Cloister Commentary, Day 349: On Ice

Since I’m on ice teaching-wise this semester, I am “free” Tuesdays and Thursdays–it doesn’t feel like freedom, however. I tried to make the most of it: did some chores around the house, dug into a birthday-present box set of New York/St. Louis/Fort Worth jazz master Julius Hemphill’s rare recordings, finished a book and made progress on three others, contemplated applying for a new part-time job and participating in a music writing workshop, chased cats, and reconnected with a former student I last chatted with 31 years ago.

That final event was very cool: I had wished another former student, Shawna Hayes, a happy birthday, and her classmate Mike Nichols did as well–we noticed each other’s wish, greeted each other and, together, tried to remember everyone who was in that first-hour English class in 1990, my first year in Columbia and at Hickman. That class was epochal for me: it was my first experience team-teaching with a learning specialist (Karen Downey and I would remain a team until 2015!), Hickman was a next-level teacher culture from what I was used to, and the first morning I walked in the students had self-segregated accorded to their melanation. The intensity of my engagement and striving was so strong it is no wonder I instantly remembered the names (and specific seating chart spots) of 75% of the class! I would give myself a B- in that striving, but grades don’t mean much; I learned a ton. And Mike and Shawna were so kind and accepting of my trying it’s no wonder I remember them well (I even taught Shawna’s daughter Quasha many years later at Hickman).

Just remembered! As a result of being tagged on Facebook, I got to catch up and reminisce with two other former students who were part of the wildest and wooliest middle school groups I ever taught. Jennie Ling and Lauren Hill were both straight “A” students, but what we actually looked back on were their very rare 7th grade missteps; to have missteps rarely at 12 and 13 is to be well on one’s way. They’ve turned out to be pretty damned solid adults.

When Nicole got home, we got in yet another neighborhood walk (what great weather this week) and again turned to TCM for our movie night choice: Sweet Smell of Success. Watching Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis play slimy tabloid purveyors was fascinating (and disturbing) enough, but James Wong Howe’s black and white cinematography alone was worth the time we spent.

Streaming for Strivers:

Black History Month –> Women’s History Month transition a touch late. Music + poetry in a big way.

Cloister Commentary, Day 348: Palpability

So now I hear the feds are ordering states to vaccinate teachers. I guess educators just needed to suffer the requisite existential anxiety and local blowhard hostility first. We’ll see if that news holds up–it’s only 12 days ahead of the current educators’ tier, so big effin’ deal.

Ok, I’ve breathed. Our first day after having received a COVID shot felt mildly lacking in burden, unsurprisingly. Just doing mundane things–dropping off a package at the P. O., picking up a book at the library and food from a restaurant–seemed breezier. And it’s not just us; I sensed it while out and about. I’m not ready to discard my mask (maybe in 2022), but a further touch of that relief I mentioned yesterday was in the air.

Started a new book, Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill. If the whole thing’s as great as the first three pages I’ll be finished by the weekend.

Nicole and I took another long walk and communed with our neighbor Shireen on the back porch. I decided to take an evening’s break from my CPap mo-sheen and we fell asleep watching Kim’s Convenience.

Streaming for Strivers:

An ice cube rubbed on life’s bee stings.

Cloister Commentary, Day 347: The First Shot

My COVID-19 vaccination appointment was at a mass event yesterday at the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Boonville. Due to a heart condition I had not realized qualified me for the Tier 2 group currently being vaccinated in Missouri, I was fortunate enough to be there; though I’m not a gamblin’ man, it was not my first time. A few years back, Nicole, Susie and George Frissell, and I traveled there to see (and meet!) the legendary country singer Ray Price. The band swung their music in the same space where folks were getting their shots, so now I have two great memories of the exact spot. And not simply because I got a dose of Pfizer.

The operation was very well-organized. I arrived a half-hour early for my 9:00 date with the needle, and was so smoothly ushered through the stations by the National Guard, volunteers, and health professionals in charge that by 8:37 I’d been vaccinated. Chatting with the nurse who was attending me, I told her how elated I now felt, explained my experiences with this commentary project, and casually mentioned that Nicole (on Tier 3) was now teaching in-person and had been waiting nervously to get her shot for several weeks. I really didn’t wheedle, or at least that was what I was trying to project.

“Is she out in the car? We can vaccinate her!”

I replied, “Well, she’s 30 minutes away–what if I can get her here soon?”

“Can she be here by noon?”

Instantly, I was on the phone with Nicole. Fortunately, her work was flexible enough to allow her to leave, and 30 minutes later we were walking through the stations together (I was allowed to be her vaccination support person).

Besides being a great experience–how often does one say that about getting a shot?–we were moved by the kindness, organization, and humor of the site team, and I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me as we walked out of the casino. We still must proceed carefully, and it occurred to me that relief has become a very rare feeling in my life. I’m not taking it for granted–and I hope if you have not yet had the opportunity to feel that particular feeling, it will come soon.

