Cloister Commentary, Day 164: Candelabra

At my job, my four other co-workers and I of course must be masked at all times, but we are also encouraged to stay in our offices with the doors shut unless it’s absolutely necessary that we leave. At least we can take our masks off while we’re cloistered, but the situation makes other modes of communication necessary. My boss (who is an outstanding one) emailed me to ask for my office phone number because for some reason she didn’t have it.

My reply: “That could be because I don’t have an office phone.”

Boss: “Wait? You’ve never had an office phone?”

Me: “Nope.”

Boss: “Well, you’re getting an office phone, I’ll see to that!”

Students have to start really procrastinating before our tutoring picks up, so that will have to stand for the highlight of my first day back to on-location work.

I’ve been hearing talk in some quarters about “lazy teachers.” I assume that’s related to our city public school system going virtual for at least the first week. Funny: I’ve heard teachers called many things over my career–“merfer” is my personal favorite that I’ve experienced–but lazy has never been one of them. It’s not a profession I’ve frequently seen the lazy rush into, and one thing we all have in common is having teachers. I’ve had, and known, some subpar ones–think back to how you witnessed your own teachers practice–but even they have seldom been lazy. Why not? It’s almost impossible to be lazy and merely survive the job. Manage humans, create, disseminate, and explain curriculum, then assess the output for 100-150 of those humans per assignment? If that were all there were to it, and it ain’t, it’d require diligence whether one taught virtually, in hybrid, or in person. Just this morning, I was texting with a former colleague who is instructing virtually all year, but has five separate courses to prepare for. There is nowhere to run and hide in slothfulness, indolence and lethargy from that. Another fellow colleague told me today she is already burning her candle at both ends, and virtual teaching won’t ease that. I suggested she needed a candelabra.

Sorry. I don’t know why I’m even explaining; chances are if you asked the accusers to come on and show the rest of us how it’s done, they’d have to go see a guy about a horse.

Besides: teachers did not create or exacerbate our current problem; childcare may be a fringe benefit of public education, but it’s not in the job description (or in our pay grade); and our country has had the chance to create a national child care program, as well as a society with reasonable safety nets for situations like the present–but, well, I believe that’s (apparently) largely considered Communistic, socialistic, Satanic, enabling, or some such other evil. I am aware of the strain hybrid and remote learning puts on families, especially those struggling already with non-COVID obstacles, but “lazy teachers” are not the proper target for vilification. Ok, done.

Cool new show (new to us, anyway): The Indian Doctor. Rooting interests: seventh game success for the OKC Thunder, and I’ll take either the Nuggets OR the Jazz, providing Murray and Mitchell light it up again’

Streaming for Strivers:

That’ll be the day, indeed.

Cloister Commentary, Day 163: Work To Do

This was my last day before I go back to work. I will be tutoring students virtually from my office in Hugh Stephens Library (which at present is closed), as well as touching base intermittently with Stephens freshmen about their progress in getting adjusted. It is not likely to be the most exciting professional semester I will ever have spent, but I’m eager to get back to trying to help. I may also be doing some curbside notarizing….

For a last day before work, we were relatively quiet. We cleaned the house and WD-40’d some squeaky things; we Zoomed with family and friends; we listened to old favorites Earl King, Lucinda Williams, and Bettye LaVette; we ate leftover Indian food for lunch and ordered a Tony’s Pizza Palace favorite for dinner (the Veggie Zeus); I marveled at the NBA shooting guard Battle of the Ages pitting Denver’s Jamal Murray against Utah’s Donovan Mitchell; Nicole snagged us some groceries; and we hit the sack early.

Streaming for Strivers:

In compensation for this entry’s lack of sizzle, I bring you this.

Cloister Commentary, Day 162: So Long, Ol’ Splash

Are you someone who actively looks for things to worry about? Then, right after you no longer have to worry about those things, you seek the next gut-roiling concern? And often they aren’t even worrisome things in the first place? Come sit by me.

So long, Splash. The Stooges and SST stickers were the first I ever applied.

I awakened wide-eyed yesterday morning at 4:30 knowing I would be driving my ’93 Ford Ranger Splash 300 miles to Paducah, Kentucky, to hand it off to my longtime fellow Razorback best buddy, Kenny Wright (the first student I met in Fayetteville after my parents dropped my freshman ass off) and his cooler-than-cool wife Gwen, and have a Popeye’s picnic lunch with them in Bob Noble Park–then COVIDly turn around and drive back home. A) Though my garage had prepped the truck carefully for the trip, and the Wrights’ son Ethan (the actual new owner) had bought it new all-weather tires, I kept picturing an axle breaking on me on I-70 and sending me plummeting into the Mississippi to my death (not really possible–that exact accident, that is), or the truck just dying on that suspension bridge. B ) What if they truck crapped out on Kenny on an interstate highway in a torrential rainstorm? These are the concerns that had raised our relatively simple trip to the level of an mythological quest.

