Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Double Nickels Edition

So at a few minutes before five this morning Mondoville time, I started another trip around the sun. Unfortunately, the weekend hasn’t gone as I might have hoped — I’ve been laid up with a kidney infection since Friday, and had to make a trip to the ER Friday night/Saturday morning for some IV fluids and antibiotics, and I was given an additional script for a different antibiotic, which I started around noon yesterday. I think I may have begun to feel a bit better early this morning, but I’m still pretty tired and pretty weak. But in the words of Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, “I still exist!” And so do you, friends and readers, so let’s chat a bit, shall we?

***

Mrs. M has taken good care of me through this process, and made sure that I had gifts to open this afternoon. They include a memoir by Bruce McCulloch of the Kids in the Hall, and The Red Right Hand, Joel Townsley Rogers’s classic mystery novel, which I haven’t previously read. I also received the Criterion edition of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., and a CD collection of Irwin Chusid’s outsider music compendium, Songs in the Key of Z. As some of my collection of T-shirts have had to be retired, I’ve now been restocked, with shirts featuring the art of Wally Wood, a University of Kentucky logo, and the cover of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, which I appreciate both as a fan of Thompson’s and as someone who shares a birthday with him. (I was born on Thompson’s 59th birthday, which I have to admit I appreciate more than the fact that I share that birthdate with Shaun Cassidy, Meat Loaf, and Mike Schmidt.)

Meanwhile, on the Book of Faces, I’m (as always) pleasantly touched by the birthday wishes I’ve received from the various people in my life. Roommates, classmates, teammates, and bandmates, and a panoply of others — I’m grateful to you all for having taken even a few seconds out of your day to drop by.

***

Facebook may have some unexpected benefit as well. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I faced my share of bullying and harassment when I was in school. And in the course of my sleeplessness and fever over the last couple of nights, a particularly malignant character from my middle and high school years popped into my mind.

Since I hadn’t much else to do other than lie around alternating chills and profuse sweating, I decided to find out what became of that guy.

And I couldn’t find him. I searched around, but no luck. Then I remembered he had a brother — also a schmuck, but less of one than my tormentor. So I found that guy, and thus discovered that I had misremembered his brother the asshole’s name.

And that made me happy, because I realized that despite the hassles he gave me, he didn’t even make enough of an impression on me to get his name right.

So screw you, bully — I won after all.

***

I think I’ll wrap things up for now, and so I’ll offer my traditional musical closer.

I wasn’t a big Stones fan as a kid, or even as a teenager — even then, I preferred the early stuff to the material that they were releasing contemporarily with me. But when I got to college, I took a film class, and one of the movies we watched was Shoot the Moon, by Alan Parker (who checked out not long ago). During a makeout scene, the soundtrack included a Stones song I hadn’t previously known, and it’s stuck with me over the years. So I’ll share it with you today.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Tuesday Afternoon Potpourri: Falling Sensation Edition

Welcome to autumn. Today is what the season is supposed to look like in this part of the world, although it’ll be a while before most of the leaves turn. The temperature is around 70 degrees and the afternoon light has taken on a golden cast. I’m comfortably ensconced in the den downstairs, and Mrs. M is probably working out at the Mondoville Y. I’m wrestling with fictioneering, but realized I’ve been away from here for a while, so here we go.

***

I was eligible to donate blood again, so I made my trip to the bloodmobile yesterday afternoon. The bus was parked at a local auto dealership, and I was hoping it was “donate and get a free convertible” day, but no such luck. After doing the usual check-in thing, the staffer asked me if I’d be willing to make a double red cell donation. “We’ve just installed the aphresis machines on some of the buses, and we’ve got a really urgent need for the red cells,” she explained. Because I have an odd blood type (It’s B-negative, matching my disposition), I’m apparently in pretty high demand. I mentioned that I had donated platelets before, and she told me this would likely be quicker. “We just need to make sure your hemoglobin count is high enough.”

