Anti-Camping

Just returned from spending a couple of days with Ally and Kyle. As much as we like our time with them, we know that this is their busiest time of the year, and they literally work all day at their farm/garden during Steamboat Springs’s short growing season. So we keep our visits short and sweet.

But what beautiful produce they turn out! Here is a photograph of a man wearing one of their spectacular bok choi plants as a hat.

Later on that hat was washed up, placed on the grill, and served to Robin and I as part of our evening meal. Edible attire, what a concept!

The 240 mile drive to Steamboat is through some pretty country, and the 90 mile lonely stretch from Rifle CO to Craig CO is my favorite. Rolling green hills and mountains, never out of sight of a river, good wildlife viewing … what’s not to love?

Our trip was on short notice, and we couldn’t find a local motel that would have us, so we camped at the only reservable space we could find, and that was at a KOA located between the town of Steamboat and the farm. It was good that we spent very little time there, because as camping goes, it was the opposite of what we usually look for. We found each tent or RV jammed up against its neighbor, constant cacophonous comings and goings of travelers like ourselves, and bathrooms where one enters a 4-digit code to get in (woe to those who forget their number in a moment of stress). Our “site” was little more than a patch of dirt alongside the road that wound through the campground. In the map below we are at site 11 (center and bottom).

The “pond” was a very small puddle of water covered with an oil slick and signs clearly warning us to neither fish nor swim there. I suspect that the oil was part of a scheme to prevent it from becoming the mosquito farm that it would otherwise have been.

The interesting thing was how democratic the commercial campground was. Site 10 was occupied by a young man on a bicycle, while site 14 contained a behemoth of an RV trailer from Nebraska that required 3 axles to support its obscene bulk. (Who are these people that need to tow such monstrosities when they leave home?)

The proprietors were very pleasant and chatty, however, and it turned out to be a quiet place to sleep, in spite of the daytime busy-ness. I doubt we’ll be returning, though, unless once again we are stuck for a place to stay.

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From The New Yorker

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The area around Craig CO contains several coal mines, all of which are destined to close one day. Coal has been a mainstay occupation for the people living there, along with ranching. It is pretty solidly red in its politics, with its share of the lunatic fringe. We ate our lunch in a city park there on Sunday, and across the street was a home surrounded by a chain-link fence. There were two signs on the fence.

The first was a professional one celebrating the existence of congresswoman and renowned public intellectual Lauren Boebert and the other was a homemade placard declaring cryptically that This Too Shall Pass. What the resident was hoping would pass … one can only guess.

Lots of fear evident in Craig’s signs and bumperstickers. And some reason to be afraid, not knowing what their future holds. This Too Shall Pass, but what comes after, when the mines have closed and the Socialists have taken all their guns?

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Misguidance

Back in high school there were two attempts that Henry Sibley High School made to point us in the right direction as far as our future occupations were concerned. One was the appointing of a guidance counselor. He comported himself exactly like the character Major Major, in Catch 22 . If he was in his office his secretary would tell you that he was out. If he wasn’t in, the secretary would usher you into an empty room telling you that he’d be just a moment. After a long while had passed you realized that he was never coming and wandered off.

So I never saw him.

The other effort was to administer something called the Strong Interest Test. This turned out to be an extremely unhelpful way to spend a couple of hours, for at the end of the testing session I was informed that I would be happiest as either an accountant or a forest ranger. (I still fail to see any connection between these jobs.) I chose to go to a school of veterinary medicine instead.

After a year of doing spectacularly poorly while surrounded by a hundred other freshmen and freshwomen in blue corduroy jackets who already knew seemingly everything there was to know about large animals, I dropped out of school for a while. From there it was on to pre-med and that’s all she wrote.

I’ve never mused about what life as an accountant would have been, but there have been many times when forest ranger seems like it would have been just the right thing for me. The woods, the rivers, the fresh air … and then there were those great uniforms.

I think I would have been the very definition of dapper in one of these, especially the one on the far left. Is it time to bring jodhpurs back into fashion, do you think?

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We spent the observance of our anniversary wandering the countryside in our car. It was a windy 50 degree day, which discouraged slow walks in the park, laying out in the backyard catching rays, and picnics. When you have to hold onto your paper plate with both hands to keep your beans and hot dog safe while your potato chips go flying across county lines, it’s not that much fun, to tell the truth.

So we headed for Telluride, to see what they’d done with the town in the year since we’d last been there. Turned out that this shiny tourist town wasn’t quite open for business as yet, with several restaurants closed but featuring signs in their windows promising “Opening Soon!” All of the T-shirt shops were running, though, so no problems there for those wanting garments with logos screaming “TELLURIDE.” The famous free gondola wasn’t running, which was a first for us – that thing had not stopped since we moved to Paradise. With the relaxing of Covid restrictions it might soon be in use again, but there is no getting six feet away from other passengers once you are inside that capsule.

We then drove to a small county park along the San Miguel River near Placerville and took a stroll. It’s a pretty spot and we passed two kayakers practicing lazy paddling on the tiny lake in the park. Next we took off down the road toward Owl Creek Pass, a local landmark of sorts, but were turned back after 8 miles by a road barrier. We couldn’t see far enough ahead to assess whether it was snow or road damage might be the problem, but there was no arguing with that heavy steel gate.

Finally it was back to Montrose for supper at a local Italian restaurant. When we returned home we were late for the cats’ feedings, and they sat there tapping their paws and looking very cross until we served them up their evening meal. One thing that cats do very well is impatience. They’ve had millennia to practice. Look at this Egyptian statue … is that haughty and cranky or what?

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What a horror in China, where 21 out of 172 participants in an ultramarathon perished when when a storm caught them out on the 100 mile mountain race course. Light running gear was no protection against freezing rains. Sounds like some very poor planning for inclement weather was involved, but the stories are still sketchy.

Wouldn’t happen here, I think. There are high altitude races out here each summer, but also lots of water stations, volunteers with Ham radios, and the like. In any endurance contest there can be the occasional heart giving out or things like dehydration causing illness or even death. But 21 runners lost … that is the definition of not okay.

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Amazing Grace

Apple Music has a feature where they put together various themed collections that change weekly, an hour or two of tunes with a similar “feel.” One of those is named “Isolation,” and I swear … no matter what mood you were in when you started, if you listened to more than five of these songs in a row you would find yourself looking for a razor blade and a warm tub. Here’s a sampling of what Apple was offering to me this morning during my toilette.

  • Lost Cause (Beck)
  • Where is My Mind? (The Pixies)
  • Alive and Dying (Angel Olsen)
  • Sidewalk Bop After Suicide (Cass McCombs)
  • No Distance Left to Run (Blur)
  • Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying (Belle and Sebastian)
  • Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (The Smiths)
  • How It Ends (DeVochKa)
  • et al

Fortunately for me on this occasion, Robin recognized that I had been sucked into a musical vortex and rushed the bathroom, knocked the speaker onto the floor, and then dragged me out into the hallway, covering my ears as she did. A few slaps in the face, a dash of cold water, and I was blinking myself awake, crying “Wha hoppen!”

It was a close one this time. Obviously it’s not a place I should ever go alone.

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Love these soft warm mornings a little before dawn. Just enough air movement to get the wind chimes gently moving and the prayer flags fluttering. Our small city is quiet at these times. All in all, just like a town should be the moment before it starts to come to consciousness.

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A followup on Poco the cat. Two weeks ago he developed swelling in his right eye. The vet said “Dunno” and prescribed eyedrops. Two days later it was obvious that there was an abscess above the eye, and that was cleaned up, opened up, and an antibiotic injection given.

