Started a post this morning with, “The only hope most Americans have these days of climbing back up to solid footing in the middle class, paying off their debts, avoiding taking on more debt, and securing for themselves a halfway comfortable retirement is winning the lottery.”
I stopped there.
I thought, “Well, that’s a cheerful way to begin a Sunday morning.”
And what good would it do? You don’t need to be told that. The people who need to be told it don’t read the blog and wouldn’t care anyway because they’re the ones who’ve arranged the situation for their own advantage. They only want to make it worse for the rest of us. As far as they’re concerned, the problem isn’t that so many Americans are slipping downwards out of the middle class, it’s that not enough of us have slipped out of it yet. What this country needs in their opinion are more poor people desperate to hold onto the little they have. So, I decided, to give it up in favor of something more cheering.
And what, I ask you, is more cheering than a happy dog?
This is my pal Harley, one of my hosts when I stay over in Syracuse.
Now, don’t you feel better?
Photo by Steve Kuusisto who won’t let me take Harley home with me even though he knows Harley wants to come.
Meanwhile, north of Boston, another sign spring is coming. The weather has been warm enough the snow has melted enough that Uncle Merlin has finally been able to make progress clearing his walk and steps. The tenant is saved! He’s a superhero of a landlord.
Lousy weather has caused delays and school closings around here all week. But this morning the sun’s shining and the roads are clear and all is merry and bright. Woke up at six-thirty and after checking the weather report and the Mannion guys’ school websites to see what was up, I immediately texted Uncle Merlin.
“School day! Up and at ‘em!”
He replied: “Ha! Got ya beat! Dog had me up at 5:59!”
So I texted back: “Good for Art. Since he’s so energetic this morning ask him to make the coffee.”
Uncle Merlin relayed the message.
This is the look I got back.
Art the Wonder Dog. Somewhere north of Boston. Six forty-five this morning. Friday. March 6, 2015.
Uncle Merlin’s been on Maui for the past couple of weeks. To apologize, he sent us a CARE package.
He forgot to include some sun, surf, sand, and warm weather. Probably in the next package.
Macadamia nuts. More macadamia nuts. Macadamia nuts dipped in chocolate. Various sea salts and spices, flown in fresh from Hawaii, having survived an 80 degree drop in temperature along the way. Kitchen at the Mannion Ranch. Wednesday evening. February 25, 2015.
The truth is Art the Wonder Dog isn’t a fan of snow. In fact, he regards it with suspicion and resentment as if it’s fallen with the sole purpose of playing a trick on him. You can see that in his posture. But it makes for a cheerier picture if you imagine he’s getting ready to go bounding off into the drifts to play, happily burying himself, disappearing in over his head, until all you can see is the tip of his tail and his ears. So there you go.
We’re having a little snow out our way too. How’s by you?
Photo by Uncle Merlin. North of Boston. Around eight this morning. Monday, February 2, 2015.
Ice storm. Hastings woods. Westchester County, New York. Saturday. January 18, 2015. By long time visitor to Mannionville M. George Stevenson who comments on his own photography skills: “Scary what you can do with a phone these days.”
Scenes like this always put me in mind of poems by Robert Frost which is natural since Frost wrote his poems to put readers in mind of scenes like this.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day, I paused and said, 'I will turn back from here. No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.' The hard snow held me, save where now and then One foot went through. The view was all in lines Straight up and down of tall slim trees Too much alike to mark or name a place by So as to say for certain I was here Or somewhere else: I was just far from home. A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather— The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him. And then there was a pile of wood for which I forgot him and let his little fear Carry him off the way I might have gone, Without so much as wishing him good-night. He went behind it to make his last stand. It was a cord of maple, cut and split And piled—and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year's cutting, Or even last year's or the year's before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it though on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and prop, These latter about to fall. I thought that only Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks Could so forget his handiwork on which He spent himself, the labor of his ax, And leave it there far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
Uncle Merlin has many fine and noble qualities but he also has a cruel streak when it comes to food. Way back when, when he was living in Boston working in the restaurant biz and I was way up north at the boondock college I was longing to transfer to Boston from, subsisting on pizza and the little cafeteria food I could choke down, he used to send me menus from the many fine dining establishments in and around the Hub. He told me he did it to encourage me to make the move, but I knew the truth.
