Category Archives: Personal

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…

OK, now the shootings are happening too close

Maybe you don’t see a shooting in Collierville, Tenn. — a suburb of Memphis — as close, but in my family we do.

And not just because my wife is from Memphis.

You see that picture above, taken from a TV news report? The tall guy with the beard is Kevin, our nephew — my wife’s brother’s son. He’s a detective with the police department of Germantown, right next door. Collierville had asked for help from surrounding towns.

Not only that, but his father, my brother-in-law, a retired businessman, was there as well — just not quite as much in the thick of things. He had shopped in that same store the day before. This time, he was passing nearby and saw all the cars with flashing lights headed in that direction, and followed so he could ask the gathering crowd what was happening.

He’s like that. He’s a very sociable, gregarious guy. He’s like his father. Several decades ago when we were in college, my father-in-law was in a bank when it was robbed and hostages were taken. He had always spent a lot of time when he visited that bank on business, talking with the tellers and other employees, asking them what was going on in their lives. In this case, being taken hostage with the other folks there, he ended up being drafted by the robbers to act as a go-between for communicating with the cops outside. They could tell he was the man for the job.

None of us were surprised. Alarmed, but not surprised. Fortunately, he emerged unscathed from the incident.

Anyway… how many of these mass shootings have we seen? And now, they’re getting too close. I’d like them all to go away now…

Hoots, mon! So now I’m even MORE Scottish?

The New Me: My latest ethnic makeover from Ancestry.

“They send you information. Mine just said, ‘Dude, you’re white. In fact, you’re very white. I hope you feel guilty…'”

Jim Gaffigan

Yeah, Ancestry has told me that from the beginning. On that one point their message has been consistent: “You are officially the whitest white boy at Bypass High. Don’t even think about trying to be cool.”

But beyond that, they can’t seem to make up their minds. I’ve written about this before. I need to stop complaining, I guess, because it just seems to irritate Ancestry, and they get vindictive.

But it irritates me no end, because after all this research, with 8,902 people on my tree (no, I am not making that up; guys like me are really uncool enough to amass something like that), I have noted certain patterns. And since I’ve traced almost every branch back to the Old Country, I can make this general observation: Most seem to come from England. Not all — there are a few here and there from Ireland, or Scotland — but mostly England. If I get on a lucky roll that carries me centuries back before their descendants came over here, some of those “English” people got to Albion from the Continent.

Now, I realize that this is grossly incomplete. I have records on the people who were in the dominant culture, and weren’t, like my obscure Irish ancestors, conquered (by, say, the English). If my Viking ancestors hadn’t come and conquered part of France and become Norman, and if they had not, as Normans, jumped over and conquered England, and if the English (really, the Norman ones) hadn’t conquered Ireland, maybe more French, Saxon and Irish people would show up on my tree, with complete records.

But still, based on the information I have, it seemed natural when Ancestry told me my DNA showed that 65 percent of my ancestors were from “England, Wales and Northwestern Europe,” and 29 percent were from Ireland and Scotland.

That was in 2019 (which was itself a change from before). Then a year ago, Ancestry said never mind all that. Really, you’re 40 percent Scottish, 24 percent Irish, only 17 percent from England and Northwestern Europe, and 8 percent Welsh.

Which ticked me off. Because it really shook confidence in the whole project. Really, that’s a pretty wild swing — or multiple wild swings. So I complained about it.

So Ancestry showed me. The other day, I got a new notice from them. Now, they say, I’m 48 percent Scottish, and only 13 percent Irish. I’m still 17 percent from England and Northwestern Europe, but slightly more Welsh.

So I guess I should just shut up, before they tell me I have to start wearing a kilt…

Stuart Mackenzie, my new role model, I suppose.

Are you consuming more news these days, or less?

WashPost

For me, it’s definitely less. I can only bear so much.

And maybe the problem is just me. You know, I lived and breathed this stuff for so long, and I subscribe to multiple newspapers so I don’t miss a beat, and maybe I’ve just reached an age where I’m like, “Nobody is paying me to do this anymore, so…”

But I don’t think that’s it. At least not entirely.  I think the news is actually worse. More than that, the way people engage issues has become so counterproductive that immersing oneself in it seems pointless. Once, we had energetic discussions of issues we disagreed about, and found elements to agree upon. Now, we yell at each other. And too often, it’s not even about trying to win an argument. It’s about establishing one’s bona fides as a member of this or that tribe, and expressing how you hate that other tribe more than anyone else does.

So much of it is depressing. Other bits are just stupid. Often, the items I read and hear are both.

This past week, whenever I call up one of the papers I read or turn on my NPR One app, I’m greeted by one of the following:

  • Abortion. Abortion, abortion, abortion. This is particularly true whenever I turn on NPR. It’s usually the first story, and it goes on and on. One story that was on when I entered the kitchen a day or two ago must have used the word, “abortion,” ten times in the first minute. I tried to be positive about it. I tried to say, “Well, at least these folks are being honest and using the actual word, instead of evasive euphemisms such as ‘women’s healthcare’.” But that didn’t cheer me up. I just turned it off before having my breakfast.
  • Masks. And other repetitive stuff about the coronavirus, but mostly unbelievably moronic disputes over wearing masks or being required to wear masks or being forbidden to require people to wear masks, just on and on and on and over and over again. This is particularly a problem when reading South Carolina news. And this one fits securely into the “stupid” column. But of course, it’s so stupid, and persistent, that it’s also deeply depressing.
  • Afghanistan. The utter misery of the situation, the idiotic things that are said about it, the stunning fact that apparently all sorts of people seem surprised that our precipitous abandonment of the enterprise would have any other effect than the one it did, the lifetime of misery that is ahead for people who are there and can’t get out, and the disastrous effect it is all likely to have on U.S. foreign policy for so long into the future, and I just can’t go on…
  • Mind-numbing local horror. This one, of course, is as far into the depressing column as you can get. A couple of nights ago, my wife — who watches TV news shows, even though I don’t, called my attention to the screen, on which was an early story about the two babies dying the van. Horrified, I had the pointless thought, “I hope it wasn’t twins.” Somehow, I thought that would be even worse, although that’s debatable — is one family suffering such a double tragedy necessarily worse than two families having their joy destroyed forever? Of course, it was twins. I’ve done my best not to read or hear another word about it, because it’s just too painful.
  • Bad weather. Or, if you prefer, call it “global warming.” Now I know that those of you who want to call it global warming and those who don’t want to yell at each other, so go ahead, but out of my hearing. And comfort yourselves with the knowledge that if a break occurs between hurricanes, it will be filled with huge fires in California. So you can keep yelling.