The old jalopy ending up hauling ass smoothly to Paducah, and Sir Doug and Chuck Berry helped quell my anxiety. Kenny did get the torrential rainstorm, but not the crap-out. Ethan now must send us pictures of the gradual restoration, and my former students must find another way to identify my presence at the package store.

Nicole, of course, drove our other vehicle to Paducah, too, so I could get back home, and Dead Moon powered us on our return trip. As delicious curbside food and margaritas from La Terraza eased our highway hypnosis, who should call out of the clear blue night but our old pal Bess Frissell! We yelled at each other on speakerphone for about two hours and had a wonderful time. All the time, I silently chided myself for being a worrywart after such a fun day.

But…don’t you think these next two are going to the longest months of our lives?

Streaming for Strivers:

Not bad as tribute albums go.


Cloister Commentary, Day 161: Easy Breeze

Locked myself out of my house AND vehicle.

Signed my official oath as a notary public in Missouri.

With Nicole, came one big step closer to creating a legal estate. Final query: basic wills or trust? Thanks for being sharp, Counselor Kopp.

Ate Indian cuisine for the second time in two nights.

Hit the sack surrounded by four cats, five of you count Nicole, who’s a cool one.

A breezy entry on a busy morning.

Streaming for Strivers:

In response to The Reaper…

Cloister Commentary, Day 160: Notarize THIS.

I farted around and didn’t do much other than run the sweeper, read, research the discography of the great jazz singer Carmen McRae (man, she’s put a hook in my lip!), get too excited about my notary public commission and drive my insurance agent and the American Association of Notaries customer service reps crazy, and fall asleep about four times during a very special Last Tango in Halifax. I also sampled three new IPAs, which may have contributed to that latter non-action.

They can’t all be Roman candles and Ferris wheel rides.

Streaming for Survivors:

Hook. In. My. Lip. Carmen, set me free. On second thought, don’t.

Cloister Commentary, Day 159: How Many More, How Much More?

Finally, I weeded and trimmed around the front yard and sides of the house and hauled the detritus to the mulch site. I’m almost to sore to write this morning. Where is this sudden burst of diligence coming from? It scares me. I was accompanied by the neighbor’s passel of unfed cats, who were clearly entertaining me in hopes of morsels.

Nicole and I checked a few items off the get-‘er-done-‘fore-school-starts list: we set up a safety deposit box and corresponded again with two prisoners on death row in Missouri in league with the Missourians Against the Death Penalty program. It’s a trademark of the pandemic that two actions taking us a little less than an hour total felt like major accomplishments.

The NBA’s choice to suspend the playoffs was more inspiring than watching a great overtime game. It’s on the back of Dame’s and Donovan’s jerseys: how many more? And how much more?

We finished the first season of Unforgotten, which ended a tad soft with an overload of redemption. But I also found myself asking, from a critical perspective, what’s so wrong with that? Is it that much of a pipedream? Well, probably.

My English friend David requested Top 10 lists from some of his fellow music mavens, and rather than rearrange the same basic list I’ve probably posted for a decade, I decided to go off-canon. For your perusal:

  1. Carmen McRae: As Time Goes By – Live at the Dug
  2. Dead Moon: Trash & Burn
  3. Armando Garzon: Boleros
  4. Doris Duke: I’m a Loser (Kent UK Reissue)
  5. Jorge Ben: Africa Brasil
  6. Various Artists: It Came from Memphis, Volumes 1 & 2
  7. CH3: Fear of Life
  8. Sonny Criss: Sonny’s Dream (Birth of the New Cool)
  9. Johnny Bush: 14 Greatest Hits
  10. Lynn August: Sauce Piquante

Streaming for Strivers:

A taste? I have probably listened to this somewhat forgotten album 10-15 times in the last year.

Cloister Commentary, Day 158: The Mediocre Lord

Dude walks in unmasked (the only person out of eight in the store) to Love Coffee Cafe while we’re waiting for our order. Does not smile or otherwise return cheerful greeting from cashier. Makes several special requests with his orders. Seems chapped off he cannot get the light roast he wants. At no time does he utter the words “Thank you” in the transaction. Received his order and leaves without a word.

