Cloister Commentary, Day 257: My Own Devices

Nicole was working in her office during the day, so I was left to my own devices: swept the basement, organized the recycling, finished that danged Basquiat biography (it ended up being pretty good), finally sampled a few minutes of the Hendrix DVD that came in the new “Live in Maui” set to see it was more for solo or duo viewing (verdict: not just for Jimi junkies!), did research on high PSA levels since two straight blood panels indicated that was my story, and took a nap. The best I can do, really, with a free day in COVIDland.

It was our movie night, so we picked up a veggie Zeus at Tony’s Pizza Palace-Columbia and tried out Netflix’s Wu Assassins on a tip from The Week. Two episodes in: B+. Perfect for simple entertainment and martial arts satisfaction.

Streaming for Strivers:

A terrific trio.

Cloister Commentary, Day 257: Past-Tense Verbs Galore

Ended my semester tutoring at Stephens. Didn’t do any sessions in person, but it was encouraging that we did not have a decrease in tutoring requests but did have one in cancelled appointments. My only in-person interaction with students was to notarize a few absentee and mail-in ballots. I miss students, but I’ve stayed healthy and so have most on Stephens’ campus. Looks like more of the same next semester; I hope my on-line comp class makes.

Had to get another blood panel run (nothing major). The poor intern tasked with drawing my blood might have been too distracted by my kitten mask (made by my mom), since she couldn’t draw blood in three sticks. The head nurse got the needle in and blood drawn while I was still explaining the mask to the intern.

Made a decent effort to curb a few habits. Kept myself to one small cup of coffee and no unhealthy snacks. Nicole prepared an Indian dish with butter sauce that was scrumptious and found some good pre-packaged garlic naan at the store.

Spent the evening continuing to bury my nose in Lee Smith‘s Saving Grace. If you need a high-quality page-turner that is sure to beat the pants off Hillbilly Elegy, check it out. Also, listened to some VINTAGE Western swing from the Thirties. That stuff never gets old, and it’s got serious juice.

Dreamed I was substituting at Hickman. The hallways were realistic, but when I entered my room, first it was shoebox-size with 35 students (I counted), then it elasticized to the size of a lecture hall, with the students suddenly very socially distanced. There was a foosball table a few juvenile delinquent types claimed the teacher let them play every day (BS, but why the table?); the ten students that had to sign out to go to tutoring just left without my signature; the remaining students laughed at me for saying reading could save them, but then were surprised not only that I was going to teach the lesson plan but knew my sh*t. Then a cat woke me up.

I miss students.

Streaming for Strivers:

Wills and his Playboys in autumn.

Cloister Commentary, Day 256: Tuesday Trifecta


Cat- and raccoon-herding in the morning (who would have thought TOTAL CHAOS would be induced by new food?).

First cardiology appointment ever in the afternoon (I learned a great deal, most important of it being I need to tweak the ol’ approach to living). Dr. Z: pretty cool.

Getting really locked in to a book for the first time in awhile in the evening (via a Peter Guralnick piece on the author–I love it when a favorite writer lauds their own favorite writers–Lee Smith’s Saving Grace, a novel about a family struggling with a snake-handling patriarch).

Streaming for Strivers:

Really, only half an EP–but more power-packed than most double albums.

Cloister Commentary, Day 255: Cold, Cold, Cold

Yesterday was the first realllllly cold morning of the pandemic, and I don’t know about you, but it felt much different than past first-cold-mornings. In some ways, one would expect this experience has toughened us up; however, the isolation–especially if one bit the bullet and stayed put this Thanksgiving–adds a new dimension to meeting wintery weather.

Work was slow for me. Few of Stephens’ students are on campus for finals, and neither of those facts held out the promise of a tutoring appointment. Also, the Success Center and library warriors–the only folks IN the library other than wee ones and their teachers on the top floor–are still sticking to their offices (though we don’t have to at this point, I’m keeping my door shut so I can comfortably work without a mask). Maybe that, too, made the cold colder.

I’ve mentioned this before, but The New York Times Magazine’s THE DECAMERON PROJECT collects pandemic stories from 23 of the world’s best writers (even more are featured on line). If you’re one who believes the only thing coming out of newspapers is “fake news,” I have news for you: the motto of the collection is “When reality is surreal, only fiction can make sense of it,” and these aces fully realize that motto. Names you might recognize? Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat, David Mitchell, Tommy Orange, Karen Russell, Rachel Kushner, and Victor LaValle. It’s now in book form, but you can also read it on-line. I recommend Russell’s “Line 19 Woodstock / Glisen” as a teaser; Nicole and I both loved it.

Streaming for Strivers:

Hearkening back to my eight-track days–I played the pee-waddin’ out of this one.

Cloister Commentary, Day 254: Boogie Breakout

Yesterday was a standard COVID Sunday.

CBS Sunday Morning and reading the papers.
A hearty breakfast (peppers ‘n’ eggs with Uprise Bakery’s Ancient Grain bread, toasted).
A Bloody Mary.
Two Zooms, one with family and one with friends.
Piddling around.
Some interesting viewing (we’re sniffing at Orange is the New Black).

The only thing that wasn’t standard?


It might have had something to do with the strength of the Bloody Mary, but while Nicole was in the shower, I put Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last studio album, In Step (hear below), on the turntable and turned it up pretty significantly. I believe the rhythms penetrated into the rain room, because when she emerged cleaned up and dressed, she came out boogieing! We never plan to dance in our house–it just breaks out. That was the day’s definite highlight.

