Cloister Commentary, Day 124: Settling Dust

I knew the day would be pretty good when, purely by accident, my mom and I watched Buju Banton perform live on TV while we were eating breakfast. In some ways, it was a classic COVID-only moment.

‘Twas the second-to-last day of Stephens’ summer school program. Students are presenting the results of their research for their “final”; their last assignment will be a companion persuasive research essay, due Sunday night at the latest. Topics: trucker safety (that was actually the best and most interesting one!), protections for sex workers, the future of Mount Rushmore, body shaming in the fashion industry, and the effectiveness of masking in a pandemic. You’d think presentation assignments on Zoom would leave a bit to be desired, but I find I’m less distracted, and the presenters seem so as well. To be honest, I enjoyed them, and look forward to Round Two today.

I returned to my hometown of Carthage in the early afternoon to drop in for a few hours on my old friend Kevin Keller. We hadn’t seen each other in 35 years, so we compressed much info into our visit. Kevin could (and clearly still can) always be counted on for thought-provoking conversations, and his reflections on his time in Puerto Rico and Spanish Harlem and at Missouri Southern and Carthage Junior High (as a language and TESOL specialist) were fascinating. He also once did one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen documented on Facebook: he shared photos from the journey he made around the country with his ailing mom, who is currently in a nursing facility which, for reasons I need not explain, he cannot visit. Kevin was a great host, all told; I even got a home-cooked Dominican lunch out of the visit!

With the dust having settled somewhat after my father’s passing, it is now quiet enough that the true coping and processing has begun. We had a few sudden visitations of sadness and yawning absence after I returned, but decided to fight it with Modern Family (which I’d never seen), Key & Peele sketches (Peele had been a hilarious guest in the Modern Family episode), and Little Fires Everywhere, which Mom liked enough for us to binge three episodes. I’ve read the book and already watched it once, and the series really holds up.

For the record, I’m very aware of spiraling COVID cases, spooky federal agents in one of my favorite cities, the grim struggle over school reopenings, the ongoing and necessary fight in our streets for social justice, the specter of vote-suppressing chicanery, and a demagogue thrashing like the shark at the end of JAWS–it may seem I barely acknowledge it, but on my mentor Ken’s advice, in this project I’m simply writing what’s occurring with us. Paralysis is almost a tempting option, but despite churning gut and teeming brain, I’m attending to what’s in front of me. Reader, see, you’re not alone. I’m glad I’m not.

Streaming for Strivers:

One of the biggest, nattiest, most universal dreadlocked youths ever born.

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.