Sunday, January 31, 2021

Really, Really Big Hug

Ominous day.  Everyone’s talking about snow.  Snow’s on the way.  Twelve to sixteen inches.  That sounds like a lot.  When’s it coming?  Not till late.  That’s good.  First thing in the morning I’m to once again drive my daughter off, this time down to JFK.  The furthest of three New York airports from where we live, it was the only one that had a direct flight.  There can’t be much traffic at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. 


The sliver of time I had between five and six when I was up, lying in the guest bed, reading the news evaporated swiftly and soon I was waking the girls up and making the coffee.  I turned the car on to heat it up and helped my daughter with her two bags, both of which they’ll no doubt charge her for. I sat down to have a bowl of Alpen with banana, Greek yoghurt and chia seeds, while they all puttered about getting ready. 


Was listening to Buddy Collette on the way down.  Remarkable bop flautist I’d never hoid of him, and there is a range of material to explore on Spotify.  “Quartet, Quintet Sessions 1956 – 1957" is sounding like perfect drive to NYC on a Sunday in the pandemic, music this morning.  We got one of those phone holders you put in a car for Christmas and the Mrs. agrees to try installing it after she finishes her coffee. The only place available seems to be the heating vent, but it’s better than staring down, away from traffic at the coffee holder near the stick shift.  

No traffic on the New York State Throughway, nor on the Palisades.  I tried to keep it under seventy-five and when I made that final turn there on to the G-W it still took my breath away, and riding over the bridge, looking down rive at Manhattan I still wanted, inexplicably to blow her a kiss and I did.  And then before you can think about it, you’re in the Bronx, considering all the apartments, wondering about all those lives, and then you're up an on to the Whitestone.  Waze tells me there are police reported ahead.  I bet.  You drive past Linden Blvd and I, at least think of Tribe Called Quest and this uninspired airport rail connector we're driving beneath.  All the places that are usually bumper-to-bumper are free of traffic and it isn’t long before I’m walking into the Jet Blue terminal with her, paying for these extra bags, dropping them off and giving her a really, really big hug, telling her to make me proud out there.  

I went to the mens room.  And I was so glad she hadn't yet made it through to security when I made my way back outside and I gave her another big wave the way I would when she'd walk off to middle school at Xing Ying Cai, in Beijing.  

Sunday, 01/31/21


The Paramount Navy Blues


My older one won’t be here for her birthday next week.  She’s flying back to school tomorrow, across the country to Portland, which seems far enough to be inaccessible but not so far compared to everyone in China. We’ll have her grandparents, her aunt, her cousin over today.  Lasagna?  Got the thumbs up, have the things I need.  I was out there from 8:30AM slinging sheets of lasag out of the boiling pot, on to a plate with olive oil applied liberally so they wouldn’t stick.  I have a calzone in mind.  Do something cheesy with this log of polenta. 

Ahh, she seemed like a young woman out there, talking to all the folks about her plans and what she intended to take this semester.  Turning twenty, she is.  That’s not a teen anymore.  My dad and stepmom needed to leave.  The specter of social distancing weighing on us all, at least I got them to take some of this food.  They missed a decidedly funky cake my mom had brought.  After helping to address the article I’d sent my nephew and his cousins which examined the phenomenon of square-shaped wombat feces, I managed to spirit my stepdad, the biologist, over into the study where I showed him pictures of his niece at the William Seward home in Auburn New York, and he got warm waxed effusive mentioning the speeches of Daniel Webster, Calhoun and Clay.  I got to show him all the China books I had lined up and he commiserated that what I really needed in here was more bookshelves.  


Later, all the guests had left, while the sun was still shining, and when it got dark, I took my older one out for one last trip to Walgreens before she departed.  She wanted hand sanitizer and Tylenol and things of that sort before he headed off.  She was worried about carrying too much and I noted that unlike departing for Nepal or Borneo she was likely to find a Walgreens out in Portland when she needed one there, as well.  The guy asked if I had a number associated with my Walgreens identity and I tried one and then another and then did what I should have done at the outset and just said, ”no thanks.”


Monopoly is a game where you can discern your likely fate, after the first eight to ten hops around the board.  The older one wanted to play.  Something for the family to sit down and do together on her last night.  My battleship wasn’t landing where it ought to have and though I managed to trade for a monopoly there on the orange of New York Avenue-fame, it wasn’t enough, and though it took another twenty spins round or so, the younger ladies had all the yellows and the greens and the paramount navy blues, and before long I was bled dry.  Ahh, but it was a fine way to lose a fortune. 

