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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Where Do You Get This Stuff?

A friend once asked me where I came up with the things that I put on this blog. I don’t recall what I said to her at the time, but it comes out of my everyday life, because every single day that I take a breath I am confronted with either my own ridiculous behaviors or those of other people. Each daily newspaper provides more than enough grist for my small mill. (Some of what I read does make me angry or depressed, and I try to avoid writing about those things. I admit to not being 100% successful in this.)

What I do enjoy writing about is when we are really being preposterous. With our pretensions, our guarded conversations, our raising of our eyebrows. And if nothing is happening in the world, the stream of thoughts that my brain generates produces some really amusing stuff if I just pay attention. Maybe one out of ten thoughts that I have are absurd or laughable (it could even be as frequent as one out of five). I have no control over them popping into consciousness at all. When I really notice them is when I am trying not to think, as in mindfulness mediation sessions. It is at those times that I see that what I have read is true – that the mind never stops going, but jumps from one branch to another continuously, like some monkeys do, giving rise to the phrase “monkey mind.”

And some of what my mind brings up for brief consideration is hilarious. At least to me it is. Occasionally I will stop the flow for a moment and think to myself – that was almost unbelievably arrogant. I must really be that pompous ass that people have called me at times. Robin would be the expert on whether I am or not. One of the most useful things she does for me at times is to gaze deeply into my eyes and repeat: “Pedant, pedant, pedant .. .

But it is exactly those flaws that I often find endearing. Our human sillinesses. Our foibles. Considering those and writing about them is part of my personal plan in order to hang on to the shreds of sanity that I still possess. I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now, and it is still working for me. Truth is, studying a well-executed pratfall does much more for my state of mind than anything I will likely find on CNN today.

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Public Service Announcement

The Surgeon General announced at a press conference yesterday that a food product has been declared so severely addicting that it will be handled as such. That product is Cheetos Popcorn. To quote the good doctor: “This is a snack combining the seductive flavors of regular Cheetos with those of one of the most popular snack foods of all time – popcorn. They potentiate one another so that the combination is much more potent than you might expect.”

It’s one of those cases where 1+1= 3. From now on you can only get this snack by prescription, and there will be severe limitations on quantities dispensed as well.

You may recall that old folk tune, The Blue-Tail Fly, that goes like this:

When I was young, I used to wait
On the master and give him his plate
And pass him the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue tail fly

Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
Jimmy, crack corn and I don’t care
My master’s gone away

We now believe that this is evidence that the authors of this song had access to something much like Cheetos Popcorn way back in the 19th century. Perhaps they made it themselves out of the homely ingredients they had at hand and kept the recipe secret until now, when it has been unearthed and newly marketed. It is worth noticing in the song’s chorus that when you get some of that crack corn you don’t care. Typical addict behavior.

Fortunately there is an easily observable marker which will help us identify victims of this scourge and get them the therapy they so sorely need – their fingertips are universally stained a bright orange.

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There seems to be quite a buzz about the fact that television journalist Chris Wallace is quitting Fox News and moving to CNN. An interesting choice for him, with CNN being the most anti-Fox of them all. The running thread is that it is bad publicity for Fox News to have one of the rare “legitimate” newsmen on its staff leave off and move on.

That may be true. I have a slightly different take. For seventeen years Wallace cashed those checks while lending his name to what is essentially a journalistic hogsnort. For me, that’s taking an awfully long time to decide that you finally care about the s**t on your shoes at the end of every working day.

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We watched another Christmas story last night where the holiday was really just the subtext. It all started out that morning when I ran across a YouTube video taken from an episode of the series The West Wing. It was intriguing enough that I searched for the original episode and found that I was going to have to pay for it, which usually causes my interest to fall pretty precipitously. For some unfathomable reason I persisted. Good that I did, for Robin and I found ourselves in a story that was funny, intelligent, and so moving at the end that we turned to each other choked up and in tears.

The video was from Season 1, Episode 10, and entitled In Excelsis Deo. Here is the clip running on YouTube that attracted me to spending the considerable sum of $2.99. You can watch the clip if you like but be warned, it may end up costing you.

