Cloister Commentary, Day 191: We Love the Sunrise

We were a little groggy when we awakened, so we decided to hop in the truck, turn up a little birthday-boy Bud Powell and head east on I-70 to watch the sun rise. Unfortunately, cloud cover was obscuring the event, so at Millersburg we turned around to head back home–only to see the pink-orange orb in its full glory a few seconds later in our rear-view mirror.

We also took a very long walk around the neighborhood. The weather was perfectly mild, the rain was still hanging in wait, the morning was quiet–but it’s not quite the same without your dog.

Later, I wrote one of my summer school students a recommendation letter for Stephens’ study abroad program and did my first round of editing and suggesting for my 2020-2021 Battle High School mentee. They are both outstanding humans.

As the afternoon turned to evening, we indulged in two musical Louies at pretty high volume–Prima and Jordan–then took a brief nap to Nat King Cole singing en Español (a highly recommended activity). Nicole did grade-checks, I watched the Miami Heat–I’m going to call them a team of destiny–advance to the NBA Bubble Finals over the Celtics, and we closed down shop with an episode of Last Tango in Halifax, the window open so we could hear the rain finally fall.

Streaming for Strivers:

The ultimate in iconic self-pity!

Cloister Commentary, Day 190: I’m Into Literature

Nicole and I went to the grocery yesterday morning. Our pandemic routine is usually that she goes in while I sit in the car and write these, but my taste-aholic ways led me to tag along and sniff around for some new brews. I happened to be wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks shirt; I didn’t graduate from that institution, but its impact on me was stronger than any of the others I attended. Wheeling into the liquor aisle, I came upon a woman older than me who stopped me, looked me in the eye, pointed south and said, “Arkansas is that way!” I chuckled, not sure of her exact attitude, and she continued by rather confidently saying, as she then pointed to my shirt, “Big football fan, are you?”

“No. Literature.” And I proceeded to the beer cooler. That Cigar City Brewery‘s doing some interesting things.

Later, we received a visit from the young Mizzou scholar London Rayhill Santacruz, who dropped by to change the oil in his jalopy. We treated him to some pad Thai from Tiger Chef, shot the bull for a bit, and let him get to work. Mercifully, he did not need my assistance, because, as I just noted, I’m into literature. However, after he finished we exchanged hip hop enthusiasms: he’s an Earthgang man (I told you he was a scholar), I tried to sell him on Little Simz and Boldy James. After he left, Nicole and I noted that we must have a knack for choosing friends, because they all raise stellar youths.

We then poured a couple at the kitchen table, cracked pistachios, and listened to and discussed The Beatles’ White Album.

It was a great day.

Streaming for Strivers:

This is a full EP.

Cloister Commentary, Day 189: Always Give Succor an Even Break


2 neighborhood walks.
A round of sitting meditation.
Some firm hugs and light kisses.
Frozen peanut butter cookies.
A cat on the lap.
Some urgent punk rock.
A lit crackle candle.
A elegantly, wittily, slyly written book (in this case, A Gentleman in Moscow).
A small house project.
A large pizza pie from Tony’s Pizza Palace.
A mini-binge of a previously unfamiliar but truly great series (in this case, Watchmen).
3 cats in the bed (minimum).
Sharing of joys and regrets.
Sleep’s easy descent.

Streaming for Strivers:

These days, Lenny’s songs can hit too closely to home, but sometimes I desire that. I’m not masochistic; I am simply often bolstered by direct confrontations with reality, however dark.

Cloister Commentary, Day 187: Horrified and Sickened–That is All

I really can’t bring myself to say much about the day, other than Nicole and I enjoyed another day working together from home (which I think we both considered as healing), and we were both horrified and sickened by two events: the ruling in the Breonna Taylor MURDER case and some other people’s president toying publicly with the idea of not leaving office peacefully should the country’s vote call for it. We were surprised by neither event; however, not being horrified and sickened by them would have indicated something amiss with our inner workings, so I am glad we were not inured to their import.

