Cloister Commentary, Day 246: Lazing

The day was grey, cold, and rainy, so we did what most smart people would: lazed around, listened to music, and read. We occasionally had to shift around so our cats could realize full comfort.

It was also my parents’ 62nd anniversary, my mom’s first without Dad; we’d have liked to have been there with her, but there was a more urgent reason, unfortunately, for us to stay put. We’d also, too, have liked to celebrate the 3rd (seems like it should be the 4th, Rex) anniversary of the convening of our gaggle of friends known as The Flying Saucer Landing Pad Support Group, but, as we’ve learned to say, we may have to Zoom.

We finished binge-watching Netflix’s Ratched, which you may recall Nicole and I were quite enthusiastic about. Alas, the show could not sustain its subversive excellence for an entire run, ending in a messy, not particularly subtle (or particularly intelligent) manner. At least the performances were worthwhile.

Streaming for Strivers:

All my brain and body needs.

Cloister Commentary, Day 245: 59 Days

Counting up on these (will it reach 500?), counting down on a calendar on our kitchen table, given to us by our good friend, a very fine American named Mary Insley. That calendar, as I write, reads 59.

We had had a late night with some youngsters (see Day 244) and wouldn’t you know I’m not that great at staying up past midnight these days? I’m almost 60, and I get up 5ish in the a.m. So I was groggy all day, even with a plate of chilaquiles from Crazy Burrito to get me going. I slogged through commenting in tutorial mode on some student essays–a fine torture–and caught up on some new music. I haven’t updated my 2020 list, but just a tip: Kahil El’ Zabar, a master percussionist for years with Chicago’s AACM, has made my favorite album of the year, titled (without complete irony, with fine nuance) America the Beautiful. He and his killer band make that tune, as well as “Express Yourself” and “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart,” sound brand-new and freshly relevant; the originals are excellent as well. I have played it 5 times in two days, something I haven’t done with a new platter since I was a young buck.

Streaming for Strivers:

Hear it for yourself, if you please.

Cloister Commentary, Day 244: The Good, The Bad, and The Youthful

Bad stuff? 212 new COVID cases in the county, once again didn’t receive mail until after 8 p.m. and once again didn’t receive a package that was due to arrive, had trouble concentrating enough to read enough to make me happy.

Good stuff? Gorgeous day, played a bunch of records with the windows open, started a new book that bodes very well (Dave Robicheaux on the case), visited safely at the backyard firepit for four fully fascinating hours with our young friends Patrick and Mary Clare. One should always have young friends, and Nicole and I are very fortunate they are ours.

Streaming for Strivers:

I need a musical energy injection, and this band has that and more.

Cloister Commentary, Day 243: Hope There Is Not a Hell

You may have noticed that, per my mild case of Anglophilia, I tend to keep a stiff upper lip. This year has tested that. I’ve lost one of my fondest friends, my dad, a terrific hound, and a rescue cat, all suddenly. Nicole lost her grandma, and was (really) forced back into in-person work in the middle of a pandemic. And we’ve had zero federal or state leadership in the midst of this young century’s biggest challenge. And I’ve seen friends and family act as if it’s all a figment of my imagination; fortunately, my mind’s too strong to even entertain a feeble gaslighting effort, but, on the other hand, I’ve mostly been silent about the outrage I daily feel.

Yesterday was one of those days I just wasn’t able to “buck up.” I’m so tired of this wholly bereft human, unaccountably in a position of power, thrashing around destructively and sowing BS, I’m so disconsolate at formerly reasonable (relatively reasonable?) humans buying into this (bad) medicine show, that I sometimes just wanna step off the planet. I came home from work, chatted with my girl, took a nap, woke up feeling better, ate some of Bangkok Gardens’ delicious food, and basked in the brillliantly executed absurdity and horror of Ratched. Also, martinis helped. But–dammit!–this is no picnic, and I see quite clearly who (individual and group) is responsible. Keep heaping shame upon yourselves, so often while mealy-mouthing your Christian badges. At least I don’t have to twist and try to justify such a position myself. Hope there is not a hell.

Streaming for Strivers after Equity:

Sublime music from a master who believed in community and compassion.