“Oh, it will be,” I said. “I eat so much red meat that I probably should clank when I walk.” Indeed, I was good to go, and within a couple of minutes, I was hooked up to the machine. The procedure went without incident; in fact, the phlebotomist said that my donation went as quickly as any she could remember. Which was fine by me — I’m still no fan of needles, and I likely never will be.

“We’ve been trying to get people to do the double red all day,” the phlebotomist told me, “but people either didn’t think they had the time or were just skittish about the whole thing.” A nice aspect of the process is that red cell donations can be put into service quickly — whole blood donations often must be separated into components (red cells, plasma, and platelets), but my donation was essentially pre-sorted.

As the process was winding up, the phlebotomist told me something else. Her little boy apparently requires fairly frequent infusions of red cells, and so she was always especially happy when donors agree to go through the process. “I’m just glad to be able to do it,” I said. Then I got my snack and a couple of gift cards (not enough for a convertible, alas, but still welcome) and got on with my day. The only downside for me was that I now have to wait 16 weeks, rather than the usual 8, before I’m eligible to give again.

As long-time readers will remember, I started giving blood a few years ago as a way to commemorate my dad’s birthday; he had donated a gallon or so before his first go-round with the big C put him on the ineligible list. Yesterday’s donation brought me to the three-gallon mark over the last four-and-a-third years. My only regret about the process is that it took me so long to suck up the courage to do it that first time, but as I said, I really don’t like needles. But I’m glad to be able to do some good.

***

I’ve read that dentists are reporting higher incidences of bruxism in the patients they’re seeing, and a number of them suspect it’s connected to the general level of stress these days. This has been an issue for me for years, and along with a crowded lower jaw, has been the source for quite a few of my dental issues in the past few years. (Orthodontia was one of the luxuries my family couldn’t afford when I was younger. It catches up.)

Right now, I think it’s manifesting in the form of some TMJ pain, so I’ve gone back to wearing a night guard when I go to bed. The thing always reminds me of the mouthpiece I had to wear when I played football as a kid, and occasionally causes me to dream that I have an enormous wad of chewing gum in my mouth, and I wake up trying unsuccessfully to pull the gum out, a chunk at a time.

The trick, I guess, is to find balance.

***

Up in Terpville, the Spawn and Main Squeeze continue to prosper, taking their courses and such online. Down here, Mrs. M has a group of kids in her classroom on Mondays and Thursdays, a different group on Tuesdays and Fridays, and does everything virtually on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, I have a strong suspicion that the house next door (where the Blocks stayed last fall) is now being used for quarantined college students. Yesterday, I received a preliminary schedule for my teaching duties in January and Spring term — unless there’s a dramatic change, I’ll likely be teaching those online. While I greatly prefer the classroom, as a middle-aged fat guy, I’m in an elevated risk group, so I plan to play it safe. Fortunately, my chair and the Dean are quite accommodating about all this, but I do miss my spot at the front of the room.

***

Meanwhile, I have a birthday approaching — I’ll hit the double nickels on Sunday, and since it’s one of those zero-or-five birthdays, I find myself taking a little bit of stock. For example, I just (as in within the last 90 seconds) realized that I’ll be the age William Goldman was when he published his final novel. When my dad was my age, I was already 32, and the Spawn had just turned one. And my birth was closer to the Taft administration than it is to the present day.

Ah, the things one notices. Dammit.

***

Well, it’s nearly dinnertime, so I’d better wrap things up, and why not with some music? I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, but I think I’ll put it here as well. I’ve mentioned my fondness for loud, fast, and dumb 70s hard rock, the genre that some folks call “Bonehead.” Well, Ted Nugent isn’t necessarily the patron saint of Bonehead rock, but at the very least, he’s Bonehead-adjacent. It seemed like nearly every teen cover band I ran across in the Cincinnati burbs did a version of Ted’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” and I could generally count on hearing “Stranglehold” on any given Friday late night on WEBN.

But my favorite Ted track was this one, from the not-really-slide guitar to the lyrics “the Indian and the buffalo existed hand in hand” (which had to be awkward, I think. Of course, I didn’t know buffalo had wings back then either.) and the “Oh mah Gawd” interjection before we finally get to the song’s title. Even now, all these years later, it makes me smile. And of course I’m going to use the live version, the same one I’d play at WTLX during my undergrad years. Get your bonehead on!

