Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Music, May Have Moved


Second morning this week, I was to rise early and prepare for an “important” call only to flip through the phone and find that the call was cancelled, overnight.  For a moment it's wonderful.  Think of all that you could now do with your time  And as I read through the New York Times, which hadn’t changed much from last evening's read at 11:30PM, till now, at 6:00AM, I got a wechat call from one of my colleagues.  I asked him if I could call him back.  Sure.  But then I noticed that I’d suggested this would be a perfectly acceptable time for him to call.  No one’s fault but my own.  I’d imagined I’d be at work by now, not half asleep with the newspaper.  So I threw some water on my face and called him back. 


On our morning drive to her job, my older one talked about what she might want to do with her career.  I felt the urge to tell her not to do this and make sure you pursue that, but it was just an analysis of my own choices concerning my own journey.  And I managed to keep my peace and listen to her, as she thought through her options and told me why she liked one or another song she was playing.  I wanted to ask her if anyone was taking any risks with their lyrics among the folks she enjoyed.  Was anyone saying anything disruptive, or controversial?  Had anyone released anything overtly political.  Indeed, were there any bands on her campus that she liked?  But I’ve asked all this before.  I suspect the role of music, may have moved on from the manner in which I remember it being codified.


The gas was running low and she didn’t mind, so went left on 209, instead of right.  The clunky, IVI system in our brand-new Toyota, which was dated well-before the SUV shipped, told us that there was a Sunoco station, two miles down the road towards Accord.  Car companies excel at making engines, which is obvious whenever you try to rely on their increasingly important software features.  This would mean that she’d be a few minutes late but she didn’t mind.  Indeed, she seemed glad.


I, who am normally on the road for business and happily planning annual trips for the family, hasn’t boarded a plane in six months, and I seem to need to explore, if only modestly to massage my soul.  Bluesy, disinclined to write anyone or call anyone, I went out the same way I had the day before and this time turned left when I got to Route Three and headed out towards Samsonville and left again to Tobasco.  I kept hoping to stumble upon something interesting, when I turned a tight corner and considered the isolated store fronts that occasionally revealed themselves.  But they were all closed, looking as though they hadn’t really welcomed anyone in a while. 




Wednesday 08/19/20

Went Left Towards Boiceville

I like Claude McKay so much.  I know I’ve written this before.  His biography “A Long Way From Home” is wonderful.  We spent the last few sections in the Soviet Union of 1922. He meets Zinoviev, he meets Trotsky while "the prophet" still runs the Red Army and he is feted and welcomed by soldiers and the sailors after Leon affords a strong  introduction.  And though he is tempted as anyone would be, time and time again to speak on behalf of his country, and speak on behalf of his people, he calmly and convincingly stays centered on the fact that he is a poet, not a spokesperson or an organizer.  He is there to observe. 


Like I did ninety-seven or so years later, he makes a visit to St. Peter and Paul’s fortress in Petrograd to see the cell where Prince Kropotkin was held and later escaped from.  I let out a little gasp as our lives intersected.  The great anarchist thinker, writer had only just died, the year before McKay's visit and Kropotkin's death in February was the last, legal display of anarchism in Bolshevik Russia.  Only a month later the anarchist sailors at Kronstadt had rebelled and were crushed.  McKay visits the sailors in Kronstadt the following year, but only mentions their buoyant revelry and unconditional welcome.  We identify with him even though we are not Afro Caribbean because he is alone and centered on precisely who he is and why he is there.


After dropping my older one off in Krumville there, over Mohonk and up passed Stone Ridge, I decided to keep on Kripplebush Road until I got to Samsonville Road, Route Three, that lead back to the Ashokan Reservoir.  It looked too ambitious considering it earlier on the map but when I got to the turn, I went left towards Boiceville instead of right, back homeward.  You can’t see anything of the Reservoir as you travel this way.  It looms beyond the woods to your right.  But it is meditative to drive by all the different homes, tucked up in the woods, and imagine all the different lives busy being played out.


Boiceville has a few shops along the road.  And then they’re gone.  The name, it appears was to have honored a Mr. Boice, who lived there.  Childish, I couldn’t help but think of the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, which consigned high school students so inclined, or so directed, to pursue a trade rather than more academics.  And in my middle school, downstate in Westchester, it was a slander.  To call someone a “boceee” was to suggest they were an idiot.  We didn’t know about Boiceville at the time, but if we had we certainly would have sneered, derisively.  I found myself imitating the tough kids I feared from that time, by yelling aloud to myself as I drove out of town: “you fuckin’ bocee.”   I laughed and said it again, savoring the accent, considering how unfair and uneducated it all was. 




