Cloister Commentary, Day 145: The Difference Between You and Me

If you read yesterday’s entry, you’ll recall I recently experienced a battery-related vehicular kerfuffle. I am frequently reminded of my borderline competence, and yesterday was one of those occasions. Had this kerfuffle happened to YOU, YOU, once your car was jumper-cable resuscitated, would have driven it directly to a location where the battery could be replaced; many of you would have bought a battery and put it in your dang self. I, on the other hand, thought that, since our vehicle started right up off the jumpers, the battery was probably fine. Wrongo. Also, YOU, if you didn’t replace your battery, YOU might have, with intelligent caution, BACKED your car into the garage and NOT activated the electronic parking brake (see Commentary 144). Not only didn’t I follow that course of action, but I also pulled the car as far into the garage as I could (???). Yep: the battery was dead as a doornail, and Roadside Assistance sent the exact same tow company and employee that helped me before, which was only just: so I could be revealed as a moron. This time, I just had it hauled to the shop. Fool me two times in a row, and don’t bet money you won’t again.

On the plus side, one thing I miss about teaching high school is reading good lit aloud. I love the challenge of interpreting great writers’ work, and Nicole invited me to read some short stories from the New York Times’ “Decameron Project,” a chapter from Lawrence Wright’s The End of October, and a small bit from Gilbert Hernandez’s Ophelia: The Love & Rockets Library, Volume 5. At least I am good for one thing!

Streaming for Survivors:

Need some strong stuff? Me, too. Here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 144: Firsts

Things I saw today yesterday that I never saw before.

1) A vehicle’s indicators all flashing red and orange at the same time (“Fire! Fire!”–not really, but that’s what it looked like) while I was trying to start it: BRAKE SYSTEMS FAILURE! and more. I presumed the car was broke. Alas, the battery was drained. Might Honda have designed a more specific warning message? I’d also thought that I’d see a “jump box,” the likes of which the AAA rep said the tow truck driver would bring. The car was parked nose-first in the garage, it’s a remote starter, and the electronic parking brake was activated, so I could neither jump it nor roll it out in neutral. Alas, after the tow truck driver informed me we’d have to somehow roll it out of the garage, I asked him about his “jump box” and he simply replied, “I’ve got cables.” Well, ok then.

2) An NBA player score 60+ points in a game.
Elijah, I know Dame is your favorite, so I hope you were watching. Long threes, free throws in gobs (made all 18), twisting drives, stop-and-go blow-bys–he even drew a crucial charge late in the game, and the Blazers did win (that helps).

3) A hummingbird dogfight. That’s right.

4) A woman of color on a presidential ticket. Honestly, I had assumed Biden was going to choose Kamala Harris, and even hoped he would (I liked a couple of other folks, too), but my 2020 default mode is “Your hopes are f***ed, buddy.” Anyhow, I am thrilled to be alive to see it, but I want to see more I haven’t seen.

Streaming for Strivers:

Dedicated to my 2020 default mode–all its indicators are flashing, but this recording does have a jump box.

Cloister Commentary, Day 143: Charming but Treasured, Boring but Important

The day began with a simple task–try again to get Scrappers, the seriously runty stray that our two backyard cats have brought into their professional learning team on the deck, to the vet for an exam. He’s about six pounds soaking wet, and he’d shown enough trust for me to pet him and pick him up. Not to mention that fact that he looks worse for wear. I figured we could easily get him into a cardboard carrier and to the clinic on time.

It was not to be. On Try # 1, I foolhardily tried to grab him gloveless (I did have on a hoodie for arm protection) and got my hands mildly shredded when he exploded out of my hug with the strength of three toms. On Try # 2, which Nicole executed perfectly and we teamed to get him into the crate, the little fart literally TORE his way back out of it and hid stubbornly under the bed, at which point we gave up and shooed him back out of the house with a broom. A few hours later, he was forgivingly figure-eighting around my ankles when I came out with food; at least he knows what side his bread’s buttered on. He may have to tough his way into full health.

We each got mail: Nicole, a package of KN95 masks, I an autographed copy of the newest record by master alto saxophonist Charles McPherson (as well as an autographed photo of him–a charming throwback move I will treasure). I know what you’re thinking: “That defines the difference between their priorities!” Not quite. I have a collection of masks that I wear regularly when I’m in company and I’ve been trained by the last five months to wash and sanitize my hands in timely fashion. But supporting my heroes’ work I am still committed to!

Together, we watched the school board approve a delayed start for the public school year and the use of hybrid scheduling for a tool against COVID-19. I had forgotten how riveting school board meetings were, but seriously speaking it fell under the heading of “Boring But Important.” And it wasn’t that boring: sounds like we have an intelligent and supportive group of critical thinkers on the board. The district and the city have their work cut out for them–what lies ahead is fairly uncharted territory.

Streaming for Strivers:

Did Duke ever go bossa? Mildly, but seductively.

