Cloister Commentary, Day 111: More Lasagna

As a citizen trying to stay healthy and wanting others to as well, as a teacher and voter looking ahead to August and November, as a student who truly believes that education is the key to law and order, as a human striving to act justly and compassionately, as a survivor grieving and a friend pining, I cannot describe my contempt for our “leadership.” And I cannot believe I am alone in that.

Ok, so I got that off my chest. I suppose it was inspired by yet another threat lobbed yesterday, or was it the day before, from the very White House. But I have bigger and better things to think and worry about than bullies. Like fighting to keep the losses of my best friend and my dad from melding. They happened so suddenly and so closely together that some of the details (like correspondences) are blurring and even my processing frequently feels mixed up.

It’s a weird metaphor, but I keep coming back to it: lasagna. Layers of dread. Except lasagna is also delicious and this time is the opposite.

I graded some papers. They’re analytical essay rough drafts: the subjects of the three I made it through were Halsey, Inside Out, and Chanel–at least the topics are interesting. But three wore me out and I quit and took a nap.

Drove to Moser’s to look at the state of their recycling bins and decided to move that task to another day.

Nicole’s latest round of limoncello “matured,” so we enjoyed a couple tiny glasses of that delicious elixir. She crafted it cream-style this time, my favorite.

Finished up The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ford presents a political and historical vision that’s complicated, to say the least, but the performances are great and its best moments are inspiring. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”? That quote’s taken on new, troublesome weight. As the credits rolled, I found myself thinking about statues, and the fact that before our eyes we’re seeing legends subjected to a bigger mass of critical thinking than ever before. Some may cry bloody murder–and often that was on such legends’ hands–but that critical thinking is good.

Streaming for Strivers:

Bit of a lost album from a terrific but somewhat underappreciated soul man.

Cloister Commentary, Day 110: Blown Off, Not Blown Off

List of things I blew off: shaving, grading rough drafts, weeding, trimming back vines, hauling off the recycling, reading Deacon King Kong, listening to music very actively, figuring out how to use a neat Bluetooth mic by brother gave me.

List of things I didn’t: showering, eating Nicole’s special avocado toast, calling Mom, teaching, taking a nap, attending to some financial and beneficiary details, drinking a bourbon and Coke, eating some brisket from Lockhart,Texas, helping Nicole trap that sad little stray so he can get some health attention, visiting with our neighbor Shireen, checking on our neighbors the Knowleses, lazing and luxuriating through the pages of Duffy and Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

I HAVE to grade essays today. I HAVE to grade essays today. I HAVE to grade essays today. Don’t I?

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Another severely underrated rap record. For Joseph.

Cloister Commentary, Day 109: Strode Rode

Dropping off some checks for our fundraiser for the late George Frissell at Hickman High School, I had a delightful conversation with the school’s long-time administrative assistant Sharon Dothage–actually, she runs the school. We got caught up on gossip, the future, Hickman history–and I found out she was once a Stephens Star! I also chatted with financial secretary Heather Croy, who put my mind at ease about several nerve-wracking fundraising concerns. AND I logged a Dr. Andrew McCarthy sighting. AND I was excited to learn my good friend and former colleague Leia Brooks is moving into a) the ol’ Frissellian lair on the second floor, and b) a new home on the north side, with her boyfriend. AND I previewed for all the new city mask ordinance (better late than never).

I came home from that jaunt to discover that our long-time pal and stalwart Seattleian Beth Hartman had sent us a care package that included pickled Brussels sprouts (once branded by John Waters “those little balls of hell”). She wisely intuited that I would enjoy such an oddity, and I did, though I did not make a dirty martini with them as threatened. My brother Brian sent me a Bluetooth mic that I can’t wait to use but need to figure out how.

Accomplished: the Chevy Silverado Dad left behind and Mom and Brian gifted me is now officially mine. Next up: accidental death insurance labyrinth, and getting my old Ford into the Wright hands.

I am sick to death of gun violence.

Speaking of Fords, Nicole and I chillaxed and watched the first half of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

A truly great film with serious star power but also entertaining support from crafty veterans like Woody Strode, Andy Devine, and Edmond O’Brien (all of whom made me think of my friend Rex Harris, who appreciates such memorable characters). Our fatigued bodies and minds forced us to our pillows at 9 pm.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Testifying tunes from a West Coast pianistic prince.

