Cloister Commentary, Day 127: Brontë and Basketball

My week hanging out with my mom is coming to a close (though I shall return soon). We’ve had as much fun as you can have in a pandemic, and I’ve witnessed her one-woman mask-making factory in action. Melissa Hague and Nicole have recently provided yards of raw materials that will keep the factory humming.

We capped the week with some Mexican food and an unusual evening of viewing: we split up Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 quietly intense adaptation of Jane Eyre with 90 minutes of an NBA preview, which Mom actually enjoyed and I was more impressed with than I’d anticipated. I thought I was well weaned off sports from three months of fasting, but after seeing what the league’s done to help its teams deal with COVID-19 and its players address social injustice? I’ll bite. And if you haven’t seen Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska circle each other in that great, brooding Brontë-take, please do so post-haste. ‘Twas my second viewing, and I had no regrets: in fact, one day I want to venture through Derbyshire, where it was filmed, as well as check out Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire.

Also, Mom had a dinner margarita poured for herself before I had done so for myself. I had secretly restocked provisions earlier in the day but she sniffed them out. You have to move quickly to beat me to that elixir. Funny, but I think my dinner idea was triggered by having listened to David Berman’s “Margaritas at the Mall” in the morning while I was futzing with my car stereo (see comments).

Streaming for Strivers:

It’s not a “full album,” but it’s about a half-hour of a great front man’s trademark get-up-and-get-at-it. He’s been to France, so you just dance, ok?

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 123: COVID Roulette

Once a week with my on-line class, we have an Open Zoom: I make myself available for twice the required time for consultation on classwork and anything else related to writing, lit, or college survival. I screen-share a YouTube playlist so music greets them when they enter, though sometimes they have to chat at me or unmute and yell to alert me to their presence.

One of my three students from California NEVER misses an Open Zoom, which is doubly impressive as it’s 6:30 am to 8:30 am her time. She always has terrific questions, she’s always enthusiastic about her work, she’s taking and aceing all four of our program’s courses for incoming freshmen, she loves writing–and she’s an equine major! Laughing, she told me yesterday that her parents recently asked her, considering all the work she’s been doing, if she was ok, and I’ve thought the same thing. After we dealt with integrating and citing quotes into research papers MLA style, we chatted about the class and the future for about 15 minutes, and I do hope that, sometime when life is less a game of COVID roulette, she comes to see me for writing tutoring. She’s hoping Stephens is opening as it is planning to next month, and, though I don’t perfectly share that hope, she’s already bought her plane tickets. This time reeks to highest heaven and lowest hell, but she’s been a beacon.

In the afternoon, Mom and I and her teacher pal Cathy visited the splendid country home of Madison and Logan Dickens. Madison’s like a granddaughter to Mom and a niece to me; she’s a smart, diligent school nurse and mother of two, and her husband can about build or fix anything. As she cradled her bowling-ball of a newborn Presley in her elbow-nook, she and her agile and avid older daughter Lilly gave us a fascinating tour of the spread.

Like a moth to flame: after months of being relatively painlessly being weaned off sports, can I resist MLB and NBA action?

Streaming for Survivors:

For you and your folks, me and my folks–and for the super stupid…

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 115: Ronnie

Ronnie Williams was the first dude I met when I moved to Monett for the summer in 1980. He was very welcoming, introduced me to some “key players” on the just-graduated late-adolescent scene, and was just a great friend to illicitly drink beer and jam tunes with.

Ronnie and I hung out yesterday on my mom’s back porch and strolled down memory lane, reflecting on our many trips across the state line to Galena and Columbus, Kansas, to dance, party, and fail with girls; Ronnie’s high-board acrobatics (cutaways, gainers…I saw him do a front 3 1/2 while I was guarding one day) off the Monett pool high board–ahhh, the city pool high board: a relic from another age!; and, especially, our sports clashes when I was a Carthage Tiger and he was a Monett Cub. I once hooped against Cub legends Brad Grant and David Wallace; he once upset the legendary and volatile Norris brothers in doubles tennis.

Ronnie and his wife Missy are keeping an eye on Mom, and Nicole and I really appreciate it. They are good folks, simple as that.

Streaming for Survivors:

That’s Fernest Arceneaux. Fire up that squeezebox.

Cloister Commentary, Day 114: Cases

726 total COVID-19 cases in Boone County as of yesterday. I haven’t really been reporting stats on this journey, but that snapped up my eyelids like roller blinds, Hardin*.

