Sunday, May 31, 2020

Had A Visitor Today




Wow.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of W.E.B. Debois.  I’ve had his “The Souls of Black Folks” from 1903 on-deck here on my desk for the last month or so.  Knowing that there was within a critique of Booker T. Washington I made sure to read his autobiography first.  Yesterday.  It’s hard not marvel at Mr. Washington’s progression slavery, through utter destitution to glimmers of education which germinate into a forceful intellect and singularly impactful leader for the African America People.  And Booker T. Washington was willing to accommodate.  And he was skillful at knowing what was possible and what might be something one could stretch for and his good efforts built an enduring black institution in Tuskegee.  But DeBois, a free, northern born contemporary, born twelve years later in Great Barrington, Massachusetts acknowledges the triumph of Washington while gracefully and forcefully taking him to task:  It is not possible to accept a racial categorization of inferiority, it is wrong to settle for anything less than African Americans striving for and involved in higher education and blacks must have the vote to be acknowledged as real men.  “Wow,” because I wasn’t expecting him to be so artful.  On Atlanta:

“It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream; to see the wide vision of empire fade into real ashes and dirt and to feel the pang of the conquered, and yet know that with all the Bad that fell on one black day, something was vanquished that deserved to live and something killed than in  justice had not dared to die; to know that with the Right that triumphed, triumphed something of the Wrong, something sordid and mean, something less than the broadest and best.  Al this is better hard; and many a man and city and people have found in it excuse for sulking and brooding and listless waiting.”

Once again I am struck by the parallels to the emergence of China and what a singularly remarkable thing that was to live through. In the essay on the “Meaning of Progress” he revisits a small country school he’d taught at when he was young.  Some of the people have grown up crooked.  Some of the facilities have been plowed under a highway.  And the rich description of the simplicity of the school he taught in brought to mind not only the simplest of class rooms in China but the even more spartan set up of students in a village we were brought to in Malawi, the pictures of which occasionally rotate into my screen saver which were tragic and heroic in equal measure.



I marvel at his turn-of-phrase.  I doff my hat to his gentlemanly deference coupled with his rapier thrusts.  I imagine hearing his voice and inject, perhaps erroneously, an African American brogue to emphasize a point here or an ironic question there. He died in 1963 in Accra, which is a chapter I’ll have to find to find out more about.  Perhaps there are recordings of him speaking.  (It took me all of eight seconds to find a recording of him from 1960 entitled: “Socialism and the American Negro.”)  That’s a story unto itself, I’ll have to explore some other time, when the pianist Randy Weston and the intellectuals like Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture) was in Guinea while W.E.B. DeBois was not far away in Ghana. 



My older one attends Reed College in Portland, when there isn’t a pandemic on.  She finished out here freshmen year like the rest of the country, sitting in her room, banging out classes on zoom, remotely.  One class, Intro to Anthropology decided to have a number of the class photographed for a project it was conducting, into; life during the virus.  And unexpectedly, for the first time in many months, we had a visitor today.  A young man, who is a freelance photographer, has come into our world, like a visitor in a Turgenev novel.  My daughter and he are sitting outside talking.  I am intrigued by this.  So is my wife.  Our younger one has opinions as well.  And it dawns on me, at least, how isolated we’ve all been when a visitor becomes the most remarkable component of anyone’s day.  He said he’d come back when the sun was better, and he did.  They’re out there now in the evening light.



Saturday, 5/30/20


Wort. What's A Wort?




think I missed deciduous trees living for so long away from home in places like San Francisco and Hong Kong and Beijing where they just don’t grow.  Eucalyptus are lovely in their own way.  I appreciate the banyan trees that stand immutable in the creative destruction of Tsim Sha Tsui and poplars of Beijing, despite all the spring-time catkins the female trees all emit.  But it was only when I hopped over to Tokyo or much more infrequently went up to Dong Bei (aka Manchuria) that you get to see proper deciduous trees.  The trees I grew up with. 




