Cloister Commentary, Day 120: The Crates

Among the last things my dad made before he passed were two record crates. The guy loved to work with wood out in his shop, and lived to make things for friends and family. Despite my frequent recent attempts to whittle down my vinyl collection, it had returned like an enriching cancer and overflowed probably 100 or so outside its containment, so I’d asked him if he could knock a couple out for me. He carefully took the measurements of one of my existing crates, and a few months ago excitedly told me he’d finished them. This damned pandemic initially kept me from retrieving them, and I’d just loaded them into our trunk minutes before the accident that ended his life. Believe me, they were solidly and carefully built.

I’d put off sliding records into them until yesterday. Seems like an easy thing to have done quickly, but, see, I have a system: my stacks are fairly deep, so if I file new stuff into them, they can easily disappear before I’ve fixed them in my memory. Thus I have a separately alphabetized “new acquisitions” stack, the freshest additions to which I keep upstairs (along with regularly refreshed selections from the main stacks). Isn’t this fascinating? The problems had been twofold: one, the new acquisitions stack had grown larger than most folks’ total collection (if most folks had collections), and two, a symptom of my mourning has been I just haven’t felt like doing much other than what I have to. And I was just avoiding it.

Anyway, I decided to buck my ass up and make sure Dad’s work had not gone for naught, and chose to integrate the new with the old. Figured it’d take an hour or so; labored from about noon to 4:30, with a break for lunch–my back’s screaming at me right now. The record room is also “the kitten room” (I don’t have a choice), so Junior and Smokey were scrambling around discombobulated, especially since I was using their observation tower as a staging area. Of course, in the process, I came across items I’d almost forgotten about–Aura with Lee Scratch Perry, a live Wilson Pickett bootleg from the ’60s, two Slade albums–and somewhere a Johnny Bush album got swallowed up unalphabetically and resisted my strivings to locate it. But–’tis done, Dad, and your two sturdy ones are bearing the heaviest load. Thank you.

Streaming for Survivors:

Born in a favela, she just turned 83 and has a new single out, a musical middle finger extended at Bolsonaro whether she intended it or not. An international treasure. This is her most recent record.

Cloister Commentary, Day 133: Cool Weather

Cool weather and rain crept in, and Nicole and I enjoyed talking a walk in its midst. We talked about the power of fear and possible rituals to keep ourselves healthy once school starts.

We are spending some quality time with my brother and sister-in-law Brian and Myra, and my mom Jane. Brian is the skilled member of the Overeem Brotherhood, and he’s initiating a project a day lightly upgrading aspects of Mom’s house. I truly enjoyed admiring the results, which is also my main role in the work.

Payday followed our having listened to a podcast in which our imaginary uncle John Waters gave the show hosts a tour of his Baltimore home, which is basically one of the most unique personal libraries in the country. As usual when he’s interviewed, he talked about what he’d been reading, so my fresh infusion of leisure income led to purchases of a new Julian Barnes novel and an art book of Brigid Berlin Polaroids for which Waters wrote the intro. Rex, thanks for the tip.

Speaking of books, I’ve been reading former Mizzou professor Walter Johnson’s shattering The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States for a month. It’s a relatively lengthy tome, but I’ve taken my time because the book’s so powerful I can usually only read a chapter at a time. State history as it isn’t but ought to be taught in school. On one hand, St. Louis has been extremely vital to what our country has become; on the other, St. Louis has been extremely vital to what our country has become.

Our cousins Melissa and Jim Hague and their bulldog dropped by for dinner. We chatted about many things, including the news that, in memory of our dad, his friends and relatives had donated $17,000 to his local Habitat for Humanity, an organization to which he devoted much time, heart, and energy. We also ate blackberry and peach cobbler, sampled some Don Julio and a little mesquite-infused Canadian whiskey (a seemingly bad idea that tastes weirdly like Scotch), watched some NBA, and finished our random viewing of the somewhat underrated Honeysuckle Rose, which boasts Les Blank-like local color scenes, excellent performance footage, and Slim Pickens.