Tuesday 08/18/20

Interesting, if Never Arresting

Before seven in the morning and the Pidge is on WFMU, hosting his 'Wake n’ Bake' show.  He has a strange voice that wouldn’t do for mainstream radio, fortunately.  He’s that guy you knew from middle school, that guy from summer camp who had oddly mature opinions about music, in spite of himself.  I had to park near Bank of America at the Tops mall and it appeared as if a number of geriatric pals had decided to rendezvous at this particular adjacent spot that sold bagels and coffee.  I parked amidst their tightly parked vehicles and I suspect they all looked me over and I flip-flopped over to the ATM. 


Back in the car, the Pidge was playing something I knew but couldn’t identify.  Is that . . . I guessed Queen Latifa “Give me body” someone sang, looped, over and over.  (I keep nodding off and visiting places that are more interesting that what’s in front of me.)  I haven’t heard the B52s in forever either and the Pidge enthusiastically threw them on next. Woke-and-certainly-baked, he enthusiastically confirmed that it had been the queen, I’d been enjoying in that number sans-rapping from her first LP, "All Hail the Queen." 


More driving, later in the morning.  Up and over the Mohonk to take my older one to her babysitting gig.  It was completely misty all the way up and once we crested the ridge the sun suddenly broke and it was now clear all the way out to the Catskills.  It’s an hour out of my morning to go and drop her off and then again another hour of my wife’s day later to pick her up, but neither of us mind.  Fleeting, precious time with her before she leaves, once again, forever. 


When all the family pile in the car together she never seems to want to play her music. Afforded the chance, she always demurs.  Her sister is so adamant.  She and I keep score.  You get to play tunes for the ride over.  I get to play them for the way back.  The older one would just as soon withdraw and throw on her headphones.  But when it is just she and I get to sample some of what she’s listening to, which isn’t Korean and is often interesting, if never arresting.  And we talk in a way that rarely happens, sitting around the house, when everyone has a role and the common-space conversations are predictable. 




Monday, 08/17/20

Monday, August 17, 2020

I Ripped A Lot


It’s drizzling out there.  It was coming down stronger an hour ago.  It looked wet when I saw my older one walking up the yard from the rail trail after her jog.  She was walking in the rain.  I went to the guest bathroom and sure enough, there was a dry blue towel, which I pinched and walked out to meet her with.  Yes.  She confirmed.  It wasn’t wet under the canopy.  But walking up the yard was soggy. 


I ripped a lot of cardboard today.  We have our life’s worth of goods, out in the second garage.  They were recently shipped from China and we have been slowly unpacking things.  My role, for now, is to rip up empty cardboard boxes into small strips and stuff them into plastic bags, which can be stuffed into our garbage containers at the top of the driveway.   Three bags of cardboard strips will barely fit into the vessel.  Beyond that, you will annoy the sanitation workers who will invariably ignore your over-the-limit load if you continue on with additional bags of recyclables


I’m so glad to be reading Claude McKay’s autobiography, “A Long Way From Home.”  He writes commanding poetry.  I’ve enjoyed more than one of his novels.  But it is this savvy, centered, approachable voice, I first read in sections of this work in the “Harlem Renaissance Reader” that initially drew me to this exceptional Jamaican intellectual and now, having finally made my way “home,” I’m very glad to be reckoning with George Bernard Shaw and Max Eastman, and the criminals of Manhattan and the working stiffs of London with McKay’s steady, approachable narration. 


I will read more of his work, certainly.  There are at least two novels in print and an intriguing set of short stories entitled “My Green Hills Of Jamaica” which is out of print and demands $145.00 to secure on Amazon that are all of interest.  He’d be a wonderful person to have as a twenty-first-century mentor.  He seems so consistently trenchant, self-effacing, reliable, and one suspects he’d see through so much of today, so effortlessly.  But resurrections are tricky.  Claude was one man when he was close to the Soviet Comintern and quite another when he converted to Catholicism late in life.  I wonder if his advice would vary widely depending upon which vintage of Claude you summoned. 




