Cloister Commentary, Day 172: Maybe Remote On-Line Notarizing Will Help

I know that, in some marriages, spouses actively seek out ways to be apart (aside from a job), at least on occasion. I don’t intend that as a critique, necessarily; the practice is probably essential for some of those marriages to not just survive, but prosper. However, I admit that I’ve seldom (if ever) screamed to myself, “I have got to get away from this woman Nicole for at least a half-hour!” Much more frequently, I mutter to myself, “When’s she gonna get home?” I can only read and crank up horrible, beautiful noise for so long before I miss my podnah.

Yesterday, she went out to her building (though she could have worked from home), and I had virtually the whole day to myself. The morning and early afternoon were fine, but after that, it was either take a nap or climb the walls–that’s a strange either-or, right there! I could have thrown “Play with the cats” in there, but I’m 58 years old. Maybe if I extend my notary qualifications to RON (that’s “remote on-line notary”), I can deal with this twice-a-week workweek.


That’s all I got, except for the fact that, just as we were slippin’ into sleep, a pretty major lightning party kicked in, and Louis doesn’t like those. They don’t scare him; in fact, he wants to attack them, to break up the party, and he barks to that effect. I had to move out to the TV room couch to “comfort” him. Simply by lying on the couch a few feet away from him, I calmed him down, but I also cranked the fan he likes blowing on him at night up to “High” to drown out some of the noise.


I didn’t even get to spend time with her last night. Boo!


Streaming for Survivors:


John Easedale was the first rock and roll star I ever interviewed. Thankfully, that interview is buried in the fanzine dustbin, but this album is one reason I was so nervous on the phone.

Cloister Commentary, Day 171: Reading is Exciting, Bananas are Boring

My sweetie Nicole starts school today, and she put in about 12 hours of organizational work at home yesterday. After she finished in the evening, she showed me a deeply detailed spreadsheet of all the students she works with; I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s necessary, I think, given the strange new world she’s entering. But it puts the lie to the ridiculous “lazy” claims some are making about teachers (us, I should say) lately.

For myself, I’m missing the work, but at least I have good books handy. My favorite phenomenon in reading is encountering something in one book that leads me to another book that leads me to something non-literary. I have been strolling through a Zadie Smith essay collection for over a year (her best pieces are like a glass of good bourbon: strong, a little spicy, with unique notes), and in a piece I read recently she wrote about the influence a book, The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, had had on her–she was re-reading it after having first wrestled with it as a kid. The chunks she excerpted were delightfully wicked, like Wilde, so I had to read it myself. 15 pages in, I had to look up Kureishi; I hadn’t known he wrote the screenplays for two movies that were wildly popular when I was a video clerk but had never gotten around the seeing, My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy & Rosie Get Laid. I may have missed the boat thirty years ago, but it’s docked and ready for me now (if I can find the latter streaming somewhere). I love reading–it’s incredibly exciting, simple as that.

A teacher friend of mine started his classes the other day with a counterintuitive ice-breaking query: “What’s one boring fact about you?” Takes the pressure off having to dare to be interesting! Let’s play: you share in the comments, and here is mine.

I completely peel a banana before I eat it.

Thanks, Kevin!

Streaming for Strivers:

Soul, jazz-style, courtesy of two masters.

Cloister Commentary, Day 170: Crackle and Zoom

We took a nice hour-long neighborhood walk, discussed some small-scale home improvement plans, snagged some items at Westlake (including his-and-hers “crackle candles”), finally tracked down the September issue of Vanity Fair, toasted a fine Sunday with “tomato time” (a Bloody Mary, a tomato-and-mayo sandwich, and Zapp’s), then did our respective things for most of the afternoon. My respective thing was studying up (via reference books and streaming) on the inimitable jazz singer and pianist Shirley Horn. I tell ya: I cannot get enough of her and Carmen McRae’s music. Am I wearing you down yet?

We also Zoomed with our friends Rex, Jill (accompanied by her wonderful Mississippi beau John Roy), and Isaac (now dubbed, due to his unexpected appearance, “SurprIsaac”). Nicole brought her big monitor home and figured out how to link it with her laptop, so this Zoom felt almost like we’d moved from a mini-TV to a cinema screen. My highlight from the Zoom was expounding with John Roy about Natchez history and Richard Grant’s relevant new book The Deepest South. We also sang the praises of Bobby Rush and his excellent new album.