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I can’t exactly recall the day when I realized that the world was even more complicated than I had previously thought, but it could have been the day that I discovered that Velveeta didn’t require refrigeration. As I stared at that display of variously sized yellow boxes all sitting there on a grocery store end-cap without needing any special environmental care, the thought came to me that all that other cheeses needed to be kept cool … why not this stuff?

There is a list of answers to this and other Velveeta-related questions at delish.com if you wish to pursue your education further.

In the early 1900s, Monroe Cheese Company wanted to salvage its Swiss cheese wheels that were either broken or misshapen. So it enlisted the help of Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant who tinkered with the scraps until discovering he could melt them together and add byproducts like whey until they melded back together in a velvety consistency.

delish.com

If you’ve ever worked with Velveeta, you know that keeping the loaf covered when being stored is supremely important. Else the stuff will turn into something completely inedible, and the now brick-like material is even dangerous. A five-pound chuck of dried-up Velveeta falling from an airplane at 20,000 feet would be traveling at more than 1000 mph when it hit the ground and would leave a crater 100 feet across. (I have no idea why it would be falling from an aircraft, but the point is to look out if it does.)

Another fact is that the knife you used to cut Velveeta into slices must be immediately washed. If this product dries on the blade, you can never get it off, and the tool must regrettably be thrown away.

Originally Velveeta was made from real cheese. Today, it’s mainly whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, milk, fat, and preservatives. By the Food and Drug Administration’s standards, that’s not real cheese—which is why the FDA forced Kraft to change its label from “cheese spread” to “cheese product.”

delish.com

So why do we even buy it? Because it is delicious. Because it melts so very well. Because it makes some of the absolute best mac n’ cheese there is.

Robin and I were discussing this interesting stuff last night at supper, as we ate our non-Velveeta-based mac n’ cheese. We mused that foodies would probably never allow themselves to be seen buying a loaf of Velveeta. If they just couldn’t help themselves and felt they needed a couple of pounds of this liquid gold they would probably have to steal it, sneaking it from the store under their clothing to avoid being seen at the checkout stand as they made their purchase.

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Postscript: the kids in the photo are named Allyson, Justin and Amy. I am their wicked stepfather.

Postpostscript: by way of followup on my do-it-yourself follies discussed in a previous post, I have taken out a protection order against myself so that if I get within 100 yards of a hardware store I am immediately arrested and taken to the calaboose. Robin is the only person who has the authority to arrange my release.

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Sanity Isn’t Everything

The television series “Bosch” is over and done after seven seasons. No more years promised or hinted at. But it is still out there to be enjoyed, because this is streaming-land, where you can have a second chance if you missed it the first time around. And if you did miss it, here’s why you might want to take a moment to put it on your list.

Everybody looking nice and noir here in this poster.

It seems that there has been one police procedural series at a time that is clearly superior ever since “Hill Street Blues” came on the scene, and Bosch was one of those for Robin and I. Taken from a series of books by Michael Connelly, we got to watch characters rise, fall, stumble, surmount obstacles … to develop in ways that we might not have predicted.

Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch. A good actor gets a fine role. What’s not to like?

The lead character, detective Harry Bosch, had a childhood that was so unjust, so nightmarish, that it made him a crusader for fairness and justice in his police work. Crusaders can be prickly people, and his character is all of that. But most of his behavior is … admirable.

Watch an episode or two if you are between series. You may get as hooked as we were and be glad for it.

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I’m reading The Great Influenza, a book about the pandemic of 1918. Now (I can almost hear you asking yourself) why would a sane person read about one pandemic when they are in the midst of another one, the end of which is nowhere in sight? I think the answer is in the words “sane person.” Sanity, if you will search the pages of this blog going back as far as you want to, is not a quality I have ever claimed for myself. It’s not even a goal that I aspire to, to be honest.

My own variation of not quite on the beam does not involve the use of meat cleavers, AR-15s, or other violent tools and actions. It’s the kind of looniness that at its worst others probably find at worst irritating or annoying, at best amusing.

