February 7, 2013. Seriously, if you don't have a supply of duct tape and WD-40 on hand in your house at all times, you might as well just bulldoze the place or at least hand it over to someone who'll care for it.
Wednesday. February 6, 2013. At a rest stop on the Thruway, somewhere just east of Utica. Guy on cell phone:
“I know you’re fighting. You’re struggling. You’re coming along. That’s the way life is. Life is not great. Stay strong.”
Hangs up. Immediately makes another call. This time he’s speaking in Russian. In a way, though, he was speaking in Russian on the first call too. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Turgenev, they spoke Russian like that.
So I'm down to the gas station just now, filling up the tank, and a cab pulls up to the pumps on the other side of the island, driver's side inward. Cabbie rolls down his window and calls to me.
"Sir? Is my gas flap on this side?"
"Yep!" I say, thinking he's new to the job or this cab is new to him or he's just like me, always forgetting which car he’s driving at the moment and which has the flap on which side, but I'm also thinking, "Sir?"
I'm being sir-ed by a cabbie?
A cabbie looks to be at least my age?
Isn't this against the Cabbie's Code? Shouldn't I be Buddy? Or Bub? Or Pal or Chum or Ace? Sport's kind of old fashioned but it still works. Guv, too, if you're in London where I think it was actually once mandated by Parliament. I hate bro and dude and especially dooood and Man would make me think twice about a contact high before I got into that guy's cab. But speaking of guy, Guy is fine, if proceeded by Hi. Otherwise, it's not an opening but a closing, as in Thanks, guy.
If you feel you really have to be polite and formal---or mean to be sarcastic in a way you can't be called on---how about Mister?
My favorite, though, is Mac, as in Where to, Mac?
Of course, all this applies only to male passengers. Ma'am and Miss are the only acceptable forms of address for female fares.
Once upon a time it was ok to say Girlie, especially in tough towns with hearts of gold like New York or Chicago where your fares would regularly include plucky, sweet-faced kids from the country come to the city to make it in the big time.
Sweetie and Honey are out nowdays as well.
It takes a special talent to get away with Lady.
I'm pretty sure this is covered in the manual. Back in college in Boston, I looked into becoming a cabbie and I think I remember reading this, how you only use Sir with fares who are obviously Kennedys or are being picked up or dropped off on the right side of Beacon Hill.
But I’m not a Kennedy, this isn’t Boston. There’s no reason to Sir me.
This isn’t like being sir-ed by a teenage store clerk or a pretty waitress.
It’s not vanity but principle at stake.
Being sir-ed by the cabbie didn’t make me feel old. Even if he’d been a kid, it wouldn’t have done that. I’m long over that. Or I’m at least used to it.
It made me mad. Not at him but at the very notion that a cabbie of all people would feel the need to address a fellow American as Sir. It’s against the democratic spirit. Cabbies are the representatives of all our fellow Americans, aren’t they? They’re the democratic spirit personified. That’s why they’re so useful to lazy journalists who make up conversations with invented cabbies in order to present the journalists’ elitist views as the Voice of the People!
Don’t sir me, bub! And don’t expect me to sir you either, Ace. We don’t sir or milady anybody around here!
Had a burger at the diner. But not an Alex Burger. Much as I would have liked winning a t-shirt, I could tell at a glance I was overmatched. Two pounds! Deep-fried bacon! I give! I give! Menu item. Broadway Lights Diner. Kingston, New York. Friday night. April 19, 2013.
Raining when I finish my burger and get up to leave. Out in the parking lot there’s another customer heading home. Tall old man on a bicycle, tails of his faded blue flannel shirt flapping behind him, one hand on the handlebars steering, the other holding an umbrella.
I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room. In fact, I’m only the smartest guy in the room when I’m the only person in the room. But Thursday night I knew for a fact I was the dumbest guy in the room.
Note to ego: Never have dinner with scientists.
