Cloister Commentary, Day 154: Godawful Racket

Nicole and I are very well-suited to each other, or I don’t think we’d have lasted as long as we have. That harmony has been armor for us in this mess, but I’ve voluntarily made one sacrifice that at times has me chomping at the bit. Yesterday, she went out to school for a few hours to prepare her room, my reins were loosed, and I was spurred.

I happen to deeply enjoy quite a bit of music that some would find akin to sitting next to jackhammer while trying to pray. Nicole’s got terrific and pretty adventurous taste in music, but (particularly considering the stress of ‘rona mixed with schools opening) free jazz cranked up to about seven is not her idea of pleasure. I have good headphones, but I find it rude to don them if another human’s in the room, and I like to hear music in the open air (I admit, I’m fussy). About 0.5 seconds after she headed down the stairs to the garage, I’d slid the gnarliest record of the year, Neptunian Maximalism’s oceanic, Olympian, three-disc whale-mating makeout album ÉONS into the CD player and turned the knob seriously clockwise. Then I settled onto the couch and read meditatively for the duration. The record ended right as I heard the garage door open, but I can now go another five months relatively racket-free.

In other news, I’ve decided to pursue being a notary public, we made a Tropical Liqueurs run (Brain Freeze vs. 2/3rd Piña Colada 1/3 Rum Runner), and thanks to our show-finder Susan we found a great new show to chill out, too: Unforgotten.

Streaming for Strivers:

The racket I’m talking about ain’t rock and roll.

Cloister Commentary, Day 153: Mayo Verdict

And the winner is...

I delayed posting just to pique the thousands of readers who were on pins and needles waiting for my judgement in the case of Blue Plate vs. Duke’s in what has come to be called (in my mind only) “The Mayonnaise Wars.” Again, I blind-tested each on a sandwich and in a spoonful. In each case, on the basis of slightly less tang and significantly more richness and fluffiness, I found for Blue Plate. You may now go back about your lives.

Seriously, my highlight yesterday was participating in a socially-distanced front-yard salon just outside of Prairie Home, Missouri, with Nicole and her Columbia Area Career Center cohorts Rebecca Wimer-Pisano (retired), Susan McDermott-Griggs, and Mary Allee. Also present was Rebecca’s rascally mate Frank. Under shade trees in the pleasant weather, we talked about everything under the sun. These teachers are like the CPS version of The View (I eavesdrop on their Zooms frequently), and I say that in a complimentary vein. Susan’s tale of her Blind Man (that adjective primarily applies to his home improvement specialty but can fit in other ways as well) and his unnamed anti-viral machine will stay with me for quite awhile. I was grateful to have been invited.

In the evening, we had another nice social moment with our neighbors Kelly (who gave us cukes from her garden) and Amber and her daughter Addelaine, who is the delight of the block. Our conversation (and Amber’s infant’s sleep) was made difficult by a neighborhood dog–unleashed and unmonitored, of course–who yapped at us indefatigably, but we still had an enjoyable and amusing chat.

We closed out the night by having dinner on the back porch, with limoncello shots and music and cats and bugs and joy lights.

It felt so good to be out of the house and in others’ company, and masks and distance were no problem whatsoever.

Streaming for Strivers:

McRae + Dixie Flyers = some subtle songful magic.

Cloister Commentary, Day 152: Worthy Distractions

I am only tutoring at Stephens, not teaching, this semester. Since January of 1984, only one other semester has passed when I haven’t taught classrooms of kids. That was Fall 2015, and it was agonizing. I missed it in my mind and bones; fortunately, Stephens hired me to instruct in January of 2016. I am already missing it again, but Nicole and I are constructing a plan by which I can best support her as a full-time public school educator and keep us both healthy in a pandemic. I think that will be as challenging and rewarding as teaching–I’m going to give it my all.

I know I promised you the results of the Duke’s vs. Blue Plate Mayonnaise Taste Test, but Nicole left for work before revealing which one I liked better. I will say that it may come down to vinegar and egg yolks.

COVID forced us to cancel a brief trip to see friends in Memphis. I turned to the great Memphis music writer Stanley Booth to distract me from the disappointment. His collection Red Hot and Blue: 50 Years of Writing about Music, Memphis, and Motherf**kers is absolutely essential, and if it didn’t fully assuage my frustration, it surely inspired me to fire up the turntable. Thanks for the gift, Clifford!

