Category Archives: Personal

Submitting myself once again to that great time thief, Gmail

No, I won’t read this or thousands of others. But it still takes time to glance over them and delete en masse…

I’m getting close to cleaning out my personal email once again. By “close,” I mean I succeeded in going through everything that comes in under the “Primary” tab on my Gmail IN box. Right now, I’m working on the 2,500 that still remained today under “Promotions” (which is much easier, since I delete almost everything — I’ve gotten it down under 2,000 in just a few minutes). I haven’t yet looked at the 238 I have under “Social” (doesn’t sound like much, but I have to look at quite a few of those individually).

But I’m taking a moment now to share with you something I read in The New York Times this morning. It’s a column from Ezra Klein, whose podcasts I enjoy so much. Here’s the special link that’s supposed to allow me to share it. I don’t know whether that means I can share it here, or just with one person. Please try it and let me know if it works.

The headline is “Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You.” Basically, Ezra has a much worse Gmail problem than I do, so he’s given up, and trying alternatives. Here’s part of his explanation as to why:

A few months ago, I euthanized that Gmail account. I have more than a million unread messages in my inbox. Most of what’s there is junk. But not all of it. I was missing too much that I needed to see. Search could not save me. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Google’s algorithms had begun failing me. What they thought was a priority and what I thought was a priority diverged. I set up an auto-responder telling anyone and everyone who emailed me that the address was dead….

On one level, that makes me feel so much better. “More than a million?” Now, I won’t feel such shame when I let mine get up around the 20,000 range, which I occasionally do. That is technically manageable. All I have to do is neglect work, reading, and of course blogging, for at least several days. Then I have a clean IN box, and everything starts piling up again as I resume my life.

I’m not ready to do what Ezra has done, however much I understand why he did it. He says he’s moved to an email provider called “Hey.” My eyes lit up at that, because he said “Hey assumes that only the people you want email from should be able to email you.” Sounds nice, but then he went on to describe numerous drawbacks to Hey.

But I applaud his courage in striking out in search of an alternative. And I think he should not beat up on himself this way:

I do not blame anyone but myself for this. This is not something the corporations did to me. This is something I did to myself….

Lighten up, Ezra. You’re a busy man. You have a life. Actual humans (not the algorithms that send you most of those emails) are depending on you to do things in Meat World.

And if this were 1980 or 1814 or 44 BC or any other time — when you were only expected to answer an occasional letter from an actual acquaintance — you’d have no cause to issue such a mea culpa.

I’m sure the robots will have a time machine ready for us soon. Just kick back and wait…

OK, I voted for Joe, but it wasn’t easy…

I mean, it was easy in terms of not having to wait in a line, and the weather was nice, and the pollworkers were all helpful and professional. And I was unconflicted about it — despite my Hamlet routine the last few days — because I love to vote for Joe.

But in other senses…

I showed up at my usual voting place — for the Quail Hollow precinct — and was greeted by the sign you see at the end of the post. Which made me wonder, WTH, but when I got to Gray Collegiate, one of the pollworkers — who normally works the Saluda River site — explained to me that the party, trying to save money, had asked for the reduction in polling places, to save money.

The arrows were helpful, since I’d never been here before…

OK that made sense, since I and everyone else knew the turnout today would be next to nothing, with Joe having no actual competition. (The weird thing, though, is what I heard later from another pollworker who works at another site across the county — she said the voting places are reduced for the Republican primary on the 24th as well. If that’s correct, THAT is going to be a mess, with all the Trumpistas out to crush Nikki’s bones to make their bread, and 90 percent of Democrats turning out to vote for Nikki. Yeah, I made up the 90 percent, but it feels like that.)

Almost everyone else in the place normally works my precinct, since they’re my neighbors. Everyone addressed me as Brad. And there was no point being cagey about what I was there to do, since all these folks knew me and are used to seeing my yardsigns and bumper stickers. So of course, I wasn’t. Cagey, I mean. Not that I ever am. In fact, I probably blathered more about it than was quite right, but it’s not like I was tying up busy people. I only noticed one other voter the whole time I was there.

I had no line to wait in, which was sweet. I went to my little minikiosk thingy (still haven’t learned a term for those things that are not booths), inserted the paper ballot, pressed the screen to vote for Joe, pressed again to check my vote, and pressed once more to print out the results.

Which is when everything went haywire. There were all these distorted images flashing on my screen, and eventually the screen went white. And there were no sounds of printing going on. So one of the workers had to open the machine and make sure nothing had printed, dig out the unmarked ballot, and give it to me to take to another machine.

So I got to vote twice! Of course, it only counted once, but I had the pleasure of doing it twice. Which was nice.

I didn’t remember to take a selfie with my sticker until I got home. It’s at the top. See my hat? I think Michelle Norris gave me that hat when she interviewed me in 2008. Seemed appropriate — as you know by my recent posts, I do consider all things. Rather obsessively…

South Carolina is everywhere!

No, it’s not perfect. But let’s see you do better, driving over asphalt with rubber tires.

At least, it’s cropping up everywhere you look in national media right now. For fairly obvious reasons.

That will end soon enough. But I will continue to see it everywhere I look. I always have.

Do you? I’m curious whether this is a South Carolina native thing, or just a South Carolina resident thing. Or (and this seems less likely), do folks from other parts see the same shape?

This tendency is embedded pretty deep in me. My first memories of doing this are from my birthplace, Bennettsville. Behind my grandparents’ home, at the foot of the back steps, were some white flagstones. They gave an impression of being marble because of the color, but had a sort of hexagonal design. Not that they were shaped like hexagons like so many such stones you see. I mean there were these black lines etched across the surface in a honeycomb pattern, with each hexagon a little more than a square inch in size.

The overall shape of each stone was random, like the pieces of some larger slab that someone had broken up with a sledgehammer.

But one of them looked exactly like South Carolina. As a child, there was nothing random about that to me — of course it was shaped like that, I thought. I spent most of my school years elsewhere — in Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana, Florida, Hawaii and South America. But that house was the one place I always returned to. It was home, or the closest thing I had to a home growing up. And the fact that one of the features of this house was this stone that was “randomly” shaped like South Carolina seemed to be something of cosmic significance.

I’d show you a picture of it, if I could go there and take one. But you can’t see it now. Decades ago, my uncle — who has lived in that house his entire life (he’s the opposite of me in that respect) — built a deck at the back door. I can’t remember whether the stone is just hidden away, or gone. Anyway, it’s no longer in evidence.