Yesterday I impulse-purchased a Swamp Tupelo and an Empress Tree from Ty Ty nursury in Georgia.   The Swamp Tupelo, as the name suggests likes a nice drink now and then.  It thrives in but doesn’t require a particularly moist environment.  It can grow up here even though it sounds like it wouldn’t be wise to plant north of the Mason Dixon.  We have a wet patch off to the north side of the house.  It catches the runoff from the mountain above us and it’s always sopping wet.  Why not put something in there that thinks damp is a plus?  The Empress Tree is a flaming purple affair that seemed a find compromise to the jacaranda-sort of tree I had in my mind. 

Well, I got an email today saying they wouldn’t be shipping these trees till December.  May was the last month they were shipping.  Ahh but it is May.  Can’t we talk?  Are you not shipping because there is a risk in this warm weather?   I wrote them an email with all my questions and the autoreply suggested that no one was reading emails during the Covid affair.  One would have thought that this would have been the easiest of services to maintain.  Call this number, if you want engagement.  Today I did and after a bit of holding it all up to the light: “gee, is there no way you could just send it now?”, I cancelled the order.




Today, I came out and paid my wife a good morning.  She was meandering around “her” garden, her property and she asked me to re-identify a plant or two with my app.  The Virginia Spiderwort has an evocative name and was obviously planted long before we arrived.  The purple flowers open in the day and close themselves at night.  St. John’s Wort, Spider Wort.  What’s a wort?  Surely it has the unfortunate association of a wart.  A quick look suggests that ‘wort’ is the traditional term for a plant with medicinal purposes. 

Behind the garden is a beautiful, black tree that has no branches low to the ground.  It rises up some twenty feet before the bottom branches reach out in a thick, uniform fashion forming a cone for the next, dense twenty feet.  I’d marveled at the tree all winter.  Have tried on more than one occasion to identify the tree with my app.  Today I noticed a low- lying branch and poked the app up into the tree till, low-and-behold I was informed that this was a Black Tupelo.  Well, I’ll be darned.  I didn’t have to order a Tupelo from Georgia.  I have a forty-footer right here in the yard.  I stood back then and admired “my” Black Tupelo, which can only sound rather southern.  And then I went to inform my wife. 



Friday, 5/29/20


One Without The Other




This morning I decided to finish “The Half That Was Never Told.” by the Cornell professor Edward E. Baptist.  His thesis suggests that rather than a backward, preindustrial process, bound to die out before long anyway, competing as it was against the budding industrialism of the north, the industrialism of England, slavery based production of cotton was in fact a fine-tuned torturing of human endurance to extract maximum cotton output from work on large plantations, which fed the mills of England and New England.  The Industrial Revolution these places led, was fueled in part by the monstrously stern extraction of maximum output by slaves under the threat of the whip and worse.  You couldn't have had the one without the other. 

Having read three complementary, earlier histories of the institution and the aftermath one after the other before reading his work, I take note of how anchored Baptist’s history is in perspectives of slaves themselves.  Slaves are not mere toiling masses, and numbers and statistics.  In a corporeal treatment which focuses on the hands of slaves and the necks of slaves and the backs and blood of slaves and we are never far away from one or another enchained protagonist being transported from Virginia or Maryland on to the new cotton-fields of Alabama, Mississippi and ultimately east Texas.  I noted the discomfort of being unable to escape the central, human indignity with every chapter. 



No better place to take up from the ‘World War II in Color”, meat and potatoes overview of the great conflict, we finished the other night, with a similarly simple, in-color summary of the Korean War conflict, which followed not long after.  My younger daughter, who is the Korea-phile in the house stormed off in the end asserting that “The Korean War was the dumbest war ever.  They all killed each other for three years and nothing changed.”  Superlatives aside, all that was accomplished surely left neither side with much of any advantages the didn’t otherwise have, beyond the blood soaked loyalty of the allies that they fought alongside with. 



Her maternal grandfather fought as a Chinese volunteer in that war against American aggression.  Her paternal step-father was enlisted during that war against the expansion of “communist slavery.”  And now she wants to know about what would happen if the North fell.  What would it mean to China and to Russia and to all Koreans?  We seem to have caught her attention.  I signed up today as a PBS donor so that I could have access to another complementary history:  “Korea:  The Endless War” which we’re talking about having a glance at later this evening. 



