Cloister Commentary, Day 14: Kleenex Close

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 42: Weather Reps

One of our shelter rituals has been watching the local and national news at 5 and 5:30. Alas, to that we must put a stop. After 30 minutes of local “coverage’ during which we saw the same advertisement three times, had the weather POUNDED into our brains via four reps–I got it the effin’ first time, people–and consumed maybe 30 seconds of actual information during the last 10 minutes of the program, WE CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! I assure you, enough vital news (not even counting pandemic stuff and the beginning of campaign feces-flinging) is out there to fill 60 MINUTES. I’m not naive; I know the TV exists to sell, that it’s the “shows” that support the ads, not the other way around. But still. What a waste. We can always use more time for books and music, I guess.

Ok, then. Perhaps in response to this frustration, Nicole and I jumped in the car and just drove: out to her workplace, Battle High School, past her mom Lynda’s old house, down 63 to the AC exit, up Providence to downtown (sad to see Lucky’s lights still on but no cars in the lot), through the Stephens College campus (“Look! There’s where I park! And there’s the library window I’d jump out of in an emergency!”), onto I-70 and across the Missouri River bridge, then back home, the last 20 minutes accompanied by a mellow but vivid sunset. Soundtrack: Novo Baianos’ Acabou Chorare (a late-Tropicalia masterpiece from Brazil), Thelonious Monk Trio (if you don’t know Monk’s brilliance, a great starting point), and Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus. It was a redemptive little trip, but it left us sad to think we have no clue when or where we will actually be able travel to see people and places.

A ritual we are practicing that I’ve forgotten to mention is periodically ordering something neat to give ourselves something to look forward to arriving. I think we’ve made four Powell’s Books orders, I have some Soul Jazz-labelmusic coming from the UK, and Nicole got a box of nice stuff (soap, incense, a Shiva scarf, and a cone incense diffuser) from Nag Champa. We are fortunate to have leisure capital to spend, but at least we are spending it with quality merchants and avoiding Amazon like the plague during the plague.

Still keeping your eye on the ball regarding our Republican “legislators”‘s ongoing attempt to subvert democracy and overturn Clean Missouri while we’re distracted? Creeps. Not much noise about THAT at all on the TV news. Cheating in plain sight is the new political normal.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Curious about that Novo Baianos record? Here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 41: In Dreams

Dreaming strangely during this crisis? Me, too. My body literally forced me to take a nap yesterday–rare for me in almost any case–and, even rarer, I dreamed during it. In this dream, I was napping (that’s how much I needed one, I guess) on the couch in our front room when someone I know who shouldn’t ever be in our house emerged happily from the basement. This awakened me (in the dream),and, feeling like I’d swallowed three muscle relaxants, I moaned, “What are you doing here?” The individual grinned and said, “Your dad said I could fix it.” From the TV room, my dad yelled, “Yep. I did.” I got up from the couch as Nicole walked into the room, and I told her, “Let’s go.” We exited the house, got in the car (I chose to drive, which I usually don’t), turned to Nicole and said, “I’m too out of it to drive,” and proceeded to back out of the driveway onto Phyllis and continue backing the half-block toward Garth. Nicole said, “You’re driving backwards and you’re not using the rear view.” I looked at her, nodded, braked, put the car in drive, checked the rear view before accelerating forward–and the mirror was opaque. Then I woke up, though it took me at least an hour to do so fully.

Turns out COVID-19 is influencing many folks’ dreams. According to experts, we dream frequently of being chased, but in this mess’s case we may be deeply unsure of what. In dreams, we may be being communicated solutions to present conflicts by our subconscious. I looked further into it, and happened upon both an interesting article about the phenomenon and a blogger’s project in logging our dreams as we find our way through this pandemic labyrinth.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Happy International Jazz Day!

Cloister Commentary, Day 40: Lightning Strikes!

Almost every time we’ve walked the neighborhood, on our way over to or back from Parkade Park we stop and chat with our neighbor Kelly. She’s an educator like us, and yesterday we talked to her curb-to-window (COVID-style). We generally share how we’re making it, what’s frustrating us, and what we need (and need not) to be doing. Speaking of the latter, she’s been biking the Katy, and that inspired us to get out on one of our epic Old 63-to-Scott Boulevard hikes very soon.