Cloister Commentary, Day 108: Leftover Heaven

Projects: Nicole worked on coronavirus piñatas, I nerdily transferred files from my old 2T external drive to my new 4T (some accomplishment, and yes it’s backed up in that cloud over there).

Interactions: We Zoomed with our inspirational comrades Jill, Rex, Isaac, and Michael in the afternoon, sipping on dirty martinis and getting down to the real nitty gritty.

Dining: “Leftover Heaven” – spaghet, Parmesan chicken, tres leches cake. Times are rough, but sometimes I must say, “I got it made!”

Media: James McBride’s new book Deacon King Kong is a danged hoot; if you’ve never encountered the great blues singer and guitarist Otis Rush, please YouTube him; and, I don’t know about you, but for us Jaws never gets old–in fact, right now, it’s too close for comfort. “Farewell and ado / Ye fair Spanish ladies….”

Streaming for Strivers:

Sometimes you have to blow out the cobs.

Cloister Commentary, Day 107: Lazy Susan

We enjoyed our usual July 4th with good food and movies. Nicole’s Aunt Cathy recently sent her a neat old Lazy Susan that Nicole’s late grandma used for years, which inspired Nicole to make a killer taco spread, an ingredient in each of the many compartments. I kept spinning to the roasted corn, avocado, and–yes–the Sweet Earth plant-based ground “beef.” I had five, I think, so one can reason they were very good.

As far as movies went, we were supposed to watch one of my choice as well as one of Nicole’s, but we were so entertained by It Happened One Night (I hadn’t seen it since ’84) that we bounced to Red Dust (Jean Harlow–damn!!!) and The Philadelphia Story. There will be other nights for The Battle of Algiers. Maybe tonight?

Three outdoor notes: 1) I never did like fireworks, really. They’re right up there on my short public pet peeve list next to tinted windows, Bluetooth telephone headsets, attempted personalized license plates, and mega-bass car stereos. 2) I have and will always hate Japanese beetles. Bastards. Bastards!!! 3) I am once again earning my reputation as “The Cat Whisperer,” as I’m THIS close to luring a new but embattled and sad little tabby stray close enough to snag him and get him help. We call him “Bruiser,” but he is the most bedraggled, beat-down feline I’ve seen in ages.

Streaming for Strivers:

A bit of a talented cast on this album.

Cloister Commentary, Day 106: Best-Laid Schemes

Yesterday was the first day I’ve felt relatively myself in two weeks. My body and mind still compelled me to take a nap, but I find when I obey them I’m better off. I also read 10 pages of a book without stopping, so that too was a good sign.

I was thwarted in my second attempt to get my dad’s truck licensed over to me; the DMV had what I am sure is a well-deserved early day off for the 4th. I guess I’m in a toot so I can get my old red-orange, bumper-stickered ’93 (or is it ’92) Ford Splash sold. It’ll be nice to once again be able to drive inconspicuously.

In preparation for today, I revisited Frederick Douglass’ 1852 4th of July address. I’d bought my dad David W. Blight’s outstanding Douglass biography for Father’s Day, and after having a great discussion about race and white privilege the afternoon before his eventually fatal accident, I had a feeling he’d love it. “The best-laid scheme o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley….

More on that speech. Dr. Mark Lomax II is a force.

Facebook deservedly gets a bad rap at times, but I’m thankful it allows me to stay connected to important figures from my past. In the early evening, my former student Joseph Kenney and I had a terrific Messenger chat about his new podcast (“It’s a Rap”), Columbia’s racial history, books, Scarface, Hickman’s radio station, and much more. Joe was an athlete, scholar, and a presence any teacher would welcome: passionate, outspoken, funny, curious, and challenging. One day I hope I can see him again in person; I might show up on one of his future podcasts.

Nicole did an amazing job replicating one of Mom’s dishes (in fact, the first home-cooked meal Jane and I ate after Dad’s passing). If you’ve not had a chicken breast baked with a crust of Parmesan and Panko, or petite taters baked in olive oil and fresh rosemary, I highly recommend it.

Streaming for Strivers:

When I think of Joe Kenney, I think of ‘Face.