But still, since that one perception early in life, I’ve seen the shape everywhere else. In a stone, or a pancake that was carelessly (or extremely carefully) poured into the pan, or a torn piece of a roofing shingle. I’m not just talking about triangles. I’m talking about triangles that manage to imitate the less regular border with North Carolina. Triangles that look intentional.

And it always seems significant to me, in a fundamental, subrational way. Like someone has put it there as a message or something.

I don’t always take pictures when I see one. But the other day on one of my walks around the neighborhood, I saw the road cracks you see above. I don’t know why I’d never noticed the pattern before. Maybe the cracks were new. Anyway, this time, I shot a picture.

Do you see thing like that, too?

You couldn’t do this if you tried

Here’s how it looked, up on the lift at the muffler place.

Or at least, I couldn’t. I certainly wasn’t trying to when I did.

Last week, when we were hurrying about to go to the beach for a few days, I noticed that my old truck’s bed had a lot of water standing in it. I generally park it off to the side of our driveway under some trees, and the way the pine-needle-covered surface slopes, the water couldn’t escape.

So I backed it out to let it drain onto the driveway, which slopes the other way.

Then I had a bright idea (watch out for these, by the way). I decided to back the truck into its usual position, so if it rained, the water would drain out.

The idea was simple enough, but delicate to execute, because it involves slightly tricky maneuvering to avoid backing into a couple of trees and not running over some azalea bushes. But I was careful, very careful, with most of my attention focused on the trees.

Suddenly, I heard this grinding, wrenching sound that I didn’t understand — I was still a foot and a half from the nearest tree. Whatever it was, I couldn’t back up any further. I decided I would pull forward away from it before changing my angle and backing up again.

But I couldn’t pull forward, either. It was like some giant, supernatural hand had a grip on the truck. And each careful attempt to move either way produced slight noises that suggested I would hear huge noises again soon if I gave it more gas.

So I turned off the truck, got out, and peered under the bed from the rear. I saw the tailpipe you see in the photo above, bent almost double. I had backed over a stump of a pine we had removed sometime back.

This stump had not figured into my calculations, because it rose only about four inches above the ground immediately surrounding it. I should have cleared it easily, and would have on a level surface. But back here in the trees, there was sort of a dip in the ground, and my rear tires were in that dip. So the stump had easily bent the pipe into the shape you see.

But that’s not the really genius, amazing part of what I did. With its new shape — which I would describe as a sort of fishhook, or maybe grappling hook — my tailpipe had dug into the stump to a surprisingly firm degree, which was why the truck was going nowhere.

Nothing I could do right then. So I drove away to the beach — in a different vehicle, of course — with a troubled mind. I had a plan, but I couldn’t execute it right then.

Several days later, when we were back and both my sons were at the house, I got them to lift up on the bed slightly — a millimeter or two would do — and I drove off the stump easily.

The next day I drove off to buy a tailpipe and a new muffler, since the old one had suffered damage in the incident. Cost me a little over two hundred bucks. Happy New Year.

Anyway, I’m still sort of marveling at what I did.

Today, I was going to work on that stump with chainsaw and ax and see how close I can get it down to ground level. But it’s raining today. And I suppose the truck bed is filling back up…

See how low that stump is? You can hardly see it for the pine straw. I was worried about the TREE behind it…

You say you want a resolution…

I’m not shooting to getting back to THIS skinny, but this gives you the idea…

OK, so, these things don’t usually go so well, but here goes. Fortunately, most of them don’t require much typing, because I can refer you to when I made the same ones in years past. But I’ll start with something a little different:

Lose weight. This still feels new to me, although as you know, I have tried before. It still feels new because I was a skinny kid, and continued the tradition for several decades after I grew up. When I was little, I was also almost always the shortest kid in the class. I got over that in high school, reaching my present moderate height of 5’11” and a fraction. Which was satisfactory (although an even 6 feet would have been more so). But talk about skinny… In my junior year, I was this height, but in the 115 class on the wrestling team. The following year, I was in the 132. Now I weigh in the vicinity (sometimes more, sometimes less) of 13 stone. In the 180s, that is. In the past, I’ve tried and failed to get down to 168. This time I’m going for 160. (That way, maybe I’ll get to 168.)

Eat better. Not just to lose weight, but to be healthier. I haven’t decided whether to go back to the paleo diet, but I’m going to cut out junk — once I get done with the stuff from my stocking. Don’t want to insult Santa.

Meet my step goals EVERY month. I mentioned that it took several days of heavy beach walking to make it in December. And I made it. I will this month, too — then take it from there. What’s the goal? An average of 10,000 steps a day. Back before the stroke, I was doing better than that. But now, 10k looks good. And I haven’t been hitting it consistently enough.

REALLY read more books. Yeah, that was THE resolution last year. And I did a little better. For instance, back then I mentioned starting le Carre’s A Legacy of Spies. I finished, and it was wonderful. But if you do read it, first go back and read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — if you haven’t read them already. It’s a look back at things that were going on at the same time as those books, and it contains huge spoilers. I also got into Candice Millard, reading her Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, and Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. Both excellent. And I got her The River of Doubt among several other books for Christmas. And I’m coming off a success. I just finished (last night) reading The Scarlet Letter finally. One of my twin granddaughters is reading it in school, and I want to discuss it with her. The other twin is reading Moby Dick, so now I’m going back to finally finish reading that. Overall, I think I’ll make the goal a book a week. We’ll see.

Blog more, and enjoy it more. That means posting more stuff, and spending less of the tiny amount of time I have dealing with civility problems. For starters, I’m just not going to approve anything I see as problematic — thereby forcing me to spend more time responding and explaining. Maybe I’ll do away with comments altogether — probably not, but that’s on the table. In any case, I intend to enjoy it more. We’ll see how that goes…

That’s enough. How about you?

Oh, and to fulfill the promise the headline hinted at…

Catching up, with a few photos

Just got back from the beach a couple of hours ago. Sorry I haven’t posted. I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy. You know how it is.

I’ll just try to catch up with some pictures, starting a couple or so days before Christmas…

Did you check out the big sale in the last few days of Barnes & Noble at Richland Fashion Mall? This was taken three days before Santa came.