But about the book. If we think that we have it bad today, it is instructive to see what happened in 1918. Think bulldozers in Philadelphia digging mass graves to help alleviate the piling up of corpses in hospitals, morgues, mortuaries, and homes. Think what seemed like an ordinary influenza season turning into a nightmare as the virus mutated into something much worse, a killer of amazing swiftness and ferocity. Think a disease that hit hardest at the young and fit and was tolerated better by the infants and senior citizens of the time, turning the usual run of a disease on its head.

The author tells a good story, and he has a fantastic story to tell. For me, the introductory chapters on the development of American medical science were eye-opening. Where we went from backwoods medicine to the best laboratory benches in the world in less than a generation, and from the far periphery of science smack dab into the center, a position we still hold. Where doctors went from incompetent butchers to the gods of society that they became. This latter was especially interesting to a former doctor-god like myself, who had to turn in his celestial robe and scepter some time ago and who has been living contentedly as a mortal ever since. (I really don’t miss all that, although I will tell you that if you ever get the chance to party with the seraphim, you’ll never be the same).

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Back when I was in the process of becoming a divorced person, I sort of lost my mind for a while. I kept bad hours, slept too little and often ate things that were not fitten to eat. I would be up nights writing poetry, most of which I recognized the next morning as drivel, some of it as just okay, but then I would read one that was really good. One which contained ideas and writing that I recognized as not mine.

Out of these experiences came my theory of how my cranial contents, and perhaps yours as well, truly operate. First of all, this spongy bit of tissue tells me what to do to keep all of the nutritional substances that it needs coming in on a regular basis. It ponders odd things without cessation, and it does this without my bidding or leave, and often without my complete understanding. It prompts me to carry it around to different places, I suppose because its fairly confined life would be too boring if it didn’t have new things to look at.

But it has become obvious that what I used to regard as my brain I now realize is a brain. It doesn’t really belong to me, and is actually pretty independent of me. But I can “rent it” like a tool when I need it to tot up a column of figures or type a blog entry like this one. When my rental hour is up it doesn’t stop but keeps on going like that mad little bunny with the drum.

Anyone who has ever begun to meditate will recognize themselves here. You sit on your cushion, arrange your arms and legs just so, and then begin focussing on your breathing. Almost immediately your brain takes off on a tangent. You bring your attention back to the breath and in a few seconds that monkey mind is off again, following its own muse. You wonder why this is so, and why you don’t seem to be in control of your thoughts. Well … now you know what I think. Perhaps you have a better explanation?

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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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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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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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Stolen Moments

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

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

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

On Netflix.

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Harvest Moon

Welcome to October, where we start out cool and end up frosty, and here in Paradise right now it is peak time for Fall color. To make today even more special, tonight there will be a harvest moon – natural light to give the farmers additional hours in which to gather their crops. Of course, the headlights on modern harvesting machines and tractors have made this heavenly illumination less crucial, but it’s the thought that counts.

Some of my best personal memories of time spent on my grandfather’s farm have to do with grain harvesting. It was quite a different process when I was a child, a very labor-intensive one. But there were beauties and drama that the modern machines do not provide.

The first step was to pull something called a binder through the field, a machine which cut the grain and tied it into bundles. When I was very young, the power to pull the binder was provided by a team of horses, who were later replaced by a tractor. Next step was for the farmer to gather eight or so of these bundles and form them into a “shock.” The sight of a field of these shocks on a golden fall evening was nothing short of beautiful.

On threshing day, the farmer would drive a wagon through the field and manually collect these bundles, which he would then transport to the the threshing machine and toss into the maw of that mechanical beast. Therein was the drama. As a kid, I fancied the machine was a steel dragon which “ate” the bundles, separating the grain from the chaff and blowing the straw out into a pile.

Here’s a short video, for those who are interested. Notice the man standing on the heaving, bucking threshing machine. Notice all the bare belts and pulleys. Notice the lack of any safety devices anywhere on it. Now picture a ten-year old boy up there. That would have been me.

The hazards of farming were (and still are) very real. But this was a time when children were taught how to stay alive on the beast, rather than kept far away from it. Feel free to judge which was the better way. Thinking back, I wonder that I am still here to type this thing.