Cloister Commentary, Day 142: Dread-Treatments

Woke up with a feeling of dread and treated that with a headphone dose of rabble-rousing, stare-down, truth-telling punk rock. Not only did I feel much better afterward, but Nicole got a chance to sleep in!

Some other dread-treatments that worked? NBA basketball (the Pelicans lost but oh well), family ‘n’ friend Zooms (Jane, Brian, Myra, Jill, and Rex), piña coladas (Nicole made me sing that horrific Rupert Holmes song–I tried to sing it like Slim Pickens would have if Slim Pickens had sung, but nothing can redeem lines like “If you have half a brain”), a korma konkoktion, weeding yes weeding.

Nicole and I also took on a new project. A couple New York Times Magazines ago, 23 current writers under the banner of “The Decameron Project” published short pieces in the vein of Boccaccio’s Italian “Black Death” classic. You may know some of their names: Margaret Atwood, Victor LaValle, Tommy Orange, Ewidge Danticat, and David Mitchell are just a few. Entering into a fraught school semester, we thought it would be fun to read one piece a night together and discuss it. Yes, we have strange ideas of fun but we like it that way. Anyhow, we were too pooped last night to talk about the first story (it was really an intro, anyway) by the time we’d both read it–but we will catch up on the walk we’re about to take.

Streaming for Strivers:

More mordant musings.

Cloister Commentary, Day 141: Love of Life

Lists–for when you’re too lazy to paragraph, or when no narratives emerge, or when hellishness forces you to look closely, like you always should.


1 ) Sitting in a car in the rain, waiting with sanitizer poised for Nicole to return with our groceries, listening to the solid beats and rhymes of a 40-year-old man I last saw when he sat in my classroom when he was 15

2 ) Reading comic book stories of Luba and her family, created by Gilbert Hernandez.

3 ) Sitting across the table from Nicole, just talking.

4 ) Chasing a kitten up a cat tower.

5 ) Watching a kid score 23 points in an NBA Bubble Game whom we saw play in Battle High School Gymnasium when he was 16.

6 ) Opening the mailbox and finding a very compassionate note from good friends and a 45 from International Anthem Records that one of those friends would have loved.

7 ) Half-napping and listening to The Mamas and The Papas (and The Wrecking Crew) on headphones.

8 ) Eating a decent shrimp poboy and fries from Cajun Crab Shack, with Wickles Pickles subbed in for their quotidian ones. Who likes quotidian pickles, I ask you?

9 ) Sipping a fresh peach daiquiri and watching City Lights and Modern Times on Turner Classic Movies.

10 ) Sharing satisfactions and regrets with my betrothed before we lapsed into sleep.

Streaming for Survivors:

One of the first albums I ever mail-ordered, and it’s still potent. Thank you, Trouser Press.

Cloister Commentary, Day 140: Busy Doing “Nothing”

I don’t like the idea of doing something just so I will have subject matter to write about the next day, so I don’t, and I didn’t. To me, the day was quite exciting but I read for hours, which beats bunji jumping by a mile. I’m lucky to have four great books going at once, but you’ll hear about those later, rest assured.

Wait! There was some traditional excitement! Nicole and I did enjoy watering our friend’s garden, flowers, and shrubs while she was out of town, and as I was putting her trash out, I became transfixed by the fancy (to me) insulation in her garage. I’ll have to get us some of that.

Oh yes, and my former student Joseph Kenney invited me not only to guest on his rap podcast (not as a performer!) but also to add tracks to the show’s companion YouTube playlist. He may live to regret both choices. He did survive my class, back in the relatively halcyon Nineties.

Streaming for Survivors:

Product of a deep crate-dig. For Joe…

Cloister Commentary, Day 139: Revivals

I know enough about Facebook’s malfeasances to run screaming from the platform, but I think of George Strait and Dylan Thomas: I’m in too deep to turn back now, so I guess I’ll sing in my chains like the sea. I’m duplicating this journey elsewhere on the InnerTubes, so it’s less about this than not being able to stay in such immediate touch with so many people who’ve enriched my life. Maybe I’ll pay for it one day. (Thanks to my former student Kristin Conrad for making me furrow my brow over it.)

My major project yesterday was finishing up some estate work for Nicole and me. To my chagrin, I discovered I’d last looked at the documents in 2014. However, I put my head down and bulled through most of the rest of it; now, we have only the hardest questions remaining. One would think that, since we have no heirs, those concerns should be easy to address, but they are not. And though we’re both pretty healthy, that can be quite a temporary condition under normal circumstances, not to mention right now.

Nicole made chickpea tikka masala with brown basmati rice: delicious, healthy, and very hard to confine to one serving, but I did–I’m working on my “COVID 10.” After dinner, we tuned into Turner Classic Movies and deeply enjoyed Elmer Gantry. What a wild performance by Burt Lancaster, what an essential archival viewing for U. S. citizens (even though it softens Sinclair Lewis’ novel a bit), and what surprising production values and erotic touches for a 1960 mainstream film! Did you know (I bet Rex Harris does) that both actors who played “Sammy Baker Davis Junior”‘s grandpas in Sixteen Candles also play small but key roles in Elmer Gantry, shot 24 years before?