Ganesha’s down for the countdown!

Streaming for Survivors:

If the house is rockin’, don’t bother knocking.

Cloister Commentary, Day 253: Fabulous Finds

Nicole and I made some fabulous finds yesterday. In the world of pages, Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds is a quirky and surprisingly enlightening delight; she writes like she seems to be, and so far she earns George Saunders’ blurb. She is a fine humorist, but more is going on than that in her work.

We had been eagerly waiting for an opening to begin Steve McQueen’s perfectly-titled limited series Small Axe, and yesterday one presented itself. If the remaining episodes are as great as “Mangrove,” it will be a landmark that stands the test of time. Stories of black resistance to systematic British racism have been rarely told on the screen, and in this case one is told with pure fire. Can’t wait for “Lover’s Rock.”

Nicole tried her hand at vegetarian moussaka out of the Moosewood Cookbook, which has been a culinary presence during our entire time together. She’d made it before, but this time she nailed it. I had thirds if you count me scraping sauce and mushrooms out of the pan before she put it up.

We are happy to report that our Russian blue feline Smoky, who is a bit of a basement recluse, has been gingerly extending her perimeter into the upstairs. She is fearful for no reason, but she’s struck up a sunbathing friendship with her elder, Miss Cleo.

Cleo can’t wait.

Streaming for Strivers:

One of the great strivers in political music, whose work I fully expect to appear in Small Axe.

Cloister Commentary, Day 252: A Day

Nicole worked on kitchen projects and I kept her entertained by playing records by some of our favorite artists. I wasn’t quite so ambitious, but I did clean up the basement a bit, finish one book, and start another. I can’t believe November’s already almost gone, but in many ways I am relieved.

We Zoomed in the evening with Vance and Liz Downing, two of our youngest and most cherished friends. I was the officiant at their wedding, and they are quite well-matched. We teased out the many ways COVID has affected our lives and occasionally broached other topics.

That is all.

Streaming for Survivors:

The music doesn’t perfectly match the title–there is much discipline and focus in it–but it is aggressively great.

Cloister Commentary, Day 251: Turkey Day Top Ten

My Top 10 Favorite Things about Thanksgiving 2020, in random order:

  1. We played a lot of records! A LOT!
  2. Nicole’s Lasagnazilla was better than any turkey’s turkey.
  3. I received well wishes from a varied group of former students, plus expert libation advice (Rado, Ryan, Theo, stand up and be counted!).
  4. The sun was out most of the day, and it was bracingly chilly (my favorite chilly).
  5. We meditated and walked the neighborhood.
  6. We Zoomed with our besties the Wright family.
  7. I edged ever closer to the finale of James Lee Burke’s thrilling yet deep The New Iberia Blues.
  8. We did not turn on the TV.
  9. I learned that Harlan Howard wrote both “God May Forgive You (But I Won’t)” AND “How Far Down Can I Go?” DAMN.
  10. Nicole did not beat me in chess (it helped that we did not play).

Only bad thing was we couldn’t be with our fam in anything but spirit. But spirit counts.

Streaming for Strivers (and for my friend the Wild Yankee Rover):

One of rap’s best kept secrets.

Cloister Commentary, Day 250: The 5th Sustenance and Succor Awards!

Every 50 days of the pandemic, I’ve tried to shine light on the stuff that’s been getting Nicole and I through these difficult days. Here we go again–times gettin’ tougher than tough, as the man sang.


Kaiser, Watt, Golia, Peet, Hanrahan–A Love Supreme Electric

Various Artists–Daora: Underground Sounds of Urban Brazil

Prince–Sign o’ The Times (Deluxe Edition)

Various Artists–Soul Love Now: The Black Fire Records Story

The Brothers and Sisters–Dylan’s Gospel


The Queen’s Gambit

The Fisherman’s Friends (thanks for the tip, Clay Thomas)

The Witch

Emma (2002 version)

Blinded by The Light


James Lee Burke–The New Iberia Blues

Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry–Billionaire Island

Octavia Butler–Bloodchild and Other Stories

Yaa Gyasi–Transcendent Kingdom

Jorge Ibargüengoitia–The Dead Girls


Crazy Burrito

Uprise Bakery

India’s House (still killin’ it!)

Bangkok Gardens (still killin’ it after three decades)

Streaming for Strivers:

Happy Thanksgiving, and let the man remind you…

Cloister Commentary, Day 249: Sip, Bicker, Banter, and Clown

Yesterday was Nicole’s last day of teaching before a five-day holiday break. I am happy to have her with me during those days relatively undistracted; we are not able to travel under these circumstances, and though we have spent more time in each other’s presence this year than in any of the 30+ years we’ve been together, I will really need her, and I suspect she won’t mind having me doggedly by her side.

While she taught, I read a terrific graphic novel by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, and Chris Chuckry, Billionaire Island. It’s around 150 pages long, but I don’t think I even shifted my ass on the couch between the first and last of them. Stunning, unsparing–yeah, unsparing, especially for the reader–and relevant.

We had simple ol’ baked taters for dinner, and with drinks in hand (we would learn that was perfectly appropriate), we watched William Powell and Myrna Loy sip and banter and bicker and clown their way through The Thin Man. Not the most fantastic movie ever filmed, but their chemistry was worth it.

The countdown continues.

Streaming for Strivers:

Wish I was. Will be there in spirit.

Also, this player is 50 years gone as of today but what he left behind still cuts to the heart. This recording is from before his breakthrough but I treasure it.