Sunday 08/16/20


Sunday, August 16, 2020

To Their Natural Fullness

We went up to Middlebury Vermont today.   I haven’t been there since 1993, when I attended the intensive summer language program there, before heading out to China for the first tiem.  It was a beautiful summer, as I recall.  I have very clear memories of being overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the northern Vermont summer countryside where everything seemed full bloom.  It was remarkably fecund.  I listened to music that summer, like Don Drummond’s ‘Man in the Street” and Sonny Rollins’ “Saxophone Colossus.”  My younger one is interested in languages.  Middlebury has a focus therein.  So, at her request we drove four hours up into Vermont to consider the campus but not much more, touring colleges, during Covid.  


I thought I had my exit off the New York State Throughway all figured out.  I’d avoid Rutland and crossed right over after maximizing my time on the three lane I-87.  Instead, I got off near Saratoga Springs and wasted a lot of time cutting across the state only to reenter I-87 further up the line.  Regardless I was glad to have a chance to drive along the main street of the fabled resort town  It looked, all of a sudden, like Middletown CT., or perhaps Newbury St. in Boston.  My wife agreed.  But we'd no time to stay and soon we turned right and move out beyond what there was to see. 


Middlebury took a while.  Once we finally had it in our sights. I had to be mindful of the speed limits.  The last time I was there in the Green Mountain State I earned a ticket in Bridgewater VT, doing 36 in in a 30.  So, I abided by the Green Mountain laws, lest the prey upon my not-especially-green, New York State plates.  We pulled into the Middlebury around 3:45PM.  Some things I recognized but most of it was a blur.  Then flashes of discrete memories came back to me.  That walk up the hill.  That funny reference to a song which I'd forgotten.  Where did we actually live?  We drove into campus, which is largely all cordoned off.  The riverfront, where I assumed we’d eat was under reconstruction and we drove back up to the campus to get out and explore. 


We parked.  We walked.  We suggested it was beautiful.  My little one agreed.  I was enthralled by the deliberate plantings which someone had once upon a time undertaken.  I met a new maple, the Paperback Maple and two new oak trees, the Bur Oak and the Swamp White Oak, which both looked lovely, there on the main lawn with no competition, growing unmolested to their natural fullness.  But I wonder if my little one learned much about Middlebury. College today  It was a quick perambulation and soon we were back in the car.  I’d pushed her to sign up for the virtual webinar before we'd left.  She’s going to get a text message reminder on Wednesday.  Well, it's a place now, rather than simply a word or a website. 


We passed on an early dinner there in Middlebury.  Nothing looked particularly inviting.  Everything seemed to be under construction or indoors.  Ninety-minutes later, having driven south along the remarkable vistas afforded along Route Seven, we entered Bennington, where there is another small, liberal arts college that we drove around there up on the hill overlooking the town.  Bennington has a Main Street.  We assumed we’d dine there for sure, but nothing in this town looked inviting (or safe) either and less than two hours from home we decided to bail on a Vermont dinner and just head back home where the there was lots of left over lasagna and a pork loin just waiting to be cooked, resting there in the refrigerator. 




Saturday, 08/15/20 

You Took Kripplebush Road


Yesterday I dropped my daughter off and decided to get lost.  Her babysitting gig is over in Lyonsville.  After you pass the Roundout Valley High School, you turn right on 209 and then proceed down till your second left, which is the unfortunate assignation: Kripplebush Road.  I took a quick look.  Perhaps the Kripple’s were a family.  Perhaps they had a prominent bush.  Perhaps it is not in any way a disparaging term meant to suggest a shrub of less than its full potential.  But that’s the road we drop her off on and yesterday, when I backed out of babysitting domicile, I kept on west to see what I could see. 


Well, you pass a bunch of swamps and you just about come to Krumville.  Presumably Robert Crumb would have appreciated that you took Kripplebush Road there into Krumville.  But before you get to whatever it is that defines that hamlet, there is a plot of land on the corner that is formed with Route 2A.  And if you’ve ever read “Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel” but Virginia Lee Burton you’ll know what I mean when I say that there, on the corner a rusting hulk of a steam shovel that was precisely the anthropomorphic protagonist that dug himself a hole he couldn’t properly extricate himself from.  I took a right.