Note that I am standing with my back almost to the opposite side of the store from the cash registers, and the line in front of me extends all the way to the registers. And I’m not even at the back of the line. I waited in the queue while my wife continued browsing. We came away with a dozen or so books, marked down by 50 or even 75 percent. One was for me — something I never got around to reading in school (A Separate Peace). The rest were gifts…

On the next day, Saturday, my middle daughter and I decided to take a last-minute swing through Five Points. It was the first time I’d spent much time roaming around there since the Götterdämmerung — the closing of Yesterday’s. I also had occasion to mourn the missing Starbucks, and my daughter and I had to help a man from Cayce find another musical instrument store when he was disappointed to find Pecknel’s closed as well. But Papa Jazz was still there, as was Loose Lucy’s!

Here’s the store!

And here’s persistent proprietor Don McAllister, who reports that he’s had his best year ever! He and I chatted nostalgically for awhile about retired local leaders such as Duncan McCrae and Debbie McDaniel, and the late lamented hero Jack Van Loan. And I learned a shocking thing: Don himself is 12 years younger than I am! I thought he’d been running this store forever…

OK, now we’ll skip over Christmas, because that’s all personal family pics. We went to the beach Wednesday…

I did a lot of walking — managed to catch up on my steps for the month so I didn’t even have to walk today to meet my goal. And on my first morning I was surprised to find this interesting rose on someone’s front fence. Yes, three days after Christmas. We are living in weird times. Not that I’m any expert on when flowers are supposed to be out. In fact, I’m only saying this is a rose because of the leaves and the thorns. I’m sure it would smell as sweet by another name…

Later that same day, the 28th, my wife and I took a longer stroll on the beach, and found more cool bits of nature than we would have found amid the crowds in August. I’ve seen starfish there before, of course, but this is the first time I’ve spotted a sea urchin that still had some spines on it. I used to see live ones at low tide on the Pacific coast of South America when I was a kid, but this was my first one in South Carolina, I think…

Back here in the Midlands, I often marvel at grown men out walking wearing winter coats over short pants. This kid had them beat. A jacket and a toque… with pants rolled up so he could wade barefoot in the winter brine…

We found quite a few beautiful, fully intact nice shells that we had to put back in the water because when you turned them over the critters were apparently still living in them — such as the one above…

We ran across an interesting confrontation between two avian species. (Click on it to see it better; I left it big.) Note the way the gang of gulls on the left is glaring as one at the pigeons, who are doing their best to ignore the gulls. Obviously, the gulls have a strong case on their side. I mean, it’s their turf, right?…

Alas, this magnificent crab — from port to starboard, he was about a foot across — was no longer among the living. But still, an impressive find. No idea what caused his (or her — I know even less about crabs than about flowers) demise…

Later that same day, I went to check, and Murrells Inlet was still there, with a pelican presiding…

That was a pretty full day of walking and shooting pictures. I thought this one I took that night was pretty good, for a phone camera….

And then, fairly early the next morning, I went for a similar composition, only of a bridge across a freshwater pond, rather than the ocean. Yeah, the moon and the sun kind of blew out on both of them, but I like them…

On Saturday, I made a significant archaeological find on the beach. This is the first sand castle I’ve discovered that the builder actually used stone as a significant part of its construction. Still, I see no evidence of use of tools…

Finally, later that day, we were walking back a block or two off the beach when my wife spotted this flag in the gutter below it. (A bit of unconscious political commentary on the state of the nation?) Since it was nylon and in good shape — it seemed to have simply blown off its staff — I went around to a couple of nearby houses to see if anyone would claim it. (Rather than, you know, burning it as I heard we should do with flags that touch the ground when I was a kid.) When no one did, I clipped it securely to the tree, hoping the owner would more easily find it…

That’s all. No actual commentary. Just, I’m back and hoping we all have a fine 2024…

What’s your first political memory?

I got a couple of ideas out of this week’s Matter of Opinion podcast from the NYT. I’ll write about the other later when I have more time, but at the moment I’ll just share this little interlude where they asked kids (ranging in age from about 17 to a vague “under 30”) to call in with their first political memories:

And we’re back. So we have something else up our sleeve this week, in lieu of a Hot Cold. We recently asked our younger listeners to send in their political awakenings. So let’s take a listen now….

And the callers weighed in with their thoughts on recent events (one first took note of the political world on Jan. 6, 2021) that to them seem to have happened quite some time ago.

Which got me to thinking back a bit further, although I wish they hadn’t used the word “awakenings.” It has a disturbing flavor of ideological orthodoxy, like asking “When did you get your mind right?” I would simply have asked them to recount their “first awareness,” or simply first memory, of politics. That interests me more.

What is yours? Mine was from 1960, at more or less the very moment when I reached the age of 7. I’ve told it here before, but can’t find it at the moment, so I’ll just tell it again. I watched the presidential debates, and I decided I was for Nixon. That was based on my immature assessment of what I perceived as Kennedy’s aggressive tone on the subject of foreign policy. I don’t recall now what he said about the Soviets, but he sounded a lot more like a guy willing to go to war. And not a cold one. Of course, he may have said nothing of the kind. But that’s the way I heard it.

Thinking back on the impression now, I assume — if I heard it right — he was trying to sound that way because he was very young and widely regarded as inexperienced in comparison to the vice president. Maybe he was pushing the tough talk a bit in an effort to create a visceral impression of being a strong leader. But I didn’t know about things like that. I just knew my father was a naval officer, and Kennedy sounded more like a guy who would send my Daddy off to war.

I was quite serious about it, and took the election result hard, and rather, well, childishly. My mother watched Kennedy’s inauguration on the black-and-white in our Woodbury, N.J., apartment, and I protested loudly that I wanted her to change the station to something else (not that there would have been anything else at that moment). She ignored my requests, so in protest I hid behind a chair where I couldn’t see the screen. My mother told me to stop being ridiculous, but I persisted. Basically, I acted like a Trump supporter, although I didn’t storm the U.S. Capitol.

Anyway, I got over it, just not that day.

Speaking of my Dad, his first political memory was of his own father arguing loudly with a neighbor out on the sidewalk in front of the family home in Kensington, Md. The subject? FDR. The neighbor thought he was great, and I gather from his vehemence (which embarrassed my grandmother and caused her to call out to tell my grandpa to stop and come into the house) that he thought Roosevelt would be the ruination of the country. I’m guessing there, because my Dad was too young to understand and couldn’t explain it to me. I’m guess this was early in FDR’s time in office, so… maybe mid-30s. My Dad was born at the end of 1928.