Thursday, 5/28/20

Than Paint An Englishman




Jacques Louis David was the painter, revolutionary my younger daughter chose for her upcoming history paper on the French Revolution.  She’d asked and I gave her a mini-lecture on what I could recall of that pivotal axis.  Was it two year back now that I read Carlyle’s The French Revolution, a History, A Tale of Two Cities and Chateaubriands’ “Tales From Beyond the Grave.”  But unlike the clear pivot of something like the America Revolution or the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution defies easy summary. 



The March edition of the ‘The New York Review of Books” had a review by Lynn Hunt concerning Napoleon’s War’s and a new history of the French Revolution.  I found the following sentence from the review’s opening paragraph to be breath taking: 
“The cascade of events between 1789 and Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 gave birth to much of what we know as modern politics:  revolution as a leap into the future,, “right” and “left” as political markers, the notion of universal human rights, the extension of voting rights to most men, the “emancipation” of the Jews, the first successful slave revolt and the first abolition of slavery not to mention the use of terror as an instrument of government and guerrilla warfare as a tactic of resistance, along with the police state, authoritarianism, and the cult of personality as ways of circumventing democratic aspirations.” 
Phew. 

I bought my daughter a few different books ranging from easy to difficult about the French Revolution in general and her heretofore to me, largely unrecognized subject, Jacques Louis David.  I secured a book of prints arranged my Mari Pietcheva “Jacques Louis David  229 Colour Plates,” which are lovely to gaze upon and consider but are not accompanied by much substantive text.  “Jacques Louis David, Revolutionary Artist” by Warren Roberts was a proper biography which I decided to read today after reading my daughter’s first draft of the work. 

And while I’ve been familiar, certainly with the 'Death of Marat', I don’t think I knew much of anything about him nor the movement of his day to consider and paint towards the virtue of Rome, before diving wholeheartedly into the revolution as a Jacobin.  A close friend of Robespierre and Marat, the signer of execution warrants, the painter of the revolution, it is astounding that he escaped with his head to reinvent himself as a reluctant court painter for Napoleon,  championing the ideas historical thrust now of Greece until he as exiled from his native land during the second Bourbon restoration and lived out his final days under British rule in Belgium: 

“David took a certain pride in his position as a political exile:  After the Duke of Wellington had tried to have him expelled from Brussels he asked the artist to do his portrait  David’s refusal made Wellington furious David’s comment about the portrait he had been asked to paint was “I would rather stab myself with a sword than paint an Englishman. “

Politics and ideological stridency tends to have the best of most artists after a time.  Perhaps the most intimate loadstar for me is when I consider the life and the art of John Lennon , how risky and incandescent he burned on “Some Time In New York.” And how it seemed to leave him empty, not long thereafter.  David was more than a mere commentator on the Revolution, he was an active agent and that he survived the terror at all is remarkable, all the more so that he was so capable at reinventing himself during the unlikely rise of Napoleon which was one hundred and eighty degrees the opposite marching orders of the Jacobins, though he was more judicious about keeping distance the second time around. 



In the end, I suppose I felt said for David.  He struggles with Napoleon and his minions and other officials to simply be paid.   They try to stiff him for his work and it all feels rather beneath him.  He winds down his life till the age of seventy-seven in exile.  He still wants to lead the school of French painters, but his students, as students always must, were leaving him behind. 



Wednesday, 5/27/20


What The Lawn Is




Guys came today to mow the lawn.  One friendly, bald, tattooed gent suggested he’d be driving the mower while his thinner associate nodded under his cap and went to grab the weed-whacker.  I was a lawn mower for-hire once.  I offered them coffee.  “No thanks.  We got ours.”  And I suggested that if they needed to use the bathrooms to just say the word.

I have mowed this lawn once this year, just about in its entirety, before I conked the push-mower out, inadvertently catching a root.  My estimation for the time needed to push-mow the whole place was at least seven hours.  I was kind of enjoying the pace of a one-hour patch per day.   Go get sweaty and push the thing around in the sun, up the hills, into the wet spots.  There is nothing quite like hand mowing a lawn, strip by strip to develop and turf expertise understanding of just what the lawn is. 