I realize I left out my observations on the other half of the NBA Restart Playoffs yesterday. Well, I’d like to see both L.A. teams upset; Utah vs. Denver is the alternating-day equivalent of Indy vs. Miami–seriously interesting viewing/rooting; I’m going to have to flip a coin to decide whether my alternating-day favorite is Boston or Toronto. Oh yes: supposedly the NBA has “lost America.” Bunk. It didn’t lose any fan it couldn’t afford to anyway. Upward, onward.

Old Louis is getting too gimpy to jump into the tub, and he won’t tolerate being lifted, so–soon as it warms up–he may be getting the garden hose. He returned from the dog hotel seriously funky.

Streaming for Strivers:

Another worthy distraction.

Cloister Commentary, Day 151: Mayo a Mayo

What a wonderfully mild day for mid-August! We took a neighborhood walk in the morning and evening, finding ourselves like-minded with several neighbors during the latter.

Nicole and I have noticed there’s much division in this country…specifically regarding which mayonnaise is the best: Duke’s or Blue Plate. We decided to settle this roiling rancor (for ourselves, at least) by buying a jar of the former–we already had three of the latter–making a tomato, lettuce and mayo sandwich with each, and taste-testing. I was “blindfolded” for my test, and had concluded which one I preferred by a slim margin, but Nicole, without telling me which one it was, declared we had to default to double-redundancy and try a small unadulterated spoonful a piece to be sure. Since seldom does suspense appear in these reports, the reader will have to wait until tomorrow for the results.

I watched all or parts of four NBA playoff games yesterday. I am not proud; at least I read during commercials and took breaks to help with lunch and dinner. Random thoughts: the Bucks still ain’t gonna cut the mustard; Indy v. Miami might be the series to be glued to, providing ‘dipo returns; I dream of a day OKC fields a team that can drill 3s on the regz; that LeBron James can pass; I’m calling a Blazers upset of L.A. (I think they’re my new favorite team that isn’t the Thunder). I probably should be cynical, but I love observing a microcosm where health and social justice are in the unavoidable forefront. Plus, I just love basketball.

I taught Donovan Wheeler when he was a ninth-grader at Parkview High School during the 1985-1986 school year (I think). He sat on the front row by the window, and was never at a loss for words–a very enjoyable smart-alleck. This semester at Stephens College, I’ll be able to help his daughter navigate her freshman year. That’s the second spawn of a stellar former student from that school year I will have worked with at Stephens, right, Rebecca? Cross-generational family education is one of the great fringe benefits of being a lifetime teacher.

Streaming for Strivers:

Definitely one of the best jazz albums produced in these United States during the last half-decade. If you’re a fan of John Coltrane, you need to acquaint yourself with JD Allen if you’ve yet to.

Cloister Commentary, Day 150: The 3rd Sustenance and Succor Awards

Nicole and I pretty much just recharged our batteries yesterday but…

It’s time for the 3rd “Sustenance and Succor Awards,” which I will give out every 50 days of the pandemic, as long as I keep reporting. These artifacts helped us keep our heads up; the past 50 were not easy ones.


Mark Lomax III: The 400 Years Suite
Sault: Untitled (Black Is)
Various Artists: Uprising 2020 (mixtape)
Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Chicago Waves
Charles McPherson: Jazz Dance Suites


The Great
Lovecraft Country
Last Tango in Halifax
NBA Restart
Elmer Gantry / Turner Classic Movies


Lawrence Wright: The End of October
Walter Johnson: The Broken Heart of America
Gilbert Hernandez: Luba & Her Family–The Love & Rockets Library, Volume 4
Gilbert Hernandez: Ofelia–The Love & Rockets Library, Volume 5
James McBride: Deacon King Kong


Main Squeeze
Chim’s Thai Kitchen on Broadway
Cajun Crab Shack

Streaming for Survivors:

Trane to somewhere better.

Cloister Commentary, Day 149: Misanthropy and Grief

Simply watching the morning headlines, reading about the fight to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, and observing flags and bumper stickers on travelers’ cars on the highway was enough to activate a tiny bit throbbing bulb of misanthropy within me. Misanthropy and grief: a toxic cocktail.

Which makes me realize that one way I’ve always broken that bulb in the socket is through being in the midst of young folks across four decades. Most of my fellow public school teachers would agree, I think, though outsiders might think we’re crazy. Daily exposure to a cross-section of the public as their coming into their own, as you’re challenging them and they you, as they find their place in a group, talk about their lives and connect them to subjects under discussion–it’s a pretty good antidote to the humans-are-a-virus malady.

But that’s just another reason why this pandemic sucks, because daily exposure is viral roulette.

