Cloister Commentary, Day 346: The Conversations

Conversations. Had two excellent extended on-line chats with Hickman grads from different eras: Tyree Paladon Byndom (we discussed podcasts and destiny) and Donnie Harden Jr (we affirmed–as usual–the genius of Prince and pondered the possible pitfalls of the Jam-Lewis firing). Those two are unique humans. Also explored with other Kewpie vets Como Dave Sherman, Joseph Kenney, and Alex Fleming (the latter two survivors of my English class while I was still a mite green) was the fine line between ’90s hip-hop hollerers M. O. P. and Onyx. When Nicole got home, we went on a long walk through the neighborhood, got caught up on each other’s day, and applied salve to the “Living in Missouri Blues.”

Dinner: one of my cloister-era favorites! Raw veggies, toasted pita and Uprise Ancient Grain bread, and homemade hummus and pimiento cheese. Simple but delicious, and whatever’s left over we can snack on during the week.

Reading: I’ve long enjoyed Charles Blow’s writing, from his memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones through his pieces in The New York Times, and his new book-length proposal for a reverse Great Migration, The Devil You Know, is fascinating and challenging. Among many arguments he makes (and supports meticulously) is that Black Americans are in more immediate danger from white violence (physically and institutionally) in the northern states than the southern ones.

Streaming for Strivers:

I’ve probably listened to this master’s music more than any woman’s during this pandemic. It’s helped. She’s inventive, sassier than Sassy (her take on “Send in the Clowns” is bold), witty, flexible, and…in control.

Cloister Commentary, Day 160: Notarize THIS.

I farted around and didn’t do much other than run the sweeper, read, research the discography of the great jazz singer Carmen McRae (man, she’s put a hook in my lip!), get too excited about my notary public commission and drive my insurance agent and the American Association of Notaries customer service reps crazy, and fall asleep about four times during a very special Last Tango in Halifax. I also sampled three new IPAs, which may have contributed to that latter non-action.

They can’t all be Roman candles and Ferris wheel rides.

Streaming for Survivors:

Hook. In. My. Lip. Carmen, set me free. On second thought, don’t.

Cloister Commentary, Day 159: How Many More, How Much More?

Finally, I weeded and trimmed around the front yard and sides of the house and hauled the detritus to the mulch site. I’m almost to sore to write this morning. Where is this sudden burst of diligence coming from? It scares me. I was accompanied by the neighbor’s passel of unfed cats, who were clearly entertaining me in hopes of morsels.

Nicole and I checked a few items off the get-‘er-done-‘fore-school-starts list: we set up a safety deposit box and corresponded again with two prisoners on death row in Missouri in league with the Missourians Against the Death Penalty program. It’s a trademark of the pandemic that two actions taking us a little less than an hour total felt like major accomplishments.

The NBA’s choice to suspend the playoffs was more inspiring than watching a great overtime game. It’s on the back of Dame’s and Donovan’s jerseys: how many more? And how much more?

We finished the first season of Unforgotten, which ended a tad soft with an overload of redemption. But I also found myself asking, from a critical perspective, what’s so wrong with that? Is it that much of a pipedream? Well, probably.

My English friend David requested Top 10 lists from some of his fellow music mavens, and rather than rearrange the same basic list I’ve probably posted for a decade, I decided to go off-canon. For your perusal:

  1. Carmen McRae: As Time Goes By – Live at the Dug
  2. Dead Moon: Trash & Burn
  3. Armando Garzon: Boleros
  4. Doris Duke: I’m a Loser (Kent UK Reissue)
  5. Jorge Ben: Africa Brasil
  6. Various Artists: It Came from Memphis, Volumes 1 & 2
  7. CH3: Fear of Life
  8. Sonny Criss: Sonny’s Dream (Birth of the New Cool)
  9. Johnny Bush: 14 Greatest Hits
  10. Lynn August: Sauce Piquante

Streaming for Strivers:

A taste? I have probably listened to this somewhat forgotten album 10-15 times in the last year.

Cloister Commentary, Day 153: Mayo Verdict

And the winner is...

I delayed posting just to pique the thousands of readers who were on pins and needles waiting for my judgement in the case of Blue Plate vs. Duke’s in what has come to be called (in my mind only) “The Mayonnaise Wars.” Again, I blind-tested each on a sandwich and in a spoonful. In each case, on the basis of slightly less tang and significantly more richness and fluffiness, I found for Blue Plate. You may now go back about your lives.

Seriously, my highlight yesterday was participating in a socially-distanced front-yard salon just outside of Prairie Home, Missouri, with Nicole and her Columbia Area Career Center cohorts Rebecca Wimer-Pisano (retired), Susan McDermott-Griggs, and Mary Allee. Also present was Rebecca’s rascally mate Frank. Under shade trees in the pleasant weather, we talked about everything under the sun. These teachers are like the CPS version of The View (I eavesdrop on their Zooms frequently), and I say that in a complimentary vein. Susan’s tale of her Blind Man (that adjective primarily applies to his home improvement specialty but can fit in other ways as well) and his unnamed anti-viral machine will stay with me for quite awhile. I was grateful to have been invited.

In the evening, we had another nice social moment with our neighbors Kelly (who gave us cukes from her garden) and Amber and her daughter Addelaine, who is the delight of the block. Our conversation (and Amber’s infant’s sleep) was made difficult by a neighborhood dog–unleashed and unmonitored, of course–who yapped at us indefatigably, but we still had an enjoyable and amusing chat.