Two days after that the eye looked dreadful, and there was a puddle of blood between the cornea and the iris. A second vet told us that there might be infection inside the globe itself, and a different antibiotic needed to be given, along with a change in eyedrops. He also said that if the problem was inside the eye, Poco could lose that organ entirely.

So for a week now we’ve dutifully given him pills twice a day that he definitely doesn’t want and eyedrops that he detests. There has been improvement, but I’m not sure that is is the meds or simply the passage of time that has effected this change. It’s not particularly rare for doctors to be given credit for recovery that happened all on its own. Why, it even happens with some pediatricians.

So the old fellow has had an uncomfortable pair of weeks and his human companions have worried about him for the same length of time. Doing uncomfortable things to a creature you love, whether it is a pet or a child, is potentially a part of the bargain you make when you take them on. But it’s always one that you hoped you could skip.

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My Oh My Department

Daughter Maja’s seven favorite non-relatives on the planet have a new album. This is a screen grab from the music video for “Butter,” which YouTube would be happy to run for you.

What’s not to like? They are young, talented, and beautiful. Maybe if North Korea could put together a group like this we might get along better with them, and be able to forget about all those nasty warheads and such. So far they haven’t shown any rhythmic tendencies at all that I am aware of.

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Twenty-nine years ago today two perfectly useful people with relatively low mileage who had each been rejected by their previous spouses decided to give it another go and were married. To one another. The lady’s counselor was not happy about the idea, and cautioned her that this was only a “transitional relationship.”

In planning for the wedding with the pianist, the couple chose Amazing Grace as one of their songs. At first the musician frowned and said “We play that so often at funerals … “ and then you could see her lips move as she went through the lyrics in her head. A smile came on her face and she nodded “Yes, that’ll do just fine.” During the service the entire assemblage sang it together, and yes, it did just fine. Beautifully, actually.

At the reception, and at the groom’s request, the first tune that was played to begin the dancing was this timeless and haunting melody.

I think that it’s pretty clear to all that this “transitional relationship” has lasted this long only because of the lady’s forbearance, tolerance, and excellent sense of humor.

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Justice Found

What we all saw happen yesterday in Minneapolis was an example of how our justice system is supposed to work. A man broke the law, was brought to trial, and was convicted of his crime. A verdict came down that we can all understand. When I heard the news I felt no elation, as some seemed to feel. After all, one man was dead and another was going to prison. But there was a sense of something going right, being done the way it should be done. This was a day when one good step forward was made, and what I felt was relief.

Van Jones says it very well here … we were afraid to hope.

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Indecent Exposure

As I gasp and wheeze around the trails in the mountains, I am often informed by three books written by these folks, Anne and Mike Poe. They are the best trail guides I’ve found so far, and together they cover the territory around Paradise very well.

These books appeal to me because they contain tons of photos, comprehensive details on the walks and how to get to them, and all of the hikes discussed are above treeline.

Not that Colorado doesn’t have lovely forests to wander in, but I’ve done woods-walking all my life. What this state offers is a richness of opportunities to get that feeling of freedom that being above it all provides. (I know, I know, this from a guy who gets the willies climbing a stool to get something on the top shelf in the kitchen.)

If this weren’t enough to inspire me, Anne has alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited illness which resulted in her developing COPD. So what I tell myself whenever my spirits are flagging and my butt is dragging and I really really want to turn back is this – Hey, Bozo, Anne C. did this as an older woman, with emphysema!

Most of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.

All of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.

If a portion of a trail is mentioned as being exposed, I immediately cross it off the list and stop reading about it. This is because I know myself well enough that if I did somehow go up this particular path all the way to the top, I would not be able to force my body to go back down. I would simply set up camp on top and live there for as long as I could on the Clif bars in my pack, then make my peace with the Universe and quietly expire.

Using the Poes’ books allows me to make sure that this last scenario never happens.

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One unfortunate side effect of Covid-19 is that it has driven more and more couch potatoes out into the fresh air since so many indoor activities and gathering spots have been closed. There they compete with more deserving types, like me, for available camping site reservations. Before this deuced virus came along, you might have found that it was hard to get a good spot if you called on the 3rd of July, but at any other times there were way more spaces to choose from than there were choosers.

Not any longer. We’re expecting guests at the end of June, guests who we are taking camping, and have basically found that most of the spots we wanted were already taken. We did finally reserve the time we needed, and at a very good location, but it was literally the last one available through mid-July in the area where we wanted to go. Last available reserve-able space, that is. There are always the first come-first served sort of campsites, but if you’ve ever driven several hours to a distant campground and found there was no room at that particular inn and were now scrambling for somewhere to lay your head, you know that this arrangement is definitely second-best.

So we will take our friends to the West Dolores River Campground and we will have a fine time. They may never know how close we were to using the WalMart parking lot in Cortez.

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Mental Lint

Somehow I seem to have sprained my wrist. It occurred when we were shoving furniture around the other day, waiting for the flooring guy to come and do his flooring thing. This exemplifies one of the more annoying things about being this age and that is that one bruises quicker and heals slower. Being aware of this tends to make one cautious, often more than is necessary. There are days when I must exert some little effort to avoid regarding myself as a fragile flower suited to only the quietest and safest of activities.

Not that I was ever really the daredevil type. I would look at friends who had skied very fast down places where there were signs that said Danger and wonder if I should feel sorry for them, sitting there in the wheelchair with their long-leg casts. Usually I would decide that I would feel sorry that it itched inside the cast, but the broken femur was their problem. For that part they would have to make do with self-pity since I was offering so little of it.

But, you say, you drove motorcycles for all those years. Wasn’t that a risky business? My answer is that it was, but that I wasn’t worried because I never assumed that I would survive a highway crash on those things. When you are piloting a motorcycle, the world is filled with automobile drivers who seem dead set on wiping you from the face of the planet. Either they don’t see you at all, or they do and resent that you are having so much more fun than they are.

Anyway, my wrist hurts today, and probably will for a while. Goes with the territory.

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From The New Yorker

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I have read everything there is to read about Covid-19 that has been published up until last evening, and have come to these conclusions as the result of my extensive research.

  • I should either go out more or stay at home.
  • I should wear a mask when I am at home or indoors elsewhere, but not when I am outdoors at the park, unless that makes me feel uneasy in which case I should never take my mask off.
  • My immunizations will protect me against infection, but not completely, so I shouldn’t count on them. Or I should, but not too much.
  • Schools should be opened up but students should not be allowed to attend.
  • Tucker Carlson is an idiot and should banished to Elba, where he must wear an ankle bracelet and be barred from using electricity.
  • Instead of reading all this stuff, I would have been better off spending the time binge-watching all of the episodes of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. This would produce a gelatinous mental state comparable to having had five big-time concussions in rapid succession and I wouldn’t care one solitary fig about Covid at all. Or much else, for that matter.

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From the Web

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There was an article in Saturday’s NYTimes about hanging your clothing to dry rather than jamming them into the dryer, that cube-shaped energy hog that we have in our laundry room. Once again, Robin is ahead of the curve. She hang-dries most of our clothing, and has been doing so for decades.

Most of the time it was on one of those steel folding racks, and the racks were placed indoors wherever they were least inconvenient, to cut down on painful toe-stubbings and awkward bumps in the night. In pleasant weather they would migrate to the outside of our home, and our wardrobe would be out there in the sunshine for airing and public comment. A recurring problem was that it didn’t take much of a breeze to blow these racks over, they being tall and slim and all.

So finally, after years and years of dragging my feet and nodding “Yes, yes, I’ll get to it any day now” I finally put up a hard-copy clothesline. One that couldn’t be folded up and stored behind a bedroom door. It looks like this, and has been working out quite well, mostly because Robin believes in it.