Streaming for Strivers:

On that hopeful note?

Cloister Commentary, Day 148: The Old World on an iPod

Nicole and I went on a little ride to get peaches (again) (you gotta have peaches). It was just a 30-minute trip, but the music we listened to again let us imagine we were on the highway to an actual vacation spot like we used to in The Old World.

For vacations, I have always meticulously programmed an MP3 player with fresh music, which we just plug in to the car’s sound system and let rip. But there’s a folder of New Orleans and Memphis music that we have an understanding will never be deleted, and on every trip, at some point, we always migrate to it. It spans everything from classical to rural blues to bounce to swamp pop to brass band sounds, and we never get tired of it.

Anyway, that’s what we picked for our peach run. Simply put, we were able to imagine we might be heading to Como, Mississippi, or Tybee Island, Georgia, or Seattle, or San Diego. Or New Orleans or Memphis. It was very nice.

A few items from yesterday’s shuffle selection out of the folder:

Earl King: “Baby, You Can Get Your Gun”
Jessie Mae Hemphill: “She-Wolf”
The Wild Tchoupitoulas: “Meet the Boys on the Battlefront”
Eddie Floyd: “Things Get Better”
Olympia Brass Band: “Olympia on Parade”
Johnny Adams: “A Losing Battle”
Moloch: “Going Down”
Tommy Tate: “Just a Little Overcome”
Ricky B: “Shake For Ya Hood”
Lee Dorsey: “Yes We Can (Part 1)”
Dr. John: “Right Place, Wrong Time”
James Booker: “Cool Turkey”

Streaming for Survivors:

You can look up the above, or just click here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 147: Jai Alai 1985

The sun did come up yesterday and it is coming up today, albeit on a land where an election is being blatantly threatened with obstruction by one of the candidates. Freedom is a constant struggle, and I hope we’re up for it.

Compared to the day before, my attempts to complete important tasks were like as unto shooting fish in a barrel. Great customer service by four different reps for three different companies helped me resolve three important posthumous issues before 10:30 in the morning. I asked one of them if there was a way for me to give specific feedback to her supervisor and she put me right through to him. “Give her a raise or promote her,” I said, simply. I celebrated by trying two IPAs I’d not heard of (later, in the afternoon!) and getting caught up with my reading.

After the day before, they tasted like the nectar of the gods.

Nicole, Jane, and I played two rounds of Scrabble (my highlights were “dojo,” “wane,” and “radar”–not too stunning, eh?) after a dinner of turkey tetrazzini–it’s not just for post-Thanksgiving meals!–listened to some superb music (Lori McKenna, Bonnie Raitt, Ann Peebles, and Joni Mitchell), and watched the first two episodes of Last Tango in Halifax, which my mom had not seen and really enjoyed. You need a human show? Try it.

Streaming for Strivers:

A ludicrous cover photo, yes, but within is proof that the Ferriday Flash knew early American music like the back of his hand from his teens–and could rock and roll it all.

Cloister Commentary, Day 146: Fumes and Futility

Some mornings, I find these difficult to write.

Yesterday started out great. Nicole and I went on an early morning walk, and that’s always restorative. But I then proceeded to spend around two hours carefully watching an initially unmasked telecom tech install a new system for Mom, then about an hour emailing a benefits analyst with documentation about something involving my late father’s pension that’s moving like very molten lava, then around two hours on the phone with an excellent AT&T tech who after seeming like she was going to solve an ongoing posthumous problem for the first 3/4ths of the call found her own hands tied at the end.

Let me be clear: I’m happy to take on these tasks–it’s a part of life and death that we will all have to face, and since among my few actual skills is being able to communicate, I refuse to leave my talent buried. But after we realized the telecom tech didn’t leave a hard-copy program guide or program in the correct digital channel guide, and after watching the clock hands spin to no avail as I spent the afternoon with my smartphone, I was depleted. Music and books are my fuel, my food, my inspiration; in fact, records are like my holy texts–I listen to them as if they’re testimony about the truth of the world from all quarters. And I didn’t listen to a song or read a page (well, I squeezed in a two-page Liz Moore story just before bedtime) so I finished the day running on thin fumes. We’d hoped to watch Grand Hotel on Turner Movie Classics–that would have helped–but Mom’s new streaming package does not include that channel.

But guess what? The sun’s just come up. And I hear Lori McKenna‘s clear voice and resonant words in my headphones.

Streaming for Survivors:

This Book of the Musical Bible is–shhhh!–a peaceful, calming one.

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.