I didn’t know it but that was big, old Slide Mountain I saw up in the distance  Beautiful.  And when I turned right on 213 I should have turned left as it would have brought me to the shores of the Ashokan Reservoir.  At every twist and bend there were unexpected expressions of self:  An Irish flag, a BLM sign.  A Trump & Pence banner.  A building that looked like it had sagged into the woodside like something ill-maintained by Tom Bombadil which gave way to another property landscaped just so.  Kids here.  Old folk trotting along there.  I was conscious of being lost and of having a call in thirty-minutes.  Soon though, I rode right out on to Route 209, which I knew.  From there I headed home without any need for artificial assistance.


Today I dropped her off and went back along Bone Hollow Road and met my dad at the Mohonk Preserve Testimonial Gateway.  I missed it the first time.  But I found it.  It’s a pretty remarkable structure and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before.  My pop explained that back at the turn of the last century, people took the train from New York City and crossed the river in a ferry and then horse and buggy’d it over in what must have been all ofa twelve-hour journey.  Just how did turn of-the-century ladies relive themselves in those absurdly long dresses during a journey of that length?  Somewhere near the carriage house they’d start taking orders for dinner which would be waiting or them when they mounted the hill.  What then is it, that we do today which will seem a quaint waste of time in 2120: preparing a dinner?  flying oversees?  . . . as the full day journey from Manhattan to the Mohonk Guest House appears to us today.  Krumville presumably was secure.  Almost certainly it was too far out beyond anyone at the Guest House concern. 




Friday, 08/14/20

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Her Alloy Be Worthy


The giants returned and the groundhog flinched.  Two adult deer and three spotted fawns came up into the back yard eating grass, foraging below where I’d tossed a half gallon jug of sunflower seeds.  The birds gave way.  So did the squirrels.  The indomitable groundhog however kept on eating.  One of the fawns took an interest in the portly rodent.  He came up with his knobby knees and tried to sniff him.  The groundhog looked up to say “kid, whataya want?” The fawn leaped back surprised to be confronted and then awkwardly returned for another sniff.  The ground hog stopped masticating and looked up a second time, more determinedly.  The fawn decided to scamper over and explore the lawn closer to the deck.   


Most of our country has been foraging for some whiff of leadership this past three and half years.  Yesterday we were introduced to Biden’s Vice-Presidential candidate, whom we were already familiar with, Ms. Kamala Harris.  I had mixed feelings when I considered her during the debates, last year.  I’d felt like her thrust at Bidden on bussing was staged and opportunistic.  It was also unsuccessful at knocking Joe out or her in.  She seemed accomplished and articulate but enigmatic and not immediately inspiring.  And to be fair, neither was Pete, nor Amy, nor Joe, nor Michael.  Liz intrigued me. I liked her iron and my appreciation for Andrew waxed with time.  Bernard was inspiring, if stentorian but I wasn’t convinced by the little I heard him or the other two say about foreign policy, where my mind is always focused.   


And at some point, it simply doesn’t matter.  Any of them would be a joyous upgrade over the charlatan sitting there now.  I fervently hope the majority of sentient Americans left of the Tea Party would agree.   If Joe’s the standard bearer and Kamala’s his Veep, then I’m in.  There will be plenty of time for tuning and kvetching after November.  I watched them yesterday, at their press conference with no one in physical attendance.  Emphatic lines, with no applause.  It was good.  I hope to God, they are good-enough.  It was cathartic to hear them lay the blame for so much mismanagement, precisely where it belonged, in one-term-Don and the Republican party’s lap.  As I watched Ms. Harris for the first time seriously, I was intrigued by her remarkable ability to toggle between commanding and cutting, to cute and smiley.  She does both well.  But they are very different, and I found myself searching for the approachable union of the two, the real her.  One suspects I’ll now have plenty of time to consider this.


One hundred times harder for a woman and yet again a woman of color, still further one, who is also Asian American one can’t but appreciate the majesty of her accomplishment.  And as she spoke, I was nodding along with her assertive, credible prosecution of the shambolic Trump wreckage and thinking, she’ll be tough on Pence, she’ll be relentless on Don.  His “nasty” assignation he tweeted right after the speech didn’t stick, as we also remembered an approachable mom, with big eyes and long wavy hair, which is to say that it won’t be easy for one-term-Don to denigrate her, as she isn’t two dimensional.  She’s neither a Barbie nor a harpy and yet seems both sweet and martial.  He’ll try and try again, but is it just me or has the shock value of his callous rudeness lost whatever boorish potency it might have once had?  He’s flailing.  He’s spiraling downwards now.


