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 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 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 119: Candles

Yesterday was a trying day, but I managed to vanquish the stress and arrest a darkening mood by focusing on the blessings I was fortunate to be provided by the cosmos, luck, proximity, curiosity, whatever:

A fresh and local cucumber, onion, and tomato salad. Nicole augmented it from an old favorite recipe of Jane’s.

A terrific essay on Halsey’s new album by my oldest freshman (24), who has grown so much as a writer in so little time.

A compilation of the diverse, lively, and clarion-calling songs of Texas singer and picker Blind Lemon Jefferson (I’m listening to it all over again as I thumb this out; also, see below).

A pair of books that made me forget everything but their worlds, one by the underrated Texas music writer Michael Corcoran, entitled Ghost Notes, which explores the work of such Lone Star masters as Arizona Dranes, Joyce Harris, Kenny Dorham, and The D.O.C., the other by multiple-award winner James McBride, Deacon King Kong, which traces the repercussions of a single hazily-conceived violent action on a Brooklyn day in ’69.

A candle. Yes, a candle. I like candles, what of it? This one emitted a ginger scent and it relaxed me while I graded papers. I’m thankful for the chandler who had the idea.

A trip to pick up pet food, groceries, and fresh produce–and drop of three of my mom’s homemade masks, two of her patterns, and three jars of Blue Plate mayonnaise to our friends named Ruffin.

A terrific meal from my former student Sonny Singh’s always-reliable restaurant India’s House. Their cuisine has been a weekly pleasure for us lately.

A simple change in routine: morning in the front room, with the sun coming up through the windows, evening in the “living room,” with a splendid nature video mirrored to the TV and neighborhood fools out of earshot.

A soul mate who kept calm when I was about to go volcanic.

I encourage you to stop today and count the ways you’re lucky if you’re hitting a snag. I concede that some readers may find it more difficult than I did yesterday, but I’m confident some crack in your life is letting light in.

Streaming for survivors:

This music is best appreciated leaning forward just a bit (speaking mentally, at least).

Cloister Commentary, Day 77: WWJJD?

The day opened with Nicole’s delicious thick blueberry pancakes, some real maple syrup, and two poached eggs. After that, I was ready for anything.

I experimented with an open Zoom writing workshop, since my charge have a paper due for peer (and my) review Monday. Seemed to work fine. I had a few students pop in to (gently) bounce ideas off me, including the one who wore a WWJJD shirt to class yesterday (“What would Joan Jett do?”). Week 1 of summer school teachin’? Loved it.

For lunch, Nicole fixed us our 10th locally-grown 🍅 + (Blue Plate) mayonnaise + lettuce sandwich of the pandemic. Our summer officially starts with those.

I previous mentioned Derf Backderf’s graphic novel Trashed, but I didn’t expect to devour it in two sittings (it’s 260 pages long). If you’ve ever wondered about the fate of your trash, or reflected on your trash practices, you might want to check it out. Plus, it’s eye-wateringly funny, and distinctively drawn. Backderf’s much-anticipated Kent State book arrives on September 4th.

We closed the day with a relatively long jaunt around our neighborhood which we completed just before trouble descended in our locality–and just opened today marveling at a strange, jaundiced sunrise.

Streaming for Shut-Ins (Do I need to rename this feature?):

Rod Taylor, thanks for recommending Mr. Gil’s Refavela to me, which led me to THIS one, which I also love and had never heard. Folks, this musician is a shining jewel of Brazilian expression…

Cloister Commentary, Day 65: Chez Nicole


Breakfast – toasted avocado pita with purple cabbage and green onion.

Lunch – fresh tomatoes from Thoenen Produce (Osage County), Blue Plate mayo, and Wickles Wicked pickle chips on white bread.

Dinner – totally, arrogantly, deliciously vegan gumbo with a Happy Hollow Farms (Jamestown) butter leaf lettuce salad.

No, we ate at Chez Nicole all three meals, but thanks for asking!

I also finished the longest “short book” I’ve ever read, Brazilian novelist João Ubaldo Ribeiro‘s Sergeant Getulio. 140 pages of nearly-fine print taken almost to the page margins, in stream-of-consciousness narration with minimal paragraphing, it was a wild Rabelaisian ride that put me through my paces.

We closed the day with Netflix’s Studio 54 documentary, which revealed a very unique friendship and told its story solidly, even bravely. I didn’t hate disco back then–in fact, verily I did disco myself–and we both love it now. It’d be nice to be able to gyrate and sweat in the midst of one’s people right now.

Oh yes: Steve Earle’s Ghosts of West Virginia is in the year’s Top 10 best albums, just so you know.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

“Different” is just fine.