Thursday night I was Pop Mannion’s guest at a meeting of his Torch Club. Torch is a national organization that brings civic leaders and civic-minded local high achievers together now and then for dinner and discussion and a general sharing of ideas and convivial spirits. The make-up of a given chapter varies from town to town. Pop’s chapter, meeting in the home of General Electric, is made up mainly of scientists and engineers with some mere doctors and lawyers dragging the median IQ in the room down to around 240. Among the members at our table, was a pleasant and mild-mannered materials scientist and electrical engineer who’d taught at MIT, shuttling back and forth between Cambridge and Schenectady where he worked in GE’s Research Lab, who, incidentally, was also a cellist. Even if he’d been temperamentally inclined to try to impress me, a lowly English major, with his smarts, he wouldn’t have done it because he was busy going on about how impressed he was by the smarts of a fellow musician, a violinist with whom he played in a quartet sometimes back in Cambridge, Mildred Dresselhaus, who, incidentally, is also an electrical engineer, physicist, professor at MIT, and winner of, among other honors, the United States National Medal of Science and the IEEE Founders Medal for her work in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
I think that’s what the awards were for.
As you can imagine, I lost the gist pretty quick.
For most of my life I’ve struggled to keep up with the reading. I routinely read articles in the popular science magazines, gobble up books like The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll and Chad Orzell’s How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, and check in with the best science bloggers (Btw, if you’re on Twitter you really owe it to yourself to subscribe to my list That’s SCIENCE!), and while I’m reading the articles or the books or watching shows like Nova or listening to scientists talk in real life, I feel smart. I feel like I’m not just following but understanding the subject. I feel like I’m learning stuff! Lots of stuff! Important stuff! The big, grand unified stuff that answers all the questions about Life, the Universe, and Everything! Then, as soon as I finish the article, close the book, turn off the TV, or shut down the computer, it all goes right out of my head. If it was ever in there to begin with---and I feel dumber than when I started.
I had a good time, sitting there nodding along sagaciously, feeling alternately like a genius and a fool, and the dinner was good, and I’m real glad I went. So is Pop, who wanted me along not just for the company but because he thought the night’s presentation was right up my alley.
These Torch meetings feature an after-dinner speaker, usually a member of the club, giving a talk on a subject usually outside the speaker’s professional bailiwick. Thursday night, Walter Grattidge, a retired physicist (sample publication: “Thermoelectric electric effects in silver haldides,” and, no, I don’t think I’ve read that one.), spoke to us about Who Wrote Shakespeare?
Gratttidge, born, raised, and educated in England, had only recently learned that that was a question. Growing up he’d taken it for granted that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and had never had any reason to doubt it or even wonder about it. As a visual aid, he showed off a handpainted ceramic bust of Shakespeare that had sat on his family mantelpiece when he was a kid. He’d always thought of it as an important and valuable family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation, and when he left home he felt, as the eldest son, entitled to appropriate it, and it has accompanied him on his travels for the last sixty years. At one point, though, he learned that the bust was a souvenir from Stratford-on-Avon sold by the crateload to tourists circa 1900-1910 and when he had it appraised he was told it was worth a whopping 100 bucks. Still, it’s priceless to him, not just for sentimental reasons but because of his longstanding admiration of Shakespeare and his plays. So it came as a bit of shock to him when one day, on a visit to the local library, a helpful librarian, thinking that as an Englishman, fan of Shakespeare, and physicist he might be interested in a book by a fellow physicist, suggested he check out 'Shakespeare' by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare and Grattidge learned that there were people who refuse to accept that William Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed him.
As Pop Mannion thought: Right up my alley!
Not only that but as Grattidge wrapped up and moved onto his Q & A with the audience, I realized that I was a whole lot better versed in the subject than he or any other member who asked a question did. Here I was in a roomful of scientists and for once I was the one who knew stuff!
Well, of course was.
This isn’t like a reversed situation in which for some lunatic reason I was giving a talk on the thermoelectric effects in silver haldides to a roomful of English professors and Grattidge happened to be in the audience. I’m not an expert, by any means. But Gittridge is new to the debate and he was recounting the beginnings of his own investigations while I’ve been following it for decades. I’ve been a committed Stratfordian---that is, charter member of the reality-based community when it comes to the authorship of the plays---since I was in middle-school when I learned that some people thought the plays were written by Sir Francis Bacon. When I first heard that, I scoffed and scoffed as only a precocious twelve year old can scoff at the grown-ups. The idea that Macbeth was written by a dull and dreary "natural philosopher" who was more comfortable writing in Latin than in English and not by an actor and poet was and is scoffable.