After our Zoom, we dined on a vegan variant on Brazilian black bean stew that Nicole prepared. I had two helpings–I especially liked the chard she cooked up in it.

Streaming for Strivers:

It’s Celebrate Sonny Rollins Day.

Cloister Commentary, Day 169: Eat It?

Drove back home yesterday and dropped off my version of care packages to my friends Mike and Isaac in Springfield and made it to CoMo in 2:25. Gotta love that lake bypass, and were the fate-tempter out in number on our waters! I listened to many albums on the road, but most satisfactorily to the album below, and if you need a little tough-not-facile spiritual pick-me-up, click. Ya heard about William Blake?

COVID Curbside Question for the Readers: If you order for pickup, bring it home, and it’s some other cloisterer’s order, what do you do? Turn around, run it back, and get yours? Or accept the imperfection of human workings and just eat what ya got, save time, and let the other guy demand human perfection? We got a vastly different order from ours, chose to just eat it, and damned if it wasn’t delicious. Nicole and I would like to hear your opinions.

Word to the wise who have HBO Max and need some entertaining viewing: try Class Action Park, like we did. That was then, it is more so now.

Streaming for Survivors:

Exquisite. One of the best “bluegrass” / “Americana” / “folk” albums of the 2010s.

Cloister Commentary, Day 168: Trip to Typhoon Island

By surprise, in these locked-down days, I was able to take a trip to Typhoon Island yesterday. I was not planning on a tropical vacation, but I did not turn it down. I paid for the Ultimate Package, and when I arrived, I put the chair back, got out a great book, and relaxed to the sounds of splashing waves.

Unfortunately, Typhoon Island is a car wash, and I thought that, since I paid for the Ultimate ($11.99), I’d be chilling in my mom’s vehicle for about 10-15 minutes. I was snapped out of my reading reverie seeming seconds later by the car wash proprietor knocking on the window.

“Sir, did you get a wash at all? Just wondering because you’re still sitting here!” she asked–with genuine concern.

I replied, “I guess I was dug in for the long haul.”

Some vacation.

Earlier in the day, Mom and I had a great visit with two of her and Dad’s long-time best friends, George and Virginia Terry, who were on their way to antique in Branson. George (besides being on old rascal) is a craftsman–I once wrote a research paper about his “folk art” for Dr. Bob Cochran at the University of Arkansas–and he left us with his recent, characteristically excellent creations.

In the evening, I Zoomed with Nicole and our best friends, Gwen and Kenny Wright. We caught glimpses of their twins and dawg, and rapped about many things of concern and delight. After our Zoom, I watched my new co-favorite NBA team (now that OKC has been vanquished), Miami, crush the hapless Bucks. Milwaukee, you need a couple more pieces, and Giannis? You have to hit threes and frees. My other favorite team is Boston; I’d never have predicted that would be how I’d be ridin’ at this point. Also, Mom overheard Nicole and I raving to the Wrights about Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and was curious, so we watched the first episode of the former. I think she liked it!

Finally, I invented what seems like a tacky drink but it works for me: the Monett Margarita Mixer COVID Cocktail. 4/5ths Salvador Top Shelf Margarita Pre-mix, 1/5th Lunazul Agave Tequila, heavy ice and salt on the rim.

Streaming for Survivors:

I forgot to grab this to listen to on my road trip, so I guess I’ll stream it. One of the many great albums Kenny introduced me to.

Cloister Commentary, Day 167: Not All Bad

Continued from Day 166, the saga of Phil and
Jane and the SSA. I was determined to find an uncomplicated way to change Mom’s direct deposit info without an excruciating phone call leading to futility, so I a) decided to just drive down and visit her, partially because I suspected we’d need to be in the same room, on the same phone, b) thought I’d test the waters first, call Mom’s local SSA office, and, um, assertively ask about the best process to accomplish our lofty goal. The unfortunate agent who answered the phone had to listen to me tersely, then with rising volume, describe the whole story (I’m bad about set-ups), while she tried in vain to interrupt me. It was fun! However, when I finally stopped to take a breath, she interjected, “Sir, just let me call your mom directly and I’ll do this for her in a couple minutes. Call her and have her get the checkbooks together, and tell her I’ll ring her in 30 minutes!” Wait what? And she did just what she said. To paraphrase the title of a section of the news magazine The Week, it’s not all bad. What’s the lesson learned, Phil? My cousin Rob has told me twice but I imperfectly listened: always call your local SSA office first.