Not only does it save enormous amounts of energy, but when I occasionally help her hang our things out on a glorious spring day, she will share memories of her own mother doing this year after year and season after season. The process isn’t perfect, of course, because even though you would never ever hang your clothes out in a rain shower, occasionally they do come along before the garments are dry and there you are frantically snatching them off the line and going back to the folder-uppers.

I have my own memories of my mom’s love-hate relationship with clotheslines. Not having a dryer as backup, as we do today, mom would put the clothes out on cold winter days, only to harvest them as frozen oddities a few hours later. And there were times when a harsh wind would rip the lines from their moorings, and down would go everything onto the lawn … everything most often requiring repeat washing.

Of course, Mom was a pre-boomer. Energy supplies were seemingly inexhaustible, Al Gore and global warming hadn’t been born yet, and most importantly of all, she couldn’t afford the alternatives. So fixed clotheslines were it for my family of origin.

It’s not been a bad tradition to revive, actually. Our carbon toe-print is slightly smaller as a result and it allows me to feel sooo self-righteous and superior … you wouldn’t believe how much hubris you can get for so little in this way.

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True Grit

Our trip this past weekend to Great Sand Dunes National Park did not get off to a great start. Somewhere between Gunnison and Poncha Springs the back “door” of our camping trailer opened up and allowed two boxes of gear to fall out and be lost forever. We are still not sure exactly what was lost in those big boxes, but for certain our stove, tent heater, knives, kitchen implements, and several pots and pans were in them.

This necessitated a quick trip to Wal-Mart to replace a few of the lost items, like the stove and heater, which were most obvious and most needed. Over time we will replace the rest, as we notice their absence. If we can ignore that initial mini-disaster, the rest of the trip went swimmingly.

Our weather was exactly as promised. Daytime temps in the 50s, and at night it got down into the 20s. The brand new tent heater performed flawlessly, and the new Coleman stove … what can I say … it is clean, which is almost never true of an old stove.

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From The New Yorker

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The dunes were sandy. The campsite was sandy. The hiking trails were sandy. Several times a day one had to take off one’s shoes and dump the sand out, to make room for acquiring more sand. And yes, there was the occasional grain or two in your food. But what a remarkable place! Even though the season was early, the campground was full, and the parking lots were full as well. Once you hit the dunes themselves, however, there was no crowding. The hikers spread out across the face of these sand mountains, and had no problem avoiding one another. Walking up steepish hills in sand is not for the faint of fitness, and not well-suited to compromised knees, so Robin and I went about 1/3 of the way up to the crest before turning back, while the Hurley family went all the way.

There is a creek that starts in the mountains and trickles across the floor of the park, eventually simply stopping. It doesn’t go underground or anything like that, it simply runs out of the will to continue as it reaches a point where the soaking in and the evaporation are equal to the amount of water reaching that point and the creek ceases to exist.

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From The New Yorker

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There was a small campground drama that ended well, at least for us. Friday night the campsite across the road from us, which was occupied by a large gaggle of twenty-somethings, was an intensely irritating hubbub of too-loud talking, too-colorful language, and general pain-in-the-butt behavior which went on to at least three in the morning. Perhaps we should have confronted them but I have made it a habit never to have an argument with large groups of stoned or intoxicated strangers at night when I’m far away from being able to make a 911 call.

So Saturday we looked up the camp host to tattle on the miscreants, and the host promised that if there were a repeat performance that we should come knock on the door of her trailer, and she would notify park authorities. What we really wanted, of course, was for park authorities to round up the offenders, tar and feather them and ship them home, but we settled for her plan. We never had to knock on that door.

At around ten PM a park police cruiser visited the offending campsite and reminded that group that it was now quiet hours. They were given the option of behaving themselves and being better neighbors, or the park police would escort them to the border of the park and wave au revoir to them as they sought other places to stay. They were quiet as mice the rest of the night. Quieter, actually.

So a pre-emptive strike worked out quite well, and next day when park police stopped by to ask us if things had gone okay the rest of the night we said “Yes” and thanked them profusely. We would have hugged and kissed the officers, but of course this is still Covid-19 season so we demurred.

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All in all it was a grand trip, with just enough small hardships (lost items, nearly constant wind, coldish nights) to make it possible to endlessly bore our listeners for weeks, perhaps months, to come. There are times, of course, when those listeners might start to head for the doors, but it is then when the true raconteur stands with his back firmly against those doors to prevent them from leaving, and drones on. It’s what we do.

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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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Plague Notes

The oddest Christmas is nearly here, and I admit that I don’t quite know how to process it. On the one hand, we are hours away from the closest grandchild (which is how distances are measured) and that hasn’t changed for a long time. So there was never the possibility of seeing all of our family in any given season, even before Covid. But today, even when we can make the effort …

Later today we are delivering presents to the kids in Durango. We’ll drive down there, eat lunch together with the Hurleys outdoors somewhere, and then return home. No physical contact to be extended, no less than six feet away from one another. It’s like having a Zoom conference but everybody is physically in the room. We can’t trust ourselves not to infect those folks, nor trust that they won’t do us harm. Bizarre days, verging on the surreal.

So here’s a few tunes to take your mind off viruses, if you need a break. Tried and true people singing songs that were recorded before the plague set in, eons ago.

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K.I.S.S.

This morning as I was traversing the mental minefield that reading the online newspapers has become, I began to feel a light panic at not being able to remember which was the most important of the 100 ways I had just read about being a better human being (one worth feeding and caring for).

So I slapped myself hard across the figurative face and said to myself – Self! Stop it right now! You are letting other people set your agenda. You will never get anywhere trying to be au courant because you are not in the au courant loop. So gather what wits you have and make your own list.

  • Be kind
  • Be compassionate
  • Listen more

There. Only three things to remember. Much easier and more straightforward. Anyone can remember three things, right?

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Here are some photos of friends being friends on a fine, hot, August day

Ahhhhhhh, Juicy Fruit!

Summer afternoon, the music of a slack-key guitarist named Ledward Ka’apana coming from the red box under the umbrella that protects me from those rays I ignored for most of my life. There are a few yellowjackets buzzing about, but even they seem as driftless as I am, not even bothering to try to fake me out with any of their diving feints. A small breeze barely moves the leaves of the ash trees, and the woody scent from the warming deck boards rises all around us.

Ay ay ay, hell yesterday, heaven today.

The tomatoes are over there against the board fence, gathering their forces. There are only four plants, but hundreds and hundreds of green and reddening fruits. Enough to choke our kitchen when their ripening outpaces our ability to eat them, as it surely will. Today we had a caprese salad, tonight it’s BLTs, tomorrow something Indian out of the instant pot and starring, guess what?

Of course we will share them with others, whether they like tomatoes or not. We may even perform the classic maneuver of bringing basketfuls to their doorsteps under cover of night and leaving them there. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Future of Nonconformity by David Brooks. Mr. Brooks thinks being exposed to different opinions makes Jack less of a dull boy and more of a thoughtful citizen to boot. He also thinks that right now that isn’t happening nearly as often as it should.

Along the way, Brooks mentions a platform called Substack, which was new to me. A place of commerce where writers can go to publish their thoughts and be as independent as they want to be. They make their appeal for the funds they need to feed and clothe themselves directly to their readers. No intermediaries involved.

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Today’s title is drawn from one of the more memorable scenes in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?

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I found myself laughing silently at myself this morning as I cooked up a bunch of scrambled eggs. This recipe called for a handful of onions, tomatoes, and some feta cheese and as I watched it all come together in the pan I thought: “What this needs is a pinch of cumin and a pinch of chili pepper.”