So, I’m with Joe and I’m with Kamala.  In a hat tipped towards South Asian diction, and the remarkable acknowledgement that we may, before long, have a President of Asian descent, let’s go ‘do the needful.’  Let’s go foment a landslide that takes back the Senate.  And many blessings to Ms. Harris that she may shoulder this tremendous burden gracefully and mature in the role, comfortable as herself, waxing into a transformative leader who can inspire and effect greatness.  Our system is an imperfect crucible.  May her alloy be worthy of our hopes.  




Thursday, 08/13/20

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Fleeting Flame Outs


I put a note to myself in my calendar: “Meteors.”  I’d read an article in the Times about the Perseid meteors associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle. The paper said that last night was to be the apex of meteor activity.  Still set to Beijing time I set the reminder at a time that would have been too late, but it didn’t matter.  I remembered, mentioned to my wife and by 9:30PM, after my calls were done and the last light of the day faded off to the west we sat back to watch the show. 


The mosquitos thought this was grand, so I went inside and changed into long pants, and long sleeves and socks and doused my open flesh with Off and resumed my position.  The western sky kept flashing.  We assumed this was lightening off in the remote west, but there were no clouds, and no thunder.   Was this after-flash of some activity out in Cleveland for which light could be detected but sound was simply too far?   Unfortunately there were clouds above the Gunks or the first section of sky so we couldn’t say much.  But it continued and we began to wonder if these might not be meteor flashes. 


The clouds above us were supposed to part, and indeed, they did.  The first streak of meteor light was implausibly close as though someone just above the horizon had smudged a bright pen point and then flicked the stick off.  Far too fast to be a plane, brighter for a moment than any star, it was our initial point of wonder.  Now we had something we could insist the girls must see and they reluctantly suited up in their hoodies and came to join us.  We sat there in chairs, staring at the heavens waiting and waiting though it wasn’t fireworks display with tens of thousands of meteors which the paper had described, it was precious to catch each of the fleeting flame outs.  Tonight is supposed to be “partly cloudy” and I suspect that we’ll be out there again once all is dark. 


There is a video out there of the late-great Bill Hicks as a teenager performing a bit at a comedy club about the unpardonable crime of “flinching.”  Faced with onrushing, immediate danger, I would most certainly flinch.  This morning around seven I was on a call, watching the squirrels and the catbirds peck out the seed from the lawn where I’d tossed it no long ago.  In the middle was a groundhog, who was chewing on grass.  The fox then suddenly made her appearance.  Everyone scattered, and the fox saw one squirrel quickly dive into the hedge she doubled back and ran right into the groundhog who looked up and . . . did not flinch.  The fox, who is larger and longer and more agile, rather adjusted her course and trotted around elsewhere, looking for prey.  After a few minutes, she trotted off, back into the woods.  Something unspoken, but absolute made clear to the hungry fox that this meaty rodent, would not be possible to make into a meal.  

I’ve written before about the groundhog chasing the fox off of the lawn.  Presumably to make sure she didn’t go after his children.  But this time, he simply ignored her.  If he had flinched and ran, would the fox have given chase?  I couldn’t say.  At what point, at what weight, does a growing groundhog know that it has nothing to fear from a fox?  How hungry does a fox need to be, before she will attack against her better judgement? 

Wednesday 08/14/20

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Just Before the Brambles


Great Mullein are a commanding presence in down there on the lawn.  Phallic, certainly and appropriately fragile, four such protuberances shoot up to nearly my height, there at the end of our lawn, just before the brambles.  A month or so ago, the long shafts were ablaze in yellow.  Now there are only brown stalks, who’ve served their biannual reproductive purpose.  Listing, they certainly won’t survive long into the fall. Down below me by the suet feeder there is a shorter pair and one of the sorry fellow’s staff is bent at a right angle, presumably the work of a bird or something more weighty like a raccoon.


Staring down there my eyes are drawn to a commanding spider on the window.  If I were a mosquito sized mite or smaller this would be a terrifying creature.  As it is, this little Shelob must be fretful about all the birds, down there searching for things to eat.  It takes a while.  All my app can tell me is that it is of the family “Jumping Spiders.”  The camera focuses, and his agile body and his ridiculous beard are now in shape but then it fades.  I waste many minutes trying to force my iPhone camera to zero in on him and avoid all that it senses behind there in the lawn.  Finally.  The i-Naturalist AI-lord has told me that I am viewing a Knobbled Orbweaver.  Good-on-ya-mate, he or she is apparently native of Australia.  Looking more closely at the photos they provide on the web, I wonder if I have put my faith in a false-god.  My hirsute gentleman doesn’t look a thing like that nondescript yabbo they have displayed there on line.


