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The music of Warren Zevon popped into my head as my earworm this morning, music which is always welcome no matter what the circumstances.

His live album Stand In The Fire (which still absolutely slams) was in constant rotation back when I was saving up tuition money for my admission to AA University. Zevon was a smart songwriter in a sometimes crude industry and one of his biggest fans was another smart man, David Letterman.

When he was near the end of his life, a victim of mesothelioma, he made his last appearance on Letterman’s show.

On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness.

Warren had been a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since  Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.”He also thanked Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”.

For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”

The day after Zevon’s death, Letterman paid tribute to him by replaying his performance of “Mutineer” from his last appearance. The Late Show band played Zevon’s songs throughout the night.

Warren Zevon, Wikipedia

So in deference to today’s ear worm, I will share with you two of my personal favorites. Lawyers, Guns, and Money is from the live album I mentioned a moment ago, and Keep Me In Your Heart is from his last album, The Wind. It’s a lovely goodbye.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Keep Me In Your Heart

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Several years back I put together a stream of photos with a soundtrack. Many of you have seen it. But over time and after posting back and forth with the old YouTube algorithms, the quality had deteriorated badly. So here is a new version of the same video, with a few added slides. If you think you recognize anyone in the video, it’s your imagination. These are all paid actors.

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Have You Seen My Castanets?

A good friend stopped by the other day and as we were sharing opinions about the weather I realized that the two of us were clearly not of one mind on the subject. She was bemoaning the fact that we have had very little snow so far this year, and that the days had been too warm for what snow did fall to last long enough to be enjoyed. As for myself, I was glad that this winter has been a mild one, with few of winter’s inconveniences.

For most of my life I lived in parts of the US where dealing with the harsher aspects of winter was just a part of the deal. Minnesota was my training ground for thirty years, with enough nasty temperatures and precipitation to make the sport of ice skating in cars a regular happening from December through March.

We did all sorts of things to keep the insides of our car motors warm enough to permit starting in the morning – plugging in heaters of various sorts to keep the engine oil or the radiator coolant warm. In the bitterest weather I recall carrying a spray can of ether for use when and if the carburetor “iced up” while I was driving to work or school. The scenario then was to pop the hood, take off the air cleaner, and spray this explosive material into the yawning mouth of the carb and then try to restart the vehicle. I should add that this playlet was often enacted in the middle of intersections and other highly inconvenient locations.

The high point with regard to snow was during my six years living in the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During that period the area set its local record for snowfall … 360 inches. What this translates into is that by the month of February the following had happened:

  • The snow surrounded our one-story house to a depth where when you looked out any of the windows, it was all you saw.
  • Leaving home through the front door you walked through a narrow snow canyon that you had created, to get to the driveway
  • The roof had to be shoveled off regularly so that the outside would not one day fall through to the inside of our home. By February, in the rear of the house, when you did that shoveling you were standing on the roof and throwing the snow UP onto a pile that was now taller than the building
  • The city and country would plow the streets and local highways only once a day, and that was early in the morning. After that, you were on your own until the next day, no matter how much snow had fallen. This meant that while you might get to work fairly easily, getting back home was another matter. This led to the purchase of my first four-wheel drive vehicle, which was a Jeep Wagoneer. I remember the salesman’s comment just before I drove that beast away from the dealership: “Now you can get stuck in places you couldn’t even get to before.”

Here is an Upper Peninsula gallery, just to see what I might be talking about.

Perhaps one high/low point of winter nastiness arrived one day when Robin and I were driving in southern Minnesota when the air temperature was well below zero. Something occurred that frigid day that I would have believed impossible until that morning – it rained. The rain, of course turned to ice the moment it hit the car, and the window defrosters could not keep up with the icing while you were driving. So every few hundred yards or so you and every other driver on that road would pull over to the side and sit there until the ice melted from the windshield. Then you would get back on the highway which was now one big hockey rink and try to proceed slowly in a straight line until finally you couldn’t see any more, whereupon you would pull over and repeat the ritual. This went on for perhaps an hour and a half.