Streaming for Strivers:

Yes, he’s

Cloister Commentary, Day 132: Purply Passionate Pomp, for Hours

What it’s often like to live in the same space with me.

So, I was about to finish Maurice Waller’s lively biography of his father, the contagiously ebullient pianist, singer, songwriter, performer and human, Thomas “Fats” Waller, and had been stunned by the number of classic sessions on which he’d backed up other masters, particularly blues empress Albert Hunter. Hunter’s marvelous late recordings, made in her eighties after she retired from music and worked for years as a nurse, are hallowed in our house, but I realized I’d not heard (or not heard much of) her early material, specifically the stuff with Fats. Normally, I would blindly just buy such recordings, but I demonstrated unusual good sense and chose to stream them (honestly, I just couldn’t wait for a parcel to arrive).

So, as Nicole was trying to wake up and make peanut butter cookies, I ran Hunter’s Twenties records from my phone through our house stereo, at medium-loud volume–sometimes, you have to crank up early twentieth century music, and, like I sugggested, Hunter is vaunted enough in our abode, I didn’t feel the need to…touch base. However, and I’m bound to get some blowback on this assessment, Alberta’s youthful singing style was, shall we say, robust, full-throated, maybe occasionally a bit…purply passionate with just a thread of quasi-operatic pomp running through it, while in her eighties, singing mostly with her mind (and, with surprising frequency, from below the waist), she came off like a sly, wise, randy, and totally irresistible great-granny.

BUT: I was listening through the difference, to the players, keeping my ears pricked for Waller’s piano and pipe-organ (he considered the latter his first instrument) and the contributions of other masters (like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet) who also backed her. I can concentrate right past even the most conspicuous noise. And I kept listening for a few hours–through Hunter’s complete Twenties output–while Nicole tried to get caught up with the news, struggled to take a quiet, meditative shower (the stereo volume was such that it infiltrated the rain room’s sanctity), and with eyebrows furrowed, gamely put herself together for the day.

Suddenly, she emerged in the hallway.

Nicole: “Who is this?”

Me, wary: “Uhhhhh, Alberta Hunter?”

Nicole, gently, but succinctly and firmly: “A little of this goes a long way.”

Me, snapping back to the world of other humans: “Yes. Indeed. It’s Buddy Guy’s birthday?”

Nicole: “That will suffice.”

Streaming for Strivers:

She wasn’t kidding.

Cloister Commentary, Day 131: Pass. Pass. Pass.

Haircut. Bloodwork. Colonoscopy. Pass. Pass. Pass. It’s the way that it is in a state that’s setting a new record every day.

Did some dropping off: the dog at The All Creatures Hotel, a humane trap at the Spay & Neuter Project. Did some picking up: some Everclear at, what is it, Be Best or Be Good or Be Well? Don’t worry about the latter; Nicole’s simply making her quarterly bottle of limoncello, which studies have shown ward off the ‘rona spell. Not really.

Would anyone like a free download of the new Bob Dylan album, which is quite good and I already have a copy of? Go to and enter the following code: X7M2QB6G7. It’s a pretty good pandemic record, as it faces up to mortality and history with a tight-lipped grin and an eye-twinkle. He’s our Ol’ Blue Eyes. (If the code doesn’t work, someone beat you to it. But don’t give up on it.)

Took two naps again today. Maybe it was the four-leaf strength cup of Twining’s I had before each. Maybe I’m malaised. Didn’t Paul McCartney write that one?

Streaming for Survivors:

We spent the evening with the Old Masters. Should you like to do the same, here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 130: I Got the Will…To TRY

I didn’t need as much effort as I’d thought, but I did will myself to have a better day. Better sleep and a less painful throat helped, but some yard work and basement maintenance were probably the kickers.

I am always perfectly content to ride as opposed to drive, so Nicole was surprised when she asked if she could drive Dad’s truck when we needed to run some errands and I said no. The power that surges through my being as I fire up the Silverado is addictive, and I feel more manly every time I’m behind its steering wheel. Seriously, though, I’ll “let” her drive next time.