Anyway, what’s your first political memory?

If you’re going to stock Halloween candy, stock THESE!

Just thought I’d mention this, in case any of y’all are purchasing agents for any retail stores operating in the Columbia area.

To help you plan ahead to next year.

I had a lot of things to do today, but my daughter was going to Walmart. I wanted to go with her, despite the workload, but I simply asked her to please, if they had any left, get me some of the above-pictured product: Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins. And if they did, to get two bags.

This was an urgent request, because we only have three days left before any that are left disappear, to make room for the Christmas candy. I’ve mentioned this problem before.

And I haven’t found any in the last few days.

You’re probably thinking (if you’re still with me), Oh, those are all over the place! I see them everywhere I go…

No, you don’t. You may see bags that look somewhat like that, but those contain candy corn. There are millions of bags of that within a few miles of my house. I don’t know why. Do you like candy corn? Does anybody you know like candy corn? I doubt it. Because way back in August, when all this stuff appears at Walmart, there are plenty of pumpkins, and of course I always think (fool that I am), Oh, Halloween is months away! I’ve got plenty of time! So I maybe buy a bag when I’m there, but I fail to stock up.

Then, about this time of the season, I start getting panicky. And the Walmarts start running out of the good stuff, and only have candy corn. Well, and those bags of stuff called “Autumn Mix” — which are, just eyeballing the bags, maybe 20 percent pumpkin by mass. The rest is candy corn of various colors.

Something else you might be thinking at this point: Those pumpkins look like they’re made from the same stuff as candy corn, so don’t they taste a lot alike? Maybe they do. But more than a half-century ago, I did extensive research on this point. And I decided very early in life that I did not like candy corn. And from the time I was a toddler, people offered me a lot of candy corn, because it was one of the few kinds of mass-produced Halloween candy to which I was not seriously allergic.

Then, when I was a little older, my grandmother sent us a care package — probably when we lived in Ecuador and didn’t have access to such things, but maybe later. And it contained a bag of the pumpkins for me, and they were fantastic! And when I was back in this country, I conducted a great deal more research, sometimes eating like half a bag, or a whole one.

Which is kind of like Cool Hand Luke eating 50 eggs (why 50? Because it seemed like a nice, round number). I mean, it’s practically suicidal. I’m always happy to share my pumpkins with my wife, because I love her and would give her anything, and… because she never eats more than one. Why? Because she is a sane person. I’ve written before that these things possess “a density approaching that of a black hole,” and most of that is sugar, corn syrup and honey. First, they’re practically indigestible. Second, two of them could probably cause a diabetic coma among some people.

So, you know, I could repeat the experiments of my youth, but I’m 70 now, and want to live a little longer. Far as I’m concerned the science is conclusive.

And others must agree. because they buy up the pumpkins and leave the candy corn. And it seems the people who stock the stores never, ever notice this. I guess they’re too busy buying 12-foot skeletons, or whatever.

I keep mentioning Walmart. That’s because, aside from the Walgreen’s in Five Points (which used to be an auto parts store, and before that a Winn-Dixie), I haven’t seen them anywhere this year but at Walmart.

And I was at the Walmart out on Harbison a couple of days ago, and they were out. Hence my request to my daughter, who was going to a different one.

And when she texted me to tell me the closest thing she had found was “the mixture of pumpkins and candy corn” — Autumn Mix — I started brooding, and wrote this in my head while running my other errands.

First the Phillies lose the pennant, and now this.

But… when I got home, and decided to console myself with the last pumpkin or two in the cabinet, I opened it and… there were two bags of pumpkins.

Happy ending! So, you know, never mind. But seriously, why doesn’t everybody stock these, and stock a lot more of them?

Three of these boxes — at the Walmart in Harbison — contain candy corn. The other is Autumn Mix. Typical…

Maybe this is why I like David Brooks’ work

I’ve said a lot of positive things about David Brooks over the years. I not only agree with the guy a lot, but I tend to wish I had written what he did. I feel like I should have written it. His thoughts just run that much in sync with my own.

I’ve never thought about why, but maybe this is why. Or part of why…

I’ve been enjoying this new app from The New York Times — NYT Audio. It’s particularly great for my walks around the neighborhood, a sort of supplement to NPR One.

Anyway, today’s NYT Audio offered something I haven’t heard before in that format. It was a piece by Brooks, read by himself, headlined “We’re Disconnected and Lonely. David Brooks Has a Solution.”

Early on in the short piece, he says:

My nursery school teacher told my parents, apparently, David doesn’t always play with the other kids. He just observes them, which was great for my life as a journalist, but maybe not great for having strong bonds and intimate connections…

Wow. I really, really identified with that.

Not that I didn’t play with the other children at that age. I did. But there was always that sort of theme in my childhood. Part of it was moving around all the time as a Navy brat. For awhile, I would observe this bunch of kids, and soon I’d move on and observe that bunch of kids, and so forth. And as much as I would enjoy their company, I wasn’t quite… one of them. Not quite.

And yeah, these are characteristics that lend themselves to the profession of journalism. In fact, I’ve noticed that it seems a lot of military brats end up in the trade, and I’ve always thought that characteristic had something to do with it. You know, the habit of observing a community of people rather than feeling fully a part of it.

I’ve also noticed that — it seemed to me (I’ve never tried to quantify it) — it seemed like more journalists were Jewish or Catholic than you would find in the surrounding population. In other words, they were used to looking at things in ways slightly different from the way the majority would. David Brooks isn’t a military brat, but he sorta-kinda fits in both of those other categories.

This tendency to be an observer rather than a participant can be problematic. When you share with other people something you have observed — particularly something outrageous, such as, say, having heard someone else say wildly racist things — they wonder what’s wrong with you that you didn’t react at the time. What did YOU do? they demand. And they have a point. They make me wonder, too.

But I still tend to look at the person asking that rather blankly. Because when confronted with something really wild and strange, I tend to simply observe more intently. I might even think, in frustration, I can’t take notes, however much I want to, without interfering with this phenomenon. Which I wouldn’t want to do, because it would change the nature of what was happening. And not necessarily for the better. Sure, it might make the person act differently, superficially in that moment. But I always want to know what he or she is really thinking.