“We’re leaving at 6:30AM.  Get some rest."  I wished them all good night, after later losing a subseuent game of chess to the Mrs.  They’re up there moving the gecko from his old tank to the new, bigger abode. How strange that must be for his domesticated, reptilian brain.  

Saturday, 01/30/21

A Box With Pens

Up since one.  Three calls.  Each one about two hours apart.  I knew the last one was coming but I got lost in my reading of Sima Qian’s SiJi.  Some fiendish, inner palace treachery by Empress Lu and her Lu clan to the detriment of the late Gaozu's Liu squad, no doubt and one and then another we chat message jarred me, moments before revenge was to be struck.  Should I write people and tell them “1 sec” or just click the clicks and launch the bridge?  In a moment we were all discussing the client.


I made a pot of coffee and poured a cup for the ride up to the Mohonk.  My father and I were going to take a walk up past where we’d been before, and head right, not left.  Cold.  Keep your fingers moving and your wrists spinning.  And not for the first time, my dad tells me that the cold bites through harder now, as he’s gotten older.  The trail has snow but its passable and we head along what must have been a carriage road past some mighty old trees and up into a sweeping view that extends all the way over to Dutchess County. 

Walking back down I noticed that my little one had called. You always imagine the worst  “Don’t forget toilet paper.”  I can handle that.  On my way down the guy who manned the post station and whom I gave $15 to on the way in wanted to know if I wanted to get the annual pass and I did but his pen didn’t work and by the time he gave me the one that did and allowed me to fill in the details and swipe my card my digits were solid.  It wasn’t long after I was back in the car with the heater up full for a spell that the numbness receded. 


I had to pay my county and town taxes.  The town hall is not located where the town court is, I discovered when I searched online.  Out at 52 Clearwater Road, I would have thought you’re already in the next town over.  I am not going to hand my taxes to a person but rather drop this check and receipt in a drop box.  The invoice I have as well as the details online suggest you should make the check out to the “tax collector.”  But then it provides a name of the tax collector as part of the address.  So, do I make it out to her personally?  That can’t be. At the drop box there is a sign that instructs me be sure I have my phone number written on the envelope.  I haven’t done that.  But there is a box with pens.  I try to use one and then another pen, but the ink is all frozen just like when I was up in Mohonk earlier this morning.  Fishing in my pockets I confirm that I am not carrying a pen on this day unlike any for months, when that would obviously have been a good idea. 


Later that night after getting the lizard a new tank, bubble tea and a visit to the little Chinese goods store in La Grange, we drove down towards Academy Street in Poughkeepsie and picked ourselves up some of that Hudson and Packard Detroit-style pizza they have over there.  I had to smell that stuff for the next twenty-five minutes before we could finally lay it out on the table and dig in.  It’s really good. 




Friday, 01/29/21 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

No. It Was Gone


Caught the moon going down this morning.  The earth must have tilted just so.  It’s been falling off into the western dawn for a while now.  Behind me to the east where the sun rises, is blocked by a hill.  This morning the clouds parted just around dawn and the moon fell slowly, right behind the Trapps.  I had a clear view over and at some point, I stopped what I was doing and, in a way I don’t think I’ve done since me and the whole family climbed a wat in Bagan and stared out at a sunset.  Freezing we all watched a perfect sunrise atop Mount Tai, in Shandong.  These came to mind as I stopped whatever silly email it was which I was writing, and just gazed off as the big full moon, slowly dropped and vanished from sight. Instinctively I stood up to see if I could still see the glow with a few extra feet, but no.  It was gone. 

Talked to an old pal in Dubai.  It sounds warm.  He thought it was cold.  He sent a photo with people sitting around one of those outdoor heaters.  I haven’t been to Dubai in a while.  When I did, it was frightfully hot.  My friend talked about skiing there at the indoor ski mall, and of all the different ethnicities who’d formed distinct communities there.  And for a moment I missed being able to travel.  But it quickly passed. I don’t want to wander around the endless miles of the Dubai airport or stare down at the desert from the top of the Burj Al Khalifa.  I’m happy this morning with the view I’ve got. 


Read more of Sima Qian’s ShiJi last night, before drifting off, this morning, killing time between calls on the can.  So much treachery back then will all those concubine children.  One marquis had carnal relations with his sister.  They Confucian morality police, caught wind and shut that down.  The lad committed suicide before the palace guard arrived.  And I thought about Caligula who pursued the same objective, as I recall.  Confucian morality defined these actions as beyond the pale.  What about in Julian Rome?  Was it only after the arrival or Christianity or would the majority of prudish Romans have also worried that earthquakes and tidal waves were sure to follow, if the imperial family were behaving as such?


