Category Archives: Confessional

Remembering (or not) the royal funeral

Of course, I refer to the funeral of King Edward VII, on May 20, 1910.

Y’all remember that one? It was a biggie. I cite the first paragraph of The Guns of August:

I don’t mean to disrespect Her Majesty’s funeral yesterday, by any means. Based on all I’ve heard and the few photos I’ve seen (the reverence, the solemnity, the dazzling colors — except for the two disgraced princes in mufti), it was splendid — as it should have been.

I’ve just got this one on my mind because a couple of days back, I started re-reading the Tuchman book. I’m using the term “re-reading” loosely here, because I didn’t finish it the first time. After it shifted to the Eastern front, it seemed to bog down. All I remember about it was the incompetence of the tsar’s government (sort of like Putin’s in Ukraine), which gave me a bit of insight into why the revolution happened.

So I decided to start over, partly because I knew the first chapter was awesome, beginning with that portrait, excerpted above, of the old world that was about to end — that ruled by closely related kings, attending the funeral of their kinsman. He was known as “the uncle of Europe,” which Mrs. Tuchman explained thusly:

Anyway, I had remembered all that — not each and every relationship, or even the precise number of royal highnesses and such in the cortege. But I had remembered the main points — the pomp and splendor, the significance of this last gathering of the fam, and the general reasons why this was all to come to an end.

But I didn’t remember everything. And that’s my point. When I was young, I remembered any book I had read — no matter how much earlier — in absurd detail. Not photographic memory exactly, but I remember details clearly, and could quickly find them. Long before Google, I could in a brief moment find a quote I wanted in a book read 20 years earlier, by leafing through it thinking, OK, it was in the upper part of a left-hand page, and it was before this… but after that… a couple more pages… there! And when I got there, it was as I had remembered.

To some extent, that’s still there. And I remembered there were certain alarming ideas current in Germany at the time, and how I was impressed when I first read about them, thinking, As much as we make of Nazi ideology, this stuff didn’t just come from the twisted mind of Hitler a generation later….

But I had forgotten her portrait of the most prominent of those foreign cousins riding in the cortege — Kaiser Wilhelm II. “William” was glad his uncle Edward was dead. It meant, he thought, he — and Germany — would get more recognition, more respect. Note the way the author describes the kaiser’s reaction to Edward’s triumphant visit to Paris a few years earlier:

(Sorry about all the long screenshots, by the way. I would copy and paste much shorter quotes, but Google Books won’t let me, so I do this. I know it’s rather unsatisfactory. I don’t do it just because I’m lazy; retyping introduces a greatly increased possibility of errors.)

I’d forgotten what a cranky, needy child the Kaiser was. Of course, he comes across a lot like Trump — all that whiny me, me, me. Maybe it strikes me more strongly now because I first read that chapter pre-2016, when Trump was still this ridiculous figure from the 1980s whom we are all free to ignore.

Now, I think, Well, as messed up as our democracy not is, and as much as I like and will miss the queen, here’s another reason to appreciate that we don’t have a monarch. Think about it. As much as Trump tried to become king — on Jan. 6, and so often before and since — he failed. But imagine how much more awful things would be were he a sovereign, and his identification with the country were such that he was the country and the country was him? (Yes, I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and things were different by 1914, but there’s still the psychology of identification that lies at the heart of the idea of monarchy.)

Of course, if we had a monarchy, Trump would never have been the king. But let’s not get lost in speculative details.

Anyway, that’s not my point. My point is to bring up one of the few fun parts of getting older: It’s forgetting things, and enjoying the delight of rediscovering them.

It’s not that I’ve become a goldfish. I remember most things, and since I’m an intuitive type, I pretty much always remember, and can accurately describe in general terms, the forest. Which is what matters to someone who thinks the way I do. But I let go of a lot of the trees.

I first saw this coming on maybe 15 or 20 years ago (or, from my perspective, a few days ago) when I suddenly realized that I longer remembered all of the lyrics of every single Beatles song. I had always taken that knowledge for granted, and now there were many holes in it. Big deal, I was able to say to myself — those weren’t details I needed in my life. Still, it was a loss.

Then, about the time I entered my 60s, the delightful thing came along: I didn’t retain any new TV shows I saw. Oh, I remembered what Jethro did in “The Beverly Hillbillies” back in the mid-60s. But I could watch an episode of some British murder mystery and enjoy it in 2012 or later, and then come back in a year or so with NO idea whodunit, and enjoy it all over again. Because my personal hard drive was no longer adding this stuff to the database.

Which is awesome. Lately, my wife and I have been rewatching “Endeavour” from the beginning, and having a great time. Oh, something about a scene will be familiar; I might even say “I know this scene; this is the moment I realized the writers were basing this episode on ‘The Great Gatsby’.” But I still won’t know what’s going to happen. And there are episodes I don’t remember at all.

Which is great. It’s so much easier to be entertained whenever I want to be. I don’t have to look so hard for “new” content.

For some time, I’ve been thinking, What if this could happen with books, too? I mean, what if I could completely forget O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and start over and experience it for the “first time” again? That would be bliss.

I’m not there yet, by any means. But this bit of forgetfulness with the Tuchman book is a promising beginning…

And next, the email…

Now that I’ve spent every spare moment I could find for several days gradually putting that post about Boston together — determined to get that done once after one of my trips — I can turn to catching up on email.

Not work email — I’m up to date on that chore. I mean my personal email. The screenshot above from my iPad indicates the scale of the problem. Not exactly, but that “2,031” you see over the email icon is roughly how many I have sitting unexamined in my personal In box.

Which I hate. Of course, I’ll delete most of them — not even opening the overwhelming majority of those before I do — and save most of the few left to folders, also unread. You know, just in case they prove useful at some point in the future. Which they almost certainly will not. But even the system I have for committing unthinking mass murder to hundreds or thousands of messages can take me a couple of hours, when there are this many. Of course, it’s not the many that cause it to take so long — it’s the few I open and glance at, and perhaps even read.

Remember when — 25 to 30 years ago — we thought email was a convenience? And certainly it was, compared to snail mail, which takes so much time and physical effort to process even a single letter. It was made more seductive, there in the early-to-middle ’90s, by the fact that relatively few people out there had email, which really cut down on the volume.

Yesterday, I was talking about something else with an IT professional — no, not a funny one like this guy, but a real one — and he was talking about some new technology he was working with, and I asked him to let me know if he ran across any new technology that eliminated the hassle of email.

Trying to be helpful, he made a suggestion or two, but I had tried them already, leading to failure. For instance, he suggested creating folders in which to dump things that might require some action (or at least reading), so they can be addressed later. With bitter regret, I told him of my hundreds of such folders, which have done nothing to reduce the work — and which, of course, I pretty much never look back at. The junk just sits there.

Part of it is my personality. I’ve always been a pack rat, and I have a great, almost mortal, dread of having something in my hands at one point, throwing it away, and then desperately needing it at some later date. (This, of course, predates email. My office, or my desk if that’s all I had, would always be a forest of piles of paper. To this day, I defend this system because of something that happened once in the very early ’90s — Managing Editor Paula Ellis, knowing my habits, came to me and asked whether I had a copy of a memo that had been distributed in the newsroom several months earlier. Certainly, I said. I went immediately to the right pile and shuffled through it for a moment — then proudly handed it to her. See? My way was the right way. It may have only happened once, but it happened…)

Then there is the problem of my chosen profession — or rather, the profession that chose me. It’s very difficult for a journalist — at least this one — to throw away written information. It may not be useful later, but on rare occasions it can be critical later. This only got worse when I turned to opinion writing — and much worse than that when I took up blogging. At least, when I was a beat reporter 40-odd years ago, there was a limit to the range of things I might write about. No longer. And since I still blog, this perceived need to hang onto things has continued well past the end of my newspaper career.

Even the stupidest, most useless, boring piece of crapola — say, an appeal for money from a political campaign — can inspire me to write something, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I write only to share how stupid, useless and boring it is.

Oh, well.