Way back during my reporting days, I was conscious of that on the job. A lot of reporters feel at home in a press box, or otherwise labeled and sequestered. I never did, because I was conscious of the Observer Effect, which in one thing in physics, but in journalism could be stated as, If the newsmakers are aware that a reporter is present, they will act and speak differently, and the news will change. Sometimes, that can be a salutary thing. But if you really want to know what they’re thinking and doing, it is not.

Anyway, in recent years I have rethought this mode of being, as you have seen. And so has Brooks, and that is the larger point of his little recited essay. It’s not about him. It’s about the fact that just when he started trying to change and engage better with other people, he saw that people in the surrounding, observable world were getting more distant, less engaged and even more hostile toward each other.

Which caused him to resolve:

I’m going to double down on spending as much time as I can, as effectively I can, and seeing another person, in trying to understand their point of view, and trying to make them feel seen, heard, and understood…

The ending is sort of upbeat. On his effort to be more of a full human, “maybe I’ll give myself a B minus.”

Which is better than flunking…

Going by my family tree, I must be getting old…

Why did I write that post about time moving so much faster as we age? Well, I’ve been thinking lately about writing more often about that phenomenon. I mean about aging, not time. So that was an initial installment, I guess.

You can ignore them, if you prefer. I write posts such as this one mostly for my kids and grandkids, assuming the posts are still available if and when they wonder about these things. (Which may be a lot to assume.)

One thing that has put this stuff more on my mind lately is that a couple of weeks before I wrote that, I realized I had now outlived three of my four grandparents.

I had been anticipating this one. That’s because a couple of years back, I passed my maternal grandfather. That one sort of snuck up on me. I had long been used to the knowledge that I had outlived my maternal grandmother. She died when she was only 61. I was 15 at the time, so it was a lot of years before I realized how shockingly early that was.

At that point, I was shaken by the loss, but I also tended to think, Well, grandparents are really old, right? So I guess we have to accept that this might happen.

Then, in September 2021, it hit me that just a few days before, I had passed my Mom’s father as well. Both had died earlier than you would have expected, after medical incidents that one might normally expect to have gone much better than they did — especially today. Their deaths were far from inevitable, under the conditions. They did not “die of old age.”

To ease the formality… I called them “Nana” and “Pop,” and I was still a kid when we lost them. Their names were Nathalie Smith Pace and Walker Heyward Collins.

After I realized I had passed Pop, I checked the family tree and saw the date was not far off when I would pass my paternal grandfather, Gerald Harvey Warthen. He died on July 10, 1958, a couple of months short of his 70th birthday, when I was 4. (Yes, those grandparents were a good bit older than the other set. My Dad was the youngest of five.)

And now, I will reach the threescore-and-ten mark in less than… four weeks. So, another milestone.

I should point out that Granddad Warthen should have lived longer, too. He had lung cancer, which is not surprising when you see how many pictures we have of him with a cigarette, a cigar or a pipe. I was an accomplice in this. I remember him taking me on walks to a nearby shop and buying me candy cigarettes when he bought his real ones. I very much enjoyed them, but I would have much more enjoyed having my grandfather around while I was growing up.

My paternal Grandma, Mary Shiland Bradley, lived to the age of 95. That’s a high bar to reach for, and beyond most people’s expectations. Of course, my Dad lived to just short of turning 93, and my Mom is 92, and much healthier than Dad had been for several years at that age.

No sense making predictions, though. I could check out before I finish this post. If you’re reading it, though, I guess I didn’t.

But I am trying, in fits and starts, to make better use of each day. That’s a struggle for me, as it was when I was in my 20s. I am known to my intimates as being bad at quite a few things, and one of them is time management…

I’m glad I found these pictures I didn’t know I had…

Before I actually get back to work after finally posting Paul’s column, a few words as to why I haven’t been posting.

Mainly, it’s been three things, although there’s plenty of other stuff going on:

  • I’ve been trying to rearrange my home office, which mainly has consisted of building new bookshelves of my own rather unusual, rustic design (made mostly with treated wood left over from the revamp of our deck a couple of years ago, which my wife has been eager to see me use or take to the dump). That, and cleaning out the big closet in the same room, space that could be much better used. This project alone, which is still in progress, would have been enough to keep any normal person from blogging.
  • In the middle of all that, we had new windows installed in our house. So I had to rearrange the wreckage in the office so the workmen could get to the windows, and do the same in varying degrees with furniture all over the house. The biggest part was taking down all the louvered wooden shutter-type blinds in most of the windows. The windows are in, and since that happened last Wednesday, we’ve been installing curtains to replace the blinds, which went to the Habitat ReStore.
  • And in the middle of those things, after a week in which hours were wasted in struggling to reconnect to our wifi, we switched internet providers. This has been fubar in most respects since the start. We’re on I think our fourth new router. The second was FedExed to us to replace the faulty first one. When that one didn’t work (something Spectrum was able to confirm, again, remotely), an increasingly frustrated repair guy spending a couple of hours installing a third one, and, when that didn’t work either, a fourth one. Since then, part of every day has been spent reestablishing contact with one or more of the dozen or so devices in our home that depend on wifi. I’m down to one that still isn’t working, and I’m trying to get in touch with the device’s manufacturer.

And lots of other stuff. For instance, this morning we were on the phone with our old internet service provider to make sure we knew how to send back their equipment so we don’t have to pay some outrageous sum for it.

Of course, there have been good things about all this. One was that, when I was moving some books onto one of those new bookcases, an envelope fell out of one of the books, and I opened it and found these two pictures, above and below.

Well, y’all know how much I liked John McCain, so I was glad to find them. I didn’t know any pictures of him and me together existed, much less that I had a couple of prints of them.

Obviously, because of the setting — The State‘s editorial boardroom — this is before or after an interview with the board. Probably an endorsement interview, given some of the people I see in the room. The question was, 2000 or 2008?

Then, in looking closely at the one below, I saw it was 2000, just before South Carolina’s Republican primary. You may notice that in both pictures, you can barely see that there are people standing directly behind both McCain and me, like shadows, making it look like our heads and shoulders are kind of doubled around the edges. But in the one below, the figure behind McCain is emerging slightly from full eclipse, and I can see that it’s Fred Mott — who was my publisher in 2000, but long gone in 2008.