So I’ve generally been avoiding news this week. You?

 

Anyone watching the Olympics? Why?

2880px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svg

I don’t pose that question as a challenge or anything. I’m not criticizing you for watching the games, if you are. I just think that right now, with the “asterisk games” going on, in defiance of the will of so many people in Japan, it would be interesting to have a discussion of why we think these games should or should not be happening, and why or why not we are interested.

Put me in the camp of those who believe that 1) the Olympics are a fine thing in the abstract, and I applaud those folks who revived them in 1896, but that 2) when the 2020 games were called off for COVID, everyone should have settled down to wait for 2024 to satisfy whatever craving they have for viewing Olympic competition.

Near as I can tell, there is only one reason to have gone ahead and had the games in 2021, rather than waiting, and that would be for the sakes of individual athletes for whom it’s either now or never. This was their moment, and they wouldn’t be at the same peak in 2024, so for them, not going ahead would have represented a personal loss.

I am not at all unsympathetic to that argument. It makes me think of my old friend Rayford Collins. Rayford worked in the composing room at my first newspaper after college, The Jackson Sun. As a compositor, he had a job that was essential to publishing a newspaper at the time — he would take the strips of copy that came out of the gigantic cold-type printer, cut them into columns with scissors, run them through a roller that applied molten wax to the back of them, and stick them onto the page under the highly irritating supervision of smart-ass college kids in their early 20s who came to the back shop to approve release of the pages that we had laid out and edited up front in the newsroom.

Rayford Collins in the early 60s during his own boxing career, long before I knew him.

Rayford Collins in the early 60s during his own boxing career, long before I knew him.

You should have seen the artistry of these guys as they cut the type and applied it, and often corrected typos we found by trimming out individual letters and sticking them over the errors, saving us from sending new copy back through.

But it was a job that would disappear long before my own did, as we moved to pagination, which meant we put the pages together on computers in the newsroom, and output them whole.

That wasn’t all Rayford was known for, though. An ex-boxer himself (he would end the process of applying type to the page with a BAM from his fist, which would be startling if you weren’t used to it), he had for years trained local young people in the art through Golden Gloves. He was such a good coach that a huge opportunity came his way: to coach the U.S.A Olympic boxing team in the 1980 games. His protege Jackie Beard had made the team, and they wanted Rayford on board, too.

We were all pretty excited for him. But then, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and Jimmy Carter pulled us out of the Moscow Games. Raybord’s shot at the big time was crushed. I felt bad for him at the time, and I still do. But I don’t fault my man Jimmy for making the call he did. There are issues that are bigger than even the hopes and dreams of our friends. At least, that’s what I think, as a child of the Cold War. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, Rayford still made his mark as a coach. When he died, he was celebrated for that, not for being a retired compositor after 45 years at the paper. We know he made it to the Olympics, even though the games were called off.

Anyway, these kids today are getting their shots.

Should they be? Should the Games have gone on? Are you following what’s happening over there, and rising and falling on this or that athlete’s accomplishments or lack thereof?

If so, I’m curious to hear about it…

My shoes came! How are Y’ALL doing with the supply chain?

My new shoes. I need to break them in, but they're feeling pretty good...

My new shoes. I need to break them in, but they’re feeling pretty good…

My new shoes finally came! I’m wearing them right now. They feel pretty good so far, although it will take a while before they’re as comfortable as my old ones.

The old ones are a somewhat tattered pair of Salomon “Fellraisers,” which I got shortly before going to Thailand in 2015. I think of them as my “Thailand jungle shoes,” because when I got them, I was thinking about that day we planned to spend hiking through Khao Yai National Park. (Which was awesome.) Salomon calls them “trail-running shoes,” with knobby things on the bottoms meant to provide traction on natural, unpaved surfaces. I’m not planning on hiking through any tropical seasonal forests in the near future, but when these started wearing out on me, I wanted some more, for one simple reason:

They fit my feet better than any pair of shoes I’ve ever worn in my life. Far and away. It’s like they were painted onto my weird, narrow feet, for which I’ve always had trouble finding shoes that even come remotely close to fitting.

One problem: Salomon quit making the Fellraiser. (You may not know this, but the entire global economy seems to be built largely upon one little-known principle: Produce a product that Brad Warthen really, really likes. Wait until he realizes that, and truly appreciates the product. Then stop making it. I plan to write a post about this later.)

So I kinda freaked. But then I settled down, and started writing to Salomon to ask, as politely as I could, “What do you still make that is as much like the Fellraiser as possible?” They were helpful, and eventually I settled upon the Speedcross 5 Gore-Tex. I went for the color they somewhat ludicrously overdescribed as “Martini Olive / Peat / Arrowwood” (stuff like that always reminds me of Elaine Benes writing ad copy for J. Peterman, which makes me smile). They seemed the closest to my old ones, which in my unimaginative way I call “green.”

This was back in April. But I just got the shoes. Why? Because of the way the global supply chain got backed up by COVID. They told me in April to get back to them the second week of July. So I did, and it worked out, and that’s great.

But I was wondering what sorts of supply-chain problems the rest of you have been running into. Because this goes way beyond shoes.

COVID did (and is still doing) a lot of a lot of stuff to the economy, and one was that it knocked its rhythm off.

New York magazine recently laid it out this way:

At the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like everything essential was in short supply. Toilet paperhand sanitizerdumbbellsflour, and even baby wipes were nearly impossible to find as we all hunkered down for what we had no idea would be more than a year of quarantine. But now, as pandemic restrictions ease in the U.S., so too does our once-overwhelming inclination to hoard. If our lives are (slowly) returning, shouldn’t the availability of the things we want to buy get back to normal too?