Cloister Commentary, Day 242: Way Up in the Fall

I got with the program early and did some more yardening, as we have some young friends coming over to sit by the fire and sip beverages with us at a safe distance. We are always conscious of setting a decent example for the yutes, though this particular couple does that spectacularly themselves. A reminder that pandemic time can seem fleeting (though I am under no illusions that it won’t extend far into the future) was Deven La Vere and Company making one of their final appearances of the year to further clean up our yard for the winter; it seems like it was only yesterday that he arrived for the first time in 2020. LaVere Lawn and Landscaping rocks–we’ve been with them since Deven, Justin, and Linda were our next-door neighbors and the men started the business, and we strongly recommend them.

I finished two books (I am in the midst of an additional three), so, hey–I’m up for a recommendation! Not that I’m not surrounded by stacks, but it’s nice to get a tip from a friend once in awhile. I’m not much into romance, fantasy, or pop-up books, so you might keep that in mind.

My main excitement was that yesterday was Nicole’s last official day doing in-person instruction, at least for awhile. The CPS rolling two-week average of new district COVID cases per day is around 110–good reason to be relieved your spouse can work remotely.

In case you thought my interest in the early days of disco was just a fad, down in my lab, by crackle-candlelight I constructed the equivalent of a 3-CD set of dance floor gems recommended by the adept Vince Aletti in his “Disco Files” column during May ’75 alone–and I’d previously heard not a one of them. Maybe I should put together a YouTube playlist to go with my own files?

On the way to pick up some curbside eats, I happened to be playing some sublime jazz on the truck jukebox, when Nicole popped a question she and many other folks who find themselves in my orbit tend to avoid, as spontaneous educational monologues expanding beyond 15 minutes are not everyone’s conversation cup of tea:

“Who is this we’re listening to?”

I thought it was quite sweet of her to ask, and I kept the presentation to 10 minutes. Who were we listening to? It was the classic pianist whose classic album follows…

Streaming for Survivors:

Straight out of Watts, aided and abetted ably by Cecil McBee on bass, John Carter on clarinet, and Andrew Cyrille on drums….

Cloister Commentary, Day 241: A Wilde Series

I just realized that if I converted this to book form it, the book would be 200-plus pages. Unfortunately, number of pages do not correlate with literary excellence.

Yesterday, I completed my participation in a “Best of the Net” longform writing contest. All told, I read almost 40 pieces; most memorable of them were an in-action memoir by a non-binary New York stripper and a “lit-installation” involving a map taped to a Boulder, Colorado street. We simply voted “yes” or “no” for each piece, and I only read seven “yes” essays (or thereabouts). I’d do it again.

Oscar Wilde once opined that when critics are divided about a work of art, the artist has succeeded. That’s flashier than it is true, but Netflix’s Ratched seems to support the great man’s dictum. Nicole and I love its style, audacity, and humor (especially), but we clearly recognized it ain’t for everyone, and after watching an episode last night, I scanned the series’ reviews, which were all over the map. Should you watch it? If a mind-meld of Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock, and Herschell Gordon Lewis sounds attractive, you should dig in. We’ve only seen the first three episodes, so we aren’t sure if it sustains that vibe.

Streaming for Strivers:

Country-soul voice from Alabama. Many of his 45s graced John and Yoko’s Dakota Hotel jukebox.

Cloister Commentary, Day 240: An Ominous Pall

As I’ve previously reported, COVID cases are going through the roof in our county; we’ve exceeded 100 new cases in a day almost every day for almost two weeks, and our hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. Still, some folks are denying the virus even exists and refusing to take precautions (must their family and friends be struck for them to accept it?), and, with the city choosing not to report new cases over the weekend, we will be holding our breath awaiting today’s report. Nicole only has two more days of working in person during the week ahead (I am working on my campus, but in seclusion with only virtual interactions), but the occurrence of any feverish flash or sudden aches and pains can bring us ominous worry. What this had to do with yesterday, if it isn’t already apparent, is that ominous worry cast a pall over proceedings.

We were able to Zoom with family, piddle around, and feed ourselves (a friend brought by some eats later in the day, too). It was just a day where one didn’t even feel like going outside at all. We should have; that might have helped.

Streaming for Survivors:

Cajuns aren’t monolithic.

Cloister Commentary, Day 239: Horchata Days

Nicole put the finishing touches on our front yard cleanup with help from several neighborhood cats.

While she toiled away, I continued reading two highly enjoyable books, the original Walter Tevis novel The Queen’s Gambit and Mary Roach’s Stiff, about the different things that have happened and can happen to our bodies after we die (also, probably the funniest book I’ve read all year). Why am I telling you about these books again? Repetition is one of the most reliable of teacher tricks. I’m actually trying to get you to read? Yes.