That’s where the chuckling came in. Because I have those same thoughts repeatedly. As a result, much of my cooking tends toward sameness. No matter what it started out to be, it ends up tasting of cumin and chilis. This approach works pretty well with Mexican foods, but not so well with, let’s say, lutefisk.

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Saturday morning after a light rain, for which we are grateful. Even though we wish for something heavy in that department we thank the pluvial powers-that-be for our few drops.

At present Robin and I are injury-free. There have been small mishaps this summer that produced minor injuries that have healed. BTW, a minor injury is defined as something excruciatingly painful that happens to someone else, and from which they will eventually recover completely. (If it happens to you, of course, it is a major injury.)

Both of us have fallen from our bikes, twisted joints, bumped heads, bruised feet. The list goes on. I’ve heard the illnesses encountered by first-rank athletes as a result of their rigorous training described as “diseases of excellence.” In other words, things that happen to gifted people because they are working toward very high goals.

Maybe our efforts don’t quite reach that level, but they were caused by the same thing. The wish to do more than a proper sedentary life would afford. We count ourselves fortunate to be able to be active in some of these things, but in so doing, we sustain these occasional injuries. It’s a package deal, n’est-ce pas?

However, we’ve had to include Band-Aids as a category of its own in the household budget.

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Eternally Speaking …

For the longest time I have wakened with a sense of puzzlement and unreality each morning. As is my wont I have been trying to mentally construct a coherent whole of my world and life, but without success. I am without a gestalt.

The world I live in is in disarray, plagues lap at my door, gangs of idiots roam the streets in Confederate flag-festooned pickup trucks, the media shouts unbelievable things at me from first light to dusk, the days are so hot I cringe indoors lest I stroke out or mummify myself, my tomatoes are being deformed even as they ripen, and my image in the mirror is daily stranger and stranger to me.

But today I finally figured it out.

I am in Hell.

Apparently I popped off on the night of November 8,2016, although I have no recollection of how it might have happened. Presumably my body could not physiologically handle the horror of the election results. Then later when all my sins and peccadilloes were totted up, the celestial triage team bundled me up and sent me down the bizarre pathway I am presently on.

As you can imagine, for a baby-Buddhist like myself to find that I’m in Perdition is quite a surprise, since I don’t believe in it. But this morning there seems to be no other way of making sense of the last several years. So I will swallow my wounded pride at my error and make the best of things. If this is Hell, I think I had better keep my expectations low, don’t you?

But hey, hmmm, you guys are here, too. So what did you do to deserve your punishment? Of course, I could be hallucinating and simply going nuts, crackers, barmy, bonkers. More than a little likelihood of that.

It’s a lot to digest, and perhaps I should be taking smaller bites, shallower breaths. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll go to the grocery store and take my mind off what I’ve learned for a short while. Let’s see, where did I put my mask … but do I really need to wear one … if I am deceased and all?

What to do. What to do.

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From The New Yorker

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Perhaps I would not have moved all the way to western Colorado just to listen to station KVNF, but now that I’m here … what a treasure it is! Much of it is musical programming, of the kind that was last available more than 50 years ago. Where each DJ made up their own playlist, following their own hearts and minds and musical tastes.

So we have programs like Free Range Radio, Undercurrents, Saturday Night Soundtrack, et al. There is jazz, blues, classical, big band – each program put together by a volunteer DJ who plays what they love, without corporate interference.

In the spaces between the tunes, it is an NPR station. Gotta love it.

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I finally finished the Studs Lonigan trilogy, and oh my, what a depressing third volume that was. Only bad things happened to the “hero” and each of them was long presaged before it actually arrived. It is that close to being a perfect “downer.” I had to ask myself why it moved me so when I was a twenty-something? I must have been more of a depressive than I remember. Sheesh.

I gotta do somethin’ to get that big blob of literary hopelessness out of my head, but what … let’s try this. It’s always worked before.

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Holes In One’s Personal Ozone

I was making conversation with a gentleman the other day whose opinions on many subjects I have found puzzling. For an “educated man,” that is. The first time that I met him his question to me was “So do you think this global warming thing is real?” When I had picked my jaw up from the floor and reassembled my face I answered that climate change was a fact, and only the portion of that change attributable to human activity was up for scientific debate. He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

The latest exchange between this man and myself was on whether Joe Biden was a good candidate or not. I asked whether he was seriously thinking about casting his vote for Attila the Grabber, and he responded “No, no, of course not, but I wonder about this Biden guy.”

I don’t know if what I said next was helpful or not, but I told him that even if Biden had just been convicted of embezzlement, had horrible personal hygiene, and was being investigated as a suspect in the pushing of his own grandmother off a subway platform I would still vote for him. Twice, if I had to. Such is the low regard that I have for his opponent.

He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

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A story from the Times of New York about a white bear grabbed my attention. It’s not a polar bear, and it’s not an albino variant. It is a beautiful animal who is teaching humans important things about genetic diversity and the habitat needs of some of the other creatures that share this limited space called Earth with us.

Title of the piece: Genetic Maps Find Risks to Spirit Bears’ Habitat.

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My friends. It’s true that I live in Paradise, but I will admit that when I say this I refer to the topography and the climate, rather than the human population. When it comes to our local aggregation of homo erectus, we are just as ridiculous, marvelous, and bats**t crazy as anywhere I’ve lived.

For instance, here is an unretouched photograph of the Republican candidate for U.S. representative for the 3rd congressional district. Her name is Lauren Boebert and her qualification for office is that she runs a restaurant in Rifle CO where the wait-staff are encouraged to wear guns. Just because they can.

Here she is shown speaking at an event, wearing a fetching firearm tied low on the leg in the fast-draw position. As if she were in a 1956 western TV series.

It’s called wearing a gun for show.

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In the recent primary election, 2/3 of Republican voters in our county chose her over the incumbent, a rather boring man with gunless thighs and unripped jeans. Her Democratic opponent in November is a highly capable, experienced, thoughtful, and qualified woman with sound ideas for governance.

But if any of you are thinking of betting on the election, I would put my money on the woman in the photograph. This is a Republican county and that particular party is very fond of running cartoon characters for office, as we have all learned to our detriment.

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OK, Boomer!

I am not a “boomer,” so I respectfully suggest that people stop referring to me in that way. I am older than a boomer, actually, because that group didn’t start until WWII was over, and I was born before it all began. I also respectfully ask that people not blame me for that war, it was not my fault. I was a baby and I didn’t know any better.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with more important things.

If you are streaming the television that you watch, there is an amazing richness of opportunity in places like Netflix (perhaps especially Netflix) to engage with material about and by people of color. Go to the company site and search under “black stories,” or “black lives matter,” and see what a treasury comes up.

Now not all of you may know this, because I am a modest and shy boy of Minnesota origins, but I am a white person. In fact, one day in the past my old friend Rich Kaplan said to me: “Jon, you are the whitest person I know.” Out of not quite knowing what he meant, I never asked Rich to clarify that statement.

At any rate, I have no excuse for there still being a gap between what I should know and what I do know with regard to race, racism, injustice, et al. The information is out there. All I have to do is take a deep breath and dig in. I know two things, that I will be the better for it and that I will find it hard to watch or read.

It’s not that I am completely clueless (although my children might argue with me on that). At age fifteen my cultural education really began with reading “Century of Dishonor,” a book about the horrific treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. In the early seventies I worked at a ghetto clinic in Buffalo NY, where nearly all of my patients were black. In the eighties I worked at a clinic on a Lakota reservation in Nebraska.