I will have at least one of my usual four part-time jobs next semester. Stephens confirmed that I’ll be operating as a virtual-only writing tutor out of their library, and that I may be taking on some additional duties checking up on incoming freshmen as they deal with what can only be a weird educational campaign.

Our friend Susie gifted us with some blackberry moonshine from the lakes to help us through our recent tragedy, and Nicole had an inkling it would mix well with Maine Root Ginger Beer (the best!)–it’s a bit too sweet to drink neat. We each had a glass with some fresh sweet corn on the cob and a tomato and mayo sandwich, then we had another.

All evening, we listened to Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions’ classic ’60s and early ’70s recordings–not a bad way at all to lessen pandemic anxiety before hitting the sack.

Streaming for Strivers:

If you’re in the mode for Joe…

Cloister Commentary, Day 129: Snores

I snore. Sometimes so badly–especially if I sleep deeply–that my throat’s raw in the morning. Yesterday morning, morning was 3:30 a.m.; I’d already driven Nicole out, my uvula felt swollen to twice its normal size, and I was buzzing with anxiousness about ten imperatives. Got up, drank some ice-cold water, took an ibuprofen, drank a cup of coffee, tried to read, and performed a rarity, for me: I went back to sleep after I’d gotten up. Took a nap in the afternoon, too. Still didn’t feel all the way charged–maybe 73%–and even a Shakespeare’s veggie “Overeem Special” (double mushrooms, onions, pepper cheese, and green olives) didn’t help. Really, the only thing powering me through the day at all was a steady diet of stride and boogie woogie piano records, several of which I repeat-played.

All of my Stephens summer school students gained their freshman comp credit. A very bad research paper brought one kid in at 69.8%, a very narrow escape (a C- is required to pass). I do not know if I will have a class next semester, and, if I do, how I will have it.

We are without a show. Normally, I do not need escapes. Sometimes, I think I’m quite the opposite: I want to confront reality more fully, more specifically. But damn this summer, you know? So we sampled a couple we thought might delight, distract, and amuse us, Toast of London and Space Force. There’s nothing like watching a fruitlessly striving comedy produce barely a smile, and no outward laughter, especially twice in a row. On the plus side, the two episodes drove us out to the front room to read.

Today will be better. I am going to will it so.

Streaming for Survivors:

Finger-buster on the 88s. For Nicole.

Cloister Commentary, Day 128: Home Again

H – 44 – 5 – 54 – 63 – 70–back home. I had a great time at my mom’s but I was very happy to see Nicole and the animals. A tomato and mayo sandwich and a beer awaited me.

We Zoomed a couple times with family and friends, grabbed some curbside, came home and talked about our hardest times after dinner, about whether intense experiences are easier to remember in detail than mundane ones. We decided, “Not necessarily,” but that didn’t keep us from revisiting a few in detail.

We watched a Key and Peele episode to chill and hit the sack. Apparently Nicole had trained Louis to sleep in the living without being confined by a gate and without getting us up at 2. After 12 years, it’s about time….

Streaming for Survivors:

Reggae got soul.

Cloister Commentary, Day 127: Brontë and Basketball

My week hanging out with my mom is coming to a close (though I shall return soon). We’ve had as much fun as you can have in a pandemic, and I’ve witnessed her one-woman mask-making factory in action. Melissa Hague and Nicole have recently provided yards of raw materials that will keep the factory humming.

We capped the week with some Mexican food and an unusual evening of viewing: we split up Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 quietly intense adaptation of Jane Eyre with 90 minutes of an NBA preview, which Mom actually enjoyed and I was more impressed with than I’d anticipated. I thought I was well weaned off sports from three months of fasting, but after seeing what the league’s done to help its teams deal with COVID-19 and its players address social injustice? I’ll bite. And if you haven’t seen Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska circle each other in that great, brooding Brontë-take, please do so post-haste. ‘Twas my second viewing, and I had no regrets: in fact, one day I want to venture through Derbyshire, where it was filmed, as well as check out Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire.

Also, Mom had a dinner margarita poured for herself before I had done so for myself. I had secretly restocked provisions earlier in the day but she sniffed them out. You have to move quickly to beat me to that elixir. Funny, but I think my dinner idea was triggered by having listened to David Berman’s “Margaritas at the Mall” in the morning while I was futzing with my car stereo (see comments).