For our lunch, the app Nextdoor led us to try the New Mexican food drive-thru Crazy Burrito on the Business Loop (where Zipp’s Burgers used to be). The place does not look too spectacular, to be honest; thus, I had not been that motivated to do research there. A Nextdoor neighbor sung its praises, and it is indeed excellent. I had a veggie torta that was splendid, and a tall horchata I later doctored with some rum. But folks: please wear masks! We didn’t see a single patron doing so, and they were definitely leaning in.

The rest of the afternoon was all Springsteen all the time (see yesterday’s entry) while Nicole whipped up some delicious Brazilian black bean soup. We were going to play chess after dinner, but in order not to be beaten I distracted Nicole with classic Bruce clips (“The River” at No Nukes, “Rosalita” from a show in Phoenix in ’78, the “Atlantic City” video).

It was a good day. It certainly beat golf.

Streaming for Strivers:

Pre-“Burn, baby, burn,” and very nice.

Cloister Commentary, Day 238: Talk About a Dream, Try to Make It Real

Physical labor? What is that? I was reintroduced to the concept yesterday as I cleaned up our front-yard landscaping (sedum, daisies, knockout roses, quince, catmint, and one other bit I can never remember) for winter in the afternoon. I was gonna just do half and let Nicole (who was working virtually) do the rest, but the new Aesop Rock album and some nicely remastered early Louis Armstrong pushed me on through. This morning, I can feel that not all of my musculature has atrophied.

Is it just me or did I feel some serious anxiety lift? I heard news from the courts and from the state of Georgia that made me snicker some away.

In the evening we completed Springsteen on Broadway (Nicole: “What a decent man!” Indeed.), which inspired us to watch Gurinder Chadha’s sweet, uplifting and quite powerful film Blinded by the Light, based on the true story of an aspiring teenage writer, a Pakistani living in Luton, England, whose life is changed when a Sikh friend loans him some Springsteen tapes. Many of the best sequences revolve around the character singing and quoting lines from classic Bruce tunes, which reminded me that, just like him, I had those early albums’ lyrics memorized within days of buying the records (and still do). We’ll probably be listening to those and watching videos for the next two days.

Streaming for Strivers:

Raise up off this pianist.

Cloister Commentary, Day 237: Musical Pharmaceutical

An explosion of COVID cases, over a week of 100+ new ones daily, has us reeling–“us” referring to the community as well as our household, as Nicole is currently teaching in person and battling with several students to get them to wear masks properly. I am fortunate to be very isolated in my tutoring work; I’ve found it surprisingly easy to tutor over Zoom, and the Stephens Success Center has actually experienced an increase in tutorial sessions and a decrease in cancelled appointments.

In other health news–well, let me first say that my friend and music-loving brother Bryan Stuart and I one strange night wrote and recorded a Johnny Cash parody entitled “Prescription Bound”; I’ve written and co-written a handful of songs in my life, and that might just be my favorite. Neither of our eyes were dry after knocking it out. Suffice it to say that “Prescription Bound” is what I was yesterday, rounding up refills to treat my high cholesterol and my sudden crop-up of afib. Our insurance won’t cover the best meds for the latter, so when my samples of that run out, I will probably be battling the side effects of the generic meds that are covered, particularly drowsiness, my least favorite state of being.

Speaking of music, friendship, and aging, Nicole and I spent our Thursday Movie Night on Springsteen on Broadway. I go way back with Bruce: he hung the moon for me from the time I was 15 to the time I turned 25–I remember once seriously hampering a date because my main concern was picking up Born in the USA at Liberty Sound in Springfield the day it came out in ’85–but we fell out soon afterward, and the combination of his growing self-seriousness and his shrinking sense of humor and fun kept me from making up with him (artistically speaking). It’s clear he’s a righteous dude, but that does not guarantee creative brilliance. I quite liked his memoir, and as a result sampled about 15 minutes of the show. I thought what I saw corny, strained, mildly self-aggrandizing, awkward, and strangely uncomfortable. However, and I’m quite used to this outcome, I was very wrong. We have the last 20-30 minutes to watch, but it is stunning in its myth-puncturing, passion, and nakedness. These days, I can’t much take the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk, and the balance is perfect. Highly recommended, and being an older gent myself who’s experienced some loss and self-discovery lately made the experience extremely real.

Streaming for Survivors:

Musical pharmaceutical, right here.