People never change. The other day this turned up in my mailbox. My usual dessert these days is a bowl of oatmeal with a drop of maple syrup. He knows that. Probably he’d say he sent this to encourage me to beat the diabetes, but I know the truth.
I don’t know exactly what these are or where they’re from---petit fours? Some place on Newbury Street, I think.---and I don’t want to know. I’m happy with my oatmeal, thank you.
Winter in far Western New York. Somewhere in the vicinity of Buffalo. Taken by our old blogging compadre and Jaquandor of Byzantium’s Shores and author of the young adult sci-fi novel Stardancer. Friday morning. January 9, 2015.
Been meaning to post this since Christmas day. This was from my nephew and godson who always remembers what a coffee addict his old uncle is. It’s my favorite present this year. I don’t mean the Starbucks sampler. That’s my second favorite. Charlie Brown.
Under our Christmas tree. The Eleventh Day of Christmas. Sunday. January 3, 2015.
Merry Fourth Day of Christmas from Old Mother and Father Blonde's little cottage in the vale, where we've come to celebrate New Year's with Mrs M's kith and kin, having spent Christmas Day at with Mom and Pop Mannion at the Old Mannion Homestead among her in-laws. The gang's getting ready to head to bed. Not me though. I’m looking forward to having the living room to myself. I’ve got plans. I’m looking forward to a solitary glass of egg nog and settling in to read more of Dostoevsky's Devils by the light of Mother and Father Blonde's two Christmas trees.
I did this at Mom and Pop Mannion’s Christmas night, read Dostevsky by the Christmas tree lights. I did it every night of the week leading up to Christmas back at our place. I’ll be doing it this weekend when we’re back home. Rate I’m going I’ll still be doing it next Christmas.
People have frowned doubtfully when I’ve told them Dostoevsky’s been my Christmas reading this season. I used to read Dickens every Christmas but then I realized I had him memorized and all I needed to do was pick up one of his books and I instantly had it re-read in my memory. I switched to Trollope for a number of Christmases but then I reached a limit. Couldn’t face one more visit to Barsetshire. I don’t know what possessed me to try Dostoevsky this year. (Get it? Possessed me? Devils is a more accurate translation of the title of the novel more famously known in English as The Possessed?) But it’s turned out to be a pretty good substitute. Of course Dostoevsky’s novels aren’t known for warming hearts and inspiring feelings of coziness, snugness, and good fellowship. But he was a big admirer of Dickens and has something of Dickens’ sense of humor, satirical eye, and affection for eccentrics.
Are you saying Dostoevsky’s funny, Lance?
The Russians think so. According to one of my professors at BU, the novelist Leslie Epstein, “The Russians think Dostoevsky’s a gas.”
At one time it was reported about the town that our little circle was a hotbed of nihilism, profligacy, and godlessness, and the rumour gained more and more strength. And yet we did nothing but indulge in the most harmless, agreeable, typically Russian, light-hearted liberal chatter. “The higher liberalism” and the “higher liberal,” that is, a liberal without any definite aim, is only possible in Russia.