I’ll turn to it later, and get it done eventually. Right now, I think I’ll turn, however briefly, to some actual paying work…

 

 

 

Well, at least I know more about history than THESE guys…

You know how, for the last three weeks, I did really badly on the Slate News Quiz but still beat the Slate staff person assigned to compete that week?

Well, half of that happened this week. I only got five right out of 12, for an embarrassing 186. But this time, I got creamed by Technology Editor Jonathan Fischer, who scored a 370.

So let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about history. I’m a lifelong student of it, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how very, very little I know about it. Even with the small slices in which I’ve taken a particular interest through the years — World War II, the first years of our republic at the end of the 18th century, Rome in the time around Julius Caesar’s assassination — I am constantly shocked at the major things I suddenly learn that I did not know. Happens all the time.

For instance, reading all those Patrick O’Brian novels has made me try to learn more about the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly the Royal Navy during that period.

Well, I was over visiting my Mom the other night, and she always watches “Jeopardy” in the evening. This night, the Final Jeopardy question — or rather answer — was the one you see above, under the category, “The Early 19th Century”: “Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve signaled ‘Engage the enemy’ around noon & surrendered at 1:45 PM during this battle”.

So we know he’s French, and it’s the early 19th century, and one can reasonably assume that this was a battle of some significance — a fleet action, say, as opposed to a meeting between a couple of frigates, where you wouldn’t have an admiral in charge. And Villeneuve’s name was vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure which significant battle he had lost. As far as I knew, it could have been the Nile, or Algeciras. Although I don’t think those were known for being brief.

So I just went with the biggest one of all, and said “Trafalgar.” The climax (and end) of Nelson’s life, his greatest triumph — the one that got him the column.

But I didn’t know, and I felt bad about that.

Soon, though, I felt better.

The three contestants all answered some variant of “What is Waterloo?”

Seriously, they did. These were three fairly bright people — they did well on plenty of other answers — and all three of them had bet money that an admiral was in command at Waterloo.

Oh, and it was Trafalgar. But I should have known, as a Jack Aubrey fan.

Anyway… if y’all want to take the Slate quiz, here’s the link. If you don’t do any better than I did, you don’t have to share…

 

 

 

Why didn’t I become an etymologist? Or a philologist?

I ask myself that often. And whenever I do, I realize that had I become one or the other, I might better understand the difference between the two fields. Ah, well. We’re only allowed so much time in this life.

Back in the earliest days of my newspaper career, I would look out upon alternative paths, and think how much I would have loved to direct movies. But of course, to do that, I would have had to immerse myself entirely into that, just as I did with newspaper work, in order to rise to the very top of that profession. I’d have had to give up everything else. And it’s probably just as well I didn’t go Hollywood to that extent.

(Later, in the ’80s, I switched to wanting to direct music videos. I loved that medium, wedding two popular art forms I loved so much, and making them one. But again, just as well I didn’t, even though it would have been fun.)

But the fascination with words has always been there. The original meanings of particular words, the relationships between different languages that you can see in them, and the ways they have developed over the ages, reflecting the expanse of human experience through history. We’re a species made to verbalize, and it fascinates me to see how we have chosen to shape words over time, and how the words have shaped us.

Anyway, this hit me this morning, when I responded to a Tweet from @dick_nixon, one of my fave feeds:

Of course, as soon as I’d posted my reply, I started obsessing about one of the words I had used.

“Venerable.”

I used it sort of semi-ironically, deliberately avoiding “old” and using a more respectful term in keeping with the tone of that feed, which very convincingly pretends that the Philadelphia-area playwright who writes it is actually Nixon himself, writing about the present day, except when he posts as Ron Ziegler (always signed with “RZ”) and models the respectful way that the former president would like us to speak to him. (You have to be a fan of the feed to fully appreciate these nuances.)

But then, thinking harder about the word than I usually do, I got to thinking how remarkably similar the word is to the less savory “venereal.” And I realized they must both arise from the original, whom you see so famously depicted below by Botticelli:

The link wasn’t immediately evident from my initial Googling. “Venerable” took me to “venerate.” That took me to “From Latin venerātus, perfect passive participle of veneror (worship, reverence).”

Of course, at this point 2,000 years of Christianity makes it momentarily hard to see the connection between these concepts, but you eventually get there. Wiktionary mentions the goddess with regard to venerari, but Miriam-Webster spells it out a bit more clearly going straight from “venerate:”

Venerate comes from the Latin root venerārī, which has the various meanings of “to solicit the good will of,” “to worship,” “to pay homage to,” and “to hold in awe.”  That root is related to Venus, which, as a proper noun, is the name of the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

And there she is. While we don’t often make the direct connection theologically or linguistically to “venerating” the goddess of love, unless we worship her from Madison Avenue (or Hollywood), it’s certainly something deeply rooted within us. Reminds me of how I used to think occasionally that I’d be comfortable as a member of a fertility cult, and then realized I do belong to a fertility cult: I’m Catholic. Which is, in way, comforting.

It tells us an awful lot about human beings and what makes us tick — and of how we need to be aware of ourselves and channel our tendencies on positive, constructive paths. But that’s a complicated subject I won’t get into right now.

I love this about words in much the way I love genealogy. Sure, it’s fun to figure out one is directly descended from Henry II — as many of you are, just as every one of you who are or European descent is descended from Charlemagne. Which is not a cause for putting on airs, but to stand in awe at the way all this works through time with — as you go backwards — family trees first spreading out, then folding back in upon themselves as the human population gets smaller. I learn about one of these famous connections, read about him or her on Wikipedia, then start branching out from there to learn more about that period in history and what was happening all around that figure, and how it fits into the complex web of human experience from the evolution of homo sapiens to our present, confused day.

You can do that with words, too. Which is why it would have been fun to be an etymologist or philologist or what have you. Of course, it’s probably good that I didn’t, because it would have caused an introvert like me to fold inward even more severely into abstraction. At least journalism forced me to get out and interact with people — while still indulging my love of words.

Speaking of words, let’s close with some lyrics:

Her name is Aphrodite
And she rides a crimson shell
And you know you cannot leave her
For you touched the distant sands
With tales of brave Ulysses
How his naked ears were tortured
By the sirens sweetly singing

I don’t think there was ever a fully-developed official video made of that, my favorite Cream song. It would be fun to make one. I wonder where I would start…

Why I like listening to Bishop Barron

I’ve really gotten into the weekly homilies of Bishop Robert Barron lately. For instance, I just now got around to watching his sermon from Sunday, and enjoyed it. That’s the one above.

He was commenting on the foolishness of the notion that faith and science are somehow at war with each other. It’s a foolishness that seems obvious to me — I see no conflict at all. But to millions on our planet today, it seems just as obvious that there is such a conflict, and it is inherently irreconcilable.

Which brings me to something I comment upon frequently in reference to politics. Those folks see things the way they do because they subscribe to the “ones and zeroes” view of the world. Everything, and especially everyone, is either good or bad — all good or all bad — and it is our duty to choose a side and love one tribe and hate the other. Here’s a place where I commented most recently upon it. Here’s a post in which I went into it a bit more fully.

Increasingly in the discordant world in which we live, this goes far beyond politics — to culture, to aesthetics, to worldviews that aren’t really about left vs. right. In a particularly silly version of intersectionality, people are increasingly convinced that if I vote this way, I perceive reality in this way and this way and this way.

Thus they determinedly convert themselves into unthinking automata.

Yet they remain convinced that they are right.

Anyway, I’m not going to go on and on about that. (I did go on and on about it, actually, but then deleted it all as distracting from the point I mean to address). My purpose is to bring up another recent sermon from the bishop that I meant to write about over the holidays, and didn’t get to. But I’m not going to comment on it in detail. I’m just going to urge you to listen to it (embedded below), and let me know what you think about it, and we can go from there if you are so inclined. Here’s a small sample of a couple of the main points, which the bishop included in his daily reflections on the day’s readings during Advent:

Friends, today’s Gospel again tells of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. I’ve always been fascinated by Mary’s “haste” in this story of the Visitation. Upon hearing the message of Gabriel concerning her own pregnancy and that of her cousin, Mary proceeded “in haste” into the hill country of Judah to see Elizabeth.