But looking back I realize that I didn’t take full advantage of what were wonderful opportunities for learning. My thought processes tended toward the clinical, as if I were an anthropologist and observing on a very superficial level. Instead of taking the clumsy instrument that my mind was and letting it probe deeper into what the experiences and lives of the patients … the people … that I met might be like or what they meant. Or at least trying to do so.

Not only do I not claim to know what it means to be a black person or a Native American or Hispanic or Asian, I even have trouble knowing what it means to be a white guy sometimes. But I can look at a specific situation and ask myself: What if that happened to me? How would I feel?

I strongly suspect that I would be angry … no, furious … all of the time.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil! by Charles Blow

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Monday morning I found myself humming songs from Carole King’s excellent album of 1971, Tapestry. Robin and I talked about how really perfect the group of songs were, and the tune You’ve Got A Friend is the best song about true friendship that I’ve ever heard.

Apparently our opinion is shared by a few other people because it’s one of the largest-selling albums of all time.

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Wednesday through Friday we’re headed for the old Silesca Ranger Station for a getaway. The building dates back to 1937, and was in use by the forest service until 1954 . At any rate, civilians can now rent them and spend time alone in the forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau. We are looking forward to sharing the space with the ghosts of another era.

I will bring back photos of my own, but here’s one of the cabin, taken from the web.

The cabins have a shower, flush toilets, and an electric stove. Really, not “roughing it” at all. During the day we will likely be occasionally annoyed by ATVs buzzing around, but the evenings should be great. It’s fifteen miles from civilization and Covid-free. Nothing to do but read, sit quietly, watch the forest animals parade by, and if one is uncommonly motivated – take a hike.

Ahhhhhh, Wilderness. The word reminds me of a saying by a Native American that I read decades ago, and have long since forgotten the source.

What the white man calls wilderness, we call home.

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Southern Fried

This Sunday July 5 promises to be a warm one, which means it doesn’t stand out much from what we’ve been served for the last month or two. Our Spring was foreshortened with the rapid transition from late Winter to mid-Summer we experienced this year.

Our 4th of July was quiet. There were no fireworks here in Paradise, but for the tame ones in a few backyards. I have to admit that in creating an illegal and unwelcome noise Yankton SD beats Montrose CO all to hell.

Where Robin and I lived in South Dakota was out in the rural and some of our neighbors made such a racket on this holiday that it took a week for our cats to get their frazzled nerves back in order. Fireworks sales in SD were a big deal, and while a man with deep enough pockets couldn’t really rival the municipal displays, he could certainly keep you awake well past your bedtime.

Governor Noem of SD made her own kind of noise when she welcomed P.Cluck and the gang to Mount Rushmore. She lost no time in telling us all in advance that there would be no common sense used at this event at all. No masks required, no spacing done.

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Wonderful. Let us give a shout-out to all the voters who let this happen back in 2016 when they knowingly voted for a tangerine-tinted liar, serial abuser of women, draft-dodger, oath-breaker and all around abominable person. We are all reaping what they sowed.

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Here are three more bands from Dylan’s latest album. Only one to go after these. Saving it for last.

Mother of Muses
Key West
Crossing the Rubicon

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We now have a gazillion green tomatoes on our vines. None of them seem to be in any hurry to ripen, however, but are resolute in their bright greenness. Unless the situation changes, we may have to turn to the Whistle Stop Cafe recipe book for inspiration.

A few seconds of research informed me that there is an operating Whistle Stop Cafe in the hamlet of Juliette GA, where the movie was made. In the film an unemployed general store provided the setting for the restaurant, and after the movie people left town, some residents thought they might have a good thing there.

Following the release of the film, the town opened up a real Whistle Stop Café set up just like the movie set. Local resident Robert Williams had inherited the building and partnered with his friend Jerie Lynn Williams to open up Original Whistle Stop Cafe. 

https://www.wideopencountry.com/

I don’t know quite what to do with this new intelligence, but it is a certainty that if I am ever in the vicinity of Juliette GA (you never know …) I will stop in for a plateful of those fried green tomatoes. To pay homage to that delightful movie, if for no other reason.

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Triple Plagues

My computer inbox is crowded each morning with reports on the three maladies du jour – Covid 19, racism, and Cluckism. Taken individually they are overwhelming. Taken together … what is three times overwhelming? Or is it overwhelming to the third power? My in-brain abacus must be missing a ring or two, since I can’t seem to come up with a sum.

These three plagues are interrelated in that the last one actively interferes with progress on the first two. Doesn’t prevent progress altogether, but presents a big speed bump for certain. I am long ago grown tired of wondering if today will be the day that P.Cluck puts on a mask. Who cares any longer? His chance to lead anyone but the clutch of cult members who follow him around is something he tossed away years ago.

Let’s have a moratorium on publishing his every tweet and/or fatuous self-promotion. Maybe every Saturday CNN could summarize these items in a single article for those of us who cling to sanity with broken fingernails and weakening grip. We could then clip out this section (metaphorically speaking) and place it in the bottom of a parakeet cage where it belongs. (The parakeet is also metaphoric. Would that make it a metaphorakeet?)

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Dr. Fauci isn’t sure that a Covid 19 vaccine will be as useful as it might. The number of people in a recent poll who said they wouldn’t get the vaccination when it is finally produced was about 30%. If the numbers are accurate, this would mean that the sought-after herd immunity wouldn’t have a chance to kick in.

It would be yet another instance where this anti-vaccine cohort would be depending on the rest of us to protect them as we do with measles and mumps and polio et al. No matter. If we have to save some of their ignorant lives to get the result we need, we’ll do it. Again. My own preference would be to isolate all of them in one or two states, perhaps Mississippi and Alabama, and let them live together in pox-filled peace and tranquility.

While I’m on the subject of the coronavirus, I am happy for two things. First, that our cats don’t have it. Second, that if they did, they aren’t like this guy. I’m not sure my protective mask would be up to the task.

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On Saturday my neighbor Ed and I are going to build a pergola-like sunshade that will provide some protection for people sitting in chairs in front of our home. At midday the sun out there is reminiscent of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia.

Ed is a knowledgeable and experienced construction person, which should balance out nicely with my cluelessness.

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My plan is for him to do the sawing, nailing, fitting, and planning. My role will be to hand him whatever tool he requires, much as an operating room technician assists the surgeon. I will also be in charge of the large box of Band-Aids necessary whenever I undertake any sort of carpentry chores. On the average I will lose 240 milliliters of blood per day any time that I take a saw in hand. My DNA is all over the place by the time that project completion rolls around.

If we do finish the thing, I will provide photographic proof of same.

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I’m going to close with a quote from my favorite cynic. It explains the speech of P.Cluck at Mount Rushmore quite well, I think.

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.

H.L. Mencken

Tumult

It’s forty degrees this Tuesday morning, June the ninth. A light, cold rain is falling in the yard and on the streets outside my door. But I am on the safe, warm, dry side of the window that is providing me this weather report.

Yesterday when Robin and I took our exercise walk high up on a ridge overlooking Montrose we were battling yet more wind. There were places where the hiking path runs close to the edge of the escarpment, and I chose my steps carefully to avoid being puffed off into space.

After living in basically quiet air for the first five years here in Paradise, this breezy spring has been a revelation. Something to contend with, actually.

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Our new yard sign hasn’t reached us as yet, but we’ve already resolved to send it back. The story here is that Robin originally told me that she wanted to place a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the berm out front. To show solidarity with the Minneapolis protesters, even though we live a long way from my old home town.

In my wisdom, I suggested that perhaps one of those “All Lives Matter” signs might suit our community better since we have so few black citizens in Montrose County. So the order for the sign went in this way.