Cloister Commentary, Day 23: Sound and Vision

We, like you, have stumbled upon (or been forced to observe, rather) several habits in this sheltering that I think we’re going to keep when we are liberated. Nicole is a great cook, but she also works her butt off AND we both are tasteaholics who love supporting our many local restaurants, so we haven’t ever eaten in all that much. However, by my calculations, we’ve only gone out to pick up food once in the last 27 days. I’m here to tell you: homecooking is great. Yesterday, she sautéed some fresh asparagus, fried some new potatoes, and grilled some cheese sandwiches (with, instead of butter, Blue Plate Mayonnaise)–that was just lunch. Dinner was chickpea tikka masala with basmati rice! Now, I don’t just sit around like Henry VIII, fork and knife in fists that pound the tabletop! Our deal has always been that she can make as big a mess in the kitchen as she wants; I’ll clean up and put up everything. Feels about even, but I know I get the best of it–plus I’ve lost weight while never feeling unsatisfied. Ok, I’ll stop…

This was our first “flipped house” of the plague. That’s when the feline-o-phobe dog and I go downstairs and the cats come up. So it was “Music in the Man Cave” for me.

I loved“Fame,” “Golden Years,” and (especially) “Young Americans” (that song tortured me) as a teen, and“Let’s Dance”always kicked ass no matter HOW many times I heard it lifeguarding that summer in Monett, but I was never a massive Bowie fan at the time. However, reading’s always been a corrective to my waywardness, and after taking in David Bowie: A Life (by former Ziggy crumbsnatcher Dylan Jones), Rob Sheffield’s On Bowie, and Sasha Geffen’s Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, I’m fully on board. Better late than never. I listened to his work alllll afternoon. And hit up Discogs for some CDs I surprisingly don’t have.

Speaking of music and habits, I recently hit my Apple Music limit of 100,000 songs in the ol’ iCloud library. So I just blew the whole thing up and started anew. I need to remember to only “Add” what I need, and that the entire contents of my external drive don’t have to be (can’t be) in my library, too. #nerdalert

Random facts of COVID-19 impact: 1) My garage door opener fixed itself on its own after I ignored it for two weeks. Word to the wise looking to save money. 2) We decided to cancel our lodging in Lawrence in late June for theFree State Fest(this year, John Waters and Boots Riley were among those scheduled). It ain’t gonna happen, we’re fairly sure. And if it does, we won’t be inclined to attend.

I’m not religious, but happy Easter anyway. He not busy being (re)born is busy dying.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Such sound and vision.

Cloister Commentary, Day 9: Remaining Bacon

This was the final weekend of our “Spring Break.” Right. Break as in we are trying not to.

Yesterday, we decided to treat the day as if we were really on vacation. We had a terrific late breakfast of fried potatoes, poached eggs, grapefruit, and bacon. I am the bacon fryer, and fry it to the George Frissell Honorary Crispy Level of almost-burnt. In addition, we tried the mysterious Maker’s White in a Bloody Mary, and that didn’t work so well. We switched to our favorite vodka, Buffalo Trace’s Wheatley’s, for the next one, but we spaced them out. Our breakfast was backed by Rhino Records’ outstanding girl group comps, and that went over so well we just keep rockin’ the girl groups into the late afternoon. Good for what ails you!

After reading for several hours (yes, we would normally be reading on a spring break), we switched to the long-running BBC podcast, Desert Island Discs, and greatly enjoyed the Bruce Springsteen and Keef Richards episodes. I have struggled at many junctures with the Jersey Flash, but I have also loved him mightily at many others. What it’s come down to is the great Band line about Spike Jones: “I can’t take the way he sings / But I love to hear him talk.”

We couldn’t roll with our peeps, but we could check on them. I texted my homies Brock Boland, Choppito Blanco, Janet Marsh and Moncory Dampier to see how they were doing. I recommend it to you as a daily practice.

I had fried all nine pieces of our remaining bacon in the morning so we could properly say farewell, we hope permanently, to that magical but problematic meat with a BLT for dinner. Slathered with Blue Plate mayo, accompanied by Backer’s sour cream and onion chips and Wickles’ Wicked Garden Mix (you haven’t lived til you’ve tasted sweet-hot pickled cauliflower), these BLTs were the bomb.


We had intended to “hang out” with the Ragtag crew and virtually enjoy GHOST RIDER, then “split” to “check out” stellar Hickman grad Shea Spence’s band’s virtual concert–but, alas, it was not to be. We had arisen before the crack of dawn and went down like a cheetah hit by one of Stan’s tranquilizer darts. And we are, I think it’s called, OLD.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: a mesmerizing modern girl group album.