Hope to see you in the New Magic Land.

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Who Remembers Sermonette?

Those of us of a certain age will remember that TV and radio stations weren’t always 24/7 enterprises. Typically, a station would begin and end its broadcast day with the National Anthem, and many of them would offer a sermonette in close proximity. A member of the clergy — I don’t recall ever seeing a non-Christian minister, but they may have appeared in non-Bible Belt cities — would talk for a few minutes about a passage of scripture and offer a brief prayer.

Frequent readers may recall that I tend to contribute to the College’s devotional series during Advent and Lent. Given the current weirdness, the campus pastor asked some of us to contribute our own versions of a sermonette. While the past devotionals were recorded and played on a local radio station, these pieces are being recorded on video and posted online.

I was asked to do my bit for this week, I recorded it on Friday, and you can watch it here if you like. If you prefer simply to read it yourself (which spares you from having to look at me)? Well, here you go.

Even for those of us in the literature business, some poems – and some poets – are easier to understand than others. For example, when I was in my late teens, I discovered a 19th-Century English poet and Catholic priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins. I didn’t like his work; I couldn’t make sense of it. But enough people I trusted told me there was something happening there, so I went back to it from time to time, and now I think I have more of a handle on why he was so great. In fact, I think his work is so amazing that I want to share it. This is a poem he wrote called “God’s Grandeur.”

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

What Hopkins was telling us was pretty straightforward, really: God’s glory is everywhere we might look, but we don’t look often enough or hard enough. We get so caught up in the work we do, in the repetition of our days – we “have trod, have trod, have trod.” We forget to notice how wonderful and beautiful the world can be, and what a gift it is to live in this world. It’s easy to get distracted, or even to be ungrateful.

But in the last six lines of the poem (the part that starts with “And for all this”), Hopkins shows us the amazing thing: God keeps giving us that beauty, whether we appreciate it or not, even whether we notice it or not. Even more, God keeps giving us our world – the image Hopkins offers of the bird warming its nest “with warm breast and ah! Bright wings.”             So what I’d like to suggest this week is that we pay attention – to Hopkins, to the world’s beauty, to the people around us – each of whom is an image of God, and each of whom is beautiful. Sometimes, when life is busy and days are fearful, those beauties may be as hard to see and understand as Hopkins was when I was a teenager. But if we keep looking, and if we trust, then eventually we may be able to see the glory that was there all along, and God willing, you’ll want to share it.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Literature | 1 Comment

“Oh, Telephone Line, Give Me Some Time…”

(For the source of the title, go here.)

As I was scanning the Book of Faces this evening, I saw that a former student had posted this (Rough language):

I chuckled, of course, being of the appropriate demographic. In fact, I remembered using that service occasionally when I was a kid in Nashville. (I’ve never really been a wristwatch guy.)

And then, 40+ years after I last dialed it (and I did, in fact, dial it, so long ago was this), the number popped into my head. You know I had to check.

It’s still there. In fact, it also gives the current temperature and a brief weather forecast, which was not the case in the mid-70s. It seems to be sponsored by a pest control service, as callers are treated to a brief message about insect pests, and told to press 1 for a free estimate.

As I’ve mentioned while talking about earlier trips to my birthplace, the city is radically different than it was all those years ago when I lived there. Still, it’s a kick to know that something I had long forgotten about was not something I had indeed forgotten, and that has endured even into our Internet era. And I’m still trying to decide whether the most remarkable part of all this was that the service still exists, or that I was able to recall the number.

Posted in Culture, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Thursday Afternoon Potpourri: Pre-Labor Day Edition

It’s a searing afternoon here in Mondoville, currently feeling like about 102 or 103 degrees. Fortunately for me, I’m indoors, and have every intention of staying that way. I’m also putting off working on a short video I have to make tomorrow, but so I can feel like I’m actually doing something, here we are.