Why did she go with such speed and purpose? Because she had found her mission, her role in the theo-drama. We are dominated today by the ego-drama in all of its ramifications and implications.

The ego-drama is the play that I’m writing, I’m producing, I’m directing, and I’m starring in. We see this absolutely everywhere in our culture. Freedom of choice reigns supreme; I become the person that I choose to be.

The theo-drama is the great story being told by God, the great play being directed by God. What makes life thrilling is to discover your role in it. This is precisely what has happened to Mary. She has found her role—indeed a climactic role—in the theo-drama, and she wants to conspire with Elizabeth, who has also discovered her role in the same drama. And, like Mary, we have to find our place in God’s story.

There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s an excellent homily. Of course, I may be prejudiced. After we watched it together, I said something about how awesome it was to my wife. She agreed, but added: “Yes, you like Bishop Barron because he says exactly what you already believe.”

And that’s true. Perhaps that suggests I need to work harder at freeing myself of my own ego-drama. In fact, I know I do. Perhaps that’s the essence of what God demands of us. But I wouldn’t want to oversimplify…

What is a ‘friend?’

Damon and Pythias exemplified the Pythagorean ideal of friendship.

Remember Jim Harrison’s trial three years ago, which ended up with the former legislative leader being convicted on public corruption-related charges and sentenced to prison?

I was a prosecution witness in that case. I’d have written about it at the time — after it was over, anyway — but it happened right smack in the middle of the campaign when I was James Smith’s communications director. I didn’t have time for blogging or anything else. It was very hard to take the day off to go to the courthouse and testify.

It was the only time I have ever made an appearance in court. I used to cover trials, but I didn’t participate in them. It was a very weird and uncomfortable experience. I was called by David Pascoe, who wanted me to testify about this blog post from 2006. It was about an endorsement interview from when Harrison was running for re-election, and Pascoe was interested in a quote from Harrison near the end of it.

I was not the world’s smoothest witness. At one point, I think when defense attorney Hunter Limbaugh was cross-examining me, he was asking me a series of yes-or-no questions and I thought I was responding, when the judge interrupted to say something like, “Let the record show that the witness is shaking his head to indicate ‘no’…”

Very embarrassed, I muttered something like, “I’m sorry, your honor,” and resolved to use my words thenceforth.

My testimony was brief, but featured another awkward moment. I think it was Pascoe who asked whether I considered Harrison to be a “friend.” I was at a loss. I was thinking — and worse, saying — things like, Well, I dunno, I guess he’s alright; we have dealings from time to time and I suppose I get along with him OK in those interactions.

The attorney cut me off to clarify: “Have you ever had each other over to your homes for dinner?”

And I said something like (check the court record if you want the exact words), “Well, no.” Meanwhile, I was thinking, Is THAT what it means to be a friend? I guess I don’t have any, because I almost never have anybody over…

Another, shorter, anecdote: Recently, someone I’d known for several years stopped communicating with me, and I became concerned because the last couple of times I had talked with him, he hadn’t seemed himself. I reached out by email to ask if he was doing OK, and at some point wrote that I was just asking “as a friend.” He responded that he was fine, but that we were not friends. Which surprised me. I mean, applying the Pascoe principle, he had actually been to my house once.

So I was confused. About that, and a lot of things having to do with this “friend” concept. I mean, maybe he was right.

Lately — well, for the last 19 months, I guess — I have repeatedly read stories by and about people who are just desperate to get back out there and hang with their friends. Sure, a lot of these are unmarried people who don’t have kids, and they’re still dwelling in a sort of high-school social dynamic — like the main characters of “Seinfeld” — but not all of them are. And it’s also probably an introvert/extravert thing. But still, I wonder. I think I have friends. I’m not sure, but I think I do. But while I haven’t seen them since before the pandemic, I’m happy if I don’t see them for another year or two. It’ll be nice when I do see them, but I can wait. No problem.

Which brings me to the question I’m asking this evening: What makes someone a “friend?”

There have been all sorts of models for explaining that over the millennia. For instance, we can go by the Pythagorean model, but really, I don’t find it completely satisfactory. I mean, wouldn’t Damon have been even nobler if Pythias had not been his best bud? I dunno. I had never heard of Pythagorean friendship until just the other day, so let’s move on to something I know about. Which I’m increasingly convinced is a fairly small universe of things.

Do I even have friends? I have people I see regularly (or did, before March 2020) and whose company I enjoy. But aren’t they really mainly, I don’t know, work colleagues?

I had some people over to the house in 2016 when Burl, my high school friend, came to visit. I haven’t even for a moment thought of having people over since then. It’s just not something I do. (So if you, dear reader, think that we are friends — and perhaps we are — but wonder why you haven’t been invited, that’s why.) I am blessed with a big family, and just having parties at our house on people’s birthdays pretty much fills the social calendar. And while that’s certainly not enough for me with grandchildren — I don’t ever feel like I see them enough — it doesn’t leave me looking for unrelated people to interact with. I’m not going to make like Gatsby.

I’m pretty sure I had friends, as most would define the word, when I was a kid. I was really tight with Tony Wessler when we were in the 5th and 6th grades down in Ecuador. Tony and I connected several years back on Facebook, so we are still “friends” by that medium’s definition. In fact, Tony wrote to me on my birthday Sunday to say, “HB, Brad.” I wrote back to him to say, “Thanks, Tony!” So we’re all caught up now, I guess.

When I lived in New Orleans in 7th and 9th grades, my best bud was Tim Moorman, who lived across the street. We were both Karr Cougars. We had a lot of fun there. On weekends, several of us regularly spent the night at his house. In the summers his dad, a Navy chaplain, used to drive us up to Pontchartrain to the amusement park fairly frequently. A few years later, when I was in college I think, I spoke on the phone once with Chaplain Moorman, and he told me Tim was in the Navy, or at the Naval Academy, or something like that. Haven’t heard a word since.

My wife went to a private Catholic girl’s school, and graduated with a class of 37. I know about half of them, and several years back, my wife went down to the beach for a few days with a bunch of the ones to whom she’s closest. Meanwhile, in the 47 years since we’ve been married, my wife has met two people I graduated with, out of a class of 600. One of them was Burl, and I shared with you the awful news that he died a couple of years back. The other one disappeared after the last time we saw him, back in the mid-’70s. So basically, attending my 50th class reunion this year — if there was one — never entered my mind.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Most of the people who I hear going on and on about friends, and making friends and maintaining friendships, and talking for hours with a bestie without even any beer being involved, are women. But then, there are all those “buddy movies” featuring guys. Weren’t Pancho and the Cisco Kid friends? Butch and Sundance? Maybe it’s that we have friends, but we absolutely don’t talk about it. And if I’ve broken the Guy Code by wondering aloud about it, blame on my having gotten desocialized by COVID.

But it’s probably just me. Maybe it’s being an extreme introvert. Maybe it’s that God has blessed me with a wonderful, big family, and they fill my life. Even though I only know a tiny percentage of the 8,916 on my Ancestry tree (the ones from, say, the 13th century are strangers to me, I must confess), the ones I do know and love pretty much fill up that part of me that needs to interact with people.

Also, it could have something to do with being a Navy brat. The longest I ever lived in one place growing up was two years, four and a half months. That was in Ecuador, where I knew Tony. Friends sort of came and went, like guest stars on a sitcom. Except that unlike Ernest T. Bass, they didn’t make return appearances.

But excuses aside, sometimes I wonder, Does this make me a bad person? I don’t know. Do you ever wonder the same thing?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it the last couple of days because on my walks — I’m trying to get my walking going again — I’ve been listening to podcasts (as I’ve mentioned, I’m kind of sick of listening to newscasts), and I’ve gotten into an “Invisibilia” series on friendship.

One of them was about a friendship an American woman formed with a Romanian woman in the early ’80s when she was there doing some kind of anthropological work or something. After they got to be besties, the woman confessed to the American that she had been informing on her to the secret police. After the Wall fell, the American requested and received that agency’s files on her — there were boxes and boxes of them — and discovered her friend’s informing went far beyond what she’d thought. There were recriminations back and forth between them, but they remained friends.