Its colder today than it was yesterday.  The snow is still covering the land as a result.  I suspect it will be hard packed, but I’ll head out in an hour or so and try to cross country ski again.  Cloudless sky, the sun, up high it should be nice.  Leroy Vinegar now, newly on the air.  “Walk On” recorded in LA back in 1957.  Carl Perkins with his angular arm pounding the keys, the only other name I recognize from the set.  I didn’t catch that year and I am unlikely to catch 2057 either.  I had a funny thought that if someone from the era concerned were to read the Shiji they could see the year they were born and died.  But rendered in the Gregorian Calendar of “BC” they could see precisely when they would die but would have to guess at just how that year translated to the particular year of an emperor.  If I had the chance, I wouldn’t want to know the date.  As Christopher Hitchens apparently said, staring down mortality: “I like surprises.”

Thursday, 01/29/21

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

North, Lugging Distinct Calve

Completely covered in snow this morning.  It looks wonderful.  The birds knew to look beneath my window even before I threw anything new out. So did the deer.  It’s cloudy, but the temperature has risen up above freezing and it has all started to disappear, slowly.  I was on calls all morning and by the time I went out at ten or so my wife had shoveled out the car and created a trapezoidal shape in the middle of where you’d turn around.  Too large for a snow man, I asked her what she was up to and she reckoned she’d put a planter on the top of it. 

Fresh snow and thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit means there is a fleeting chance to cross country ski down on the trail.  I trumped down through the backyard, out under the fallen tree and on to the trail to find it unmarked besides the fat tire of a bike trail and some deer tracks.  I have mastered the initially illusive art of getting the bindings to click in, thought back and confirmed that I had done some stretching this morning.  Up above the thick grey clouds were breaking blue.  I decided not to put on any music.


Setting off, I headed north, lugging distinct calve and thigh muscles that haven’t had any call to duty for a while.  There’s a well-earned ache pending.  At first, I measure motions in sets of ten kicks and then a slide.  Now I increase it to twenty and so on.  Not sure why but it takes time to get into the rhythm this strange motion. Eventually I crafted a meandering bass line in my mind that counted every fourth step with a planting of the pole and proceeded ahead with sets of one-hundred, which seemed to eat up the time nicely.  Returning I passed two young ladies to whom I said “hiya” and one answered “nice,” which I optimistically took to mean that I’d been awarded and ‘A-for-effort’ despite looking rather old and clumsy. 

Yesterday afternoon both the girls plopped down here in the study.  And they weren’t here for any reason.  They were just here to talk.  The little one had a tune she was singing with a trio of la’s, “la la la,” which couldn’t help but make me want to put the theme to the Banana Splits on.  An infectious tune unarguably, I noticed as I clicked on the link that it was from the “1968 series . . . “ I would have been two years old or not much older when this “making up a mess of fun” first entered my noggin.  I can’t remember any of the characters, any of the plots, much of the premise behind the the fact that men were dressed in teddy bear-like monkey suits, but that tune.  I have it tattooed in my cranium.  I air drummed, drew attention to the break and the hook.  Mentioned that a punk band had covered the tune (I had, at the time forgotten that it was the Dickies).  And with that turned it off and returned to our chat.   The tune I sang to myself while I wasn’t skiing wasn’t much like the Banana Splits song, mind you, but it reminded me of that chat yesterday, nonetheless. 




Wednesday, 01/27/21

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Of Dustings Had Started

It was foretold and now there is lots of snow on the ground.  About an hour ago, around noon, the first flakes started to fall.  The lightest of dustings had started to build on the pathway.  I stopped my bike and took a snap on the way out thinking I’d take another when I returned.  The Wallkill was all frozen over except for one channel which I assumed to be the main current.  All along the way there must have been two dozen people who, like me did not get, or chose to ignore, the memo that things would swiftly become inclement.  By the time I was heading back my tires were beginning to spin, so I stuck to the gravel in the middle of the lane.  A gentleman was walking a small dog who needed the assistance of a rolling dog walker.  I’ve seen the two of them before out here and I waved and rode on, sensing I’d passed the place where I had taken that photo on the way out.  Closer to home now, I turned and captured the path to show all of the fresh snow. 

Walking up the path to my yard I stopped and spied the feisty hemlock that is growing right up beside that big old oak.  The punk of evergreens, I thought I should check when I got home when it was hemlocks dropped their cones and and just now likely it would be for me to sprout one or two in a planter.  I think it’s a particularly fine shade of green the eastern hemlock breathes.  Looking up, the snow seemed suddenly to be falling faster.  Might it be warming and turning now to rain?  I’d been enjoying the odd, spacious sounds of Milton Babbitt “Soli E Duettini” for all of my ride but now I decided to turn it off and just listen to the snow fall. 