For the record, I enjoyed Grattidge’s presentation, which was filled with lots of juicy Elizabethan court gossip, even though I felt the urge to set him straight on a few things. His research, which has included one of my favorite books on Shakespeare, Contested Will by William Shapiro, has turned him into a skeptic. He isn’t ready to argue that any of the most popular alternative Shakespeares---Bacon, de Vere, or Christopher Marlowe---is the real author but he’s thinking that the real Shakespeare probably had a lot of help and the plays are works of collaboration not products of a single genius. Pop Mannion kept prompting me to ask questions just to help keep the discussion lively, but the only questions that occurred to me were ones that would have taken apart Gittridge’s main points and given me the opportunity to show off all the stuff I had in my head. It was his night and any way I have a classroom in which I can strut my stuff if I’m ever in the mood to be a pompous bore on the matter. On top of that, I never want to be one of those people. You know, the ones who take over a question and answer session to make speeches and ride their favorite hobby-horses. So I sat there, nodding sagaciously, answering the questions from other members of the audience in my head, feeling smug and superior and virtuous, confident that a good time was being had by all, thanks in no small part to my knowing how to keep my mouth shut, until…
Old Sneep made his presence known.
If you know the story of Lentil by Robert McCloskey, famous for Make Way for Ducklings, you know Old Sneep. The plot of Lentil revolves around the return of Colonel Carter to the small town where he grew up. Carter is a war hero, politician, successful businessman, and philanthropist who has given the town its library and hospital, so his homecoming is a big deal to the grateful townsfolk and they set out to make it a big celebration that will start with Carter being greeted at the train station by a big brass band. Sneep is an old schoolmate of Carter, who was never much impressed by him because he’s made a point in life of never being much impressed by anyone or anything. He decides Carter and by extension the whole town need “takin’ down a peg or two” and when Carter’s train pulls in and the band gets ready to play, Sneep appears on the station roof, loudly sucking lemons. This causes the all the members of the band’s mouths to pucker so they can’t play their instruments and so the day seems ruined until a boy named Lentil steps in with his harmonica.
One of my all-time faves.
But the point here is that the world is full of Sneeps, people who make a mission in life of raining on parades and taking others down a peg or two. And sure enough, there he was, Torch’s own Old Sneep, a political scientist who took advantage of the Q & A to break out the lemon and start sucking loudly.
“What does it matter who wrote the plays?” he demanded to know in a sour voice. We’ve got the plays and the plays are what’s important. It doesn’t make them better or worse if they were written by Shakespeare or by somebody else. The whole debate, he declared, is a big waste of everybody’s time, which, of course, amounted to telling Grattidge his presentation was a waste of everybody’s time.
My mouth didn’t pucker but my cheeks blazed and I was all set to jump in not just in defense of Grattidge but in defense of the idea that the debate is worth having. Although I think the question is settled and all the arguments that somebody else wrote the plays are scoffable, the scoffing itslelf can lead into interesting discussions of the plays, the times, and the nature of art and genius.
Fortunately, the members of the club know this guy for the Sneep he is and they’ve learned to deal with him with a mix of amusement and casual but tactful dismissal. Grattidge was affable and gracious in acknowledging Sneep may have a point and a dozen other hands went up, their owners ready with questions that eased the discussion onto other topics and I was saved from making a pompous bore of myself.
But I really would like to answer the guy. The questions are interesting and important. And I plan to make a stab at answering, because as you may know, not only do I have a classroom where I can make a pompous bore of myself, I have this blog. So there’s the subject of my next post.
Warning to my scientist readers: I know stuff, so watch my smoke!
All morning long I was racking my brains for the rest of that quote. The first line popped into my head as a defense against the implications of what I was about to do. Go to mass.
We’re at my in-laws and Old Mother Blonde expects us to go to church when we’re here with the same certainty of our complying as with her expectation that the grandchildren will pose willingly for a group portrait after dinner. It’s part of the holiday festivities. Not wanting to cause trouble, the grandchildren pose and even smile and I go to church. I even smile.
“When holy and devout religious Mannions…”
I refused to Google it. Somewhere in my mental attic I had it on file and it would come to me.
It didn’t. I went to church still stuck. And not smiling.