As it turns out, no. Soaring demand from our lockdown lives and fewer workers have left suppliers strapped for major materials like lumber and aluminum — not to mention the semiconductors that power everything from our cars to our laptops. Those shortages trickle down into less-major things, too, which means that, Girl Scout cookies aside, lots of products are hard to come by. If you’re among the millions of Americans who bought a pandemic house, you may be struggling to get materials to build a new deck or repair a fence. Or maybe you’re just trying to get your hands on a can of your dog’s favorite wet food, a set of patio furniture for under $1,000, or a Playstation 5. Maybe you’ve finally decided to buy a used Subaru, if you could just locate a dealership that has one, or you went to re-up on your go-to organic cotton underwear, only to find the price has risen $2 per pair. Whatever your need, if you want something right now, you may well have to either pay a lot more to get it or find a suitable alternative.

On a more personal level, I go to the store now, and usually can find what I need — but I can’t help noticing how thinly populated the shelves seem. I keep hearing from family members about their troubles finding basic things that would not normally be hard at all to find, seeing as how we’re not actually living in the Soviet Union of circa 1980.

Anyway, as I said, I wonder what y’all are seeing…

My old shoes, when they were new. This is the morning we were about to set out in Khao Yai. The canvas things were issued to us to protect against leeches.

My old shoes, when they were new. This is the morning we were about to set out in Khao Yai. The canvas things were issued to us to protect against leeches.

 

Kent Babb, Coach Fink and the Karr Cougars

We were the Karr Cougars!

We were the Karr Cougars!

Any of y’all remember Kent Babb, who used to cover sports at The State? He was very good at it. Y’all know I don’t really follow sports, but I used to read his stuff whenever I noticed the byline, because it was that good.

Anyway, he’s at The Washington Post now, and you may be interested in reading a piece he wrote recently about youth football culture up the road in Rock Hill. The news peg was the horrific Phillip Adams story, but Kent went deep into the culture Adams grew up in, one in which football is everything, and when it’s over, young guys tend to get lost.

That’s the part of the post that might interest some of y’all. The rest just interests me, most likely.

Apparently, Kent made a similar, even deeper dive into prep football in a whole other place, and has written a book about it, as I discovered recently on Facebook:

Throughout the 2019 season, I embedded with the Edna Karr High School football team in the West Bank of New Orleans. It’s a story about a championship program and how its head coach, Brice Brown, is a football savant who just sees the moving parts of a complex game in his mind.
But more than that, it’s about how Brown teaches life and survival skills to a group of at-risk kids in a city besieged by gun violence. This is a city where, in 2016, an 18- or 19-year-old Black male was 56 times more likely to die by gunshot than the national average. It’s a place that has big dreams but not much hope. The main player character, a soft-spoken linebacker named Joe, desperately wants to get to college. But “college” is something he can barely imagine; he has only seen references to it in movies. Joe’s mother is in prison, and Joe used to be her lookout, begging her to come inside at 3 a.m. If not for football, it’s very possible Joe wouldn’t have reached his 18th birthday….

Well, that dug up some memories for me. I commented:

Wow, Kent! I attended Edna Karr when it was a junior high, 1965-67. I didn’t even know it was a high school. Did anyone in the book happen to mention the legendary Olaf Fink? He was my PE coach in 8th grade, and he was also a state senator…

I guess it was the fact that this was about sports that made me think of Coach Fink, rather than other educators who made an impression on me back then. Kent replied:

Man, I didn’t know that. I don’t remember Olaf Fink’s name coming up, but Karr and the West Bank have undergone many dramatic changes since Katrina. It’s not a magnet school anymore; it’s a citywide charter that became a huge melting pot in 2006 because it was among the only schools in New Orleans that sustained minor or zero damage.

I saw that this morning, and wrote back:

“Since Katrina” doesn’t mean that much to me, since I went there from 1965-67. 🙂 According to Wikipedia, it was still a junior high until 1990. And when you look it up now, it’s apparently in a completely different location, near the river. Confusing. Wikipedia shows it in the old location. Better yet, Coach Fink is the one individual person mentioned in connection with the school. Famous in his day, but I’m not surprised people don’t remember him now. I learned from my brief research that he died in 1973.

Wow, Coach Fink. My old buddy. I was the scrawniest kid in his P.E. class. I didn’t get my growth until a year or two later (and was still super-skinny after getting my height). Coach Fink took notice of this one day when we were doing gymnastics and learning to tumble. He had this safety device that consisted of an adjustable leather belt with ropes attached to both sides. When we tried to do walkovers or whatever, we’d wear the belt while two other guys held the ropes to hold us up and keep us from breaking our necks.

Problem was, the tightest, skinniest holes on the belt left it still too loose to hold me. I reported this, and Coach scoffed, saying that was impossible. So I showed him it was possible, and he was impressed. From then on, I had a new name. Coach Fink called me “Sego,” which I suppose means nothing to younger people, but everyone got it back then. Sometimes he said “Metrecal,” but eventually settled on “Sego,” and that stuck.

From then on, I was sort of Coach Fink’s pet. He decided to make me a leader in the class. He deputized me to be in charge of various things. At the start of class, when we had just gotten dressed out and before he and the other coaches went back into the coaches’ office to smoke and watch game films and whatever else coaches did, he’d say, “Sego, run ’em through calisthenics!” And I’d tell the guys to line up — and they would, perhaps amused at the little guy being in charge but totally accepting that Coach had delegated his authority to me — and I’d stand in front of them and lead them through jumping jacks and such before we went out and played ball or whatever. Like the other boys, I just accepted this as my role; I don’t remember questioning it. After all, Coach had named me “Sego,” and that’s who I was.

Looking back, I suppose that experience helped boost my self-confidence. So you can blame him! But seriously, my ego was already pretty big in the academic classes, and now I had this added thing. Which was nice, for a kid who got picked last for games on account of being the little guy and having unremarkable (at best) athletic skills for overcoming that. (No one ever said admiringly of me, “Yeah, Sego’s little, but he’s an amazing playmaker at point guard!”)

