Cloister Commentary, Day 8: “In Vanessa Shanessa Style”

As Vanessa Shanessa Jenkins would say, what was occurrin’?

An early morning nap.

Phone calls to cancel things.

A grilled cheese sandwich made with Blue Plate Mayo instead of butter.

Dead Moon, the Minutemen, Dramarama, and original garage rock blasting from the speakers.

Cats boxing 19th century style.

60% approval?

A board game.

More rain.

Mr. Show re-runs (oh, Senator Tankerbell…)

Thunder and lightning.

A late night power outage…

Power outages aren’t just power outages anymore.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: In their prime –>

Cloister Commentary, Day 9: “Remaining Bacon”

This was the final weekend of our “Spring Break.” Right. Break as in we are trying not to.

Yesterday, we decided to treat the day as if we were really on vacation. We had a terrific late breakfast of fried potatoes, poached eggs, grapefruit, and bacon. I am the bacon fryer, and fry it to the George Frissell Honorary Crispy Level of almost-burnt. In addition, we tried the mysterious Maker’s White in a Bloody Mary, and that didn’t work so well. We switched to our favorite vodka, Buffalo Trace’s Wheatley’s, for the next one, but we spaced them out. Our breakfast was backed by Rhino Records’ outstanding girl group comps, and that went over so well we just keep rockin’ the girl groups into the late afternoon. Good for what ails you!

After reading for several hours (yes, we would normally be reading on a spring break), we switched to the long-running BBC podcast, Desert Island Discs, and greatly enjoyed the Bruce Springsteen and Keef Richards episodes. I have struggled at many junctures with the Jersey Flash, but I have also loved him mightily at many others. What it’s come down to is the great Band line about Spike Jones: “I can’t take the way he sings / But I love to hear him talk.”

We couldn’t roll with our peeps, but we could check on them. I texted my homies Brock Boland, Choppito Blanco, Janet Marsh and Moncory Dampier to see how they were doing. I recommend it to you as a daily practice.

I had fried all nine pieces of our remaining bacon in the morning so we could properly say farewell, we hope permanently, to that magical but problematic meat with a BLT for dinner. Slathered with Blue Plate mayo, accompanied by Backer’s sour cream and onion chips and Wickles’ Wicked Garden Mix (you haven’t lived til you’ve tasted sweet-hot pickled cauliflower), these BLTs were the bomb.


We had intended to “hang out” with the Ragtag crew and virtually enjoy GHOST RIDER, then “split” to “check out” stellar Hickman grad Shea Spence’s band’s virtual concert–but, alas, it was not to be. We had arisen before the crack of dawn and went down like a cheetah hit by one of Stan’s tranquilizer darts. And we are, I think it’s called, OLD.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: a mesmerizing modern girl group album.

Cloister Commentary, Day 10: “Frontier Bath”

When things break or misfire these days, you can’t just run out heedlessly and replace ’em or get ’em fixed. Well, you COULD…but I prefer to at least hold my horses, which I do not find easy. Thus, yesterday, since our shower hose sprung a leak, I felt like a frontiersman, sitting in the tub rinsing the soap out of my hair with a Sub Shop cup. And, despite all the help YouTube could give, I could not get my garage door opener back in business after Friday’s power outage, so I had to open and shut it manually a few times yesterday to let out our indoor/outdoor feline Tux–that boy needs a cat door. It seemed familiar: I was born just early enough to experience life without remotes.

I’m writing these so later I can remember how we got through it, and also to possibly entertain you, but it frequently occurs to me that our not having children makes the task so much easier. Far from sitting back gloating, having taught children for almost 60 years between us, Nicole and I can understand how difficult it must be (but also, I am sure, a frequent delight) to have to help the youth through this from sun up to sunset. We start remote teaching in earnest today, but this is one spring break that isn’t going to be over for awhile. Keep calm and carry on.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: the great songwriter with a smile in his voice, John Prine, is in critical condition due to COVID-19. If you don’t know him, why not sample his first album and send him vibrations of strength? (Editor’s note: He’s not dead yet as of 2:15 PM CST April 5, 2020–tough as a boot, this guy.)

Cloister Commentary, Day 11: “Early Bird Swing”

It was back to work yesterday, so our routine became firmer. I’m sharing it mostly so, when we look back, I can remember it, but maybe it can be useful to others, and I’m certainly curious about what effective aspects of your routine might be. Did I post this before? I’m suffering from Coronamind.

We rise very early. First priority is getting coffee brewing. Second priority is attending to pets: outdoor cats fed and watered, dog let out if he hasn’t already gotten us up, indoor pets fed and watered and litter boxes cleaned–plus two of our pets require meds.

Then, meditation. Following that, Nicole usually reads and I observe on-line rituals. Breakfast for us is usually oatmeal, eggs, and/or peanut butter toast (I am suddenly and inexplicably eating grapefruit). We often tend to our Benjamin Franklin-style journals at the kitchen table.