Streaming for Survivors:

What a band, and what an inside-outside record!

Cloister Commentary, Day 138: Takin’ a Ride

Took a ride with Nicole out to get some fresh peaches in the Chevy. Shabazz Palaces and Roky Erickson sounded great on the stereo. We fantasized about making an actual getaway.

Dropped off the recycling–one must get the timing right these days–and finally filled the tank all the way up. I am not used to having a 30-gallon tank.

Realized I needed to say here that I’ve been pushing Mrs. America relentlessly, but Gloria Steinem reminds us of the role of insurance companies in persuading politicians to oppose the ERA, which the show ignores, very unfortunately. It’s still a worthwhile series–just keep that in mind.

S’posed to be weaned off sports but I’m weak where the Oklahoma City Thunder are concerned, and they beat the supposedly mighty Lakers soundly. Chris Paul often gets on my nerves, but he’s a great leader and is still playing at an elite level. And he’s a quality citizen.

Still no word on how either of our schools are actually opening. It’s August 5th. We have PPE on the way and a house strategy, at least.

Streaming for Strivers:

Look for the Bo Diddley beat in all music and you will eventually find it.

Cloister Commentary, Day 137: Tenterhooks

We voted. Actually, we already had, via absentee ballot. The occasion was mostly a primary, but voters approved a Medicare extension, so that was cool. However, early indications are that barely 30% of eligible Boone County voters exercised their right. I hope to be corrected on that percentage.

We’re also both on tenterhooks waiting for our schools to decide on an opening. With the kind of planning that goes into days, weeks, months and semesters of hour-by-hour teaching, August 4th (make that 5th) shuts the window to a bit of a crack. I know these decisions are difficult, but quality education should be a high priority, y’know?

The two big reminders of my own mortality this summer has presented me pushed me to get in for a check-up. Also, I’m changing physicians, as my last one seemed to be just checking me off the clipboard and couldn’t even keep my medical history straight. I attempted to return to my previous physician, whom I’d left after he scheduled me for a colonoscopy, where I heard the surgeon tell me right after I came out of anesthesia, “Hey, I know you love this procedure, but you didn’t have to come in for another two years!” Smart ass! BUT I was chapped off that I spent some money I didn’t need to and wasn’t even given a choice. According to the receptionist, who asked me to explain why I left the clinic in the first place, my previous physician is “conservative”–I don’t find that word perfectly comforting, but if it means he’s not into taking chances with my health, OK, I get it. Anyway, the receptionist had to check on a couple of matters and call me back, which she didn’t. Gripping reading, eh?

I started what promises to be a great book, Lawrence Wright’s The End of October. Wright’s one of my favorite nonfiction authors–his The Looming Tower, about the historical run-up to 9/11, is a classic–but this is a novel–about a pandemic breaking in Jakarta with a 70% lethality rate. I needed some light reading after the events of the last two months.

Streaming for Strivers:

“Trad jazz” sounds boring, but not when Sidney Bechet’s in the house.

Cloister Commentary, Day 136: Paid Off

Thanks to Nicole’s grandfather’s generosity upon his passing, we were able to make a humble down payment on this, our first and only house in 1996. It’s served us well, and, despite the numerous upgrades it needs, we are still fond of it. Yesterday, we were able to pay it off. We probably should have kicked out the jams to celebrate, but this IS a pandemic.

We failed to get Scrappers, the latest stray to wander up to our deck, into the clinic for a feline leukemia shot and an exam (our local spay and neuter project neutered him and gave him a rabies shot a few weeks back). A very runty Yoda-like tabby who has been through the mill–he’s missing half an ear, sports numerous battle scars, and has a hitch in his get-a-long–Scrappers has been a regular visitor for breakfast and, of course, The Beebs and Goldie have peacefully accepted him as a guest. He must have seen a crate in his future–but just before I started to tap this out, he yearningly reappeared at the back door. No, we’re not keeping him….

I eavesdropped as Nicole mirrored our school district superintendent’s Zoom with teachers to our TV. The questions from educators were very apt, challenging, and engaging (too many, perhaps, produced no answer), and I had to keep reminding myself I was retired. This is not going to be an easy, or safe, semester, and I hope the leadership consistently makes the best hard decisions as the school year begins.

Ever noticed Monday isn’t the best night to dine out? We had little in the cupboard since we’d been out of town for a few days, so we just struck out to “find something,” and struck out is what we did on our first five (?) swings, until after what seemed an hour we happened upon Chim’s Thai Kitchen On Broadway. We ordered curbside and brought home some masaman curry, pad bok choy, and crab rangoon–we shall return!

Our good friend and fellow educator Greg Soden, host of the always-edifying Classical Ideas Podcast, presented his audience with a new episode celebrating the late great sage George Frissell. It includes an interview with George and reminiscences from those who were lucky to know him.

Streaming for Strivers:

Today ought to be a national holiday so we can all celebrate the life and work of this birthday kid.