Coach Fink. The first time any of us heard the name, we’d laugh, because this was at the height of the Rat Fink craze. (Let’s hear it for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth!) That his first name was “Olaf” only added to the effect. But that was when we’d heard of him but not yet met him. He was an imposing figure, and his natural authority loomed over that of the other coaches. Also, we heard that he was a “state senator.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but it sounded important, which seemed fitting.

Anyway, Kent and I wrote back and forth a bit more about Karr Junior High (unfortunately, I was unable to help him on the origin of the name), but that part of the conversation kicked my memory into gear, and I thought I’d share.

Sorry I haven’t posted lately. Things have been crazy. I’ll try to get back to it soon…

What it’s like for a South Carolinian in Israel now

Editor’s note: To our family, Marina is much more than just “a South Carolinian.” She’s one of my youngest daughter’s oldest and best friends. Her family still lives in our neighborhood, just a few houses away. Several years ago, she met an Israeli while she and my daughter and another girl were traveling around Europe together. She later moved to Israel and married him, and they have a little boy named Yahm. This is something she posted on Facebook a couple of days ago. I asked her if I could post it here, and I’m grateful that she agreed. I haven’t edited it at all.

By Marina Druseikis Guttman

Tuesday night the rocket sirens went off as I was putting Yahm to sleep. We entered the stairwell with the other neighbours. We heard explosions, one after the other and uncomfortably close. Someone suggested we move to the basement and we did, where we stayed for at least 30 minutes as the sirens and explosions continued. I didn’t try to count the number of booms, and even though I smiled with the neighbours at Yahm’s cuteness, I had images of worst-case scenarios running through my head. I didn’t sleep well but still managed to go to the lab the next day to get some data for an experiment that I’ve been really looking forward to.alerts

I moved to Tel Aviv in 2013, so I’d already experienced sirens, running to a safe room, rockets and the iron dome from the 2014 conflict. But this time felt different. On Tuesday some 130 rockets went over central Israel in an hour timespan. The iron dome is an amazing technological achievement, but it’s not perfect and with the increase in simultaneous rockets, it’s not possible to intercept all of them. There were direct hits to an apartment in Givatayim and a parked (empty) bus in Holon.

We had almost 2 days of quiet in Tel Aviv.

Then Saturday afternoon there was a siren at exactly the time Matan and Yahm were supposed to be biking home from down the street. Thankfully they hadn’t left yet. I sat in the stairwell with the neighbours and heard the explosions. Again I didn’t try to count the booms, but there were three blasts in particular that really got to me, one right after the other with each one seeming to get louder, closer, and again the worst-case scenarios ran through my head. During this barrage there was another direct hit in Ramat Gan, about 5 km from us, with one man dead as he was disabled and didn’t make it to a protected space in time. We had another barrage that night, shortly after midnight, as Hamas made good on their promise to “bring hell to Tel Aviv at midnight”, or something like that, as retaliation for the IDF taking down the tower housing international news organisations (the IDF say it was targeted because it was also a Hamas headquarter. I’ll just say the optics are terrible either way).

I don’t write this for sympathy or to detract from the Palestinian’s suffering or Israel’s wrongdoing. I choose to live here knowing what comes with it. But civilians – Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, and those of us who fit none of those categories – are suffering and nobody wins.
I guess I feel the need to give my firsthand account because the media usually portrays the situation as David vs Goliath (though David wins so really that’s a poor analogy for the point they’re trying to make), and I’ve heard reporters say “it’s Palestinians throwing rocks versus a modern military.” But it’s not rocks. If there was no iron dome, Tel Aviv would be in rubble right now after just Tuesday night, not to mention the four other attacks since then. People who obviously don’t live here claim these are homemade pipe bombs and therefore not a threat (??), but that’s not the reality. I’m writing from the relative safety of Tel Aviv, but people living less than an hour south of here have had non-stop rockets for a week and are living in bomb shelters.rockets

For lack of a better word, I’m impressed by Hamas’ military advancements since 2014. It’s not like Israel played patty cakes then – no, the IDF destroyed many buildings housing weapons, and got a lot of international backlash for it. But in 6 years time Hamas has built and stockpiled thousands of rockets, and apparently missiles as well as drones that can carry explosives.
The events leading up to this were totally avoidable and the government’s actions, led by Bibi, are horrendous and inexcusable. And of course I don’t think Hamas’ retaliation on Israeli civilians can be justified, although I admit I’m biased because they are literally targeting my city. But that’s what it is. And now every little noise sounds like the start of the siren or a bomb exploding in the distance. It’s nerve wracking.

Perhaps the scariest part of all of this is the civil unrest. Jews and Arabs are attacking each other in mixed cities that have lived together peacefully for years (Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population – these are Israeli citizens, not Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank). It’s both heartbreaking and disgusting.

It’s important to separate the people from their governing bodies. I learned this many years ago as an American who was horrified by our actions in the Middle East and South and Central America, to name a few. But it’s still hard to read comments online that say anyone defending Israel or even showing sympathy for Israel is a promoter of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, genocide, etc. Hamas is purposefully bombarding civilians with rockets but no one claims the Palestinians are trying to commit ethnic cleansing or genocide – and they shouldn’t make that claim. Because Hamas doesn’t represent all Palestinians, just like Bibi doesn’t represent all Israelis.

Nothing is black and white. Everything is nuanced. I hope and pray for peace and an end to this cyclical violence.

Here’s Yahm and I trying to enjoy the sunshine after a difficult night and some snapshots of what it’s like to live in central Israel right now.

Marina and Yahm

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…

Hey, I got my stitches out!

bandaged

More than that, I’ve been typing for a couple of days now (instead of dictating to my computer or phone), and — hallelujah! — operating the mouse with my right hand.

They want me to remain very careful, and wear the splint that the occupational therapist molded for me (see below) whenever I’m up and moving about. And it’s still going to be a while before I can resume the project on the deck that caused this to happen.