***

I’m continuing to punch away on the book I’m working on this term. I seem to be about 20-25% of the way to where I want to be. BGW was a short novel at 50,000 words; I’m hoping to come up with something more substantial this time. But as is common for many writers, the process has not been without its struggle.

When I wrote BGW, it flowed really naturally. Part of it was that Kenny’s voice was one I knew pretty well, and part of it was probably sheer naivete. Even so, I got bogged down about halfway through, until a suggestion from my guru at the time (the late James Baker Hall) gave me an event that provided the scaffolding to continue to where I wanted to go. [Side note: Jim died 13 days after my folks did, three days after their funeral, and two days after the death of Hobbes, the family cat. Bad week, that.] After that, it was just a case of having days where I could bang out a couple of thousand words or so without getting caught by my boss at the magazine.

This book is not happening with the same fluency. It’s an amateur sleuth mystery (though not a cozy), but it also seems to be really introspective and discursive, driven by my narrator’s character more than by a puzzle or plotline. (Now that I think about it, I could see it as working the same side of the street as Jeff Abbott’s character Jordan Poteet.) This in turn led me to a confidence crisis, so I decided to chat a bit with the Spawn. I bounced what I had off of her, and she managed to convince me that I am in fact on a decent track, and that I shouldn’t punt. It’s nice to have an encouraging, thoughtful reader — especially when you’ve grown her yourself.

***

Speaking of the Spawn, she and the Main Squeeze are beginning a new semester in Terpville, and both seem happy with their classes thus far. It’s not quite as good as hearing about her day with her in the room, but I’m glad to hear she’s doing well.

***

On the education front, my employer noted today that our grads carry the least student loan debt of any South Carolina 4-year school, public, or private. We’ve also been recognized in the past for our excellent record in helping our kids attain social mobility. A lot of our kids are first-generation college students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds in this poor, largely rural state. While some of our students could prosper anywhere, many of them require the extra work we have to do in order for them to succeed. Knowing that we’re helping them improve their lives — and the lives of the generations that succeed them — without chaining them to crippling levels of debt is a genuine source of satisfaction.

***

I need to get back to work, but why not wrap things up with a song. I know almost nothing about the Canadian band (also including members from the UK and Latvia(!)) called the Liverpool Set, but I know they did a couple of pretty cool songs, and apparently did some recording in my home town of Nashville about the time I was born. This was the B-side of their second (and penultimate) single, from rock and roll’s annus mirabilis, 1966. It starts out with an intro cribbed from “Act Naturally” before settling into a nice Byrdsy jangler, penned by the Latvian guy. This is “Change Your Mind.” Who said that longing can’t be upbeat?

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Baseball Is A Funny Game

I’ve been behind the desk in college classrooms, either as a prof, adjunct, or TA for something close to a quarter-century. I don’t remember every student I’ve ever had, but I remember more of them than I would have expected. From time to time, I find myself wondering about whatever happened to one or another of them, even though I haven’t encountered them in years.

One such kid was in my FroshComp class at the U of KY, as I was doing my M.A. Matt Bragga would have been my student later in that time, during the 1990-91 school year. I don’t remember his actual performance in my course, but he stuck in my memory because he was a good kid (at 18 or so, as opposed to my Methuselan 24 or 25), and because he was on the baseball team. He took my class, and did however he did, and in the remaining year or two I was there, we’d see each other and say hello.

Flash forward to 1995. I was back in Northern KY, working as a magazine editor in a veal-fattening pen in downtown Cincinnati. That Spring is memorable for (among other things), the Major League Baseball strike that led most teams to populate their rosters with non-union replacements. Although the strike collapsed before an abbreviated season of 144 games, that season’s Spring Training gave the replacements their chances to perform.

I was half-listening to a preseason Reds game one afternoon when I heard a familiar name. A little quick searching on the fledgling internet and some searches of the Cincinnati Enquirer revealed that my former student was one of the best players on the ersatz Reds roster. Although I had been a Reds fan since I had moved to Kentucky, I now had even more of a rooting interest. I followed Matt’s performance, and cheered when it looked as though he had earned a spot on the roster.

