Cloister Commentary, Day 209: Dignified and Old

Got both my flu and shingles shots yesterday at the pharmacy. The administering official was a 1992 Hickman graduate and his mom once that school’s nurse, so he had much material to distract me with. Seriously, I don’t mind shots–but I will testify that the shingles stick leaves one a little sore (and it’s one of two). I guess that shot certified me as an elderly man; fortunately for me, I’d listened to the Modern Lovers’ song “Dignified and Old” early this week, which prepared me to happily and proudly accept that mantle. Some key lyrics, perhaps?

“Well my friends say that I deceive myself
And that I contradict myself
And I can’t say if they’re right
But I’m not ashamed
Oh I can take a challenge
And so I won’t die
Someday I’ll be dignified and old
I know it
And I say hey kids
(Hey kids)
I said hey kids
(Hey kids)
I say someday we’ll be dignified and old….”

Written by Jonathan Richman, a true original.

Also of note: Nicole and I finally sat down to watch the VHS of Sammy & Rosie Get Laid (directed by Stephen Frears; written by Hanif Kureishi) I purchased a few months ago, and it was well worth the $30 it cost me! In fact, given some of the striking scenes and images and especially the related political content, I think we now know why the film hasn’t made the leap to DVD/BluRay/streaming. Really? Something like that could still resign a film to the “where is it now?” pile? Yes. So what, Phil, is this that you’re speaking of? Reader, you’re on your own.

Woke up at 1 a.m. with heart pounding, thinking that the probable demise of our outdoor cat Scrappers might have actually been a conspiracy. I’m not kidding. Clearly, I need to get better rest.

Streaming for Strivers:

A wizard, a true star.

Cloister Commentary, Day 208: Batten Down the Hatches…Please?

The day after a big school board decision initiating returning to in-seat learning, Boone County racked up 100 new cases. How about we, the community, batten down the damn hatches for as long as it takes to fend the sh*t off, then we go back to the classroom and stay? Because, from the looks of November and December, we’re just going to be taking those three steps back–and at who knows what cost? Nicole rebounded from a hard Tuesday with such an admirably “screw it” attitude that it put me at ease, too…but these days, each day’s brush-off is just a temporary damn thing. Again, I recommend Albert Camus’ The Plague to my tiny crowd of readers.

In the late afternoon, as we were heading out to pick up our dinner curbside-ish, a couple of neighborhood youth alerted us to yet another feline who’d been run down by a driver who thought he was on I-70. From their description, we jumped to one heart-breaking conclusion, which was instantly ruled out by the sudden appearance of that neighbor’s cat. Unfortunately, our most recently integrated backyard stray, Mr. Scrappers, who did not really fit the kids’ description, did not show up for evening dining or bedtime check-in, so we are fearing the worst. We are becoming too familiar with each sparrow falling–no deity may be watching, but it sometimes feels as if we are.

Streaming for Strivers:

Serious ALL-STAR rhythm, right here.

Cloister Commentary, Day 207: What You Reading For?

The day was quite frankly overshadowed by the worrisome news that Nicole will be heading back to in-person instruction. Neither of us are of the opinion that the health of the community in any way dictates a safe return to buildings by students, faculty, and staff. It’s certainly improved; it is still not good. We spent part of the evening beginning to consider precautions we’ll need to take at home. Of course, we’ve been taking them since around The Ides of March, but clearly they will need to be ramped up. Could she (or I? or we?) die? Yes, though that is unlikely–however, our experiences with death over the last five months give us no comfort. Could she (or I? or we?) get sick? Much more likely–and I don’t know if you’ve done your homework on the virus, but the majority of folks that contract it don’t just get over it. Its multiple effects recur over time, and in some cases have not dissipated at all. Could we get friends, family, co-workers, and students sick, and might they die? Yes, and we have many older friends and family members. Should we institute a home system where we distance and mask to discourage hugs, kisses, eating at the same table, hanging out in the same room, and sleeping in the same bed? It is a big deal.

We are well aware so many are suffering the social and economic effects of this virus more drastically than we are (we think and talk about it all the time, with heavy hearts–we didn’t just start teaching and understanding families yesterday), but we both question the wisdom of this move. On top of that anxiety, to be blamed by some for the state of their families’ educational and economic progress (and even happiness) is deeply depressing, and reminds me that this country has had multiple chances to create programs that would assist us in these situations–but then that would be Communism, socialism, entitlements, welfare-state suckling, kindness, humanity, charity…something like that.