Nicole and I have been visiting my mom. Whenever we’re in Monett, we like to walk around, and in the morning we jaunted down to the main drag and back. A very old house in pretty decent shape stopped us in our tracks and had us imagining living there, but it’s a domicile for those with ancient fix-it know-how.

Mom is a seamstress, and she’s made many masks over these months. I now have several very stylish ones for the coming days, weeks, months….

In the afternoon, we listened to an amazing clarinet recital streamed on Facebook live by a young lady named Lydia Krikke, who just happened to be the daughter of Janis Neher, the pianist who shone during by father’s service. In the very best sense, clearly the apple doesn’t fall far at all from the tree.

For dinner, we dined on delicious shrimp, cream cheese-stuffed bread, fresh sliced cucumber salad with onions. For a second, I thought we were in New Orleans!

Started a new graphic novel, Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang (art by Gurihiru). It sounds corny, perhaps, but it’s quite the opposite. As my friend Rex had suspected when he learned I was reading it, the book’s based on a 1946 radio serial, but it’s masterfully brought into the present.

Also, we started a new cable series that all three of instantly loved: The Great, on Hulu. It’s about Catherine, and it is.

Streaming for Strivers:

I hope one day the lawyers get what’s tangled about the Joe Tex Dial / Atlantic discography straightened out, but, ’til then?

*Hardin’s a good friend for whom I specifically included that allusion.

Cloister Commentary, Day 101: Wavelengths

Opened the day with a wonderful conversation with Mom’s neighbors Ronnie and Missy Williams. Ronnie was the first friend I made when I moved to Monett in 1980, occupied our new house until my family could join me, and started a summer factory job. For about a week, all I had was a mattress, a blanket, a pillow, some clothes and a diddy bag, a jam box, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ Hearts of Stone 8-track (?). Ronnie quickly acted as a conduit between me and some Monettians around my age, and I’ve always been grateful. Ronnie’s going to keep Mom’s lawn mowed and Missy’s going to offer herself as a resource, since she checks in on other women in the neighborhood who’ve lost their husbands.

Afterwards, I cleaned out, vacuumed, washed and waxed Dad’s truck. Apparently no one in Monett installs car stereos, so I will be leaning on the ol’ FM wavelengths for a bit. Gotta have a CD player in any vehicle o’ mine.

Our friends in Monett have supported us with great grub in eye-popping fashion over the past week, but God almighty it has been great to return to Overeem/Volker home cooking! Jane has always been a sharp chef, and we enjoyed her Panko-and-Parmesan crusted chicken breasts and olive-oiled and rosemary’d lil’ taters Saturday night and garlic buttered shrimp last night. I may also have set a personal record by devouring three helpings of lettuce salad on the former eve.

I Zoomed in the afternoon with the Nicole – Heather – Jill Power Trio. At the moment of its convening, I really needed the connection; I haven’t been able to start processing past events with any regularity, and I was feeling a mite unsteady. The Zoomversation gave me a lift.

Closing out the day, Mom watched her Sunday PBS regular shows, and I read and listened to Bob Dylan and the band. Hoping for the best for both of us and my brother this week.

Streaming for Sustainers:

“Don’t believe what you’ve heard / ‘Faithful”s not a bad word.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 99: Single Remote

My brother and I have set ourselves to checking off at least a few important boxes per day in the wake of our dad’s death. We completed the week by getting Mom a new TV that requires but a single remote (instead of four), sharing some of our many flower arrangements with a local nursing home, setting up a savings account for her, and meeting the funeral home director one last time to collect cremains, the guest register, and donation lists and to write the check. Buchanan Funeral Home of Monett? Thumbs up.

I took two separate naps from which I awakened as if I had been in a sensory deprivation chamber, then I went to bed fairly early and slept deeply. I guess I needed it. Before retiring, I read an excellent poet who was new to me: Tishani Doshi. Her most recent collection is Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods.

Streaming for Strivers:

If you hang with me for very long, I will try to convert you. Yesterday, my brother Brian and sister-in-law Myra got the treatment as we ran errands in town.