Stepan Trofimovitch, like every witty man, needed a listener, and, besides that, he needed the consciousness that he was fulfilling the lofty duty of disseminating ideas. And finally he had to have some one to drink champagne with, and over the wine to exchange light-hearted views of a certain sort, about Russia and the "Russian spirit," about God in general, and the "Russian God" in particular, to repeat for the hundredth time the same Russian scandalous stories that every one knew and every one repeated. We had no distaste for the gossip of the town which often, indeed, led us to the most severe and loftily moral verdicts. We fell into generalizing about humanity, made stern reflections on the future of Europe and mankind in general, authoritatively predicted that after Cæsarism France would at once sink into the position of a second-rate power, and were firmly convinced that this might terribly easily and quickly come to pass. We had long ago predicted that the Pope would play the part of a simple archbishop in a united Italy, and were firmly convinced that this thousand-year-old question had, in our age of humanitarianism, industry, and railways, become a trifling matter. But, of course, "Russian higher liberalism" could not look at the question in any other way. Stepan Trofimovitch sometimes talked of art, and very well, though rather abstractly. He sometimes spoke of the friends of his youth—all names noteworthy in the history of Russian progress. He talked of them with emotion and reverence, though sometimes with envy. If we were very much bored...Lyamshin (a little post-office clerk), a wonderful performer on the piano, sat down to play, and in the intervals would imitate a pig, a thunderstorm, a confinement with the first cry of the baby, and so on, and so on; it was only for this that he was invited, indeed. If we had drunk a great deal—and that did happen sometimes, though not often—we flew into raptures, and even on one occasion sang the "Marseillaise" in chorus to the accompaniment of Lyamshin, though I don't know how it went off. The great day, the nineteenth of February, we welcomed enthusiastically, and for a long time beforehand drank toasts in its honour. But that was long ago, before the advent of Shatov or Virginsky, when Stepan Trofimovitch was still living in the same house with Varvara Petrovna. For some time before the great day Stepan Trofimovitch fell into the habit of muttering to himself well-known, though rather far-fetched, lines which must have been written by some liberal landowner of the past: "The peasant with his axe is coming, Something terrible will happen." Something of that sort, I don't remember the exact words. Varvara Petrovna overheard him on one occasion, and crying, "Nonsense, nonsense!" she went out of the room in a rage. Liputin, who happened to be present, observed malignantly to Stepan Trofimovitch: "It'll be a pity if their former serfs really do some mischief to messieurs les landowners to celebrate the occasion," and he drew his forefinger round his throat. "Cher ami," Stepan Trofimovitch observed, "believe me that—this (he repeated the gesture) will never be of any use to our landowners nor to any of us in general. We shall never be capable of organising anything even without our heads, though our heads hinder our understanding more than anything." I may observe that many people among us anticipated that something extraordinary, such as Liputin predicted, would take place on the day of the emancipation...
Latkes for dinner at our friends and neighbors’. We lit only one of the four menorahs on the table. Still pretty bright, huh? Imagine what it would have looked like if we’d lit the other eighteen candles. (Actually, it would have been twenty-one. Who can tell me why, class?)
We hope all of you who are celebrating are having a Happy Hanukkah!
…unless it’s already in the mail or unless I don’t have your address. Send me an email with it if you’d like a card and name your household holiday(s) so I can be seasons greetings-appropriate. I’m not kidding. Somebody’s got to save the Post Office.
The Mannion kitchen table. Seven o’clock, Saturday morning. December 20, 2014.
Park Street, Newburgh, New York, looking east at the Hudson River and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. This morning. 8:45. Monday, December 8, 2014.
When I was pulled over at the side of the road, leaning out the car window to take this photo, a man came jogging up the street and passed me on the driver’s side. When he saw he was in my way, he apologized. He was about 70, trim, with thin but neatly combed short gray hair that stayed flat to his head while he ran. His face was weathered but youthful and handsome, his long jawline firm. He was wearing a gray t-shirt over a blue sweatshirt and dark gray tights. As soon as I saw him I thought, “Military. Retired. High ranking officer. General maybe.” I thought I was just judging by his face and the way he carried himself. A Sherlock Holmes moment on my part, I thought. Pulling off the stunt Holmes and his brother Mycroft pull off looking out the window of the Diogenes Club in The Greek Interpreter. West Point’s just down the river. Maybe he taught there, commuting from here. Then I read his t-shirt and realized I’d probably noticed it and registered it subliminally as he was running up and that was why I thought what I thought.