After subjecting ourselves to the hot liquid goo cleaning phase, we both will try to squeeze in a house project. Yesterday I weeded our roses and Nicole organized the notorious cabinets above the washer and dryer. Projects are accompanied by music on headphones for me and Democracy Now or an audiobook for Nicole. Following that, blinds up, joy lights plugged in, and bears in the window!

We are both working from home. Trisected by a tea break and lunch, our next engagement is with our computers dealing with email, communicating with and/or teaching students (I am hosting a Zoom meeting this morning that I hope not to eff up), writing content, tutoring and editing, checking grades, and more until the afternoon.

If the weather’s nice, we walk the dog. Yesterday, we got to talk with two neighbors and one of the neighbors’ kids who were out in their yards, which, along with the sunshine, was a highlight. I also do most of my reading in this gap.

Nicole starts dinner around 4ish–“Early Bird Special,” I know, but like I said, we get up very early, so it’s like 6 for most people, I suppose–and after we eat and I clean up, we watch the local and national news. We are on strict COVID-19 study-discuss-fret diet of only 5 to 7 pm (very hard to stick to and we often fail), after which we can read, watch something good, play cards, listen to music, or just be.

To shut ‘er down, we say goodnight to the cats (two are in a dedicated room so the kitten doesn’t drive everyone insane and one comes inside for the night), the dog goes out one last time, and we drift to sleep after sharing the best thing that happened to each of us during the day.

Should anything unplanned interrupt this routine, WE JUST FREAKING LOSE IT! INSTANT F—ING WIRE (as my friend Greg Carlin used to yell)!!

Seriously, we’ve been dealing with the unexpected pretty well. We hope you have, too.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: I just stumbled across Tracy Chapman’s “For My Lover” (my favorite of her songs), and that in turn led me to this:

Cloister Commentary, Day 12: “Zoom Bomb”

Well, March is gone. Take a deep breath, friends.

Yesterday, I bombed my first Zoom class. Must have been something in the settings, but everyone received the invite, only one showed up as intended, I had to re-invite the rest, then only three more showed up after that, then I had to create a new session for the remainder, and only one made it to that (I only have six–it should have been a breeze). Plus, though I’d prepared them fully, my Bluetooth headphones wouldn’t stay connected (?), it was colder than a welldigger’s ass in the mancave, the cat kept interrupting, and…well, these kids aren’t exactly balls of fire at 8 am IN PERSON, but they were mos def cazsh on screen. At least I tried everything I could think of! Back to the drawring board…

I don’t take many naps, but–it must have been the stress–I went down like a controlled detonation in the afternoon and woke up feeling drugged. It took me two hours, a disc of a Springsteen bootleg (“Roxy Night 1978”), Nicole’s incredible red beans and rice with tasso ham, some ice tea, the news, and a neighborhood walk for me to fully return to the land of the living. While asleep, I dreamed (like I frequently do) of very mundane, everyday labyrinths. Does that make sense?

I am wondering what my Facebook friends are watching during their own sheltering in place. First episode of OZARK, Season 3 was better than I expected; I go back and forth with HIGH FIDELITY, mainly because of (plus) the lovably downbeat and charming performance of Zoë Kravitz and (minus) her character’s/the show’s weird idea of desirable men (Clyde’s OK but in reality would a woman like her give him a sustained glance?). The show also gets points from me for shining some brief but well-deserved light on Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams.

I was also delighted to be recognized as a good influence on a former Hickman student (early 1990s) who is now an outstanding school principal. Over 10 years later, I served as his subordinate in the short-lived Kewpie Tardy Office, where we laughed a lot but frequently bitterly.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: here is a good way to get to know (if you don’t) the music and mind of the sorely missed Gil Scott-Heron.

Cloister Commentary, Day 13: “Shut Down”

The world of Columbia Public Schools’ faculty, staff, and students was shook yesterday when a three-day pause was announced in proceedings, for the purpose of re-evaluating and re-thinking the system’s response to COVID-19. While that pause is likely a good thing–this is unprecedented, and our state government is still dragging its heels in its response–it might have been, for many, the first serious reverberation of the crisis’ impact. Nicole, who has been working very hard from home and keeping in close contact with her students and comrades, definitely is feeling it, I know all parents and kids are, and though I only interact with CPS as a mentor and student teacher supervisor, it shook me, too.

Thanks to a break in the weather, we’ve walked to Parkade Park and back three consecutive days, and every day we’ve at least said hi to a different neighbor. The year’s first “yardening” has begun! The unspoken mantra on our block: “Don’t be the last to mow your lawn!” We’re lucky: Deven and LaVere Lawn and Landscaping have had our backs since they went into business.

Some local happenings worth supporting: our excellent ward councilman Mike Trapp and his brother have created a shelter project for folks who are outside, and Broadway Diner is STILL feeding any hungry kid on a daily basis. We are donating, and if you can, you might think about it. See links in my comments below.

Anyone else having trouble sleeping a decent number of hours? We normally get up early, but either our dog or the buzzing of our inner wiring has been limiting us to less than six hours a night.