I got them started, with some suggestions for where to concern their activities and set off for a bike ride not long after.  My daily route take just under and hour and by the time I got back the man on the riding mower drove my way as I walked my bike up the hill.   “Just the man I wanted to see.”  He explains what I already assumed, that the patch over to the north side of the house is too wet to cut.  The wheels sink in an he can’t get anywhere.   I get it.   I’ve did it myself two weeks ago, and even with a push mower it was very hard to progress in some patches. 



They worked for a little over two hours before they left.  It looked good to my eyes, though my wife said that they knocked over one of her lights and chewed up a few flowers.  And they were off before I could say: “thank you” or “good bye.”  And I calculated the cost that I’d negotiated ahead of time with their boss, who was running a business that needed margin to exist and considered how tough it must be to make a living mowing lawns these days.  Even with all the tools and machinery that I never enjoyed.  My memories of the trade were of securing funds to expand a record collection, not for sustaining one or more lives. 



Tuesday, 5/26/20

Don't Want White Things




Lowes, I’m back.  I lived for all of my life without a Lowes.  Throughout adulthood I never thought to go to Lowes.  It didn’t come up in conversation in Beijing.  Now I visit Lowes every week.  Lowes-less life now seems jarring. 

I recognize the checkout guy.  I don’t believe he recognizes me and there is something, at least to be said for that.  “Hey, where can I get a stake about this high, that I could use for tomatoes or straightening a tree?”  I don’t want to grow any tomatoes but figure ‘tree-straightening-sticks' wouldn’t have made any sense. “You’ll find everything you need, plastic and wooden, everything right there.”   I walk around the necessarily long queue of six-foot-spacers and over toward the cabinet he’d pointed to and found some green plastic poles about two meters long that seemed just about right.  They even had plastic clips right there as they knew I’d be wanting to attach something to these things.


Nice enough.  But it is unclear if these will cut it with my wife, who as accompanied me today to provide her executive clearance on any such line of sticks that are going to be placed in her yard.  I beckon her over and to my pleasant surprise the sticks are not met with immediate rejection.  She pulls one toward her face with furrowed-brow skepticism but they are not rejected and now a purchase can be made.  “Make sure you plant the part with the plastic into the ground, not sticking up in the air!  I don’t want white things.”



I haven’t spoken with my sister in a long while.  She’s been down in Brooklyn.  she suggested as many as twenty-percent of the city test positive now.   We talked about health and family and commiserated with each other over how challenging work was just now, while conceding the great fortune that we each had of relative stability when others were completely upended.  I told her I was frightened for U.S- China relations just now, during the election cycle. Things would get worse now, before they’d get better.  Before we got off the phone we shared in the tribal catharsis of outrage, humor and despair as it concerns Donald Trump.  Half-full, and fully embracing the error of my earlier presidential predication concerning this man, I took the cheerleaders role of insisting, ‘we were gonna do it.’  This nation will vote Donald Trump out of office in November, 2020.



Monday, 5/25/20


They Only Grow Out West




My wife and I were at the head of the trail that leads from our place to rail trail.  I’d noticed something which plant identification app had suggested was Oriental Bittersweet.  We looked at one and then other plant zeroing in and out trying to prompt to app to a positive identification.  She had me pretty deep into the flat plain that runs besides the old tracks when she spotted a group of silvery trees, which the app suggested were Trembling Aspen.  I’d thought they only grew out west in the Rockies.  I’d even thought of buying one and trying it out here. 

This copse of trees had one large aspen that rose up about four meters into the canopy.  The others were all under two meters high.  We agreed at the time to replant a few up to somewhere near the house and after some debate about where that would be, I set out today to replant some trees. 



The spot is on our property.  And it is right up against the well-trafficked rail trail and, sensitive to people assuming I was out poaching things from public property, I paused, awkwardly, every time someone passed by.  A first tree stood my height and I tried to cut out a circle around it with a one-foot radius.  I did my best to spare its roots, but the ground was rocky and mixed with the tendrils of many neighboring trees.  I pried up the circle I’d cut and finding it too large for the blue tube I’d brought along, I lugged it up about one hundred yards back up into our lawn and dropped it into the whole I’d dug for it. 