The mass was crowded. Easter Sunday, after all. Standing room only and I can’t stand these days, so I had an excuse to retreat to the back of the church and sit (on the floor) in a corner of the entrance hall where, as it happened, a statue of the risen Jesus smiled sadly down upon me with the same look mixing sadness and compassion he gave Thomas the Apostle when he offered the notorious doubter what he’d said he wanted:
While I was sitting there---not doubting because I don’t doubt, I know. It didn’t happen.---a young guy, maybe twenty, East Indian, very dark, with a thick thatch of black hair as neatly combed as hair that thick will allow itself to be before breaking the teeth out of the comb, tall, thin, in gray flannel slacks and white Oxford shirt, stepped up to the statue with his iPhone ready to take a picture.
He took a picture.
He took another.
He leaned back and turned the phone to the horizontal and took another couple of pictures.
And I asked myself, What the hell is he taking a picture of? By which I meant why is he taking a picture of this statue? It’s not an ugly statue but it’s hardly a great work of art.
Maybe, I thought, he’s about to text an Easter greeting to someone.
Maybe, I thought, he’s proving to a friend who’d bet otherwise that he actually did go to church.
Maybe, I thought, he also recognized that the sculptor was referencing the story of Doubting Thomas and found it as amusing as I did. After all, the statue greets everybody who comes into the church through the front doors with the same offer as He made Thomas and, for those who are up on their Scripture, the line, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Pretty ironic way to welcome the faithful to mass.
Maybe, I thought, he’s a blogger and has had an idea for a post.
Maybe, I thought, he just thinks it’s a pretty picture to send as a virtual post card.
Finally, though, I thought, Or maybe it means something to him.
By it, I mean all of it. The Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the doubt, the faith. Jesus.
And, Jesus, I thought, I miss that. That being it meaning something to me. I miss that. I miss coming into church on an Easter Sunday believing that it all happened. The Crucifixion. The Resurrection. Thomas’ doubting. Him.
I miss Him.
And it makes me sad to say that it would take seeing the print of the nails in his hands to make me believe again.
But there’s this consolation.
You don’t have to believe in Jesus to believe in him.
He had a pretty simple and straight-forward message that’s hard to argue with.
Love one another.
By the way…
It’s not Keats. It’s Shakespeare.
“When holy and devout religious men are at their beads tis hard to draw them thence, so sweet is zealous contemplation.”
Back at Barnes & Noble. Three artistic and intellectul looking women in their early twenties are discussing their flirtation techniques, telling horror stories, exchanging pointers. One, a brunette with long henna-ed curls and a striking profile, wearing a leather flight jacket, a brightly colored scarf that reaches below her waist, and clay-colored ankle boots with very high heels, says:
“I’m really bad at flirting. I feel like when I flirt with guys it either comes off like I hate them or I want to take them home and wear their skin.”
At Barnes & Noble. Heavy-set guy in his thirties with a grown-out goatee that reaches almost to his chest and a shirt that won’t stay buttoned over his belly. A computer programmer as it happens, judging by his conversation with two women and another man at the table by the window:
“Thanks to my foster brother, I’ll never be the bad son. I may not be the good son. That would be my other brother. But I’m not the bad son. I occupy a sort of happy middle ground. No one calls me up for favors, but they don’t sit there shaking their finger at me at Christmas.”
Our guide at the Edward Hopper House Thursday was a sweet-voiced, bohemian-looking woman in a cardigan with a gray page boy. She was quietly determined that we would get the most out of our visit, despite the upstairs rooms being off-limits and there being not much left to see. Hence the tour of the bathroom. Not going to guess how old she was, but old enough that she knew Hopper, not well but well enough to say hello to in passing. She was on more familiar terms with Hopper’s sister, who actually owned the house, Hopper coming to town on visits. Hopper died in 1967 and she described herself as being “very young” then which I took to mean she was a teenager or even in her early twenties. Not a little girl, at any rate.
She was a little girl when she first met him though. She grew up in Nyack and used to see him coming and going all the time, although she only recalled one conversation with him for us.
People always called him an old grouch, she told us, but she never thought so. Hopper’s sister used to like to sit on her front porch with her Siamese cat and our guide would often stop when she was out running errands or heading over to a friend’s house to chat and pet the cat. One day while she was there Hopper came out of the house. I’d didn’t ask but I’d like to think this happened when she was still a girl so I can imagine the big, lugubrious, typically glowering Hopper, a large, less than jovial presence, towering over her. But he smiled and said hello and the three of them spent some time discussing their mutual fondness for cats.