So when my friend was wishing for a more vigorous winter I nodded in agreement. I get it. But for me the charm of living here in Paradise is that while the snow is typically scanty in the valley, within twenty minutes I can drive to where it is plentiful. I can have my snowcake without having to eat it every day.

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From The New Yorker

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On some of my trips to the recreation center I have the opportunity to observe people playing something called pickleball. Nearly all of the players are elderly, some are past the point where swift movement is a possibility … and yet they can all play and seem to be enjoying it.

I admit that when I first heard the name of the game, it sounded way too stupid for someone as cool as I am. But watching these people I find myself thinking that I might just give it a try. If you don’t know what it is, the game is like the offspring of a ping-pong father and a badminton mother. The paddles are similar to those used in table tennis and what you hit is a clone of a wiffle ball, so you don’t have to chase it very far if you miss a return.

It seems a simple enough game that a person with my athletic talents has a chance of succeeding (at a low level), all you need being a paddle, a ball, and a net. As usual, this being America and all, an industry has spring up to sell us stuff beyond the necessaries. The photograph below was provided by a company that sells attire deemed suitable for female players.

I hasten to add that none of these twenty-somethings are to be found on the courts at our recreation center. There is not a single varicose vein in this photograph. Our local afficionados, male and female, tend toward a more seasoned variety of beautiful.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are mining the past for some of our TV watching this winter. As a pilot project we have taken up NYPD Blue. As a cop show it is as good as we remembered, and a couple of levels above many of the present-day similar series. I do recall that one of its controversial hallmarks when it ran back in the years 1993-2005 was some freeness with nudity, and so we have had the chance to see the backs and butts of many of the principal players already. These are of varying degrees of comeliness, just like in real life.

The show is set in one of the non-glittering areas of New York City, and each episode has several story lines running simultaneously. All in all it’s a good watch, with a broad slice of human behavior on display.

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An oversimplified but reasonably accurate summary of my political feelings at this moment in time.

Synonyms for disgusting

abhorrent, abominable, appalling, awful, distasteful, dreadful, nauseous, evil, foul, fulsome, gross, hideous, horrendous, horrid, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, noxious, obscene, odious, offensive, rancid, repellant, republican party leadership,repugnant, revolting, scandalous, shocking, sickening, ugly

Synonyms for feckless

abortive, bootless, counterproductive, democratic party leadership, fruitless, futile, ineffective, unproductive, unsuccessful, pointless, unavailing, plotless

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Right In Front Of Me

It isn’t every day that I feel completely stupid. Oh, 45% stupid is pretty common, that would fit a whole lot of days, but 100%? And it all started a week ago, when I was trying to dig out the last bit of peanut butter from a jar that I had taken from the refrigerator. The PB was the consistency of sun-dried adobe, and I was having my difficulties.

I would say that 99% of the PB that I ingest is done at breakfast, on toast. A time of day when I am only partially conscious and really not ready for serious confrontations. But that last spoonful would not come out of the jar. So I put the container in the microwave and hit “Start”and within a fraction of a second the teeny-tiny bit of metal that must have been on the teeny-tiny bit of the seal which remained atop the jar’s rim began acting like the Fourth of July and throwing off quite a fireworks display.

It was all too much for me, so at that point I changed my mind and dished up some cereal. As I crunched away, my mind would not let the incident go. Finally I retrieved the PB jar from the trash and studied it for several minutes. The answer that has changed my life was right there. Nowhere on the label, not once, did it say that it “Must be refrigerated when opened.”

All those years … all that torn and disfigured toast … all that completely unnecessary cursing on mornings like this one. Robin found me with my head face down on the table, blubbering away. Worried that I might drown in my own tears, she gently turned my head to the side. At first she couldn’t make out what I was saying, but finally it came through clearly as:

(Melodrama and I are old buddies. Old and very fond of one another.)

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Robin and I have been wearing these lapel/hat pins for a while now, and several people have asked where they could get one for themselves. The answer is at wokeface.com. They cost ten bucks each, and “100% of proceeds are donated to the national Black Lives Matter and local social justice and Black-led organizations.”