Anyway, we noticed some nice folks were considering gathering in front of the homes of school board members who voted against the return of middle schoolers and high schoolers (who are not returning–yet), with signs, chanting, hostility of the apparently gleeful kind, etc. etc. I know of people who say, “What do you read for?” Others are skeptical that anything you get from books isn’t really real, or true, or helpful in navigating life. Maybe. I doubt it. I was immediately put in mind of two very memorable and instructive literary moments when I perused a few of these nice folks’ comments: one is Colonel Sherburn’s speech to the mob in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (censored even now in some schools); the other is a similar scene (surely inspired by Twain’s description) in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus is guarding Tom Robinson at the Maycomb jail. Sure, those examples aren’t exactly what was being threatened, but the dynamics were close enough to help me make sense of and find my footing with these community threats.

Read. It helps. And it’s cheap.

Streaming for Strivers:

A boost to my spirits this morning, and I hope it is to yours.

Cloister Commentary, Day 206: The Thrills and Spills of Tutoring

After Nicole and I took a long neighborhood walk through a windy, cool, overcast fall morning and I arrived at work, I was presented with my first major tutoring challenge of the semester. I was due to Zoom-proctor a student’s on-line math test–it’s very doable via screen-sharing and camera sweeps–but I’d just had my computer replaced, and the techs had not reconnected my mic, camera, and speakers. Sounds like something I could have done, but the simple task required administrative log-in credentials and I’m so low on the totem pole I’m under the ground. The biggest problem was, the instructor was starting the test remotely and the test was timed. Fortunately, neither the student nor I panicked (her mic, camera, and speakers were working great), and I managed to use the chat function skillfully enough to get her through. The exciting life of a professional tutor!

When I returned home from work, I was rewarded for my patience and “ingenuity” with a Tampa Bay victory over Houston (sorry, Brian), I listened to some classic highlife music from Bokoor Studios in Ghana, and I read several more chapters from Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s pitch-black The Dead Girls.

After more shepherd’s pie for supper and a cup of hot golden milk, we read and waited for results from a special school board vote regarding a return to in-seat schooling–which, unfortunately, stretched into the night past our endurance. Judging from the national COVID-19 map, now doesn’t seem to be a great time, but, as I pointed out to a colleague yesterday, these are counterintuitive times. We awakened wide-eyed at 3:45 a.m to the news.

Streaming for Strivers:

A continuation from last night’s soundtrack.

Cloister Commentary, Day 205: Busy Doin’ Nuthin’

Do you have trouble doing nothing? I do. Even when under the guidance of the seldom-wrong Thich Nhat Hanh, I feel guilty if I am not “working on something.” In addition, continuity is very important to me; if I don’t get a running start and a few laps in, I feel I will not get whatever I’m trying to do satisfactorily accomplished. However, yesterday morning I was actually successful in just cooling down my attitude inertia: I drank coffee with some Irish creme, chomped on a bagel, read the paper, and took a nice nap. Now, that seems like I actually did a couple of things right there, but those don’t count.

The afternoon was a little different. I excitedly fixed the massive tagging problem presented by a set of digital albums a friend shared with me, Nicole and I Zoomed first with mom, my brother, and his lady then with members of our Facebook group the Flying Saucer Landing Pad Support Group, which is what it says it is. But even those I did not lock into. More accurately, I drifted into and out of them.

Later, I fell asleep watching grass grow (aka watching a baseball game) and woke up to find a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate balancing on my chest. That was my cue to finish watching the Watchmen film.

I think Thay would give me a little credit for inching toward being still. A little.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is one talented Fela. Sorry…

Cloister Commentary, Day 204: Outside of Dodge

Activities and highlights.

Grocery shopping: I didn’t know Founders Brewery produced a regular ol’ 4.4% lager; I was again the victim/beneficiary of a good can design.

Breakfast: spontaneous–Black & Gold Burrito from Main Squeeze, plus we got the hell out of Dodge before foo’ball insanity.

Neighborhood walk: Very peaceful, borderline warm, got the ol’ blood circulatin’.

Afternoon Free for All: I continued reading Jim Thompson’s ridiculous and riotous Pop. 1280 and exploring unfamiliar albums from music lists; Nicole whipped up some shepherd’s pie!

Mail: My notary lock-bag arrived–so exciting!

Dinner: The shepherd’s pie was too good for me to limit myself to two servings of!

Evening: We revisited Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie (better than I remembered) and sipped tiny glasses of delicious Five Farms County Cork Single Batch Irish Cream Liqueur.

Now, who won the game?

Streaming for Strivers:

A river of rhythm.

Cloister Commentary, Day 203: Fall-Away Day

Nicole and I dropped our absentee ballots off at the Boone County clerk’s office this morning. I wonder how many other counties offer on-line ballot-tracking to voters. That’s a good thing.