After that, whenever anyone said to our guide that Hopper was a grump, she would smile and say sweetly, “Obviously, you never talked to him about cats.”
Photo of Hopper in his Greenwich Village studio circa 1939 courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art via the Smithsonian Art Museum.
Thursday. March 21, 2013. Nyack, NY. Front hall of the Edward Hopper House. On the right hand wall are a series of photographs by Charles Sternaimolo laying out side by side many of Hopper’s paintings with the scenes and places depicted in them as they look today. Click on the photo to see some examples.
Took Young Ken down to Nyack yesterday so he could visit the Edward Hopper House to do some research for a project for his art class. Hopper was born in the house and grew up there and he visited on and off all his life, but it was really his parents’ and then his sister’s home. Interesting and informative visit but a bit disappointing. Wasn’t expecting to see any of Hopper’s major works there, but I thought they’d have some paintings by him, and they do, but they’re upstairs in rooms that are rented out as studios and none of the artists currently renting them were there to give us permission to look in. We did get to see the upstairs bathroom, though, which hasn’t been remodeled. It’s as Hopper would have always known it. The volunteer showing us around says she’s always amazed when she looks at the cast-iron bathtub. She wonders how he fit. It doesn’t look long enough. Hopper, it turns out, was six-four, a fact that impressed Young Ken, who is only six-three and a half. Never thought about Hopper’s height before but now that I know I can see it in his photos. He was a big-boned, rangy-looking guy.
This is the bike of a tall man.
So no paintings by Hopper but almost as good were the ghosts of some of his paintings. He sometimes used parts of the house itself as inspiration and background. Click on the photos to see the paintings they found their way into. Right click to see the photos themselves enlarged.
This is a corner of the front porch.
Here’s the view down the stairway to the front hall.
This fireplace is in what is now the office.
And this place isn’t part of the house, it’s up the street a few blocks.
So that was cool. And although we didn’t get to look at any of Hopper’s paintings, there were some drawings and family photographs about and there were paintings by other artists. Two downstairs rooms are used as a gallery and paintings by three contemporary abstract artists were on display. Ken particularly liked the work of Robert Straight and decided on the spot to switch his paper topic from Hopper to Straight.
At the restaurant---a real restaurant, with a heart and a soul and a lively clientele and busy staff, unlike Gus’ Joint---there’s a band crammed over in a corner of the crowded dining room murdering mellow rock hits from the 70s. Van Morrison should sue for what they’re doing to Brown-eyed Girl. Four middle-aged guys in button-down shirts and dress slacks. This doesn’t appear to be a statement. I suspect they came here straight from their day jobs. The guitarist, drummer, and lead singer I take to be science teachers at the local high school. The bassist is one of the other three’s older brother who’s a personal injury attorney. The lawyer-bassist is short with wiry salt and pepper hair and glasses. He’s still wearing his suit pants and white shirt and tie but he’s taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, ready to rock out.
They’re loud. They’re enthusiastic. They’re…not very good.
So far I haven’t recognized a single song by the tune, only by the lyrics.
The blonde thinks I’m being harsh. “Come on,” she says, “They’re all probably somebody’s husband.” The dinner is a fundraiser. The waiters and waitresses are all volunteers, local “celebrities”---TV and radio show personalities, executives at high profile companies with headquarters in the area, politicians, doctors from the nearby hospital---overseen by the regular wait staff who are also volunteering their time. All tips are being donated to the cause. So the guys in the band probably are somebodies’ husbands. I think that would be a good name for their band too.
The Four Somebodies’ Husbands.
Three women in their late forties, early fifties get up from their table and start to dance. Somebodies’ Wives? They’re led by a small redhead in black who has the moves and knows all the words. She lip-synchs as she dances, complete with expressions and gestures.
Now the attorney-bassist has taken off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt and he’s doing the forehead to forehead thing with the lead guitarist Steve Van Zandt and the Boss like to do. Back in college somebody must have told the lead singer---short, bald, gray goatee---he did a good Springsteen and he’s showing it off on 10th Avenue Freeze-out.