Streaming for Strivers:

O’ Day = “Dough” in Pig Latin. One of my Top 10 favorite singers.

Cloister Commentary, Day 346: The Conversations

Conversations. Had two excellent extended on-line chats with Hickman grads from different eras: Tyree Paladon Byndom (we discussed podcasts and destiny) and Donnie Harden Jr (we affirmed–as usual–the genius of Prince and pondered the possible pitfalls of the Jam-Lewis firing). Those two are unique humans. Also explored with other Kewpie vets Como Dave Sherman, Joseph Kenney, and Alex Fleming (the latter two survivors of my English class while I was still a mite green) was the fine line between ’90s hip-hop hollerers M. O. P. and Onyx. When Nicole got home, we went on a long walk through the neighborhood, got caught up on each other’s day, and applied salve to the “Living in Missouri Blues.”

Dinner: one of my cloister-era favorites! Raw veggies, toasted pita and Uprise Ancient Grain bread, and homemade hummus and pimiento cheese. Simple but delicious, and whatever’s left over we can snack on during the week.

Reading: I’ve long enjoyed Charles Blow’s writing, from his memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones through his pieces in The New York Times, and his new book-length proposal for a reverse Great Migration, The Devil You Know, is fascinating and challenging. Among many arguments he makes (and supports meticulously) is that Black Americans are in more immediate danger from white violence (physically and institutionally) in the northern states than the southern ones.

Streaming for Strivers:

I’ve probably listened to this master’s music more than any woman’s during this pandemic. It’s helped. She’s inventive, sassier than Sassy (her take on “Send in the Clowns” is bold), witty, flexible, and…in control.

Cloister Commentary, Day 345: Sunday Morning Coming Up

The highlight of the day was a Bear Creek trail walk during which Nicole and I discussed fascinating future possibilities. It’s been hard during the last year to visualize the future as usual when the moment itself has so frequently been too critical to inhabit casually–and imaginatively–so…that was cool.

I’m sure I’ve made many comments here that have justifiably caused readers to roll their eyes and exhale a “Really?” but my taste-curiosity has had me exploring the current round of craft non-alcoholic beer. Before, I’d raved about WellBeing Brewing (we still love their Victory Wheat), but Athletic Brewing Company and The Brooklyn Brewery are hot on their heels. This is not sage wisdom anyone’s going to beat my door down to get, but I have a knack for that kind. Needless to say, I’ve been doing research–at least I can have a guilt-free beer for breakfast with Sunday Morning coming UP.

My mom went to her “great-granddaughter”‘s basketball game AND church this weekend; that makes me happy. I am sure she took precautions.

After the walk, Nicole made pimiento cheese spread and a delicious salt-free hummus, while I finished The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (!!) and listened to Miles’ Jack Johnson and Get Up With It on headphones. I also became dissatisfied with the two MF DOOM mix CDs I’d made for Josh Slates that I kept those for my truck and made him two new ones. I owed him a couple anyhow; he’s always been a terrific source. That was the productivity part of our day.

My heart hurt a little when I realized Season 1 of All Creatures Great and Small was over; singing and dancing on Men in Kilts assuaged my pain. I really need to visit my family line’s castle, Kisimul, in the Outer Hebrides.

Streaming for Strivers:

“Sound” in more ways than one.

Cloister Commentary, Day 344: Saturday Checklist

Got lost in the shadowy world of John Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Dropped by the Columbia Farmers Market for our Pasta La Fata order of Sicilian “green balls,” fresh spaghetti, and lasagna.

Took a three-mile neighborhood walk-n-talk with Nicole, returning to find our outdoor cat-sentry Beebs up on the roof.

Drank two WellBeing Brewing Victory Wheats and slapped together a rough draft of a two-CD “History of Daniel Dumile” comp I’ll be sending to my long-time pal Josh Slates.

After dinner, surfed Turner Classic Movies On Demand and settled on a revisiting of Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt. Interesting who the most interesting characters are, as always with Hitch!

Streaming for Strivers:

For Jimbo on Tybee Island!

Cloister Commentary, Day 343: Tucked Away

We both woke up bleary. My first night at home wearing a BiPap mask for my sleep apnea wasn’t terrible, but I woke up four times and had trouble getting back to sleep. Nicole was pestered by Tux, who can be a night-tyrant, as well as a few cat-scrambles by the others. We trudged through our Friday morning ritual (coffee, meditation, school prep, writing this, breakfast, hauling out the trash and recycling), and she was off. The rest of the morning appeared to be a rather sedate affair for us.

It was not to be.