But I’m making good progress. And yes, they took out the stitches today. I had my doubts about that, since the injury had bled a little when I took a shower this morning (a tricky process), and it bled a slight bit more as they were removing the stitches. But the orthopedic surgeon said it was normal for “a drop,” as she put it, to leak out while removing stitches, and now was the time. And I shouldn’t be alarmed that it looked like the cuts were trying to gap open in places — that was good; what was happening was that it was healing from the inside out.

Here’s a picture, for the strong of stomach, of what it looked like once the stitches were out. And here’s a bonus: an Extreme Close-up, as Wayne and Garth would say. (By the way, my nails are not technically dirty. That’s stubborn dried blood that’s going to take more scrubbing than I have had the nerve to do. Maybe I should soak them in Palmolive first. That’s what Madge would recommend.)

Anyway, I’m feeling good about it, considering how this started. I actually typed, with both hands, that Cunningham post last night, and now this. So who knows what I’ll accomplish next?…

splint

I generally only put this on when I’m sleeping or leaving the house or such — or taking this picture.

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…

‘Any a you sumbitches calls me grandpa…’

grandpa

My wife cut my hair last night, and we decided on something new — instead of using a No. 7 guard on the top and a 4 on the sides, we went with 4 all over. A lot of white hair fell, I can tell you. This is probably the shortest my hair has ever been, at least since the Beatles came to America in 1964.

Afterwards, regarding myself in the mirror before showering, I thought I looked familiar.sam as sgt maj

Oh, yeah… Sam Elliott in “We Were Soldiers.” Except his hair was a bit longer than mine — the damn’ hippy…

By the way, unlike the sergeant major, I have no problem with being referred to as a grandfather. And I won’t kill anybody over it. I actually think being a grandfather is pretty great. That was just the first quote that came to mind. It’s at 1:20 on the clip below.

Just don’t try to tell me what a nice day we’re having.

Anybody notice that that bit of dialogue seems ripped off from “Stripes?” Never mind. If the sergeant major ever actually said it, he did it long before “Stripes.” And he had every right to. I wouldn’t have argued with him…

I just now started wearing a mask on walks. Guess why…

Why weren't we wearing these EVERY spring?

Why weren’t we wearing these EVERY spring? This is me out walking today…

All this past year, I felt free to walk around the neighborhood without a mask on. I was careful everywhere else, but I never got close to anybody — except that one time, on account of the snake.

And I thought that was fine. Until now. Of course, I’ve had both of my shots now, but so what?

This is about the pollen.

I’m sure all my neighbors think I’m trying to show I’m more COVID-careful than anyone around, but no. I’ve been doing enough sneezing lately, and finally it just occurred to me: Why haven’t we always worn these in the spring? Or at least, why haven’t I, with all my allergies?

I’ll bet this one neighbor below supports this new practice, no matter why I’m doing it. I don’t know these folks, but I like them. My kind of people. They were also among the first in the neighborhood to put up signs for Joe and Jaime last year (that picture I linked to was after they’d put up Jaime, and before Joe — a lot of people had trouble finding Joe signs for awhile). They’ve had this one up several months…

wear a mask

Closing our busy restaurant

Our busy restaurant. Note the thief down at the bottom.

Our busy restaurant. Note the thief down at the bottom.

You’ve read or heard the news about taking in birdfeeders.

Well, we had already essentially closed our busy restaurant on the deck. We haven’t put any new seed in it for a week or so (and it runs out fast). My wife runs the establishment, and her rule is, when it starts turning warm, the birds need to fend for themselves. Get up early and get the worm, etc.

It’s been a busy season, as you can see above. Here’s a closeup of the feeder, to give you a better idea:

closeup

The new restaurant has twice the seating, above and below.

Business wasn’t great at the start, but not on account of COVID. Remember when we had those trees cut down? Well, the woodsmen did a great job, with one exception — a branch from that one, biggest pine in the backyard fell on the corner of our deck, smashing the railing and destroying my wife’s feeder. (Note that this was unintentionally foreshadowed here on the blog, when I wrote that “Then, they’ll get to the one we’re most concerned about, the massive one with ominous branches that project out over the deck we’ve spent so much time rebuilding…”)

So I got her another one for Christmas. But I upgraded — it was the same kind of feeder she’d had before, but two-story. Twice the seating space, above and below.

Of course, this leads to at least twice the mess below — bird poop, inevitably, and a huge amount of dropped seed. This can be avoided by swinging the feeder out from the deck, over the yard, but then we can’t see the birds as well from the kitchen window. And we like seeing them. My wife has acquired a couple of birdwatcher’s books, and she’s gotten good at identifying them all, and even I’ve learned the names of some of them — the wrens (some actual Carolina wrens, but a number of impostors as well — such as the ones pictured above, I believe), chickadees, those big bullies the cardinals, titmice, Eastern towhees, and so forth.

So my wife put out a big sheet of cardboard under the feeder, which catches most of it. And there’s enough seed there that some undiscriminating diners feast down there — including, as you see in the first photo above, the squirrels.

The squirrels. They figured prominently in my shopping decisions (the new feeder was a Christmas gift from me) for the iron rod from which the feeder hangs. I got an extra big, heavy, LONG iron bar, in an effort to keep the squirrels out of the feeder.

I failed, of course, as you can see below. They were very… enterprising. Sometimes I get the impression that we have the squirrel equivalent of SEAL Team Six living in our backyard. They have the skill, the training, and the determination to overcome any obstacle.

They had two methods. Some would take huge, suicidal leaps from the wooden benches built into the corner of the deck, several feet away. They’d just barely make it, snagging the perch with their little paws and pulling themselves up so they could dig in. What’s pictured below is the less dignified manner. It involves walking out on the new, long iron bar, holding on with their toes to the top of the feeder, and then eating while hanging upside-down.

When I see these things happening, I sometimes step out and scare them off. Other times, I figure, if they’re that determined, let them eat.

But really, the feeder is for the birds…

Have y’all had similar experiences?

It looks ridiculous, but I guess he's really hungry.

It looks ridiculous, but I guess he’s really hungry.