Cloister Commentary, Day 105: Checking

One of my favorite stories about my Uncle Roger Volker is that, every morning, he stopped by my grandparents’ farmhouse to check on ’em and have a cup of coffee–all the way up to when, in their nineties, they each passed (Grandpa Cotton while napping, Grandma Velma while reading the paper in her recliner). My cousin Sharon may have to correct me on the fine details about that. However, Nicole and I are going to try to follow that tradition by checking on Mom, albeit via phone, every morning. All three of us are excited about the possibility of watching Hamilton tonight.

I briefly got to see my besties Janet Marsh and her love-captive David Truesdell for the first time in ages. They are looking good. David forced a John Cage treated piano CD on me but I honestly gave little resistance.

After I destroyed Nicole’s reading environment with Abbey Lincoln’s screaming, she was nice enough to build an impregnable wall of T-Bone Walker, Earl Bostic, and The 5 Royales around us so we could turn pages uninterrupted. I have a five-layer lasagna of fatigue in my brain that is challenging my bibliophilic focus.

Yes, we are watching Gavin & Stacey all over again and it seems like we just finished it.

Streaming for Strivers:

Here is a serious Album of the Year candidate. The thumbnail’s confusing, but the group is Sault, and their new album is UNTITLED (BLACK IS).

Cloister Commentary, Day 104: Where the BBQ Requires No Sauce

During the past two weeks, my family has been well-buoyed by the compassionate tradition of friends, family, and neighbors bringing food to a house of grief. “Grateful” doesn’t fully cover our feelings about that. Yesterday was perhaps the most astounding example. I was in the office talking to a friend who had also recently lost a family member when Nicole came down the stairs with a fairly massive package that Fed Ex had just delivered but she hadn’t opened. I shrugged my shoulders in bafflement, and after my phone conversation was finished, I came upstairs to unwrap it with her.

Contents? Only multiple smoked sausages, a slab of ribs and a rack of brisket straight from Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas–sent from the friend I’d been on the phone with! I guess I picked the wrong month to become a vegetarian….

Streaming for Survivors:

Today’s atmosphere.

Cloister Commentary, Day 103: Home Again

I had assigned my students, who are writing analytical essays on art objects of their choice, four reviews of various kinds and styles. On impulse, I asked them to rank the four readings according to the writers’ effectiveness in both describing and assessing the quality of the item under review, then hand-picked students to share and justify their rankings. To wrap up each conversation, I posed a question to them based on some of their judgments. The strategy worked like a charm–I’m sure I stole it–and I’ll definitely use it again. Ranked first by every single student: Zadie Smith’s essay on Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Dana Schutz’s Open Casket. Recommended.

For the first time in 11 days (I think) I returned home. I found it hard to leave my mom, but she was ready to face her challenge; I was missing Nicole and our beasts. We ate a frozen Shakespeare’s Pizza, tried some blackberry moonshine, and got caught up. On the rare occasion when we’re apart for an extended time, she leaves out the CDs she played in my absence–I always like to know. George Jones’ My Favorites of Hank Williams was playing when I walked in the door.

Streaming for Survivors:

So much shining sound in one package.

Cloister Commentary, Day 102: Big Girl Pants

Yesterday morning, my mom and I sprinkled my dad’s ashes on their asparagus and horseradish. The morning was still and cool, with a beautiful sun beaming down. I look forward to this harvest.

Jane has had a few rough mornings, of course. After the visiting of a cloud of grief, she told me, “It’s time to put on my big girl pants.” I replied, “You’ve had those on all along. Big girls aren’t made of steel.” Also, she cooked a pork loin, some more of those killer petite potatoes in olive oil and rosemary, and a salad of garden cukes, tomatoes, and avocados. She apologized for the lack of actual lettuce, but it was a perfect salad without.

Thank the stars this Stephens class is so hardworking and committed! Again, meeting them each morning is a welcome respite from personal sorrow and political despair.

I opened Dad’s safety deposit box and found a couple interesting items: a certificate for two $10 shares of Sigma Tau Gamma stock, bought in ’61, and two very early scribblings from Brian and me.

I spent most of the day on the phone with customer service specialists, which resulted in me looking up what other than Sprite or 7-Up mixes well with Canadian Mist (answer: Co-Cola with a couple maraschino cherries and a splash of cherry juice). I admit to having one in excess of my need.

Fell asleep reading The Week and listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin.

Streaming for Survivors (the toggling back and forth is deliberate):

This gentleman could convey sorrow.