Shortly after that I became aware that not only was this a poor idea, it was a very very bad idea, and we were about to promote the opposite of what we meant. ALM has come to be the catchphrase of racists, white supremacists, and some of the other ugly varieties of homo sapiens, even though on the surface it seems admirable enough. And once you get into discussions that turn on cultural interpretations of a word or phrase, it can only end in confusion and rancor. One of the drawbacks of living in small town America is that it is easier to miss or be oblivious to those discussions of context.

So mea culpa. BLM it is from here on in. It’s what Robin was going to say until she made the mistake of listening to me. It’s not the first time she’s made that error. I keep trying to tell her … you’d think she’d learn by now.

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From The New Yorker

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P. Cluck recently made headlines just by walking across the street to church, as shown in this photo taken on the church steps along with some of his hangers-on.

Of course, the news was how he got across that street, which was by gassing and knocking down all of the troublesome people who were in his path.

“Cracking liberal heads is not doing them any harm,” said Cluck. “In fact, a fracture or two might let some sense in.” His staff was noted to nod continuously in agreement, reminiscent of a line of bobble-head dolls. In fact, they began to nod even before Cluck had begun speaking, and continued for an hour after he had stopped.

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Camping Report from Vega State Park for the Weekend of June 5-7

It stank. Wind and intermittent rain on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Enough wind to completely wreck Justin’s tent and tear off a chunk from ours.

Enough wind to make fishing impossible. Enough wind to shrink down the window for safe kayaking/canoeing to about an hour. Enough wind to make hiking and biking nasty as sand particles whistled past (and into) your face at 50+ miles an hour. Enough wind to complicate cooking because your Coleman stove blew over unless you watched it carefully.

Steady winds of at least 30 mph with frequent gusts up to … don’t know for sure … but probably near 60-70 mph? However, on the positive side, we had no problems with insects. They were unable, poor creatures, to fly in such a gale.

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As this week we have been watching yet another act in the ongoing tragedy called Being Black and White in America, it helps me to look back to another era of great ferment. James Baldwin was a force in the sixties in our political and cultural life. His books, his essays, and his public speeches all taken together were basically a correspondence course on racism for a young and impressionable young American (like myself, for instance).

He was recorded at Cambridge Union in England where he debated William F. Buckley on whether there was a place in the American Dream for negroes. Mr. Baldwin’s oration was a milestone of a sort. The clarity of his vision and the strength of his intellect shine a light from that day all the way to the events of this past week.

Here is that speech for anyone who has 24 minutes to spare.

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Wait … Tom Who?

Unique. True. Real. Acquired taste. Honest. Genuine. Fascinating. Hurts so good. Melodic. Melodramatic. Anti-melodic. Treasure. Original.

These are all words that I could apply to Tom Waits’ art, and I would still be one of those blind men describing the elephant in the story. My son Jonnie led me to his music a while back, at a time when I was looking for something at the opposite pole from bubblegum.

The first time that I heard him, being an exceedingly shallow person, I wondered why anyone would ever provide a microphone to a man with such a voice, much less record him at the scene of the crime.

It was only when I finally was able to set aside one of my oldest personal demons, expectations, that I could start to appreciate what Waits was doing.

And, of course, it was life- … I was going to write life-changing, but that’s not quite it. It was life-seeing, and honey, once you’ve seen you can’t go back to being blind. It ruins you for that.

(In this, it’s a bit like one of those phrases you hear around AA from time to time. “AA didn’t always keep me sober, but it did ruin my drinking for me.”)

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Tuesday at five p.m. about a hundred souls gathered on the corner of Main & Townsend in 92 degree weather to witness for … what? For not-racism, not-murder, not-hatred, not-forgetting this time.

We were a long way from Minneapolis, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that injustice done anywhere hurts us all.

There were the usual honkers-in-agreement who drove by waving and signaling their agreement with the cause. And a couple of rage-filled people who shouted from their cars at us – so blinded by their choler they almost hit other cars.

Looking around the group … we kinda looked like America. Some white some black, some brown. Old, new, child, geezer. Young and cool side by side with the grizzled and the walker-bound.

[BTW: I created the sign with my own little hands. Only problem I had was with spelling the difficult word “the.”]

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Taking off tomorrow for a weekend camping at Vega State Park. Justin and Amy and their families will be there as well for a weekend of social distancing and trying to eat S’Mors through an approved mask.

The expectations all seem a bit unreal to me. Throwing four vigorous young cousins together outdoors and expecting that they will maintain the proper distance … on what planet does that happen?

But it will be good to get out and away. We camp on separate sites and each family prepares its own food. I will offer pour-over coffee in the mornings as I usually do, as long as the person brings their own mug. I figure if the coronavirus is so tough that it can survive a bath in boiling water we’re doomed anyway.

There’s a small lake at the park. In fact, it’s the reason for the park. Some sorts of fish live in that lake, and we’ll have to see about reducing that number.

We’ll be back in Montrose on Sunday evening, after a couple of days away from news sources. Try to hold the world together in our absence, would you?

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An Apple A Day …

My personal physician, Dr. Salvia Petitsfours, uses an interesting management style in her practice. Her nurse will ask me a few health-related questions and then take my blood pressure (feet on the floor, don’t cross your legs).

Later, Dr.B will come into the exam room, study the nurses’ notes (including any abnormal responses), do a “Hmmmm,” and then never again mention them. As if she’s telling me: “Hey, we found a problem, now go out there and fix it!”

Which I begin doing as soon as my feet clear the threshold of her office. I go home, drag out the laptop and fire up Google.

Case in point. The nurse measures my blood pressure, knits her brow, and asks “Have you ever been told you had hypertension?” When I answer “No,” she writes that down and leaves the room. Dr. B never mentions it during the rest of the visit.

After Google-ing, I drive to Walgreen’s where they are happy to sell me a marvelous device to monitor my blood pressure at home. I find that while my numbers are not screamingly high, they are also never “normal.”

Now you might well ask: “Hey, you’re a grown-up ex-physician. Why didn’t you pose more questions? You could stand up for yourself and not be so damned passive.” Or you might also ask: “Why would you continue to see a physician who doesn’t follow up on what she finds.”

That’s where you miss the most important thing. Since I really don’t want my doctor to find anything wrong, I am happy to continue to feign ignorance, even to myself. And as long as she doesn’t make a fuss, I can give myself permission to keep doing what I’m doing without a worry in the world.

Except for the blood pressure thing. It nagged at me, and so I returned to Dr. Petitsfours’ office a week ago with a sheet of paper containing a hundred BP measurements taken over a month. As a result I am now taking a medication that makes it necessary to urinate forty-two times a day, twenty-three of those times during the hours that I would normally sleep.

Other than that, I’m a happy man. Oh, and my numbers are quite a bit better, so there is that.

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There are times when I do feel sorry for modern parents. They’ve studied how to be successes at raising that child they brought into the world, and have the big items nailed down pretty well, at least some of them do.

But then life tosses something small at them, something that was never the subject of a focus group or a TED talk.

When I was working in Yankton SD, I spent a fair amount of time running to the Emergency Department for some of that small stuff. One summer afternoon, a young father brought his 7 year-old in to be seen.

The man was a sturdy specimen, wearing faded camo pants and a Cabela’s T-shirt. A guy who probably fished, hunted, camped … an outdoorsy person.

“What is the problem,” I asked.

“He’s got a woodtick on him,’ said the father.

I looked and found a tick on the boy’s back right around the belt line. I asked a nurse for a tweezers, then reached over and plucked the offending critter off.

The father looked at me incredulously. “That’s it?” he said.

“Yup, that’s it.”