I got my first vaccine shot, and so far it’s working just fine

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

On Friday, I did my duty and got a shot of the vaccine against coronavirus. I’m proud to be able to say that, because I’ve not been able to get flu shots in the past, but this time I did my bit toward producing herd immunity, and getting us past this thing.

Those 43 senators may not have done their duty, but I’ve mine. It’s OK; don’t thank me. I was glad to do it.

As I said, I did it on Friday, and I intended to write about it on Friday; I really did. But I wasn’t up to it. It made me sick. That is, it made me feel sick, and I spent much of the afternoon snoozing on the recliner in my home office. But this, you see, is good news. I read up on it, as I started feeling crappy, and that means the vaccine has produced a strong reaction in my immune system. So if you got the shot, but didn’t feel bad, you have a puny immune system compared to mine. That’s OK; it’s not your fault.

I had been told by some that they didn’t even feel the shot. Oh, I felt it. It wasn’t the most painful shot I’ve ever received — that title goes to the series of typhoid fever inoculations I received in 1962, which made my scrawny little arm feel like it was going to fall off — but I felt it. Especially last night, when no matter what position I got into, it ached just enough to keep me awake. But acetaminophen took care of that.

So, for you greenhorns who haven’t experienced this, here’s what it was like…

First, it was very different from when I took my parents to get their first shots back in January (the get their second ones this week). That was a quiet, peaceful, solitary experience. I took them to get the Moderna vaccine at a Publix I hadn’t realized existed (it’s on Broad River Road) before I made the appointments. If you’d been someone in the store to get groceries that day, you might not have realized the shots were being given there. There was a young woman behind a table just to the left of the entrance. No one else was there, except the person scheduled ahead of us and maybe the person before that, who was still doing the 15-minute wait afterward.

So, even though I was getting the Pfizer instead of Moderna, I figured the experience would be kind of like that. It most assuredly was not. This was closer to lining up for a physical at the recruiting station in the second week of December, 1941. Only most of the people were more… mature… than your usual recruit. And we mostly kept our clothes on, I guess because there were ladies present and all.

The shock came before I even got into the building — Lexington Medical Park 1, to be specific. I was so proud because my appointment was at 11:10, and I’d arrived by 11, meaning I was that rare thing for me, early. But first I had to creep around behind slow people trying to find a parking space, which would have been OK except then I had to stop behind a mass of people waiting outside the building, in the light rain. That was the first of three queues. It was about 39 degrees and wet, as I recall.

We were not, to say the least, six feet apart. We were practically climbing on each others’ backs trying to get under the large canopy over the entrance to escape the rain. But we all had masks on, so there’s that.

This queue — or perhaps I should say, this disorderly mass of people — was for waiting to have one’s temperature checked, and getting a green sticker to attest to it, before entering. The harried young woman in charge kept clicking the thing at several of our foreheads, and then saying, “OK, you five go on in.” Then, when I had been clicked, for some reason she said, “OK, you eight go in.” So we did.

Another lovely young woman (I keep meaning to write a post about this amazing thing I discovered when I was a stroke patient at this very hospital — that pretty much all young women wearing face masks are beautiful, especially if they work in hospitals) had those who had been admitted line up again, around the circular wall of the foyer. Then, since there were too many of us, she had a second, concentric arc form inside the first one, and told the man at the head of ours to follow the last guy in the previous one, once he passed.

At this point we started trying to space out a little. As you’d expect from a bunch of people who were going to this much trouble to get the vaccine.

Then, we got to the entrance of a hallway, and another lovely young woman directed us one at a time to one of several tables set up in that area, leading toward another door at the far end, leading in turn to the enormous room where the shots would be given. At each table was a woman with a computer.

So I went to mine, and gave her my particulars, and she asked me when my appointment was. I said it was supposed to have been at 11:10, as I glanced at my phone to see it was now 11:16. I threw on a sliver of that morally superior, chuff tone you get from people who are habitually early, but not much, because I truly hate that tone.

Speaking of moral superiority, I was still congratulating myself on having filled out the online questionnaire ahead of time when she told me I was done and to go ahead and get in the next line. OK. As I moved down the hall to the next queue, I passed another of the tables, where the worker was asking this other person about allergies, which had not happened with me. Which was weird. There had been several questions about allergies on the questionnaire, and while I was pretty sure that I was OK with this vaccine, at least one of my answers should have been a red flag to at least keep a close eye on this guy: My “yes” to the question of whether I’d ever had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination.

That was the typhus shot I got when I was about 10 years old and living in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The substance was grown in egg. I have an extreme allergy to eggs. The State Department nurse knew this, but said I had to have a shot because regulations. So she gave me half of a child’s dose, as a compromise. I was headed into anaphylaxis before I got down one floor on the elevator to leave the building. I can’t tell you much about the next few days except it was about the sickest I ever was in my life.

This is why I don’t get flu shots. For some ungodly reason, they make that with egg, too.

But I’d done my research and felt pretty good about this vaccine, and my allergist had given me the “go” sign. But in case I was wrong, I felt like that they should know before they had a freaky situation on their hands. So I thought about that as I stood in the third and final queue — the one in the picture above. And when I sat down to get the shot, and things proceeded apace, and the lady was actually wielding the syringe near my arm, I mentioned it, saying something like, I think I’m OK on this, but so you know, I’m one of those people who has had a severe reaction to an inoculation.

And she said fine, that meant I’d have to wait 30 minutes instead of 15. Which I was fully prepared to do. So at 11:23 she stuck it in, and a modest amount of pain was produced, and I went over to my little isolated chair in the waiting area, and opened my iPad to resume reading the papers. Just before leaving the house, I had started reading a George Will column headlined, “Will Senate Republicans allow their louts to rule the party?” And now I finished it. (We know the answer to that question now, don’t we?)

We were all seated, by the way, in front of a projector screen on which a children’s movie was being projected. You couldn’t really see the picture because of the lighting (see the photo below), or hear any of the dialogue. But at one point I barely heard a song I had heard my grandchildren sing many, many times, and I knew it was “Frozen.” The day before, when my wife had gotten her shot, it had been Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Which, for a crowd of people who are mostly over 65, is also an odd choice. Actually, come to think of it, assuming it makes sense to play a movie for people who will only be there for a few minutes of it is kind of odd, too, but that’s the modern waiting room.