On the way home, I said to Nicole, “It just pisses me off to the highest of pissed-tivity to watch the mediocre act like lords and brusquely order people around.”

Nicole: “That’s what the mediocre do.”

Right. That response kept me from carrying my agitation any further into the day. I recommend you remember her advice for your own use when such despicable moments arise, as they have been more frequently than usual since they’re being modeled on a national stage.

Items found in my old truck during my bi-decade post-sale cleaning of it: a Snapper IPA can, a battery post cleaner (is that what they’re called?), $3.15 in assorted change, a burned MP3 disc of Jerry Lee Lewis highlights, a mixed metric and standard wrench set, a cigarette butt (I quit smoking on January 1st, 2007), four tire gauges, and some Cornuts. Oh, and a mysterious touch-up paint kit!

I recently received in the mail a 30-cd + book American music project from the creator and author, who is absolute upper echelon in his field–actually, I’d helped crowd-fund the project–and, as I do with every CD I buy (I am slowing down some), I ripped all the discs to my external drive. Unsurprisingly for such a massive project, the tags were in some disarray, so I spent most of the afternoon fixing them. Yes, I am not fully sane. But it felt good.

Streaming for Strivers:

Mr. 5 x 5.

Cloister Commentary, Day 157: I Want My Crown

I received a new crown (on a tooth, to be clear) in January, a piece broke off of it in February and my dentist applied a temporary patch to it since the next crown appointment wasn’t available until April, COVID-19 hit and my appointment was delayed, and finally yesterday I sat for over three hours for a new, more durable crown (free of charge). I’ve been seeing the same dentist for almost 30 years–she’s excellent–and over that time her in-house music has improved: I even heard Freddy Fender at one point. I was able to read Zadie Smith’s excellent new pandemic essay collection Intimations while the new crown cooked, and overall the grinding was tolerable. Plus, my hygienist was into Jimi Hendrix and country music, so I tried to sell her on Mdou Moctar, Pistol Annies, and Tyler Childers, of whom she hadn’t heard. Now that I look back at that description, it almost looks like I had fun.

Nicole fixed me some miso soup when I got home–I was a bit numb, still–then I was sucked into The NBA Playoff Vortex. Waited several hours for the Culligan guy to show up and fix a leak in our water-softening system, then after dinner we kicked back and watched our new shows (Lovecraft Country–the jury is still out there–and Unforgotten, which rocks).

And…2020 poured more of its kerosene of ugliness, virus, and hate on the existing raging fire.

Streaming for Strivers:

Two young masters improvising.

Cloister Commentary, Day 156: Estate of Being

Following her mom’s passing in 2013 and its aftermath, Nicole and I decided to get our estate in order and create a formal will. We consulted with a lawyer, worked through about 3/4ths of the paperwork–and then it ended up in our to-finish basket, where it stayed until this month. Evidence of our mortality through the fate of others has been very plentiful over the last couple of months, plus we our starting school in a bit, which now has something new and fearsome taking its place there next to the specter of school shootings. ANYHOW…we just about got the paperwork finished when we remembered, should our own passing come more quickly than we would like, that we couldn’t just leave our pets hanging. So we sought out potential takers via a Facebook post, but a few folks may have misunderstood our intention: we are not planning to die soon, we’re just taking precautions in case the unexpected happens.

Elsewhere, Nicole spent the afternoon seeking clarification on some school meeting points, I watched Luka Dončić stick a dagger in the Clippers’ hearts and started a couple books (including Albert Camus’ The Plague, which I last read in the winter of 1983), and we both dug into some navratan korma, Zoomed with our pals Jill and Rex, and socialized safely with our neighbor Shireen on her back deck.

Streaming for Survivors:

To lighten the mood…

Cloister Commentary, Day 155: Boone County Numerology

Yesterday wasn’t New Year’s Day, but every day’s a good day for black-eyed peas, collard greens, and sweet cornbread. Nicole rustled up a big batch in the afternoon and they were delicious–we favor it all mixed together, heavy on the greens. I hope they’re good luck no matter when you eat them; we have to counter Boone County numerology (59, 64, 81, 78, 60.8–and those are the wrong kind of lottery numbers).

I had intended to surprise Nicole by telling her just before we hit the sack, “Congratulations! You’re married to a notary!” However, we stayed up so late watching The Searchers and Love with the Proper Stranger on Turner Classic Movies (Natalie Wood’s night in their “Summer Under the Stars” series) one or the other of us was asleep before I had a chance. Thanks, MacKenzie, for the advice–I can’t wait to take the oath and start stampin’!

Streaming for Strivers:

And they say free jazz is unlistenable….