Streaming for Strivers:

Cloister Commentary, Day 186: Nothing Black Can Stay

We started the day with a looooong neighborhood walk. Our departed companion was represented by his leash, which I put around my neck, his harness, which Nicole carried, and my trusty pocketed doggie doo-doo bag, because…well…at my age you never know. It just so happened that along the way we saw some folks walking a reddish dog with a flag-like tail and some seriously billowing bloomers. This brought back memories of a retirement idea one of our colleagues long ago proposed for us to bring to fruition collectively: we’d each employ our special talents in a one-stop wedding service called Groom ‘n’ Lube. My friends Karen Downey and Becky Sarrazin (the braintrust) would organize and decorate, I’d perform the service, Nicole would style the wedding party’s coifs, and our buddy John Steitz would take care of all the mechanical and security chores (“Call Guido: 443-KILL”). Anyway, watching this dog and remembering Louis, Nicole proposed a similar venture for us, Plume and Pantz: a grooming service just for border collies and their Aussie likes.

We hate this pandemic, but it enabled us to work together from home, and we really needed to do that yesterday. Fortunately, we each had our ugly cries at different times so we were able to calm each other rather than stoke the fire of our grieving with more coals of sadness. But just as nothing gold can stay, neither can anything black.

A story about Louie, which I’ve told before but I’ll try to spin a little differently: one summer day when Louis was a puppy, our friend George Frissell swung by to brainstorm with me about what would be the 1st and only Rock and Roll Quiz Bowl fundraiser. We were sitting at the kitchen table, I made a suggestion, and a look blossomed on George’s face akin to religious (or perhaps another kind of) ecstasy. I furrowed my brow as if you say, “The idea wasn’t THAT good”–then I peeked under the table to see Louis tongue-bathing George’s be-sandaled toes. I ’bout lost it. The dog could be a menace to visitors, but his true soul manifested itself in this case.

Streaming for Strivers:

Why not? We need it and it’s the anniversary of his birth.

Cloister Commentary, Day 185: So Long, Mister Lou

We said so long to our red border collie Louis yesterday in the late afternoon of the last day of this frustrating summer. He had not taken food for 36 hours (a couple of days prior to his diagnosis as well) and was visibly winding down. His skilled and loving vet Dr. Christy Fischer from All Creatures made an afternoon house call to send him very gently on his way.

Sunday evening, we pulled the mattress out in the living room–where because of his mobility issues and the better traction in there, we’d had to keep him confined–and we were able to sleep (to some extent) in each other’s company one last night. He was able to enjoy free roam in the back yard several times during the day, where after walking around a little he’d lay down to rest and we’d sit together in silence and peace; we were even able to lightly groom him for his send-off. Thank the stars we were blessed with gorgeous weather for his farewell!

As I have previously written, Louis’ condition worsened very quickly; it was another sudden shock in this sudden season. BUT. In the past week, he did many of his favorite things before we knew anything was badly wrong: we’d gone for a couple nice neighborhood walks, he’d done some tricks (shaking, “giving Mom a kiss,” delaying gratification and holding a stare with me) for his daily “cold bone” (a hollow shin bone I would artisanally fill up and freeze once a day for him to gnaw on), he’d chilled out with me in the basement when we “flipped the house” and brought the cats upstairs, he’d gobbled some bacon strips while being brushed out (he was very touchy), and he’d wedged himself impossibly under the kitchen table several times while Nicole and I ate and chatted. Even after he’d started a serious decline, we’d done a family howl (which he would frequently initiate), he’d enjoyed some ice cream (his last taste, on Saturday), and he’d even made some obligatory, half-hearted lunges at our outdoor felines. He was stubbornly himself, right to the end. No surprise to us: he was the definition of strong-willed, but will we miss that energy inside these four walls.

As I have written this, I’ve had to take a couple breaks, because The Kid’s not at my feet as usual, for me to stare and smile at while I’m thinking. He’s already been let out, and he doesn’t have to come in anymore.

Streaming for Survivors:

Sorry, no full album this morning. This song has rung out in my head and heart on a couple of occasions, neither of which were easy. But it’s a comfort.

Cloister Commentary, Day 182: Cancer Sucks

That was a day.

I should have known when police searchlights and cherry-tops beaming through our front window woke me up at 3:45 a.m. that the day would be less than jubilant. They weren’t looking for us, but that might have been better than what was to come.

Cancer sucks. We lost Nicole’s mom to brain cancer in 2013, and our 12-year-old border collie Louis was diagnosed with lung cancer yesterday. We’d taken him to the vet thinking he was having some joint issues, which he is having, but there was more. We brought him home with some palliative meds; our veterinarian isn’t completely sure how long he has–but it would appear not much. I’m sure I will tell a story or two about this very complicated dog in the coming week.

And of course cancer was in the national news in a none too comforting way.

Kinda takes the air out of commenting.