Soon, I’ll need to drive my daughter over the Shawangunks to Accord.  She is babysitting for a young couple over there.  Yesterday we talked about how she is planning to take the pre-med curriculum.  She is considering becoming a psychiatrist.  My daughter the doctor.  She seems so confident.  I am tremendously proud of her.  I’d taken pre-med bio, my freshman year at college and was woefully unprepared.  Some things gained and other things lost, the Chinese education system certainly taught her and her sister how to memorize.  I’m doing all I can to quietly encourage her.


They say they land of the free may ban Wechat sometime soon.  What the hell does that mean?  I don’t use Tik Tok, which will also be ‘banned.’  Wechat is, of course, a superior, remarkable, enviable thoroughbred among messaging universe.  This is just tit-for-tat, beggar thy neighbor nonsense.  Are they going to drive down my driveway and hand me a summons for sending photos on communist software?  Are all the cloud providers who host server instances that support the app functioning here in God’s country, going to be ordered to cease and desist?  What a load of horse shit.  I watched that jackass Peter Navarro trying to explain why parents should be worried that their kid’s data might be captured and used by the Chinese Communist Party.  Vipers at the helm.  I’ll tell ya’.  November can’t come fast enough.  It’s like the monkey said when his tail got cut off by the train, Donald . . . can’t be long now. 




Tuesday, 08/11/20

Managed to Capture Motion


A great friend was also a roommate of mine for a year down in the foreskin of Manhattan.  We lived in a Lower East Side tenement with a rough, wonderful view immediately out on to the Williamsburg Bridge.  He always wrote policy papers on factual matters that concerned social justice.  He still does.  But one day he showed me a page or two he penned wherein he traced the motion of the sun, across his room as dusk expanded.  It was arresting.  He had managed to capture motion itself.  I admired him and I was jealous.  I had no idea how to do such a thing.  And I remember the two of us sitting there, whenever I sit down and consider the slow steady change of the morning light or the evening onset and try to write about it.


I made my way hesitatingly into Countee Cullen’s “One Way to Heaven” today.  Fasting, drinking lots of black coffee and water, I read when I visited the bathroom, a few pages at a time.   The introduction in this particular anthology would have been better to avoid, I suspect.  The editor suggests "One Way to Heaven" wasn’t well received in its day and was deemed implausible.  This informs my hesitating progression.  Anticipating perhaps James Baldwin’s Gabriel Grimes in “Go Tell it On the Mountain”, the author of which apparently credited Cullen with teaching him French (but nothing more), Sam is a convincing performer, an ironic preacher and, like us all, a hypocrite who appears to be using the power of the pulpit to woo the recent convert Mattie. 


I used to have a friend named Mattie who lived on Empire Boulevard in the Crown Heights section of, Brooklyn.  Dignity personified; she was a teacher’s aid the years I worked at High School Redirection in the Brownsville and thirty-five years my senior, she taught me, while I taught class and quietly legitimized my role so that I could slowly claim respect.  I remember one day I wanted to play the students some Muddy Waters, and they weren’t particularly interested.  But Ms. Carter, Ms. Mattie Carter simply said: “When we were young, they used to line up outside the club just for the chance to see the man.”  And with that, I had their attention.  I hope she is very well.


Anyway, I’m enjoying Cullen’s prose, thus far.  He allows Sam the dignity of architecting his own indignity.  He is, for now, at peace with his sinful inconsistencies using the power of his profession to manipulate a young lady’s questions of faith towards his own advantage. Coaches, and bosses, and teachers can all use the power of their position in ways untoward, though there is a unique quality to the vile when a man of the cloth, invokes all that is holy to satisfy base desire.  A fan of Keats, a fan of Shelly, it’s interesting to watch Cullen the poet paint out a tapestry, beyond the pith of verse.  But it’s Monday and the list I have is long.   Sam and Mattie will remain as yet unsullied and there in the bathroom bookstand, for now.