Grain was collected into a hopper on the threshing machine, and periodically discharged into a pickup truck or wagon to be hauled away for storage. The very last year that my relatives used the threshing machine, before they purchased a combine which changed the whole process greatly, I was given the honor of filling up a wagon with bundles and pitching them into the thresher. I have never in my life felt more pride than I did on that day. Doing what I thought was truly an adult’s work, among men who I admired.

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Robin and I didn’t watch the first presidential debate because we thought that it should never have happened. We didn’t believe that P.Cluck would observe any rules, act with anything approaching decorum, or tell the truth except in rare moments. Turns out we were right, apparently, in all respects.

There shouldn’t be a second one. Why should there? It will only be a repeat of the first, which was a rehash of the last five years. Let’s stop having these debates right now and give the money that would have been spent to coronavirus research, or prison reform, or any of the other thousand worthy causes that could be helped. Another two such fiascoes will serve no purpose other than Cluck’s own.

This television series deserves to be cancelled. It’s a flop. It could never have been anything else.

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Speaking of television – we’re enjoying the series “Away” which stars Hillary Swank, one of our favorite actors. Great supporting cast as well. For me it could be just a tish less soap-y but the overall story is a gripping one. It’s about the first humans to go to Mars.

I’ve never really thought through what such a mission would be like, and what sacrifices would need to be made. Sailing off to another planet on a flight that would take years. Never mind the hazards, even if everything went as well as it could possibly go, being away from friends, family … completely out of all of those loops … for years. What would that be like? Which of the people that you loved would not be still among the living when you returned? Which of your relationships might not survive such a separation? When you have done something so extraordinary, how do you cope with the mundane? Which people around you could begin to understand what you went through?

I talked a couple of posts ago about the emigrant experience, stepping off the dock onto a ship that would take you to a new land from which you would likely not soon return. Going to Mars would be like that. But the stepping off would be even more dramatic and irreversible.

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I don’t know whether to admire those individuals around the world that are making plans to go to Mars and to live there, or to consider them as not quite right in the head, as my grandmother Ida Jacobson might have said. There is more than a little hubris in the thinking of those very creative individuals, like Elon Musk, who are working on this.

To think that somehow a group of humans could be selected and transplanted to another world and make it work, when very similar creatures haven’t been able to do that on the world we now occupy … do enlightened people exist in numbers adequate to the job?

As for myself, a person who I regard as extremely enlightened (move over, Buddha), I have no plans to join such an expedition, even if I was asked, nay, begged to join the group. I don’t want to live anyplace where I can’t pee in the woods without wearing a special suit.

As I understand it, Mars does not offer such opportunities.

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The Times of New York reviewed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Tuesday’s edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews that I have ever read. Can’t wait to see it (Netflix). So interesting to get Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ takes on how the film came to be. Washington’s statement that he plans to spend whatever career he has left to bring more of playwright August Wilson’s works to life was very moving.

He is one of those actors whose face reflects intelligence while his body says that if you don’t get it the first time, he is fully capable of cracking your head during your continuing instruction.

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Sunday Morning

The breeze is peeling off the easy leaves, the handful of yellow ones hiding up in the green canopy that is the ash tree. It’s layering them evenly on the grass, my table, the deck. Piece by piece my sunshade is being removed until there won’t be anything between me and the autumn sun but … me.

On Saturday the smoke cover returned, completely obscuring the San Juans south of us. Pieces of California and of Oregon passing overhead. Parts of homes and forests that used to be. What a basket of sorrows is America this year for so many, more than enough for a full-bore lamentation. Can I have a that’s for damn sure, brothers and sisters?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m presently running a side by side comparison of Spotify and Apple Music, trying to see if one of them suits my warps and woofs better than the other. I think that I’m about done with buying music after three-score plus years of doing just that. The only time I have to own a tune is when I need one to put up on the Jukebox for you folks. Let’s say that I have maybe ten or twenty thousand songs on my hard drive … hey … Apple has 50 MILLION for me to listen to if I want to give them a few bucks each month. I was not a math major but I think that 50 million is way bigger.

Right now I’ve pulled up a Ry Cooder playlist on Spotify that goes on for four hours. I believe I won’t even move from my chair and I’ll have my supper served out here on the deck, s’il vous plait. Jus’ put my plate down over there and do it ever so quietly, there’s a dear.