We knew a storm was brewing, so when we returned from our walk, Nicole went out back to bring in the deck umbrella. The windows were open, and, standing in the kitchen, I heard a sizzling crackle, saw a quick flash, then heard a boom. My heart jumped into my throat, then I heard the umbrella fall to the deck and the back door swing open. Wide-eyed, Nicole appeared, eyes wide, a little pale, and uttering epithets. We are both grateful that lightning strike spared her.

I don’t know what your dog does during thunderstorms, but ours becomes angry and races through the house looking to attack every thunder-peal, so we enjoyed that for about an hour while trying to calm down after the near-electrocution. I think I’d rather he be scared.

The storm finally abated, and we spent a second straight night reading in the front room, with the windows open and listening to jazz (the full album I’m sharing below was a major highlight). What was I reading, you didn’t ask? If you happen to be seeking some good literature that springs from Missouri heritage; if you want to be both brutally enlightened and deliriously entertained; and if you want to experience one of the most inimitable voices in crime fiction, may I direct you to Jeff City-born Chester HimesHarlem Cycle of novels, which feature the laconic yet explosive detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones? I finished Blind Man with a Gun last night and have only Plan B to go before I’ve read the whole nine-book Cycle. Himes is amazing. The titles you may have heard of are Cotton Comes to Harlem and A Rage in Harlem; they’re all very good, and pack a stiff volley of punches into 200 pages.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Would you like to sample a classic hard-bop jazz album that’s near-equal parts lightning swingers and probing ballads? I knew that you would.

Cloister Commentary, Day 39: Contempt

I know I’m not alone.

Yesterday, I watched the governor of Georgia address a member of the media, who’d asked him a simple, relevant, and necessary question, with absolute contempt. Once again, I was put in a very frustrating position: my impulse was to want to see this boor publicly disgraced, at the very least chastened into silence, but for that to happen, he would need to be very, very publicly wrong, which would mean…bodies stacked like cordwood. That’s the last thing I want, so that leaves me hoping the boor is correct. I’m really tired of feeling this way, deep in the pit of my stomach. Contempt, militant ignorance, bloviation, bristling insecurity, crudeness–and the blatant inability to accept and respond, intelligently and knowledgeably, to criticism: these have always been the hallmarks of the small man. They can’t also be the hallmarks of our leadership, can they?

I know this is probably weak-minded, but who liked these kinds of humans in high school? Who enjoys them as bosses? Who likes them between their legs?

Ok, breathe.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Feels appropriate.

Cloister Commentary, Day 38: Our Happy Hollow

Even though we don’t really have a “family” in-house (well…pets), we eat at the table on a regular basis. We almost–almost–did so thrice yesterday; the oatmeal came off the stove right as “CBS Sunday Morning” came on in the living room and we like to watch that live (Note: I am not a fruit eater but Nicole has seduced me into enjoying blackberries, raspberries, and bananas in my hot cereal–one fringe benefit of sheltering). But lunch and dinner were magnificent efforts by the chef: vegetarian enchiladas made with Tortilleria El Patron‘s tortillas as well as Happy Hollow Farm‘s purple radishes and sweet potatoes (of which I’m not normally a fan unless they’re in a pie) for the former, her long-time staple and specialty peanut butter curry for the latter. The windows were open all day, the music was flowing, and no neighbors were screaming at each other.

I understand it’s rather bourgeois to linger too long over food (Luis Buñuel made that point powerfully), but a) I may actually be rather bourgeois–more so than I’d prefer–and b) home-cooked meals have been one of the most sustaining rituals of this mess, and I’m fortunate to live with someone who cooks with love, skill, and imagination. For the record, I always and zen-happily wash and dry the dishes promptly; I seldom use the dishwasher, but as a mercy to my chapped hands and wrists, since the thing began I’ve leaned on it a bit. My goal since we moved in together has been to never allow her near a stacked sink, and to assure her every implement’s clean for her to make as big a culinary mess as she needs to. I’m not very romantic, but those are my dozen roses, I suppose.