What might have been…

But the strike ended, and when the regulars came back (with an assist from Sonia Sotomayor), the replacement Reds were denied their opportunities to get into the MLB record books. Bragga was consigned to the low minors, and his playing days ended shortly thereafter.

I lost track of him after that, but would occasionally smile over the years as I remembered my former student who was thisclose to the Big Show. As the years passed, I forgot his name, but I remembered the kid, if you know what I mean.

And then, for no reason I can name, I thought of “that kid.” The internet is better now, and a search for replacement Reds yielded Matt’s name. He’s now the head baseball coach at Rice University after a successful 15-year tenure at Tennessee Tech, and with luck, maybe he’ll be able to lead his team next spring.

What is..

Whether he knows it or not, he now has a fan in Mondoville.

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Spring, 1983

It was my senior year of high school. I was playing in a power trio that was essentially the house band at a pizza joint in Union, KY, and desperately hoping that I could somehow parlay terrific test scores and mediocre grades into a college education (which I did, although maybe not quite the way I had anticipated.) I was also the captain of my high school’s quiz team, which would win the state championship that year.

On set of KET’s Scholastic Challenge. BTW, the Mad Dog is the taller guy in the row behind me..

In retrospect, there were a lot of reasons I didn’t fit in very well in high school, and my musical tastes were part of it. My peers on the academic track mainly seemed to listen to the Top 40 and arena rock stuff. A few of the edgier ones listened to the music that MTV was introducing to the heartland. Me? I was listening to hard rock and metal — the kind of stuff more likely associated with the vocational school and shop class guys, and the girls who would hold the guys’ hair when they were puking on a Friday night.

Having always been a bit perverse, I appreciated the incongruity of being both a metal fan and what passed for an intellectual in that time and place. But it really wasn’t a pose. And as I thought about it through the years, I came to realize that I dug it for the same reasons other kids in that period might have gotten into punk — a genre present, but even less acceptable in the Northern KY ‘burbs back then. It was the outlaw vibe.

I was 17, and though I had a driver’s license, I couldn’t drive because 1) I didn’t have a car, and 2) insurance cost money my family didn’t have then. My clothes were typically hand-me-downs from my grandfather or stuff I found at flea markets. I never could get my hair to feather properly, and because my head is square, parting it in the middle made me look like I had been hit in the head with an axe. When they were doing the senior superlatives (Most talented, Cutest couple, etc.), I “won” the election for “Most individualistic.” It was not meant to be a compliment — the girl who won the title was a fundamentalist/evangelical who always wore long skirts and blouses that buttoned at the neck. (In any case, the yearbook people chose not to recognize that particular title that year. They had even said they wouldn’t, but my peers expressed their thoughts anyway.)

So I was aware that I was a misfit, on top of the usual powerlessness a lot of teenaged boys feel. Hard rock/metal, of course, is a soundtrack for power trips — big amps, big drum kits, fantasy, all that good stuff, and the presence of good looking girls who were probably way too “fast” for dorks like me. It was also fun and sometimes challenging to play.

And as it happened, in that season, a band called Quiet Riot (who had paid dues on the bar scene for eight years) released what would become their theme song and the title cut from their debut album. (They would later have bigger hits covering Slade, but that hadn’t happened yet.) The DJs said the song was called “Metal Health,” but it was better known by its chorus/rallying cry: “Bang your head.”

And yeah, QR is now mainly remembered as a guilty pleasure from that era (and as the band that once included early-80s guitar hero Randy Rhoads), easy targets for music snobs pretty much from their first release. But I can tell you that for at least a few of us oddballs, a song with lines like “I really wanna be overrated” and “Hope it annoys you” connected. Yeah, the guitarist looked like the 9th-grade girl up the street and the singer was already showing signs of male pattern baldness, but they got it.

And today, I learned that Frankie Banali, the band’s drummer and longest-enduring original member, died yesterday at the age of 68. He had been diagnosed with stage-IV pancreatic cancer in April of 2019. He’s the second member of the band’s classic lineup to leave us — vocalist Kevin DuBrow died in 2007.