Stopped at a red light on the road south of here. Over on our right: Gus’ Restaurant. Blocky building of dingy red brick. Weathered, free-standing sign, leaning on its posts. No curtains, no signs, no decorations in either of the two plate-glass windows that look in blankly on what appears to be a mostly empty dining room. No tables that we could see, no customers at dinner. No waiters or waitresses bustling about. Spot only a single person inside. Tall silhouette standing against the bar, holding a pool cue by his side.
"I don’t think Gus is truly making the effort,” I observe to the blonde.
“No. Running a restaurant doesn’t seem to be something he’s put his heart into.”
She suggests Gus should change the name of his establishment to better reflect what it is.
At the doctor’s office. Short old woman wearing a plastic rain bonnet and leaning on a cane, talking to the receptionist: “Next month it’ll be thirteen years since my husband’s death. Yeah, April 13th he’ll be dead thirteen years. He died of a heart attack. And it’s funny. When he was working he was never sick. He was only seventy, and I’m going to be eighty-five.”
At a rest stop on the way to Syracuse. Place suddenly overrun by about twenty guys well into middle-age, late 40s, 50s, 60s, all sizes and shapes, talking loud and telling crude and rude jokes at each other’s expense and laughing up a storm. All well-scrubbed and freshly shaved, but not exactly neat. In cheap sport coats that don’t match pants and shirts or suits that don’t fit. And I’m thinking, What is this, a bus tour for wiseguys? Then I look out a window and see…a bus.
It dawns on me. It is a tour. And I know where they’re headed.
Other day, while I was tooling about on some errands, I passed a pickup pulling a small, open, fence-sided trailer. The truck’s bed and the trailer were piled high with loaves and loaves and loaves of bread.
And not stacked on trays. Piled. In great heaping mounds of brightly wrapped bread.
The pickup turned off quickly and I couldn’t have veered off after it without cutting off a lane of oncoming traffic. But I wanted to. I wanted to chase him down and ask the driver, what gives?
Was he hoarding?
Was he planning to sell his stash on ebay?
What I was hoping---still am hoping---is he was coming from a supermarket or outlet store, that the loaves were day old and had been donated, and he was on his way to a shelter or a soup kitchen where all that bread was going to be torn up into Wonder croutons for stuffing a hundred Thanksgiving turkeys twice as big as Tiny Tim.
Attacked a neglected and overgrown section of the hedges in the backyard with the clippers late yesterday afternoon before supper and, pulling away some broad-leafed vines from an evergreen shrub, I uncovered this:
My heart sank.
Great, I thought, feeling I’d killed them just as surely as Charlie Brown felt he’d killed the Christmas tree, They’re doomed. I figured they were doomed in one of two ways. Either their mother would resent and be scared off by the human interference with her nest and the nestlings wouldn’t get fed anymore or tomorrow, with their shade gone, the sun would fry them.
Actually, there was a third possibility. I’d exposed them to predators. There are hawks in the neighborhood.
I was done with the trimming for the evening. I retreated inside and then set up a watch on the nest from the bedroom window, hoping to see that I was wrong about frightening away the mother.
And I was. Round about seven she swooped home. The babies’ heads shot upward, their necks craning to what I thought impossible lengths, spiky ruffs of new feathers sticking out up and down, their maws opened wide enough to swallow their mother whole.
She flew in and out three times while I was watching. Each time, she lingered a bit after feeding the babies, eyeing things, probably wondering who’d taken her roof. She didn’t look frightened. She looked miffed. But robins always look miffed. Cornell’s All About Birds website describes them as “industrious and authoritarian.” I think of them as little Puritans. Yes, they seem busy and hard-working, but they appear judgmental about it, as if they’re noticing that other birds aren’t working as hard or are having too much fun going about their business and thinking Sinners in the talons of an angry God thoughts. They’re convinced that their diligence is earning them their proper place in heaven but it gives them little and only grim satisfaction.
My field guide says robins are very protective of their nests and will gang up on crows if any wander into a neighborhood where several robin families have set up housekeeping. I don’t know what the mother would have done if she’d been around when I was hacking away at her home---or the father. That could have been a male I watched feeding the babies. Males help feed the young, although they don’t do any of the brooding. Probably just given me a stern, Puritanical judging and left me to work things out with my conscience.