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Bicycles are blossoming all over Paradise as the weather warms. The hardiest cyclists never put their bikes away at all, but continued to pedal their often fat-tired machines around town throughout the winter. What holds me back from seriously considering cold-weather cycling are those freezing breezes wafting past my unprotected nether regions and up under my jacket.

My unscientific impression is that there are more people mounted on bikes this Spring than ever before. All the way from kids who pedal down to the river to fish, to seniors on bikes of every description, including electric trikes (very useful if you dislike tipping over onto the pavement). Of course there is the Spandex Army that believes the walking/biking path along the river belongs to them alone and who cruise along at 20+ mph without much regard for others. Usually they don’t even signal their approach, but we strollers must depend on the eyes in the back of our heads to avoid having bike-tire tracks all over the back of our nice clean jackets.

As they pass by I frequently indulge a fantasy where I pull out a blowgun and hit them with a dart or two. Not to kill, mind you, but my missiles are coated with a compound that causes temporary loss of bowel control, and which becomes active within thirty seconds of exposure.

There is a newer type of vehicle that is found on the path this year in large numbers, and that is the electric skateboard. They look like they would be a gas to ride if they had come along when I still had a sense of balance. I am not tempted to ask if I could try one out at the present moment, since I have clear visions of being pitched screaming into the shrubbery should I make the attempt.

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I am becoming this guy. Yesterday I had to toss out a pair of sneakers that were only two years old and had many miles left on them but … my feet had grown too big for them in those two years and my toes were being treated harshly.

Oh, I could go on about the sense of humor that Mother Nature has, where she shrinks the body while the feet grow apace, but I will not waste your time here. Except to say that when I was a stripling (ahhh, those lovely stripling years) I wore size 10 shoes. Yesterday the new ones that I purchased were size 12.

WHAT IN THE EVERLOVIN’ WORLD IS FAIR ABOUT THIS, I ASK YOU! SHEEESH … ENOUGH ALREADY!

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Since Robin was to be engaged in not one, but two Zoomed book club meetings on Wednesday evening, I had made tentative plans to haul myself down to the river and attempt fish-catching. But as we nibbled on our supper, I glanced out the window and saw the Buddhist prayer flags standing straight out and fluttering madly toward the West.

Now when this occurs, and mind you I am still relatively new to the sport of fishing with flies, I have found that casting my lure becomes more than awkward. Perhaps it is my technique but the fly simply does not obey me when the wind blows at more than 20 mph. I can manage my wrist and forearm movements perfectly but instead of settling on the river the fly suddenly appears in the skin between my nose and eye with the point of the hook looking to embed itself in my brain. So I abandoned that plan and took up watching television for the evening, an activity which is wind-independent.

When viewing on my own, I typically will choose something without any redeeming qualities at all. The television equivalent of those mindless books you buy in an airport to take your mind off the fact that airplanes are simply not meant to fly and that the rivets on the one you are scheduled to board are very likely falling off even as you relax in the waiting area.

So I watched a pair of episodes of The Serpent. Apparently back in the seventies I missed the news stories about a French-speaking couple who were making a career out of murdering backpacking hippies in Thailand and pocketing their valuables. Because I never heard of these people. In this series they were very attractive looking psychopaths, though, and you could understand that if the real pair resembled the actors in this program that their victims might have willingly gone astray.

The series turns on the fact that a dweeby fellow at the Dutch Embassy catches onto the fact that a few citizens of the Netherlands have come to untimely and horrible ends while visiting Bangkok, and decides to investigate. Of course he receives little support – his superiors think he’s barmy, the local police think he’s a pain in the posterior, and even his girlfriend wants to push him into the lily pond now and again. But the man is obsessed.

So the deal is – how many more young and trusting travelers will perish at the hands of The Serpent, and will the Dutchman ever catch up with them?

I’ll never know.

Because even I have standards as to how I will squander the handful of remaining hours I have on earth, although they are very low standards indeed. Is it enough to say that The Serpent does not meet them.