I generally dislike fruit, but I need a banana a day. Oddly, that little quirk is really my only obstacle to staying away from the grocery for a couple weeks at a time. I’m learning to live without.

Streaming for shut-ins: The Shangri-Las were more than just “Leader of the Pack.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 14: “Dr. Benway, Meet Dr. Praeger”

Made our second successful foray to the grocery store. Again, I stayed in the car, so I only heard about it. Nicole found some pretty amazing veggie burgers made from mushrooms and risotto. They were created in a lab by a Dr. Praeger.


FaceTimed with my parents and told them the “welding mask” joke, Ed Hamell. As expected, it was followed by three beats of stunned silence. Next time: the penguin joke.

Listened to two vintage recordings by the late Ellis Marsalis, who did not leave behind many. Another musician snatched by the Coronavirus.

Cleaned out a filing cabinet and found a pristine copy of the Columbia Tribune from the day Pierced Arrows made the front page.

While reading Richard Russo’s EMPIRE FALLS, I realized, considering the world through the eyes of the 42-year-old protagonist and identifying with him, that I was thinking I was his age. I’m 58. Had to make some adjustments, needless to say.

Acknowledged that Kleenex needs to be close at hand if we’re going to keep watching the national news at 5:30. But I have to say Lester Holt, with his intense gaze, meaningful pauses, and respect and concern for all, keeps me coming back.

Conjured this analogy: OZARK is to BREAKING BAD as John Popper is to Paul Butterfield.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Cloister Commentary, Day 15: “Your Trash Ain’t Nuthin’ But Trash”

We have been worried to death about the nation’s health care workers, small business owners, mail carriers and kids–but I’ve heard little talk about sanitation workers. They’ve had some local struggles here in the best of times, but these have to be exceptionally trying. We need to do our best to make their jobs as easy as possible, and not just sling our trash sloppily to the curb.

I’ve written before about how live music on social media is helping everyone stay sane. I watched this and I was motivated the rest of the day.

I had never been to a virtual happy hour until yesterday, when I was a fly on the wall at a gathering of Columbia Area Career Center folks. I apologize for not being more camera conscious and eating chips and dip right in everyone’s face.

My parents’ order of Chinese toilet paper arrived yesterday. It was not quite what they expected; in my mom’s words, “It doesn’t have the hole for the roll. Dad said it is 3-ply.”

Chinese Toilet Paper

Sometimes you just need to blow out the cobwebs. We chose to have a date-night DVD double-header, and watched LOST IN AMERICA and THE ARISTOCRATS. We feel a little more relaxed this morning.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: a great unsung jazz album from the Sixties, featuring alto saxophone Sonny Criss a West Coast take on East Coast “cool” by songwriter and arranger Horace Tapscott.

Cloister Commentary, Day 16: “Calling Matt Foley”

I didn’t do jack squat today. Perhaps I merited a visit from Matt Foley, but I ain’t no dad-gum machine!

I ate. I read. I had a cocktail. I took a nap. I resumed reading. I ate again. I watched some movies. I went to sleep. And–oh yes–I bathed. Even though I have not sweated since maybe February? Another reminder how fortunate I am.

Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad. Nicole made some killer black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread, and I had to put in considerable effort not to have two helpings of each. And we did something for “the greater good,” Jason Summers: we watched SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. Yarp, we really do like that cinematic team’s style, and narp, neither movie gets old even if you’ve seen them multiple times.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: The long-running Aussie trio The Necks has a thing they do that no one else does, and they are VERY good at it. If you enjoy being put into trance states by very, very focused music that disrupts said states with subtle shifts of gears that can seem like explosions, I have a band for you.


My friend of nearly 30 years and fellow retired public school teacher George Frissell and I recently determined (or, more accurately, he forced me) to keep a Facebook journal of our samplings of the the array of mid-Missouri breakfast establishments. We’ve already met each other for breakfast and lunch many times since we were put out to feed, and we also host a concurrently running dining series called “Celebrity Breakfast,” in which we meet poor unfortunates who suffered us both as teachers and try to make up for it by picking up the check–and getting caught up on their progress.

We takes turns picking the joint (or taking requests from our Facebook audience) and picking up the check, meet each other at the crack of dawn (normally), and proceed to carry on like old men shaking our fists at the sky (our long-time theme song is “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”–enjoy this version by a real desperado). In the interest of helping people new to the series catch up, I’ve decided to create duplicate entries here on my education blog, which puts them all in one place and allows me to slyly hyperlink words and phrases to broaden our audience’s understanding of our ritual shit-shooting. Seriously speaking, George has always been one of my strongest teaching influences as well as a loyal friend, so it’s only fitting that, like my Sancho Panzo to his Don Quixote, I follow him from place to place to make sure he doesn’t forget his jacket.

Boon appetites!

George and Phil and Nicole
My wife Nicole steadying George (left) and me in the halls of Columbia, Missouri’s David H. Hickman High School immediately after we learned we had been retired. As you can tell, we were crestfallen.