Still, I decided to drive down and see Mom. We had Mexican food and margaritas, and watched basketball and tennis. And we FaceTimed with Nicole. Tomorrow I will again contact the insurance company that, despite three calls from me, still haven’t sent me the accidental death paperwork they owe me from Dad’s policy (these calls have spanned over two months, so I’ve been patient), and possibly reference a lawyer. Also, as I thumb this out on my phone, I’m watching the morning news: the flood of human-issued sludge oozes unabated.

But…it’s not ALL bad. I hope I get a similarly smart, sweet, and efficient customer service agent today.

Streaming for Strivers:

A humble request. You have to listen to the title song to understand.

Cloister Commentary, Day 166: I’m Late

“Are you ever too busy to write these,” you might ask. Well, I always write about yesterdays on my todays, and today I’ve been ON IT since I woke up at 4:30ish. I just realized I hadn’t, ahem, journaled. I’m hanging out with my mom Jane and watching Bubble Playoffs, so I must be brief.

Yesterday started pretty well. I accomplished something easy but important at work: I emailed 12 freshmen at Stephens to check on their start (students can choose to attend classes in person or on-line, with all classes available in real time on Zoom), their comfort level (Stephens is taking our health pretty seriously, and only has two recorded cases so far), and their need for tutoring. Amazingly, almost all of them wrote me back quickly with quite a bit enthusiasm for school. I will contact them intermittently just to make sure they know they have academic (and moral) support.

Then I learned Mom was having no luck simply changing her direct deposit information with the Social Security Administration, a necessity since Dad passed. She was just looking for a way to help, as my brother Brian and I have divided up the massive and labyrinthine administrative issues that confront every family when someone passes. I jumped in to help her, but met with just as much frustration–to the extent that it drove me into a moody state for the rest of the day. I’m fairly sure Nicole would agree that’s a state I seldom visit. I escaped into books and two nail-biter playoff games, including one that sent my Thunder home. I rolled over to go to sleep at a little past 11 and stared at the wall for several minutes, before, fortunately, I crashed.

To be continued.

Streaming for Survivors:

How I felt after setting up a “My Social Security” profile for Mom to no avail. Play loud.

Cloister Commentary, Day 165: Bakin’ That COVID Lasagna

Tuesdays and Thursdays are going to be a challenge to comment on, as–at present–I am not working on those days of the week. Yesterday, I made a futile trip out to the USPS Pickup location, caught up on some new music, read a bit from three different books, helped my mom with a equipment return issue (AT&T does not make that easy if you live in a small town), talked to my cousin Jim on the phone, ate delicious leftovers for two meals, talked to Nicole about her day at Battle, had a kitten attached to my lap for several hours, and watched a fairly exciting 80-78 NBA playoff 7th game–these days you have to really work at a score that low.

However, the most interesting thing happened at 3:15 this morning, which I’m going to count as yesterday because it feels like it. At that hour, the same kitten mentioned above sat in the hallway repeatedly “asking a question”: meowing with an upward inflection. Junior also has a very distinct whine to his meow that grates, so I was forced to get up and see what the issue was. Turns out that, since I’d WD-40’d the door to the basement stairs, it was slowly easing shut on its own, so when I swung it back open, Junior disappeared down the stairs like he was shot out of a cannon. I guess he really was making an inquiry.

But–the point is, Phil?–when I tried to go back to sleep, I encountered what I call COVID lasagna: layers of psychological stress that press down with a combined force that denies the ease required for shut-eye. I’m the layer of tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan, underneath dread about November 3rd, worry about my family and friends and us as we continue to wrestle with grief, horror at what atrocities have become commonplace, even accepted, more worry about the health, safety and success of teachers, students, parents, families (other than my own), and those protesters indefatigably striving in this truly historical moment for social justice.

Just enumerating the topics on my mind took twenty minutes–at the end of which Junior had arrived back upstairs, hopped up on the bed, and positioned himself between my legs in such a way that, in order to get comfortable, I would have to have disturbed the young prince…which would only have added another lasagna layer.

Resorting to a technique that should have been my first resort (I always forget), I engaged in some deep breathing and fell back asleep in the midst, for about 15 minutes before the alarm dawned.

Maybe that isn’t much more interesting than the rest, but I suspect I am not alone at the bottom of the pan.

Streaming for Survivors:

Morning meditation music.

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.