Monday, 02/10/20

Sunday, August 9, 2020

I Had Yet To


The Duchy of Savoy was annexed by France 1860 and today it is the French department Savoie, on the border of Italy at the base of the Alps.  Sadly, I’ve never had a chance to visit, but this afternoon I am enjoying a cold glass of the Vin de Savoie, Apremont.  Yeah.  How to describe that ruddy, rocky taste that holds it all down?  I’ve learned I should blame it on the local grape, Jacquère from which the Apremont are exclusively made.  Their cartoon label served as a mnemonic, and is candidly why I tried it more than once.  It was easy to remember.   But now I’ll probably ask if there are more wines from the Savoie, the next time I visit that shop. 


Countee Cullen figures prominently when one considers all the cross referencing during the Harlem Renaissance.  Adopted, gifted, he won city-wide poetry contests as a student at DeWitt High School in the Bronx, attended NYU and later Harvard.  Bound for glory, he married royalty at the age of twenty-five or so to Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of W.E.B.   The marriage only lasted nine months though.  And all of the analyses of this work seem to need to account for some degree of his unfulfilled promise. 


Between 1928 and 1934 Cullen produced five volumes of poetry.   I read many of these this morning in a collection entitled “My Souls High Song, the Collected Writings of Countee Cullen.  Voice of the Harlem Renaissance.”  So many of the early poems are dedicated to other important personages of the time.  Adopted, saved from the poverty described in “Saturday’s Child:”


Death cut the strings that gave me life,


And handed me to Sorrow,


The only kind of middle wife


My folks could beg or borrow.


. . . it strikes me that he was a rather grateful individual, kind and reciprocal to those who had extended kindness and friendship to him.  His heroes were Keats and Shelley and he mastered Latin and Greek the latter of which he used to discern his own translation of Medea.  And he died that the age of forty-two.   Carl Van Vetchen has a photo of him in what looks like the rocks of upper, upper west side Central Park.   And that made me stop and think about all the things I had yet to do. 


Not on the short list but now, on the master list of things-to-do involves researching the proper ingredient proportions for pancakes.  Younger daughter wanted em’.  Older one was in if I could unearth maple syrup, which I did.  And I suggested that I wanted to teach the younger one how to make them.  It was only a step above making toast, in complexity, I haughtily suggested.  So we set out a bowl.  She said she wanted them thin, crepe like.  So I offered we could eye-ball the proportions, an egg, salt, water and flower and I tried whip up some silver dollars.  I had high hopes.  “Were they great or really great.,” I asked like a idiot.  Then the pause.  I see.  They were too tough.  That’s what happens when you press down flapjacks like they are tortillas, you fat head.  I’d innovate.  Let’s pour them into this four-receptacle, egg-poacher, multi-soufle type pan we’ve recently been handed.  I'd redeem myself.  And this time the bottoms burned and the inside was wonky.   Crestfallen, I discussed the syrup covered compromise that was nonetheless entirely consumed.  Next time then.  I will promise to check a recipe for approximate proportions before I flip flapjacks.

Sunday, 08/10/20


Spurge Was Out There

I went out in my shorts and sat on the porch this morning.  I was going to read.  No need to put the morning’s contacts in yet.  Nearsighted, I poured a fuzzy class of grapefruit juice and soda water and heated up some of yesterday’s coffee and want out and read the first half or so of Carl Van Vetchen’s controversial 1926 novel, “Nigger Heaven.”  Byron and Mary are interesting.  Their tale is engaging if not captivating but as a historical piece, considering the phenomenon of the Harlem Renaissance and what a strange, remarkable and unpredictable concoction it was, this book has remarkable if opinionated explanatory powers, in a fashion that no other text quite affords.  Van Vetchen appreciates what is happening there in Harlem as a scene, and take pains to explain it in his work.  It was 10:30AM and the sun was now upon me, somewhere passed the mid-point, when I decided to take a break.


I met my wife out in the front of the house and considered her garden.  Our things arrived yesterday.  All that we’d accumulated and deigned to keep over the previous fourteen years since the last time we’d lived in the United Sates and one year at least since any of us have touched any of these items, the boxes had all  been unloaded and stacked in our garage yesterday.   “We should make some progress on the stuff today.  When do you want to do it?”  I immediately resisted as I wanted to go back and finish the novel before noon, but quickly and inexplicably, I changed my mind.  “Let’s go get it done.”