Back up in the warmth of my room, my pants are wet.  My hair is cold and wet.  All the snow on my eyebrows has melted and I’m listening to the tasteful lines of Mr. George Braith on his 1963 album “Soul Stream.”  I could hear that was Grant Green on guitar without looking though I wasn’t familiar with either Hugh Walker on drums, nor Billy Gardner on organ.  Mssr. Gardner is the credit on this charging number I’m listening to just now: “Boop Bop Bing Bash”, as they say.  Braith is known for playing multiple horns at the same time, in a manner not unlike Rosand Roland Kirk and it’s an immediately distinct harmonization.  Indeed he is also credited with having invented the Braithophone, which is the melding of the soprano and the alto saxophone with valves and connectors so they can be played as one.   This tune that’s on now “Jo Anne” must have some sort of Braithophone horn behind that warm, slightly dissonant sound in the head. And then it floats more like a straight soprano sax during the initial solo.    

The deer just came by.  They correctly surmised that I had thrown sunflower seeds out on the lawn today, as I’ve none for months now.  I cracked my window and most of them fled.  One young gent who was closest and probably still had the fine taste of sunflower activating his tongue looked up at me as the window rolled further and further open.  By the time I stuck my head out and made a clicking sound he was gone.  They’re all off in the wood stand that separates our place from the neighbors.  I shouldn’t care.  What difference does it make?  They’re hungry.  Snow’s tough on everybody.  If they return, I’ll try to let them be.  But it’s not easy.




Tuesday, 01/26/21 

Familiar Dusty Beijing Ochre

Do you know where Johnson City, New York is?  I didn’t either, till I got a speeding ticket there.  Cop pulled me and my daughter over on my way to Buffalo about three weeks back.  Very polite, very efficient.  They sent me a form asking me if I pleaded innocent or guilty, suggesting different next steps depending on how I might respond.  It sat on my desk for the last week or so and although I knew exactly what I was going to do, it was only today that I checked the not guilty box and drove down to the post office, bought one of those envelopes with the stamp already affixed and sent my reply off to the folks in Johnson City, which is right out of Binghamton, heading west. 

While I was out, I picked up some spinach and some nan at Tops.  I’d had it in my mind to make some Indian food tonight.  The young guy who rang me up at the check-out had another fellow there on bag-duty and they were chatting about football.  On the airwaves was Duran Duran’s “Her Name is Rio” and I was transported back to being fifteen years old or so and hating this song so intensely. But what was her name?  I thought about this idly for a while.  “Her name is Rita, no,  Minnie, . . . ?”  And then it hit me that Rio herself, is who is dancing in the Rio Grande.  Unsolicited, I mentioned something about horrible music from before they both were born that was playing on the airwaves to the two young gentlemen who were helping me with the checkout.  Presumptuous, certainly.  Perhaps they thought it was ‘vintage.’  They may bag away on the day-shift with the fervent hope that old Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls songs will hit the airwaves before their break.  I gazed at the one guy bagging.  He wasn’t that young, but he piped up quickly and clarified that yes, he was born in the 90’s.  The other lad scanned my Tops card and mentioned that his parents also hated Duran Duran.  Good.  A quality family, that.  


At the post office, when I bought my stamped envelope it was sixty-nine cents, all told.  I only had twenties in my wallet and I asked if he preferred a big bill or charge.  “Charge.”  Right.  Sure.  So, I did.  Unsolicited, I suggested that sometimes you wonder if a charge will go through, but not in this case.  Yeah.  Sixty-nine cents.   It fell flat.  I thanked him and went around the corner to pen in the address of the court, there in Johnson City. 

From Saturday morning I’d been working in earnest on a new puzzle: “Minister of The Qing Dynasty”, a one-thousand-piece puzzle, I’d bought on Amazon.  Alas, this is the second such puzzle I’ve gotten online, that are cut professionally enough but provide no information whatsoever about the print, inside.  On the back are letters which make assembly easy.  Too easy.  This one had sat around, simply framed and undone for a while.  I started in on it, in hopes one or the other daughter would eventually become interested.  And finally, just after noon I lured my older one into finishing it off with me.  I’m not sure we’ll ever run into this painting in the wild.  I’m not quite clear just how one might to track it down as it doesn't appear in searches under that title or obvious analogs.  Regardless, the scene is marvelous and the air is that familiar dusty Beijing ochre, reminding one that Beijing has always looked this way.  

Monday 01/25/21