But the idea of having a record library is so ingrained in me that it is a wrench to make this change. However, there have already been quite a few changes in recorded music that some of us have had to deal with.

  • Going from 78 RPM and 45 RPM records to those lovely 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LPs with all that great artwork on their covers
  • Evolution of tape players, first reel-to-reel, then 8 track, then cassette.
  • Making my own mixtapes – such a great thing for the compulsives among us
  • Advent of the compact disc – no more skips or static, but now that lovely album artwork was tiny and cramped
  • Online selling of music by the album or by single cuts (think iTunes)
  • Death of the music stores. R.I.P. Musicland, R.I.P. Tower Records, etc.
  • Advent of contract digital music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.

As hard as it is to contemplate not owning new music, it was harder back when I realized that if I made a mixtape or burned my own CD (same thing), no one wanted a copy any more. Why would they when they had access to these monster collections online?

[But something was lost when the mixtape went away. You picked out the songs, and then there was the all-important sequencing on the tape. If you made one for a girl you were interested in, you wanted to have her play it and end up thinking warm thoughts about you … it was half gift, half psychological implant.

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A friend reposted this stirring graphic on Facebook. Remembering that scene was a heart-melt for me. Possibly even more because of how well it fits today .

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Here’s the original clip.

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Looking For Mom And Pop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You Influenced?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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Never Have I Ever …

We finished up the first season of Never Have I Ever, on Netflix, and get this – there were no bad people on the screen in this series. Not one. The parents weren’t unbelievably stupid and the teenagers weren’t unbearably smart. There were minority characters galore, but nobody made fun of them or resorted to stereotypes.

Sexuality is a big topic in this show. The main characters are adolescents, after all. But no one is exploiting or abusing anyone else. So is it a too-nice universe? Not to Robin and me. This is a light-hearted comedy, yet one that touches on many serious topics, including the death of a parent, expectations of mothers vs. those of daughters, coming out as gay, the confusion of being an adolescent, cross-cultural rough spots, et al.

It never preached at us, grossed us out, made us depressed, or patronized us. Pretty darn good for 2020.

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So far using Zoom has been refreshingly free from melodrama. Until Tuesday, that is. The service underwent a major update a couple of days ago, and friends Bill, Sid, and I bumped up against some significant confusion in our third shot at videoconferencing.

We finally gave it up for the day after a trying 45 minutes, and went back to our drawing boards to prepare for a future session. Too bad we didn’t have a video recording of what went on, it was a classic demonstration of three senior amigos doing their best to pry open the doors of the electronic age one more crack. And finding this face peering back at us.

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When I saw this photo on the CNN website this morning, I immediately knew I was going to steal it. It’s a full frontal of a cassowary. You know, that large flightless bird with the enormous claws on its feet? That highly dangerous feathered friend? The article went on to discuss interesting things about its feather structure, but it was the picture that nailed me.

It’s a mad, mad, mad gaze if there ever was one. Merciless. If you could choose what the last thing you’d ever see in this life would be, what image to carry with you into eternity, I doubt many would pick the cassowary’s face.

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I’m so confused. Somewhere in my past I received the instruction that one should place two spaces after a period and before the next sentence. My right thumb does that automatically. Double tap.

A few months ago I read an article that discussed the origins of that practice and its uselessness in modern writing. I ignored it, and kept on with what I’d always done. Double tap.

But now no less an expert on things typographic than Microsoft has decreed that if I do it while using their product, it will be flagged as an error. One space is all that any self-respecting writer should need, and there’s no need to continue with this nonsense, says the software giant. You must follow their lead if you want to avoid that squiggly correction line appearing on your page.

Regard the above three paragraphs. I’ve used two spaces on the first two, and a single space on the third. Which looks best?

I’m was going to stick with two. Squiggly lines be damned. A guy can only be pushed so far before a stand must be taken. Besides, we Macintosh people have always known that Microsoft was The Evil Empire, and instinctually avoid them whenever possible.

But then I ran across this graphic, strongly suggesting that I was not only wrong, but that I was a cliché.

I wonder if the rest of my day can be salvaged? Quite a setback, this is.

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