The man was instantly angry (at me? at life? at himself?) and probably embarrassed as well. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about it before he bundled up the lad and took off. Nor did I get the answer to another question of mine, which was “How in blazes did you get to be an adult in South Dakota without knowing how to do this yourself?”

Another problem for today’s parents is that they don’t have Grandma Jacobson around. One of the things that happened to me regularly when I used to spend weeks living on my grandparents’ farm as a young child was that I would be stung by a bee or wasp. There was rarely a week that went by without a sting.

It may have had something to with the fact that I would be forever on the lookout for nests of these creatures, and then spend an afternoon tearing them apart. I would poke a stick at one and then run away at top speed. When the resultant hubbub died down, in I would go for another poke. The usual endpoint of all this was that one of the sneaky little devils would come up behind me and do his kamikaze thing on the back of my arm or neck.

I would then run to Grandma who knew exactly what to do. Stings required the application of a poultice, a large wet one, and it was made of … mud. Any old mud would do. Just plop a big lump of it over the injury and keep it there until the poultice dried. Then toss it all away and get on with your day.

I expect that other treatments would have worked as well. The main ingredients were Grandma’s perfect confidence and the fact that it always worked. (If you wait the time it takes for a layer of mud to dry most of the pain would be gone no matter what you put on it.)

If a child comes running to me tomorrow for comfort after being stung by a bee, I’m think I’m going to slather on chocolate frosting. That way when the pain has gone, he can scrape it off and eat it.

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From The New Yorker

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Across the street from the southtown City Market there is a small pasture. This Spring one of the occupants of that pasture has caused a small stir. People will park their cars at the store and walk across the street just to get a good look, and if they’re lucky, be able to pet it.

Yesterday Robin and I made a pilgrimage from home just to see her. Dang. What a beauty!

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The Rain Falleth

Saturday afternoon we had a rain with all the trimmings. Lightning, tonnerre, wind, deluge – everything our little hearts desired. It’s been sooo dry for sooo long. Yessssssss, the parched earth says.

Even the cactus looked happier, although I will admit that’s it’s hard to tell with cacti, they hold their emotional cards pretty close to their spiny vests.

There are two small places on our routine hike at the Black Canyon where the claret cup cactus can be found, and right now they are blooming. Their color is amazing, really.

You can’t tell sizes from the photo, but the blossoms are a little bit bigger than a quarter. We look forward to seeing them each year when they flower, but that time is quite short. Mostly within a week they are done with it, start to finish.

BTW, it’s the Colorado state cactus. Who knew there was such a thing?

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Saturday morning I decided to attend a local AA meeting that has been a part of my routine for several years. During the emergency I’ve only been to Zoom versions of that meeting.

My deal with myself was that if there were too many people in that room, or too many people not wearing masks, I would leave. I had no trouble making my decision, because when I went through the door and made my scan absolutely no one within view was wearing facial covering.

I spun on my heel and left. It’s not that scattered episodes of recklessness and irresponsibility are surprising during these uncertain times, but I don’t intend to join in with those who behave this way. My obligations to me and mine are not affected by what others do.

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Robin is installing a sign in our front yard. She hasn’t decided exactly where to put it, but perhaps somewhere near the garden Buddha would be good. Up to her, though.

I like the graphics and love the message. We have no quarrel at all with those who carry signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” and we praise and support their efforts. But here in Montrose County there are so few folks who self-identify as black that perhaps this phrasing is a better fit.

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Since I referenced our racial profile here in Montrose County, I thought you might find this graphic of our county’s makeup interesting.

Not quite monochromatic, but far from diverse.

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Let’s see. This Sunday morning we remain in the midst of a plague, racially-inspired violence is playing out across the land, and we still have that sorry-ass example of a president, who is of no help at all. One bummer after another, n’est-ce pas?

So where’s the brighter day, today? Hmmm … how to find something upbeat … ?

  • The plague will eventually peter out, one way or another, and most of us will still be here and complaining about the weather as always.
  • Although the last racist will probably not perish in this milennium or the next, it seems that the meanings behind the words Black Lives Matter have a strong toe-hold in our national consciousness. This is a good and necessary thing that must happen before we can get moving again toward justice and equality and mutual respect. (We keep on taking pauses in that march, some so long we tend to forget why we’re out there and where we want to be eventually).
  • November is coming and there is good reason to hope that P. Cluck and his merry band of world-ruiners will be turned out of office and dumped into the American History bin marked “Trash.” Once this happens we can begin to give his tweeting the attention it deserves, which is none at all.

There, now don’t we all feel better? I know I do.

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I Can’t Breathe

Something horrible happened in my old hometown, less than six blocks from the house where I grew up. A Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of another man until he caused the second man’s death from suffocation. Although onlookers told the officer to stop what was he was doing, he did not remove that knee until after many minutes had passed and it was too late. All the while, three fellow officers stood by. I will not display the photos, or videos, here. They make me ill. One can easily find them by typing the name George Floyd into any search engine.

A horrible scenario, and unfortunately not rare at all. The actors in these moments are always the same – the officer will be white, the victim will be black.

Angry citizens took to the streets of Minneapolis Wednesday night, burning and looting. That is ugly and criminal behavior, too. The one is not equivalent to the other, although they are certainly related.

This killing of a citizen by a police officer that we saw in the video should make all of us furious and afraid. The officer has been fired, and rightly so. He will be tried eventually, which might be of some comfort to the families of the victim, although the outcomes of such trials are always uncertain.

This was the behavior of a psychopath, a thug. A thug dressed up in a uniform and wearing a badge and a gun. He does not represent any of the brave and principled officers I have known.

No one is safe from such people when they use the power that society gives them in a perverted manner. While they tend to prey on minorities most often, no one is safe because they are without boundaries. And these days, these worse-than-I-ever-imagined-would-be-days, such persons are fed oxygen by the hateful speech that has emanated from P.Cluck and his supporters since the very beginning of our national nightmare in 2016.

Those of us who are white might think our privilege protects us, but that’s a false feeling of security.

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I keep trotting this famous short piece out, which dates from the days of the horrors of Nazi Germany. It fits so well in so many instances.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

If we don’t stand with the victims at these times, who will stand with us when our turn comes?

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I am having such a deja vu experience this week, watching the rioting and burning on television. In the “long hot summer” of 1967, there were 159 race riots. It was such an intense time that President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission to find out why this was happening and what there was to be done about it.

The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report was a strong indictment of white America: “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

Its results suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism and suggested that white America bore much of the responsibility for black rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment. In order to do so, the report recommended for government programs to provide needed services, to hire more diverse and sensitive police forces and, most notably, to invest billions in housing programs aimed at breaking up residential segregation.

Wikipedia: Kerner Commission

We’re at a different place today. Today’s riots stem from the fear of being killed for the crime of being black. Killed either by police or by white vigilantes.

When black parents today have “the talk” with their kids, what advice can they possibly give? How can they tell their children ways to avoid something so arbitrary and capricious as the violent gaze and deeds of psychopathic whites?

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Here’s Van Jones’ take as he provides some perspective and shares his frustrations.

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Murder Most Foul

High Sheriff: Awright, let’s have the story, you two. And let’s just skip the parts where you say it wasn’t your fault. That poor defenseless little thing is dead as a doornail, and I don’t see anybody else in the room.

Robin: I confess. Jon did it.

Jon: Whuh?

Robin: Almost as soon as we left the nursery that poor thing began to droop, as if she knew the fate that awaited her.

Jon: Robin … Dear … light of my life, there is no case against us if we remain mute.