So there goes another piece of my youth, and one that may have even been a little bit formative in that part of my life. So long, Mr. Banali — thanks for the music.

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Gratuitous Music Post: Far Eastern Edition

I ran across this on my FB feed today. I liked the cut of their jib, and would cheerfully subscribe to their poorly mimeographed newsletter, even if I couldn’t read it.

The band is called Sakuran Zensen, which apparently translates to “The Nuts at the Front of the Line.” or “The Frontline Crazies.” The song is called “Taxi Guy” or maybe “Taxi Man,” but the spirit requires no translation, and I think the Mops would have approved.

Hey, Zoopraxiscope — do you know anything about these guys?

Back to writing.

Posted in Music | 1 Comment

Sic Transit Gloria Monday Morning

My parents kind of fell into the demographic crack between the Beats and the Hippies, but my dad was keen on folk music. That never really changed, either — he eventually got into bluegrass, even buying a banjo and going to jam sessions at a nearby church on the occasional weekend night.

One of the consequences of this was that I grew up with a whole bunch of Kingston Trio LPs, all of which are now in a closet about fifteen feet away. Of those, the one I listened to the most was the group’s Live from the Hungry i album (1959), which both my dad and my cousins’ parents had. As I was born in 1965, the album was dated even by the early 70s when I was old enough to listen to it (rather than simply hearing it), and references to John Foster Dulles were rather less topical than they had been at the time. But being a kid, I got a huge charge out of “Zombie Jamboree” and “The Merry Minuet.” Even as a nine-year-old, I had a dark sense of humor, fed by MAD magazine (which is also where I learned show tunes, in order to understand the song parodies.) Later, I would realize that “Merry Minuet” would appear in a book by Madeleine L’Engle, symbolizing the cynicism of one of the young characters.

In any case, I listened to the album for the first time in at least two (and likely three) decades, and you know what? It’s still pretty good. The original KT were tight, with voices that worked well together. Some of the song choices seem a little odd (“They Call the Wind Maria” as a folk song?), and there’s a fair amount of ain’t-we-clever in the between song banter. For me, the worst example of that is the condescending Appalachian dialect in the intro to the “Shady Grove/Lonesome Traveler” medley. At that point, there’s a whiff of Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess, and we’re reminded that two-thirds of the Trio had been prep school kids — having attended the same Punahou school that would one day produce Barack Obama.

But the performances are lively, and I actually have more of an appreciation now for songs like “Tic, Tic, Tic” and (especially) “South Coast” than I used to. They may have been a nightclub act disguised as a folk combo, but 61 years after the album’s release, I can hear what so many folks dug about them.

And one last note. In the process of burning through an inheritance in 1990, I went to San Francisco for a vacation, and to see the Mad Dog, who was stationed at Monterey at the time. I was wandering around the City one day, and remembering the album and the club’s legendary role in the history of stand-up comedy, I wanted to find the Hungry i. And that’s how I learned that the venue had ceased being a venue when I was five years old, and was now a strip club, which it still was as of 2017.

Somehow, that seemed emblematic of something to me when I was 24. Maybe it still does.

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Saturday Potpourri: Didn’t He Have a Blog Once?

Why yes, yes he did. And I still do. However, I’ve been doing other stuff as well, and so I’ve been lax over here. On the upside, I started this blog ten years ago as a means of therapy, so maybe this indicates that I’m less of a basket case than I used to be. Oh, who am I kidding? So here we go…

***

So we last spoke in late July. Since then, Mrs. M and I made a trip to Terpville to see the Spawn and her Main Squeeze, who has herself been admitted to the School of Terpitude. We were there for a few days — enough time to provision the girls, enjoy takeout Korean food, have a spectacular beef bourguignon made by the Squeeze, and goof around a fair amount at the apartment. We spread the drive up over two days, and had planned to do the same thing coming home, but the hotel we booked in Fayetteville, NC turned out to have a high creepiness factor, so we schlepped on home in a single shot. (In point of fact, I didn’t see anything in Fayetteville that made me anxious to return. I have at least one friend in the area, but the parts I saw left a lot to be desired. I’m sure some parts are lovely. I didn’t see those.)