I brought up five more trees this way and created for myself a diagonal causeway of six aspen trees, ten feet apart in the shape of the letter w and the letter v positioned immediately adjacent to one another: wv.  I added potting soil and tried to step the soil down so they would stand up straight, but it became immediately clear that some of them would need a stake to hold on to if they were to have any hope of growing straight. 

I walked feet back up towards the house and imagined what they’d look like and what they’d sound like in a few years, if they were to survive.  



Sunday, 5/24/20

So Inaccessible and Alluring




Ahh, its’ great to have my mom and stepdad over.  It’s beautiful to remember visits and sharing and intimacy.  Safe, intimacy, mind you.  Masks for sure.  Last night was sunny so we could sit out on the porch.  But what a fine thing to share with other people, the most primal of other people, here’s what I’ve been doing.  Here’s what I’ve discovered.  Hey, can you tell me what this is?  I suspect you’d know. 



Among the roads not traveled, I have never ventured to Hungary. I seem to recall my best friend had a copy of “Budapest 1900” and we marveled at the photo of the café on the cover, which to us looked so inaccessible and alluring.  Closest I came to the country was probably in 1996 when our family visited my sister in the Czech Republic, and though we traveled nearby Poland, I never made it on to Hungary.  My mother and sister did. I’m not sure if they had the wine. 

Last year in an EMBA course I taught, there was a Hungarian woman.  In her paper she analyzed the Hungarian wine industry and made the claim that one hundred years ago Hungarian Tokaji was the must-have wine in the courts of Europe and that while it had slipped from significance during the last century, it was now making a comeback.  Unable to physically enter the wine store in town these days I’ve been a bit more playful in how I ask the young sommelier there just what he had that might be interesting. 



“Have you got any Hungarian wine?” I asked not so long ago.  “Yeah. And it’s good.  But no one buys it.  Only someone like you would be asking for it.”  This week I remembered to try a bottle when we purchased our weekly case. Pajzos Tokaj is dry and earthy and to my mind at least similar to a Gruner Veltliner from nearby Austria.  I put Hungary into Google maps just now and considered the region and the journey of Patrick Leigh Fermor and considered for a while just how much I’d like to see not only Hungry but Romania and Bulgaria as well.  Odd, to no longer be allowed to travel.  It stops you from dreaming. 



Saturday, 5/23/20


Seemingly The Shortest Chapter




Thirty-six chapters into the “American Pageant” the AP American history text I’ve been using to teach my daughters our country’s history.  We have arrived with today's lesson at my conscious memory, in the 1970s.  I note that it is seemingly the shortest chapter in the text.  Nixon in China.  Nixon under investigation.  I related the story to my daughters of the impeachment trials when my father had me watch Nixon resign.  I was eight years old and his detestation was visceral.  “That man is a crook!  He deserves to go to jail.”  And I remember the Republican convention two years later visiting my best friend at the time, Ralph’s house and his Italian American family were very disappointed to see the nomination go to Ford over Reagan while back at home, my parents regarded Reagan as an aberration. 



I certainly remember Carter and the Peace Accords and the long lines for gas and the oft repeated chant of the Iranian students:  "Marg bar Āmrikā” (Death to America).  Our class isn’t focused on cultural expressions per se.  Generally I think of the decade as absolutely phenomenal for music.  A time I would gladly revisit if only to see all those remarkable acts.  But politically, Nixon’s decline, Ford’s faltering and Carter’s noble but ill coordinated effort to lead from a place of humanity and dignity that only yielded us Reagan was a narrative of one and then another compromise which was difficult present as anything other than a painful transition.