Robin: I couldn’t face people any longer. You’d only go out and do it all over again. Admit it, Jon, you are a serial basil-killer and you need help. If jail is the only way to end this, then so be it.

High Sheriff: Okay, Mister – hands behind your back. You don’t have to say anything but if you do I’ll for sure tell it to the judge and CNN or anyone that cares to listen. It’s moments like this that make me glad to be a cop.

Robin: Could we make it quick, officer? I have a pedicure in 20 minutes..

Jon: (falling to his knees and whingeing in an unbecoming way) Oh thank you, Robin, for ratting me out. I admit that I killed that basil plant, one of the four that I’ve murdered this year. I don’t know why … something comes over me and I leave an air pocket down by the roots or I starve the plants for water.

High Sheriff: Ah, here’s the paddy wagon now. It’s off to the pokey for you, lad, and you’d better hope this news doesn’t get out, because we’re understaffed and if a mob should come for you …

Jon: I deserve whatever comes. I can still hear those tiny basil screams at night, when all is quiet. Perhaps I always will.

High Sheriff: You didn’t let me finish. If a mob should come I’ll just put you out on the sidewalk. No point in risking my staff for the likes of thee.

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I’ve switched from wearing annoyingly itchy blue paper masks to annoyingly itchy bandannas as part of my personal masking efforts. When no one is around, I can push the bandanna down, and I believe it gives me just that rakish look I’ve been seeking.

If you haven’t yet decided on what your masking style should be, perhaps this pictorial I ran across should help. I’ve chosen “The Hondo” for myself.

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I recently viewed a brief news clip about some folks in Great Britain who have volunteered to participate in a vaccine study being conducted there. They were both thirty-somethings, and without knowing more about the study details, I mentally commended them for their courage and thoughtfulness.

This started me wondering about myself. I did volunteer for a vaccine study once, and that was for the immunization against rubella, or so-called German measles. That was fifty years ago. The perceived risks were very small and it really didn’t require any bravery at all.

But now … there are many different coronavirus vaccines being studied, of very different types, from what I’ve gathered – and who should step forward, I wonder? Eventually some of us will have to receive that vaccine to make sure we don’t keel over just from getting “the shot.” That’s the part about safety.

And then will come the crucial part. We find out whether the immunization is effective as we compare the vaccinated subjects to unvaccinated ones when both are exposed to the offending agent.

Since the highest risk group from coronavirus is made up of my peers, shouldn’t it be people like me who are among those to come forward as volunteers? We who are members of the group that would benefit most?

But in general my age group would be excluded from drug studies. Hmmm.

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This woman’s name is Sarah Cooper. She is on YouTube as well as Twitter & Tik Tok. She positively nails her subject, which is P.Cluck. This one is called “How to Medical.”

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In general I have not been a fan of media physicians. You know, those people who show up regularly as guests or commentators. Robin was quite surprised at me earlier in our marriage when after viewing yet another piece of inaccurate trash I burst out at the television set: “Nancy Snyderman, you medical whore!”

And so when Sanjay Gupta came along, at first I filed him in the same waste basket with the rest. But that was a long time ago, and I have since retrieved him, dusted him off, and actually come to admire his media work. I think he honestly tries to get it right. He is neither smarmy nor arrogant – which are unusual qualities in his field.

And in our present troubles, IMHO, he’s done a very necessary job, being one of the voices of reason in the unfortunate clamor that often passes for discussion when the subject is Covid-19.

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Whether Wicker?

Robin has been on a quest. Our previous and never-admirable picnic basket fell apart after a brief life. It was a POC from the beginning and is not mourned. But its demise left us basket-less, and that simply will not do.

She would prefer something in a good strong wicker like the one in the lovely photo above, and there’s the problem. So many of these baskets look shaky in the store where you purchased them, and the handles start falling off before you get them home. Robin has found some online that looked sturdy enough, but we would have to take out a second mortgage on the house to come up with the down payment.

So what’s a person to do? Is there nothing between the poorly made and the preciously wrought?

Stay tuned.

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Mr. Biden forgot something. Nothing strange there, we all forget things from time to time, and with age that trait sometimes becomes bothersome. I can personally attest to that. But this time he forgot something very important while he was on an interview program … to keep his mouth shut when no words were called for.

We all wish he’d be more circumspect, but that’s not too likely, since not being circumspect is one of his persisting traits. This episode will pass, he’s apologized and all, but it wastes precious time and energy. Americans of color deserve better than wisecracks.

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A Dutch grandmother had to be taken to court to force her to remove photos of her grandchildren that she’d posted on Facebook. The plaintiffs were the children’s parents. Apparently there’s still one photo up there that she’s holding back on.

What in the world is the matter with Granny? Having to be sued? Over Facebook postings? Geeesh.

This story certainly supports Tolstoy’s oft-repeated comment: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

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Robin and I watched a streamed movie this past week that was so odd that at the end instead of wondering “What was the meaning of it all?” we asked each other “Why did we watch it through to the end?”

The movie was The Lighthouse, starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. All of the wonderful elements of drama that a lighthouse can provide were there. The isolation, the overriding importance of maintaining the light no matter what, humans thrown together into a completely foreign situation and what will come of that? All were there.

But then the characters and the movie all went bonkers, and by the end my own hinges were coming loose as I fruitlessly tried to make sense of it.

So we really can’t recommend it to anyone. Unless you’re brave or witless enough to try to take a good shot at it, don’t start. For myself, I started at full-bore witless and it got me nowhere.

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As rough a cob as that movie was, it did remind me that I have a favorite genre of films. A favorite that has persisted through all the generations I’ve been through so far. And that is where a group of people is completely isolated in one way or another, under stress, and we watch what happens to them all.

The setting can be an island in a hurricane as in Key Largo, or any number of diners in the desert cut off by wind and sand and distance from the outside world. The weather becomes a character, and the more violent the better.

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Our 28th wedding anniversary came and went this past weekend. We celebrated by ordering takeout from our favorite local restaurant and dining at home. Such is celebrating in the days of the plague.

I look at this photo and wonder … where did I go right?

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Pictorial Supplement

Scenes from a world gone slightly off its rocker. Protesting that somebody suggested that you wear a small bit of cloth to protect your neighbor’s health. Or maybe the fact that you are crazy, an idiot, a miserable S.O.B, or some combination of all three.

Is this the face of anyone you know?

Look closely here. Do you see anything resembling sanity?

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I do believe I’ve got the biggest gun at this here rally.

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We don’t really care about the coronavirus, we’re just your basic religious nutcases who saw the cameras and dug our sign out of the back of the R.V..

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Hey, you’re wearing the same cartridge belt as me. Damn.

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Logical stretch, anyone? Don’t all speak at once. Raise your hand and I’ll call on you.

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Check out the guy in the middle. “Goll-ee, are they taking our picture? Dang if I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot.”

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At first I thought she might be a wax figure, standing there with her three signs. Then I looked for hints of something warm and human behind those eyes.

I couldn’t find any. Can you?

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I know, I know, these are cheap shots. And I’m ashamed of myself for making fun of such thoughtful patriots. I am sooo bad.

But I do have photographs of some people that I admire. Very much. This group of ICU nurses who stood silently in front of a mob in Arizona. Women who had actually seen first-hand what the virus can do, and were testifying in their own quiet way.

You want a hero to follow? Here’s one. Standing in the street takes courage. But the real test kicks in when she turns around and goes to work inside that hospital. That takes even more guts.

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Micro-post

Just ran across this timely t-shirt that is available at amazon.com for only $16.99. My problem is that I don’t know exactly where I would wear it without being pummeled severely about the head and neck.

You may find this hard to believe, but there are people who do not share my sense of humor.