Anyway, a good job was done, mostly, by the hospital, and I appreciate it. I don’t know why there was such a mob, compared to my parents’ experience. Are there that many more people over 65 than over 70? Or has Joe managed to step things up the last few weeks? I don’t know, but the hospital was handling it pretty well.

And we got ‘er done. And today, I felt well enough to tell you about it…

Here's where we all waited after our shots -- most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

Here’s where we all waited after our shots — most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

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.

Things I’d like to ask the Wizard, if I could…

wizard

I shaved my beard off on All Saints Day. The night before, I’d been trick-or-treating with most of my grandchildren, and they informed me I had missed a big opportunity: I should have dressed as a wizard!

They were right, of course. So before shaving the next day, I did a selfie with a hoodie on. Not just any hoodie. The hoods on many of them don’t have enough material to cover my big head. This one, which is getting kind of ragged now, has a comfortably capacious cowl, which helps approximate a sort of Gandalf effect.

See what I mean?

No, I’m not going to share an “after” picture. I don’t like the way I look without the beard. My visage is less… wise, mysterious, knowing. Less esoteric. Now I’m just this guy, you know?

Looking back at the picture above now, it occurs to me I’d like to have a wizard I could go see, and ask some questions. Not about getting a brain or a heart, and definitely not to get me back to Kansas — I came home in 1987 to get away from Kansas. I have other questions these days. Here are a few:

  • Why did so many people vote for Donald Trump two weeks ago? Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Wizard, I’m as grateful as can be that Joe won. Thanks for casting that spell on South Carolina back on Feb. 29. We’d be in real trouble if you hadn’t. But I just need to know why he didn’t win with 100 percent of the vote. Really, after the last four years, I can’t believe anyone was planning to vote for Trump at the start of 2020, and that’s before COVID. And all year, he kept doing and saying things that, translated, said “DON’T VOTE FOR ME!” There were no excuses this time. No Hillary. No, “I was sure he’d lose, so it was a protest vote.” I’ve spent the last four years trying — really trying — to understand why anyone voted for him in 2016 (and the two things I just mentioned were all I came up with). And every day since then, people have been hit with a tsunami of evidence that this is really, absolutely, not anyone you would ever put in charge of anything. So I really, really don’t know why even one person voted for him this time — much less 70 million. So please, ‘splain it.
  • Oh, and what’s with the utter rejection of reality? How can someone who so obviously exhibits the perspective and self-interest of a two-year-old persuade people that his fantasies are real? Seriously, how can half of Republicans — which is a bunch of people — actually believe assertions that are based in nothing — nothing! — but a disturbed man’s self-delusion?
  • What happened to Lindsey Graham? Oh, I don’t just mean over the last four years — how did he get even worse after the election? Why didn’t he take a vacation or something, which might have given him a chance to get better?
  • Why don’t I know the names of the astronauts who just went to the space station on the new ship? A change of pace there…. I knew the names of the first two guys — Bob and Doug. The only name we hear any more is “Elon Musk.” That’s like knowing the name of Bob Gilruth, but not John Glenn. It’s weird.
  • Is there something in our food, or air, or water that has damaged our brains? Yeah, I’m drifting back toward the first couple of questions. but no, I’m not just talking about people who voted for Trump, even though, yeah, they’re a great example. My next couple of questions provide examples from completely different segments of the population…
  • Why does a sensible woman like Abigail Spanberger have to explain to fellow Democrats that failing to distance themselves from absurd statements such as “defund the police” or labels such as “socialist” hurt them in the election? And how come she’s still sensible while others are not? Does she not eat the tainted food or breathe the tainted air? In any case, thank goodness she was re-elected — barely.
  • Why did those people in Portland keep coming out and protesting day after day, as though it were a job or something, when it was painfully obvious that every day they did it, they were providing Donald Trump with ammunition, helping back up his paranoid talking points? I mean, if you have a point to make, haven’t you made it with the first protest? It’s one thing if you live in a place — such as Hong Kong — where actually being free to protest is in a way the point.. You might do that over and over — until they stop you, as China has done now (thereby proving there was a point to the protests). This is different. It’s not like the initial George Floyd protests, or those in Kenosha or Louisville, which were specific responses to clear events, as opposed to the Portland goings-on, which were more like a… lifestyle or something.  It would make sense if we learned those protesters were in the pay of the Trump campaign. That would add up. But I’m pretty sure that’s not it. You know, I watched maybe one episode of “Portlandia” and lost interest. Something about free-range chickens or something. Maybe I should have kept watching…

Well, there’s more, but that’s probably enough for now. Maybe I’ll ask more questions another time, if that dude in the strange green outfit will let me in…

Hey, I got tested! No results yet, of course…

CVS queue

Ever since I got back from Memphis, I’ve been meaning to get a COVID test. I figured someone in my group of five family members — having spent about 20 hours, there and back, in a van — should do it. And I was curious about the process.

I was amused, in a dark-humor way, at the notice on the box I was supposed to put my completed test in.

I was amused, in a dark-humor way, at the notice on the box I was supposed to put my completed test in.

So I made an appointment yesterday, and went to have it done about an hour ago.

It was a little weird. I had to wait about 15 minutes in a drive-thru line — at the same CVS store I go into frequently — and struggle through hearing the instructions over the distorted sound system. But I got it done. And it wasn’t unpleasant or anything. I only had to put the swap barely into my nose, rather than poking at my brain with it, the way I’d heard from horror stories. Of course, maybe that means the test won’t be valid. I don’t know.

I’ll let you know what I hear back, which should be in two or three days.

You just never know. One of my ADCO colleagues — someone I haven’t seen in person since March, although we had our weekly Facetime meeting this morning — learned she was positive yesterday. Fortunately, she feels OK so far, except for having lost her sense of taste. I hope that’s the extent of it for her.