Ironically, Fred is the reason Sen. McCain didn’t get our endorsement that year. Fred wanted to back George W. Bush. The fateful decision was made in a board meeting immediately after this interview. We normally worked by consensus, but this time, being so divided, we actually took a counted vote. It was something of a mess, since some in the room (my good friend Robert Ariail, for instance) weren’t technically members of the board under normal circumstances. But anyway, it was a 50-50 split. And I could see no graceful way to dispute the idea that in a 50-split, the publisher’s side wins.

Let me be clear — Fred is a great guy, for whom I have great respect. He was just wrong this time. If you want to know the reasons why, I’ll let you know if I also find the 4,000-word memo I sent him several days before this meeting. Anyway, I lost that one, but we endorsed McCain in 2008.

Anyway, I’m glad to have these pictures. Now, back to work…

Apparently, my immune system is my superpower…

Normally, I go to dump No. 9 (“number 9, number 9…”). But Saturday, I cranked it up to 11 (thank you, Nigel Tufnel)…

It started with the B-12.

I had been dragging recently in the mornings, so I thought I’d take some B-12 my wife had in a kitchen cabinet, but had quit taking. I let one dissolve under my tongue on Saturday, and it seemed to work. I loaded up my truck with stuff from our garage that we needed to get rid of, and set out to rapidly accomplish a series of tasks:

  • Went to the pharmacy to pick up a refill.
  • Wanting to give away anything charity might accept before going to the dump, I drove to His House over on Meeting St. The lady who came out said right off she wasn’t taking that mattress, but I assured her that was going to the dump. I was there about three things I thought someone might want. She accepted two of them, but not the almost unused Christmas tree stand (we went back to artificial several years ago). It seems they had too many of them.
  • On a lazier day, I might have gone on to the dump. But not today. I headed to Goodwill, and they gladly took the stand.
  • Then I headed to the dump — I mean the county Collection and Recycing Center. Not the one near me, but to one almost half an hour away that I had heard was more likely to take the mattress. I went out to the one at 325 Landfill Lane, Gaston (I assume no one’s trying to sell residential real estate there). And they took everything else. Done and dusted.
  • As I left the dump, I regretted I hadn’t thought to bring my golf clubs, or I could have hit a bucket of balls at the range next door. I was still full of pep.

But that didn’t last long. When I got home, I tried working out the measurements for another complicated bookcase I plan to build, but I started making mistakes on the arithmetic and spatial relationships. So I quit and took a nap. By dinner time, I had a sore arm. And I never even ate dinner.

That’s because, in my get-things-done mood, I had done one thing too many. Right at the start, at the pharmacy, I saw a sign urging folks to get the next COVID vaccine shot, and it reminded me I was due for my second shingles shot. So I stopped and did that, because I was up for anything. And the guy who gave it to me assured me I’d never need another one. Which is good news, as it turned out.

Once it took full effect, I was sick the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t remember whether this had happened with the first Shingrix shot, but it had with every COVID shot I’ve had.

My immune system goes nuts in reaction. It feels like having the flu, only there’s no measurable fever. I can’t do anything. Sitting at my computer is too difficult, even something fun like working on my family tree. I just sat and watched movies on the TV. And I had to take periodic recesses from that, for a nap. Watching TV was too tiring.

But this is a good thing, you see. I think it means I have a strong immune system, and it’s doing its thing. No, really. I must have the immune system of Superman. Even though I can’t fly. I just have the one superpower. Apparently, if I was given a choice, I didn’t choose well. Reminds me of something my 9th-grade English teacher said to a classmate: “Boy, when they were handing out brains, you took a ham sandwich.” But while it’s not as cool as moving at super-speed, it’s what I’ve got.

I was pretty much recovered by this morning, so I took another B-12. And look — already, two posts!…

A small epiphany

Then, she noticed me, not knowing what I was…

I experienced a little epiphany just before going to bed last night. To explain…

This being the Feast of the Epiphany, Bishop Robert Barron spends his sermon today talking about that word. Epiphany, from the Greek for “intense appearance.” The Magi experienced two such appearances — the star, and then the baby Himself.

But he spends most of the sermon exploring other instances in which the term can be used. He starts with James Joyce. Joyce was formed in Catholicism, but recorded in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” his realization that he was not to be a priest, but to be “a kind of priest.” His vocation would be to notice epiphanies when he saw them, and then to describe them. Of course, being Joyce, he was able to do so masterfully.

The great example the bishop cites isn’t the birth of Christ, or the Transfiguration, or anything like that. It’s the moment when he first spotted the young woman who would become his wife, down by the shore near Dublin. The bishop calls it “one of the most beautiful scenes in 20th century literature.” It’s not the basis of a religion or anything, but it was the moment that transformed Joyce’s life, and he realized it. Everything changed then for him. And he was able to share that with us.

The bishop then gives various such moments from his own life, things that might have no significance in a plain, factual telling, but had significance to the person experiencing them. These “moments of intense manifestation” just happen. We can’t control them. We can’t “make it happen again.” They are moments of grace that are granted to us.

As I say, I had a very minor one of those last night.

Or rather, very early this morning. At 12:17 a.m. I had turned off the tube after rewatching a bit of “Wolf Hall.” My wife had already turned in, and I was doing my usual walking about making sure doors were locked and lights were turned out. And at one point I glanced out the door that leads to our garage, and through one of the windows in the garage, I saw an extraordinary thing.

The first glimpse, out the garage window.

There was a deer standing on the corner of my neighbor’s lot, directly under a streetlight, peacefully and calmly grazing on the lawn.

Deer are not a miraculous sight in our neighborhood. They leave hoofprints in my wife’s garden, letting us know who’s been feasting on the vegetables. Occasionally, one will streak across the street, running from one clump of trees to another — and then be gone.

But this one might as well have been standing in the Garden of Eden — peacefully, without any sort of nervousness, enjoying the natural bounty available in that spot. It was safe, unthreatened, unconcerned.

I quickly shot a grainy picture through the window. Then I slipped out, as quietly as possible, through the garage — fortunately the door was still open, so I didn’t have to activate the noisy opener — and out into the yard, moving carefully into a spot where my driveway light wasn’t on me, and my profile wouldn’t stand out from the creature’s perspective.

And I got another couple of pictures — something I’ve never had time to do before when deer have briefly appeared.

And then, the deer looked up, and looked directly at me. Or rather, at the something that it sensed out there in the darkness, beyond the pool of light in which it stood. Then, she turned her body in my direction.