About 10, I realized that, for several hours, I hadn’t seen one of our cats who is usually a pronounced midmorning presence. At first, I didn’t worry; they famously can tuck themselves away. Maybe she’d escaped outdoors, but she wouldn’t have gone far–I just didn’t see her anywhere on the house perimeter. But by the time Nicole got home, I still hadn’t seen her.

Increasingly concerned, we turned the house inside out, even searching the rafters of our partially finished basement with a flashlight: nothing. Suddenly, Nicole reminded me that she’d left a trash bag open in case I needed to put any remaining junk in there, I remembered that I was very sleepy when I finally tied it up and took it to the curb–had the cat climbed in without my knowledge…and been trash-compacted?

We felt sick to our stomachs; we had indeed looked everywhere in the house thrice, and eliminated every other scenario. Seriously bummed, we skulked around for an hour. In the bathroom, Nicole made one more reflexive check of the cabinet under the sink, which is seldom ever opened or left open. Out she sauntered, like she’d just come out of winter’s hibernation, with a sleepy “What’s up?” look on her mug. She had been compacted–into a tight ball in the back corner of the cabinet, with all the bottles of cleaning chemicals, apparently recharging after a night of mischief.

We screamed in relief, as we had pretty near accepted the fact that we had become unintentional cat murderers, even trying to rationalize it to ourselves by muttering, “It’s not like we are out of cats.”

Sleeping off the hijinks–again.

The rest of the day paled in comparison.

Streaming for Strivers:

Philly-born and -bred, and sallying forth here on multiple instruments.

Cloister Commentary, Day 342: Erasures

The thing about those screaming for schools to reopen fully: how come they weren’t screaming to get teachers vaccinated early so they could, more safely? Because teachers do want to teach, in person–badly. Shows you where those screamers’ priorities are. There’s a damn lot of folks who aren’t too concerned with the health of anyone, as long as they’re ok, Jack.

I spent most of the morning reading military history and being introduced to writer Charles Blow’s proposal for a reverse Great Migration southward (check out his book The Devil You Know), most of the afternoon picking up, assembling, and testing my new-dangled CPAP machine and BiPap mask. The thought of wearing it every night for a long, long time makes me fret against the imperfection and deterioration of my body, but it is supposed to improve my energy and memory as well as my respiration.

For movie night, Nicole and I finally checked out Shaka King’s film about Fred Hampton’s assassination by the FBI, Judas and The Black Messiah (currently on HBO Max). We knew the history pretty well, and were impressed by the acting and filmmaking, but one had best be fortified when taking it in. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, MLK, Hampton–all tragically erased from this plane within the space of six years of the 1960s, and at least one of them by government and law enforcement.

Streaming for Strivers:

Any time is the right time for Mr. Mayfield. This time in particular.

Cloister Commentary, Day 341: Coup De Grace

Work was a mite slow. I was able to complete one of my teacher intern’s evaluations–they are both really passionate and skilled!–before my tutoring hours began, and after that the highlight was a very enlightening webinar on ungendering the workplace. I was happy to offer a comment that was not dunderheaded!

My mom has been feeling better (a terrific birthday present), and she texted me yesterday to confirm she and some siblings and cousins are taking a road trip to Dallas to see my Aunt Patricia (make that Trish). Everyone involved, I believe, will have been fully vaccinated, and this is something that, under the circumstances of ’20-’21, she really needs.

In this house, we celebrate each other’s birthday all week long. The cookies were finally gone, but Nicole served up the coup de grace for dinner: delicious veggie stuffed peppers (by request)! She also kindly authorized a musical purchase. My resolution has suffered a couple shots to the torso, but is intending to be mending post-birth-a-versary.

In the evening, we finished The Durrells. Any suggestions for our next series binge?

Streaming for Strivers:

This isn’t a full album, but it’s longer than some, and it recently converted me to the wiles of this artist I just couldn’t seem to connect with.

Cloister Commentary, Day 340: I Love Capri

Started a few new books by folks last name of Le Carré, Blow, and Smarsh. Bodes well.

Observed the first lesson of a teacher intern I’m supervising at Battle. She was relaxed yet organized, precise and enthusiastic; she was knowledgeable yet open to student ideas; she navigated a synchronous classroom (virtual AND in-seat) with ease. And her first lesson was the same as mine was back in January ’84: Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” tale–she, too, took a vocabulary sidetrack for students on the word “maidenhead,” but she was more chill (as they say) than I was.

Nicole and I went for another walk–what a beauty of a day!–but were somewhat distracted by our still seeking a COVID shot: she’s in-person with students four days a week, I have a heart condition that’s going to require a procedure in May. My phone pinged the minute we stepped back in the house: the state invited me to the Isle of Capri, but for something better than gambling. This time I didn’t mess up the appointment. Now, for my loved one….

Streaming for Strivers:

Brief but durably soulful.