Cloister Commentary, Days 92-96: “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”

My dad Ron (1935-2020), me, my brother Brian

Friday, 92:

Traveled to Monett for an up-and-back visit with my parents, to limit our exposing them to virus risk. As we were leaving, my dad experienced a dizzy spell, fell to the driveway, hit his head, and briefly lost consciousness. We followed the ambulance that spirited him away to Cox South in Springfield, where he eventually landed in the neural trauma ICU after a CT scan: brain bleed. He had been on blood thinners for another health complication, which wasn’t a great situation. But the last doc we talked to before we headed home sounded cautiously optimistic. Dad had spoken to us: “I’m ok.” “Where am I?” “Oh, God.” “Jesus.” But also garbled syllables…

Saturday, 93:

At 1:15 a.m. Cox called to inform us Dad had taken a turn for the worse and would likely not last beyond Monday. Stunned, we returned to the hospital to begin a vigil. He did not regain consciousness. Calling Dad’s friends to tell them was exquisitely painful. We rotated by twos to sit by his bedside, though a few times we cheated and snuck in by five. Many readers have experienced the gradual succumbing of the unconscious by dying-gasp phases, which is among the most excruciating witnessing one can do; it was my second time. My dad was a hard-headed man, and twice conjured laughter from us out of despair by seeming to be ready to depart, drawing us together in tears and embraces–then beating death back. Finally, his exhalations faded, then stopped at around 8:45 p.m., 3:15 short of Father’s Day. Following the chaplain’s visit, we trudged out as if shackled to ball and chain, and drove home. Through it all, my mom was wondrously strong.

Sunday, 94:

We vowed this would be a buffer day: no business. Only decompressing and dealing with waves of sadness, happy memories, shock, grim humor, confusion, relief, and the agape, frightening state of being overwhelmed. We were fortunate also to enjoy waves of support, though we could not finish my cousin Jim’s made-to-order truckload of delicious biscuits and sausage gravy. We were all surprised that we were so drained we could go right to sleep: it was as if we’d been hurtling smoothly down life’s highway, the driver had stomped on the brakes, and we’d mass-exited via windshield and were airborne in a blur of forward motion, just feet above asphalt stretching out of sight.

Monday, 95:

I am a big believer in routine and ritual in times of stress, as I’ve demonstrated in earlier commentary entries. I chose to continue teaching (my peers at Stephens had offered to cover for me), and my brother and I agreed to deal with three-four post-death imperatives per day maximum, so we would also have time for self-care. I almost regretted the former choice when an NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Alicia Keys left me sobbing two minutes before class started.

We met with the funeral director and knocked out details for the service, but totally preoccupied by tragedy might not have wrestled with the coronavirus factor thoroughly enough. I knew I would be writing Dad’s obituary after the Saturday early morning phone call, but I dreaded it. I found an isolated corner in which to write, poured some Canadian courage, plunged into the task, struggled, cried, had to pee, walked down the hall to the bathroom, and happened to notice the framed commendations of my dad’s service that have been hanging on the wall for almost 20 years. I took them all off the wall and back to my cubbyhole, where they fed me the linchpin segment of the obit. By the time I was finished, I needed a cup of Twining’s Extra Bold Breakfast Tea just to relax. After dinner we had a great religious discussion that drained us enough to go to sleep immediately again.

Tuesday, 96:

Mom awakened to the impact of sudden loss. She let it all out, then recovered after embraces and shared tears. She is tough–even tougher than I thought–and though this road will be long and full of potholes (it IS Missouri), I know she’s equal to it. I awakened and realized I had neither shaved or applied deodorant since Thursday–I addressed the latter. At the funeral home, we viewed Dad’s body one last time prior to its cremation–not easy, but we were together. I tried to grade papers through the masked and unmasked friends who streamed through Mom’s door, and succeeded, though I couldn’t (as usual) go full-medieval with editing commentary. Our dear friend Hiedi continued to look after our culinary needs and offer beaming smiles, laughter, and hugs, and the highlight of my day was wandering around Dad’s fascinating and slightly insane workshop with my brother, Hiedi’s husband and our honorary brother Greg, and his son-in-law Logan. I am the opposite of a craftsman, but as I watched them wander from skillsaw to lathe to air compressor to sander, remarking on their qualities and vintage, I told them, “Dad’s lucky to have three people who know exactly how special and how unique these machines are, and how special this spot is. Some folks leave things behind only to have survivors complain, ‘What do we do with this junk?'”

I’m trying like hell to keep this commentary going. I’m nervous about the crowd coming to Thursday’s service. Dad had many friends, but these times are threatening. Folks need to be cool.

Streaming for Survivors:

For my brother Brian, who I watched the Netflix ZZ Top documentary with, but who hadn’t heard of this band, which was mentioned as a kind of influence.