She… it (I took it for a doe, but what do I know? It could have been a young male, without antlers. Perhaps one of you can tell me)… considered this unseen manifestation. She turned her head one way, considering me as a quizzical dog might do. Her tail twitched. She leaned her head the other way. She was in no nervous hurry. She felt safe to consider the situation at leisure. Her tail twitched again.

At one point, I thought I detected a slight movement in one of her front legs that meant she was starting to walk in my direction, and, transfixed, I wondered what I should do. Should I stand and wait for her, or should I move toward her myself, given her a chance to see what I was and take evasive action if the spell was broken and she felt the need? What would panic her the least? What was the right way to respond to this moment?

A few long seconds later, it was over. She reacted to the car coming down the street behind her, and turned, and took off into the darkness.

I went in, and woke up my wife, to share the experience. I wasn’t sure how she would react to that, but fortunately she got it, and didn’t mind.

She thought it was pretty cool, too…

On the ever-accelerating compression of time

The old and the young just don’t see time the same way.

Tonight, as I drove home from an Epiphany mass, my wife was checking her email on her phone, and found a missive from Experian about a supposed account.

Since she does not have an account with Experian, she found this mysterious, and she mentioned it to me.

“Don’t delete it,” I said. I said it quickly, because she’s not like me. She wouldn’t let 12,000 emails pile up. She dispatches them with, well, dispatch…

She wanted to know why not? Surely I didn’t have an account for checking my credit score or anything…

Well, no. I have never wondered what my “credit score” was. I only have the vaguest notion what a credit score is, or why anyone would want to know about such a thing. I think it has something to do with one’s ability to borrow money, and I find it hard to imagine wanting to do that — or do anything else that involves thinking about money. As I often mention.

But that name, “Experian,” rang a bell. I poked around in my memory as I drove, and decided it had something do to with something I had done for ADCO. I couldn’t remember what that something was, or whether it meant I was still in some way entangled with this Experian outfit. So I wanted to get home and check my ADCO email before she deleted that.

I explained that it was awhile back — maybe as much as a year. And that’s why I couldn’t remember details. I could only say it had something to do with something else that company does, something unrelated to credit scores.

So I got home, checked my old email — if it had to do with work, I would have filed them away. And I had. I found that I had even created a folder called “Experian” in that gmail account, and it had six emails stored in it. Apparently, I had briefly created an account with the company for them to do email verification on a list of people a client wanted to send something to. Not a task I’d normally perform. In fact, I had only ended up being the person to do it this once.

So, pretty good memory, right? I had sorta kinda remembered having done something with this company on one brief occasion. I can’t remember who the client was or what the eblast was about, but I remembered something. That’s good, right?

Please affirm me here. Because my point in writing this is to tell you that all those six emails were sent in 2017. In May and June of that year. Almost six years ago. And I had thought it was maybe as much as a year back.

This happens to me all the freaking time now. Usually, I’m being surprised when I hear some younger person talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. And I’ll think, “No, no, that just happened — it was right around the time of the 9/11 attacks.”

I’ll read some retrospective in a newspaper about something that happened 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even more absurdly, 10 years ago, and I’ll wonder why the writer is going on about this thing that just happened as though it were history, ancient history, something that many readers might not even be able to remember.

I hear younger people reminiscing about, say, the 2012 election in tones I might use in talking about, I don’t know, the Beatles. Or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It’s one of the oddest things about aging, this powerful distortion of temporal perspective. Expect me to write more about it. You know how we old people are…

So, how many bags do I GET for that?

As I mentioned the other day (as if you didn’t already know it), inflation and other money-related matters don’t interest me much, but occasionally some small detail grabs my attention for maybe half a minute.

That was the case when I went to buy some Fritos to enjoy with chili — I’m not a big chip-eater, but I consider the Bandito‘s product to be essential to the full enjoyment of chili — and was struck by the sign here that boasted the apparently startlingly-low price of $4.49.

So of course, I immediately wondered, “How many of these little bags do I get for that amount?”

I figured it would have been at least two, and I definitely wouldn’t have felt like I was getting a bargain at the price.

And when I’m really honest about the value of things, and assess what I think it really ought to cost, I set the number at five bags. I’m applying the AMIAVI (that’s the Absolute, Moderately Inflation-Adjusted Value of an Item). No, don’t Google that. That’s my own, made-up standard which, since it’s based in personal experience, makes way more sense to me than such more generally employed acronyms such as CPI or EBITDA.

Only I can apply this standard, because no one else has the sufficiently detailed knowledge of my life experiences. (If I figure out a way to monetize this special skill, I’ll let you know.) In this case, I remember that in the vending machine in the main hall of Garrison-Williams School (nowadays shortened to “Williams School“) in Norfolk, Va., the private school where I attended 1st grade because my birthday was inconveniently timed for the public schools, you could get a small, kids-lunch-sized bag of Fritos for a nickel. Yes, 5 cents. I can’t prove that, but that’s the way I remember it, and that’s what is relevant to the AMIAVI.

Note that I’m allowing generously for inflation here, expecting only five bags for the lordly sum of $4.45. That’s because I’m applying the easygoing AMIAVI. If I were applying my stricter, but seldom-used, ANIAVI (Absolute, NonInflation-Adjusted Value of an Item), five bags would be worth a quarter. That means I could get at least 17, and maybe 18 bags. But that would be the little, kiddy bags, and several (but not many) of those would fit in one of the bags pictured above, so let’s go with the AMIAVI, which involves less math and more gut feeling.

Anyway, enough with the complicated monetary terms. What do you think one of the bags in the picture is really worth? Apply any standard you like, but it would be cool if you’d also explain it…

What will we do on V-E day?

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Today is Dec. 7, which means it’s my father’s birthday, so of course I’m thinking about him. He would have been 94 today.

Others may recall that something else happened on the day my Dad turned 13. The above picture refers to that, of course. Dad helped a friend, who had a paper route, deliver extras about that news. Here he is at around that age. (Or maybe a little younger. I think boys were allowed to switch from knickers to long pants at about 13, but now — despite all the times he reminisced about that coming-of-age moment — I don’t remember exactly, and I can’t check by asking him.)