William Grant Still, (1895 – 1978) was an American composer of African descent whom I learned about for the first time today.  Born in Mississippi, grew up Little Rock, Arkansas, one presumes Bill Clinton has an opinion, he became associated with the Harlem Renaissance and was known as the ‘Dean of African American composers. ‘ I have his Afro American Symphony on just now.  Majestic, proud, unmistakably buoyant.  Recommended.  Written in the 1930s it was immensely popular for the next two decades.  Would that I could say that his name came up at a soiree hosted by an early-post-modern ethnomusicologist, composer friend of mine.  Rather, he was simply the next name on the Wiki list of “Chronological list of American classical composers” which I’ve been making my way through.   



I’ve come off a three-day fast today and where the last few times I did that I binged shopped I consciously tried to use whatever was in the fridge today.  A simple stir-fry with the chopped pork up there.  Broccoli with garlic.  A stir-fried rice from what was left in the pan with leeks and ginger.  My eating pattern is quite disrupted with fasting and I forget what we have.   Today at least it felt right to forgo the ritual splurge and make do with what was here.



Friday, 5/22/20


Was Ripped Down Again



I have enjoyed a good run with this ‘squirrel proof’ bird feeder and the pair woodpecker suet feeders I have alongside them.  They’re out my widow, and generate a fair amount of traffic.  The suet feeder was ripped down again last night.  The larger one had been torn open and the half-eaten suet cake was lying a few feet away, on the ground.  That’s no squirrel damage and they ain’t nocturnal.  It must be the same damned raccoons that destroyed the last perch I’d hung a feeder from. 

Not proud about it.  But it wasn’t long before I was examining just how much a wrist-rocket cost on Amazon.   There are what appear to be budget sling shots, the standard devices I remember, as well as some ferocious looking things designed for professional hunters.  You can also buy a tub of steel balls and for those looking to shoot in an ecologically friendly way there are projectiles made of clay, as well, which presumably do just as good a job of destroying whatever it is they strike.  



I tried to imagine sitting around, waiting for the lumbering raccoon to show on the far corner of the porch, where it would take no skill whatsoever to hit him with a speeding ball and send him running.  But it would unlikely serve as a warning shot.  I reckoned anything that struck had a good chance of bruising the creature at a minimum.  The woods are a tough place to have a limp, even if you’re a big mammal like a raccoon.  Primal, exciting, humorous in a manner unfortunate, it wasn't really something I wanted to do in the end.  I toggled away from the wrist-rocket page and went back to list of books.



Later we returned to this meat-and-potatoes treatment of WWII the thirteen part: “World  War II in HD Color” on Netflix.  This must have been written by someone in the U.K., as certain All-American all-stars like Patton are given only passing consideration.   (It was.)  Tonight, we viewed the Normandy landing.  I had never really thought about that so much of that extraordinary affair was down to logistics and supplying troops with food and gasoline, and ordinance to move beyond their beach heads.  I’d been to Antwerp once, but at the time certainly didn’t understand its significance for the Allies.  Without that port, free of mines and ready to receive ships the Allies wouldn’t have made it more than a few miles into France.  I also newly considered the dead-end nightmare it must have been to have served as one of Hitler’s ghoulish generals.  Time and time again, faced with certain devastation, Hitler tells them to hold the line and not retreat.  

“Tomorrow night girls.  Tomorrow.”  They want to know when we will be returning to things in the War that concern Asia.


Thursday, 5/21/20

Posture In One Breath




There’s a male cardinal out there in the cedar tree.  He is iridescent red, in the sun.  The hummingbird feeder I bought has little fake red flowers on it that lead the long beak to the pool of nectar within.  I didn’t like the phony flowers, which all such feeders seemed to a have till it was pointed out to me that they are red by design.  That’s what draws the hummingbirds in.  The nectar is also red.  It’s in a clear glass jar.  Out the right side of my eye I saw another red reflection in the window, the reflection of the red handles of those Craftsman needle nose pliers I have.  I moved the handle to the other side of the window by the hummingbird feeder, so there would be yet again more red to attract the little birds who always dart by but never seem to stay. 



Just got off the phone with a high school teacher whom I hadn’t spoken to in over thirty-five years.  