I dug Albert Camus’ The Plague out of the basement library in the early evening. How cliché at this point, I know, but that paperback has been with me (physically and spiritually) longer than most of the books in the house. The novel was required reading for a fantastic “Philosophy and Literature” class I took as a senior at what was then Southwest Missouri State, and the prof was superb. I can’t remember his name, but he had long gray hair, a mustache, and muttonchops, and always sported the same cigarette-burned corduroy jacket–Clay Thomas, you recall him, by chance? The Stranger and “The Myth of Sisyphus” were splashier reads, but The Plague seemed much more adaptable to the lived life of a 21-year-old, and warmer (if that makes sense). Time for a re-read, even if (maybe especially because) millions of other humans are also picking it up. I encourage you to, as well; there’s more than one plague we’re dealing with, after all, and this book will help.

The Plague

Oh, and Tux finally used his $100 house after many months (including a fall and winter) of turning up his pink nose! Instead, he’s turning his nose up at the lunch that he did not eat at our table.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

This may not actually be the greatest jazz concert of all time, but with Bird on sax, Diz on trumpet, Bud on piano, Max on drums, and Mingus on bass, it is mos def no disgrace.

Cloister Commentary, Day 37: So Long, Flo

We said a somber farewell to Nicole’s Grandma Florence Martinez, who passed away at the age of 95 yesterday. She was a strong, smiling presence in her kids’ and grandkids’ lives, and she will be sorely missed. Florence had a mischievous smile and eye-sparkle she would frequently flash that will last forever in my mind’s eye. I try to confront this mess we’re in with an even disposition, but the stabbing way it has robbed humans at the arrival in their lives of birth and death is especially cruel, and makes me just want to loudly lose it a little bit. Adam, Chrisy, Angela, Big Joe and Little Joe, and Cathy, we’re with you in spirit if we can’t be in physical space.

The highlights of a stormy day were simple: Frenchy Treats‘ delicious macarons, which we purchased at the Columbia Farmers Market (they really have their operation together), and a revisiting of a movie we have loved forever, Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law. Did you know the title refers to a very close relationship, not an oppressed state? My interpretation is, you’re down with someone according to your own laws for a human relationship.

I also was very pleasantly surprised by feedback from two very amazing former students, Justin and Arianna. When you’re a teacher of hoarier vintage, who’s been away from large groups students of students for awhile, you can start picking at yourself, wondering if you’ve still got the knack and shouldn’t consider getting out before you overstay your acumen’s duration. For better or worse, you two, my hand’s still in the game thanks so much to your kind words.

I hate it when I forget to read. I didn’t even read the dang paper. I did read a student’s essay but that doesn’t quite count.

Used to be, the only time my nose ever itched was when my hands were in a soapy sink. Now, it itches every single time I really hadn’t ought to touch my face. I hereby dub this phenomenon “COVID nose.”

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I’ve noticed on social media that this one of a kind album (even considered in this one of a kind artist’s oeuvre) has been landing in many friends’ lives lately. Perhaps it’s time for you to make its acquaintance if you haven’t already.

Cloister Commentary, Day 36: Im-ma-TOOR

Nicole and I felt a bit exhilarated yesterday. We had behaved very dutifully during the week while enduring some considerable neighborhood (and personal) stress, and we knew the payoff was going to be Mexican food, margaritas…and BEASTIE BOYS SHOW on Apple TV +! So we stayed focused ’til 4 pm (grocery run, disinfecting, school work, reading, and projects), when we broke out the margaritas and participated in a Zoom happy hour with some of Nicole‘s comrades. The exhilaration may have caused me to engage too frequently and too loosely, and for that I apologize–I’m rusty in the society of more than two.

So how was BEASTIE BOYS SHOW? Weird. Rather than being a documentary, it’s more of a two-man performance in front of a documentary. We’d read the very fun BEASTIE BOYS BOOK, to which the movie is a companion, so we didn’t really need the nutshelling Mike D and Ad Rock were doing, which felt strained anyway, especially when they were having to explain the more complicated aspects of their career. We did need the vintage photos and footage from their rise that were projected on the venue’s massive screen, but ultimately we just wanted to see that.