Streaming for Survivors:

Imported jubilation.

Cloister Commentary, Day 181: On Brock’s Block

Big highlight of the day–I visited with my old Hickman English Department and Academy of Rock colleague Brock Boland during his lunch hour. Brock is the kind of colleague who can make the worst school day survivable. His sense of humor and knack for entertainment are well-known, but his wisdom and ear are equally impressive; he and I both recently lost our fathers, and we shared some of our recent experiences, which lifted me considerably. We also enjoyed Cajun Crab House’s fried catfish (him) and Royal Red Shrimp (me) lunch specials. I didn’t know what the heck the latter was and ordered it strictly for that reason. It’s basically a bagged shrimp boil with new taters, corn on the cob, and sausage. What it was was delicious. Miss ya, Brock!

The rest of the day was spent scheduling Zoom tutoring appointments, in fact, my favorite kind: helping Steph Borklund’s students with their film genre essay assignments. She’s a smart, warm, enthusiastic prof, and we’ve been teaming up for years. Also, our 12-year-old border collie Louis is ailing, so I kept a very close eye on him. I am not going to speculate, because it’s 2020.

Miami went up two games to zip on the Celtics. Could we have a Heat-Nuggets final, 2020? Please?

Streaming for Survivors:

Would you care for a musical tour of “The Old, Weird America”? Tired of “The New, Weird America”? Traverse one of the best discs of six of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music–this one’s country blues dominated. Be sure to lean forward on “Prison Cell Blues.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 180: Sammy & Rosie FINALLY Get Laid

I know I’ve been wearing you out not only on the NBA, music, books, eating, and mourning, but also, lately, on Albert Camus’ book The Plague. I know it might sound insane to read THAT book right now, but if you have been taking this pandemic seriously, it can make you feel less out of sorts. Though Camus was mostly writing about a different kind of plague than COVID-19, that different kind of plague is perhaps more damagingly in effect right now. I’m re-reading it and it has had a calming (not reassuring) effect on me. As his narrator describes how the citizens of Oran respond to the virus that’s hit them, you’ll find many points of commonality with your own experience–I promise. And it’s not a doorstop tome: it’s an absorbing 300ish pages.

On a less ponderous note (perhaps), I: a) lost my campus ID when it apparently flopped out of my lanyard (I hate those with a passion, which compounds the absurdity), though there’s only about 100 feet where it could have landed that I’ve retraced thrice (I suspect one of the crumbsnatchers in Stephens’ early ed program found it and ate it); b) received my used VHS copy of Sammy and Rosie Get Laid in the mail; c) tried to help Nicole bake a plate of enchiladas and, in doing so, attempted to RE-shred some jack cheese; and d) intentionally slept on the couch in the “TV room” to watch our dog, who is showing signs of age that are bedeviling him.

Streaming for Survivors:

For the formalists in the house, and fans of Illinois power pop.

Cloister Commentary, Day 179: All Too Evitable

Only my hatred of the inevitable, and delight at seeing the inevitable rendered unexpectedly evitable, could induce me to root for a Kroenke-owned venture, but such is life in the NBA bubble: I would happily witness a Denver Nuggets ride to the championship; there, I said it. But, truth be told, I’d be happy with any of the remaining four teams winning: the Heat, because I love their youth, team chemistry, defense, and spirit–damn, they would be a great Finals match with the Nuggets!–the Celtics, because I really wanted them, configured much like they were then, to beat the Cavs two years ago when they went Clipper-cold in a seventh game (I also like their youth, team chemistry, defense, and spirit), or even the Lakers, because as a colleague and I recently agreed, LeBron-Hate is a symptom of a very American reality-denial virus, and his winning a championship with a third different franchise as the key player (I love Big Shot Bob, but let’s be serious) is something, um, a certain cigar-smoking, golf-playing, bet-addicted, former-Hitler-mustache wearing person never did.

Reader, sorry I’m wearing you out about something as relatively insignificant as basketball in this entry, but IT GIVES ME JOY, we all need a source of that right now, and you’ll just have to endure it. As a long-time fan, I am luxuriating in the following: the level of play, the nail-biting aspect of so many of the playoff games, the various stories in the making–and the fact that, if fans who are not in support of social justice and don’t like people of color as anything other than athletes are going to watch NBA Bubble Playoffs, they are going to have to look at and listen to healthy messages all game long.

Streaming for Strivers:

I should be more humble in my joy-bounty, but I (and you) also have music.