Streaming for Strivers:

It’s not a “full album,” but it’s about a half-hour of a great front man’s trademark get-up-and-get-at-it. He’s been to France, so you just dance, ok?

Cloister Commentary, Day 126: Earthseed Graphics

Took a long early-morning walk into the Monett countryside listening to Rolling Stone writer Joe Levy’s Spotify playlist, “Uprising 2020.” That was better than three shots of espresso, and lasted longer.

Nicole, Mom, and I Zoom every morning for 10 minutes or so before we get on with our days. Yesterday, though, we got pretty engaged in our subject matter and almost talked for an hour. And here I thought I was done with Zoom “classes” for a while. For myself, I think I just miss my wife a wee bit.

Graded the first wave of research papers that arrived from my summer school students: three As and two Bs, plus they had some zip to ’em. They aren’t due til Sunday night, but today’s authors are of the TCB variety.

Started two new books, a so-far nice bio of the contagiously joyful and mischievous jazz master Fats Waller (written by his son) and Duffy & Jennings’ second graphic novel adaptation of an Octavia Butler novel, Parable of the Sower. If any of my readers know that book, well–you’ve probably thought of it once or twice since March. The team has an adaptation of Parable of the Talents on the way.

My mind and body forced me to nap in the afternoon, but I was ready to go for a nice dinner with Mom and my chosen brother Greg Carlin. We spent a good three hours talking about Monett family trees, his health-wrestling, complicated dogs, and oblivious neighbors. As a lineman (not the football kind, the electrical kind), he interacts with a cross-section of the public in their home environments, but when he discusses certains folks’ unusual living habits, he is never mean nor does he consider himself superior to them. That’s the sign of a good man.

Streaming for Strivers:

For this instrumentalist, an album could not be better named. The band’s pretty talented as well.

Cloister Commentary, Day 125: Cat Herding Sheep

Only eight times this many days will be 1,000. February seems over a year in the past, but eight times this many seems like it could happen in a snap. Does that make any sense?

But for the grading of research papers, my Stephens summer school stint is over. I remember neurotically pacing back and forth, wondering if I should take the job on, then if I would like it, then if I would suck at Zoom–and it’s already over, and I’m in for next summer. If there is a next summer: what really sucks is that some valued colleagues at Stephens have lost their jobs so the institution can survive, and the mess we’re all in isn’t going to make continuance a snap.

I have a scarily-bearded cousin who’s more like an uncle named Jim Hague. He is a septuagenarian with the motor of a five-year-old (what age has the highest-running motor?), and yesterday he showed up to finish repairing Dad’s old riding lawnmower. This particular job has been an obsession with him, and he toiled in the ninety degree heat from 1 p.m. to about 7 p.m. He was so desperate to complete the task that he asked me to help him, which is akin to asking a cat to herd sheep. I didn’t break anything, got my hands dirty (it was FUN!), and test-drove the thing without impaling it on the sweetgum tree. Jim and I don’t agree on very much, but no one has been more helpful in the aftermath of my father’s passing. For awhile, I was worried I might have another relative’s demise on my hands, but after Mom hosed him down and he ate some cookies, he was good as new.

I despise few things more than wasting food–I am a plate-cleaner to the manor born–but I was soundly defeated at dinner. I decided to give Mom a break from having to feed me and grabbed some curbside grub at The Southern Standard in Monett, but the delicious four-piece fried catfish plate I ordered was not accurately described on the restaurant’s menu: I double-checked, but nowhere did it read “For two.” Nor did it read “jumbo-sized catfish slabs.” My jaws creaked to a screeching halt at 3.5 slabs, I left a swamp of slaw on the plate, then staggered out of the kitchen to collapse on the couch. Too full to drink a beer or read? I’d not thought it possible, but it is. I am still full right now thumbing this out 12 hours later.

Streaming for Survivors:

One of the greatest alto saxophonists alive was born in Joplin, Missouri, 81 years ago today. Here he is.