The second one told the story of a couple of women (yeah, again, it’s usually women who get deeply into this friendship thing, or at least are willing to talk about it) who became nuns in the early ’60s. Both of them were sociable types who had a terrible time dealing with the convents’ rules that forbade them to form particular friendships with individuals, because they were supposed to love all people equally. (More of a Christian thing than a Pythagorean thing. Like what I said about Damon — wouldn’t it have been nobler if he had offered to take the place of just anyone, not just his best friend? I refer you to the story of the Good Samaritan, as a contrast.)

Very interesting stuff, but all kind of outside my experience, I’m afraid.

Anyway, it’s kind of an important term, and it feels strange to have so much trouble grasping it at my age. I thought I had a grip on it in kindergarten, but it’s just gotten more and more slippery as time has gone by.

I’d be interested to learn how y’all define the term…

Oh, yeah? Well, YOU spelled your name wrong…

I haven’t been posting any scores from the Slate news quiz lately, for two reasons:

  1. I really don’t like the new format. Try it, and see what you think.
  2. My scores really, really suck. This may be because of my recent aversion to pretty much all the news I encounter, thereby causing me to read less of it. But that’s probably not all of it.

See if you can do better. Actually, I expect a bag of hammers could do better.

Even that kid they call their “audience engagement editor” did better. Way better. But I comfort myself with the observation that she doesn’t even know how to spell her own name. I mean our own name… whatever…

What do you think of watching fireworks?

fireworks

I said I wouldn’t have time to post today (again), but I thought I’d just put up a quick post before the subject is too old.

I spoke briefly with my brother on Sunday, and he told me that he was at Lake Hartwell with his family to watch fireworks (he lives in Greenville, and that is apparently somewhere Greenville people go). My reaction was something to the effect of “Better you than me,” and he said it wasn’t his idea; he had just gone along with the inevitable, as dads often do. This led to a brief discussion in which we found we were both, at our now-advanced ages, quite unenchanted by such spectacles.

As I said to him, such displays have little attraction to me as a spectator activity. I enjoyed blowing stuff up as a kid. I can even recall enjoying writing my name in the air with sparklers, as tame as those are.

Remember this picture of our late friend Burl taking pride in one of his early models? It caused me to respond thusly back when I first saw it:

I’m wondering — is that behind your house in Foster Village? I ask because the background looks a lot like the view from my backyard when we lived in that subdivision. We had this unbelievable view of both Pearl Harbor and the Waianae range in the background. (The lots were terraced so that our backyard lawn was higher than the roof of the house behind us, making for an amazing panorama of southwestern Oahu.)

In fact, I’m flashing on a memory here. Unlike Burl, I wasn’t a master builder of models. I didn’t paint the pilot or other small details. I’d put on the decals, of course, but beyond that my finishing touches didn’t extend beyond maybe heating the point of a pin and using it to melt machine-gun holes in the wings and fuselage.

I definitely didn’t bother with details on the little model of a V1 buzz bomb that I test-flew in that backyard in Foster Village. I built it around a firecracker, wedged into the fuselage tightly by wrapping toilet paper around it, and threaded the fuse out through a hole before final gluing. (The V1, a fairly featureless rocket, was way too boring to look at, and there were no more than five or six pieces in the kit — the only thing that made it worth building was to blow it up.)

Then I took it out there, lit the fuse, and threw it. It worked — green plastic blasted everywhere. But it was over so quick, it didn’t seem worth the time it took to build the model, even as simple as it was. So that’s the last time I did that…

Anyway, that sort of thing was cool — for a kid. But the idea of watching someone else’s fireworks go off — especially if I had to fight traffic or get into a crowd to watch it… well, that’s only slightly more enticing than watching someone else play golf. Playing golf is fine. Watching someone else do it is rather mind-numbing.

I did, a few years back, enjoy watching the fireworks over the center of London on New Year’s Eve. But that’s because I was miles away, standing atop Primrose Hill in a park, amid a fairly chill (and not overly large) group of Londoners who had walked there for the same purpose. The fun then was less in the distant fireworks, and more in the novelty of the situation — walking through London in the middle of the night, seeing the other folks arriving from various directions pushing prams and such, and watching the Brits launch those quiet UFOs I wrote about. I had never seen those before. It was all quite pleasant.

But the rest of the time, I find fireworks fairly tiresome — the neighbors setting them off as soon as the sun goes down at certain times of the year (which always makes me glad I no longer have a dog and am forced by such thoughtlessness to try to calm the poor creature down), strangers doing them on the beach when I’m trying to have a nice evening walk there, and so forth. And the idea of driving out of town to watch other people set them off is pretty unthinkable. Although, of course, we do things for kids and grandkids.

So I’m just wondering: Do you like these things? Why? Or why not, for that matter. Your reasons may differ from mine…

The terrible image I took of fireworks over London on my Blackberry, because that's what I was carrying back on the evening of Dec. 31, 2010...

The terrible image I took of fireworks over London on my Blackberry, because that’s what I was carrying back on the evening of Dec. 31, 2010…

Do you ‘ache’ for these ‘cesspools?’ If so, why?

cesspools

Here I go again asking whether you yearn to get out there amongst ’em — however you define “’em.”

And trying to understand it.

See the headline above. The picture — which I loved when I saw it a couple of weeks ago (the guy with his fist in the air seems to think he’s Henry V or something — once more unto the breach!) — is of a particularly silly event that many seemed to enjoy. Here’s the original story about it, from late April.

Anyway, the event and the apparent enjoyment it provided inspired one Galadriel Watson to wonder why: “What do we get out of them that’s worth exposure to hundreds or thousands of strangers?”

I read it today because I can’t imagine. I have no pacifistic objections to battling over the name “Josh,” particularly with pool noodles. I just don’t know why anyone would want to get out into any crowds, at any time, for any reason — concerts, street protests, eating out, what have you. Not that I haven’t willingly done it myself — I have no crippling fear of crowds. But when I have, the presence of the crowd is usually a strong argument against attending the event — one that must be overcome by a stack of positive considerations that overcome it — not a favorable feature.

Knowing that many people feel otherwise — and “feel” is the proper word, since I can’t imagine thought being involved in this impulse — I read it in part looking for a passage saying “not everyone feels this way,” and looking for the explanation of that, as a way of answering the subquestion, “What’s wrong with me?”

And sure enough, she mentions introverts, but the “expert” she quotes gets it wrong:

It doesn’t even seem to matter if you’re an extrovert or introvert. Tegan Cruwys is an associate professor of psychology at the Australian National University and a clinical psychologist. She said, “Personality might affect the kinds of events and social groups that appeal to you — for example, music festivals versus gaming conventions — but there is no evidence that these social phenomena only apply to extroverts. Introverts are not asocial.”

I beg to differ, based on actual, personal experience. It’s not that I’m asocial, or antisocial. I am, after all, a communitarian. At least in the abstract, I love the whole community. That doesn’t mean I want to be packed in with the whole crowd like a sardine.

I go into a crowd the way one enters a survival course — as an ordeal to get through. What is my exit strategy? Where are the bathrooms? (No, real bathrooms; not port-a-potties.) Is there food that I can eat, or will it be the usual junk one finds at such dubious gatherings? This is sort of perverse, but I’ve been known to approach some crowds willingly as a challenge, as a way of testing myself. For instance, I have this thing about liking to go shopping at Harbison on Christmas Eve, just to take pride in my ability to avoid the traffic as much as possible, walk from convenient parking rather than wait an hour to park at the mall itself, etc. And then congratulating myself upon arriving home the same day.

Yeah, I know that’s weird. But I think wanting to go into crowds in general is weird.

Anyway, this article did not reassure me about the motives for liking such gatherings being positive. It said things like:

  • “As a human, you have ‘a very primitive desire to feel like you’re a part of a larger collective’…” Yeah, I’ve noticed. That’s what gives us all this insanity of people seeing political parties or movements as their tribes. Very primitive, indeed.
  • “Large events also reinforce our sense of identity…” Yeah. Exactly. It’s so heart-warming to find yourself in a crowd of like-minded white supremacists, for instance. This is a portal into my dislike of Identity Politics, but I’ll close it and move on…
  • “This idea of ‘us’ also provides a sense of security. ‘I’d be more inclined to look out for you…'” Sure. Because you’re one of my “tribe.” To hell with those “other people…”

And so forth. None of which feels uplifting or ennobling to me, or even like fun.