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Spring Beginning To Spring

Holy Cow, Batman, it was 65 degrees outside on Sunday. Robin and I went down to the river for our walk and there were people all over the place, acting as if they had as much right to be there as we did. Two small girls whizzed past us on electrified Razor scooters. These were not silent devices, sounding much as a hiveful of metal bees would buzzing inside a tin pail, which was a good thing since the girls’ control of the scooters was marginal and the noise at least gave one a chance to get out of the way.

Right in the middle of the park, surrounded by hundreds of unquiet folk, was a lone fly fisherman. He looked very serious about the whole thing, even though with all the clamor and movement above the water there was only a nano-chance that any trout would bother his fly at all. Any fish with half a brain would be hiding behind rocks and in watery crevices until we all left the area.

There was a small group of women on the softball diamond just tossing the ball around and hitting fungoes. They left and were immediately replaced by a dozen children going slightly nuts with all that room to maneuver in. There is something about an empty first base line that inspires people of all ages to run amok.

We found that over the winter a chunk of our hiking path along the riverside bluff had simply fallen away. Perhaps fifteen feet of the path along the edge of the cliff no longer existed. Had we been walking on it when it fell off, we would likely not have perished, but would have come to a stop a hundred feet down with more scratches and bruises than a person could ever want. The good news is that we were nowhere near the place when it happened.

Remember this aphorism, even if it doesn’t apply to you today: When you are a senior citizen you bruise faster and heal slower. Keeping this in mind will prevent scores of grunts and moans in the future.

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An article in The New Yorker caught my eye this morning. It was discussing the possibility of a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after the CCC of the Great Depression era. I think it sounds like a great idea, and this time it would not be just for men, but for women as well.

The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior, according to a paragraph buried in Joe Biden’s long executive order on climate change, had been directed to make plans for a Civilian Climate Corps, modelled on the Civilian Conservation Corps—the C.C.C.—of the nineteen-thirties. It would put underemployed Americans to work on projects intended “to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

The New Yorker, March 2021.

One of the reasons that the Republicans of another time hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal so much is that it was an example of big government that worked, and there were several great ideas that came out of this administration. One of them was the CCC.

The C.C.C. left a legacy of trees, trails, shelters, footbridges, picnic areas, and campgrounds in local, state, and national parks across the country. It had equally notable effects on the health and outlook of the men who served. Most were undernourished as well as unemployed when they signed up. They came home with muscles, tans, and, according to a letter sent to corps headquarters, in Washington, by a resident of Romeo, Colorado, an “erect carriage” that made them easy to pick out from the rest of the young male population.

The New Yorker, March 2021.

So when it comes time to sign up, I plan on being at the head of the line. That is, unless there is some sort of age-ist agenda in the proposals. While it is true that I can no longer shovel with the speed of a twenty year-old, once I have scooped up my ten pounds of dirt I am much smarter about where to put it. (An untested hypothesis, I admit)

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know exactly when I began to harbor racist thoughts, but it was some time after I was nine years old. Because recently I was reminiscing about my ninth summer, when I would try to emulate my baseball heroes, and three of those heroes were Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Don Newcombe. I even had comic books starring those guys.

FILE – In this Aug. 2, 1942, file photo, Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warms up at New York’s Yankee Stadium before a Negro League game between the Monarchs and the New York Cuban Stars. Major League Baseball has reclassified the Negro Leagues as a major league and will count the statistics and records of its 3,400 players as part of its history. The league said Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” by elevating the Negro Leagues on the centennial of its founding. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman, File)

Of course I knew that they were black men, since I was not blind, but I didn’t care. The only important thing was that they played baseball and they were pros. Nothing else mattered. The racist societal poisons hadn’t filtered down to me as yet, to interfere with my dream of being able to grow up to pitch like Satchel Paige.

[BTW, I never did get that far. It turned out that I had an arm like a rubber noodle, my time running to first base was several seconds longer than it needed to be, and my best hits were generally foul balls. I also stayed resolutely white. One more set of dreams dashed … sighhhhhh.]

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