At any rate, I’ll check on them tonight to see if they made it through the day safe from the sun or hawks. They look pretty well-grown, maybe they’ll fledge soon and leave the nest. I just looked out to see how things are. The mother was settled on the nest. She sensed me at the window though and flew off.
But only across the yard where she perched on a fence post, looking miffed.
Wednesday night: They didn't make it. I feel terrible.
Ten o’clock Sunday morning. July 15, 2012. Out on my bike following the rail trail through woods and past farms and the occasional ashram. Quiet morning, Along most of the first part of the ride the only noise was the whistling, shrieking, chipping, and meowing of catbirds. Along the bottom quarter of the trail where the woods open up into damp meadows and muddy fields it was the croaking and buzzing and okalee song of red-winged blackbirds with a few cardinals singing cheerfully from the upper branches of close-in trees shading the path. In between there were human voices, first a deep, sonorous male and then a chorus of males and females, chanting to drums and a sitar.
I was passing by the Temple of Peace at the Shanti Mindar ashram, “Chanting, Meditation, and Discourse Sunday. 9-12 AM. Kirtan and meditation Saturday 7-9 PM.” I swung around and stopped by the open gate to listen for a while.
Out on my bike as in bicycle this morning I got swept up in a parade of bikes as in motorcycles, a couple dozen or so on their way to the firehouse where their riders all queued up at a table in front of the open bay doors to sign up or sign in for something. The firehouse happened to be on my way too, so I stopped to inquire what was going on.
“Benefit,” said a biker who did not look like Charlie Hunnam or Ron Perlman.
“For?” I asked.
“Ryan,” he said.
“And Ryan is?” I asked.
“Ryan,” he said.
I guess he figured that if I knew who Ryan was I knew everything I needed to know and if I didn’t know who Ryan was then I also knew all I needed to know or at least all it was my business to know.
I didn’t press it. I live by certain rules. One of them is Don’t try the patience of bikers.
Been doing a lot of whining about my bad back and I'm sorry about that. It's not the pain that's getting to me though. That's mainly just annoying. What's driving me crazy is the way it's limited me. I can't do a lot of the things that I not only could do but enjoyed doing. Take long walks. Putter around the yard. Sit and read for hours. Stand up.
Yesterday I was out on my bike for the first time in over a year and it dawned on me. It hasn't been as much the matter that I can't do these things as that I've been avoiding doing theses things, telling myself to wait until my back feels better. Which of course has contributed to making it feel worse. So what's really making me nuts is that I've let it turn me into a big baby.
I've seen the doctor. He ordered X-rays. They came back a couple of weeks ago. No slipped discs. No fractures. I was expecting to be carted off for immediate surgery.
"You have a touch of arthritis," the doctor said with the same shrug in his voice he'd have had if he'd been assuring me that what I was convinced was pneumonia was a case of the sniffles.
"Arthritis!" I yelped, manfully.
"My grandmother had arthritis! It crippled her. She had to have both her wrists replaced. They were talking about doing her knees and her hips when she died."
"How old was she when she died?"
"You're a long way from that stage."
"But I've got it! I've got arthritis in my back!"
"What's that mean? A touch? Is that like a touch of cancer?"
"Then what is it?"
"It's a touch. It happens. It's no more than I'd expect in someone your age."
"Your age. You're not a kid anymore."
This seems like a good place to mention that my doctor is ten years younger than someone my age. I didn't sock him.
"You don't understand, doc. I'm not my age. I've never been my age!"
"We all feel that way."
Did I mention he's ten years younger than me? I still didn't sock him.
"It's not like that," I said desperately. "It's not vanity or denial. It's a fact. I'm one of those people who don't age at the normal rate. Like Paul Newman. He didn't get old until he got sick. Or Catherine Deneuve!"
"Not vanity you say?"
"I'm serious. I've always been younger than my chronological age, which was embarrassing when I was a teenager but started working out well when I hit middle age and all my friends began falling apart. I turned forty and nothing happened. Nobody believes me when they hear how old I am. I don't even need reading glasses. My prescription has barely changed since I was fourteen! I can tote barges, lift bales! I can vault parking meters! Or I could until my back started acting up. I'm telling you! I've never been my age."
"Well, I hate to break it to you, but you are now."
Down goes the lid on the coffin.
There it is. That's what's wrong with me. Besides suffering a traumatic blow to my vanity...