Maybe y’all can give me reasons why it’s good to get out in a crowd, and make me feel like a selfish jerk who lacks something important that should connect him to other people — which is a position into which I sometimes talk myself.

But this article didn’t do it.

Anyway, have at it. Good luck…

FYI, I sort of messed up my hand over the weekend

I took this right after getting home. There are more bloodstains now.

I took this right after getting home. Nice and clean. There are more bloodstains now, on bandage and fingers.

This is to let y’all know I’ll be posting even less than usual, and probably not responding much to comments, either.

I had an accident over the weekend. I was working on my deck Saturday, and did something stupid. I’m going to try to attach a photo to let you know what happened. My son took this picture when we called him from the emergency room to ask him to put away my tools.

Note that one of the clamps is turned the wrong, pointing right where my was. I couldnt see that where i was standing.

Note that one of the clamps is turned the wrong way, the sharp part pointing right where my hand was. I couldn’t see that from where I was standing.

The reason that drill is just hanging there is that it’s attached to a half-inch spade bit that is stuck through two treated four by fours. The bit is more than a foot long. I was drilling a hole through the two thick pieces of wood to put a carriage bolt through. I was wedged between a bush and the deck, so I couldn’t see really what was going on on the other side of my hand that was holding the drill. I didn’t realize the sharp end of that clamp was pointed directly at my hand, as you can see in the picture.

Anyway, this was a pretty tough board, or the drill bit is getting dull. I was having a terrible time going through, and having to lean into it with all my weight. The sawdust was burning, and smoke was pouring out of the hole I was making. Then, of course, it suddenly broke through and I lost my balance in that direction, falling toward the deck. Anyway, that sharp thing sticking out from the clamp caught me between two fingers and basically tried to cut my hand in half.

It only went up an inch or two, though. Anyway, I let go of the drill and looked down and saw how It had plowed up my hand, with the skin all peeled away, and the white bone of my middle knuckle completely showing. So I called for a towel, wrapped it up, and my wife drove me to the emergency room.

I took off the towel and showed it to the people at the counter at the ER, so they let me right in. We would be there for four or five hours. The short version is, they gave me a shot of morphine, cleaned it up, sewed it up and wrapped it up with a splint to immobilize it.

Here’s a picture my wife took before they did all that. I’m not going to post it here, but you can click to see it, if you don’t mind that sort of thing. Gross, huh?

I didn’t ask for the morphine, and I don’t think it did much. It was just kind of a dull ache before the morphine, and it was a dull ache after. But then they were messing with the wound, so I guess the drug took the edge off.

They also x-rayed it, but there were no breaks. Also gave me a tetanus shot.

The doc left the stitches loose, so that I wouldn’t pull them out, skin being kind of tight over the knuckles. So it still kind of oozes, like a blood glacier. Occasionally, some fresh, wet blood breaks through the dried stuff. It’s a mess. My wife just had to strip the sheets off the bed to try to get the stains out. Maybe I’ll put a plastic glove over it tonight, if I can get it over the bandage.

They told me to call Monday for an appointment with an orthopedist to follow up. That’s done, and the appointment is for Wednesday.

In the meantime, I’m trying to learn to do things with my left hand. I can’t really type. So I dictate things. I’m dictating this into my iPad.

It’s a hassle. Anyway, I thought I’d let y’all know. That’s my excuse…

Yes, I now have a knee-jerk response to this kind of analysis

Biden speak

This came up over the weekend, and I meant to post something about it at the time, but just had too much going on. Before it gets too far in the past, I’m just going to put it up for discussion, and if y’all take it up, I’ll join in and say more.

Howard Weaver, a retired VP from McClatchy newspapers with whom I frequently trade tweets, brought this to my attention on Sunday:

Howard’s reaction to it was, “A pointless, reflexive inside-the-beltway example of savvy swagger. Stop it, @nbcnews

It certainly hit a nerve with me. I jumped in with:

I may have overreacted a bit. A bit. But there’s a reason.

Look, folks, Joe’s going to do some things wrong, and when he does, people should call him on it. I don’t think all the evidence is in on his administration’s failure to go after MBS over Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, but there’s plenty there to challenge, so have at it.

But this nonsense I keep hearing saying Joe Biden is somehow failing in his “unity” pledge when Republicans decide not to vote for something he advocates is ridiculous.

Mind you, in NBC’s defense, they didn’t quite say that — they suggested this bill isn’t bipartisan because it didn’t get bipartisan support. You can certainly assert that, and support it. And if this was the only thing I’d seen about it, I wouldn’t even take notice of it. And if you called it to my attention, I might even agree. But I see it within a context of multiple assertions about that poor, deluded (or dishonest) Joe Biden and his stupid, or alleged, belief in bipartisanship — a bunch of yammering we’ve been getting from all sides ever since (and even before) Inauguration Day. That makes it come across differently.

It gets asserted repeatedly by people on the left who don’t want any bipartisanship and see Biden as a doddering old fool for believing in it (something deeply rooted in the campaigns of all that huge crowd of people Joe had to overcome to get the nomination), and people on the right who claim, every time Biden expresses what he believes instead of what they believe, that he’s a big, fat liar. And media types who prefer that the two sides fight, because in their book that makes a better story — or certainly a story that’s easier to cover in their usual, simple-minded manner.

And it’s stupid, and I’m tired of it. Tired to the point that I react negatively to something that even suggests it.

So that’s the way my knee’s jerking these days. How about yours?

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That's Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That’s Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

I am no astronomer.

But for whatever reason — maybe it’s that I found myself taking more walks after dark — it became obvious to me that I could see three planets in the sky, and none of them was Venus. And I was impressed — both by the planets, and by myself for actually having a clue what was happening in the sky. Because most of my life, I hadn’t noticed.

Mars was easy, of course. It’s red. Or reddish, anyway. I would see it soon after its rising, in the east southeast (I think; my memory on this isn’t perfect) and watch it climb to the heights. It was in the process of being impressed by this that I wrote this on Oct. 7, the night of the vice presidential debate. For whatever reason, it seemed brighter, or redder, or something that night. Basically, it was really looking very Arean:

But that’s not all I had been noticing for, I think, some weeks before that. Far off to the right in the path the planets follow, I would see the brightest thing in the sky after the moon. The first night I noticed it, I told myself it was Jupiter, and when I looked it up in the little astronomical app I have on my phone, I was right! Therefore I started taking a proud, proprietorial interest in it, and looked for it each night. There it was, and next to it Saturn.

I became sort of obsessive about it. Each night when I’d start on a late walk, I’d look up and make sure they were still there. And it pleased me that they always were, although as time passed they moved farther and farther to the right each night. (On the rare nights my wife would walk with me so late, I’d point them all out: “There’s Mars! And Jupiter! And a little to the left of it, Saturn!” She was very patient with me, though.)

Then, I read that the brightest gas giants were going to put on a show on the winter solstice, coming so close together — for the first time (at night) in 800 years — that they would appear more or less to be one star. Or so it might appear to the magi looking for it two millennia ago.

I liked the story, especially since it involved my planets with which I had been so pleased in recent months. My planets, which I had so recently noticed — I mean, discovered!

When the show happened tonight, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that they hadn’t come completely together — there was about a tenth of a degree of darkness between them. Also a tad put out because they had now moved so far to the right that they’d only be visible for an hour or so before setting. And I was especially ticked at myself for not being able to line up the lens on my phone with my binoculars to get a really awesome shot.

But I still thought it was pretty cool.

Did you see it? Thoughts?

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13.

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13. Saturn was to the left then.