Anyway, I’ll report back. Here’s the video they texted to me, and which I neglected to watch before I got there…

In these last days…

Here's some good news: Remember the Biden sign in my neighborhood I mentioned that seemed well positioned, but then disappeared? Now it's back...

Here’s some good news: Remember the Biden sign in my neighborhood I mentioned that seemed well positioned, but then disappeared? Now it’s back…

This is just a quick note to let y’all know why you’re not seeing much from me in these last days before the most critical election of our lifetimes.

My brother-in-law suddenly died in Memphis, and we’re preparing to get on the road and go there for the funeral. We haven’t been thinking about much but that, and won’t be until the election is over. This is all we have room or time for right now.

Not that the last-minute election insanity hasn’t been going on around us anyway:

  • My son who is going with us had planned to vote on Election Day, and had to go stand in line for two and a quarter hours Saturday. But he got the job done. Everyone in the family has voted now.
  • I’m glad I went ahead and did it last Tuesday. I had never, ever in my whole voting life had anything come up to prevent me voting on Election Day, but this time I was worried maybe something could. I had thought, “What if I get COVID?” I never thought anything like this would come up.
  • The sign vandals have picked up their pace again — and now in broad daylight. I’ve told you I’ve been bringing in my Biden signs every night, and putting them back out in the morning. Now, they’re striking in broad daylight. Once today, one of my signs was lying on the ground. I saw that the ground was torn up at the base, suggesting it had been deliberately knocked down. I set it back up. Within an hour, it had been knocked down completely.
  • I think I’ve seen indirect evidence that some Trump signs have been knocked down or stolen in the neighborhood. A few of those have appeared now — the Donald might be up to four or five yards in the neighborhood (nowhere near as many as Biden signs). One went up about 10 houses down our street just in the last few days, together with a Graham sign (those are rare). Today, when I walked by, there was only the Graham sign. I hope it wasn’t a case of theft or vandalism, but I can’t rule it out. Passions run high all around.

Anyway, I’ve had enough of it. I’m so ready for these horrible four years to be over. Maybe, by the time we’re back home, it will be. I hope and pray so.

I’ll end with this, one of my favorite things I saw today:

I’m glad I voted yesterday. Can we count the votes now?

I went with the bandanna rather than a surgical mask, in order to cover my beard. I'm going to mount that cotton swap on a plaque or something...

I went with the bandanna rather than a surgical mask, in order to cover my beard. I’m going to mount that cotton swab on a plaque or something…

I mean, come on, people — if you haven’t voted, that’s just too bad! I can’t wait now…

But seriously, folks… As I mentioned in comments on a previous post yesterday, I cast aside my firm preference for voting on actual Election Day — and I still prefer it — for a number of reasons:

  • I kept hearing things that made me worry that instead of taking the pressure off Election Day, the waves of people voting early (62 million as of the time I was standing in line waiting to vote) be a harbinger of a complete mess on that day. I stood in long, long lines in 2008. Those same lines would be much, much longer with social distancing, and I didn’t fancy standing in the heat or rain or whatever (it rained during the hour and forty minutes I was in line in 2008) with a mask on my face that long.
  • I didn’t feel great when I went to bed the night before. Probably just weariness from staying up half the night before, for the convenience of the West Coast, watching the World Series. But I thought, “What if this is COVID? What if I get sick and can’t vote?” I couldn’t take that chance.
  • When I found out about this satellite location — and found out about it in a way that made me hope not many people would know about it — I decided to run out and do it, suddenly and without warning.

And it worked. I got it done in less than an hour. I congratulated myself on a brilliantly successful coup de main operation. Trump and Lindsey never saw it coming. Not from me, anyway. Just BANG, and I had voted.

By the way, I voted as I reported I would — for Joe, Jaime, Adair and Nikki Setzler. Which should have taken only seconds, but I assure you I was more obsessive than usual about double- and triple-checking every vote at every stage — on the screen, and on the paper printout. I made sure there was zero chance of an error on my part.

Now, about the fact that the availability of this convenient polling place (about half the distance, for me, compared to the election office in Lexington) was kept such a secret…

That morning, thinking about getting out and voting, I had tried to find out what my options were. But when I had Googled “where to vote early near me” and entered my address, I was told that I had to go to Lexington. Other options weren’t offered. (Also, I could have sworn there was no info on the county election office website when I looked before, although it’s there now.)

I found out about it completely inadvertently. A friend sent me a flyer that she had gotten from a Facebook post that someone else had sent her. It was not from the Lexington Election office. It was from the page of the West Columbia Community Center, the place where I ended up voting. I went looking for that post later and couldn’t find it, but I did find a link to a WIS story about these places being opened. If The State, my main local source of news, posted it at any time, I missed it. (A search of thestate.com shows that the last time the full phrase “West Columbia Community Center” appeared in The State was 2015 — but that’s a notoriously bad search engine, so I don’t know.)

So, I can’t really say the county officials hid the information from the public. I’m just not terribly impressed by how well they got the information out. I think maybe it spread by word of mouth during the day yesterday. I voted pretty quickly, but the line grew substantially while I was there, and Bud says he saw something about it on WIS (thank you, WIS, for making the effort to help us know about this) that said people were waiting as long as 90 minutes. Although I don’t know when that was.

Then there’s the fact that the place where I voted — the only place anywhere near me — was only open yesterday, today and tomorrow. And only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., rather than full voting hours like on Election Day.

Look, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had yesterday. I want to thank the folks who manned this temporary site — including one of the folks I’m used to seeing at my own precinct on Election Days. I appreciate WIS trying to get the word out. Mostly, I appreciate the chain of people passing around the information that eventually got to me.

But you know, the folks in charge of elections in my county could have gotten the word out better. And they could have had these locations open the whole time, rather than these small snatches of time.

If they had, it would have helped more to keep the madness down on Election Day. I still worry there will be problems (although probably fewer in this county than in Richland — at least ours is an actual county office, rather than one of those notorious Special Purpose Districts).

But I’m glad I got the opportunity, and I’m glad I’m done…

ElWtKvUWoAYavaO

It was pretty exciting when I actually got INSIDE the building, and could see the little voting booths…