I have a copy of Philip Levine’s News of the World in my hands. Actually, it’s balancing on my knee as I type this. But it has been in my hands and will be again. Although it was published in 2009, this copy feels as virgin as the copy of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot Levine tells of reading in the library one day sixty years ago when he was a young man playing hooky from work as a delivery truck driver in a poem called “Library Days” which I just finished reading…in the library. I’m reading a poem called “Library Days” in the library, a cliche, a banality, reading about Levine reading, or actually reading about Levine remembering about reading, forced to contemplate the absurdity of vicariously experiencing someone else vicariously re-experiencing a vicarious experience, a joke Levine couldn’t help playing on his readers. No doubt he regrets the necessity. What’s a poet to do? The kind of people who read poems are the kind of people who go to libraries. But, hey, I hear the now very old poet saying, You’re in a library. You’re reading poetry. You’re complaining?
You know, I think that tow truck driver was making a lot of that up. I’m not saying he was lying. Just that some of what he told us during the hour when our car was riding on the back of his rig and we were riding with him the eighty-odd miles to the garage near Uncle Merlin’s fell into the category of tall tales, fish stories, and stretchers.
I believe he’s built his own stock car to race from the frame up and out. I’m not sure about his building three of them that won state championships. And the retired scientist who signed on as a silent partner in his hauling business who committed suicide before the business really took off so the tow truck driver had to go back to working extra shifts for the garage seems a little too good to be true. The scariest story he told us I hope he was making up---about going to the scenes of two DUI wrecks in a week and finding that the driver of both cars was the same drunk teenager, that one…
Oh. No. This isn’t the same tow truck driver who pulled us off the Jersey Turnpike when we broke down on our way to see the blonde’s folks the weekend before last.
This guy came to get us when our broke down Sunday, the day before yesterday, when our car broke down on Route 84 in Connecticut as we were on our way to visit Uncle Merlin.
Exact same thing happened both times. Car’s rolling along fine. Suddenly engine light comes on. Engine dies. Car won’t start again.
This makes me believe that it didn’t get fixed when it was in New Jersey.
As you can imagine, I’m not in the best of moods over this. Doesn’t help my mood that my back is killing me.
But Uncle Merlin swears by the mechanics who are looking at it now. And he’s given me some exercises to do to help my back. So maybe by this afternoon both the car and my back will be ready to go again.
I’ll let you know as soon as I know.
Updated with what I know: Picked up the car. New fuel filter. It runs. Got us where we needed to get to tonight.
The big news though is that God really is out to get me. See His comment.
Thanks to all of you who’ve helped out over the last week.
Sunday afternoon the gang of us piled into the car and drove off to go see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at a movie theater we don’t usually go to because it’s really out of range. But it was the only place within fifty miles where the movie was playing.
The price of a ticket was $2 more than at our usual multiplex. The price of a large soda was $2 more than at our usual multiplex. The price of a large popcorn was $2 more than at our usual multiplex and the popcorn was served in a bag that didn’t look as though it held as much as the large buckets at our usual multiplex. On the wall behind the concession counter were banners advertising “deals.” One of the deals was a large popcorn and two large sodas for $18.75, which was a savings of 25 cents.
We went into the theater snackless.
But not until after I went looking for a manager.
I worked in a movie theater in college and I know things haven’t changed all that much since. Movie theaters make practically nothing off ticket sales. They make their money off the popcorn and soda they sell at an astronomical markup. I thought I should let the manager know that his or her theater had made no money off of us today.
The manager I found was a guy about my age. His age is only important here because it means he’s old enough to know better than to say what he said after I said calmly and politely and with a friendly smile, “I know you aren’t responsible for the pricing, but I’m amazed at how much more expensive everything here is and maybe you could pass it up the chain that it’s costing you customers because we won’t be coming back here any time soon.”
I didn’t really expect it’d be passed up the chain. I just needed to vent. But I also didn’t expect the manager to say:
“I understand. But let me explain to you something about how the business works.”
Here’s a tip from Retail Management 101: When dealing with a disgruntled customer, do not try to explain to him why he’s being ripped-off and why he should lump it if not like it.
His next move was to try to sell me a coupon book which I could buy online after registering.
Oliver, Young Ken, and the blonde managed to drag me into the theater by my belt.