These dates from the 1940s still loom large, even in the mind of someone like me, who wasn’t born until eight years after the war ended. (OK, I realize there are a lot of people out there who are grossly ignorant of history — even such recent history as this — and the date might mean nothing to them. But it means a lot to me, and not just because of my father.)

This morning, I looked at an appointment card on the kitchen table my dentist’s office gave me the other day. I figured I’d better enter it into my Google calendar before the card gets lost. I found that I HAD entered the appointment on the right date already, but I had the time wrong. So I fixed it. Good thing I looked.

Anyway, that date, for my next cleaning, was June 6. So there I sat on Pearl Harbor day marking something down for D-Day.

I wonder what we’ll be doing on V-E Day?

Shute’s got nothing to worry about at the moment

Louden weighs in.

An unpleasant thing happened the other day.

But first, a bit of background…

Last time I mentioned my usual weight-loss standard — which involves losing down to 168 so I can “wrestle Shute” — I was actually almost there.

That was early 2018. I was spending a lot of time on my elliptical trainer at home, and walking miles downtown every day, and averaging about 15,000 steps a day. I was eating more or less paleo, and feeling pretty good.

That’s not where I am now. A series of events occurred since then. First, later that year, there was the campaign, which left me basically no time for serious walking and forced me to grab whatever I could to eat. And since then, there was the stroke, and the long COVID, and other stuff, punctuated finally by lightning frying the electronics in my elliptical. I still get out and walk, but it’s not regular, and I haven’t been at all thoughtful about what I eat.

And then, the unpleasant thing happened. It was a week ago today. I had an appointment at one of the many medical offices in which I find myself these days. No big thing, just a followup. But as the nurse led me in, we paused for one of those little rituals that are usual in such places. We stopped at the scale.

Now first, so that you know the scale was in some way dysfunctional, she had trouble getting it to come on. I made a lame joke about “Who broke it?” She muttered something about “batteries,” and fiddled with the back of the column that has the display atop it, and it came on. And I stepped on.

And it said I weighed 190. Actually, it said 190 point something, but I’ve managed to block that much of it out. What I can’t forget is that I have made a scale register 190 for the first time in my life. An unhappy landmark.

Now let me quickly say that I was not only fully dressed — shoes, shirt, pants, belt, plus iPhone, wallet, keys — but I had on a jacket, and I think even a hat. So I don’t really weigh 190. Since this happened, I’ve stepped on the scale at home a couple of times when getting into the shower, and I was in the low 180s.

That doesn’t erase the fact that in the past, I always considered 180 an unhealthy mark.

Now I know a lot of you guys will laugh, and say you wish you could get back down to 190. After all, my BMI may say I’m slightly overweight, but I’m still below the average weight for my height, which is 199.7 in this country.

But not me. I was a super-skinny kid, and a skinny young man, and it’s a bit late to expect me to adopt a new self-concept. To give you an idea based on the Vision Quest standard, when I was Louden Swain’s age and still on a high school wrestling team, I was in the 132 class. And the same height I am now. Yeah, I was a real Ichibod, but I was strong and except for the injury that ended my wrestling career, I felt great.

And now, I have made a scale register the weight that Louden started at, before losing down through two weight classes to wrestle Shute. And I don’t feel at all great like this.

So when the New Year comes (there’s not much use trying before that), I’m going to get serious. I’m going paleo again. And I’m getting serious about the walking — I’m even looking around for a replacement elliptical, so the weather can’t stop me.

Warn Shute. It’s the fair thing to do. The poor beggar deserves that much…

This is me when I was Louden’s age. See? I’m really a skinny guy…

Experience the stories of South Carolinians who fought in Vietnam

Occasionally, I have given y’all a heads-up about programs happening at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum — an ADCO client.

Well, the museum has something very special coming up on Friday, Veterans Day. It’s been in the works for years, enduring many setbacks, from COVID to the flooding of the space where it is located.

My own father, like many South Carolina veterans, played a small role, being interviewed for hours back in 2017 by Fritz Hamer, then the curator of history at the museum. We lent a few of his artifacts and souvenirs from those days.

Fritz Hamer interviewing my Dad in 2017 about his Vietnam experiences.

It’s called “A War With No Front Lines: South Carolina and the Vietnam War, 1965-1973.” The exhibit fills the 2,500-square-foot brick-lined, vaulted part of the museum that was once the water cistern for the Columbia Mills building when it opened in 1894 as the world’s first electric textile mill.

You can read more about it here, on the special website for this exhibit. Also, here’s a press release I wrote about the opening. On the “news” page of the site, you can read previous releases about recent events that have been building up to this opening, such as lectures by Vietnam veterans, and the huge, impressive diorama of Firebase Ripcord that’s stationed at the museum’s entrance. A lecture will be featured at noon Friday comparing the experiences of Vietnam veterans to those of servicemen who fought in previous wars.

And it’s all free on Friday and Saturday this week. It’s a good opportunity to check out the whole Relic Room, if you never have, but especially this new exhibit.

My father is gone now, but so many of these veterans are still with us, and it’s long past time for their service and sacrifices to be honored, and their stories told. I’m very glad the museum is doing this. It’s still coming together as I write this, but what I’ve seen looks good. I hope you check it out…

A tribute wall to South Carolinians killed in action.

I voted. You should, too. You’ll feel better after you’re done…

Voting was fine. There were even some nice flowers in front of the community center. Another voter seems to be digging them in the background…

Sorry to be such a downer yesterday about the whole democracy thing. I was sounding a bit like Marvin the Paranoid Android with that headline.

I feel much better now that I’ve actually voted. I hope you will, too — or already do, assuming you’ve already done it.

I voted as I said I would. On governor, I voted again for James and Mandy, just because that was the only governor/lieutenant governor team I could think of that I could vote for. It didn’t quite work, though. I typed “JAMES SMITH/MANDY POWERS N,” and it wouldn’t let me type any more. I thought I’d mention it here as a statement of my intentions, in case we get into a challenging-the-count situation.

For the U.S. Senate, I voted for my wife. I didn’t consult with her in advance. I told her about it later as we were walking in the neighborhood. It didn’t faze her, being married to me and all. She asked, “Does that mean I get to move to Washington?” I said sure, and I’ll go up to visit and we can go see that great new exhibit I read about at the National Gallery, “Sargent and Spain,” which I see as an extension of that work of his I love that my granddaughters posed in front of when we were in Boston. So we have a plan, in case. It’s good to have a plan.

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…