And you know, I wrote two lovely paragraphs about this just as it was happening had the sort of thing transpire that used to plague us all in, say, 1998.  My computer crashed and all the work was lost.   These days computers are so much smarter, and software is auto-saving all the while, right?  Yes, but Microsoft only seems to offer that feature now, if I’m saving to their cloud.  I already have crap stored in the Google cloud and up in the Apple cloud.  Do I really need my docs in Microsoft’s Azure world as well? No.  I don’t.  But, in classic old Balmer fashion, the Nadella Microsoft seems content to annoy me into thinking turning it on would be a great idea.  We’ll frustrate you into buying our convenient storage option.  Instead it makes me want to just dump the software once and for all and use Google docs to draft.  I’m sure there’s a brilliant way to make it all work without saving to their cloud, but they certainly don’t make it easy.  Ach, two paragraphs.  Mediate on the travails of Thomas Carlyle, John.  

Any rate, this teacher and I had a great talk.  I thanked him for a lifetime’s worth of jazz appreciation, for he’d planted the seeds during the ‘jazz class’ he’d offered up in his apartment there on campus during my senior year.   He’d had an encyclopedic collection thirty-five years ago, which I assumed was completest by this point, and so I tried to thoughtfully suggest that my interest had blossomed rather broadly in all this time, but as I mentioned Harold Land and his west coast drummer Frank Butler, which lead me to the pianist Carl Perkins who’d had polio and played in a unique stretched-arm posture in one breath I felt subtlety slip away.



Yes, he’d kept in touch, which most of my dearest classmates.  Yes, he was still writing, and I immediately found a work or two of his, on Amazon as we chatted away.  Yes, he had many substantive suggestions when I mentioned that my theme reading was presently all about slavery.   (Many of them, including his own work are already on their way to my home.)  And when it was done, we weren’t quite over as he sent me a Harold Land clip and I returned with something by Ed Thigpen.   We agreed to speak again soon and I suggested I’d ping him, once I’d read his book:  “The Kidnapped”  

Not sure when I’ll get out to Detroit or see him back in New York, but speaking with a grand old teacher of mine, it made me think of all the thousands of students I’d engaged with and since lost touch with.



Wednesday, 05/20/20


She Can Slink Along




Spoke with a gent I know in Brazil this morning.  Like me he should be back in China but is stuck home.  All the Covid-19 challenges the U.S. is facing notwithstanding I paused to consider what I hadn’t realized about Brazil:  their currency has now depreciated about 40% against the US dollar.  All international business is therefore impacted and unless you have a steady stream of dollars to buy Brazilian Real denominated goods with, woefully so.   It’s hard enough to manage one’s life in a continental sized epidemic crisis, amidst shambolic, presidential orchestration, a problem we both share, without the added nightmare of one’s spending power being halved.  Wherever you look there are additional Covid-onion-layers of disruption to consider. 



With this gentleman and then later with another morning call, I suddenly turned my phone’s video on and spun it around to show the person on the other end, the fox.  She was back in the yard this morning, repeatedly.   I’m beginning to understand a bit more of her strategy.  If she comes straight up to our house from down near the trail, she can slink along and sprint up over the ridge, but the squirrels all have a good chance of dashing up the trees, if she does.  But if she comes from the right, and puts herself by the trees, the squirrels are forced to make the much longer dash to edge of the forest.  When it’s a longer chase, she often seems to be able to outrun the poor rodents, as was the case this morning. 

A fine day today.  First time in a while I’ve been able to simply bike in a tee-shirt.  It is late May, for God’s sake.  Lots of people all along the trail, as I headed up towards the bridge over the Wallkill.  Just before there were a number of tall weeds with purple flowers which I didn’t recognize.  My Seek app suggested I was looking at Hesperis Matronalis a.k.a. Dame Rocket.  An invasive species from Eurasia that was introduced in the seventeenth century, long before my Irish ancestors ever arrived.



It’s Tuesday night.  The Mrs. made some sole in garlic, like you might have in Cantonese cooking.  It’s not the way I would have made it and found myself enjoying it and wondering how she was able to get the soft piece of fish to remain whole.  Dishes done its the night of the week when the garbage must be tossed into the back of the car and driven up the driveway to the cans, on the side of the road.  I assume that all these large bags are recyclable.  Is it true, what they say, that since China is no longer accepting recycled waste it all just gets handled now as non-recyclable garbage once it is dumped, wherever it is dumped?



