Cloister Commentary, Day 146: Fumes and Futility

Some mornings, I find these difficult to write.

Yesterday started out great. Nicole and I went on an early morning walk, and that’s always restorative. But I then proceeded to spend around two hours carefully watching an initially unmasked telecom tech install a new system for Mom, then about an hour emailing a benefits analyst with documentation about something involving my late father’s pension that’s moving like very molten lava, then around two hours on the phone with an excellent AT&T tech who after seeming like she was going to solve an ongoing posthumous problem for the first 3/4ths of the call found her own hands tied at the end.

Let me be clear: I’m happy to take on these tasks–it’s a part of life and death that we will all have to face, and since among my few actual skills is being able to communicate, I refuse to leave my talent buried. But after we realized the telecom tech didn’t leave a hard-copy program guide or program in the correct digital channel guide, and after watching the clock hands spin to no avail as I spent the afternoon with my smartphone, I was depleted. Music and books are my fuel, my food, my inspiration; in fact, records are like my holy texts–I listen to them as if they’re testimony about the truth of the world from all quarters. And I didn’t listen to a song or read a page (well, I squeezed in a two-page Liz Moore story just before bedtime) so I finished the day running on thin fumes. We’d hoped to watch Grand Hotel on Turner Movie Classics–that would have helped–but Mom’s new streaming package does not include that channel.

But guess what? The sun’s just come up. And I hear Lori McKenna‘s clear voice and resonant words in my headphones.

Streaming for Survivors:

This Book of the Musical Bible is–shhhh!–a peaceful, calming one.

Cloister Commentary, Day 121: 63 – 54 – 5 – 44 – H

I am spending a week with my mom and yesterday hit the ol’ 63 – 54 – 5 – 44 – H trail that I could drive in my sleep. Broke in the new car stereo with mid-’70s Miles, Beatles, VU (’68 stuff–damn), Gary Stewart (yelled all the songs: I wish I could sing like him), and PE.

Road observations:

Had to stop at the Wal-Mart in Camdenton because I drank a cup of tea before I left. Plusses: all employees were masked, plus IF you are a dude, need to take a leak, and don’t mind sanitizing back in the jalopy, you can enter, do the biz, and exit without touching anything foreign. Minuses: maybe 2 in 10 customers were masked, and the rejiggering of the entrances and exits just seemed to create massive bottlenecks.

On I-44, I once again mourned the impending sale of “The Den of Metal Arts.” I’d always hoped that, one, some former students of mine would form a metal band and use a photo of it as an album cover, and, two, it would someday be converted into a metal recording studio or venue. It’ll probably end up an evangelical church.

As I passed 65, a maroon van merged onto 44 beside me, into a crowd of vehicles we traveled with for several miles. Spray-painted crudely and legibly on its driver side was “Honk if you love Trump!” No one honked.

We had a nice afternoon and evening. Mom and I got caught up, we chatted with my brother Brian on the blower, I Zoomed with my Sunday regz and my sweetie Nicole (who’s minding the feline farm), and we had BLs with fresh Ts. Closed down the day by watching the terse but somewhat trance-inducing Apple + series Defending Jacob.

I read a few pages of Michael Corcoran’s great book on Ghost Notes: Pioneering Spirits in Texas Music. I’m supposed to know a ton about American music, but how come I never knew the great pianists and singers Charles Brown and Amos Milburn were not only likely gay but also a couple? Amazing, cool–and damn difficult for their glory years.

Streaming for Strivers:

Speaking of Texas music…

Cloister Commentary, Day 68: Steppin’ Out

I have written here before about Love Coffee, a shop in Columbia that supports its citizens with disabilities by training and employing them. Like many small businesses, the enterprise is struggling under the heavy hand of the coronavirus. We dropped in again and ordered a mess of delicious offerings (I highly recommend the brioche cinnamon rolls and the pecan rolls and the muffins and the quiche and the chai). If you are in Columbia, you might think about dropping by, too.

We will be getting tested for COVID-19 next Tuesday at Hickman High School courtesy of the state health department. If you’re interested, you must register. I also made my first blood donation appointment since we started staying home, so I guess you can say I’m steppin’ out.