I’m… dreaming of a weird… Christmas…

shootin shell

Pinterest is the oddest of social media. I call it up every once in a while to see what it thinks I’m interested in now. This, of course, is heavily influenced by what I called up to glance at last time. For instance, I recently saved a picture of John Wayne, in full cowboy gear, seeming to do an impression of Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” by sitting on a motorcycle. So the next time I looked, there was the Duke in a similar outfit sitting on a regular bicycle. Odd. It’s not even a particularly special bike, like Pee Wee’s. Pinterest just thinks I’ve got a thing about John Wayne on two-wheeled vehicles.

Of course, some things are odder than others.

I was delighted this week to run across this ad for genuine Mattel Shootin’ Shell toy guns. There were few things I liked better as a kid — because, you know, “They really shoot.” I had that pistol! And I had that gunbelt, with the trick buckle that contained a derringer that popped out and fired when you stuck your belly out, totally surprising your adversary who thought he had the drop on you, with your hands reachin’ for the sky and everything! (Note the illustration in the bottom right corner.)

And I think maybe I had the rifle. I didn’t remember it until I saw the little illustration where someone is breech-loading it, and that rang a bell. Or maybe I knew someone who had one. I was more of a pistolero.

This ad made me want to run update my Amazon gift list. These are real Christmas presents — exactly what a kid wants to find under the tree. And look — the rifle is only $3.99!

Still reminiscing…

I also had, as I think I’ve mentioned before, the guy you could have shootouts with. He was this little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to move his arm to draw on you, but if you fired first and your genuine Shootin’ Shell slug hit him, he stopped. If you weren’t fast enough or accurate enough, he would fire his cap gun and you were on the way to Boot Hill. Hypothetically. You could always, of course (in keeping with play conventions of that day), say he just winged you, and that you got him immediately after. In any case, I always survived these encounters.

Yeah, boys were weird back then. Really, really weird. We didn’t go out without our cowboy guns on. This could have been a long Wyatt Earp gun, or a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” sawed-off rifle, or Mattel’s predecessor to Shootin’ Shell, the Fanner 50. Or just a generic shooting iron from the dime store. It didn’t matter, as long as we were armed. Armed like cowboys, I mean. No, let me restate that again: Armed like “cowboys” we saw on TV and in the movies.

How weird were we? Well, I fully realized the answer to that when Pinterest showed me the illustration below, from an ad for underwear.

Of course, it is utterly ridiculous — it would never occur to us to do that, because Mom would never let you go out into the street for a showdown like that (note how Mom is keeping an eye on that weird kid). Also, you might shoot off something you would value greatly later in life. But it does help show how very strange we were about toy guns…

In our defense, though, this ad indicates that we boys weren’t the only weird ones back in the day. Grown ladies, apparently, also had a penchant for bearing arms while in their underwear. Or whatever that is she’s wearing…

weirder

Now is the winter of their discontent… apparently

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in "The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses."

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses.” We don’t need this…

This is a very dangerous time, a time no Americans have faced before.

A rough beast squats in the White House, refusing to move, even though it’s his time to slouch off (is it OK to mix references to Shakespeare and Yeats, or is that kind of like confusing metaphors?).

Almost half of the country (thank God less than half) voted for him, and has been brainwashed by him into utterly rejecting reality. And now he is rejecting his own rejection. We have never seen this before, ever. And we have never had so many people seemingly ready to accept something so profoundly, shockingly unAmerican. Now is the winter of their discontent, and they are acting as though they wish to bring the cold dark upon the whole country.

I referred to this in a tweet last night:

Four years ago, I flirted with the idea that maybe — in a vain attempt to embrace their duty as Alexander Hamilton conceived it — presidential electors should refuse to vote for Trump.

I realized I was wrong — partly in response to comments some of you, such as Phillip Bush and Dave Crockett, posted to correct me — and did something you seldom see me do: I wrote and published a separate post saying I was wrong, and why. In other words, I did what we’re all waiting for Trump’s supporters (not so much the man himself; let’s not expect too much) to do — I came to my senses.

Aside from the guidance from some of you, I was influenced by the fact that I had been watching the second half of “The Hollow Crown,” a brilliant compilation of eight of Shakespeare’s history plays — from Richard II to Richard III — telling the horrible story of the Wars of the Roses.

I highly recommend the two series. After watching that second one (the three Henry VI plays and Richard III) I put the first series (Richard II through Henry V) on my Amazon gift list, and someone in my family was was kind enough to get it for me. You really should try watching them, particularly the bloody second batch.

That, and my more personal wanderings through history compiling my family tree, impressed me more than ever how fortunate we were to be living in the world’s oldest and most stable liberal democracy. As I wrote at the time:

For so much of human history, no one had much of a sense of loyalty to a country, much less to a system of laws. They couldn’t even be relied on to be loyal to a certain lord for long. Everybody was always looking for the main chance, ready to kill to gain advantage even temporarily.

Our 240-year history, our country of laws and not of men, is a blessed hiatus from all that. We may descend into barbarism yet — and yes, the election of a man who shows little respect for the rule of law is not a good omen — but so far the Constitution has held….

At least, it had held up to that point. But it hadn’t been tested yet the way it’s about to be tested…

"Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens," by Henry Albert Payne

“Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens,” by Henry Albert Payne

Now I’m giving money. Not much, but technically money

filthy lucre

I mention this because to a lot of people, giving money is a big deal.

It’s not so much to me, because I don’t find money very interesting. Which is a big reason why I don’t have much of it. I’m even less interested in lucre than I am in football.

It was a bigger deal to me to actually start choosing and endorsing candidates back in 1994, my first year in the editorial department. That took some serious rewiring of my head. And then getting the point of putting out yard signs for candidates, as I started doing in 2018. And when I went to work for James and Mandy that same year.

To me, saying “I support you” is a bigger thing than “Here’s some money.”

But I know that makes me kind of weird, so I’m telling y’all — so you can make of it what you will — that one night last month, I actually, deliberately made a financial contribution to a candidate, in response to this appeal:

So I went to the ActBlue link and gave.

Yeah, I know. Twenty dollars and twenty cents ain’t much. I wish I could give Mandy a lot more. But still, it was technically money, and therefore kind of a step for me.

And as long as we’re talking technically, I guess it wasn’t my first. Several days earlier, my wife had made a contribution to Jaime Harrison. She mentioned it so I’d know, because my name’s on the account. So I was on the books as a donor. Which I thought was great — I’d been thinking about making a contribution to Jaime, but as I tend to do with money, I had repeatedly forgotten about it. So I was a donor, and I didn’t even have to do anything (like fill out a form or something, which I hate with a passion). Which is awesome.

But technically… I had made a contribution earlier in the year, to Joe Biden. I had reached out to folks I knew on his campaign, back before the primary, to ask if they’d like a free ad on the blog. They said yes, so I filled out an in-kind form (see how much I love you, Joe?), and put up the ad. I liked seeing it there so much that I left it up for awhile after the primary was over, but finally made myself remove it.

So I guess that was my first “financial contribution.”

I did it again a week or so ago. And reached out to Jaime Harrison’s campaign and did the same for him.  You can see both ads in the rail at right. (And I’d put one up for free for Mandy if I thought it would help her up in her district — I don’t know how many actual readers I have there.)

So I’ve just been giving like crazy to these campaigns. Sort of. And now you know…

 

Should I go ahead and vote? Have you?

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

I’m starting to feel doubts. They may not affect my behavior, but I’m having them.

Y’all know how strongly I feel about the importance of turning out and voting with one’s neighbors (which is way communitarian), in person, on actual Election Day. It is to me a major, deeply meaningful ritual of life in America.

But… this is an extraordinary situation, is it not?

First, we have the most important election in my lifetime, one in which we will either save our republic by electing a normal, decent human being as our highest elected official, or drag the country — and the rest of the world, which has been holding its breath for four years waiting for us to fix this — down further and deeper into the mire, the utter degradation.

So, you know, I need to vote, and it needs to count.

Second, we’re in the strangest situation of my life, in which so much about normality has gone out the window. For instance, I may never again go to work at an office, or anywhere other than my home — which overthrows thousands of years of human social and economic behavior. And that’s just one piece of it. I mean, 220,000 Americans are dead from this thing, and it’s far, far from over.