We closed out the night by having dinner on the back porch, with limoncello shots and music and cats and bugs and joy lights.

It felt so good to be out of the house and in others’ company, and masks and distance were no problem whatsoever.

Streaming for Strivers:

McRae + Dixie Flyers = some subtle songful magic.

Cloister Commentary, Day 122: A Very Smart Phone

Advice for those who survive a spouse, partner, or parent: keep their smartphones active for awhile. Retrieving website passwords for departed loved ones is a well-known plague for families already not feeling so great, but remember: when you forget a password, what do you do? You have them send a link for creating a new password to your phone or email! Apply the same technique to your posthumous struggles–you just need to have the access to their phone.

This happened to us. My brother Brian and I beat our heads against a customer service wall for several days, trying simply to transfer ownership of an account from my dad to my mom, get a stray bill paid, and convert an autopay preference to paper billing. We didn’t have a passcode, we couldn’t answer a security question (What the hell was Dad’s favorite restaurant??? We tried umpteen thousand possibilities and still don’t know, and we’ve asked around!), having Mom present for the call wasn’t good enough, and the account owner (and stockholder) wasn’t, um, available to authorize any of the changes. Told we’d have to descend into the underworld (aka an AT&T Store in Joplin) to make any progress, I punched a couple of inanimate objects and in fuming futility sat down at the computer for some desperate password stabs. As I failed and failed, I looked at that “Forgot your password?” link, and gave birth to a Athena-like lightbulb: Dad’s phone was deactivated for calls, but still plugged into the wall! Within five minutes, I’d sent “Dad” a re-set link to his email, changed the password, replaced that dang security question, and solved the other issues. I felt like drinking to my own triumph, but it was only 10 a.m.

We did celebrate, however. I drove my mom to our old hometown of Carthage to visit with her best friends, Kay and Bruce Vaughn and the always-perfectly-named Sunny Michel. She hadn’t seen them since weeks before Dad’s death, and I felt privileged to witness their reunion. I had asked Mom how long she wanted to stay, and she’d replied, “Oh, we only need to stay an hour at most.”

We spent a deeply enjoyable three hours in conversation, than jammed Carmen McRae on the way back home. I hope I have friends like that when I grow up.

Streaming for Survivors:

Foolproof cure for the blues. This stuff will stomp ’em.

Cloister Commentary, Day 50: The Succor and Sustenance Awards, Iteration I

I inadvertently began this journal on Nicole’s and my 28th wedding anniversary. Halfway to 100, at which point I expect to still be commentin’, I arrive at the 30th anniversary of our goin’ steady. We’d been very good friends for a couple weeks, I was licking my wounds from having been officiously dumped, and I hollered at her one day about going to show with me (the Coctails, Murphy’s, Sprangfield, MO). She’d really been fun and funny, which was helping me heal, and she had stellar taste in music and books, so I stopped by Record Center to say hi to ol’ Mark Vaugine and buy her a present in gratitude (a cassette of Rosetta Tharpe’s Decca label Gospel Train, Volume 1). We met at the show, that band was lively, she loved the gift, we were laughing our butts off–and I just stopped at one point and asked her, “Are we going out?” Her answer: “I guess so!” You know the rest. I hope we have 30 more in the tank!

The 1st Cloister Commentary Succor and Sustenance Awards (links in comments):

Best Anti-COVID-Blues Album: Carmen McRae, The Great American Songbook

Best Anti-COVID-Blues Movie: Duck Soup (“Hail, Hail, Freedonia” indeed….)

Best Anti-COVID-Blues Show: What We Do in The Shadows (I have a crush on Nadja–sorry, Nicole!)

Best Anti-COVID-Blues Book (three-way tie): Élmer Mendoza, The Acid Test; Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season; Martin Duberman, Stonewall

Best Anti-COVID-Blues Curbside Grub: Beet Box

Best Anti-COVID-Blues TV Journalist: Don Lemon (nailed it, dude)

Next edition in 50 days. Have a great weekend if weekends still have definition for you!

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

This isn’t exactly the recording I mentioned above, but it will well and truly suffice. I know Bob Bilyeu will agree!

Cloister Commentary, Day 48: Seclusion from Seclusion

Maybe it’s just teaching, but I’m a month away from starting a new virtual gig, and I’m already nervous. I’ve no reason to be–I’ve done this work for awhile–but I always am, until I’m in it. When my students complain to me of nervousness, I always tell them two things: one, that’s a sign you give a damn, and two, you’re gonna blink and you’ll be on the other side of the event, looking back on it. I should take my own advice.

The air was filled with repugnant news, but four things here in the house were redemptive. Nicole surprised me by restarting a ritual we used to practice: quietly leaving notes of encouragement for each other to find. I threw myself into the three outstanding books currently on my stack, and was deeply rewarded (two are by amazing Mexican writers, Fernanda Melchor and Élmer Mendoza). We had grilled cheese sandwiches (talk about simple pleasures!). And, for a change, we retreated into my basement “office” in the evening to read, hang out with the cats, and listen to music (Moondog, Miles, Carmen McRae) in a nicely secluded environment. Don’t ask me why more seclusion was nice; it just was.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, Ahmaud Arbery’s murder brings this, top to bottom the greatest reggae album I’ve ever heard, to mind. If you haven’t heard it, you should.