I’m almost done writing material for my summer comp class. I hope it doesn’t drive us all mad. Are they all gonna know to Zoom in via Canvas at 9 Monday morning?

Do you ever catch fire with an artist? I’ve loved Miles Davis since before I turned twenty, but an outstanding bookmy friend Phil Freeman wrote and sent me a copy of has me aflame with Milesmania. Yesterday was the anniversary of Davis’ birth, and I probably listened to 3-4 hours of his exciting and still surprising electric music. I also had my nose in the last Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings for an hour, even though I purt-near have the book’s 1,646 pages memorized. I miss those guides, dammit. They had a slightly European-skewed perspective that one just couldn’t get anywhere. Check out their recommended core jazz collection, helpfully extracted by the hard-workin’ Tom Hull.

Nicole and I drove out to Capen Park to hike up to a spot George Frissellonce showed us. As we began to get out of the jalopy, the skies poured down rain. Maybe this weekend, as part of a bigger hike?

I am grateful for neighbors like Dave Huggler and Shireen Razavi. Just talking to them makes you feel like you can weather any local storm.

This is the first commentary I’ve written on computer–the rest I’ve thumbed on on my smartphone. I think we’re all lucky I’ve been doing that, as with this trusty keyboard I feel I could just peck on til noon.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

What I’m listening to right now. I have WORN this album OUT.

Cloister Commentary, Day 67: Early Tea Time

Third straight morning awake at 3:15. Could be my new obsession with Twining’s black and green teas. Especially black: Lapsang Souchong, English Breakfast Bold, and Irish Breakfast (green: Matcha). Like to never came out of the fog until I zombie-walked the Bear Creek Trail and Nicole served me the all-purpose cure: fresh tomato and mayo sandwich on white bread. I will try not to mention them again, but it’s [someone else’s] homegrown tomato time, and we always have Blue Plate reinforcements in the cupboard.

Body report: I was sore just from doing stretches Sunday. I do not know why, as I’ve been reduced to bone, fat, and atrophied stuffing. I dared to stretch again and that helped.

We both love the work of director Billy Wilder, so I don’t know why it took us so long to check out 1951’s Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas’ performance as the most cynical and opportunistic newsman in cinema history is still electric and frightening, and the location shoot (in Gallup, New Mexico) and sets are mind-bogglingly great. Plus, the viewpoint on group behavior seemed vaguely familiar. Anyone else having HD problems when streaming shows? I assume it’s a matter of staying inside.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

Today is Miles Davis’ birthday, but I’ve been celebrating early.

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.

Cloister Commentary, Day 45: “Snackery”

It was a terrific, peaceful Sunday. A segment on “CBS Sunday Morning” reminded me to ask my small band of readers a question of great importance: since I know all of you, like us, are snacking to beat the band, would you mind commenting with your go-to munchies? Nicole and I are about to turn into Geisha-brand wasabi-coated peas (we’re already like two peas in a pod), we cannot make a bag of Backer’s plain tater chips last more than a day (The Girl with The Golden Curls has her hooks in us), and I believe we’ve gone through five containers of Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts since mid-March. I am warning you: do not buy peanut butter creme Oreos. Don’t do it.

Apropos of nothing except maybe we caught the bug from a vintage concert broadcast Friday night on our favorite community radio station, WWOZ, we cranked up Louisiana music virtually all day long. It. Is. Balm. For. The. Soul. Roll call: Sidney Bechet, Beausoleil, Professor Longhair, Ricky “Shake For Ya Hood”B, Allen Toussaint and Wynton Marsalis (forgive me, but it was his Jelly Roll Morton album, and he can be charming).

Zoomed with my parents, my brother Brian and his best gal Myra. I hope we get to see each other in person soon. Is a 450-mile round-trip drive-by visit silly, or not? It would be 34 hours to Houston and back, though.

My grandpa used to cry watching soap operas, so when I quietly wept watching last night’s wrenching episode of Call the Midwife, I guess I was coming by it honestly. If Nonnatus House gets demolished and that ends the show’s run, I’m going to get mad.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

I’m dedicating this one to my very sharp former student Amann Woldeghebriel in the hope he’s never heard it. Amann loves jazz and is frequently in search of something great he hasn’t sampled. Dig this, friend. You will be asking about the guitarists: John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock. And Miles is ON.