So… maybe I should make an exception in this instance.

Up to now, I’ve held to my resolve to wait until Nov. 3. But each day, more friends and family members go out and vote early — or technically, vote “in-person absentee.”

Which on the one hand supports my plan, by taking pressure off and reducing crowds on the day of. But what if that day is still even more insane, and things break down? I’m pretty sure I’ll get to vote anyway, but what sort of societal breakdown will occur while we’re waiting for all the votes to be counted, and a clear winner to emerge and be accepted?

I dunno. What do y’all think?

For that matter, what do y’all do? What have you done already? Some of you have reported in, but what about everybody else? Who’s voted by mail? Who’s done the “in-person absentee” thing? Who’s waiting for Election Day?

And why?

I would find it helpful to know…

I think the snake made me forget the rules

The distracting creature.

The distracting creature.

I kind of lost my head last night. I walked up to two people, and got right in their faces, and none of us had masks on. My wife witnessed this, and said she was really surprised to see me do something so careless.

I blame it on the snake.

We were out walking around the neighborhood, at dusk. There was still enough light to clearly see the snake on the road right in front of us, but I didn’t, until my wife warned me to watch out. Which is weird. My brain must not have been functioning right, because I don’t like snakes at all, and the sight of one, even a photograph, usually sets off alarms. Any such movement — and there’s nothing else on the planet like the movement of a snake — in any corner of my field of vision should have had me on full alert.

It was interesting that we saw it right there, because it was only a few yards from one that had been run over a couple of days earlier. Its flattened carcass had still been in the street when I had walked that way earlier in the day.

But this one was very much alive. And we stopped to observe it and debate its nature. I immediately said “copperhead,” but admittedly I tend to call almost anything that has a visible pattern of those colors a copperhead. My wife said its head lacked the menacing triangular shape we tend to associate with pit vipers. I acknowledged this, but stuck to my standard policy of treating it as a copperhead until proved innocent. Which meant staying away from it.

I assure you, I used the limited zoom feature on my phone to take the above photo, which I thought came out rather well, considering the low light. I still don’t like looking at it.

Anyway, about a block and half past that, with the light further dimming and the shade of trees lowering it further, we saw a blackness in the middle of the road that looked remotely like it could be another snake, curled up. A bigger one.

As we cautiously approached and debated, and I had just about decided it was a clump of foliage of some kind, someone asked what we were looking at. It was a teenaged boy who I think had just rolled a garbage bin out to the street. I told him. And I told him about the snake just up the street — well, the two snakes, counting the dead one. And he seemed interested. And I thought, Maybe this is one of those people who are into snakes, and maybe he knows something…

So I said, “I’ve got a picture. Want to see it?” When he nodded, I walked straight over and showed it to him on my phone. Only when we were looking at it with our heads about a foot apart did I realize we weren’t wearing masks.

Then a woman — possibly his mom — arrived and asked what it was, and I immediately forgot what I’d just realized, and went over the show it to her. Only this time I handed the phone to her rather than standing right next to her. Still, too close, not to mention handing the phone back and forth.

I don’t think either offered any expert advice. I didn’t get a ruling on the type of snake it was.

Do y’all know? I’d send it to Rudy Mancke, but I don’t think anything this common would interest him.

Anyway, I waited until we were about half a block away before expressing to my wife my surprise at myself for having forgotten basic COVID precautions. She said she was pretty amazed, too. I don’t think she had fully realized what an idiot I can be.

I blame it on the snake….

Netflix is trying to guilt me into bingeing. Really…

Netflix IT

In the course of my life, I’ve had many people try to make me feel guilty about many things — usually successfully. Often, this has involved tasks I started but had not, at the time of being nagged, completed. I have at times become a bit sensitive on this point, I’ll confess.

Now, Netflix has weighed in, via email. But this time, the charge of not having followed through is utterly unjust, and I stand before you an innocent — even laudable, in terms of having applied myself assiduously to the task — man.

I’ll have you know that when it comes to watching “The IT Crowd,” I am an over-achiever. I have “finished” it multiple times. I have watched certain episodes, such as the one Netflix attacks me for stopping on in this instance (“Are We Not Men?”), many more times than that. That is one of the very best in the series, if not the best. It shows what can happen to guys like us — I mean, guys like Roy and Moss — when they make deceitful use of a website that empowers them to talk about football (soccer, to American friends) and therefore seem to be “proper men.” The site teaches them to say things like, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” I’ve used that one myself on several occasions (but not always, I’ll admit, with impressive success).

I only stopped on that one this time because I wanted to save it to savor on another occasion. I didn’t want it to get stale on me. It was like not allowing myself to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than once a year, on Christmas Eve. That sort of thing.

I have never been a slacker when it comes to watching. I have not been a Roy. Whenever anyone has asked me to help him or her by watching “The IT Crowd,” I have not hesitated. I have not tried to put anyone off by saying “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” I have immediately stopped whatever I am doing — reading my iPad, playing a video game — and watched it from start to finish.

And I just wanted all of you to know that….

are we not men

Well, I went and got a haircut. Here’s what happened…

long

Over the past month, my hair was pretty much out of control. For months before the pandemic, I’d been getting it cut really short — too short to comb — so as it grew out, it grew out kind of weird.

Finally, I recognized it.

Finally, I recognized it.

But it started looking sort of familiar. Finally, I recognized it: Charlton Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments!” Too bad people don’t make biblical epics in the 1950s style any more. If they did, it could have been my ticket to stardom, with Heston no longer around.

Anyway, a few days ago, I heard some encouraging news: A friend told me her husband had taken their son to another outlet of the same barber shop chain I go to, and had been impressed by the COVID security — everybody in masks, people not entering the shop until it was their turn, dividers between the chairs.

For the past year, I had been taking my Dad to get haircuts at that chain. It worked for us because we could just go when it was convenient for both of us — no appointment. You sign in on an app before you leave the house, and by the time you get there it’s your turn.

And I had come up with a system that meant it didn’t matter which barber I got — use a No. 4 clipper guard on the sides, and a No. 7 on the top. My haircuts would only take a few minutes, it took almost zero time to wash it in the shower, and I never had to comb it — I just let it lie down kind of like a classical Roman cut. It was veni, vidi, vici — I had the grooming thing beat. Et tu, Brad.

So this week, I decided to give it a try — alone. If I was impressed with the procedures, I could take my Dad another time.

Here’s how it went:

  • The shop we usually go to was closed, according to the app. Fine. I went to another that I’d never been to.
  • At first, it was awesome. Although when I left the house the app said I had 15 minutes to my turn, when I arrived it said zero, and I was the only customer there. Two women were at the counter, and both had masks. One of them accompanied me to a chair. Before we got started, she explained that she used to work at the shop I usually go to, that it would be reopening Saturday (so, today), and that she hoped to go back.
  • There was some confusion before starting because the computer told her to cut all my hair with a #3. I said I couldn’t imagine where that came from. It was a 4 and a 7. No biggie. She said she’d fix it in the computer.
  • Now the real concern: She had on a mask, but it was pulled down so it only covered her mouth. Every time I looked at her, I was looking up her nostrils. I didn’t say anything. I’ll try to explain why in a moment. I, of course, was wearing a mask, properly. I asked whether it was going to be in her way, and she said no, she was used to working around them. Fine.
  • Second problem. She did the sides and back with a #4, but then started working on the top entirely with a comb and scissors. Which meant it was going to take three or four times as long as usual. She asked if it was short enough at one point, and I said I didn’t think so, and mentioned, in a nice way, that maybe she should try using the good ol’ #7! She responded by, after trimming some more, taking the #7 and holding it to my hair to make sure it was the right length. I got this vibe that she was trying to show me how careful and skilled and artistic she was — something she had time to do, since there were no customers waiting (someone came in at one point, and I think the other woman handled him). I think she thought this was a good way to make a good impression on the client. But this was not what I wanted.
  • Why was I so reticent? Well, she spent the whole time telling me what a rough time she’d been having, and was still having. She couldn’t work for two months. She was still waiting to get her unemployment (she had finally learned, several days earlier, that it had been sent to her old address). She was also still waiting for her stimulus check (I was about to ask whether she’d checked to see whether that had gone to the old address, but I got distracted and we never got back to it, so I feel bad about that — surely she’s thought of that, right?). And the whole time, her landlord was being a total jerk and threatening to evict her. How big a jerk? When she learned a new unemployment card would be sent to her current address but would take seven to 10 days to arrive, she eagerly went to tell her landlord, who said, “I don’t see why it would take that long.” So, that big a jerk.
  • Also… sometimes I don’t trust myself to say things in a nice way. I had noticed that my hands were really tensed up under the sheet they put over you. Not fists, exactly, but tense. I know myself well enough that I didn’t think I’d be able to say, “You need to cover your nose with that,” or “Could you do the haircut the usual way so we can get done?” in a tone, or in the words, that would produce a constructive result. And I was very conscious that she was pouring out how she’d had a tough time. Now that she’d finally gotten back to work, I sort of figured she didn’t need the final straw of her one and only customer telling her she wasn’t doing the job right. I didn’t want to  be another landlord in her life.