Tuesday, 5/19/20


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

About Surfing in Donegal




My wife had a tick last night.  It was right in the middle of her calf, not discretely in her armpits or groin, where they are supposed to burrow in and make their home. A big read blotch, I was now pretty sure the flabby piece of skin I was inspecting the other day was most assuredly not a tick.  The girls had tried to remove it with tweezers, but the head wouldn’t come out.  Now she was frightened by what remained and folks began the process of online research into the matter.



This morning I only remembered it all when I went to the bathroom.  We’ll have to head over to the clinic today and indeed, once she’s up that’s the first thing she wants to do. I have been to the First Care Medical Clinic out towards Highland on 299 before, though it was many years ago.  They were open.  They took our insurance.  And soon we’re strapping on our masks and heading in.

Someone must have the classic feel-good rock station on as its “One for the Road” and “Waterloo” and “Dust in Wind” while we clarify that there was a thirty-dollar charge from six years ago that will need to be paid before we can go forward.  Fair enough.  Up on the mounted television there are a bunch of surfer dudes in wet suits talking about surfing in Donegal, which looks cold and captures my attention for longer than I would have suspected. 



They have the dreaded remainder of the tick-head out in less time than it takes me to read three pages of my book. “Reconstruction” by Eric Foner.  Slaves had been marching behind General Sherman, calling him Moses, taunting their former masters, helping themselves Massa's framed paintings,  as she returns from a different door than the one she departed from.  The prescription had already been sent to Walgreens, so we returned to the car and headed over there to pick up her course of doxycycline and then back home.  Today, for the first time in many days, she is not planning on going out to the garden.



Monday, 05/18/20


The Skin Colored Jar




Sunday, I ate my fill last night.  Feast just now.  Famine will return.  I fix myself some yogurt just like I used to eat years ago, with cream on the top that it probably hopelessly fatty but today, I’m not resisting such indulgences.  Blackberries . . . I was at the checkout with one container and she told me they were buy-one-get-one-free and I’d better hurry back and my free box.  I had plenty of blackberries.  There were some pomegranate seeds in the fridge as well and a bit of granola which I’d inadvertently spilled all over the floor as I tried to add.  A cup of grapefruit juice.  I love grapefruit juice in the morning.  I haven’t had much of it in a while as I’m usually skipping breakfast if I'm the sixteen-hour intermittent fasting and I'm not much in the mood for that tart taste in the afternoon.  No need for any such abstinence today.  


I spent much more time than I should have trying to think of something trenchant and substantive to say about the book I’d recently finished “Inhuman Bondage,” until I decided to take a break and see what the Mrs. was up to in the kitchen.  Would I like to go to Lowes?  She needed more mulch.  A lot more.  I can do that.  I acquiesce and in my mind I started thinking of how important it was to make time to be with one’s wife and shop together even though, there was lots more work that needed my attention.  I got my coat and wallet and soon found out that she’d intended for me to head over and get the mulch for her.  She’d be busy gardening in the meantime.  Right. 



Solo mission then.  I was also tasked with finding her some ointment for the poison ivy rash on her arm, so I headed to Walgreens first.  I couldn’t remember the name “Calamine.”   I could only imagine the skin colored jar that my grandmother would have had.  Before long I grabbed what I needed and put it down on the counter, though I was asked to pick it back up again.  Take your products and back up safely.  The guy in front of me hadn’t returned yet.  I read three more pages in my book before he returned with a “ohh, you shouldn’t have waited for me.”   We did.



Over at Lowes I turned off my live Miles from 1960 and locked the car door.   I’ll need one of these massive carts that can take considerable weight.  Pushing it through the door I suddenly realized I had not put a mask on.  In this climate its a political gesture: to wear or not to wear, and I suddenly feel as though I've stepped inside with a MAGA hat on.  I swiftly returned to the car and grabbed the little blue mask and slipped it over my face.  The cart I’d had was gone when I returned, and I found an even larger contraption and went to the back to get my ten bags of mulch. 



Sunday, 5/18/20