Halfway through, we were inspired to break out our old VHS of Licensed to Ill-era videos, which we enjoyed much more BUT which hasn’t ever been issued in another form, for pretty obvious reasons arising from the backstage (and occasionally onstage) footage. Suffice it to say it is laced with often-inspired–and often-neglible–“im-ma-TOOR-ity.” “Boys will be boys” falls short.

VHS Cover

We returned to the movie just as the Check Your Head process had begun (we saw them live on the first show of that tour), but couldn’t quite stick with it to the end. Partially that was due to the leeching out of excitement that is the bane of so many career stories when they hit the subject’s “ma-TOOR” period; partially it was us getting up at 4, failing to get a nap in, and…oh yes…the margaritas. I’d give the thing a B / B+, but we haven’t quite finished it, and I think folks who haven’t read the book might like it much more than we have. It did beat Ozark.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

The model. Also, great motivating music for folks struggling in this mess.

Cloister Commentary, Day 35: Hermeto Lives!

In search of projects: Our vacuum cleaner needed some serious cleaning. After we got a hold of a new filter, I took the dust-crusted detachable parts into the shower with me yesterday morning and soaped and rinsed them out. That isn’t weird, is it? Oh, by the way, we aren’t taking pioneer baths anymore, as we finally got ahold of a sturdy new shower hose.

Self-promotion department: the lovely and peculiar Greg Grupe contacted me and about 2,778 other Hickman High School retirees to suggest we inform each other about how we’re dealing with this mess. Guess who just happens to have some blog posts at his fingertips? #clickgrubber

Landscaping discovery: they do not call it catmint for nothing. A pregnant neighborhood stray kitten is basically living in ours, flattening it out for a bed, so we have TWO new problems to solve now.

Fun music moment: Ben Shelton, a Hickman grad whom I unfortunately never got to teach, buzzes in to my wall to touch base about music once every 4-5 months, and his interests are always interesting (you can’t say that about everyone). He has extremely astute tastes in jazz, and I was delighted when he posted the always-exciting question, “Have you heard of this guy?” and the guy was the Brazilian wizard Hermeto Pascoal! My answer was, “I’m a BIG fan!” but I only am because another friend, Robert Wingfield of New Orleans, asked me the same question and my answer was “Uh, no.” Hear what the fuss is about below.

Making contact: I chatted with my Springfield brother Mike Rayhill on the phone. We both graduated high school in 1980 and from the former SMSU in 1984, both hail from similar Missouri locales (I’m from Carthage, he’s from Camdenton), share a lot of the same perspectives, didn’t kill each other when we shared a rental house for three years, I roadied a little and played the Reuben Kincaid role for a few of his bands, and did I mention we rock and roll? I hate talking on the phone, but Mike’s calls I always look forward to. I was thrilled to learn that his stellar, skilled, and sharp son, an otherwise unfortunate member of the senior class of 2020, may well be attending Mizzou, where I can serve as his mentor if he needs one! (Look out, kid!)

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

The name is Hermeto. Miles knew.

Cloister Commentary, Day 34: Cat Fights

A quiet, shoulder-to-the-wheel day. Nicole had three Zoom meetings and I edited two student’ papers remotely. We received a delicious pastry ‘n’ soup delivery from Love Coffee, via our old Hickman comrade Karen Morgan, and ran some books out to our old friends Dennis and Denise Ferguson. Nicole broke up a big (literal) cat fight in the front yard, and we watched an iteration of the political cat fight ploy in an episode of Mrs. America. Finally, after a great five-day run, the big plate of delicious spinach lasagna Nicole baked is no more.

It was our Uncle John Waters’ birthday, but we’ll have to celebrate it belatedly along with Wild Bill Shakespeare’s today. We’d also planned to throw a listening party for ourselves with Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, revered in this house, but we were too focused otherwise.

Some very good news: Missouri’s governor granted well-earned clemency to Columbia businessman Dimetrious Woods, and our longtime heavy-rotation punk rock faves X released their first album of new material in many a moon. Reputedly, these things come in threes, but lately one might next expect a kick in the teeth…

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

You think you’re well-dressed?