Maybe I was overthinking it.

Anyway, I got home and figured my mission was accomplished when my wife laughed at me and said, “Your beard is bigger than your head now!”

But I don’t think I’m going to go back for another cut soon. I may not wait another four months, but I can wait a while

short

 

The word I couldn’t remember for days

I had no trouble remembering "Acme," although I initially thought of "Ajax." Don't know why...

I had no trouble remembering “Acme,” although I initially thought of “Ajax.” Don’t know why…

I’m embarrassed to confess this weakness. After all, words are my thing. Something I’m good at. I’m not much of a basketball player or a musician, and for that matter there are plenty of wordsmiths who put me in the shade, who utterly dazzle. And not just Shakespeare or Twain, although I find it hard to believe they were merely human.

But years and decades and more of everyday use have shown I’m better at words than, I don’t know, 90-plus percent of the population. However badly this blog post is written, I know that is generally the case. It’s been tested too many times.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it bothers me to be losing it to any degree. So I hesitate to share the fact, but I’ve got this journalistic urge to document this thing frankly, so…

Anyway, it’s a thing I hate to see slip away at all. I’ve noticed my writing isn’t all that great since the stroke, especially on “fatigue” days (hence my self-conscious apology above for this post), but that’s a subtle, subjective thing that comes and goes. Not too worried about it, yet.

Not being able to think of a particular word is more definite. Feels more like a landmark — look what you’ve come to, dummy.

Usually, it’s not so bad. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with someone at ADCO about a press release I was putting together, and I couldn’t think of the word the folks at ADCO use for that blurb at the end telling about the company. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the structure of press releases, but at the end you’ll have a line that says, “About Acme Corporation,” and it will be followed by a paragraph of basic stuff you’d want the recipient to know about the company but didn’t mention in the main body of the release. (Like, “Acme is a worldwide leader in producing a stunningly diverse assortment of products that are not normally associated with killing or capturing roadrunners, but can be used for that purpose.”)

I thought of it as a “footer,” which is more of a newspaper word, one applied to those italic things at the end of a story that say things like, Staff writers Joe Blow and Susie Q also contributed to this report.

I confessed my problem, using the word “footer” to explain, and after a second Lora said, “boilerplate?”

YES! Boilerplate. Why was that hard?

Anyway, I’ve had a number of “boilerplate” moments lately. And I think they’re because of the stroke, but I don’t know that.

And occasionally, they’re way simpler, far less esoteric. For instance… there was this theme music to a movie that I had heard a couple of times recently, and something on the radio reminded me of it — something extremely repetitive, I suppose — and I wanted to mention to my wife that it had recently occurred to me that this song was the MOST mindlessly repetitive in human history.

And for a second I couldn’t think of the name of the song, which didn’t bother me. What got me was that I couldn’t think of the name of the movie. And this was bad not just because it’s an EXTREMELY popular movie that is currently back in the news, or because I’m kind of a movie buff. It’s because I knew the words were extremely simple. I knew exactly what they referred to, since they combine to form the nickname of a real-life institution that looms large in naval culture — at least, in a certain part of the Navy. (Not the part I grew up in, thank goodness — more Bob Amundson’s part.) I could remember scenes in which the name was used in dialogue in the movie, and how important it was to those scenes. I could see the captain telling the two heroes that he was sending them there, even though he didn’t want to…

Yes, I was trying to think of “Top Gun” (and that maddening song, “Danger Zone.” Really. Go read the lyrics, all the way through. Listen to the last half of it.). It came to me within, I suppose, a minute. But it was an excessively long minute.

A minute, however, is better than several days.

Twice this morning, I tried to think of a word that I’ve been trying to retrieve for, I don’t know, two or three days. I didn’t especially need it. It wasn’t important to anything I wanted to say. But it really bugged me that I couldn’t think of it.

At one point today, I was responding to a comment in which someone described his post-stroke symptoms, and it motivated me to mention how fortunate I was that most of mine had gone away. I no longer have a problem looking down. Of course, I still have this fatigue thing. And there’s the forgetting-words thing. And then I tried to trick myself by just going ahead and typing the word I’d been having trouble with… and it didn’t work. I had to admit, “Like… dang. There’s a word I haven’t been able to think of for days, and I thought if I just snuck up on it, it would come. It didn’t…”

At that point, I went out to my wife who was reading on the deck. I told her I couldn’t remember this word. It wasn’t something common like “top gun,” but it was common enough in political speech that I should have no trouble with it. Or at least it had been, within our lifetimes.

I said it was a word feminists had popularized in the ’70s — a time when we were both in college, and then I was starting my career as a journalist, and this word was huge back then. It had been colored by that use to the point that people started using it only in that sense, rather than in a broader way.

The word referred to being too loyal, or attached to, some group to which one belonged. To one’s country, or something else with which one identifies. It was about thinking too highly of that identity, and having a tendency to look down upon people who didn’t share it.

I said it had come to be sort of synonymous with “sexist” because of the way it was used in that period. People might use it this way: They might say, “(blank) pig” instead of “sexist pig.”

I also said, erroneously, that I thought it was very close to some other, far more common, word, only being different by a letter or two. (There were two other things I was thinking but didn’t share with her. I thought it was from French, which was more or less correct. I was also thinking it started with a J, which was wrong. I kept straining to see the word, and I was seeing something that looked kind of like “jeune.” I don’t speak French, but I knew that meant “young.” I also knew it wasn’t the word, but I erroneously thought it was close. Maybe I was reaching for “jejune,” but I don’t know why because I’ve never used that one.)

My wife couldn’t think of it, either. I went back in, still trying to come up with it. I had thought about Googling for it, but I knew that would be tricky. Finally, I Googled “word that people use to mean sexist.” The first link I got was a page that offered offered 25 synonyms including “bigoted,” “discriminatory,” “dogmatic” (dogmatic? really?), “intolerant” “intransigent,” “one-sided,” “opinionated,” “racist,” “xenophobic”…

Completely useless. I’ve always wondered why some people find a thesaurus helpful. I never have. But then, I usually use fairly common words, and I think of them myself (I’ve always sort of thought that if I couldn’t, they were too obscure to use)…

I scrolled down on the page, though, and saw a separate list of words associated with “bigot,” and there the stupid word was: chauvinist.

YES! No J, but definitely French! And definitely the word I’d been looking for.

I went and told my wife. She objected that it wasn’t used to mean “sexist,” and that the common usage she remembered was quite correct: Back in the ’70s, a lot of people said “male chauvinist.”

Yes, I agreed, that was correct, because it explained the type of chauvinism being described. But I’m sure that during that period, chauvinism got to be so tied up with the male variety in a lot of people’s heads that it became common to use it for “sexist.” And when I tried to proved it by Googling “chauvinist pig” and telling it to leave out “male,” I got 284,000 responses. Millions would be better, but I think it backs up my memory.

Which is good. Because a memory that can’t remember “chauvinist” is a memory worth worrying about, if you value words.

 

 

I could be wrong about that, of course, but I’m not wrong about “top gun”…