But it was great to see the girls, since we likely won’t meet up again until Christmas, and that’s assuming we can find a relatively secure way to get them down here. It’s okay, though — the Spawn is thriving up there, and looking forward to her new semester. She’s doing her classes and her assistantship remotely for the term, and is happy about both. Which is sort of the point, and which makes me think we’ve done okay so far.

***

On the political front, I regret to report that the Mad Dog’s campaign for County Commissioner in the Knoxville burbs didn’t turn out as he had hoped. He lost by about 900 votes, or 54-46%, if you prefer. Given that he’s a Dem in a district that has been red for a very long time, and that the GOP had large turnout for a hotly contested Senate primary, I think his performance was fairly impressive.

More importantly, he did a lot of things he set out to do. He self-financed his campaign (donor influence is an important issue for him), he ran it in a gentlemanly fashion, and most importantly, he gave the citizens of his district an actual choice, rather than an uncontested election. When we chatted online after the polls had closed, I reminded him of the quote attributed to Ed Koch after he lost an election: “The people have spoken, and now they must be punished.” In any case, I suspect the Mad Dog will continue in the honorable role of gadfly — and who knows? Now that he has the campaign bug, we may see him kissing hands and shaking babies again sometime.

***

The depredations of COVID continue. The College informed our student-athletes yesterday that our athletic conference has suspended all fall sports until the spring semester (and of course, all such announcements these days include a tacit “…if then.”) In the classrooms, we’re working toward what is called a “soft opening,” with students trickling in over the next few weeks. Classes will be taught face-to-face — and online simultaneously, for the students who aren’t able to do the face-to-face thing for whatever reason. There will be portions of all courses that will take place more or less exclusively online as well. (Of course, there’s a distinct possibility that the whole business will go virtual at some point in the term anyway, but at least in that case, much of the educational/technological infrastructure will be in place. We hope.)

My colleagues are scrambling to figure out how they’ll keep all these balls in the air, and I’ve heard from a number of them that I was extremely lucky that my sabbatical coincides with all this. But of course, I’d say that there’s little reason to expect Spring semester to be a return to the Garden, so I’m paying at least some attention to all this, lest it hit me all at once at the calendar year’s end. I’m also attending meetings, this week’s virtual in-service days, and the other online gatherings of this strange new year.

Mrs. M is trying to get her classroom ready as well, which also is a much more complicated affair than usual. As things stand, she’ll be teaching two small face-to-face classes — one meeting on Mondays and Thursdays, the other on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be online work days, as well as opportunities for the teachers to take care of meetings, reports, and the other hassles that come with the gig.

We shall see.

***

In more upbeat news, I have been doing some writing on my own, getting rolling on the creative work for which I took the sabbatical. I’m not going to jinx myself by talking it out, but I may be onto something.

A key part of this process has been following the method developed by the late Jerrold Mundis in his book Break Writer’s Block Now! I don’t know if it’ll work forever, and I don’t know if it’ll work for everyone, but it seems to be working for me so far, and if you’re having problems getting rolling, maybe it can help you as well.

(As an aside, one of Mundis’s pieces of advice is not to journal as you build yourself back up. That’s actually been a factor in my radio silence. But here I am, right?)

***

And to close with some music, here’s another favorite of mine from Translator. While their early 80s work would have fit in nicely with the Paisley Underground scene of that period in LA, this San Francisco band would have been at the harder end of that spectrum. This song, from the final album of their original run, was a highlight of the live set, and often an occasion for extended jams. Even this studio version comes in a hair under 5 minutes, but you can hear the potential for the Big Trip. One really cool aspect of it for me is when drummer Dave Scheff takes what amounts to a lead break about 2:10 into the track, and reminds us that drums can be as musical as any other instrument. From 1986, this is “Tolling of the Bells.”

See you soon, I hope!

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