I had no school imperatives to deal with, so unsurprisingly I read. I had planned to knock a chunk out of three of the books I’m currently enjoying, but New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, like the other Ehrman books I’ve read have done, held me transfixed. I am not a believer; Ehrman once was, but he is a mere historian now–a dogged, erudite, witty, and indefatigably curious one. Since it’s coming on list season, I also explored music writer Tom Hull’s “1000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life.” You’d think at the rate I’ve listened to albums since ’77 or so I’d have encountered few surprises, but I’ve only made it through the “I”s and Mr. Hull’s given me quite a stack to lean into. In this case, I’m thankful for streaming.

After she finished with school around five, Nicole joined me for one of our frequent Friday Fall-Aways at the kitchen table, when we just relax, fiddle around, occasionally sip something (this time, some good mescal), and listen to something indisputably euphonious (this time, Herb Ellis’ Nothing But the Blues, which I fished out of Mr. Hull’s list).

The evening ended with beers and conversation on our friend Shireen’s back deck, where we also got to catch up with our mutual friend Annell Boland. Her amazingly man-like young son Fred sweetly arrived to pick her up at the end of our visit; I have so many friends with sharp young college age spawn that I’m starting to think I’m old.

Streaming for Strivers:

I also had an amusing and refreshing social media conversation with my old friend and fellow southwest Missouri refugee John Schooley, which indirectly reminded me to play this. You should, too, if you need a jolt.

Cloister Commentary, Day 202: Comrades, Cousins, and Comedians

I had mentioned a few commentaries back that the inspirational Stephens prof Ann Breidenbach and I had teamed up for a fun educational project, but I withheld the details. Yesterday, the project went to ground: after we educated her women’s studies students about absentee voting, we created an opportunity whereby I was able to notarize her students’ ballots that required it. Few actually did need that service, but two of them just happened to be the top students from my virtual summer freshman comp class, whom I’d never met in person. Even though we were all masked, we recognized each other from about 30 feet away! As my friend George Frissell would have said (quoting Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, as was frequently his wont), it made my heart soar like a hawk.

I also had the pleasure of talking with my cousin Gregory on the phone for over an hour. I frankly do not enjoy blabbin’ into the blower for even five minutes, but Greg is one of those few exceptions. His insights, good cheer, sense of humor, and wise perspectives were quite welcome (roiling, rotten stuff happened to have been weighing on my mind at the time), and he’s really an inspirational human being. We traded stories, and I honestly had trouble hanging up the phone. May you have a rewarding weekend, cuz.

Nicole and I both had educational crises dumped in our laps after 5 p.m (it’s an occupational hazard of great regularity for all us edumacators), but we calmed our nerves with an old remedy we had not tried in over a decade: Southpark. “The Pandemic Special” proved Matt and Trey are still great at that thing they do. They have Tegrity.

Streaming for Strivers:

They say it’s his birthday!

Cloister Commentary, Day 201: So Nice We Did It Twice

The first 200 days are over; we are ready if need be for 200 more. I really miss the little things that came with the ease and the seeming thoughtlessness of movement; like my cousin Katie wrote to me yesterday, “I took too much for granted.

But: we do what we can. “So Nice We Did It Twice Division”: Nicole and I drove out to Les Bourgeois Winery’s A-Frame again like we did last Wednesday. She’d had a totally draining afternoon at work and almost decided to simply collapse in a heap, but I coaxed her forward and we enjoyed another gorgeous “smoking sundown” (some dark blue clouds appeared to be rising off the orb’s surface) and another sweet bottle of wine (the name Pink Fox gives me pause, but it went down smoothly). We drove home to the tune of the late Reverend John Wilkins’ valedictory album of gospel greatness, Trouble, released by this week on Memphis’ Goner label, took in a couple episodes of Woke, and glided into sleep.

Streaming for Strivers:

Sometimes physical media you pretty much can’t snag you can indeed stream.

Cloister Commentary, Day 200: The 4th Sustenance and Succor Awards!

Every 50 days of the pandemic, I’ve given out these awards to celebrate stuff that’s getting Nicole and I through this mess. And it’s gotten messier. So the stuff’s gotten tuffer. To wit:

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Jyoti – Mama, You Can Bet!

Bettye LaVette – Blackbirds

The Best of the Sensational Nightingales

Roisin Murphy – Roisin Machine

Woke (Hulu Series)

Watchmen (HBO Series)

The Indian Doctor (Amazon Prime Series)

Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, director)


Amor Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow

Hanif Kureishi – The Buddha of Suburbia

Ross Johnson – Baron of Love: Moral Giant

Richard Grant – The Deepest South of All: True Stories from Natchez, Mississippi

Stanley Booth – Red, Hot & Blue: 50 Years of Writing about Memphis, Music, and Motherfuckers

BEST ANTI-COVID-BLUES CURBSIDE EATS (some repeats, but that just testifies to their tuffness)
Tony’s Pizza Palace

Shakespeare’s Pizza

India’s House

Cajun Crab HouseTiger Chef

Streaming for Strivers:

Dreamers, awake!