More music of the twenties to help with this.  In honor of the blond Van Vetchen, presumably of paternal Dutch descent, I decided upon Bix Biderbecke who was always said to have an exceptional tone on his cornet and his midwestern ensemble, the Wolverines.  How it is they got so funky out there in 1920’s Davenport Iowa, I will need to research sometime.  For now, it was tearing up cardboard into two-foot strips that I could easily stuff into plastic bags.  Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full is all the recycling bin at the top of the driveway will hold and resisting the urge to punctuate every Wolverine pause with “oh play that thing," I made some pretty good progress.  


This is broken.  A plate.  It had memories that tied disparate, lovely people together.  I could have lived the rest of my life and never thought of it again.  But seeing it there now, broken elicits a small ache and I make an involuntary, accusatory comment about just how it was packed.  Huh?  In an instant you realize how unimportant any of these things you haven’t really missed, actually are. 


Spurge is an interesting word.  Type it yourself.  Your little AI-god spell checker will confirm for you that the word is recognizable.  The god will not underscore this collection of letters with a red squiggle.  A word, indeed.  And if I were freestyle rapping and landed on something about which I had an urge or suggested to the audience I was not afraid to splurge it would certainly be good to know that spurge was out there.  The Latin “Euphorbia” might also be used in a rhyme.  Elated, I'm sure.  It is “a very large and diverse genus of flowering plants, commonly called spurge, in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).”  I am forever amazed at the biodiversity in my yard as today, one and then another plant caught my eye and I found out that the tough little plant coming up out of the gravel before the garage door was a “Nodding Spurge” and his cousin up at the top of the drive was a “Spotted Spurge.”  Just watch me next time the conversation turns towards the Gainsbourg they called Serge. 




Saturday, 08/09/20


Me, An Amur Maple


Spoke with my best friend this morning.  We hadn’t spoken in nearly four months.  He’d asked me to be patient, as he finished off his thesis and managed his professional responsibilities.  Reasonable.  I suggested that if that were the case no need for quick pings.  Do let me know when you're ready to talk.  Properly.  And I know him better than anyone save my family and I felt there was more to it than just time to work.  And I waited.  I tried not to be resentful.  And I also didn’t want to flinch either.  If you ask for patience, I’m too proud to ask first if perhaps, now, you might be free.  He pinged me out of nowhere last week and suggested he’d like to catch up and this morning, my precious Friday morning 6:00AM, when China has cut off work for the day, and all is restful and we talked for an hour or so. 


When you’re far away from China, it can be difficult to remember what normalcy was like.  The news is horrible.  The relationship between here and there is at a new thirty-year nadir.  More monitoring, more observation, more patriotism, this is what we read.  And it speaks to one aspect of existence.  But it doesn’t reflect what life is necessarily like, at all.  Chatting with my friend who is there in a hutong in Dongcheng, it was like a balm to hear of his American flaneur perambulations around the Drum Tower, ignited, as one ought always to be there, welcome, as one always somehow is in that unique, gristly old Beijing fashion.   


He needed to run.  He and his fiancée were off to dinner.  Dinner!  To walk out into a hutong in Beijing this evening and have some dinner.  There isn’t a soul in this house that wouldn’t sigh at the thought.  It’s all still there, as it’s always been. Just rather difficult to get there and back these days.  So, I won’t have a chance to see his Beijing, any time soon.  Nor he my New York.  But it was wonderful to go through the ritual of explaining each other’s world’s, as we’d normally do ever few weeks, in a manner that spanned many, many odd, and reflective months. 


Tonight, we were invited to a dinner in Poughkeepsie.  My mother and stepfather wanted us all to dine with them at Savona's there, across the Vassar campus on College Avenue.  This would be our second attempt to dine out since the Covid scourge descended.  The first effort, when we casually ducked into an atmospheric roadside place with an Italian name in Princeton, New Jersey, was awful.  This evening was quite good, biased certainly as this was the first meal in four days.  So, how to?  You can’t have a mask on when you put food in your mouth.  You can when you go to the bathroom.  You ought to have it on when your server comes, but you can take it off to chat with the people you live with.  I kept thinking off all those incriminating photos from the heartland where people are dining mask-less and the rest of us snicker.


Walking back to the car on the other side of College Ave, I notice a maple tree that I didn’t recognize, be-speckled with thousands of crimson two-winged seeds not yet ready to spin to earth.  I looked and AI-god inside the Seek app suggested this was a new species for me, an Amur Maple.  And now my mind was back to the six-thousand mile Trans-Siberian rail ride and all the many trees standing there as we sped by.  I've seen the Amur go by.   




Friday, 02/08/20